Archive for December, 2005

Week Seventeen Picks

December 31st, 2005 Comments off

You know what? I have no idea what’s gonna happen this week. Too many teams with little or nothing to play for. Too many teams with a huge interest (named Reggie Bush) in losing their games (not that I believe any NFL team would ever intentionally tank a game). Too many coaches who have no reason to play to win swearing they’re gonna play to win. My advice: place no bets. Save that dough for the playoffs. They’re only a week away, and it’ll be much more fun to have the extra stake there anyhow. But for what it’s worth, here’s what I think might possibly happen this week. Unless it doesn’t.

Denver (+10) at San Diego
The Chargers, who were eliminated from playoff contention last week in a loss to Kansas City, get a chance to return the favor. By beating Denver, San Diego would create a situation in which Kansas City’s best finish is in a three-way tie with the Chargers and Steelers, and Pittsburgh comes out of that scenario with the second AFC wild card spot. Look for the Chargers to crank it up against the Broncos’ second team and end the Chiefs’ hopes by halftime. San Diego wins by two touchdowns or more.

NY Giants (-9) at Oakland
So the deal is we’re all supposed to believe that just maybe Kerry Collins will step up in order to do some damage to the Giants, who hurt his pride when they let him go two seasons ago. Right. That’s gonna happen. Kerry needs to be let go again this off season, along with that bum of a head coach Norv Turner. The Giants, meanwhile, can clinch the NFC East title with a win. That real motivation, plus Tiki Barber, make it a long evening for the Raiders. I’m taking the Giants and giving the points.

Arizona (+6.5) at Indianapolis
Yes, I’m aware that the Cardinals are downright awful and probably shouldn’t be able to beat the Colts backups (Indianapolis has announced they’ll be treating this “like a pre-season game,” which means starters out after the first quarter), but how hard do you think even the backups will be playing? I don’t buy the whole win one for Coach Dungy bit either. They’ll save that effort and that emotion for a game that means something — the one they play two weeks from now. And the Cardinals, well, as Tom Petty put it, even the losers keep a little bit of pride. I’m taking Arizona in the “upset.”

Baltimore (-3) at Cleveland
Two days ago, when I wrote my initial blurb about this game, I said that while both teams were eliminated from playoff contention, the game at least pitted two teams that were headed in the right direction. Now, with reports that the Browns will fire GM Phil Savage, I’m not so sure. Savage, who’s had only a year at the helm, is known as one of the best evaluators of talent in the league, and I’d been one of those folks who thought maybe he and Romeo Crennel could turn out to be like Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli. We’ll never know about that now. I do know, on the other hand, that Baltimore, after looking awful in the beginning part of the season, has won four of its last six and have the potential to close the season with a three-game winning streak. With Kyle Boller starting to come on, Jamal Lewis starting to round back into form and an off-season ahead of them to get healthy and improve through free agency and the draft, Baltimore clearly has the potential to be dangerous next year. Here? In this game. The Ravens, a slightly better team right now, should pull off a win by about a touchdown.

Buffalo (-1) at NY Jets
Ah, yes, the two teams that were supposed to challenge the Patriots for dominance of the AFC East this season meet with only position near the top of the 2006 draft on the line. Maybe next year, injury and ineptitude won’t bite one of these teams on the ass. This week, I’m looking for Mike Mularkey to end his run as coach of the Bills with a win over the hapless, banged up New Jersey squad. Yes, by more than a point.

Carolina (-4) at Atlanta
The big question here is can Atlanta, now eliminated from the playoffs, play spoiler, opening the door for Dallas to steal the last NFC playoff spot away from Carolina? The answer is, no. No, they can’t. The Falcons have been unable to beat good teams all season, and they’re not gonna start doing it here in week 17. I’m taking the Panthers (one last time — I won’t be picking them next week) and giving the points.

Chicago (+3.5) at Minnesota
The conventional wisdom is that the Bears have to come to play this meaningless game, because they’re starting a quarterback, Rex Grossman, who’s had so little time on the field this season. Fair enough. But what about on defense, which is where the Bears have excelled all season? Do the Bears need to prove anything there? No. And I don’t expect them to play like they do. So I kind of expect the home team to send Mike Tice, who all but announced that he was done as head coach following the loss to Baltimore last week, out with a win. Vikings by three.

Cincinnati (+7) at Kansas City
Chiefs president Carl Peterson is once again calling for the playoffs to be expanded from 12 to 14 teams. That’s not all that surprising considering the fact that Peterson’s team has a habit of just missing the post-season. The cure, of course, is not to water down the playoffs, but to find a way to win more games during the regular season. I mean, sure it’s kind of a shame that teams can go 10-6 and miss the playoffs. But it’s more of a shame that we very nearly had a team with a losing record make the playoffs in the NFC last season. Adding two teams and heading toward an NBA-style system where it’s almost a shock not to get into the playoffs would create more problems than it would solve. One of the great things about the NFL is the fact that the regular season games all matter. I think it’s best left that way, even if it does mean good teams like San Diego and Kansas City end up sitting come the first weekend in January. So what does any of this have to do with this game? Well, not a whole lot except that by the time kickoff rolls around, the Chiefs will have been eliminated from playoff contention (by virtue of San Diego’s victory over the Broncos’ second team on Saturday afternoon — see my pick on that game above) so the Chiefs will have little to play for other than to make Peterson’s point about how more teams belong in the post-season. That, the desire to finish strong and (maybe) end Dick Vermeil’s coaching career with a win, and the fact that Cincinnati won’t be playing to win (OK, Marvin Lewis says they will play to win, but he also says he’ll probably pull starters at halftime — which isn’t at all the same as playing to win) adds up to a Kansas City victory. Will it be by seven or more? I dunno. Maybe. But probably not.

Detroit (+14) at Pittsburgh
The Steelers very likely will have nothing to play for by the time this game kicks off, having clinched the AFC six seed with San Diego’s win on Saturday afternoon. So what will they do? Will they play hard to try to stay hot, or tone it down in an attempt to stay healthy. Either way, they beat the miserable Lions, it’s just a matter of by how many points. Don’t bet this game. But I’m expecting the Pittsburgh backups to be on the field by halftime, so I’m taking Detroit to cover.

Miami (+6) at New England
The Pats would be better off resting starters and possibly losing this game. A win gets you nothing but a tougher matchup in week 17 (Pittsburgh instead of Jacksonville), and exposes your guys to injury since Miami will be playing to end its season on a strong note and with a winning record. My gut says the Patriots have their backups in by the start of the second half, but I’m not sure that’ll quite get the Fins a win. I’m taking the Pats (hesitantly) straight up, but the Dolphins with the points.

New Orleans (+14) at Tampa Bay
It’s official: New Orleans will be losing home games in Louisiana next season. What a tribute to the loyal fans in that hurricane ravaged state. The good news is, if Houston manages to top San Francisco this week, the Saints very well may be losing games next season with Matt Leinart under center. Wow. Does it get any better than that? The Bucs wrap up the NFC South with an easy win over the Ain’ts here. Go ahead and give the points. Cadillac will probably outscore New Orleans by that much on his own.

Houston (-2) at San Francisco
The game no longer known as the Reggie Bowl. Sure, if the Texans can manage a loss here, they win the rights to Reggie Bush. But Houston coach Dom Capers is gonna be unemployed by the time the 2006 draft rolls around (probably by the time the first weekend of the playoffs roll around) and no doubt couldn’t begin to care about whether the Texans get Bush. It serves Dom’s hopes of landing a coordinator post of college coaching job somewhere to go out with a win. And that’s what I expect the Texans to do given San Fran’s continuing struggles and ongoing injury problems. And what’s weird is, since a Texans win probably gives the number one draft pick to New Orleans, a team that already has a big investment in a talented running back, it probably makes Matt Leinart the #1 pick (unless someone wants to trade up to get Bush, which is a distinct possibility.) Oh, yeah, the Texans will cover here.

Tennessee (+3) at Jacksonville
Given the way the Jags have been playing of late, I’d probably be picking Tennessee to pull off the upset here even if Jacksonville had something to play for. But they don’t. The Jags are the AFC five seed whether they win or lose. And whether Byron Leftwich gets out on the field for a bit of a workout before the post-season begins shouldn’t make much of a difference. (If there were anything on the line, Leftwich, who’s rushing back from a broken leg to try to lead his team in the playoffs — an admirable attempt — wouldn’t even be a consideration for this game.) Tennessee ends its season with a win.

Seattle (+3) at Green Bay
Can the Packers beat the Seattle backups? Sure, why not? They’ve gotta beat somebody. Unless they want a shot at Reggie Bush badly enough to tank this game. Can’t imagine it goes down that way. I’m taking the Pack and giving the points.

Washington (-7) at Philadelphia
The Redskins win and they get to play another week (and probably just that). That, and the fact that the Eagles probably couldn’t beat Houston at this point, is about all you need to know here. Yes, the Redskins are gonna cover. And then some.

St. Louis (+12.5) at Dallas
Unless Carolina manages to totally fall apart in Atlanta (and I don’t see that happening), Dallas will have been eliminated from playoff contention by the time this game kicks off on Sunday night. I still can’t see the Cowboys losing to a team as awful as the St. Louis Rams. Or beating the Rams by less than two touchdowns, for that matter.

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Week Sixteen Picks

December 24th, 2005 Comments off

Well, I’m right up against the start of the games once again. So I’ll just say Merry Christmas, enjoy the games and, uh, here’s what I see going down in week sixteen.

Atlanta (+3) at Tampa Bay
Forget Tampa Bay’s crushing defeat at the hands of the New England Patriots last week. I don’t mean to suggest that game was some kind of freak event or anything. It wasn’t, but it was more about the champs coming on than the Bucs faltering. Thing is, the Falcons aren’t the Patriots. Or anything like them. The Falcons are pretenders. They’ve been unable to win tough games all season long, which is why they’re virtually eliminated from the playoffs already. Virtual takes another step toward actual here as Cadillac Williams puts up all the yards against Atlanta’s weak pass D that he failed to put up against the Patriots’ much improved defensive unit a week ago, and the Bucs cruise to victory by a touchdown or more.

Buffalo (+13.5) at Cincinnati
Oh, to be Kelly Holcomb. Kelly lands back under center for the Bills, in place of gimpy J.P. Losman, just in time for a visit to Cincinnati. And the Bengals will be playing hard with the knowledge that they can still grab the conference two seed and a first-round playoff bye if the Broncos falter this week or next. (The chances of the Broncos losing this week are nil, but the Bengals need to win out and hope Denver drops its season closer in San Diego to get the bye.) Fortunately for Kelly, the Bengals D is no great shakes. Cincy’s pass D is ranked 21st in the league. It gives up about 210 yards a game. So it’s unlikely Kelly will take much punishment unless his team falls way behind early and he ends up having to throw on every down. And that, unfortunately for Kelly, seems likely. Cincinnati has been scoring on the order of 28 points per game. Buffalo’s D has been giving up 22. And on the other side of the ball, although Cincy’s D gives up almost 20, Buffalo’s offense only manages about 15. Even if you don’t allow for the fact that the Bills have completely fallen apart over the past several weeks (they haven’t won a game since week 10) while the Bengals have been playing about the best football of their season, that’s a pretty significant differential (works out to about seven and a half points per game). Work in the differences in where each team is at, what’s at stake for the Bengals and where the game’s being played, and it seems to me you’ve got a Cincinnati victory by two touchdowns or more on the way.

Dallas (+5) at Carolina
The Panthers have most certainly run hot and cold this season, but they’re still out in front in the race for the NFC South crown (a race that probably won’t be over until next week), and they’ve still got a chance (albeit a slim one) of earning the NFC two seed and a first-round playoff bye. The Cowboys have run boiling and freezing this season, and they’re all but finished in terms of playoff contention (a loss here would all but end their hopes). The Boys, whom I thought had a chance at making the Super Bowl a couple of weeks back, just don’t to have what it takes to win the big ones. Their offensive line keeps letting opposing defenders into the backfield, and Drew Bledsoe, while he may be many things, is not a guy who consistently performs well under that kind of pressure. And Drew’s surely gonna feel some pressure this weekend. While the run D may have been the biggest factor in the Panthers’ defensive success this season, the pass D has help up pretty well, surrendering only about 192 yards per game (and 6.23 per carry, which is the third best average in the league). And if you can’t run effectively (which Dallas won’t be able to do against a Carolina D that gives up only 3.5 yards per carry), at some point you’ve gotta go to the air. When the Cowboys make the decision to put the game in Drew’s hands, that’s when things get ugly. I’m looking for the Panthers D to log their 22nd and 23rd picks of the season and for the team as a whole to take this one going away (yes, I mean by more than five and a half).

Detroit (+3) vs. New Orleans in the Alamodome, San Antonio
One of these teams isn’t gonna lose this week, and that, in itself, is an oddity. Which one will it be? I have absolutely no idea, so I’m going with the fake home team vs. the fake football team that’s visiting. And since not even a huge bet would make this game remotely interesting, I’m keeping my money away from it. Besides, it’s probably a push.

Jacksonville (-6) at Houston
The guys on Sirius NFL radio’s Afternoon Blitz keep talking about how Jacksonville could potentially lost both of the last two “cupcake” games on its schedule. I agree in theory. Adam Schein is certainly correct when he points out that the Jags offense has been awful and getting worse since Byron Leftwich went down with an injury a few weeks back. And losing next week to the Titans? That’s a possibility (and an awful one if you’re a Pittsburgh Steelers fan as it would probably create the three-way tie that would kick Pittsburgh out of the playoffs). But losing here to maybe the worst team in the league? Not a chance. The Jags offense should be able to put up at least a few points against the Texans 31st-ranked defense (a unit that allows an average of almost 27 points per game), and there’s no reason whatsoever to believe Houston’s 31st-ranked offense will be able to score against Jacksonville’s D, which is ranked fourth in the league. So I’m taking Jacksonville straight up and figuring it’s probably a win by more like three than six.

NY Giants (+3) at Washington
There’s an idea out there — I’ve heard it expressed a lot this week — that the Giants’ drubbing of the Redskins when the teams met in New Jersey October 30 was significantly attributable to the fact that the Giants were playing with tons of emotion, looking to win one for their well-loved owner, Wellington Mara, who’d died earlier in the week. Nonsense. The Giants beat up on the Skins that day because they were the better team. I’m sure the victory meant more to them than it would have under normal circumstances. And maybe they even put up an extra touchdown or even 10 points because they were playing for the late Mr. Mara. But you don’t beat a team 36-0 on the strength of emotion. You beat a team 36-0 because they don’t belong on the same field as you. That’s as true of the Redskins now as it was then. The Skins, who are 8-6 and exactly one loss away from being officially eliminated from playoff contention, simply aren’t for real this season (and they likely won’t be for real until Mark Brunell’s stint under center comes to an end). Do I think the Giants can pull off another blowout? Probably not. This game is being played on the Redskins’ field, after all. And the Skins D isn’t likely to give up another 36 points to New York even if their offense can’t get anything accomplished. I do think the Giants can win by more than three, though. In fact, I’m rather certain that’s just what they’ll do.

Pittsburgh (-7) at Cleveland
So evidently Ben Roethlisberger’s bum thumb really isn’t gonna slow the Steelers down. At least not in the regular season. Whether it’ll be a factor in the post-season, on the other hand, is another matter. Well, assuming Pittsburgh even has a post-season. Although the Steelers currently hold the tie-breaking advantage over the Chargers and would have the AFC six seed if the playoffs started today, they do not control their own destiny (as the saying goes). A loss over the last two weeks by Jacksonville (a team that has not been playing well since losing its starting quarterback a few weeks ago) coupled with wins both weeks by the Steelers and Chargers would create a three-way tie that would eliminate Pittsburgh from the playoffs. Weird, but true. What does any of that mean to this game? Well, nothing, really. The Steelers still have to win to stay in the hunt (they’re not eliminated if they lose, but it wouldn’t help their cause) and the Browns will still be playing with all their age-old hatred of the Steelers in mind. And given that the Browns are at home and have been playing hard these last few weeks, I’m thinking Cleveland keeps Pittsburgh’s margin of victory here to more like three or four.

San Diego (even) at Kansas City
Here’s the game of the week, kids. Division rivals going head-to-head in a late-season matchup, both teams knowing that the winner retains a shot at making the playoffs while the loser absolutely goes home. This is what this December in the National Football League is all about. And it’s easily the hardest game of the week to pick. The Chargers are a slightly better team than the Chiefs (breaking it down to the most basic numbers, total offense vs. total defense: the Chargers average 364 yards and 29 points per game on offense, and allow 312 yards and 19 points on defense; the Chiefs average 380 yards and 25 points per game on offense, and allow 347 yards and 23 points per game on D), but the Chiefs are at home, and Arrowhead is a notoriously difficult stadium for visitors to play in, especially late in the season (Kansas City pretty much never loses at home in December). The Chargers also are playing their second-consecutive road game, and their second big road game at that, having become the only team this season to beat the Indianapolis Colts in a very hard-fought battle a week ago. Did that game in Indy rev the Chargers up, or wear them down? Your guess is as good as mine. Still, what sticks out for me in this matchup is Kansas City’s poor defensive stats. The Chiefs D is ranked 28th overall and while that breaks down to ninth against the run and 31st against the pass, Kansas City still allows 4.5 yards per carry. Compare that to the San Diego run D’s 3.4 yards per carry, which ties the Chargers with the Steelers and Buccaneers for best in the league, and you’ve gotta come out thinking LaDainian Tomlinson has a better chance of putting up big yards here than Larry Johnson does. That spells victory for the Chargers, though I expect the decision to come late in a very high-scoring game.

San Francisco (+9.5) at St. Louis
No, I really just don’t have anything at all to say about this game. I guess this is the price you pay for games like San Diego-Kansas City. I mean, the bad teams have to play out their schedules, too. Right? San Fran loses by some margin that may or may not be more than the nine and a half they’re getting (probably it will be by more like two touchdowns) and marches on toward next week’s showdown with Houston for the rights to Reggie Bush.

Tennessee (+5.5) at Miami
The Dolphins are gonna make things a good bit tougher on the Patriots in 2006 than they have been for some time now. Just a season into his NFL head coaching career, Nick Saban has already brought about a significant improvement in his team. Miami has won four straight going into this game and, depending on whether Saban’s friend Bill Belichick decides to rest a bunch of Patriots starters next week (he probably should), could very well end this season on a six-game winning streak. And my guess is the Fins are a 10-6 or 11-5 team next year. The Titans, on the other hand, continue to struggle and are headed into an outright rebuilding period. This could very well be one of Steve McNair’s final games as a Titan. Of course, most of this stuff has nothing to do with this game, but there’s just not a lot to say about this game other than to point out that the Dolphins are gonna win it by seven or more.

Philadelphia (+1) at Arizona
Mike McMahon. Josh McCown. A battle for the ages between two of the greatest quarterbacks in the game. A struggle for dominance between two proud franchises. Or a trainwreck of a matchup between an Eagles team that’s foundering after years at the top and a Cardinals team that continues to find new ways to sink to the bottom of the standings year in and year out. I’m taking Arizona, but only because they’re at home and I have to pick one team or the other. Yeah, I’ll give the point. I mean, whatever.

Indianapolis (+9) at Seattle
There’s nothing I can say about Tony Dungy’s son’s death this week that hasn’t already been said, and better, so I’ll stay out of it. Has nothing to do with this game, anyhow, because the game was a foregone conclusion from the moment Indy took its first loss of the season at home against San Diego a week ago. The Colts, with nothing left to play for (they own home-field advantage through the AFC playoffs and they can’t get that perfect season) have promised to get every active player on the roster into this game (i.e. their starters won’t be on the field for more than a half, and probably more like a quarter). Indy’s left some key guys who were dinged up in that San Diego game (Marvin Harrison, Cato June, Ryan Diem) home to rest for the playoffs. And the Seahawks need a win to clinch home-field in the NFC playoffs. That’s a Seattle win. And, yeah, probably by more than nine.

Oakland (+13) at Denver
How does a team that can’t win with 1,000-yard rusher LaMont Jordan on the field win with him standing on the sidelines, his foot in a cast? They don’t. It’s that simple. The Raiders suck. They need to make major changes in the off-season, including scuttling their coach and quarterback. And they’re headed for a big loss to a Broncos team that’s for the conference two seed and a first-round playoff bye. A big loss. Yes, by more than 13.

Chicago (-6.5) at Green Bay
Although most of the football being played this week is happening on Saturday, the big action in the NFC North doesn’t even start until Sunday afternoon. The Bears go into this game needing a win to clinch the division title (they can also get one with a Vikings loss to the Ravens in the night game). If by some odd chance both the Giants and the Panthers have lost on Saturday (not gonna happen), the Bears also will enter this one with the chance to clinch the conference two seed and a first-round playoff bye. No matter what’s at stake, however, the Bears are simply a far better team than the Packers and should take this one with ease. It will be interesting to see how Rex Grossman fares against a team that’s had time to study some film and prepare for him, and that alone should make the game worth watching (though I don’t expect Rex will get anything like a real test until the Bears travel to Minnesota next week, and probably not until the playoffs). I’m taking the Bears, of course. And given the way the Packers have been playing of late, I’m giving the points.

Minnesota (-3) at Baltimore
Well, Jamal Lewis looks like he’s finally beginning to round back into form. It’s much too little, much too late, of course. But it’s nice for Jamal. It’s helped the Ravens look much better in recent weeks than they had through most of the season. And it at least sets up an outside chance that Baltimore won’t be quite so awful next season. The Vikings, on the other hand, are headed toward ending their season the way they began it, with a horrible thud. With any luck, that helps bring an end to Mike Tice’s stint as head coach and puts the team into a position to maybe turn things around in the next couple of years. For now, all this stuff means is that the Ravens win their second straight game, and their second against an NFC North team in six days. The margin of victory should be something like six.

New England (-5.5) at NY Jets
Consider this: Herm Edwards has said he wants to get Vinny Testaverde back on the field some time over the next couple of weeks, so Vinny can finish his career “the right way.” Monday Night Football would make a great venue for a last tip o’ the helmet from Testaverde. It seems highly likely that Doug Flutie, too, will see the field at some point during this game. The Pats have nothing left to play for (they own the AFC four seed and they’re not gonna do any better than that), and Tom Brady could probably stand to rest his banged up leg before the playoffs get underway. (Plus the Pats backups can probably top the hapless Jets.) Add to these things the fact that Dandy Don Meredith will be spending some time in the MNF broadcast booth, a little bit of nostalgia as ABC bids farewell to professional football. So what if Rip Van Winkle happens to wake up round about 11 p.m. Monday and turns on the TV to see what’s new? Pats win this by a touchdown, regardless of when the offensive starters come out.

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Week Fifteen Picks, Part Two

December 18th, 2005 Comments off

What a great day of football Saturday was. Well, Saturday afternoon, anyhow. And half of Saturday night — the half before the Bills did their usual crumble. (If ya wanna know what I had to say in advance of those games, you’ve gotta scroll down to Week Fifteen, Part One from yesterday.) Should be some great games ahead today, too. This is why I love December. This is what I see happening today (oh, yeah, and in tomorrow night’s yawn-fest):

Arizona (-1) at Houston
Maybe what you do if you’re the new coach of the Houston Texans come draft time is trade down. I mean, say you’re content with David Carr under center. And say you figure Domanick Davis is a dandy running back. Well, then what you need to do is address your horrific problems on the offensive line, right? I mean, clearly a huge factor in the Texans’ miserable failure of a 2005 season has been the complete inability of anyone on the line to block. So if that’s what you’re thinking, and you’ve got the first overall pick in the draft, my guess is that there are gonna be plenty of teams that want Reggie Bush or Matt Leinart enough to give away lots of picks in order to move up. So you trade down, pick up as many solid O linemen as you can (or as many as you need after you’ve had a go at a few in free agency) and take it from there. Now, me, I’d take Reggie Bush at number one and figure I can find line help in later rounds and in the free agent market. I’d think, well, if guys like LaDainian Tomlinson and Shaun Alexander can make such huge differences for their teams, I want a guy like that. And I’m not entirely sure Davis is one of those guys (I think he’s a fine running back, who’d do really well on a lot of teams, but I’m not sure he’s an L.T. type). But, ah, that’s all a matter for another day. Another year, really. For now, I see a big week on tap for Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin as the Cards cruise to victory by a touchdown or better.

Carolina (-9) vs. New Orleans at Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge
It’s not like I’m a huge Aaron Brooks fan or anything — the guy’s a stat machine, sure, but he just doesn’t seem to have that added whatever it is (leadership, toughness, competitive edge, eye of the fucking tiger bullshit) that you’ve gotta have to succeed as a quarterback in the NFL — but it seems to me that switching to Todd Bouman at quarterback is unlikely to make the Saints a better team. Of course, I’m not sure what would make the Saints a better team at this point, short of sweeping changes in personnel, coaching, management and ownership. And most of that stuff isn’t about to happen. So of course I like the Panthers to get back on track here and retake the lead in the NFC south. Giving nine on the road? I’m not so sure. But I guess, given that neither team’s truly at home and we are talking about the Saints, if I had to make a bet, I’d go ahead and give the points.

Dallas (+3) at Washington
The Redskins have to win out to have any shot at making the post-season. That means beating the Cowboys here, the Giants in Washington next week and the Eagles in Philadelphia in week 17. So that’s not gonna happen. And, inc fact, it’s gonna not happen starting right here. The Skins are in collapse. The ‘Boys are on the ascent. The proof is in the playing, and the Cowboys take this one by four.

NY Jets (+9) at Miami
So it looks for all the world like the AFC East is gonna be a bit more interesting next season. Nick Saban, in his first year as head coach, has already begun to turn the Dolphins around. He’s a quarterback and a few defensive tweaks away from having a dangerous team, and there’s no reason to expect he won’t fit those pieces into the puzzle in the off-season. Right now, though, the Dolphins are one loss, or one Patriots win, away from playoff elimination. And my guess is the Pats win will have come before the Fins get a chance to keep their minor hopes alive by taking one from the hapless Jets. Of course, the Dolphins still should beat the Jets, though I don’t’ see them winning by more than a touchdown.

Pittsburgh (-3.5) at Minnesota
Fred Smoot has gotta be a complete dipshit. Insists he had nothing to do with the whole so-called Love Boat scandal, then it turns out the boats were reserved with his credit card. (Someone in the locker room swipe your wallet there, Fred?) Then, when he’s one of four guys — along with Daunte Culpepper, Moe Williams and Bryant McKinnie — who get hit with criminal charges as a result of the whole mess (indecent conduct, disorderly conduct, and lewd or lascivious conduct) his biggest concern is finding out which of his teammates sold him down the river. Way to start repairing your image, there, Freddy. But that’s the theme of this Vikings team, I guess. It’s just top-to-bottom dipshits from the coach on down. And, you know, this ought to be the week that the dipshit squad’s run of good luck hits an end. The Steelers certainly aren’t gonna give away a victory like the Giants, the only good team the Vikings have beaten in their recent charge back to playoff contention. The Vikes are gonna have to earn this one. And given the way Pittsburgh played a week ago, it appears earning a win isn’t gonna be easy for Minnesota. Still, I like the Vikings chances to get it done here. I think Brad Johnson will find a way to move the ball against the Steelers D, taking advantage of the Pittsburgh secondary’s at times over-aggressive pursuit of the ball. And I think the Vikings D, which seems to be improving on a weekly basis, will find a way to get to Ben Roethlisberger (shhh, Bill Cowher doesn’t want anyone talking about his bad thumb) and force him to make some ill-advised throws for a guy with his (shhh) injury. So I’m taking Minnesota to pull off the upset.

San Diego (+7.5) at Indianapolis
So here’s the deal, Tony: 1) The Patriots have made it clear they’re for real. And chances are, they’re gonna be headed your way in four weeks. 2) You go all out in pursuit of a record and you are tempting fate in a majorly way. You’ve got bigger fish to fry and you know it. 3) You know damned well that the Chargers gonna be bringing everything they’ve got on both sides of the ball, especially given the window that was opened for them in New York on Saturday. So what are you gonna do? You gonna keep your starters in the game from end to end when they’ve got nothing real to play for (I’m sorry, but 16-0 ain’t real enough)? Or are you gonna play it smart and start getting ready for a team you’ve never been able to get past in the playoffs? My guess, Tony, is that, being the smart coach you are, you’re gonna give your fellas a half to stay in shape, telling them not to do anything stupid, then turn it over to the backups. And my gut says the Chargers stay with you through the half, then surge ahead to wrap it up. I say the Colts go to 13-1 this week. And we can all finally stop talking about what if.

Seattle (-7) at Tennessee
The Seahawks can wrap up home field throughout the playoffs with a win here and a Chicago loss to Atlanta on Sunday night. They wrap up a bye week in the playoffs just by winning this game. I think they’re gonna have to settle for the latter (see my pick on Atlanta/Chicago below), which I’m sure they’ll take happily. The Titans, meanwhile, press forward toward a very nice pick in the 2006 draft. If they use it well, they could make their way back into playoff contention by 2008. I’m taking the ‘Hawks and giving the touchdown.

San Francisco (+15.5) at Jacksonville
Jacksonville, with its amazingly soft schedule going forward (the Jags travel to Houston next week, then wrap up at home against the Titans), would appear to be headed for the AFC five seed. The prize? A first round trip to lovely Foxborough, Massachusetts to take on the newly resurgent defending champion New England Patriots. That’s a fine how do you do, isn’t it, Jack? So do I think the Jaguars cover the college spread here? Uh, sure. Why not? But I wouldn’t put money on any NFL team giving those kind of points. Not ever.

Cincinnati (-8) at Detroit
Apparently a bunch of Lions fans who want Matt Millen fired are gonna wear Bengals colors to this game. I understand the sentiment entirely, but, folks, do you really wanna take it that far? Those Bengals colors ain’t pretty. Not one bit. Of course, neither will this game be. I’m taking Cincinnati and expecting them to win by at least ten.

Cleveland (+3) at Oakland
Looks like Romeo Crennel has himself a quarterback of the future in Charlie Frye. Charlie’s played well against tough opponents in his first two NFL starts. Nice going, Romeo. I expect you guys will prosper together. The Raiders, meanwhile, are taking the back to the future approach at the most important position in the game, putting Kerry Collins back in at quarterback a week after pledging to go with Marques Tuiasosopo through the rest of the season. Norv Turner apparently figures Kerry gives him the best chance of winning games now. And Norv’s gonna need to have as many wins as possible on his record when he’s out looking for a new job in the off-season. I think Norv and Kerry get a win in one of their last games together here, though not an easy win. I think it’s a push against the spread. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Charlie and the Cleveland gang manage to pull off the upset.

Philadelphia (+3.5) at St. Louis
Hey, Eagles, turns out you guys really kinda hurt Terrell Owens’ feelings last season. Maybe that’s why he’s been acting out so much. Ever think of that, ya big bullies? Also, some attention-starved NAACP guy wants everyone to know he doesn’t think Donovan McNabb’s a very good black guy or a very good quarterback. So there. Is it just that no one in Philadelphia can bear to think about football anymore? Is that it? This is one of the only times this season I’ve gone this route, but I’m taking the Rams and giving the points. I just don’t see what other choice I have.

Atlanta (-3.5) at Chicago
So the obvious key matchup here is Atlanta’s extremely productive offense (the best rushing offense in the league) against Chicago’s stingy, league-leading D, a defense that’s given up an average of 3.5 yards per carry and just six touchdowns on the ground this season. But you know what I think? I think the matchup to watch is the Chicago offense, which has been anything but productive (averaging just 16 points a game, which is eight fewer than Atlanta), against Atlanta’s so-so, 18th-ranked D. The Bears run the ball fairly well (4.3 yards per carry, while Atlanta does an exceedingly poor job of stopping the run (giving up 4.6 yards per rush). And while Chicago hasn’t given Kyle Orton a chance to throw deep all that much, I think they might given Atlanta’s hot-and-cold secondary. If the Bears do test the secondary, and the defense is able to do its usual thing, keeping the Falcons out of the end zone and picking off balls at key moments, I think it could be a long night for Atlanta. And that’s just what I see happening. Chicago by six.

Green Bay (-3.5) at Baltimore
Another Monday night gem. Thanks, ABC. Thanks so very much. I’ll take the Packers straight up and the Ravens to cover. And that’s exactly all I have to say about this mess.

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Week Fifteen, Part 1, the Saturday Games

December 17th, 2005 Comments off

OK, so here’s the deal: Not that you care, but I’ve got holiday baking to do, and I’ve gotta make and freeze my ravioli for Christmas dinner (made my gravy last weekend and, man, I’ve gotta tell you it came out amazing). Plus, I’m planning to catch these games while I work. So I’m clearly not gonna get to all of this week’s games before sometime later this afternoon. Figured I’d go on the record now about today’s batch and finish the rest when I can break away from the oven for a bit. Brutal damned week overall. Today, not so bad. Here’s what I see happening this afternoon and tonight.

Tampa Bay (+4.5) at New England
Earlier in the season, I noted (repeatedly) here and elsewhere my opinion that the Patriots were set to peak as a team in December and January. Three weeks ago, in correctly predicting the Pats’ loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, I said that loss would be their last of the regular season. Here’s the game that puts both of those predictions, and the Pats, to the test. New England should win this game. The Pats defense has been coming on of late. Corey Dillon is back in form and is running the ball as well and as dangerously as he ever has, creating situations in which Tom Brady’s terrific play boosts the Pats to bigger leads/margins of victory rather than simply getting the team by. And while the Bucs D has been formidable this season (and no less so than ever in last week’s surprise victory at Carolina), I don’t see it being quite enough to stop the Patriots offense in Foxboro. I also think the Patriots pass rush, led by the newly healthy Richard Seymour, will be able to get after Chris Simms (who still sucks) and force him to make some costly mistakes. Look for New England to finally log a few picks and to win this one by about a field goal. And then look for the guy at the desk next to yours to hop quick as lightning back on the Patriots bandwagon and act like he never got off.

Kansas City (+3) at NY Giants
Yeah, I’ve predicted a couple of times this season that it was all over for the Chiefs. And they did find a way to lose last week at Dallas. But it’s hard to imagine Kansas City not winning this game. The Giants are going to be without middle linebacker Antonio Pierce, who has become a leader off their D and who is one of their most important weapons against the run, which makes it impossible to believe they’re gonna be able to control Chiefs running back Larry Johnson. The Giants also may have to play without outstanding offensive linemen Kareem McKenzie and Luke Petitgout. If those tackles can’t go, and if their backups are unable to step in and be effective, Eli Manning could potentially have company in the backfield all afternoon. That won’t help a team trying to keep up with Kansas City’s productive offense. Still, I’m taking the Giants here. Why? It’s partly gut. It’s partly a continuing belief that Kansas City just isn’t that good. And it’s partly to do with the fact that Dallas has no offensive line at all, gave up obscene numbers to Johnson (143 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries, plus three catches for 28 yards) and the Chiefs’ offense a week ago and still came out on top. So there’s that. Like the Cowboys did last wee, the Giants beat the Chiefs with a late score. New York wins by a field goal.

Denver (-9) at Buffalo
The Bills are officially done for the season. And one has to imagine Buffalo is also all but officially done with Mike Mularkey and Tom Donahoe. I heard Gil Brandt saying on Sirius NFL Radio a few weeks back that his friend Marv Levy wants to get back into the league. Maybe the Bills will be smart enough in the off-season to make that happen. Who knows? For this week, the Bills are nothing more than the next step on Denver’s path to a playoff bye week and, ultimately (yeeeesh) the Super Bowl. And, ah, sure, I’ll give the points. Why not?

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Week Fourteen Picks

December 11th, 2005 Comments off

You know, as it turns out, I’m not sure I have a whole lot to say about this week’s games. Seems to me those big spreads are there for pretty good reasons (well, most of them, anyhow). And when you see college spreads on professional games this late in the season, it’s kinda hard to say, well, this team’s O is just starting to come on or that team’s D is finally beginning to click. Yeah, there are some teams that are better now than they were a month ago, but the oddsmakers have figured it all out. And while there’s never really any accurate way to say how any team is gonna do in relation to a 16-point spread, it’s pretty clear that most of these games are gonna be won by the favorites. Except for one or two. I think I know what one of the upsets will be. The other is anyone’s guess. Here’s what I see:

Chicago (+5.5) at Pittsburgh
Here’s your upset. Right out of the box. Look, I’m sorry but I don’t give half a damn about the fact that Chicago doesn’t score a lot of points. It hasn’t mattered much so far this season. And I’m not exactly expecting a big scoring day for Pittsburgh. Setting aside the fact that the Bears’ D just doesn’t give up points (10.6 per game, kids), consider the fact that the Steelers are being quarterbacked by a guy who’s probably gonna need surgery in the off-season to fix a severe thumb injury on his throwing hand. So the guy who threw three picks playing with his thumb in a splint last week is now gonna try to get it done against a defense that’s tops in the league, that has 18 interceptions on the season and that has allowed only four rushing touchdowns all season? And he’s gonna lead his team to victory by a margin of greater than five and a half points? Not on this planet, my friends. Not on this planet. The Bears win this one 10-3.

Cleveland (+11.5) at Cincinnati
So maybe Cincinnati’s not gonna collapse this season after all. Or at least not until they get to the playoffs. Good for them. I hope they get to the Super Bowl (if only because I’d rather they went than Indianapolis or Denver). I also hope Romeo Crennel’s squad makes it tough for the Bengals to put the division away. So I’ll take the Bengals to win and cover and hope it’s closer than that.

Houston (+6.5) at Tennessee
So if you’re Houston’s next coach do you give David Carr another shot at making it work and take Reggie Bush with the number one pick in the draft? Or do you just go ahead and figure Carr’s a lost cause and take Matt Leinart. And that, folks, sums up about the only remotely interesting thing one can possibly say about either of these teams. Sad but true. As for the game, look for the relatively less awful Titans to win and cover.

Indianapolis (-8.5) at Jacksonville
You’re right, Jacksonville does have a history of playing Indy tough. And, yes, Jacksonville is definitely fighting for a wild card slot (which they’re probably gonna get no matter what happens here). And, yes, that’s true, too. The Jags are playing at home. So, sure, I can see why it’s tempting to pick an upset here. I hope it goes that way. But it isn’t going to. Indianapolis clinches home field advantage through the playoffs with a win here, and that’s all the motivation the Colts should need. Indy will lose one or two of their final three games, but that’s a story for another day. (Note to Tony Dungy: If you clinch home field and you decide to play for a record instead of for a championship, you are courting a disaster of incredible proportion.) Today, it’s all about getting a step closer to what the Colts have been working for all season. Jacksonville fights hard and stays in the game, but Indianapolis wins this one by a touchdown.

New England (-4) at Buffalo
Are the Bills unraveling? Does Eric Moulds’ one-game suspension point to fatal discord within the Buffalo organization? I don’t know, and I mostly don’t care. (I’ll be interested, though, to see whether Mike Mularkey and Tom Donahoe still have jobs come February.) Are the Pats kicking into gear just in time to make a big run into the post-season? I hope so, but I don’t know. What I do know is what I told you two weeks ago: the Patriots are going to win their last five games of the season. This is one of those. And they’ll win the game by three.

Oakland (-3) at NY Jets
Two things I’m excited about regarding this game. First, LaMont Jordan gets his chance to show his old team what he’s capable of. (It’s not that I think Jordan should have started for the Jets in front of Curtis Martin. Curtis has been one of the best running backs in the game for a good long while. You can’t take anything away from him. It’s just, well, you know, Jordan’s a damned fine rusher in his own right who never got a chance in New York, much to Oakland’s ongoing benefit.) Second, Marques Tuiasosopo finally gets a real chance to start under center. I’ve been waiting to see that for a long time. And I’m counting on him to light it up against my least favorite team in the league. I think he will. I’m taking Oakland and expecting them to win by two touchdowns.

St. Louis (+6.5) at Minnesota
Why, oh, why do I have to endure so-called professional sports broadcasters (by which I mean members of what Howard Cosell called the jockocracy) going on about how Mike fucking Tice “has to be” considered a coach of the year candidate if the Vikings are able to salvage their season? Tice? Tice? What is Tice, guys, your fucking hook? You’ve gotta say nice things about him or he doesn’t set you up with whatever it is he’s got a line on? Or is it just that he didn’t sell everyone he’d ever met down the river when he got tagged for scalping Super Bowl tickets, something every damned one of you has probably done at some point? It’s gotta be something like that. Because the truth of the matter is that Mike Tice is the main reason the Vikings ended up in a 2-5 hole to begin with. Outside of Matt Millen, Tice is the most incompetent individual in the NFL. Coach of the year, indeed. As noted here previously, the Vikings, thanks to Brad Johnson’s solid decision making on the field, should win just enough games to buy Tice, the non-leader (read: “players coach”) another season on the sidelines. And mark my words, whatever the Vikes finish at this season, (9-7? 10-6?), they’ll finish the 2006 season with two fewer wins. And it’ll keep going that way until Zygi Wilf recognizes he’s got a loser at the helm and makes a change. For now, look for the winning streak to go to 6 as the Rams lose this game by 10 or so.

Tampa Bay (+5) at Carolina
This game is, for all intents and purposes, the match to decide the NFC South, Atlanta having proven itself to be a non-factor. Could be a great game, too. You’ve got two of the league’s best defensive squads facing two of its most consistently inconsistent offenses. The Panthers pass better. The Bucs run better. The Panthers stop the run better. The Bucs stop the pass better. Both Ds allow just better than 16 points a game. But the Panthers do outscore the Bucs by just a little more five points per game (24.2 on average as compared to 18.8). And, of course, the Panthers are at home. And there, I think, is the difference. I like Carolina to outlast Tampa Bay by a field goal.

NY Giants (-9) at Philadelphia
So I guess all those questions about whether Philly’s era of dominance in the NFC East have been answered, eh? Getting nine points at home. Man, that’s gotta smart. And even though the Giants don’t play their best football on the road, it seems like with the way the Eagles have been playing of late all you can really do is take New York and give the points.

San Francisco (+16) at Seattle
Seattle, another team that apparently isn’t going to collapse in the regular season this year (curiouser and curiouser) moves a step closer to securing home field through the playoffs (and with the only tough game left on their schedule a week 16 showdown with the Colts, who’ll be resting starters if Tony Dungy has half a brain, you’ve gotta expect Seattle will manage to get home field, though it’ll be in question right up until week 17). San Francisco, meanwhile, keeps itself in serious contention for the rights to Reggie Bush. Do you give the points? I don’t know. Sixteen is an awful lot in an NFL game. Toss a coin. Mine came down no.

Washington (-4) at Arizona
I don’t wanna talk about this game. Can I not talk about this game? I don’t think the Redskins are worth a damn at this point in the season, but the fact of the matter is that neither are the Cardinals. And while both teams play pretty consistently average to below average on offense, the Skins have had a fairly less poor D. So, OK, I’ll take Washington straight up, but I don’t see them beating anyone by more than four on the road.

Baltimore (+14.5) at Denver
The Broncos take an easy step toward a bye week and a home game in January. Denver averages about 13 points a game more than Baltimore, but, you know, I’ve gotta think they can pad that average by three or so here.

Kansas City (+3) at Dallas
So I guess I was wrong about Kansas City losing its last five games, huh? Maybe its last four? Or maybe the Chiefs are better than I gave them credit for being. Looks like I’ve also been wrong in my contention that the Cowboys were the team to beat in the NFC East, and possibly a Super Bowl contender. Oh, well, I can live with Dallas being worse than I’d expected. I’m not so sure I’m comfortable with the idea of Kansas City being better than I expected, though. And that’s OK, because I’m still not sure they’re all that much better. Scoring averages put this one about even. Kansas City scores four more points per game, and allows four more points per game. But this one’s in Dallas. And unlike the Giants, who made the Cowboys look foolish last week, the Chiefs don’t have a great pass rush. And that, I think, makes the difference. Look for Drew Bledsoe to have a much better day this week, while the Cowboys find a way to slow down Larry Johnson (not stop him, mind you, just slow him down a bit). Take Dallas straight up and expect a push against the spread.

Miami (+13) at San Diego
The Chargers are coming on strong as the playoffs approach, disproving my theory early on that they’d fall apart as the season wore on and their blocking schemes broke down. (Oh, well, maybe next year.) San Diego has what could be a brutal schedule ahead. They travel to Indianapolis next week (though the Colts, having clinched home field through the playoffs this week, will be resting starters if Tony Dungy has half a brain), then to Kansas City (for a showdown that could decide who gets the AFC six seed) and then go home to host the Broncos, who could still be fighting for a playoff bye. So the Chargers know they’ve gotta win this one, and I expect them to run all over a Dolphins team that is, after all, still rebuilding. Big spreads still make me nervous, but I’ll go ahead and give the damned points.

Detroit (+6) at Green Bay
Another gem of a Sunday night matchup. Man, these TV guys sure know how to put together the great prime time entertainment, don’t’ they? I think I’ve got holiday baking to do or something. Shit, which team will lose this game? Hmmm. Take the Pack. Give the points. And plan to turn in early, because it’s just never gonna turn into a good game.

New Orleans (+10.5) at Atlanta
Another gem of a Monday night matchup. Man, these TV guys sure know how to put together the great prime time entertainment, don’t’ they? Atlanta keeps its playoff fantasies alive for another week (or two) by temporarily pulling even with Tampa Bay. I don’t know about the points. Give ’em if you want. It’s all the same to me.

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Week Thirteen Picks

December 3rd, 2005 Comments off

Not an easy week to pick. Not by any stretch. You’ve got division matchups. You’ve got quarterbacks with bad thumbs starting, quarterbacks with bad knees maybe starting, quarterbacks with bad quarterbacking ability starting all over the place, rookies and backups stepping in. It’s entirely possible every single game will go exactly as I don’t expect. Dunno. Here’s what I expect to happen, or possibly not:

Atlanta (+3) at Carolina
Yes, I’m aware of how Atlanta has had Carolina’s number for the past few years. And I’m aware of how poorly the Carolina offense has played over the last two weeks in Chicago and Buffalo. But I’m also aware of the fact that the Panthers have one of the best defenses in the league, a unit that’s particularly strong against the run (giving up only 82.4 yards a game and 3.4 per carry). And given that Atlanta’s offense relies heavily on the ground game (the Falcons have the best rushing offense in the league, whereas their passing game is ranked 28th in yards per game and 23rd in yards per attempt), one has to expect they’ll struggle to make things happen against that Carolina D. Something else I’m aware of is the fact that the Falcons have a habit of coughing the ball up. They’ve given away 11 fumbles this season whereas the Panthers have taken 13 fumbles away from opponents. Most important, however, is that I’m acutely aware of the fact that the Falcons have been unable to beat good teams all season long. And since the Panthers, while maybe not as good as they appeared to be a few weeks back, are unquestionably a good team, I have to like their chances. I’m taking Carolina and expecting them to win it by about a touchdown.

Buffalo (+5) at Miami
I love that this game is being sold as a battle of teams that maybe could salvage their seasons and make a bid for the playoffs. After all, the argument says, with the Patriots playing relatively poorly and lots of divisional games still to be played, it’s conceivable that either of these 4-7 squads could steal the division if they win out. What? Come on, now. Let’s be serious. Putting all else aside (like the fact that the Patriots’ schedule gets really soft starting this week), neither of these teams is winning out. After this week, Buffalo hosts New England and Denver and travels to Cincinnati (before closing versus the Jets in New Jersey). I guarantee the Bills are losing two and quite possibly all three of those games. The Dolphins’ chances are slightly better, since they host the Jets and Titans in weeks 15 and 16. But they have to travel to San Diego next week and to Foxboro in week 17. Those are both losses. Does that mean there’s nothing exciting about this game? Hardly. This is a good matchup that pits a team on the ascent (Miami) against a team on the decline (Buffalo) at the exact moment when they’re passing each on the way up and down the rankings. At least on paper, the teams are very evenly matched on defense, right in the middle of the NFL pack (though it’s worth noting here that Buffalo’s D has been amazing at home and terrible on the road). Both allow about 323 yards and 20 points per game. Miami’s been stronger on offense, however, logging 315 yards and nearly 18 points per game to Buffalo’s 244 and not quite 15. And it’s notable that the better part of Miami’s offense is its ground game, while Buffalo’s D has struggle terribly against the run. The Bills allow 4.7 yards per carry, 146 yards per game and have given up 15 rushing touchdowns; the Dolphins’ running backs average 4.5 yards per carry and 117 yards per game. The Fins have only rushed for seven touchdowns this season, but, as noted here previously, Miami offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has a habit of calling pass play after pass play on the goal line (which is one of the reasons Miami is 4-7 right now instead of 5-6 or 6-5). I expect Miami to be able to take advantage of Buffalo’s weakness against the run, and while I expect the game to stay fairly competitive through the first two or two and a half quarters, I think Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams and the Fins will eventually run away with this one, winning by about 10 points.

Cincinnati (+3) at Pittsburgh
So let me get this straight: I’m supposed to believe that Pittsburgh’s poor showing Monday night against the Indianapolis Colts indicates that the Steelers are headed for a loss to the Bengals? Sorry, folks, but I’m just not buying it. To begin with the obvious, the Bengals are, um, not the Colts. Not even a little. And more to the point, the Steelers are most decidedly not the Baltimore Ravens. Why does that matter? Well, does my memory fail me or didn’t the Bengals D just give up 29 points to a Ravens offense that had been scoring all of 11.6 points per game heading into last week? And didn’t they do that in the Bengals’ home stadium? And, wait, hasn’t Pittsburgh been putting up roughly double the points per game Baltimore has? And giving up three fewer points per game than Baltimore, too boot? And didn’t the Steelers beat the Bengals in Cincinnati earlier this season? And hasn’t Cincinnati managed to lose pretty much every time it’s faced a good opponent all season long? So where is it again that so many people are getting the notion that an upset is brewing here? It isn’t. I’m taking the Steelers straight up and looking for a push versus the spread.

Dallas (+3) at NY Giants
This is one of those games where I have to pick what I think is going to happen rather than what I hope will happen. I don’t like the Cowboys. Never have, going back to the days when they billed themselves as America’s Team (says who, assholes?). And I’ve picked up more reasons to dislike them over the years. I think their owner will probably hurt the game over the long term (I worry about how his short-sighted, self-serving approach will manifest itself as league-first, long-view owners like Wellington Mara continue to pass on or leave the league). And I hate their coach’s fucking guts. (I used to just think Parcells was just a jerk, but then he pulled the rug out from under his then-team, the Patriots, on the eve of Super Bowl XXXI, and I’ve wished him nothing but failure and misery since.) My continuing affection for Drew Bledsoe has softened me on the Boys a bit (if they win the Super Bowl, which I think could happen, I’ll be happy for Drew), but it hasn’t made me a Cowboys fan. Nothing ever will. On the other hand, I like the Giants. Always have. Even when that asshole Bill Parcells was coaching them (partially because I didn’t know what an asshole he was at the time). I like the Giants even though I found Eli Manning’s little prima donna bullshit act around the 2004 NFL draft offensive. (I never quite respected John Elway after he pulled that kind of crap and I’ll never quite respect Eli, either. Plus, I kind of find the whole Manning clan a bit self-satisfied and whiny.) So what I’d like to see is a Giants win by three times the spread. But what I expect to see is a Cowboys victory. Why? Well, I haven’t been overly impressed with the Giants of late. Their play has been sloppy. They’ve let games they should have won get away from them. The Cowboys, meanwhile, impress me more with each passing week. I think Dallas will have some success running the ball early in the game, which should slow down the Giants’ impressive pass rush just enough to let Bledsoe complete some big passes. And I think the Cowboys young but quite good, and ever-improving, defense will find a way to exploit some mistakes by Manning. Add those things together and you get Dallas winning the game and putting an effective stranglehold on the NFC East.

Green Bay (+7) at Chicago
The Bears score 16.5 points a game and allow fewer than 11. The Packers score about 21 and allow about 20 (and yet, they’re 2-9). These teams aren’t as far apart as their records would indicate, but they are exactly as far about as their stats indicate. So I’m taking the Bears straight up, the Pack with the points. ‘Cause that’s what the numbers tell me to do.

Houston (+8.5) at Baltimore
Is there a team in football that like losing as much as the Houston Texans? Here’s a team that last week took a 14-point lead into the fourth quarter at home against a team being quarterbacked by a rookie out of Harvard (yes, the birthplace of American football, but not exactly a modern day pro prospect factory) and still managed to lose the goddamned game. Baltimore, meanwhile, put up 29 second-half points last week at Cincinnati after falling behind by 34. The Ravens still lost, of course, but at least they showed they’re gonna stay competitive no matter what. And with that in mind, how do you think this game is gonna turn out? My money’s on the Ravens. And while I don’t even trust Baltimore to score eight and a half points total most weeks, I’ll go ahead and give that many this time out.

Jacksonville (-2.5) at Cleveland
You know what? I like Dave Garrard. I don’t think he’s Byron Leftwich or anything, but I do think he’s a way better quarterback than the starters for at least half a dozen and maybe 10 or 12, teams in the league. And I like his chances against Cleveland’s 13th-ranked pass D a lot better than I like rookie Charlie Frye’s chances facing Jacksonville’s second-ranked pass D in what will be his first NFL start (if he starts, that is; it appears he will given Trent Dilfer’s knee injury, but Romeo Crennel isn’t saying for sure). Indeed, I like Garrard so much I’m starting him over that useless bum Kerry Collins for one of my fantasy teams. So there. Take that, Kerry. Oh, right, the game. I’m taking Jacksonville and giving the points.

Minnesota (-2) at Detroit
I’ve got an idea. Instead of everyone in the pro-football media engaging in lengthy discussions about whether Matt Millen will still be GM of the Lions come January or February, how about cutting right to the chase and having a discussion of whether anyone in the Ford family has half a brain. Seems like it should be simpler for those who know the Fords to answer. And it answer’s the Millen question. Because if the answer is yes, there is half a brain there someplace, then Millen is gone. He’s about as bad an executive as you’ll find anywhere in the NFL. He makes terrible draft decisions. He’s got the wrong on-field personnel in place for the kind of offense he wants to run. The team is 20-55 under his direction. They’ve gone through coach after coach trying to fix the problem. And no coach who has the potential to bring the team around is going to go anywhere near Detroit as long as Millen remains in place, guaranteeing failure for everyone. So you tell me: Will the Fords be smart enough to dump Millen or won’t they? I don’t know. I also don’t know if new Vikings owner Zygi Wilf will be smart enough to recognize that, despite his team’s recent resurgence, he’s still gotta dump his bum of a head coach, Mike Tice, in the off-season. (Hey, maybe if the Lions keep Millen and the Vikes dump Tice, Matt can hire Mike as his new head coach and potentially bring about the first 0-16 finish in NFL history — but with great parties along the way.) Here’s a couple of things I do know: the Vikings are winning games in spite of their problems; and replacing Steve Mariucci with Dick Jauron (who went 35-45 as head coach of the Chicago Bears) isn’t gonna solve a damned thing for the Lions. So I’m taking Minnesota and giving the pair.

Tampa Bay (-3.5) vs. New Orleans (Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge)
Yes, I still think Chris Simms sucks. But that doesn’t mean I’m stupid enough to pick the New Orleans (or wherever they’re headed) Saints. Not by a long shot. Tampa wins by 14.

Tennessee (+15.5) at Indianapolis
I’ll be honest: I just don’t have a whole lot to say about this game. Hits me as about as much of a foregone conclusion as the oddsmakers think it is. I mean, I know some folks are talking about the possibility of a trap here, but come on. Maybe if the Colts were coming into this one 7-0 rather than 11-0. Or maybe even if they were 10-1. After all, the Colts do have much more important games coming up in weeks 14, 15 and 16, when they’ll face a division rival/likely playoff team, a potential playoff opponent, and a potential Super Bowl opponent. It’d be easy to overlook Tennessee under the circumstances. The trouble with that reasoning, however, is that this Colts team believes its playing for a perfect season (it isn’t gonna get there, and I’ll get to that in a second), and isn’t gonna let up just because its got a soft matchup. Now, as for why the Colts are not gonna go 16-0 in the regular season. OK, let’s let’s assume the Colts manage to find a way to beat Jacksonville next week. They haven’t had great success against the Jags in the past, and they barely managed to win their week-two home game against Jacksonville. But the Jags have a new quarterback, thanks to Byron Leftwich’s season-ending injury a week ago (let’s face it; that’s what it is), so while they should be able to hold the Colts to relatively few points, there’s no knowing right now whether they’ll be able to score many themselves. We’ll have to look at this game next week, of course, but let’s leave it until then. And let’s set aside the Chargers, who are headed to Indianapolis in week 15. There are plenty of folks who see that game as the one the Colts are most likely to lose, but I don’t see it. The Chargers can be dangerous, but they haven’t played spectacular football against really good teams this season, and the Colts should be able to edge them. Let’s look at the week 16 road game in Seattle. If they Colts go into that game at 14-0, they’ll have clinched home field through the playoffs, which is to say they’ll have nothing other than a perfect season to play for. Tony Dungy has already said (on more than one occasion) that he’s after a ring, not a record, and he will rest starters if he gets the opportunity. Now, sure there are players on the team who aren’t gonna like that, and who have said they’ll agitate to play, but they’re not gonna make that decision, Dungy is. And Dungy is also gonna take into consideration the fact that Seattle, at least on paper, has very good chance of getting to the Super Bowl. He’s not gonna go into Seattle and show everything he’s got to a potential rival for the league championship (in a game that will be only six weeks away at the time) to win a match that means absolutely nothing to his team. Indy goes 14-0, Dungy’s sitting his best players. And facing a Seattle team that will very likely be playing to clinch home field through the playoffs at the time, that spells a loss. It’s as simple as that, kids. Now, back to the game at hand. As noted, the Colts win it going away. How far away is anybody’s guess, but I’ve gotta figure 20 points is as reasonable an estimate as any other, so I’m giving the fifteen and a half.

Arizona (-3) at San Francisco
This game was a lot easier to pick before the Cardinals lost their kicker, Neil Rackers, who’s been responsible for 110 of the team’s 222 points this season. Still, Arizona’s opponent this week is still San Francisco, so I still like the Cards to come out on top. And I’m guessing they’ll take it by about four.

Washington (-3) at St. Louis
Ryan Fitzpatrick did look pretty good coming in at quarterback for the Rams last week. I’ll give him that. Of course, that was against the Houston Texans, a team that gives up 130 more yards per game against the pass than the Redskins. So, you know, while I still believe Washington’s in a skid that’ll last through the end of the season, they can hardly help but win this one. Against the spread, though, it’s a push at best.

Denver (-1) at Kansas City
I said last week that the game against the Patriots would be the last one the Chiefs would win this season. I still believe that. Sure, Kansas City won decisively in that match. And, sure, Larry Johnson had another big day on the ground. But the Patriots don’t stop the run so good. And the Broncos do. Denver’s D is the best in the league against the ground game, in fact, giving up just 79 yards per game on the ground (roughly two thirds New England’s 119). Kansas City’s run defense is pretty good, too, but not as good as Denver’s. And the Chiefs’ passing D is slightly more awful than the Broncos’. So, difficulties of winning at Arrowhead in December aside, I’m taking the Super Bowl-bound Broncos (oof, it hurts to say that) and, of course, giving the stinking point.

NY Jets (+10) at New England
Mark my words: the Patriots have lost for the last time in the regular season. They won’t lose to the Bills in Buffalo next week, as many people believe. They won’t lose at home to the Buccaneers two weeks from now. They won’t lose to the Jets in New Jersey, or the Dolphins in Foxboro. And they sure as hell won’t lose to one of the worst teams in the league at home this weekend. Whether they’ll win by more than 10 without Corey Dillon in the game is another matter — I expect they will, but you can never tell with this Pats team — but they’ll certainly take it straight up.

Oakland (+11) at San Diego
Can we get Kerry Collins off the damned field? Would that be possible? Probably not, huh. Because while it’s clear that Kerry is not the future of the franchise, it’s also clear that Norv Turner is more concerned with his own future than the team’s. He’s not gonna take a look at his options, because he knows the only way he’s gonna preserve his job is by finding a way to come out of this awful season on a strong note. He’s shooting for 7-9, I think. And the awful news for Raiders fans is that he just might get it. Are all the Raiders problems Turner’s fault? Hardly. Nor Collins’, frankly. But Kerry’s not helping any, and at this point neither is Norv. So what does all this have to do with the game at hand. Nothing at all. It’s just that there’s very little worth saying about the game at hand. LaDainian Tomlinson is gonna rush for about 700 yards and 23 touchdowns. Kerry’s gonna take 40 sacks and throw a dozen picks. And the Chargers are gonna win by 787 points. (Or at the very least by two touchdowns.)

Seattle (-4) at Philadelphia
After further review … nobody knows what the hell happened. Maybe the New York Giants scored the two controversial touchdowns they got credit for in last week’s near-upset of the Seahawks, and maybe they didn’t. Maybe the game was as close as it was or maybe it wasn’t. Maybe the Seahawks got lucky that veteran kicker Jay Feely suddenly lost all ability to put the football between the uprights, or maybe the Giants never should have been close enough for field goals to matter anyhow. Maybe the league officiating office admitted officials messed up the replay reviews on those two touchdowns, and maybe it didn’t. It’s all a big mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a sub roll and eaten hastily by Mike Holmgren between press conferences. And none of it has anything to do with this matchup. Neither does Terrell Owens, who’s probably still an asshole. Or Senator Arlen Specter. Or, you know, much of anything. So what do I expect here? I expect the Seahawks to play a better game against the Eagles than they did against the Giants. I expect the Eagles to play a worse game against the Seahawks than they did against the Packers. And so I expect the Seahawks to come out ahead by seven to 10.

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