I offer my unconditional guarantee that today’s picks can’t be any worse!
JACKSONVILLE (-8 1/2) over Buffalo The Bills are a nice story but also a weird one. They tanked the season, setting up a decent QB the organization has never liked to fail, and yet backed into the playoffs by outperforming their Pythagorean expectation by 3 wins anyway. I don’t necessarily object to all of these moves — they presumably weren’t going to re-sign Watkins, a useful player but as you can see last night has never been able to fully refine his skills (in part because of injuries.) But they’re ridiculously, unnecessarily thin at the skill positions, and while I’d rather have Tayor than Bortles with Shady out or a shell of himself the former has nothing to work with. And even more strange is that they continued to tank even after they were in the playoff race — it’s poignant that Dareus, whose trading wrecked their once-stout run defense, ended up on the other side of their first playoff game of the 21st century. So while under normal circumstances I’d take the 8.5 and run against anybody facing Bortles, and if McCoy was healthy I still would, I worry that this could get pretty ugly. The Jags defense is for real, and Bortles shouldn’t have to do much.
NEW ORLEANS (-7) over Carolina Personal to Paul Allen: if you have a coach and a QB, your “window” is never “closed.” It’s just that an open window is an opportunity, not a guarantee. For years, the Saints have squandered having one of the ten best QBs in NFL history by fielding defenses that ranged from “bad” to “Rob Ryan.” But finally taking their problems seriously and having a good draft, they’ve put together a very, very solid defense. And they’ve also been very creative and finding weapons that have allowed Brees to keep on keeping on with seriously declining arm strength. The Panthers are a good team, and Newton can do things Brees can’t, but the Panthers remain oddly unable to provide him with a sufficient supporting cast. And it’s pretty hard to pick Carolina on the road against the Saints when their defenses are comparable.