Pigskin Pick 'em: Final few weeks upon us

Hopefully Thanksgiving weekend was good to everyone on and off the dinner table. A 9-5-1 week raised our record to a respectable 89-80-6 for the season. We’re not getting banned from Las Vegas Books with those results but we’re not making too many return trips to the ATM either. Now we’re entering the finishing stretch of the NFL regular season schedule as teams continue to jockey for playoff positioning, so it will be important to consider a team’s motivation level as we make our selections. As many as six teams are battling for the final seed in the NFC. Seattle, Tampa Bay, and Minnesota are all 6-5 entering the weekend. Dallas, New Orleans, and Washington are just a game behind at 5-6 with five games to play. Things aren’t nearly as contentious in the AFC. The Pittsburgh Steelers currently hold the sixth seed at 6-5 but the Cincinnati Bengals are 6-5 as well. The 5-6 Miami Dolphins are a just a game behind the AFC North Division rivals. Obviously there’s a lot at stake heading into a pivotal weekend of matchups that will do a lot to clear up the playoff picture in both conferences. The Saints, Seahawks, Buccaneers, Redskins, Vikings, Dolphins and Steelers all face opponents with higher win percentages.


The battle for the top seed in each conference isn’t nearly as muddled. The Houston Texans, in the AFC, sit at 10-1, a full game ahead of the 9-2 Baltimore Ravens. Working in the Texans favor is a head to head victory over the Ravens which effectively gives the Texans a two game edge in the race for home field advantage. Things are a little wackier in the NFC where the second seeded San Francisco 49ers trail the Atlanta Falcons by a single game in the loss column for the conference’s top seed. Unfortunately, if you’re from the Bay Area, the 49ers blew a likely victory at home against the St. Louis Rams. The contest ended in a rare tie after neither team was able to score a point in overtime. The odd result gives Atlanta a 1 ½ game advantage over San Francisco. The Chicago Bears and New England Patriots are both lurking behind the leaders of each conference at 8-3, but it seems unlikely that either will be able to make up enough ground in just five weeks to overtake the top seeds.

I’ve really enjoyed writing the Pigskin Pick’em column for the Clarion this season but it would only take one disastrous week to ruin my outlook entirely. Pick’em isn’t for the faint of heart, especially when point spreads are involved, so we forge forward with reckless abandon making fearless football predictions that have a 48% chance of failing miserably. Why have I researched these games all season when a simple flip of the coin could have produce similar results? That’s a great question. Apparently I’m a football masochist.

New Orleans @

The Saints must travel to Atlanta on a short week to play what amounts to an elimination game. New Orleans battled back from a 0-4 start to become relevant in the NFC but a loss to the Falcons would put their playoff aspirations in serious jeopardy. Four points is a lot to give for this Falcons team but they’re the play at home. Falcons win 31-24

JAGUARS @ Buffalo Bills -6

I’m on the Jacksonville bandwagon. The Jaguars have covered two straight games with backup Chad Henne at quarterback. Previous starting QB Blaine Gabbert had a unique ability to make everyone around him look terrible. The current herd of Bills isn’t making anyone in Buffalo forget about the Jim Kelly era. Jaguars win 23-20

Seattle Seahawks @

I went against my own anti-jinx policy last week and my beloved Seahawks choked away a 4th quarter lead in Miami. Cool. The Seahawks have proven themselves incapable of winning a road game and now they have looming suspensions hanging over both of their starting cornerbacks. I love life… Bears win 27-16


Indianapolis Colts @

Like the Seahawks, the Colts have really struggled on the road, especially defensively. Can we expect the Colts to slow down Calvin Johnson and the Lions pass offense? The Lions have lost three consecutive games but Matthew Stafford and the offense are starting to find their rhythm. I don’t see the Colts keeping pace in this shootout. Lions win 35-24

Minnesota Vikings @ GREEN BAY PACKERS -10

The Vikings are in free fall but they have once last opportunity to keep their playoff hopes alive in Green Bay. I expect Adrian Peterson to have a monster day against a very suspect Packers defense. If Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin returns from injury Minnesota could pull off the upset. Green Bay should win behind Aaron Rodgers’ elite play but this game could come down to the final possession. Packers win 28-24

Tennessee Titans +6

What has happened to Houston’s once dominant defense? The Texans have been giving up points at an alarming rate for a Super Bowl contender in recent weeks. Despite their struggles Houston is still 10-1 and in great position to win home field advantage in the AFC. Jake Locker is back at quarterback for the Titans and running back Chris Johnson is experiencing a return to relevance. Texans win 30-27

CAROLINA PANTHERS @ Kansas City Chiefs +3

It’s odd to side with a 3-8 Panthers team on the road but that’s just how horrific the Chiefs have been this season in their desperate pursuit of the number one pick in next year’s draft. The Chiefs are on a mission to lose every game and they won’t win without putting up a fight. Panthers win 24-14

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS @ St. Louis Rams -7

The 49ers and Rams met up a few weeks ago in San Francisco and the game ended in a bizarre tied score. Both teams channeled their inner Chiefs and refused to win. Logic would say the Rams would fair even better at home but the 49ers offense has really taken off with Colin Kaepernick at quarterback. The 49ers will attempt to send a message to their division rival. 49ers win 31-17

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS @ Miami Dolphins +10

Miami’s stellar run defense was on display last Sunday against the Seahawks but what good does that do against the Brady Bunch? New England has been on an absolute tear offensively and Miami secondary isn’t the unit to slow them down. It’s not happening. Can Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins offense keep pace? Patriots win 37-21

Arizona Cardinals @

This might be the least anticipated, least viewed game in NFL history. Calling this the Toilet Bowl would be an insult to toilets. This is the Dumpster Diving Championship. Both of these teams are so awful offensively they make the Army-Navy teams of the 1920’s look like scoring juggernauts. Jets win 7-6


Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ DENVER BRONCOS -7

This is a sneaky good matchup. Denver has won six consecutive games. In fact, Denver has as many wins as the rest of the AFC West combined. Tampa Bay is fighting for the playoff lives at 6-5. A road win here would go a long ways towards the Bucs securing a spot in the postseason in Coach Greg Schiano’s first year. Broncos win 26-20

CLEVELAND BROWNS @ Oakland Raiders -2

How far have the Raiders fallen? So incredibly far that I’m actually going to side with the Cleveland Browns on the road when I’m not even getting a field goal, that’s happening folks. That’s what happens when you’ve lost your last three contests by an average of 26.6 points per game. You just can’t side with the Oakland Raiders right now. Browns win 20-17

Cincinnati Bengals @ SAN DIEGO CHARGERS +1

The Cincinnati Bengals despise prosperity. Since the 80’s this franchise has been allergic to happiness. The Chargers are in a serious funk and Norv Turner will likely lose his job at the end the year but I think Lightning Bolts will strike one more time. Chargers win 27-24

Pittsburgh Steelers @

This is an odd line. How could the 6-5 Steelers be a one-point underdog on the road facing the 9-2 Baltimore Ravens? As of this writing Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s status is still in doubt, making it all the more difficult to back Pittsburgh. The Ravens are the safe play, they may not be the correct play, but how can you take Pittsburgh in this spot? Ravens win 21-10

Philadelphia Eagles @

Admittedly the Philadelphia Eagles has been awful this season, but how can you possibly back the Dallas Cowboys when you have to lay 10 points? Dallas will figure out a way, no matter how improbable, to make this a highly competitive matchup. The Cowboys will win the game, but you can’t trust this team to win by double digits. Cowboys win 27-20


I have both feet firmly planted on the RG3 bandwagon. The rookie’s performance on Thanksgiving was remarkable and suddenly the Redskins find themselves in the hunt for the final spot in the NFC playoffs. RG3 gave the Giants all kinds of trouble in New York earlier this season and I expect an even better performance on Monday Night. I’m calling the upset. Redskins win 30-27


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