Archive for December, 2008

Week Seventeen Picks

December 28th, 2008 Comments off

You know, I’d feel bad about the fact that I don’t have time to look very closely at this weeks games (what with holiday stuff and all), except that looking closely has done all of nothing for me the last few weeks. Or for much of this season, truth be told. So maybe a little bit of gut is in order. Or not. Here’s what my instincts — which, truth be told, are no more trustworthy than my highly questionable intellect — tell me to look for (but not to expect) from the final Sunday of the 2008 regular season.

St. Louis (+14.5) at Atlanta
This one’s simple. Atlanta’s in the playoffs and looking for a chance at the NFC South title and the conference two seed (which comes with a first-round bye). St. Louis has been done since about week two and is heading for the second or third pick in the 2009 draft. And part of the reason these teams are in the situations they’re in is that one features one of the best rushing offenses in the league, while the other features one of the worst rushing Ds. You figure out which is which. Falcons by no less than 17.

New England (-6) at Buffalo
The media, and Patriots fans, have been focused this week on the question of whether the Pats will get some help from the Jets or the Jaguars and cap a season that’s gone much better than it had any right to with a playoffs bid. Fair enough. But that leaves out the questions of whether New England will beat Buffalo, which is hardly a given. The Bills want this game, both because it gives them a chance to end a disappointing season on a high note and because it would mean eliminating a division rival that’s been picking on them for 10 straight meetings. And the Bills, though they’re not a great team, can play tough football when they put their minds to it. Chances are, the Pats, who come in with something real at stake, come out with a win. But I don’t expect it to be easy and I’m not giving six. The Patriots win straight up, but the Bills make them work for it and keep the margin to four.

Kansas City (+3) at Cincinnati
This, my friends, is exciting. Or it is if you’re a top five prospect in the 2009 draft, anyhow. The outcome here will determine whether the Chiefs pick second and the Bengals fourth or the Bengals third and the Chiefs fourth. So, you know, I hope all you highly rated offensive linemen, defensive linemen and running backs enjoy the game. No one else outside of Ohio and Missouri will be paying attention. Kansas City’s probably less awful, but Cincinnati’s certainly less the road team, so what the heck, I’ll take the Bengals straight up. But I’ll look for a push with the points.

Detroit (+10.5) at Green Bay
So it would appear as if 0-16 is an inevitability. Congratulations, Detroit, on another stunning achievement. Packers by two touchdowns.

Chicago (+2.5) at Houston
The Bears aren’t winning the NFC North (see Giants-Vikings below), nor are the backing into the playoffs with help from Philadelphia (which they might get) and Oakland (which is where Chicago’s hopes fall apart), but they’re gonna have to play like they have a legitimate shot. That’s the difference here. (OK, that and the fact that the Texans rarely pass up a chance to turn the ball over.) Chicago by a point.

Tennessee (-3) at Indianapolis
All in all, this is one of the better week seventeens we’ve seen in a while. Lots of meaningful matchups. And under other circumstances — specifically, had the Colts got off to a better start — this meeting of AFC South rivals might well have turned out to be one of the best of them. It didn’t. The actual circumstances are these: Tennessee is the AFC one seed. That’s not gonna change no matter what happens in this game. Indianapolis is the conference five seed. That’s not gonna change either. And both of these teams have to be prepared for the distinct possibility that they’re gonna meet again either two weeks hence in the divisional playoff round, or a week after that in the AFC Championship. That makes this about as close to a pre-season affair as you’ll see this late in the year. Probably the Colts come out ahead, because they’re at home, but you never really know. And I wouldn’t put money on it either way. Let’s just call it a push with the points.

NY Giants (-6.5) at Minnesota
The Giants can talk about playing hard all they like; the bottom line is that they don’t need a win here and the Vikings do. The Giants are locked into the NFC one seed. The Vikings are playing for the NFC North crown. That makes it a one-sided game in the second half, even if the New Jersey chooses to make it competitive in the first. Minnesota by seven.

Carolina (-3) at New Orleans
All Carolina needs to do is win and they get a week off and the guarantee of at least one home game in the playoffs. Seems like they should be able to pull that off against a Saints squad that has already thoroughly squandered every bit of its potential. Panthers by six.

Cleveland (+11) at Pittsburgh
Neither team has anything to play for. Pride? Heh. The Steelers have nothing to prove and the Browns has nothing to be proud of. I’ll take the Steelers straight up and the Browns with the points.

Oakland (+13) at Tampa Bay
Bucs by 14. I’m not sure what else to say.

Dallas (+1) at Philadelphia
This game wouldn’t be tough to pick if the Eagles were even remotely consistent. They’re not. Except that they always seem to find a way to lose when it matters. And officially this game matters. Philadelphia can conceivably still land in the post-season with a win and some substantial help. Still, I’m thinking even the players know there’s no way they’re threading that particular needle. So my guess is the Eagles go into this game believing there’s nothing on the line and come out with a win. Let’s say Philadelphia by a field goal.

Jacksonville (+12) at Baltimore
I was gonna say the only places where anyone believes the Jaguars have a chance in this game are New England and Jacksonville, but then I realized that the folks in Jacksonville probably aren’t paying close enough attention to have an opinion. Ravens by 10.

Miami (+2.5) at NY Jets
It’s entirely possible that the Dolphins will find a way to lose this game. Only, I just can’t see what that way might be. Miami wins by four and takes the AFC East title a season after finishing 1-15. (Enjoy the trip home, fellas. You earned it. But the Ravens are gonna rip your heads off next weekend.)

Seattle (+6.5) at Arizona
Part of me thinks the Cardinals have to win this game in order to go into the playoffs on an up note. And then another part of me asks whether I believe there’s any note Arizona can go in on that’s gonna give them a prayer of getting out of the first round. Seattle by three.

Washington (+3) at San Francisco
The 49ers are looking to go into the off-season with some hope for the future. The Redskins are gearing up for another off-season of spending like drunken sailors. What does that have to do with the probable outcome of this game? Nothing. Washington by six.

Denver (+8) at San Diego
Three weeks ago, the Broncos has a three-game lead in the AFC West. This week, they surrender the division title to the Chargers, who’ll go into the playoffs at 8-8, but who just might be the only team in the AFC that can stop the Colts. Weird. San Diego by 10.

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Week Sixteen, Post Saturday Night

December 21st, 2008 Comments off

A lot of people look at this weekend of football and see part one of an exciting final two weeks of the season. And, OK, they’re right. Truth be told, I see that, too, and I’m very excited about it. But you know what else I see? I see a lot of road teams giving a lot of points. I’m not excited about that at all. Because, look, I’m not picking teams like the Rams or the Raiders regardless of where they’re playing, but I’d be lying through my teeth if I were to say I feel even slightly comfortable taking the 49ers or the Texans. Hell, I’d be lying if I said I felt great about picking the Dolphins, the Eagles or the Jets. I just have a feeling it’s gonna be a weekend filled with bizarre results. Of course, if that’s what I’m thinking, you can pretty much count on everything happening exactly as the oddsmakers have called it. Here are some more details on what not to expect.

Arizona (+8) at New England
This one’s a bit simpler than Baltimore-Dallas. It goes like this: The Cardinals are traveling three time zones east to play a game at what, to Arizona players’ bodies, will be 10 a.m. The Cardinals are the NFC four seed and the NFC four seed they shall remain regardless of the outcome of this game. Accordingly, they’re resting a key offensive player (which tells us lot about their desire to win this game). And they’re going to be playing in what is expected to be awful weather. The Patriots, meanwhile, absolutely must win this game to keep their playoffs hopes alive. They’re banged up, but they’re resting nobody. And they’re playing on their field, at their time and in their element. It’s not at all hard to see where this is going. New England by 10.

Cincinnati (+3) at Cleveland
Here’s what I can tell you about this game: I won’t be watching it, I won’t be thinking about it, and I might not even read the scores when they pop up on my TV screen. How about that? Oh, also, the 4-10 home team is marginally less awful than that 2-11-1 visitors, so I’m gonna take the Browns to win. By three. Why? Because somebody else thinks that’s what they’ll do and that’s good enough for me.

Miami (-4) at Kansas City
Here’s one of the games where I’d pick the upset if I felt like there were really something to my bit above about too many road teams giving too many points this week. I mean, I think there is something to that, but the something is that it makes me uncomfortable, which has nothing to do with how this game will be played. I do like the Chiefs to make it a contest, but that’s mostly because pretty much everybody has been making games with Miami a contest. The Fins may well win the AFC East championship, but it won’t be because they played circles around opponents. If it happens, it will be because Miami plays just well enough to win most of the time. You can’t knock that. And you can’t expect anything less this week as the Dolphins face a Chiefs team that can’t seem to stop anything on defense (their D is ranked dead last in the league and that, as I hardly need to tell you, ain’t good) and that can’t get out of its own way on offense (Kansas City’s offensive unit is only the seventh worst in the league — suck on that, D — but that doesn’t get you far). I’m taking the Dolphins straight up, the Chiefs with the points.

New Orleans (-7) at Detroit
This is it for the Lions. A week from now, they travel to Green Bay to face an angry Packers team. So they either find a way to come out on top while hosting the Saints, who are out of the playoff mix and have nothing real to play for, or they pretty much guarantee themselves the NFL’s first ever 0-16 finish. Yeah, 0-16 it is, then. Saints by 14.

Pittsburgh (-1.5) at Tennessee
This should have been the game in which we found out if the Titans are for real. Because if they are, you’d have figured they’d be able to hold off the Steelers. Pittsburgh is, after all playing its second consecutive road game against a team with a defense almost as good as its own. And the first of those games was nothing short of brutal. Moreover, Titans D, has been slightly better than the Baltimore D in terms of average points allowed. And on the other side of the ball, the Titans do a good job of taking pressure off their quarterback with a solid ground game. That’s the only way you beat Pittsburgh when you don’t have an elite player lining up under center. The problem, however, is that Titans come into this game without two rather key elements of their defense, and that has to hurt. Those absences hurt Tennessee against both the run and the pass. And in a game in which a minor difference can have a major effect on the outcome, my sense is that the loss of Haynesworth and Vanden Bosch is going to mean a loss in the game for the Titans. I’m still expecting a hard-fought battle, but I suspect what we’ll see in the end is another close win in a big game for Pittsburgh. This time, the Steelers grab home field through the playoffs, which may be a ticket to Tampa February 1. Pittsburgh by three.

San Diego (+3) at Tampa Bay
OK, I’m going to ask this question one more time: Can someone please, please, please beat the Chargers and end their goddamned season already? Because I have no confidence in the Broncos’ ability to do it. Yeah, you’re right, the Buccaneers don’t lose at home. And they’re playing for a spot in the post-season. That’s good enough for me. Tampa by four.

San Francisco (-5.5) at St. LouisNot exactly the game of the week, is it? These two teams are among the three worst in the league in giveaway/takeaway differential. The Niners come in at a league worst -14; the Rams at a third-worst -11. So, you know, whichever team manages to hold onto the ball for a complete drive should be able to win this one by a touchdown. I’ll go with the … ah, let’s make it the 49ers.

Atlanta (+3) at Minnesota
Minnesota needs a win to clinch the NFC North title. Atlanta needs a win to move a full game ahead of Dallas in the chase for one of the conference’s wild card slots. Both teams are gonna do their best to avoid having to throw the ball here. The difference will come in the fact that the Vikings stop the run on D as well as they run the ball on offense. That puts Minnesota in the playoffs as the conference three seed and puts Atlanta back in the crowd with Dallas and quite possibly Philadelphia and Chicago all vying for the final wild card slot in week seventeen. Vikings by six.

Buffalo (+7) at Denver
The Bills could probably win this game if only they hadn’t forgot how to win round about the end of September. Broncos by four, with the winning score quite possibly coming on the last play of the game.

Houston (-7.5) at Oakland
The Raiders need to win this game. Not to prove anything. Just to try to keep themselves out of the top five in the 2009 draft. Because this team really can’t afford another high draft pick, and they seem to be constitutionally unable to trade down. Stay in school, Michael Crabtree. Texans by nine.

NY Jets (-4.5) at Seattle
Yes, the Seahawks can win this game. The Jets have played poorly for the past three weeks. They only beat Buffalo at home last weekend because the Bills are magnetically drawn to losing. Their defensive secondary is a joke. And their quarterback not only looks old and tired by actually admits he’s lost his mojo. And the Seahawks, who have been improving of late (if only slightly) will be looking for a win in their coaches’ final home game. So, hell yeah, the Seahawks can win. And I hope they do. It’s just that I’ll believe it when I see it. Jets by three.

Philadelphia (-5) at Washington
The Eagles need a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. The Redskins don’t need anything, because their season has ended. I’m going with the team that needs it most. That’s Philly. By seven.

Carolina (+3) at NY Giants
Sunday afternoon features a battle for home field in the AFC. Sunday night gets a battle for home field in the NFC. Really, could we ask for better football than this in week sixteen? I like the Panthers. I like them a lot. Think they might be headed for the Super Bowl. But if they have to knock off the Giants in the Meadowlands to get there, it’s gonna have to happen January 18, because I just don’t see New Jersey dropping three in a row. Giants by a field goal.

Green Bay (+4.5) at Chicago
I’m not sure what happened to the Packers, but I do know it doesn’t matter at this point. Chicago has something to play for. Green Bay doesn’t. Chicago wins by seven.

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Week Sixteen, Saturday Night

December 20th, 2008 Comments off

I’m having a hell of a time finishing up my picks this week. Holidays. Snow. G4 running OS 10.3 in an 10.5 world. All that stuff. I’m gonna try to finish up the week while I watch the game tonight. Meanwhile, here’s what you shouldn’t expect to see in Dallas.

Baltimore (+4.5) at Dallas
What a beauty of a Saturday night game. Seriously. Two good teams trying to play their way into the post-season. The winner comes out with a good chance of landing a wild card spot. The loser comes away needing help to extend its season into January. There’s no point puzzling over which team needs the win more, because neither can afford a loss. So the question is whether you like the balanced and resurgent Cowboys or the defensive powerhouse Ravens. I don’t know what my answer is. Truly. A few weeks ago, I would have told you with certainty that Cowboys wouldn’t succeed here because their offense couldn’t hope to accomplish anything against a Ravens D that, in an average game, surrenders only 78 yards on the ground, 180 yards through the air and a scant 15 points. And the thing is, I still believe the Cowboys will struggle to score. Problem is, I also like the Cowboys D to hold off the Ravens O. The Dallas defense isn’t as stifling as the Baltimore D, but it’s pretty good and it has the advantage of not being up against a particularly potent offensive unit. Eventually, one of these offenses is going to have to break through enough to make the difference in the game, but it’s hard to know whether to believe that breakthrough will come from the home team with the better offense or the road team facing the less accomplished D, the team looking to build on a big, emotional win or the team looking to rally following a heartbreaking loss. Honestly, I won’t know until I see it unfold on the field (which is one of the reasons I find this game so exciting). What I will tell you is this: My sense is that the game comes down to whether Tony Romo can avoid throwing picks. Romo has a bad habit of throwing the ball away. And the Ravens, who have 22 picks on the season, are a team that will make you pay dearly if you put the football up for grabs. If Romo holds on, so should the Cowboys. If he gives the ball away, he gives the game away. Because it’s the safe out, I’m gonna take the home team straight up and the visitors with the points. But, really, it’s a coin toss and I have no way of guessing which side will land up.

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Week Sixteen, Thursday Night

December 18th, 2008 Comments off

Another week when I know I’m not wrapping things up ahead of the Thursday night game. So here’s what I’ve got for this gem.

Indianapolis (-6) at Jacksonville
I was one of the people who looked at the schedule in advance of the 2008 season and saw this game as quite possibly the most exciting matchup of the week. I thought these teams could be competing for the AFC South title. Or maybe one of them would have secured the division and would be playing for home field and the other would be fighting for a wild card spot. At the very least, I figured one team would have a solid shot at playing spoiler as the other worked toward the post-season. Yeah, as it works out I was wrong about pretty much all of it. Neither team is winning the south, and only one is making the playoffs at all. And yeah, OK, Jacksonville conceivably could hurt the Colts’ chances of securing a Wild Card berth. But probably not. Indianapolis has about half a dozen doors into the post season to choose from. One of them is gonna swing open even if the Colts somehow manage to lose this game. And the thing is, the Colts aren’t losing this game. You’d think they could, what with Marvin Harrison out and Joseph Addai questionable, and considering the fact that Jacksonville should be able to slow down the game a bit with effective running and keep it close with good-enough run D. But you’d be wrong. Because Jacksonville can’t get anything right this season. Put them up against a team that isn’t running well and they’ll find a way to surrender 400 yards in the air. Or they’ll commit fully to the pass and watch a Colts offense that averages 80 rushing yards a game put together a 200-yard effort on the ground. Or they’ll play well on defense all around, only to watch their offense surrender a couple of key turnovers that give the Colts short fields and easy scores. It’s just been that kind of season. And it isn’t changing here. Indy wins by four and wraps up a wild card spot, not to mention the five seed, which means an easy first-round matchup with Denver (or San Diego, maybe).

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Week Fifteen, Post Thursday Night Picks

December 14th, 2008 Comments off

Well, this week’s off to a good start. Straight up, anyhow. I knew the Bears were Only don’t count on that continuing. These games are tough and, honestly, I’m mostly just making it up as I go along. Here’s all the stuff I’m destined to be wrong about this time around.

Tampa Bay (+3) at Atlanta
Tell me whether Jeff Garcia’s playing and I’ll tell you which team wins this game. As I see it, it’s really that simple. Yeah, the Falcons are at home and they’re playing to maintain a shot at a wild card spot, but the Bucs are looking to play their way into the post-season, too (a win here would all but assure Tampa of a slot). And the fact of the matter is that as well as Atlanta has played thus far this season, the Bucs are a much better team than the Falcons. Or at least they are with Garcia under center. It’s true that Tampa’s defense has had trouble stopping the run. That killed them Monday night in Charlotte and it could very well hurt them again as they face yet another of the league’s best rushing offenses. Unlike Carolina, however, I don’t see Atlanta overcoming a two-turnover deficit; and I think they’re likely to end up with one. The Falcons don’t give the ball up much generally, but nearly every team commits turnovers against Tampa’s D. And if you give Garcia extra opportunities, he usually finds a way to beat you. So as I see if, if Garcia’s in the game, the Bucs should come out ahead. If he’s not, they probably won’t. I’m assuming he’ll play, so I’m taking Tampa Bay to win it outright.

Pittsburgh (+1.5) at Baltimore
Oh, man, this should be a fun game to watch. Brutal, but fun. These teams are battling for the AFC North title. They feature the two best defenses in the league. And as you may have heard, they don’t really seem to like each other. I honestly can’t begin to guess which team is gonna come out ahead, except that I’ll likely be whichever one sees more of it’s starters survive. Since the Ravens are at home, I’ll take them to win by the same margin by which they lost in Pittsburgh in week four (three points). And since I really don’t care which team wins, I’ll predict with near certainty that I’m going to have a blast watching this one.

Denver (+7.5) at Carolina
The Broncos take another step toward becoming the least relevant team in the AFC playoff picture. (It’s quite possible the Broncos will win the AFC West title at 9-7 or even 8-8 — possibly while one or even two 11-5 AFC East teams sit out the post-season. I’ve got no gripes with the playoff system, mind you. But it does make for some less-than-ideal matchups from time to time, doesn’t it?) Panthers by six.

Washington (-7) at Cincinnati
Sure, I’ll give the touchdown. What the hell, make it two. The only thing I won’t give to this game (or any game involving the 2008 Bungles) is another second of my time and attention.

Tennessee (-3) at Houston
Three? Seriously? That’s the line on this game. Titans by three? Because the Texans do what well, now? Tennessee by 10.

Detroit (+17.5) at Indianapolis
Yeesh, gents, 0-16 is really starting to look like a probability, isn’t it? From here, the Lions go home to face the Saints then finish the season in Green Bay. Do you think they can win either of those games? The Colts, meanwhile, look to me like the most dangerous team in the AFC. If I had to pick an AFC Super Bowl team today, it would probably be Indy. The worst part of this is that it brings up the very real possibility of a Manning bowl. And while I respect the talent of both Peyton and Eli — I said I respect their talent, not that like them or respect them as people — the mere thought that I might have to spend two weeks looking at and listening to their absolutely insufferable father is already starting to ruin my 2009. (If Colts-Giants comes to pass and someone out there could just cast some kind of sleeping spell on Archie for those two weeks, I’d be gigantically obliged.) Indy by … I don’t know … 28, maybe?

Green Bay (-2) at Jacksonville
Look, it’s the shoulda-coulda-woulda bowl. This game might have mattered if both (or either) of the teams in it had played two thirds as well as everyone expected them to. But they didn’t, so we get a close matchup of two squads that won’t have anything exciting to report until late April. Since the Packers are arguably the less disappointing team, I’ll take them. Green Bay by a field goal.

San Diego (-5) at Kansas City
You know what truly hurts about this game? The fact that the Chargers are gonna win. Which means that they’ll be 6-8 and, thanks to the Broncos’ inability to wrap up the damned division, still in the playoffs hunt. For God’s sake, can someone please put this team out of my misery? San Diego by a touchdown.

San Francisco (+6.5) at Miami
Another West Coast team travels three time zones just to get its clock cleaned. Dolphins by nine.

Buffalo (+7.5) at NY Jets
I’ve been trying all week to come up with a reason to believe that my sense that the Bills can compete in this game is anything but a hunch colored by my extreme distaste for the New Jersey Jets. I haven’t succeeded. The Bills score a late touchdown to make it look closer than it really is, but the Jets still win by six.

Seattle (-3) at St. Louis
One of these squads will have increased its win total by 50 percent by the time this game’s over. Unless there’s a tie. So that’s pretty exciting, right? Seattle by three.

Minnesota (+3) at Arizona
The Vikings will be able to field a full defense for this game. Lot of good it’s gonna do them. Having a great run D just doesn’t help all that much when you face an offense that does most of it’s moving and scoring through the air. Arizona’s solid run defense, on the other hand, should probably come very much in handy against a Minnesota offense that pretty much only succeeds on the ground. Cards by six.

New England (-7) at Oakland
The Raiders offense, the second worst in the league, averages less than 14 points a game. And that average has been trending downward. The Patriots could put their entire D on injured reserve Sunday morning and it would be late in the fourth quarter before the Raiders’ offense figured out there wasn’t anyone on the other side of the field. And they’d still fail to score. New England by 14.

NY Giants (+3) at Dallas
So T.O. is being T.O. and, consequently, the Cowboys are in complete disarray. There’s a shock. I mean, who ever could have seen this coming? (Hands down Donovan and Jeff, it was a rhetorical question.) Is that reason to believe the Cowboys will lose a home game when they absolutely have to win to keep their wild card hopes alive? No. But you know what is? The fact that the Cowboys simply can’t hold on to the ball. OK, and the fact that the Giants (recent distractions notwithstanding) are probably twice as good a team as the ‘Boys. So, you know, New Jersey wins by a touchdown and clinches a first-round bye.

Cleveland (+14) at Philadelphia
I guess I’ll be wrapping up my holiday baking Monday night. Thanks, NFL. Sorry Romeo. Eagles by 17.

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Week Fifteen, Thursday Night

December 11th, 2008 Comments off

I’m definitely not gonna finish up the week before kickoff tonight, so here’s what you shouldn’t expect from New Orleans-Chicago. I’ll follow up with the rest of my hopelessly off-base predictions for this week later tonight or tomorrow.

New Orleans (+3) at Chicago
On paper, both of these 7-6 teams are still in the playoff hunt. In reality, only the Bears, who can still win the NFC North title, have a legitimate shot of extending their season into January. They need to win this game to keep their hopes alive, however. Plus, they’re at home. And they come in with a giveaway/takeaway differential of +6 as compared to the Saints’ -4 (and, notably, the gap is largely result of the Bears’ DBs picking off a lot of balls and Drew Brees throwing his fair share of picks — not an unreasonable number of them, but enough). So I suppose I’ll take the home team and look for them to win it by four.

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Week Fourteen Picks, Post Thursday Night

December 5th, 2008 Comments off

Yeah, I was right on about the Raiders keeping it close on Thursday night because the Chargers are so inept, wasn’t I? And yet here you are looking for more bad advice. Have you ever stopped and asked yourself what’s wrong with you? Seriously. Have you? Because you should. Here’s what not to expect in the other 15 games this week.

Jacksonville (+7) at Chicago
Is there a reason I should care, after what I had to endure from these teams on Sunday and Monday nights, about what happens in this game or how it turns out? Neither of these teams matters. And I can’t bear to think of either of them for one second more. So I’m taking the home team to win it by exactly the seven points they’re giving. Because that’s the easiest thing to do and the quickest way out of this.

Minnesota (-9.5) at Detroit
I think the Lions’ best hope of winning a game this season sailed out the window of the U.S. District Courthouse in St. Paul Friday afternoon. Detroit isn’t good enough to beat Minnesota, but a Vikings team in disarray might well have given this one away. Now, not so much. Minnesota by 17.

Houston (+6) at Green Bay
Good news, Texans fans. Starting this week, Matt Schaub will be the guy throwing all the picks again. Doesn’t that sound like fun? Packers by seven.

Cincinnati (+14) at Indianapolis
You know, I’ve got a weird feeling the Bengals are gonna pull off a huge upset this week. I mean, the Colts have had some trouble winning at home this season, and … OK, I’m just kidding. Indy by three TDs, minimum.

Atlanta (+3.5) at New Orleans
Never mind the suspension case hoopla; it doesn’t matter whether the Saints have all their players on the field. Because here’s the deal: Atlanta is fighting to keep its playoff hopes alive (as long as the Falcons keep winning, they’re in as the six seed; a loss and they’ll need Dallas to drop one) while New Orleans is straight up cooked. Add that the Saints are slightly worse at holding on to the ball (they’ve got a giveaway/takeaway differential of -5 as compared to the Falcons’ -1) and that it’s highly unlikely the Saints D will be able to contain the Falcons’ ground game and you’re looking at a three-point victory for the visitors.

Philadelphia (+7) at NY Giants
In which the Giants wrap up the NFC East and get most of the way to a first-round playoff bye (which they’ll probably get by way of a Dallas loss to Pittsburgh). New Jersey still has a long road ahead of it. It ain’t easy to repeat in the NFL. But it ain’t hard right now to beat the bejesus out of Philadelphia. Giants by lucky 13.

Cleveland (+14) at Tennessee
You know how sometimes it can be hard to get your energy up for something that’s way too easy and you end up actually struggling a bit to complete the task? That’s the only reason I’d hesitate to give two touchdowns here. The Titans are winning (and clinching the AFC South and moving to within one win of clinching a first-round bye) and they should do it by something on the order of 28 points. But it could be more like 10. I’m just not sure. I’ll go with the Titans to win and cover for the purposes of the blog, but I’m not putting money on that.

Miami (+1) vs. Buffalo (Rogers Centre, Toronto)
Ah, yes, American football in a city where they can’t even spell the word center correctly. Get used to it. It’s hard to believe, but the Dolphins are simply the better team here. (Please don’t mistake this for me jumping on the Miami bandwagon. I don’t think the team’s that good. It’s just that the Fins are better than the Bills is all.) The Dolphins do virtually everything better than the Bills, but they’re particularly superior in bringing pressure on opposing quarterbacks. That’s part of the reason Miami comes in a with a giveaway/takeaway differential of +10 (tied with the Giants for second best in the league) while Buffalo comes in with a -5. I don’t know if turnovers will make the difference in this game, but I suspect they’ll tell a good part of the story. Miami by a touchdown.

Kansas City (+9.5) at Denver
Do you realize that there are still people out there speculating that the AFC West title could come down to the week 17 matchup between Denver (currently 7-5) and San Diego (currently 5-8)? If you meet one of these people, walk away slowly. These are crazy, potentially dangerous people. The Chiefs may be improving (or they might not be) but the Broncos still win this game by seven.

New England (-4.5) at Seattle
So it’s a battle every week for the Patriots to keep their playoff hopes alive. What else is new? It’s that kind of season. The hopes live on for another week. New England by 10.

NY Jets (-3.5) at San Francisco
You know what team can’t hold on to the damned ball? The 49ers. They’ve turned the ball over a league-high 28 times: 14 picks and 14 lost fumbles (which I guess at least shows a little balance). You can’t win NFL games when you play like that. Jets by nine.

St. Louis (+13.5) at Arizona
Once again, a solidly average team is headed for an NFC West title. What a shock. Arizona wraps up the division (at 8-5) with a win over the horrible, horrible Rams. The difference is 10 points.

Dallas (+3) at Pittsburgh
A loss here puts Dallas in a very difficult position with regard to the playoffs. Pity, isn’t it? Because Dallas’ chances of winning this game are anything but good. Yeah, the Cowboys’ sack-happy pass rush ought to be able to put Ben Roethlisberger on his back a good bit, but, hell, everybody does that and it hasn’t lost the Steelers many games. There’s a reason for that: Pittsburgh doesn’t need much out of Big Ben. They win with D. And I don’t see any reason to believe they won’t do just that again this week. Pittsburgh 20-17.

Washington (+5.5) at Baltimore
When your deal is that you’re kinda hoping you’re a running back who’s seriously banged up and lucky if he can make it through part of practice once a week is gonna tough it out enough to save your season, you’re pretty much finished. Baltimore by four.

Tampa Bay (+3) at Carolina
Tampa could effectively wrap up the NFC South title with a win in this game. The Bucs destroyed the Panthers with a strong defensive effort in Raymond James Stadium back in week six, so a second win would give them a two-game lead in the division with three weeks to play. The question is can they do it? And, you know, much as my gut tells me they can, my head just isn’t so sure. These teams are fairly evenly matched. Both are playing better football than they were last time they met. And while I think the Bucs are a marginally better team, the Panthers not only are at home but arguably need the win more. So all I can say with relative certainty is that this should be a fun game to watch. As for which team comes out ahead, I’m gonna go with my gut this time, but I’m not doing it with anything approaching confidence. Tampa by three.

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Week Fourteen, Thursday Night Pick

December 4th, 2008 Comments off

I’m not gonna be near a computer much for the rest of the day and I’m not finishing my week fourteen picks until I know a few things (like whether Minnesota’s gonna be able to field a defense), so here’s what little I’ve got to say about this ridiculous Thursday night game. I’ll follow up with the rest of my picks later.

Oakland (+9.5) at San Diego
The Chargers may be a disappointment (to some, that is; their ineptitude in year two under Norv Turner has neither surprised nor disappointed me), but the Raiders are once again one of the worst teams in the NFL. That’s no surprise either. And at this point the Raiders are only disappointing in that it’s hard to believe the league tolerates such poor organizational management in an era in which it’s attempting to promote the concept of competitive balance. (Then again, the Detroit Lions have been taking bad management to new levels for decades.) I won’t be enduring this game in any bigger way than I endured Monday night’s snoozer. It’ll be on, yes, but I’ll be … let’s just say multitasking. Chargers win 17-9.

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