|Uh-oh! Andy must've spotted the hot dog vendor!|
In looking ahead to Week 16, here are three things that stand out to me…
1. An Improbably Comeback – I’ve been alluding to it for weeks now, and my worst fears are seemingly coming to life. The Eagles, presumed dead by nearly everyone, find themselves right back in the division race thanks to the predictable collapses of the Giants and Cowboys. A win this week over Dallas will give them 7 wins, placing them one back of Dallas (with the tie break). They’ll need some help, of course, as a Giants victory eliminates them. If the Giants lose, however, they’ll enter Week 17 playing the Redskins (easy win) and needing a Giants win to give them the division (they have the tie-break). Not necessarily likely, but very possible. If the Eagles do make it, then they could be VERY dangerous.
2. TEBOW!!! – Let’s just make this one a weekly thing, shall we? Tebow is one game up in the AFC West, with a major opportunity to clinch things with a win over Buffalo (and an Oakland loss to KC). Things didn’t necessarily go all that well against the Pats, but I honestly believe Tebow is making progress from week to week. If the coaching staff can finally grow a pair and let this team play the way they should, I think Denver could be very sneaky in the AFC Playoffs.
3. Andrew Luck Sweepstakes – Thanks to the Colts improbably two game win streak, Luck is very much back in play. Indy plays at Jacksonville next week, which looms as an extremely winnable game. Of course, that won’t matter if the other two win teams can’t hold up their end of the bargain. Minnesota has an extremely winnable game against Washington, and it’ll be interesting to see how Leslie Frazier sabotages this one. St. Louis, meanwhile, plays the Charlie Batch-led Steelers. Not necessarily an “easy” game, but not an upset I would find terribly shocking.
As for the Week 15 picks…bad.
(Remember, Prince and I are going head to head with our picks. No prize has been determined yet, but ideas are happily accepted.)
Week 15 Results (point spread in parentheses)
Landrum: 7-9 (3-10)
Prince: 10-6 (5-8)
Week 15 Winner: Prince +5
Results through Week 15 (point spread in parentheses)
Landrum: 140-84 (110-94)
Prince: 150-74 (113-91)
Overall Leader: Prince +13
We shall never speak of this again. Moving on to the Week 16 picks…
Houston at Indianapolis (HOU -6.5)
Jon: Houston (HOU -6.5)
Prince: Houston (IND +6.5)
By now, we all know that the Colts pulled out their second straight win of the season, in highly dramatic fashion. The question is, are Colts fan happy about this, or upset? Granted, a loss to Jacksonville in Week 17 would clinch the #1 overall pick, making this discussion completely irrelevant, but it’s an interesting topic nonetheless. I’m sure the Colts would prefer to not deal with the Manning-Luck drama that would ensue, but losing the top pick would have severe long term consequences for the franchise. We’ll deal with that later in the triumphant return of The Andrew Luck Sweepstakes. As for the Texans…well, what is there to say? They can’t score points! Their collapse should come as no surprise, as a team can only deal with so many huge injuries. Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, Arian Foster, and Mario Williams have missed a combined 27 games this season, making it an absolute miracle that Houston was even in contention for a first round bye in the first place. Safe to say, it doesn’t look like they’ll be making much noise in the playoffs.
Denver at Buffalo (DEN -3)
Jon: Denver (DEN -3)
Prince: Denver (DEN -3)
Watching Tebow take a loss last week was like losing a loved one. Thank goodness for Buffalo this week, because the last thing I need is a “death in the family” on Christmas Eve! The Bills have lost seven straight games and are reaching impressive levels of incompetence on both sides of the ball. While it’s a mortal lock that John Fox continues his practice of mailing in the first three and half quarters by calling predictable running plays up the middle, I’m sorta doubting Buffalo’s ability to do anything about it. The Bills are giving up nearly 140 yards per game on the ground, and Denver should have little trouble maintaining control of this game from the outset. GO TEBOW!!!
Arizona at Cincinnati (CIN -4.5)
Jon: Cincinnati (CIN -4.5)
Prince: Cincinnati (CIN -4.5)
The Cardinals have been more than a little frisky lately, knocking off two division leaders in their recent four game win streak. In very un-Cardinals like fashion, they’ve gotten the job done on defense rather than offense, holding their opponents to 20 points or fewer in six of their last seven games. Considering that they had allowed 30 or more points in each of their four games prior to that stretch, the Cardinals turnaround is both highly improbably and extremely impressive. That having been said, there’s no way I’m buying John Skelton, who has thrown ten interceptions in just six starts this season. It appears as if A.J. Green is going to play, and his presence alone should give Cincy’s offense enough juice to win by a TD or more.
Jacksonville at Tennessee (TEN -9.5)
Jon: Tennessee (JAX +9.5)
Prince: Tennessee (JAX +9.5)
I mentioned this on the podcast, but I think it’s worth bringing up on this space as well. The most unfortunate thing about Jacksonville’s consistent irrelevance is the relative obscurity of Maurice Jones-Drew. Sure, everyone knows about the guy, but is everyone really aware of how incredible he is? MJD currently leads the league in rushing by nearly 100 yards…that, despite having Bellaiyn Guhbeard as his QB! This marks his third straight season of 1300 or more yards! In all, Jones-Drew has amassed 6582 yards and 61 touchdowns in six seasons, while averaging 4.6 Y/A. Those are incredible totals! I made the Emmitt Smith comparison the other day, and I feel like it very much applies. Like Emmitt, Jones-Drew dropped in the draft due to his lack of size. At just 5-7, most scouts viewed him as too small to be anything more than a change-of-pace back. Umm, wrong. MJD has carried the rock nearly 1500 times in six seasons, while missing just three games in his entire career. Sadly, not too many people are aware of this. If MJD played in Pittsburgh or Dallas, he surely would be one of the biggest stars in the NFL. Honestly, if I were the Steelers, I’d offer a first round pick to pry him out of Jacksonville.
As for the game, the Titans kind of suck, which means I can’t give them that many points. That is all.
Oakland at Kansas City (KC -1)
Jon: Kansas City (KC -1)
Prince: Kansas City (KC -1)
The AFC West just gets weirder and weirder every single year. At one point, it appeared as if Oakland would have no trouble wrapping up the division by Week 15. Now, the Raiders are in full-on collapse mode, while the Broncos have strung together a long series of improbable wins, the Chiefs randomly have six victories despite having a -127 scoring margin, and the Chargers make their annual “Save Norv’s Job” push. So, business as usual. While I feel tepid about picking the Chiefs, I can’t help but think they’re much more viable with Kyle Orton and Romeo Crennel as the HC-QB combo. I know it sounds weird, but the team really seemed to respond to Crennel’s leadership. Of course, that could very well be a one game type of thing, but it could mean KC badly underachieved under Todd Haley. Either way, this pick is not so much about the Chiefs as it is the Raiders. Carson Palmer is as terrible as ever, making their trade one of the most lopsided in history. That, combined with a defense that would make even the Pac-12 blush, literally forces me to pick Kansas City at home.
Miami at New England (NE -10.5)
Jon: New England (MIA +10.5)
Prince: New England (NE -10.5)
Wow, New England’s victory over Denver must have really impressed the oddsmakers, as 10.5 points is a lot to give to a Dolphins team that has won five of their last seven games. Beyond all comprehension, Matt Moore and Reggie Bush have resurrected their careers and have made a strong case for a return next season. Bush, in particular, has incredible this season, accumulating nearly 1000 yards rushing already (previous high of 581) while toting the rock a career high 194. What’s even more impressive about that is the fact that Bush has not missed a single game, silencing many of the critics who claimed he was far too brittle to be a feature back. I like Bush a lot in this matchup, as I think his speed and versatility will give New England a lot of trouble on the perimeter. It won’t be enough to overcome another dominant Tom Brady game, but it will be enough to keep the game in single digits.
New York Giants at New York Jets (NYJ -3)
Jon: New York Giants (NYG +3)
Prince: New York Giants (NYG +3)
With the Giants in full meltdown mode, it might seem odd that I would pick them against the Jets. Two thing. One, the Jets are total frauds who haven’t beaten anyone decent in seven weeks. Their best win during that stretch is probably at Washington…not good. Mark Sanchez has not played particularly well during that stretch, as his accuracy and Y/A are bad, even for him. While the Giants have some obvious issues, they would probably be the best team the Jets have beaten all season. Two, the Giants have to win to complete the “Cowboys lose a gut-wrenching game in Week 17 to cost them the division title and the playoffs altogether” story line. It’s fate. Trust me.
St. Louis at Pittsburgh (PIT -16)
Jon: Pittsburgh (STL +16)
Prince: Pittsburgh (STL +16)
We all got a firsthand view of how toothless the Steelers are without a healthy Big Ben, and it certainly wasn’t pretty. All of their worst problems were exposed without his ability to extend plays. With his ankle still in pretty rough condition, it appears as if Pittsburgh will do the smart thing and hold him out of this one. While Pittsburgh will still far outclass the Rams, I have sincere doubts about Charlie Batch’s ability to cover a spread as big as this one.
Minnesota at Washington (WAS -6)
Jon: Minnesota (MIN +6)
Prince: Washington (WAS -6)
Let me be clear; both of these teams SHOULD be playing for a draft pick. Minnesota, specifically, is now in a situation where they very well might have a shot at Andrew Luck, and they simply can’t afford a win. That having been said, I feel almost 100% certain they’ll screw it up this week. The ‘Skins have a very average run defense and I’m guessing that Adrian Peterson, for a variety of reasons, will want to end the season on a high note. Also, blowing the opportunity for a once-in-a-generation QB prospect is just something the Vikings would do. Sorry, Prince!
Tampa Bay at Carolina (CAR -7)
Jon: Carolina (CAR -7)
Prince: Carolina (CAR -7)
New rule on Boris Diaw Time; no picking Tampa Bay. Ever. For any reason. Their defense is beyond awful, their QB throws 10 INT’s per game, their coach is a moron who’s about to get fired…basically, the whole thing is a giant pile of manure. Cam Newton could very well set some sort of record for most total yards by a QB. He could also score 15 TD’s by himself.
Cleveland at Baltimore (BAL -13.5)
Jon: Baltimore (CLE +13.5)
Prince: Baltimore (BAL -13.5)
I know I vowed not to pick Cleveland anymore, but there’s too much going against the Ravens to think they’ll cover a 13.5 point spread. For one, Seneca Wallace was a pretty clear upgrade on Colt McCoy. The overall numbers don’t really show that big a difference, but Cleveland’s offense looked far more competent than they have all year. For another, the Anquan Boldin injury is huge for the Ravens. We make fun of “Checkdown Joe” Flacco all the time for his inability to get the ball out to his WR’s, and Boldin’s absence is only going to exasperate the problem. Against a stout pass defense like Cleveland’s (that sounds weird), Flacco is going to have a hard time moving the ball downfield with any success. Baltimore’s run game and defense will get them the win, but the game has the feel of a really ugly, low scoring contest.
San Diego at Detroit (DET -3)
Jon: San Diego (SD +3)
Prince: San Diego (SD +3)
The Chargers are simply on fire right now, having blown out each of their last three opponents. The Lions, meanwhile, continue their unimpressive ways, making a practice of falling behind early and often. That won’t necessarily kill you against the Raiders or Vikings, but it likely won’t fly against the ‘December Version’ of the Chargers. Not only that, but what exactly are the Lions playing for? They all but have a Wild Card spot locked up, and I can’t say for sure that they’re disciplined enough to bring it with nothing to play for. Then again, I can’t say for sure that a Norv Turner team would be disciplined enough to bring it in the Super Bowl, so there’s that…
Philadelphia at Dallas (DAL -3)
Jon: Philadelphia (PHI +3)
Prince: Philadelphia (PHI +3)
I’m pretty sure we all remember what happened in the first matchup this season. While being at home and having a full boat of healthy WR’s should make this a bit more competitive than the first contest, I don’t think the outcome is really in question. I’ve been openly skeptical of the Cowboys defense all season, and, unfortunately, they’ve proven me right over the last several games. The secondary is every bit as bad as I feared, and probably worse. Maybe this would have been a nice matchup a few weeks ago when Philly was still melting down, but Vick’s return and their apparent realization that the NFL season is NOT 82 games has the Eagles playing their best football of the year. Remember, Philly is still playing for their playoff lives, and the hype that constantly surrounds this team means they have a ton at stake. I don’t want to talk about this anymore…
San Francisco at Seattle (SF -1.5)
Jon: San Francisco (SF -1.5)
Prince: Seattle (SEA +1.5)
On the surface, this seems like it should be an easy victory for the 49ers. While some people will refer to this as a ‘letdown’ game, I’m going the opposite way. Their victory over the Steelers is definitely tainted by the health (or lack thereof) of Ben Roethlisberger. That’s not meant as a slight to the 49ers, just a nod to reality of the situation. Still, I’m sure a great coach like Jim Harbaugh will have no problem using that “nobody respects us” vibe to motivate his team in a game that they could have easily overlooked.
That having been said, there are larger forces at play here. I have yet to beat Seattle against the spread this season, and I truly believe there is a Tarvaris Jackson curse that has been placed upon me. At this point, I fully expect Marshawn Lynch to set the single game record for rushing TD’s, as that would seem like the most appropriate way to crush my pick.
Chicago at Green Bay (GB -12.5)
Jon: Green Bay (GB -12.5)
Prince: Green Bay (GB -12.5)
As I said on the podcast, the idea that Kansas City somehow found a “blueprint” for beating the Packers is absolutely ridiculous. I guess if the blueprint is “hope Aaron Rodgers has a crappy game and his teammates sleepwalk through all four quarters,” then yes, the Chiefs found a blueprint. Of course, I’m guessing that blueprint doesn’t include Josh McCown at QB…
Atlanta at New Orleans (NO -6.5)
Jon: New Orleans (NO -6.5)
Prince: New Orleans (NO -6.5)
The Saints are averaging an astounding 39.8 PPG at home this season. Even if you throw out the crazy 62 point effort against the Colts, they’re still averaging 35.4 PPG! While Atlanta gave New Orleans a fight in their first matchup, that game was in Atlanta. I doubt we’ll see the same type of struggle this time around. Home field has been worth an additional 12.5 PPG to the Saints, while playing on the road has cost the Falcons 5.9 PPG. While I don’t necessarily think we’ll see an 18 point swing from the first contest, I do expect New Orleans to win this one easily.