Okay, this is starting to get weird. For the past three weeks, I have declared several teams to be the best team in the NFL. And that Sunday, those teams proceed to lose. In Week 8, the Jets and Steelers both lost after naming them 1-2. In Week 9, the Patriots and Colts lost after I proclaimed the return of the 2003 NFL. In Week 10, the Giants and Steelers got forcefully beat down after I jumped on their bandwagons. And Week 11? I still like the Giants despite their loss to the Cowboys. The 7-2 Atlanta Falcons might be the other team to beat in the NFC after an impressive last-minute victory over Baltimore, albeit with the help of some offensive pass-interference. In the AFC, I’ll take the Old Guard, Patriots and Colts, mostly just because one of them HAS to win when they face off against each other on Sunday. That’s one way to cheat this curse. My picks in bold. Last week: 6 wins – 8 losses. Season record: 73-66-5.
Chicago Bears at Miami Dolphins (-2.5): Injuries to Miami’s top two quarterbacks, Chad Henne and Chad Pennington, have forced third-string QB Tyler Thigpen to start this week for Miami. Now I know what you’re wondering. Who is Tyler Thigpen? I asked that same question. At first, I was sure that was the dirty kid from Peanuts, but apparently his name was Pigpen. I think Wikipedia needs some editing, cause I’m pretty sure that was Thigpen. Plus, he was probably QB for Charlie Brown’s football team, too. I’m picking Miami because even a fictional quarterback from a comic strip has to be better than Chicago’s Jay Cutler. *Zing*
Buffalo Bills (+5.5) at Cincinnati Bengals: Are you allowed to be on a team’s bandwagon after you predicted they would go 0-16? But come on, I’ve been on the Bills for several weeks even if I wrote them off early this season. Last week’s victory over the Detroit Lions was nice (even if they failed to cover the spread on a last-minute TD) and I’m expecting more to come this season. The Bills’ biggest problem this year has been defending the run, where they are last in the league at 166 rushing yards allowed per game. But that shouldn’t be too much of a problem with Cincy, who relies far too much on the pass even with RB Cedric Benson in the backfield. If coach Marvin Lewis wants to keep his job after this year, he needs to hand off the ball to Benson 25-30 times. But he won’t.
Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys (-6): Well, the Cowboys proved me seriously wrong last week, and I’m not overlooking them any longer. Despite being 13-point underdogs, the Cowboys beat the New York Giants at the Meadowlands 33-20 last Sunday in their first game under new head coach Jason Garrett. Garrett, a former quarterback at Princeton, has this team believing, a remarkable turnaround from the team that seemed to stop trying in Wade Phillips’ last few games as coach. Meanwhile, the Lions continue to play without second-year QB Matthew Stafford who will miss his seventh game due to injury this season. Detroit will look to extend its NFL-record 25-game road losing streak, and that includes a miserable game at Buffalo last week. Seriously, when you are losing to the Bills, you know you got problems.
Washington Redskins at Tennessee Titans (-7): 59. That’s how many points the Redskins allowed last week to the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles scored 45 points in the first half, as Michael Vick ran through and passed over the Washington defense, which ranks dead last in total yards allowed at 415 per game. With all the talk of contracts in Washington, whether it’s Donovan McNabb or Albert Haynesworth, maybe some should tell the team how to win football games. And that starts with not letting the other team score. The Redskins aren’t very good at that. The Titans should have no problem covering the large spread.
Arizona Cardinals at Kansas City Chiefs (-8): I’m not throwing the Chiefs under the proverbial bus quite yet, but an absolute embarrassing performance in Denver in a 49-29 loss certainly didn’t help matters. This game should come down to quarterback play, and the Cardinals’ QB play has been horrendous. Their QBs have combined for just 7 TDs and 13 INTs. Seriously, they might want to consider never throwing the ball. Don’t even dress a quarterback. Anything would be better than their current situation. Having Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino as your QB might be a better situation. (Sidenote: Is it sad if I can pull out The Situation’s full name without Googling it? Do I watch too much TV? Don’t answer those questions.)
Green Bay Packers (-3) at Minnesota Vikings: The Vikes sucked me in for a couple weeks, believing in Favre’s magic after an overtime win against the Arizona Cardinals two weeks ago. But I forgot one crucial piece of information about Brett Favre. He’s 41 years old! About this time of the year, the aches and pains should take its toll on Favre, especially with injuries to his shoulder and ankle already this year. The Packers are coming off a bye week after a 45-7 victory over the Cowboys two weeks ago. Green Bay already beat Minnesota 28-24 this year, and I don’t see any reason for a different result.
Houston Texans at New York Jets (-6.5): The Jets have been less than impressive in consecutive overtime victories over mediocre teams. New York has finished regulation tied 20-20 in two straight games, beating Detroit 23-20 on a 52-yard field goal and Cleveland 26-20 on a Santonio Holmes TD catch with less than a minute left in OT. However, that doesn’t come close to the Texans’ disappointment. After winning three of their first four games, the Texans have lost four of five, and gone 0-5 against the spread. Heartbreak struck last week as Houston fell victim to a last-second hail mary pass completed by Jacksonville in a stunning 31-24 defeat. Don’t bet against a streak, so I’m picking the Jets to cover.
Oakland Raiders (+7.5) at Pittsburgh Steelers: Honestly, this pick might just be the inner Raven fan talking, but I really didn’t like what I saw from the Steelers last Sunday night. Pittsburgh got manhandled by the New England Patriots in a 39-26 loss, which raises some serious questions about their line play. Both defensive and offensive lines have been battling injuries, and it’s been showing the last couple weeks. Big Ben was sacked five times in the New England loss, and three times in the loss to New Orleans three weeks ago. Starting offensive linemen Willie Colon and Max Starks are out for the year, so this problem might not be going away. I’m taking the points because I can’t trust the Steelers’ trench play anymore. Or maybe I just hate them like any good Ravens fan.
Baltimore Ravens (-11) at Carolina Panthers: Oh yeah. About those Ravens. They appear to have a very favorable matchup coming off a tough loss at the Georgia Dome, falling 26-21 to the Atlanta Falcons. The 1-8 Panthers have had terrible QB play all year, and now they will hand over the reins to third-stringer Brian St. Pierre. Previous starters Matt Moore and Jimmy Clausen are sidelined with injuries, so St. Pierre is filling in. Unfortunately for Carolina, St. Pierre has only been with the team for two weeks, a very short time to learn the playbook. In his previous stops in the NFL over the last eight years, he has thrown only five passes. In that same time, RB LaDainian Tomlinson has attempted eleven passes, and he’s a RUNNING BACK. I’ll take the Ravens against an unproven QB.
Cleveland Browns (+2.5) at Jacksonville Jaguars: The Browns, under the leadership of rookie QB Colt McCoy, have proven their determination and toughness in the last couple weeks. After beating New England two weeks ago, Cleveland frankly should have gotten another win last week. After a game-tying TD to force overtime, it looked like the Browns were in position for a game-winning FG before an untimely fumble from WR Chansi Stuckey. Unfortunately for Cleveland, the Jets handed them a 26-20 defeat with a late TD from WR Santonio Holmes. But it’s not like heartbreak is new to Cleveland. This pick is in the hopes that the sports gods show some mercy for at least one week.
Atlanta Falcons (-3) at St. Louis Rams: You gotta like Atlanta in this one. Coming off an impressive 26-21 home win over the Baltimore Ravens, the Falcons look poised to take control over the NFC South and perhaps become favorites to make a Super Bowl appearance in February. The Falcons’ 7-2 record is the best in the NFC, and coming off of 10 days of rest (their previous game was a Thursday night matchup), they should be well-prepared for an inconsistent Rams team. If you are a good NFL team, eventually you have to win on the road, so Atlanta must shine in this game to prove their mettle.
Seattle Seahawks at New Orleans Saints (-11.5): Quietly, the defending champs are putting themselves in solid position for a playoff berth. At 6-3, the Saints are just a game out of first in the NFC South, and well within the reach of a potential Wild Card spot. But it isn’t the explosive offense with Drew Brees and company carrying the Saints. Instead, the defense has stepped up and put together a fantastic season so far. The Saints are third in the NFL with 277 total yards allowed, and lead the league with only 166 passing yards allowed per game. With the offensively-challenged Seahawks coming into the Big Easy, the Saints should cruise to an easy win. The return of Saints RB Reggie Bush from a leg injury should help that offense get back on track as well.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at San Francisco 49ers (-3.5): How could I possibly take a 3-6 team laying 3.5 points against a 6-3 team? One, San Fran has won three of their last four games, well removed from their 0-5 start. Also, those first five losses: at Seattle, vs. New Orleans, at Kansas City, at Atlanta, vs. Philadelphia. Each of those teams has winning record, and either leads their division or is within a game of the leader. Their only bad loss is to Carolina. Looking at Tampa Bay, they have six wins: vs. Cleveland, at Carolina, at Cincinnati, vs. St. Louis, at Arizona, vs. Carolina. Not a single team with a winning record. How do we know that Tampa Bay is that much better than the Niners? I’m not sold on the Bucs. Tampa has the second-worst run defense in the NFL, allowing 144 yards on the ground per game. SF RB Frank Gore could have a field day and put the Niners back into contention for the NFC West title.
Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots (-4): The good ole Pats-Colts matchup. Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady. These teams have represented the AFC in the Super Bowl six times in the last nine seasons. These teams (and their fans) try to act like they hate each other, as if this was a legitimate rivalry. You think the Pats will care about the Colts in 10 years when neither team has Brady or Manning? What if one of them falls off the map and isn’t a perennial playoff team? It’s only a big deal because they have been the two best franchises of the last decade. Did Pats fans even know where Indy was 12 years ago? For a great comparison, you should look back to the Pittsburgh Steelers-Oakland Raiders rivalry of the 1970s. Just as heated, meant just as much (one of them went to Super Bowl in six of seven years). But no one is talking about their game as if this meant more than any other week.
Real rivalries consist of mutual and unconditional hatred that never fades. You think Ohio State hates Michigan less just because the Wolverines haven’t been any good lately? It doesn’t matter if Big Ben is the Steelers’ QB, Ravens fans will hate Pittsburgh just as much. UNC will hate Duke long after Coach K retires. True rivalries are tied to the uniform (and the city/region they represent), not the players wearing them. I’ll take the Pats cause they don’t lose at home. (By the way, the Pats’ real rivals are the Jets/Dolphins and the Colts don’t have any since they have no real history since they belonged, and always will belong, in Baltimore.)
New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles (-3): I’m not jumping off the New York Giants’ bandwagon after just one loss, however embarrassing and one-sided as was their 33-20 home defeat to the 2-7 Dallas Cowboys. But I will officially declare my candidacy for the President of the Vick for MVP camp. If you watched last week’s Monday Night Football, you can only leave thinking one word: WOW! We always knew Vick was a special talent ever since he entered the league. But he’s passing accuracy and efficiency was always subpar, but he’s been putting on a show every week. Along with the six TD (4 pass, 2 rush) performance on Monday, Vick has been the highest rated passer for the entire season, with a 115.1 rating. I’m taking the Eagles, not cause I’m down on the Gmen, but because I’m driving the Vick/Eagles bandwagon.
Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers (-9.5): This game seems pretty simple to me. We have the top two passing teams squaring off with San Diego leading the league with 312 passing yards per game, and Denver just behind them at 297 passing yards per game. For Denver, that’s all they got. Practically no running game or defense to back up that passing attack. With the Chargers, they at least have an average running game (16th in the NFL, compared to Denver’s 32nd) and a very good defense. The Chargers’ D is 2nd in total defense at 274 yards allowed per game, while the Broncos rank 25th allowing 373 yards per game. I’ll take the team with the balanced offense and defense to back up their prolific air attack instead of the one-dimensional Broncos.