Archive for November, 2010

Week Twelve, Post-Thanksgiving

November 27th, 2010 Comments off

Well, I’m three-for-three on the week so far. That probably means I’m in for a bloodbath on Sunday. Or that the Thanksgiving games were absurdly easy to pick. Or, you know, both. Here’s what not to expect.

Jacksonville (+7.5) at NY Giants
The Giants aren’t getting any healthier. And I rather suspect they’re on their way to challenging the Racial Slurs for third place in the NFC East – and earning a bye for all four weeks of the post-season. The Jaguars, meanwhile, have won three straight and are tied with the Colts at the top of the AFC South. I’d be more impressed with that if Jacksonville had beaten better teams to get there, or if they’d won their games more convincingly. That type of win may yet be coming for Jacksonville, but I don’t think it’s coming here. The Giants’ pass rush is still impressive; New Jersey should be able to force David Garrard into the kind of situations in which he’s prone to making costly errors. Jacksonville’s defense, on the other hand, doesn’t do much of anything well. And while you can count on the Giants’ inability to hold on to the ball to bite them in the ass two games out of three, the Jags can’t seem to stop handing the ball to their opponents either. I’m not ready to give seven and a half points in this game, but I’ll definitely take the home team straight up.

Pittsburgh (-6) at Buffalo
The Bills now have won two in a row. That’s a nice little streak, I suppose. Still doesn’t make them a good team. Or even an average team. And since the Steelers are probably slightly above average, I’m looking for them to cap Buffalo’s little run at mediocrity. Pittsburgh by seven.

Tennessee (+6.5) at Houston
A month ago the Titans looked like one of the teams to watch in the AFC. They were 5-2. They had just beaten up on Philadelphia. They were doing nearly everything right. It seemed they were unquestionably on the ascent. Now, the Titans are a .500 team with a locker room that appears to be disintegrating. If they can’t turn it around here, they can probably call it a season. And I don’t think they can turn it around here. Texans by four.

Green Bay (+2) at Atlanta
I’ve looked this game up and down and from every conceivable angle and it just keeps coming up even. I think the Packers may be a marginally better team, but I can’t find anything to rest that on other than gut sense. That makes this game a coin toss. And since I don’t have a coin on me at the moment, nor any kind of rooting interest in this game, I’m just gonna play it safe and go with the home team. Falcons by a point.

Carolina (+10.5) at Cleveland
Quarterbacks? Who cares about quarterbacks. Damned overrated position if you ask me. I can only thank my lucky stars I don’t have to watch this fiasco. I’ll take the Browns, but I’m not giving that many points. Not even against a team as bad as the Panthers.

Minnesota (+2.5) at Washington
In which the Racial Slurs make it appear they’re still alive in the NFC by beating up on a team that refuses to admit it’s got a giant liability behind center. Washington by four.

Kansas City (-1) at Seattle
There’s essentially one aspect of the game in which the Seahawks don’t outright stink. It’s run defense. Seattle isn’t great at stopping the run, mind you. They’re just OK enough at it that have to consider the possibility that they’ll match up well against the Chiefs’ one-dimensional offense. That makes this game tough to pick. I’m taking Kansas City, but that’s mainly because I have so little regard for the NFC West that I can’t bring myself to pick the Seahawks against any team from outside their own division. Chiefs by a field goal.

Miami (+3) at Oakland
You know what’s crazy? One of these teams is gonna get to pretend its still in the hunt after this weekend. Crazier still: It’s gonna be the Raiders, whose own home town fans aren’t buying it. Oakland by seven.

Philadelphia (-3.5) at Chicago
The Bears are probably a better team than they get credit for being. Their defense certainly appears to be for real. But the Eagles are almost certainly every bit as good a team as they’re being heralded as. And I just don’t see Chicago being able to muster enough offensive production to keep up. Philly by six.

St. Louis (+4.5) at Denver
OK, quick, someone give me a reason to care about this game. It could affect the draft order, you say? Well, OK, that’s something. Maybe. Or, you know, not really. Denver by three.

Tampa Bay (+7.5) at Baltimore
It’s conceivable that both of these teams could finish at, say, 10-6 and that Baltimore could win a division with that record whereas Tampa Bay could miss the playoffs entirely. What does that have to do with anything? Not much, really. So what do I see here? I see reasons to like both teams in this game. The Buccaneers take way better care of the ball. If it comes down to turnovers, as so many NFL games do, they should win. What the Bucs don’t do very well, however, is stop the run. And that has the potential to prove costly. I’m gonna take the Ravens, because they’re at home, but I’m not giving seven and a half. More like three. Maybe.

San Diego (+3) at Indianapolis
Would it be possible – I mean, I’m just asking here – for both of these teams to lose this game? I don’t mean I want a tie, mind you. I mean it would make me extremely happy if both squads could manage an actual loss. Because, look, Colts losses are always satisfying (especially when their quarterback is acting like the petulant child he is). But it would also be nice to see the “watch out for those Chargers” crowd forced to find a way to keep singing their song with San Diego at 5-6. Since a double loss almost certainly (OK, certainly) isn’t gonna happen, however, I suppose I ought to make a pick. Look, the Chargers should win this game. They’re probably better. They’re definitely healthier. And, Peyton’s reluctance to admit it aside, they appear to have the Colts’ number. But, you know, the thing is, I can’t see Indy losing big conference games back-to-back. Just can’t. So I’m going with the Colts straight up, though I’m looking for a push with the points.

San Francisco (-1) at Arizona
Between them, these two teams have a giveaway/takeaway differential of -14. That goes a long way to explaining why they’re both 3-7. And why it’s virtually impossible for me to care about this game. I’m taking the 49ers, because their defense stinks slightly less than the Cardinals’. And that’s as far as I’m willing to go with this mess. San Fran by some number of points greater than one.

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Week Twelve, Thanksgiving Games

November 25th, 2010 Comments off

I’m not gonna get to all 16 games before it comes time to shove the bird in the oven, so here’s what I’m thinking about the Thanksgiving slate. I can make one prediction with confidence: At least two of these games, combined with tryptophan and a drink or two, are gonna render most of America comatose. I can’t tell you how thankful I am to the Lions, Cowboys and Bengals for sucking. Here’s what to expect to sleep through.

New England (-6.5) at Detroit
Yes, New England is banged up (and happy, I’m sure, that they get 11 days off after this game). Yes, the Patriots are coming off their second straight intense conference showdown (and second straight big win) and have to be fairly exhausted. And, yes, the Lions have an under-appreciated defensive front. But I still can’t imagine a result other than Detroit dropping its seventh straight Thanksgiving game. The Lions are incapable of stopping the run. They also surrender way too many passing TDs for their own good. And then there’s the little matter of their entirely one-dimensional offense. I sort of expect the Pats to come out flat and struggle to score early, and I’m not giving six and a half, but I’ll take New England straight up just the same.

New Orleans (-3.5) at Dallas
So the Cowboys have now shocked the Giants and beaten the bejesus out of the Lions. That’s nice and all, but I’m not buying. Not yet. And certainly not against a Saints squad that’s looking increasingly like last year’s model. New Orleans by six.

Cincinnati (+8.5) at NY Jets
OK, so do I really need so say anything in reference to this game beyond pointing out that the Bengals last week blew a 17-point halftime lead at home to the Buffalo Bills? So how do you think this game is gonna turn out? Me, I’m thinking the Frat Boys aren’t gonna need any last-second heroics for a change. New Jersey by 17.

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Week Eleven, Post-Thursday Night

November 20th, 2010 Comments off

Look at that. I picked a fake upset to start the week and got it right. Let’s see how my luck holds out. Here’s what not to expect.

Buffalo (+5.5) at Cincinnati
Hey, did you hear? The Bills got a win last week. At home. Over the Lions. By two points. That’s nice for Buffalo, isn’t it? And, you know, it’s not like the two-win Bengals have been tearing up the league. But still. Seems to me it’s back to reality time for one of these teams. Cincinnati by a field goal.

Cleveland (+1.5) at Jacksonville
Here are some things I know about this game: One, the Jaguars pass defense is atrocious (they allow 272 yards and better than two touchdowns a game through the air). Two, Colt McCoy is the real deal. Three, the Jaguars’ giveaway/takeaway differential is -6; the Browns’ is +1. Four, if you’re real lucky, you might win one game a season by pure, dumb luck; the rest, you’ve got to earn. Now here’s one thing I think about this game (feel pretty strongly about it, too): Cleveland wins it by seven.

Washington (+7) at Tennessee
A good team might have a chance of recovering in six days from what Washington endured Monday night. But the Racial Slurs aren’t a good team. And the Titans are playing to put a touch loss of their own behind them and stay in the AFC South hunt. Tennessee by 10.

Detroit (+6.5) at Dallas
Which of these 2-7 teams will go into its Thanksgiving day matchup on a positive note? Who cares? Cowboys by four.

Arizona (+7.5) at Kansas City
The Chiefs have lost two straight, and surrendered control of the AFC West as a result. If they can’t turn it around here against the team that forgot to have a quarterback, fans can probably go ahead and start talking about the draft. Chiefs by nine.

Houston (+7) at NY Jets
The good news for the Texans is that they probably won’t lose on a fluke play again this week. The bad news is that … well … Jets by 14.

Green Bay (-3) at Minnesota
Possibly the funniest thing I’ve heard during an NFL game broadcast this season came at the end of the Sunday night game between these two teams back in week seven. That’s was when Cris Collinsworth, who had just seen Brett Favre throw three picks and cost his team any chance at a win, actually opined that these teams might meet again in the playoffs. It still makes me chuckle to think about it. Packers by four.

Baltimore (-10) at Carolina
The Ravens, who are playing on 10 days rest, are looking to rebound from a tough loss and keep up with Pittsburgh in the AFC North. The Panthers, who are painfully awful (can’t score, can’t hold on to the ball, can’t stop the pass, can’t stop the run), appear to be simply going through the motions.

Oakland (+7) at Pittsburgh
The O line problems that dogged the Steelers Sunday night could be a real problem again in this game. The Raiders, who look like they may actually be the Raiders again, have 27 sacks on the season, which puts them in a tie with the Chargers for third best in the league. Things in this game have the potential to get ugly quick. Of course, it’s hard to believe the Steelers could possibly drop two straight games at home. And there’s the small matter of the Oakland offense bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the New England O (the Raiders offense happens on the ground, and Pittsburgh by and large does not yield run yards). I’m not giving seven, but I’ll definitely take the Steelers straight up.

Atlanta (-3) at St. Louis
OK, I’ll grant you that the Rams aren’t as bad as I expected them to be. And that they appear to have a heck of a pass rush. Still, I have a hard time believing that the Rams, on any field, can stay competitive with a team as balanced (and as well rested this week) as the Falcons. Maybe I’ll be surprised in the end, but for now I’m taking Atlanta and happily giving the points.

Seattle (+11.5) at New Orleans
According to their records, only a game separates these two things. That’s one of those places where the folks who insist the only stats that matter are wins and losses are dead wrong. The Saints are coming off a bye, getting healthier and, apparently, preparing to mount an actual title defense. The Seahawks are struggling to find an identity and fortunate to be playing in the NFC West. New Orleans by 14.

Tampa Bay (+3) at San Francisco
There’s nothing I like about this game. The Buccaneers give up far too many yards on the ground and far too many points through the air for my taste. The 49ers, meanwhile, score too few points, give up to many, and turn the ball over way too often. I’d rather not pick either team. And while that usually leads me to default to the home squad, there’s something in my head telling me not to trust San Francisco. So I’m playing the hunch and taking the Bucs to win it outright. But I don’t feel good about it.

Indianapolis (+3) at New England
If the Patriots we saw Sunday night in Pittsburgh are for real, this game should pose no serious challenge. Seriously. The Colts are banged up. They have significant problems on the offensive line. And they’re thin at wide receiver. That’s not a good combination no matter who you’ve got taking the snaps. And, no, you’re not going to see New England blitzing in this game like they did in Pittsburgh. You don’t beat Peyton Manning by blitzing. You beat him by bringing enough pressure that he doesn’t have all day to sit in the pocket and wait for someone to get open and dropping enough guys into coverage that he ends up having to get rid of the ball or throw into tight coverage, giving your DBs a chance to make a play. Even with the lingering questions about their pass rush, the Patriots ought to be able to make something happen against the Colts O-line. That’s something I don’t think the Colts can reciprocate at this point. Indy’s secondary has suffered significant injuries. They’re down to using guys who should be on the practice squad in nickel and dime sets. And their defensive front’s success turns on the performance of two players, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, neither of whom has been the same player on the road this season as he has been at home. If those edge rushers can’t be effective, Tom Brady is going to pick apart the Colts’ secondary. So how can Indy stay competitive or find a way to pull off the upset? I’m not sure. The only possibility that comes to mind is that maybe Manning actually does what the TV commentators are forever saying he can do: will his team to victory. But me, I’m not a big believer in intangibles like that. So I’m going with New England here. By nine.

NY Giants (+3) at Philadelphia
Eagles fans hoping to see anything approximating a repeat of Monday night’s performance in Washington would do well to consider the stark contrast between the Giants’ and Racial Slurs’ defenses. New Jersey’s D is ranked best in the league. Their balanced and they know how to rush the passer. Washington’s D is ranked worst in the league. There’s virtually nothing they do well. And, yeah, the Giants are coming off an embarrassing divisional loss, but that’s more likely to motivate than to deflate them. New Jersey’s also playing on a full week’s rest (not that Philly had to work terribly hard on Monday night). I think if the Giants can manage to hold on to the ball for a change (which might not be easy against a defense that leads the league in interceptions), they should be able to keep this game competitive. I don’t think New Jersey will win, mind you, but I suspect they’ll be in it to the end. Philadelphia by a field goal.

Denver (+10) at San Diego
The thing that bothers me about this game is that I’m gonna have to hear all night long how dangerous the Chargers are and how they’re once again gonna come on strong in the second half of the season and make a run at the Super Bowl and blah, blah, blah. I don’t buy it. But I do think the Chargers come away with a win, mainly by virtue of the Broncos’ continuing failure to mount any kind of defense. San Diego by nine.

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Week Eleven Thursday Night

November 18th, 2010 Comments off

Once again this week, I’m not gonna have time to get all my picks done before the Thursday night game kicks off. So I’ll get to the rest tomorrow. Here’s what not to expect tonight.

Chicago (+1.5) at Miami
Is there anyone out there who can help me understand how in the world the Dolphins are favored in this game? I mean, yeah, they’re at home. I get that part. But I’m looking at a home team that will be starting its third-string quarterback facing a visiting squad that features arguably the best pass defense in the NFL (the Bears surrender less than six yards per passing attempt and have allowed only six passing TDs this season while picking off 14 balls). Miami doesn’t run very well, either, so it’s not like all Tyler Thigpen needs to do is hand off and protect the ball. And, sure, the Dolphins have a decent D themselves – and the Bears offense (particularly their O line) is decidedly sub-par – but you can’t reasonably expect any defense to hold up over the course of a game if it has to spend 40 minutes on the field. I expect this one to develop slowly during the first half, but it should be out of hand by the start of the fourth quarter. I’m looking for a Chicago victory by a margin of 10 or more.

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Week Ten Picks (the rest of ’em)

November 12th, 2010 Comments off

Miserably tough week for picking. Good teams playing good teams. Bad teams playing bad teams. Overrated teams playing … aw, hell, you get it. Here’s what not to expect.

Detroit (+3) at Buffalo
You wanna know how much trouble the Bills are in? Consider this: Buffalo’s defense has allowed 17 passing touchdowns through eight games (all losses); in that same span, they’ve managed one interception. One. Those aren’t good numbers. And while it might be tempting to look at the fact that Buffalo has allowed fewer passing yards than 28 teams, here’s the ugly reason for that: the Bills give up 178 yards a game on the ground. Here’s another awful number: -7. That’s Buffalo’s giveaway/takeaway differential. So, go ahead and ask me if I care which team is at home. Or who’s gonna start at quarterback for Detroit. I don’t. Jahvid Best goes nuts and the Lions win by thirteen.

Minnesota (+1) at Chicago
You know what? I’m not gonna waste time getting into stats and on-field trends. Because here’s the deal. On paper, this matchup is pretty even. In reality, the Vikings are in a state of complete disarray. They’re not winning this game. They may not win a game this season. That’s just how it is. Bears by six.

Houston (+1.5) at Jacksonville
I’m thinking this game comes down to one of two factors: Either one of these teams, neither of which can hold onto the ball worth three tenths of a rotten damn, finds a way to throw the game away, or the first team to settle for three on a drive effectively loses at that very moment. What I’m saying is, I don’t expect anything resembling actual professional football level defense to be played here. Why would I? Neither Jacksonville nor Houston has managed to play D through their first eight games. What would make me expect to see them start now? I’m taking the Jags because they’re at home. But I can’t say I feel good about that pick. Or bad, frankly. I honestly just don’t care.

Tennessee (-1) at Miami
I think the Titans need to be in the conversation about best team in the AFC. Seriously. The Dolphins, not so much. And I don’t really think Chad Pennington, though I respect him, is terribly likely to change that. Tennessee by four.

Cincinnati (+8) at Indianapolis
I give Cincinnati a lot of credit. Though their season was effectively over before they ever took the field, the Bengals put up a hell of a fight against the Steelers Monday night. That’s gotta be worth something. Do I expect a similar performance six days later on the road? No. But, you know, Cincy had their moment. That’s all I’m saying. Colts by 10.

NY Jets (-3) at Cleveland
The Jets have played horribly in their last two games, getting blanked at home by Green Bay in week eight, then coming a couple of key injuries away from losing to Detroit in week nine. The Browns, in their last two games, have kicked the crap out of the Saints in New Orleans and the Patriots at home. So which team do you think I’m picking? Browns do it again. 27-10.

Carolina (+8) at Tampa Bay
If you’re a regular visitor here, you know that there occasionally are games that I outright refuse to think about. Not because I don’t want to, but because I can’t bear to. This is one of those. No insult to Tampa Bay, mind you. It’s all about Carolina. I just can’t look. Bucs by 10.

Kansas City (-1) at Denver
The fact that the Broncos can’t defend the pass shouldn’t matter all that much here. The Chiefs don’t really throw the ball. The fact that Denver can’t so much as slow down the run, on the other hand, could prove a pretty serious problem given the fact that they’re, you know, up against the best rushing offense in the NFL. The fact that the Broncos have a giveaway/takeaway differential of -4 while the Chiefs have a +6 might also prove problematic for the home team. Chiefs by a field goal.

St. Louis (+6) at San Francisco
Win-loss records notwithstanding, the Niners, on paper, are probably the better team here (though not by nearly so much as one might have imagined they would be 10 weeks ago). And they are at home and all. But I’m still not giving six points. Mostly because the win-loss records tell me I shouldn’t. San Francisco by three.

Dallas (+13.5) at NY Giants
Welcome to the short, unhappy Cowboys head coaching career of Jason Garrett. I wonder if anyone’s told Jason that his first game at the top pits his sputtering offense against arguably the best defense (and certainly the best pass rush) in the NFL. That’s gonna hurt. Giants by 17.

Seattle (+3) at Arizona
Part of me thinks even the Seahawks are probably good enough to beat the Cardinals. Another part of me that thinks even the Cardinals are probably good enough to beat the Seahawks. And then there’s another part of me still that stands back and gasps in abject horror at the thought that an Arizona win here, if it’s coupled by a St. Louis loss at San Francisco, would create a three-way tie for first place in the NFC West – with all three “division leading” squads at 4-5. And since I’m not ready to deal with the idea of that, I’m picking Seattle. Let’s say the Seahawks win it by a point. Whatever.

New England (+5) at Pittsburgh
First of all, don’t believe anyone who tells you that either of these teams needs to win this game. Neither of them does. Yeah, there are potential playoff tie-breaking implications for both. And, yeah, both teams are in tight divisional races, which always make losses tougher to take. But you know what? Either of these teams could take a loss here, recover and make a successful run into January. That’s a good thing, too, because as it turns out, it’s about 99 percent certain that one team or the other is gonna lose. Which one? Dunno. Here’s what I do know: New England is playing on the road for the second straight week (never easy) and coming off a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Browns. Pittsburgh is playing its third consecutive prime time game (also not easy) and operating on a short week. The Steelers offensive line is increasingly thin. And Pittsburgh’s defense has had very rough fourth quarters in the last two games, surrendering 14 points, and the game, two weeks ago in Cincinnati. That might mean something, or it might not. I’m taking New England to win this thing straight up, based mostly on intangibles, including Tom Brady’s successful track record against the Steelers and tendency to bounce back strong after a tough loss. That’s not a lot to hang your hat on, but it’ll have to do for the nonce. Patriots by a point.

Philadelphia (-3) at Washington
Yeah it’s true, Donovan McNabb has a lot to prove and a lot of people to prove it to. That’s all very nice. And, as a fan, I’d love to see Donovan have a great game. But if wanting something were enough to make it happen, I’d be a billionaire owner of an NFL team, not some slob writing a picks blog virtually no one will ever read. The reality is that the Eagles are a much better team than the Racial Slurs. And that’s what makes things happen in professional football. Philly by six.

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Week Ten Thursday Night Pick

November 11th, 2010 Comments off

OK, there’s no way I’m gonna be able to wrap up all of my week ten picks before tonight’s game kicks off, so here, for the nonce, is what you can almost certainly expect not to see if you tune in to the NFL Network this evening.

Baltimore (+1.5) at Atlanta
This looks to me like a great way to start off the schedule of regular Thursday night football games. Why do I say that? Because at least on paper, the damned thing is so evenly matched that it’s all but impossible to pick. You’d think that would make for an exciting matchup on the field. I’m gonna guess that the Falcons come out ahead. Atlanta’s at home, where they’re 17-1 (with 13 straight wins) with Matt Ryan starting under center. The Falcons also bring in a +7 takeaway/giveaway differential. That’s fourth best in the league. And while the Ravens’ +1 is respectable, there’s no confusing respectable for impressive. Yeah, neither of those factors is decisive, but with this matchup, they’re about what we’ve got. So I’m taking Atlanta straight up, though I’ll look for Baltimore to keep the difference to a single point.

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Week Nine Picks

November 6th, 2010 Comments off

Lots of games this week that look like outright gimmes. That’s dangerous. Usually means crazy upsets. Trouble is, I’ll be damned if I can foresee any. Here’s what not to expect.

NY Jets (-4) at Detroit
Yes, the Frat Boys were awful last week. And the Lions, with Matthew Stafford back under center, logged an impressive win. But New Jersey, over hyped though it may be, is not the mess of a team that Washington is right now. You can’t expect Stafford to have the success through the air this week that he enjoyed last. And while I continue to anticipate that Mark Sanchez at some point is bound to start looking like the mistake-prone quarterback we’ve seen in the past (and a Lions pass rush that has logged 23 sacks to date, six and a half of them by their defensive rookie of the year candidate, could prove problematic), I still don’t see Detroit having quite enough firepower to get the job done. So I’m taking the Frat Boys straight up, though I supposed I’ll hedge a little bit and take the home team with the points.

New Orleans (-6.5) at Carolina
The Saints appear to have righted the ship. The Panthers have gone from foundering to plain old sunk. What more could you possibly need to know? New Orleans by 10.

Tampa Bay (+8.5) at Atlanta
On one hand, this is a matchup between the teams currently vying for first place in the NFC South. On the other, it’s a second straight road game for the Buccaneers, this time against a well-rested division rival. Given the fact that Tampa’s pass defense occurs to me to be rather better than advertised, I’m not giving eight and a half , but I don’t see the Bucs doing any better than a three-point loss.

Miami (+5) at Baltimore
In which a Dolphins season that opened with great promise closes (effectively) with great disappointment. They shoulda been contendahs.

New England (-4) at Cleveland
In their last four games (all wins), the Patriots have squared off against defenses ranked among the league’s ten best. Here, they face a Browns D that, while much improved from 2009, ranks 18th overall and has lots of trouble stopping the pass. There’s no reason not to assume that will translate into better offensive production from New England’s already highly productive offense. That’s bad news for Colt McCoy. Because, yeah, the rookie played well in his first two starts. But the more he plays in the NFL, the more film opponents have to study. That alone, when you’re staring down a Bill Belichick-coached defense, is problematic. Add the task of trying to keep up with Tom Brady and the league’s highest scoring offense to the task and things have the potential to get ugly. Pats by 14.

San Diego (-3) at Houston
If the Texans had any kind of defense at all, or if they hadn’t looked so entirely inept on both sides of the ball on Monday night, I’d probably take them to overcome a Chargers squad that seems determined to flame out. But they don’t. And they did. So I’m not. San Diego wins it straight up; it’s a push with the points.

Arizona (+8) at Minnesota
It’s hard to know which of these teams is more of a mess. Sure, this week it looks decidedly like the Vikings take the prize. But on the season it might be … nah, probably the Vikings there, too. I’m still taking Minnesota, but mostly just because I figure one of these teams has to win and it might as well be the home team. But I’m not giving eight or anything remotely close to it. Vikings by a point.

Chicago (-3) at Buffalo
So let’s imagine, just for the sake of argument, that adding Shawn Merriman immediately improves the Buffalo defense by a factor of 50 percent (yes, I know that’s ridiculous; this is the point). That would move them from, what, horrific all the way up to mostly incompetent? That seems meaningful. Chicago by four.

NY Giants (-6.5) at Seattle
Pete Carroll loves Charlie Whitehurst. That’s nice an all, but it doesn’t change the fact that a guy who has thrown zero passes in four and a half seasons in the NFL, will be attempting to get it done against a Giants pass defense that has logged 24 sacks this season and that gives up just 178 yards per game and 6.2 per completion. Those aren’t ideal conditions for a first start. Giants by a touchdown.

Indianapolis (+3) at Philadelphia
The Monday Night Football crew might believe that Peyton Manning can win games all by himself, but apparently Vegas disagrees. I do, too. Particularly when I look at a seriously banged-up Colts team traveling to Philly on a short week to face an Eagles squad that features one of the best pass Ds in the league. I’m gonna take Philadelphia and give the points.

Kansas City (+2) at Oakland
It’s possible, I acknowledge, that after this weekend I’ll have to concede that the 2010 Raiders are for real. For now, what I see is an unbalanced team that can run the ball, but not pass it, and that can’t stop much of anything. The Chiefs, meanwhile, are a team that can run the ball on offense and stop the run on D. So, yeah, I’m going with Kansas City. Can’t honestly tell you I feel like I have much choice. Chiefs by a field goal.

Dallas (+7.5) at Green Bay
Is there any surer sign that a team in disarray is gonna fire its head coach than when the owner comes out and swears he isn’t? Packers by six.

Pittsburgh (-4.5) at Cincinnati
Just what the Bengals need: Angry Steelers. Pittsburgh by a touchdown, maybe more.

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