Ed: I’m back in control of the thread again after yet another tie with Jazz, mainly because I snuck this post in when he wasn’t looking. We both went 5-2 last week, which pushed my season record to 57-34 … which should guarantee me a >.500 record this season. Jazz and I are still three games apart with four weeks to go, so the pressure is on to score enough to win the trophy. If, er, we had a trophy.
Jazz: Well, we do have trophies, but they’re in my bar and I don’t plan on giving them up. With that said, it’s hard to complain about a 5-2 week, but if Ed doesn’t start picking some bum steers it’s not going to do me any good. Still, sitting at 54-37 this late in the season is nothing to sneeze at. What will be sneeze-worthy is rooting for a team (the Jets) who managed to beat the Raiders and then somehow found a way to lose to the winless Bengals. Mediocrity, here we come.
Ed: Pittsburgh hits the road this week with the Steelers at Cardinals (4:25 pm ET, CBS), where Arizona has gone 1-4-1 this season. Pittsburgh’s still missing JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner, but they are otherwise healthy and off suspension. Their defense will make the difference with Steelers 24-14 over Cardinals. Next we have Dolphins at Jets (1 pm, CBS) with two teams who are wildly inconsistent. Normally I’d take the Jets and home-field advantage, but La’Veon Bell has been sick this week, and Miami’s Ryan Fitzpatrick has had a hot hand recently and are coming off a big win over the Eagles. Dolphins 27-23 over the Jets. Here in Minnesocold, we have the Lions at Vikings (1 pm, Fox), which shouldn’t be terribly dramatic. The Vikings are a tough home team and the Lions are missing Matthew Stafford in more ways than one. The Lions will lose their sixth in a row with Vikings 35-20 over Lions.
Jazz: I’d normally be betting against Pittsburgh on the road at this point, but any team being helmed by somebody named… Duck Hodges (?) has to be worth a pick. I’ll take the Steelers over the Cardinals 27-14. Who knows what to make of my Jets this year? As I predicted on Twitter last Sunday morning, beating the raiders and losing to the Bengals was the most Jets thing ever. But Miami is bad enough that I think we’ll bounce back. Jets over Dolphins 34-17 As for the Minnesota game, the Lions were looking good earlier in the season, but they’ve been on a serious slide. This game really shouldn’t even be close. Vikings over Lions 27-17
Let’s pick four more of the hottest games this week:
- Ravens at Bills (1 pm, CBS) – Buffalo has done a good job this year with limited personnel, but Baltimore looks almost unstoppable. Even in cold weather Buffalo might have trouble stopping Lamar Jackson, but it’s supposed to be 45 degrees and sunny at kickoff. Ravens 33-21 over the Bills.
- Chiefs at Patriots (4:25 pm, CBS) – This might be a preview of the AFC championship game, and it’s going to be the match of the week by far. Neither team is quite what it was last year, and the Chiefs are missing two running backs for this game. The Pats don’t lose at home, but their offense has lost its steam. They got over 20 points against a winning team last week for the first time since Week 1, but only in garbage time against a Texans defense trying to run out the clock. Tom Brady may finally be winding down, and the Chiefs’ offense is just too explosive. Chiefs 31-20 over the Patriots.
- Seahawks at Rams (8:20 pm, NBC) – Not sure how oddsmakers have this at even. Seattle’s undefeated on the road and LA is only 3-3 at home and struggling at 7-5 overall. The Seahawks score four more points a game than the Rams, but their defense does give back almost as many. However, Seattle has a five-game win streak that includes victories over the Eagles, Vikings, and the 49ers in San Francisco. The Rams’ last win against a >.500 team was in week 2 against the Saints, when Drew Brees got injured. Seahawks 27-23 over the Rams.
- Giants at Eagles (8:15 pm Monday, ESPN) – This is mainly of interest because the NFC East is such a mess that the 5-7 Eagles are still in the hunt for the division title, thanks to the Cowboys’ loss on Thursday. It also marks the return of Eli Manning to the starting lineup after New York ruled Daniel Jones out with a sore ankle. Eli’s not going to be enough by himself to overcome the Eagles’ middling defense overall, which is nevertheless ranked fourth against the rush. The Giants’ D is worse in all phases, plus Philly scores three more points a game on offense. Add that in with home-field advantage and you get Eagles 30-21 over the Giants.
- Ravens at Bills (1 pm, CBS) – I’ll grudgingly admit that the Bills have been a lot tougher than I thought they would be at the beginning of the season. But the Ravens are simply on fire. Yes, it’s a road game, but Baltimore will be up to the task. Ravens over Bills 31-17.
- Chiefs at Patriots (4:25 pm, CBS) -The weaknesses of the Patriots have been exposed and the Chiefs have a hot hand. But not hot enough to beat New England at home. I hope I’m wrong, but I’ll take the Patriots over the Chiefs 24-21.
- Seahawks at Rams (8:20 pm, NBC) – Ed already gave a whole bunch of reasons why the Seahawks should win this game. But watching the Rams last week with the performance of players like Todd Gurley makes me think that they’re gearing up for a late-season run. I’m going on a hunch here, but I’ll take the Rams over the Seahawks in a shootout 34-31.
- Giants at Eagles (8:15 pm Monday, ESPN) – The Giants’ disappointing season continues this week. Not much to say about this sad Monday Night Football pairing other than… Eagles over Giants 30-14.
Ed: Tom Brady’s not the only one on the hot seat this week. After yet another embarrassing loss, this time to Chicago, it looks like Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett’s on his last legs with Dallas too. They start today a half-game in front of the Eagles at 6-7 in the NFC East, but how did the Cowboys do so poorly with all of their talent? ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith lays it all at Garrett’s feet.
Update (Ed): Given my remarks on the Giants-Eagles game, this ESPN update from last night seems of interest. No one inside the NFL is considering re-seeding the playoffs if the NFC East champ turns out to have a losing record:
With the NFC East winner poised to have a .500-or-worse record and with NFC wild-card teams expected to have double-digit victories, there have been increasing public calls for the playoffs to be reseeded.
But those calls are mostly from fans and the media; they have not happened within the NFL.
A source with knowledge of the NFL’s thinking said the idea of reseeding teams has come up but “has gotten zero steam. It’s never been a consideration.”
So one of the NFC East teams, likely the Dallas Cowboys (6-7) or the Philadelphia Eagles (5-7), will wind up hosting a playoff game at a time when its record is worse than that of the wild-card teams that open the postseason on the road.
As much as that might seem like a perverse outcome, the NFL has no choice. Otherwise, division championships mean little, if not nothing. If the league adopts a reseeding to account for a losing record, then the next complaint will be that teams with winning records had to sit out while a losing team got in the playoffs at all. The only way to solve that is to take the six best records out of each conference for the playoffs, but that makes the divisions useless.
This is a problem that will resolve itself rather easily, though. When a 7-9 team wins the World Series, then perhaps it’s time to rethink playoff entries.