What’s Thanksgiving without Turkey? I dare say it’s un-American to eat a bird of any other feather on this most delightfully fattening day. The football gods? Heretics, I tell you! How else can you explain the ATS crow they rudely served over the holiday?
Weeks of basking in my own football intelligence caught up to me. I’m still nursing a Thanksgiving Crow coma. A 0-3 start on Turkey Day led to a disappointing 5-10-1 week. Our season mark drops to 100-79-13. The setback may push the magical 60% mark out of reach, but loyal Clarion faithful, there is something much greater at stake with four weeks to play in the regular season.
In a virtuoso performance Russell Wilson has staked the Seahawks as the clear favorites to hoist the Lombardi Trophy at seasons end. Wilson was brilliant Monday night against the New Orleans Saints passing for 310 yards and three scores leading the Seahawks to a seismic (literally, google Seahawks Earthquake) 34-7 win. He’s quickly becoming the most complete player in the NFL. No other quarterback can match Wilson’s combination of intelligence, arm skills, and running ability.
Excluding Marshawn Lynch, Seattle’s skill players are made up entirely of players nobody else wanted. Receivers Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, and Ricardo Lockette were signed as undrafted free-agents. Sidney Rice is out for the season with a knee injury. Percy Harvin’s hip has limited him to seventeen snaps. Golden Tate is the only active wide receiver on the roster that was drafted (60th overall) by a professional team.
Even Marshawn Lynch was benched in his fourth year playing for the Buffalo Bills and eventually given away to the Seahawks for a fourth round draft pick five weeks into the 2010 season. While a Bill, Lynch averaged 4.02 yards per carry in 687 career attempts. He then carried the ball 450 times, averaging 3.95 yards, for the Seahawks from 2010-2011. The following off-season Pete Carroll famously selected Russell Wilson with the 75th pick in the NFL draft. With Wilson at quarterback Lynch has 539 carries gaining 2,560 yards, a whopping 4.75 yards per attempt! What does that have to do with the quarterback? Wilson leads the NFL in completion percentage on passes traveling over 15 yards downfield. Defenses can’t bring an extra defender into the box to defend the run because they have to respect the play action pass game.
The popular theory that Wilson entered the league in a perfect situation, with a roster the envy of the NFL, is patently false. The offensive line is average, the running back was effectively cut by the team that drafted him, and three of Seattle’s top four receivers weren’t drafted. Despite all that the Seattle Seahawks are the second ranked scoring offense in the NFL. Russell Wilson for MVP.
Houston Texans @
High-five NFL! Thanks for giving us this week’s Toilet Bowl on Thursday Night Football. Nothing like having a National audience for a showdown between crappy teams. It’s beneath me to discuss it. Jags win 19-17
Indianapolis Colts @
CINCINNATI BENGALS -6
The Colts are the shakiest division leader in the NFL. Recent thirty point defeats to the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals doesn’t exactly scream “championship contender”. The offense has been a mess since star receiver Reggie Wayne was lost to a knee injury. The heralded mid-season acquisition of running back Trent Richardson has been a complete flop. This is a team trending south. The Bengals are coming off an impressive road win in San Diego and have yet to lose a game at home this season. Bengals win 28-17
ATLANTA FALCONS @ Green Bay Packers -7
I’m siding with Atlanta assuming that Aaron Rodgers doesn’t play. The all-world passer has sat out Green Bay’s last five contests with a broken collarbone. The Packers have failed to win a game during his absence. Atlanta did well to win in overtime a week ago in Buffalo against the Bills. The victory was the Falcons first on the road this year. Matt Ryan and company are still an unsightly 3-9 for the season but how can you trust a Rodgers-less Packers team to score enough points to cover a touchdown spread. Packers win 20-17
Cleveland Browns @ NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS -12
The Cleveland Browns don’t have a quarterback. Literally. Incumbent passer Brandon Weeden suffered a concussion in last week’s ugly home loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Browns were already without abled bodies Bryan Hoyer and Jason Campbell due to injuries. The team may be forced to play Caleb Hanie or Alex Tanney in a real life football game. Neither player was on the Browns roster two weeks ago. You can’t make this stuff up. Patriots win 35-7
OAKLAND RAIDERS @ New York Jets -3
After a shocking 26-20 victory over the New Orleans Saints in week nine the 5-4 New York Jets found themselves in the hunt for a playoff berth in the AFC. In three contests since the Jets have been outscored 79-20. That margin is even more depressing when you consider the opponents. The Bills, Ravens, and Dolphins are teams with a combined 16-20 record. Rookie quarterback Geno Smith has struggled so mightily for the Jets his confidence was recently found on the bench curled up in the fetal position. Raiders win 23-14
Detroit Lions @
PHILLY EAGLES -3
It’s hard to ignore what the Philadelphia Eagles have accomplished in the last month. At the end of October the Eagles were 3-5 coming off consecutive losses to the division rival Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants. In those two contests Chip Kelly’s innovated offense failed to score a single touchdown. Four weeks later Philadelphia sits atop the NFC East (tied with Dallas) at 7-5. Inserted starting quarterback Nick Foles has thrown 13 TD passes and zero interceptions during that stretch. Eagles win 30-24
Miami Dolphins @ PITTSBURGH STEELERS -3
The 5-7 Steelers host the 6-6 Dolphins in a likely elimination game in the AFC. Miami, aided by a soft stretch in the schedule, has survived the Richie Incognito-Jonathon Martin bullying scandal as well as could be anticipated. Ironically, it would be quite a testament to the strength of the Dolphins locker room if the team could overcome such a distraction to qualify for postseason play. The Steelers are coming off a heartbreaking two-point loss on Thanksgiving to their hated rivals, the Baltimore Ravens. Does an aging Pittsburgh team have anything left in the tank this late in the year? The extra time off should help the home side. Steelers win 23-19
Buffalo Bills @ TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS -3
Just in case the Thursday night Toilet Bowl wasn’t enough the NFL has given us this doozy of a matchup for those in need of nap on Sunday. Tampa had reeled off three consecutive wins before last week’s loss to the Carolina Panthers. Rookie quarterback Mike Glennon has been surprisingly effective for Coach Schiano’s men. The Buffalo Bills have an exciting rookie pass of their own in E.J. Manuel. These are the hardest games to handicap. Neither team has a shot at the playoffs so motivation can be a major factor in the game. Meaningless coin flips favor the home side. Bucs win 27-20
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS @ Washington Redskins +3
Kansas City’s defense was considered the best in the NFL for much of the season but the unit has struggled in recent weeks. Facing top offenses in San Diego and Denver the Chiefs surrendered 34.3 points per game over the last three weeks. So how does Kansas City regain their early season magic? Play the Native Americans! The Redskins have hit a new low under wunderkind Robert Griffin III. The quarterback was nursing a knee injury early in the year but it’s become clear that Washington’s problems go way beyond a hobbled RG3. Chiefs win 27-13
Minnesota Vikings @
BALTIMORE RAVENS -7
The Defending Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens have fought all the way back to .500 after a slow start and currently hold the sixth seed in the AFC playoff race. Minnesota did everything they could to lose last Sunday against the Chicago Bears but somehow won the game in overtime. Despite the rare victory, Minnesota is still winless away from home this season. The Vikings, despite the presence of star running back Adrian Peterson, aren’t equipped to win on the road. Traditionally, Baltimore is one of the toughest venue’s in the NFL. Ravens win 23-10
Tennessee Titans @
DENVER BRONCOS -11
Denver responded beautifully a week after a vintage Peyton Manning collapse in the second half of their game against the New England Patriots. Denver’s 35-28 victory over the Chiefs in Kansas City left the Broncos in the driver’s seat for the conference’s number one seed. Tennessee has been a competitive team this season, a stark improvement from recent years, but simply doesn’t have the offensive acumen to pull out games in the 4th quarter. Manning, a Tennessee Volunteer alum, always plays well against the Titans. Broncos win 35-17
St. Louis Rams @
ARIZONA CARDINALS -6
The 7-5 Arizona Cardinals have the unfortunate luck of playing in the NFC West. The Cardinals record would have the team at the top of NFC East, but in the west, Arizona is stuck behind NFL powers San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks in the standings. St. Louis has improved over the course of the year, playing its best ball in recent weeks, but playing a heavy blitz defense on the road with a journeymen backup quarterback under center isn’t a recipe for success. Arizona has to have this game. Cardinals win 27-17
New York Giants @
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS -3
The Giants and Chargers both enter this contest at 5-7. A loss for either team would effectively end their season. Quietly, Chargers QB Philip Rivers has the second ranked QBR rating in NFL, trailing only Peyton Manning. Peyton’s younger brother Eli hasn’t experienced similar success leading the Giants. Specifically, Eli has had issues maintaining possession of the football. A costly interception will be the difference. Chargers win 31-24
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS @ San Francisco 49ers -3
If you think I’m fading the Seahawks this week after that performance on Monday Night Football you’re crazy. San Francisco is entering this game on a bit of a roll but will be without top lineman Mike Iupati and Joe Staley. Michael Crabtree’s return will help struggling passer Colin Kaepernick but it won’t be enough against a Seahawks team that’s playing its best ball of the season. Seattle has outscored San Francisco 71-16 in their last two meetings. Seahawks win 23-17
Carolina Panthers @
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS -4
The Saints are charged with the difficult task of rebounding from a crushing defeat on a short week to face the Carolina Panthers in critical NFC South matchup. Carolina has won eight consecutive games to pull even with New Orleans in the standings. Cam Newton’s play has improved immensely in his third year but the Panthers strength is their third ranked defense. In fact, Carolina possesses the same formula, young athletic QB, strong rushing attack, and a dominant defense, that was so successful for Seattle a week ago against this Saints team. The question is will that work for the Panthers on the road in a hostile environment? Saints win 28-21
Dallas Cowboys @
CHICAGO BEARS -1
I keep siding with Da Bears and I keep losing so why stop such a wonderful thing. Chicago can score points under first year coach, Marc Trestman, but they can’t stop anybody on defense. Dallas, with Tony Romo at quarterback and Dez Bryant catching passes will have their way with the Bad News Bears but somehow I think Dallas finds a way to lose this game. That’s what The Fighting Jerry’s do. Bears win 31-28