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Week Eleven Picks

November 19th, 2004

Today I wish I had a kite and the time to fly it. That’s got nothing to do with football. I’m just saying. Seems to me this is pretty much the end of the line for tolerable weather until spring rolls around, and it would be nice to take advantage of it. But I don’t own a kite. And even if I did, I’ve got too much going on to put one up. And that’s how the beautiful days get away from you and you end up the day after Christmas facing down two brutal months to come and holding a great big bag full of regret about the opportunities you passed up. But what the hell are you gonna do?

Wanna know a way to avoid some major regret that doesn’t require buying a kite and ditching work for the rest of the day? Here it is: Don’t take my advice when it comes to picking football. I’ll only break your heart.

Arizona (+2.5) at Carolina
Boy, those Panthers should did have a big day against the 49ers last week, didn’t they? And the Cardinals, they beat up on those big, bad Dolphins. That’s some impressive stuff. Or maybe it isn’t. Probably it isn’t. So, OK, forget last week. Look at the rest of recent history. The Cards have beaten some decent teams — New Orleans, Seattle, the Giants — to climb back into the hunt after starting 0-3. Carolina has beaten exactly one team, San Fran, since topping Kansas City in week two (back when the Chiefs were losing to everyone). Take the Cardinals and the points.

Dallas (+8) at Baltimore
Actual good teams have trouble scoring on Baltimore, which has given up two touchdowns a game on average. Everyone and their brother scores on Dallas, which has given up twice as many points per week as the Ravens. There’s no guess work involved here. Not straight up, anyhow. You take the Ravens. Do you give the eight? Sure. Why not? All the evidence says Baltimore wins by ten or more.

Denver (-4.5) at New Orleans
You know, I have this notion that New Orleans is gonna pull off the upset here. But do not, I repeat do not, bet one single dollar on that outcome based on my advice, ’cause I’m almost certainly wrong. Only, look, Denver has a way of giving up big pass plays, which isn’t good when you’re facing Aaron Brooks at home. And if the Broncos don’t find a way to get after Brooks, he could have a big, big day. The sure path to victory for Denver, though, isn’t to count on the D stopping Brooks; it’s to get out ahead early and keep the Saints’ piss-poor run D (32nd in the league) chasing Reuben Droughns around. I don’t think they’ll do it. I think New Orleans goes ahead early and stays ahead, winning by less than a field goal, but winning just the same.

Detroit (+7.5) at Minnesota
Vikings wide receiver Randy Moss has been practicing, but won’t be playing. That has nothing to do with Nicolette Sheridan or any other over-the-hill starlet sabotaging the Vikes. It has to do with his Minnesota coach Mike Tice knowing he doesn’t need his superstud to beat the Lions. Nate Burleson, Onterrio Smith (and/or Michael Bennett) and Daunte Culpepper are more than enough to get the job done. The Vikes get off the schneid in a big way, winning by two touchdowns.

Indianapolis (-7.5) at Chicago
Well, we know this much: No matter what happens this week, there won’t be any ridiculous whining about running up the score. I mean, one has to assume there won’t be. The Bears are, after all, the same team that put up 73 points (to none) against Washington in the 1940 NFL Championship game. And while there seems to be little that can stop these Colts, 11 touchdowns in a game is probably a bit much to ask in the modern league. Still, take Indy and give the points, because a two- or three-touchdown margin of victory isn’t at all out of the question.

N.Y. Jets (pick ’em) at Cleveland
Herm Edwards won’t make the mistake of chicken-shitting his team out of a chance to win in the final seconds of regulation this week. He won’t have the opportunity. The Browns won’t put up a ton of points against New York’s tough D, but they’ll put up enough to win, and they’ll keep the Jets out of the red zone in the closing minutes of the game.

Pittsburgh (-4) at Cincinnati
The Patriots had to lose sooner or later. The Eagles had to lose sooner or later. And now the Steelers have to lose sooner or later. Frankly, I’m hoping for later (like, say, on Jan. 23 to the Pats), but I’ll take this one, too. Two is the magic number here. That’s two as in Ben Roethlisberger throws two picks and the Bengals win by two points.

San Francisco (+8) at Tampa Bay
What’s the difference between the San Francisco defense starting untested players at cornerback and the New England Patriots defense doing the same? Only everything — from the quality of the teams’ pass rushes to the support on the other side of the ball to the coaching staffs — only probably about three touchdowns. Look for Brian Griese to have a career day (not exactly a tall order, but still) as the Bucs win by a margin of 20 points or more.

St. Louis (-1) at Buffalo
Here’s your bargain pick of the week. The Rams are getting a good bit more credit than they deserve after a home win against an inconsistent Seattle team whose number they clearly have. The Bills’ reputation has taken a bit of a tumble after a loss to a far-superior Patriots team that beats them virtually every time they meet. What you need to know here (other than the fact that the Bills are at home) is that the Rams, who are 0-2 against AFC East teams so far this season, can’t stop the run to save their lives. Willis McGahee’s gonna have an absolutely huge day here and the Bills are gonna win this by a touchdown.

Tennessee (+3) at Jacksonville
This time, we’re assured, Steve McNair, really will be back. Will it matter? It will if you have Drew Bennett on your fantasy team. Other than that, probably not so much. Look for the home team to complete the season sweep over the erstwhile divisional powerhouse. And figure that if the Jags could top a healthier Titans team by three in Nashville in week three, they’ve gotta be able to do a bit better at home.

Miami (+10) at Seattle
What on earth am I gonna tell you about this game? You know you’ve gotta take Seattle straight up, and it’s a silly game to go putting money on, so stop thinking about it. But if you need to bet, or you’re in a pool that requires you to pick against the spread, I’d say take the Fins and their tough D to keep it a hair (maybe just a point) closer than 10. Or not.

San Diego (-3.5) at Oakland
Three weeks ago, San Diego putting a major hurting on my poor, poor helpless Raiders. 42-14. I don’t see where much other than the venue has changed. So give the Raiders credit for home field advantage, and shave the Chargers’ margin of victory down to something more like 17 or 20. That’s more than three and a half. A lot more.

Atlanta (-3) at N.Y. Giants
It seems to me there are two possible reasons for Tom Coughlin’s decision to start rookie Eli Manning at quarterback in place of veteran Kurt Warner, and neither of them is as simple as his belief that Manning will get rid of the ball more quickly than Warner. (Because, really, what is getting rid of the ball sooner gonna accomplish when the Giants receivers are never open? More incompletions? Maybe. More interceptions? Maybe that, too) Either Coughlin is crazy as a loon and looking to turn his team’s star of the future into roadkill behind an offensive line that has allowed 40 sacks to date (and put an end to both the Giants’ playoff hopes and his stint as head coach at the same time). Or Coughlin knows (not thinks, knows) Manning is ready to face the pressure and figures the kid will get him at least as far as, if not a bit farther than, Warner. I’m willing to bet on the latter — over the long term. This week, I’m betting on Michael Vick and the Falcons faring better against the Giants’ injury-plagued D than Eli and the Giants will against the Falcons’ sack-happy pass rush. Tiki Barber could and should make it tough for the Falcons, but I don’t think he’ll make it tough enough. Atlanta wins by three.

Washington (+10.5) at Philadelphia
Don’t count on the Eagles to repeat their 49-point week ten performance here. The Redskins defense simply doesn’t give up that kind of scoring. Their opponents have averaged only 17 points a game this season (though it’s notable that two of the three teams that have topped that average have been NFC East rivals). The trouble for the Skins, though, is that their offense doesn’t put up enough points to make the D’s strong performances pay off. (They score fewer than 14 a game.) I wouldn’t take any team playing on a short week to win by 11, particularly not against the Redskins, but you can count on Philly to take this division game straight up.

Green Bay (-3) at Houston
The Texans have given up 80 points in their last two games (which is just a touchdown more than the Redskins gave up to the Bears in a single game, the NFL championship, in 1940 — something the Texans might wanna keep in mind next time they find themselves inclined to cry about an opponent running up the score). The Packers, winners of four straight, have scored 62 points in their last two. So I don’t want to hear about how Brett Favre doesn’t play well on carpets. He’ll play well enough. And Ahman Green will do the rest. Take the Pack and give the points. It’s gonna be a massacre.

New England (-3) at Kansas City
Priest or no Priest, it’s all the same. The Chiefs will certainly manage to score some points against the defending champs, given New England’s continued injury problems in the secondary (the Pats have patched it up well, but there’s only so much you can do when you face a team like Kansas City), but their Swiss cheese defense won’t hold up against the Pats O in the red zone the way Buffalo’s did last week. Look for a Pats victory that’s about as lopsided as their win over the other Missouri team with the big offense a few weeks back.

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