Week 11 picks: Can Vikings keep winning streak going vs. Packers?
I don’t usually point out when I have an extremely successful week with my NFL picks, but strangely I feel compelled to draw attention to last week’s wildly disastrous showing. You may have already noticed, but I went 4–10 in Week 10. And no, that isn’t a misprint. That was my actual record in divining winners and losers. I don’t keep records or anything, but that was the worst week I can ever remember since I took over the picks column from my colleague and friend, Peter King, a few years back. Where exactly do I tender my resignation?
Granted, it was a rough week for almost everybody who picks NFL games. Road teams went 11–3 last week, and that’s going to always leave a mark on your winning percentage. But, wow, was I bad. Green Bay 34, Detroit 14? Missed that one by a bit. St. Louis 24–17 over Chicago? Not quite. Good thing Tampa Bay and New England won on the strength of fourth-quarter rallies, or I might have experienced what life at 2–12 is like. Thank goodness for the Steelers owning the Browns and the Panthers taking care of business in Nashville.
It’s a new week, and there are plenty of things to like about the slate of games on tap. Denver at Chicago with no Peyton Manning in uniform is intriguing. Green Bay at Minnesota features a potential changing of the guard game in the NFC North. The return of Tony Romo for Dallas’s last chance to save its season in Miami is a must-see. And Cincinnati travels to Arizona in a potential Super Bowl preview on Sunday night. Then, the capper on Monday night is the Bills and Patriots resuming their one-sided but usually entertaining rivalry. Who knows what Rex Ryan will say or do next?
Now on to this week’s (hopefully improved) picks...
• Last week: 4–10; Season: 92–54 (.630).
• Best pick in Week 9: Tampa Bay 23, Dallas 21 (Actual score: Bucs 10–6).
• Worst pick in Week 9: St. Louis 24, Chicago 17 (Actual score: Bears 37–13).
By my count, 14 of the league’s 32 teams have had to use a second (or third) quarterback for a minimum of at least a substantial relief job in a game (such as when Geno Smith had to take over for Ryan Fitzpatrick for most of New York’s loss at Oakland in Week 8). But no team has seen its insurance policy at the game’s most pivotal position completely pay off like the Colts, who went 2–0 with Matt Hasselbeck filling in for an injured Andrew Luck in early October. Now Luck is out again, but I predict Indy will be out of luck this time. See what I did there? I picked the Falcons to win. That’s what I did.
When Case Keenum starts to look like the better short-term option than the quarterback you previously christened your long-term answer at the position, you know it’s desperation time once again in St. Louis. My only question of the Rams: What took so long? Nick Foles hasn’t thrown for more than 200 yards since a Week 1 win over Seattle, and St. Louis is the league’s 31st ranked offense even with Todd Gurley on his way to the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honor. In his last four starts, Foles had just one touchdown pass. I think Keenum’s increase mobility will benefit the Rams’ offense and he’ll make a few plays downfield. But I think the Ravens still manage to keep St. Louis reeling, as another season slips away for Jeff Fisher’s team.
Wonder if the people who let themselves get all wound up about Cam Newton’s end zone dancing are the same people who got upset about Starbucks switching to wordless all-red cups? Because they’re roughly equivalent in importance when it comes to societal problems. Maybe some of those same people don’t see anything significant at all in the debate over Washington’s team nickname. Anybody check all three of those boxes? If so, good luck out there. The Panthers don’t need luck these days. They’re about to hit 10–0.
The emergence of the Bears’ offense as a force is one of the more surprising stories in the league this season, but give Jay Cutler, Adam Gase and John Fox their due. And proving that timing is everything in life, all three of those guys would really like to beat their old team, the Broncos, this Sunday. As it happens, Denver brings a very vulnerable 7–2 team to the Windy City, quarterbacked by 2012 draft pick Brock Osweiler, at long last making his first NFL start. Advantage Bears. Raise your hand if you had Chicago fighting its way to .500 after 10 games following that 0–3 start? I didn’t.
The Lions tried their darndest to get out of Green Bay with a loss, but they couldn’t manage it, despite the Packers recovering that onside kick and Detroit having just 10 men on the field for Mason Crosby’s potential game-winning field goal try. The Raiders, though, were an even bigger mess in Week 10, losing badly at home to a Vikings team that is turning into a road warrior. That one had to sting for Oakland coach Jack Del Rio, the old Vikings linebacker. Back at home, Detroit shouldn’t have to sweat this one out.
Sometimes I think no one really knows as much as they think they know about what it takes to successfully play quarterback in the NFL. T.J. Yates was deemed not even good enough to back up Matt Ryan in Atlanta, but then he was good enough to come off the bench Monday night in Cincinnati and beat one of three remaining undefeated teams in the NFL. Now, with Ryan Mallett out of work and Brian Hoyer on the sideline with concussion symptoms, here’s Yates becoming the Texans’ third starter of the season, and facing a Jets team quarterbacked by Ryan Fitzpatrick, who’s on his fifth NFL team. And you expect me to handicap all this?
Tony Romo or no Tony Romo, it’s a lost season in Dallas. I can’t figure out the Dolphins to save my you-know-what, but I don’t think the Cowboys will simply flip the switch now and revert back to the team that started 2–0 in September. It doesn’t work that way after a two-month drought in the win column. The Dolphins get a tiny measure of revenge for that drubbing they took in Super Bowl VI.
The pattern has been that Mark Sanchez usually plays pretty well at first, before he eventually turns back into Mark Sanchez. So, in his first start since taking over for the injured Sam Bradford, I like the Eagles at home over a Bucs team that has admirably battled its way to the cusp of .500.
The Chiefs lose the supposedly irreplaceable Jamaal Charles to a season-ending knee injury in Week 5, and what happens? They find out that Charcandrick West can do a heck of a lot more in the lead-back role than anyone ever dreamed. Over the course of Kansas City’s current season-changing three-game winning streak, West has produced combined rushing-receiving totals of 129, 122 and 161 yards, with four touchdowns. He ripped off an 80-yard receiving score last week in Denver, and is versatile enough to get it done with either power or speed on any particular play. And there are surprises like him every NFL season.
I’m interested to see how Minnesota reacts to being the hunted rather than the hunter. First place is a different dynamic for the Vikings in this bitter rivalry, and you have to adjust your psychology a little when you’re trying to protect something rather than pursuing it. My guess is that Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer stayed on his players’ butts this week, watching for any sign of them being comfortable or too impressed with themselves in the wake of a five-game winning streak. Don’t forget, Zimmer is a Bill Parcells protégé, and Parcells did his best work when his team was riding high. He knew when to take some air out of his team’s collective ego. (And no, that wasn’t a rather indirect Deflategate joke.)
The Seahawks gave up 39 points at home last week and have now lost two in a row at CenturyLink Field, and they’re just a blown ref’s call on K.J. Wright’s illegal bat away from a three-game slide in front of the 12’s. Still think that whole Super Bowl hangover thing is just a media creation? The Seahawks don’t have to worry about the 49ers hanging 39 on them, but as I’ve said before, nothing is going to come easily in Seattle this year.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cardinals looked a little flat at home early in this Sunday night game, because winning at Seattle last week was a major hurdle cleared for Bruce Arians’s team and a letdown of some sort is natural. But it won’t last all four quarters, and Cincinnati’s prime-time struggles will again be a storyline that gets some oxygen after the Bengals fall to 8–2 with a second straight loss. Andy Dalton, Tyler Eifert and A.J. Green all need to make amends after that underwhelming performance against Houston at home Monday night.
I don’t always get Rex Ryan’s thinking, but I have to admit him conceding the AFC East to New England doesn’t break any unwritten rules in my book. Ryan on Thursday: “Right now we are second in the division. ... Does that give us an opportunity to win the division? No. They are going to win the division. I don’t see them losing four games. I hope I am wrong but I don’t see it happening.” He’s not wrong, and he’s not wrong to say it, even if no other coach in the NFL would have expressed those thoughts. The Bills are only in the AFC wild-card race, and that’s reality. And come late Monday night or early Tuesday morning, it’ll be even more apparent than it is now.