I’ve started off this column enough times with more than enough weeping and gnashing of teeth over my many misses and bad beats from the previous week, and since I don’t want this column to devolve into a primordial amino acid sludge of cliches, I will spare everyone the indignity of running that back again this week. Instead, I will note that most people picked the Steelers and Seahawks last week, and put good amounts of points on them, too. In this context, last week wasn’t as bad as it looks just from peeping the stats.
So it’s now on to Week 14, which was easy to pick at the highest values, and nearly impossible to pick at the medium-high levels. With a full slate of 16 games, and with a good smattering of middling teams facing off against each other, and with this being a season of utter chaos in terms of results already, it’s time to start breaking some of my established rules with a bit more gusto and frequency.
The first rule going out the window is the one pertaining to divisional matchups. There are two inter-divisional contests this week that are simply too lopsided to pass up, given the opacity of the rest of this week’s schedule.
I am also relaxing regulations regarding assigning more points to games featuring worse teams. The logic behind this rule is that bad teams are, well, bad; they go three-and-out a lot, they turn the ball over, they misinterpret their defensive assignments, etc. The net result of all this badness is unpredictability.
It is nigh on impossible to put much trust at all on a team that can’t execute the things it’s supposed to be good at. If you can’t put trust in a team, you can’t put points on a team, even if their opponent has looked even more helpless. But, at this point in the season, I believe I have enough intelligence to discern which teams are merely bad and which teams are like, bad. Also, I think this rule has pushed me to put shakier picks higher that I otherwise would. Without going back and doing the math, I suspect those decisions have netted negative points.
Week 13 Correct Picks: 10/15
Season Total Correct Picks (Starting Week 2): 117/176
Week 13 Points: 77/120
Season Total Points (Starting Week 2): 995/1,382
16 Points: SEAHAWKS over Jets
Normally, Seattle’s shit-eating loss to a motivated but untalented Giants team (I had some understanding that Colt McCoy was still around, but hearing the name ‘Alfred Morris’ took me back some years, indeed) would be cause for real concern, and perhaps, if one takes a longer view of their season, it is exactly that. But these are the Jets, a rusted-out DC-10 of a franchise that is is doomed indefinitely, until it is conclusively proven they are not. There is no reason not to put big points on this one, even if you are a Seahawks fan on the edges of entering a real panic.
15 Points: SAINTS over Eagles
Life comes at you fast. The Eagles, Super Bowl Champions but three years ago, and a team that seemed for all the world as though it would remain a force in the NFC for years after winning said Championship, now stares down a complete and total rebuild.
I am not saying this as an introduction to my very own autopsy of the Doug Pederson/Carson Wentz Eagles. There are plenty of those floating around the internet already, and I am not a licensed Football Team Coroner. Rather, I am saying this as an introduction to my thoughts on what the Rise And Fall of the Eagles could mean for the sport’s future. I see two possibilities. (Note that I am assuming that Pederson is going to get fired at the end of the season, if not before. It hasn’t happened yet, and I try to assume as little as possible, but it sure seems a safe bet these days, doesn’t it?)
The first possibility is that the Eagles’ collapse ends up having no broader significance, at all. In a few years, we’ll all look back on that one time the Eagles won that one Super Bowl that one time before completely collapsing, and wasn’t that just the weirdest thing? Championship windows are always pretty narrow, but for a team to fall apart this completely this quickly still feels unprecedented. Soon enough, we’ll even forget the modest success they had in the years immediately afterward. Time, memory, and internet discourse tend to eliminate modest success from the historical record. It’s not always fair, but it’s part of life. My point is the first possibility regards the collapse as a historical footnote, and little more.
The second possibility is that this will be the first of many rapid collapses to come, and therefore will act as a scion of a new trend in retrospect. As pro offenses evolve to incorporate more and more concepts to make life easier for quarterbacks on rookie contracts, and as teams become both less patient and more likely to view building around a rookie-contract QB as an optimal strategy, the potential for more contenders to quickly emerge and immediately recede increases. I find this possible future bleak and borderline unpalatable. It is no longer viewed as acceptable to be a middle class team, or a middle class quarterback, and the rest of football’s labor market is fucked six ways from Sunday, and has been for years. What happens to the sport when even star quarterbacks come to be viewed as completely fungible pieces?
14 Points: TITANS over Jaguars
Oh right, I forgot this was a column for picking winners of football games, not staring into the void in search of the Time Knife. My bad.
So, here we come to the divisional mismatches I was going on about earlier. Both this game and Packers/Lions are lopsided enough that you should have no qualms about putting big points on them; however, you will then have to decide which pick should get the higher points. I’m rolling with the Titans, here; Jacksonville is the less talented of the two opponents by far, and they aren’t playing with the morale-boosting effects of having fired Matt Patricia.
13 Points: PACKERS over Lions
12 Points: CHIEFS over Dolphins
11 Points: STEELERS over Bills
10 Points: TEXANS over Bears
Here is my biggest break from my “Don’t go big on bad teams” rule. I really do believe in my guts that the Texans will breeze to victory, here, to a degree I cannot possibly ignore. This is not to dismiss the other, more legitimate reasons for picking the Texans. The Bears are fully in the process of giving up on the season, and they aren’t the team with a pissed off and sad Deshaun Watson.
9 Points: BUCCANEERS over Vikings
As you know, I do my very level best to keep the Vikings chat to a minimum in this space, but this is one of those weeks where I’m compelled to speak on the subject.
If you’ve been spared the indignity of watching the Vikings week-to-week, you may be tempted to believe that they have improved as a team in recent weeks, on the grounds of their improved record. You may be further tempted, upon observing the Bucs’ recent struggles, to go so far as to pick the Vikings in your own pool.
I’m here today to tell you that both of these would be grievous mental errors. The Vikings are the exact same 7 to 8 win team they’ve been since the preseason; the only thing that has improved is their luck. The games that were narrow losses prior to their Week 7 bye have become narrow wins in the weeks since. Even a cursory examination of their recent wins is cause for concern, having squeaked by the not-so-terrifying Panthers only because of a missed field goal, and requiring almost all of overtime to overcome the less-than-mighty Jaguars.
The Vikings still have significant problems on both sides of the ball. Mike Zimmer has been extremely clever and creative scheming up an untalented defense (ninth in defensive DVOA!), but they still have no reliable cornerbacks (although some of the young guns, particularly Cameron Dantzler, appear to be improving) and no real pass rush. The offensive line, forever the bane of the team in the Zimmer era, is serviceable when fully healthy, which is never, and remains ruinous when not. The coaching staff seems more than content to mush Dalvin Cook into the line for little gain play after play after play, deviating from this course only when trailing in the fourth quarter. Their special teams are atrocious.
The Bucs may have problems, but they don’t have nearly enough problems to lose this one.
8 Points: RAIDERS over Colts
This week’s coin flip special pits two teams who I cannot trust against each other; I am picking the Raiders solely because it’s more fun.
7 Points: FALCONS over Chargers
6 Points: RAVENS over Browns
Man, it felt really weird to look at this game on the schedule and realize that I had to think carefully about who I’m picking. As such, I’m somewhat concerned that I’m going with the Ravens solely because of their past glories, but I have real reason for doing so, I swear. The Ravens are still a smart-well-coached team with an excellent defense, one that is unlikely to fall hook, line, and sinker for Kevin Stefanski’s various schematic tricks to the same degree the Titans did on Sunday. Lamar Jackson is back, and they should be playing with desperation as their Wild Card chances dwindle.
5 Points: 49ERS over Football Team
4 Points: PATRIOTS over Rams
I’m not overreacting to a Super Bowl from two years ago, you are. Shut up!
3 Points: GIANTS over Cardinals
2 Points: PANTHERS over Broncos
1 Points: COWBOYS over Bengals