Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend Of 10/23/16

To appropriate the Dan Patrick/Keith Olbermann line from SportsCenter many years ago, last week’s NFL Mythical Picks were en fuego. I made 16 picks; the record for the week was 12-3-1. That brings the season record for NFL Mythical Picks to 57-35-2.

I was not assisted in the least last week by the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Protocol. The coin went 0-2-0 dropping the coin below the 50% mark for the season at 4-6-0.

The Best Picks of the week were:

    Dolphins +8.5 against Steelers. Dolphins won outright by 15 points.
    Cowboys +4 against Packers. Cowboys won outright by 14 points.

The Worst Picks of the week were:

    Jags/Bears OVER 46.5. Total Score was 33 points.
    Panthers/Saints UNDER 53. Total Score was 79 points.

Notwithstanding the success from last week, no one should take anything written here as sufficiently insightful or authoritative as to be worthy of being the basis for making a real wager involving real money on a real NFL game this weekend. Here is how dumb you would have to be to do that:

    You think jumping to conclusions and pushing your luck is a great aerobic workout.

General Comments:

Last week was not a good week to be a fan of AFC North teams. Every one of them lost and two of the four teams – Steelers and Bengals – lost by 2 TDs or more. The division as a whole has a losing record and for those fans who say that the feckless Cleveland Browns are the reason for that bad division record, take a look at the standings. The Bengals, Ravens and Steelers are a combined 9-9 for the season.

The Steelers got some really bad news last Sunday. Ben Roethlisberger had to undergo arthroscopic surgery to repair the meniscus in his knee. Reports say he will be out 4-6 weeks. That seems like an awfully short rehab period based on what I have seen after various friends of mine underwent the same sort of surgery. Then again, those friends are not in their 30s and are not professional athletes…

In any event, even if Roethlisberger can be back to play at something near his normal level of proficiency in 4 weeks, that will leave the Steelers to face this schedule with Landry Jones and/or Zach Mettenberger at the wheel:

    Oct 23: Patriots in Pittsburgh
    Oct 30: BYE Week
    Nov 6: Ravens at Baltimore
    Nov 13: Cowboys in Pittsburgh

Remember, that assumes Roethlisberger is back at the early end of the estimate …

Another team with a “Quarterback Situation” – a team that seems always to have a “Quarterback Situation” – is the NY Jets. Just after last week’s embarrassing loss to the Cards, coach Todd Bowles said that Ryan Fitzpatrick would be the starter this week even though he had been pulled from the game in favor of Geno Smith in the late stages of that debacle. About 24 hours later he waffled on that statement and less than 48 hours later, the word is that Geno Smith will be the QB for the Jets this weekend at home against the Ravens.

Let me say 2 things about that change of heart with regard to the Jets’ “Quarterback Situation”:

    1. This is not going to set the Jets on a path to go 9-1 for the rest of the season and put them in the playoff picture.

    2. Notwithstanding that outlook, this is something the Jets have to do now.

Let me explain … The Jets’ 1-5 record is only partially due to poor play from Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB. His play has gotten the preponderance of attention and commentary because of the protracted negotiations that it took to get him back on the Jets’ roster this year and because his game with 6 INTs produced an eye-popping statistic. Trust me; I am not going to try to concoct a case that Fitzpatrick has played anywhere near “well” in 2016; he has been bad. Consider these offensive stats for the Jets as a team:

    Jets averaging just under 16 points per game. As a benchmark, the Jags – not an offensive powerhouse by any measure – are averaging just over 20 points per game.

    Jets are 13th in the AFC in total offense. As a benchmark, the Browns – not an offensive juggernaut by any measure – rank 9th in the AFC.

Ryan Fitzpatrick had a “career year” in 2015 and has regressed to the mean. He is not the resolution of the Jets’ longstanding “Quarterback Situation”; that does not make him a bad person. However, it does present the Jets with a problem because Geno Smith – not a man with an impressive NFL résumé to be sure – is currently playing out his rookie contract. Soon after the Super Bowl is contested – without the Jets’ participation let me say – the team has to make a couple of decisions with regard to its “Quarterback Situation” looking ahead:

    If they even deign to make Ryan Fitzpatrick a contract offer, it will be for the kind of money teams pay for backups.

    They need to decide if they want to make Geno Smith any kind of an offer. The only way to make that decision with any degree of confidence greater than having a seer read the entrails of a goat is to play him this year and find out if there is any hope of him playing at a journeyman level or higher in the near future.

That is why Geno Smith has to be the Jets’ QB for at least a month unless he is so abjectly awful that the next question for the Jets’ braintrust is this one:

    Do you dare go into the 2017 season with either Bryce Petty or Christian Hackenberg as your starting QB?

The only way to answer that question – absent sacrificing another goat to read its entrails – is to play whichever one looks better in practice in 2016. If they start Smith as of now, they can – if they have to – make an early decision that Geno Smith is not in their long-range plans and still have time to get a look at one of the QBs on the roster who has never seen the field in an NFL game.

I cannot construct in my mind the thought processes that got the Jets into this situation but that is where they are. And because of where they are, they really have little choice but to sit Ryan Fitzpatrick starting now and getting a good look at Geno Smith in real-game situations. Unless he can show the Jets that he is “the guy” for them at QB in the near future, look for the Jets’ “Quarterback Situation” to continue for a while…

I said earlier that the Jets 1-5 record is only partially due to poor play at QB so far this year. In case you had not noticed, the Jets’ defense has not lived up to its billing as an elite unit.

    Jets’ defense gives up 375.5 yards per game – 23rd in the NFL
    Jets’ defense gives up 290 yards per game
    Jets’ defense allows 27.3 points per game.

There are 4 teams in the league with 1-5 records as of now. The Niners and the Bears figured to be bottom-feeders this year; their standing here is not very surprising. The other two teams are the Panthers and the Jets. Both of them were seen as “playoff contenders”; their standing here is a monument to underachievement.

Last week, the Chargers beat the Broncos 21-13 making it two losses in a row for the defending Super Bowl champs. The Chargers won the game because they found ways to keep the Broncos out of the end-zone. The Chargers only had 265 yards on offense for the game; they had to hold down the Broncos’ scoring just to have a chance to win. The Chargers’ game plan seemed to be one that other teams will adopt facing the Broncos – – attack and stop the Broncos’ run game and make Trevor Siemian beat them with his arm. The Broncos had only 84 yards rushing in this game. I understand that QBs can be very successful with a “dink-and-dunk passing attack” but usually there is at least a hint that he might try a deep ball more than once a month. In Trevor Siemian’s case, he seems to be on a “once a month regimen”. The Broncos only got to the Red Zone twice in this game. The Chargers got there 5 times scoring 1 TD and 4 field goals.

The Texans beat the Colts 26-23 in OT. The Colts led all the way in this game until the 4th quarter when one of two things happened:

    Brock Osweiler returned to a conscious state in the 4th quarter. He had only thrown for 102 yards (and 1 INT) in the first 55 minutes of that game.

    The Colts’ defense returned to a conscious state and saw that it had been holding down an opponent and that shocked them back to their normal state of incompetence.

Or perhaps these two things happened simultaneously…

In any event, the Colts led by 14 points with about 3 minutes to go in the game and then the team coughed it up and gave up 2 TDs in the final 3 minutes to send the game to OT. A field goal in OT by the Texans won the game. The only bright spot for the Colts is that Frank Gore ran for more than 100 yards in this game and that was the first time since 2012 that any Colts’ RB had passed that milestone in a single game; it had been 55 games since Vic Ballard ran for 100+ in a game for the Colts. The Texans are 4-2 so far this year despite having been outscored 127-107 for the year.

    I know that the typical format here is for me to do a short capsule summary of each game from last week but I have to deviate slightly here to give you a strong entry in the contest for “Self-Delusional Moment of the Year”. And no; I am not talking about Bobby Jindal thinking he could be President of the United States.

    According to a report on this week, Colts’ owner, Jim Irsay, said that the Colts could be 6-0 at this point of this season had it not been for a few balls bouncing the wrong way. This guy goes to every game and he has a really good seat at every game. So, I have to wonder what he is doing up there in that skybox because no one else on Planet Earth – or any other planet in this solar system – thinks the Colts are a couple of unlucky bounces away from being undefeated thorough the first 6 games.

      The Colts’ offense gains 364.2 yards per game – 19th in the NFL
      The Colts’ defense gives up 411.2 yards per game – 30th in the NFL

    Someone will need to explain how those performances on either side of the ball lead to the conclusion that the Colts might have a .500 record at this point in the season let alone be undefeated.

The Cowboys beat the Packers 30-16 last week. Yes, the Cowboys were that much better in the game. Dak Prescott threw for 247 yards and 3 TDs in the game; he also lost a fumble and threw the first INT in his career but he was the better QB on the field on Sunday. Ezekiel Elliott continued his great play running the ball 28 times for 157 yards against what is the best run defense in the NFL. The Packers fumbled 5 times in the game and lost 3 of them.

The Seahawks beat the Falcons 26-24. In the 3rd quarter, the Falcons were dominant; they won that quarter 21-0; Matt Ryan was 13 for 17 for 220 yards and 3 TDEs in the 3rd quarter; for the rest of the game, the Falcons were “Meh!” Nonetheless, they had a TD lead as the 4th quarter began but then Russell Wilson took over. He engineered a TD drive that would have tied the game had the Seahawks prevented a blocked PAT. Not to worry, though; the Seahawks got the ball back on an INT with a little under 4 minutes to play and turned that into a field goal. At that point the game took one of two paths depending on your point of view:

    Path A: The Seahawks defense came up large and held the Falcons to 4 consecutive incomplete passes to ice the win 26-24.

    Path B: The zebras hosed the Falcons on a non-call with regard to defensive pass interference by Richard Sherman on Julio Jones that would have put the Falcons in position to try a game winning field goal of their own.

Recently, I wrote here that I do not understand the difference between pass interference, offensive pass interference and no-call on a pass play where there is contact between the receiver and the defender. The play in question here surely looks like pass interference to me…

The Chiefs beat the Raiders 26-10 meaning that Andy Reid’s teams are 16-2 in the week after their BYE Weeks. Let me interrupt the narrative here to give you the gist of a “conversation” I had with some guy in the Westgate Sportsbook last Sunday waiting in line to make a wager at the window:

    Guy: How can the Chiefs be favored over the Raiders? The Raiders are in first place and the Chiefs aren’t. These guys [meaning the guys who run the sportsbook] must hate the Raiders.

    Me: Well, people may be betting the Chiefs because Andy Reid’s teams are 15-2 after their BYE weeks and the Chiefs were off last week.

    Guy: Really, how do you know that?

    Me: I read it in a couple of places.

    Guy: Wow. None of the guys I heard on the radio this morning making picks said anything about that.

    Me: Well, they have time constraints; they can’t say everything about every game.

    Guy: Uh … do you know who the teams are that beat the Chiefs after Bye Weeks.

    Me: Not even close – – and by the way Andy Reid used to coach the Eagles and most of that record comes from his 14 years in Philly.

    Guy: Really? … Boy you know a lot about football.

This guy has probably already procreated and will probably vote on November 8th. How is that for a downer of a thought…

Alex Smith had a typical Alex Smith day but the porous Raiders’ defense enhanced it a bit. Smith was 19 for 22 for 224 yards with 0 TDs and 0 INTs. Smith always has a good completion percentage but on Sunday he completed an astronomic 86.4% of his throws. The Chiefs also ran the ball for 189 yards in the game including 9 carries for 33 yards and 1 TD from Jamaal Charles who saw his most significant action since his ACL injury and surgery last year.

The game was 13-10 at the half but the Raiders did nothing in the second half. When they were not punting, they were losing fumbles or giving the ball over on downs. The weather was ugly in Oakland and the Raiders were even uglier.

I called the Raiders’ defense porous; that might be a generous description. In 6 games:

    Raiders give up 27.2 points per game
    Raiders give up 444.8 yards per game
    Raiders allow 132.2 yards per game rushing.

The Dolphins beat the Steelers 30-15. Somehow the 2016 iteration of the Steelers can find a way to:

    Beat the Skins by 22 points
    Beat the Chiefs by 29 points
    Lost to the Eagles by 28 points
    Lose to the Dolphins by 15 points

Really? I said here last week that the Steelers generally do not play well on the road and they have had difficulties in Miami in the past. Boy, was all of that on display last week… I realize the Ben Roethlisberger played part of the game on a knee that required surgery soon after the game; nevertheless, passing for 189 yards with 0 TDs and 2 INTs is a pretty miserable performance. The bright light for the Dolphins here was RB, Jay Ajayi who ran 25 times for 204 yards and 2 TDs.

The Jags beat the Bears 17-16. The Bears led 13-0 at the start of the 4th quarter and blew the game to Blake Bortles and the Jags. The Bears dominated the Jags for the first half holding the Jags to only 98 yards of offense for the first 2 quarters. Brian Hoyer became the first QB in the history of the Chicago Bears – a team that was a charter member of the NFL back in 1920 – to throw for 300+ yards in 4 consecutive games. Considering that the Bears have played about 1500 games since then, that is an amazing statistic. The bad news for the Bears last week was that they got into the Red Zone 4 times and only came away with 1 TD.

The Lions beat the Rams 31-28. Case Keenum was 27 for 32 for 321 yards with 3 TDs and 1 INT for the Rams. If he continues to do that, Jared Goff may never see the field this season. Unfortunately for Keenum, that INT came in the final minute with the Rams in possession of the ball down a field goal. That interception ended the game…

The Pats beat the Bengals 35-17. They were clearly the better team on the field; the Bengals are in disarray. The old Bengals’ tendency to go off the rails was evident once again late in the game when Vontaze Burfict – – SURPRISE – – went after Rob Gronkowski with a cheap shot that got the two of them going at one another and then Burfict went after Martellus Bennett when Bennett was nowhere near the play and then he stomped on LeGarrette Blount’s leg. Blount has his own history of a short fuse so that was a situation that could well have gotten out of hand. Thankfully, it did not. The league has fined Burfict $75K for this nonsense but that is not going to change his dirty play. Call it what it really is; Burfict is a dirty player and has been ever since his time in college. If the NFL waits to suspend him indefinitely, they will wait to do so after he takes out an opposing player for a year or more. Vontaze Burfict is not a “hard-hitter”; he is a “dirty player” and a “hot-head”.

Tom Brady threw for a mere 376 yards and 3 TDs against the Bengals’ defense; Rob Gronkowski caught 7 of Brady’s passes for 162 yards and 1 TD; the Pats’ offense was firing on all cylinders.

The Bengals are now 2-4 and they have the Browns coming to Cincy this week. That is a division game and a rivalry game; it is also a critical game for the Bengals to win.

The Giants beat the Ravens 27-23. Both teams are 3-3; this win snapped a 3-game losing streak for the Giants; this loss extended a Ravens’ losing streak to 3 games. Odell Beckham, Jr. had 8 catches for 222 yards (204 of them in the second half) and 2 TDs. There was another “pass interference call” in this game that was mystifying on replay. This call in the 4th quarter went against Dominque Rogers-Cromartie and it sure looked like perfect defense to me each time I saw the replay – at least four times.

For the most part, this was an ugly game. Consider:

    Ravens had 1st and goal at the 3 yardline and turned the ball over on downs
    Ravens failed to stop the Giants on three different 4th-down conversions
    Ravens were penalized 15 times for 111 yards
    Giants turned the ball over 3 times
    Giants were penalized 7 times for 119 yards
    Giants were in the Red Zone twice and never got in the end-zone.

The bright spots in the game belonged mainly to Eli Manning:

    Manning threw for 403 yards in the game.
    Manning threw his 300th TD pass in his career
    Manning won his 100th game as a starting QB.

In a freak scheduling happenstance, the Ravens played an away game in MetLife stadium last week and will go to the same place to play another road game this week when they take on the Jets.

The Saints beat the Panthers 41-38. I want to be clear here; I have pointed out defensive insufficiencies for various teams above; please do not let any of those comments make you think that either of these two defenses earned their paychecks last weekend.

    The Saints led 21-0 early in the 2nd quarter; they were on pace to score 75 points and the Panthers’ defense gave no indication that was out of the question.

    The Saints defense showed its true nature when the score was 24-10 at the half and then was cut to 31-30 (thanks to a missed PAT by the Panthers). That 1-point lead happened with about 10 minutes left to play in the game. At that point the Saints’ defense had given up 30 points in about 30 minutes of football. Oh swell …

    The Saints went up 38-30 with 6 minutes to play. When the Panthers really needed a stop, they could not produce one.

    The Saints now needed a stop but they could not get one either. They gave up a TD AND a 2-point conversion at about the 3-minute mark to tie the score at 38-38.

    Now the Panthers’ defense needed to hold – and of course it did not. The Saints maneuvered into field goal range and hit the game winner.

    The Saints gave up 406 yards to the Panthers; the Panthers gave up 523 yards to the Saints.

    The Saints were 8-16 on third down conversions.

Are you convinced that both defenses stunk out the joint last Sunday?

The Titans beat the Browns 28-26. The only positive thing to say about this insignificantly trivial game is that it was a close game. The Browns ran the ball 15 times in the game for a total of 40 yards. If that sounds bad, it is. Here is another bad rushing stat:

    Isiah Crowell ran the ball 9 times for 16 yards. That is not good but a quick glance at the stat sheet says it is even worse than it looks …

    One of his runs was for 11 yards.

    That means he ran the other 8 times and gained a total of 5 yards. YUCK!

The Skins beat the Eagles 27-20 extending the Skins’ win streak to 4 games. The Skins ran the ball here for 231 yards including a 57-yard run by Matt Jones and a 45-yard gallop by Robert Kelly. Carson Wentz had an off day; he was 11 for 22 for 179 yards. Eagles’ RB, Wendell Smallwood returned a kickoff for a TD in the game. That is noteworthy because it was the first kickoff return for a TD in the NFL for the season and last week was Week 6.

The Bills simply shellacked the Niners 45-16 and the score reflects the lopsided nature of that game. Starting Colin Kaepernick at QB did nothing to make the Niners competitive here. I do not mean to say that he was the reason the Niners were humiliated the way they were, but his stat line was pretty bleak:

    13 for 29 for 187 yards and 1 TD with 0 INTs.

After the game, Chip Kelly said that Kaepernick was “OK”. Does that mean that Kelly has already given up on this season because that stat line is anything but “OK”? Given the way the Niners have played for most of the season – and the way that Kaepernick played last week, I certainly hope that Kaepernick has been genuflecting during the anthem as a sincere form of protest and not as a way to execute the “Victory Formation” – – because he is not going to get to do that in very many real NFL games for the rest of the 2016 season.

The Niners’ defense allowed 312 yards rushing last week. That is the most yards rushing given up by any Niners’ team since 1958. I went and looked up the roster for that 1958 Niners’ squad and I recognized plenty of offensive names such as YA Tittle, John Brodie, Hugh McElhenney, R.C. Owens, Joe Perry and Bob St, Clair. As to the defense, I recognized exactly one name, Leo Nomellini. No wonder they gave up 312+ yards rushing in a game…

The Cards beat the Jets 28-3. Given the way that game unfolded, I really think that Bruce Arians took it easy on his former defensive coordinator and friend Todd Bowles. As the first half progressed I wrote a note to myself saying that the Cards could win by whatever margin they wanted so long as it fit into the time constraints of an NFL game. Let us look momentarily at just how bad this game was:

    Jets gained only 230 yards total offense
    Jets gained only 33 yards rushing
    Jets were 2 for 13 on third down.

This game broke an amazing losing streak. The last time the Cardinals beat the Jets was in 1975 – – 41 years ago.

The Games:

Two teams have BYE Weeks this week:

    The Cowboys get to relax in first place in the NFC East and prepare to play the Eagles next week.

    The Panthers will hopefully not relax given their 1-5 record; they need to get their act together. They are officially mired in the “Super Bowl Loser’s slump”. They probably need to go 9-1 from here out to make the playoffs; and with a defense giving up 29.3 points per game, that has about as much chance of happening as Bernie Sanders getting an invitation to be on the Board of Directors of Citicorp.

(Thurs Nite) Chicago at Green Bay – 7.5 (45.5): The spread opened at 9 points and has edged its way down to this level as the week progressed. The Bears are a hot mess of a team; the Packers are not doing nearly as well as most people – me included – thought they would do as the season began. The Packers have tons of injuries in their defensive backfield; their 3 top DBs will miss this game and, if last weekend’s game against the Cowboys is any indicator, the replacement DBs are replacements for a good reason. Meanwhile, the Bears present a prognosticator with some very conflicting evidence:

    The Bears rank 8th in the NFL in total offense (375.2 yards per game)
    The Bears rank 31st in the NFL in scoring (16.8 points per game)

The Packers’ offense – like their defense – is running on fumes. RB, Eddie Lacy, has a sore ankle that might take a couple of weeks to “get right; RB, James Starks, underwent knee surgery last week. In order to have someone in at RB for some of the plays this week, the Packers traded for Knile Davis (from the Chiefs) and could promote Jon Crockett from the practice squad to spell Davis. Aaron Rodgers has not played like the Aaron Rodgers I have come to expect when I turn on my TV set but I think he can put up points on this defense. I also think that the Bears will score on the Packers’ depleted defense. I like this game to go OVER.

(Early Sun Morning) Giants – 3 at LA (44) Game is in London: Allow me to get two rather conflicting trends out of the way at the beginning:

    Giants are 10-4 to go OVER in their last 14 games on fieldturf
    Rams are 10-4 to go UNDER in their last 14 games against NFC teams.

This game is on fieldturf and the Rams are playing an NFC opponent. Oh my…! These teams are up one week and down the next and the venue for this game may or may not be an advantage for either team. I shall turn this game over to the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Protocol and the coin says to take the game to stay UNDER. Given the performance of “the coin” over the past two weeks (0-4-0), maybe I ought to go exactly the other way …? No, I’ll stick to the protocol.

Minnesota – 3 at Philly (40): I think the oddsmakers have this game pegged correctly; it should be a low-scoring affair. That being the case, I prefer to take the points – particularly when I get the points with the home team. I’ll take the Eagles plus the points at home.

New Orleans at KC – 6.5 (50.5): The Total Line for this game opened the week at 49 and has been inching up as the week advanced. Each team comes to this game off a win last week. The Saints bring their typical offensive firepower to this game – 413.4 yards per game – 2nd in the NFL. The Chiefs’ offense is good – – but not nearly that good at 352 yards per game. On the other side of the ball the advantage is reversed. Chiefs only give up 353.2 yards per game but the Saints yield 419.4 yards per game. That line looks fat to me; I’ll take the Saints plus the points.

Washington at Detroit – 1 (50): Let me make this one short. I think the Skins are the better team here and I think they will win this game outright. Therefore, I’ll take the Skins plus the point.

Cleveland at Cincy – 10 (45.5): OK, I get it. This is a divisional game and this is a rivalry game (sort of). Other than that, I am not sure why anyone might give a fig about this game; I surely do not. I know that the Browns stink but the Bengals are not an awe inspiring squad either. Purely a hunch, but I’ll take the Browns plus the points here. After I have made my pick here, I went looking for a trend to boost my confidence in that pick. I found two such trends:

    In the last 18 game between these teams, the underdog is 13-4-1.
    Browns are 7-3 in their last 10 games as an underdog against the spread

Trends may not have much of a predictive value, but they provide me with a bit of comfort here – – until the game kicks off and then everything is new again.

Buffalo – 3 at Miami (44): The Bills take their 4-game win streak south this week – to the venue where the Steelers laid an egg last week. If you believe in trends, making a pick in this game is not even a challenge:

    Favorite in the last 10 Bills/Dolphins games is 8-2
    Dolphins are 1-9 against the spread in their last 10 games against the AFC East.

I, however, am not a trend bettor. I wonder if the Bills can maintain their edge; after all they have won 4 in a row and that is heady territory for this squad. I think there is a greater chance that the Dolphins’ big home win over the Steelers last week (see above) will have a carryover effect to this game. I like the Dolphins at home plus the points.

Oakland at Jax – 1 (48.5): The Total Line here opened at 50 points; it dropped to this level quickly and has stabilized here. The Raiders are the visiting team for the 4th time this year; they ought not to mind that since the Raiders have yet to lose a game on the road. The Raiders’ defense is the worst in the NFL and it gives up 25 yards per game more than does the next-to-worst defense in the league. This is another long flight for the Raiders to take just to be at the right spot when the referee whistles and signals for the kickoff. This is a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the Raiders plus the point.

Indy at Tennessee -3 (48): The Titans are one game ahead of the Colts in the AFC South and the Titans are riding a 2-game win streak. Last year the Titans won 3 games; here we are in October of this year and the Titans have already won 3 games. The Colts have a good young QB; the Titans have a good younger QB. The Colts’ division record stands at 0-2; a loss here would mean that they would have to win the division based on record alone because division record is an early tie-breaker. Presumably, the team and the coach are not buying into the self-delusional tomfoolery spouted by the club owner about being a 6-0 team that got a few bad bounces (see above). The Titans bring the 4th best run defense in the AFC to a game against a team that does not run the ball well; they could make the Colts’ one-dimensional here. The real problem for the Colts however is their defense; they give up 411.2 yards per game (30th in the NFL) and they are vulnerable to the run – which is what the Titans do preferentially. I think the game sets up right for the home team. I’ll take the Titans to win and cover.

Baltimore at Jets – 1 (40.5): The Jets made the right move at the right time inserting Geno Smith into the starting QB role (see above). Joe Flacco has a sore shoulder and did not practice on Wednesday but expects to play on Sunday. If Flacco cannot play, the Ravens will turn to Ryan Mallett and if that happens you can look for a major line move leading up to kickoff. The Ravens have the 3rd best defense in the NFL – behind only Seattle and Minnesota – and their run defense is the best in the NFL. They should be able to make Geno Smith try to beat them through the air which is good news for the Jets’ braintrust because the next few games are really an extended audition for Smith to see if the Jets want him back next year. I will turn this game over to the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Protocol and the coin says to take the Jets to win and cover.

San Diego at Atlanta – 6.5 (53.5): The Total Line opened at 51.5 and jumped to this level almost immediately and you can find the line at 54 at a couple of sportsbooks this morning. The “character” of the Falcons will be on display here; they feel they were robbed by a bad officiating call at the end of last week’s game in Seattle (see above). The fact is that whatever anyone thinks of that call – I think it was pass interference by the way – the Falcons are no longer an undefeated team. So the “character test” for this week is how they show up to play. The Falcons have the best offense in the NFL – a full 28 yards per game better than the Saints in 2nd place there. At the same time, the Falcons have a “lower-tier defense” and the Chargers have a QB capable of exploiting it. Purely a hunch, I’ll take the Chargers plus the points here.

Tampa – 2.5 at SF (46.5): The dogs, they are a-barking. This is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week. The Bucs are winless at home and are 2-1 on the road. If you can explain how a bad team does something like that, please do; I cannot. The Niners just stink; their defense gives up 389.8 yards per game and an astonishing 174.3 yards per game rushing. The next worst run defense in the league – Miami – gives up 27 fewer yards per game. It is simple here; I cannot take the Niners without a basketful of points and the spread here is more like a snack-bag full of points. I like the Bucs to win and cover on the road.

New England – 7 at Pittsburgh (46): This was going to be the Game of the Week. I was anticipating a great shootout between Ben Roethlisberger/Antonio Brown and Tom Brady/Rob Gronkowski. That is not going to happen now that Roethlisberger had knee surgery early in the week (see above). I was anticipating a Total Line for the shootout to be in the mid-50s; you can see that the oddsmakers also recognize that we will see a different game this Sunday. I like the Patriots to win and cover here.

(Sun Nite) Seattle at Arizona – 2 (43.5): Since the Pats/Steelers game had to be “downgraded” due to injury, this game becomes the Game of the Week. The Cards beat the Seahawks in Seattle already this year; that puts the onus on the Seahawks to win here to avoid giving the Cards the head-to-head tiebreaker at the end of the season. Each team has 1 loss in the division; a win here for the Seahawks would give them a tiebreaker lead halfway through the season. I think the Seahawks are starting to put the pieces together for a late run. I like the Seahawks plus the points on the road.

(Mon Nite) Houston at Denver – 7.5 (40.5): The spread opened at 6 points but it did not stay there long. You can find the spread as high as 9 points at one sportsbook this morning – and I do not have any explanation as to why. Brock Osweiler’s late game heroics last week (see above) came at the expense of the Colts’ defense; this week Brock Osweiler will see a defense that is several levels above the level of the Colts’ defense; do not expect miracles. In fact, I think Texans’ fans should expect a debacle; the Broncos present the stingiest pass defense in the NFL (182.3 yards per game). I do not like that half-point hook on top of the full TDs worth of points but I smell the potential for the Broncos to hold the Texans to 10-12 points here. I’ll take the Broncos and lay the points – and hope that Trevor Siemian makes the Texans’ defense play back just a little bit.

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………