As we hit the middle of October, I think it’s time for a little power rankings. My top 5 at this point in the season have to be the Jets, Steelers, Ravens, Colts, and Falcons in some order. The biggest newsflash we can draw from the early weeks? Maybe that the AFC top tier teams seem to be a step above the relatively mediocre NFC teams. Who from the NFC can you legitimately fear? Atlanta? Not yet. New York Giants? Maybe if Eli wasn’t so inconsistent. Green Bay? Too many injuries right now to be in the Super Bowl discussion. I guess we’ll find out if any of the NFC teams separate themselves from the pack in the next couple weeks. My picks in bold. Last week: 6 wins – 8 losses. Season record: 38-35-3.
Seattle Seahawks at Chicago Bears (-6): Chicago QB Jay Cutler returns after missing one game due to a concussion suffered two weeks ago in a 17-3 Sunday night loss to the New York Giants. This should be key as Seattle has the second-worst passing defense in the NFL, allowing 302 yards per game. The Seahawks just added RB Marshawn Lynch to help out their struggling run game, which currently averages a paltry 79.5 yards per game. However, the Bears run defense is amongst the best in the league, averaging only 78.6 rushing yards per game. Six points is a lot of points to lay on a team I don’t particularly trust, but could the Bears really be the best team in the NFC North?
Miami Dolphins (+3) at Green Bay Packers: Packers QB Aaron Rodgers will likely play despite suffering a concussion in last week’s overtime loss to the Washington Redskins. More and more, the Packers look like a team I can’t trust. The Packers have moved from “contenders” to “pretender” status thanks to two losses in three games and a close call against the Detroit Lions, plus injuries to Rodgers and breakout star TE Jermichael Finley (Of course he is on my fantasy team. Now he’s out for two months at least. Why do I bother?). Until they prove otherwise, my money will stay away from Green Bay. Meanwhile, the Dolphins are 2-0 on the road and their two losses came in tough games against the Jets and Pats, two solid opponents.
San Diego Chargers (-8) at St. Louis Rams: Not sure they could make this line high enough for me to not pick the Chargers in this one. Does Rams QB Sam Bradford have anyone left to throw it to? His two best WRs, Donnie Avery and Mark Clayton have gone down with season-ending knee injuries. I’ll take the team with players who can still run up and down the field.
Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots (-2.5): I know, I know. The Pats got run out of the building by this same Ravens team last January. But do you remember when New England won their regular season matchup 27-21 last October? The Ravens might be the better team down the road and in the playoffs (much like last year), but that doesn’t mean they will win on Sunday. New England went 8-0 at Gillette Stadium last season (excluding the playoffs). It’s tough to beat QB Tom Brady and coach Belichick at home.
Detroit Lions at New York Giants (-10): If Lions star wideout Calvin Johnson was definitely playing, I might pick Detroit to cover this generous spread. But without their biggest offensive playmaker, I can’t name a single Lions wide receiver. And I’m looking at their roster as you read this. The Lions receiving corps is that forgettable beyond the All-Pro WR Johnson. As for New York, if their defense continues to play as well as it has the last two weeks, they should be odds-on favorites to win the NFC East.
Atlanta Falcons (+2.5) at Philadelphia Eagles: Right now the Falcons are the best team in the NFC. And you can’t convince me otherwise. Unless they blow this game. Super Bowl contenders have to win on the road, and Atlanta has, with wins at Cleveland and in the Superdome in New Orleans. The Falcons should continue to exceed my high expectations against a good, but not great, Eagles team.
Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers (-13.5): There are so many reasons why this is the lock of the week. The Steelers should be fired up to revenge a 13-6 home loss to the Browns last season. Big Ben should be fired up to prove his worth after missing the first four games due to suspension. Browns rookie QB Colt McCoy will make his first NFL start because starter Jake Delhomme and back-up Seneca Wallace remained injured. Mostly, the Pittsburgh Steelers are that good.
New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+4.5): Could I be less impressed with the defending champion New Orleans Saints? I guess they could be playing like the Bills. So maybe it could be worse. Honestly, the Saints don’t look ready to defend their NFC South title, let alone a Super Bowl ring. Look out for those Bucs. Second-year QB Josh Freeman has them playing well, defeating Cincinnati last week by the score of 24-21. Freeman was very impressive in a late fourth-quarter comeback to seal that game.
Kansas City Chiefs (+4.5) at Houston Texans: I will freely admit that I like to overreact. After the Texans’ hot start, I jumped on their bandwagon quite enthusiastically. And with that same enthusiasm, I’ll be jumping off before it crashes. Kansas City played a tough game in Indianapolis, and they hung tight with the Colts until a fourth-quarter surge from Peyton Manning’s offense. Otherwise, the Chiefs’ defense has been superb, allowing only 14.3 points per game, third-best in the NFL. I’ll take the points in a close game.
New York Jets (-3.5) at Denver Broncos: After watching all of the Broncos-Ravens game last Sunday, I can confidently say, the Broncos are a below-average team. On offense, Denver can do one thing well and one thing only: pass the ball. I imagine Jets coach Rex Ryan will have the defense prepared for Broncos QB Kyle Orton and the rest of Denver’s passing attack. Right now, I’m convinced the Jets are the best team in football. I’m impressed and you should be too. The addition of Santonio Holmes from his suspension only makes this offense more dangerous as Mark Sanchez continues to get more comfortable with his receivers.
Oakland Raiders (+7) at San Francisco 49ers: I know that everybody expected the Niners to dominate the weak NFC West, but let’s face it. They aren’t that good. Look, there is no reason to expect anything but mediocrity from them. They are 0-5! How can they be favored by a whole touchdown? I’m baffled, I’m flabbergasted, I’m shocked and astonished. And I will be twice as surprised when the Niners cover on Sunday. But I can’t bring myself to give points for a 0-5 team and Alex Smith.
Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings (-1.5): Who would have expected these two teams to meet in Week 6 with matching 1-3 records after facing off in the divisional round of the playoffs last season? I’m picking the Vikings because at least they looked like they had a chance to win last week, with a half-way decent second half against the Jets. If not for a late interception thrown by Brett Favre, the Vikings could have completed the comeback thanks in large part to the Ol’ Gunslinger’s right arm. Meanwhile, it’s looking more and more that Wade Phillips is 11 games from being fired as Dallas head coach (and that estimate may be high considering Jerry Jones’ tolerance for poor play from his Cowboys).
Peyton Manning (-3) I mean… Indianapolis Colts (-3) at Washington Redskins: Much like the first rules of Fight Club, the first and second rules of NFL gambling are “Don’t bet against Peyton Manning in primetime.” It already paid off earlier this season in the Manning Bowl when older brother Peyton lit up the New York Giants 38-14. Another Sunday night game, this time Peyton torches a different NFC East team, the Redskins. Washington’s 30th ranked passing defense, allowing 298 yards through the air each game, won’t help matters either.
Tennessee Titans (-3) at Jacksonville Jaguars: I know both teams are 3-2 entering this Monday Night AFC South showdown, but come on, you know those records can’t possibly reflect how good each team really is. I refuse to believe the Jags are as good as the Titans. I guess Vegas knows that too, since the Titans are three-point favorites even on the road. Not like Jacksonville and their 20 thousand fans have much of a home-field advantage anyway.