For the first time this year and, I hope, the last, I am abandoning all pretense at high prose and taking refuge in the comfort of betting jargon. This hiatus won’t last long. I’m simply taking a deep breath before I consider the Twins’ customary postseason collapse. In the meantime, I have just one message for all the earnest Minnesota fans who think it was a great year for Our Town:
Aim higher. It’s what made America great.
I realize those words can and will be used against me. But here we go.
New York Giants at New England: It has taken me five weeks to figure out that this is not a normal NFL season. Like everything else in sports — hell, around the world — the gap between the winners and losers lengthens on a daily basis. With Saquon Barkley leading the way, the Giants looked like a middle-class team. Now Barkley is out and his mediocre backup Wayne Gallman is also sidelined (concussion). And that leaves a guy named Jon Hilliman (I hope I spelled that correctly), who spent his final year of college football at Rutgers after playing for Boston College for three years. I expect to see Hilliman running backwards in this game, because anyone who transfers to Rutgers is definitely going in the wrong direction.
Beyond that, rookie quarterback Daniel Jones seems to be regressing in real time, which is no surprise now that handing off the ball is basically conceding defeat. In his first start versus Tampa Bay, he passed for 336 yards. Then he passed for 225 yards against Washington and, as you saw on Sunday, 182 yards against the Vikings. He’s also been sacked nine times already, and the Patriots, who lead the league in sacks with 23, are not about to show the kid any mercy. Add to that the fact that you’ve got the scary (and probably cheating) genius Belichick versus non-genius coach Pat Shurmur going on three days’ rest. Even Justin Verlander caved with only three days between starts, so I’d say that’s another big edge for Belichick versus a mere mortal.
PREDICTION: New England 34, Giants 10
WAGER: Patriots -17 for $60
Philadelphia at Minnesota: I hope I haven’t let my Purple Pride get the best of me. Just kidding. No, I’m just interested in seeing how the Eagles react to defending a top-tier running back for the first time this year. The Eagles’ foes are a combined 7-15-2 straight up, so I’m guessing their league-leading defense against the run might not be league-leading by Sunday night. (Philly has allowed just 315 rushing yards, while the Vikings lead the NFL in rushing yards by running backs. Technically, Baltimore is first in rushing yards, but would be in mid-pack without the yardage gained by QB Lamar Jackson.)
Mostly I’m just looking at the technical trends, however. Going back to the start of the 2015 season, Minnesota is now 22-6-2 against the spread as a home favorite.
PREDICTION: Minnesota 28, Eagles 20
WAGER: Vikings -3 for $60
Houston at Kansas City: The Chiefs were favored by a touchdown when the betting windows opened in Vegas on Sunday night, but the line was four as I stroked my keyboard on Thursday. It’s not hard to see why. The Chiefs’ leading receiver last year, Tyreek Hill, who has been injured all year, is considered iffy with a clavicle injury. Sammy Watkins, a distant second among KC wideouts last year with 519 receiving yards, is out this week. Assuming Hill either sits or plays injured, that’s 2,000 yards from last year that have gone missing.
Travis Kelce is still Travis Kelce, but is Patrick Mahomes still Patrick Mahomes? The two hooked up on only four receptions in 10 tries in a loss to Indy on Sunday, a shocking outburst of inefficiency. The Chiefs, who lie about injuries as all teams do, are claiming there’s nothing to see here. But Mahomes was sacked four times last week, probably in large part because of a sprained ankle; only once has he been sacked more (five times by Arizona last year). So, using the Litmus Lie Test with which one must judge everything uttered by NFL coaches and (usually) players, it’s reasonable to assume that Mahomes is one hurtin’ dude.
Beyond that, the Chiefs aren’t much when it comes to sacking quarterbacks, and if you don’t sack or at least hit DeShaun Watson (early or late, it doesn’t matter), he’ll rip you apart as he did the Falcons last week. (Watson also discovered, for the first time, that there are these really huge guys out there called tight ends. After all, he’s a work in progress.)
As I scan the case I’m making for Houston, even I am considering wagering real money on the Texans. But I know better, and not just because I’m in a bit of a slump — or, as faithful readers might put it, “in mid-season form.” The mythical bankroll has, after all, fallen to $935 after a brief uptick. Therefore…
PREDICTION: Houston 34, Kansas City 31
WAGER: Texans +4 for $60