About six weeks ago, there was a clear separation between the NFL’s haves and have-nots with seemingly very few average teams. In last week’s column, we took inventory of the league at roughly the midway point of the season, and the gap had decreased. More balance is showing itself as of late, and that trend continued in Week 11.
The Eagles actually look like a pretty good team. The Chiefs are finally coming around, especially on defense. The Colts are healthy, most notably on the offensive line, and that is paying huge dividends. The Saints are really banged up and could be in trouble. The Vikings look very good. The 49ers look like the team we thought we’d see all along. Funny thing is, no team appears clearly great and as we head into Week 12, maybe “average teams” are slowly becoming the majority. Haha! I have to laugh — boy, the NFL can be tough to figure out. It is truly consistently inconsistent, year in and year out. And sometimes that can make one’s handicapping easy, but so often, we just don’t know when, where, or how the inconsistency is going to show up.
Just ask 38 former Circa Survivor contestants who took the Titans to beat the Texans in Week 11. Ouch. Colt McCoy quarterbacked the Cardinals to an outright win for the second time in three weeks, this time as underdogs. Ben Roethlisberger returned to action for the Steelers and covered the number against the Chargers in a thrilling game. Those two instances, and the Ravens-Bears, are examples of something we have seen hold true week in and week out. Teams that experience a line move against them due to COVID-19 concerns, starting quarterback health and uncertainty, etc., have won both outright and against the number in all but one case that I can recall this season. Who will do it this week? From a contest perspective, these can be huge against-the-grain plays and have been quite beneficial for those who have taken the gamble this season.
Thanksgiving week is here. What a glorious week to be a football fan. What a complete grind for the remaining Circa Survivor players as they must pick a straight-up winner from the three-game card on Thursday and again from the remaining 12 games on Sunday/Monday — if they make it that far. If you are a Circa Survivor player who makes it to Week 13, you are looking great and I can already hear your sigh of relief.
Things are starting to get pretty nervy for Circa Millions and Westgate SuperContest players. We are down to the final seven weeks, and this is where championships likely will be decided. If one is on the outside looking in at this point, you’re done. Catching lightning in a bottle for a few weeks and cashing a quarterly prize is your last shot at glory, which is one of the very best things about the contest age we live in — one is really never done until the 18-week campaign is. Chin up. There are still opportunities available.
For those truly in contention, in either the Millions or the SuperContest, I offer these pieces of advice:
1. Smile. Embrace the moment. It may be the only time in one’s life to have experienced a football season as thrilling as this one.
2. Stay grounded. Don’t get ahead of yourself and don’t go tell the world that you’re about to win a truckload of money. Slow down. You can sing when this is finished.
3. Stick to your routine. Go with what got you here. This will breed confidence, focus and help you avoid second-guessing
4. And lastly, there will be some game theory to consider as the finish line comes into view. Don’t overthink it. It will depend exactly on your position on the leaderboard as to how to play it from there, but I would say if you are a frontrunner, pick winners and don’t get cute.
A few games have piqued my interest early in the week and will surely require further investigation (aka handicapping), but there is one game on the Sunday card that I find particularly interesting — the “Sunday Night Football” matchup featuring the Ravens hosting the Browns. The market seems to like Baltimore and is understandably questioning Cleveland. I have a sneaky feeling this is going to be another crazy ballgame between these teams — like the Ravens’ 47-42 victory last season. Remember that one? I don’t expect scoring like that, but I do think it will be that tightly contested. I made the Browns a 3.5-point underdog, and at the time of writing, they are catching 4.5.
Cleveland has been bitten by the injury bug badly. I hate that for any team. I think they will find a way to show up here, though, when the world is really doubting them. Just a hunch combined with the initial number I made on the game, but remember ... parity looks like the play in the league right now. Right? That is, of course, until it’s not.