Last Sunday, as I endured a horrible week of picking, I was reminded of a conversation I had a few years ago (via Twitter messages) with the late Don Banks, one of my favourite sportswriters. He had tweeted out something about what a horrible week he’d had with his picks, saying he couldn’t remember the last time he’d had such a bad week. I responded quickly with the exact week that he’d had as bad a week, from just the previous season. I said I knew, because I too had gotten slaughtered during both weeks as well. (He sent me a funny direct message in response. He was a good guy. I miss his writing.)
Each week, I make my picks, and I expect to get them all correct. I stand by every one of my picks. Sometimes, you get a really even matchup, and it goes the other way, like Dallas/New Orleans. Sometimes, Tampa goes on the road and hangs 55 on the defending NFC champs. And sometimes, enough things go sideways in one week to produce a 6-9 stinker like I had last week. Thankfully, a triumvirate of young turks, Baker Mayfield, Gardner Minshew, and Daniel (Co)Jones took care of business, or things could have been a whole lot worse.
So, what do you do?
You learn, and you move on to next week.
My exchange with Don Banks from a few years ago was a good way for me to remind myself that, sometimes, things go wrong, and sometimes too, a lot can go wrong. It was good to know that one of the “pros” had bad weeks just like I did. Don Banks always “owned” his failures, and he didn’t crow about his successes. He had integrity. In a business where so much of today’s sports “journalism” is about access obtained by sucking up to the league, teams, coaches, and players, Banks was a throwback, a guy who watched football and wrote about it, in an informative and oftentimes humorous fashion. His loss has left a gap in my enjoyment of the game this season. I hope fans remember him as fondly as I do.
All right, enough with the sentimentality. On to the picks.
As always, winners in bold:
Jacksonville at Carolina
Jalen Ramsay is out again this week, with a bad back, or hurt feelings, or something. Whatever his problem is, it’s more lucrative than holding out. In the meantime, Jax still has a pretty good defence, and they have cool-as-the-other-side-of-the-pillow Gardner Minshew leading the offence. Carolina’s defence has been playing really well too, and Kyle Allen has played well in Cam Newton’s absence. Allen, however, has shown a tendency to fumble, having done so five times in two games (losing four). In as close a game as this most likely will be, turnovers could be the deciding factor.
New England at Washington
Biggest news for the defending champs this week concerns the loss of K Stephen Gostkowski. New England’s signing of veteran Mike Nugent should calm Pats’ fans somewhat, but as someone who was hoping that Bill Belichick would decide to play without a placekicker, or even better, coax Doug Flutie out of retirement to do dropkicks, I’m a little disappointed. Pats will be without Patrick Chung and Rex Burkhead, but they’re deep in the secondary and at RB. Another weak opponent for New England this week. Eventually they’re going to have to play someone decent, and then we’ll see how good they really are.
Buffalo at Tennessee
Tennessee has been maddening to try and predict this season, mostly due to the inconsistency of the offence. Last week, Marcus Mariota caught fire for enough of a stretch to stake his team to a big lead, then they kind of stalled after the half, and went conservative and ground out the win. Buffalo has, without a doubt, one of the best defences in the league to this point, so I don’t envision Tennessee doing a lot of scoring in this one. The question will be how much scoring Buffalo can do. Frank Gore is still getting it done, and Rookie Devin Singletary might be back to share some of the rushing load. Josh Allen hasn’t been ruled out for this one yet, so that’s good, and even if he has trouble, Matt Barkley is a decent option. Anyone know what Doug Flutie is up to this weekend?
Baltimore at Pittsburgh
Though I’m no fan of John Harbaugh, I’ll give him credit for being smart enough design a gameplan that limits Lamar Jackson’s exposure to Pittsburgh’s pass rush. Pittsburgh should be able to generate some decent offence against Baltimore’s struggling defensive unit, but Baltimore should be able to outlast Pittsburgh with a run-heavy attack.
Arizona at Cincinnati
Cincinnati’s game against Pittsburgh this past Monday started out pretty much as I expected, with the offence mixing some running plays with some quick passes designed to protect Andy Dalton from the one thing that Pittsburgh’s defence does well, which is rush the passer. Pretty basic stuff, but it was working. Then, inexplicably, the gameplan changed; Dalton started taking deep drops, with the predicable result that he started getting hammered. Things got quickly out of hand. I’m no coach, but it seems to me that doing the one thing you absolutely shouldn’t do is a bad strategy that any coach should be able to avoid. I’m getting the impression that Zac Taylor is one of those “genius” coaches who thinks that he can just do things his “genius” way, without regard for what the opponent does or does not do well. I hope Andy Dalton retires. He deserves better. I’m glad I got that off my chest.
Atlanta at Houston
I’m off Atlanta for now. They just can’t seem to pull it together. Houston, on the other hand, despite its offseason moves, still can’t figure out how to protect Deshaun Watson. I’m convinced that Watson can lead this team to glory, but with the punishment he’s taking, the window might be closing fast. Fire Bill O’Brien!
Tampa at New Orleans
I’ve seen games like last week’s LA/TB game before; I think some of LA’s players might have been looking ahead to the big Thursday Night showdown with Seattle, and thought they could just show up and beat Tampa. Then Tampa went “bombs-away,” and LA was playing catchup for the rest of the afternoon. Sean Payton won’t let that happen to his team. New Orleans’s defence is too good, particularly its secondary, to get lit-up by Tampa. If Jameis Winston has fewer than two INTs in this one, I’ll be legitimately shocked.
Minnesota at NYG
This is a funny one. Big Blue fans are justifiably excited by the play of Daniel Jones, and the team has shown a spark since he assumed the role of starting QB. Minnesota represents the best team that New York has faced since Jones’s ascension. However, this is a Minnesota team in turmoil. For a second straight season, high expectations have turned into disappointment, key players (especially Kirk Cousins, AGAIN) are underperforming, and fingers are being pointed. It’s the perfect time for a feisty young team to pounce. Even if New York can’t shock Minnesota, it will be interesting to see how Jones performs against top-notch defensive talent. Whatever happens, this is a great learning opportunity for Jones, and the rest of this young team.
Chicago at Oakland (in Tottenham, UK)
Fun fact: Tottenham is actually a smaller part of a small part of London, kind of like a neighbourhood. It’s like if The Hotspur (Tottenham’s “Upper-Case-F” Football Club) played a game in Hell’s Kitchen (I guess; geography isn’t exactly my strong suit). Another fun fact: Oakland is 2-2, but has mostly been lucky on that front, and is about to run into a buzzsaw of a Chicago defence. Yet another fun fact: With Mitch Trubisky out, Chicago has promoted 6’6” giant Tyler Bray, who has thrown one (incompleted) pass in five NFL seasons, to back up Chase Daniel. Un-fun fact: As far as I know, Chicago has not contacted Doug Flutie as to his availability. Also of note: The NFL took measures to make the league safer by suspending serial head-smasher Vontaze Burfict for the remainder of the season. May he never set foot on a football field again.
NYJ at Philadelphia
No Sam Darnold again this week for New York. Philly may not be all it’s cracked up to be, but they should be able to comfortably come out on top in this one.
Denver at LAC
LA’s defence has struggled a bit without S Derwin James. Fortunately for them, Denver’s offence can’t seem to do much right. Phillip Rivers and Co. should be able to take a low-risk approach to this game, and come away with a comfortable win.
Green Bay at Dallas
No Davante Adams this week ups the difficulty factor for the struggling Green Bay offence. Dallas just lost the same kind of slugfest that they won last year against New Orleans. Dallas needs to do a better job of protecting Dak Prescott this week, which might be a bit difficult with LT Tyron Smith out and RT La’el Collins hurting. Look for a gameplan from Dallas that relies on Prescott getting the ball out quickly, plus a heavy dose of the rush. Holding onto the ball will help a lot, too.
Indianapolis at KC
Injuries finally caught up with Indy last week, and they fell behind early and had to play catch-up. With Darius Leonard still out with a concussion, and a beat-up squad on both sides of the ball, it will be nigh-impossible for Indy to do much to stem the tide against Patrick Mahomes.
Cleveland at San Francisco
Cleveland got a win last week that was much-needed for a few reasons. They beat division rival Baltimore, made some necessary headway in the standings, and they got some of their confidence back after a rough start. San Fran is off to a hot start, and a lot of people are high on them. Against Cleveland’s defence, we’ll finally get to what Jimmy Garoppolo is made of.