By Preston J. Gary, Jr.
Three-quarters of the way through the season and 16 teams have winning records while only four have been eliminated from the post-season. Seven teams are 9-3 or better and seem to be "in stride" at the right time. Everyone else looks to be searching for consistency.
A few weeks ago, teams like the Giants and Raiders looked to be on their way to clinching their divisions, while the Titans, Cowboys, and Broncos were just trying to salvage what little hope they had for a wild card. And where are they now? The picture changes every week. Which teams are down for the count, and which are back from the dead?
I'll tell you exactly that...after the jump.For Yahoo! fantasy leagues that utilize the confidence point system, my confidence rating is listed after the team names. For Sirius leagues with best bets, my 5 highest confidence choices are my best bets. Any time I pick the underdog to win, I call it an upset.
Season Total: 127 wins, 65 losses
Last Week: 11 wins, 5 losses
Average: 10 wins, 6 losses
Last Year: 157 wins, 99 losses
Best Year: 170 wins, 86 losses
Yahoo Rank: 1st out of 84
Sirius Rank: 148th out of 8,590
This Week’s Picks
Cardinals over 49ers, 1 – Upset #1 – This choice is made less with my head and more with my heart. Sometimes I allow a potential outcome that could influence the Saints playoff seeding to alter my choices. If the Saints win out, they still need the Niners to lose two games in order to obtain the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye. I’m picking the Cardinals to be the first of those two losses. Now I guess I have to give an argument. Well, here goes: Arizona has been playing very well on defense all year, Kevin Kolb may have just turned a corner and gotten comfortable with the offense, and Beanie Wells can run tit for tat with Frank Gore. That, and I don’t like Alex Smith and Patrick Willis will be out.
Texans over Bengals, 2 – Upset #2 – Just like the above choice, I’ll probably regret this one. I like both teams and wish for both teams to make the post-season. The Bengals have struggled against defensive guru Dick Lebeau’s schemes. Wade Phillips is a known 3-4 master, and if Houston’s defense can shut down Matt Ryan and the Falcons, I reckon they can handle Andy Dalton. Leon Hall is out for the year, which should make the job for T.J. Yates a little easier. He looked for Andre Johnson often against Atlanta, but now he’ll have to rely heavily on his checkdowns to his TEs and RBs. Cincinnati probably runs Atlanta’s offense better than the Falcons do. I give the Texans the edge because they have not one, but two capable running backs.
Giants over Cowboys, 3 – Upset #3 – If there ever is a game the Cowboys "should" win, you can bet they’ll find a way to lose it. Last week Jason Garrett "iced" his own kicker - this after having two time outs and half a minute to try and get it closer for his rookie kicker and not taking advantage of that (I guess he was worried Tony Romo would pull an Aaron Brooks). Meanwhile, the Giants went toe-to-toe with the Packers last week and got back a little confidence. They go into Dallas with a chance to take back the division, and they won’t squander it. They have the better coach and better QB. Get your popcorn ready because Dallas is close to self destruction and Jerry Jones is about to put out a "now hiring" sign. I love it.
Seahawks over Rams, 4 – Tarvaris Jackson over Sam Bradford? I wouldn’t have made this choice going into the season, but the Rams are using their fourth and fifth offensive tackles in addition to their tenth, eleventh, and twelfth cornerbacks. I feel really bad for their head coach (and hope the Saints try to hire him as defensive coordinator in the future), but I’ll take Marshawn Lynch to continue to reach his potential while Jackson doesn’t lose the game for Seattle.
Buccaneers over Jaguars, 5 – Upset #4 – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took a serious step backwards on offense this year. Their defense has dealt with a few injuries (who hasn’t?) and lacks consistency. I hate to pick them, but I have zero faith in Lame Gabbert. Maurice Jones-Drew is a one-man wrecking crew, and I give much love to him, but I can’t pick a banged-up Jaguar defense to do enough to make up for a one-dimensional offense.
Chargers over Bills, 6 – Did you hear that popping noise? That was San Diego finally pulling their collective head out of their collective you know what. Philip Rivers finally has all of his weapons healthy and on the field at once. His offensive line is banged up, but no worries because the Bills can’t stop the run and have had trouble getting to the QB. I hope the Bills are able to drastically improve their depth next year, because their fan base deserves better. They have 22 players who can compete with any team, but they don’t have a good 53 man roster, and as the season has progressed, that has been the difference. I think the Chargers win by double digits, though I do believe the Bills put up 20+ points.
Falcons over Panthers, 7 – If Carolina hadn’t put their two starting defensive tackles on injured reserve earlier this week, I probably would have taken the Panthers. You see, if the Saints win and the Falcons lose, the Saints clinch the NFC South. I believe Carolina can beat the Falcons; I just don’t believe the Falcons will make the same mistake two weeks in a row (neglecting the running game). Michael Turner ran for 140 yards against the Panthers in their first contest, and I believe he’ll top that effort this week. Cam will have to look like Superman to overcome Atlanta’s ball control. Go Panthers.
Broncos over Bears, 8 – Mike Martz, step into my office. You’re fired!! Seriously, if the offensive line had trouble protecting Jay Cutler in your complicated offense and you had to tailor it down and dial it back to start winning, why are you regressing again with Caleb Hanie? Forte is hurt - well that means you need to feed the ball to Marion Barber and whoever else you got. What to do with Caleb? Have him throw it on three-step drops to the TE. Wait, I forgot you didn’t want Greg Olsen and don’t utilize the TE in your Megamind offense. Well, you better think of something. Too bad a championship-caliber defense is going to waste, and a QB who can’t throw is about to beat you because you can’t tone down your offense. Perhaps you should take a page from John Fox’s playbook and learn to work with what little talent you have.
Saints over Titans, 9 – The Titans are stingy on defense. Matt Hasselbeck takes care of the ball, and he’s carved up a Gregg Williams secondary in recent memory. Chris Johnson looks to have finally gotten back on track, and this game scares me. But the Saints have Drew Brees and their offense is in a groove. Maybe CJ2K will be less effective if the Saints build a multiple-score lead.
Dolphins over Eagles, 10 – It’s a shame Miami waited this long to come together and play like a team. I don’t blame the slow start on Tony Sparano as much as I do on the Dolphins owner—trying (and failing) to replace the head coach and QB unsuccessfully in a very public way before the season starts really undermines any enthusiasm a team has going into the new year. On the other hand, replacing a decent defensive coordinator with an offensive line coach didn’t work out too will for the Eagles. Especially when hiring a defensive line coach who undermines everything the new coordinator tries to accomplish. Andy Reid has been a consistent coach, but maybe every message has a shelf life, and maybe it is time for a change. Maybe Reid should focus on being just a coach and give up GM duties. He’s alienated DeSean Jackson, pulled a Dan Snyder with everyone else, and gave a very big contract to a QB who’s never stayed healthy. Perhaps the Eagles need to find a new coach and QB next year? Too much drama. I’ll go with the team who has nothing to lose and looks like a playoff team now. Talk about role reversal.
Lions over Vikings, 11 – It looks like Matthew Stafford’s finger has healed. It also appears that Kevin Smith has regressed, again. No worries, because all-day Adrian Peterson isn’t healthy. The Vikings pass rush keeps the game close for a half, but Detroit and Megatron take the top off this game in the third quarter.
Jets over Chiefs, 12 – I don’t like picking the Jets to win, but I damn sure won’t pick the Chiefs. I respect what Romeo Crennel has done with that defense, but I can’t see Tyler Palko beating Mark Sanchez. Give the ball to Shonn Greene, throw a jump ball to Plax in the red zone, take a deep shot with Santonio Holmes, and put Darrelle Revis on Dwayne Bowe. Simple.
Steelers 14, Browns 3 – Thursday Night Football.
Patriots over Redskins, 14 – By all accounts, New England has a great chance of winning every game left on their schedule. They should beat the Redskins easily, but maybe Rex Grossman has a good game, and maybe Roy Helu gets the hot hand and Mike Shanahan saves face with a big win. Without their "franchise" tackle and probable franchise-tagged TE, I don’t see it happening.
Ravens over Colts, 15 – The change at QB looked to pay dividends last week for the Colts, though it was against perhaps the worst secondary in the NFL. If the Texans lose and the Ravens win, Baltimore assumes the top seed in the AFC because they own the tie breaker over the Patriots. While the Colts have nothing to lose (except yet another game), Baltimore has too much to play for to stub their toes here.
Packers over Raiders, 16 – Just when it looked like Oakland was going to run away with the AFC West, they came into Miami with a few too many injuries and played a hot Dolphins team. Oakland likes to run the ball and take deep shots with Carson Palmer off the play action. Green Bay likes to get up big, quickly on the arm of Aaron Rodgers. I just don’t see how Oakland can keep it close enough to stick to their winning formula.