Picks: Patriots will take first step towards #1 seed in AFC

Contenders will separate from the pretenders starting this Thursday; Tampa Bay was 7-5 after its first 12 games last season.

Picks: Belichick's Patriots Will top Vrabel's Titans
Brett Davis USA TODAY Sports

I've always thought that an NFL season is divided into three parts: the first third is made up of the first 12 weeks; the second third starts with Thanksgiving, and the third is the Playoffs.

The contenders will separate from the pretenders starting this Thursday. Just take the champions as an example: the Buccaneers were 7-5 after their first 12 games in 2020; from that point on, Tampa Bay won 8 games in a row, including the Super Bowl at home.

Candidates in 2021 to repeat what the Bucs did? In the AFC, Patriots and Chiefs; in the NFC, Vikings and 49ers.

And speaking of the Chiefs, the Kansas City defense looks more and more like the 2019 version, which in the second half of the season was one of the best in the league until they won the Super Bowl title.

In the most recent four, all wins, the Chiefs defense accepted an average of 11.6 points per game.

Kansas City, like the Buccaneers last year, starts playing its best football when it matters most.


Tennessee at New England (-6.5)

Despite their five straight wins- and six of the last seven- the Patriots have flown under the radar. Best for Bill Belichick.

Not having the attention of the press will always be appreciated by the New England coach, but that won't last long.

The Patriots (7-4) are the new leaders of the East Division and today they are not only contenders, but favorites to at least return to the AFC Championship Game.

Another candidate is the Tennessee Titans (8-3), under the command of Mike Vrabel, one of Belichick's most dedicated students.

Despite the surprise loss to the Texans, Tennessee remains the top seed in the AFC, but that position is in jeopardy this Sunday at Foxborough as a loss to the Patriots will put New England as the wheel of the Conference.

Vrabel is 2-0 against his former boss, including a postseason win, precisely Tom Brady's last game with the Patriots, at the end of the 2019 season.

The Patriots defense is the best in the league in points allowed, at 16.1; leads the NFL with 18 interceptions (including 6 by J.C. Jackson) and is second with 28 quarterback sacks (10.5 by Matt Judon).

The short read: it's the typical Belichick defense.

The Titans will try to rediscover their identity after Derrick Henry's injury.

Since last season's leading running back was injured three weeks ago, only once have they been able to rush for more than 100 yards, and that was on Sunday, in the aforementioned loss to Houston.

On the week, the Titans waived veteran Adrian Peterson, so the backfield is now in the hands of Jeremy McNichols (69 yards), D'Onta Foreman (84 yards, 1 touchdown) and Tory Carter, according to the depth chart from the official team site.

Of course, Belichick will want to shut down Tennessee's running game and put the game on the shoulders of Ryan Tannehill, who has only two games in which he has thrown more than one touchdown pass and was intercepted four times against the Texans.

Without Julio Jones, Tannehill's most reliable target is A.J. Brown (46 receptions, 615 yards, 3 touchdowns), who will have to deal with Jackson, probably the best cornerback in the NFL.

Pick: If rookie Mac Jones doesn't make costly mistakes, New England's defense will do its part against a Ryan Tannehill who doesn't have the talent around him to compete at Foxborough in the toughest stretch of the year. Patriots 24-13 Titans


Chicago (-3) at Detroit

Andy Dalton went from starter to backup to starting again and Detroit is still without a win. The nightmare ends this Thursday. Lions 23-20 Bears

Las Vegas at Dallas (-7.5)

Several of the injured Dallas stars come back, and that's bad news for the Las Vegas "defense." Cowboys 31-17 Raiders

Buffalo (-6) at New Orleans

If Buffalo wants to win the Eastern Division crown again, they can no longer afford to lose another game in the remainder of the season. Bills 28-20 Saints


Philadelphia (-3.5) at New York Giants

Who says Jason Garrett was the problem in New York? Eagles 30-20 Giants


Carolina (-2) in Miami

Miami's defense knows exactly what to expect from Cam Newton, after two games last year when he was still with the Patriots. Dolphins 23-19 Panthers


Pittsburgh at Cincinnati (-4.5)

Defensive casualties will once again hit hard on Pittsburgh, now the third-best team in the AFC North. Bengals 27-23 Steelers

New York Jets at Houston (-2.5)

In the NFL a horrible game does not exi… Texans 20-11 Jets

Tampa Bay (-3) at Indianapolis

Today Jonathan Taylor would receive more MVP votes than Tom Brady. Colts 28-24 Bucs

Atlanta (-1) at Jacksonville

Trevor Lawrence will win his third game as a professional. Jaguars 30-26 Falcons

Los Angeles Chargers (-2.5) at Denver

Denver's defense, a tough test for young gunslinger Justin Herbert. Chargers 29-27 Broncos

Los Angeles Rams in Green Bay (pk)

The Rams defense was horrible on Monday against San Francisco and it is clear that it will suffer against the teams that prefer to run the ball. Packers 28-24 Rams

Minnesota at San Francisco (-3)

San Francisco has improved in the past two weeks, but their run defense is not going to do well against Dalvin Cook. Vikings 30-27 49ers

Cleveland at Baltimore (-3.5)

A couple of facts: Lamar Jackson has to be considered a serious candidate for MVP and Baker Mayfield has to be considered a serious candidate for bust. Ravens 33-23 Browns

Seattle at Washington (-1)

With a third win in a row, coach Ron Rivera's team will jump into the race for a Wild Card ticket. WFT 24-19 Seahawks


Las Vegas vs. Dallas UNDER 52

Titans vs. Patriots UNDER 44.5

Bucs vs. Colts UNDER 53

Last week: 7-8

Total for the season: 100-67