The NFL gifted us a juicy slate of late-afternoon contests. Speaking of late, Denver shouldn’t wait so long to unleash its offense. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
A couple of games are still awaiting injury news and updated lines. I’ll try to update before Sunday so can pay your mortgage, buy bitcoin or save up for a Covid vaccine.
Last Week: 9 – 5 – 0
Season: 85 – 47 – 1
Thursday Night (8:20PM ET)
Colts 34 at Titans 17
I picked the Colts. I have a betting slip to confirm if you don’t believe me. Also, I had something written up about AJ Brown establishing himself as one of the top receivers in the league. Then he went out and dropped a sure 72-yard touchdown and finished the game with one reception. So I’m going to hold off on the AJ Brown praise for another week.
Making Plans For A Lockdown (Bye Week)
Don’t sleep on the Falcons in the NFC playoff picture just yet. There are some NFC teams above them trending in the wrong direction (ahem, Buccaneers, Rams and 49ers). With two games remaining against both the Bucs and Saints, Atlanta is far from dead.
Dallas has the easiest remaining schedule in the NFC East, so they’re not technically dead yet. You have to credit Dallas for their performances the last two weeks. They still stink but it appears they are no longer rolling over. Anyone know what happened to Ezekiel Elliott? He’s on pace for his worst season by at least 300 yards. Regardless of their QB situation, peak Zeke always gave the offense options.
I hear the Steelers noise as Kansas City’s greatest threat. It makes sense. Pittsburgh can rush the passer and their offense is good enough to hang points on a suspect Chiefs defense. However, that Steelers secondary isn’t stellar, so the moment that Steeler pass rush fails… BOOM. I don’t believe there’s a defense that can contain the Chiefs, so I think offenses that slow the game down and keep Patrick Mahomes off the field as much as possible are the greatest weapon against the Chiefs.
Poor Sam Darnold. We give up on quarterbacks too soon nowadays. People forget Aaron Rodgers didn’t play for three years, or that Troy Aikman and Peyton Manning were disasters their rookie seasons. Even Drew Brees and Tom Brady took a handful of seasons to become the greats we now know them to be. Also, ignore quarterback statistics these days. The numbers are so inflated by defensive restrictions and the style of the game. Brees was first team All-Pro in 2006 with 4,418 yards, 26 TD and 11 Int. His completion percentage was 63%. Matt Ryan had a nearly identical season in 2019 and almost everyone thought he was a dog.
Early Games (1:00PM ET)
Texans at Browns
The return of Nick Chubb should be a big boost for an offense struggling to move the football in recent weeks. In two of their last three games, Cleveland’s offense failed to reach 225 total yards. They were 4 of 22 on 3rd downs in those games. Kareem Hunt is great, but he’s not a workhorse back like Chubb. Chubb’s return will result in more manageable 3rd downs and provide a boost to play action as well. BROWNS If I were Charles Barkley; Browns -3.5
Football Team at Lions
I think Washington will be better with Alex Smith than with Kyle Allen. I don’t know why, but Ron Rivera has a big blind spot for Allen. He played Allen too long last year in Carolina and sat a former top pick after only 11 starts for Allen this year. With that said, Smith did kill Washington in the final three minutes last week against the Giants with two absolutely atrocious interceptions. The Football Team was in control and appeared a lock to tie or take the lead until a costly overthrow and then a direct pass to a Giants defender sunk Washington’s final two drives. AND still, Smith is better than Kyle Allen. I can’t figure out the Lions. When Kenny Golladay is right, the offense is noticeably better. If he plays, they win. If not, forget it. FOOTBALL TEAM If I were Charles Barkley; No Line Yet
Jaguars at Packers
Last week against the Texans, the Jaguars surrendered passing plays of 77 and 57 yards, both for touchdowns. Might want to sure that up before visiting Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams. Keep an eye on Aaron Jones this week. The Packers haven’t thrown to him downfield as much as they did a year ago. This Jacksonville defense presents some juicy opportunities for big plays downfield as they rank 31st in yards per completion. PACKERS If I were Charles Barkley; Packers -13.5
Eagles at Giants
Evan Engram has made some impressive catches the last two weeks. This is only interesting to me because Engram dropped the 3rd down pass that would’ve sealed a Giants win over the Eagles in Week 7. New York is playing its best football of the season, which isn’t great, but it’s slightly better than what the Eagles saw in their last meeting. In that Week 7 meeting, the Eagles couldn’t find the end zone, finishing 3/8 inside the red zone against a team that allowed a 59% red zone success rate at the time. The Eagles can’t afford to drop one of the most winnable games on their remaining schedule, and yet I feel awful about this one. If you recall, the Eagles have been dreadful out of the bye over the past two seasons. EAGLES If I were Charles Barkley; Eagles -3.5
Buccaneers at Panthers
Everyone wanted to talk about how bad Tom Brady was last Sunday night. Yes, he was bad, but what about the Tampa defense? The score was 31-0 by halftime against an offense incapable of throwing over the top. This isn’t 2007. Brady needs a running game. The Buccaneers are averaging 92 yards per game on the ground, which happens to be about what the 2019 New England Patriots averaged on the ground. We all know how that season ended. This feels like a bounce back thrashing or a rock bottom defeat with no in-between. I’m leaning toward rock bottom defeat. PANTHERS If I were Charles Barkley; Panthers +6
Afternoon Games (4:05PM ET)
Broncos at Raiders
Denver needs to reevaluate its offensive scheme. Or maybe just spice it up earlier in games. For the 2nd consecutive week Denver’s offense was inept for a large portion of the game. Like a week ago against the Chargers, this was due mainly to their inability to run the football. Once the game appeared too far out of reach to maintain a balanced offense, the Broncos eased up on Drew Lock’s chains and let him air it out. He led the Broncos all the way back against the Chargers and fell just short against Atlanta. The furious rallies make sense. Their best playmakers are on the outside. Jerry Jeudy is finding himself the last few weeks. KJ Hamler’s touches are steadily increasing and with positive results. Tim Patrick has been a Lock favorite. I’m not advocating abandoning the running game, but maybe get the ball into the hands of your playmakers more frequently. RAIDERS If I were Charles Barkley; Broncos +4
Chargers at Dolphins
Last week I said the Chargers wheels were due to fall off. I may have been a week early. After another devastating loss in the final seconds, the Chargers are now overdue for a collapse. It’s a little strange to praise a pass defense that surrendered 31 points and 3 passing TDs, including a 56 yarder, but what Miami did to eliminate DeAndre Hopkins from the Arizona offense was impressive. If they have similar success with removing Keenan Allen, the Chargers will be in trouble. DOLPHINS If I were Charles Barkley; Dolphins -1.5
Bills at Cardinals
Kudos to Buffalo for not running the football just for the sake of running the football. While balancing an offense is generally a good idea (you listening, Dougie?), it makes more sense to attack the opponent’s greatest weakness, which in last week’s case was Seattle’s pass defense. And man did it work. The Seahawks were on their toes from the jump. The plan worked even better than Buffalo could’ve had hoped because it forced Russell Wilson and Seattle’s offense to play from behind for 60 minutes. Playing from behind meant Seattle taking more risks, which in turn produced more turnovers for Buffalo. Also, an extra kudos to the Bills for not calling off the dogs after jumping out to a big lead. At no point did the Bills revert to the cliché run game to protect the lead. Nope. Josh Allen and the Bills kept attacking, forcing Seattle to play at their break-neck pace. Hello, flying across the country let down game. CARDINALS If I were Charles Barkley; Cardinals -2.5
Seahawks at Rams
Sean McVay, according to many who know more than me, is a really good coach. Maybe. I think he’s lame. The guy gets endless praise for his offensive prowess and yet his offenses bore me to sleep. He’s also a coward on 4th down. Does anyone punt near the 50 yard line on 4th and short more than McVay? The Rams offense has ranked in the bottom 8 in 4th down conversions each of the last three seasons. In 2018, McVay’s offense was 25th, converting 0.5 4th downs per game. In 2019, the Rams were 31st, converting just 0.2. This season, the Rams are 28th, converting 0.4 4th downs per game. This is your offensive champion? SEAHAWKS If I were Charles Barkley; Seahawks +1.5
49ers at Saints
Are the Saints really the best team in the NFC or are we just doing this again so their inevitable playoff collapse will appear more cataclysmic? If it’s the latter, then I am 100% here for it. I just don’t see it with New Orleans. Maybe they ramp it up with Michael Thomas back and finish 13-3, but I’d have a hard time picking them over the Packers or Seahawks or even Cardinals in the postseason. These words may come back to haunt me, but only if I survive the ‘Rona. SAINTS If I were Charles Barkley; Saints -10
Bengals at Steelers
Last week the NFL gave us three riveting late afternoon games. This week we’re getting an increased slate of six games and all are intriguing matchups. I understand why the NFL tends to surround one appealing matchup with forgettable games in the late afternoon slot. They want all eyeballs on their premiere broadcast for the ratings. Was there not an obvious matchup this week or is the NFL finally spreading out their Sunday contests? Either way, I’m all for increased afternoon viewing options. As for the game, Pittsburgh’s offense has been sniffing around defeat for a few weeks now. They no-showed the 2nd half against Tennessee, looked sluggish for most of their victory over the Ravens, and was inept for the better part of three quarters against the dreadful Cowboys. Joe Burrow and the Bengals are going to score points. I think this is where the Pittsburgh offense finally fails. BENGALS If I were Charles Barkley; No Line Yet
Sunday Night (8:20PM ET)
Ravens at Patriots
Baltimore suffocated the Colts offense and should have no problem with a washed Cam Newton blah blah blah. Let’s talk about something important. Who is financing the Paw Patrol? They solve all these problems and help their communities time and time again and all at no fee. Yet, somehow their arsenal of vehicles grows, with each new vehicle being more futuristic and unstoppable than the last. Their technology is state of the art. Ryder isn’t a trust fund child; in fact he could be an orphan for all we know. Where is the money coming from? Do they raise it? Not a chance. They’re either saving one Mayor or fending off another on a daily basis. When the mayors aren’t involved, someone in the community needs help or a natural disaster is on hand. Did I mention they travel the globe, or that they’ve been to space? This isn’t a local band of pups out to do the right thing. They’re black ops. Only the CIA can fund this kind of operation. Maybe even the cartel. I don’t know, but my kids need answers. RAVENS If I were Charles Barkley; Ravens -7
Monday Night (8:15PM ET)
Vikings at Bears
In Week 9, three teams won with fewer than 50 rushing yards. The days of riding a stud running back to victories are over… except in Minnesota. The Vikings are 3-1 when Dalvin Cook rushes the football more than 17 times. When Cook gets more than 17 carries, he’s averaging over 150 yards a game. I don’t know why it took the Vikings until Week 8 to figure this out, but it may not be too late. Minnesota’s schedule is favorable (@CHI, DAL, CAR, JAX, @TB, CHI, @NO, @DET) in that they will play the NFC teams ahead of them in the playoff race. Chicago is a fraud due to an offense incapable of anything but great catches by Allen Robinson. Minnesota or Atlanta will be in the playoffs. Just watch. VIKINGS If I were Charles Barkley; Vikings -3
If I were Charles Barkley;
Last Week: 7 – 7 – 0
Season: 73 – 56 – 4