With just three weeks remaining in the 2013 regular season, the (10-3) Patriots find themselves in reasonably good position to secure the second seed in the AFC playoff tournament. If the Pats win out, they earn the bye. Anything less, and they risk being surpassed by the (9-4) Cincinnati Bengals.
Keep in mind that Cincinnati holds the tie-breaker advantage over the Patriots, by virtue of their 13-6 win over New England in Week 5. The Pats have a tougher remaining schedule than does Cincinnati, with back to back road games at Miami and Baltimore, before finishing the season at home vs. Buffalo. Cincinnati's remaining games are a road game at Pittsburgh, before finishing up with Minnesota and Baltimore, at home.
That said, here are my picks, with the "Game of the Week" being:
1.) (10-3) New England Patriots @ (7-6) Miami Dolphins (+2.5): The Pats' need a win to clinch the AFC East, and to strengthen their chances of securing a first round playoff bye. Miami needs a win in order to maintain their dim hopes of an AFC East title, and to keep their playoff hopes alive. When these teams met in Week 8 in Foxboro, Miami jumped out to a 17-7 halftime lead, before Brady and the Boys stormed back for a 27-17 win. Over their last four games, New England has been outscored 57-10 in the first half. Another sluggish start could be fatal. The Patriots have no pass rush, have a weak interior defense, have limited offensive weapons, and have a mediocre at best OL. Otherwise, their game is just fine. Who knows what to expect from the them these days. They haven't played well since beating Denver, two weeks ago: PICK: Patriots;
2.) (6-7) San Diego Chargers (+10.5) @ (11-2) Denver Broncos: For a guy who supposedly can't play well in cold weather, Peyton Manning did "pretty good" last week against Tennessee, passing for 397 yards, and four (4) TDs. The Chargers have been an up and down team all year. This week, it's down: PICK: Broncos;
3.) (3-10) Washington Redskins (+5.5) @ (3-10) Atlanta Falcons: Head coach Mike Shanahan is a dead man walking as the head coach in Washington. He has decided to bench RG III in favor of Kirk Cousins, in order to allow Griffin to rest up and be 100% healthy for next season. Actually, this move makes a lot of sense. Not only will it allow RG III to injure himself no further this year, but it will also allow the Redskins an opportunity to show-case Cousins to QB starved teams. Though the 2014 QB class is stronger than the pitiful 2013 group, it's not all that miuch better. With Cousins playing, I see the 'Skins having a better chance of winning. Who knows what to expect from the Falcons, who would actually be better off losing than winning: PICK: Falcons;
4.) (9-4) San Francisco 49ers @ (4-9) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+5.5): Tampa is playing much better football of late, helping to ensure that head coach Greg Chiano will keep his job next year. The 49ers are coming off a huge win over Seattle, and may be ripe for a let down this week. Still, the 49ers are feeling the heat from the surging Arizona Cardinals, and need a win to help ensure that they make the play-offs: PICK: 49ers;
5.) (8-5) Arizona Cardinals @ (5-8) Tennessee Titans (+2.5): TBelieve it or not, the Cardinals have a great chance to earn a playoff birth, but can ill afford a slip up here. The Titans are still kicking themselves for not going the extra-extra mile(s) to sign Peyton Manning two years ago: PICK: Cardinals;
6.) (10-3) New Orleans Saints @ (5-8) St. Louis Rams (+5.5): After scoring a combined 80 points in wins over Indianapolis and Chicago, the Rams could only muster 23 in their past two games, against the 49ers and Cardinals. Though this is a road game for Drew Brees, he still gets to play in a dome: PICK: Saints;
7.) (11-2) Seattle Seahawks @ (5-8) N. Y. Giants (+7): This will be a dress rehersal for the SB bound Seahawks. Giants are picking a bad time to face Seattle, who is coming off a tough loss in San Francisco: PICK: Seahawks;
8.) (7-6) Chicago Bears (+1.5) @ (4-9) Cleveland Browns: The Bears have a great chance to win the NFC North. The Browns looked like anything but a last place team last week, in outplaying and nearly defeating the Patriots. Still, Cleveland has lost four straight games: PICK: Bears;
9.) (2-11) Houston Texans (+6) @ (8-5) Indianapolis Colts: Will firing head coach Gary Kubiak and replacing him with interim head coach Wade Phillips spark the lethargic Texans? The way that the Colts are playing, should they be favored by six points over anybody?: PICK: Texans;
10.) (4-9) Buffalo Bills @ (4-9) Jacksonville Jaguars (+2): Who knows what to expect from a couple of dead-head teams playing out the string. Jacksonville broke a multiple game home losing streak last week against the Texans, and have won four of their last five games. Buffalo has lost five of it's last six: PICK: Jaguars;
11.) (8-5) Philadelphia Eagles @ (3-9-1) Minnesota Vikings (+4.5): After playing in a blizzard, Philly's Nick Foles gets to throw in far more pleasant conditions. The Vikings will be without RB Adrian Peterson: PICK: Eagles;
12.) (6-7) N. Y. Jets (+11) @ (9-4) Carolina Panthers: I know that the Jets are bad, but an 11 point underdog? After allowing themselves to be embarrassed on national TV by the Saints last week, odds are that the Panthers will be seeing red. Good luck, Geno: PICK: Panthers;
13.) (10-3) Kansas City Chiefs @ (4-9) Oakland Raiders (+4): Years ago, this was one of the most bitter rivalries in the NFL. But now, it's just a mis-match: PICK: Chiefs;
14.) (6-6-1) Green Bay Packers @ (7-6) Dallas Cowboys (PK): With Aaron Rodgers still a no go, the Packers are all but a no show. The Cowboys, who were embarrassed on Monday Night Football in Chicago, are setting their sights on an NFC East showdown game with the Eagles in Dallas, in two weeks: PICK: Cowboys;
15.) (9-4) Cincinnati Bengals @ (5-8) Pittsburgh Steelers (+3): For the Patriots sake, I'm pulling for an upset in this one. But, while my heart is for Pittsburgh, my brain says: PICK: Bengals;
16.) (7-6) Baltimore Ravens (+6) @ (7-6) Detroit Lions: The Vegas boys are actually spotting the Ravens six (6) points against the wildly inconsistent Lions? PICK: Ravens.
BEST BETS: Ravens, Bengals, Cowboys, Eagles, Saints.
As always, your thoughts and predictions are welcome...particularly on the Patriots' game.