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.