The Browns are coming off their bye week, and if you consider that they barely showed up against the Raiders in Week 8, that means Cleveland hasn’t really played a game in three weeks. These guys are going to be well rested, and they’re ... well they’re not really going to need that energy when they go up against the Texans on Sunday. If we’re being honest, probably about a 65% effort will get the job done. I’m not saying the Browns are that great, but just that they aren’t the Jaguars. You see, that’s the only team that Houston has actually beaten this season. The Texans are 2-6 with two wins over Jacksonville. Unfortunately for Houston, they have run out of Jags games on their schedule. I hear they’re currently petitioning the league to add more, but I’ve read the documents, and they don’t really have a leg to stand on. It’s a shame though, because I could watch Texans/Jags games until I’m blue in the face. And, of course, by that I mean that once the game kicks off I would start holding my breath in an effort to pass out, eventually rendering my face blue. In the twilight before I lose consciousness I would suddenly remember that I have a remote control and change the channel. Phew, that was a hypothetical close one.
Washington at Detroit
Three NFC teams haven’t made the conference championship game this century. Two of them are playing right here. The other one is the Cowboys, which is just hilarious. In fact, the last time Washington and the Lions played in the NFC title game was January of ‘92 against each other. Now that I think about it, when these teams played a regular season game back in 2016 Itouched upon their previous postseason match-up then as well. But that sort of reinforces the point, year after year these squads get no closer to making a deep playoff run. There’s a good chance I’ll be rehashing the same material when they play in 2024. I hope I can count on you being here to read it. I realize that by telling you I’m just going to trot out my stale take yet again it’s not the best sales pitch to entice you to keep reading for the next 4 years, but I promise you that all the other games between now and then will feature completely fresh takes. Can I count on you as part of my readership? Haha, I get it, you’re not ready to commit for 4 years. But hey, how about I just see ya here next week and we take it from there, eh? Not ready to commit to next week either?!? What the hell?!?
Jacksonville at Green Bay
On paper this looks like a blowout. And by “on paper” I mean a headline in Monday’s paper that says “Packers blowout Jaguars.” Is there a chance the Jags could upset the Packers? I suppose. Green Bay did recently lose to a then one-win Vikings team, so it’s not impossible. Furthermore, Jacksonville did almost go to overtime with Houston last week, which counts for ... not much. Alas, it does appear that we’re headed towards a snoozer here. But that’s fine. It’s been a long couple weeks, you deserve a nap. Or better yet, a 3-4 month hibernation. Can I come with you? Just wake up at the end of February like, “Whaddaya got for me Pfizer?!?” I’m sure the Jags wouldn’t mind fast-forwarding even a couple months past that to draft day. Though that would likely be extremely detrimental to their scouting process. They’d probably end up taking Trevor Lawrence even though we all know that in December he decides to quit football because he no longer has a taste for it, or a literal taste for anything due to his bout with COVID. Whoops! Another blunder from Jacksonville.
Philadelphia at New York Giants
Philly is on fire! They’re coming off wins over three of their biggest rivals: the Giants, Cowboys, and Donald Trump. Many would tell you that that last one is the most important, and while I agree it was a big deal, I would argue that with any and every win in the NFC East this season being so magnified, beating a divisional foe trumps them all. Ohp, wha, I didn’t even mean to ... Isn’t that just a hoot? Anyhoo, these intradivisonal tilts are just about the only way NFC East teams get wins. No really, the record of the division versus the rest of the league is 2-17-1. Just ask the Giants, their two wins on the season have both been over Washington by a total of 4 points. But as Philly would tell ya, whether you take down Washington by 20 points or just .8, it still counts. Look for this one to be close too, because well, neither team is good enough to beat each other by very much.
Tampa Bay at Carolina
What has happened to the Bucs the last couple weeks? After looking like they might be developing into the most complete team in the NFC, they eked out a win over the Giants in Week 8, then were absolutely obliterated by the Saints last Sunday. But hey, it’s the NFL, every week you’re playing against professionals, these things happen. Ya know, sometimes you just don’t show up for the biggest game of your season. I’m not exaggerating, last Sunday was the most important game on the schedule for Tampa. They needed a win even the score with New Orleans and maintain their lead in the NFC South. Unfortunately for them they went out and laid an egg. To some it was a befuddling performance, but I think I’ve diagnosed the issue. They signed Antonio Brown. Yes, he’s such a team cancer now that he showed up and Tampa immediately went into a nosedive. Even the news that they’d signed him almost caused them to lose to the lowly Giants the week before. What’s worse is that Tom Brady can’t even escape Brown in his downtime since the wide receiver lives at his house right now. I wouldn’t be surprised if Brown replaced Brady’s avocado ice cream with actual ice cream. It would help explain Tom’s sluggish performance last Sunday. This week will be the true test of how far Brown has dragged Tampa down with him. A loss to the Panthers and we’ll know that the situation is terminal.
Denver at Las Vegas
This is the first instance I can ever remember in which there are more games in the morning than the afternoon on a Sunday. I have to assume it’s a result of The Masters’ final round taking place on the same day. With the proceedings in Augusta scheduled to wrap up around 12pm PT the NFL (and CBS in particular) clearly decided to backload its schedule, and not just in terms of volume. Go back and take a look at that early slate. It’s like a Bugs Bunny marathon ... stinkers galore! Did the PGA pay off the NFL to just clear the way? Whatever the possibly sketchy details are, this scheduling “strategy” leaves us with a killer slate of late games, starting off with none other than ... Broncos at Raiders. Hmm. Maybe there just aren’t any good games this week. Sure, the Raiders are doing well, and are still the reigning Kings of the AFC, but I just have trouble getting hyped up for a Broncos game. It’s like when you get home from running errands, ya turn on the TV, and the Broncos are on. Oh sorry, that turned out to not be an analogy, it was just another example of Denver-related ennui. Ok, how about this: watching a Broncos game is like when your spouse surprises you for your birthday with tickets to a Broadway play, including a flight to New York and a reservation in a nice hotel. The whole nine yards! Except when you sit down at the theater you realize you’re actually outdoors in Denver, Colorado at a Broncos game! What a let down! Uh oh, also not an analogy huh?
Los Angeles Chargers at Miami
The Dolphins defense has scored touchdowns in consecutive weeks. That’s more than we can say for the offenses of the Bucs, Browns, Jets, or Cowboys. What are the chances they make it three weeks in a row? Well they’re playing the Chargers, so not only are the odds high, but it’s likely that it will be a game-winningpick six with no time left on the clock. It’s one of the only new ways I can come up with for the Chargers to lose. Last week LA quarterback Justin Herbert threw what appeared to be a game-winning touchdown pass with no time left on the clock. Though, for anyone who has watched a Chargers game over the last 10 years they know that appearances can be deceiving and that wins are nearly impossible to hold onto. Likewise, upon replay the call was overturned. No touchdown; Chargers lose. Coming into the game LA had blown 16 point leads in four consecutive games, but last week they somehow gained and relinquished a lead all with zero seconds left. That’s seemingly impossible. But as we all should know by now, when it comes to the Chargers, anything is possible! Except for them actually winning one of these ridiculous games.
Buffalo at Arizona
Twelve teams in the NFL have never won a Super Bowl. Of all the potential match-ups between those teams, this one seems most likely to come to fruition this February (Titans/Cardinals would be another realistic candidate). The last time two such franchises met in the Super Bowl was twenty years ago when the Rams beat the Titans. Compare that to the first 10 years of the championship game when it happened an astounding 7 times! It even happened in the very first Super Bowl! So as you can see, it has become increasingly rare as the history of the game has rolled on. But what are the odds that the Bills and Cardinals actually end up going head to head in the "big game at the end" as we all like to call it? Pretty slim considering Buffalo would likely have to beat some combination of Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City to get there; while Arizona is just one of about six intriguing, yet flawed contendersin the NFC. Also, any team’s odds of making the Super Bowl will be diminished once the NFL decides to allow the entire league into the playoffs due to inevitable COVID cancellations on the horizon. But if we do see these squads squaring off in Super Bowl LV, don’t say I didn’t warn ya. Or I guess you could say that since this isn’t technically a warning, but you get what I mean.
Seattle at Los Angeles Rams
Last Sunday the Bills killed the Seahawks’ defense by not even bothering to run. I mean that almost literally; Buffalo only called 2 designed rushes in the first half. It worked like a charm as they put up 44 points (aided by four turnovers). The question now is whether or not Seattle’s future opponents will employ a similarly unbalanced strategy. It reminds me of the end of Independence Day when President Bill Pullman directs his generals to “contact the rest of the world, tell ‘em we know how to beat these guys.” Except, if you’ve been paying attention to their games at all this season, as I imagine an upcoming opponent would, you’d already know that Seattle’s pass D has been atrocious. However, if teams take a page out of Buffalo’s book and don’t waste time trying to run, the Hawks could be in for a long second half of the season. That is, unless this is a grand hustle from Seattle. Maybe they chose an out of conference game to reach their pass-defending nadir, knowing that the loss would cost them less in terms of playoff positioning, while also convincing every remaining team on their schedule to adopt an exclusively aerial attack. At that point they’ll finally unleash the dominant pass D they’ve been capable of all along and their opponents will be left with no recourse. That’s gotta be it, right? RIGHT?!? Sigh.
San Francisco at New Orleans
I thought I had the Saints pegged as merely an above average team that would beat inferior competition, yet not seriously contend for a Super Bowl berth. However, after their dismantling of the Bucs last week I suppose I have to take them seriously again. Though, if you’re a Saints fan can you even be excited about the possibility of entering the postseason with high expectations? The previous three playoff runs have ended with two overtime losses (including dubious PI no calls on decisive plays, one more so than the other) and the Minneapolis Miracle. New Orleans could win out to go 14-2 and their supporters would still likely be wondering what horrid fate is about to befall them. My personal guess is that the Saints will get to the Super Bowl and have possession and a 5 point lead with under 2:00 to play. They’ll have the opportunity to run out the clock, but Drew Brees will catch a glimpse of an American flag in the stands and refuse to kneel. He’ll end up being sacked, fumble, and the opposing defense will run it in for a touchdown. I ran through all the possible permutations in my head and that one made the most sense.
Cincinnati at Pittsburgh
Man the Steelers suck. They barely squeaked by the depleted Cowboys last week to “improve” to 8-0 on the season. Congrats losers! It’s clear that they’re not a great team, they’re merely good enough to win every game they play. Ha, good luck winning with that strategy. Now Pittsburgh faces the Bengals, a below .500 team who’s been competitive in all but one game this season. Sounds like a recipe for another tightly contested Steelers victory. You can’t see me right now, but just know that I’m clapping sarcastically. Look, I get it, you’re “undefeated.” Not impressed. Call me when you do something substantial, like beat the Ravens. They did?!? Whoa! These guys are gonna go 16-0!
I guess the answer to my above question would be no. Well you heard the man, no sense in wasting any more time.
Minnesota at Chicago
It’s rare that a team above .500 hosts a team below .500 and the latter is favored. Yet that’s exactly where we find ourselves as the 5-4 Bears welcome the 3-5 Vikings. For most of the season I, and many others, have considered Chicago’s record to be a mirage. Somehow they started 5-1, but it was clear that they just weren’t at that level. Watching their season inevitably slip out of their hands is like watching someone struggle in quicksand. The more they fight, the harder it gets. The Bears’ only hope is for someone like Kirk Cousins to come along and throw them a rope in the form of a few interceptions. But even that is unlikely now that the Vikings have wisely restricted Cousins’ attempts (34 over the last two games). And just to be clear, I’ve never watched someone drown in quicksand. I know that’s sort of what it sounded like earlier, but that’s simply not what I meant. For one thing, I left while his head was still above the surface, so who’s to say he officially drowned? Also, there was really nothing I could do to help, I didn’t have a rope or any interceptions to toss him. What’s more is, I’m pretty sure he escaped anyway, because over the past couple months someone has been leaving little piles of sand at my doorstep and sending me elements of a kitchen sink in the mail. And while I’ll admit that the whole “sink” double meaning is pretty clever, the return address is always “Bottom of a quicksand pit,” which really undermines the subtlety of it all.
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