Okay, so I’m human after all, I suppose. A 3-4 week has me still over .500 for the year, saved primarily by the prime-time games. But as the season hits crunch time, as usual, there is only suspense in one conference, and as usual, that conference is the NFC. With the Patriots or Steelers (plus the erstwhile Peyton Manning) set to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl for the 14th time in 15 years, it’s time to focus on the National Football Conference and its bevy of exciting teams with promising young quarterbacks.
With three of the AFC divisions basically locked away already, the NFC still has plenty of suspense to offer. At least seven teams can be considered Super Bowl contenders, with a soft argument to be made about the likes of the Redskins and — gulp — the Packers, should they get No. 12 back at any point.
But since I’m telling you what you probably already know — or certainly should, by now — let’s get into the business of picking games. That is, after this disclaimer: Moving forward, if there is a game I like listed at 2.5 or 6.5 (rule of thumb is never take a spread on those figures), I will pick it at 3 or 7, given that most online books will permit you to “buy points,” which means you can adjust the line, but at slightly less-favorable odds:
Last week: 3-4
2016 Season: 7-5
Last 2 years: 52-23
Buffalo at Los Angeles Chargers (-6)
Good thing Philip Rivers has been cleared to play. With consecutive start No. 186 on tap, the Bolts can feel better knowing Rivers’ counterpart will be making career start No. 1. Nathan Peterman is the surprising starter for Buffalo despite Tyrod Taylor leading the Bills to a 5-4 mark, and that should bode well for the Chargers, who desperately need a win after falling to 3-6 with a heartbreaking overtime loss to Jacksonville. Buffalo’s history playing at the Chargers is not pretty: the Bills have lost 5 straight at the Chargers, including the last two by a combined 85-20 margin. This won’t be a blowout, but it’s hard for me to see the Peterman-led Bills hanging with a desperate LA team for four quarters. Pick: Chargers.
New England (-7.5) vs. Oakland in Mexico City
Another break for New England (stop me if you’ve heard that one before) as their opponent loses a home game. But maybe that isn’t such a terrible thing considering 12 straight New England opponents playing in their home stadium have lost. I can’t believe I’m even considering this, but again, the stink of desperation for a team with a talented quarterback should help keep the game just close enough. The Patriots are, of course, back to being the Patriots, as if there ever was any real doubt. But as we know by now, even New England occasionally gets bored with winning every game handily and likes to create its own challenges, so give Oakland the nod to squeak inside the 7.5-point margin. Pick: Raiders.
Washington at New Orleans (-9) (Buy up to 10 at -140)
The Redskins could easily get blown out here, but for some reason, I am going to keep picking them. They let me down against Minnesota last week, but there is more pressure on a Saints team that has won seven straight and needs to keep atop its perch in the NFC South. This game should feature a lot of points, and just enough from Washington for a gentlemanly cover. Pick: Redskins.
Kansas City (-10.5) at New York Giants
For some reason, Andy Reid’s teams always win off a bye. They also always seem to beat the Giants, just like virtually everyone else has done in 2017. So naturally, I’m taking Big Blue. Lame-duck head coach Ben McAdoo has simply got to have his team put up one half-decent performance, and the Chiefs have looked pedestrian after starting 5-0 and dropping three of four. Kansas City will win, but it won’t be in blowout fashion, as all the pressure is on the Chiefs here. Pick: Giants.
Baltimore (-2) at Green Bay
The hope here for the Ravens is that the bye week solved a lot of problems and gave some key players time to get healthy. The Packers have mostly looked awful with Brett Hundley despite last week’s win, and yet are still alive in the NFC playoff hunt. But Baltimore has a good defense and absolutely needs to win to keep their own faint playoff hopes alive, and here’s banking on the rest doing the Ravens good. Pick: Ravens.
Philadelphia (-6) at Dallas
Since Andy Reid’s teams always do well off byes, that, by default, means the Eagles have often won games off bye weeks. The Cowboys looked awful without Ezekiel Elliott last week, and couldn’t even score a point against the Falcons after Atlanta took a lead. That’s a shock considering the Falcons have trademarked blowing leads of all sorts. So bad news for Dallas as it hosts the NFC’s best in the red-hot Eagles, who can put a stranglehold on the NFC East with a win. The wheels could come off for Dallas here in the next few weeks. Pick: Eagles.
Cincinnati at Denver (-2.5) (Buying up to +3 at -125)
Has any team mailed it in more than the Broncos these last five games? It was as if when they lost to the Giants, they turned into that cartoon character that is suspended in air, but it takes a few seconds to realize it and once he does, his face turns to shock and he plummets to the ground. Brock Osweiler and Co. look like a complete joke, especially the not-so-special teams. The Bengals are in the midst of another wasted season, but played well enough to win in Tennessee last week and would love to at least salvage a win at the end of this three-game road trip. Even if Denver pulls out a victory, it won’t be by more than a field goal. Pick: Bengals.
Tampa Bay (-1) at Miami
10 weeks later, this matchup of Florida teams finally happens. Who knows how it would have played out had Hurricane Irma not forced the Week 1 matchup to be pushed back, but now both teams are one small gust of wind from the end of their respective seasons. Miami has played three straight prime-time games, losing all three and getting blown out in two of them. The Bucs squeaked out a win behind Ryan Fitzpatrick last week, but despite all their shortcomings, the Dolphins are hanging in at 4-5. For as “garbage” as their offense has been, head coach Adam Gase deserves credit for squeezing four wins out of his team, and this is one they desperately need against a Bucs team that has been one of the league’s biggest disappointments. Pick: Dolphins.