I’ve told you before I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’ve had one decent week picking so far this season. And yet here you are. Go away, already. Save yourself some time and some money. Go.
Arizona (+7) at AtlantaFirst he is a starter, then he is no starter, then he is. That’s a little Donovan thing. No, not this Donovan. I mean, this one. And anyway, if I have to explain the damned allusion it’s not really working, is it? The point is that, contrary to reports earlier in the week, Arizona head coach Dennis Green hasn’t officially initiated this season’s game of musical quarterbacks. As it turns out, all the talk was just talk and this fellow, who is neither Donovan nor Donovan, and not this fellow, will be starting under center for the Cardinals yet again this week. All of which is really neither here nor there given that this fellow (also not Donovan or Donovan, and also neither Kurt nor Matt) will probably be looking to make up for his piss-poor performance on Monday night. Add to that the fact that Michael will be facing a defense that has allowed 366 yards and more than 21 points per game while Kurt will be going against (I’d say up against, but the odds of him spending much time on his feet seem fairly long to me) a D that has given up just 297 yards and slightly less than 11 points per game and you get a clear picture of which caterpillar is likely to shed his skin to find a butterfly within (that’s getting us back to our original Donovan.) All of which is to say I’m taking Atlanta and giving the points. (This could be much simpler if I’d just let it.)
Dallas (-9.5) at Tennessee
Did he or didn’t he? I don’t know. Don’t much care. You know what I do care about? I care about whether the guy, who was my second-round draft pick in two fantasy leagues this season, is gonna be on the field on Sunday. But you know what? You shouldn’t even care about that. Because this week, T.O.’s playing status only counts if he’s on your fantasy team (or the one you’re up against, I suppose), because his reality team doesn’t really need him. Not to beat a team that gives up 25 points per game and is quarterbacked by a guy who was hired the week before the season started and has paid it off with these ugly stats. Maybe, just maybe, having Owens in uniform would give the Cowboys a better chance to beat the college spread in this game, but they probably don’t need him there, either. I’m not putting any money this game either way, because it’s foolish to put money on a nine-and-a-half-point favorite on the road and you just can’t risk cash on these Titans, but I’m thinking a Dallas victory by something slightly less than nine and a half.
Indianapolis (-9) at NY Jets
Well, Jets fans certainly are excited about their team’s 2-1 start. And, OK, fair enough. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here, folks. In fact, maybe we should get right back down to earth. The Jets’ defense is, um, well, it’s not so good. It’s 387 yards and 20 points per game not good. It’s 4.2 yards per carry and five rushing touchdowns in three games not good. It’s 253 yards per game in the air not good. And this week it’s facing the Indianapolis Colts. I still don’t believe the Colts are the team they were a season ago, but they’re certainly better than the Tennessee Titans and the Buffalo Bills, the teams New York has beaten to get to 2-1. So let’s set aside the idea that Eric Mangini knows from his years with New England how to knock Peyton Manning out of his rhythm (he probably does, but he needs the personnel to execute and right now he ain’t got it) and get ready for a very revealing trip to 2-2. And contrary to what I said just above, here you can take the road team and give the nine. This one’s a full-on massacre.
Miami (-4) at Houston
You think Pep’s maybe gonna finally open it up against the team that ranks dead last in the league in overall defense and has allowed 321 yards per game in the air and seven passing touchdowns? Call me crazy, but I do. You bet your ass I’m giving the points.
Minnesota (+1) at Buffalo
The second hardest game of the week to pick, but not necessarily the game I’d put second on my list of games to watch (see San Diego-Baltimore below). But for some truly awful mistakes in last week’s matchup with the Jets, the Bills would be coming into this one 2-1, just like the Vikings. That said, they made the mistakes, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see them make a few more. In the end, I think home field gets the job done, so I’m taking the Bills, but I wouldn’t be even remotely surprised were it to go the other way.
New Orleans (+7.5) at Carolina
That sure was a nice win for New Orleans on Monday night. Made everyone in the country feel good. Well, everyone except for the folks in and around Atlanta. And those of us who both picked the Falcons and had Mike Vick starting for our fantasy teams. What’s funny is that even after shutting down the best rushing offense in the league, the Saints are still only ranked 13th in run defense. And they’re still giving up 4.1 yards per carry. That’s gotta make DeShaun Foster, D’Angelo Williams and John Fox feel pretty good. I’ll tell you what. In deference to the way the Saints have outplayed my expectations so far this season, I’ll take them with the points. Straight up, I like the Panthers.
San Diego (-2.5) at Baltimore
There are exactly two things I know for certain about this game. And they’re related. First, if I were forced to choose just one professional football game to watch this weekend, I’d go with this one. Second, I have absolutely no idea how this game is gonna turn out, but I’m certain it’s gonna be a sweaty, bloody battle that goes down to the very last second. I have to tell you, I’ve looked at this game every way I can think of and I’ve got nothing. That’s nothing. Statistically, this thing is as dead heat. Or it is at least until you get to the giveaway-takeaway ratio, which I’m not entirely sure matters here. Let’s take a look: We’ll start on the ground, where you would think, based on the fact that they have LaDainian Tomlinson, probably the best running back in the league, that the Chargers have at least a slight edge. There’s no doubt San Diego’s offense has been strong in the run game. The Chargers have averaged 5.1 yards per carry and 218 rushing yards per game. They scored five rushing touchdowns in the two games before their bye last week. But they’re going against a Ravens run D that has allowed just 1.8 yards per carry, 34 yards per game, and one TD. That’s as solid as it gets. Meanwhile, the Ravens run offense, which has managed an unspectacular but better than average (and definitely good enough) 3.6 yards per carry, a respectable 109 yards per game and an adequate two TDs, runs up against a Chargers run D that has given up 3.6 yards per carry, 71 yards per game, and no TDs. So, on paper at least (more on this subject presently), you’ve got a one great run offense facing a great run defense and a better than average run offense facing a better than average run D. That’s a wash. In the air, we find a Baltimore offense that averages 183 yards per game and has scored three TDs while committing one interception, facing a San Diego D that has surrendered just 103 yards per game and one TD while picking off two balls. And then there’s the Chargers’ pass offense with its 172 yards per game, two touchdowns and no interceptions facing a Ravens D that has allowed 163 yards per game while allowing just one TD and picking off a league-leading seven balls. That, too, looks for all the world like a statistical wash. Looking at overall offensive and defensive stats paints a picture that would appear to favor the Chargers. Baltimore allows 6.3 points per game, and scores 23.3; San Diego surrenders 3.5 and scores 33.5. But when you look at those stats, you have to consider strength of schedule. Both teams have played quite possibly the worst team in the league in the Oakland Raiders (San Diego traveling to Oakland, Baltimore getting the Raiders at home). So there’s that. San Diego’s other game was a home contest against Tennessee, another candidate for league’s worst team. Baltimore, meanwhile, has traveled to Tampa Bay and Cleveland. Neither of those teams seems likely to play a game in January, but I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that either would crush the Titans. So that kind of evens things up there. And we end up back at zero. So give/take has to tell the tale, right? If it does, you have to like the Ravens, who lead the league at +10, over the Chargers, who are at a respectable +3. But then you note the fact that San Diego has yet to commit a turnover, and you have to wonder about whether Baltimore’s going to be able to build on its give/take lead in this game. Maybe. But I wouldn’t bet on it. So now you’re like me. You’ve gone through all the numbers and you’ve got nothing whatsoever to show for it. Let’s flip the coin, shall we? Mine came down showing a bird, so I’m going with the home team. You take it whatever way you like. But, shit, make sure you watch the game, OK?
San Francisco (+7) at Kansas City
This is where week’s most popular big upset pick will come from. It’s understandable, too. San Francisco has played fairly well; Kansas City has played fairly poorly; and Damon Huard entered the season as a backup quarterback for a very good reason. Me, I’m gonna take the team with the great running back over the team that can’t stop the run to save its life every time. Against the spread, it’s a push.
Detroit (+5.5) at St. Louis
When, oh, when, will Matt Millen lose his job? Or, put another way, when will Detroit finally begin building a team that can win? I don’t know the answer, but I know it wasn’t last week, so I’m taking the Rams to win and cover.
Cleveland (-2.5) at Oakland
Charlie Frye vs. Andrew Walter? Somebody pinch me. And make it quick. Please. I really, really need to wake up from this one. The Raiders travel another mile on the road to a perfect season: 0-16. (Note to Art Shell: count the damned steps. Those are seven-step drops. And they don’t win in the NFL in 2006, though your offensive coordinator has absolutely no way of knowing that.)
Jacksonville (-2.5) at Washington
I don’t expect the Jaguars offense to get back on track in this game. But I don’t expect it to need to. What I do expect is for Mark Brunell to spend a buttload of time on his back and to throw one more touchdown to Rashean Mathis than he does to his own wideouts. The Jags win 10-0.
New England (+6) at Cincinnati
I’m gonna be honest with you from the start here: I’m picking what I want to happen in this game. There are reasons for that and all (which I’ll get to presently), but it remains the fact that you’re not gonna find anything remotely removed and scientific in my analysis of this game. If you want removed and scientific, you’re gonna have to go and do it yourself. Now for the reasons that I’m taking a six-point underdog to win a road game against a team some experts think is the best in the league. I’ll start with a weird and fairly meaningless stat I picked up listening to Gil Brandt on the radio: the Patriots have gone 52 regular season games without losing two straight. That’s the third longest streak of its kind in NFL history. It means the Pats haven’t lost consecutive games since the end of the 2002 season. Of course, that streak’s gonna end sometime, but the stat’s worth tossing around for fun if nothing else. What’s real and meaningful is that I don’t believe either defense can stop the other team’s offense. The Patriots have had a terrible time against the pass this season, surrendering 227 yards per game in the air. Cincinnati, meanwhile, is throwing for 200 yards per game and has scored six passing TDs. And Cincinnati has struggled against the run, giving up 4.1 yards per carry and four rushing TDs, while the Pats have been statistically strong, getting 3.8 yards per carry and scoring on the ground twice, and even better when Corey Dillon is healthy, which he apparently is. There’s also the fact that last week, I watched Pittsburgh, a team that hadn’t previously been able to run between the tackles, go up the middle successfully on down after down against Cincinnati’s defense. And I believe the Patriots will show improvement in their passing offense whereas I’m not sure you can expect the same from Cincy’s pass D. I think it’s a fairly even matchup, which, obviously, favors the home team. So if you’re smart, you’re picking the Bengals to win it straight up (though expecting the Pats to lose by six is a stretch). But I’m not playing this one smart. I’m going with my heart. I’m taking New England.
Seattle (+3.5) at Chicago
Apparently, Jehovah’s feelings about Seattle sports (or at least one Seattle sports star) do not mirror his feelings for Cleveland teams. So Shaun and the Seahawks have that going for them, which is nice. The Hawks also have a streak on their side in that Mike Holmgren coached teams have taken 12 straight over the Bears (another stat I picked up from Gil Brandt), though I’m not sure that means a whole lot. What the Bears have going for them, in addition to home field, is a defense that has allowed fewer than eight points per game this season, and has not given up a single passing touchdown. Put that D in a situation where it doesn’t have to worry much about stopping the run, and it’s almost bound to improve its stats. Add, on the other side of the ball, a Chicago offense that has shifted into high gear facing a Seattle D that’s almost certainly going to be spending a lot of time on the field and you’ve got a recipe for a Chicago win. I expect the margin to come in at about double the spread.
Green Bay (+11) at Philadelphia
What the hell is this? Are the people at ESPN and in the NFL scheduling office the only people in America who didn’t know six months ago that this game was a blowout? Who’s expecting anyone outside of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to be tuned in? What a mess. Eagles by two touchdowns.