Football Friday, Week Five

Thank you, my audience of nine who laughed yourselves silly at my predictions last week. For the record, 8-6 is right where the Broncos were after Week 14 last year and where I now stand in my 2010 picks. Eight up, six down isn’t bad considering that:

  • Kyle Orton leads THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE in passing
  • Tom Brady threw for less than 160 and the Pats beat the Dolphins by 27
  • Every week multiple teams out-gain their opposition by 150 yards or more… and lose
  • The last undefeated team in the league is quarterbacked by Matt Cassell.

No, it’s not rocket science. Rocket science obeys the principles of astrophysics and the space-time continuum. Even if they be restricted to elite egghead circles and filled with randomness and quantum wrinkles, at least you can dedicate these fields to something called science (which mean, “to know”). What do we “know” about the 2010 National Football League? That a fool and his money are soon parted.

Jacksonville at Buffalo: What a rousing way to start your Sunday at 1 Eastern. Jacksonville just gutted out a monumental victory at home over the Colts. They have scored 55 points in their wins and 16 in their losses. Buffalo, well, this is probably their best chance to win for sometime. The AFC East may be the best division in football (The NFC South is probably better) and Jacksonville is terrible away from home. Fans, enjoy two retread quarterbacks destined for the UFL next year playing starting roles on either side.

St. Louis at Detroit: Well whaddya know, the Rams at Lions in the Ides of March Bowl, The Fords versus the Wal-Marts. It really is too bad that Matt Stafford is out  in this one, because the two prototype NFL quarterbacking skills who represent each of the number one overall picks in the last two years could duel. Detroit should not be winless, and that’s a massive improvement over the Matt Millen era. The talent at wide receiver is there and Shaun Hill (SHAUN HILL!) is in the top ten in passing yards, despite not starting all the games this year. This game actually will be pretty interesting in another year or two as both teams seem to have halted their tide of miserable drafting and coaching. It’s amazing in a league of PLAYMAKERS how drafting guards and a quality strategic gameplan prevail.

Tampa at Cincinnati: A good game to watch on a small black and white television, think circa 1985 and a Sony Watchman. Two teams playing unenthusiastic football in butt-ugly uniforms, and you really don’t care what TO or 85 has to say to the sideline camera. I would not be surprised to see the Bengals figure things out, return to the stifling defense that made them a tough out early in the season last year, and I also wouldn’t be surprised to see them turn into the same headcases that were thumped in successive weeks by the J-E-T-S last year. Tampa is Ronde and the pipsqueaks and a little hard to figure. They play in a brutal division so it’s hard to imagine them going 8-8, but they are obviously a much better team than expected. Saying that, young teams sometimes have big boneheaded efforts, and they’re due.

Chicago at Carolina: So much is made of Julius Peppers return to Carolina, but I have a hard time seeing Carolina missing out on the chance to go after Todd Collins. Craziest thing I’ve heard in a long-time from a play-by-play in-game was the NBC stat Sunday Night that Todd Collins had not thrown a pick since 1997. This of course was right after he sent a duck into double coverage. I will bring up that last week I predicted Cutler was due for a terrible game, and last week was one of his worst. What is startling and sad is that very few people are talking about when he was concussed: I doubt it was on sack #9. That kind of beating was savage and his reads got progressively worse. A quarterback pressured that way usually gets jumpy and starts unloading the ball too soon; Cutler was doing the opposite, standing around in a fog and getting uncorked. I will state that I wonder if Cutler was not more seriously injured than disclosed and probably stayed in the game with an existing head injury before the sack that slammed his head to the turf. In a match up of ancient geezer QB and young punk QB (I’m a little appalled at myself that I preferred Clausen to Tebow in a post last year), go with the punk, only because his offensive line is better than the geezers. This will likely be a turnover fest, and the best chance the Bears have to win is if special teams is given the chance to win. I don’t think Hester will have that chance on successive weeks.

Denver at Baltimore: Correspondingly, I will support this pick with complicated jargon and trace evidence of logic. Number one, it’s the number one passing defense versus the number one passing offense. Always choose defense, right? Especially when it’s Baltimore? Wrong. Baltimore so far has played a poorly performing Mark Sanchez, an underwhelming Carson Palmer, Mistake by the Lake, and the Steelers Fourth String Quarterback. Meanwhile, Orton has posted his yardage against the Titans, Colts, Seahawks and Jaguars. The last two are among the four worst passing defenses in football, but have played only pass-heavy teams; the Titans and Colts are 13th and 15th respectively and would both be Top 10 passing defenses if they hadn’t been scorched by Air Orton. Another note: the Ravens have only played run-heavy teams so far, and are 21st against the run. They won’t have any problem keeping the Broncos from running, but the bottomline is that their defensive numbers are skewed, and they have not been tested. Fine, so Orton will get yards, the Broncos offensive line is still a sieve. True, but three rookies and three studs nursing injuries is going to result in a sieve line, but one that progressively should be getting better, not worse. If anything, the terrible early play of the offensive line might be critical to the Broncos future success. Example, Peter King (who I love to pick on, because he’s been given some unearned Yoda status among sports scribes) says that Houston’s superior offensive line will be the reason they prevail this week. The evidence there is Arian Foster’s league leading rushing yardage. How many times has Matt Schaub been sacked? 11. How many times has Kyle Orton been sacked? 11. Why is one line superior? If you had three rookies and three injured studs and had only given up as many sacks as a superior offensive line, don’t you think the law of averages is about to even out? It’s easy to dismiss a team based on small patterns, but two macro-patterns for the Broncos: #1, the running back position in Denver is like being the drummer in Spinal Tap. This is a three-year trend. The reason they can’t run is because anyone halfway decent got hurt or was auditioning because no one else would take them. They might as well wheel Laurence Maroney out onto the field in a chrysalis to complete the effect. #2, the conversion from a zone-running scheme to a power-running scheme in a single year, with half the players new, and both the edges injured, is painful to watch. This is an experiment that is not going well. It’s easy to panic and focus on what is not going well. It’s stupid to do this when a lot if going right. People undervalue a lot about Orton, including the thing they simply should not undervalue: his intelligence. He’s a Boilermaker, and the guy who played before him was a dude named Drew Brees. Bob Griese was also a Boilermaker. What do all three have in common? Strong decision-making. Great pocket-presence. Don’t make stupid plays. This is an engineering college, and not the place where people jump out of airplanes and build the parachute on descent (I hear they do that at Vanderbilt). Every Sports Scribe in America loves the Ravens and is far too-willing to overlook the fact that Joe Flacco has thrown more picks than touchdowns, and that Anquan Boldin can be shut down by Champ Bailey, and that the Broncos are considerably better as a unit against the run than they were last year. That means it is up to Flacco and his 2nd through 4th options to beat the Broncos, and if Orton is still breathing in the fourth quarter, I like the Broncos chances. History says that Denver has never won in this stadium and by the end of every trip to Baltimore in the last decade, the Ravens turn the Broncos into glue. History also says that when the Broncos give up a kickoff for a touchdown, are unable to convert a fourth and short late in the red zone, throw a fourth quarter pick, surrender six sacks, and they do this on the road, that they lose by three scores. They did all this last weekend and one. Call it lucky. Or persevering.

Atlanta at Mistake by the Lake: Yeah, Peyton Hillis. Just hold onto the football and don’t get injured, and you’ll be a new media darling. Too bad your quarterback is Jake Delhomme. Jake may never win another football game and he’s going against possibly the best team in football in Atlanta. This is a complete team on offense, and an improving team on defense. With nothing to worry about on the defensive side of the ball, I don’t see the Falcons having any problems on the offensive side of the football.

KC at Indy: How can you not be salivating as a fantasy owner if you own Peyton Manning in this game? Speaking of the law of averages, the Kansas City bye could not have happened at a worse time. Denver was drunk on their own success last year at 6-0, had just thumped San Diego at Qualcomm, and then promptly laid an egg in Baltimore coming off the bye. The worst thing a young team can have happen to them is to enjoy success and then break the routine. To have to go to Indy, and play a team that could be 4-0, but is “desperate” at 2-2, and face Manning? How many special teams touchdowns have the Colts given up this year? Zip. How many picks has Manning thrown this year? One. The Colts do have difficulty stopping the run, but the Chiefs haven’t beaten anyone due to a bruising running game: it’s been big plays at the expense of opposition stupidity and failures in discipline. This will not be close.

Wall Street at Houston: The G-Men enjoyed a bit of providence in the Bears last week and won’t get the same opportunities at Houston. But they will get sacks. The Texans surrender them. But what will undo the Giants is the running game of the Texans and the continued development of Matt Schaub. Additionally, the Texans defense gets back Brian Cushing. If you are 3-1 and you are home and the defending Defensive Rookie of the Year is only now making his debut and you have the leading rusher, and a quarterback that could throw for 5000 yards easily if you needed him to, and Mario Williams rushing the edge… you don’t have to worry about leaving the game in your kicker’s hands. Texans by two scores. Expect to see them flexed in on Sunday Nights late in the year.

Green Bay at Washington: Shanny dialed up a brilliant game plan last week, but benefited from Michael Vick’s injury. The Packers are in a bit of turmoil right now with no running game of their own. But they have an opportunistic defense that should stifle the Redskins, and as long as the Packers remain disciplined and don’t beat themselves, they should win. But in the last two games they’ve had one game with 18 penalties, and then let the Lions stick around way-too-long at home. Washington will win this game if it is close at the end, because those two experiences from the last two weeks are formative in teaching a team how to lose, and not win. Washington has done just the opposite, played within themselves and dictated tempo. Since they’re at home, and I think they prevail.

New Orleans at Arizona: How overdue is New Orleans to absolutely route somebody? Arizona may be the worst 2-2 team in recent memory and they are starting an undrafted quarterback against the Super Bowl Champs, a team that has under-performed in all four games this year. Derek Anderson is largely to blame, but having given up 40+ points twice already, is it far-fetched to think that they can hold the Saints under 30? And does anyone think Max Hall can put up 20 on New Orleans?

Tennessee at The All-American Meltdown: One week from now, Wade Phillips could be in a tie for first place in the NFC East or fired. That’s how big this game really is for Dallas. But all the combustibles are there and in place for the latter to be as likely as the former. The Giants, Redskins and Eagles are all poor teams. The Cowboys are not, but they lack chemistry, discipline and a head coach. I’ve come around on Poor Wade lately, reminded that he gave Rod Smith his chance and that whenever he was a defensive coordinator, his defenses were rock ’em, sock ’em, good. But the thing is that owners, in their hubris, love to promote guys who have mastered one aspect of the game, but lack managerial skill. Since Wade was coach of the Broncos, he has also reminded me of Ralph from the Simpsons. Even the Family Tree aspects of that reference are startling, as Wade is the son of Bum, and Ralph is the son of Chief Wiggum. Perhaps I’m just rooting against America’s Team, like some Commie, Pinko, Pacifist who wants anything patriotic or covered in stars to fail. Or maybe I just know too well guys born with their finger up their nose and think they’re well-equipped to coach a defensive unit, but not steer the rudder of a team that plays in a $1.4 billion stadium owned by a guy who would make Nero blush.

San Diego at Oakland: Apparently this is a rivalry game. Once again, it will likely be blacked out in Oakland. Oakland has only beat St. Louis, but that was the last time the Rams lost (that’s a weird fact). San Diego has relished in beating some bad teams, and given up huge plays in losses to Seattle and KC. Thankfully, San Diego will not need to be either composed or intelligent to beat the Raiders, merely more talented, which is never difficult.

Philly at San Fran: I think this will be an old-fashioned tail-whipping. No one would accuse Mike Singletary of being born with his finger up his nose, but he supports the Wade Phillips Doctrine: some men were meant to coach a single unit, and nothing more. This is far more common on the defensive side of the ball than offensive  (Buddy Ryan and Lovie Smith echo this trend). The ‘iggles are not a good football team and San Fran is way overdue to erupt. They’ve beat themselves every week this year, and that pattern will reappear from week to week. But at last, this is a prime game to see that pattern break.

Bizarro World at Jersey Shore: My goodness we live in a messed up country. Favre, Moss, the creepiest looking head coach of all-time, and fans that dress up in braided hair immortalizing marauding hordes known for some of the worst recorded human atrocities of all-time… and they aren’t the media sensation in this game? Say what you will about the media sensation, but the J-E-T-S truly are one of the best, and most complete teams in the game. It is an uncapped year, and the cap that might be removed is the cap on talented team meltdowns.

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