Archive for November, 2005

Week Twelve Picks, Part 2

November 27th, 2005 Comments off

Why, why, why did the feast have to end? I could eat another damned turkey right now. Which has all of nothing to do with football, of course. It’s just that, well, I sorta shot my intro load for the week on the Thanksgiving picks. So if you’re into that sort of thing, scroll down and read (or reread) that bit. Otherwise, it’s on to the rest of the week twelve games.

Baltimore (+9) at Cincinnati
Just be thankful this isn’t the Sunday night game. Imagine having to watch another prime time dog like last week’s Kansas City-Houston showdown. And after all, this had to look like a pretty good matchup on paper heading into the season. So we dodged a bullet there. What’s that? New Orleans-New York Jets is the Sunday night game this week? Hmmmm. Man, I sure do wish we could get this game instead. The Bengals take out their frustration from last week’s loss to the Colts on the hapless Ravens. I don’t a whole lot of faith in or respect for the Bengals (and none of either for the Ravens), so I’m not putting money anywhere near this game, but if I had to bet for some reason (like maybe if I were trying to get accepted into a secret society or something, and one of the requirements was to make bets on lousy football games), I’d probably look for Cincy to cover.

Carolina (-3.5) at Buffalo
Man, can the Panthers not afford to lose again this week. While I saw last week’s loss to Chicago coming a mile away, the outcome wasn’t at all good for Carolina, and another loss might signal the start of a tumble from which … ah, hell, the Panthers would still be a better team than the Falcons (who have already lost this week) and Tampa Bay (who are on their way to losing this week), and they’ll find a way to win the NFC South even if they don’t manage a win here. The challenges for Carolina this week are that it’s tough to play a second consecutive road game (especially when you’re a warm-weather team headed to yet another cold-weather stadium), and that the Bills’ defense has a way of not giving up a whole lot of points at home. That means the Panthers are gonna have to play great D themselves if they’re gonna avoid another tough defeat. The good news for Carolina is that, home or away, Buffalo’s D isn’t nearly on par with the Bears’. Buffalo gives up about 75 yards and 10 points per game more than Chicago ( and 35 yards and four points more than Carolina, which seems worth noting). That difference would have just about done the trick for the Panthers last week, and I expect it’ll be just enough to get them past the Bills this week. I will take Buffalo to keep it to less than a field-goal, however. And I promise you, I’m betting the under.

Chicago (+3) at Tampa Bay
This is supposed to be the game of the week for purists. Two big defenses going head-to-head, slugging it out, possibly with the NFC two seed and its concomitant first-round playoff bye at stake. That’s how it’s been sold anyhow. But, uh, what the fuck? Hasn’t Tampa’s defense been struggling like you wouldn’t believe lately? Hasn’t it given up 27, 35 and 34 points in its last three games (with Atlanta, Washington and Carolina, respectively)? Isn’t its sort of impressive (at least on paper) 10th-ranked average of 18.3 points allowed per game more a reflection of its success in stopping such high-powered offensive outfits as San Francisco, Miami and (in the very beginning of the season when both teams were struggling mightily) Buffalo and Minnesota? See, I’m looking at Tampa Bay’s semi-impressive defense and average offense and thinking Chicago, with it’s significantly less than impressive O and stifling D should be able to get the job done. Of course, that’s all got something to do with the fact that I remained entirely unimpressed with Tampa quarterback Chris Simms. But the fact is, I’m not exactly in love with Chicago QB Kyle Orton either. I just think Chicago asks a lot less of Orton than Tampa Bay does of Simms, which gives Orton a better chance to live up to expectations. I anticipate that’s pretty much what we’ll see here. That an another upset victory by the Bears.

Cleveland (+3.5) at Minnesota
A couple of weeks back I noted that there was sure to be a team that hadn’t played well to start the season that would turn it around, winning a bunch of games and either just missing or just making the playoffs (only to go out in the first round). It wasn’t an out-on-a-limb-type prediction; it happens every year. What I didn’t predict, because I would have been wrong, was which team it would be. I’ll say this: I never would have guessed at the time that it could be the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings are one of the worst-coached teams in the league. They’re undisciplined. They lack drive. And in some key areas, they appear to lack ability. And the fact of the matter is that they’ve continued to play fairly poorly over the last few weeks. Thing is, they’ve played poorly and won, largely due to mistakes by opponents who have committed too many turnovers and allowed the Vikings to score defensive and special teams touchdowns. The Vikes have also, I believe, benefited from the fact that they’ve got Brad Johnson starting under center. I’m not saying Johnson’s a better quarterback than injured Daunte Culpepper (though I’ve always liked Johnson, and the man does have a ring). What I mean is that it seems to me that Johnson has the advantage of not throwing passes to Randy Moss, who isn’t there to catch them (Moss being a member of the Oakland Raiders now and all). And as I’ve said before, I believe a big part of why Culpepper was throwing as many picks as he was before he went down for the season was that he was continuing to throw balls to Moss. It takes time for a quarterback to get used to throwing to a guy like Moss, one of those rare receivers who you throw to when he’s covered and know he’s gonna find a way to make the catch against all odds. I have to imagine it takes longer still to get used to not throwing to him. It’s neither here nor there in the end. Culpepper’s gone for reasons that have nothing to do with performance, and Johnson’s in there winning games. My guess is that Brad will do just enough to keep the Vikings competitive into week 15 or 16, and save Mike Tice’s job in the bargain. That way, the Vikes can come right back and be completely undisciplined and substantially mediocre again next season. Hooray. Much as I enjoyed seeing Romeo Crennel’s Browns have some success last week against Miami, I’m not hoping for the same in this game. I like the Vikings enough to give the points.

New England (+3) at Kansas City
My sense is that it’s gonna seem strange to look back on this game six weeks from now. Why? Because I think this will be the last game this season that the Patriots lose and the last game this season that the Chiefs win. And it’s gonna seem strange looking at an 11-5 Pats team on a roll and preparing to host a playoff game as the AFC’s three or four seed and remembering that their last loss came at the hands of a 7-9 Chiefs team in turmoil, home for the off-season and facing the probable retirement of their head coach. After this week, Kansas City hosts Denver, travels to Dallas and New York (Giants), then goes home to host San Diego and Cincinnati. I don’t see them beating any of those teams. New England, meanwhile, goes home to face the other New York team (the lousy one), travels to Buffalo, heads back to Foxboro to host Tampa Bay, heads to New York for a rematch with the Jets, then closes hosting Miami on New Years day. Only two of those games, at Buffalo and vs. Tampa Bay, pose a real threat of a loss, and I don’t see the Pats losing either of them. Buffalo plays tough at home, but the Pats should have enough to get by them. And Jon Gruden-coached teams have a bad history in Foxboro (plus, Chris Simms still sucks). Of course, none of that has anything to do with why I believe Kansas City is gonna win this weekend. That’s entirely to do with home field and health. The Chiefs have certainly lost some players to injury this season, but overall they’re in much better shape than the Pats right now. Arrowhead is a very tough place for visiting teams to play. And the Chiefs have more on the line at the moment. The Pats have little other than divisional matchups ahead of them; whether they win the AFC East is gonna have everything to do with how they play in those games and next to nothing to do with what they do this weekend. The Chiefs aren’t winning the West; they’re in a fight for a wild card slot and they’ve got to catch Cincinnati, Pittsburgh or Jacksonville, and hold off San Diego, to get it. A loss here and their playoff hopes are pretty much dashed. So I expect Kansas City to come out and play like this game means everything to them (because it does). I expect the Chiefs get some mileage on the ground against a struggling Pats’ D and ultimately win a high-scoring game (I don’t think KC will be able to keep New England out of the end zone) by about the margin of the spread. And I expect none of it to matter by the time January 8 rolls around. (By the way, I hope I’m wrong about the outcome of this game. This is the first time I’ve picked against the Patriots this season, and I hope they make me regret it by finding a way to win it.)

San Diego (-3) at Washington
At the same time as I made my easy prediction about a team that hadn’t fared well in the first half of the season turning it around and turning some heads in the second half (see my pick on the Minnesota-Cleveland game just above), I also made an easy, generic, happens-somewhere-every-season prediction about how some team that had looked really impressive early on would go into a tailspin to end the season. The Redskins could be that team, except that they never really looked all that impressive to begin with. Sure they won some key games, but it wasn’t by playing good football. A lot of the time, it was a matter of pure luck. Eventually that shit always catches up to you, and I think it’s caught up to Washington over the last couple of weeks. The Redskins come into this game on a two-game losing streak. At 5-5, they’re about one loss away from de facto elimination in the race for the NFC East title. And they’ve get to beat an AFC team this season. The Chargers, the Skins’ fourth and final AFC opponent of the season, are continuing to play just well enough to stay in the race for one of the AFC’s wild card spots (I think they’ll just make it, likely edging Cincinnati). I expect them to stay on course this week, beating Washington by about double the spread margin.

San Francisco (+8.5) at Tennessee
Ho, boy. I know there’s a football game being played in here somewhere. I’m just not sure where. And I’m not about to go looking for it. Just put me down for Tennessee straight up, San Francisco with the points.

St. Louis (-3) at Houston
Ask me why I think the Rams are gonna find a way to lose this game and I’m not sure what I’ll say. It’s not Jamie Martin, who’s back under center for St. Louis in place of the injured (again) Marc Bulger. Hell, the last time Martin went in for Bulger, he led the team to two straight wins. It’s not the fact that the Rams’ defense is ranked 29th in the league, because Houston’s is ranked 30th. And it’s certainly not that I was so impressed by the Texans’ offense last Sunday night vs. Kansas City. Who on earth could possibly have been impressed by that? What it is, really, is that I figure the Texans can’t help but pull one more win out of their asses at some point this season, and I’m guessing this game gives them as good a chance as they’re likely to get. That reasoning sucks, but it almost validates my gut, so I’m taking Houston and the points.

Jacksonville (-3.5) at Arizona
I’ll give the Jaguars this: They mostly win when they’re supposed to win. Take that and add it to the fact that the starting quarterback on the other side of the field is still Kurt Warner and you get yourself a formula for a Jags victory. And, oh, ah. Hmmmm. I’m giving the points. Yeah, what the hell?

Miami (+7) at Oakland
So what do you do when your defense is already kind of shabby and suddenly you find yourselves looking forward to closing the season without Warren Sapp. Well, one thing is you hope to get opponents like Miami and then, when you do, you hope those teams will continue to turn the ball over a lot. I’m anticipating seeing three or four picks. And I’m anticipating an Oakland win by 10 or so.

Green Bay (+4.5) at Philadelphia
I was starting to wonder when was the last time these two teams met when neither of them was in any way relevant to the off-season. I don’t remember it happening. Ever. But here it is. Meaningless and fairly boring. So, OK, yeah. I’ll take the Eagles and give up the points.

NY Giants (+4.5) at Seattle
This would be the old AFL game of the week if both teams weren’t in the NFC. What I mean is, I expect to see very little other than offense happening in this match. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Offense won’t get you far in the playoffs, but it’ll usually get you to the playoffs. And it should be a lot of fun to watch. I’m taking Seattle straight up, New York with the points.

New Orleans (pick ’em) at NY Jets
I have nothing to say about this game Awful, awful football. And, oh, I don’t know, out goes Y-O-U. I’m taking the visitors and expecting to lose.

Pittsburgh (+8) at Indianapolis
You go right on ahead and believe whatever the hell you want. Pittsburgh’s still not winning this game. Indy will drop one or two before the season’s out (if they make it to 14-0 they’ll have clinched home field through the playoffs by virtue of Denver’s opening week loss to AFC opponent Miami; and Tony Dungy has made it clear he’ll rest starters, saying he’s playing for a ring, not a record), but it won’t be this one. Pittsburgh, Roethlisberger or no Roethlisberger, doesn’t have the stuff to keep up with Indianapolis on offense. And on D, well, yeah, Pittsburgh’s better, but not by enough to go into Indy’s stadium and pull off a victory. I’m taking the Colts straight up, the Steelers with the points.

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Week Twelve Picks, Part 1 — Thanksgiving

November 23rd, 2005 Comments off

Today, I’m thankful that the whole ridiculous Terrell Owens/Philadelphia Eagles ordeal is finally over with. Now maybe we can start talking about football again. But probably not. I anticipate there will continue to be a T.O. story a week (maybe one a day) for the rest of the season? Where will he be next season? Who will be fool enough to think they can work with him? How is his court case against the Eagles (can there be any doubt that there will be one?) progressing? Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. It’s never, ever gonna go away, is it? Well, OK, then, lemme start again. Today, I’m thankful that there’s actually a game worth watching being played on Thanksgiving. One out of two ain’t bad, I suppose.

Happy Thanksgiving. I’ll check back in with the rest of my week twelve picks come Friday.

Atlanta (-3) at Detroit
This much is clear: Atlanta is not making it to the post-season this year. The Falcons showed in their loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday that they simply cannot beat good teams. They’re 3-3 at home this season (and headed for 4-4; they’ve got New Orleans and Carolina coming in), and while they’ve made up for that on the road a bit, they’ve got a tough slate of road games ahead of them (they’ve gotta travel to Carolina, Tampa Bay and Chicago). The way I see it, they’re headed for 8-8, which doesn’t get you anywhere near the playoffs this season in either conference. All that said, you’ve still gotta like the Falcons to get by the absolutely awful Detroit Lions. I’ll take Atlanta and give the points.

Denver (-2) at Dallas
I’m looking at this game as a possible Super Bowl XL preview. I’m quite certain Denver is headed to Detroit Feb. 5 (sorry, Colts fans, I don’t expect you to accept it, but your team just isn’t getting past the Broncos). And I’m starting to really believe Dallas could get there too. I’m quite sure Dallas will come out on top in the NFC East, though I’d much rather see the Giants win the division. The Cowboys are getting better as the season goes on, and my gut says that dickhead Bill Parcells will find a way to coach them to a conference championship. Once they get to Detroit, well, it’s all a matter of whom they face. I think they’d beat the Colts (who still don’t have the D to win a championship) and I think they’d play Denver tough, but just lose. This week, I think the Cowboys are in for a very tough game. The teams are close to being evenly matched (Denver’s been a bit more productive on offense, Dallas a tad stronger on defense) and under normal circumstances you’d expect what minor advantage Denver has on a neutral field to be erased by the fact that the game is being played in Dallas. But the circumstances aren’t normal. Dallas will be playing it’s third game in 11 days, which ain’t easy (even if the game in the middle of the three was against Detroit), while Denver is coming off a cakewalk of a matchup with the softer-than-soft New York Jets. So I like the Broncos to edge the Cowboys here, though I expect the game to come down to the last couple of minutes.

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Week Eleven Picks

November 19th, 2005 Comments off

John Riggins thinks it’s upset week. He said so yesterday on Sirius NFL Radio’s “Afternoon Blitz” and picked a bunch of upsets accordingly. I don’t know what that means (Riggins isn’t nearly as good a prognosticator as he once was a running back), but I figured I’d make note of it, because, hell, it could happen. We haven’t had what I call upside-down week yet (I call it that because when a bunch of teams that are seven-, eight- and nine-point underdogs win all in one week, you can’t just talk about upsets, you’ve got to figure the football world somehow got flipped over), and they always come, so, hell, it could happen. Riggins could be right. I kinda hope he is (so long as the Saints don’t benefit from it), because I’d like to get the damned thing out of the way so I can get back to picking, and betting, without worrying about when it’s gonna hit. But while I’m certainly looking for a few upsets this week, I’m not gonna start picking teams like the Niners and the Jets. So, as usual, take this stuff as you will. Don’t make bets based on my predictions. And don’t do anything based on what I told you Riggins had to say. Here goes.

Arizona (+9) at St. Louis
Well, I’ll give old Kurt Warner his due. Kurt managed to throw for 359 yards and a touchdown in last week’s Cardinals loss to the Detroit Lions. All-in-all, that ain’t a bad day (statistically speaking, of course; his team still lost, which is what really matters). Hell, if Joey Harrington hadn’t posted a career day, the Cards might actually have won the game. And that’s gotta count for something, right? Or maybe not. The fact of the matter is, while the Rams aren’t terribly good, they’re probably a tougher matchup for the Cards than the Lions were. In the end, it all boils down to an irrelevant meeting of teams that aren’t going anywhere — or even anywhere near anywhere. I expect both offenses to do OK, and I expect final score that’s a good bit closer than nine points, but I still expect the Rams to come out on top.

Carolina (-3) at Chicago
The Panthers are the team favored by many (including me) to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XL (though I’m starting to believe Dallas could get there too). The Bears, meanwhile, though they lead the (awful) NFC North and have the best defense in the league, haven’t yet managed to beat a team with a winning record. The Panthers are a balanced team. The Bears are all D (which does not simply reflect the fact that they’ve got a rookie starting under center). So, yeah, while this game is being played in Chicago, Carolina should be able to win it by about the three points the oddsmakers predict. But I don’t think they will. I’m looking for interception-prone Jake Delhomme to put a few balls in the hands of interception-happy Chicago DBs and for the giveaway/takeaway ratio to decide the game in favor of the Bears.

Detroit (+7.5) at Dallas
In a weird way (that wouldn’t stand up to any kind of close analysis), this year’s Cowboys remind me of the 2001 Patriots. They’ve been winning most of their games, but typically not by convincing margins. And they’ve pulled a few wins (like the one over the Eagles Monday night) directly out of their asses. That’s why I think they’ve got a chance of winning the NFC this season. (And much as I hate the Cowboys and Bill Parcells, I’d kind of like to see that happen. Why? Well, because I like Drew Bledsoe and I’d like to see him get another chance to win a championship, especially after the way he was discarded by Buffalo in the off-season. And because while I don’t think Indy will make it to the big show — they won’t get past Denver — if by some chance they do, I’d love to see them get there and lose to a team like Dallas, with its personnel and playing-style links to New England). Not a bit of this has anything to do with Sunday’s game, which I don’t think the Boys should have any difficulty winning by a decent margin, so long as they’re not looking past this game in anticipation of their Thanksgiving matchup with Denver. I’m taking the Cowboys and giving the points.

Jacksonville (-4) at Tennessee
I don’t know what the hell to say about this game. If I were setting the odds, Jacksonville, a much, much better team than Tennessee, would be giving something more like eight. And I’d expect the Jags to cover.

Miami (+2.5) at Cleveland
My guess is that if these two teams end up meeting around this same time next year (it’s possible, since both seem likely to finish third in their division, which would ensure a meeting, though not at any particular point in the season), it’ll be a game to watch. Both teams are rebuilding. Both clearly have coaches that have it in them to get their teams into contention by next season (though Miami’s Nick Saban obviously has more in place in terms of player personnel than Cleveland’s Romeo Crennel, a reflection, in both cases, of what was there when the coaches arrived). Both should at least be fun to watch next season. This season, it’s still a close matchup, and one worth watching if you have the chance. It doesn’t really mean anything (Cleveland is officially done, Miami most of the way there), but it still could be a good game. I honestly don’t know which way it’s gonna go, so I’ll invoke two rules of thumb: When in doubt, pick the home team. And when in doubt pick the team not quarterbacked by Sage Rosenfels. In both cases here, that happens to be the Browns. So I’m taking them and giving the pair. Why not?

New Orleans (+9) at New England
I’m starting to think that rather than pick the games, I should predict which Patriots starters’ seasons will end with an injury each week. Yes, that’s right. It’s that bad. The Pats are starting to look like the 2004 Carolina Panthers, except that the Patriots went into this season a better team than the Panthers did last year, and likely will make the playoffs despite all the players placed on injured reserve (though it’s hard to imagine they’ll get past the divisional round). I’m not gonna start picking injuries, of course. I’d hate to be right. So I’m just gonna pick the game, and there, I’m sticking with the trends. I’ve picked the Patriots every week this season so far. That’s worked out OK for me. I’ve picked against the Saints virtually every week this season so far. That’s worked out very well for me. So I’ll take the Pats, though I can’t put any faith in a team playing defense as poorly as New England has been to win by more than a touchdown.

Oakland (+6) at Washington
I’m taking the Raiders to win this one outright. Why? Is it because I like the way the Raiders match up against the Redskins? Well, I don’t dislike the matchup, but it’s not really that. Is it because I think the Raiders are about to turn their season around? Not so much. Is it because I suspect the Redskins have begun an outright collapse? A little bit. Is it because I think Norv Turner wants this so bad he can taste it? Well, I do believe that, though I’m not sure I think it will make the difference. Is it that I expect the “good” Kerry Collins to show up and punish the Redskins’ secondary? Not really. You never know what Kerry you’re gonna get until it’s too damned late to do anything about it. Truth is, I’m picking Oakland mostly on gut. I think the Raiders will win, because I think the Raiders will win. That’s a stupid way to pick football games, though, so I suggest ignoring me on this even more than you ignore me on everything else.

Philadelphia (+7) at NY Giants
Which team’s collapse in week ten was more meaningful? The Giants held the Minnesota Vikings to next to no yards on offense and still managed to lose their game at the last minute (with special teams and Eli Manning contributing equally to the loss). Then on Monday night, the Eagles outplayed the Dallas Cowboys for 56 minutes and still managed to lose at the end (with one of the worst bits of play calling of the week — after Miami offensive coordinator Scott Linehan’s decision to throw on four straight plays after achieving first and goal at the New England five yard line — setting up a game-winning defensive touchdown, and bringing about a likely end to Donovan McNabb’s season). I don’t know which of those losses was worse. I do know that the Eagles’ loss was far more disastrous. Philly’s season is over, and its long reign over the NFC with it. The Giants, meanwhile, are still working toward a playoff berth, and possibly a division championship (though I suspect they’ll lose the latter to Dallas). And as far as I know, Giants coach Tom Coughlin didn’t lose valuable prep time this week sitting in a hotel room trying to convince an arbitrator to accept the obvious fact that Terrell Owens is an asshole. So I’m taking New York and giving the points.

Pittsburgh (-3.5) at Baltimore
You know when you’re in real trouble as a football team? When the news that Tommy Maddox will be starting at quarterback for a visiting opponent leads oddsmakers to rate you a three and a half point underdog. That can only hurt like hell. Brian Billick’s farewell tour in Baltimore takes another difficult turn as the Steelers run the ball down the Ravens’ throats and walk away winners by a field goal.

Tampa Bay (+6) at Atlanta
Just when I say Chris Simms sucks and shouldn’t be starting for an NFL team (see my week ten picks), the kid comes up with an amazing day, throwing three touchdown passes and leading his team to a key last-minute win over Washington. Guess I owe Chris an apology. Except that I still think he sucks. And I expect him to prove it this week. The Falcons run, run, run, run, run. DeAngelo Hall picks off a Simms pass. And Atlanta walks away with a win by a touchdown.

Seattle (-12.5) at San Francisco
The Seahawks are another team that could end up in the Super Bowl. Except for how they’re the Seattle Seahawks and doomed to collapse, Shaun Alexander or no Shaun Alexander. But not this week. Not against the 49ers. This week, Alexander finds the end zone another four times and the Seahawks win and cover.

Buffalo (+11) at San Diego
Hey, J.P. Losman’s back and looking good. Hey, the Bills just might get it together and challenge New England for the AFC East title. Or, hey, maybe not. The Chiefs, who managed only three points at Buffalo last week, simply aren’t that good a team. And neither are the Bills. I’m taking LaDainian Tomlinson … um, I mean the Chargers, and giving the points.

Indianapolis (-5.5) at Cincinnati
I’ve been sorely tempted to pick the upset in this game all week. Straight up, that is. There’s little question but that Indianapolis is due for a loss. The Colts are 9-0 and since you can’t go undefeated through a modern NFL season, they’ve gotta find one or two to drop somewhere in the next seven games. This one would seem a likely choice. The Colts are on the road. It’s supposed to be cold in Cincinnati. The Bengals, though tied with Pittsburgh for the AFC North lead at 7-2, need to make a statement that they can indeed beat good teams. It all says upset. But the stats say different. And they say different in a big way. The Colts do virtually everything better than the Bengals (except pass the ball, believe it or not; the Bengals average seven more yards per game than the Colts in the air). And, most tellingly, the Colts stop the run a good bit better than the Bengals, allowing just 97.4 yards per game to the Bengals’ 124.2. (It’s worth noting here, however, that in yards per carry, there’s only a half-yard difference. The Colts allow 4.2, the Bengals 4.7, neither of which is very good.) The contest here, to my mind, isn’t between Peyton Manning and Carson Palmer; it’s between Edgerrin James and Rudi Johnson. And I’ve gotta think the edge there goes to, well, Edge. I like the Colts by about a field goal.

NY Jets (+13.5) at Denver
Oh, boy, am I glad my local CBS station is showing this game. I can’t wait to see this. What a game. What a matchup. What a rivalry. What a … complete fucking crock. The Broncos do everything well (except stop the pass). The Jets do nothing well (especially pass the ball). The game is already over, and the Broncos have won it by 20.

Kansas City (-6.5) at Houston
Yeah, I know I said just a couple of picks ago that the Chiefs aren’t that good. I meant it. But no team is worse than the Texans. None. So I’m taking Kansas City and giving the points.

Minnesota (+4.5) at Green Bay
I know a lot of folks are picking the Vikings in the upset here. I’m not one of them. Yes, Minnesota did manage to beat the Giants last week. And yes, the Giants are a much better team than the Packers. But I don’t see the Vikes scoring twice on special teams two weeks in a row. And while the Minnesota defense very well might put up seven for the second straight week, I don’t see the offense adding much to that. I think Green Bay finds a way to squeeze out a three-point victory.

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Week Ten Picks

November 12th, 2005 Comments off

Here’s something I can tell you for absolute certain: There’s gonna be at least one and maybe two stunning upsets this week. How do I know that? Well, because there hasn’t been a true shocker in a good while now, so we’re due. Also, there’s usually some kind of upset every week (week nine notwithstanding) and stunning is about the only kind of upset we can get in this week of enormous point spreads. Plus, since most of last week’s much more even matchups went to the favorites, there’s gotta be some kind of upheaval this week to even things out. (And you know, we haven’t had upside-down week yet, so maybe this is it. It’d be one hell of an upside-down week.)

I can also tell you this: Beginning this week, one some that got a rough start to its season will begin an amazing run to December. Maybe it won’t be enough to get that team into the playoffs (depending on how rough a start the team got, what division it’s in, that sort of thing), but it’s gonna be fun to watch and it’s gonna have everyone talking by week 15. Also, beginning this week or next, some team that’s got off to a very strong start is gonna go into an outright tailspin, a collapse so extreme players and coaches (not to mention sportswriters and fans) will still be trying to figure out what hit them come week 17. How do I know this stuff? Because it happens every single year. It’s really as simple as that. Just watch.

Now, as for picking this week’s games, well, it’s pretty simple really. Straight up, anyhow. You mostly pick the favorites, because they’re heavy favorites for a reason. You’re gonna end up thinking you should have seen an upset coming somewhere, and knowing you’d pick some other game the same way if you had it to do all over again despite the upset, but you can’t go guessing at this shit, because you just get hurt that way. Betting? I don’t know. I don’t bet on pro games with giant spreads, and I’d advise you not to either. So take a look at the closer matchups (except the awful-off in Detroit) and find something comfortable in there. Or go for broke and tease both of the double-digit spreads (you pick the direction) and hope for the best. It’s your call. And chances are you’re gonna lose money either way. So you might as well have fun.

Here’s how I see things happening.

Arizona (+3.5) at Detroit
Ah, shit. Do I really have to make a pick in this game? The Kurt Warner-led Cardinals at the Joey Harrington-led Lions? This is fucking football hell, plain and simple. I can’t even think about this mess. I’m just going with the home team straight up and the underdog versus the spread. That’s it. That’s all I’ve got to say about this game. Seriously.

Baltimore (+6) at Jacksonville
Kyle Boller returns to the starting lineup for Baltimore, which could pose more problems for Jacksonville than one would imagine. It’s hard to game plan against a quarterback you can’t watch recent film of. I don’t how the hell Boller’s gonna perform or exactly how healthy he is, or what the current Baltimore offense is gonna do differently with him in the game, and neither does anyone but Brian Billick (Yeah, you can guess, but you might be wrong.) So there’s a chance Boller catches the Jacksonville D off guard. Still, Boller’s got little to nothing around him. There are a couple of guys who can catch balls, sure, but no one on the Ravens has had any success running this season, which should allow the Jacksonville D to key up on Todd Heap and Derrick Mason and make it really hard for Boller to get anything accomplished. I don’t expect Baltimore’s D to give up a whole lot of points, especially with Fred Taylor on the sidelines, but I don’t expect their O to score very many either. So I’m thinking Jacksonville wins, but maybe by a score of 10-6.

Houston (+17) at Indianapolis
Look, obviously you’ve gotta take the Colts to win this thing. That’s a given. But the last thing you wanna do is bet on this game. Because it’s gonna go one of two ways. Either the Colts offense is gonna score every time it gets the ball (and the Colts defense is gonna score once or twice, too) and Indy’s gonna win by more like 35 than 17, or the Colts are gonna have a hard time getting up for a game against the worst team in the league following a major emotional victory at New England and they’re gonna come out flat and end up winning by nine or 10. Think you know which it’s gonna be? Then go ahead and risk your money. But don’t say I didn’t tell you so. (For the record, if I were somehow required to put a bet on this mess, I’d give the damned points, because I just can’t imagine Indy will need to try very hard to score repeatedly on the Houston D. But, really, it’s totally a crapshoot and best avoided.)

Kansas City (+2) at Buffalo
This is maybe the toughest match of the week to suss. On defense, Buffalo stops the pass better than any other team in the league, while the only team worse at pass defense than Kansas City is San Francisco. The Chiefs D, meanwhile, has fared much better against the run than the Bills, who can’t stop anyone. Both teams have run the ball very well, and I don’t expect that to change much with Priest Holmes gone for the season, since Larry Johnson has certainly come on of late. But the Chiefs pass well, while the Bills can’t throw the ball for shit (no matter who’s under center). So the Chiefs have a definite advantage talent-wise. But I still feel like home-field means something here. And all told, that leaves me torn. I can see this game going either way. So I’m gonna pick the team that looked like it was playing to win it all in its last game, and that team’s the Chiefs. I’ll take them with the points, and I’ll take them to win it outright.

Minnesota (+9.5) at NY Giants
Somehow I get the feeling Jon Gruden is looking at what Brad Johnson did at quarterback for Minnesota last week and wishing he’d held onto the guy with whom he won Super Bowl XXXVII. Yeah, Johnson’s never been the best quarterback in the league, but he’s better by leaps and bounds than anyone on Tampa Bay’s current roster. Of course, that’s neither here nor there as far as this game (or any other) is concerned. Johnson’s under center for the Vikes now, and something tells me his second start of the season is gonna prove a tad more difficult than his first. Facing the Lions (with Joey Harrington at QB) at home is one thing; going into the Meadowlands to face the division-leading Giants is quite another. The Giants defense runs hot and cold, so assuming someone’s able to carry the ball effectively for Minnesota (Mewelde Moore will probably get the start despite a sprained wrist, and Michael Bennett remains uneven despite his strong performance last week), Johnson could conceivably complete some passes and put up some points. But my guess is that Johnson and the rest of the Minnesota offense simply won’t get many chances to make anything happen. The Vikings D has been pretty miserable this season. And the Giants offense has seemed virtually unstoppable of late. That, and playing on the road, aren’t good for teams like the Vikes. So I’m looking for a Giants win, and probably another decisive one, which is to say I’m gonna go ahead and give the points.

New England (-3) at Miami
It used to be you’d say the Patriots would probably find a way to win this game. The Pats, after all, are most dangerous after they suffer a bad loss, as they did Monday night when the Colts visited Foxborough. So even though they Patriots can’t seem to stop much of anything on defense, and even though New England has no healthy running backs (well, except Mike Cloud, I guess), you’d figure Tom Brady and the Pats ninth-ranked offense would find a way to put a hurting on a Fins team that, though it may be challenging for the division, is really still rebuilding. But right now I’m not so sure. I mean, I know the Pats can and should knock off the Dolphins, I’m just not sure they want to. There’s been a lot of talk about New England’s lack of passion for the game this week, and it reflects something that’s been fairly evident on the field. That needs to change, and quick, or it’s gonna continue to be a rough season. You can’t win when you’ve got the kind of injuries the Pats do unless you want the hell out of it, and up until now, the Pats haven’t looked like they want it much at all. Now, all of that said, I still like the Pats to win this one, if only by about a field goal, because even if Brady weren’t playing amazing football, and even if the Dolphins D could shut down the Patriots’ passing game, and even though I expect Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams both to have good days on the ground, the Dolphins still have Gus Frerotte under center, and Frerotte, who has a 65.3 passer rating and has thrown nine interceptions and only eight touchdowns this season, should find a way to make the Pats’ inconsistent secondary look pretty decent. All of which is to say that while I don’t necessarily expect the Pats to find a way to win, I do expect the Dolphins to find a way to lose.

San Francisco (+13) at Chicago
Look, I don’t’ want to pick on Cody Pickett. I really don’t. First of all, it’s just too damned easy, too obvious. Second, it seems like he’s probably a nice kid and all. And he didn’t create the situation he’s in. Injuries to #1 draft pick Alex Smith and backup QB Ken Dorsey, and the Niners ill-timed trade of Tim Rattay to Tampa Bay (where he’ll probably be starting by week 11 or 12), thrust Pickett into an impossible situation, playing quarterback for a team that would be considered possibly the worst in the league if it weren’t for the fact that Houston is so damned terrible. But what am I supposed to do? Should I ignore the fact that Pickett is 13 of 22 for 112 yards, no TDs and an interception since replacing Dorsey near the end of San Fran’s shocking win over Tampa Bay two weeks ago? Should I pretend his passer rating isn’t an abysmal 53.6? And should I act like he’s not going into Chicago to face one of the best defenses in the league, a unit tied for second in interceptions with 13 on the season? You know, I don’t think that’s picking on Cody. I think it’s just stating the facts. And the facts tell me that Cody is in for big trouble in the Windy City. Given that the Bears defense is bound to score at least once, I can’t see how Chicago fails to win this one by two touchdowns.

Denver (-3) at Oakland
This game is big, giant trouble for me. There’s something inside me that says the Raiders are gonna pull off the upset, that maybe Oakland is the team that turns its season around starting this weekend with a big win against a tough and hated division rival. After all, the Raiders do have big, big potential on offense. And they’ve been really close in a few key losses. So there’s no question they could do a lot better in the second half of the season than they did in the first. But I have no way of knowing whether all that stuff telling me to take the upset here is coming from my gut or my heart. And I suspect it’s my heart. And what I know for certain is that the Broncos look Super Bowl bound to me (though it hurts like hell to say it). I don’t think there’s a team in the league that’s got what it’s gonna take to stop Denver from collecting a Lombardi Trophy this season. I also know that Denver coach Mike Shannahan hates Al Davis and the Raiders with all his heart, and almost always finds a way to motivate his guys to beat Oakland, even in seasons when Denver doesn’t look like probably league champs. So my head tells me Denver’s a three-point favorite for a reason. Here’s how I’m gonna reconcile it, I think. I’m taking the Broncos to win it straight up, and hoping I’m wrong. And I’m putting some cash in the Raiders to keep it to within three and hoping they do better than that. Seems reasonable, right? No? Completely ridiculous? Well, fuck it. I’m doing it anyhow.

NY Jets (+8.5) at Carolina
The team I expect Denver to beat in the Super Bowl? Carolina. The team I expect the Jets to beat at any point this season? None. Certainly not the Panthers. Brooks Bollinger struggles against the Carolina D, while the Jets D works hard to keep it close through three quarters, then falls apart from exhaustion, as New York loses by nine.

Green Bay (+9) at Atlanta
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse for Green Bay, the Pack is forced to travel to Atlanta to take on the league’s top rushing offense. I expect this game to go very quickly as Atlanta runs on down after down after down (and Mike Vick completes what few passes he does have to throw), while the Green Bay offense goes three and out every time it gets the ball. I hate taking nine-point favorites to cover, but I just don’t see where I have a choice.

St. Louis (+6.5) at Seattle
Yeah, it’s hard to pull off the season sweep. And yeah, the Rams are playing much better ball under Joe Vitt than they were under Mike Martz. And yeah, I still sort of expect Seattle to collapse at some point. But I just don’t see the Rams pulling off the upset here. I just don’t. I do think they’ll keep it closer than six and a half, though. So there’s that.

Washington (-1) at Tampa Bay
You know who really sucks? Chris Simms. The Bucs’ current starting quarterback is 52 for 86 for 592 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions (that’s twice as many INTs as TDs, in case you don’t feel like doing the math yourself) and a passer rating of 69.5. And so, OK, that means Simms doesn’t suck as much as, say, Joey Harrington, but that’s a bit like saying a guy hits better than Mario Mendoza (and maybe not even that). Plus, you know, give him time. I don’t know whether Jon Gruden has quite figured that out yet, but I’m thinking he’d better figure it out soon or he’s gonna have the opportunity to start figuring out what to do about it over the long term (hint: it ain’t hope Brian Griese gets and stays healthy) come the first week in January. As for this week, I’m guessing the Redskins’ pass rushers are gonna have a field day with Simms. And while the Buccaneers certainly can play defense themselves, it’s hard to imagine them faring as well against Mark Brunell, who’s playing the best football of his career, as the Redskins will against Simms (who, in fairness, is probably playing the best football of his career, too). I’m taking the Skins and giving the point.

Cleveland (+7.5) at Pittsburgh
Romeo Crennel knows how to scheme against the Pittsburgh offense. That’s a given. And if he had the personnel to carry out his schemes, I’d be sorely tempted to pick the upset here. But Crennel, who’s in his first year as head coach, hasn’t had a chance to build his defense yet. And Pittsburgh, while vulnerable (especially with Charlie Batch under center and two out of three running backs ailing), should be able to get just enough done to win this game, if only by three points or so.

Dallas (+3) at Philadelphia
Terrell Owens, Terrell Owens, Terrell Owens, Terrell Owens, Terrell Owens, Terrell Owens, Terrell Owens, Terrell Owens, Terrell Owens, Terrell Owens, Terrell Owens, Terrell Owens, Terrell Owens, Terrell Owens, Terrell Owens, Terrell Owens, Terrell Owens, Terrell Owens, Terrell Owens, Terrell Owens, Terrell Owens, Terrell Owens, Terrell Owens. Oh, wait, you mean there’s a game? The Eagles are playing an actual game? OK, then, let’s maybe talk about that a bit. It looks as close to me as it does to the oddsmakers (who have Philly giving the default three) so let’s break it down. Dallas, like every other team in the league, runs the ball better than Philadelphia. Or at least they run the ball more often. Both teams get about three and a half yards per carry on the ground, but Dallas runs a good two and a half times as often as Philly, netting 122.4 yards per game to Philadelphia’s 58.6. The Cowboys also stop the run better than the Eagles. Or, again, they’re better at run defense by certain standards. The Eagles have allowed 118 yards per game on the ground as opposed to the Cowboys’ 89, but both teams have been giving up about four yards per carry. Philly’s offense comes out ahead in the air if you look at yards per game (295 vs. 235) but not if you go by yards per attempt (where Dallas gets 8.24 to Philadelphia’s 7.32 — and even if you break it down to yards per completion, Dallas comes out looking slightly better, with 12 to Philly’s 11.5), and to my mind that’s the measure that really matters since Philly does nothing but throw while Dallas has a balanced offensive attack. The Dallas pass defense, on the other hand, comes out way ahead in the mix, allowing just 193.5 yards per game (6.64 per attempt; 11 per completion) to Philadelphia’s 230 (7.47; 11.6). So the Cowboys’ slightly better record would appear to be the result of the fact that they do pretty much everything slightly better than the Eagles. Of course, the game is still taking place in the Eagles’ stadium, and there is an advantage to that. But my guess is that advantage has been mostly wiped away by the whole T.O. dustup. So me, I’m taking the Boys to win it outright.

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Week Nine Picks

November 4th, 2005 Comments off

Here’s what makes this week dangerous in terms of straight-ahead picking: Ten road teams are going into the weekend as favorites. That’s 10 out of 14. Now, consider that in relation to the fact that home teams are 76-40 so far this season. That is, home teams win nearly two thirds of the time. So looking at things from a purely statistical point of view, in a week when there are 14 games, you can expect at least nine home teams to pull off victories. So, assuming all four of the home favorites come out ahead (hardly a given considering that those home favorites include the Buccaneers, who are giving a point to the Panthers — and whom the oddsmakers had rated underdogs earlier in the week — and the Browns, who are giving the home-team default three points to Tennessee), that means we should see at least five upsets. At least five. And the thing is, when you get five upsets in a single week in the NFL, you usually get more. (That last part’s not stats speaking, mind you. It’s spooky upset mojo shit, which you should certainly ignore. Forget you even read it, actually.)

Sure, none of this is the kind of thing you want to base picks on. But neither can you feel too good about going with teams that are giving a point and a half or two points while playing in someone else’s stadium, especially when those teams are the Lions, with Joey Harrington back under center, facing the Vikings, now featuring Brad Johnson under center, or even the Bears traveling to no man’s land to face the Saints.

So what do you do? Do you try to ID upsets and risk getting killed? (Pick five upsets, get all of them wrong, and watch upsets happen in five other places, and you’re looking at a 4-10 week.) Do you go with the favorites and just figure that gives you as good a shot at 9-5 as it does at 5-9 and the most likely result is 7-7, which, if everyone else is getting socked trying to tag upsets, amounts to not getting hurt too bad? I don’t know. I do know what I’m doing. I’m picking the teams I think are likely to win and hoping for the best, because as far as I can tell, that’s all you can ever do.

Atlanta (-2.5) at Miami
Look, here’s the situation: the Dolphins are absolutely gonna win this game. I know this because the Dolphins consistently do the exact opposite of what I expect them to do, and this week I expect them to lose. Here’s how I see it: Both defenses stop the run OK, but Atlanta’s offense runs the ball a good bit better than Miami’s (like 80 yards a game better). And while Miami’s offense has had more success in the air (70 yards a game), that’s largely had to do with the fact that Atlanta almost never throws (the two teams are virtually even in yards per passing attempt: Atlanta gets 6.06, Miami 6.02). Atlanta’s D does give up half a yard more per passing attempt than Miami’s, but that only adds up to 27 yards a game, so there’s no major difference to be found in that area. So, as I said, all trends (except for home field advantage) point to an Atlanta win, which is what I’m picking straight ahead. But since that means Miami’s gonna win the game, I’m taking the Fins with the points.

Carolina (+1) at Tampa Bay
The opening line on this game had Carolina going into Tampa favored by a point and a half. One can only guess the change had more to do with evening out the money than anything else. That is, I’m thinking the early bets must have been coming in heavy on the Bucs’ side. I wonder if the two-and-a-half-point shift in the other direction has made much of a difference. I know I continue to like Tampa, mainly because they’re at home and because they match up better in the running game. While both teams stop the run very well (Tampa has the best run D in the league; Carolina the second best), Carolina will have more to stop than will Tampa. The Bucs have been gaining a yard more per carry than the Panthers. And it’s a big yard. Tampa’s 4.1 per carry is enough for them to gain first downs on the ground. Carolina’s 3.1 falls short of that. That means Carolina’s gonna need its league-leading receiver, Steve Smith, to shoulder a good bit of the load. It’s something he’s clearly capable of doing, but he’ll be trying to do it against the third-best passing D in the league, in their stadium, and that’s not an easy task. Ultimately, I think given Tampa QB Chris Simms’ difficulties since taking over for Brian Griese, the teams are pretty evenly matched here. But in that situation, the only smart move is to go with the home team. I’ll go ahead and give the point, too. Why not?

Chicago (-2) vs. New Orleans (at Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge)
I’m sure the folks in Baton Rouge are simply heartbroken about Saints owner Tom Benson’s vow never again to step foot in their fine city (or whatever it is Benson’s promising not to do). Benson, who’s preparing to Texas two-step his team all the way to Los Angeles (with a one-season stopoff in San Antonio), wasn’t too happy about having to hear from the fans who have supported his team for years and are upset about its pending departure while he was in Baton Rouge for last week’s loss to Miami. And can you blame him? I mean, who wants to be told he’s a carpetbagger by a bunch of ingrate hurricane victims? Especially if that’s exactly what he is. Of course, this has all of nothing to do with the game. It’s just more interesting than the game is all. Because when you look at the game, all you see is a homeless 2-6 Saints team that can’t run (anymore), can’t pass, can’t stop the run and can’t stop the pass taking on a Bears team that’s leading its division at 4-3 despite the fact that it can’t do much of anything on offense, because its defense doesn’t allow anyone to do much of anything against it. And when you look at that, even when you’re looking for places where upsets might happen, all you can possibly see is the Bears winning by something like double the spread.

Cincinnati (-3) at Baltimore
You know what’s weird? If it hadn’t been for the fact that they damned near beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh on Monday night, I probably wouldn’t even be considering taking Baltimore in this game. After all, while the Bengals have made it clear that they can’t beat good teams, the Ravens have been anything but good so far this season — until Monday, when they matched up extraordinarily well against Pittsburgh. On the other hand, the very fact that the Ravens are coming off a hard-fought Monday nighter and simply have to be exhausted, both physically and emotionally, makes me wonder whether they can possibly find it in them to beat what is clearly a better team. But you know what? Here’s what I’m thinking: Cincinnati keeps finding ways to lose to teams with good defenses (their victory over Chicago early in the season notwithstanding). And Baltimore’s D is arguably better than either Pittsburgh’s or Jacksonville’s (those are the teams that have beaten Cincinnati). Certainly, they give up fewer points per game than either of those teams. Plus, consider that Baltimore’s pass defense is the second best in the league and the strength of Cinci’s offense is its passing game. (And while the Bengals run the ball pretty well, the Ravens actually do a pretty good job of stopping the run.) Add to that the fact that the Bengals can’t stop the run worth a damn, while the Ravens running game appeared to be on the verge of coming to life Monday night, and I think you have the makings of an upset. So, me, I’m gonna go ahead and take Baltimore straight up. I’d certainly do it with the points if I were you.

Detroit (-1.5) at Minnesota
“So, um, hey, Joey, we know it’s only been two weeks since we essentially told you we’d given up on you (because of how you suck) and handed your job to a 35-year-old guy who, by his own approximation, was only 70 percent recovered from a broken leg, but, um, we were sort of wondering, um, if maybe, um, well, that is, if, um, maybe you might be able to go in an try to win a game for us on Sunday. Um, ’cause the thing is, uh, well, Jeff’s hurt again and he’s not gonna be able to start this game (if he were able, we wouldn’t be talking). And we were thinking that, you know, since it’s just Minnesota and all, and, well, you know, the Vikings defense is pretty awful and everything. And they’ve got their backup quarterback starting (so, OK, yeah, he does have a ring, but still). Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad for you. This time. Maybe. So what do you think? Wanna give it a go?” Offensive incompetence abounds and the Vikings win this one with a field goal late. (Oh, and bet the under.)

Houston (+11) at Jacksonville
I’m not sure what I could possibly tell you about this game. Houston got its one win for the season last week, beating Cleveland at home. So there’s no point picking them to pull off an upset, because they’re done winning. In terms of the spread? Look, this is all I can do: Jacksonville both puts up and gives up an average of 18 points a game. Houston, meanwhile, scores an average of 13 while allowing 28. The median of 13 and 18 is 15.5. The median of 18 and 28 is 23. My math puts the difference at 7.5. The oddsmakers’ formula says home field is worth three. That comes to 10.5, which remains less than 11. So I’m taking the Texans to cover. Or at least that’s what I’m doing in theory and on paper (or whatever the hell this is). In reality, I’m not putting a dime on this game, because there’s no winning and because this matchup wouldn’t be interesting to me if I had a million dollars riding on it.

Oakland (+4.5) at Kansas City
I can’t begin to express to you how badly I want to pick an upset here. I’d love to believe, as a lot of Raiders fans seem to, that Oakland’s offense has really started to click and the team’s begun an impossible run for an AFC wild card slot. And, you know, the Chiefs are pretty damned banged up. Plus, they weren’t all that good to begin with. But that’s neither here nor there. Let’s be realistic. Neither of these teams is making the playoffs. Neither of them. And while one might be tempted to think KC’s marginal superiority on offense is offset by the fact that Oakland is slightly less awful on D, it’s simply impossible to see things playing out in any way but a Kansas City win at Arrowhead. I will take the Raiders to keep it closer than four and half, though. And I’ll be absolutely delighted if I turn out to be wrong about the straight ahead result. So there’s that.

San Diego (-5) at NY Jets
I don’t see this as an easy win for San Diego. Sure, the Jets stink on offense, but New York’s defense continues to play well (at least until the middle of the third quarter when, having spent 30-plus minutes on the field, defensive players start to wear out). And as I’ve noted here recently, it looks to me like the Chargers’ blocking schemes have begun to show the signs of the post-Hudson Houck entropy we all knew would set in eventually. So I kind of expect the Jets to keep the Chargers from running away with things early on. In fact, I think they’ll be able to keep LaDainian Tomlinson out of the end zone for much of the first half, and to get to Drew Brees two or three times during the game. It won’t be enough, of course. It’s beyond hard to overcome the kind of lack of offense New York’s dealing with, and the Jets’ shortcomings on that side of the ball will eventually catch up with them. Still, even though I’m taking San Diego to both win and cover, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Jets manage to keep the Chargers’ margin of victory to a field goal.

Tennessee (+3) at Cleveland
You know when you’re in deep shit offensively? When it gets to be week nine and your running backs have spent more time in the courtroom than the end zone. Of course, Cleveland’s committee of drunks and potheads (OK, and one guy who actually seems to be trying hard at times, but who’s just never lived up to his potential) this season has spent more time pretty much everywhere than they have in the end zone, a location they’ve yet to visit even once. That’s gotta change but soon if people are going to be expected to continue to opine that the Browns are headed in the right direction. Probably not this week, though. Not when the Browns face a Titans squad that’s allowed only three rushing touchdowns all season. The good news for the Browns, and for fantasy owners who have Antonio Bryant or Braylon Edwards on their teams, is that the Tennessee D has operated with a complete open-door policy for wide receivers, having allowed a league-high 17 passing touchdowns so far this season. I think Cleveland should be able to beat the Titans in the air and win this one by about three.

NY Giants (-10) at San Francisco
Yes, sir, San Francisco sure did pull off the upset victory over Tampa Bay last Sunday. Pulled off the big win even though quarterbacks Ken Dorsey and Cody Pickett combined for 50 yards on eight completions (18 attempts). That’s pretty remarkable. And pretty unrepeatable. I’m looking for the Giants to finally pull off a road win this week, and to do it by four points more than the spread.

Seattle (-4.5) at Arizona
All around the cobbler’s bench, the monkey chased the weasel. The monkey thought ’twas all in jest … pop! Hey, look. It’s that jackass in the box Kurt Warner back under center for the Cardinals. Apparently Dennis Green likes Warner, who’s 0-3 as a starter, better than Josh McCown, who’s 2-2. That makes sense. (I predicted this move last week, as you probably don’t remember. McCown had a rough outing against the Cowboys, largely because he got no support from the running game, prompting Green, who’s determined that no one ever get comfortable in the starting QB spot for his team, to give him the hook.) Maybe Green’s looking to recapture the magic of the 37-12 beating his team took from the Seahawks the last time Warner started a game. My guess is that’s about what Green and the Cardinals are gonna get regardless of what anybody may want.

Pittsburgh (-3.5) at Green Bay
The way I see it, this game is all about Charlie Batch, who’ll be starting under center for Pittsburgh in place of the recently ‘scoped Ben Roethlisberger. If Charlie can keep his head on straight, complete eight or nine of the dozen passes he’ll be asked to throw (as long as the Steelers get some mileage out of the run), and stop himself from trying to force things and making costly mistakes (the way Packers quarterback Brett Favre did last week in Cincinnati), the Steelers should have no trouble pulling off a win over an increasingly banged up Packers squad. If, on the other hand, Charlie comes out looking to be the hero and attempts to make things happen in the wrong situations, he’ll single-handedly give Green Bay the tools it needs to pull off the upset. (Al Harris remains one of the best cornerbacks in the game, and he will put six points on the board if Charlie gives him the opportunity.) I’m expecting Charlie to take it all on himself and slip up, so I’m taking the Pack to win it outright. If you think Charlie’s a better decision maker than that, by all means go the other way.

Philadelphia (-1) at Washington
So it looks like Terrell Owens, who was listed as doubtful with an ankle sprain early in the week, will play after all. The questions now are: a) Will a hurt Owens will be enough to get the Eagles past a collision with the league’s best pass defense? b.) Will a hurt Donovan McNabb be able to deliver the ball to T.O. to begin with (or even play)? And c.) Has T.O.’s inability to shut his stupid trap finally driven enough of a wedge between him and McNabb that Donovan will be looking everywhere but Owens’ direction? I don’t know the answer to any of those questions (except that I think McNabb’s enough of a pro to look for the open man no matter how much of an asshole that man may be), but I know what I suspect. It’s this: when you’re facing the Redskins in their stadium, T.O. or no T.O., you either find a way to run the ball (and the Skins do give up 130-plus yards per game on the ground), or you lose. Philly hasn’t done much on the ground this season. And I’m sort of expecting stubborn Andy Reid to try to make things work in the air and to go down in flames. I’m taking the Redskins and the point.

Indianapolis (-3) at New England
Fuck it. I’m taking the Patriots to win this game. It’s not because the Pats have a way of getting into Peyton Manning’s head. It’s not because the Colts have beaten exactly one good team so far this season (they’ve played the teams they’ve played, and they’ve won). And it’s certainly not because Tedy Bruschi is back on the field for the Pats (though I do think that’s an amazing thing, and a damned good one for the Patriots). It’s because I feel it going that way. It seems as if the Colts are looking at this game as the most important of their season, while the Pats are looking at this game as just another must-win contest. I like the Patriots’ point of view better. I think it’s a champion’s point of view. And I think that, combined with home-field advantage, makes all the difference here. I like the Pats to pull out another three-point victory at the end of what I expect to be a mostly offensive struggle.

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