Happy to put last week in the past. (If only.) Had nice outright-upset picks with Redskins over Cowboys and Jaguars over Titans but still was an embarrassing 8-8 overall, on the wrong side of too many either/or calls. Those freaky six ties against the spread were from two winners that pushed (Texans, Falcons) and four games that were off the board when I picked ’em. Know how Rex Ryan still thinks he can make the playoffs? I still think I can catch .500 against the spread. [Thursday pick was Falcons (-4) over Saints, 34-31].
PATRIOTS (8-3) at DOLPHINS (5-6)
As Week 13 unfurls, I have to believe my struggle forecasting Dolphins games this year is rooted in over-analysis, too much thinking. Or am I over-analyzing in thinking that? Anyway, let’s keep this one simple. Tom Brady’s TD/INT ratio (24-3) is so good it should be illegal, and the Patriots offense is so good it normally is approaching 30 points by pregame warmups. England’s defense is better than advertised, too, its 32 takeaways ranking second in the league. Oh, did I mention that Bill Belichick is a pretty good coach even when he hasn’t had extra time to prepare after playing on Thanksgiving? Pats clinch AFC East title with a win here, and have swept this series the past two seasons and won eight of past 10 vs. Miami. But I still like the home ’dog getting a touchdown-plus in a physical division rivalry. A bigger and louder than typical home crowd also should give Miami some tailwind. Who cares if a bunch of the crowd is Pats fans? Dolphins will keep it close.
GIANTS (7-4) at REDSKINS (5-6)
“AAAWWWK!” serenades the Upset Bird. “Robert Griffin the thaawwk!” Five games were on the Game of the Week radar but since none stood out, a plurality of support went to red-hot RG3 vs. the defending champions on the Monday stage in a fierce division rivalry. Not bad, right? Giants have won 10 of past 13 vs. D.C. but the rookie Griffin changes the dynamic. Skins thought they should have won Round 1 in October, but a late defensive lapse gave Biggies a long TD pass with 1:13 left and a 27-23 final that felt like a gift. Now Washers are home with extra time to prepare and something to prove. “Tom Coughlin vs. Mike Shanahan in a battle of the two coaches voted mostly likely to look at any given time as if they’ve just bitten a lemon,” notes U-Bird. “Bitten a laaawwwk!”
I know the Panthers won last week and that the Chiefs gave Denver a good game — which, if you’re the Chiefs, is almost like winning. But, c’mon. The scent of a combined record of 4-18 is going to attract the worst-game-seeking Dog panel every time. Chiefs are 0-6 at home and have lost eight in a row, which is partly why I give them an XXL-sized upset shot here. Cats will arrive cocky, even though they haven’t earned the right. Every Dog has its day, and nobody is due like Kansas City. (Maybe this should have been our Upset of the Week, come to think of it.)
Chad Henne the past two games has a 119 passer rating for Jacksonville with six TDs and only one pick. Yes, Chad Henne! And claiming Jason Babin off the waiver wire should help Jags’ paltry pass rush. But let’s not suddenly mistake J-ville for a decent team, OK? Jax is 1-4 on road and weather also favors Buffs. Close, though. Who are the Bills to be favored over anybody by six points?
Game of the Week finalist. Seattle has won at Solider Field each of past two seasons and has another great shot here. But I can’t get past this: Seahawks are 1-5 away and Bears are 5-1 at home. And Chitown has the defense to make Russell Wilson forget his hot hand and remind him he’s a rookie. The pick presumes Matt Forte (ankle) will play. Either way, like ’Hawks with that dangling half-point.
On Nov. 11, these divisionists produced the NFL’s first standings-blemishing tie since 2008, but now the Niners should get back to dominating this series. Frans have a different starting QB than last time in Colin Kaepernick, but it is the visitors’ defense that should spell the result. I like improved Rams at home to keep it inside the betting line, though.
Did you hear? Jets superfan “Fireman Ed” has retired. Hung up his helmet. This is big news in Fireman Ed’s house. Well, Jets fans should find something to cheer without him here. Arizona has a rookie QB who is struggling (Ryan Lindley) and has lost seven games in a row. This is a visitor that can make a home team look good even if said home team isn’t good.
Overachieving Colts and underachieving Lions intersect in what Andrew Luck and Matthew Stafford should turn into an entertaining shootout. Motown has lost some tough close ones (including on Thanksgiving) and is due some luck, and Indy has proved distinctly better at home, with 16 turnovers in its five road games. Always dicey liking erratic Lions, but let’s roll ’em.
Another Game of the Week nominee, and a game vital in the evolving playoff picture. Pack has won four in a row and nine of past 12 in this division series, and now Aaron Rodgers should have Greg Jennings back to counter Adrian Peterson’s big day against a depleted Gee Bees run D. Can’t see a second consecutive off game by Mister Rodgers’ crew after last week’s egg vs. Giants.
Houston clinches playoff spot with a win. Book it. Betting line grew throughout week but still seems modest, perhaps because Tennessee is 7-3 at home vs. Houston. But Texans dominated Titans 38-14 on Sept. 30, and should again. In a duel of top backs, like Arian Foster vs. Tenners’ D a lot more than Chris Johnson vs. Houston’s. Texans also are 5-0 on road and should be well-rested after playing on Bird Day.
Denver clinches division crown with a win. Plenty of heat emanating from this Game of the Week nominee, with Denver on a six-game W streak and Bucs on a 4-1 roll. Peyton Manning’s offense hit an uncharacteristic lull at Kansas City last week but should find its gear-shift at home. But I like Josh Freeman, Doug Martin and that suddenly potent T-Bay offense to keep it under the bet line.
This yapping, doggy matchup stayed off the betting boards because of Browns QB Brandon Weeden’s concussion, though it was apparent by Thursday he’d likely play. Good timing, in that Oakland has surrendered a league-high 23 opponent TD passes, six in the past two games. Cleveland has lost an abysmal 12 road games in a row, but every trend eventually must end. (Right?)
Andy Dalton is 9-0 on TDs/picks in Cincy’s three-game win streak, and Diego has a banged-up secondary. Uh oh. But, you know how when you play certain lottery numbers you have to always play them because the one week you don’t those numbers will finally hit? I’m that way picking the Chargers to win. As much as they’ve cost me, I can’t stop now. I just can’t!
Baltimore cinches playoff spot with a win. This would have been your Game of the Week but for the strong likelihood Big Ben Roethlisberger would again be sidelined, plunder ing Pitt’s chances. Doubt about that kept the game off bet boards, but by Thursday it looked like more Charlie Batch. Ravens have won three in a row in series including 13-10 three weeks ago, and Crows have won 16 in a row at home overall.
Philly has lost seven in a row — one more and it’s the worst Eagles skid since 1968 — Andy Reid is on fire, and rookie Nick Foles starts again at QB. Dallas needed a big 4Q rally to win 38-23 Nov. 11, though, and the point spread feels fat here. ’Boys are a bit untrustworthy, and if Birds have an ounce of pride left, they’ll pour it into a credible showing in this staggered division rivalry.