We’re into the second half of the season and the NFC playoff picture is a glorious, chaotic, mess. Seriously, just look at this. The only teams that are really, truly out of it in the NFC are the 49ers and Giants. Granted, the Bucs, Bears and Cardinals aren’t likely to make it, but it’s still mathematically possible. Watching this play out over the next couple of weeks will be fascinating. This weekend, we’ve actually got a pretty good slate of games, including a decent match-up on Thursday night. Should be a fun weekend to watch football before we stuff our faces with turkey next week. Let’s dive in!
No way we can lose – locks of the week: As you can guess, these will be the stone-cold locks of the week. The games I’m so confident about that I’d wager my life’s savings on them, if I had a life’s savings to wager.
Feeling pretty… pretty good: Not quite willing to bet the farm on this batch, but as Mr. Larry David would say, ‘I’m feeling pretty… pretty good’ about these games.
Heads or tails: These are your true toss ups: they can go one way or another, and you should pick with caution, even after heeding my expert advice.
All lines courtesy of Sportsline. All times Eastern.
Tennessee Titans @ Pittsburgh Steelers (-7), Thursday 8:25 p.m.
Level of confidence: Heads or Tails…Toss up
Straight up: Steelers
The Steelers seem to play up to or down to their level of competition this season. Sure, they’re on a four game winning streak, but they just gave up 17 points to the Colts this past weekend and at one point trailed them 17-3 despite the fact that the Colts have one of the worst defenses in the league. The Titans defense hasn’t been very good this year either, so the Steelers should be able to score, I just don’t know that they’re going to pull away to win by a touchdown. Plus, it’s a Thursday night game and at this point in the season, guys are even more banged up than usual playing on short rest.
No Way We Can Lose….Locks of the Week
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Cleveland Browns (+7.5), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Jaguars
At this point, it’s fair to put your faith in the Jaguars defense. Through nine games, they rank 3rd in yards allowed per game (285.8), 1st in scoring defense (14.9), and 1st in sacks (35). They’ve terrorized opposing QBs and now they face Browns rookie Deshone Kizer who has been turnover prone this season (12 INTs 3 fumbles). Yes, we’re still trusting Blake Bortles here, but the defense should dominate in this game.
New England Patriots @ Oakland Raiders (Mexico City) (+6.5), Sunday 4:25 p.m.
Straight up: Patriots
The Patriots have started to round into form in recent weeks and the defense has looked better. They’ve adopted a bend-but-don’t-break style that has allowed them to give up 17 or fewer points in each of their last five games. That said, the defense did give up 339 yards to the Broncos offense led by Brock Osweiler and not all of that was in garbage time. The Raiders offense is good enough to put up points and make this a game, but the Patriots outscore them because Oakland’s defense also has plenty of holes.
Los Angeles Rams @ Minnesota Vikings (-2.5), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Rams
If I had told you at the beginning of the year that this game would be pivotal in the NFC playoff seeding picture, you likely would have said I was insane. Yet, here we are. The Vikings’ defense has been consistently good all season while the Rams’ has started to round into form recently. Los Angeles’ offense has been a revelation under the direction of Sean McVay and Case Keenum has actually played fairly well in helping Minnesota get off to this hot start. Still, I have a little more confidence in the Rams offense in this game than I do in the Vikings, so I think the Rams cover and win.
Feeling Pretty….Pretty Good
Detroit Lions @ Chicago Bears (+3), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Lions
The Lions are fighting to remain in the NFC playoff picture and need this win to keep those hopes alive. While Chicago’s defense has played well. The old-school, run the ball, run it some more, and run it again offense they’ve been running to protect Mitch Trubisky hasn’t really given the Bears a chance to win games against good teams. Detroit has stopped the run well this year, allowing just 102 yards per game. Lions take it to stay alive in the playoff chase.
Washington Redskins @ New Orleans Saints (-7.5), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Straight up: Saints
This isn’t necessarily a must-win game for Washington, but it’s close. They’re two games back of the Seahawks for the Wild Card, though they do own the tiebreaker over Seattle. The Saints defense has been legitimately good since a disastrous start to the season and Dennis Allen deserves a ton of credit for that. While I think a desperate ‘Skins team keeps it close, New Orleans pulls it out late.
Kansas City Chiefs @ New York Giants (+10.5), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Chiefs
Andy Reid is 16-2 coming off a bye week in his coaching career. The Giants look like they officially threw in the towel on this season last week against the 49ers. Kansas City gets back on track with a big day against a Giants defense that has regressed this season.
Philadelphia Eagles @ Dallas Cowboys (+3.5), Sunday 8:30 p.m.
Straight up: Eagles
Arguably the NFC East’s most heated rivalry caps off the Sunday slate. The Cowboys offense looked awful last week without Zeke Elliott and tackle Tyron Smith. If Smith can’t play again this week, Dak Prescott may want to take a sick day, because the Eagles front four is no joke. They’ve battered opposing QBs all season. But, Dallas’ pass rush has been just as good this year and the Eagles are without left tackle Jason Peters. Games in this rivalry tend to be close, and I think that’s the case again with the Eagles winning by a field goal.
Heads or Tails….Toss Up
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Miami Dolphins (-3), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Dolphins
I have no idea what to make of this game. The Bucs somehow won last week with Ryan Fitzpatrick while the Dolphins got blasted by the Panthers on Monday night. Neither offense really inspires confidence and the defenses aren’t much better. Flip a coin.
Baltimore Ravens @ Green Bay Packers (+2), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Packers
The Packers offense looked better last week under Brett Hundley in his second start. He’ll face another tough test in the Ravens defense this week that ranks just ahead of the Bears in terms of total defense this year. Baltimore’s offense however, has been an abject disaster for much of the season. Flacco has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns this season. The running game has picked up with the insertion of Alex Collins into the starting role, but this feels like it could be a low-scoring punt-ridden battle. I’ll take the Packers getting points at home.
Arizona Cardinals @ Houston Texans (+1.5), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Texans
Blaine Gabbert vs. Tom Savage. Who’s excited?
Why are you all running away screaming?
Wait, no, come back, I’m sorry. We’ll say nothing more about this game.
Buffalo Bills @ Los Angeles Chargers (-4.5), Sunday 4:05 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Chargers
The Bills announced today that Nathan Peterman will be the starter in this game. That completely changed my thinking on this game. Last week, the Bills offense could get nothing going against the Saints, now they’re giving a rookie his first start. I don’t expect much from Peterman here.
Cincinnati Bengals @ Denver Broncos (-2.5), Sunday 4:25 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Bengals
Woof. The Broncos offense has been awful and the defense has looked frustrated by the offense’s ineptness the last couple of weeks. The Bengals haven’t been good by any means, but they at least have been able to move the ball this season.
Atlanta Falcons @ Seattle Seahawks (-3), Monday 8:30 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Seahawks
The Seahawks will miss Richard Sherman undoubtedly. The Falcons offense hasn’t been the same this year, however, and running back Devonta Freeman is doubtful to play due to a concussion he sustained last week. Seahawks in front of the home fans by a TD.