Alright guys, we got back on track last week with a 10-4 mark, improving us to 88-47 on the season and keeping these Winners a full seven games ahead of Las Vegas. We're at a point in the season where we think we're starting to have a pretty good idea of which teams are good and which ones aren't. There are, however, a number of teams about whose records I have some misgivings. This week is actually shaping up to be one of the tougher ones for me to pick, but your guys' quaint would-be fortunes rest on my broad, life-affirming shoulders, so I press onward. The picks are below.
Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars
The Colts are a perfect example of what i was just talking about. Sure, they're 5-3 and yeah, Andrew Luck looks better at being Peyton Manning than Peyton Manning did as a rookie and the team does seem to be rallying around coach Chuck Pagano's battle with cancer; but 5-3? The team that ranks 28th in total DVOA (and last in defensive DVOA) has a .625 winning percentage halfway through the season with a rookie QB and a rookie coach but hell, in this post-modern world where down is up and left is purple and the NFC is far superior to the AFC, I guess just about any team could be 5-3 at this point.
Except the Jaguars. Not in any universe.
THE PICK: COLTS
New York Giants at Cincinnati Bengals
Man, this was tough. I'm so very tempted to take the Bengals here because I think they're better than they're 3-5 record, the Giants are coming off a rough loss at home, AJ Green is a Herculean demigod compared to New York's peasant secondary, and home teams have a bigger advantage in football than in any other sport.
The thing that trumps all of that, however, is overall talent and the Giants have enough of it to overcome those obstacles. Expect Cincy to make this one close, but I think that's all they'll do.
THE PICK: GIANTS
Tennessee Titans at Miami Dolphins
Man, the AFC is so lackluster this year. It is so lacking in luster that the 31st ranked team in overall DVOA can be one game out of the playoffs after nine weeks. The Dolphins, despite giving up 400+ yards to Andrew Luck last week, are still one of the better defenses in the league and defensive end Cameron Wake has a sack in like 176 straight games this year. Besides that, Ryan Tannehill has acquitted himself fairly unhorribly so far, and Reggie Bush has shown he's a tailback worthy of 20+ touches per game.
The Titans, for their part, finally found a prince to smooch Chris Johnson from his slumber and he's responded with an incredible surge. Remember how, after like six games this season, it was a running joke about what a busted jabroni the artist formerly known as CJ2K was? Well, now he trails only Arian Foster in the AFC as far as rushing yards go, but he is unfortunately the only Titan of consequence to make such progress. The rest of his guys have been languishing in the mire (31st in offense, 28th in defense), and I don't anticipate that that will change on Sunday.
THE PICK: DOLPHINS
Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings
Everything about this game seems to be telling Seahawks fans to pick Detroit. They've won three straight games, beat Seattle, and seem to be leaping into the playoff race on the arm of a re-calibrated Matthew Stafford. The Vikings, meanwhile, have lost three straight after an impressive 5-1 start and just lost in Seattle. Besides, even Vegas is breaking it's own rule of not picking a road team with a worse record to win on the road.
Here's where I started writing about how I think the Vikings will overcome all of that but instead deleted it on my suspicions that Percy Harvin will be ruled out with a multiply-sprained ankle, leaving Minnesota with only Adrian Peterson to threaten them. Now while Peterson may be the reincarnated Prometheus (he is), he may not be enough to beat the Lions on his own, considering how Christian Ponder has spent the last month reminding himself and everyone else that he's Christian Ponder. The Detroit D is likely to crowd the box and make Ponder beat them over the top with, um... Jerome Simpson. Besides, Minnesota's defense has been getting dismembered lately and the Lions offense is just hitting their proverbial stride.
THE PICK: LIONS
Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots
I'm not saying that I expect the Patriots to win by 40, I'm just saying I won't be surprised if the Patriots win by 40.
THE PICK: PATRIOTS
Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints
Am I really about to pick a 3-5 team to beat an 8-0 team? No, but I want to. For the second time in this article I found myself jonesing to pick one team only to find myself grasping at straws when it came to reasons why. I wanted to pick the Saints based on the fact that they've won three of their last four and seem to be "clicking" and are at home and Drew Brees and yadda yadda... but the fact is inarguable that, the Falcons are better than the Saints.
There are three main reasons I switched from picking the Saints to picking the Falcons: a.) yes, New Orleans has won three of their last four, but Atlanta has won four of their last four. And the four before that. 2.) The Saints have the worst defense I've ever seen. I mean, like, ever. D.) There is still a natural discordance between coaches and players, as Joe Vitt and the rest of the Bounty Bunch are incrementally readmitted into NFL activities.
THE PICK: FALCONS
San Diego Chargers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Hey, have you guys seen what Doug Martin is doing? besides having the coolest nickname in the NFL "Muscle Hamster", Martin is also the #1 RB in the league in terms of fantasy points, #3 in rushing yards, and #5 in individual DVOA. Over the past two weeks, Martin has accrued 486 yards from scrimmage and has helped, alongside Josh Freeman and re-emergents Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, to form one of the more potent offensive attacks in the NFL (hey, remember when LeGarrette Blount was a thing?)
Sure, their defense sucks, but-- WAIT A SECOND YOU MEAN THE BUCS DEFENSE DOESNT SUCK ANYMORE? As it turns out, Tampa's defense is not hemorrhaging yards and points to the extent I assumed they were. In fact, they boast a top 10 defensive DVOA as a compliment to their offensive prowess. This is a team on a role and one that is only a half game behind Seattle for a playoff spot.
The Chargers, meanwhile... Man, what might of been if AJ Smith wasn't such a child-cooking goblin. Look at some of the top-end talent that has left San Diego with lots left in their tank during his time there: Drew Brees, LaDanian Tomlinson, Vincent Jackson, Michael Turner, Darren Sproles, Antonio Cromartie, Shawn Merriman, Quentin Jammer, Luis Castillo... Still, the Chargers franchise seems determined to wallow in the mud with Smith and fellow underworld maven Norv Turner and no amount of underachieving is gonna stop that.
THE PICK: BUCCANEERS
Denver Broncos at Carolina Panthers
I cannot, for the life of me, figure out what the shit the Panthers are doing. Their defense is actually good for once (9th in defensive DVOA), Cam Newton is more seasoned than he was during his astonishing rookie year, and they have Jonathan Stewart in the backfield, and Jonathan Stewart is, statistically speaking, one of the hardest running backs to tackle in the entire NFL. Yep, a team with Newton, Stewart, and a top 10 defense is 2-6. If Ron Rivera still has his job after this season, I'll be convinced that he shared his amphibian flipper blood with Norv Turner in an underwater blood pact to insidiously choke the life out of NFL franchises that should be teeming with excitement and growth.
On the other side of things, the Broncos are awesome. I mean it.
THE PICK: BRONCOS
Oakland Raiders at Baltimore Ravens
I keep wanting to write off the Ravens because their defense got gutted by injuries, their offense forgot what an endzone is, and the Steeleres are charging hard. Then I look at the teams the Ravens get to play and I just can't assume their demise. The AFC is so bad, you guys. The Raiders are exactly what everyone except for my insufferable Raiders fan friend Casey thought they'd be this year, which is in over their head. Now that Darren McFadden and his backup Mike Goodson are likely out for this one, i just can't imagine the Raiders getting a win on the road.
THE PICK: RAVENS
New York Jets at Seattle Seahawks
With all due respect to the can't-see-the-forest-for-the-trees disclaimer I always give myself with the Seahawks, I can't imagine a plausible scenario, barring an alien EMP-induced invasion, in which New York successfully leaves the Emerald City with a win. The only times in his career that Mark Sanchez has had success are when his receivers get wide the fuck open. You see Stephen Hill and Jeremy Kerley doing that against Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner?
THE PICK: SEAHAWKS
Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles
Going back through the last two years of picking winners, I've found that i've picked the Eagles to win in far disproportion to their actual record, and I've picked the Cowboys to lose much more than they have. I don't know what it is about these mediocre teams that makes me pick the way I do, I just know that if it weren't for them, I might have the best Pick 'Em record on the planet. If I'm wrong on this one, then I just... I just don't know anymore guys.
Once more into the breach, dear friends...
THE PICK: EAGLES
St Louis Rams at San Francisco 49ers
The site on which I officially record my Pick 'Em winners also shows graphs of who the populous thinks will win. For the first time in history (that I can remember, anyway), there isn't even a registerable amount of people picking the Rams. I mean to say that the St Louis side of the graph is literally a blank space. Do you really need me to break this down for you?
THE PICK; 49ERS
Houston Texans at Chicago Bears
I think this game has the potential to be the best one all season. The Sunday night showdown will feature the two best defenses in the NFL and will be one of the only times in history that two teams with records of 7-1 or better after eight games play each other. The Bears are playing historically good defense, flying around with self-perceived invincibility, impervious, apparently, to the laws of regression, and attacking the football every time it has the nerve to poke it's nose out. Jay Cutler has avoided his usual Cutlery of late, Brandon Marshall is making a claim to be the best receiver in the NFL, and Matt Forte is back to putting defenders on the ground without them even making contact.
So here's why the Texans will win: where the Bears combine elite defense with a couple of top-tier offensive talents, Houston pairs its elite D with an offensive system that moves forward with the emotionless obstinance of a bulldozer. Houston's offense doesn't rely on superfluous individual performance to be successful, they rely on a hair-pluckingly frustrating approach that combines ruthless offensive line surges highlighted by nasty cut blocks, a running back (Arian Foster) hand-crafted by God to be a one-cut-and-go runner, Adonis himself (Andre Johnson) at wideout, and a patient QB (Matt Schaub) that's not above checking off of is superiorly talented options to find a wide open TE Owen Daniels for their weekly touchdown connection.
I expect a fascinating game on Sunday night, and I expect the road team to do enough to win.
THE PICK: TEXANS
Kansas City Chiefs at Pittsburgh Steelers
It figures- it just freaking figures that the one year that the Steelers finally fall off is the one year that the rest of the AFC decided to fall off too. Despite having an old, injured defense that is no longer even very good (19th in defensive DVOA), much less elite, and a roulette table for a backfield, Pittsburgh is 5-3 and only one game behind the hamstrung Ravens for first in the AFC North. Ridiculous, if you ask me.
As far as the Chiefs go, I just can't grant them any serious analysis until Romeo Crennel realizes that the single greatest yards-per-carry runner in NFL history is on his team and that he has a grand total of zero other viable offensive options. As long as Crennel is coach, this team deserves everything it gets. Which will be nothing. Steelers by 100. Ugh.
THE PICK: STEELERS
Fan letters, professions of undying sexual attraction, and the standard 5% commission of your winnings can be sent to Jacson via his Twitter account.