There hasn’t been much to thank the NFL for this year (or, the last few years if we’re really keeping score). The product on the field has been mediocre far too often, and whether that’s due to ticky-tacky officiating, poor play, too many commercials, too many protests, ETC… I’ll leave that up to you to decide. But most would pretty readily admit that it hasn’t been the finest year for a league that’s shield usually casts a shadow over every other major sport in America, and everything else in many Americans’ lives on Sundays.
That just hasn’t happened in 2016.
Then, this past Sunday, a confluence of factors — most notably the traumatic/cathartic (depending on your side of the aisle) conclusion to the presidential election and a perfect slate of NFL football — put the NFL at the forefront of many minds desperate for a distraction.
And football delivered.
The Steelers and Cowboys delivered the best game of the season and there were at least five to six more one-score games on Sunday that were as thrilling as any we’ve seen all year.
The NFL, in a football sense at least, came through in the clutch. They wen’t all Adam Vinatieri on us.
I, on the other hand, didn’t.
ATS (Against The Spread) Record – 6-8 (Season Record – 67-77-4)
Straight Up – 7-7 (Season Record – 79-66-2)
Locks of the Week – 3-2 (Season Record – 29-24-1)
As always, here’s how we’ll break all of the games down.
No way we can lose – locks of the week: As you can guess, these will be the stone-cold locks of the week. The games that I’m so confident about that I’d put my life’s savings on them if I had a life’s savings to wager.
Feeling pretty… pretty good: Not quite willing to bet the farm on this batch, but as Mr. Larry David would say, I’m feeling pretty… pretty good about these games.
Heads or Tails: These are your true toss ups: they can go one way or another and you should pick with caution even after heeding my expert advice.
All spreads courtesy of CBS
(4-5) New Orleans Saints @ (3-6) Carolina Panthers (-3.5) – Thursday, 8:25 p.m. ET
ATS/Straight Up – Saints
You can search the annals of NFL history as long as you’d like, and you’d be hard pressed to find two tougher losses than the ones the Saints and the Panthers endured just three short days ago.
So the question is, how do these two teams — both in desperate need of a win to keep their playoff hopes alive — respond after heartbreaking losses?
Thanks to a combination of the short week and familiarity with the opposition (division rivals), I think this one stays close just like their matchup nearly a month ago in the Superdome.
Just as they did on that fateful day, I think the Saints pull this one out and definitely like them to cover.
No Way We Can Lose — Locks Of The Week
(4-5) Pittsburgh Steelers @ (0-10) Cleveland Browns (+9) – Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
ATS/Straight Up – Steelers
While I’m always inclined to give the big home dog in a divisional game a really close second look, I don’t think this game necessitates that.
As unsavory as their loss to the Cowboys was on Sunday, they did a lot of things right and have a lot to build on. Their offense returned to form after their worst outing of the season against the Ravens and gave them a chance to win against one of the best teams in the NFL.
Their defense, obviously, leaves a lot to be desired still as they were dominated by the Cowboys’ impressive offensive line and their young duo of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott.
The Browns, in no way, shape or form, can do to the Steelers what the Cowboys did to them.
Pittsburgh’s defense will rebound here while the offense will pick up where they left off on Sunday en route to a double-digit victory.
(5-5) Tennessee Titans @ (4-5) Indianapolis Colts (-3) – Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
ATS/Straight Up – Titans
Both teams are coming off of wins over the stunningly inept Green Bay Packers and both are looking to stay within arms reach of the division-leading Houston Texans (who we’re all expecting to falter at some point in the very near future) with a win in Week 11.
My distaste for the Colts and how they’ve mismanaged prime years of Andrew Luck’s career aside, the Titans have arrived.
Their rushing attack is formidable, Marcus Mariota is on the cusp of putting it all together in year two and their defense is serviceable, if not an above average unit.
The Colts’ defense is simply bad and they’ll struggle to stop the Titans’ No. 3-ranked rushing offense all day, which will hamper Luck and the offense’s ability to get things going.
Titans win and cover with ease.
(2-7) Chicago Bears @ (6-3) New York Giants (-7) – Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
ATS/Straight Up – Giants
The New Yorker in me knows that the Giants, for whatever reason, don’t do well in these ‘obviously they’re going to win’ situations.
The football analyst/fan in me takes one look at the mess that is the 2016 Chicago Bears and wonders how they could possibly keep it close.
I put my money on Jay Cutler building on his big win over the Vikings last weekend (reminder: never bet on Jay Cutler) and it cost me.
As a result, this week I’ll let the football analyst/fan win this internal argument and go with Big Blue.
Logic over intuition… what could go wrong?
(4-5) Buffalo Bills @ (3-5-1) Cincinnati Bengals (-3) – Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
ATS/Straight Up – Bills
Two AFC teams playing for what remains of their playoff lives and quite possibly for their coaches’ jobs… this should be a good one.
Maybe I’m getting soft in my old age, but I actually felt awful for Rex Ryan when the Bills got completely and utterly jobbed by the refs in their game against the Seahawks on Monday night in Week 9.
The Bills played their hearts out against a top team in the league, in the toughest stadium to play in in the NFL, and got rewarded for it with the worst officiating performance of the year that probably cost them the game.
The Bengals’ 2016 season is the Marvin Lewis era encapsulated into one year — close, but not close enough.
I think the Bills are the better team and win outright here, putting Marvin Lewis’ job into serious jeopardy.
(5-4) Miami Dolphins @ (4-5) Los Angeles Rams (-1) – Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET
ATS/Straight Up – Dolphins
Congrats to the No. 1 overall pick for finally joining the party! That’s right, Jared Goff is getting the start against the Dolphins on Sunday at home, which is great for the kid, but makes this game really hard to pick.
With Case Keenum you at least know exactly what you’re going to get — awful quarterback play.
With Goff, who knows?
Jeff Fisher sure doesn’t. Scouts and analysts don’t. The Dolphins don’t.
My guess? He struggles. The Dolphins get one over on the rookie in his first start and extend their winning streak to five games.
Feeling Pretty… Pretty Good
(5-4) Philadelphia Eagles @ (6-2-1) Seattle Seahawks (-6.5) – Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET
ATS/Straight Up – Seahawks
This is definitely the safe pick. Is there a part of me that could see the Eagles coming into Seattle and shocking the Seahawks?
But Seattle is playing some phenomenal football right now and my gut tells me they’re going to be ready for whatever the Eagles throw at them offensively.
Defensively, the Eagles pose some issues for the Seahawks, especially with their ability to get to the passer, but ultimately I think the Eagles still aren’t ready to win this big of a game in this spot against a ‘Hawks squad that’s just rolling right now.
(5-4) Baltimore Ravens @ (8-1) Dallas Cowboys (-7) – Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
ATS – Ravens
Straight Up – Cowboys
Trust me, I’m well aware of my anti-Ravens rhetoric over the last few weeks (but I sincerely appreciate all of you making sure I know that I’m a “Ravens hater”). And I thought I had this team nailed after watching them fall to my hapless New York Jets in Week 8, but I’ll admit it — I may have been wrong about this team.
Their defense has been superb, smothering, stifling, whatever ‘S’ word you want to toss in there fits, unless it’s ‘Super’ combined with ‘Bowl’.
This is not a bad football team, but they’re not that good. The Cowboys, meanwhile, look like they’re ready to ride their youngsters and their offensive line to a first-round bye and more if they can keep up their winning ways.
I expect them to do that, but I also expect the Ravens’ defense to give them some issues in this game, keeping it close.
Cowboys pull it out, but it’ll be tight.
(4-4-1) Arizona Cardinals @ (5-4) Minnesota Vikings (-0.5) – Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
ATS/Straight Up – Cardinals
If we could somehow get the Panthers and Packers invited to this game, we’d have the NFL’s four biggest underachievers under one roof. Wouldn’t that be fun?!
I’d like to say I see the Vikings’ skid ending sometime soon, but I just don’t.
Their issues on the offensive line and in the running game are here to stay and it’ll extend their losing streak to five games against a Cardinals team that can take advantage of their flaws.
Cardinals creep above .500 with a win over the Vikings.
(9-1) New England Patriots @ (1-8) San Francisco 49ers (+13.5) – Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET
ATS – 49ers
Straight Up – Patriots
Look — I know how it looks. The big bad Patriots are coming off a loss and they’re going to be out for blood. Yeah, that fits the Belichick script, I get it.
Now, the counterpoint.
They’ll be without Rob Gronkowski, are traveling cross-country, and will be playing a team that is likely going to treat this game as their Super Bowl.
I think the impermeable Patriots get a little complacent and the 49ers sneak up on them. I think San Fran actually gets up early and the Patriots have to recover to win this one. They’ll do it, but I don’t think it’ll be the walk in Golden Gate park everyone expects.
(4-5) Green Bay Packers @ (5-3-1) Washington Redskins (-2.5) – Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET
ATS/Straight Up – Redskins
The Packers, unfortunately, don’t get to rest on the laurels of Packers teams past. Usually, this would be the week we’d pick the Packers with the expectation that they’re going to snap out of it, or that Rodgers will find a way, but that modus operandi just isn’t cutting it.
The Packers need to prove it.
And don’t get me wrong, Sunday Night Football in front of the entire nation is a great place to do it. I just don’t think what ails the Packers is a quick fix.
I think their struggles continue and the Redskins down an NFC North foe for the second straight week.
Heads or Tails
(2-7) Jacksonville Jaguars @ (5-4) Detroit Lions (-6.5) – Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
ATS – Jaguars
Straight Up – Lions
The Jaguars might not be able to win football games, but they do come close to it from time to time, especially in the last few weeks. They outplayed the Chiefs and would have won that game going away if it weren’t for the whole ‘turning the ball over’ thing, which cost them dearly against the Texans last week as well.
Here’s where I’d usually point out that the Lions aren’t a team that forces a lot of turnovers (4 INTs on the year, 0 TDs, only three fumbles recovered) and that bodes well for the Jags! Problem is, the Texans don’t either and they STILL managed to force three fumbles out of the Jags (one recovered).
But regardless of all of that and the litany of reasons never to pick the Jaguars, I think they cover here. I think they limit turnovers and the Lions — who haven’t won or lost a single game this year by more than a touchdown — will have a (cat?) dog fight on their hands.
(4-5) Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ (7-2) Kansas City Chiefs (-7.5) – Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
ATS – Bucs
Straight Up – Chiefs
To say the Bucs’ offense is one-dimensional isn’t accurate because in reality, it’s one player. Mike Evans has carried the Bucs’ offense this season and is the team’s offensive MVP and might even belong in the MVP conversation league-wide.
The problem is, against the Chiefs, he’ll have his hands full with Marcus Peters, who has probably been the best player in the league at the cornerback position.
This is the matchup of the week from a player-on-player perspective.
As far as the matchup otherwise, the issue for me here is that the spread feels too high.
The Bucs have been feast or famine this year in terms of keeping games close, but I think they keep it tight against KC, but ultimately fall short.
(6-3) Houston Texans @ (7-2) Oakland Raiders (-6) – Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET (Game will be played in Mexico City)
ATS/Straight Up – Raiders
All year long I’ve refrained from making ridiculously pin-point predictions. You know, things along the lines of ‘Team X will be beating Team Y 34-31 with 1:55 left when Quarterback X will march his team down the field and throw a touchdown to Receiver Y with exactly nine seconds left!’
Yeah, I’m about to start.
I think the Raiders lead this one late by four or five, Brock Osweiler has the chance to lead his team down the field, and throws a pick-six to ice the game for the Raiders and end the week on a back-door cover.
You heard it here first.
Bryan Altman is, for some reason, an unabashed fan of the Rangers, Jets and Mets. If he absolutely had to pick a basketball team it would be the Knicks, but he’d gladly trade them for a championship for any of his other three teams.