We’re heading into the final portion of the NFL season and as an overall fan of the league, things are going great. The Patriots and Packers aren’t as dominant as they have been in years past, and we are watching amazing things unfold in Dallas, Oakland, and New York (the Giants). The playoffs are over a month away and they represent a whole new “season,” but it is not out of the question to expect to see at least one of those three teams in the Super Bowl. It may work out in a totally different way, and the championship may be another snoozer, but I think that it is an exciting time to be an NFL fan and watch the overall league shake out as we progress through the rapidly-ending season.
As a fan of one team in particular, though, it is hard. The Jacksonville Jaguars are one of the most frustrating teams in football. They have great talent, they are capable of amazing plays, they have a terrific person as their head coach, but when they lose, it’s like one has come to expect it. I honestly do not understand what it is that makes a team be able to go into an opponent’s stadium, dominate them for about a quarter and a half, and then let the game go off the rails. There is a lot of young talent on the roster, that is true. Some of those young guys get tired, some just get beat because they are going up against seasoned, strong veterans. Is it the coaching? The offense has been playing great… you know, when they feel like it. The defense plays pretty good, but makes bonehead plays still. They did that sometimes in the Coughlin era, too, but the offense kept trying.
But, when you make a decision like accepting a re-kick on what was a good punt and then getting a return that is worse for you, or totally blanking on calling a time-out… man, if I was Shad Khan, I would’ve pulled the trigger after that game. Talk about some stupid decisions. Even pee-wee coaches (or is it Pop Warner? sorry) know better than that. I honestly think that Gus Bradley has lost control of the locker room, lost control of the coaches that are under him, and is kind of in a fog because he knows that he is on his way out. Now, do I want someone to lose their job? No. But this team should not have lost that game Sunday, and those are two really, really big mistakes that someone who is in a job, and there are only 31 other jobs out there, should make. The only other possible explanation is if the team is making a “stink for Dalvin Cook” play or something, which is amateurish and rarely ever works out.
It’s getting really hard to be a Jaguars fan, and the team has wallowed in mediocrity for too long. Something needs to change before the team loses the fanbase that practically kept the team in town.
Let’s get into the PICKS:
COWBOYS at VIKINGS – This is going to be one epic Thursday night matchup. The Vikings kept the Lions at bay almost to the end last week, and the Cowboys found a way to win against the Redskins and extend their winning streak to 10 games. I don’t see it ending this week, to be honest with you. The Cowboys’ defense is going to be more than a match for Minnesota’s patchwork offensive line and I think that Dallas’ offense is much more prolific than the Vikings’. That’s not to say it won’t be an interesting game, though, and I look for the Cowboys to win.
LIONS at SAINTS – The Lions are sitting pretty at the top of the NFC North but they can’t get complacent. They have to find ways to win games, and they need to be able to stop a Saints team that nearly put up 50 points against the Rams last week. If they can do that, they stay in the top of their class, but New Orleans is going to play spoiler and keep the NFC South race interesting for as long as they can. This is a hard game to call, but I’m going to say the Lions will win.
RAMS at PATRIOTS – There is no doubt in my mind that, despite the Patriots’ ability to almost get beat by the Jets, New England will win this game. The Rams have not gelled as a unit around their new quarterback and while he did have a decent game last week, Belichick and company can throw plenty of looks to keep a rookie quarterback guessing. The Pats should decisively win this game.
BRONCOS at JAGUARS – The Broncos are known for their punishing defense. The Jaguars are known for falling backwards into losses after decent starts. The Broncos are a playoff team, the Jags are a top-10-pick-in-the-draft team, at least until they make a change to their coaching staff. The Broncos will walk away with this.
49ERS at BEARS – If a 1-10 team plays a 2-9 team and nobody is there to watch how bad it is, does it still happen? Fox should scroll “I’m sorry” at the bottom of the screen the entire time it airs this game. Did you know Matt Barkley is still in the NFL? Neither did I, until I saw the stats for the Bears’ last game. Do I have to pick a winner? The Niners, I guess?
TEXANS at PACKERS – The Packers beat a really good Eagles team on Monday. The Texans are getting worse each week and are going into what will be a loud Lambeau Field. Think about it: last year, the Texans had Ryan Mallett (until his alarm clock didn’t work), Brian Hoyer, Brandon Weeden, and TJ Yates, and somehow all four of those options look better (and cheaper!) than Brock Osweiler. Man. The Texans seem to be forever cursed at the quarterback position. The Packers will win this, and inject a smidgen of hope for the playoffs in Green Bay.
CHIEFS at FALCONS – This looks like a good game! The Chiefs scrapped their way to victory last week, and the Falcons look like they are back to form with their offense. Atlanta has to keep winning in order to stay ahead of Tampa in the playoff hunt, and the Falcons have a much harder opponent in front of them this week. The Falcons’ offense can be trusted more to put up points, though, and has a lot of great role-players and weapons that can wear down the Chiefs’ defense. I believe that the Falcons will win.
DOLPHINS at RAVENS – Don’t look now, but the Ravens are on top of the AFC North. It won’t last long, but right now it is the truth. The Dolphins also look like a good football team, with a good quarterback. Maybe Adam Gase really is a magician, or perhaps it just took a few weeks for the team to find itself. It is beginning to look like Miami is a contender for that last wild card spot – which means that this game may play into the seeding in a few weeks. I think Miami will walk away with the win here.
EAGLES at BENGALS – The Eagles lost to the Packers but I still like them in this game. The Bengals just aren’t quite the powerhouse they seemed to be last year and I think the Eagles are primed for a bounce back type of game. The loss to the Packers means that Philly is out of the playoff picture but they can still put together a good record and progress to build on for next year.
BILLS at RAIDERS – This would be an interesting game if the Bills hadn’t nearly gotten beaten by the Jaguars last week. The Raiders played a hard-fought game against the Panthers last week but once again found a way to win. I don’t think the Bills can keep up with the Raiders, and I also think that the Raiders have one of those great stories that will continue to carry the narrative of the “hard-fighting former underdog” for the rest of the season. I don’t think the Bills can hang with Oakland, so call this one for the Silver and Black.
BUCS at CHARGERS – The Bucs are surprising me, and they have a three-game win streak and are just a game out of first place in the NFC South. It’s going to be a hard fought division and will probably mean the difference between playoffs and no playoffs, because the Giants and Redskins seem to have the current locks on the Wild Card spots. I like the Bucs, and they have recovered well from their injuries, and they impressively won against the Seahawks last week. The Chargers are just playing spoiler now but I don’t think they can beat Tampa.
GIANTS at STEELERS – GAME OF THE WEEK – Here we find a tale of two teams – the Giants enjoying a winning streak and domination it usually doesn’t know until the playoffs, and the Steelers coming off a confidence-building win against the Colts but still fighting hard for the AFC North’s top spot. The Giants have to keep winning to stay in the fifth seed of the playoff picture, and Pittsburgh has to do their part to gain first place – they can’t just rely on the rest of their division to stink. This will be a very interesting game but I am thinking that the Giants will find a way to win.
REDSKINS at CARDINALS – The Cardinals are looking more and more vulnerable, and I think that there are more losses in their future than wins. They were dominant last year but it seems the NFC’s top two teams from last year are anything but now. The Redskins fought hard against the Cowboys but came away with confidence, and they should because they held their own for nearly the entire game against what I think is the best team in the league top to bottom. The Redskins will win this game, and should continue to be in the thick of things for that sixth playoff spot next month.
PANTHERS at SEAHAWKS – The Panthers have been surprising in Seattle for several years now, even when they weren’t going to the Super Bowl. Seattle is licking its wounds after a beatdown from the Bucs that held them to a measly five points. It is very hard to make a pick here because Seattle has looked vulnerable in several games and the Panthers are definitely capable of putting up some points. However, I will go with the overall picture so far this year and say that the Seahawks will win.
COLTS at JETS – With a week and a half to recover, Andrew Luck should be out of concussion protocol and back under center for the Colts, and that means a pretty automatic loss for the Jets. The Jets are trying to get by on defense but their offense can’t really contribute many points (they would have beat the Pats last week otherwise). The Colts have an offense that can score when needed and can usually be depended on for a win. Here, I think the Colts will win and keep their hopes alive for the AFC South.