What a weird week in what has been a weird, depressing season of picks for me. Enjoyed a solid and needed 11-4 mark overall, which normally bodes well for the against-the-spread record, too. But not for me last week. Of course not! I nailed two outright upset picks with Dolphins over Chargers and Steelers over Lions but not enough else went right. The three pushes were 3-point wins by the Colts, Bears and Saints. I was on the right side of all three games, meaning one point each cost me. Story of my season. The goal now: To not set personal career lows across the board. Incentive doesn't get much sadder, friends. [Note: Thursday-game pick was Saints (-9) over Falcons, 34-20].
PANTHERS (7-3) at DOLPHINS (5-5)
The NFL's Bullygate investigator, New York lawyer Ted Wells, has been in town all week along with his Fabulously Surreal Mustache probing the Dolphins' inner sanctum. And if you've ever had your inner sanctum probed you know how uncomfortable that can be. (I mentioned Ted's extraordinary mustache. It is wider than the span of his lips, lending an appearance both mesmerizing and creepy. I digress). Miami is up to overcoming the undeniable, ongoing distraction of Bullygate; that was proved last week vs. San Diego. What the Dolphins are NOT up to overcoming here, I don't think, are the duel threat of Cam Newton and hot Carolina’s excellent, perhaps NFL-best defense. Miami would catch a break if Panthers DE Charles Johnson (knee) can't play, but there would be much else in the way. The Dolphins run defense has allowed 152.3 yards the past four games, and Ryan Tannehill's offense has struggled – averaging only 19.8 points since the 3-0 start – against far worse defenses. I do give Miami at home a medium upset shot, but it isn't something I'd bet on. Almost forgot: Miami, let's give a warm welcome-back to Ted Ginn Jr. and his family!
BRONCOS (9-1) at PATRIOTS (7-3)
“AAWWK!” booms the Upset Bird. “Tom Braawwk! Patriaaawwwk!” I know. Picking Tom Brady at home hardly feels like an upset. But picking against Denver and Peyton Manning this season is. More than the duel of top teams, it is these quarterbacks' 14th all-time head-to-head that makes this game ideal for the Sunday prime-time stage and should see huge TV ratings. Give me the Pats because they are 5-0 at home, because Manning is 2-9 all-time in Foxboro, and also because a concussion could erase Wes Welker from his return to New England. That would be a big loss for Manning. Also see Team Hoodie playing with some good anger after Pats felt cheated by the officials on that last-second call/non-call vs. Carolina last week. (By the way, Brady has now played 185 games under Bill Belichick, breaking the QB/coach longevity record held by Dan Marino and Don Shula). “Ever notice how Belichick's furtive visage suggests a man keeping dark secrets?” notes U-Bird. “Belichaaawwwk!”
JAGUARS (1-9) at TEXANS (2-8)
Two miserable seasons collide in a mutt of a matchup even by Dog of the Week standards. Nobody is worse than the Jaguars. And nobody has been a bigger disappointment than the Texans, who with an astounding eight losses in a row edge even Atlanta for gross underachievement. Houston has won five straight in this series, is the clearly more talented team, and should show it at home. Like Jaggers getting double-digits, though; seven of 10 HOU games have been decided by one score.
STEELERS (4-6) at BROWNS (4-6)
Here are two of seven AFC teams at 4-6, one game behind Dolphins and Jets for the last wild-card spot, so this is a big game despite the mediocre records. Pittsburgh has rebounded pretty well from its 0-4 start, and Ben Roethlisberger is 15-1 all-time over the Earthtones and hasn't been picked off in Cleveland since '06. Interesting subtext: Steelers like to go deep and Brownies defend longball well. Money on Big Ben. Upset!
BUCCANEERS (2-8) at LIONS (6-4)
Detroit could get WR Nate Burleson back form injury for first time since Week 3, which would be well-timed, because T-Bay has Darrelle Revis to cover star Calvin Johnson. Buccaneers are 0-4 on road but have won four of past five trips to Motown and I think will keep this one inside the betting number.
VIKINGS (2-8) at PACKERS (5-5)
Gee Bees have lost three straigth sans Aaron Rodgers and need to hang on in the playof frace until his imminent return. Third-stringer Scott Tolzien starts again here, but I like Pack anyway. Cheesers on a 7-1 series run, and Purples are 0-5 on road. Minny also is banged up. Greg Jennings is iffy in his return to Lambeau, and, more important, Adrian Peterson (groin) is a legit questionable.
CHARGERS (4-6) at CHIEFS (9-1)
Sense a major upset shot for Chargers here. The caveat is that San Diego (for me) is is one of the more erratic, tough-to-predict squads. KC has Denver again next week and could be looking ahead despite protestations to the contrary. And Bolts have won nine of past 11 meetings in this rivalry. Give me Jamaal Charles against a run-D allowing 5.0 per carry. But see it close.
BEARS (6-4) at RAMS (4-6)
Josh McCown has looked better than Kellen Clemens in the battle of backups QBs, and Chitown's injury-wracked defense has coalesced a bit lately. Bears have won past four in series and get by here in small upset. Bonus Fact: Bro Bowl! Bears rookie OG Kyle Long vs. Rams DE Chris Long. Chris takes the matchup, but not the win.
JETS (5-5) at RAVENS (4-6)
Jets are first team since the 1970 merger to alternate wins and losses in all of their first 10 games. Since they lost last week, that checkerboard pattern suggests a win here. But not much else does. Ravens have won seven straight in series, Planes are 1-4 on the road, and QB Geno Smith was abysmla last week and is 1-8 on TDs/picks the past five games. Aside: New Jet Ed Reed faces his former team, but, like Mick Jagger, he can't get no satsifaction.
TITANS (4-6) at RAIDERS (4-6)
Grading Titans as the slightly better team here, and not that bad (2-2) on the road. Tenners also with a little more time to prepare after playing last Thursday. I am worried about Titans soft run defense stopping Rashad Jennings and Oaks' big ground game, but not worried enough to not like the slight upset.
COLTS (7-3) at CARDINALS (6-4)
'Zona's Bruce Arians, you'll recall, won coach of the year honors for Indy last season before going west, and this marks the first time a reigning coach of the year has faced his old team the next season. Cardbirds have won three straight and I know I'm slow to the bandwagon, but I like Indy here. Nags are 4-1 on road, and Andrew Luck and Donald Brown will figure out a good Cacti defense,. Also never quite trust Carson Palmer to not throw two picks.
COWBOYS (5-5) at GIANTS (4-6)
'Boys beat Biggies in Week 1 and Dallas hasn't swept season series since 2007. An upset here would not surprise even a little. NYG's four straight wins have come against all backup QBs and Tony Romo brings a far greater challenge. Still, Dallas is 1-4 on the road, and oh that awful defense! Cows' pass-D already has allowed four 400-yard games, and Eli Manning could well be No. 5.
49ERS (6-4) at REDSKINS (3-7)
Duel of top backs Frank Gore and Alfred Morris spices an intriguing Monday nighter that finds San Fran having fallen to the outer edge of the NFC playoff chase and needing their mojo back. (Aside to the referee: Don't call Washington OT Trent Williams a bad name; he'll be listening). Whatever has been ailing Colin Kaepernick and his offense lately, the Unmentionable Nicknames' horrid defense provides the cure.
OFF THIS WEEK