Buy or Sell: December

December football is all about the playoff race. Which teams will stay afloat and which ones will sink?
Can we trust the Bills and Chiefs to make a run? Photo credit: ESPN.com

Can we trust the Bills and Chiefs to make a run? Photo credit: ESPN.com

A new month means it’s time for a new Buy or Sell. We can all see that some playoff spots are pretty much locked up (Panthers, Patriots, Bengals, Broncos, etc.), so I’m gonna focus on those wildcard teams that absolutely need a good December to have a shot. But first, let’s see how I did last month:

BUY: San Diego Chargers (2-5) → (3-8) = 1-3 in November — Severe Failure

BUY: New York Jets (4-2) → (6-5) = 2-3 in November — Mild Failure

BUY: Seattle Seahawks (3-4) → (6-5) = 3-1 in November — Great Success

BUY: New Orleans Saints (3-4) → (4-7) = 1-3 in November — Severe Failure

SELL: Indianapolis Colts (3-4) → (6-5) = 3-1 in November — Severe Failure

SELL: Washington Redskins (3-4) → (5-6) = 2-2 in November — Mild Failure

Wow, November was rough. It’s actually hard to do as bad as I did on purpose, let alone on accident. But this won’t stop me from uselessly speculating. This month, I’m narrowing my focus to just three teams in the AFC. It seems everyone is getting hot right now in pursuit of that wildcard spot. Can they stay hot in the month that matters most? How they fare will determine if we’re watching them in January. Here are two teams I think will give themselves a shot until the very end, and one I see sinking under the pressure:

Kansas City Chiefs (6-5): BUY

I used to absolutely despise this team earlier in the year. They were losers and even worse, they were boring. They love to establish a run game and play it safe through the air with short passes. They’re one exciting player Jamaal Charles even got knocked out for the year midway through the season. At 1-5, there was no hope for this team. But then somehow–right around Charles’ injury–they just started winning! They have now won five straight and are actually leading the AFC wildcard race. They’re still as boring as before, but to their credit, they’ve stuck to their identity and nearly perfected a winning formula. Their defense is quietly one of the best in the last month, allowing over 13 points in just one of their past five games. Alex Smith’s last interception was in September, making it so hard for opponents to turn the tide if they’re trailing. I have to admit I was wrong about the Chiefs earlier this season and now I’m jumping on this bandwagon with all I’ve got. Usually I’d avoid buying such a hot team, but their December schedule sets them up for success. All four opponents (Raiders, Chargers, Ravens, Browns) have losing records. If they stick to what they’re doing, they should be able to pull at least three of these and have a great shot at one of those two AFC wildcard spots.

Behind JJ Watt, Houston's defense has put them in contention. Photo credit: ESPN.com

Behind JJ Watt, Houston’s defense has put them in contention. Photo credit: ESPN.com

Houston Texans (6-5): SELL

If the Chiefs aren’t the hottest team in the league, then it’s the Texans. They’ve won four in a row after a bad start and like Kansas City, have established themselves as AFC wildcard contenders. They’re defense has been fantastic, allowing just two touchdowns in their last 16 quarters. Brian Hoyer has proved that he was the right choice from the very start, keeping the turnovers low while getting the ball to DeAndre Hopkins, one of the top receivers in the league. Having said all that, I just can’t bring myself to trust this team. I don’t have a lot to back that up besides a gut feeling. Looking at their upcoming schedule doesn’t help that feeling much either. To make a serious playoff push, they have to survive the 5-6 Bills, the 10-1 Patriots, the 6-5 Colts, and the 2-9 Titans. It’s not the most brutal stretch in the world, but the Bills and Colts game will be the make or break games. I can see those going either way and based on my gut, the Texans will revert back to the team they were in the beginning of the season and fall out of the race.

Buffalo Bills (5-6): BUY

Unlike the Chiefs or Texans, the Bills are a step behind some good teams. They’ve lost two close games to the Pats and Chiefs and it seems like people are starting to forget about them. What a perfect time to buy a solid team. Buffalo won’t impress anybody with their wins resume–wins over Colts and Jets are their best–but they’ve got a solid defense and one of the best running games in the NFL. My feeling about this team comes from a similar place as my feeling about Houston. I just have that gut feeling that Buffalo can string together a few wins. Tyrod Taylor has been better than we expected and like Smith, limits the turnovers and keeps his team in the game. Their game today against Houston is huge. A win here will give them a much needed tiebreaker advantage and also set them up to win over their NFC East slate (Washington, Philly, and Dallas). They have the capability to beat Washington, though that will be a tough game. Where they have to pick up wins is against struggling Philly and battered Dallas. If they manage to go 3-1 in these, they have a real shot. When everybody is looking at hot teams, I’m looking at the slow and steady Bills in December.

 

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Buy or Sell: November

October is history. It’s time to review how we did and then buy or sell some new teams for November.
Philip Rivers is on pace to throw for one million yards. Will the wins finally follow in November? Photo credit: ESPN.com

Philip Rivers is on pace to throw for one million yards. Will the wins finally follow in November? Photo credit: ESPN.com

Last month I started a new segment where I advise you guys on which teams to get behind and which teams to abandon for the upcoming month. We do this so we look smart before anyone else. Before we get into who I love for November, let’s see how you did if you took my advice last month:

BUY: Atlanta Falcons (3-0) → (6-1) = 3-1 in October — Great Success

BUY: Philadelphia Eagles (1-2) → (3-4) = 2-2 in October — Mild Success

BUY: Tampa Bay Bucs (1-2) → (2-4) = 1-2 in October — Mild Failure

SELL: St. Louis Rams (1-2) → (3-3) = 2-1 in October — Standard Failure

SELL: Detroit Lions (0-3) → (1-6) = 1-3 in October — Great Success

Not the best start in the world, but I’d say we still managed alright. The Bucs were a risky buy and it was just a play or two away from paying off with a win over the Redskins. But taking risks is what this game is all about. For the month of November, I’ve added four new teams–including three losing teams–to my portfolio and highlighted a couple to stay far away from:

San Diego Chargers (2-5): BUY

The Chargers have dropped three straight and their only two wins are against the Lions and Browns. Everyone is bailing on San Diego and that’s when you know it’s the perfect time to go all in. Deep down, we all know the Chargers are better than 2-5. Philip Rivers has the most passing yards of any QB and is tied for 3rd in passing touchdowns (15). Sooner or later those yards and scores are going to translate into wins. Why wait until they win one when you can jump on the bandwagon now and look like a genius for it? Check out the November schedule for this team: at Ravens (can’t seem to win a game to save their lives), home vs Bears (night game where a mediocre team has to travel west), home vs Chiefs (cover the 5-yard checkdown from Alex Smith and you’re good), and then at Jaguars (a rebuilding team with a lot of problems). These are all very winnable games and if they run the table like I think they could, they can be heading into December with a winning record. Even conservative estimates have them going 3-1 in those four games, putting themselves in much better shape than they are now. Don’t wait around for the Chargers to look good. They’re poised for a great November so the time to buy is now.

Indianapolis Colts (3-4): SELL

Speaking of teams we know are better than their record states, the Indianapolis Colts are bound to go on a run at some point. Since drafting Andrew Luck, they seem to be inching closer and closer to the Super Bowl each year. Many thought this would be the year they finally busted open that door. We have to figure a team with such strong talent and high expectations is going to figure it out and string together some wins, but November will not be that time. Their next three games are brutal. They face the undefeated Panthers on the road, the undefeated Broncos at home, and the 1-loss Falcons on the road. They round out November with a home game against the Bucs, but those first three games are where they can get pummelled if they’re not careful. I was admittedly skeptical of the Panthers until they beat the Seahawks in their own stadium. This Carolina team can straight-up play and their talent on defense will be chomping at the bit to shut down Andrew Luck. Luck and his offense won’t get a rest as they have to face the best defense in the NFL six days later. I feel a little bit better about their prospects in the following game with Atlanta, but based on how they’re playing right now (26th in rushing yards, 21st in scoring, 20th in points allowed), that will be a tough road game to steal. Put all this together and you’re looking at a Colts team that could realistically go 2-2 or even 1-3. For a team that we considered to be among the AFC elite, a 5-6 record after a couple months is falling dangerously below expectations. Fortunately for them, that’s probably still a good enough record to lead the pitiful AFC South. You may be eager to get behind this team before they get hot (because they likely will), but resist the temptation for now.

 

The sky must be falling because the Jets are good again. Photo credit: ESPN.com

The sky must be falling because the Jets are good again. Photo credit: ESPN.com

New York Jets (4-2): BUY

Call me a sucker, but I really like this Jets team. Their loss to the Pats told me more about them than did any of their five prior games. Even in a loss, they outgained New England in total yardage and held them to just 16 total rushing yards. They sit in the top 10 in scoring offense and in the top five for points allowed. Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn’t have to be a hero to help this team get wins. Their defensive talent is staggering (Revis, Cromartie, Harris, etc.) and I love Chris Ivory’s punishing running style that has helped him become one of the NFL’s best rushers. The next five games for the Jets consist of the Raiders, Jaguars, Bills, Texans, and Dolphins (combined record 13-21). The Jets will likely be favored in all five of those games and I wouldn’t be shocked if they won all of them. However, knowing the NFL, they will more realistically go 4-1 or even 3-2 over that stretch. No matter how you look at it, the Jets are set up for a huge November. Let’s look even further down the road here. If they do manage to go 4-1, they’ll be sitting at 8-3 with only five games remaining. Just two wins in those final five will put them at 10-6 on the year, a great spot to be in for the AFC wildcard race. The Jets have been the punching bag of the league for years now. This November is their chance to turn a corner. With manageable opponents coming up, I’m betting on the Jets to deliver.

Seattle Seahawks (3-4): BUY

I wish I could buy the Seahawks for the rest of the year. The toughest part of their schedule (by far) is behind them and they are still a top five team in rushing yards and points allowed. Their offensive line is still a weak point, but they still have that winning formula they’ve had for the past couple years. They’ll keep pounding the ball through the running game, allow Russell Wilson to make frustratingly smart decisions, and then suffocate you with their defense. I know they’ve come out on the losing end in four games, but they outplayed every one of those opponents–including the unbeaten Packers, Panthers, and Bengals–until the fourth quarter. Against some easier competition in November, those fourth quarters won’t be a problem. Seattle gets the Tony Romo-less Cowboys, the Cardinals (at home), the 2-win 49ers, and the Steelers (at home). I see four games Seattle should win. Buying the Seahawks is less about their schedule, however, and more about how good we know they can be. I still consider them a top 3 team in the NFC, so they could be playing just about anybody and I’d still buy them. Don’t sleep on the 3-4 Seahawks like we did last year when they were 3-3. Seattle is coming.

 

Can Washington survive a brutal November schedule? Photo credit: ESPN.com

Can Washington survive a brutal November schedule? Photo credit: ESPN.com

Washington Redskins (3-4): SELL

We’ve said it before, the NFC East can likely be won with eight wins. There’s a good handful of people who like what they’ve seen from the Redskins in some games and think they may be able to make a run in a weak division. I’m here to tell you to avoid joining this group at all costs and if you are already in, get out now. While I believe the Skins have some good pieces and have showed promise, their upcoming schedule might very well ruin them. They come off the bye to face the Patriots in Foxborough, where New England has lost just four out of their last 52. It gets slightly easier as they get the Saints at home–still a tough game–but then they face the unbeaten Panthers in Carolina. They round out November at home against the Giants, a team that roughed them up earlier this year. That’s a pretty rough schedule. If I’m optimistic, I say they can get out of this month with a 2-2 record. More realistically, they’ll lose some combination of three of these games. The game that really matters is that second matchup with the Giants. If they can pick up a division win, even if it’s their only win this month, it may be enough to stay afloat in the NFC East. Washington needs to be careful. Even in this weak division, there are still three other teams that could leave them in the dust if they stumble hard in November.

New Orleans Saints (3-4): BUY

This is a really tough buy for me. Just a few weeks ago, I announced that I was done with the Saints. Since then, they’ve gone 3-2. Is the real Saints team I was waiting for finally coming? I’m still skeptical. However, if I just look at their prospects in November, I have to like their chances. Saints play the Giants and Titans at home, then the Redskins and Texans on the road. The only two games that worry me at all here are the Giants (the only opponent with a winning record) and the Redskins. The Giants’ secondary and pass rush leave a lot to be desired (second-worst passing offense in the NFL), so Drew Brees could potentially have a big game. This will still be a tough game, but even if they lose, they have a great chance of going 3-1. Washington has lost to teams with good QBs (Eli Manning, Ryan Tannehill, Matt Ryan) and could have similar problems against Drew Brees. What may be the deciding factor between going 3-1 or 4-0 is the Saints’ defense. They’ve allowed less than 22 points in three of their past four games, but in the one that they didn’t, they allowed 39 to Philly in a horrible loss. If New Orleans can keep those bad defensive games at bay, they have a great shot at making a run in November. Consider this my risky buy of the month.