Oh me oh my, it’s almost time for the playoffs! Now if your team is still in the hunt, you probably should be thanking your lucky stars. But with that, there’s also a ton of star players missing suddenly from COVID exposures and failed tests, games being suddenly and repeatedly moved, and an overall inability to develop a sustainable routine going have made it a rough year.
If your team is out, let’s be thankful that we got to see these team go out and play at all. It’s never fun to watch a losing team, but it is certainly better than no games at all. I know this year I’m thankful for football.
This Christmas season hits a little different huh? The pandemic has stopped a majority of state to state travel, so some families are stuck with only zoom get-togethers. Even friends that live near by are being encouraged not to get together, and many people need to work to help sick or out of work family members. But as this tumultuous year closes, I know I am thankful for the time I had, the chances I took and the memories that were made. I hope everyone had a great holiday. Let’s hope your team shows up for a Christmas W!
San Francisco 49ers 5-9 @ Arizona Cardinals 8-6 (-3.5)
Sadly, last years NFC Champion will miss the playoffs this year. San Francisco struggled this year with injuries, and near the end of season couldn’t even seem to win games at home. And it is not even like looking at them on paper is going to do them any favors. They still sit fourth in pass defense and fifth in yards a allowed. Losing Bosa and Thomas early on thrust the rookie Kinlaw into a position I just didn’t think he was ready for. I haven’t lost all hope though. He has all the tools to be a future stud on that line and will only benefit next year from the trials faced this year.
But for all the resilience this defense has shown, the offense just can’t seem to find the spark to win games. Don’t get me wrong, they faced one tough ass schedule, but a playoff team wins more than one in their last seven. Look at the game against Dallas. That was arueably their most winnable game against, but Mullins threw two fourth quarter interceptions to seal their fate. That really seems to be the Achilles heal lately; they are second worst in giveaways this season. That is a tough pill to swallow because they had four games this year they lost by one point. Now, you win half of those, and that’s a totally different story. Thankfully, this is not a team that will just quit, so I wouldn’t expect them to just roll over just because they won’t be playing the post season.
Arizona is clutching on to that last playoff spot and they need to hold tight. Chicago has an easy game against the Jags and finish their year against the Packers. If the first seed is locked up, then Chicago will be able to rest their starts. So their bad showing in the month of November has forced them to have to lock into their zone.
Kyler Murray was my favorite pick for MVP based on the odds, but those hopes quickly evaporated. The rushing numbers kind of crashed back down to earth; Murray wasn’t getting the 300 yard passing games we saw earlier and the team weren’t winning games. Even though it’s an individual award, wins are a huge factor. Still, we have a team with an electric offense and a defense that is serviceable. To me, they seem like a team that will need to get hot to win. Kyler’s ability to extend plays and be mobile will really help in the post season. San Francisco also really struggles with rushing quarterbacks. Let’s get this win here Cardinals and get this last seed. This team is exciting and I think can make more noise than people think.
For some reason SF has been the favorite in their last three, and didn’t cover in any of them. Now as an underdog maybe they com alive? It is a nice thought, but their 5-9 record ATS isn’t inspiring. Doubly if I don’t initially like the team. Arizona has the more talented on offense and I think Kliff wants to make the playoffs. This is important for the growth of their franchise. It would be a huge accomplishment to go from top ten pick to playoffs. Give me the Cardinals to rise to the occasion and cover the low spread. Cardinals -3
Indianapolis Colts 10-4 @ Pittsburgh Steelers 11-2 (-3)
Would you say the Colts are under or over performing so far? There was that embarrassing ass loss to Jacksonville week one but outside of that, they have really played quality ball through the year. You could lean into the fact that Rivers TD/INT is 3/6 in their losses. Two of those went the other way for a pick six, but he has been decent outside of the worst of the worst. Hopefully he bought his line a quality Christmas gift because he has been sacked the second fewest in the league at 1.1 a game. He has also shown multiple ways to involve players in the passing game. The offense started the year with a more tight end heavy approach, but now we see T.Y. Hilton and Michael Pittman getting it done on the outside.
And let’s not forget Johnathan Taylor finally coming into his own. He has seen 13 or more carries in the last four weeks and has averaged 5.7 YPC with the work. I think we saw the Colts rest Taylor. They kept him healthy, allowed him to get comfortable with the offense and take advantage of weaker competition. The Steelers are going to come in and still rely on their defense. To me that’s the matchup to see. Can this hobbled but still solid pass rush actually defeat this O-Line.
Wow. Just, wow. There have been times in my life as a Steelers fan where I was embarrassed, but this one stings. The offense looks so lost. The coordinator appears to be in over his head, with zero signs of adjustments. Again and again we have seen them rely on a short passing game. TDefenses know it because it seems once every two drives there is a batter ball. We are still having drop issues, but please don’t blame this on Tik Tok dances totally. Personally, the undefeated mentality got to some people’s heads and some reality is doing a round of checking in.
We as fans also have to expect some regression here. No team is perfect through out the entire year. There will always be hiccups, head scratching losses, and harsh words from their fanatical fan base. Let’s not forget that without some of these injuries, this defense is still top tier. It was clearly impossible for Finley to move the ball through the air. These corners are locked in. They were without arguably there best run stopper Vince Williams, but you can’t allow a team of backups to run for over 150+ yards. Zero excuses and how do you have any confidence they are going to hold up against the offensive line in Indy. I think the recipe is an early lead to force teams out of their game plan. Let the defense take advantage of mistakes and move the ball on offense. However right now, we can’t do any of those things. In these three losses they: started each game with 4 punts or a turnover, the defense only has two takeaways (for a team that averaged 2.7 a game coming into this week), and the offense is sixth worse in total yards.
So can anything actually change? Was this just a simple case of looking past a lesser opponent? Or can Steelers fans chalk it up as another horrible loss to a team they should beat on. Either way, someone needs to look in the mirror so that they can win some games. This week isn’t an ideal opponent to try and “figure things out” against. The Colts have actually won their last three, and I don’t see their luck changing. They look like a team that is hitting their stride at the right time. Colts line TBA
LA Rams 9-5 @ Seattle Seahawks 10-4 (-2.5)
If I were to say the Rams remind me a lot of Steelers, would you say I’m crazy? They have an extremely talented offense. The quarterback makes boneheaded mistakes and somehow doesn’t get the ball in the end zone. Running game is lackluster at times. Defense is stout and carrying the team to success. A head coach who is loved. The real reason? They don’t show up against “lesser teams.” Couldn’t beat a 49ers team led by a backup. Barely beat the Giants before they were good. Lost to Tua in his first start. And, as we all saw, lost to the damn Jets. How is it even possible you ask? Their first half went: Punt, punt, blocked punt, interception, punt, punt, field goal. Before that field goal drive they had 68 yards of total offense. Now that we have seen the lowest performance this team will put out, can we expect them to bounce back? This is real adversity. That loss can tear a locker room apart. The offense will be without Cam Akers due to a high ankle sprain. I’m hopeful that this offense will look a lot like how it did against Tampa. They are going to want to involve their best play makers and take advantage of a hot defense. This team needs something that will change their mindset and lock in. This defense will do its thing but this is where McVay makes his money. Be the guru and win this division.
In a weird way, I feel like the Sea Hawks are an ugly 10-4 team. Early in the year we saw this offense totally take charge and just whoop opponents into submission. Now we are seeing Russel just pick and choose his moments and the defense actually showing up. In the first eight games, they scored over 30 points in all but one of them. What has caused this sudden change? It’s hard to point to just one thing but maybe if they don’t need to unload the ball, they should choose to be cautious. But they will need to keep Russel upright to have a shot at this. Wilson was sacked six times in their earlier matchup. The Rams also held Wilson to his lowest quarterback rating on the year.
Aaron Donald is a problem for even the best offensive line, so this will be even tougher for an average one. Having Chris Carson back should really help balance this offense. He is clearly head and shoulders better than anyone else in that running back room. But is this defense legit? Personally I think you can kind of chuck this up to playing awful offenses. Their four game win streak has a decent game against Kyler but a loss to Colt McCoy. They held a horrible Jets offense in check, and faced Dwayne Haskins who almost led them back to victory. Yeah the recent stats will tell you that they have come around but I’m not buying it.
So who do you think is the better team? If you have read my articles in the past, you’ll know my love for this Rams team. They are going to come out hungry after that embarrassment last week. We are also going to see a group who has Elite level talent come out hungry. This is for the division title. This is for a home game in the playoffs. I’m riding with these guys this week and just maybe in the playoffs. Rams +2.5
Tennessee Titans 10-4 @ Green Bay Packers 11-3 (-3.5)
Tennessee is back to their late season heroics again. The Titans have won four of their last five games, and are now controlling their destiny to win the division. The king Derrick Henry is on another tear. In those five games he has an average of 146 yards with seven total touchdowns. He has almost 200 more yards than second place, Dalvin Cook. Maybe after this year we will all take Tannehill seriously. He is super efficient, athletic with his legs, and knows how to win games. He is fifth in touchdowns, yet 18th in passing attempts. He is 17-7 as a starter with the Titans. No one can argue what he brings to this team as they he has given them their best chance to win that division since 2008. He has been able to thrive with two high level wide receivers in Davis and Brown. This offense is scary. Their best assets is how they lean on the run to set up the pass. That works perfectly in the cold weather games because who wants to tackle Henry 25+ times. But this defense could get eaten up by Rodgers. It wasn’t that long ago when Baker erupted against them for four passing touchdowns in the first half. They can’t let the opposing team get that early lead. It takes them out of their game plan. So can they bend but not break?
Guess who leads the league in first half points? Exactly. Rodgers loves stepping on the opponents throat and just coasting to the end. Sometimes that can bite them, like when they played the Colts. I wonder if Rodgers knows this and knows how this Titans team can turn it on instantly. He will need to take advantage of this below average passing defense. We are talking bottom five in yards and passing touchdowns allowed. Then you pair that with the fact that they have the fewest sacks in the league and good lord, Rodgers is set up for a fantastic day. Add to the fact that a bye for the playoffs hangs in the balance. Is there a world where the Packers don’t win?
Well In all of their losses, there has been one glaring hole. The rushing defense for Green Bay is atrocious. 140, 173, and 158 were the rushing totals in all of their losses. They let Ronald Jones look like a pro bowler out there. Now they face the man who is the best at their biggest weakness. So which narrative do you think is more true? Henry running all over the Packers, keeping Rodgers off the field and securing the W, or Rodgers wheeling and dealing his way to lock in the MVP? I highly doubt it swings one way more than the other too dramatically. We will probably see something right in the middle.
Tennessee is 4-1 ATS in their last five and 3-1 as an under dog. It’s their favorite time to play football. Ultimately I think the Titans are a better team. It’ll be an up and down ride but they cover the +3 and win the game.