It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
The NFL. On Saturday.
There was a time, young friends, when the National Football League used to entrance us with early-afternoon games on Saturdays late in the season, leading to an entire weekend of glorious laziness and a productivity bordering on sloth. Now, in the name of ratings, of course, the games have shifted to late-afternoon, early-evening affairs. It’s still cool, and definitely leaves room for whatever chores you need to get done (or ignore) throughout the day. But it’s still nothing like what amounted to rolling out of bed for TWO straight days in order to sit in front of the TV with a pigskin glare on your face.
It doesn’t really make sense, but there was always something borderline magical about those Saturday games, simply swapping the collegiate level for the professional that always resonated with me. Unlike Thursday or Monday football, Saturday games always carried a certain character of exclusivity, a once-or-twice a season gift that came along with the holiday period.
Most of the time, the games are terrible, victims of the schedule. This weekend isn’t much different. The Bills will demolish the Broncos and the Packers will throttle the Panthers. Ho-hum.
But next weekend, we get FRIDAY AFTERNOON football (Vikings-Saints) before another Saturday slate that involves Bucs-Lions and 49ers-Cardinals.
None of those is equivalent to the likes of this weekend’s Saints-Chiefs showdown, but Saturday football is still a gift this time of year.
For whatever reason.
This week’s predictions:
Greg Cote, Miami Herald: Patriots 23, Dolphins 19. “This is disrespect, folks. If “bulletin board material” is still a thing in 2020, the Dolphins have some here. Miami — better record, better offense, better defense, and home — is a negligible one-point favorite Sunday vs. New England. The line opened at 2 1/2 but was bet down as gambled money flowed to the Patriots. Why? Habit. Miami is disrespected because this season hasn’t erased from the public mind all those years when New England reigned over the AFC East and the Fins were also-rans. (Do we trust that all that has now changed?). And there is this: post-Tom Brady, Bill Belichick still famously has his mastery over rookie quarterbacks he faces. He takes raw QBs to the woodshed. His Pats have beaten nine rookie passers in a row since last losing to one in 2013. The latest was Justin Herbert in a 45-0 thrashing just two weeks ago. It is not far-fetched to think the Pats will dial up trouble for Tua Tagovailoa. There is also a revenge factor in play. MIA beat NE in the 2019 season finale to deny them a first-round playoff bye. Now the Pats, with but a scant hope of making the postseason, can play spoiler and hugely deny Miami’s hopes. Oh and this: New England played last Thursday, so Genius Bill had added time to outmaneuver one of his disciples, Bran Flores. This is not nothing: Belichick teams have won 21 of past 25 games with added time to rest and prepare. The disrespect in the betting line has tangible roots, too, though. It’s rested Pats vs. banged-up Fins. Tua will be without injured TE Mike Gesicki and could also be sans WR DeVante Parker (hamstring). LB Kyle Van Noy, ex-Pat, might also be missing, while NE could finally see Julian Edelman back on the field. With Miami’s big-play defense able to disrupt Cam Newton anything is possible. But Belichick, vs. a rookie QB, with extra time to prepare, remains too good to pass up. Mini-upset!”
Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: Patriots 20, Dolphins 14. “Bill Belichick has had great success against rookie passers and now will match up against Tua Tagovailoa for the first time. Miami is banged up in terms of skill players, which will make it even tougher. This will be a low-scoring game and I think the Patriots will find a way to win it on the road.”
Frank Schwab, Yahoo! Sports: Dolphins (-2.5). “I know Miami has offensive injuries. And New England has extra rest. Still, the Patriots are coming off a terrible game, the Dolphins are not that bad, and I have no problem taking the Dolphins at less than a field goal.”
Michael Hurley, CBS Boston: Miami (-2.5). “It was a 7-9 week for your faithful pick man last week. Ergo, my vow of (mostly) silence on the picks continues for yet another week.”
Benjamin Hoffman, New York Times: Dolphins (-2.5). “The Patriots (6-7) have missed the playoffs just twice since 2001, but even with a recent hot streak they are down to a 4 percent chance at qualifying this year, and that number will drop to zero with a loss to the Dolphins (8-5), who have a 43 percent chance at a wild card. The tables appear to have turned in this rivalry, with New England being the scrappy underdog that could spoil things for the seemingly superior team. Miami’s style of play doesn’t lead to many mistakes, so unless Coach Bill Belichick has something up his sleeve, the Patriots can start making vacation plans for early January.”
MMQB staff: Dolphins across the board.
ESPN staff: Eight out of nine (Wickersham) go with Miami.
Jimmy Kempski, Philly Voice: Miami (-2). “The Patri*ts have been good for a long time, and the Dolphins have been bad for a long time, and it takes folks a while to get used to change, hence this two-point spread. But if you’ve watched these two teams play this season, I don’t know how anyone could possibly come to a conclusion that the Dolphins aren’t significantly better. I’ll lay the 2 all day.”
Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Patriots 17, Dolphins 13 (Upset of the Week). “The Patriots are able to only win battles of attrition where they can grind with their running game, defense and special teams. This game screams of that for Bill Belichick. The Patriots don’t pass the ball well but the game plan suggests that’s the Dolphins’ strength to avoid anyway. Cam Newton and the backs will be called upon to rush often while Belichick schemes to get the better of another rookie QB Tua Tagovailoa, who will likely be without wide receivers DeVante Parker and Jakeem Grant and tight end Mike Gesicki. Brian Flores learned well from Belichick but the master makes it a season sweep.”
Bill Bender, Sporting News: Patriots 23, Dolphins 21. “If the Dolphins are a playoff team, then this is a game they have to win. New England won the Week 1 meeting in ugly fashion 21-11, and this one will be a low-scoring affair. Can Miami push the Pats out of the playoffs once and for all?”
Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 20, Dolphins 17. “The Patriots rarely get a chance to play the role of spoiler. They hope to not make a habit of it.”
Michael David Smith, Pro Football Talk: Dolphins 24, Patriots 20. “he Patriots are out of AFC East contention before the last week of the season for the first time since 2000, the year before Tom Brady became their starting quarterback. The Dolphins are just the better team now.”
FiveThirtyEight: Dolphins, 55 percent (-1.5).
Gregg Rosenthal, NFL.com: Dolphins 27, Patriots 19. “Miami has a significantly better defense than New England. Despite playing with a rookie quarterback, the Dolphins have a significantly better offense, too, especially now that it appears DeVante Parker, Jakeem Grant and their backfield will be ready for Sunday. The Dolphins probably need to win out, but they should feel good that the fine folks at Football Outsiders confirmed that 11 wins gets them to the playoffs in all of their simulations. The season-long underestimation of the Dolphins and overestimation of the Patriots should finally end here.”
NFL PickWatch: Seventy-five percent, Miami.
It says here: Dolphins 17, Patriots 0. Because, who are we kidding?
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