I don’t want to make excuses for last week’s disastrous picks performance (updated records below), except that I do and I will.
OK, maybe not excuses so much as just an acceptance of bad luck. The Saints lost on a blocked extra point; the Panthers blew a 17–0 lead at home, then fumbled deep in their own territory with 30 seconds left; Philip Rivers threw a pick-six from the edge of field-goal range to cost San Diego a potential win; Pittsburgh surrendered a 32-yard TD run in the closing seconds; the Rams-Jets game … wasn’t canceled at halftime because it was too awful for words.
Flip even a couple of those and my week moves from embarrassing to just plain mediocre.
Of course, the stakes are relatively low for me. Get a few wrong and people might chew me out on Twitter, but there’s a decent chance of that happening even with a perfect picks week. Heartbreaking losses are brutal when the regular season only lasts 16 games, and they send teams spiraling downward if they can’t shake the cobwebs mentally.
And there have been quite a few nail-biters: 59 games thus far have been decided by seven points or fewer. Which ones likely stung the most? Here are five nominees for the most painful loss so far:
1. Chiefs 33, Chargers 27 (OT): Most of San Diego’s losses this season have been of the rip-out-your-heart variety. It all started in Week 1, when the Chargers blew a 24–3 road lead, then lost on the opening possession of overtime.
2. Raiders 35, Saints 34: The Saints led 27–19 and then 34–27 in the fourth quarter. Oakland rallied both times, on the latter occasion marching 75 yards to find the end zone with 47 seconds left. Rather than settle for OT, Raiders coach Jack Del Rio opted for a two-point try. Derek Carr found Michael Crabtree for the conversion, and the Saints missed a 61-yard field goal at the buzzer.
3. Ravens 25, Browns 20: This outcome only has become more painful as the Browns charge toward 0–16. A those two-point blocked extra point return loomed large here–Baltimore took one back after falling behind 20–0, then Cleveland had to go for the end zone late.
4. Seahawks 26, Falcons 24: A back-and-forth affair ended in controversy, when Richard Sherman appeared to get away with interference on a fourth-down deep ball to Julio Jones. The Falcons used 21 unanswered points to erase a 17–3 deficit, but then coughed up all nine points scored in the fourth quarter.
5. Broncos 25, Saints 23: Another appearance for the Saints, whose Week 2 loss to the Giants also wasn’t quite a trip to the amusement park. New Orleans lost a back-and-forth affair when Denver blocked a potential game-winning extra point and ran it back for two–possibly while stepping out of bounds along the way.
Who gets crushed this week? Check out the picks below.
A quartet of players who could be key to this week’s matchups:
1. Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Bengals: Watching Ogbuehi’s misfires cause issues for QB Andy Dalton has become a weekly issue. He’ll see a healthy dose of Jerry Hughes off the edge on Sunday. If the Bengals don’t slide some help Ogbuehi’s way, that could be trouble.
2. Delanie Walker, TE, Titans: Walker is key to every Titans game, but even more so this week against a Colts defense that has allowed 59 catches and nearly 700 yards to opposing TEs this season. Walker posted seven receptions, 84 yards and a score against Indianapolis earlier in the year.
3. Tyreek Hill, WR, Chiefs: Forced into a primary role by the absence of Jeremy Maclin (groin) last week, Hill caught 10 passes on 13 targets. Alex Smith will look his way early and often again Sunday, against a Buccaneers defense that can be had by speedy receivers.
4. Brandon Williams, DT, Ravens: The Cowboys’ line blew the Steelers off the ball time and again last Sunday. To replicate that success this week, center Travis Frederick and guards Ronald Leary and Zack Martin will have to handle Williams. Easier said than done. The 340-pounder could be a Pro Bowler this season.
• Last week: 4–10 overall (88-58-1 season), 3-10-1 vs. the spread (67-75-6 season).
• Best pick in Week 10: Redskins 23, Vikings 17 (actual score: Redskins 26–20).
• Second-best pick in Week 10: Jets 3, Rams 0 (actual score: Rams 9–6... wrong team winning, but come on).
• Worst pick in Week 10: Packers 31, Titans 30 (actual score: Titans 47–25).
Mathematically, this is far from the Vikings’ last stand in 2016, but it feels like one anyway. Losers of four straight and with back-to-back Thursday games coming up at Detroit on Thanksgiving and vs. Dallas, the Vikings really need to have this one. If they get it, to no one’s surprise, it’ll be because of their defense. The Cardinals have ventured outside of the Pacific time zone just twice this season (against Buffalo and Carolina), and Carson Palmer has been sacked 13 times and turned it over six times in those games, both losses. Minnesota needs a few of those mistakes if it’s going to score enough Sunday. The Vikings are averaging a league-worst 4.7 yards per play and just lost their third tackle, this time Jake Long, to a season-ending injury.
Watchability index: 4. Hard to see how this one is pleasing on the eyes. Nevertheless, it’s an important one in the NFC, between two teams with excellent defenses.
The Giants’ six wins have come by an average of 3.5 points, including a 21–20 nail-biter over Cincinnati last Monday. So, why pick them to cover a 7.5-point spread? Look no further than the Bears’ last week. Not only were they blown out in Tampa Bay, but they also lost starting guard Kyle Long for the year (ankle) and No. 1 WR Alshon Jeffery (suspension) for four weeks. Maybe Jay Cutler turns in one of his random gems—Zack Miller and Eddie Royal could be problematic for the Giants over the middle—but the odds are better that he struggles against an opportunistic defense. Rashad Jennings finally gave New York’s run game a needed boost in Week 10. This is still by far a pass-first team, though, and Jameis Winston just torched Chicago.
Watchability index: 3. Unless you’re a fan of seeing which level of YOLO ball Cutler reaches on a week-to-week basis, I’d steer clear.
Are you buying the Titans’ offense yet? The Marcus Mariota-led group hung 446 yards and 47 points on a demoralized Green Bay defense last week–the third straight game Tennessee has hit for 35 points or more. The rub: Tennessee’s worst offensive outputs of the past two months have come against division rivals Houston (a 27–20 loss) and Indianapolis (a 34–26 loss). Andrew Luck threw for 353 yards and three touchdowns in that Week 7 win at Tennessee, and his last outing—a Week 9 win at Green Bay—was a gem. Plus, the Colts are much healthier than they were last time they saw the Titans.
Watchability: 9. Indianapolis has won 10 straight over Tennessee. Whether the Titans end that streak or not, there are going to be a bunch of points scored Sunday.
Two of the Browns’ remaining six chances at a win come against Pittsburgh, this Sunday and then on Jan. 1. The Steelers could be a bit vulnerable right now, coming off a tough loss to Dallas that cost them their top defender–DE Cam Heyward (pectoral) is done for the year. As they figure out their rotation post-Heyward, Cleveland RB Isaiah Crowell has a shot at a strong Sunday on the ground. It won’t matter if the Steelers’ offense maintains the momentum it found last week. The Browns have the league’s second-worst run defense, which bodes well for Le’Veon Bell, and they’ve always allowed more TD passes (25) than any other team. Fire up your Pittsburgh fantasy players.
Watchability: 4. The Steelers better show some desperation if they want to end their four-game losing streak. A loss won’t knock them out of the AFC North race, but it should by default.
The Chiefs just keep on keepin’ on. With a Week 10 come-from-behind win at Carolina, they’re now on a 17-2 regular-season run and 6-0 the past two Novembers. This is a tough spot for Tampa Bay QB Jameis Winston–he’s thrown an interception on 2.9% of his passes (fifth-highest rate in the NFL), while Kansas City’s aggressive defense has forced a turnover on 19% of its opponents’ drives. Heads up for Dee Ford, once thought to be a Chiefs bust but now leading the league with 10 sacks. The Cardinals, Raiders and Falcons all picked apart this Tampa Bay defense. The Chiefs are not as exciting loaded as those groups, but they have a diverse enough attack to keep the Buccaneers well off balance.
Watchability: 6. Tampa Bay has three road wins and is coming off an easy victory, so Kansas City won’t have an easy time of it.
Buffalo starting center Eric Wood is on I.R. with a broken leg and its right tackle, Jordan Mills, has struggled of late. Can Rex Ryan get either position settled Sunday? If not, the Bengals will crush this offense with Geno Atkins up the middle and Carlos Dunlap off the edge. If he does, though, the creative Bills play calling on display in Seattle two weeks ago stands to carve through the Bengals. QB Tyrod Taylor, RB LeSean McCoy and the rest of Buffalo’s playmakers test opposing linebackers, and Cincinnati is weak there. Taylor’s also good for one or two deep balls per game. The Bengals will have to find room on the ground against a Buffalo defense that has been, at times, susceptible to the run.
Watchability: 6. For a team that hasn’t won in a month, the Bills have to be feeling chipper based off their offensive showing in Seattle. A win here would do wonders.
The AFC North-leading Ravens rank No. 1 against the run, No. 1 in total defense and are No. 2 in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric. The NFC East-leading Cowboys have the NFL’s top rushing attack, most efficient overall offense (points on 51.1% of possessions) and feature the two leading Offensive Rookie of the Year contenders in their backfield. Buckle up for this one. With all eyes on how Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott fare against Baltimore’s outstanding defense, however, Joe Flacco might be forced to take the game over for his team. With Dennis Pitta and Steve Smith attacking on short routes, the Ravens could push the Cowboys’ out of their preferred bend-don’t-break defensive approach.
Watchability: 9. Baltimore kept Le’Veon Bell in check two weeks ago and stuffed Buffalo’s ground game back in Week 1. What’s it have in store Sunday?
Aside from their historic tendency to stumble just when the road appears smooth, here’s what should trouble the Lions about this matchup: When Jacksonville’s offense has imploded, it has been mostly due to turnovers (12 the past five games). Detroit has forced just seven TOs all season, and a mere four interceptions. So, Blake Bortles has a chance to approach a 300-yard game, particularly if Chris Ivory or T.J. Yeldon gets rolling. That said, the Jaguars are 2–7 for reasons beyond Bortles. Their own secondary has just one INT this season, while opposing teams have had success in intermediate windows against them–that’s where Matthew Stafford lives.
Watchability: 5. Detroit’s biggest margin of victory this season came last week, by six in an overtime game. The Jaguars may not pull the upset, but a blowout would be off-script.
We don’t know what to expect from Jared Goff, in his first career start. Heck, the Rams don’t even seem to know what to expect–up until the mid-part of this week, Jeff Fisher kept selling that Goff wasn’t ready and Case Keenum was his quarterback. Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh probably will ensure Goff does not have a lot of time to settle in, so he’ll have to get through his reads quickly. His teammates could help by freeing up RB Todd Gurley. The Dolphins rank 30th in run defense and have allowed 140 yards or more four times. The Rams’ defense probably will have to pick the slack, as has been the case much of the season. Miami will keep pounding the run with Jay Ajayi and hoping Ryan Tannehill stays in his current zone.
Watchability: 7. Finally, a glimpse of Goff. This isn’t exactly easing him in, with Miami having won four straight. The Dolphins stayed in California after a Week 10 win over San Diego, too, so the cross-country trip rut should be out the window.
This is not a tougher matchup for Seattle than it had last week in New England, except for in one area: the opposition’s pass rush. It was nonexistent for the Patriots on Sunday night; it can be absolutely lethal for the Eagles, especially peeling off the edges. The counter for Seattle is that Philadelphia has had a couple awful showings vs. the run (230 yards by Washington, 187 by Dallas), so newfound hero C.J. Prosise could be the man of the hour. The Jim Schwartz wide-nine scheme also can leave itself open, on occasion, to a QB breaking containment–the Eagles are tied for the league-high in most quarterback rushing touchdowns allowed this season (three). Big moment for rookie QB Carson Wentz, too. Seattle’s defense has held the opposition to just 3.5 yards per rushing attempt and six touchdown passes.
Watchability: 8. It could be back and forth, depending on which version of Wentz shows up. Seattle’s rush and crowd might be able to rattle him early.
In an alternate timeline the hapless 49ers might have been able to catch the Patriots napping–a coast-to-coast jaunt to play a 1–8 team, sandwiched between games with Seattle and the rival Jets, screams “trap.” Except, a) the Patriots lost last week, so they should have no shortage of motivation and b) Tom Brady has never, not once in his 17-year career, played in San Francisco–a stone’s throw from his hometown of San Mateo. (Brady missed the Patriots’ 2008 trip there because of his knee injury). Brady will be itching to go, even if TE Rob Gronkowski (chest) is unavailable. San Francisco has allowed an average of 504 yards in his past four games. That is not a mathematical error. That number is correct. Colin Kaepernick quietly played a solid game at Arizona last week, and the Patriots’ defense is struggling. But Kaepernick will have to tear it up to keep pace.
Watchability: 4. The 49ers won’t be shut out or anything. They also won’t be in it come the fourth quarter.
The leading passers in the NFL right now: Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and ... a Mr. Kirk Daniel Cousins. With 2,716 yards already, the franchise-tagged QB is well on his way to a career year, and Sunday night he draws a Green Bay defense that was humiliated by Tennessee last week. The big drawback to Cousins’s (and Washington’s offensive) success: terrible red-zone conversion numbers. The Redskins have found the end zone on just 38.9% of their trips inside the opposition 20, worst rate in the league. The good news for them, though, is that Green Bay is allowing TDs in 60% of such situations and a whopping 75% the past three games. The Packers will lean on Aaron Rodgers to carry them to an important road victory. If Jordy Nelson draws Josh Norman in coverage, Rodgers’s focus will fall on Davante Adams and Randall Cobb.
Watchability: 8. Either Rodgers delivers one of his patented superstar turns or Green Bay will be frantically trying to rally in the second half. Either way, should be entertaining.
Surprise star of Week 11: Cobi Hamilton, WR, Steelers. Markus Wheaton and Sammie Coates are banged up, ahead of as favorable a matchup as you’ll get (at Cleveland). Hamilton had one grab for 39 yards last week. His role could increase a bunch Sunday.
Upset of the week: Bills (+3) over Bengals. Two of an overwhelming number of teams it’s hard to get a handle on week to week. But the Bills’ offensive strengths lie where Cincinnati is weakest on D.
College upset of the week: Baylor (+2) over Kansas State. The Bears are starting a freshman QB after senior Seth Russell dislocated his ankle, and they’ve lost three straight. Still have a hard time rolling with a 5-4 Kansas State team that’s playing on the road.