Finally! No more Netflix Games of the Week. No more watching Rex Ryan deflate just a little more each week. No more watching the Giants blow a lead in the final two minutes. (Seriously, five times in 16 games. That’s worse than the typical Scooby Doo villain. “Now I have you! No, wait. What?”) Certainly, no more Johnny Manziel on the Browns. Or in the NFL. Geez, kid. Get it together.
Nope, we got us some real games this week. Well, three real games and one that probably won’t matter. Whoever wins the Green Bay-Washington game likely will get crushed in the next round quicker than Fox cancelled Firefly.
Let’s get to it. And as there are only four games, I’ll riff a bit more on each.
Kansas City at Houston: I bet the folks in Philadelphia are pretty mad about letting Andy Reid go. His Chiefs started 1-5 and, boom, managed to reel off 10 straight wins. That’s Cylon-level domination that even the Patriots couldn’t manage this year. They do it with a strong run game, an efficient short-to-mid passing game that takes few risks, and a great defense. The Texans, meanwhile, gritted out an AFC South division title on the strength of a run game and a powerful front-seven on the defense, buoyed by the fact that the rest of the division fielded teams with Kylo Ren levels of sadness. Houston’s quarterback situation may improve, mildly, as Brian Hoyer returns from injury, but if the Texans want to improve beyond the one-and-done appearances in the playoffs, they need a long-term investment at the position. Pick: Chiefs.
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati: The last time the Steelers were the 6th seed wild card, they won a Super Bowl. And they’re peaking pretty nicely right about now. Yes, they needed help from the Jets, but a 10-6 record is nothing to sneeze at. They’ve won four of their last five with a huge passing game and some improved running, which admittedly makes up for a so-so defense. The Bengals, on the other hand, are just getting the Ginja Ninja Andy Dalton back from injury, and he’s still a bit questionable — apparently, thumbs are important when throwing things. Fair running game, good defense but not great. 3-2 over their last five games, with the wins coming against San Francisco, Baltimore and the Browns in the Factory of Sadness. I’m going with the hot hand here. Pick: Steelers.
Seattle at Minnesota: The only thing worse than facing a hot Steelers team is facing a hot Seahawks team. Aside from a total brain-fart against the Rams, the Seahawks are operating at Terminator levels of efficiency. Plus, they’re getting Beast Mode back from injury — and even if he’s not 100%, they’ve been doing just fine on offense without Mr. Skittles, thank you very much. The Vikings come into the game on a three-game winning streak, though two of those wins are against the Giants and Bears — not exactly top competition these days. Teddy Bridgewater has come on quite nicely, but he’s nowhere near Russell Wilson. And while Adrian Peterson won the rushing title this season, he’s been rushing in part to help cover up the inexperience in the passing game. After this, the Vikings should be headed for Valhalla for the offseason. Pick: Seahawks.
Green Bay at Washington: Let’s give Washington some credit here. They’re among the top three most dysfunctional teams in the NFL (hello, Dallas and Cleveland), but they managed to pull it together pretty well and win a weakened NFC East. Good on them. Washington fans need something to take their minds off the fact that, yes, Dan Snyder remains the owner of their team. There are pieces here to build on, including perhaps a real quarterback in Kirk Cousins. And let’s add the fact that the Packers have been woefully inconsistent on offense lately. But they still got Aaron Rodgers, man, and that counts for something, and the running tandem of Eddie Lacy and James Starks got more than 1,350 yards on the ground combined and a 4.1 yards-per-carry for each. And Washington is vulnerable against the run. Pick: Packers.
Last week’s record: Ugh. A meager 8-8. Some teams just stopped caring.
Season record: 157-99, a .613 average that puts me ahead of the majority of these guys for the season. However, it was the worst season in the three years I’ve been doing this. I may have to re-think prognostication as a second (really, more like third) career.