Archive for October, 2005

Week Eight Picks

October 29th, 2005 Comments off

I’m not betting a dime on NFL games this week (or at least not a dime over and above what I’ve already got committed to a pool and a couple of fantasy leagues, which is to say I’m placing no real bets). Wanna know why? It’s because my gut tells me this is upside-down week. There’s one week every season when all of the teams (well, not all, but many) that are supposed to win big end up losing, some of them big. The guys on NFL Primetime go nuts. The football columnists at the big papers and the sports magazines shrug their shoulders. Everyone wonders what it all means. Then, a week later, everything settles back to normal. Upside-down week. It usually hits close to mid-season, typically week seven or eight — my guess it that it’s far enough in that players are hurt and tired, but no so far that they see the playoff implications of every game; mix that with teams feeling like they ought to be able to beat their opponents and things get topsy-turvy — and since it didn’t happen in week seven, I’m expecting it to happen in week eight. Now, I’m not gonna go putting money on that or anything (that is, betting all the underdogs to cover, because even if it is upside-down week one or two of them won’t) or even just plain old picking with upside-down results in mind, because there’s absolutely nothing rational about my assessment of what’s ahead. But I’m also not gonna stake anything on rational outcomes when I’ve got an idea something totally irrational is on the horizon.

So what does all this mean to you? Just that you should be even less likely than usual to look at my guesses as to what’s coming as in any way prescient. They’re not. I expect to be mostly wrong. And now I’ve warned you.

Arizona (+7.5) at Dallas
The good news for Arizona is that Dennis Green appears to have figured out, at long last, that Josh McCown’s the best quarterback on his roster. The bad news is that he’s figured that out as his team heads into Dallas, where they should be roundly stomped by a Cowboys team that really needs to stomp on somebody right now. The worse news is that should the Cardinals take the beating one imagines they’re in for, Green will probably crank up the tune on that game of musical quarterbacks once again, and come next week, Seattle defenders will probably be looking over the line at Kurt Warner. The mitigating news is that maybe it really is upside-down week and McCown will emerge the hero. Me, I’m taking the Boys and giving the touchdown plus.

Chicago (+3) at Detroit
The question of whether it is or isn’t upside-down week doesn’t much matter in this game. It’s a coin toss. And since there’s no saying how the coin would land in regular week, there’s no guessing what the opposite result would be. Both teams are 3-3 and not looking too good overall (except that they’re tied for first place in the NFC North). Chicago’s been a bit better on defense (a lot better in terms of points allowed, to the tune of most of a touchdown per game), while Detroit’s been slightly less awful (to the tune of half a point per game) on offense. On a neutral field, that breakdown favors the Bears. But this game isn’t being played on a neutral field (it ain’t the Super Bowl and this ain’t a Saints “home” game); it’s being played in Detroit. Chicago’s 0-2 on the road so far this season. And there’s no question in my mind but that Jeff Garcia, who makes his second start under center for the Lions this week, should be able to do a lot more with Detroit’s talent-heavy offense than the now official first-round bust Joey Harrington ever could. So I’m taking Detroit straight up, but I’m figuring Chicago at the very least will keep it closer than three. And if the Bears end up winning, I won’t be shocked, whether it’s upside down week or not.

Cleveland (even) at Houston
Man, it must be upside-down week if the Texans aren’t underdogs. OK, so they’re playing at home. And, sure, they’re hosting a rebuilding Browns team that hasn’t done much to impress anyone in recent weeks. But I’m confident that even if Browns coach Romeo Crennel doesn’t find a way to win this game, the Texans will find a way to lose it. They always do. I’m going with the Browns.

Green Bay (+7.5) at Cincinnati
No offensive line (free agency/salary cap). No Javon Walker (injury). No Ahman Green (injury). No Najeh Davenport (injury). No Robert Ferguson (injury). Duck, Brett! Duck! Cincinnati doesn’t look so good after last week, but they still win this one by 10 to 14. (Unless it’s upside-down week, in which case, Favre wins it by force of will, which is about all Green Bay has going for it right now.)

Jacksonville (-3) at St. Louis
I’m not the hugest Mike Martz fan in the world (this is more than a bit of an understatement), but if I were the St. Louis brass, I might be inclined to listen if Martz the next time he tries to call in a play from his hospital bed. For one thing, you come out looking less like an asshole. For another, it’s not like his play’s gonna make things any worse. Because, you know, they really can’t get much worse. I’m taking the Jaguars and happily giving the points. (If it’s upside-down week, this will be one of the games that goes the other way, just because it shouldn’t.)

Miami (+2) at New Orleans
When you break down the numbers, you can only conclude Miami has to win this game. The Saints defense gives up a touchdown (with the extra point) more per game than the Fins D. And while the Miami offense trails the San Antonio offense by about 35 yards per game, it finds the end zone slightly more often, putting up 19.2 points per outing to New Orleans’ 17. On the season, New Orleans has done a better job of running the ball than Miami, but that calculation includes a lot of yards gained before Deuce McAllister was placed on IR, and a lot of games played before Ricky Williams made it onto the field. Plus, Miami stops the run better than New Orleans. So you’ve gotta feel like Williams and Ronnie Brown can’t help but have a better day against the Saints’ 24th-ranked run D than Antowain Smith and Aaron Stecker are apt to have against a Miami run D that’s ranked 20th. All points to a Miami win, right? Right. But I’m still taking New Orleans, not because it’s upside-down week, but because every damned time I pick Miami to win, I get fucked. And, as a friend of a friend likes to say, fuck me once, fuck you; fuck me twice, fuck me. I’m taking New Orleans and the points, and expecting the Dolphins to fuck me by winning.

Minnesota (+7) at Carolina
You know what kills me? All the buzz about Minnesota’s “big comeback” in last week’s home game against the Green Bay Packers. You know, all the shit about how Mike Tice’s big halftime speech inspired his team to get back out on the field, dig in and win it. What a giant crock of shit. What exactly did Tice say? Did he threaten to fight any player who missed a block or a tackle? Or maybe he offered to pull some strings with some of his scalper buddies and get front-row concert seats for anyone who made a big play. Probably not. Probably what happened was the Vikings turned last week’s game around because the Packers, who came in sorely undermanned, lost two key offensive starters, including Ahman Green, whose backup, Najeh Davenport, hat already been lost for the season, and they just didn’t have the weapons to protect their lead. The mere fact that the Packers were ever ahead in a game played on Minnesota’s home carpet says far more than the fact that the Vikings were able to mount a comeback. So the big question this week, “Will Tice’s halftime speech carry over to this week’s game at Carolina?” is a joke. A bad joke. No, it won’t, because it never mattered to begin with. And it certainly won’t get these undisciplined Vikings past a superior Panthers team. I’m taking Carolina and giving the points. (Unless it’s upside-down week, in which case the Vikings will cruise to victory, since they are, after all, the most upside-down team in the league.)

Oakland (-2) at Tennessee
This is another one of those games with no possible upside-down outcome because there’s no rightside-up outcome. Either team can pull this off. Neither team is worth half a damn on defense (though the Raiders are worth maybe a third of a damn, just based on the fact that they can stop the run even if they’re terribly vulnerable to the pass). And both are worth pretty much exactly half a damn on offense. But, man, unless the Raiders are completely hopeless, they ought to be able to throw the ball very well against the Titans, and that, I expect, will make the difference. I’m taking the Raiders and giving the safety differential.

Washington (+3) at NY Giants
The only reason I’m taking the Giants straight up in this game is the fact that they’re at home. Really. That’s it. Not Eli Manning. Not Plaxico Burress. Not Tiki Barber. And not Jeremy Shockey. Because although all of those guys are good, and although the Giants offense appears to be kicking it into high gear, the Redskins, on paper at least, look like the better team to me. Right now. Later in the season, I expect that to flip around, so there’s no saying what I’ll do when these teams meet in Maryland. But right now, at this moment, I’m going with the home team straight ahead and expecting the road team to make it a push against the spread. (If it’s upside-down week, this one’s a Redskins blowout.)

Kansas City (+4.5) at San Diego
I’ve been saying all season that at some point around mid-season the Chargers’ blocking schemes would start to break down. And that’s precisely what I saw happening as I watched San Diego take it on the chin at Philadelphia last Sunday. The departure of Hudson Houck, maybe the best O line coach in the game, for Miami in the off-season is coming back to haunt the Chargers. You could see it all day long; Philly defenders constantly in the backfield chasing down Drew Brees and dropping LaDainian Tomlinson for losses. And while all you heard during the game (and after from analysts) was how amazing it was to see the Eagles shut Tomlinson down like they did, what you heard afterward from the Philly defense was more telling. Asked about the play late in the game when they blocked a field goal, picked up the ball and returned it for a touchdown to retake the lead, grab the momentum and effectively ice a win, the Philly players talked about how they’d noticed in reviewing film that San Diego’s linemen consistently were going through the motions on field goals. That is, they weren’t making their blocks frequently enough for the Eagles to spot it and plan to exploit it. Yet somehow, Carl Mauck, who took over for Houck, managed to miss this. You see what I’m saying? It’s not that the Eagles thought they saw a weak spot, tested it and came out ahead. It’s that they saw O linemen not doing their jobs and exploited it on a play that made the difference in the game. And the guy San Diego pays to notice stuff like O linemen not doing their jobs was asleep at the wheel. Unless Mauck wakes up soon, the Chargers’ difficulties are only gonna grow worse and worse as the season wears on. This week? Eh, I don’t know. I’m still not sold on Kansas City. And it seems like you’ve gotta be able to get up for a big division game even if you’re an O lineman who’d rather not make his blocks most of the time. So I’m taking the Chargers straight up, the Chiefs with the points and figuring if I turn out to be wrong (upside-down week or not) I’ll have learned my lesson about picking San Diego in close matchups for the rest of the season.

Philadelphia (+3) at Denver
All I know about this game is that it’s gonna be really, really good. I haven’t looked at local TV listings, but I’m hoping like hell I get a chance to see it. I’m expecting a good bit of offense as the Eagles’ top-ranked passing offense goes up against a Denver pass D that’s ranked 26th. (Terrell Owens almost can’t help but have a big day vs. Denver’s soft secondary), and Denver’s solid rushing offense takes on a Philly unit that has struggled to stop running backs at times (except, you know, for how they shut down Tomlinson last week, but for my theory on why that happened see my pick in the Chiefs/Chargers game). I like the Broncos because they’re at home and because they pass better than the Eagles run. I’m taking Denver and giving the points. But it won’t take upside-down week to make it go the other way.

Tampa Bay (-10) at San Francisco
Say you’re Tim Rattay. How do you think it’s gonna feel to watch 49ers starting quarterback Ken Dorsey (in for injured rookie Alex Smith, who replaced Rattay at QB a few weeks back) getting pounded into the ground by your new team’s defense on play after play after play and think, “There but for the grace of the trade to Tampa Bay, go I.” I mean, sure, Rattay isn’t starting for the Bucs, but I’m guessing at this point it’s gotta feel better to ride the pine on the Tampa Bay sideline than it would to be eating turf under center for San Francisco. I expect Bucs starting QB Chris Simms to have a huge day, and for whomever Tampa starts at running back (whether it’s mostly healthy but probably not needed Cadillac Williams or entirely capable dickhead Michael Pittman) to score no fewer than three times. I’m taking the Bucs and giving the points. (If it’s truly upside-down week, this one goes the other way. That’s the thing about upside-down week: the results are dumbfoundingly unbelievable.)

Buffalo (+7) at New England
It doesn’t much matter whether Corey Dillon is able to start. If Dillon, who practiced some during the week, does get back onto the field, he’ll have a huge day against Buffalo’s non-existent run defense. And if he doesn’t, Patrick Pass will have a huge day against Buffalo’s non-existent run defense. And with or without Tedy Bruschi, the Pats D should come up big against a Buffalo offense that can’t keep pass rushers away from its quarterbacks. The only way the Bills pull off the upset in this one is if they have some super powerful upside-down week mojo working for them. Otherwise, the Pats win it by 24 or more.

Baltimore (+8.5) at Pittsburgh
This is the game for which I want it to be upside-down week, because that’s the only way the Ravens, who have absolutely nothing going for them on offense and a D that’s falling apart from injuries, manages a win at Pittsburgh. And I’d surely love to see Baltimore pull off the upset. But you can’t pick for that stuff, so you’ve gotta look for the Steelers to win this one by 10 or more.

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Week Seven Picks, Part Two

October 22nd, 2005 Comments off

Wanna know why you shouldn’t put any stock into what I have to say about who’s gonna win this weekend (or ever)? Scroll on down to my brilliant breakdown of Friday night’s Kansas City/Miami matchup. That should tell you everything you need to know. Go. Now. OK, so you came back for whatever reason. Well, that’s your mistake, buster. I’m just gonna go ahead and make my picks. You do what you like.

Detroit (+3) at Cleveland
The first of two games this week wherein I’ve no idea who’s gonna be taking snaps for one of the teams. But you know what? I don’t really care about it in this case. Yes, I do believe the Lions would be better off with Jeff Garcia than with Joey Harrington (who’s shown no ability to complete passes even with an array of talented wideouts at his disposal), but I don’t think Garcia can turn an exceedingly poorly coached Detroit team around in a single game, especially since he’s unlikely to get the official tap much before Sunday morning (and probably not until halftime). I like Trent Dilfer to have a good (though not great) day against an ever-more-tired Detroit D and Romeo Crennel’s improving Cleveland defense to put the clamps on the Lions’ O no matter who’s under center. Take the Browns and give the points.

Green Bay (-1.5) at Minnesota
Goddamn, am I tired of hearing and reading apologists for Mike Tice. “It’s not Tice’s fault that the Vikings traded Randy Moss in the off-season.” “It’s not Tice’s fault that Onterrio Smith would rather smoke weed than play football.” “It’s not Tice’s fault that half the team was out on the lake getting blown by hookers when they should have been working on improving their play.” What? OK, maybe the Moss thing wasn’t Tice’s fault, but he’s surely at least partially culpable in the other matters. Tice, the Super Bowl ticket scalper, has no moral standing with his players. And he clearly has no ability to lead or his guys would have been working to get better during their bye week instead of partying down like they’d just won the Super Bowl. And, of course, there’s also the fact that Tice can’t coach for shit. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The Vikings won’t turn it around until Tice is out on the street, which, incidentally, is where he belongs. There are guys out there who can coach and who can lead. Give one of them a chance, Mr. Wilf. You’ll be glad you did. The Packers, meanwhile, lost their offensive line to the cap, lost key offensive skill players to injury, and keep on working their asses off and playing their hearts out every week. That’s a team you can get behind. It’s also a team that I like to win this one by seven.

Indianapolis (-15) at Houston
Unstoppable force meets Jello mold. Take Indy. Give the points. Whatever.

New Orleans (+3) at St. Louis
Did the Saints get robbed last week? I don’t know. Maybe. But then, so did the Fighting Irish. Maybe. Both ended up with losses, and there’s no taking either result back (plus, maybe if the Saints did have a game taken away from them by a bad call, it’s just a bit of instant karma for an owner who’s scheming to move his team to San Antonio while the city that’s supported it for decades is under water), so let’s shut up about it already. Let’s talk about the Rams’ quarterback situation, which has a good bit more bearing on this game. I don’t really trust Jamie Martin, who’ll be in for average quarterback/far below average defensive back Marc Bulger this week. Martin’s maybe a half step below Bulger in talent, and the thing is, the Rams have been about a half step away from sucking outright pretty much all season, so Martin’s presence in the starting lineup might just complete the job. I’ll say this: I won’t be surprised no matter who wins this game. I’m picking St. Louis because they’re at home, but that’s about it. I’m not putting any money on this thing, but if I had to, I’d say the Rams are as likely to win by three as they aren’t, so what the fuck.

Pittsburgh (even) at Cincinnati
Me, I’m still waiting for the Bengals to start their usual collapse. I guess it might not happen, but I’ll believe that when I see it. Still, with half a Hines Ward (or less) and no Antwaan Randle El to throw to, I can’t see Ben Roethlisberger accomplishing much. And I don’t see the Steelers’ D being able to shut down Carson Palmer and Chad Johnson. And the Bengals are at home. So, yeah, I’m gonna go ahead and take Cincinnati and not much care if I turn out to be wrong.

San Diego (+3.5) at Philadelphia
All I can say is that, home or not, and perfect record after a bye week notwithstanding, it’s very hard for me to understand how a team with a 23rd-ranked run defense is giving three and a half points (the opening line was four) to a team that has LaDainian Tomlinson, maybe the best player in the league right now, leading its fourth-ranked running offense. Just can’t see it. Yeah, Terrell Owens lines up on the other side. And he and Donovan McNabb should have a decent day against the Chargers’ 27th-ranked passing D. But the Chargers pass way better than the Eagles run. And the Chargers stop the run way, way, way better than the Eagles stop the pass. So the balance, as I see it, tips to San Diego. I’m taking the Chargers to win it outright.

San Francisco (+13) at Washington
There’s no way, given the sloppy play I’ve seen out of the Redskins at times this season, that I’d take them to beat anyone by two touchdowns. Not even the struggling 49ers. Hell, not even the awful Houston Texans. But I will take them to win straight up, because that’s what they’re gonna do.

Dallas (+3) at Seattle
I know a lot of people are looking to this as a possible letdown game for the Seahawks, whose last opponents (yup, the Texans) are looking less like an expansion team and more like a Pop Warner team every week, but I’m not so sure. The Cowboys do a pretty good job of stopping the run, but Shaun Alexander’s playing for money and records, which are clearly the things that motivate him most, making him tough to stop. And while the Cowboys have been passing the ball very well, they’re heading into Seattle with a guy at left tackle who lost his last job (right tackle) to a sixth-round draft pick last year. The guy he’s replacing, Flozell Adams, has been one of the Cowboys’ key offensive linemen. And while Drew Bledsoe’s been having a terrific season so far, those of us who watched him play in New England and Buffalo know what happens to Drew when he doesn’t get good protection. I’ll be interested to see what happens with Peerless Price in the lineup for Dallas. Last time Price and Bledsoe were teammates, they connected 94 times (which is what got Price his job in Atlanta where his attempt to become a number one receiver was a complete bust). With Keyshawn Johnson, Terry Glenn and Price catching balls, things could get interesting if the line is able to hold. I’m betting it isn’t, though. I’m taking Seattle to win it, though only by a point.

Baltimore (+1) at Chicago
I picked against Baltimore last week, opining that the team is in too much of a tailspin to get it together and save its season. I was wrong. With the pick anyway. I stand by the rest of it. And I expect the Chicago defense to have a field day with Baltimore’s half an offense. In particular, I see Anthony Wright putting the ball into the hands of Charles Tillman and Chris Harris a few times, at least one of which will go for six the other way. I’m taking Chicago, rookie QB and all, and giving the point.

Buffalo (+3) at Oakland
Here’s why you should put your money on Buffalo: I’m taking Oakland (straight up, anyhow), and I can’t possibly pick this game right. Here’s another reason: If you want to know what a team that can’t get things done with Randy Moss catching passes looks like without Randy Moss catching passes, take a look at the Vikings. Get my point? Still, Buffalo hasn’t proven anything as far as I can see. And I’ll take LaMont Jordan against the Bills’ ultra-soft run defense any day of the week (twice on Sundays). I expect the Raiders to make enough mistakes in the passing game and on defense, and to commit enough penalties to ensure that it’s a close game (and anybody’s to win in the closing minutes), but I’m taking Oakland to win it by two.

Denver (+2) at NY Giants
The big question here is how bad is Plaxico Burress’ back? Because if Plaxico’s in the game and able to play as well as he’s capable, he and Eli Manning are gonna be burning the Broncos’ young, soft secondary all day long. If not, the Broncos should be able to pull off the victory. I’m gonna close my eyes, throw a dart and … yes, the dart says Plax will be just fine by game time. So I’m taking the Giants and giving the points. If I’m wrong, it’s the dart’s fault.

Tennessee (+3.5) at Arizona
The second of the week’s quarterback mystery games. Will Dennis Green play the kid who wins games (Josh McCown) or the veteran who loses them (Kurt Warner)? Dunno. I know what I’d do if I were Green, but I’m not, and Dennis has shown that he’ll bench McCown no matter how well the kid is doing if he thinks it’ll help his team lose a game. Maybe he’ll smarten up, though. And if he does it should pay off. I think McCown, Larry Fitzgerald and Marcel Shipp all could have great days against the Titans’ awful D. And while Tennessee’s steadfastly average offense probably doesn’t get any worse with Billy Volek in for Steve McNair, neither does it get any better, which sort of indicates the Titans D could spend a ton of time on the field. I’m taking Arizona straight up, assuming McCown will get the tap. But I’m warning you that if Warner goes, it’ll go the other way. And I’m taking Tennessee with the points either way, if only because it seems like a nice hedge.

NY Jets (+7) at Atlanta
I’m so glad I’ve got Falcons DB DeAngelo Hall on my fantasy team. With Vinny Testaverde under center for the Jets and New York’s starting center, Kevin Mawae, lost for the season, I’m expecting to see some pickable balls thrown up Monday night. I’m also expecting to see a lot of T.J. Duckett as the Falcons’ top-ranked rushing offense makes fools of the Jets’ 27th-ranked run D. Long night, kids, but if you hate the Jets it should be fun. Take Atlanta and give the points.

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Week Seven Picks, Part One

October 21st, 2005 Comments off

There’s no way I’m gonna wrap up all my picks before the 7 p.m. kickoff of the rescheduled Kansas City/Miami game tonight. So here’s what I’ve got to say on that one. The rest will come tomorrow.

Kansas City (+2) at Miami
I was leaning toward Miami in this game even before it got rescheduled. Now that the Chiefs have had to waste a practice day scrambling to get to South Florida to play two days ahead of schedule, it’s a gimme. Kansas City’s defense, which was supposed to be much improved this season, simply hasn’t been. The Chiefs are giving up 373 yards and 22.4 points per game. They do OK against the run (allowing just 95 yards per game), but they can’t stop the pass to save their lives (278 yards per game). The Dolphins D isn’t the best in the league, but it’s a lot better than that. The Fins give up significantly fewer total yards per game (292) and about a field goal less (19.6 points). They’re slightly worse than Kansas City vs. the run (101.6 yards per game), but a lot better vs. the pass (190.4). Offensively, the teams aren’t that far apart. Miami’s has passed for 10 more yards per game than Kansas City (213.6 vs. 203.6), while the Chiefs’ rushing offense has outpaced the Fins’ by about 20 yards a game (127.4 to 107.6), for a net difference of 9.8 yards in the Chiefs’ favor. The Chiefs have, however, put up 23.8 points per game to the Dolphins’ 19. That’s a pretty big gap and worth considering. Still, it’s not a gap that the defensive difference and home field don’t erase. And, overall, the Chiefs haven’t impressed me in any way, while the Dolphins have played some halfway decent football against some good opponents. I’m taking the Fins and giving the points.

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Week Six Picks

October 14th, 2005 Comments off

Too many underdogs. That’s what I’ve got this week. Too many goddamn underdogs winning straight up. Why? I don’t know. Maybe I just like to be wrong. A lot.

Atlanta (-4.5) at New Orleans
How do you rebound from a heartbreaking, last-second loss at home? (Not an easy thing to take even when it comes at the hands of the defending champs.) You get your starting quarterback on his feet and on the field, you load up your league-leading rushing game, and you travel to San Antonio to play a Saints team that officially has no home, no run defense, and now no running game. And then you go to town. Take the Falcons and give the points. Atlanta wins this one by 17, minimum.

Carolina (+1) at Detroit
Carolina has made something of a habit this season of losing games they ought to win, which has more than a little bit do to with the team’s deplorable pass defense. The Panthers have been allowing 259 yards per game in the air. That’d spell big trouble against Detroit, with all of its talented receivers, if only Lions quarterback Joey Harrington had any ability to deliver a pass to those guys (or even just the ones who aren’t serving out drug suspensions) once in a blue moon. Trouble is, he doesn’t. Harrington completes about half of his passes, and he’s found opposing DBs twice as often as he’s found his own guys in the end zone. So why’s Detroit favored in this game? Well, it ain’t because of Kevin Jones’ rockin’ 2.9 yards per carry, so it’s gotta be because they’re at home, because their defense has played fairly well, and because the Panthers don’t seem to be able to win consistently. Me, I’m expecting Carolina’s stifling run D to shut down Jones, and any D at all to stop Harrington. I also expect Carolina’s mediocre offense to find a way to best a good Detroit D as the game wears on and those 40 minutes on the field start to take their toll. I’m picking the upset.

Cincinnati (-3) at Tennessee
After being exposed as exactly what their critics said they were (a team that hadn’t beaten anyone impressive and probably couldn’t) a week ago in Jacksonville, the Bengals return to picking on hapless bottom dwellers. Take Cincinnati and give the points.

Cleveland (+5.5) at Baltimore
Forget about Trent Dilfer and the whole revenge thing, this game is about Jamal Lewis, plain and simple. Lewis, who spent the offseason behind bars, has done all of nothing this season. Over four games, he has 233 yards on 74 carries (for an average of 3.1 per carry, 58.3 per game). And he’s coughed up twice as many balls as he’s carried into the end zone. This week, Lewis faces a Cleveland D that’s 30th in the league against the run, giving up 137 yards a game (though, to their credit, only twice have the Browns allowed a running back to reach the end zone). If Lewis can’t crank it up in front of the home crowd this week, his season’s as good as a complete bust (just the regular kind, though, Jamal, not the drug kind — so there’s that). My sense is that Lewis is gonna have to look to make a big comeback next season. And my belief is that Baltimore is in more of a tailspin than anyone has realized to date. I expect reality to drop like a brick when the heavily favored Ravens lose to the rebuilding Browns.

Jacksonville (+3) at Pittsburgh
The Steelers will have to go without Ben Roethlisberger and Hines Ward this week, which doesn’t help their chances against a Jacksonville team that’s finding ways to win games with its D — getting into the backfield, creating disruptions, making sacks, forcing turnovers, and creating opportunities for the offense. Of course, Pittsburgh’s D is solid, too, and they’ll be tough to beat with a gimpy Fred Taylor and an O line that has a habit of opening the door for pass rushers. I think this one’s close and low scoring. I think the Steelers find a way to win it, but not by three. Maybe just by one.

Miami (+4.5) at Tampa Bay
You know, if this game were in Miami, I’d take the Dolphins without hesitation. The Fins are continuing to play semi-decent football, and the fact that Ricky Williams returns to the lineup this week (following a year in “retirement” and a month on the unable to suit up due to too many bong hits list) only stands to make the offense better. Plus, the Bucs, who started strong with four wins, didn’t look so hot in the Meadowlands last week. With running back/offensive rookie of the year candidate Cadillac Williams on the sidelines, the running game sputtered. And without the support there, Brian Griese started looking a lot like his old self, putting the ball in the hands of Jets DBs and setting his team up to take a loss. Even in Tampa, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Dolphins find a way to steal this one. They’re playing with a lot of discipline and a lot of heart. I’m certainly expecting Miami to keep it a good bit closer than four and a half. But I expect Griese to step it up a bit and I’m thinking Michael Pittman could have a decent day catching short passes even if the Bucs can’t run against Miami. I like the Bucs by two or three.

Minnesota (+3) at Chicago
Here’s why I have complete faith that the Vikings will turn their season around despite their horrible start: They really buckled down during the bye week, putting in extra effort to fix their numerous problems and get back on track before it’s too late. Or maybe not. Maybe what they did instead was spend their time partying on lake cruises with strippers and maybe prostitutes. When news broke that police were looking into what went on aboard the ships, quoted head coach/official team Super Bowl ticket scalper Mike Tice saying, “Quite frankly, I’m not happy about it.” Really, Mike? Is that all you’ve got to say for yourself in this matter? ‘Cause you know what? I think you could do a little better. But something tells me you’re not running the tightest ship in the league out there yourself. This has gotta be it for Tice. I mean, the guy’s one of the worst coaches in the league to begin with. He’s never been able to win consistently. His teams always fold at some point. He gets himself caught up in a ridiculous off-season scandal (see the Super Bowl crack above) that ought to have got him canned. Heading into the bye week, he gives a locker room speech that players say amounted to announcing he’d given up on the team. And now his guys, when they should be working their sorry asses off to find a way to win some goddamned games, are out carousing, acting like they don’t have a care in the world. Zygi Wilf ought to act quick to dump the loser now and find someone who has half a chance of setting a decent example and getting the team in order. Otherwise, he’s only gonna end up firing him after week nine, by which time the season will be in the toilet. So, you ask, what does all this have to do with this week’s trip to Chicago? Only this: If you’re not all about finding ways to win in the NFL you’re gonna find ways to lose. The Vikings should be able to rise above the Bears, but they won’t. Expect Daunte Culpepper to keep on throwing passes to Randy Moss only to remember, too late, that he isn’t there (though the opposing DBs sure are). Expect Tice’s last-minute adjustments to his O line to mean nothing. Expect whomever starts at running back for the Bears (Thomas Jones or Ced Benson) to have a huge day against Minnesota’s miserable D. And, of course, take Chicago and give the points.

NY Giants (+3) at Dallas
It’s true, the Cowboys did look pretty impressive beating Philadelphia last week. And I expect Dallas to have some success on offense again this week with or without Julius Jones in the lineup (looks to me like it’s gonna be without). But I don’t think there’s anyone in the Dallas secondary who can keep Plaxico Burress from catching balls (lots and lots of balls). And even they do, I think Jeremy Shockey (talented dickhead) will make up the difference. That should prove too much for Drew Bledsoe and the Cowboys receiving corps to match. I like New York in the upset.

Washington (+6) at Kansas City
The challenge here is figuring out which team inspires less confidence. Sure, the Redskins are 3-1 (and about half a play away from 4-0), but they’ve looked really unremarkable getting there. I’m still stunned by the way they stumbled backward into their victory at Dallas a few weeks back. The Chiefs, meanwhile, have looked nothing but awful. Heading into their bye, they’d dropped two straight, including a home game against Philadelphia. And the pair of wins they posted to start the season came against a Jets team that has since more than proven its awfulness and a Raiders team that played terribly and should have been crushed, but that the Chiefs just squeaked by. Both offenses run the ball fairly well. And both Ds stop the run OK. I don’t see any real advantage there either way. But Washington has moved the ball in the air a little bit better than Kansas City (gaining 233 yards a game through the pass as opposed to the Chiefs’ 210) and, most tellingly, has given up nearly 100 fewer yards per game to the pass than KC. Still, Arrowhead is a tough place for visiting teams to play (except the Eagles, I guess). And the Chiefs have had two weeks to get their shit together while the Skins played a very rough game in Denver last Sunday (plus, it’s hard as hell to win two straight on the road), so you have to feel like Kansas City has some kind of an edge. Right? Ah, actually, you know what? Nothing the Chiefs have done this season has led me to believe they have any real desire to win, while the overachieving Redskins have managed to post Ws even when they shouldn’t have. So not only am I taking the Skins to best the big spread, I’m taking them to win it outright.

New England (+3) at Denver
The Patriots needed to come out of their first six games (arguably the toughest part of their schedule) with three or four wins. They got number three last weekend at Atlanta. The question is, can they make it four by winning a second consecutive road game against a tough, tough team. I think they can. Indeed, I think the Pats match up quite well against Denver. The Patriots, who are 2-1 against the Broncos in Denver under Bill Belichick, are getting healthier on defense, which is nice, especially given that Richard Seymour returns to action this week. Seymour’s the kind of pass rusher who gets Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer to make the kind of stupid mistakes that cost his team games at times. More important, though, the Pats offense matches up very well against the Broncos D, especially in the trenches, where the better part of New England’s very good (and improving, due to great coaching) O line faces the better part of Denver’s D line. I see the Pats’ veteran linemen making things tough on Gerard Warren and Trevor Pryce, and the line as a whole once again buying Tom Brady enough time to find open receivers. I expect the Pats WRs to have a good day against Denver’s soft secondary, opening things up a bit for the tight ends and Corey Dillon. Denver should be able to run the ball fairly well (as they always do), but in the end, Denver’s running game won’t be able to keep up with New England’s passing game. I like the Pats to win it by a touchdown.

NY Jets (+3) at Buffalo
This game is hell to pick. Kelly Holcomb’s apparent improvement to the Bills offense last week notwithstanding (I continue to be skeptical about Holcomb’s ability to do much better than J.P. Losman had under center, which has nothing to do with him, mind you, it’s just that I don’t think anyone can succeed playing behind Buffalo’s obscenely bad O line), neither of these teams has an offense that’s worth half a damn. So this is a defensive struggle between two teams whose talented Ds are responsible for their wins last week. Which D is better? I don’t know. The Jets give up slightly fewer yards (295.2 as compared to the Bills’ 299.4) and less than half a point more (17 as compared to 16.6) per game on average. That’s a dead heat. Both Ds are solid against the pass and shaky against the run (there is a telling difference in average yards per carry, where the Bills have allowed 5 and the Jets only 3.5, a huge difference over the course of a game, but both teams have given up five rushing touchdowns, which is what counts in the end). And since both Os will need to establish a running game to get anything done, that would seem to favor New York. Trouble there is that Bills running back Willis McGahee is having a slightly less terrible season than Jets running back Curtis Martin, which would seem to even things out. Logic says you go with the home team in this situation. And even though something tells me Martin is due for a breakout day, I still can’t pick a team with Vinny Testaverde at quarterback. So I’m taking Buffalo straight up. Against the spread? Shit, I dunno. I’m not putting money on this. Let’s say it’s a push.

San Diego (-2) at Oakland
Offense. We’ve got offense. We’ve got lots and lots and lots and lots of offense. Some decent run D for both teams, too. But virtually no pass D for Oakland, which I think makes the difference in the end. I’m taking San Diego, giving the points, and hoping I turn out to be wrong.

Houston (+9.5) at Seattle
What’s wrong with Houston. Everything. And while it appears David Carr is a major part of the problem, I’m not sure Matt Leinart’s gonna fix things all by himself next season. But that’s a story for another day. Here, I’m looking for another big day for Joe Jurevicius, who came up huge in Seattle’s win over St. Louis last week, not to mention Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander, and an easy two-touchdown margin of victory for the Hawks.

St. Louis (+13.5) at Indianapolis
So let me get this straight. Sunday night we get Houston at Seattle. And Monday night we get St. Louis at Indianapolis. Nice programming, folks. This is compelling stuff. Can’t imagine how I’ll be able to tear myself away from the set. Look, a lot of people thought Houston could be halfway decent this season (as opposed to thoroughly awful, which is how they turned out), but did anyone truly believe the Rams were gonna be able to field a better than average team? I know I didn’t. But, then, I’ve never been part of the silly love affair a lot of folks in and around football have had with Mike Martz. Of course, Martz, who’s out with an infection in his heart (and I certainly hope he gets well soon; sounds like an awful condition), won’t be entirely responsible for the beating his team is going to take this week. Chalk that up to a Colts team that’s very much on the rise and a Rams team in the decline meeting at exactly the right (or wrong, depending on your perspective) moment. It’s certainly the wrong moment to put this game on in prime time (no wonder ABC’s getting out of the football business). Think about the games they could have put in front of a natoinal audience — Giants/Cowboys, Pats/Broncos, Redskins/Chiefs — instead of this mess and you’ll start to understand my point. Oh, well. Maybe if I get tired of watching Indy score every time its offense takes the field (and probably some of the times its defense checks in, too), I’ll check out this week’s Curb Your Enthusiasm on demand or something. Colts win by no fewer than 24 points.

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Week Five Picks

October 8th, 2005 Comments off

Easily the toughest picking of the year so far. Lets see how many games I can get wrong.

Baltimore (+1) at Detroit
Neither offense is worth a damn (which has to really hurt when you’re the team with all the first round draft choices at receiver, and kinda bug you when you’re the team whose star running back’s off-season conditioning program was centered in a prison weight room). Baltimore’s D is good. Detroit’s is slightly better than average. (There’s a difference of 41 yards per game between them.) So, yeah, home field does give Detroit a slight advantage. I’m still taking Baltimore in the upset, because I just think they’re less awful.

Chicago (+3) at Cleveland
Well, Ced, this is how it works. You opted to skip the pre-season and now you’ve gotta sit on the bench and watch Thomas Jones, the guy you were drafted in the first round to replace, rack up 100-plus-yard games. Sucks, huh? What really sucks for the Bears is that that Jones’ 100 yards a game has been about half their total offense. That’s not good. The Browns, meanwhile, are having the opposite problem. Trent Dilfer is throwing the ball pretty well (to the tune of 267 yards a game), but Reuben Droughns is getting nothing. I’m not sure what any of that stuff means. Here’s what I do know. The Browns have a better all-around O and the Bears have a better D. Flip a coin. Mine came down on the Cleveland side, so I’m taking them to win, but not to cover. Yours could go the other way. And one of ours would be right.

Miami (+2.5) at Buffalo
I was happily crunching the statistical numbers on this game, trying to figure out what I’d missed that made Buffalo, even at home, a three-point favorite to what looks to me like a much better Miami team when the Bills went and announced they’d be starting Kelly Holcomb rather than J.P. Losman at quarterback. And since I’m a dedicated Bills fan, I choose to believe that changes everything. Oh, wait. I’m not a Bills fan. OK, then I guess Holcomb changes very little in my estimation. Because the problem with Buffalo’s offense hasn’t been Losman, it’s been the line, which can’t block for shit. So, you know, maybe Holcomb throws better when he’s getting chased around the backfield than Losman does. But how much better? Not enough. That’s how much. Look, to date, Buffalo’s pass offense has been horrible. It’s 31st in the league, putting up less than 92 yards per game (per game) and having scored all of one touchdown. So it’s hard to believe Holcomb won’t at least appear to make it better. But it’ll only be a matter of degrees. Still, Miami’s pass D is average. That’s a fact. So you do have a bit of an opportunity there. But average still beats poor. What the Bills need to do is run the ball, and they’re pretty good at that. Seventh in the league, in fact, with an average of 4.6 yards per carry and four touchdowns to their credit. That’s nice. Typically helps you set up the passing game (unless your line can’t pass protect and the only reason you’ve gained so many yards on the ground is that the only guy on our offense with any real talent is your running back). But when you come up against a squad like Miami, with the second best run D in the league (which has allowed only 2.9 yards per carry and given up not a single rushing touchdown), you risk hitting some difficulties there, especially if they can bring in a safety on running plays because you can’t throw the damned ball (a fact that, again, has had nothing to do with the quarterback). So you rely on your D, right? Forget Holcomb. Let the D keep you in the game and give Willis McGahee the chance to find a way to carry you to a close victory. Hell, Buffalo’s got the 11th best defense in the league, right? Yeah, that’s true. But it’s a D that’s fourth against the pass (having allowed just 5.68 yards per completion and two TDs) and, get this, 31st against the run (4.9 yards per carry/5 TDs). That ain’t good ever, but it’s extra not good when you’re facing a Miami offense that a) is doing OK, with a 4.5 yards per carry average and four trips to the end zone in three games; and b) features Ronnie Brown, who is one week away from sharing carries with Ricky Williams and no doubt looking to establish himself as unquestionably the man. So what’s it all add up to? This: Kelly Holcomb, my patoot. I’m taking the upset and so should you.

New England (+2.5) at Atlanta
I’m not picking New England to win this game based on faith. Yeah, the Pats are a team one could have faith in. They’ve certainly earned it, finding ways to overcome all kinds of injuries and to win games under the most difficult of circumstances. And there’s every reason to believe they’re still that kind of team. Thing is, I don’t do faith. I do hard cold facts. Thing is, I’m not picking the Pats based on those, either. Because in the end, all the cold, hard facts really tell me is that this is probably a tossup. Yeah, the Pats are hurting on defense. And yeah, they took a beating from San Diego last week. They’re a team that’s ranked 25th against the run and they’re facing the best rushing offense in the league. That’s not good. On the other side of things, however, you’ve got an Atlanta D that hasn’t performed well against the run either going up against a New England running back, Corey Dillon, who’s due to bust out. And while Atlanta’s D has done well against the pass, they’ve done so mostly with their pass rush, and Tom Brady knows how to keep his cool in the face of a big rush. The Falcons’ DBs should have trouble keeping up with the Pats’ receivers, which should give Brady plenty of targets to hit, if he can buy them enough time to get open. That’ll work especially well if the Falcons have to bring a safety up help stop Dillon, which seems likely. All that said, it’s still a wash from a statistical perspective. Lots off offense and not much D all around. Ultimately, that favors the home team. So, as I said, I’m not picking the Pats based on fait or on cold, hard, quantifiable facts. So why am I picking an underdog team that got roughed up at home last week to beat a good team on the road? Because I predicted at the start of the season that New England would be winning games with offense this season rather than D, and I predicted that knowing it would take the Pats four or five games to adjust to the loss of offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, who’s off winning games as head coach of Notre Dame. And my gut says this week, against a soft run defense and so-so secondary (except for DeAngelo Hall, who’s a star) is when the Pats O breaks it wide open. I expect both teams to put lots of points on the board, but I expect the Pats to put up three more than the Falcons. So there you go. All gut.

New Orleans (+3) at Green Bay
Bench Brett Favre for Aaron Rodgers? Are you kidding? Seriously, I’ve heard and read that suggested this week. Seriously. As if that were an option. As if Brett Favre were the problem in Green Bay. As if Green Bay, even at 0-4, were out of the running for the NFC North title. Favre isn’t even close to the problem with the Packers. The problem with the Packers is that they have absolutely no offensive line. And a limited receiving corps. And, now, a banged up running back. So how can the solution to that be to bench a guy who’s putting up decent to outstanding numbers in spite of the challenges he faces in favor of a rookie? Are these people who just want to see a guy (Rodgers) get buried? Or are they people who just don’t have any ability to understand the game of football? In the end, I guess it doesn’t matter. The Packers aren’t benching Favre now, or probably ever. And this week will illustrate why as he picks apart a Saints D that can’t stop much of anything. Najeh Davenport, who’ll start at running back as the Pack rests the injured Ahman Green, should have a field day against New Orleans’ soft run D, too. Take the Packers and give the points.

Seattle (+3) at St. Louis
One of these two teams is going to win this game, only because they can’t both lose it. My guess is it’s the team with only one of its starting wide receivers out of the lineup (that’s St. Louis). Shaun Alexander is a great running back, to be sure, but when you know he’s getting the ball on virtually every down, you should be able to stop him. I wouldn’t touch this game with real money, but since there’s nothing being wagered in this spot, I’m taking the Rams and expecting them to cover.

Tampa Bay (-3.5) at NY Jets
Cadillac may be hurting, which is a problem for the Bucs (though with asshole Michael Pittman healthy and as able as ever, not as huge a problem as it could be). But the Jets are starting the aged and recently plucked from retirement Vinny Testaverde at quarterback, and it there’s no kind of trouble like that kind of trouble. Vinny, who’s always been better at throwing picks than completions, has had less than two weeks to learn the Jets’ current system, which isn’t enough even for a veteran. I know this: One of my fantasy teams is in a league in which you use individual defensive players (as opposed to whole Ds) and I will be starting defensive end John Abraham, not because the Jets D is good (though it is), but because I expect it to spend a lot of time on the field, giving Abraham plenty of opportunities to make tackles. I anticipate a big day for the Bucs’ D (will Brian Kelly have one pick or two?), and for Pittman and for Bucs tight end Alex Smith, both of whom will be picking up slack for Cadillac. And to be honest, I’d give twice the points.

Tennessee (+3) at Houston
This is a key early skirmish in the battle for the rights to USC quarterback Matt Leinart. I expect Tennessee to lose by winning.

Indianapolis (-15) at San Francisco
From what I observed Sunday night in Mexico City, I’m guessing the 49ers rookie quarterback, Alex Smith, who’ll get his first start here, is going to turn out to be very much with the number one draft pick it took to get him. Here, though, he gets a baptism of fire, facing an emergent Indianapolis D and the distinct possibility to having to throw on virtually every down by the middle of the second quarter. That is, after all, what happens when a) you can’t run the ball for shit, and b) you’re behind by three touchdowns. And it hurts really bad when you’re throwing behind an offensive line that can’t make its blocks. I must repeat that it is never wise to bet on an NFL game with a double-digit spread, but I also must say that I expect Peyton Manning to throw three touchdowns, Edgerrin James to add a fourth, and the one Smith throws to some Indy DB to put the icing on the cake. Colts 41, 49ers 3.

Carolina (-2.5) at Arizona
The fact that Josh McCown, who showed incredible leadership in rallying the Cards to a come from a 14-point deficit to absolutely pound the 49ers Sunday night, hasn’t landed the starting quarterback job permanently by now (indeed, the fact that it wasn’t awarded to him by the middle of last season) tells me there’s something really wrong in Arizona. And that something, I think, is Dennis Green, who shouldn’t be coaching in the NFL anymore. The Panthers, who have been uneven, should be glad of that. I’m not so sure Arizona wouldn’t be having more success on the field if it were better coached. And the Panthers need all the help they can get. They absolutely have to win this game to get their season back on track. Luckily for the Panthers, if Green can find a way to undermine McCown (as I’m sure he will), they shouldn’t have too difficult a time of it. I’m taking Carolina and giving the points.

Philadelphia (-3) at Dallas
This one, to my mind is simple. The Eagles are playing great football. The Cowboys aren’t. Simple. Need more? The Eagles’ D specializes in the blitz, and Drew Bledsoe has shown over the course of his career that he can neither elude nor victimize blitzes. The Eagles, meanwhile, will put their first-ranked passing offense (all they do is throw) up against a Cowboys defense that’s 22nd in the league against the pass. I expect Dallas safety Roy Williams to end up wishing like hell he hadn’t had his favorite tackle (the horse collar) taken away from him by the rule committee. Williams will probably see a whole lot of Terrell Owens’ back as the Eagles cruise to a win.

Washington (+6.5) at Denver
You know what? Forget the whole bit about the Redskins being undefeated. Both of these teams have three wins. And the fact is, the Broncos have had a much harder time coming by their wins than the Skins have. Clinton Portis is going nowhere against Denver’s run D. And Mark Brunell is going to be brutalized by Denver’s pass rush. This game will be over by halftime. I’m taking the Broncos and giving the points.

Cincinnati (+2.5) at Jacksonville
There’s no question but that the Bengals are a better team than the Jaguars. Both teams have solid defenses (though the Bengals are a bit more even as regards stopping the pass and the run than the Jags, who are deadly against the pass and have some difficult with the run), but the Bengals offense has been producing like crazy while the Jags have failed to get anything done. So one expects Rudi Johnson to have a 100-plus-yard day, Chad Johnson to catch two touchdowns and the Bengals to nail the upset. But I keep thinking about what happened with the Bengals last week, when they barely got by Houston at home. Why? Because their O line took a beating during the game (they lost two centers) and they couldn’t keep Houston’s D out of the backfield. That line isn’t looking much healthier heading into Jacksonville, which I think gives the Jags the chance to slow the Bengals down and steal a victory that they really don’t deserve. I’m taking Jacksonville, but only by a point.

Pittsburgh (+3) at San Diego
This looks like a great game in the making, which means it’ll be a blowout. And I like the team that just blew out New England in Foxborough to blow out Pittsburgh at home a lot more than I like the team that most recently lost to the Patriots in its home stadium to somehow blow out the surging powerhouse Chargers on the road. Know what I mean? The Chargers will take Willie Parker (and the rest of the now mostly healthy Steelers rushing platoon) out of the game and make Ben Roethlisberger throw 20 to 25 times, something he typically doesn’t have to do. One of those passes is gonna find a Chargers DB. San Diego, meanwhile, will stick with its most potent weapon (the most potent weapon in the league right now) LaDainian Tomlinson, who’ll find the same kinds of cracks in the Steelers run D that Corey Dillon found two weeks ago. And that’ll be that. Maybe it’s not a blowout. Maybe it’s a push against the spread. But it’s certainly a Chargers victory.

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Week Four Picks

October 2nd, 2005 Comments off

More inaccurate picks just for the fun of it.

Buffalo (pick ’em) at New Orleans
Finally, after three straight weeks on the road (a stretch that included a “home opener” in the decidedly hostile confines of Giants Stadium) the Saints get an honest-to-god home game (or as close as they’re gonna get to that this season). And they only have to travel 540 miles from New Orleans to San Antonio to play it. Oh, well, at least one can expect the crowd at the Alamodome to include a few more Saints fans than Bills fans. So that’s something. Look, this game gets down to two things: Will the Saints offense be rested enough to get something done against the Bills defense? And will the Saints D find a way not only to stop the Bills O, but to put points on the board. Offensively, the Saints probably can’t expect much, because Buffalo’s D is mighty tough. But if they can score 10-14 points, and the D can somehow add another 6 or set up 3, it should get the job done. I like New Orleans, mostly because I don’t like Bills quarterback J.P. Losman. If you believe in Losman, bet it the other way.

Denver (+3.5) at Jacksonville
The Jaguars ought to win this game, but I don’t think they will. The Broncos are coming off a Monday night contest, albeit a fairly easy one against a sinking Chiefs squad. The Broncos aren’t the same team on the road as they are at home (for the latest evidence of this, see week one’s 24-10 loss at Miami). And last season, when the Broncos went to Jacksonville a week after manhandling Kansas City at home, they took a beating. Still, the Broncos have been played outstanding defense in the last six quarters they’ve been on the field. Their run D has been able to at least keep guys like LaDainian Tomlinson and Priest Holmes from killing them. And, more important, their pass rush has been remarkable. The former should keep Fred Taylor (who’s back in form but who was never quite as good as those other guys) from taking command. And the latter should give Byron Leftwich and the Jags’ porous O line major problems. And yes, Jacksonville’s got rather a powerful defense itself, probably a tad better than Denver’s in fact. But I’ll take the Broncos offense’s chances against the Jaguars D over the Jags’ offense’s odds of beating the Denver D. Take the Broncos and the points. Even if Denver loses, it won’t be by four.

Detroit (+6.5) at Tampa Bay
Cadillac, Cadillac. Open up your engines, let ’em roar. Tearing up the gridiron like a big old dinosaur. Cadillac Williams should be on cruise control by halftime as the Bucs race to 4-0. Welcome back to the hunt, Coach Gruden. Go ahead and give the points.

Houston (+9.5) at Cincinnati
You think Dom Capers sees the handwriting on the wall? This way, after all, the season when the Texans were supposed to finally put it all together. So far, you’ve got no wins and a change at offensive coordinator two games into the season. That ain’t putting it together. Enjoy your final season, coach. (Though I think that might be a bit tough to pull off. The enjoy part, I mean.) I sure do wish I had Carson Palmer on my fantasy team right now. Four touchdowns this week? Hard as it is to believe I’m saying this with a spread this big, but give the points. It’s a done deal.

Indianapolis (-7) at Tennessee
Is Peyton Manning ever going to have the kind of day he had on a regular basis last season? I’m not sure. I keep reading and hearing that it could happen this week, but you know what? I’m not so sure. The Titans may suck, but their defense is OK. And it’s not too hard to see that what other teams are doing to stop Peyton (dropping eight into coverage; constantly changing looks at the line of scrimmage) is at least keeping him from winning games in the first half, even if it is giving Edgerrin James the opportunity to have the best season of his career. Ultimately, the Colts probably win again and get to 4-0, but will it be Peyton or Edge who gets them there? Until something changes I’m betting on Edge. And the defense. (But I’m taking the home underdog to keep the visitors’ margin of victory to less than a touchdown.)

San Diego (+5) at New England
Oh, boy. Did ya see what Tomlinson did to the Giants Sunday night? That wasn’t nice at all. So the Patriots, who have lost yet another leader on D (Rodney Harrison, whose career is probably over), are in trouble, right? Eh, maybe not so much. This is, after all, the same Chargers team that lost to Dallas at home to open the season then dropped one in Denver a week later. And I think the Pats D, with or without Harrison, has more in common with the Cowboys, and, more to the point, the Broncos, than with the Giants (whose defense, let’s face it, isn’t all that good). Like the Broncos, the Pats rely more on the rush than the secondary when it comes to pass D. And, sure, they’re gonna give up yards to LaDainian Tomlinson, because you can’t not give up yards to Tomlinson. But they won’t give up the kind of yards the Giants’ did. They will work hard to stop Tomlinson and make Drew Brees throw. And when the Chargers are in passing situations, those linemen are gonna be all over Brees, forcing him to make the kinds of mistakes that give DBs the chance to score touchdowns. Keep in mind, too, that San Diego’s D hasn’t fared well this season against opponents’ running game. Julius Jones had a big day in the opener. Mike Anderson and Ron Dayne coupled for close to 100 yards in Denver (despite that the Broncos were playing with a deficit most of the game). Only Tiki Barber could be said to have had a so-so game against the San Diego, and his team was so far behind most of the game running simply wasn’t an option. (Plus, Tiki had 60 yards on 15 carries, for an average of four yards per touch, which is all you need. And in the Giants’ opening drive, when there was no deficit to make up, Tiki ran for 28 yards on five carries — do the math — so it’s not like the Chargers shut him down or anything.) I see Corey Dillon finally breaking out of his funk and having a big day. And, when you’re running well, you can call play fakes and screens, the kind of plays Tom Brady will kill you with. I’m taking the Pats and giving the points.

Seattle (+2) at Washington
How the hell are the Redskins giving points (any points) to the Seahawks? The Skins barely got by the Cowboys two weeks ago. In fact, if it weren’t’ for downright stupid play by the secondary on two ridiculous plays, the Cowboys would have won that game. The Redskins just aren’t that good. Which isn’t to say the Seahawks are any great shakes. But still. Seattle’s receivers are catching some balls. Shaun Alexander’s playing well. I’m taking the upset here. Hell, I’d give three.

St. Louis (+3) at NY Giants
I so love to watch the Rams melt down. Look for Eli Manning to have a massive, massive day against the non-existent St. Louis defense. Tiki, too. Go ahead and give the points.

NY Jets (+7) at Baltimore
I’m willing to bet that Brooks Bollinger turns out to be a much better NFL quarterback than anyone expects. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see old Brooks starting for the Jets on opening day next season. As for this game, though, I’m expecting Curtis Martin to get a lot of carries for not a lot of yards (since everyone is gonna know who’s getting the ball when the Jets line up in anything but a must-pass situation) and Ed Reed to get at least one pick as the Ravens finally find a way to win a game. I’m giving the points, too.

Dallas (+3) at Oakland
The fucking Raiders had better find a way to win this game. That’s all I can say. That, and bet the over, ’cause this one’s gonna be all offense. (Oh, and I’m taking the Raiders and giving the points, but don’t ask me why and don’t follow my lead.)

Minnesota (+5.5) at Atlanta
The Vikings’ one-game winning streak comes to a brutal end as the Falcons’ DBs explain by example why Minnesota should have held on to Randy Moss.

Philadelphia (+2) at Kansas City
Here’s another one where I can’t understand the spread. I don’t care about Donovan McNabb’s sports hernia. I don’t care about how good the Chiefs defense is supposed to be. What I care about is the fact that Kansas City has looked second rate to me this season. (They beat the Jets, who sucked before they lost Pennington, and the Raiders, who quite obviously had no interest in playing to win; and then they got blown out by Denver. That doesn’t say good team to me.) The Eagles may or may not be on their way back to the Super Bowl, but from what I’ve observed this season, they’re a better team on both sides of the ball than the Chiefs. I’m picking the upset.

San Francisco (+3) vs. Arizona (at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City)
Take away the controversy over playing this game in Mexico City (and really, sure, it’s wrong to take a home game away from the Cardinals, but it’s not like they win much in Arizona anyhow), and you don’t have a whole lot to talk about here. Seems like the 49ers should be able to win it. They beat St. Louis in week one and played Dallas tough a week ago. So as long as everyone runs the plays they way Mike Nolan calls them this time out, they should be able to best the Cardinals, who haven’t played well against anyone. Thing is, the Cards have Josh McCown rather than Kurt Warner under center this weekend, and I think that makes them a better team. So I’m going with the Cards on pure gut. But I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I turn out to be wrong. And against the spread, I think it’s a push.

Green Bay (+7.5) at Carolina
Call this one the disappointment bowl. And call it a Carolina win by default. Take the Panthers and give the points.

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