Well, Santa has come and gone, and along with the gifts he left, there are some things the football Grinch took. As a gift to Denver and pro football in general, Nathaniel Hackett finally lost his job, proving he could not hack it at the major level. He never looked comfortable (or competent) in the Bigs, and will crawl back to the college ranks. The Grinch took Derek Carr’s job, after unwrapping a fat new contract several months ago. The Green Grimace took with him New England’s playoff hopes (don’t refute me on their odds) when their best player fumbled at the Cincinnati 5-yard line in what would have been the game-winner capping a huge comeback. He also stole what remained of the Patriots’ reputation, as they continue to underperform and be under-coached by amateurs. The Grinch took Tua off the field, and Miami’s playoff hopes with him. He took O Tannehill’s ankle, and Tennessee’s post-season dreams. Zach Wilson had his future in green taken by the Green One, and Taylor Heinicke had his momentum swiped. Let’s face it; Christmas is always a time of joys and disappointments, and this one was no different. As we get ready to celebrate the New Year, let’s resolve to be better than we were in 2022. That’s one thing we CAN control. I need to be better than 10-6, but having injuries get reported AFTER the picks come out (Tannehill hurt, Jackson still not cleared to play) makes it harder. Here’s the picks.
Cowboys at Titans – No way Dallas finds a way to lose to the drain-circling Titans Thursday. Tannehill is out, and it looks like Henry will be also. Who’s left? Cowboys ensure we’ll be watching Jacksonville VERY closely this week, as Dallas puts Tennessee down like a dying steer.
Cardinals at Falcons – This is officially the worst game of the year. A ‘must-not’ watch. For the love of football, turn the channel. It’s the Riddler versus Playin’ McPoorly, and James Conner versus Tyler Allgeier, and not a lot else. If you do watch, make it a tribute to the retiring all-time great JJ Watt. And take Atlanta, by a beak.
Bears at Lions – Gut-check game for Dan Campbell’s team, as they are within striking distance of the playoffs after letting the lousy Panthers run all over them in last week’s catfight in Charlotte. DaBears have not been good this year, but neither have they let teams push them around, and would love to take a grizzly-sized bite out of this division rival with that #1 running game. Lions are 3rd worst against mobile QBs..and Fields has 1000 ground yards already. There is no good reason why Detroit should let this one get away from them, unless they really AREN’T ready for playoff football. Gut check – mine says the Lions are the mane attraction this week.
Jaguars at Texans – The Texans are that team nobody wants to play right now, record notwithstanding. They beat the Jags for one of their two wins already, but this isn’t the same baby Jacksonville team that they bested Week 5. Lawrence of Duvalia is becoming the franchise savior he was touted to be, keeping his QBR above 100 for the past five weeks. Houston has a decent secondary, but that’s about it for punch. And oh yeah, the division is on the line for Pederson’s palm tree pussycats, which should be all the focus they need to put this one away. Jags ‘steer’ Houston into another loss, as they prepare for an unexpected division championship next week.
Broncos at Chiefs – Nowhere to go but up for the Denver Brokens, but it’s a long climb that will take years. It doesn’t start in Kansas City this week, either. Look for the Chiefs to demolish this fractured franchise furiously. Nuff said.
Dolphins at Patriots – Essentially a playoff game, as each team’s future is in the balance here. The Pats D is going to get home against Teddy Bridgequarter, which will be critical to limiting the time he has to throw to all-world wideouts Waddle & Hill. New England’s D-line should limit Miami’s run game, so we may see a lot of RPO’s from McDaniel. What makes this hard to pick is New England’s coaching, particularly the offensive coaching which has been horrible. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the receiver route spacing is terrible, with receivers so close together that not only does the defense not have to work at coverage, but the damn receivers are injuring each other by colliding (Hunter Henry/Jonnu Smith). And Kendrick Bourne has been sat by Belichick for practically the entire season because he somehow ran afoul of the head coach’s attitude protocol? That guy was the ENTIRE Patriots offense in the second half! This is the same arrogant head coach that gave several other ‘problem players’ (Randy Moss, LeGarrette Blount, Corey Dillon, Josh Gordon) multiple second chances, but Bourne rates a season-long benching on a team where your top receivers can’t get separation? The Pats spotted Cincinnati 22 points in the first half, punting 6 times and not crossing midfield until the last play of the third quarter! Even so, they shut out the Bengals in the second half and climbed back into an almost certain win, until Stephenson fumbled at the Cincy 5. If the Pats had found creative ways to not lose in the last minutes of either of the last two games, they would be inside the playoffs looking out. I don’t know what Miami will look like this week, but New England won’t lock down that frightening receiver combo for 60 minutes, without Marcus Jones (concussion). Phins skin the thin Pats D for a win to try and stay in.
Colts at Giants – Big Blue needs to stay on top to get into the post-season, and they will do exactly that this week against the hapless Colts. Indy won’t let this be a cakewalk for NY, but the home club is focused and resourceful, and have a better QB/RB attack. Ground pound is the name of this matchup. Look for a gritty trench win for Daboll’s Dirt Dogs. Times Square may drop the Ball this weekend, but the Giants won’t. Blues beat the ‘Shoes.
Saints at Eagles – I love how the Saints don’t go down easy, how they hang around and chip away and just don’t have a lot of quit in them. They have galvanized themselves into the league’s 5th best red zone stoppers, which means they are good where it matters most – keeping points off the board. They have some trouble putting points ON the board, but with a shot at the division title still in within their grasp, they have more than pride to play for. Philly is unfortunately the team standing in their way this week, and they are soo deep (#1 in red zone offense) that even their backup QB is good. Just too much to overcome for N’Awlins this week. Give Whodat nation a cheese steak and a brotherly hug, cuz they are going down in Freedom Town.
Panthers at Buccaneers – For a game with playoff ramifications, this is another snoozer. Carolina has found some fire the last 4 weeks (3-1), and has beaten Tampa this season already, so they have every reason to step up and play hard. They will be missing JC Horn, which is critical for their pass coverage, so the adjustments may open some opportunities for Tom Brady. On the other hand, Brady hasn’t been precise this season, missing numerous easy throws to open receivers. Tampa’s ground game is languid, so it’s all going to be on Brady’s arm – not good. In this 50-50 tilt… Panthers puncture the Pirates’ playoff plans.
Browns at Commanders – I need my coin again. The Commanders brought trouble on themselves last week by instigating their own QB controversy, as Heinicke got benched mid-game for Carson Wentz. This will not help their playoff chances OR their concentration, as Wentz is clearly NOT an upgrade, no matter what his paycheck says. If lowly Indy couldn’t use him, how is he going to benefit this team, which at least responds to Heinicke’s leadership? Oh well, they don’t call him Riverboat Ron for nothing. Speaking of nothing, that’s what Cleveland has left to play for, now they are eliminated. Cleveland’s offense is Chubb, and some more Chubb. Watson appears to have forgotten much of his football in the two prime years he cost himself being a jerk. Serves the Browns right if he is an extravagant bust. Wentz is horrible and Washington is about to be reminded of that. I hope Ron has plenty of crow on hand to eat when he meekly asks Heinicke to put a helmet on in the second half. Somehow, Washington survives another week inside the playoff picture.
Niners at Raiders – Too easy. Vegas’ Carr stalled out, and Stidham will take snaps and sacks this week. Lots of both, as Nick Bosa comes to shake hands…repeatedly. The Faders haven’t a chance, so breaking down this game is for those with nothing else to do. The prospectors are just better everywhere, it seems. Gold beats Silver every time.
Jets at Seahawks – This is an even matchup, both teams dotted with young players excelling at their positions, and playoffs on the line. Geno Smith is a difference-maker here, with his experience and stats. If the Jets had Breece Hall healthy, I would tip this their way. It should be a close game, and truly either team can win, but I think Seattle has the narrow edge with Pete Carroll’s seasoning, Smith’s great year, and DK Metcalf’s size and strength over NY’s two great corners. Jets and Seahawks both fly, but Seattle lands in the playoff hunt still.
Vikings at Packers – The Vikes are in the cozy NFC second spot, not going to catch Philly for the bye. The Packers have to win both remaining games to have a solid shot at securing a Wildcard (Lions next week). Minnesota isn’t great against the run or the pass, and most of us realize they aren’t as dominant as their record as a result. Jaire Alexander will draw JustJeff as his assignment, so that battle will be epic. Minnesota has so many quality weapons, but Rodgers with his back to the wall this late in his career should not be underestimated. My urgency barometer is leaning strongly in the direction of Lambeau Field this week. Pack tightens down on Purple Reign, with the playoffs to gain.
Rams at Chargers – The Battle of Beverly Hills, and some Hollywood drama on tap. The Scrams hung 51 points on a top-5 defense…I missed that pick by more than McPherson missed with his kicks on Saturday. Maybe that thick, smoggy air at SoFi (or Sci-Fi, as I call it) was too much for the rarified Mile High breathers from Denver, but it cleared some bad air out of their locker room when Hackett got fired Monday. I’m not on the Baker bus, as he has never proven anything to me his entire career. The Chargers we know are tough, resilient and they have a legit star QB who concerns himself with W-L’s and not so much with commercial$. They’re in the playoffs, but still need to improve on the O-line, passing game and run D, so this is an opportunity to tune up for the postseason. In a game that doesn’t matter in a city full of chatter, the Rams hopes lie in tatters while the Chargers make them scatter.
Steelers at Ravens – Pittsburgh has fought their way back into the playoff picture, albeit barely. Baltimore has shown (again) remarkable resilience in the face of repeated personnel setbacks, to be at 10-5. No idea if Lamar will play this week. Kenny Pick-it is playing cleaner ball for Steeltown, but their all-important ground game has fallen off a bit, while the Ravens continue to pound the pig with Kenyon Drake, Bus Edwards and JK Dobbins (and Huntley). This will be a gritty clash, for sure. I’m rolling with Harbaugh’s luck this week. Ravens roost while the Steelers get goosed.
Bills at Bengals – Here’s the treat of the week, and a great way to start 2023! Buffalo NEEDS to stay atop the AFC to get the bye and home advantage (which it is). Cincy needs to stay ahead of Baltimore to maintain the division title and draw a lower opponent on Wildcard Week. Despite their hot start against schizo New England last week, Cincy was there for the taking in the second half. Buffalo won’t miss an opportunity if it presents. Burrow looks sharp leading the league in tds and quick passes, his receivers are superb, Mixon provides the balance they need, and that defense is good. Buffalo has struggled a bit on offense, but that defense is battle-hardened and relentless. These teams match up very well, and we are the winners. Both teams are Chief-beaters, so they are legit. Bengals bite Buffalo in the bye-standings.
Happy New Year and enjoy the games!!
-Pigskin Pundit (Nate Clark)