With writing around Christmas I thought I’d take a slightly longer look at each team as I go through the rest of the week sixteen picks and wait for Dan to send me his.
Panthers @ Falcons (+7.5)
The Falcons finally halted the skid last week as they beat the Jacksonville Jaguars on the road. This year has definitely been an improvement, and I think it is too early to be thinking about replacing Matt Ryan, but they will need to solidify their line and give Ryan more passing options as well as improving their defence in the offseason if they want to continue the improvement next year.
Meanwhile the Panthers are coming off a win against the Giants in a game which the locker room were saying felt like a loss. The Panthers are unbeaten so far this season, and we are getting into that time of year where some teams will be thinking of resting players and I just don’t know what Ron Rivera will be planning to do with his team.
I am not expecting a repeat of the shutout win that the Panthers had in Carolina two weeks ago, but the Panthers will want to keep the stretch going and backup quarterback Derek Anderson won games last year if they do rest Cam Newton. Part of me wants to pick the Falcons as it is a divisional game and the Falcons would love to put a spanner in the works and end the unbeaten run, but I think the Panthers will go into the last game undefeated and I think they’ll cover the points too.
Gee’s Pick: Panthers
Cowboys @ Bills (-5.5)
The Bills have not lived up to their pre-season billing, with Rex Ryan making the defence demonstrably worse this season with basically the same pieces as last year. The offence has improved with Tyrod Taylor playing well in his first year as a starting quarterback and Sammy Watkins beginning to show his first round pedigree, but the Bills have been too ill disciplined to sustain success.
The Cowboys season was derailed by injuries to key offensive personnel, but if they were going to compete in a poor NFC East they needed to win more games whilst Tony Romo was initially out with a broken collar bone. They were unable to do this, and Romo came back early to pick up a win before reinjuring his collar bone.
This is a curious game for me to pick, but although I think the Bills should win, with them missing LeSean McCoy and the season they have had so far I cannot bring myself to back the Bills to win by six points. A feat they have only managed four times this season, and two of those were against a struggling Dolphins team.
Gee’s Pick: Cowboys
Bears @ Buccaneers (-2.5)
The Buccaneers have faltered in the last couple of weeks, but they have still made strides this year and have at least solved the question of who will be their quarterback for the next few years. Not only has Jameis Winston put up some impressive figures, but he has not thrown as many interceptions as people feared given his college career. The defence will need to play more consistently next year for them to improve, and Winston could do with his offensive line getting better again next season, but there is at least something to build on.
It was thought that the Chicago Bears were going to be horrible this year, and the season certainly started badly, but slowly John Fox and his staff have made them competitive. I wouldn’t like to predict what moves they will make in the offseason, and if they are going to stick with Jay Cutler, but certainly the defence has begun to get comfortable in their new system.
The Bears are travelling to Tampa Bay coming off a third straight loss, but four of their five wins have come on the road this season. I am really not sure which way to go on this game as I don’t have much idea of how the game will go, but I can’t quite bring myself to back the Bears and have lost too many times picking road underdogs this season.
Gee’s Pick: Buccaneers
Browns @ Chiefs (-12.5)
The Kansas City Chiefs started this season horribly, going 1-5 before turning their season round and winning eight straight to get themselves back into the playoff hunt, and they still have a shot at winning the AFC West if the Broncos continue to drop games. Their defence is currently ranked fourth by DVOA, whilst their offence has found a way despite losing Jamaal Charles earlier in the season. The addition of free agent Jeremy Maclin has helped a passing game that famously struggled to get the ball to receivers last season.
The Browns are a mess, and it is hard to say much more than that. They have a head coach that has a defensive background, and yet have gone backwards on that side of the ball this year, whilst the offence has faltered and they don’t have a starting quarterback they all believe in or even trust. There are signs that Johnny Manziel has made some improvements on the field, but there have been further issues off it, and it is hard to see any team committing to him at this point. I say this as it is very possible Manziel gets traded in the offseason as there could be a front office shake up once the season is done. This a team that has done a bad job of finding talent in recent years and that has missed on too many first round picks, so it would not be a surprise if they start the offseason looking for a new GM.
The points are high for this game, but the Chiefs beat the Ravens by twenty points on the road last week, and welcome a Browns team that has the thirtieth ranked defence by DVOA. Not only that, but the Browns’ last close loss against a team with a winning record was back in week six against an offensively challenged Broncos team.
Gee’s Pick: Chiefs
49ers @ Lions (-8.5)
The Lions have had a strange season that started badly and led to coach firings and their owner clearing house in the front office. The change in offensive coordinator does seem to have had an effect on the offence, but it is hard to know what direction they will go in the offseason until we know who will be making the decisions. This includes whether the Lions will keep Jim Caldwell, who managed to get the win last week against the Saints, but never strikes you as the most demonstrative of head coaches. I don’t know if this is actually a bad thing, but without following the team really closely or interacting with him as an individual it is hard to gauge, and hiring a head coach is one of the key things a GM gets to do so the new appointment may well want to pick their own candidate.
This week the Lions welcome the struggling 49ers to Detroit, but given the amount of talent the 49ers lost it is going to be a difficult few seasons in San Francisco. The most hopeful conversation I have heard recently for the 49ers is that in Blaine Gabbert they have found a quarterback that could hold the fort for them whilst they develop a quarterback behind him. Certainly the draft doesn’t seem to hold a ready to start quarterback this year and the 49ers have too many holes to reach for one if there is a better player at another position.
The 49ers defence has played better at home this year, but with them being on the road it is hard to foresee anything other than a win for the Lions, particularly as they lost to the Browns after their last win against the Bears. However, this feels like too many points to me, and so whilst I don’t feel confident about it I will back the 49ers to cover
Gee’s Pick: 49ers
Texans @ Titans (+2.5)
The Titans season has not seen them get a lot of wins, but their defence has been better this year, and they appear to have a young quarterback they can build round. This was not enough to keep Ken Whisenhunt in a job, and Mike Mularkey may not have won enough games to make the job his either. Only time will tell what is going to happen in Tennessee this offseason, but it will be one to keep an eye on.
The Texans have had a strange year, but thanks to playing in the AFC South and the problems in Indianapolis they stand atop of the division with a 7-7 record. They have had four different people play quarterback for them this year, thanks to a combination of the early indecision by head coach Bill O’Brien and recent injuries. However, the defence has come around from earlier in the season, and JJ Watt has quietly been having another stellar year despite breaking his hand in practice a couple of weeks ago.
The Texans may be on the road this week, but with the playoffs within their grasp I can’t see them losing to the Titans.
Gee’s Pick: Texans
Colts @ Dolphins (-2.5)
The Dolphins were one of the teams that had supposedly done well in the offseason, but as is often the case this did not translate into actual wins. There have been multiple coach firings and you have to think that interim head coach Dan Campbell will be gone at the end of the season. There are points of hope for the franchise, but as I have said multiple times on the podcast, they will need to address their secondary and offensive line if they want to compete in a tough division.
The Colts season has been a mess, and whilst backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck defied my reasoning that Ryan Grigson had not done a good job building a roster around Andrew Luck for a couple of games, he his now showing his age as repeatedly gets hit. Their offence has struggled all year, whilst their defence has taken a small step back, but there could be changes in the offseason as owner James Irsay cannot be happy with the way things have gone.
I don’t really want to pick either side in this game, but I will go for the home team.
Gee’s Pick: Dolphins
Dan’s Pick: Dolphins
Patriots @ Jets (+3.5)
The Jets have had a very good season in Todd Bowles’s first year as head coach, with both sides of the ball improving and some stability finally seeming to descend on an often turbulent franchise. Some of the additions in the offseason don’t look to be long term solutions due to the age of players, but Ryan Fitzpatrick has been undeniably effective with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker as they look to secure a playoff berth.
The Patriots season could have been derailed by injuries were it not for the continued excellence of Bill Belichick and his staff. For many there will always be an asterisk next to Belichick’s name, but he is an undeniably great coach and to keep his team winning with the injury issues they have had on the offensive line and receiver. The defence retooled their secondary successfully after letting their Super Bowl winning starting corners go in the offseason, but have managed to maintain their record despite changing their approach.
However, Belichick is already discussing resting starters having had it serve him well last season and with them being on the road I suspect this will be a tight game in New York given that the Jets only lost by a touchdown in New England. I could regret this, but I am going to take the points in this one as I believe it will be a close game.
Gee’s Pick: Jets
Steelers @ Ravens (+10.5)
The Baltimore Ravens are usually seen as a well run franchise, but the questions I had about their secondary were compounded by a string of injuries that has led them to have a horrible season. You would trust the infrastructure to rebuild successfully in the offseason, but this is a rare write-off year for this team.
The Steelers have had their own injury woes this season, including the loss of arguably the best running back in the league, but with an outstanding trio of receivers their offence is still terrifying and their defence has been doing enough for them to be making a late surge into playoff contention.
The Ravens lost a tight overtime game earlier in the season, and will be desperate to stick it to a divisional rival and possibly stop them getting into the playoffs. I would love to pick the Ravens, but with the questions at quarterback and how well the Steelers offence is playing I can’t bring myself to do it, so although it wouldn’t surprise me if the Ravens did manage to keep it close, I think the Steelers will cover.
Gee’s Pick: Steelers
Jaguars @ Saints (-3.5)
The Saints are in salary cap hell, and their defence has looked simply horrendous as it is rooted to the bottom of the Football Outsiders DOVA rankings with a huge gap to the thirty-first ranked San Diego defence. There are rumours of Sean Payton going to Miami, or any other team the Saints face with questions at head coach, but he has been unable to sort his defence suspensions since the Bounty Gate suspensions so it will be interesting to see how he does next season whether he is in New Orleans or not. They have managed to look good at times on offence, but Drew Brees is now dealing with a partially torn planter facsia having had shoulder problems early in the year, and he has been the reason the offence has worked when it has done so this could be a rough end to the season for the fans in New Orleans.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have been maddeningly inconsistent this year, showing good progress on offence, but not quite being able to get results consistently. They have possibly done enough to keep head coach Gus Bradley in a job for another year, but the defence needs to improve if they are truly going to compete for the division. However, they have a good young nucleus on offence with a pair of receivers and a tight end that can compete with most teams, and if Black Bortles can reduce the mistakes further then they could be a real handful.
For this game, with Drew Brees as an injury worry and given the Saints’ passing defence, I will very happily take the points and hope the Jaguars don’t trip me up again.
Gee’s Pick: Jaguars
Packers @ Cardinals (-4.5)
The Cardinals took a big blow with the loss of Tyrann Mathieu last week, but head coach Bruce Arians kept his team in contention last year despite losing two starting quarterbacks to injury so I trust that he will find a way. The Cardinals aggressive offence and defence has seen them win the AFC West, and they will be looking to make a deep run into the playoffs.
The Packers have had a difficult year, with struggles at times on both sides of the ball, but they have still made it to a 10-4 record that most teams would love to have. However, whilst the return of Mike McCarthy to play calling duties has produced wins in recent weeks, I am not convinced that it has solved everything and certainly the passing game is not functioning how we have come to expect from Aaron Rodgers.
The points make me pause slightly, but I think Arizona are the better team, and whilst there is a lot of talk that there will be a large number of Packer fans in attendance, I think that the Cardinals will win this one and cover these points.
Gee’s Pick: Cardinals
Rams @ Seahawks (-13.5)
The Seahawks had a turbulent start to the season, but as has often been the case in recent years, come to the business end of the season the team starts to come good. The defence might have taken a slight step back when compared to their recent greatness, but Russell Wilson has started the transformation to a pocket passer and has really taken ownership of the offence since he lost tight end Jimmy Graham to injury.
The Rams have also had another turbulent season, but theirs seems to be ending in the usual nearly but not quite season. The defence hasn’t quite lived up to where they could be despite defensive tackle Aaron Donald having a monster season, but the real problem has been on offence. For much of the season they have had no real passing game to speak of, allowing teams to focus on stopping Todd Gurley once he was brought into the starting line-up. However, they do seem to have improved since the firing of their offensive coordinator two weeks ago, and whilst I don’t expect them to win this game, I do wonder if they can keep this game close than the points suggest.
I am not confident in this pick, but I will back the Rams to cover in divisional game.
Gee’s Pick: Rams
Gaints @ Vikings (-6.5)
The Vikings continue their progress under Mike Zimmer, with a tough defence and an offence that does enough for them to win. Whilst quarterback Teddy Bridgwater might not throw the prettiest ball you have ever seen, he seems to be progressing and has thrown for over three hundred and fifty yards for the last two games.
The Giants have been in contention for the NFC East for most of the year, but this has mainly been on the back of Eli Manning throwing to Odell Beckham. However, the talented young star lost control last week and won’t be playing this week after trying to knock Josh Norman out of the game. This could be the last season for Tom Coughlin despite winning two Super Bowls as he is the oldest head coach in the league and the Giants have not been consistent or good enough this season. In fairness, this team doesn’t have a lot of talent, and has particularly struggled on defence this year, so I will be curious to see what direction they take in the offseason.
This is a lot of points for the Vikings to cover, but under the circumstances I think they have enough to do it against a Giants team who don’t’ really have anything to play for any more.
Gee’s Pick: Vikings
Bengals @ Broncos (-3.5)
The Broncos have slipped in recent weeks. The defence was on another level earlier in the season, but needed to do better against the Steelers last week to get a win. That said, with turmoil at quarterback, and a running game that has been inconsistent, some might argue that they have done well to amass the record they have. It has been something of a transition year for the Broncos with a new coaching staff and offensive philosophy, but they look like they have found a serviceable replacement for Manning and I would expect them to resign Osweiler at the end of the season. They will be looking to hold onto a division lead and push on into the playoffs, but it is still possible for them to drop out of the playoffs altogether so welcoming a Bengals team missing their starting quarterback to Denver might be something of a relief.
The Bengals’ season has gone so well for much of the year, but the injury to Andy Dalton has really hampered their push for playoff success. The Bengals managed to get the win against the 49ers with a steady offensive performance, but it did not look easy and so it is hard to tell how they will go against an impressive Broncos defence. That said, the defence continues to play well despite the injuries in the secondary, and they have a chance to set a record for fewest points allowed in a sixteen game season. The aim for this season was always a playoff win, and a bye would give Andy Dalton an improved chance of being healthy and playing, but is hard to know if the Bengals will finally break the drought in their fifth straight try under Marvin Lewis given the circumstances.
I am always worried about the Bengals, which given their history is perhaps not surprising, but I am finding it hard to predict this game as we just don’t know what AJ McCarron is going to do. I’m going to reluctantly back the Broncos to cover, and I will be more than happy if my pessimism is proved to be ill-founded, but I suspect it isn’t.
Gee’s Pick: Broncos