vI am not only a Bronco fan, but my picking is as about as pathological and consistently inconsistent as the Broncos’ performance on the field. Last week I was 6-8 after posting a decent 8-6 the week before. I picked right both meltdown games, picking against Dallas and Minnesota and I picked the rejuvenated Redskins over the Packers. I also picked Buffalo (look out 2008 Lions!), Carolina (look out 2008 Lions!) and Denver (0-5 lifetime at M&T in Baltimore and yes, I knew this before making the pick). Maybe the most maddening part of this is how so many teams with equal strengths and equal deficiencies are meeting up this week. Winner picked in Bold Type.
Atlanta at Philly: Atlanta is right now the best team in the NFC. They can run, they can pass when they need to, they are disciplined and well coached. Conventional Wisdom and probably every talking head out there will pick Atlanta, which is usually enough to scare me away from joining forces. However, Kevin Kolb and not Michael Vick is the likely quarterback on Sunday. If it is Vick, I say Eagles. But Vick probably won’t play, and I don’t think Kolb has it to beat a team as good as Atlanta. Thus, Falcons.
Pork Ribs with Sauce at Mesquite Smoked Beef Brisket: Possibly the hardest pick of the week, but likely home to the best barbecue tailgating in years. Kansas City might be for real, giving the Colts serious fits and keeping them from playing the way they wished to play. It was not enough because Matt Cassell is a lousy quarterback. But everywhere else, Kansas City has the pieces to get things done, against the pass, against the run, running the ball and on special teams. Houston was simply terrible last week getting shellacked at home by the Giants. KC will want to play a game of keep away in this one just like they did last week, and should emerge victorious. But they won’t. Shall and will are two different things in THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE. Kansas City really has not made any mistakes this year, and as a young team, is overdue. They have two of their hardest road games of the season back to back, and while they learned a lot playing the Colts, they have to be somewhat emotionally taxed. The Texans are due to bust out and their defensive playmakers could have strong games.
Mistake by the Lake at The Stilahs: The only truly easy pick of the day, Cleveland has been remarkably competitive lately. But Colt McCoy has to make his debut on the road at Heinz? That’s the story, not Errol Flynn quarterbacking da’ Yinzers. Pittsburgh is one of the only teams where pride matters, and they lost a game they should have won before their bye week, and now get to right that wrong at home against a rival that is not very good. The only way Cleveland wins is if Josh Cribbs has two or more returns for touchdowns.
Surf Puget Sound at da’ Bears: A concussed Jake Cutler (injury report: Jake Cutler, Head, thanks Rich Bennett) gets to come back against a team that can not win outside the Pacific Time Zone. This pick is not quite as easy as the one above, but Matt Hasselbeck may retire after this one. The Bears defense is coming alive, and in the NFC Norse, that’s a big, bad deal for when the weather turns. If Cutler keeps his mistakes to less than three, the Bears win.
The Run up the Score Felines at New Meadowlands Football Giants: I remember how shocking it was when Toronto spent $450 million on the Sky Dome, but then, that money got them the first truly retractable roof and a built-in hotel. New Meadowlands Stadium and the New Yankee Stadium, almost $2.5 billion in public-supported spending, both opened in the last two years. However, they both have $100 per ticket nose bleeds, so at least that’s progress. I would love it if Shaun Hill (a name strangely like Johnny Cash’s “Sam Hall”) could lead the Lions into New Meadowlands New Jersey and emerge with a New Market Win for a New Norse contender. I would love it if Ndamokung Suh went wild and sacked Eli four times. I would love it if Jahvid Best ran for 200 yards. But I’ve come to realize that the stars are unfairly aligned over Gotham City once again, as the Yanks are looking to repeat, the Jets are the Beast in the East and Tom Coughlin found time to go to Confession and the Giants are playing lights out like they were supposed to when the season began. Sorry, Lions.
Baltimore MMA at The Suburban Boston Hoarders: This is the single hardest pick of the week and likely will be a defining game of the season. Baltimore inexcusably lost to Cincinnati, a team that doesn’t seem capable in anyway of beating quality opposition… unless that team happens to also play in the AFC North. Otherwise, Baltimore can lay claim to wins at The J-E-T-S and at The Yinzers. They do this because Ozzie Newsome is the most-under-rated GM in football. He builds great chemistry, obtains depth at multiple positions, rarely ends up in salary disputes and gets his team moving in the right direction. It is somewhat shocking that this team has not made a return trip to the Super Bowl, and I’m not convinced Joe Flacco is en elite quarterback that can get them there, but he wins tough games. It is because of Flacco that I changed my mind on this pick. Give Hoodie two weeks to scheme a team and he plays at home, and New England suddenly is back to the all-for-one style of old… I like their chances against a team that bloody embarrassed them in the same stadium last year in the playoffs. Just because I’m picking New England in this one does not mean I think they win the battle, win the war; both teams are likely factors in the playoffs.
San Diego at St. Louis: Both teams are needing a bounce back, but the surprise here is that they have the same record. This is a critical game for San Diego who – like Miami – has lost games due to spectacularly bad special teams. Against Seattle they allowed two kickoff return touchdowns. Against KC they allowed a punt return touchdown. They had successive punts blocked in the first six minutes last week against Oakland that allowed 9 points. I don’t know what special teams stud might emerge in St. Louis this weekend, but apparently the way to beat San Diego is to prey on their inability to focus on the little things. Steve Spagnulo strikes me as a coach who can find that wrinkle, whether on special teams or not. Sam Bradford is an icy, composed, methodical and accurate passer than can get his team yards. San Diego will probably end up getting hot later in the season. They started 2-3 last year and then won out before their usual post-season let down. But these are two teams with equal records and the Chargers keep losing the same way the Packers keep losing: poor discipline and shooting off their own feet. St. Louis is a young team that does not do that. Take the home team.
The Talents of South Beach at Mindless Meat Packers: both teams are supposed to be good, both teams have under-performed, and both teams are coming off of terrible losses. Where on earth is the momentum in this one? Green Bay has found new and ingenious ways to lose the last couple of weeks, going for 18 penalties against Chicago and throwing for 300 and running for 150 and scoring a mere 13 at DC last week. How about Aaron Rodgers throwing an overtime pick? Miami put up one of the most gruesome special teams performances in memory on national television and unleashed a quarterback controversy, when 9 days prior they looked like a serious threat to win the AFC East. Despite the lack of discipline on the Dolphin side of the ball, they had a bye to correct their problems and are better coached. They can run and pass and play good defense on the road. I also don’t like players coming off a concussion playing the next week (Rodgers).
The Longest, Most Strung-Out Super Bowl Party Hangover of All-Time at The New Sensation of Tampa: I have a hard-time imagining any other coach or football team or city or in this case, combination of all three, who could be more guilty of over-celebrating a Super Bowl. You won, it’s nice, take your eight weeks off, and get re-focused. That’s what professionals do, even in THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE. But the stories that come out of New Orleans smack more of legend than journalism. Gregg Williams was apparently hired as a defensive coordinator before the 2009 season when Sean Payton (head coach) was boozing it up with his players around a bonfire and decided to forgo a half million of his own salary to make sure they got Williams. He then spat in the fire. After winning the Super Bowl and partying like mad, they continued their festivities at the pre-draft Combine, deliberating sticking it in the face of the Cowboys (from whose coaching tree the over-ripe fruit of Payton fell), living it up in Indy all week and ordering out Jerry Jones favorite magnums of wine and writing “Who Dat?” in Sharpie on the bottle for Mr. Jones who was to dine at the same establishment the next night. Is this Australian Rules Football or THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE? Who does this? Answer: The New Orleans Saints. Is it any wonder that they are playing as if they have one insane headache all year? The biggest problem for New Orleans is that they lost Reggie Bush for a couple months and let Mike Bell go. Their rushing game has lost balance and teams are coming after Drew Brees. Brees is still accurate, but the team has lost their lethal offensive ways. The defense has been exposed as Gregg Williams defenses can be, because the offense has lost their lethal ways. The defense used to play with a swagger, and that was excusable because the offense was so nuclear as it was last year. The momentum of one unit carried over to the other unit, and if either was winded, Reggie would uncork a crazy punt return. None of that has shown up at all this year. This game really is about the rise of Tampa who won in startling fashion last week against the Bungles. But the reality is that Sean Payton probably laid down the law this week at practice, found some sort of high-proof whiskey to snort into a fire, or maybe Drew Brees just said “Enough already!” and is finally ready to go 31-35 for 467 and 4 scores. The Saints are still insanely talented and they have to show up eventually. Having lost one division game to Atlanta and barely beating hapless Carolina, I have a very hard time rationalizing or visualizing them laying another stinker in Tampa.
The Oakland Winning-Uglies at The San Francisco Just-Plain-Uglies: How on Earth are the Niners 0-5? Gregg Easterbrook thinks it is Michael Crabtree. After bringing in the talented Mr. Crabtree from his into-the-season holdout last year, the Niners reversed course and posted a losing record the rest of the year. They have now started 0-5. Mike Singletary has proven that he is among the worst head coaches in football on so many different fronts, I can no longer fathom what boneheaded decision he could exercise this week, and thus was ready on that reason alone to pick the Niners. But that would be against my better judgment, because there could be almost nothing as embarrassing as losing to the cross-Bay Raiders at home the same week management proclaimed in complete disregard for decency or intelligence that the team “would definitely win the NFC West this year” despite their present 0-5 record. Even Pete Carroll is a better coach than Mike Singletary, let alone Spagnulo and Whisenhut. Could they provide any better fodder for the locker room bulletin boards of their rivals? This game really could go either way, so I’m picking this one more on feel: I can visualize the Niners gutting out a win and lots of hyperbole after the game about a team “that never quits” from Singletary, and like New Orleans, seeing the law of averages even out, at least for one week. But I’m picking with my hedge, because Oakland has won positively gift-wrapped games, and most teams won’t make as many mental gaffes this entire season as San Fran has already made in the first five weeks. Here you go Al Davis, you’re 0.500 and in the thick of the division chase after six weeks.
The Megalomaniacs of Dallas at the Megalomaniacs of Minneapolis: Full-on meltdowns collide and Troy Aikman and Joe Buck have the call. Why can’t NBC Flex in games earlier in the year? Aikman and Buck will suck the life out of what should be an incendiary affair. I am picking Minnesota regardless of whether or not Favre plays primarily due to their defense. In big games, Tony Romo plays with a small brain. In big games, the entire Dallas offense wilts. The Long-Braided Pillagers and Purveyors of Hot Dish have their own problems, but look at it this way: Peterson and Moss versus Committee/Austin/Williams/Bryant. There are more players on the Dallas side of the ball that could do it, but there is no one with history who will do it. The Vikings have to lean on Adrian Peterson and that opens up the playmaking of Moss. Either or both are more likely to have a big game than anyone on the Cowboys, and Minny is at home.
The J-E-T-S at 4-11 in their last 15: I would normally save all my vitriol for the Broncos opposition, especially the J-E-T-S, but the Broncos win this one ONLY if ALL of the following happen: Eddie Royal returns a kick for a score; two or more Bronco receivers have 100 yard games; Kyle Orton throws for 350 or more against a superb secondary and is sacked less than 3 times; Mark Sanchez throws more than 2 picks; Darrell Revis does not play; LaDanian Tomlinson fumbles in the Red Zone; Rex Ryan is seen eating at a Vegan Restaurant in Boulder Saturday Night and sipping a ginger-infused
lemonade with his good friend and astrophysicst, Ravi. Picks are supposed to be first about probability and second about momentum. The Broncos will probably rally to go 8-8. They’ve been much more competitive this year than they have been given credit for. They had no business beating New England last year or San Diego on the road, and this team is better due to the passing game. But the J-E-T-S are rolling and surviving brutal time management gaffes from their head coach. The problem for Denver is that McDaniels, an emotional guy and brilliant offensive strategist, is that he is over-thinking, and is probably reading the extensive negative print written about his coaching. His decisions to go for touchdowns not field goals twice in the fourth quarter against Indy were the right calls. You cannot give Peyton Manning the chance to beat you. But as if living in the shadow of that, last week down 24-7 and in the red zone for the first time he failed to challenge a called-incomplete but over-turnable catch by Brandon Lloyd on 2nd down, Orton threw badly into coverage on 3rd down, and then chose a chippy field goal. I beat Easterbrook to the punch and announced while ironing dress shirts “gameover”. Baltimore took the kickoff 90 yards for a three touchdown lead. Denver got the ball back again and was driving near midfield when the drive stalled. Down three touchdowns with more than 5 to play, what do you have to lose? Go for it. They punted. They got the ball back again and with less than a minute got past midfield. McDaniels called a long pass and they converted it to make the score look respectable. These are four terrible in-game decisions. Ryan lived to tell about his boneheaded decisions. Brett Favre was rallying the Vikings and the J-E-T-S got the ball in their own end. John Gruden said that Ryan -the Consummate Gambler – would want one pass play to try and get the first down. Sure enough, he did, and they got the first. Controlling the clock, they could whittle it down to nothing on Favre. They didn’t. The threw another pass play in, incomplete, stopped the clock, and punted at the 2 minute warning giving Favre a ton of time to go for the tie. Favre however flipped a lousy pick-six and the J-E-T-S fans went wild after midnight. That’s the emotional backdrop between a badly beat-up 2-3 home team playing against a fierce and balanced 4-1 team. A loss by less than two touchdowns for Denver would be encouraging, but this has all the makings of a terrible beatdown by a physical team. It is a good thing they have the Winning-Uglies and Just-Plain-Uglies in their next two games to heal their wounds before the bye.
Peyton Manning versus Mike Shanahan: There will be much talk about how the Redskins could end up stealing the NFC East, and how the Colts have under-achieved, and on and on and on… what it boils down to is this: Mike Shanahan has defeated Peyton Manning one-time, in 2003, and he did it by claiming a 2:1 ratio in time of possession with Quentin Griffin as his running back. It was quite a feat considering that superior Clinton Portis was on the shelf injured for that game and that the Colts have been wise to it ever since. Since then, team after team has tried that template and failed. Even teams that held massive time of possession advantages have failed: last year, the Colts had a game when they were down more than 2:1 in time of possession, and they still prevailed. Shanahan’s only win against Manning came at the expense of successive devastating tail-whippings in the playoffs . Ryan Torrain will not get it done against the Colts. The Colts will play too many receiving weapons for the Redskins to slow them down. If that was not enough, it’s a night game. Peyton is nearly unbeatable in night games.
A really good 3-2 team from the AFC South at a very suspect 3-2 team from the AFC South: Both play 4-3. Both play quarterbacks who apparently are not very accurate, yet on occasion complete 80% of their passes or better. Both have fantasy-stud players in their backfield. Their history of hatred goes back to 2000 when Jeff Fisher proclaimed Alltel Stadium the Titans home away from home. The Titans should not have lost to Denver and should be in the conversation as a top tier team in the AFC. They proved it with a gutsy win at Dallas last week where they made the Cowboys pay for their mistakes. The most inconsistent franchise in football plays in Jacksonville. They have put up 13 total points in their losses and average over 30 in their wins. I have no clue on this one, and my coin flip says home team, for no other reason than this year has made little to no sense, so why not pick the suspect and inconsistent home team on Monday Night?