I guess it doesn't take much to be an NFL pundit these days. String together 500 words about how much the read option sucks, tweet about how much tape you're grinding and make your weekly picks. Even rodents are doing it now.
Groundhogs trying to outmuscle us professionals is one thing. I mean, it's not exactly post-graduate level stuff we're doing here. But when disgraced Toronto mayor Rob Ford tries to weasel in on our gig by making his own picks, against the spread too, someone's got to take a stand.
There was no way I was going to let Bob and Doug MacKenzie's cousin out-pick me, to out-pick all the hard working football writers and editors out there who have to sit through Raiders and Browns games.
I put it all on the line. What were the stakes? The stakes were losing to Rob Ford; that's plenty of humiliation.
But no humiliation was necessary because I didn't lose to Rob Ford.
I tied him, with nine correct picks against the spread last week. On a personal level, I feel like this is a major milestone. Someone should probably print off a certificate to honor being as good at something as Canada's international embarrassment. More importantly, the sacred reputation of NFL punditry is protected. We can now get ready for three months of Jon Gruden rumors and columnizing over college kids smoking marijuana.
San Diego Chargers vs. Denver Broncos (-10)
The schedule continues to feed lesser offerings to the Broncos. San Diego is the toughest opponent remaining; it's Houston and Oakland after this game. And this is in Denver, where the Broncos are riding a 13-game winning streak at home.
Worth noting: this is the last Thursday Night Football game of the season. YAAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYY!!
The pick: Broncos
Washington Redskins vs. Atlanta Falcons (-6)
Speaking of schedules, the Falcons had one of the hardest in the league, the second-toughest through the first 14 weeks, according to Football Outsiders. They get Washington, starting Kirk Cousins this week, just in time to screw up getting a high draft pick. I have no doubts that the Falcons will win this one, but that six-point spread feels huge for this team. Atlanta has no pass rush to speak of. Only one team in the NFL has fewer than the Falcons' 27 sacks.
The pick: Washington
None of the books are giving odds here because nobody knows if Marc Trestman is going to start Jay Cutler or Josh McCown. Marc Trestman is using his IQ to mess with the rubes, probably. Don't bet on this game. Well, bet the Bears to win straight up, but let's see what kind of spread they end up giving this one.
The pick: delayed
Houston Texans vs. Indianapolis Colts (-6)
I have a theory that teams that have just had the head coach fired play better in their subsequent game. Psychological bumps are not good analytics. There's also the fact that these Colts are not very good. Indianapolis is 2-3 against the spread in its last five.
The pick: Texans
Buffalo Bills (-2) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars are another team with a tough schedule that made them look worse than they really are. Those four wins in their last five are no fluke for the Jags. The roster has Maurice Jones-Drew, last relevant when he was torpedoing your fantasy team in 2012, and some players you don't know. However, Gus Bradley has this group playing competent football. Buffalo is 1-4 against the spread in its last four.
The pick: Jaguars
New England Patriots (-3) vs. Miami Dolphins
The Patriots won three of their last four games. They failed to cover the spread in all but one of those games, a reminder about the importance of being good and lucky. New England is 7-3 in games decided by seven points or less. On the other hand, one of the teams the Patriots did manage to beat by more than a touchdown was the Dolphins. Miami's had its fair share of luck too, winning three of its last five games by a touchdown or less.
The pick: Patriots
Philadelphia Eagles (-6) vs. Minnesota Vikings
The line for this game started at -2.5 in favor of the Eagles. Adrian Peterson will likely sit this one out. The only thing worse for the Vikings would be starting Josh Freeman.
The pick: Eagles
Seattle Seahawks (-7.5) vs. New York Giants
Remember when Seattle would almost always struggle with 1:00 p.m. games in the Eastern time zone? Not anymore. The Seahawks are 9-2 against the spread in their last 11 games away from home. One of their losses did come in the Eastern time zone, to Indianapolis, which is sooo close to the Central time zone. The Giants are only 2-4 against the spread at home, including a loss to the Chargers there last week.
The pick: Seattle
San Francisco 49ers (-6) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Greg Schiano hero narrative faded over the last two weeks, with a blowout loss to the Panthers and a win over the Bills, which isn't supposed to be impressive. Rookie QB Mike Glennon was just nine-for-25 with two touchdowns and two interceptions against the Bills last week. Translate that to the 49ers defense.
The pick: 49ers
New York Jets vs. Carolina Panthers (-11)
Geno Smith blamed his considerable struggles on "playing like a robot." That's not fair to robots. Besides, no robot would be forced to disrupt its focus with wildcat play at the worst possible moment. The Jets were against-the-spread darlings earlier in the season, but they covered just once in their last four games. Big spreads like this make it hard to pick, but if Carolina gets its pass rush working again, robot Geno could need a few more repairs at the end of the day.
The pick: Panthers
Kansas City Chiefs (-5) vs. Oakland Raiders
The Chiefs have failed to cover on the road just once this season, against the Broncos. That trend isn't likely to change this week in Oakland.
The pick: Chiefs
Arizona Cardinals (-3) vs. Tennessee Titans
We really aren't hearing enough about how well the Cardinals are playing right now. They have the second-most productive defense, according to Football Outsiders DVOA statistic, and rank third both against the run and the pass by the same measurement. It's not a good matchup for the Titans, a team that's beaten the spread just once at home this season.
The pick: Cardinals
New Orleans Saints (-6) vs. St. Louis Rams
The Rams don't have any sort of discernible home field advantage. No surprise when at least half the seats in the Dome are filled with the other team's fans and another quarter of those seats are empty. Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald embarrassed the Rams secondary last week. The Rams are only allowing an average of 45 yards per game to tight ends, but Jimmy Graham isn't Drew Brees' only option in the passing game.
The pick: Saints
We don't have a line on this one since Aaron Rodgers' status is up in the air. I would probably assume he's not going to play. It may not matter against Monte Kiffin's defense. Matt Flynn could have one of those games like the outing in 2011 that made him look like a franchise QB.
The pick: Delayed
Cincinnati Bengals (-3) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers might have covered the spread, and even won the game outright, last week against the Dolphins if not for the iffy penalty on Ryan Clark, which Stephen White explained in his Notebook this week. That would have made the Steelers a perfect against the spread in their last five games. At home against the Bengals, the Steelers are 4-2 against the spread in their last six. An outright win is probably too much to ask, but covering the spread is very doable here.
The pick: Steelers
Baltimore Ravens vs. Detroit Lions (-6)
I got burned on my Lions pick last week. Maybe it was the snow, or maybe it was Jim Schwartz's team being its usual inconsistent self. Rob Ford got this pick right. Detroit is only 3-3 against the spread at home, and the stakes are fairly high for this game. Chicago is playing the Browns this week; a Bears win and a Lions loss would put Chicago on top of the NFC North. The Lions with pressure on them -- that's not an attractive bet. But that's not why I'm picking the Ravens here. Baltimore's healthier and playing well enough to cover a six-point spread, even on the road, and even though they've only done so twice this season. Third time's a charm, right?
The pick: Ravens