Entering the 2017 season, Case Keenum was comfortably ensconced in the role that people expect of him: backup quarterback. Then, Vikings starter Sam Bradford injured his knee in the team’s Week 1 game against the New Orleans Saints and suddenly, Keenum found himself thrust into the starting lineup for the second time in as many years. That didn’t bode well for the Vikings hopes considering Keenum had posted just a 9-15 record while completing only 58.4 percent of his passes with a 78.4 passer rating.
After a rough first outing in a loss to the Steelers (20/37 167 yards), Keenum has played like an entirely different quarterback than the one we’ve grown accustomed to seeing during his career. He’s posted just two games in which his passer rating has been below that career mark since the Pittsburgh game and in his last four outings, he’s posted a rating of 100 or better while completing more than 70 percent of his passes. Is Keenum a long-term starter? Probably not based on track record. But, he’s fit well within the offensive game plan called by Pat Shurmur. The Vikings are 10-2, winners of eight straight games and things couldn’t be better right now in Minnesota.
No way we can lose – locks of the week: As you can guess, these will be the stone-cold locks of the week. The games I’m so confident about that I’d wager my life’s savings on them, if I had a life’s savings to wager.
Feeling pretty… pretty good: Not quite willing to bet the farm on this batch, but as Mr. Larry David would say, ‘I’m feeling pretty… pretty good’ about these games.
Heads or tails: These are your true toss ups: they can go one way or another, and you should pick with caution, even after heeding my expert advice.
All lines courtesy of Sportsline. All times Eastern.
New Orleans Saints @ Atlanta Falcons (+1.5), Thursday 8:25 p.m.
Level of Confidence: Heads or Tails Toss Up
ATS & Straight up: Falcons
This falls into the category of prototypical desperation game for the Falcons. Atlanta is in the 7th spot in the NFC, one game behind the Panthers and Seahawks for the Wild Card spots. If they lose this weekend, there’s a better than decent chance that they could fall two games behind depending on the outcome of the Panthers game against the Vikings and the Seahawks game against Jacksonville. New Orleans has been lighting it up this season and their defense is more stout than previous years, but I think Matt Ryan and company keep their playoff hopes alive with a win in front of the home fans.
No Way We Can Lose…Locks of the Week
Minnesota Vikings @ Carolina Panthers (+3), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Straight up: Vikings
For all of the reasons mentioned in the opening paragraph, I think the Vikings win this game. The Panthers offense has been inconsistent this year and the Vikings defense isn’t a unit you look to get yourself going against. Minnesota takes it and maintains pressure on Philly atop the NFC.
Tennessee Titans @ Arizona Cardinals (+3), Sunday 4:05 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Titans
The Cardinals have had a disappointing season and are done to their 3rd QB in Blaine Gabbert. That’s good news for a Titans defense that has continued to improve as the year has gone along. Tennessee is actually one of the better units in the league on third down, allowing opponents to convert just 36 percent of their chances. Arizona has converted just 38 percent of its third downs on the year. The Titans take this one in the desert to stay atop the AFC South.
Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers (-5), Sunday 8:30 p.m.
Straight up: Steelers
This AFC North divisional rivalry is usually fairly close. That wasn’t the case earlier this season when the Steelers buried the Ravens 26-9 at M&T Bank Stadium. The reason I think that reverses course this time around is two-fold. One, a banged up Antonio Brown. Two, a better Baltimore offense than we saw in Week 4. Not saying Joe Flacco pulls it out, but they should keep it closer than one score this time around.
Feeling Pretty…Pretty Good
Green Bay Packers @ Cleveland Browns (+3.5), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Packers
The Packers are just one week away now from getting their savior, QB Aaron Rodgers, back from his broken collarbone. Lucky for them, last week they got the Buccaneers at home, and this week they get the lowly Browns on the road. The Packers are in win now to stay alive in the playoffs mode and I think Brett Hundley and company do enough to get the Pack the win in time for a Rodgers stretch run push for the playoffs.
Chicago Bears @ Cincinnati Bengals (-6), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Bengals
The Bears are still struggling to figure out the best way to utilize QB Mitch Trubisky and I’m not sure they’re going to find it with John Fox as head coach. Fox is an old-school, run-the-football and play defense coach, and he’s not going to design up innovative new ways to play to Trubisky’s strengths. This week, he faces a Bengals defense that ranks as one of the better units in the league and that could spell trouble for the rookie.
Dallas Cowboys @ New York Giants (+4.5), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Cowboys
The Cowboys offense exploded last week against the Redskins, thanks to some help from the defense. Dak Prescott and company still have a few games left before Ezekiel Elliott returns, but it was good to see a big performance from Alfred Morris in the running game in his stead. The Giants have been a tire fire, but they did just fire their head coach and G-M and re-inserted Eli Manning into the starting lineup, so there’s potential for a “show them what we’re made of” type game. Nonetheless, I think the Cowboys get it done at MetLife.
Washington Redskins @ Los Angeles Chargers (-6), Sunday 4:05 p.m.
Straight up: Chargers
The Redskins injuries have started to catch up to them and there’s only so much Kirk Cousins can do in trying to carry the offense surrounding him. After getting blasted by the Cowboys last Thursday, the ‘Skins now face a Chargers team that is red-hot having won three straight games and is now fighting for a playoff spot in the AFC. Despite the lack of homefield advantage, Rivers and the Chargers get it done.
New England Patriots @ Miami Dolphins (+11), Monday 8:30 p.m.
Straight up: Patriots
Brady is without Gronk for this one as he serves his suspension for his after the whistle forearm shiver to the head of Bills DB Tredavious White. The Dolphins have also won three out of the last four games at home in Miami against the Patriots. Granted, the last time they met in Miami, the Patriots won 35-14.
Heads or Tails…Toss Up
Detroit Lions @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Lions
The Buccaneers have been the biggest disappointment in the NFC this season. On paper prior to the season, this team looked like a legit playoff contender. Instead, they’re languishing through another sub-.500 year and Jameis Winston hasn’t made any significant strides forward. They could get lucky here if Lions QB Matt Stafford can’t play due to the hand injury he sustained last week against the Ravens. If he sits, the Lions don’t have much of a chance. If he plays, even at less than 100 percent, they should get the win.
Oakland Raiders @ Kansas City Chiefs (-4), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Raiders
The Chiefs offense woke up against the Jets but, despite a four touchdown performance that included multiple deep shots down the field from Alex Smith, they still lost 38-31. The defense is one of the worst in the league in yards allowed and is in the bottom half of the league in points allowed as well. The Raiders aren’t much better defensively, but their offense has been getting going of late. This game’s in Arrowhead where the Chiefs haven’t lost to Oakland since 2012, but I think that streak ends this week.
Indianapolis Colts @ Buffalo Bills, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Colts
The Bills got some (relatively) good news after the 23-3 loss they suffered at the hands of the Patriots last Sunday. QB Tyrod Taylor, who was carted off the field with a knee injury, didn’t sustain any ligament damage and instead was diagnosed with a bruised patellar tendon. Taylor is questionable for this week though which makes this game more difficult to decipher. With Taylor, the Bills likely win. Nathan Peterman? We saw how well that worked out against the Chargers.
San Francisco 49ers @ Houston Texans (-3), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: 49ers
Jimmy Garoppolo showed some pretty good things in his debut as a starter for the Niners. He completed 70 percent of his passes for 293 yards and 1 interception. He showed pretty good chemistry with receivers Marquise Goodwin and Trent Taylor but he did have the pick. The Texans defense is solid, but it’s been hurt by injuries. And, if it comes down to a battle between which QB I believe in more: Tom Savage or Garoppolo. I’ll take Garoppolo.
New York Jets @ Denver Broncos (+1), Sunday 4:05 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Jets
The Broncos have lost eight straight games since starting the season 3-1. The QB position is a mess, and the defense seems frustrated by the inability of the offense. The Jets have been shockingly competent this season for a team that many thought was trying to “tank” the season before the year. I’ll take New York.
Philadelphia Eagles @ Los Angeles Rams (-2.5), Sunday 4:25 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Eagles
The Eagles played poorly in Seattle on Sunday night, but that’s no surprise. Many teams have fallen prey to the Seahawks in CenturyLink. It will be more interesting how Philly responds to the loss. The only other time they’ve lost this season, they needed a 61-yard field goal from Jake Elliott to beat the Giants. The Rams are still within striking distance of a first round bye and potential homefield advantage. Getting a win here would be a big step towards accomplishing that goal. The big advantage for me is the Eagles pass rush against the Rams offensive line. LA has given up 10 sacks in the last four games. Eagles take advantage to get back in the win column.
Seattle Seahawks @ Jacksonville Jaguars (-3), Sunday 4:25 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Jaguars
The Jaguars have the league’s best pass defense and top pass rush, but they will be tested by the magician-like abilities of Russell Wilson. While Wilson was able to work his way around Philadelphia’s ferocious pass-rush, I think the Jags get to him here.