We shatter the record for “accentuating the positive” by mentioning, in the context of yet another lousy week, that we nailed the Dolphins' upset win in New York and also had four other ‘dogs-with-points including Texans over Pats. Now, the reality check. At the season's three-quarters mark, we are cascading to an historically bad year. Our overall .571 mark would be our worst in 23 seasons doing this (.573, 2008), and our sub-Mendoza .393 mark against the spread would be our worst by a ton (.449, 2006). I lead the league in woe. [Note: Thursday-game pick was Jaguars (+3) over Texans, 24-20].
DOLPHINS (6-6) AT STEELERS (5-7)
Mike Wallace's return to Pittsburgh will get the requisite blast of booing from boozed-up fans and the token postgame cluster of inquiring local media. Perhaps Steelers coach Mike Tomlin will discreetly step onto the field and “accidentally” trip Wallace as he prepares to catch a long pass. Let's be honest here, though. Neither Wallace facing his old team nor Tomlin's $100,000 league fine for last week's sneaky skullduggery is the story here. Neither, happily, is the lingering stink of Bullygate. What IS is the AFC playoff race. Dolphins (by a tiebreaker) and Steelers (by a game) both presently trail Baltimore for that sixth and final seed. The winner here will feel very much alive; the loser will summon the oxygen tank. Pittsburgh is no impenetrable fortress; the Steelers are but 3-2 at home. And Ryan Tannehill could well roll a third consecutive 300 on a Pitt pass-D that is allowing 288 yards on average the past five games. Nevertheless, this is the tough opponent the Jets were not. And these will be the conditions — kickoff temp around freezing — not suited to a team from the tropics. Ben Roethlisberger has eight TDs and zero picks in his past three games, and he's 4-0 in his career vs. Miami. Big Ben hot + winter cold = Dolphins' playoff climb turning steeper.
PANTHERS (9-3) AT SAINTS (9-3)
Rancorous debate engulfed the Game of the Week committee's deliberation for Week 14, with jeers over the selection by beaten proponents of Seahawks-49ers. This is the right call, though. It's a battle for first in the NFC South. It's Panthers on an eight-game win streak vs. Saints who are 6-0 at home. It's the winner clinching a playoff spot if other results align. It's prime time. It's Cam Newton trying to earn stripes in Drew Brees' house. That's some good bleep! Cats always play N'Awlins tough. Sean Payton is 6-6 vs. this foe. And Saints coming off a short week after a Monday spanking in Seattle and then a delayed flight back. Upset shot? Large. But I trust in Drew Brees at home. He's 287 passing yards from being the fifth man to 50,000, and he has a 122.2 passer rating at home. He'll bounce back big, and carry the Cajuns with him.
LIONS (7-5) AT EAGLES (7-5)
“AAWWK!” bellows the Upset Bird. “Detraawwk!” An over/under in the mid-50s suggests entertainment if nothing else. Both teams need this in the playoff chase but Detroit is the team that played the early Thanksgiving game at home and thus has had more time to prepare for this week than any other team. Reggie Bush's iffy status gives us pause but I like Matthew Stafford and Valvin Johnson 962 yards in past six games) again Philly's pass-D, and I like Lions' run stoppers limiting LeSean McCoy. Another thing: Nick Foles' crazy 19-0 run on TDs with no picks is a streak aching to end. “Achy Breaky Streak,” agrees U-Bird. “Billy Ray Cyraaawwwk!”
Just when you think the NFL is in a golden era of quarterbacks, a game comes along and offers you Matt McGloin vs. the uber-slumping Geno Smith. Lot of money and sentiment rushing to the Raiders here, but I have a hunch Rex's Stinkin' Jets will show up a little bit. Oakland is only 1-5 on the road, Planes have won three in a row in this series and, of course, the Raiders never met a lead they couldn't blow. Logic wants to steer me to visitors, but the feeling for NYJ is pretty strong.
Duel of division leaders finds both teams in strong playoff position and Indy able to clinch with a win here, or if Tennessee loses. Colts winning will be the tough part. Media darling Andrew Luck hasn't been very good lately — he's 2-5 on TDs/picks with a 66.7 rating his past four games — and now his O-line is hurting. Cincy also brings a big, balanced ground game vs. Nags' 28th-ranked run defense. And 'Gals are 5-0 at home.
Game stayed off betting boards into Thursday because of Aaron Rodgers' status. Gee Bees are a miserable 0-4-1 without him, but Mr. Discount Daaabble-Check is practicing again, although it appears caution will rule and Matt Flynn will start. I like Cheesers at home, anyway. Lambeau in December can be brutal on home teams, and Pack D has held Matt Ryan under 200 yards in all four meetings.
This game also was off bet-boards because of Browns' QB calamity, with Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden both concussed and the sad alternative raw inexperience in either Alex Tanney or Caleb Hanie. Now it appears Campbell will start. Like it matters? Pats clinch playoffs with a win or if Dolphins or Ravens lose. Aside to Bill Belchick: Somebody wanna cover Josh Gordon, please?
Meet our Dog of the Week runner-up, a mutt matchup in which one team (Buffalo) hurtles to its 14th consecutive non-playoff season, and the other team might be even worse. Each has endured seven blown-lead losses, so it's really a question of who'll be less awful. Buffs 1-4 away so make it an anxious venue call.
Kansas City (of the acceptable Indian nickname) has lost three straight but still clinches playoffs with a win here or if Dolphins or Ravens lose. Washington (of the unacceptable Indian nickname) has lost four straight to further shame Native Americans. Big upset shot. KC better rediscover its defense and pass rush, pronto.
Dolfans will be wearing Purple hearts Sunday, as it were, rooting for a Vikings victory — or more properly a Baltimore loss — that would be a huge boost to Miami's playoff chances. It's a long shot. Minny is the only NFL teams without a road win (0-5-1) and Crows are 5-1 at home and 26-4 since 2010. Think Adrian Peterson and Vikes can keep it tight, though.
Denver gets coach John Fox back on the sideline a month after heart surgery, and Broncos are 13-1 at home under Peyton Manning including 6-0 this year. They clinch a playoff spot with a win or if Dolphins or Ravens lose. They'll get the win, but I like Titans with points. Weather figures brutal — temp in the teens with a chance of snow — and Manning historically struggles in freezing climes.
Carson Palmer has been very good the past month-plus, and 'Zona brings a 5-1 home record and a stout run defense — all elements to suggest a Cacti win. Careful, though. Cardbirds have lost eight consecutive division games — including three in a row to St. Louis.
Remember when these teams swapped QBs on draft day because Eli Manning strong-armed the process by saying he wouldn't play in San Diego? Chargers fans remember. They’ll heap hatred on Eli. But will it matter? I don't trust San Diego, which has lost four of its past five, but I like Bolts at home vs. a Biggies squad that's 2-4 traveling.
Seattle looked great in crushing N'Awlins on Monday to become first to clinch a playoff spot, and 'Hawks have won past two vs. San Fran by scores of 42-13 and 29-3. Starbuckers are less themselves on the road, though and Frans have won four straight at home in series by a combined 109-54. All the talk is Seattle and Russell Wilson, so expect a remember-us? performance by Niners, who are 9-3 against the spread.
Bears hoped Jay Cutler might return here after three games out, but ruled Thursday Josh McCown would start again. That's OK. McCown's been fine. What really steers this Monday pick, for me, is DeMarco Murray vs. a Chitown run-D allowing 205.2 yards and 5.9 per the past six games. Cows also should get LB Sean Lee back. Did I mention Bears are 2-9-1 against the spread?