Get psyched — NFL teams sure seem to be
At this point as we’re reaching December, NFL teams have shown their true colors.
Still, really odd and totally unexpected upsets are still happening even as the league is just about two-thirds of the way through the regular season.
Now it’s understandable if this kind of stuff happens during the last week or two before the playoffs begin — a team’s motivation changes depending on whether they’re already in, they’re close or totally out of it.
And having lots of motivation might not always be good, if players get tight instead of playing way above their collective heads.
But right now, what’s happening when the lackluster Jaguars beat Baltimore or the recently struggling Raiders take out Seattle?
Injuries can make all the difference, of course, but I really think how a team psychologically approaches any given game makes just about as much difference as their talent or even their execution using that talent.
I’m always a believer that if two teams are on equal footing, take the team that lost most recently — especially if it was in their most recent game.
The key here is “equal footing” — if a team is hotter than a pistol, the only team that could be expected to keep up with it would be another hot team, and neither probably would’ve lost in the last month or six weeks or maybe longer.
That’s how some teams are able to go on really long — like eight-, nine-, 10-game — winning streaks even after so-so starts.
Look at the Washington Commanders. They won their first game, then lost four in a row to slide to 1-4. Since then, they’ve won six of seven to improve to 7-5.
They’re still in last place in the NFC East. But they’re also in the playoffs right now as the third wild card — that’s because their record is better than EVERY other non-division leader in the NFC’s North, South and West divisions. Seattle is closest at 6-5.
Washington hasn’t exactly faced a rogue’s gallery in its last eight games, though they did lose by three points to 9-2 Minnesota and handed Philadelphia its only loss 2 1/2 weeks ago.
The key, though, is they got going on the streak with wins against so-so teams — sorry, that means Chicago and Green Bay along with Indianapolis.
The most recent two wins were against Houston and Atlanta.
Yeah, those teams aren’t great, but that’s the point — mediocre teams knock off other decent teams once in awhile, but these mediocre teams aren’t on “equal footing” with Washington anymore.
When most any team loses, you always hear the coach saying something like, “We’re going to look at every aspect of our team and determine which parts aren’t working and figure out what it will take to get it going in the right direction again.”
If you find those are the exact words of some coach, let me know. Even if they aren’t exact, the idea I believe is — they spend lots of time reassessing and fixing things that seem to be broken.
Teams that win, whether it’s because they worry about bad karma or whatever, they don’t want to mess with a good thing.
So winning can be — probably often is — a Band-Aid for all your troubles. But those troubles are still there, and don’t think your next opponent won’t take advantage of them and knock you silly if they get half a chance.
That’s today’s spiel on picking winners at this time of the season. Just don’t be surprised if I don’t always follow it — I just can’t help myself when I see a team on that played well last week!
Onto the picks:
Today, 8:15 p.m.
Buffalo at New England — I just think Buffalo is on a different level than the Patriots, especially as Josh Allen is getting over his injury of a couple weeks ago.
And this won’t be a game the Bills overlook as they seek their first division win. Yes, really, Buffalo is one of four teams without a win within its division this season (they’re 0-2). Bills, 30-24.
Sunday, 1 p.m.
Pittsburgh at Atlanta — Here’s my first application of “reverse momentum” — and I forgot to use that term in earlier explanation.
The Steelers are on a short week and won, even though they aren’t that great. And Atlanta was competitive with Washington, losing by six points when a tipped ball was intercepted in the end zone in the final minute or two. Falcons, 27-21.
Denver at Baltimore — Call this the “bodily functions” game, because Baltimore must be p-o’ed after their loss to Jacksonville, while the Broncos just keep sliding into a cesspool under its current regime. Ravens, 33-22.
Green Bay at Chicago — I’m going around and around on this one. But in the end, I’m counting on Aaron Rodgers to play for Green Bay with Justin Fields’ status is still up in the air for the Bears. It’s “making” me take the Packers, 23-20.
Jacksonville at Detroit — Despite having their three-game win streak snapped on Thanksgiving, Detroit is still playing well. And they took a loss so Dan Campbell can do his fine-tooth-comb thing. Meanwhile, the Jags are still on a high after beating the Ravens. Lions, 34-30.
Cleveland at Houston — Throw a monkey wrench into the momentum thing for this game — Dashaun Watson is back for Cleveland. Sure, he’ll probably be rusty after having not played a regular-season game in nearly two years, but doesn’t Houston look rusty every week? Browns, 27-19.
New York Jets at Minnesota — It seems a little too good to be true that a quarterback change made ALL the difference for the Jets. Let’s just say it’s time for Northern Michigan University grad Robert Saleh’s team to come back down to earth against a unit that’s figured out how to pull out close wins. Vikings, 30-29.
Washington at New York Giants — The Giants seem to be fading and not on “equal footing” with the Commanders anymore, even though the New York squad is still ahead of Washington in the standings — by a slender half-game. Commanders, 24-16.
Tennessee at Philadelphia — Until recently, the Titans were seeking the best record in the AFC. Philly shouldn’t be overlooking these guys. Eagles, 23-17.
Sunday, 4 p.m.
Seattle at Los Angeles Rams — The perfect reversal of momentum with Seattle being upset at home by Vegas on Sunday. The Rams, meanwhile, are apparently having to search for players from a minor league that I’m not sure really exists. Seahawks, 29-23.
Miami at San Francisco — I’m surprised this didn’t get “flexed” into Sunday night, especially when you see what’s sitting there now for NBC. The 49ers seem to run into efficiency issues on offense, not a good sign vs. an explosive point-scoring unit like Miami’s. Dolphins, 24-16.
Kansas City at Cincinnati — KC’s at one of those junctures where I just don’t like to pick against them — even if they were playing Washington, as odd as that sounds. Chiefs, 29-27.
Los Angeles Chargers at Las Vegas — The little birdies are saying the Chargers are getting healthier, which pulls them back into an echelon above these Raiders. Chargers, 27-23.
Sunday, 8:20 p.m.
Indianapolis at Dallas — I told you the Sunday night game wasn’t that good, though I think the Jeff Saturday-led Colts might make a better contest of this than it looks on paper. Still, gotta take the Cowboys, 31-24.
Monday, 8:15 p.m.
New Orleans at Tampa Bay — Shouldn’t it be considered a good matchup if it’s a divisional game between teams of fairly equal quality? I use “quality” here rather loosely. Believing in the power of the Bucs to underwhelm, I’ll take the Saints, 19-14.
Last week — 13-3, 81 percent (my best week of the season). Season — 106-73-1, 59 percent.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.