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Week Twelve Picks

November 24th, 2004

Fans on the field. Yup. That’s the big, new experiment in the NFL. Starting this week in Minnesota, the league is allowing seating on the sidelines (limited, and far from the benches) at four games to see how it works. Wanna see how it works, fellas? Get tape of the Pacers-Pistons game from last Friday night. That’s how it works.

Lots of good teams playing bad teams this week, which makes the straight up picking pretty simple for the most part. Expect a couple of minor upsets, but that’s about it. Don’t take my advice on anything. And have a lovely Thanksgiving.

Indianapolis (-8) at Detroit
What’s more surprising, the fact that Lions’ quarterback Joey Harrington still has a job, or the fact that the Colts suddenly have a defense? I’m gonna go with option A. I mean, you had to know a Tony Dungy team was gonna find a way to play D eventually. The Colts remain a mostly offensive team, but they’ve got a league-leading giveaway-takeaway ratio of +12, and in their last two games they’ve sacked the living shit out of Houston quarterback David Carr and Chicago’s Craig Krenzel (who, OK, is a rookie). So what do you figure happens when the Colts go up against a Detroit team with a struggling offense (they’ve been outscored three touchdowns to one by kick returner Eddie Drummond in their last two games) led by a quarterback who’s pretty much been told his time is up? I’m guessing another one of those endlessly exciting, lopsided Thanksgiving affairs. Take Indy and give the points. And if you’re into that kind of thing and can find one, consider a prop bet on Mike McMahon taking over at QB for the Lions by about midway through the third. It’s gonna be ugly with a capital UGLY.

Chicago (+3) at Dallas
Is quarterback Drew Henson the answer to the Cowboys’ problems? In the long term, perhaps. This week, probably not. Is quarterback Craig Krenzel the source of Chicago’s problems? Over the long term, probably. This week, not so much. Yeah, Krenzel’s got a bad habit of turning the ball over and taking sacks, but the Cowboys’ defense isn’t exactly the type that forces a lot of mistakes. I think the difference in this game will come down to coaching. Chicago’s Lovie Smith is on his way up, while Dallas’ Bill Parcells is finally on his way down. I like the Bears to pull off this year’s thanksgiving upset.

Cleveland (+6) at Cincinnati
So Browns president John Collins says coach Butch Davis will keep his job through the end of the season, which pretty much amounts to saying he won’t keep it any longer than that. And that’s about the only good news Davis is likely to get this week. It looks like he’s gonna start rookie QB Luke McCown in place of injured Jeff Garcia, because Kelly Holcomb was so utterly awful in relief last week. And that means he’ll need his running back corps to have a big day against a Bengals team that, while inconsistent, has played tough against better teams than the Browns. I’d stay away from tying up real money on this one. Go ahead and take the Bengals straight up, and if you pick against the spread in a pool, look for the Browns to keep it to more like four.

Jacksonville(+6) at Minnesota
The Vikes snapped their three-game losing streak last week. I see no reason to believe they won’t have a two-game winning streak going before this day is out. Take Minnesota and give the points.

Philadelphia (-7) at NY Giants
It’s true, Eli Manning did look very good even in defeat last week. Most notable, I think, is the fact that Manning, who was up against the blitz-happy Falcons, was sacked only once, whereas Kurt Warner had been sacked 40 times in the preceding nine games. Guess Eli really does get rid of the ball a lot faster than Kurt. And Eli will probably have the Giants back in contention for a wildcard berth before this season’s out. But this week belongs to the Eagles, who can become the first team in the league to clinch a division title and a playoff berth with a win here (illustrating the incredible gap between the good and the bad in the NFC). Take Philly and give the points.

San Diego (+3) at Kansas City
How the fuck are the Chargers, who are in contention for the AFC West crown, three-point underdogs in this matchup with the Priest Holmes-less Chiefs. Yeah, the Chiefs are at home and all, but they were at home on Monday night and it didn’t help one bit. This is the bargain of the week. Take the Chargers and those points all the way to the bank.

Tampa Bay (-2.5) at Carolina
Brian Griese continues his campaign to save his career and Tampa Bay’s season all at once (he’ll succeed at the former, fall just short of the latter). Michael Pittman has a big day on the ground and in the air. And the Bucs take it by two touchdowns.

Tennessee (-1) at Houston
Is it just me, or did the Texans look like they simply couldn’t be bothered to try to hold on and win Sunday night? I mean, I know they were playing a Packers team that has come on like nobody’s business, but come on. As the song says, you’ve gotta have heart. They have none. The Titans, on the other hand, have miles and miles and miles of it in spite of the fact that they’re season is effectively sunkified. And that’s why Tennessee wins.

Washington (+10.5) at Pittsburgh
The Steelers and their fans appear to be getting a bit full of themselves. Rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger showed up as a guest on David Letterman this week. And there’s a new version of the Steelers fight song that promises a Super Bowl victory (there was one of those in 1995, too; the Steelers didn’t win). That’s all very nice, but none of it has anything to do with football. And the Steelers are starting to pile up some injuries. Wide receiver Plaxico Burress, linebacker Kendrell Bell and defensive lineman Brett Keisel are the latest additions to the injury list. None will play this week, and Bell may be lost for some time. That all may add up to trouble over the long haul. (Especially when you consider that it’s the D and the running backs, not Roethlisberger, that have been winning games.) This week, though, not so much. Washington’s defensive weaknesses have been revealed; and its offensive weaknesses have been obvious for some time. The Steelers win and probably cover.

New Orleans (+9.5) at Atlanta
Jim Haslett’s days as head coach of the Saints appear to be numbered. Team owner Tom Benson compared his squad, with its worst-in-the league defense, to a high school team after last week’s 34-13 loss to Denver. And that was at home. What happens when the Saints travel to Atlanta? The Falcons improve to 9-2. That’s what. But Atlanta probably wins by more like a touchdown than two scores.

Baltimore (+7) at New England
I can’t say as I see how the Pats should be favored by a touchdown in this game. Yeah, Jamal Lewis is out, and Chester Taylor never impressed anyone during Lewis’ brief suspension last month. Plus Kyle Boller isn’t the kind of quarterback who’s gonna beat good teams. So you’ve gotta like the Patriots to win it. Trouble is, the Ravens do have a great D, which is a big part of the reason they’re 7-3 this season and a bigger part, still, of the reason they’ve been winning 70 percent of the games they play in November and December the past few years. (Of course, the Pats are perfect in November and December in the last two seasons, so there’s that.) I like the Pats to win what should be their last tough match until they get to the Meadowlands Dec. 26, but I think they’ll do it by something more like a field goal.

Buffalo (+5) at Seattle
If the Seahawks, who will be without wide receiver Koren Robinson, doesn’t play a shitload better this week than they did last, they’re gonna get a very nasty surprise. But since the Seahawks play poorly one week, well the next, they’re due for a good game. And they’re at home. I expect them to edge the Bills by three.

Miami (pick ’em) at San Francisco
This week’s battle for the bottom of the standings. San Fran is at home. Jay Fiedler is gone for the season. And Jay Feeley leads the league in touchdown passes thrown to opposing DBs. San Fran by six.

NY Jets (-3) at Arizona
I so want to believe the people who keep telling me the Cardinals can pull off the upset here. And a week ago, I would have believed it. But the Jets managed a tough win last week, and Dennis Green showed poor judgement (for maybe the first time in his head coaching career) by benching his quarterback just as his team was heating up. so I’ve gotta take the Jets to pull it off, with Curtis Martin leading the way. But I’ll be rooting the other way (except for Curtis, who I’d like to see have a big day — he’s on my league-leading fantasy team).

Oakland (+11) at Denver
I can’t even think about this game. Fuckin’ Kerry Collins can kiss my ass. And note to Al: If you’re even thinking about giving up anything to get your hands on Ricky Williams, stop. He’s talented, yes, but he’s a great big sack of bad news that even you can’t rehabilitate. Remember Todd Marinovich and stay away. Note to everyone else: Take Denver and give the points (man, does it hurt to say that).

St. Louis (+6) at Green Bay
I’m glad this game is happening on Monday night. I so enjoy watching Brett Favre play football. And I so enjoy watching the Rams lose. It’s a happy, happy twofer. Green Bay by at least a touchdown.

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