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Still No Clarity…

…on who exactly the New England Patriots are this season.  We’ve been through this a ton.  Their next game is in December.  We usually know by this month on the calendar.

We are clear on the AFC East stinking…yet again.  3 game lead for the Pats with 5 to go.  So that means another division crown.  Go figure.

The conference?  Not sure.  KC is obviously off to a fantastic start.  But it remains to be seen if they can stop anyone.  The Steelers coughed one up last week and should have lost the week before.  The Chargers or Texans?  Can we really expect these teams to do anything in the playoffs?  Doubt it.  The rest of the teams?  Don’t see it.

As for the Pats themselves?  Offensively a step behind what they usually do.  Maybe three steps.  27 points against the f’n Jets?  Tom Brady looks old and injured (sorry).  Rob Gronkowski?  Yup…”old” and injured.  Sony Michel?  We will see.  People think Rex Burkhead’s return this week will help.  But he’s always…injured.  Chris Hogan is no superstar.  But he can play.  And Brady refuses to even look at him anymore.  And so on…

The defense?  Sure, 13 points allowed in a game is nice.  But…the Jets.  Dont’a Hightower and Devin McCourty have been alternating between average and “washed-up” all year long in my eyes.  “Average” may be too kind a word for the personnel on D this year.  Think of it this way:  When Kyle Van Noy is one of your better players, that speaks volumes…I don’t care how well he actually seems to be playing.

Special teams?  You know, made up of a ton of guys that Bill Belichick likes to keep and can’t do anything else on the field?  Atrocious all around this season.  Well, I guess Stephen Gostkowski has been pretty good and every once in a while Bill raves postgame about the punter, Ryan Allen (like last week).  But the return and coverage units.  Bad.

By now, any issues are supposed to have been fixed.  Not this year.  Can they still be?  Not sure.  But now it’s a real fight to the end.  Starting Sunday against another team that likely should be better than they have been…the Minnesota Vikings.  More on them next column.

The rest of the schedule isn’t daunting.  But playing at Miami hasn’t always been great.  Even if the game is in December and not September.  The Pats have a good track record against the Steelers, even in Pittsburgh.  This year?  No idea.  Should be cakewalks against the Bills and Jets at home the last two weeks.  But can we even count on this now?

I guess we will find out in due time.  For now, the Thursday game:

New Orleans (-7.5) at Dallas

The NFC West has 2 doormat 2-9 teams, but the NFC East isn’t much better as a whole.  The Saints have crushed the other 3 NFC East teams they have played this season to the tune of 124-44.  Dallas may be home.  But New Orleans is actually 5-0 on the road.  Both of these teams played on Thanksgiving, so no advantage there.  I’m just filling space now.  There is no debate on this one.

New Orleans 41, Dallas 20.  

Week (against the spread):  11-4

Week (straight up):  11-4

Season (against the spread):  96-80

Season (straight up):  111-65

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Week Twelve…

Off to a good start this week, let’s keep it going:

Seattle at Carolina (-3.5) 

If I was “Riverboat Ron”, I wouldn’t have gone for two last week.  Then again, maybe he figured that since the NFC appears to be eminently mediocre other than the Saints and Rams, the Panthers will make the playoffs as long as they go 8-0 at home.  So it really didn’t matter what they did against the Lions regardless.

Carolina 24, Seattle 20.

New York Giants at Philadelphia (-6.5)

The Eagles shouldn’t be favored by six and a half over anyone right now.

Philadelphia 20, New York Giants 17.

Oakland at Baltimore (-10.5)  

Oakland won last week…yippee!!  Oh yeah, it was against the Cards.  Ok.  Lamar Jackson is apparently getting another start this week for the Ravens.  All things being equal, this spread would seem a little high.  We should go Raiders here.  But we are not.

Baltimore 24, Oakland 13.

New England (-9.5) at New York Jets 

Tom Brady apparently has a knee injury now.  Doesn’t matter this week.

New England 38, New York Jets 24.

Miami at Indianapolis (-9.5) 

Indy is on a roll, no question.  I don’t think the Dolphins are all that great.  But they need a win and are coming off a bye, so we feel like the game is close at the very least.

Indianapolis 30, Miami 23.

Cleveland at Cincinnati (-3.5)

Hue Jackson now working for the Bengals may actually be a good thing for the Browns, in more ways than one.

Cleveland 27, Cincinnati 24.

San Francisco at Tampa Bay (-3.5) 

FITZMAGIC!!  Oops…back on the bench, where he belongs.

Tampa Bay 31, San Francisco 24.

Jacksonville (-3.5) at Buffalo

I’d personally love it if these fraudulent Jaguars lost to the Bills.  But I can’t see how it happens.

Jacksonville 27, Buffalo 11.

Arizona at Los Angeles Chargers (-12.5)

The Chargers are coming off a tough loss to the Broncos and the Cardinals couldn’t even beat a wretched Raider team at home.  Goodnight.

Los Angeles Chargers 45, Arizona 10.

Pittsburgh (-3.5) at Denver

A nice divisional win for the Broncos last week.  The Steelers escaped with a win against the Jags.  Denver has been in most of their games this year and is a tough place to play.  Gut feeling on this one.

Denver 31, Pittsburgh 27. 

Green Bay at Minnesota (-3.5) 

Crucial divisional game for both these teams, as the Bears are starting to pull away in the division and the wild card race is completely muddled as we head into December.  Both teams have their flaws, no question.  The first meeting ended in a tie in Week 2.  I am not betting on that happening again.  Another thing to ponder:  The Packers can’t go winless on the road this year, can they?  Seems like too much talent to “accomplish” that.  The Pack needs it more here too.

Green Bay 28, Minnesota 27.

Tennessee at Houston (-6.5)  

Spread seems a little high for this divisional tilt.  It appears Marcus Mariota will play, so no one has to suffer through Blaine Gabbert.  That all being said, I just don’t think the Titans are all that good.

Houston 23, Tennessee 14.  

Week (against the spread):  2-1

Week (straight up):  2-1

Season (against the spread):  87-77

Season (straight up):  102-62

Thank God For The AFC East…

…after another yawner Monday Night.  Now, don’t get me wrong, the New England Patriots didn’t play their best game that night.  But they didn’t have to.  And they knew it.

Why else would you go into the game with 2 running backs, one (James White) who is really just a receiver and the other (Kenjon Barner) someone who has bounced on and off the team a few times and is clearly someone the team doesn’t trust all that much.  More importantly, then give a stiff wide receiver 10 CARRIES?  That’s right, Cordarrelle Patterson lined up in the backfield plenty and also ran the ball plenty.  And besides breaking the one long run, not very well otherwise.

Dont’a Hightower was a late scratch as well.  Sure, he gets hurt a lot.  But no one really talked about him being in danger of missing the game…and then he did.  Cuz they played the Bills.  Good time for a rest.

With Derek Anderson behind center for the Bills, apparently a couple of weeks after he was trying to make some sort of professional golf tour, and perhaps their only true weapon, LeSean McCoy, possibly being limited from a previous concussion, the Pats were comfortable going into the game.  That’s the way we see it anyway.

Even though the Pats were pretty much limited to kicking field goals early on, did any of us think the game was in danger at any point at all?  Nope.

So once again, thank God for the ineptness of the division.  We’ve been through the whole thing with the Pats, how the year feels different, how the team usually has things a little more together at this point in the season, the question marks all over the place on the team…and all that.

But it doesn’t matter.  Now.

The Patriots will cruise to another division title with ease.  What happens this year in the playoffs may be a different story.  But we will cross that bridge when we get there.

Every year the “experts” think that either the Bills, Miami Dolphins or New York Jets are ready to pose a challenge for the top spot in the AFC East.

And every year, it just doesn’t happen.

This year will be no different.

I just hope the result of this game and the knowledge that the division is in the bag did not influence the trade deadline for the Pats.  That things are all good and there was no need to add reinforcements.  The team seemingly always does something at the deadline.  Something that doesn’t seem that major, but the players they get end up being key contributors down the stretch.

Why nothing this year?

Could have been the cost was too high.  But if that was the case, they should still have done it.  Especially at linebacker.  They are thin at running back, as noted.  But Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead will apparently be back at some point.  Good enough.  Receiver was an issue early on.  I’m ok with what they have their now.  The defensive backfield is a little muddled.  But they should be ok.  Both sides of the line, not horrible.  Linebacker is a glaring need.  Perhaps no one was available that fit what they do.  Would have been nice to see one move there at least.

Not much I can do about it myself.  So I guess I won’t lose any sleep over it…for now…

Oakland at San Francisco (-3.5)

…and if I was going to ever lose any sleep, perhaps the answer will be to just put this game on.  2-13 combined.  Ugh.  Not what the NFL had in mind when they scheduled this one.  Jon Gruden vs. Jimmy Garoppolo battling it out in Cali.  Nope.  Instead, with the backup (C.J. Beathard) to Jimmy Football now questionable, we may see an undrafted free agent starting for the Niners in Nick Mullens.  Riveting.  Enjoy!!

Oakland 24, San Francisco 13.

Week (against the spread):  8-6

Week (straight up):  11-3

Season (against the spread):  62-59

Season (straight up):  77-44

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