I’m not getting any better at this. Just so you know. I was 5-8 straight up last week. And, OK, it really, really was crazy upside-down week, but still. Here are my likely painfully inaccurate guesses of what’s ahead in week eight.
Arizona (+3.5) at Green Bay
Geez, coach, it must be nice to know your job is safe until the end of the season. But still, umm, I’ve gotta wonder, who are you gonna blame for losing this one? Green Bay by a touchdown.
Atlanta (+4) at Cincinnati
You know what’s funny? I’m quite certain Cincinnati’s gonna win this game, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why I feel that way. Atlanta plays at least marginally better on both sides of the ball. Cincinnati can’t begin to stop the run, and Atlanta runs the ball like no other team in the league. And while Cincinnati’s passing offense certainly appears to match up well against Atlanta’s pass D, it wouldn’t seem to be enough of an advantage to lead one to conclude that Cincinnati should beat a team that might be able to control the ball with its ground game and win the time of possession battle by a ratio of as much as two to one. So why am I picking the Bengals here? Well, because the oddsmakers say I should and my gut agrees. I’m not giving four points, mind you, but I’m taking Cincy just the same.
Baltimore (+2) at New Orleans
I won’t be the least bit surprised if Baltimore pulls off an upset here. Brian Billick not only needs to get his team’s season back on track, but clearly needs to back up his bye week decision to fire Jim Fassel and take over offensive play-calling duties. And it’s hardly going out on a limb to speculate that Billick will set out to accomplish both goals by leaning heavily on the run. If his offensive line is up to the task (I, for one, still believe that his starting running back can be explosive if he gets blocks), Billick could see some significant success running the ball against a Saints defense that allows 4.9 yards per carry. And his own stingy run D (which has allowed a league-low 2.7 yards per carry and only one rushing touchdown while forcing 11 fumbles), should be able to quiet New Orleans’ typically productive ground offense enough to put the weight of this game on Drew Brees. If he can do that while not asking too much of his own banged-up quarterback, Billick may have a formula for an upset. All that said, I don’t think the Ravens will be able to shut down Brees in the Saints’ stadium. Not entirely. My guess is, Brees will be able to accomplish just enough to propel his team to a one-point victory, which may well come on the last play of the game.
Houston (+3) at Tennessee
Call me crazy, but I’m taking the team that ran the ball down the throat of the Jacksonville Jaguars a week ago to top the team that gives up 165 yards a game on the ground (and that’s pinning its offensive hopes on the notion that maybe David Givens will be healthy enough to make a real contribution).
Jacksonville (+7) at Philadelphia
I don’t know whether the Jags will be better or worse with Byron Leftwich on the bench (I suspect it’ll be somewhat better than with a hobbled Leftwich under center, somewhat worse than with a healthy Leftwich in the game). But I do know that the way Jacksonville has been playing lately, they’re not gonna pose much of a challenge for the Eagles at home. I like Philly straight up. Against the spread, I’m guessing it’s a push.
Seattle (+6) at Kansas City
I don’t see the outcome of this game ultimately having a whole lot to do with the inexperience of the likely starting quarterbacks. Sure, neither Seneca Wallace nor rookie Brodie Croyle (who’ll be the third QB to start for the Chiefs this season if Damon Huard can’t go) has ever started an NFL game, but that’s just the thing: their inexperience should prove offsetting; neither team can or should expect to get all that much out of its quarterback. The difference here will be in the fact that Croyle (or Huard) will have the opportunity to hand the ball off to Larry Johnson whereas Wallace can count on no such support from still-injured Shaun Alexander. That and Arrowhead Stadium spell a Chiefs victory, though maybe only by three.
San Francisco (+16.5) at Chicago
If I’m a player for the Bears, particularly Rex Grossman, I’m looking to put that last game way the hell behind me. I’m a player for the 49ers, I’m ducking. Bears by 20.
Tampa Bay (+9) at NY Giants
Is Tiki Barber’s retirement talk a distraction for the Giants? I don’t know. Evidence suggests probably not. Are Gary Myers, Tom Jackson and Michael Irvin really idiots? Myers and Jackson, probably not. Irvin, unquestionably. Does any of it matter more in this game than whether Bruce Gradkowski can continue to play at a high level? Most assuredly not. I expect Gradkowski will do OK given theinjury-plagued state of the Giants D, but I don’t expect him to play well enough for the Bucs to top the Giants in the Meadowlands. I like New York by a touchdown.
St. Louis (+8.5) at San Diego
Let’s see, now. On one side of the ball you’ve got LaDainian Tomlinson. On the other side, you’ve got a St. Louis run D that has a habit of rolling out the red carpet for running backs. How do you think I’m picking? Chargers by 12.
Indianapolis (+2.5) at Denver
The key to this game is supposed to be whether the Broncos D can hold the Colts’ very productive (to the tune of 28.5 points per game on average) offense to somewhere between 10 and 12 points. Any more than that and the Broncos offense won’t be able to keep up. And that conventional wisdom is likely truer than ever in light of the fact that Denver has lost standout left tackle Matt Lepsis for the season. I’m not expecting Denver’s pass offense to come alive this weekend. Unlike many, however, I am expecting the Broncos’ rather stout defense (which has allowed a league-low 7.3 points per game thus far this season) to be able to keep the Colts’ scoring to a minimum. I’m expecting Peyton Manning, who has never thrown a touchdown pass in Denver, to throw two TDs this weekend, one to Reggie Wayne and another to Champ Bailey. That TD, and a second Bailey pick, will prove the difference in a 14-13 Denver win.
NY Jets (+2.5) at Cleveland
I’m gonna warn you right up front that I’m picking this game based on pure personal animus. Because, oddsmakers’ take aside, I have no real reason to believe the Browns have any chance of winning this game. To begin with, I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that firing Maurice Carthon (or not firing Carthon but still getting rid of him, or whatever the hell the Browns did) is likely, all by itself, to fix an offense that hasn’t managed to do one damned thing well all season long. And further, I’m absolutely certain that losing Carthon won’t do a single thing to change the fact that running a 3-4 defense with 4-3 personnel has a weird way of not proving terribly effective. But you know what? The Jets’ defense sucks. They can’t stop the run to save their lives. So I’m choosing to believe that Reuben Droughns is gonna have a huge day and bring the abhorrent Jets and their annoying fans back to reality (which is that their team sucks). Browns by three.
Pittsburgh (-9) at Oakland
Set the Super Bowl XL champs thing aside and just think about what it means when you’re coming off a 22-9 win and you’re still getting nine points in a home game against a 2-4 team. You know what it means, right? It means you don’t even qualify as sucky. They’d have to come up with a new word to describe how bad you are. Only no one’s gonna bother to come up with that word, because you’re not worth the effort. And, anyway, if you ever get better, they’ll never be able to use that word again, because no team’s ever been this bad and it’s unlikely no team will ever be this bad again. That’s what it means. In case you hadn’t figured it out, I’m taking Pittsburgh. I do think Oakland’s defense finds a way to keep the margin of victory to more like six or seven, though. So there’s that.
Dallas (+5) at Carolina
Congratulations, Dallas fans, you got your wish. I don’t know how that’s gonna work out in the long run, but I’m quite certain that this week at least, you’re gonna choke on it. Big time. I see more picks for young Mr. Romo as the Panthers win by 14 or more.
New England (-2.5) at Minnesota
I get why it’s so popular to pick an upset here. I really do. The Vikings have been playing well on both sides of the ball. They’re at home. It’s Monday night, so the dome will be loud. And while the Pats are 5-1, there’s this idea out there that because they haven’t done anything terribly spectacular, they may not be that good. Plus, lots of folks still don’t trust New England’s revamped receiving corps. I get it. I just don’t buy it. I see two factors (in addition to the fact that New England is a much better team than many seem to realize, and getting better by the week) pushing this game into the win column for the Patriots. First, the Vikings offense, while it’s been indubitably productive this season, has yet to face a 3-4 defense. I expect the Patriots to be able to disrupt the rhythm that’s so vital to the Vikes’ West Coast style and force Brad Johnson to throw incompletions and take a few sacks. Second, the Vikings play a Tampa two defense, and the Patriots passing game has fared well against that secondary alignment in the past. In short, I expect the Pats to be able to out dink and dunk the Vikings. I also expect a frustrated Vikings team to start making some mistakes in the fourth quarter, allowing the Pats to turn what will have been a close game into a win by seven to 10 points.