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Week Fifteen Picks

December 17th, 2004

Three days ago, I didn’t think this week’s games were all that tough to suss. I’ve changed my mind. This week is an absolute motherfucker.

Yeah, there are some obvious game here. The Browns can’t win. The Steelers, unfortunately, can’t lose. And there are a couple of others like that. But tell me who’s gonna win the Houston-Chicago game. Go ahead. Tell me whether Denver really should be favored by one at Kansas City. Or whether the hot-and-cold Falcons should be giving three and a half points to the streaking Panthers. And, OK, say you can tell me what’s gonna happen in those games, well then what are you doing here? I can’t help you. Clearly, you’ve got the advantage on me. Maybe you should write the free picks column next time. Go ahead. See if I care.

As usual, please don’t take my advice. You’ll only lose money.

Pittsburgh (-10) at NY Giants
Oh, my, young Eli, whatcha gonna do against the best defense in the league? Mr. Manning, who’s getting a baptism of fire in his rookie half-season under center for the Giants, didn’t fare so well against the Baltimore D last Sunday, throwing two picks and losing a fumble while completing just four of 18 passes for a total of 27 yards. He’s at home this week to face Pittsburgh, but I don’t expect that to make much of a difference. The Steelers D, which shut down Chad Pennington and Curtis Martin last weekend, should have a bit of an easier time with Eli and Tiki Barber, largely because of Eli’s lack of experience (it’s tough to be a rookie QB in September and October; it’s murder in December), but also because the Giants banged-up D won’t be able to stop Pittsburgh the way the Jets D did, which means less time on the field for the Steelers D and fewer opportunities for the Giants offense to call running plays. If Baltimore can beat you by 23, the Steelers can probably beat you by 11. So, you know, pick and bet accordingly.

Washington (-5) at San Francisco
Somehow, I’m not expecting the 49ers to have the kind of day against the Redskins defense that they had a week ago at Arizona. You have to like the ‘Skins to win this straight up, but picking against the spread here is no easy task, because Washington’s offense has a tendency to forget that it’s supposed to score points. If you’re one of those people who believes Joe Gibbs’ offensive schemes have begun to take hold, you take the Redskins. If you’re not. Maybe you look for the Niners to keep it close. If you’re undecided, like me, you toss a coin. Mine came down tails, so I’m taking Washington to make the difference two field goals.

Carolina (+3.5) at Atlanta
As the fans in Atlanta will happily attest, Michael Vick doesn’t have a whole lot in common with Chris Chandler beyond the fact that they play the same position. OK, so that’s not really fair. Chandler, who’s played for pretty much every team in the league at some point (and who, at 39, is old enough that during his first stint with the Rams, the team was still in Los Angeles.) had the two best seasons of his career under center with Atlanta. But my point remains the same: don’t expect Vick to go throwing six picks to the Panthers. In fact, history says Vick will have a big day; the Falcons have never lost to Carolina with Vick at QB. But the Falcons could be in for a long day here. They’ve lost one running back T.J. Duckett for at least two weeks to knee surgery. And the other, Warrick Dunn, will have to find a way to succeed without help from fullback Justin Griffith, an amazing run blocker, who’s gone for the season. That puts pretty much everything on Vick’s shoulders. And if you ask me, that’s a good scenario for the Carolina defense and the makings of an upset. I’m taking the Panthers straight up and, of course, with the points.

Buffalo (-1) at Cincinnati
The Bills go into this game knowing they absolutely can’t afford to lose. That’s their story for the rest of the season, in fact. You’re not getting into the playoffs in the AFC with a record of less than 10-6, which means winning out for 7-6 Buffalo, which has won its last four games, and seven of its last nine. Cincinnati saw its chances of making the playoffs ended last weekend in Foxborough, but that doesn’t mean they won’t do everything the can to spoil things for the Bills. Buffalo’s playing way too well these days to take the fall here, though. And Jon Kitna, who takes over at quarterback for Cincinnati for injured Carson Palmer, has to be rusty (though he didn’t show it last week in relief). I like Buffalo to win it by at least a touchdown.

Dallas (+12) at Philadelphia
This is the last game during the regular season that the Eagles have any incentive to win. In beating the Cowboys, they will shore up home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs. That’s good news for the Eagles, who are banged up and need some rest. Better news is that this one will probably be well in hand by halftime, and ensure that Koy Detmer will take some snaps and Reno Mahe will get some carries in the fourth quarter. Does that allow Dallas to climb back within 12? Shit, man, I don’t know. Maybe. Don’t bet this game either way, because you never know. But if you have to make a pick against the spread, go ahead and take the Boys with the points just to be safe. Twelve points are still a lot in the NFL, after all.

Denver (-1) at Kansas City
Another shootout in Kansas City. You sorta havta figure the Broncos are gonna win this game. They’re playing for their playoff lives; it’s a big division game; the Chiefs D doesn’t match up well against QB Jake Plummer and the rest of the Denver offense; and the Chiefs are coming off a big, exhausting Monday night game with Tennessee. Still, the Chiefs are averaging eight more points a game than the Broncos. And they are at home. And I hate the fucking Broncos. So I’m taking the Chiefs with the point, partially out of a hunch they’ll fiind a way to win it, and partially out of plain old spite.

Houston (+1) at Chicago
You know, neither of these teams is very good. In fact, there’s little to recommend in either of them. Yet one of them is gonna come out of this game a winner. So do you take the 5-8 home team or the 5-8 team from the stronger conference? I say you take the 5-8 team that doesn’t have the league’s 32nd-ranked offense. That’d be Houston (to win).

Minnesota (-3) at Detroit
I’m sure I’m not the first to offer this advice to Vikings coach Mike Tice, but I’m gonna offer it anyhow: You’ve got a talented quarterback on your team, Mike. His name is Daunte Culpepper. It’s not Randy Moss. You do have an amazing wide receiver named Randy Moss, though. So, if you find your team in scoring position late in a close game this week, consider something revolutionary, like having Culpepper throw a pass and Moss catch it. Just a thought, Mike. And if you take that advice, my guess is your Vikings win this one by a touchdown.

San Diego (-9.5) at Cleveland
As has been the case more often than not with Cleveland’s games this season, I find myself with little to nothing particularly insightful to say here. Of course San Diego wins this. Of course Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson has a huge day against the league’s 31st-ranked run defense. And given the amount of time they’re likely to spend on the field, it’s a safe bet Cleveland’s 10th-ranked pass D has a tough time keeping up with San Diego QB Drew Brees, the fourth highest rated passer in the league. Might as well go ahead and give the points.

Seattle (+6.5) at NY Jets
The Seahawks can clinch a playoff berth this week if they win and the Cowboys, Giants, Lions, Panthers and Bears all lose or tie. Now that’s some kind of formula. Of course, the Seahawks can also earn a virtual lock on the NFC West title with a win and a Rams loss. I think St. Louis will come through (see below), but the Seahawks aren’t beating the Jets. Even if quarterback Chad Pennington comes out looking as rusty as he did last week against Pittsburgh (he won’t; Pennington’s struggling against good teams, but the Seahawks aren’t a good team), the Jets, who are battling to hold onto the AFC five seed, will get everything they need on offense from running back Curtis Martin. The Seahawks can’t stop average running backs; they’re certainly not gonna stop Martin, who’s having an amazing year. And the New York D should have no trouble shutting down the struggling Seahawks offense. Take the Jets to win it by a touchdown.

New Orleans (+7.5) at Tampa Bay
I don’t care what they did to Dallas last week, the Saints still have a D that’s 32nd against the run, 30th against the pass, and 32nd overall. I don’t care that San Diego got the best of them last week, the Buccaneers still have a D that’s second against pass, 22nd against the run and fifth overall. And that, not whether either team can make the playoffs (because neither will) is the difference here. Bucs running back Michael Pittman posts three TDs and Tampa Bay wins and covers.

St. Louis (-3) at Arizona
So far this season, Chris Chandler (see Carolina-Atlanta above), who will be starting under center for the Rams again this weekend, has been intercepted once every seven times he throws the ball. That’s not good. He’ll get that average down a bit this week, throwing only two picks in 25 or so attempts, but one of those will go for seven the other way as the Cards upset the Rams and all but hand the horrible NFC West crown to Seattle.

Jacksonville (+3.5) at Green Bay
Both teams need a win here. The Packers can clinch a playoff berth and render their Christmas Eve visit to Minnesota an opportunity to clinch the NFC North title and the conference three seed. The Jags have to win just to hold onto an outside shot at sneaking into the AFC playoffs as the six seed. The bad news for Jacksonville is that it gets real cold and real windy in Green Bay this time of year. And while Packers running back Ahman Green and Jaguars running back Fred Taylor are having similar seasons (both are averaging 4.5 yards a carry and about 82 yards per game), Pack QB Brett Favre is simply better suited to playing in bad weather than Jags QB Byron Leftwich. Green Bay’s D isn’t quite as good against the run as Jacksonville’s (giving up 110.8 yards per game vs. 101.3) so they Packers probably won’t cover, but they will win.

Tennessee (+2.5) at Oakland
For the second straight season the Raiders are in a state of total fucking disarray. They’ve got a backup quarterback who can’t get shit done under center (albeit this time while a more talented athlete sits on the bench). And their defense couldn’t stop a pickup offense featuring me and ten other overweight spazmos. So who’s gonna win? Don’t make me say it, OK. Just don’t. (But take the goddamned Titans and be glad you’re somehow getting two and a half points.)

Baltimore (+7.5) at Indianapolis
This game is in all likelihood the beginning of the end for Baltimore. As of right now, the Ravens, as the cliche goes, control their own destiny. If they can win out, they’re in the playoffs as at least the six seed and, if the Jets stumble, possibly the five. If they lose a game, they have to contend with the strong possibility that Denver will finish in front of them and that Buffalo or Jacksonville will tie them. If they lose two, they’re essentially cooked, as two of those three teams will surely outperform them, at which point it doesn’t matter what the Jets do. And here’s the thing: after this game against the Colts, the Ravens have to travel to Pittsburgh, where they simply are not going to win (would that they would). So a loss here all but ensures Baltimore’s downfall. And they’re headed for a loss here, though it’d be great if they could pull out a win and make Indy the probable four seed. (Indy, it seems to me, has a better chance than San Diego of knocking off Pittsburgh at Heinz Field. So, assuming Pittsburgh is gonna hold on and be the one seed — which seems likely, though back-to-back games with the Ravens and Bills won’t make for an easy way to end the season — you want Indy as the four seed so they’re likely to go to Pittsburgh in the divisional playoff round. And since the Patriots can beat both Indy and San Diego in Foxborough in January, it doesn’t much matter which team they get in the divisional round.) Anyway, I’m thinking Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who has 46 touchdown passes going in, at least ties and possibly breaks Dan Marino’s single-season record (48) and the Colts take it by 12 or more.

New England (-9.5) at Miami
You know what? Don’t talk to me about friggin’ trap games. It’s a division game. And the Pats are playing for a bye week and, more important, the possibility of creeping past Pittsburgh (should the Steelers lose in Buffalo in week 17) and grabbing home-field advantage in the playoffs. Don’t talk to me about Charlie Weis leaving for Notre Dame, either. There’s no more focused team in the league than New England. Talk to me about the Miami defense if you like. And the New England D. But if you do I’ll have to point out that Dolphins quarterback A.J. Feeley has an incredible knack for throwing touchdown passes to opposing DBs. Could this be the week Troy Brown finally scores on the defensive side of the ball? On Monday Night Football? That would be a gas. Either way, take the Pats and, yeah, might as well give the points.

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