This is the first week that we have seen six teams on their bye week, so our NFL office pool picks feature only 13 games. It’s probably good that there are fewer games than we have seen before. After last week that means there are fewer games to confuse and frustrate us. There were certainly more than enough of those last week. Let’s just pretend that a week that featured eight underdog winners never happened and start fresh this week:
Seattle at San Francisco - I can’t figure the Niners out. In four games they have looked better than any other team in the league. In the other two, including last week, they have looked just plain lousy. Last time they had a lousy game they bounced back well, so I expect them to do the same. Seattle’s win was impressive, but New England isn’t as good as their reputation so there is an asterisk beside it. Take the Niners.
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Washington at New York Giants - Every time I think the Redskins are about to start struggling — as their lineup suggests they should — they find another big performance somewhere. This will be a very tough spot, though. The Giants are very confident after dismantling the Niners, and now return home. Take the Giants.
Arizona at Minnesota - Minnesota was a big disappointment last week. They haven’t lost at home in three tries, though, and that has included teams better than the suddenly sputtering Cardinals. This one likely won’t be pretty, but the Vikings are the clear choice. Take Minnesota.
Dallas at Carolina - I really don’t like how the Cowboys finished out their last game, and they have some injury woes. However, they played a good Baltimore team very tight. The Panthers, meanwhile, have been disappointing on both sides of the ball, and they seem to have real chemistry issues. It’s tough having faith in the pride of Dallas, but that’s what I’m forced to do. Take the Cowboys.
New Orleans at Tampa Bay - I don’t know how the Saints are going to come out of their bye week — especially with all the drama around Jonathan Vilma and his suspension going to a whole new level. Tampa Bay, meanwhile, is coming off their best performance of the season, and there was a lot to like. The public will be on the Saints, but take the Bucs.
Green Bay at St. Louis - Last week, for the first time all season, the Packers looked like the Packers we grew to know and love last year. I don’t know if they can do it two weeks in a row, but I’m certainly not going to bet on the Rams being able to contain them if they do. Take the Packers.
Baltimore at Houston - Houston was humiliated by Green Bay on Sunday. Their ability to bounce back will be a very good test of what this team is made of. Baltimore is dangerous, but after losing both Lewis and Webb for the year on defense they could have confidence issues — not to mention issues containing Houston’s explosive offense. Take the Texans.
Cleveland at Indianapolis - The Browns really impressed me last week in beating the Bengals. They were tough throughout, and they earned the win. The Colts, meanwhile, struggled and clearly showed their issues with depth and talent. This is a coin toss, but I like more of what the Browns are doing right now, so they are the pick. Take Cleveland.
Tennessee at Buffalo - Both teams were much more impressive last week than we have come to expect them to be based on the last several weeks. Now the question is which one can keep it up. I have little faith in either team, but the Bills are at home so they get the nod. Take Buffalo.
New York Jets at New England - The AFC East is pretty much a disaster right now. How bad is it? So bad that the Dolphins are the team I trust more than any other. That’s ugly. This one could go either way because the Jets are so unpredictable and New England has more issues than we have seen them have in the Belichick era. Still, they are at home, so the Patriots are the pick. Take New England.
Jacksonville at Oakland - When two teams this underwhelming are scheduled to meet at this point in the season, the league should just cancel the game out of respect for the fans. This one is lousy. Take the Raiders.
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati - It has been years since I have had any respect for the Bengals. They are at home, though, and they are up against a Pittsburgh defense that is old and all but incompetent. I hate doing it, and will almost certainly regret it if history is any indication, but I’ll take the Bengals.
Detroit at Chicago - You have to take a few calculated risks to win an office pool, and I’m taking one here. The Bears are coming off a bye and I expect them to be flat. Detroit, meanwhile, may have finally shaken off their early lethargy with their late comeback on Sunday. It is the first time they looked like they cared, and the first time they took advantage of their talent. It could be a turning point. Take the Lions.
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