Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend Of 12/20/15

Regarding last week’s Mythical Picks, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that the picks last week were better than the embarrassingly bad picks from two weeks ago (5-11-0). The bad news is that last week’s picks were not sufficiently better to enable them to reach the .500 level. Last week’s record was 7-9-0 bringing the overall season record to 103-109-5. The only Coin Flip Game last week was a loser; that drops the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game record to 14-17-1.

The “Best Picks” from last week involved the Broncos/Raiders’ game. I took the game to stay Under 43 and it did; I also took the Raiders plus 7 points and the Raiders won straight up.

The “Worst Picks” from last week were taking the Falcons plus 8 points against the Panthers and watching them lose 38-0. Also, I took the Chiefs/Chargers game to go OVER 45 and the total score was a meager 13 points.

Nevertheless, a new weekend and a fresh menu of games stands in front of me for picking this week. Naturally, no one should read anything here and take it to be sufficiently informative that one would use said information as the basis for making a real wager on a real NFL game involving real money. One would have to be pretty stupid to do such a thing; here is how stupid:

    You could be tripped up by the cord on a cell phone.

General Comments:

The Dallas Cowboys are not mathematically eliminated from the NFC playoffs despite their 4-9 record because they happen to reside in the NFC East were the other three teams are either miserable or inconsistent or both. The Cowboys actually have a path to become the division winner – and thereby claim a spot in the playoffs – should they win out and every other game involving the other three NFC East teams goes according to a Cowboy-friendly script.

The three upcoming opponents for the Cowboys are the Jets, the Bills (in Buffalo) and the Skins. That is not necessarily a “Trifecta of Doom” although every one of those opponents has a better record than do the Cowboys. Let me just say that while the Cowboys have a path to the playoffs, it is not a path without significant obstacles.

Perhaps one of the Cowboys’ positive assets as they aim to win their final three games is that owner/GM Jerry Jones seems to have begun to confront the reality that the Cowboys are not a very good team. No longer is it “Tony Romo’s injuries” that are to blame; perhaps, he is beginning to see that the roster has holes. In the aftermath of last week’s loss to the Packers by 3 TDs, someone asked Jones if Tony Romo’s availability over the course of the season was what stood between the Cowboys and the Panthers or the Cardinals as the elite teams of the NFC. Jones showed a smidgen of awareness and analysis with his answer:

“I don’t have the heart to put us in with those clubs right now, because I don’t want to — we’ve got more work to do than just get Romo healthy.”

With those words, it would seem as if this is one of those rare moments where Jerry Jones’ mind trumps Jerry Jones’ heart. The Cowboys are not an elite team and it would have taken more than a healthy Tony Romo to make them one in 2015. I will posit three areas where the Cowboys needed to be a whole lot better this year to aspire to top-shelf status:

    Run defense: The Cowboys give up 114 yards per game. The elite teams – Panthers and Cardinals – only give up 85 to 87 yards per game.

    Offense: The Cowboys are 28th in the NFL in total offense.

    Pass rush: The Cowboys have 25 sacks this season; just as a reference, the Lions have 34 sacks and the Titans have 35 sacks and no one is confusing either the Lions or the Titans with an elite defense.

One very specific weakness for the Cowboys this season would be painful for Jerry Jones to acknowledge after all that has gone before. Dez Bryant has been awful this year; last week he dropped 3 passes that hit him in both hands; his total production for the game was 1 reception for a grand total of 9 yards. Back in the summer after a holdout that kept Bryant away from all the offseason team activities, GM Jerry Jones signed Bryant to a 5-year contract worth up to $70M with $45M of that contract guaranteed. For that kind of money, it is reasonable to expect a receiver to catch any ball that hits both of his hands and to catch more than one ball in a game.

The other three teams in the NFC East all sport 6-7 records this morning; clearly, each of those teams has a more realistic shot at the division championship and the playoffs than do the Cowboys but none of the three are exactly “reliable”.

    Skins: They are in first place now based on tie-breakers. Upcoming opponents have a combined record of 16-23. However, 2 of the final 3 games are on the road and Skins are 1-5 on the road so far this year.

    Eagles: Upcoming opponents have a combined record of 23-16. However, 2 of the final 3 games are at home.

    Giants: Upcoming opponents have a combined record of 27-12. However, 2 of the final 3 games are at home.

Fans of all the NFC East teams will focus on the division race over the next several weeks but I would like to take a moment here to step back and look further down the road. The NFC East winner will almost certainly have to be the #4 seed in the NFC playoffs. That means the NFC East winner – whoever it is – will host the #5 seed and right now, that looks to be the Seattle Seahawks. Given the way the Seahawks have played in their past several games, that is not going to be a walk in the park.

I am not alone in that thinking. In Las Vegas, you can wager on what team will win the NFC Championship in late January. There is no spread involved; you just need to name the winner. The Seahawks are not in first place in their division and have only the slimmest of chances of winning the NFC West. Nonetheless, the odds on the Seahawks being the NFC Champions and playing in the Super Bowl in February are only 3-1 as of this morning. By comparison, here are the odds for all of the NFC East teams to win the NFC Championship:

    Giants: 25-1
    Eagles: 25-1
    Skins: 55-1
    Cowboys: 135-1

I like the Seahawks at 3-1 much better than any of those NFC East teams at those elevated odds.

The AFC South has a similar race going on. The Colts and Texans meet this week to break their tie on top of the division. Both teams bring 6-7 records to the game. Just one game back with 3 left to play are the Jags at 5-8. Here is how Las Vegas assesses the AFC South teams winning the AFC Championship:

    Colts: 20-1
    Texans: 50-1
    Jags: 100-1

Personally, I think the odds for the Colts and the Jags are way too low; those look like sucker bets to me. I do not think the Texans can win the AFC Championship but of the three odds above, I guess the Texans at 50-1 looks like the best one to me.

In last week’s action, the Packers beat the Cowboys 28-7; it was a beat-down. The Packers ran the ball for 231 yards. It would appear as if Aaron Rodgers had an “off game” with only 218 yards but in reality the passing total was low because there was no good reason for the Packers to throw the ball very often. The Cowboys’ pass offense continued to be anemic accounting for only 114 yards and a 455 completion rate.

In that game, it appeared as if the Cowboys were afraid even to try to throw the ball downfield to any of their receivers. I can only recall two “long passes” in the entire game; of the other 27 pass attempts, I would estimate that 22 of those were thrown to receivers less than 10 yards downfield. I understand that there is a backup QB in the game for the Cowboys, but if the offense NEVER takes a shot down the field, the defense can play tight and thwart the short passing game and the running game. The Cowboys had 5 “three-and-outs” in the game and were a miserable 1 for 11 on third down conversions.

The Eagles beat the Bills 23-20 to remain in contention for the NFC East title. The Bills had more total offense and won the “time of possession battle” but they lost the game. Here is why the Bills lost:

    The Bills committed 15 penalties in the game for 101 yards
    The Bills were only 6-16 in third down conversions (38%)
    The Eagles were 9-18 in third down conversions (50%)

The loss dropped the Bills below .500 for the season and dealt a significant blow to any playoff hopes they may have continued to harbor…

The Skins beat the Bears 23-20. For the second week in a row, Robbie Gould missed a field goal that was critical to the game. Two weeks ago, he had a shot at along field goal to win the game; last week he had a medium field goal to tie the game; he missed both of them. That is unusual because for his career, Gould is a very high percentage kicker; his career percentage for field goals made is 85.1%. The Skins were led by TE Jordan Reed who caught 9 passes in the game including one for a TD.

The Giants kept pace in the NFC East beating the Dolphins on Monday night in hot/humid Miami. A screen graphic during the game said it was 74 degrees with 90% humidity; interestingly, as the game wore on, it seemed as if the Dolphins who live and work in that climate were the ones to wilt; the Giants looked fresher and stronger at the end by a significant margin. So much for the Dan Campbell Tough Guy Mode… Eli Manning picked the Dolphins apart all night long. He completed 27 out of 31 pass attempts; that is hard to do in a practice session; on some pass plays, the Giants’ receivers were so wide open that you might have thought they had not showered in a month.

The Steelers beat the Bengals 33-20 last week but the Bengals losses were far more important than this single game. On the same drive, the Bengals lost TE Tyler Eifert and QB Andy Dalton. People have jumped all over backup QB AJ McCarron for saying that he wants to be the second coming of Tom Brady. Of course he hopes to be that; he is a low-round draft pick who has to step in for a successful starting QB who is out with an injury just like Tom Brady. Now, what Brady did with that opportunity was to win 4 Super Bowls and forge a Hall of Fame career; is it shocking to think that McCarron might not want the same thing to happen to him?

Having said that, the odds are against the Bengals right about now and it is possible if they lose all of their remaining games that they may not even make it to the playoffs. The Bengals had dodged the injury bug for the first part of the season but they were severely stung last week. Less visible than the loss of Eifert and Dalton is an injury to Adam Jones in the Bengals secondary. Once Jones got his life under control, he became a very good defensive back; with him out of action here is what Ben Roethlisberger did last week:

    30 for 39 for 282 yards.

Equally important, the Steelers were 8-14 on third down conversions. If the Seahawks are the team in the NFC that one should not aspire to meet in the playoffs, the Steelers are the analogous team in the AFC.

    [Aside: This was not a kinder and gentler year for starting QBs in the AFC North. Roethlisberger, Dalton, Joe Flacco and Josh McCown all spent time on the sidelines recovering from injuries.]

The Browns beat the Niners 24-10. Most folks have focused on the positive aspects of Johnny Manziel’s performance in the game and that is as it should be. The Browns need to see him play real football against NFL defenses in order to assess if he is going to be their “QB Going Forward”. Last week was a positive showing even considering that the opponent was a bottom-feeder; any time a QB leads an offense to 481 yards of total offense in an NFL game, it is a plus. The Niners’ defense ranks 30th in the league; only the Saints and Giants are worse; the Niners yield 402 yards per game.

As marginal as the Niners are on defense, there is a much more serious question that needs asking as a result of last week’s game:

    How on Earth did the Niners give up 9 sacks in a game against the Browns?

    The Browns recorded only 17 sacks in the first 12 games of this season and they got 9 sacks in this one game. Incredible…

Oh, just to complete the reporting on the Niners’ performance last week, they generated all of 48 yards on offense in the first half of the game.

The Seahawks manhandled the Ravens last week 35-6. I do not want to put too fine a point on it, but when a team has to have Jimmy Claussen throw the ball 40 times in a game, that team is not is a good position to win. That is what happened to the Ravens last week – and indeed they did not win. The Seahawks lost RB Thomas Rawls for the rest of the year with a broken bone in his ankle; that will not help the Seahawks but given the way Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockette are lighting it up in the passing game, the Seahawks look to have sufficient offense to stay hot. Also, there is reason to believe that Marshawn Lynch will be back for a playoff run…

The Jags beat the Colts 51-16 last week. In the past two weeks, the Jags have scored 90 points in their two games and their record is 1-1 in those two games. It appears that the offense has come to life in Jax but the defense has gone into hibernation. Actually, the Jags scored on offense and on defense (scoop-and-score on a fumble) and on special teams (punt return). The Colts had won 16 consecutive games over AFC South opponents going into this game; that streak came to a crashing halt here.

There were reports that Colts’ owner, Jim Irsay, was so irate at the team performance two weeks ago at Pittsburgh that he left the stadium early, went to his private jet and split; he was not around to see the final score of 45-10 I have not confirmed that with the pilot, but let me assume the reports are accurate. If he was pissed at the team for losing to the Steelers in Pittsburgh, imagine how he must have felt seeing the Colts dominated by the Jaguars by the same 35-point margin of victory. The Colts squeezed 4 wins out of backup QB, Matt Hasselbeck, in the wake of Andrew Luck suffering a lacerated kidney; it would appear that Hasselbeck’s good fortune has gone the way of Cinderella’s carriage.

Hasselbeck is still #1 on the depth chart despite appearing to injure his throwing shoulder in last week’s game; Charlie Whitehurst is listed as #2 with Andrew Luck at #3 and yet to be healed lacerated kidney. The only other QB on the roster is on the practice squad; Alex Tanney has been in the NFL since 2012 and has been on the practice squads for 6 other teams before signing on with the Colts. If Matt Hasselbeck is indeed injured, the Colts’ QB situation looks rather bleak…

The Texans could not capitalize on the Colt’s misfortunes last week because the Texans had to play the Patriots and the Texans lost 27-6. The focus here was on the return of Rob Gronkowski who had 4 catches and a TD in the game. However, the biggest deal in the game from my perspective was the Pats’ defense which recorded 6 sacks in the game and gave up no TDs. The Texans could only muster 189 yards of offense for the game.

The Pats took advantage of the fact that the Bengals and the Broncos both lost last weekend. The Pats had been the #3 seed in the AFC playoffs last Sunday morning; today they are the #1 overall seed …

The Panthers beat the Falcons 38-0. I saw a bit of the replay of this game and the parts that I saw were pure domination by the Panthers. Falcons’ fans and commentators have been highly critical of Matt Ryan over the past month or so. Ryan did not have anything near a good game here but you cannot pin this loss on his behind. Consider these stats and tell me how the loss could possibly be the fault of the Falcons’ QB:

    Falcons’ defense allowed 3 TDs and 260 yards of offense – – – in the first quarter of the game!

The Saints beat the Bucs 24-17 last week leaving the Bucs 2 games behind the Vikes and the Seahawks for the two wild card slots with only 3 games left to play. Drew Brees threw for 300+ yards and 2 TDs in the game and ended a 4-game losing streak for the Saints. Going into this game, the Saints had the worst defense in the league; the Bucs offense did not exploit that and this week the Saints’ defense ranks 31st in the league. The Giants have taken over the “worst defense” label…

The Chiefs beat the Chargers 10-3. Philip Rivers played the game with a case of the flu and got exactly no support from the Chargers’ running game; they ran the ball 18 times for 44 yards. Rivers also did not get much support from the Chargers’ OL; they allowed the Chiefs to sack Rivers 5 times in the game. Notwithstanding all of that, the Chargers had a chance to tie the game at the end; the final play was an incomplete pass with the ball at the Chiefs’ 1-yardline. The play selection says a lot about the Chargers’ confidence in the run game…

The Raiders beat the Broncos in Denver 15-12 in a strange game indeed. For the entire first half, the Raiders amasses a total of minus-12 yards on offense. They trailed 12-0 because every time the Broncos threatened the end zone, the Raiders’ defense made them kick a field goal. In fact, the Broncos were in the red zone 3 times last week and never crossed the goal line. It is not as if the Raiders’ offense became a force majeure in the second half because the Raiders’ total offense for the day was only 126 yards; teams do not win with that offensive output very often…

There was an incredibly strange call by the Raiders’ coaching staff in this game. Leading 15-12 in the fourth quarter as the result of a Raider’s TD, they decided to go for a 2-point conversion. At that point in the game, leading by 5 points is the same as leading by 4 points; the opposition has to score a TD to get ahead of you. The 2-point conversion try failed and the Raiders then had to defend against a Broncos’ field goal as well as a Broncos’ TD for the balance of the game. Not a good choice there…

Defense dominated in Denver; neither the Broncos nor the Raiders were able to run the ball at all in this game; consider these stats:

    Raiders ran 23 times for 27 yards (1.2 yards per carry)
    Broncos ran the ball 21 times for 34 yards (1.6 yards per carry)
    Raiders sacked Osweiler 5 times for 32 yards
    Broncos sacked Carr 3 times for 36 yards
    Raiders averaged 3.1 yards per pass attempt
    Broncos averaged 4.9 yards per pass attempt.

The Rams beat the Lions last week in a meaningless game. In the first half, the Lions were sleepwalking; here is the outcome of their first half possessions:

    Punt, punt, punt again, throw a Pick-Six, punt, time expires.

The Rams did not exactly exploit that largesse; the Rams led 7-0 at the half thanks to that Pick-Six in the middle of those possessions. The Rams did run the ball effectively in the game. Todd Gurley carried 16 times for 140 yards and 2 TDs and the Rams ran for a total of 203 yards in the game.

The Jets beat the Titans 30-8 last week to hold onto the second wild card position in the AFC. I have read this in 3 different places so I believe it to be correct even though I could not prove this to you if pressed:

    If the Jets, Chiefs and Steelers all win out and wind up in a 3-way tie for the 2 AFC wild card slots, the Jets will be the odd-team out.

Jets’ DT, Muhammad Wilkerson had 3 sacks in the game giving him 12 sacks for the year; that is an impressive performance for a defensive tackle – particularly a defensive tackle that will be a free agent in this offseason. Wilkerson and his defensive colleagues held the Titans to 24 yards rushing for the day; they recorded a total of 5 sacks; the Jets’ defense simply dominated the game. On offense, the Jets were in sync too; they racked up 439 yards of offense.

The Cards beat the Vikes 23-20 last week. [Aside: Three games finished with the same 23-20 score last week. That is not a common occurrence nor is that a common final score.] Teddy Bridgewater threw for 317 yards in the game and what became apparent as the game went on was that the Cards had more than a bit of difficulty getting any sort of pass rush on him without bringing at least one and often multiple blitzers.

The Games:

Last night the Rams beat the Bucs 31-23 in a game that was of marginal importance and was of marginal interest. The Rams scooted off to a 14-0 lead early and the game sort of coasted along after that. The loss eliminates the Bucs from the NFC playoffs but they do have 6 wins to this point in the season and considering that they only had 2 wins last year, the improvement has been significant

(Sat Nite) Jets – 3.5 at Dallas (41.5): The spread opened the week at 2.5 points and has been creeping up all week long. This game does not carry a lot of marquee value but there is something positive to day about the matchup. The Jets need a win to stay in the wild card race and the Cowboys need a win if you believe they still have a shot at the NFC East Championship (see above). Interestingly, both teams have a Top-10 defense in terms of yards allowed but no in points allowed. The Jets like to run the football; they average 29 rushes per game and 117 yards per game. The Cowboys give up 113 yards per game so I expect the Jets to be able to do what they like to do in this game. I’ll take the Jets to win and cover on the road.

Chicago at Minnesota – 6.5 (42.5): The spread opened at 5 points and has risen all week; this morning you can find it as high as 7 points at one of the Internet sportsbooks. The Vikes needs the game much more than the Bears do; the Vikes are solidly in the wild card race and are only 1 game behind the Packers in the NFC North. The Bears cannot croon Bing Crosby’s carol, I’ll Be Home for Christmas because the regular season goes until 3 January, but they will be home right after that. However, the Bears are not just going through the motions; they lost last week to the Skins but they played hard and played well. Just a hunch here; I like the Bears plus the points.

Atlanta at Jax – 3 (49): On Oct 11th, the Falcons were 5-0. If you had told owner Arthur Blank on Oct 12th that his team would be 3-point dogs to the Jags in this spot and/or that his team would be on a 6-game losing streak going into this game, he might have had you tested for recreational drug use. The Falcons’ defense has not been good for a good stretch of this season, but they still give up 5 points per game less than the Jags’ defense does. For whatever “momentum” means, it is heading in opposite directions for these teams. The Falcons have lost 6 in row and lost last week 38-0. The Jags are only a game behind in their division – somewhere no one would have predicted for this team even a month ago – and they won last week by 5 TDs. However, I cannot play “momentum” with teams that have losing records and inconsistent performances. This is a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the Falcons plus the points. Wow! Remember, these are Mythical Picks; in the real world I would not wager 11 cents to win a dime on this game…

Houston at Indy – 1 (41): The lines on this game did not go up until late on Thursday because there was uncertainty about who would play QB for both sides. Even though both teams show up here with losing records – and losses last week – this is as important a game as any on the card for the week. The winner will have a 1 game lead in the AFC South race; moreover, the winner here will be the only team in that division with only 1 loss within the division. I will not call this the Game of the Week because there are better ones below, but this is a game to watch. Think about these two facts in juxtaposition:

    Over the last two weeks, the Colts have lost by a combined score of 96-26.
    Since 2002, the Texans are 0-13 playing in Indy.

This is another Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the game to go OVER.

KC – 7 at Baltimore (41): The Chiefs need to keep winning; they have won 7 in a row and right now have the top wild card position in the AFC. This is their last road game; a win here and two good showings at home will put the Chiefs in the first wild card spot in the AFC playoffs. That did not look possible back in mid-October when the Chiefs were 1-5 and had lost 5 in a row. The Ravens have nothing to gain or to lose based on the outcome of this game. On defense, the Ravens give up 7 points per game more than the Chiefs do; look at that spread. On offense, the Chiefs score 4 points per game more than the Ravens do; look at that spread. Normally with two teams that play defense better than offense and a full TD as the spread, I would take the points. The problem I have here is that the Chiefs very good defense (4th in scoring defense and 8th in total defense) is going up against Jimmy Claussen at QB. I do not see the Chiefs lighting up the scoreboard in Baltimore, but I think the Ravens will be bottled up sufficiently for the Chiefs to cover here. I’ll take the Chiefs and lay the points.

Buffalo at Washington “pick ‘em” (44): This is a really even game; you can find the Bills as a 1-point favorite at a couple sportsbooks and you can find the skins as a 1-point favorite at a couple of other sportsbooks. Most places have it as a “pick ‘em” game. Neither team can afford to lose here but a loss for the Bills would be a disaster. The scoring defenses for these teams are the same; total defense differs by only 5 yards per game; the Bills about 20 yards per game better on offense; the Bills score 3 points per game more. As I said, this is a really even game. For folks who like the Bills, here is a cautionary note:

    The Bills have shown a tendency – no, make that a propensity – to self-destruct with penalties. They had 15 penalties last week and lost a game that they won on the stat sheets. The Bills have committed 124 penalties this year in 13 games – almost 10 per game. Those penalties have cost the Bills 1086 yards.

    The Bucs and Rams have played 14 games this year (including last night’s game). The Bucs have committed more penalties than the Bills given that extra game but even those added penalties have cost the Bucs fewer yards than the Bills’ penalties have cost the Bills.

I think this game boils down to a simple question. Will the Bills self-destruct again or will they exploit their stat advantage to take away a win from this game? I think they will self-destruct one more time; I like the Skins to win the game.

Tennessee at New England – 14 (46.5): On Thursday morning, I checked the money line for this game and the highest one I could find was +960; this morning I checked again and that line had dropped to +875. The only reason I can think of for that large a move is that someone put a significant wager down on the Titans to win this game straight up. For the record, I am not the person who did that… I could think about taking the Titans with 2 TDs worth of points in a late-season game against the Pats except that the Pats still need wins to secure home field advantage throughout the playoff. The spread is not interesting here so I’ll take this game to go OVER.

(Sun Nite) Arizona – 3 at Philly (51): This is the “flexed game” for Sunday Night Football; it is an important game for both teams and it should be a good game. The Eagles will know how the Giants and Skins fared in their 1:00 PM games by kickoff time; if both the Giants and Skins win those games, this becomes all the more critical for the Eagles. Statistically, the Cards score 8 points per game more than the Eagles and allow 5 points per game fewer than the Eagles. That would make the spread here look awfully cheap – except that the Cards have a long trip to the East Coast for the game and that often provides a large advantage for the home squad. Since this game is a night game, that advantage should be minimized; the Cards will not be playing at a time when their bodies think is “before lunchtime”. The Cards sport a 6-1 road record this year so travel is not so deleterious to them. I like the game to go OVER and I like the Cards to win and cover here.

Carolina – 5 at Giants (48): This is a game to watch for multiple reasons. The Panthers have a reason to play hard in this game over and above their undefeated status. They have not yet wrapped up home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. Two team stats point to a big Panthers’ win here:

    Panthers lead the league in scoring at 31.6 points per game.
    Giants’ defense is worst in the league in yards per game at 418.6.

However, the Giants will be playing “desperately” because they have a road game at Minnesota next week which will not be a walk in the park. A loss for the Giants will be most debilitating for their playoff hopes. For the “game within a game” think about seeing Odell Beckham, Jr. being covered all day long by Josh Norman. That alone could be worth the price of admission. A lot of pundits say this is where the Panthers’ win streak ends; I have to admit that with Jonathan Stewart probably out and Greg Olsen probably out, the Giants look attractive. What I cannot get past is the total lack of a pass rush by the Giants and that means Cam Newton should still have a big day. I’ll take the game to go OVER.

Cleveland at Seattle – 15 (43): The Seahawks are rolling; the Browns are – well, they are the Browns. After starting the season at 4-5, the Seahawks can guaranteed themselves a playoff spot with a win here. Yesterday the money line for the Browns was between +950 and +975 depending on which sportsbook you were looking at. Today, those numbers are as high as +995. I think the Seahawks’ defense will throttle the Browns here. On the other hand, the Browns’ defense has not throttled anyone this year; the Browns give up 27.5 points per game; only the Saints give up more. I do not like to do this, but I will take the Seahawks and lay that huge basket of points.

Green Bay – 3 at Oakland (47): This should be a good game and it is certainly an important game. The Packers have a 1-game lead in the NFC North and will know the outcome of the Vikes/Bears game earlier in the day. The Raiders are in deep yogurt with regard to the playoffs; their record is 6-7 and they can see 3 teams ahead of them with 8-5 records and only 3 games left to play. I think this will be the end of the line for the Raiders. I like the Packers to win and cover – even on the road in The Black Hole.

Miami at San Diego – 1.5 (45.5): This is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week. The TV listings for this game should carry a notice that viewers are advised to avert their eyes. Both teams are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs and they bring a combined record of 8-18 to the stadium. The temperature in San Diego at game time will only be in the low-60s so maybe some fans will actually show up to see this game and not go surfing. Bottom Line: I like Philip Rivers a lot better than I like Ryan Tannehill; I’ll take the Chargers and lay the points.

Denver at Pittsburgh – 6.5 (44.5): I think this is the Game of the Week because these are good teams playing well and the game is important. Here is the matchup that will be great to watch:

    Broncos have the best scoring defense in the NFL – 17.3 points per game.

    Steelers have not been held under 30 points in a game since Nov 1.

I think the Steelers can and will score here – maybe not the 36 points per game they have averaged since Nov 1, but they will score. I do think that the Steelers’ defense will be able to keep the Broncos offense under control simply because the Broncos offense is not that good no matter who plays QB for them. The Broncos score the same number of points per game as the Skins and no one thinks the Skins are an offensive juggernaut. The game means more to the Steelers than it does to the Broncos; I’ll take the Steelers at home to win and cover.

Cincy – 6 at SF (40.5): The spread for this game opened at 4 points and has been climbing slowly all week. If AJ McCarron is going to emulate Tom Brady’s career arc (see above), this is a great way for him to start his trek and gain some confidence. The Niners stink on offense and their defense is just as bad. The Niners give up 24.2 points per game and a whopping 401.7 yards per game. Even so, the Bengals under Marvin Lewis have tended to play very conservatively in big games and in games like this where they are not in their comfort zone. This is purely a hunch but I’ll take the Niners plus the points at home because I think this will be a low-scoring affair.

(Mon Nite) Detroit at New Orleans – 3 (50): This game was the clear runner-up in the minds of the Selection Committee for the Dog Breath Game of the Week. These teams bring a combined 9-17 record to the stadium and – quite frankly – outside of Detroit and New Orleans, no one gives a rat’s ass about either of these teams. ESPN pays a big price for MNF and you wonder why after you look at yet another “Monday Night Stinker”. I am one of those who do not care about either team here so let me turn this game over to the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Protocol for the pick. The coin says to take the game to go OVER.

Finally, here is an NFL related item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Steelers Hall of Fame QB Terry Bradshaw has put his 12-acre Hawaiian estate on the market for $2.7 million.

“If you can just overlook the steel curtains on the home’s windows and the terrible towels in the bathroom, real-estate agents say, it’s the perfect site for an immaculate reception.”

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