I am thankful for good health, a wonderful family, great friends, the country I love and a decent bleepin’ week against the point spread. Finally got another of those last week, nailing three outright upset picks as well as three ‘dogs-with-points. The highlight was a bull’s-eye on my Upset of the Week call with Patriots over Broncos (“Aawwk!”). The score was 34-31. I’d called it 34-30. Sorry. [Note: Thursday-game picks were Lions (-6) over Packers, 28-24; Cowboys (-9 1/2) over Raiders, 27-19; and Steelers (+3) over Ravens, 21-17].
DOLPHINS (5-6) AT JETS (5-6)
Haters will make fun and question if this is a big game, but it IS still a percolating rivalry and it IS a swing game in the chase for that elusive No. 6 AFC playoff spot. Miami must win to stay apace with Thursday night’s Steelers-Ravens winner for that final seed. It won’t be easy. Jets are pretty good at home (4-1), the weather will be funky-cold, and Rex Ryan’s run defense is strong enough that I’d expect an emphasis on pressure on Ryan Tannehill. That means a big onus again on that Dolphins offensive line held together with Scotch tape and a prayer. So why do I like Miami in a mild upset? It’s less my faith in the Dolphins, honestly, as it is my faith in the Planes to run off the tarmac and into a ditch. NYJ self-destruct; it’s what they do. And QB Geno Smith (sorry, I know he’s a local kid) has been worse than abysmal lately. Just awful. Can the “We want Sanchez!” chants be far off? The winner here gets to keep believing in the playoffs, and for Dolfans that’s a welcome diversion from a full month of Bullygate and the subsequent NFL investigation. The controversy still is on the team like stink, and only winning makes it tolerable.
SAINTS (9-2) AT SEAHAWKS (10-1)
“AAWWK!” sings the Upset Bird, always ebullient this time of year and thanking fate he wasn’t born a turkey. “Drew Braaawwwk!” Sorry Broncos-Chiefs, but the Game of the Week committee had it easy. This is not only a plausible NFC Championship Game preview but also the best combined-record Monday game this late in a season since 1990. The teams have won nine games in a row between them, and what a duel of impressive streaks: Seahawks are 13-0 at home under Russell Wilson, while prolific Saint Drew Brees is on a 9-0 run on MNF, with a fat 123.6 passer rating in the process. Seattle’s home strength and coming off a bye would have us play it safe here, but N’Awlins’ improved defense puts the result in play and my gut says, “Let the Brees carry you.” So it shall be. “Treating the word Brees as if it were ‘breeze.’ How clever,” mocks a grinning U-Bird. ”Hope you all had a Happy Thanksgaaawwwk!”
JAGUARS (2-9) AT BROWNS (4-7)
One other Week 13 matchup features two teams with the same records and going nowhere (Falcons-Bills), but this game gets the nod based on the first Dog tiebreaker: Historic Ineptitude. I give Jax a shot here (both the Jags’ win have been away), but make it a venue call for the Earthtones.
Tennessee’s loose grip on the AFC’s No. 6 playoff seed is about to get looser. Colts have won nine of past 10 in series, including 30-27 three weeks ago. Titans have lost five in a row in Indiana. Key for Nags will be a fast start; Indy has been outscored 93-12 in first halves of past four games. Colts owner Jim Irsay, disturbed by two recent lopsided losses, advised his players to urgently “get their head out of their butts.” Because he asked nicely, I believe they will. But barely.
Interesting matchup: Vikes’ Adrian Peterson versus a Bears’ run-D that is the worst in the NFL after being trampled for 258 by St. Lou last week. That’s a reason for A.P.’s fantasy owners to rejoice. But not necessarily a reason to like Minny here. Remember that Chitown has won seven of past eight in series including 31-20 in September. And that Purples allow more opponent points (31.5 per) than anybody.
A month ago it didn’t seem it would be, but this is a quality game, with Zona (4) and Philly (3) having won consecutive games between them. Also two hot QBs, Carson Palmer with a 110.8 rating during the Cardbirds‘ streak, and Nick Foles 16-0 on TDs/picks. Like Philly in the Bird Bowl, home and coming off a bye, but hedging on that half point on the bet line.
Carolina has won seven in a row, and Cam Newton has emerged on the periphery of MVP chatter. But Tampa Bay is the first team since the 1978 St. Louis Cardinals to start 0-8 and then win three in a row. That bears noting, as does Bucs QB Mike Glennon’s 10-1 run on scoring throws vs. INTs. Darrelle Revis is questionable (groin), which must make Steve Smith happy, but I still sort of like Bucs getting all these points.
Preseason, you circled this as a possible AFC title-game preview. Now it’s half of that. Pats have lived up, despite injuries. Texans have been a monumental disappointment. See this one close, though. Houston gets a bit of a lift from coach Gary Kubiak’s expected return to sideline after a health scare. More than that, English figure to be going through the motions after that emotional miracle-rally over Denver.
What have the poor people of Canada done to deserve this game? It is Buffalo’s sixth regular-season game in Toronto. “Enough!” the city of Toronto should say. I’ll take Buffs coming off a bye over a fizzling Falcons squad that is 0-5 on the road. Yet, on a hunch, an Atlanta win would not surprise even a little.
San Fran is 12-4-1 in past 17 games in this series, including an 0-4-1 Rams run out west, and including a 35-11 rout by the 49ers in September, powered by Frank Gore’s 153 yards. Now the Niners get a boost with the expected season debut of WR Michael Crabtree. Still, a big betting number. Rams aren’t that bad.
This game’s winner could be first AFC team to clinch a playoff spot if a bunch of other results fall just right. Peyton Manning has beaten the Chiefs three straight including 27-17 just 12 days ago, but KC is 5-1 at home and this one will be closer. Injuries are a wild-card, with Broncs RB Knowshon Moreno questionable and Chiefs also possibly missing two of their sack men. Sidenote: Peyton is 278 yards from his 13th 4,000-yard season.
Cincy coming off a bye and San-D off a big win over Kansas City tilts this one in Bengals’ favor, perhaps. But visitors have cushion of two-game division lead while Bolts are scrambling in that big scrum for that No. 6 seed. Plus, Cincy is only 2-4 on road and Philip Rivers is playing really well.
D.C.’s defense is bad but NYG’s isn’t much better, and offensively I give the edge to the Unmentionable Nicknames. Washington has won three of past four over their NFC East rivals, and Biggies are only 1-4 on the road this year. RGIII outpitches Eli and gets the small upset.