It's Week 16 and we're back. And (Paul Revere voice) the playoffs are coming the playoffs are coming! So let's get right to it. All picks in bold.
Falcons (-4.5) at Lions -- Julio Jones is just a freak of nature. As much as we all want to mock the Falcons and pretend this whole season of dominance is an elaborate joke, I can't because then there's Julio Jones, maybe the most outrageous athlete in the league, and I'm not sure anybody in football could ever really stop him. Of course, if we're having the "most outrageous" conversation there's also Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald, both of whom deserve to be mentioned in that conversation. Adrian Peterson, too. I bet they all HATE Julio for getting to play with a quarterback who's not awful. HATE HATE HATE. Would you blame them?
Anyway, I think the most exciting part about a Falcons Super Bowl run is the potential for 10 different terrible anthems emerging from the ATL rap scene along the way. Gotta say, this video is a great start:
Raiders (+8.5) at Panthers -- Chip Kelly to the Panthers??? That'd actually be a lot of fun, particularly if they get Cam at least one receiver worth throwing to. Related: This Chip Kelly column really should've run on Troll Tuesday.
Will Kelly stand alongside the Ducks and face music?
Or is he preparing to cut and run?
He appears to have options. There will be open NFL head-coaching jobs in the next few weeks. Reports indicate Kelly is viewed as a hot commodity at the next level, where nobody worries about NCAA compliance issues.
His glossy 45-7 record in four seasons at Oregon will cause win-starved general managers to sit up and take notice. Kelly is an innovator with an outside-the-box approach that earns praise from NFL insiders such as Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden.
No knowledgeable person to whom I've talked doubts Kelly's acumen. Now we will learn about his character.
Yes, we will learn a lot about Kelly's character over the next few weeks, because if he leaves for the NFL he's obviously a horrible person who never really cared about the University of Oregon in the first place. GREAT TAKE.
Titans at Packers (-13) -- I've got many, many regrets in my career on the internet, but not live-blogging the Jake Locker-Mark Sanchez shootout on Monday Night is probably near the top of that list.
Bills at Dolphins (-4.5) -- If you think about the past decade for both teams, the Dolphins and Bills are basically the same team. Constantly bouncing between slightly promising mediocrity and hopelessness, always looking up at the Patriots and even the Jets. But then you think some more and realize just how much happier Dolphins fans are than Bills fans, and it's impossible not to feel bad for the people of Buffalo. Dolphins fans probably don't even know there's a game this weekend, and the entire city of Buffalo will probably watch on Sunday. If Fitz and Stevie play well, this could be a springboard for next year! And of course the Dolphins will still win. (Related: This piece on the 2012 Bills was some of the most powerful sportswriting I saw all year.)
Bengals (+3.5) at Steelers -- Steelers suck.
Patriots (-14.5) at Jaguars -- But, the Jaguars really do suck.
Colts (-7) at Chiefs -- The backlash against Andrew Luck as ROY is fair, I guess. RGIII and Russell Wilson have been a little bit better, and Luck's thrown a lot of interceptions (18 to RGIII's 4) against an easier schedule, and I get it. But just for the record, Peyton Manning had 28 interceptions in his first year, and as Football Outsiders pointed out this summer, Manning had waaaaay more talent around him (Tarik Glenn, Marshall Faulk, Marvin Harrison) than Luck does this year, and his Colts still went 3-13. Just something to keep in mind as the rookie of the year debate turns into a Thing next week: The people arguing for RGIII and Russell Wilson are right, but Andrew Luck is still absolutely terrifying and not overrated even a little bit.
Rams (+3) at Bucs -- You know that new NBA commercial for the Christmas Day games where all the players dribble to the tune of "Carol of the Bells"?
That's a pretty cool commercial. But a better Christmas ad would go something like this: Start out with the camera panning across one side of a dark Staples Center court. "Silent Night" is playing in the background. Then the camera does the same at Madison Square Garden, the Heat Court, the Thunder court ... This lasts about 15 seconds. Then you hear balls bouncing in the distance, the camera pans to the other side of the court and you see Kobe shooting jumpers in the dark. Cut to LeBron doing the same in Miami, Carmelo in New York, KD shooting by himself in OKC. Just 60 seconds of them shooting jumpers in the dark, with a children's choir singing "Silent Night" as the background music. All your hear otherwise is noise from the court. It fades out with the "Sleeeeeeeeeeeeep innnnn heavvvvvenly peeeeeeeeacee" lyrics while they're all still alone shooting jumpers in the dark. It would be the best NBA commercial of all time.
Bears (-6) at Cardinals -- I have this GIF bookmarked in Firefox for some reason, I click on it by accident at least three times a week, and it always brightens up my day for at least 10 minutes. GO BEARS.
Chargers (+2) at Jets -- Please please PLEASE let Norv Turner coach the Chargers and Mark Sanchez play for the Jets until the end of time.
Vikings at Texans (-7.5) -- WHY MUST SPORTS ILLUSTRATED JINX EVERYTHING?
Browns at Broncos (-13) -- You think you know how bad Browns fans have it, and then something like last week happens, and they have to watch another team's backup rookie quarterback from the fourth round (1) dominate their team in what should've been a winnable game, and (2) badly outplay the horrible, 29 year-old rookie they drafted in the first round this spring while (3) the other team's rookie running back from the sixth round scores two touchdowns and outruns (87 yards to 28 yards) the running back your team drafted in the top five. I mean, holy shit. Pray for Browns fans, always and forever.
Saints (+2) at Cowboys -- From Week 14 Picks:
It would be very Cowboys to make a late playoff push here and get everyone's hopes up by heading into Week 16 at 8-6, then lose the final two games to go 8-8 and finish 7th in the NFC, then bring Jason Garrett back next year because of the team's progress during the second half of the year. Not saying that's exactly what's going to happen here, but it would be a very Cowboys thing to do.
Don't say you weren't warned.
Redskins (-6.5) at Eagles --
Giants (-2.5) at Ravens --
It's tweets like this--and the Cowboys' recent history--that make me 98 percent certain the Giants are still going to win the NFC East this year.
49ers at Seahawks (+1) -- A couple things:
- Go read GAME OF THE MILLENNIUM OF THE WEEK for an extended preview of this game, including my report on Seattle's Hot Dog King and Shawn Kemp's bar.
- Read this Russian reporter's impression of a Seahawks game, because it's great.
- Russell Wilson is playing much better than when these teams met six weeks ago, Colin Kaepernick has replaced Alex Smith, and the Seahawks have a realistic shot in the NFC if they steal this game and win home field advantage this week. All of which is to say, we spend a lot time mocking mediocre NFL games each week, but Sunday night be pretty f**king awesome.
Let's do it!