2017 NFL Picks Week 7: Matt Ryan and Tom Brady's Rematch and Life without Aaron Rodgers
Two steps forward, one step back. 2-5 is far from a winning week, and there's a reason they play four quarters, but you start to think there's something working against you when Washington gives up 24 points to someone named C.J. Beathard, the Giants score over 20 points on the road against one of the league's best defenses, and an easy pick turns into an offensive touchdown:
The feeling carried over into Thursday Night, when the Raiders somehow got four tries at the end zone in just seven seconds of game time. The fourth attempt was successful, turning my Chiefs cover into an outright loss. Luckily, I still have 11 picks this week to reverse our fortunes. Let's dive in!
Kansas City Chiefs +3.5 at Oakland Raiders
Watching the Raiders go from nearly being Lions-ed to blatantly guilty of offensive pass interference to out of time and out luck to back in the playoff hunt was nerve-wracking whether you had skin in the game or not. The Chiefs seemed in control most of the game, and my thoughts coming in (that the Chiefs could score at will while the Raiders continued falling short of preseason expectations) were holding true. That Crabtree guy sure has a knack for game-ending touchdown catches, though.
Cincinnati Bengals +5.5 at Pittsburgh Steelers
After an ugly 0-2 start, Cincinnati has bounced back to downright respectable on the strength of the NFL's 3rd-ranked defense by DVOA. The Steelers have been inconsistent this year, even at home, with a 1-1 record including the disastrous 30-9 loss to Jacksonville two weeks ago. Pittsburgh's defense is outperforming its offense this year, but until they prove capable of some kind of consistency, I'm happy to take nearly a touchdown and hope the game ends up close.
Washington Redskins +4.5 at Philadelphia Eagles
I just can't help myself when it comes to the Eagles and Carson Wentz. Sure, the guy looks better than he did in his rookie year, but ahead of Tom Brady in the MVP odds? Let's pump the brakes, people. Philadelphia's defense has been middling, which could allow the Washington offense to improve on its Week 1 total of 17 points. The Eagles have also benefited from some fumble luck this year, recovering 60% of all lose balls (7th in the league) compared to Washington's slightly unlucky 45% (21st) rate. A bit of regression in bouncing ball fortune coupled with a return to reality for their quarterback could make this game and the NFC East race interesting.
Atlanta Falcons +3.5 at New England Patriots
Ahh, the Super Bowl rematch we found so much more compelling before the season started. The once-formidable Falcons offense has plummeted to earth, ranking 4th in DVOA but managing just 17 points at home each of the last two weeks. New England's offense has stayed sharp, but their defense has slipped to dead last, allowing 6.6 yards per play to their opponents. They've managed a 4-2 record, but one-score wins over the Texans, Buccaneers, and Jets aren't exactly inspiring. If Atlanta can turn some of their yards (6.2 per play, 2nd in the NFL) into points, this game should be a one-score shootout. I like the field goal and a little extra.
Seattle Seahawks -5.5 at New York Giants
I refuse to acknowledge the Giants' victory over Denver last week, both because it ruined my pick and because I just can't wrap my head around it. Somehow the Broncos gave up more yards rushing (144) than passing (128) despite everyone in the country knowing the Giants don't have a good quarterback or any good wide receivers. An early pick-six of Trevor Siemian put Denver in a hole, and they simply weren't capable of clawing their way back out. This week, the Giants are facing a smarter Seattle defense and a quarterback far more capable of making big plays and avoiding costly turnovers in Russell Wilson. Playing behind an offensive line you could generously describe as "patchwork" won't help their cause, but the Seahawks should re-establish New York's place in the lower rung of the league with a dominant defensive display.
San Francisco 49ers +6 vs. Dallas Cowboys
The Niners extended their streak of one-score losses to five last week, nearly coming back to beat Washington on the road. The only team to beat them by more than one score this year is the Carolina Panthers, who boast one of the league's best defenses when Luke Kuechly is healthy. The Cowboys defense is ranked 30th in DVOA, and unless they can turn things around on that side of the ball, this game should remain close until the final minutes. Why not take six points when San Francisco always loses by 3?
New Orleans Saints -6 at Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers is out, possibly for the rest of the season. When Rodgers was injured in 2013, the Packers went 2-5-1. It's possible that Brett Hundley will fill in well enough to remind the Saints that their defense is supposed to be bad rather than average, but I think it's more likely that he looks like a 5th-round draft pick making his first NFL start. He threw three interceptions against Minnesota last week, and New Orleans is tied for 5th in the league in interceptions. If Drew Brees continues his quiet MVP campaign (68.7% completion percentage, 10 TDs 2 INTs) against the NFL's 18th-ranked defense, there's no way Green Bay can keep pace.
New York Jets -3 at Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins are 3-2 despite averaging 12.2 points per game. Jay Cutler has not been a competent fill-in for the injured Ryan Tannehill, made doubly frustrating by the competency Matt Moore demonstrated in his four games last season. The Jets are about as bad as we expected them to be, but take it from a Bears fan: no one can survive this type of quarterback play for long. There's going to be a reckoning, and I think it will be this week.
Baltimore Ravens +5.5 at Minnesota Vikings
Two offenses with average-to-bad quarterbacks, two defenses propping up said quarterbacks, and two teams with purple in their uniforms. This game has a lot in common with last week's Baltimore-Chicago matchup, and I expect a similar result. Both teams should struggle to break 20 points, everyone will stop watching halfway through, and the last team with the ball will win. Last week I picked the Bears +6.5 and it paid off; this week I'll take the points again and expect the same.
Carolina Panthers -3 at Chicago Bears
Speaking of the Chicago Bears, they're playing at home this week, where they've lost close games to the Vikings and Falcons and pulled off an upset against the Steelers. Unfortunately for them, they're hosting a Panthers team coming off a long week and recently hitting its stride on offense. I'd like this line (and football in general) a lot more if Luke Kuechly was available, but I still think the Panthers will get out to an early lead and force Mitch Trubisky to throw the ball. It's going to be a downer of a day at and around Soldier Field if that happens.
Tennessee Titans -5.5 at Cleveland Browns
The question, as always: how high does a line need to be before you take Cleveland? They miraculously kept things close against Pittsburgh in Week 1, but their other two close losses this year were against the Colts and the Jets, possibly the two worst non-Browns teams in the NFL. They've lost their other three games by an average of 18 points after losing 15 games last year by an average of 13.6 points. The Titans may have some problems to work out on defense, but their 11th-ranked offense should have no problem against Cleveland's 25th-ranked defense. A couple early turnovers from DeShone Kizer and a heavy dose of Tennessee's 3rd-ranked rushing offense could combine for another blowout loss for the Browns.
Buffalo Bills -3 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Remember when people expected an improved Jameis Winston to lead the Buccaneers to a surprisingly successful 2017 season? Winston struggled before getting injured in Arizona last week, and while his replacement Ryan Fitzpatrick somehow made the game close, it's hard to see him replicating that success against Buffalo's 2nd-ranked defense. Buffalo's offense has been average at best, but the standard 3-point advantage for the home team hardly seems like enough given the competition. If Generous Jameis suits up, get ready for some more turnovers; if not, welcome back to the Ryan Fitzpatrick show, trainwreck fans!
That's all for this week! Kick back, relax, and feel free to blame me if you put money on these picks and come out behind. I won't compensate you, but maybe your significant others will send their wrath in my direction instead of yours.