NFL Week 17 Predictions: Seedy Edition

How time can move both fast and slow
Amazes me

On the one hand, it doesn’t feel that long ago when the Falcons blew it in the red zone in Philadelphia to start the season, yet here we are for Week 17. On the other hand, Ryan Fitzpatrick was a top MVP candidate in September, and that does feel like eons ago. We also knew that would never sustain in Tampa Bay, but the offensive wizardry of Patrick Mahomes has gone on all year for the Chiefs. He should be a lock for MVP and first-team All-Pro quarterback, but I’m not getting into that right now.

We still have 16 games to wrap up on Sunday with plenty of playoff seeds still up for grabs. Drama will have to come in the form of just a few games though. Can the Browns cap off Baker Mayfield’s rookie season in the best way by eliminating the Ravens in Week 17? Crazier things have happened there, and this would get Pittsburgh in this time. There’s the Titans-Colts play-in game on Sunday night. The Raiders could pull off the upset of the year if Jon Gruden can get a win in Arrowhead, but I think Mahomes hits 50 TD passes in an easy win there.

On a lesser note, we’ll see if Houston and Chicago can leapfrog the Patriots and Rams for No. 2 seeds, but I wouldn’t hold my breath there. The Bears are interesting though, because they can knock out the Vikings if the Eagles beat the Redskins (I expect that part). If you assume the Rams are likely to take care of the 49ers to get the No. 2 seed, do the Bears just half-ass their effort to get the Vikings at home in a third matchup next week? That gets the Eagles out of the picture, which might be a good thing now that they’re getting hot with the right quarterback behind center. It also wouldn’t shock me if Kirk Cousins did something horrific in this one and blew it, but I’m just not sure what kind of effort the Bears are looking to give Sunday. You’re likely going to have to beat the Rams and Saints either way, and I actually think they’re more than capable of winning in LA. I just think Vikings would be a preferable opening game to Philadelphia, and they could rest key starters in the second half on Sunday.

As for the Colts-Titans game, nothing would surprise me at this point given the nature of the Titans. They can play great as they did in wins over NE/DAL, or they could lose to the Bills and nearly blow it at home to the Jets. The Colts aren’t as good on the road while the Titans play better at home. Andrew Luck doesn’t play his best ball against the Titans, but he is 10-0 against them, so he always finds a way to get it done. Derrick Henry has gone off the last three weeks, but he averaged 39.5 rushing yards per game over the first 12 weeks, and the Colts are No. 5 in rushing DVOA defense. This is more on Marcus Mariota to step up with a limited offense in a game I’d have to imagine will be close despite the 38-10 rout last time. I think Jurrell Casey is another big loss for the Titans and Luck has been hard to get pressure on this season with an improved OL, so that really benefits Indy too. So I’m cautiously backing the Colts here on the road to get the last playoff spot, but I also could just as easily see writing about how a tie for Pittsburgh and Indianapolis passing on a tie with Houston cost them in the end in 2018.

NFL Week 17 Predictions

I’m definitely not a fan of predicting Week 17 when you don’t know what kind of effort teams will be giving. Dallas is a good example as the Cowboys are locked into the No. 4 seed. There’s no way they’re a 6-point underdog to the Giants under normal circumstances. Then you have to factor in things like Blake Bortles getting his starting job back and possibly playing for his career in Jacksonville in the Houston game. Could be a similar situation for Ryan Tannehill in Miami and Jameis Winston in Tampa Bay. Boy, gotta love Florida. Backup quarterbacks in CAR-NO too, though I’m interested to see how Teddy Bridgewater does. And no, him struggling doesn’t strengthen Drew Brees’ MVP case in a game the Saints really don’t care about.

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I need to do better than 10-6 ATS to break .500 in my first year of doing that every week, though I’d still be disappointed with the results. I’ll have to look during the offseason where I went wrong some weeks, but I know it was some boneheaded moves at times when I should have known better. Things like picking the Dolphins ATS vs. Minnesota when I know they’re a win close, lose big team. At least I was 11-4 ATS picking Steelers games, and Week 15 NE was a default pick by me of course.

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NFL Week 16 Predictions: 25% Edition

It’s not the 25% edition because I’m giving a fourth of the effort, nor does it have to do with Christmas. It’s 25% because I feel like only four games on the Week 16 schedule are really worth a damn. At least the NFL ordered them well.

Ravens at Chargers (-4.5)

With Tennessee’s win over the Redskins, this apparently means the Ravens have to win this game or their only way of making the playoffs is to get the AFC North out of Pittsburgh’s clutches. No more wild card possibility. Whether or not this is the penultimate game for the 2018 Ravens, I think the rest of their games bring the same questions. The defense will be fine, but can Lamar Jackson make enough throws in obvious passing situations to sustain enough scoring drives? They’re going to run the ball like crazy, but when a holding penalty happens or a false start and it’s second-and-15 or third-and-8, can Jackson deliver? He also has nine fumbles this year so ball security has been an issue.

The fact that the Ravens had the Chiefs down 24-17 in Kansas City speaks well to the type of team they’re running right now, which is different from most of the NFL. I think they’ll play well tonight, and I don’t fully buy into the Chargers like some are doing after some fortunate comeback wins. However, I think Philip Rivers has been consistent this year and he’ll deliver enough throws to take the Ravens out of their comfort zone with Jackson and he’ll have to play from behind. If this game was in Baltimore I’d definitely pick the Ravens, but alas it is not.

Texans at Eagles (-2)

These two teams have played a ton of close games this season with the Texans often winning and the Eagles often failing in those spots. However, I think you have to still give the Eagles a chance with Nick Foles, who played well again in taking over for Carson Wentz last week. I think when he’s in the game the running game has more breathing room, they use the RPO more, and he gets the wide receivers involved better than Wentz, who locks onto Zach Ertz a lot. Foles will also take some chances on low-percentage deep balls and hit those plays too.

I think Houston is a team with a few mega-talented players (Watson, Hopkins, Watt. Clowney), but some of the depth issues or roster holes prevent them from blowing teams out. Watson also takes too many sacks, and I think playing on the road in Philly with their season basically on the line can be a tough spot for Houston.

Steelers at Saints (-6.5)

Here’s a game that could be impacted by tonight’s outcome in LA. If the Ravens pull off a big upset, then the Steelers better show up for this one, because they’ll need help next week if they’re going to make the playoffs. The Saints have however looked very mortal for a month, especially with the passing game struggling to produce 200 yards with Drew Brees. Of course, the last three games were on the road, though weather wasn’t an issue. I think the Superdome brings out the best in this team, and this is going to be a tough spot for a Pittsburgh defense that is prone to blown coverages and miscommunication. We also know the offense is sloppier on the road, and there are injury concerns with James Conner (out) and JuJu Smith-Schuster (likely to play).

If Ben Roethlisberger wants to remind Cameron Jordan that he’s a HOF lock and brings his A game, then I think the Steelers have the ability to pull this one off on the road. They’re a top 5 scoring team this season too. Part of me just thinks the Ravens will lose tonight, so some Steelers will be finding Tinder girls on Bourbon Street and not really caring about the outcome tomorrow, putting the pressure on beating the Bengals at home next week to claim the division. At the very least, the (in all likelihood) final game between Brees and Ben will hopefully be an entertaining shootout.

Chiefs at Seahawks (+1.5)

This is an intriguing matchup on Sunday night where something has to give:

I look at the total for this game (55 points) and can really see the Seahawks winning 31-24. I think they can gash the run defense of Kansas City, which will limit Patrick Mahomes’ possessions again and force him to be more efficient on the road against what is still a quality defense. Russell Wilson has been mostly strong this season aside from a few games. Under Pete Carroll at home in prime time is a spot where the Seahawks especially shine on defense. I think Seattle ends the KC streak of games with 26 points, albeit by a slim margin, and gets this win.

NFL Week 16 Predictions

Well the hits keep coming after I got the spread wrong for WAS-TEN. I’m taking some chances this week too in expecting some underdogs to cover.

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Yes I really picked the Raiders to win straight up in a game I’m not planning to watch much of.

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NFL Week 15 Predictions: Pennsylvania Blues Edition

I think the NFL clearly pegged Week 15 as a showdown week across the league before the schedule softens up in the last two weeks heading into the holidays and postseason. You can see it right away with the battle on Thursday night between the Chiefs and Chargers, and the week ends with Panthers-Saints, which should have been a much bigger game than it’s turned out to be in the NFC South.

But the two biggest games of Week 15 intended to be Patriots-Steelers and Eagles-Rams. Unfortunately, the Pennsylvania teams, who entered the season as Super Bowl contenders, have both disappointed and are in serious danger of missing the playoffs entirely. Philadelphia hasn’t been right since September, and will now have to make due with Nick Foles at quarterback. That worked great last year, but I’d expect the Rams to bounce back at home and put the Eagles out of their misery at 6-8 this time.

The Steelers are a whole different story. Every year we have the same talking points, because nothing ever really changes with this team. Can they ever get back to developing a great defense again, especially in the secondary? (Nope). Can they avoid losing the small games to teams they’re expected to beat? (Nope). Can they beat the Patriots to avoid having to go to New England in January? That one’s on their plate tomorrow, but the inexplicable three-game losing streak heading into this one makes even a win nowhere near as valuable as it should have been.

Remember, when these teams met in Week 15 last year with the Jesse James TD overturned, it was for the No. 1 seed. Now, even a Pittsburgh win is unlikely to give the Steelers homefield over the Patriots. It might not even help them to anything more than the No. 4 seed. The best thing it could do is help the Steelers make the playoffs, since that is in serious doubt with a trip to New Orleans up next and a favorable schedule for Baltimore. The second-best thing it could do is actually make the Patriots a No. 3 seed and not get a first-round bye for the ninth year in a row. That would still require Houston and the AFC West teams to finish strong, which isn’t a guarantee. The only other good¬†thing it could do is give the Steelers some confidence they can beat the Patriots, which may still be required in January if they were the 4 and 3 seeds and both made it to the AFC Championship Game (a la Indy-NE in 2006). But that’s a ways off, and as this last week has shown, no one is a safe bet to do anything this year. These teams are coming off embarrassing losses to the Dolphins and Raiders after all.

As for the matchup itself, I’m not feeling Pittsburgh, a 3-point home underdog. We know the defense always struggles with this offense, but in the last three weeks, they’re barely even covering the other team’s top receiving threat (Emmanuel Sanders, Keenan Allen, Jared Cook). Now you bring the Patriots to town with Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon, and the Steelers definitely have their hands full. Don’t discount the running game and James White as a receiver too. Brady has also played better in the three games since the bye than he was earlier this season.

The 2018 Steelers are essentially a passing offense and nothing more. I think you’d have to go back to 2002 to find the last time the Steelers were so built around the pass with a suspect defense, a shoddy running game and terrible special teams (especially the kicker). But even that team finished 10-5-1 and made the playoffs because they came through on defense in the red zone when they had to. Last week, the Steelers had a fourth down to win the game and failed to stop Derek Carr in Oakland. They had an 8-minute drive against the Chargers with a 23-7 lead and Sean Davis turned an interception in the end zone into a touchdown for Allen after dislodging the ball with a hit on his own teammate. That was the play of the game and hurt more than any officiating blunder did. I think the Steelers hold on for the win if that pick went their way. Then the week before against Denver, that was about a comedy of errors by the OFF/ST in a game they should have scored way more than 17 points. So it’s been a frustrating three weeks after a pretty solid 7-2-1 start.

Ben Roethlisberger looked fine after the rib injury last week, so I’m not really worried about that part. James Conner possibly being out isn’t good since they may end up running for ~30 yards again, but it has to be a huge Roethlisberger game either way. I just don’t see how you beat the Patriots when you’re that one-dimensional of a team, but it’s a dimension they better at least utilize properly this week. That means no punting on fourth-and-short in NE territory.¬† No settling for long field goals to try to get Chris Boswell’s confidence back when he’s been terrible and is on the verge of getting cut. You need touchdowns in this game and you need to limit Brady’s possessions.

Do I trust Mike Tomlin to understand this? Of course not. He punted on 4th-and-1 with a 24-19 lead last year with 2:16 left when the Steelers might have put the game away. Do I expect the Steelers to make any changes if they lose five or six in a row and miss the playoffs? Of course not, even though it’s the same argument as Mike McCarthy in Green Bay, and the Packers fired him already. Tomlin should go too if they show they can’t beat the Patriots even when NE hasn’t looked this vulnerable since 2013 or 2005. Oh yeah, the Steelers lost to those New England teams as well.

Final: Patriots 30, Steelers 24

NFL Week 15 Predictions

That was a bad beat on Thursday as Chiefs and the under was the right call all night until the last 4 seconds.

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I think the Colts figure out the Cowboys at home, but it might be lower scoring than expected. Hate trusting the Giants, but they have been playing better since the bye. Titans can be very unpredictable, so I’d stay away from putting money on that game. I really like Seattle in SF.

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NFL Week 14 Predictions: The Old Familiar Sting Edition

Week 13 was an unlucky one for many of the NFL’s most notable quarterbacks. Some of them have a matchup in Week 14 against an opponent that has been a nuisance throughout their careers, with most of those coming as a surprise since these teams generally aren’t quality opponents. I imagine we’ll see at least one upset there.

Upset Alert: Steelers at Raiders (+10)

You can say I’m forcing the narrative on this one, but it’s a fact that underachieving Steelers seasons always involve a loss to the Raiders no matter how bad Oakland is. It’s happened all four times the Steelers have missed the playoffs in the Ben Roethlisberger era (2006, 2009, 2012, and 2013). This Oakland team is hardly any worse than those teams were either. Roethlisberger had two of his best performances in a loss ever in the 2009 and 2012 games, but he’s still just 2-4 against Oakland for his career.

This is almost a must-win for the Steelers (7-4-1), because they have the Patriots and Saints coming up. A five-game losing streak could knock them out of the playoffs altogether, so they have to get this one, but it won’t be easy. Oakland did just only lose by 7 points to the Chiefs last week. As much as I criticize Derek Carr, he’s been very functional in three of the losses this year (DEN, IND, KC). They can move the ball and score in this one, and the Steelers are playing anything but stellar defense right now.

I think the spread is too high, and that’s even after coming down from 11 earlier this week. The Steelers have played 14 road games since last year. They’ve won only two of those games by more than 7 points. They just make too many mistakes on the road to trust them to win big. With James Conner out, Roethlisberger might think he’s going to throw 45+ times just because he’s the least-pressured QB in the NFL and the Raiders have the worst pass rush. That’s why they should win this game, but it’s also easily why they could lose it if he starts forcing passes to Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. By DVOA, the Raiders are actually good (top 4) against #1 and #2 WRs. They suck everywhere else, and again, they just don’t generate pressures and sacks. So Roethlisberger needs to use his tight ends and use Jaylen Samuels as a receiver in this one and just be careful with the ball.

My biggest pet peeve about this season would be people blaming Le’Veon Bell’s absence on any lack of success for the Steelers. Clearly, they haven’t missed him and still remain a great offense, albeit more one-dimensional. However, it’s a different story when his replacement is out too. The Steelers aren’t well equipped to handle a RB injury since they put so much into a workhorse back, and Samuels has never been that type of player going back to college. So it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out, but if they’re just going to follow the script of past Pittsburgh disappointments, then bet on an Oakland win here.

Falcons at Packers (-4.5)

Yes, I picked both of these teams to finish 12-4, so them coming in with 4 wins (4.5 for Green Bay, technically) is very depressing. Aaron Rodgers is 3-5 against the Matt Ryan-led Falcons, including a playoff split. I think the Packers play well after the Mike McCarthy firing and get this win over an Atlanta team that has gone off the rails offensively the last month. Cue “dome team in Green Bay in December” too, though these teams did play a 43-37 game on a Monday night in 2014 (12/8) that was pretty entertaining. 2014 was also the last time the Packers looked like a well-oiled machine.

Patriots at Dolphins (+8)

Believe it or not, but Tom Brady is 7-9 as a starter in Miami, including 1-4 since 2013. He’s lost to some QBs much worse than Ryan Tannehill there, including Joey Harrington, A.J. Feeley, and Chad Henne. I’d feel better about Miami’s chances if Xavien Howard was active, because the Dolphins have a lot of takeaways this year and he has 7 INT alone. But he’ll miss a game for the first time since 2016 (figures). I’d also feel better about Miami scoring enough points to win if they had some of its YAC players still active, but Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant have been lost for the season. So I don’t think Miami has much to hang its hat on right now, but Adam Gase has at least beaten the Patriots before so it could be worth a watch. The first matchup in Foxboro sure as hell wasn’t.

Saints at Buccaneers (+10)

Tampa Bay had one of the stunners of 2018 with that 48-40 win in New Orleans in Week 1. Ryan Fitzpatrick had a monster day, but it’s Jameis Winston now. He can still move the ball at a high level, but he’ll obviously have to avoid the turnovers in this one. The Saints had a mini-bye after that Dallas stinker and will be looking for a bounce-back performance, especially from Drew Brees. Tampa Bay has done better against the pass since firing Mike Smith, but the problem is the run defense is still atrocious too, and the Saints still have Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara.

So I think the Saints get a series split, but I still like Tampa Bay to keep it within 10. Maybe that’s fool’s gold, but in 12 career starts in Tampa Bay, Brees is 7-5 with only three wins by more than 7 points (all in 2006-2010 era). He’s not immune to throwing up a stinker in that building. Of course, he’ll probably throw for 500 yards and 6 TD after I questioned if the cliff is coming sooner than expected since he is about to turn 40.

SNF: Rams at Bears (+3)

Finally, I wanted to briefly cover SNF’s flexed game in Chicago. It could be a good one, and picking the Rams could be my regret of the week. I just think the Rams are more than capable of winning out to finish 15-1 and get the No. 1 seed. I also know that teams rarely finish 15-1, and a road game against a potential No. 3 seed that ranks top 5 in points scored and allowed is a juicy spot for an upset. I’m still going to trust the Rams in that they don’t let Khalil Mack blow this game up, because that’s Chicago’s most likely path to victory. Mack disrupting Jared Goff and forcing turnovers. But even when the Rams look off, like they did last week in Detroit, they still found a way to score 30 points on the road and won by 14. Whether it’s Goff, Gurley on the ground, or Aaron Donald doing incredible things on defense, I trust this team to find a way in this one.

It’ll be good to see Mitchell Trubisky back in the lineup in a big game, arguably the biggest of his young career. It’s not huge for playoff seeds since Bears are unlikely to catch anyone for a bye after losing to the Giants last week, but it could be big just to see if the Bears match up well with a top team. Show us that the NFC playoffs could be more than just an inevitable rematch between the Rams and Saints. Alas, the Bears are the only team this season with multiple losses despite 3+ takeaways. They’re also the only team to have 7 such games, but the point is even with takeaways they can still be outscored, especially by a potent team like the Rams.

Final: Rams 27, Bears 23

NFL Week 14 Predictions

I didn’t realize Jacksonville would quit after that shocking 6-0 win over the Colts. They really wanted no part of tackling Derrick Henry on TNF, so I’m 0-1 ATS, which has been kicking my ass for weeks now.

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Browns and Cardinals are two underdogs I like to win outright at home. I also will put something on Oakland winning straight up against Pittsburgh, but likely stick with the spread on that one.

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NFL Week 13 Predictions: Peak Browns Edition?

I’m going to do something very rare and focus on the Cleveland Browns. NBC made the right move by flexing Chargers-Steelers into prime time, but I think the most interesting game of Week 13 with a wide range of outcomes just might be Cleveland at Houston. The Texans have won eight in a row while the Browns are on a rare two-game winning streak behind some stellar play from rookie Baker Mayfield. This first meeting between Deshaun Watson and Mayfield could be a glimpse of the future of the AFC, or it could be a 13-10 slog, but that’s why they play the games. J.J. Watt and Myles Garrett make for nice star talent on the defenses too.

The Browns are 4-6-1 and the No. 12 seed in the AFC going into Week 13. For all intents and purposes, they’re going to be 2019’s trendy playoff pick, but there is still an outside shot of doing something this year too. The 4-6-1 record is the team’s fifth best through 11 games since returning in 1999, and the best since the Browns were 7-4 in 2014 before finishing on a typical five-game losing streak.

That shouldn’t happen this time around with the team having some real talent now, and that albatross known as Hue Jackson is gone.

The AFC has been so badly in need of new blood. The AFC East still has The Three Stooges, the Jaguars basically died last Sunday in Buffalo, and the Titans just aren’t cutting it with Marcus Mariota. It’s good to see Andrew Luck back and on a hot streak in Indy, though I don’t think that team has the defensive talent to go up against the top-tier teams yet. It’s been great to see that Patrick Mahomes is having a historic season under Andy Reid in Kansas City, but the Texans and Browns could be built for long-term success too as they grow under their young quarterbacks. So I am actually looking forward to this one, which is something I normally would never say about a game between the Browns and a Bill O’Brien Texans team.

NFL Week 13 Predictions

On TNF, I had the Cowboys covering in a 7-point loss, but I certainly did not expect a 13-10 win. That was quite the defensive game against New Orleans.

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I feel unusually confident about a lot of teams winning this week (IND, LAR, GB, KC, NE, SEA, PIT, PHI). I threw PIT in there despite the tough matchup just because I think the offense will be much sharper at home. Chargers are 1-3 this year when allowing more than 20 points, and Philip Rivers is 3-13 in his last 16 road starts against playoff teams (3-14 once Rams clinch). I think the Steelers are undoubtedly a playoff team again this year, and this is usually a spot where they play well and where the Chargers fold.

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