It works for championship teams in sports: start hot, give yourself margin for error to struggle at midseason, then finish strong. I need the same fate, as a hot 13-7 start has faded into a 17-15 record as we hit the final quarter of the 2017 NFL season. Without further ado, here is my attempt to surge back ahead as .500 is creeping up on me fast:
Last week: 3-6
Dallas (-4) at New York Giants
All is right in New York as Big Mac (I just made that up, don’t sneer) is out, and Eli is back in. The Giants could all of a sudden turn it up a notch for respected interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo against a fading Cowboys team. If Big Blue ever needed a big effort, it’s this week. The Cowboys are on life support in a stacked NFC and even though they had a reprieve against Washington, they are still without their engine, Ezekiel Elliott. Pick: Giants.
Oakland at Kansas City (-4)
The Chiefs have been horrible lately, a lot like the 4-12 team I predicted them to be before the season. But this feels like a spot where they might actually catch themselves before they plummet to their 2017 season’s death. The Raiders have played a lot worse than their 6-6 record, and the Chiefs have to find their footing at some point. They are undoubtedly still salty over their last-second loss in Oakland in Week 7, and you can’t blame last week’s loss to the Jets on Alex Smith. I still think the Chiefs are a mediocre team, but, for lack of a better word, let’s say the Raiders are mediocre-er. Pick: Chiefs.
San Francisco at Houston (-2.5)
Jimmy Garropolo is on the board in San Francisco, winning his first 49ers start last week. That was in Chicago against the lowly Bears, but the Texans are looking for a win after completely falling apart once DeShaun Watson went down with a knee injury. Houston hung tough against Baltimore and Tennessee on the road and shouldn’t fall victim to the suddenly red-hot 49ers riding their one-game winning streak. Pick: Texans.
Minnesota (-3) at Carolina
Minnesota has been so unbelievably impressive in winning eight straight with Case Keenum emerging as one of the great Cinderella quarterback stories in recent memory (he does play in the NFC, of course, so he has a fighting chance at success). Can the Vikings, though, really complete a 3-0 roadtrip through playoff contenders Detroit, Atlanta, and Carolina? The Panthers are 8-2 against teams not named the Saints this year, including road wins at New England and Detroit, and it feels like it’s asking too much for the Vikings to make it nine straight at the end of such a difficult three-game stretch. Both teams bring great defenses, but Cam Newton and Co. should be fired up in a bounce-back game, especially with the Saints losing on Thursday and the division lead now within a half-game. Pick: Panthers.
New England (-11.5) at Miami
New England will win. The only suspense these days with the Patriots is whether they’ll cover. They were impeccable last year against the spread, going 16-3 including the playoffs, and combined with their 8-4 mark this year are 24-7 since the start of 2016. Even the oddsmakers are Patriots-haters, but that hasn’t stopped them from continuing to shove their successes down America’s throats. That said, with Rob Gronkowski out (he should have gotten much more than a one-game suspension, for the record) and Chris Hogan still on the mend, the Dolphins and their “garbage” offense might have juuuuust enough to only lose by 11. Miami somehow only lost by 18 a few weeks ago, despite a pathetic interception at the end of the half by backup Matt Moore in the end zone. Tom Brady will win so that he can say he’s 9-8 lifetime in Miami, which used to be a bit of a house of horrors for him (he began his career 2-4 there), but Jay Cutler is under center for Miami this time around, and the defense might have just enough in store to hang in there. Pick: Dolphins.