Archive for November, 2008

Week Thirteen Picks

November 26th, 2008 Comments off

I don’t feel good about my picks this week. I know I say that pretty much every week. But this week I really, really, really mean it. I mean, think about it. I’m picking way early. With the exception of maybe five or six, this week’s games would be very tough to figure even if I had a few more days. And, honestly, there are more than a couple of games this week that I can’t begin to get excited about. So … you know, I warned you. Here’s what not to expect. Happy Thanksgiving.

Tennessee (-11) at Detroit
I’ve got these two guiding philosophies: One says pick the Titans every week and I’ll be right way more often than wrong. The other says pick against the Lions every week and I’ll be right way more often than wrong (and maybe I’ll be right every week). So you figure out what I’m gonna do here. Tennessee by 21.

Seattle (+13) at Dallas
One more cupcake game for the Cowboys before they have to start playing actual professional football teams (at least in weeks fourteen through sixteen; we’ll see what happens with their week seventeen opponent, the Eagles). I’d predict that Cowboys fans will be talking Super Bowl by the time this game ends, but Cowboys fans are always talking Super Bowl, so what’s the difference? Dallas by 14.

Arizona (+3) at Philadelphia
Three important facts about the Eagles, none of which have anything to do their starting quarterback: One) They’re done. Their season is over. They can start getting ready for the draft (or thinking about a coaching change, or whatever). Two) They’re increasingly banged up. Three) They probably couldn’t keep up with Arizona even if they were healthy and in the hunt. Cardinals by four.

San Francisco (+7) at Buffalo
Impressive as putting up 54 points may be, thumping Kansas City (and allowing 31 points to the Chiefs in the process) does not constitute a turnaround. Neither does following that performance up with a thrashing of the 49ers. But if you’re a Bills fan, I’m sure it’ll at least be fun to watch. Buffalo by 10.

Baltimore (-7) at Cincinnati
The Bengals’ big talk about how they can probably tie just about any team in the league (I’m making this up; they never said that) died an early death at the hands of a semi-competent opponent. Here comes more of the same. Baltimore wins by the same margin as Pittsburgh: 17. Because why not?

Indianapolis (-4.5) at Cleveland
Indy’s schedule for the three weeks after this includes a visit to Cincinnati, a home game against Detroit and a Thursday nighter in Jacksonville. That’s the Colts at 11-4 heading into their closer with Titans. Nice schedule if you can get it. Colts by a touchdown.

Carolina (+3) at Green Bay
I’m not sure which was the more embarrassing week twelve meltdown, Carolina’s or Green Bay, but having watched both unfold, I can say that Green Bay’s felt more disastrous. I don’t know how you recover from a thing like that. Carolina by a point.

Denver (+7.5) at NY Jets
Do you know why the Jets beat the Titans last week? It’s not because the Jets are a better team than the Titans. They’re not. (Despite Cris Collinsworth’s ridiculous pronouncement that New Jersey is the best team in the AFC.) The Jets won that game because they Titans had bought into their own press. Going in 10-0, the Titans had begun to feel like they had a chance to run the table. They spent the week asking why no one in the press was talking about their “pursuit of perfection.” And it bit them on the ass, the way believing the hype about your team so often does. It’ll be interesting to see if New Jersey falls victim to the same syndrome this weekend. It wouldn’t surprise me, that’s for certain. Not only are the Jets not as good as their recent press would have you believe, but they have a pass defense that is beyond vulnerable. That’s not a good quality when you’re facing one of the better pass offenses in the league. Denver throws for nearly 100 more yards per game than Tennessee (and 40 more than New England, a team that managed 400-plus passing yards in a narrow loss to New Jersey two weeks ago). The Broncos also have nearly twice as many passing TDs on the season as the Titans, and almost half again as many as the Patriots. If the Jets are focused, the Broncos will keep this one closer than seven and a half. If the Jets aren’t focused, the Broncos will win it outright. It’s really too early in the week for me to know which it’ll be, but based on what I’ve seen so far this week, I’m thinking Denver takes this one straight up.

Miami (-8) at St. Louis
I picked up Davone Bess for my fantasy team this week after it started to look like Greg Camarillo might be lost for the year (which he is). I figure if Plaxico Burress can’t go again, I’ll start Bess this week since the Fins are up against a Rams team with an absolutely miserable pass defense. So why am I telling you about my fantasy team? Because otherwise, I’d have to find something to say about this game, which would mean I’d have to think about this game. And I’m just not up for that. Dolphins by 10.

New Orleans (+3.5) at Tampa Bay
Boy, that sure was a show the New Orleans offense put on Monday night, wasn’t it? Think the Saints can take that show on the road? Hmm. Well, what if Reggie Bush is back? I mean, things worked out OK for the Saints at home back in week one and Reggie was a big factor there. But, yeah, I hear you. I don’t think so either. Bucs by four.

NY Giants (-3) at Washington
The Giants may be all but assured of the NFC one seed (because, let’s be honest, barring a complete collapse no one’s catching them), but that doesn’t mean they’re gonna have an easy run through the last five weeks of the regular season. This game begins a series of three consecutive matches with division opponents. And while there’s no reason to believe the Giants won’t have wrapped up the NFC East and at the very least a first-round bye before Carolina rolls into the Meadowlands in week sixteen, nothing guarantees they’re gonna have fun getting there. The Native Americans are fighting for their playoff lives here. A loss would leave them with a tough, uphill battle to capture a wild card spot. I suspect they’ll get one either way (partially because I think Dallas is destined to fold), but they certainly aren’t likely to take my word for it. Washington will be playing to maintain control of its own destiny and that should be enough to make this a game. I think New Jersey comes out on top, but only by a point.

Atlanta (+5) at San Diego
The Falcons aren’t as good as Carolina made them look last weekend, but they’re still a better team than the Chargers, who are coming off of a major breakdown and have to be feeling it physically and emotionally. I like the road team to pull off an upset here. Falcons control the ball and the clock and come out ahead by three.

Pittsburgh (+1.5) at New England
This matchup, to my mind, encapsulates what’s going on in the AFC this season. Pittsburgh and New England have been elite teams in the conference and the league throughout most of the decade, but both come into this game limping, punch-drunk and looking like shadows of the teams we’re used to seeing. Seems to me that there are only so many 17-, 18- and 19-game seasons teams can take before they start to wear down, particularly when they play in a conference that includes most of the best teams in the league. So the AFC has fallen apart this season. Still, these are two tough teams that are doing everything they can to fight their way into January. The outcome of this game has the potential to play a major part in whether they make it — and how. And the key question has to do with whether the surging New England offense is good enough to overcome the steadfast Pittsburgh D. One imagines that with Dom Capers on hand as part of New England’s coaching staff Matt Cassel will go into the game with a better idea than most young quarterbacks of how to counter the Steelers’ zone blitzes. But knowing how to do something and actually executing on the field are two different things. If Cassel can pull it off, the Patriots should be able to win. There’s little threat of the Steelers putting up more than 17 points, and if Cassel and the Patriots offense can execute fairly consistently, they should be able to hit 20. This could be a great game. It could be a fairly sad game (for either team, or both). Either way, it’s likely a season-defining game. I’m looking for a New England victory and I’m ready to give the point and a half, but I won’t be surprised at any outcome other than a blowout.

Kansas City (+3) at Oakland
Yeah, this is an actual professional football game. Look as hard as you like and you won’t see a professional offense or a professional defense on the field. But everyone’s getting paid to show up and play, so professional football it is. And I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait. The Raiders are at home, so I suppose I’ll take them straight up. I’ll go with the Chiefs to cover. Call it a hedge if you like. It’s really more of a shrug.

Chicago (+3.5) at Minnesota
It’s hard to know whether the AFC West or the NFC North is the least relevant division in football. At least the NFC North contenders both have winning records. So there’s that. But, look, I have no idea which team to pick here. Neither offense can throw the ball. And neither defense will allow opponents to run. Minnesota is at home. And with a 2-2 division record going in (the Bears are at 3-1), the Vikings can scarce afford a loss. So I guess I’ll go with Minnesota to win. By a field goal. I guess.

Jacksonville (+3.5) at Houston
Oh, come on. On Monday night? Because the schedule makers had some reason to anticipate that both of these teams would be relevant this late in the season? Houston by a point. And now I’m done.

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Week Twelve Picks

November 20th, 2008 Comments off

Murder. That’s what this week is murder. In fact, don’t even bother reading my picks. I’m just winging it. I mean, even more than usual.

Cincinnati (+11) at Pittsburgh
OK, Cleveland-Buffalo on a Monday night, I get. And not just because it turned out to be a fun game to watch. The fact of the matter is that back when the 2008 schedule was being put together it looked like the two teams in that game were headed for exciting seasons. It could have been more than a fun game; it could have been meaningful. But this mess? Seriously, did anyone at any point not know Cincinnati was gonna be awful this season? Or, let me put it this way: Was there enough evidence that the Bengals might possibly be in contention this late in the season to put this game into a night that you’re trying to use to build your house network? Of course not. So what you end up with is a game that even those of us who get the NFL Network won’t be paying much attention to (I rarely miss a play of any half decent game, but even I’ll be back and forth between this and Celtics-Pistons, which I’m guessing is gonna get more and more of my attention as the evening wears on). But who knows? Maybe we’re headed for yet another freaky finish (you know, like this one or this one — or the one from Monday night). I’m kinda thinking not, though. In fact, I’m kinda thinking the Steelers actually cover this time around. Pittsburgh by 14. (I also like the Celtics, but I’m sure not giving seven in that game. Four maybe. And in the late game I’m looking for the Suns to pull off the upset at home.)

Carolina (+1) at Atlanta
If you go by the “team that needs it more” theory, Atlanta owns this game. Not only are the Falcons are coming off a tough loss in a game they should have won (look at the stats on that game; if you didn’t know the score, you’d guess Atlanta had beaten Denver handily), but a loss here will effectively end their hopes of contending in the NFC South and make even a wild card playoff berth a remote possibility. As I’ve said before, I don’t really buy into that theory, which is too bad, because it would make it a lot easier to get my head around this game. These teams are incredibly evenly matched. The Falcons tend to put up more points, and to run the ball somewhat more effectively (though not by so great a margin as one might expect). The Panthers tend to give up fewer. Both teams have giveaway/takeaway differentials of +3. It’s hard to identify the one factor that’s gonna decide this thing. But if I’m pressed (which I am), I’m gonna guess that Carolina’s ability to bring pressure on the quarterback may prove to be the point on which the game turns. I know Matt Ryan has exceeded all reasonable expectations for any rookie quarterback, but I suspect that if this game comes down to one or two big plays, he’s gonna have nearly as difficult a time making them in the face of Carolina’s pass rush as he did back in week four. That, to me, spells a Carolina victory. I don’t see the Panthers winning by 15 again (probably more like three or four), but I see them winning just the same.

Philadelphia (+1) at Baltimore
Yes, Donovan there are ties in the NFL. But not this week. Just losses (for the Eagles, I mean). And sacks. Lots of them. Ravens by four.

Houston (+3) at Cleveland
Did you know that Cleveland’s giveaway/takeaway differential is +8. Or that Houston’s is -13. I don’t care that the Texans ostensibly do everything else better than the Browns. Nor that Cleveland’s playing on short rest. Nor that Brady Quinn has a boo-boo. If you consistently give your opponent a short field and you consistently fail to finish drives, you lose games. Simple as that. Browns by a field goal (and not a terribly long one this time).

San Francisco (+10.5) at Dallas
In which the Cowboys maintain the illusion that they’re back in the playoff hunt. Dallas by 13.

Tampa Bay (-9) at Detroit
The Lions take yet another step along the path to 0-16. How do these guys manage to keep showing up for work? (Oh, right, it’s the millions and millions of dollars.) Bucs by two touchdowns.

Minnesota (+2.5) at Jacksonville
In some parallel universe, this is a matchup between two exciting, division-leading teams. In this one, it’s just a battle for the right to continue pretending you’ve got a shot at playing in January. Vikings by two.

Buffalo (-3) at Kansas City
Buffalo’s season ended Monday night. Kansas City’s season ended before it began. If the Bills can hold on to the ball, they might be able to salvage a tiny shred of their dignity here. But they haven’t held onto it much yet. And the Chiefs are very good at taking the ball away. So unless Buffalo’s special teams score twice, I’m expecting the Bills losing streak to extend to five games. Chiefs by one.

New England (+1.5) at Miami
I don’t know. It seems like every week, the football gods find a new way to try to tell the Patriots this just isn’t their season. This week, it’s in the news that list of injured starters now includes Richard Seymour, who’s been missing practice with some kind of toe injury. And every week the Patriots find a way to tell the football gods to go fuck themselves. Last week, though it happened in a fairly painful loss, they did it by shifting their offense into high gear. They’re gonna need more of the same, and a win this time around, if they’re to have any hope of continuing to thwart the will of those cruel, cruel deities. That won’t be easy. The Dolphins are playing better football than anyone expected them to. And, in fact, it may be the will of the gods that this is Miami’s year. We’ll find out this weekend, because the winner of this game likely moves into a tie with the Jets for first place in the AFC East, while the loser probably needs to start preparing for the draft. I’m looking for the Patriots to keep their season alive for another week, but I have to admit the pick has little to do with football (there are football reasons to like the Pats, but there are also football reasons to like the Fins) and a lot to do with me still not quite buying the Dolphins remaining at least somewhat confident in the Patriots’ ability at least to push the limits of fate. It’s not much to go on, is it? Thing is, it’s what I’ve got. New England by three.

Chicago (-9) at St. Louis
I set out briefly to find out the latest on Steven Jackson’s injury situation. And then I realized it doesn’t matter. One way or the other, the Bears are winning and the Rams are covering.

NY Jets (+5.5) at Tennessee
I’ve got a weird feeling the Jets may win this game. Not because I think New Jersey’s good, but because a) there’s that thing with the Patriots and the football gods (see above); b) the Titans have to lose some time; and c) it’s always (usually) right around the time people start talking about a team maybe going undefeated that said team drops one. But I’m not picking a Jets win. To begin with, hunches are for shit. And more to the point, my strategy remains to pick Tennessee every week and figure I’ve got at least a 15-1 chance of being right. Titans by a touchdown.

Oakland (+10) at Denver
Holy crap. It appears San Diego may yet prove bad enough for Denver to capture the booby prize that is the 2008 AFC West title. I’m sure that’s cause for celebration somewhere. Broncos by nine.

NY Giants (-3) at Arizona
On paper, this looks like an exciting matchup between division leading teams. In reality, the Cardinals are so hopelessly outmatched by the juggernaut Giants that it’s hard for me to imagine the game will be competitive much past midway through the third. I expect to see New Jersey run the ball down Arizona’s throats all day long, add a few long passes to the mix and walk away with a virtual lock on a first-round playoff bye and the inside track to the NFC one seed. Giants by two touchdowns.

Washington (-3) at Seattle
Traveling across the country is never easy, but the Native Americans did take week eleven off, so they ought to be fairly well rested. Washington by four.

Indianapolis (+3) at San Diego
This is a weird matchup. Consider this: The Chargers need a win to remain in contention for a division title; the Colts need a win to remain in contention for a wild card spot. The Chargers are out of wild card contention. The Colts are out of division title contention. The Chargers come in 4-6. The Colts come in 6-4. And somehow these are the same teams that took part in an epic AFC divisional playoff battle 10 months ago. I expect to see the improving LaDainian Tomlinson play just well enough to power San Diego to victory. But truth be told, I’ll be happy as long as one of these teams loses. Chargers by three.

Green Bay (+2.5) at New Orleans
Anyone for offense? Don’t bet the outcome. Just bet the over. The Packers win by eight, seven of which come on an interception returned for a touchdown in the final two minutes.

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Week Eleven Picks

November 13th, 2008 Comments off

With a few horribly annoying exceptions, the games this week seem pretty easy to pick, which probably means they aren’t. Here’s what I’m sort of almost certain might or might not happen.

NY Jets (+3.5) at New England
Forget all the stuff about tie-breakers within the division. Yes, it matters, but it matters equally to both teams. Both are 6-3 and each knows it’s likely going to need an edge over the other come December 29. And, you know, the fact of the matter is that if one of these squads were 1-8 and the other 8-1 right now, they’d still hate each other. The 1-8 team would be dying to make the 8-1 team look bad; and the 8-1 team would be dying to add to the 1-8 team’s misery. So, yeah, both teams are gonna be playing with great intensity. There’s nothing unusual about that. So what do you focus on when you look at this game? I’m thinking turnovers. Because, really, these teams are pretty evenly matched. Both feature balanced offenses and solid, if unspectacular, defenses. The Jets tend to score more points than the Patriots; the Pats tend to allow fewer than the Jets. New Jersey’s D is better at stopping the run. New England’s is better at stopping the pass. The players know each other inside and out, and so do the coaches. Games like this typically come down to one of three things: Which team needs a win more (as discussed, there’s probably no edge there, though if there is, it goes to the Jets, who lost to the Patriots in New Jersey in week two and would be effectively two games back in the division if they drop this one); which is playing at home (probably not a real factor in this game); and which wins the turnover battle. The difference has to be in that last area. Neither of these teams has had much difficulty with losing fumbles this season; each has coughed the ball up just four times. And neither has had much success forcing fumbles. The Pats have recovered four dropped balls, the Jets have taken away six. Interceptions are another story. Brett Favre has thrown 12 picks this season (add one thrown by Kellen Clemens and you get a team total of 13); Matt Cassel’s only thrown seven. The New England D, meanwhile, has logged eight picks to New Jersey’s seven. And it’s the disparity there that accounts for the fact that the Patriots have a +1 giveaway/takeaway differential while the Jets are at -4. I anticipate three turnovers (by which I mean picks) in this game, and you have to assume the team on the receiving end of the majority of them will end up carrying the day. And since all I have to go by is the supposition that the trends established in weeks one through ten will carry over into week eleven (which I admit is hardly guaranteed), I’m looking for New England to come out on top. Patriots by a field goal.

Denver (+5.5) at Atlanta
Five and a half points? The second best rushing offense in the league faces one of the worst rushing defenses and all the Falcons are giving is five and a half points? For real? Sign me up. Atlanta controls the ball for something like 40 minutes, giving Denver’s passing game no real chance to get going, and wins by 13.

Detroit (+14) at Carolina
Dear Congress, If you’re going to use taxpayer money to bail out the major auto makers, could you at least take the opportunity to force the idiot Ford family to sell the Lions? Pretty please. Jake Delhomme rebounds from a pitiful performance against one of the league’s worst teams to lead the Panthers in a sound thumping of another.

Philadelphia (-9.5) at Cincinnati
OK, it hardly matters this week since it’s almost impossible to lose to the Bengals, but I still have to say it: Andy, for god’s sake, you’ve got a great passing offense; you should maybe try using it next time the game’s on the line. Eagles by 20.

Chicago (+3.5) at Green Bay
Aw, hell. I don’t wanna pick this game. Can I please not pick this game? Because the thing is, the Bears should be able to win except for how they can’t stop the pass. And the Packers should be able to win except for how they can’t stop the damned run. I suppose I’m taking the Bears, though I’ll be damned if I can tell you why. Chicago by two.

Houston (+8.5) at Indianapolis
I haven’t bought into the idea that the Colts have got their season back on track, but they’re certainly not losing this game. Indy by a touchdown.

Tennessee (-3) at Jacksonville
I’m riding this thing where I pick Tennessee every week figuring I’m gonna be right way more often than wrong all the way until the end of the regular season. (At which point I’m switching to the thing where I pick against any team quarterbacked by Kerry Collins in the playoffs. Though maybe not until the conference championship round.) Plus, the Jags are way too dysfunctional right now to take chances on. Titans by six.

New Orleans (-5) at Kansas City
There are three things that can happen when you throw the ball in this game and two of them are New Orleans scoring and Kansas City scoring. Bet the over. Saints by seven.

Oakland (+10.5) at Miami
The Raiders give up 158 yards a game on the ground. 158 yards a game. And since they changed coaches, Oakland’s offense has averaged seven points per game. Seven. Miami by 14, minimum.

Baltimore (+6.5) at NY Giants
OK, I’m as impressed as the next guy with Joe Flacco (and perhaps more impressed, depending on whom the next guy is). And there’s no questioning the strength of the Ravens defense. In fact, if this game were in Baltimore, I’d probably have to give serious thought to picking the Ravens. But even then I’d look at the fact that the Giants are playing the best football in the league right now, and take into account the gap between New Jersey’s +6 giveaway/takeaway differential and Baltimore’s -2, and I’d end up taking the Giants, though maybe by only point or two. In the Meadowlands, the Giants take it by seven.

Minnesota (+4) at Tampa Bay
A Minnesota loss here coupled with a Green Bay win would bring up a three-way tie in the NFC North. I don’t know what that means, but I’m fairly confident I can count on the Vikings to do their part to make it happen. Bucs by a field goal.

St. Louis (+6) at San Francisco
I’m not even contemplating picking the Rams again until I know Steven Jackson’s healthy. He isn’t. San Francisco by seven

Arizona (-2.5) at Seattle
You know, if Arizona hadn’t just come damned close to falling to San Francisco at home, picking this game would be a breeze, regardless whether Seattle gets some key offensive players back on the field. The Seahawks don’t have it this season, on either side of the ball. They’ve played poorly enough on offense to make the Cardinals middling defense look good, and poorly enough on D to make a big afternoon seem extremely likely for Arizona’s excellent offense. And the fact that one or two sort of, a little bit, kind of healthy starters might manage to swallow a bottle of painkillers and limp their way back onto the field doesn’t strike me as something that’s likely to change all that much. But the Cardinals did struggle to beat the 49ers. More than that, Arizona might actually have lost had it not been for some really awful clock management by the San Francisco coaching staff. So how does one take that into account? I can’t answer that question, which is why I can’t feel particularly good about doing what I have to do here, which is to pick the far superior team (the Cards) to come out ahead by about a touchdown.

San Diego (+4.5) at Pittsburgh
What’s a bigger disappointment: A San Diego team that’s getting four and a half points from a squad that doesn’t have the common sense to rest a badly hurt quarterback, or an AFC West that’s so weak the Chargers will still be solidly in the hunt even after they come out of the week 4-6? OK, the truth is, I’m disappointed by neither of these things. In fact, I’m kind of delighted by them. Except for how they don’t make for very good football. And for how one of them gives the Steelers an easy win. Pittsburgh by three.

Dallas (-2.5) at Washington
It would be helpful to know exactly what’s up with Tony Romo’s pinky and Clinton Portis’s knee. We know the Cowboys can’t beat good teams without Romo. Can they beat good teams without Romo at 100 percent? I guess we’re gonna find out. Unless it works out that the Native Americans can’t beat good teams without Portis (or without Portis at 100 percent), in which case this is a total fucking tossup. I guess I’ve gotta like the home team’s chances with their backup RBs over the visiting team and their semi-healthy QB. Washington by a point.

Cleveland (+4.5) at Buffalo
The Bills are done in the AFC East, but they still have a shot at a wild card berth. That goes away if they don’t dig in and get off the schneid this week. I can’t imagine the Browns failing to help out in that regard. Bills by a field goal.

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Week Ten Picks

November 6th, 2008 Comments off

Turnovers. I’m expecting turnovers to tell the story in week 10. Three of four of these games will be decided by one or more key turnovers. And, yeah, I know that’s frequently the case, so I’m hardly going far out on a limb here. But it’s not like that. It’s like this: I’m saying turnovers will be the story of the week, the thing that leads SportsCenter and Football Night in America. That’s what I’m looking for. Of course, I’m pretty much always wrong. Here’s the rest of what you shouldn’t expect.

Denver (+3) at Cleveland
So let’s say you’ve got an offense that puts up close to 24 points a game. And let’s say you’re facing a team with a defense that’s so-so on it’s best days and an offense that’s set to be led by a guy making his first NFL start. And let’s say you’re somehow still a three-point underdog going into that game. What does that mean? It means your defense really, really, really sucks. Browns by a point.

New Orleans (+1) at Atlanta
The over/under on this game is 50. Bet the over. And bet it big. As for a winner, well, if you think the Saints can hold on to the ball, you might wanna take ’em. If, like me, you’re pretty sure they can’t, go with the Falcons. I like Atlanta to win by three.

Tennessee (-3) at Chicago
The Titans have to lose a game sooner or later and this non-conference road game seems as likely a spot for it as any. But I’m not picking it that way. Not with Chicago’s undecided quarterback situation. Besides, it seems fairly clear to me that if I just keep picking the Titans every week I’m guaranteed to be right way more often than I’m wrong. And I’ll take those odds every time. Tennessee wins 17-9.

Jacksonville (-7) at Detroit
Records notwithstanding, the Raiders have probably displaced the Lions from their long-held position of league’s worst/most dysfunctional team at this point. It remains a fact, however, that if you can’t get back on track in a game against Detroit, you probably can’t get back on track at all. Forget, if only for a week, the questions about team chemistry and all the other distractions; the Jags win this one by 10.

Baltimore (-1) at Houston
Quarterback shmarterback (OK, it’s kind of a big deal, but still), this one boils down to defense (and maybe to turnovers). The Ravens have a D; the Texans don’t. (Also, the Ravens can’t hold on to the ball, but the Texan can’t hold onto the ball even more.) Baltimore by four.

Seattle (+9) at Miami
The Seahawks were hoping to have Matt Hasselbeck back in the starting lineup this week. And apparently he’s healthy enough to play, but he’s missing the game to attend services for his sister-in-law whose head finally exploded late Tuesday night. Tragic. (Though fortunately no one else was harmed since Elisabeth’s head was, in fact, entirely empty.) I still don’t believe in the Dolphins, so I’m only expecting them to win by seven.

Green Bay (+2.5) at Minnesota
Mark my words: This game turns on a Green Bay pick six. Packers by four.

Buffalo (+4) at New England
The Bills, who haven’t beaten the Patriots since the opening game of the 2003 season (“Let me be very clear about this: They hate their coach”), have exactly one player they can usually count on to perform well against New England and he ain’t playing. Pats by a touchdown.

St. Louis (+8) at NY Jets
Steven Jackson’s on-again, off-again thigh injury is on again. That spells doom for a Rams team that need to run in order to win and that was already gonna have trouble moving the ball on the ground against the Jets. New Jersey by 10.

Carolina (-9) at Oakland
Call me a cockeyed optimist, but I’m pretty sure this shaking up the roster business is pretty much guaranteed to solve all of Oakland’s problems. Or, you know, the few problems that are still lingering after the Raiders took care of most of their issues last month by firing yet another coach. Panthers by 14? 21? 28? (I don’t know how many points Carolina’s gonna win by, but I’m pretty sure it’ll be more than nine.)

Indianapolis (+3) at Pittsburgh
I don’t see Pittsburgh’s quarterback situation as a major determining factor in this game. Because I’ve just seen nothing that would lead me to believe that the Colts offense can hope to be effective against the Steelers D. Pittsburgh by six.

Kansas City (+15) at San Diego
In which the Chargers officially begin backing into an AFC West championship. Wahoo! San Diego by some number of points that either will or will not exceed 15. (I’ll go with will since San Diego’s at home and I’m not actually putting money on the line. You wanna bet this mess, you figure it out for yourself.)

NY Giants (+3) at Philadelphia
The one thing I can predict about this game with relative certainty is that it’s gonna be a ton of fun to watch. Yeah, the Eagles have dropped a couple more games than the Giants (and consequently need a win here to have any real hope in the division), but these teams are incredibly evenly matched. Both play well on both sides of the ball. Both come in with a giveaway/takeaway differential of +6 (which ties them with Chicago for best in the NFC and fourth best in the league). And both are looking to build on a three-game win streak. It’s tempting to go with the home team, which also happens to be the team that needs a win more. But I’m not doing that. I’m going with the squad with the balanced offense. That’s the Giants. I’m looking for New Jersey to take this one by a field goal.

San Francisco (+10) at Arizona
What part of his anatomy will Mike Singletary be showing his players this week? For what it’s worth, Mike, I’d go for something below the knees. That way, the guys won’t have to peel themselves off the turf to get a look. Cards by 14.

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