The Cold, Hard Football Facts are stumbling across the finish line like the town Christmas rummy with our real and spectacular weekly picks.
In fact, our recent performances remind us of how we handle the holidays when the inbred white-trash family gathers around the Cold, Hard Football Facts cardboard-box world headquarters:
We went just 8-8 straight up last week and 8-8 against the spread. It was the only week this year that we failed to top .500 straight up. Kind of embarrassing, like Uncle Jessie hitting on Cousin Daisy after a little too much holiday moonshine. Still not a bad season for the CHFF crew: we've been better than .500 ATS in 10 of 14 weeks this year.
San Diego at Tennessee (-2.5)
The Chargers are definitely vulnerable if they face the right team: they're 20th in Defensive Passer Rating, 21st against the run
and 24th in our Defensive Hog Index
. The Titans will definitely rip San Diego on the ground with the league's best rushing attack.
The problem for the Titans is that they're trying to stop one of the league's most prolific passing attacks with one of
the NFL's worst pass defenses (No. 24 in Defensive Passer Rating).
It adds up to the 10th win in a row for the Chargers.
San Diego 26, Tennessee 20
Buffalo at Atlanta (-8.5)
This is a bad match-up for the Falcons. They've been a very poor passing team this year (78.95 Offensive Passer Rating) and now face the best pass defense in football: the Bills are No. 1 with a very stout 59.74 Defensive Passer Rating and lead the league with 26 picks.
The Falcons are not good enough running the ball, meanwhile, to compensate for this deficiency in the passing game and to take advantage of a Buffalo defense that, despite its proficiency against the pass, is dead last against the run (4.85 YPA
Atlanta 21, Buffalo 17
Kansas City at Cincinnati (-13.5)
The Chiefs pass the ball about as poorly as any team in the NFL (4.89 YPA
). Not a very comforting Cold, Hard Football Fact against a defense that ranks No. 3 in scoring (17.4 PPG) and No. 9 in Defensive Passer Rating (75.15). But two touchdowns is a big expectation for a team that struggles to move the ball like the Bengals and that, with the exception of a 35-point beatdown of the Bears back in October, has failed to really put anybody away all year.
Cincinnati 26, Kansas City 16
Oakland at Cleveland (-3.5)
This is actually an interesting battle between two teams that have suddenly shown signs of competence in recent
weeks, after looking ready to pack it in earlier in the year.
The Raiders are officially the most curious team in football in 2009: as noted earlier this week, they boast more Quality Wins
(three) than several legit Super Bowl contenders, including the Eagles (two), Packers (two), Cardinals (two) and Patriots (one). Those Quality Wins include December victories over the Steelers and Broncos, both of them on the road, and an October victory over the Eagles.
It's the rest of the schedule that's a problem for Oakland.
The Browns, meanwhile, also boast a recent win over the defending-champ Steelers, they just put up 41 points on the Chiefs last week and they went toe-to-toe with the Chargers three weeks ago (30-23 loss). However, Brady Quinn is out for the final two games with a foot injury, which puts the reins of the Cleveland offense in the hands of old friend Derek Anderson.
The 2007 Pro Bowler (yup, he probably can't believe it either) was dreadful in five starts and six appearances earlier this year: 42.9 percent completions, 4.4 YPA, 2 TD, 9 INT, 36.2 passer rating.
Oakland 27, Cleveland 23
Seattle at Green Bay (-13.5)
Look for Aaron Rodgers to have a monster day at home as the Packers try to recover from last week's last-second loss to Pittsburgh. Rodgers is fourth in the NFL this year with a 102.4 passer rating. The Seahawks are No. 28 in the NFL with a 94.78 Defensive Passer Rating.
The 5-9 Seahawks have also been a very bad road team this year: they have a 1-6 record and have been outscored 222-107 (31.7 to 15.3). The lone road win came against St. Louis, easily the worst team in football. Seattle is also coming off its worst game of the season: a 24-7 home loss to the 2-12 Buccaneers.
Green Bay 33, Seattle 14
Houston at Miami (-2.5)
You know that scene in "It's a Wonderful Life" when a beaten, discouraged and suicidal George Bailey begs Mr. Potter for money?
Mr. Potter responds in a manner that chills our icy hearts every December:
"Look at you. You used to be so cocky. You were going to go out and conquer the world. You once called me "a warped, frustrated, old man!" What are you but a warped, frustrated young man? A miserable little clerk crawling in here on your hands and knees and begging for help. No securities, no stocks, no bonds. Nothin' but a miserable little $500 equity in a life insurance policy."
We love Mr. Potter.
Similar words might be said of both these teams. The Texans used to be so young and cocky, way back when they were 5-3 and had hopes of the first playoff appearance in franchise history. The Dolphins used to be so young and cocky, back when they won their last Super Bowl in 1973.
Now look at them: nothin' but miserable little .500 teams with no life insurance policy beyond the end of the regular season.
Several big advantages in this game belong to the Dolphins, who rank No. 3 in our Defensive Hog Index
and No. 4 in our Offensive Hog Index. The Texans rank No. 22 in our Defensive Hog Index
and No. 19 in our Offensive Hog Index.
Those are two bad match-ups for Houston.
However, NFL games aren't won in the trenches, contrary to popular belief. NFL games are won much like modern warfare, by controlling the skies. Houston has the key advantage here: No. 4 in Passing Yards Per Attempt (7.45 YPA) while Miami is a moribund 24th (5.46 YPA). The two are nearly neck and neck, meanwhile, in Defensive Passer Rating: Miami ranks 15th (84.35) while Houston ranks 16th (84.64).
Houston 26, Miami 23
Jacksonville at New England (-7.5)
The Jaguars defense will represent a welcome relief for a New England offense that, week after week, has faced the stiffest pass defenses in football: seven of New England's 14 games this year have come against the top five teams in Defensive Passer Rating
No contender has faced anything close to that kind of defensive gauntlet. Tom Brady has outperformed the cumulative 74.6 Defensive Passer Rating of his opposing defenses by nearly 20 points (we discussed this brutal schedule in more detail on Boston's WEEI.com this week
Those numbers indicate a long day for Jacksonville and its 27th-ranked pass stoppers (92.58 Defensive Passer Rating). The last time Brady faced the Jaguars defense, in the 2007 divisional playoffs, it resulted in the most accurate passing day in NFL history: 26 completions in 28 attempts (92.9%).
New England 28, Jacksonville 17
Tampa Bay at New Orleans (-14.5)
The Saints have certainly wobbled in recent weeks, with a pair of narrow wins followed by last week's first loss of the season, 24-17, to Dallas. The Bucs, meanwhile, are fresh off their best game of the year, a surprising 24-7 victory at Seattle.
But all our indicators still show a big blowout victory for the Saints: they're No. 1 in Passer Rating Differential (+41.8) wile the Bucs are No. 28 (-25.75). Don't forget, New Orleans won big in Tampa back in November (38-7 despite just 187 yards from Drew Brees) and the Saints still have something to play for: they wrap up the No. 1 seed with a victory.
New Orleans 30, Tampa Bay 10
Carolina at N.Y. Giants (-6.5)
The Giants are in a similar place: Carolina runs the ball as well as any team in football (4.69 YPA, third), while New York is good but not great stopping the run (4.03 YPA, 10th). The Panthers are also much better in pass defense (73.11 DPR vs. 88.56 DPR) than the G-Men.
The Giants will be able to run well, but not well enough to win by a touchdown.
N.Y. Giants 24, Carolina 20
Denver at Philadelphia (-6.5)
The Broncos have completely fallen off the national radar screen – a 20-19 home loss to the Raiders makes their disappearance deserved – but they remain firmly entrenched in the AFC playoff race. In fact, if the season ended today, they'd be in as a wildcard team with Baltimore.
Denver has devolved into a very bad road team: since November 1 they've lost by 23 to Baltimore, 10 to Washington and 12 to Indy (with a big win over the Chiefs in between).
We look for the Eagles to pound a Broncos team that's spiraling out of control.
Philadelphia 27, Denver 17
Baltimore at Pittsburgh (-2.5)
Last year's AFC title contenders have certainly disappointed their fans this year, with a combined 15-13 record here in 2009.
Baltimore's big weakness? Not many. They're actually statistically stout across the board in many of our Quality Stats and most traditional stats, too. It's inconsistent play from Joe Flacco (19 TD, 11 INT, 89.9 passer rating) that has held the team back. He's produced statistical clunkers in losses to the Bengals (twice) and Packers that are the difference between 11-3 and the current 8-6 record.
Pittsburgh's big weakness? Their Defensive Hogs
, absolutely dominant this year, have fallen off the map: No. 18 this year in our Defensive Hog Index, including 27th in third-down defense. They were No. 1 in third-down defense last year. The pass defense has also struggled: No. 2 last year (63.4 DPR) to No. 14 this year (84.3 DPR).
The Ravens eked out a 20-17 win in Baltimore a month ago and most of the indicators tell us that they should win again this week. But we have a Cold, Hard spot in our hearts for the best playmaker on the field, Ben Roethlisberger.
Pittsburgh 24, Baltimore 20
St. Louis at Arizona (-13.5)
Kurt Warner shredded the awful Rams a month ago in St. Louis: 15 of 19, 2003 yards, 10.7 YPA, 2 TD, 0 INT, 146.3 rating.
That was just in the first half.
He went out with a concussion before the break, with the Cardinals sporting a 21-3 lead. Without Warner, the offense collapsed with Matt Leinart at the helm and the Cardinals held on for a 21-13 victory.
The Cardinals have already wrapped up the NFC West, but still have a shot at a first-round bye thanks to their 30-17 win over the Vikings earlier this month.
We'll assume Warner plays the whole game and that he tears up the NFL's 31st-ranked pass defense (95.99 Defensive Passer Rating
Arizona 30, St. Louis 10
Detroit at San Francisco (-11.5)
The Lions are bad at home. But they're a disaster on the road: 0-7 and they've lost by double digits in every single game. In fact, they've been outscored 249-97 (35.6 to 13.9).
Not a good trend.
The 49ers are hardly an explosive offense team (20.1 PPG, 19th), but the Lions make even underachieving former first-round draft picks look like Hall of Famers.
San Francisco 27, Detroit 14
N.Y. Jets at Indianapolis (-5.5)
However, the Jets represent the stiffest test Peyton Manning & Co. has faced all year: No. 1 in scoring defense (15.8 PPG) and No. 2 in Defensive Passer Rating
(60.6). In fact, the J-Men have surrendered just eight touchdown passes all year. Manning, meanwhile, has thrown eight TDs in the last two weeks alone.
The Jets will make life tough for the Indy offense. But the disastrous year at quarterback will continue for rookie Mark Sanchez, who will struggle against the solid and opportunistic Colts defense.
Indianapolis 20, N.Y. Jets 10
Dallas (-6.5) at Washington
The Cowboys are fresh off their biggest win of the year, going on the road and ending New Orleans' quest for a perfect season. The Redskins, meanwhile, are fresh off their worst loss of the year, getting smoked 45-12 at home by the Giants.
The NFC East has simply not been kind to Washington this year: they're 0-5 in the division and 3-4 against everybody else. The Redskins are also just 1-6 on the road. Plus, they have chaos in the locker room, with the team reportedly interviewing Jim Zorn's assistants to take his job at the end of the year. That must create the type of internal dysfunction in the locker room that we expect to see at the family Christmas party Friday.
The divisional and road woes will continue as Tony Romo & Co. chew up Washington's average pass defense (85.4 Defensive Passer Rating, 17th) while the very effective ground game for Dallas (4.86 YPA, second) finds openings against Washington's average run defense (4.09 YPA, 12th).
Dallas 24, Washington 16
Minnesota (-6.5) at Chicago
The wheels are clearly starting to spin off Minnesota's wagon here in December: BrettFavre is playing poorly
. The team just suffered its worst loss of the year, a 26-7 beat down by the sub-.500 Panthers. And a very public fight between the coach and quarterback has dominated NFL headlines this week.
(By the way, people around the country constantly rip New England's Bill Belichick for failing to share information with the media. But the wisdom of his strategy is evident every time a conflict like the one in Minnesota arises and you have a media circus with the coach and QB holding separate press conferences to air their dirty laundry in front of the entire nation. Brutal).
In any case, the Bears provide a welcome bit of relief from the insanity. They were 4-4 at one point and looked like a potential NFC North contender. But they're 1-5 in their last six games (the lone win was against St. Louis), their quarterback has been a disaster (19 TD, 25 INT) and they were smoked 36-10 when they faced the Vikings just a month ago.
Look for the Vikings to get back on track in the Monday Night Football finale, barring a disastrous BrettFavre effort that would officially mark the end of Minnesota's hopes.
By the way, if BrettFavre does produce another December dud, we're sure the MNF broadcast crew will tell us all about how much fun he's having this year ... by the way, have you noticed that the networks have finally given up on the nauseating "this is BrettFavre's last game here ... " and "this is BrettFavre's last game there ... " reports that dominated their broadcasts for the last four years?
Even they're tired of the annual BrettFavre retirement circus. It's a Christmas miracle!
Minnesota 26, Chicago 17