In my power ranking post I mentioned five games with clear playoff impact for both teams this weekend, so I’ll focus on those to go along with the picks for the weekend. We’ll start with Cowboys-Bengals, where both teams are somewhat on the outside looking in. Dallas essentially needs to pick up two wins on the Giants and Redskins while the Bengals need to stockpile wins in case they lose their game against Pittsburgh in a couple weeks. The Cowboys have been their usual up-and-down selves of recent years, or at least they’ve appeared that way. They’re 6-6 with a slightly negative point differential overall, but they’ve essentially gotten there by beating bad teams and losing to good teams. Most of their games have been close as well; they lost to Chicago by 16 and Seattle by 20 and beat the Eagles by 15 but every other game has been within a touchdown. So in short, the Cowboys are an average team: they beat who they should, lose to who they should, and kind of keep it close. The Bengals are similar, except they have an extra win and get some spread in their games. They have a couple of ‘bad’ losses on their record (one in Cleveland and one shellacking by the Ravens in week 1) but also have beat the teams they should and handled the Giants pretty easily. The Bengals are probably a bit of a better team, and they’re also at home. I like the Bengals today, which would really put a damper on the Cowboys’ playoff hopes.
The Bears and Vikings is a NFC North match-up where the Bears need a win because they have a harder schedule going forward than the Packers, and both teams are tied for the division lead right now. The Vikings need a win just to stay alive. Minnesota is 6-6, but most of that is from a strong start where they beat the Lions in Detroit as well as the 49ers; things have cooled down quite a bit since then as the schedule stayed hard (although they still got to beat the Lions again). They also just lost in Chicago two weeks ago despite the Bears losing something like forty players to injury. On the other side the Bears are at 8-4 and despite never quite looking impressive, they are having an honestly good season. Pretty much all of their losses are defensible (in Seattle, against Houston and San Fran, and in overtime to Seattle) and they’ve beaten everyone they should. Devin Hester’s injury is not as big a deal as his name implies, but losing Urlacher could be something of a blow. The models have this as a close one, thanks to it being in Minnesota; if the Bears lose they will probably have to change their aspirations to the wild card and if the Vikings lose they can roughly start looking forward to the draft. With that optimistic forecast, let’s look at the over/under picks.
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Baltimore at Washington should be a good game. The Redskins are getting a lot of attention thanks to RGIII but have been somewhat inconsistent as you should expect with even a good rookie quarterback. A three game win streak against their division has them in the hunt but they also have losses to Carolina and the Rams on their record. They do get to play at home though. Baltimore is more of an established quantity at 9-3 and their recent playoff seasons. You know what you’re going to get, with a solid defense, a lot of Ray Rice, and some competent to good quarterbacking. The Ravens have looked vulnerable though; they’ve lost to the Eagles, the Steelers on their third QB, and got their lunch taken by the Texans, and also had some shaky wins against the Pats, Chiefs, Cowboys, and Chargers. Obviously winning is better than losing, but you could fairly easily see the Ravens at, say, 7-5. When the models put it all together, they actually like the Redskins by about the home field advantage. It should be an entertaining game at least. Here are the rest of the picks for game winners.
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The last key game for the weekend is also the last game of the weekend, Patriots and Texans. This should be a good game between two good teams, as I’ve had the Pats and Texans near the top of my power rankings for a while now. New England has their division wrapped up but is playing for seeding now as I’m sure they’d like to have home field for the playoffs or as much of it as possible. They started shaky with close losses to Arizona (buoying some ‘Arizona has gotten better!’ stories before it became obvious that was false) and Baltimore, but have been playing like the Patriots of old in some absolute beatings of the Rams, Colts, and Jets. Those aren’t necessarily great teams, but remember that good teams beat bad teams by a lot. The Patriots are at home and they need to get a win because they also get the 49ers next week before the schedule helps them out some in the last two weeks. The Texans are 11-1 and also have a spot locked up although they technically don’t have the division won quite yet. The Texans lost to the Packers, marking something of a turnaround for Green Bay’s season, and have two overtime wins against the Lions and Jaguars to keep things looking interesting. Otherwise, however, they’ve won every game by at least six and have beaten Denver, Baltimore, and Chicago for key wins. Houston doesn’t really ‘need’ this game, since they have some winnable games against the Vikings and Colts ahead, but I’m sure they’d like to lock up that one seed. I like the Patriots to win a close, and I hope entertaining, game. Hopefully you find the spread picks to be just as fun.
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Finally we have Bill Simmons as always. He’s a game up on me this week already thanks to the Broncos, so I need to catch up. Here are his picks and mine against his numbers. As far as his opinions on Kobe go, I think he does a good job in pointing out that there are two sides to the Kobe argument. There are the objective numbers, which make it clear that he’s been a good player for a long time but is not in the “best ever” discussion. Then there are the subjective numbers (like All-Star games) and the longevity numbers that make it seem like he should be there. Of course, those “best ever” discussions are almost always subjective anyway, so maybe that kind of info should count. But since it does, here’s my opinion: I will never see Kobe as the best ever because he was never a contender without an elite big man (and yes, Pau Gasol is an elite big man) and he’s a relentless jerk and gunner. And at least I have the numbers to fall back on.
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