Two games to go in the regular season, and the resolve of some teams is shining through now, while others melt quicker than last week’s snowdrifts. As soon as I get behind the Lions, they go on a horrible roll of losses, and as soon as I write off the Packers, they win two on the bounce. It’s a crazy thing the NFL, and with the playoffs closer than ever for some teams, I’m sure things will be as mad as usual.
138-86 on the year with only 32 games left in the regular season: time for a big score I think.
Miami Dolphins 27-13 Buffalo Bills
Beating the Patriots last week will have been a huge boost for this Miami team, it will make them feel like legitimate playoff contenders for a game that to be so, they will have to win. The Bills squeezed past the Jags in a dead rubber in their last game but it goes without saying that the Dolphins present a much more serious test. I can see mistakes from EJ Manuel against this pressure creating Miami front seven, and the Dolphins will stop the run game which makes this Buffalo team dangerous.
New Orleans Saints 20-23 Carolina Panthers
Well well, this game is now even more massive than the matchup two weeks ago. The way the Saints went to St Louis and were shut down was alarming for Sean Payton and Drew Brees, but hugely encouraging for Riverboat Ron and his Panthers. They rolled past the Jets in fairly comfortable fashion, and although they will have to step up their defensive efforts from that performance, they will be confident that their offense with Cam Newton playing great football at its helm, can score on this declining Saints D. Drew Brees took the Panthers apart in the Superdome two weeks ago, but I think Carolina will have learned a lot from that, and this game will be a whole lot closer. New Orleans are 3-4 on the road, and seem a different team away from home, something the Panthers could ride to the NFC South title.
Minnesota Vikings 17-34 Cincinnati Bengals
Don’t look now Cincinnati, but the Ravens are only a game back in the AFC North, so there is still some important work to do. The Vikings, at 4-9-1 have been competitive in almost every game this season, and will be no pushovers for the Bengals, especially with Harrison Smith back at Safety. Minnesota should also welcome back AP or Toby Gerhart back at RB, both of whom were inactive in their win against the supposed runaway offensive train of the Philadelphia Eagles. I’m beginning to convince myself that there is a good team under the surface in Minnesota, but whether it’s good enough to go to Cincy and get a result against a team still fighting for the no.2 seed in the AFC is another question.
Denver Broncos 31-17 Houston Texans
The NFL is on notice: Denver is not an unbeatable team. San Diego showed that even at home, Peyton Manning is not invincible, as the Broncos have a defense that is seriously vulnerable when it matters. The Texans’ offense is focussed around their running game, and that is the strength of this Denver unit, so while this may not look like a 11-3 vs 2-12 game, it’s a bad matchup for Houston, and I fully expect the Broncos to bounce back.
Tennessee Titans 23-16 Jacksonville Jaguars
You trust the Jags for just one week, at home, and they let you down. I won’t be doing it again. Look for Kendall Wright and Chris Johnson to have big days here. I’m trusting Ryan Fitzpatrick instead. #LosingMyMind
Indianapolis Colts 24-30 Kansas City Chiefs
So the Chiefs have gone from scoring 20 points a game and using their defense to beat teams to scoring 50 points a game to just outscore the opposition. An odd turnaround, but this is Andy Reid I suppose. Jamaal Charles is a monster, both in yardage terms and fantasy terms. 50 points against you is not a nice sight to see on an early Monday morning, trust me. The Colts have really got to 9-5 in a completely under the radar kind of way, and I just can’t see them as a top team with that defense and their inexperienced skill players on offense. Yes they can be explosive, but on the road in the elements, they will make mistakes. The Chiefs also have the AFC West to win: if the Broncos slip up, they will want to make sure the pieces are picked up.
Dallas Cowboys 34-24 Washington Redskins
How do they manage it? Something always happens to make sure the Cowboys lose in the important games: it must be soul destroying for the fans, it was too much for Dez Bryant and judging by the (hilarious/sad) picture that’s been doing the rounds, it definitely was for Jerry Jones. I’m just amazed Jason Garrett still has a job. This week, however, they face the Redskins, who despite the admirable performance by Kirk Cousins in the defeat to Atlanta, are in a bit of disarray. This is a gilt-edged chance for the Cowboys to keep the pressure on the Eagles to win out in the NFC East and they surely have to do it. Don’t they?
Cleveland Browns 23-16 New York Jets
Two teams who pride themselves on their defense, yet both are teams who conceded 30+ points last week. But there is only one team here who carries the threat of scoring 30 points, and it doesn’t involve Geno Smith. The Browns’ offense contains Josh Gordon, a young player who has the ability to go wherever he wants to, highlighted by his huge production no matter who is at QB for the Browns. I think he has another big game here against the Jets’ surprisingly porous pass D and helps his team to a win on the road.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 13-27 St Louis Rams
A seriously impressive effort from St Louis last week in their defeat of the Saints makes this game a little easier to call than it might have been. The Bucs have improved week by week, and their loss to the Niners was closer than it looked, even so, this trip to the in-form Rams could end up being very difficult unless they can stop Zac Stacy up the gut. The rookie RB has been one of the finds of the season, and he gives St Louis some real balance that helps the team on both sides of the ball. He could well go off again here, helping the Rams to another win.
Arizona Cardinals 17-27 Seattle Seahawks
You can overanalyse games in Seattle all you like, but these are the facts: The Seahawks’ D is pretty damn good, the Seahawks’ fans are pretty awesome, Russell Wilson is pretty impressive, Marshawn Lynch is a monster. When all of these things come together, you realise that if Seattle take the #1 seed in the NFC, it’s going to be a very tough ask for anyone to stop them booking hotel rooms in New York come February. Home Win.
New York Giants 10-29 Detroit Lions
Frustrating. That’s the word to describe the Lions. Too many mistakes are costing them games, and the matchup against Baltimore was a perfect example of this. They have relinquished the lead in the race for the NFC North and now need outside help to make it to the post season: so winning here is a must. Eli Manning and the Giants hit a new low last week, being shut out by the Seahawks, and I don’t think they’ll bounce back from a pasting like that for the rest of the season. They’re done, and if the Lions don’t win here, so will they be, so a win is what they get.
New England Patriots 20-24 Baltimore Ravens
One of the games the whole of the NFL looks forward to every year: the Patriots at the Ravens is always a hard fought, close, important game; and this year’s battle is no different. The Pats aren’t safe just yet, and this trip to an in form Ravens team is one they won’t find easy without the spine of their defense and their totem on offense. Without Gronk, New England just aren’t as good a team, and the Ravens’ defense is becoming a unit capable of supporting a team with a minimal run game (something that may improve against the Patriots’ weak centre), so on form and potential for improvement, the Ravens are favourites for me. But Bill Belichick’s men will keep it close, so it’s possible that they just might be able to nick it again on the road, just not probable.
Oakland Raiders 13-38 San Diego Chargers
If you concede 50+ points to basically one player in an offense where he is glaringly obviously the central cog, you’re not going to beat a team who just rolled over Peyton Manning’s Broncos. These are facts.
Pittsburgh Steelers 30-27 Green Bay Packers
The Packers have been on a nice little run recently, but this is a more difficult test even at home. Aaron Rodgers seems to be close to a comeback, but it is the defense that needs something. They still make the odd turnover happen, but the yardage they give up and the easy plays they allow will be exposed sooner or later. The Steelers may be facing an almost impossible task to make the playoffs, but their offense is reaching a high level again, while their defense looks stouter than it has for some time. LeVeon Bell and Antonio Brown should have big days, and if Matt Flynn is in opposition, I can’t see him keeping up. If A-Rod is back though, it’s a different ball game.
Chicago Bears 38-34 Philadelphia Eagles
With Jay Cutler back, after he’d shaken off some ring-rust, the Bears’ offense looked downright scary against a decent defense in the Browns, and I expect this to be an almighty shootout in Philly. The Bears’ D isn’t all that and the Philadelphia unit just gave up 48 points to the Vikings minus AP. Of course the weather could come into this, but either way, it’s a toss up: whoever executes the best will score the most points, and with both teams in pole position in their divisions with teams close up behind, there will be no let up. Give me points. And the Bears, just.
Atlanta Falcons 10-31 San Francisco 49ers
Well this has all the hallmarks of a MNF blowout. Atlanta have been done for a while now, but have been involved with tight games with teams who are way off their best. The Niners on the other hand, have been growing as a team, getting better and better as the season goes on. The Falcons’ D cannot handle the Niners on offense, and then there’s the Falcons’ offensive line… #PrayForMattRyan.