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Week Eight Picks

October 29th, 2005

I’m not betting a dime on NFL games this week (or at least not a dime over and above what I’ve already got committed to a pool and a couple of fantasy leagues, which is to say I’m placing no real bets). Wanna know why? It’s because my gut tells me this is upside-down week. There’s one week every season when all of the teams (well, not all, but many) that are supposed to win big end up losing, some of them big. The guys on NFL Primetime go nuts. The football columnists at the big papers and the sports magazines shrug their shoulders. Everyone wonders what it all means. Then, a week later, everything settles back to normal. Upside-down week. It usually hits close to mid-season, typically week seven or eight — my guess it that it’s far enough in that players are hurt and tired, but no so far that they see the playoff implications of every game; mix that with teams feeling like they ought to be able to beat their opponents and things get topsy-turvy — and since it didn’t happen in week seven, I’m expecting it to happen in week eight. Now, I’m not gonna go putting money on that or anything (that is, betting all the underdogs to cover, because even if it is upside-down week one or two of them won’t) or even just plain old picking with upside-down results in mind, because there’s absolutely nothing rational about my assessment of what’s ahead. But I’m also not gonna stake anything on rational outcomes when I’ve got an idea something totally irrational is on the horizon.

So what does all this mean to you? Just that you should be even less likely than usual to look at my guesses as to what’s coming as in any way prescient. They’re not. I expect to be mostly wrong. And now I’ve warned you.

Arizona (+7.5) at Dallas
The good news for Arizona is that Dennis Green appears to have figured out, at long last, that Josh McCown’s the best quarterback on his roster. The bad news is that he’s figured that out as his team heads into Dallas, where they should be roundly stomped by a Cowboys team that really needs to stomp on somebody right now. The worse news is that should the Cardinals take the beating one imagines they’re in for, Green will probably crank up the tune on that game of musical quarterbacks once again, and come next week, Seattle defenders will probably be looking over the line at Kurt Warner. The mitigating news is that maybe it really is upside-down week and McCown will emerge the hero. Me, I’m taking the Boys and giving the touchdown plus.

Chicago (+3) at Detroit
The question of whether it is or isn’t upside-down week doesn’t much matter in this game. It’s a coin toss. And since there’s no saying how the coin would land in regular week, there’s no guessing what the opposite result would be. Both teams are 3-3 and not looking too good overall (except that they’re tied for first place in the NFC North). Chicago’s been a bit better on defense (a lot better in terms of points allowed, to the tune of most of a touchdown per game), while Detroit’s been slightly less awful (to the tune of half a point per game) on offense. On a neutral field, that breakdown favors the Bears. But this game isn’t being played on a neutral field (it ain’t the Super Bowl and this ain’t a Saints “home” game); it’s being played in Detroit. Chicago’s 0-2 on the road so far this season. And there’s no question in my mind but that Jeff Garcia, who makes his second start under center for the Lions this week, should be able to do a lot more with Detroit’s talent-heavy offense than the now official first-round bust Joey Harrington ever could. So I’m taking Detroit straight up, but I’m figuring Chicago at the very least will keep it closer than three. And if the Bears end up winning, I won’t be shocked, whether it’s upside down week or not.

Cleveland (even) at Houston
Man, it must be upside-down week if the Texans aren’t underdogs. OK, so they’re playing at home. And, sure, they’re hosting a rebuilding Browns team that hasn’t done much to impress anyone in recent weeks. But I’m confident that even if Browns coach Romeo Crennel doesn’t find a way to win this game, the Texans will find a way to lose it. They always do. I’m going with the Browns.

Green Bay (+7.5) at Cincinnati
No offensive line (free agency/salary cap). No Javon Walker (injury). No Ahman Green (injury). No Najeh Davenport (injury). No Robert Ferguson (injury). Duck, Brett! Duck! Cincinnati doesn’t look so good after last week, but they still win this one by 10 to 14. (Unless it’s upside-down week, in which case, Favre wins it by force of will, which is about all Green Bay has going for it right now.)

Jacksonville (-3) at St. Louis
I’m not the hugest Mike Martz fan in the world (this is more than a bit of an understatement), but if I were the St. Louis brass, I might be inclined to listen if Martz the next time he tries to call in a play from his hospital bed. For one thing, you come out looking less like an asshole. For another, it’s not like his play’s gonna make things any worse. Because, you know, they really can’t get much worse. I’m taking the Jaguars and happily giving the points. (If it’s upside-down week, this will be one of the games that goes the other way, just because it shouldn’t.)

Miami (+2) at New Orleans
When you break down the numbers, you can only conclude Miami has to win this game. The Saints defense gives up a touchdown (with the extra point) more per game than the Fins D. And while the Miami offense trails the San Antonio offense by about 35 yards per game, it finds the end zone slightly more often, putting up 19.2 points per outing to New Orleans’ 17. On the season, New Orleans has done a better job of running the ball than Miami, but that calculation includes a lot of yards gained before Deuce McAllister was placed on IR, and a lot of games played before Ricky Williams made it onto the field. Plus, Miami stops the run better than New Orleans. So you’ve gotta feel like Williams and Ronnie Brown can’t help but have a better day against the Saints’ 24th-ranked run D than Antowain Smith and Aaron Stecker are apt to have against a Miami run D that’s ranked 20th. All points to a Miami win, right? Right. But I’m still taking New Orleans, not because it’s upside-down week, but because every damned time I pick Miami to win, I get fucked. And, as a friend of a friend likes to say, fuck me once, fuck you; fuck me twice, fuck me. I’m taking New Orleans and the points, and expecting the Dolphins to fuck me by winning.

Minnesota (+7) at Carolina
You know what kills me? All the buzz about Minnesota’s “big comeback” in last week’s home game against the Green Bay Packers. You know, all the shit about how Mike Tice’s big halftime speech inspired his team to get back out on the field, dig in and win it. What a giant crock of shit. What exactly did Tice say? Did he threaten to fight any player who missed a block or a tackle? Or maybe he offered to pull some strings with some of his scalper buddies and get front-row concert seats for anyone who made a big play. Probably not. Probably what happened was the Vikings turned last week’s game around because the Packers, who came in sorely undermanned, lost two key offensive starters, including Ahman Green, whose backup, Najeh Davenport, hat already been lost for the season, and they just didn’t have the weapons to protect their lead. The mere fact that the Packers were ever ahead in a game played on Minnesota’s home carpet says far more than the fact that the Vikings were able to mount a comeback. So the big question this week, “Will Tice’s halftime speech carry over to this week’s game at Carolina?” is a joke. A bad joke. No, it won’t, because it never mattered to begin with. And it certainly won’t get these undisciplined Vikings past a superior Panthers team. I’m taking Carolina and giving the points. (Unless it’s upside-down week, in which case the Vikings will cruise to victory, since they are, after all, the most upside-down team in the league.)

Oakland (-2) at Tennessee
This is another one of those games with no possible upside-down outcome because there’s no rightside-up outcome. Either team can pull this off. Neither team is worth half a damn on defense (though the Raiders are worth maybe a third of a damn, just based on the fact that they can stop the run even if they’re terribly vulnerable to the pass). And both are worth pretty much exactly half a damn on offense. But, man, unless the Raiders are completely hopeless, they ought to be able to throw the ball very well against the Titans, and that, I expect, will make the difference. I’m taking the Raiders and giving the safety differential.

Washington (+3) at NY Giants
The only reason I’m taking the Giants straight up in this game is the fact that they’re at home. Really. That’s it. Not Eli Manning. Not Plaxico Burress. Not Tiki Barber. And not Jeremy Shockey. Because although all of those guys are good, and although the Giants offense appears to be kicking it into high gear, the Redskins, on paper at least, look like the better team to me. Right now. Later in the season, I expect that to flip around, so there’s no saying what I’ll do when these teams meet in Maryland. But right now, at this moment, I’m going with the home team straight ahead and expecting the road team to make it a push against the spread. (If it’s upside-down week, this one’s a Redskins blowout.)

Kansas City (+4.5) at San Diego
I’ve been saying all season that at some point around mid-season the Chargers’ blocking schemes would start to break down. And that’s precisely what I saw happening as I watched San Diego take it on the chin at Philadelphia last Sunday. The departure of Hudson Houck, maybe the best O line coach in the game, for Miami in the off-season is coming back to haunt the Chargers. You could see it all day long; Philly defenders constantly in the backfield chasing down Drew Brees and dropping LaDainian Tomlinson for losses. And while all you heard during the game (and after from analysts) was how amazing it was to see the Eagles shut Tomlinson down like they did, what you heard afterward from the Philly defense was more telling. Asked about the play late in the game when they blocked a field goal, picked up the ball and returned it for a touchdown to retake the lead, grab the momentum and effectively ice a win, the Philly players talked about how they’d noticed in reviewing film that San Diego’s linemen consistently were going through the motions on field goals. That is, they weren’t making their blocks frequently enough for the Eagles to spot it and plan to exploit it. Yet somehow, Carl Mauck, who took over for Houck, managed to miss this. You see what I’m saying? It’s not that the Eagles thought they saw a weak spot, tested it and came out ahead. It’s that they saw O linemen not doing their jobs and exploited it on a play that made the difference in the game. And the guy San Diego pays to notice stuff like O linemen not doing their jobs was asleep at the wheel. Unless Mauck wakes up soon, the Chargers’ difficulties are only gonna grow worse and worse as the season wears on. This week? Eh, I don’t know. I’m still not sold on Kansas City. And it seems like you’ve gotta be able to get up for a big division game even if you’re an O lineman who’d rather not make his blocks most of the time. So I’m taking the Chargers straight up, the Chiefs with the points and figuring if I turn out to be wrong (upside-down week or not) I’ll have learned my lesson about picking San Diego in close matchups for the rest of the season.

Philadelphia (+3) at Denver
All I know about this game is that it’s gonna be really, really good. I haven’t looked at local TV listings, but I’m hoping like hell I get a chance to see it. I’m expecting a good bit of offense as the Eagles’ top-ranked passing offense goes up against a Denver pass D that’s ranked 26th. (Terrell Owens almost can’t help but have a big day vs. Denver’s soft secondary), and Denver’s solid rushing offense takes on a Philly unit that has struggled to stop running backs at times (except, you know, for how they shut down Tomlinson last week, but for my theory on why that happened see my pick in the Chiefs/Chargers game). I like the Broncos because they’re at home and because they pass better than the Eagles run. I’m taking Denver and giving the points. But it won’t take upside-down week to make it go the other way.

Tampa Bay (-10) at San Francisco
Say you’re Tim Rattay. How do you think it’s gonna feel to watch 49ers starting quarterback Ken Dorsey (in for injured rookie Alex Smith, who replaced Rattay at QB a few weeks back) getting pounded into the ground by your new team’s defense on play after play after play and think, “There but for the grace of the trade to Tampa Bay, go I.” I mean, sure, Rattay isn’t starting for the Bucs, but I’m guessing at this point it’s gotta feel better to ride the pine on the Tampa Bay sideline than it would to be eating turf under center for San Francisco. I expect Bucs starting QB Chris Simms to have a huge day, and for whomever Tampa starts at running back (whether it’s mostly healthy but probably not needed Cadillac Williams or entirely capable dickhead Michael Pittman) to score no fewer than three times. I’m taking the Bucs and giving the points. (If it’s truly upside-down week, this one goes the other way. That’s the thing about upside-down week: the results are dumbfoundingly unbelievable.)

Buffalo (+7) at New England
It doesn’t much matter whether Corey Dillon is able to start. If Dillon, who practiced some during the week, does get back onto the field, he’ll have a huge day against Buffalo’s non-existent run defense. And if he doesn’t, Patrick Pass will have a huge day against Buffalo’s non-existent run defense. And with or without Tedy Bruschi, the Pats D should come up big against a Buffalo offense that can’t keep pass rushers away from its quarterbacks. The only way the Bills pull off the upset in this one is if they have some super powerful upside-down week mojo working for them. Otherwise, the Pats win it by 24 or more.

Baltimore (+8.5) at Pittsburgh
This is the game for which I want it to be upside-down week, because that’s the only way the Ravens, who have absolutely nothing going for them on offense and a D that’s falling apart from injuries, manages a win at Pittsburgh. And I’d surely love to see Baltimore pull off the upset. But you can’t pick for that stuff, so you’ve gotta look for the Steelers to win this one by 10 or more.

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