For the first time in three weeks, we have the picks done before the Thursday night game. Coincidentally, we hope, it will be the first time we predict more than six games correctly.
Of course, we were stymied in Week 10 by the winless Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers claiming their first victories of the season. That was a mood killer. And then the high-powered Dallas Cowboys offense couldn’t cover a 7-point spread against the New Orleans Saints; the Indianapolis Colts were embarrassed by the St. Louis Rams (38-8); and the Oakland Raiders couldn’t beat the hapless New York Giants. (My how the times have changed.)
This week, we’re putting an emphasis on the not-so-surprising factor. Meaning, shouldn’t an 0-8 team steal a win by now? Well, yeah, and they did. And the gutless Tennessee Titans and Miami Dolphins were easy pickings to that end. And like the Bucs and Jags, the Giants, who astonishingly started the season 0-6, are now on a three-game winning streak. Are we really surprised about that? The Eagles, for a moment derided, have bounced back enthusiastically. But they may fall into the same trap. And I may continue to fall into some traps of my own.
Here are Week 11’s picks:
Colts (-3) at Titans (+3) — Because the Colts couldn’t possibly embarrass themselves again, at least not as much as the Titans did losing to Jacksonville.
My pick: Colts
Jets (+1) at Bills (-1) — The Jets land Ed Reed in free agency before facing division rival Buffalo. They may also get Santonio Holmes back. And it’ll be a joy to watch two of the top rookie quarterbacks in the NFL going at it. But the odds appear to be in New York’s favor.
My pick: Jets
Ravens (+3) at Bears (-3) — At 4-5 and sporting the 30th-ranked rushing offense in the league (29th-ranked offense overall), the Ravens have been a helter-skelter pick all season. The Bears (5-4) haven’t been much better, but their competition has been much more lauded. They also happen to have one of the best offenses in the league, scoring 28.8 points per game.
My pick: Bears
Browns (+5.5) at Bengals (-5.5) — The Bengals have really come back down to Earth after going on a four-game tear in October. They’ve lost two straight games by a total of 5 points. The Browns, no longer reeling from the loss of Brian Hoyer, were able to pull out a 24-18 win over the Ravens before heading into the bye. If there is ever a time for Cincinnati to be motivated, it’s now.
My pick: Bengals
Raiders (+7) at Texans (-7) — Gary Kubiak is expected to be back on the sidelines for the Texans. But he won’t commit to Case Keenum as his starter. Keenum’s production tailed off against the Cardinals. But he still threw three touchdowns (and three interceptions). He should get his first win if Kubiak comes to his senses.
My pick: Texans
Cardinals (-7) at Jaguars (+7) — The Jaguars go back to their losing ways.
My pick: Cardinals
Washington (+3.5) at Eagles (-3.5) — In Round 2, Philly is actually much more polished. Washington is still working out the kinks. So of course this is one of those surprise games in which the result totally belies the reality of the situation.
My pick: Washington
Lions (-2) at Steelers (+2) — Two days in a row Calvin Johnson hasn’t participated in practice, but according to the superstar receiver for the Lions, he expects to play. Good. He’s a game changer, and so long as he’s in the lineup for Matthew Stafford, and Reggie Bush continues to be his dynamic self, the Steelers’ leaky defense (LaMarr Woodley has missed the last two days of practice, too) doesn’t have a chance.
My pick: Lions
Falcons (-1) at Buccaneers (+1) — Clearly, these are not the Atlanta Falcons of 2012. So why not expect Tampa Bay to go for its second win of the year and really break the spirit of its division rival?
My pick: Buccaneers
Chargers (-1) at Dolphins (+1) — After watching the atrocious outing the Dolphins put together on Monday night, I cannot in good conscience expect them to win against the fourth-ranked passing offense in the NFL. More importantly, I don’t think they can win against another competent opponent.
My pick: Chargers
49ers (+3) at Saints (-3) — I’m sure the San Francisco base would love to think this is still 2011 and the Saints are just another team in their way of a Super Bowl, but this situation is just not the same. There is something significantly off with this 49ers team, and while the secondary might’ve been to blame back then, it’s the offense that confuses now. Colin Kaepernick’s offense couldn’t produce a touchdown in a 10-9 loss to the Carolina Panthers and he was sacked five times last week. He won’t be facing a defense nearly as elite, but I doubt his arm can keep up for the track meet that he’s in store for. The Saints tallied 625 total yards last week against the Cowboys and their third-ranked pass defense will be an obstacle for the red and gold.
My pick: Saints
Packers (+5) at Giants (-5) — Green Bay still doesn’t have Aaron Rodgers. Seneca Wallace was placed on injured reserve two days after starting in Rodgers’s place. Now, Scott Tolzien will get his shot. It’s improbable. But I’ll take improbable over the New York Giants.
My pick: Packers
Vikings (+12) at Seahawks (-12) — This should be a blowout. The top-ranked rushing offense will pound Minnesota’s 16th-ranked rush defense (113.7 yards allowed per game).
My pick: Seahawks
Chiefs (+8.5) at Broncos (-8.5) — As good as the Chiefs defense is (allows 12.3 points per game, best in the NFL), the Broncos’ offense — even led by a wobbly Peyton Manning — is head and shoulders above the rest of the NFL. They’re putting up 41.2 points per game, which is more than a touchdown and field goal ahead of the New Orleans Saints (29.4).
My pick: Broncos
Patriots (+2.5) at Panthers (-2.5) — There is so much about this Carolina defense to love. Charles Johnson (8.5 sacks) and Greg Hardy (5.0 sacks) are phenomenal defensive ends. Luke Kuechly gobbles up everything in front of him but also makes plays in the backfield (34 recorded stops behind the line of scrimmage). The secondary is filled with good players. It’s the Panthers offense that is kind of screwy, led by mercurial star Cam Newton. As a bigger quarterback with a strong arm, he has the ability to get the ball downfield quickly. But it’s what he can do when he gets in space that will likely leave the Patriots reeling. The Panthers have, at times, opted not to use Newton in designed run plays. That’s when Carolina’s at its most dangerous. Surely they’ve seen that the Patriots without Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo have struggled in the running game by now (128.2 yards allowed per game, 30th in NFL). And with three good backs, there’s a lot to be concerned about for New England fans.
My pick: Panthers
Last week: 6-8