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Week Six Picks

October 14th, 2005

Too many underdogs. That’s what I’ve got this week. Too many goddamn underdogs winning straight up. Why? I don’t know. Maybe I just like to be wrong. A lot.

Atlanta (-4.5) at New Orleans
How do you rebound from a heartbreaking, last-second loss at home? (Not an easy thing to take even when it comes at the hands of the defending champs.) You get your starting quarterback on his feet and on the field, you load up your league-leading rushing game, and you travel to San Antonio to play a Saints team that officially has no home, no run defense, and now no running game. And then you go to town. Take the Falcons and give the points. Atlanta wins this one by 17, minimum.

Carolina (+1) at Detroit
Carolina has made something of a habit this season of losing games they ought to win, which has more than a little bit do to with the team’s deplorable pass defense. The Panthers have been allowing 259 yards per game in the air. That’d spell big trouble against Detroit, with all of its talented receivers, if only Lions quarterback Joey Harrington had any ability to deliver a pass to those guys (or even just the ones who aren’t serving out drug suspensions) once in a blue moon. Trouble is, he doesn’t. Harrington completes about half of his passes, and he’s found opposing DBs twice as often as he’s found his own guys in the end zone. So why’s Detroit favored in this game? Well, it ain’t because of Kevin Jones’ rockin’ 2.9 yards per carry, so it’s gotta be because they’re at home, because their defense has played fairly well, and because the Panthers don’t seem to be able to win consistently. Me, I’m expecting Carolina’s stifling run D to shut down Jones, and any D at all to stop Harrington. I also expect Carolina’s mediocre offense to find a way to best a good Detroit D as the game wears on and those 40 minutes on the field start to take their toll. I’m picking the upset.

Cincinnati (-3) at Tennessee
After being exposed as exactly what their critics said they were (a team that hadn’t beaten anyone impressive and probably couldn’t) a week ago in Jacksonville, the Bengals return to picking on hapless bottom dwellers. Take Cincinnati and give the points.

Cleveland (+5.5) at Baltimore
Forget about Trent Dilfer and the whole revenge thing, this game is about Jamal Lewis, plain and simple. Lewis, who spent the offseason behind bars, has done all of nothing this season. Over four games, he has 233 yards on 74 carries (for an average of 3.1 per carry, 58.3 per game). And he’s coughed up twice as many balls as he’s carried into the end zone. This week, Lewis faces a Cleveland D that’s 30th in the league against the run, giving up 137 yards a game (though, to their credit, only twice have the Browns allowed a running back to reach the end zone). If Lewis can’t crank it up in front of the home crowd this week, his season’s as good as a complete bust (just the regular kind, though, Jamal, not the drug kind — so there’s that). My sense is that Lewis is gonna have to look to make a big comeback next season. And my belief is that Baltimore is in more of a tailspin than anyone has realized to date. I expect reality to drop like a brick when the heavily favored Ravens lose to the rebuilding Browns.

Jacksonville (+3) at Pittsburgh
The Steelers will have to go without Ben Roethlisberger and Hines Ward this week, which doesn’t help their chances against a Jacksonville team that’s finding ways to win games with its D — getting into the backfield, creating disruptions, making sacks, forcing turnovers, and creating opportunities for the offense. Of course, Pittsburgh’s D is solid, too, and they’ll be tough to beat with a gimpy Fred Taylor and an O line that has a habit of opening the door for pass rushers. I think this one’s close and low scoring. I think the Steelers find a way to win it, but not by three. Maybe just by one.

Miami (+4.5) at Tampa Bay
You know, if this game were in Miami, I’d take the Dolphins without hesitation. The Fins are continuing to play semi-decent football, and the fact that Ricky Williams returns to the lineup this week (following a year in “retirement” and a month on the unable to suit up due to too many bong hits list) only stands to make the offense better. Plus, the Bucs, who started strong with four wins, didn’t look so hot in the Meadowlands last week. With running back/offensive rookie of the year candidate Cadillac Williams on the sidelines, the running game sputtered. And without the support there, Brian Griese started looking a lot like his old self, putting the ball in the hands of Jets DBs and setting his team up to take a loss. Even in Tampa, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Dolphins find a way to steal this one. They’re playing with a lot of discipline and a lot of heart. I’m certainly expecting Miami to keep it a good bit closer than four and a half. But I expect Griese to step it up a bit and I’m thinking Michael Pittman could have a decent day catching short passes even if the Bucs can’t run against Miami. I like the Bucs by two or three.

Minnesota (+3) at Chicago
Here’s why I have complete faith that the Vikings will turn their season around despite their horrible start: They really buckled down during the bye week, putting in extra effort to fix their numerous problems and get back on track before it’s too late. Or maybe not. Maybe what they did instead was spend their time partying on lake cruises with strippers and maybe prostitutes. When news broke that police were looking into what went on aboard the ships, ESPN.com quoted head coach/official team Super Bowl ticket scalper Mike Tice saying, “Quite frankly, I’m not happy about it.” Really, Mike? Is that all you’ve got to say for yourself in this matter? ‘Cause you know what? I think you could do a little better. But something tells me you’re not running the tightest ship in the league out there yourself. This has gotta be it for Tice. I mean, the guy’s one of the worst coaches in the league to begin with. He’s never been able to win consistently. His teams always fold at some point. He gets himself caught up in a ridiculous off-season scandal (see the Super Bowl crack above) that ought to have got him canned. Heading into the bye week, he gives a locker room speech that players say amounted to announcing he’d given up on the team. And now his guys, when they should be working their sorry asses off to find a way to win some goddamned games, are out carousing, acting like they don’t have a care in the world. Zygi Wilf ought to act quick to dump the loser now and find someone who has half a chance of setting a decent example and getting the team in order. Otherwise, he’s only gonna end up firing him after week nine, by which time the season will be in the toilet. So, you ask, what does all this have to do with this week’s trip to Chicago? Only this: If you’re not all about finding ways to win in the NFL you’re gonna find ways to lose. The Vikings should be able to rise above the Bears, but they won’t. Expect Daunte Culpepper to keep on throwing passes to Randy Moss only to remember, too late, that he isn’t there (though the opposing DBs sure are). Expect Tice’s last-minute adjustments to his O line to mean nothing. Expect whomever starts at running back for the Bears (Thomas Jones or Ced Benson) to have a huge day against Minnesota’s miserable D. And, of course, take Chicago and give the points.

NY Giants (+3) at Dallas
It’s true, the Cowboys did look pretty impressive beating Philadelphia last week. And I expect Dallas to have some success on offense again this week with or without Julius Jones in the lineup (looks to me like it’s gonna be without). But I don’t think there’s anyone in the Dallas secondary who can keep Plaxico Burress from catching balls (lots and lots of balls). And even they do, I think Jeremy Shockey (talented dickhead) will make up the difference. That should prove too much for Drew Bledsoe and the Cowboys receiving corps to match. I like New York in the upset.

Washington (+6) at Kansas City
The challenge here is figuring out which team inspires less confidence. Sure, the Redskins are 3-1 (and about half a play away from 4-0), but they’ve looked really unremarkable getting there. I’m still stunned by the way they stumbled backward into their victory at Dallas a few weeks back. The Chiefs, meanwhile, have looked nothing but awful. Heading into their bye, they’d dropped two straight, including a home game against Philadelphia. And the pair of wins they posted to start the season came against a Jets team that has since more than proven its awfulness and a Raiders team that played terribly and should have been crushed, but that the Chiefs just squeaked by. Both offenses run the ball fairly well. And both Ds stop the run OK. I don’t see any real advantage there either way. But Washington has moved the ball in the air a little bit better than Kansas City (gaining 233 yards a game through the pass as opposed to the Chiefs’ 210) and, most tellingly, has given up nearly 100 fewer yards per game to the pass than KC. Still, Arrowhead is a tough place for visiting teams to play (except the Eagles, I guess). And the Chiefs have had two weeks to get their shit together while the Skins played a very rough game in Denver last Sunday (plus, it’s hard as hell to win two straight on the road), so you have to feel like Kansas City has some kind of an edge. Right? Ah, actually, you know what? Nothing the Chiefs have done this season has led me to believe they have any real desire to win, while the overachieving Redskins have managed to post Ws even when they shouldn’t have. So not only am I taking the Skins to best the big spread, I’m taking them to win it outright.

New England (+3) at Denver
The Patriots needed to come out of their first six games (arguably the toughest part of their schedule) with three or four wins. They got number three last weekend at Atlanta. The question is, can they make it four by winning a second consecutive road game against a tough, tough team. I think they can. Indeed, I think the Pats match up quite well against Denver. The Patriots, who are 2-1 against the Broncos in Denver under Bill Belichick, are getting healthier on defense, which is nice, especially given that Richard Seymour returns to action this week. Seymour’s the kind of pass rusher who gets Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer to make the kind of stupid mistakes that cost his team games at times. More important, though, the Pats offense matches up very well against the Broncos D, especially in the trenches, where the better part of New England’s very good (and improving, due to great coaching) O line faces the better part of Denver’s D line. I see the Pats’ veteran linemen making things tough on Gerard Warren and Trevor Pryce, and the line as a whole once again buying Tom Brady enough time to find open receivers. I expect the Pats WRs to have a good day against Denver’s soft secondary, opening things up a bit for the tight ends and Corey Dillon. Denver should be able to run the ball fairly well (as they always do), but in the end, Denver’s running game won’t be able to keep up with New England’s passing game. I like the Pats to win it by a touchdown.

NY Jets (+3) at Buffalo
This game is hell to pick. Kelly Holcomb’s apparent improvement to the Bills offense last week notwithstanding (I continue to be skeptical about Holcomb’s ability to do much better than J.P. Losman had under center, which has nothing to do with him, mind you, it’s just that I don’t think anyone can succeed playing behind Buffalo’s obscenely bad O line), neither of these teams has an offense that’s worth half a damn. So this is a defensive struggle between two teams whose talented Ds are responsible for their wins last week. Which D is better? I don’t know. The Jets give up slightly fewer yards (295.2 as compared to the Bills’ 299.4) and less than half a point more (17 as compared to 16.6) per game on average. That’s a dead heat. Both Ds are solid against the pass and shaky against the run (there is a telling difference in average yards per carry, where the Bills have allowed 5 and the Jets only 3.5, a huge difference over the course of a game, but both teams have given up five rushing touchdowns, which is what counts in the end). And since both Os will need to establish a running game to get anything done, that would seem to favor New York. Trouble there is that Bills running back Willis McGahee is having a slightly less terrible season than Jets running back Curtis Martin, which would seem to even things out. Logic says you go with the home team in this situation. And even though something tells me Martin is due for a breakout day, I still can’t pick a team with Vinny Testaverde at quarterback. So I’m taking Buffalo straight up. Against the spread? Shit, I dunno. I’m not putting money on this. Let’s say it’s a push.

San Diego (-2) at Oakland
Offense. We’ve got offense. We’ve got lots and lots and lots and lots of offense. Some decent run D for both teams, too. But virtually no pass D for Oakland, which I think makes the difference in the end. I’m taking San Diego, giving the points, and hoping I turn out to be wrong.

Houston (+9.5) at Seattle
What’s wrong with Houston. Everything. And while it appears David Carr is a major part of the problem, I’m not sure Matt Leinart’s gonna fix things all by himself next season. But that’s a story for another day. Here, I’m looking for another big day for Joe Jurevicius, who came up huge in Seattle’s win over St. Louis last week, not to mention Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander, and an easy two-touchdown margin of victory for the Hawks.

St. Louis (+13.5) at Indianapolis
So let me get this straight. Sunday night we get Houston at Seattle. And Monday night we get St. Louis at Indianapolis. Nice programming, folks. This is compelling stuff. Can’t imagine how I’ll be able to tear myself away from the set. Look, a lot of people thought Houston could be halfway decent this season (as opposed to thoroughly awful, which is how they turned out), but did anyone truly believe the Rams were gonna be able to field a better than average team? I know I didn’t. But, then, I’ve never been part of the silly love affair a lot of folks in and around football have had with Mike Martz. Of course, Martz, who’s out with an infection in his heart (and I certainly hope he gets well soon; sounds like an awful condition), won’t be entirely responsible for the beating his team is going to take this week. Chalk that up to a Colts team that’s very much on the rise and a Rams team in the decline meeting at exactly the right (or wrong, depending on your perspective) moment. It’s certainly the wrong moment to put this game on in prime time (no wonder ABC’s getting out of the football business). Think about the games they could have put in front of a natoinal audience — Giants/Cowboys, Pats/Broncos, Redskins/Chiefs — instead of this mess and you’ll start to understand my point. Oh, well. Maybe if I get tired of watching Indy score every time its offense takes the field (and probably some of the times its defense checks in, too), I’ll check out this week’s Curb Your Enthusiasm on demand or something. Colts win by no fewer than 24 points.

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