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Week Fourteen Picks

December 10th, 2004

You’ve gotta figure there’s an upset or two brewing somewhere in the NFL this week. Right? I mean, you don’t get a week in professional football without at least one or two underdogs surprising the oddsmakers, the experts and everyone else. Not usually. Really, not ever. Trouble is, where? Which of this week’s array of heavy favorites will collapse? Which heavy dogs will come up big? I can’t for the life of me see one game in which an upset appears likely (which probably means it’ll be the second upset week of the season and there’ll be seven or eight around the league).

My advice? Well, if you’re in a straight picks pool and you’re out of contention for year-end cash, either crunch some numbers or listen to your gut and find two or three upsets to pick. If you hit ’em, you’re in the money, guaranteed. If you’re playing for year-end cash, just go down the list of favorites. You’re gonna take a couple of hits, but it’s better than risking missing five or six games by picking the wrong upset in a week when the player who’s smart enough to go conservative ends up at 15-1 or 14-2. If you’re betting against the spreads, find a couple of games where the lines are completely out of control and bet the dogs (don’t even think about betting favorites this week). If you’re picking against the spread in a pool, good luck to you; it’s a total crapshoot. Bet the over no matter what. And please, please, please be wise enough to ignore my advice.

Chicago (-7) at Jacksonville
So you’re impressed with Bears quarterback Chad Hutchinson’s 213-yard, three-touchdown performance in his debut as a starter last week, are ya? Well you should be. Just don’t let it cloud your vision. This week, Chad and the Bears face a team with an actual defense, a defense that’s had a chance to watch some tape of Mr. Hutchinson in action, a defense that pretty much shut down Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers Sunday night. Be smart. Take the Jags. And give the points.

Cincinnati (+11) at New England
There’s nothing scary about this game on paper. Yeah, the Bengals pulled off a big upset on the road last week against the Ravens, but the Ravens aren’t the Pats (as witnessed by New England’s week 12 dismantling of Baltimore), and the second of two straight road games is a lot harder to win than the first. Plus, the Bengals are giving up 142 yards a game on the ground, which, compounded with the fact that Patriots running back Corey Dillon is champing at the bit for a go at his old team, doesn’t spell a good day for Cincinnati. So … the only thing that makes this game scary is the fact that one or two teams that go in as huge favorites this week are gonna lose. And when the dust settles, people are gonna say, “How on earth could ___ lose to ____?” And the answer’s gonna be that they couldn’t, except that they did. Still, that’s just spooky shit, and you don’t pick football games based on spooky shit. So what you do here is take New England and, considering the fact that the Patriots have been ripping opponents to shreds lately, give the points.

Cleveland (+11.5) at Buffalo
Maybe this will be the game where the heavy underdog pulls off the big upset. It could happen. Buffalo just lost their pass-catching tight end Mark Campbell for the season. Bills QB Drew Bledsoe’s due for a letdown game. And, even though the Browns have mysteriously elected to start Luke McCown at quarterback instead of a once again healthy Jeff Garcia, you’ve gotta think wide receiver Antonio Bryant, who’s averaged 123 yards and two touchdowns over the last two games, has the potential to have another big day. So, yeah, it could happen. You wanna pick an upset? Think about this one. Me, I’m going with the Bills to win it, but the Browns to keep it to more like nine.

Indianapolis (-10.5) at Houston
If you’re like me, you’ve been hearing and reading a lot about how the Texans are better than their 5-7 record and about how they play good teams tough at home. Stop listening to it. First of all, the Texans are exactly as good as their record. Second, three of their seven losses have come at home, and while those were relatively close losses to good teams (seven points to San Diego, six to Minnesota and three to Green Bay), they were home losses just the same. Third, they give up just about 24 points a game. Fourth, they have the league’s 28th ranked pass defense and have allowed 29 passing touchdowns this season (that’s two and a half per game), the most in the league. What do you think that means with the Colts coming in to town? I’ll tell you what it means: Dan Marino had better be watching, because Peyton Manning is probably gonna tie and might even break his record for most touchdowns in a season. Manning has 44 going in. He needs 48 to catch Marino. Shouldn’t be a bit of a problem. So, you know, take the Colts and give the points.

New Orleans (+7) at Dallas
Who cares if Dallas got lucky against Seattle Monday night? Who cares if Keyshawn really caught the game-winning touchdown? Who cares if the Cowboys aren’t really that good? What matters is that the Saints defense still can’t stop anything — not on the ground and not in the air. New Orleans will probably score enough points to keep it closer than seven, but they’re not gonna win.

N.Y. Giants (+10) at Baltimore
The Ravens have had a couple of rough weeks. No question about that. But they remain a tough team to run the ball against, especially when they don’t have to worry about the pass. And with Giants rookie quarterback Eli Manning still getting his bearings, they don’t have to worry about the pass this week. Look for Baltimore to shut down Tiki Barber and win it by seven.

Oakland (+7.5) at Atlanta
Or maybe this will be the place where the big upset comes. Maybe. In an alternate dimension where Michael Vick plays for the Raiders. Take the Falcons and give the points. And leave me alone. I don’t want to talk about it.

Seattle (+7) at Minnesota
Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren should officially shut up about whether a bad call cost his team a win against Dallas Monday night and start worrying about the game in front of him. The ‘Hawks have been doing nothing right of late. Their defense just got suckier with some key injuries. And they’re going in to play a Minnesota team that’s fighting for its playoff life (which, admittedly, is exactly what the Seahawks are up to). Look for Onterrio Smith to have a giant day against a rush D that can’t stop anything and for the Vikes to win straight up. Against the spread it’s a push.

Miami (+11) at Denver
Let’s see which quarterback throws more touchdowns for Denver in this game, the Broncos’ Jake Plummer or the Dolphins’ A.J. Feeley.

N.Y. Jets (+6) at Pittsburgh
I know a lot of people who see an upset coming here. Almost all of them are Patriots fans. And, look, I’d love to see the Jets pull off a win here. I mean, either way, this game helps New England, but the Pats can take care of the Jets themselves; a Pittsburgh loss would put the Pats’ chances to play at home through the playoffs in their own hands, which would be nice. And it’s not like a Jets win is out of the question. The Jets have an extremely good defense. New York only gives up about 16 per game, which is astounding given the wild scoring going on around the NFL this season. Plus, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has a sore quadriceps that kept him out of practice one day this week; and wideout Plaxico Burress likely won’t play and certainly won’t be at 100 percent. Moreover, Jets running back Curtis Martin racked up 174 yards against the Steelers this time last year, and although this is a different Steelers team, this year’s Curtis is playing much better than last year’s Curtis. All that said, I think the two biggest factors here are that the Steelers are at home and that the Jets have to go without their best pass rusher, defensive end John Abraham, who sprained his right lateral collateral ligament last week and may miss one or two more games after this. Without Abraham, who leads the Jets with nine and a half sacks, it’s gonna be tough for New York to shut down the pass, which, of course, opens up the run. I see Pittsburgh winning here, but only by a point or two. But, weird as it is to root for the Jets, I hope I’m wrong.

Detroit (+9.5) at Green Bay
Green Bay’s defense has been giving up major yards to opponents of late. The couldn’t stop anything against the Eagles last week. And Detroit had a decent showing in their victory over Arizona. So what does that mean? Fuck-all, my brothers. It means fuck-all. The Pack beat the Lions 38-10 in Detroit, back in week six. They’ll probably do more of a number on the Lions this time around. Take the Packers and give the points.

San Francisco (+7) at Arizona
The fans in San Francisco are unhappy with the way 49ers running back Kevan Barlow has performed this season. (Barlow hasn’t done well — he’s got 629 total yards rushing and six TDs — but he’s had no support from the passing game, and his team has been so far behind so frequently that they haven’t been able to call running plays. But let’s see how much the enjoy seeing Maurice Hicks, just a month after being signed off the practice squad, try to run the ball if Barlow’s concussion leaves him unable to start this week. The Niners already are facing a game without starting QB Tim Rattay, who’s out with a foot injury and will be replaced by Ken Dorsey. Meanwhile, the Cards may have running back Emmitt Smith back on the field. Arizona also has gone back to its only half-decent quarterback, Josh McCown, after failing to make it work with Shaun King and John Navarre under center. If McCown can get past how shitty he must be feeling and play good football, Arizona should win and climb to within one win of a three-way tie for the division championship (see my series of increasingly obsessive posts on this subject below). Take the Cards to win and cover.

St. Louis (+6.5) at Carolina
The Panthers have won four straight. The Rams are lucky to be 6-6; they haven’t beaten a decent team in months. And the Rams aren’t going to beat a decent team this week. They will keep it closer than six and a half, though.

Tampa Bay (+5.5) at San Diego
Chargers wide receiver Keenan McCardell, who’s parting with Tampa Bay earlier this season was acrimonious to say the least, would probably love to have a hand in knocking the Bucs out of the playoff hunt in the NFC (to the extent that it’s possible to knock a team out of the playoff hunt in a conference in which 7-9 will probably get you there). Of course, the Buccaneers defense would probably love to have a hand in knocking McCardell out of the league for the rest of the season. I’m guessing the Bucs keep Keenan’s production to a minimum, which will maybe be a nice moral victory for them. In other news, the Chargers win it by three.

Philadelphia (-9) at Washington
I don’t know about giving nine to the ‘Skins. Yeah, the Eagles are winning games by giant margins. And no, you can’t expect the Redskins to score 31 points again this week (as they did against the Giants in week thirteen). But I do think Washington’s stingy D will keep it to more like a five- or six-point margin of victory for Philly.

Kansas City (+2) at Tennessee
Chiefs running back Priest Holmes is done for the season, which is equally true of both teams in this matchup. It’s a coin toss, really, so do what you like. Me, I’m going with the home team to win it by a point. (Oh, and Priest or no Priest, I’m betting the over. Way, way over.)

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