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Week Three Picks

September 21st, 2007

The spreads may be a lot closer this week than they were last, but I’ve found the picking to be substantially easier. That probably means I’m in for a number of rather unpleasant surprises. (Not that I’ll actually be surprised.)

Arizona (+7.5) at Baltimore
Steve McNair is healthy and ready to start again. So that’s something about this game that’s very nearly interesting. Ravens by six.

San Diego (-4.5) at Green Bay
I’m gonna go way the hell out on a limb here and predict an upset. “What the hell?” you ask. Do I really think the Chargers are that bad just because they got their helmets handed to them by the best team in the league? Nope. It ain’t that. Do I really think the Packers are that good just because they won a weird-ass game over Philadelphia in week one and then stomped the hapless Giants in week two? Nope. Ain’t that neither. In fact, I feel reasonably certain that the Chargers are a better team than the Packers. But I’m also reasonably certain that San Diego hasn’t had time to fix the problems that led them to be slaughtered on Sunday night. And while the Packers are hardly the Patriots, they do have the advantage of having watched how the Pats got it done, and, perhaps more important, of catching the Chargers at the end of a second consecutive long road trip. Plus, look, Brett Favre isn’t Tom Brady (hell, there were times last season when I wasn’t even sure he was Brett Favre anymore), but he’s still got a hell of an arm, and if he starts hurling passes into the secondary I saw on the field in Foxborough, he’s gonna make some big connections. In fact, I’m not entirely sure that the San Diego secondary right now is much better than the New York secondary that Brett torched for 286 yards and three touchdowns in the Meadowlands a week ago. Moreover, the Chargers’ most important offensive weapon has yet to come to life this season (which can happen when you take the pre-season off), and I’m not sure that the Packers are the team an offensive player is likely to come to life against. Green Bay has won its last six games (stretching back to week 14 of last season). And the Packers defense has allowed only 11.3 points per game during that stretch. That’s not so shabby. They’ve been fairly solid against the run this season, too (though they haven’t faced a running back like LT — perhaps because there isn’t another one in the league). Even having stated all that, however, I recognize that there are good reasons the Chargers are favored here (like the San Diego pass rush, which, when it’s not up against New England’s O-line, is tough as nails). So I’m aware that it’s a low percentage pick. But I’m sticking with it. Green Bay walks away with its third win and San Diego dips into a bit of a hole.

Indianapolis (-6) at Houston
Look, the Texans are a fun, exciting young team. Clearly they’re gonna win a bunch of games and maybe even flirt with playoff contention this season. And I’d love to believe they have a chance at beating a Colts team that didn’t play at all well in Nashville last weekend. But with Andre Johnson out of the lineup it just ain’t happening. Colts by seven.

Minnesota (+2.5) at Kansas City
I’m fairly certain that one of these teams is gonna win this game. And I’m willing to bet (though not real money) it’ll be the one with the actual defense. Just a hunch. I’m taking the Vikings to pull off the upset (as it were).

Buffalo (+16.5) at New England
It’s true. Buffalo often does play the Patriots tough in Foxborough. But, man, you’ve gotta actually field a team before you can play anybody tough. (And his stunning self-confidence notwithstanding, one increasingly capable quarterback alone does not constitute a professional football team). Plus, the Pats are pissed off and on a mission. New England may start a bit slower this week than they did in weeks one and two, as the offense adjusts to playing a 4-3 defense, but by the time they’re finished, the Pats will have put at least three touchdowns between themselves and the Bills.

Miami (+3) at NY Jets
You know, I’d love to believe the Jets could drop this game and fall to 0-3. And given the fact that New York’s offense likely will be facing some long fields and a semi-stout Miami defense, I don’t expect the Jets to run away with this game. That said, unless that Dolphins D finds a way to score, I’m not sure the Jets O will need to produce much. The Jets win this one 10-6.

Detroit (+6.5) at Philadelphia
Three things I know concerning this game: The Eagles aren’t nearly as bad as their 0-2 record. The Lions aren’t nearly as good as their 2-0 record. And, concussion or no concussion, it’s gonna take an actual miracle for Jon Kitna’s team to come out of Philly with a win. Not being much of a believer in football-related miracles myself, I’m taking the Eagles straight up, though I do think the Lions will be able to keep the margin to more like three even without divine intervention.

San Francisco (+8.5) at Pittsburgh
You could, I suppose, look at this game as a matchup of undefeated teams. And it is that. But thinking about it that way doesn’t do you much good. Better, it seems to me, to view it as a game between a team that’s edged a couple of NFC teams and a team that’s beat the living bejesus out of a couple of AFC teams (albeit weak ones). And the good thing about looking at it the second way is that not only is it more realistic, but it leaves you with very few questions about how this game is likely to turn out. I’m taking the Steelers and giving the points.

St. Louis (+3.5) at Tampa Bay
If this game were being played in week five or six, I’d just go to the stats and trust they’d tell the story. But two weeks of stats are worthless in sizing up a matchup of such enigmatic teams. I have no idea what to make of either of these teams. I think I know the Bucs are vulnerable to the run, which could prove advantageous to the Rams if they can manage to remember that they have Steven Jackson in the backfield. But I haven’t seen St. Louis make the most of Jackson yet this season, so I’m not exactly sure I can expect to see much of him in this game. I also think I know that as capably as they’ve played to date, the St. Louis defense looks to me like a unit that could have trouble stopping a well-executed West Coast attack. Only, I haven’t seen consistent evidence that the Bucs are able to mount one of those (one game, however well played, being something entirely different than a season). So I can’t say I see a clear advantage either way there. In the end, I’m going with the Bucs to win, but only because they’re at home. And I think the Rams should be able to keep the margin to a field goal. But, you know, like I said, it’s nothing more than guesswork.

Jacksonville (+3) at Denver
Hey, Jack, nice going with the whole dumping Byron Leftwich in favor of David Garrard thing. That really fixed your team’s offensive problems. I mean, eleven and a half points a game should be more than enough to get your team to, say, 5-11. Well done. Enjoy unemployment. Denver finally wins one before the final play of the game. Probably by about a touchdown.

Cleveland (+3) at Oakland
Somewhere in Ohio there’s a Pop Warner team that plays better defense than defensive mastermind Romeo Crennel’s Cleveland Browns. No overtime means no overtime shenanigans. Oakland by a touchdown.

Cincinnati (+3.5) at Seattle
Somewhere in Ohio there’s a Pop Warner team that plays better defense than defensive mastermind Marvin Lewis’ Cincinnati Bengals. And probably another one that plays better D than the Seattle Seahawks. At the very least, we’re looking at a matchup of a middle-of-the-pack NFC team and a middle-of-the-pack AFC team. That plays out the same way virtually every time. Cincy comes out of this week’s shootout on top by six.

Carolina (-4) at Atlanta
Four points? Four? That’s it? Look, I know the Panthers are off to a pretty uneven start this season, and I know division games are almost always a challenge, particularly when you’re playing on the road, but let’s be realistic here. The Falcons have managed to put 10 points on the board so far this season. Ten. Over two games. In case you’re horribly mathematically challenged, that’s five points per game, which isn’t merely worst in the league, it’s almost inconceivably awful. The Panthers, meanwhile, have averaged 24. So, shit, you tell me how to pick this game. I’m playing the averages and looking for Carolina to win by 19. No matter what, I promise you, they’ll come out ahead by at least six.

NY Giants (+3.5) at Washington
The Redskins have certainly played solid defense so far this season. And there’s no surprise there. The only question remaining if you’re Joe Gibbs and Al Saunders is, how do you kick your offense into gear? The answer, for this week anyhow, is that you host the New York Giants. They’ll make any offense look great. Redskins by 10.

Dallas (+3) at Chicago
This is another game that I’m not sure what to make of. The Bears may be struggling on offense (three guesses as to why, and the first two don’t count — ahem) but their defense is as rock-solid as ever. And the fact of the matter is that as good as the Cowboys offense has looked, it’s not like they’ve put up their 41 points a game against the cream of the NFL crop. That said, there’s no taking away the fact that Dallas has exploded out of the gage while Chicago has just sort of lumbered into the season. And if the Bears don’t come into this game ready to play hard and well in every facet of the game, they’re gonna find themselves sitting at 1-2 as they head toward three straight division games (the first two of them played on the road). I think the Bears know what they’re up against and I think they’ll come ready to play. And I think that will be enough to edge them past the Cowboys by a point or possibly two.

Tennessee (+4.5) at New Orleans
Listen, coach, I’ve got an idea that I think might help your team get off the schneid. You know, before it gets to be too late. It’s maybe a bit outside the box and all, but I’m thinking it just might work. Ready? Here it is: Hand the ball to the guy who carried your team deep into the 2006 playoffs. Not on every down. I mean, I know you’ve got your exciting second-year back, much admired second-year wideout and highly paid quarterback to showcase and all. And, sure, you don’t want to be one dimensional. But maybe, you know, a bit more than 10 times a game. Again, it’s just a thought. But I think if you do it, you can probably win this one by six or seven points.

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