As the winds of November begin to sweep stadiums across the country (OK, if you’re in a dome, it’s the air conditioning), teams are beginning to make their final push towards the playoffs. Although those games are six weeks away, some of the matchups this weekend – highlighted by potential conference title games in the San Francisco/New Orleans and Kansas City/Denver battles on Sunday – will help to clear up some of the playoff races (home team in CAPS, choice for game in BOLD, lines from the Mirage in Las Vegas).
Indianapolis Colts (-3) vs. TENNESSEE TITANS
After the waxing that the Colts took last week in their loss to the St. Louis Rams at home (that was a big shock as people didn’t expect the Colts to lose by 30 at home!), it might be tough for people to get back behind Andrew Luck and Company. The Colts are coming into Nashville at the right time, however, as Titans’ QB Jake Locker went down for the season with a foot injury in the team’s loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars (another shock) and backup Ryan Fitzpatrick will be under center.
This game could have meant much more had the Titans not lost to Jacksonville last week. If they had won that game, the Colts’ lead in the AFC South would have been only one game and the Titans would have had a shot at knocking the Colts off the top perch in the division. A win by the Titans on Thursday would still be a shot in the arm for their divisional aspirations but, without Locker taking the snaps, I would expect the Colts to take this game handily.
New York Jets (+1.5) vs. BUFFALO BILLS
Coming off of their bye week, the New York Jets are primed to make their push towards taking down the New England Patriots atop the division. OK, who are we kidding, the Jets aren’t going to do that, but they do still have a shot at getting into the playoffs as a wild card team, something that many thought was unfathomable at the start of the season. Buffalo has been beset by injuries that have contributed to a three-game losing streak and the return of QB E. J. Manuel last weekend against the Steelers didn’t provide the punch in the arm the team needed. This is going to be an entertaining game, but I expect the Jets to win it outright or, at the minimum, cover the spread in the game.
Baltimore Ravens vs. CHICAGO BEARS (-3)
Both of these teams are in the fight for the playoffs in their respective conferences and, although they lost last weekend to inter-division rival Detroit last week, the Bears still have a shot at taking the NFC North crown. Although Bears QB Jay Cutler reinjured himself last week in that loss and is listed as doubtful for this game, backup Josh McCown has shown he can lead this team adequately (look at the defeat of the Packers two weeks ago for support of that argument). The Ravens are a shell of the team they were last year, with RB Ray Rice having generated only 289 rushing yards FOR THE ENTIRE SEASON and QB Joe Flacco trying to work with a substandard receiving corps. The Bears should take this one in a walk.
Cleveland Browns vs. CINCINNATI BENGALS (-6)
The Bengals made this game interesting by losing to the Ravens last week, pulling the Browns (on their bye week) within a game and a half of the division lead. How the Browns have been doing it is difficult to explain, with the constant changeover in their quarterback situation. This “Battle of Ohio” on Sunday, however, should be ripe for the Bengals to solidify their lead in the division as QB Andy Dalton, RB Giovani Bernard and WR A. J. Green should have their way against the Browns’ D.
Washington Redskins vs. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (-3.5)
While there might be a quarterback controversy brewing in the City of Brotherly Love, the Eagles seem to have found their footing from their outstanding start to the season. QB Nick Foles has stepped in admirably for QB Michael Vick (already deemed out for this game) and, against a Redskins’ defense that has had trouble stopping anyone this year, look primed for a win to keep them in the running for the NFC East division championship.
Detroit Lions (-2.5) vs. PITTSBURGH STEELERS
The Lions have quietly risen to the top of the NFC North and, with QB Matthew Stafford the only starting quarterback in the division who isn’t injured, the Motor City Kitties are in excellent shape to winning the division title. I actually thought this game should have a wider spread, as I expect Detroit to take the game easily, but you can never count out the wily veterans from Pittsburgh. QB Ben Roethlisberger may have some surprises in store for the Lions, but it won’t be enough to get the Steelers the win.
Atlanta Falcons (-1.5) vs. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
This game had tremendous promise at the start of the season as both teams were expected to make strong runs at the playoffs. Now, the 2-7 Falcons and the 1-8 Buccaneers is just another game on the Sunday schedule as both teams try to stay out of being the first team choosing in the 2014 NFL Draft.
After their stunning win on Monday night against the Dolphins, the Bucs might have a bit of momentum, but they don’t have the talent to keep up even with the depleted Falcons squad. The Falcons and QB Matt Ryan might not have postseason aspirations anymore, but they will have enough offense to defeat the Bucs this Sunday.
Arizona Cardinals vs. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (+7)
They won’t win this game outright (as they did last week in defeating the Titans), but Jacksonville will be able to keep this game close. The Cardinals aren’t the same team on the road that they are in their desert home and the “west coast to east coast” bias will work against them. They still have enough on offense (not to mention a stifling defense) that will push them to the victory, but they won’t cover the spread.
Oakland Raiders (+7) vs. HOUSTON TEXANS
How the Texans get seven points – with RB Arian Foster out, Case Keenum at QB and an unpredictable Raiders offense facing their defense – is a bit of a surprise to me. These are, surprisingly, two of the tougher defenses in the league and it will more than likely be a low-scoring affair. As such, I have to take the Raiders and the points in this contest.
San Diego Chargers (-1.5) vs. MIAMI DOLPHINS
This is probably an elimination game for determining one of the wild card slots in the AFC. Both teams, at 4-5, need some help (a stumble by the Jets would be the biggest one) if they are to even get the final berth and, as such, a win is critical. Miami hasn’t been the same since the Incognito/Martin situation started up and it is not opportune that they have the Chargers coming to town this week. I would expect the Chargers to win this one handily as they try to stay in the mix moving into the final third of the season.
San Francisco 49ers vs. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (-3)
One of the highlight games of the Week 11 schedule, the tilt between the ‘Niners and the Saints should be a battle of wills. Can the 49ers defense shut down QB Drew Brees and the high-flying Saints offense will be the biggest question, with the second largest one being if QB Colin Kaepernick can move the 49ers against a staunch Saints’ D. Whoever can impose their will in this game will take it; I believe that Brees and Co. will be able to continue their offensive explosion and win this game fairly handily.
Green Bay Packers vs. NEW YORK GIANTS (-6)
The injury bug that has plagued the Packers all season has finally caught up with them. After losing last week to the Eagles, the Packers are in danger of dropping out of the NFC playoff picture. Backup QB Scott Tolzien will be ready to go again this week (and QB Matt Flynn, who has worn more uniforms this year that a WWII spy, backs him up), but the cupboard is bare for him. With WR Randall Cobb still out, TE Jermichael Finley on the IR and LB Clay Matthews hampered by a broken thumb, the Pack will have nothing to stop the Giants, who have their own issues but enough to win this game.
Minnesota Vikings vs. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (-12)
The Seahawks are the class of the NFC right now, but they don’t seem to be getting the respect due them. The offense has the first ranked running game in the NFL and the defense is ranked second against the pass, but their recent stumbles against St. Louis and Tampa Bay have people whispering about them. I’d love to take the Vikings and the points in this game, but the Seattle home field advantage is too strong for a “dome team” to get anything going in the Pacific Northwest. Expect a Seahawks romp in this game and for those whispers to get a bit quieter.
Kansas City Chiefs (+8.5) vs. DENVER BRONCOS
This is the second “highlight game” of the weekend and it should be a fantastic battle. Kansas City is looking to keep their perfect record intact and, with the balanced attack of the Chiefs’ offense, they will hang around long enough to make the game interesting. I cannot see how the Broncos, even with their high powered attack, are an overwhelming favorite in this game, especially with a hobbled QB Peyton Manning. I do believe the Broncos will win on Sunday night, just not by the spread that is being set by the bookmakers.
New England Patriots vs. CAROLINA PANTHERS (-2.5)
The Panthers are coming off their defensive battle with the 49ers last week flying high after the win. That defense will be critical in making it two wins in a row over strong teams; if Pats’ QB Tom Brady gets any rhythm going, it could change the outcome of the game. I do expect that the Panthers will control the ball and the defense will have just enough to be able to defeat the Patriots on their home turf in Charlotte.
Last Week: Not bad, but not great either, going 7-6-1 (the push was the Lions 2-point victory over the Bears). Still, an above-.500 week is better than nothing.
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