A word of warning should probably be the first thing you read here. These picks do not constitute gambling and/or investment advice. For such things, you should see a professional. I put that warning out there because I was a woeful 6-8 last week, after a hot start to the season.
I blame Ron Rivera.
Also Calvin Johnson for being a last-minute scratch.
There shouldn't be any need for straw men this week. But we can still laugh at Ron Rivera.
Underwhelmed by Thursday night NFL games? It's you, not them, according to the commissioner.
"People want to watch it and people are excited about Thursday Night Football," Roger Goodell said Tuesday at NFL owners meeting. "It is our job to build Thursday Night Football and make it: ‘This is where you want to be on Thursday.'"
Goodell did note that it's hard to predict the matchups when they schedule these games. Last spring, most of us probably would have assumed that the Giants and Bears would have been a decent game. Whoops.
I tried to find something positive to say about the winless Giants. I can't. The Bears defense has six interceptions this season. Eli Manning's thrown twice that many already. Charles Tillman has picks in two of his last three games against the Giants. It's a recipe for disaster. Well, for the Giants anyways.
The pick: Bears
The two best, most mercurial teams in the league get a chance to go head-to-head this week. We're required by law to post some statistic confirming Aaron Rodgers' greatness. I'll go with this one: no quarterback in the NFL this season is better on deep passes, 20 yards or more, than Rodgers. He's 14-for-23 on deep shots, a 60.9 percent completion rate.
Then again, the Ravens defensive front poses all kinds of challenges for the Packers. Terrell Suggs has seven sacks, at least one in every game this season. Also worth noting, the Ravens haven't lost at home to an NFC team in 13 consecutive games.
The pick: Ravens
I'm not sure what to make of the Bengals. They beat the Patriots and the Packers, with a little help from those two teams. Then again, they couldn't beat the Browns. So how do you pick Cincinnati to beat Buffalo by at least nine points with any confidence?
Buffalo's defense is the real thing. The last two teams that played against the Bills, the Ravens and the Browns, failed to average more than three yards per rushing attempt. That could be a problem for a Bengals team intent on preventing itself from having to rely on Andy Dalton for the win.
But the Bills are starting Thad Lewis, you say. I respond with, "Brandon Weeden."
I picked the Bengals to win this outright in our weekly panel, but I'm not confident enough believe that they can do it convincingly, by nine points.
The pick: Bills
Lions (-2 1/5) vs. Browns
The last time the Lions and Browns faced off was 2009, Matthew Stafford's rookie year. He threw five touchdown passes, including a last-second strike to Brandon Pettigrew to win the game. This is a better Browns team than that one. Calvin Johnson, as of this writing, looks like a game-time decision. The Lions without Megatron just aren't the same the team, obviously.
Against all odds, the Browns are on a three-game win streak. However, this is the first time since Week 2 that Brian Hoyer won't start the game. Brandon Weeden's discomfort in the pocket will be attenuated by the tandem of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.
The pick: Lions
A nine-point spread says the odds makers don't think much of the Rams' win over the Jaguars last week. Maybe they saw the same soft zone defense and wide open spaces between the Rams confused secondary ... things Blaine Gabbert couldn't see.
The Texans are a disaster too. Matt Schaub keeps throwing interceptions, but Gary Kubiak is nonplussed. He must be confident in his defense, which has retained its competency in the face of lost games. Or maybe he has faith in his motivational tactics. Or maybe it's Arian Foster and Ben Tate he feels good about this week. All of those things should be an advantage for the Texans here.
The pick: Texans
You can't just write off the Raiders anymore, not with Terrelle Pryor reanimated with the spirit of young Al Davis. Then again, this is the Chiefs defense, which happens to be what statisticians call "pretty good." Oh statisticians, always with the understatement.
The pick: Chiefs
Let me guess, Mike Shula ruined your fantasy team too. Cam Newton has an adjusted yards per attempt (factoring in interceptions and touchdowns) mark of 6.1 yards, the worst of his career. Worse, Carolina's offensive coordinator refuses to run the ball to give the offense any kind of balance. Shula and head coach Ron Rivera have put on an early season clinic in how not to coach a talented team.
Sure, the Vikings are no great shakes themselves, not with Christian Ponder under center. Josh Freeman probably isn't going to help things either. Or Matt Cassel. However, with Adrian Peterson heating up -- 140 rushing yards in Week 4 and a bye week to rest -- Minnesota can do more than enough to turn back the Panthers.
The pick: Vikings
Steelers vs. Jets (-3)
By now, I think I've apologized enough for writing off the Jets during the preseason as a disaster waiting to happen. I ate my crow, and I'll take one more bite by saying that the Jets are actually
good above average. It all starts with the defense. They're sacking opposing quarterbacks on 8.3 percent of all attempts, the ninth-best rate in the league. They've got the best run defense to go with that.
The Steelers are not good, not even close. Le'Veon Bell helps the offense, but the Jets are stingy enough against the run to counter the rookie this week. That puts it all on Big Ben and Todd Haley's terrible offense. Oh, and the Steelers might be as thin at receiver as the Jets. And since I mentioned sack rates, it's worth noting that the Steelers quarterback is getting pulled down on 9.5 percent of the team's passing plays. That's a problem.
The pick: Jets
Eagles (-1 1/2) vs. Buccaneers
This week in stupid things Greg Schiano said:
#Bucs coach Greg Schiano on how to slow the tempo of the Eagles offense: "If you hit them hard, that helps. They don’t get up as fast.''— Rick Stroud (@NFLSTROUD) October 9, 2013
That's probably just some misplaced aggression, personal jealousy, because this week he gets to face the man who Buccaneers fans probably wished hadn't spurned the team's head coaching offer. Schiano said in an interview Wednesday that it made him "mad" when it looked like Kelly had taken the Bucs job. And that, in turn, motivated him to take the job in Tampa, despite leaning toward staying at Rutgers initially. So there you go, Bucs fans, you can thank Chip Kelly for giving you Greg Schiano.
The pick: Eagles
Jaguars vs. Broncos (-27)
The Jaguars couldn't cover the spread against the Rams last week. It feels like this should be a better team without Blaine Gabbert at quarterback, but the difference is negligible. But, hey, more crazy stats for Peyton Manning.
The pick: Broncos
Russell Wilson is 10-0 at home. Seattle hasn't lost a home game since Dec. 24, 2011, against the 49ers. Losing at home this week isn't going to be an issue either. So, the question here is whether or not the Titans defense can harass Wilson and Seattle's offense enough to cover a 14-point spread. Tennessee is 3-1-1 against the spread this season, and 2-0 against the spread on the road. Playing on the road in Seattle is another matter entirely. Doing it with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback, well, I'll let you make your own analogy.
The pick: Seattle
Saints vs. Patriots (-1)
Forget all the Tom Brady talk. New England's not the same team without defensive tackle Vince Wilfork clogging up the middle of the line. Gronk may or may not be back this week but regardless, the tight end to watch in this game is Jimmy Graham, who leads the NFL in receiving yards. His six touchdowns and 37 receptions are good enough for second place on the NFL leaderboard. Expect the Patriots to bracket him, and by bracket I literally mean having two defenders glued to each side of him at all times. It won't matter. The Saints are just too much for a hobbled Patriots team.
The pick: Saints
Cardinals vs. 49ers (-11 1/2)
A slight majority of bettors are taking the Cardinals to cover. I don't see it. Not even with Arizona's impressive 4-1 record against the spread this season. Both of these defenses are very good. San Francisco's defense has the added advantage of playing against one of the worst offensive lines in the league. The 49ers should be able to generate a few points based on that alone.
The pick: 49ers
Oh, don't worry, Monte, everyone blames you, except for maybe Jerry Jones. Romo has a good opportunity to throw for another heaping helping of yards and touchdowns against Washington's terrible secondary. He'll be fine. Kiffin's under the microscope this week after his defense gave up 51 points to the Broncos last week. It might be just the thing for RGIII to get his season on track.
Worth noting, Washington is 1-3 against the spread this season, matching their overall record. That will be 1-4 after this week.
The pick: Cowboys
Frankly, I'm a little surprised to see the Colts favored by such a narrow spread against the Chargers. They did beat Seattle last week. In case you were going to point out that win came at home, I would remind you that the Colts haven't lost on the road this season. They're also 2-0 against the spread as the away team this year.