Tennessee Titans (-3) @ Houston Texans
Like the hottest girl in your high school, the Texans were untouchable in their prime. It was then when they blew Tennessee out of the water, 41-7, in late October in Nashville.
But a lot has changed since then.
There’s the obvious: Matt Schaub accounted for 296 yards and two touchdowns in that game, and he’s since been replaced by T.J. Yates, who’s led the team to two consecutive losses to Carolina and Indianapolis. During their two-game skid, Yates hasn’t exactly been the ideal game manager.
The rookie quarterback turned the ball over twice against the Panthers and could only muster 13 first downs in Indy.
Now take a look at the Texans defense, a defense that went from untouchable to vulnerable with Wade Phillips absent from the sidelines. Cam Newton and Co. put up 28 points against Houston, the second highest points yielded this season, and Dan Orlovsky helped the Colts post 320 yards, the fifth-highest total this year.
And with the game on the line, the defense collapsed as Orlovsky piloted a comeback in the final seconds.
Matt Hasselbeck, meanwhile, torched the Jags for 350 yards last week. A gritty, seasoned veteran, who with a win keeps his teams’ hopes for a wildcard spot alive – he’s going to come out throwing.
On Monday, the Titans moved from one-point to three-point favorites. More than 60 percent of the time, the road favorite has been the victor, though it’s more a coin flip when it comes to them covering the spread.
The pick: Tennessee (HOU to cover)
Washington Redskins @ Philadelphia Eagles (-9.5)
Do you think Andy Reid wants an eighth win to end the talks of his job security? Or are you a believer that Mike Shanahan wants to guarantee a better spot to secure his quarterback of the future?
Either way, the Eagles are clear-cut favorites in this one.
Philly has reeled off three straight wins since the return of Michael Vick at quarterback, all by double-digit margins, including their 45-19 beat-down of the Jets at the Link. The common denominator in those victories: the defense has not allowed more than 238 total yards and no more than 19 points. Juan Castillo is trying to salvage his job.
The Skins, on the other hand, have been unpredictable lately. After losing six in a row after their bye week, they travelled to the Emerald City and upset the Seahawks. Then they lost back-to-back games at home to the Jets and Pats before heading into MetLife Stadium and stomping on the Giants. Of course last week they flaunted their true colors by losing to the Vikings.
Washington is the epitome of mediocre, while the Dream Team is suddenly playing how many expected them to prior to the season. History tells us the Eagles will win this game 84 percent of the time. But when favored by more than a touchdown this year, Philadelphia has yet to cover. And given the Skins’ 4-3 record on the road, this one should be decided by a field goal or a touchdown, no more, no less.
The pick: Philadelphia (WASH to cover)
New York Jets @ Miami Dolphins (-1)
After the Jets choke-slammed the Fins Week 6 in the swamps of Jersey, it looked like these two teams were heading in two entirely different directions. The much-hyped Jets were playoff bound; the Dolphins were trying to get Luck-y.
But since that meeting, New York went 5-4 and their playoff chances are contingent on a series of miracles. Miami, on the other hand, went 4-5, but as we all know have played beyond what their record says.
The Dolphins played the Patriots close up in Foxborough last weekend, and the Jets don’t have nearly the offensive firepower as Tom Brady and Co. does to play catch-up. And on the offense, Reggie Bush has been red hot, topping the 200-yard mark twice in his last four games, while Matt Moore has a 15:4 touchdown-interception ratio since the Jets game.
Ironically, the Dolphins’ strengths have coincided with the Jets’ weaknesses. Losers of two in a row, New York has been torched by LeSean McCoy and the Giants’ running backs during their skid, while Mark Sanchez has more picks than touchdown passes. As for the “keeping it close” aspect – the Jets have held a lead for all of a quarter in their past eight.
This sputtering Jets offense, averaging 16.5 points over their last two games, must travel to South Beach where the Fins, owners of the third-best rush defense, have given up an average of 15 points per game in their last five home contests.
Vegas thinks the public still considers the Jets to be better than they truly are, hence the slightest of home-field advantages given in this one. But as a home favorite Miami is 3-1, while the Jets are 1-3 as road dogs, and there’s no doubt the Dolphins are the better team right now.
The pick: Miami (-1)
Kansas City Chiefs @ Denver Broncos (-3.5)
More than statistics or trends, my favorite factor to consider when picking games is the X-factor – emotion, revenge, trash talk. This one features a lot of that.
Kyle Orton was exiled out of Denver, considered to be the reason for the team’s struggles. And never before was the saying that the backup quarterback is the most popular player on the team more evident.
But now Orton returns to the Mile High City to face off against Tim Tebow in the John Elway Bowl. Orton has payback on his mind; Tebow’s got playoff pressure.
Kansas City is coming off an upset of the then-undefeated Pack and a near-defeat of Oakland. Orton has thrown for 599 yards in his two games as the starter, and he’ll look to exploit a Broncos secondary that was dissected by Tom Brady a short time ago.
Tebow, on the other hand, is coming off arguably his worst outing as a professional. His four interceptions and 35.4 passer rating were both career-lows. And since his string of magical comebacks ended, he’s thrown more picks than touchdowns (4:1), completed fewer than half of his passes and his team has been outscored 81-37.
When the Broncos were winning, the Tebow-doubters suggested it was the defense that was lifting them to victories. Did Tebow give up 40 points to the Bills, who entered the game with eight consecutive losses, or 41 points to New England on their home turf?
Losers of two in a row, the Broncos are winless (0-3) against the spread when favored, 0-2 as a home favorite and 1-5 at Mile High. Teams in Kansas City’s situation covers nearly 58 percent of the time and is 6-3 as underdogs in Denver over the last decade.
Orton won’t let the Chiefs lost this one in my upset of the week.
The pick: Kansas City
San Diego Chargers @ Oakland Raiders (-3)
The last time out, the Raiders marched in San Diego and won, 24-17. That win propelled the Raiders to win three in a row and then lose three in a row.
The loss to Oakland was the fourth of the Bolts’ six-game skid before they captured three straight wins.
Hence, the Inconsistency Bowl.
Let’s be honest, both of these teams are capable of winning AND losing this game. As stated earlier, they’ve both embarked on long winning and losing streaks. Since 2008, San Diego owns a slight 4-3 edge, the three losses coming in their last three matchups.
The Raiders have surrendered more than 400 yards of total offense in three of their last five. Even during their winning streak, the Raiders were vulnerable defensively, but they found ways to force turnovers (20 in wins, 5 in losses).
It’s a different story for the Chargers, who averaged 36 points per game during their win streak and 30 in their seven wins. In their losses, Philip Rivers has struggled with consistency and the offensive output as shown that.
With that being said, the Raiders, getting the usual home-field advantage, have an AFC West crown in the balance. The Chargers, with a season-ending loss in Detroit Saturday, have nothing to play for, especially with the uncertainty of the team’s coaches’ and management’s future.
San Diego is 2-5 against the spread as the road team, 1-3 as an underdog and winless as a road dog. Those are tough odds to overcome with a team that’s got nothing to play for.
The pick: Oakland (-3)
Dallas Cowboys @ New York Giants (-3)
Weeks away, we predicted the Week 17 finale between the Boys and G-Men would decide who would represent the NFC East in the playoffs this year. In a matchup of two teams with the same record, Pro Bowl-level quarterbacks and teams with high potential, it should be a close one, right?
If the Texans are that hot girl who was untouchable in high school, then the Giants and Cowboys are the less popular ones who – if they were to throw on some makeup and trade her sweatpants in for some blue jeans – could be the hottest girl around.
The Giants offense is very capable as long as Eli Manning doesn’t have to constantly shoulder the load. Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz are both mismatches with a below-average Dallas secondary, but the Giants are at their best if they can get the running game going.
Dallas’ seventh-ranked rush defense is allowing less than 100 yards per game, but have allowed more than 100 in three of their last four, including 110 to these Giants at home Week 14. Oh, by the way, Manning threw for 400 yards their last time out.
Offensively, though, the Cowboys shouldn’t be counted out. In their last meeting, Tony Romo threw for 305 yards while Felix Jones filled in for DeMarco Murray with a 100-yard effort. The Giants’ 28th-ranked defense had allowed 26 points per game before defeating the offensively challenged Jets last week.
High-powered offenses and vulnerable defenses, but we remember what happened when they last met.
Manning led the G-Men to two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter and Jason Pierre-Paul secured the 34-31 victory with a blocked goal field. It marked the fifth time Dallas had surrendered a fourth-quarter lead. Dating back to Week 1, the Jets, Lions, Patriots, Cardinals and Giants all overcame late deficits to defeat the Cowboys.
Will the Cowboys crack if the game is close in the fourth quarter … again?
Since 2007, New York owns a 6-4 advantage over Dallas, though the teams have split their last four in the swamps of Jersey. Big D has covered just twice in their last 10 games.
In most years, Manning would be a viable MVP candidate. The stellar play of Pierre Paul, in tandem with Justin Tuck and possibly Osi Umenyiora against Romo’s bruised hand could be difference in this epic showdown, my lock of the week.
The pick: Giants (-3)