In a nutshell, this fantasy football/wagering season has done to me what the Saints did to the Bucs last weekend. Knock them the hell out of commission.
I’m not sure how many of you were paying attention but in one week, the Buccaneers went from Super Bowl contenders to having too many chinks in the armor and too many stars off the field.
Similarly, even though I had a solid week at 4-1 with my counterpart going 1-4, I have a few too many chinks in my armor. I’m not exactly waving the white flag yet. Another week like last one and the gap will narrow even further.
Speaking of narrowed gaps, can you believe that 13 AFC teams have a record of .500 or better? I can’t recall that many teams in the same conference still having a sniff at the post-season this late in December. Parity is the name of the game in the NFL, unless of course you’re the Jets, Bears, Jaguars, Texans or Giants. But on any given Sunday, even a blind Lion can topple a house of Cards.
This week, we invite the one they call Chicken Sticks, who promises not to no call no show like our guest last week. But before we get to his picks…
Lemme have $50 on Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers (+10)
The Carolina Panthers are bad. Vegas must think they’re really bad if they’re at home getting ten to a banged-up Bucs team. The Bucs have three of their best offensive weapons unavailable (Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Leonard Fournette) as well as their defensive captain, Lavonte David. But that’s not the most disturbing thing facing the Buccaneers as they head down the stretch. They just signed Le’Veon Bell, who hasn’t been relevant since 2017. Since then, Bell sat out an entire season and has played for four different teams (if you include his two stints with the New York Jets). Over that stretch, he’s scored ten touchdowns, which is less than he had in 2017 alone. He’s a perfectly imperfect fit for the Bucs who are already comprised of well-traveled vets. Adding one more in Bell, who hasn’t done a lick in the league for years, shows you how desperate they are at the position. That’s why I can’t foresee this team blowing out Carolina. Tampa’s taken everyone’s best shot this year. The New Orleans Saints finally drew blood. The Bucs aren’t going to risk further injury to the players they have left. While clinching the division is important, staying healthy is far more so. I’d be nuts not to take Carolina as they try to finish the job that New Orleans started. Carolina plus.
How about $40 on Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals (-3)
Raise your hand if you’re an AFC North team that hasn’t led this division at one point this season. Seriously, these four teams flip flop more than a politician running for president. We are this late in the season and the Bengals, Browns, Ravens and Steelers are still only divided by a single game. The two teams atop the division, Cincinnati and Baltimore, go head-to-head this weekend, which means one team will finally take a giant step forward. With Pittsburgh at Kansas City and Cleveland playing at Green Bay, both of which appear to be losses, whoever wins this game might wrap up the division for good. Cincinnati is at best inconsistent but then again so are Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cleveland. The Bengals can be brilliant one week and atrocious the next. On the flipside, the Ravens have lost three consecutive games and are circling the drain. The engine that drives that team, Lamar Jackson, is still questionable with an ankle. Back-up Tyler Huntley is questionable as well which means Baltimore might be starting a third-string quarterback. Cincinnati has lost two of their last three, scoring only 55 points in their last three games, which doesn’t sound bad but is far from what we’ve come to expect from that Bengals offense. This might just be the Bengals coming out party, the game where they finally say “World, here we are!” The pieces are in place. The game is at home. Cincinnati looks like it could be primed to own this division for years to come. Let’s see if they’re good enough to take that first giant step and seal the deal. I think they are. I’ll take Cincinnati minus the three.
I’ll take $30 on Los Angeles Rams (-3) at Minnesota Vikings
This game keeps standing out. The gambler in me says this line is too small, that there’s no way in a million years the Rams are only three points better than the Minnesota Vikings, six points if you include the fact that Minnesota is at home. But Minnesota is horrendous. I get they’re playing for a post-season berth, but the Rams still have something to play for as well. They’re sitting in the five-hole and have won three straight games while the Cards have lost two in a row, along with their grip on the NFC West. The eye test tells me that the Rams are infinitely better than the Vikes. Throw in the fact that Dalvin Cook is out and Adam Thielen is still banged up and I can’t conceivably make a case for the Vikings to compete with one of the best teams in the NFC, other than the fact that this is a sucker bet. Rams cover the three on the road.
I’ll also take $20 on Denver Broncos at Las Vegas Raiders (+1)
The last time I bet the Raiders, it was the week they were coming off that emotional Thanksgiving victory over the Cowboys. I thought for sure they’d win the following week, with momentum carrying though another hard-fought win. They didn’t. They laid an egg at home to the Washington Football Team. Whoops! That Washington Football team just happened to be playing some pretty good football as well and caught the Raiders off guard. This week, Las Vegas hosts Denver, another pretty good football team. Both teams are still in the middle of a playoff hunt, even though they’re both tied (7-7) at the bottom of their division. But go ahead and find me a team that’s not still in the AFC playoff mix and I will find you only three: Jets, Jags and Texans. I like the Raiders here if only for the fact that they’re at home. It’s been a difficult season for Vegas, fired coaches and players passed away. They have a shot to keep their season alive. They do it on Sunday. I’ll take the Raiders and the point.
And finally, I’ll take $10 on Miami Dolphins (-1.5) at New Orleans Saints
I had a hard time choosing a fifth game, what with all the parity and players dropping like flies to COVID protocol. The latest count shows 170 players on COVID’s naughty list. That’s essentially four entire football teams, meaning we’re going to see a lot of crazy shit going on this weekend. When Vegas found out both Saints second (Taysom Hill) and third (Trevor Siemian) stringers were put into quarantine, the line moved from Saints favored to Miami favored. Not only will the Saints start Ian Book, a rookie out of Notre Dame, but they signed Blake Bortles, which isn’t as bad as signing Le’Veon Bell, but it’s close. One can only assume neither Bortles nor Book know the playbook very well. The Saints still have playoff aspirations, so I imagine we’ll be seeing a heathy dose of Alvin Kamara. Meanwhile, the Dolphins head to the French Quarter relatively healthy and bring a defense that should be ready for the limited offense New Orleans has to offer. After losing seven straight games, the Fish are winners of their last six and don’t look to stop now. They’re the better team or at least the healthier team that’s playing better. Look for the fish to confuse the rookie and steal one in New Orleans. I’ll take the Dolphins minus the two.
The Wife Hates Sports Week 16 Picks: (Christmas Vacation Edition)
$50 NFL: Los Angeles Rams (-3) at Minnesota Vikings
The Rams remain my top pick for the second straight week. That’s for a number of reasons. For one, this team is extremely balanced. L.A. also features a potent offense that can score in bunches. Everyone knows the torrid pace Cooper Kupp is on. The awards (and records) for Kupp will not go in his yard. They’ll go into his living room. OBJ and Jefferson are no slouches either. Enter a Vikings defense that ranks 29th against the pass. Also, throw in a Minnesota offense that will be without Dalvin Cook (COVID-19 list). There is desperation for Minnesota to remain in the playoff hunt. Home field, too. Still, I don’t think that will be enough, as Matthew Stafford will feast on Minnesota’s defense. Rams cover.
$40 NFL: Miami Dolphins (-1.5) at New Orleans Saints
“Can I refill your eggnog for you? Get you something to eat? Drive you out to the middle of nowhere and leave you for dead?” – Clark Griswold
The Dolphins are 7-7. Six straight wins. We refilled their eggnog weeks ago. We left them for dead. Yet, here they are. Now, let’s consider the win streak that includes victories over the Texans, Panthers, Giants, and Jets twice. Despite the sub-par competition, I’m still very surprised.
“If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn’t be more surprised.” – Clark Griswold
Enter a road game against the Saints. At first glance, I would lean towards New Orleans. However, the Saints have been ravaged by the COVID-19 spread. Ian Book is slated to start at QB. The OL, DL, and TE’s have been hit hard. The secondary, too (including Malcolm Jenkins). I expect a heavy dose of Alvin Kamara. Miami ranks 7th in the NFL against the run. So, give me the Dolphins to cover on the road.
$30 NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs (-8.5)
Remember when so many kicked the Chiefs to the curb? Now, the Chiefs are eyeing the AFC’s top seed. Patrick Mahomes had all those picks during the first half of the season. Now…
“You ain’t never seen a set on a dog like this one’s got, Clark.” – Cousin Eddie
The Chiefs have won seven straight games. Mahomes has 12 TD and 4 INT during that stretch. The Chiefs are 2nd in passing offense and 3rd in total offense. On the flip side, Pittsburgh is 21st in total offense. Big Ben is banged up, as he always is. Kansas City is getting stronger and stronger defensively as the season progresses. Playing in front of the home crowd, give me the Chiefs by double digits.
$20 NFL: Detroit Lions (+7) at Atlanta Falcons
“Mom? This box is meowing.” – Rusty Griswold
Someone let the Lions out of their cage. After a shocking blowout win over the Cardinals last week, Detroit remains a hefty underdog against a lesser team in the Falcons. So, I’ve written this letter.
“What is it? A letter confirming your reservation at the nuthouse?!” – Grandpa Art
No, it’s just me praising the Detroit Lions. Despite their abysmal record, the Lions play hard. They stay in games. Dan Campbell is hard not to like. I have no vested interest in this team, yet want to run through a wall for the guy. No stats to present here, just results. Sure, Detroit has been blown out at times. But they also beat Arizona and Minnesota this month. In November, they tied Pittsburgh, lost to the Browns by three points, and lost to the Bears by two. Give me Campbell, the Lions, and the points.
$10 NFL: Denver Broncos at Las Vegas Raiders (+1)
I hate division rivalry games with tossup lines. Yet, here I am. The COVID-19 lists in other games have led me here. At first, my gut took me to the two-headed monster that is Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams. The duo could feast on a Raiders defense that ranks 25th against the run. Although, Las Vegas did hold Nick Chubb in check last week. Vegas is likely to focus on the run, forcing Drew Lock to beat them. In 16 games between 2020 and this year, Lock has 17 passing TD and 17 INT. He faces Derek Carr and the Raiders in a matchup with playoff implications. The Raiders have won five of six in this rivalry. I see Lock trying to climb the ladder, but continuously getting knocked down. Give me Vegas at home.
I hope you saved room for chicken…
CELEBRITY GUEST PICKS: CHICKEN STICKS
$50 NFL: Los Angeles Rams (-3) at Minnesota Vikings
So far this year, Minnesota seems just “meh”, while the Rams are one of the top teams that have a legit shot to win the NFC. I think the Stafford-Kupp connection is tops in the league and they have way too much talent on defense to not be able to cover a field goal.
$40 NFL: Baltimore Ravens (+4.5) at Cincinnati Bengals
I happen to think Burrow and the Bengals are solid, but the Ravens have consistently been in games until the end. If he plays, I think Lamar Jackson can at least keep this at a field goal, if not pull out a close win.
$30 NFL: Indianapolis Colts (+2) at Arizona Cardinals
Arizona has looked like poop since Hopkins went out and they haven’t had Watt for a while. The Colts are playing better. Outside of that ridiculous left-handed INT in the end zone, Wentz has mostly limited his mistakes on the year and the Indy defense has been solid.
$20 NFL: Denver Broncos at Las Vegas Raiders (+1)
The game is in Vegas and Derek Carr > Drew Lock.
$10 NFL: Miami Dolphins at New Orleans Saints (+1.5)
Although Tua and the Dolphins are on quite a streak, I’m still not buying it. The Saints D just shut out Tampa Bay and they’ll get after the Dolphins. Saints win a close one.