This could be setting up as an upside-down week. Midseason doldrums setting in. Teams starting to feel like they know who they are and who their opponents are, and going into games feeling like they ought to win. Road teams giving way too many points. It all points to a distinct possibility that we’ll all be back to shaking our heads in bewilderment come Monday morning. Or possibly not. Here’s what you might possibly expect or not expect.
NY Jets (+5.5) at Buffalo
This game is way more evenly matched than the line suggests. And given the fact that the Bills are dealing with some key injuries, I won’t be at all surprised if the Jets steal a victory. But I can’t pick it that way. Not with the amazing interception machine that Brett Favre has become staring at a game that the Jets almost have to win. The Bills secondary has hardly led the league in picks this season, but I’m willing to bet they pluck at least two balls out of the air this weekend. And I’m guessing that makes the difference. Buffalo by a point.
Detroit (+12.5) at Chicago
You’ll know for sure that it’s upside-down week if the Lions manage a win here. If it’s rightside-up week, the Bears win by something along the lines of three touchdowns.
Jacksonville (-8) at Cincinnati
The Jaguars, who couldn’t find a way to beat Cleveland at home a week ago, are in the same boat as the Colts: finished in their division and needing to go no worse than 7-2 through the rest of the season to have any hope of securing a wild card berth. They certainly can’t afford to be the team against which the Bungles finally get off the schneid. And you have to expect they won’t be. That said, until they start showing a good bit more consistency, I’m not taking Jacksonville to beat anybody by eight points. Jags by three.
Baltimore (+1.5) at Cleveland
The Browns’ recent successes notwithstanding, I’m fairly confident that the Ravens are the better team in this game. But they’re not better by enough to overcome Joe Flacco’s habit of throwing the ball to opposing DBs. Not on the road, anyhow. Cleveland by one.
Tampa Bay (-9) at Kansas City
Quick, name a player you think could potentially come up big for Kansas City in this game. You see what I’m saying? Bucs by 13.
Houston (+4.5) at Minnesota
Two things the Houston Texans can’t do: Hold on to the ball and keep opposing running backs out of the end zone. Now, the Vikings aren’t so good with the turnovers, either, but that’s a problem they mostly have when they throw the ball, something they likely won’t have to do much of in this game. Minnesota by seven.
Arizona (-3) at St. Louis
Apparently Steven Jackson is just healthy enough to play. That means St. Louis should be able to keep this just close enough to make it a push against the spread.
Green Bay (+5) at Tennessee
I decided how I was picking this game while watching the Titans put the Colts away on Monday night. Yeah, Tennessee looked impressive in that game. The Titans defense should set them up to win most games — and they’ll probably do just that so long as their offense is able to focus on the run and wear opponents down (without putting Kerry Collins in a position to hurt them). But I don’t know how you play a game as intense both physically and emotionally as that one and recover in time to play effectively against a tough, non-conference opponent six days later. The Colts may not suffer a letdown (though they might) because of the fact that they’re hosting New England this week. The Titans, it seems to me, can hardly help it. Plus, they’ve got to lose sometime. So I’m taking the Packers even though I’m fairly certain the Titans are the better team. Green Bay by three.
Miami (+3.5) at Denver
Man, can the Broncos ever not stop the run. Denver gives up close to 155 yards a game and 5.4 a carry. That’s going to continue to hurt the team as the season wears on. It could, and probably should, hurt them pretty badly in this game. But I don’t know. The Broncos are at home. They’re coming off a bye. And they’re facing a defense that has no hope of slowing down their passing attack. I’ve gotta take Denver to win, though I don’t see them doing it by more than a field goal.
Dallas (+8.5) at NY Giants
I don’t know what to say about this game. The Cowboys are falling apart. The Giants aren’t. No one would ever have guessed four weeks ago that this would be the situation, but it is. New Jersey by 10.
Atlanta (-3) at Oakland
Can Oakland win this game? Sure. I mean, the Raiders are at home and all. Bring some pressure on the rookie QB, get him to make some key mistakes, and you’ve got a chance. Of course, I’ve seen no evidence that Oakland’s D can actually do those things, which could get in the way. And, you know, the bit about having no ability whatsoever to stop the run could pose a problem with Michael Turner in the game. But other than that, I think the Raiders’ only real problem in this game is the fact that they have no offense. So, yeah, the Raiders could win. If it’s upside-down week. Otherwise, it’s Atlanta by a touchdown.
Philadelphia (-6.5) at Seattle
You know, I sort of suspect the Eagles are gonna find a way to lose this game. But I can’t come up with a reason to believe myself. Philly is better than Seattle in every aspect of the game. And teams don’t lose as much traveling east to west as they do going the other way (for whatever reason — maybe it’s just easier to adjust to playing at 7 p.m. your time than at 10 a.m.) So I don’t have it in me to pick against the Eagles. At least not straight up. I’ll take Philadelphia to win and Seattle to cover.
New England (+6) at Indianapolis
This game isn’t about which team needs the win more. It’s not about whether the Patriots have been overachieving or whether the Colts have been underachieving. It’s not even about a weird encounter between two old rivals. It’s about one player: Peyton Manning, pure and simple. Because, look, the Colts defense, now with Bob Sanders but without Marlin Jackson ultimately isn’t healthier than it was six days ago, and now it’s playing on short rest. And while Matt Cassel still isn’t Tom Brady (nor is he going to be), he’s unquestionably growing as a quarterback and he’s certainly been playing better football than Kerry Collins. (And say what you will about the difference between New England’s and Tennessee’s run offenses, the difference is 15 yards per game and .1 yards per carry, which is to say statistically insignificant.) Of course, there’s no question but that New England’s defense doesn’t stack up with Tennessee’s. But the Patriots’ defensive front has played extremely well of late, bringing the kind of pressure it takes to make up for the unit’s weaknesses in the secondary. And with Indy’s problems on the O line, you can rest assured the Pats are gonna get after Manning. On the other hand, you can also rest assured that there are gonna be opportunities for Peyton, if he can get his quick release going, to find some open receivers. And there’s the central question: Will Manning play like the Peyton Manning of old, or like the guy who sat on the sideline looking like he’d seen his life flash before his eyes in the second half in Tennessee Monday night? If it’s the former, the Colts should be able to pull out a victory and keep their season alive. If it’s the latter, the Patriots have a very good shot of putting the last nail in Indy’s coffin. I’ve seen more of the latter than the former so far this season, and I can’t come up with any good reason that I should expect otherwise here. New England by three.
Pittsburgh (+2) at Washington
No. Sorry. I still haven’t bought in on the Pittsburgh thing. Of course, I haven’t bought in on Washington either, which kind of makes this game a giant headache for me. In the end, I’ve gotta take the balanced team over the one with the great defense and the lackluster offense, especially since the balanced squad is at home. Washington by three.