After going 13-2 two weeks ago (missing on Oakland over Cincinnati and Kansas City over Pittsburgh) and following that up with a 10-6 week (including a 41-17 prediction of New Orleans over New England), there is no doubt that I am on fire!!
Yesterday was my birthday, so I’m hoping that the hot streak continues. Party on.
I didn’t make a pick for the Jets-Bills game. Still, I wouldn’t have picked the Jets. Sure, I picked the Jets to make the playoffs after their 2-0 start, but Buffalo really should have figured out a way to back up a tough win over the Dolphins with a tough win over the Jets. Home field, short week, new coach. What else to you need?
St. Louis Rams vs. Chicago Bears. The Rams are a one win team. It will stay that way until they play someone with whom they have more familiarity in St. Louis. The Bears thought this season would be more promising. A loss here means heads will roll. They may roll anyway. For all intents and purposes, the Bears do not have a running game. The team has had three 100-yard rushing games all season. Two of those games came against Detroit and Cleveland. The third came against Philadelphia and Matt Forte managed 34 yards on 14 carries. The Rams, conversely, have had eight 100-yard rushing games. Heavy doses of Steven Jackson could make this too close for comfort. Chicago 24, St. Louis 21.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers. When 4-7 meets 1-10, bad things happen. This is the second such matchup this week (see above). Since the beginning of the Josh Freeman Experiment, the Bucs have defeated the Green Bay Packers (7-4) and lost by two points to the Miami Dolphins and lost by three points to the Atlanta Falcons. Pyrrhic victories have to be enough for a rookie coach working with his third quarterback, his second offensive coordinator AND doubling as a defensive coordinator. In between those losses was a New England-esque smoke out at the hands of the Saints. I like the Bucs to pull this one out. Tampa Bay 28, Carolina 21.
Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars. The notoriously inconsistent Houston Texans are in the midst of a three-game losing streak. Before that, they’d won three in a row. The Texans have lost twice to the Colts and once to the Titans. That’s no way to make the playoffs. This team has yet to demonstrate it can win close games. Meanwhile, Jacksonville has to yet to demonstrate winning effort west of the Kansas City. On two trips to the west coast, the Jags were outscored 61-6. Does anyone want to see either of these teams waste a wildcard spot by going on the road and playing a one-dimensional offensive game vs. a superior opponent? I’m rooting for a 0-0 tie. It won’t happen. Jacksonville 36, Houston 34. Kris Brown — wide right, AGAIN.
Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs. The problem with the Broncos against teams like Baltimore and Pittsburgh was age and size. The Ravens and Steelers made them look old and small. A short week and a home game against the fatigued Giants made them look experienced and rested. A long break (since Thanksgiving) figures to have Kyle Orton and company in prime condition. Denver should regain their stride, but it is too late to catch the Chargers. They better hope that Baltimore and Pittsburgh continue to stumble because they’re still holding the cards if everyone is knotted up. Denver 23, Kansas City 19.
New Orleans Saints vs. Washington Redskins. TRAP GAME!!!!!! The Saints have to know this is the biggest hurdle on their schedule. It is because it is the ONLY game they can play on Sunday — and because the Redskins have a tough pass defense. The Patriots truly are a smoke and mirrors squad. Most of the nation that continues to fawn over that team can hardly name a player other than Brady, Moss and Welker. The Redskins defense (#7 overall) takes away the passing game from most of their opponents. Only Philadelphia and the Giants have passed for more than 230 yards. The Saints, then, have to be prepared to run. I believe that earlier games vs. Buffalo and Miami have laid the framework for winning at Washington. New Orleans must run to win. Last week, 25 carries were sufficient because the Patriots surrendered big plays in the passing game. Washington is less likely to do so. This game may require 33+ carries. If New Orleans can get Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell the rock AND sustain drives, they win. If not, they will have flashbacks to last season when the Redskins knocked them off 29-24. The Redskins were the last time outside of the NFC South to shut down the Saints passing game (195 yards) and running game (55 yards). (It would be nice if the Redskins had Clinton Portis and Chris Cooley for this game.) New Orleans 24, Washington 22.
Oakland Raiders at Pittsburgh Steelers. After you’ve lost to the Kansas City Chiefs, you do not have any more trap games on your schedule. You cannot be surprised anymore. You cannot underestimate anyone anymore. You can only go out and play. If you win, shut up and go play again next week. If you lose, shut up and go play again next week. Either way, the time for talk is OVER. Put up AND shut up. Pittsburgh Steelers 26, Oakland Raiders 6.
New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins. Miami really needs Ronnie Brown to win this game. Clearly, the Patriots do not have an elite defense. Given that both the Colts and Saints scorched them in consecutive weeks, no one really knows what kind of defense they have. All I know is that they can stop one-dimensional offenses. If you cannot run AND pass, you’re going to have a long day — unless you’ve got tricks up your sleeve. Denver beat New England with 21 passing first downs and a 330 yard day from Kyle Orton. That’s just not an option for Chad Henne and The Uncatchables. I don’t ever “like” New England in Miami, but the Dolphins really have no business winning this one. New England 35, Miami 16.
Detroit Lions at Cincinnati Bengals. After you’ve lost to the Oakland Raiders, you do not have any more trap games on your schedule. You cannot be surprised anymore. You cannot underestimate anyone anymore. You can only go out and play. If you win, shut up and go play again next week. If you lose, shut up and go play again next week. Either way, the time for talk is OVER. Put up AND shut up. Cincinnati Bengals 38, Detroit Lions 20.
Philadelphia Eagles at Atlanta Falcons. He’s baaack!! Some folks have been waiting for this game ALL SEASON long. Michael Vick finally returns to the house that he built. The Georgia Dome is going to be electric — and it’s going to be like a home game…for the EAGLES. This game has tremendous playoff implications for the Falcons. If they lose this game, they will intensify the pressure to run the table. The best that they can hope for is a wildcard berth at the expense of the Giants or Cowboys (to whom they’ve already lost), the Eagles, or the Packers. The Packers are already 6-3 in the NFC with dates at Chicago, Seattle, and at Arizona. Atlanta cannot expect help there.
The Falcons need Michael Turner and Roddy White to play great games in order to win. The loss of Turner has turned the season upside down. Atlanta is arguably good enough to be 8-3. Turner was injured early vs. the Panthers. He had accumulated 111 yards on 9 carries. The Falcons were one cut place kicker away from a 22-21 win. They lost. The next week, they fell to the Giants. Atlanta has come along way since an early season loss to the Patriots, but Matt Ryan is still the weak link in the chain. Asante Samuel and Sheldon Brown should be equal to the task.
Edge Philly. Philadelphia 34, Atlanta 33.
BIG GAME ALERT!!!!
Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts. I watched Vince Young lead the Titans on a 99-yard touchdown drive vs. the Arizona Cardinals. It was a great drive against a defense that was supposed to be prepared. The Cardinals, it turns out, were far from prepared. In fact, they failed to learn of the day. Before the drive, Vince had thrown for nearly 300 yards. He had thrown accurate, on time passes all over the field and his favorite target was Kenny Britt. During that final drive, the Cardinals were unable to get consistent pressure from their front four. They wasted defenders by spying a QB who had no interest in running. They wasted downs by failing to bring pressure. And they allowed the Titans to take a leisurely stroll down the field without using a single timeout until Vince was sacked at the Arizona 11 yard line. It was not a shining moment in the history of Arizona Cardinal football. With that said, Vince is a REAL G.
I’ve been calling for him to start games this season since Week 2. He plays with an eery calm. He is possessed of the type of confidence that comes from an extended tutelage at the feet of a master. In his case, it was Steve McNair. To put all of this in perspective, the Tennessee Titans are +54 (net points) since Vince Young took over. Before that, they were -114. Only 10 teams in the league are doing better than that. The Giants, Steelers, Broncos and Falcons are not on the list doing better. The Titans are playing like the team that was supposed to emerge from the disappointment of surrendering a 13-3 season to the Baltimore Ravens.
The Colts haven’t run the ball effectively vs. the Titans in years. They haven’t even passed effectively against them since the emergence of Courtland Finnegan and the rest of that young, talented secondary. In the last two losses vs. the Titans, Indianapolis has managed 223 yards and 194 yards passing. That’s just not going to get it. The Colts need to get pressure on Vince Young — and they’ll attack with Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. The Titans counter with center Kevin Mawae and two Pro Bowl caliber tackles (including stud Michael Roos). I like the Titans to win this game going away. Tennessee 30, Indianapolis 21.
San Diego Chargers at Cleveland Browns. The Chargers have just pimp-smacked the opposition the last two weeks. Denver and Kansas City were beaten down by a combination of effective offense and smothering defense. The Chargers are having a typical season…and they’re laughing their asses off at all the talk of a Saints-Colts Super Bowl. The Chargers know what you’ve already forgotten. The post-season for the Indianapolis Colts has ended at the hands of the San Diego Chargers for the past two seasons. In 2007, the Chargers went to Indianapolis and crushed the Colts. Last year, the Colts rode a 9-game winning streak to the playoffs and were summarily dismissed again by the Chargers. San Diego is holding all the cards for a long run through the post-season. With New England in shambles and Pittsburgh hoping to unleash hell, the Chargers really should be the favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. Cleveland is a bump in the road and they lack the firepower to make this a contest. San Diego Chargers 48, Cleveland Browns 7.
San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks. I should have read the story about the resignation of the team president and GM before writing this pick. There is always something wrong with the Seahawks. There has been one season where things did not go haywire (2005). NFL officials did their level best to rob the Seahawks of a chance to win the game. No team has had more solidly mediocre seasons between 6-10 and 10-6. The Seahawks are never very bad and only once have they been very good. For TWENTY-FOUR YEARS, the Seahawks have finished somewhere between 6-10 and 10-6. For EIGHTEEN of NINETEEN seasons dating back to 1985, the Northwest Middle Birds finished somewhere between 6-10 and 10-6. It is fascinating, on a certain level, that the 49ers were such a symbol of excellence for so long. The 49ers seem to be a team on the rise (without the wings to fly) and the Seahawks seem to be a team in the middle of a playoff hunt: neither fully in, nor fully out. Seattle 13, San Francisco 10.
Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants. At the beginning of the season, I remember saying to friends, “Eli finally has a team all his own.” All of the big personalities on offense are gone. Shockey, Barber, and Burress are gone. The Giants are 6-5 for a number of reasons. One of those reasons, however, is that isn’t a great passer. He’s a decent enough quarterback. He can make plays. He competes. He has a Super Bowl ring, but there is something missing. And, everyone in New York knows it. Perhaps this was amplified by the fact that Ben Roethlisberger (for all his issues) has two Super Bowl rings and that Philip Rivers just left town with an improbable victory. It’s Eli’s team, but the doubts remain. Did the Giants really get the right guy? The Giants have suffered through a four game losing streak and were beaten down by the Denver Broncos. Nine days of rest does a body good. The Cowboys had the same rest and never left home after a stress-reduction exercise vs. the Raiders. The Giants desperately need this game and simply may not have the horses to pull it out. I say, take it OUT of Eli’s hands and roll the dice with Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw. Dallas 27, Giants 17.
Minnesota Vikings at Arizona Cardinals. Last year, the Vikings went to the desert and rode the strong arm of Tarvaris Jackson (remember him????) to four passing touchdowns and an easy win over the eventual conference champion. You can expect more of the same this week. Arizona is probably still shocked about losing to Tennessee. They probably expect to lose this week. Minnesota 33, Arizona 26.
Baltimore Ravens at Green Bay Packers. The Ravens don’t use Ray Rice enough to consistently impose their will on the opposing defense. Joe Flacco is not going to throw the ball all over the yard at Lambeau. If he tries it, Charles Woodson is going to make him pay. The Packers defense is improved, but it is far from dominant. The Ravens are not possessed of a dominant defense either and could find themselves chasing Aaron Rodgers’ missiles all over the yet to be frozen tundra. If the Ravens follow Michael Oher and ride Rice, they can get a W here. If they rely on Flacco, they’re going to lose. The Packers have won three in a row and last faced the Detroit Lions on the national turkey day. The Ravens are coming off a bruising win vs. the Steelers. I lost count at the number of “Bird Men” who were carried off the field. I’ll take the rested Packers to find a way to make plays. Green Bay 28, Baltimore 21.