Thursday, October 15, 2009

Week 6 NFL Picks: Incoming Cold Front

In the East, the weather changes with more or less of a snap, and you suddenly find yourself back in the winter coat that you stepped away from all too recently. People fight against this to varying degrees, or just roll over. Currently I'm writing this preview while wrapped in blankets in the Man Cave, because I am old and cold and retain no body heat. The Shooter Wife, meanwhile, was out the other night in shorts, because she's wired very differently than me, and really refusing to give in to Old Man Winter.

Similarly in the business of picking NFL games, this is about the time where all memories of last season, and which teams are supposed to be good, go right out the window. No one is going to talk about how much better the Titans, per se, are than their record, because when you are as dead in the water as that team is, it's just pointless to bring up last year anymore. Similarly, there's been a rush to anoint the Broncos and Vikings, because they've moved past the Apparent Fluke stage, and we're no longer interested in comparing them to last year's team.

It's no longer early. All of the teams that have gotten off to hot starts can make the playoffs as a high seed by just playing .500 ball the rest of the way. But five games is still really not that large of a sample size, and it's not beyond the realm of possibility that, for instance, the Panthers are going to have a better record for the rest of the year than any other team in the NFC South.

Just as there might be a day or two before spring where it'll be shorts weather for a consensus of the population.

But this is, of course, not how you bet.

HOUSTON at Cincinnati (-4.5)

The first of two statements from this week's NFL preview that make my head explode: the Stokely touchdown against the Benglas in Week One could easily decide home field advantage in the playoffs. (The second: that Washington will face winless teams for the first six games of the year.)

The Bengals continued their magical mystery year with Cedric Benson gashing the Ravens for well over a hundred yards and Carson Palmer finishing off the win with a last-minute dart for the winning touchdown. Every single one of their games has come down to the wire. Houston spotted the Cards a huge lead on the road and almost got all of the way back before head coach Gary Kubiak decided to lose with Chris Brown at the goal line for second time in a month. And this is why the Texans are just that kind of sad, really.

I'd like to trust this tabby team, especially on defense, where they really do get after the quarterback. But the point spread is a little too high for a team that loves drama and game winning scores, and while they might shut down Andre Johnson and Steve Slaton, they don't match up as well against Owen Daniels and Kevin Walter. I expect the home team to cover, and if they weren't so damned stupid at the goal line, maybe even win.

Bengals 24, Texans 20

Detroit at GREEN BAY (-11.5)

When we last we saw the Pack, Aaron Rodgers was leading a doomed comeback on the road against the Favres in the Favre Bowl, and the team looked like it was actively trying to get their QB killed through JaredAllenicide. I'm thinking that the bye came just in time for that offensive line, and it also hasn't helped the Lions that they've started to suffer serious injuries (first Matthew Stafford, now Calvin Johnson).

It's time for the Pack to fool people into thinking they are a lot better than they actually are, and for the Lions to turn the ball over and feed a wilding. Especially on the road, and against a defense that's good at taking it to the house.

Packers 38, Lions 17

BALTIMORE at Minnesota (-3)

Both Baltimore and New Baltimore (the Rex Ryan Jets) have suffered through two straight losses where the first loss was tolerable if not appreciated, and the second was downright disturbing.

Despite big offensive numbers most people have not started to believe in the Ravens offense, mostly because it's come in a committee, rather than all with the emerging young Ray Rice. If you want to think happy thoughts about their offense this week, Minnesota let the Rams drive the ball all over in a blowout loss. It's a downright intriguing matchup, really.

If you believe that Adrian Peterson is better than Cedric Benson -- and really, the fact that the numbers don't completely support than assertion just yet, which is proof that we are living in the End Times -- then the Vikings should win this game easily. Instead, I think the Ravens will finally make the adjustment to make Favre beat them, rather than AP. So Peterson will get his numbers here, but Favre will commit critical mistakes against a kind of defensive pressure that he really hasn't seen yet, setting up the blueprint for the late season Viking Fail. Both teams will score, but the road team will win.

Ravens 31, Vikings 24

NY Giants at NEW ORLEANS (-3)

The marquee matchup of the week, as the top two current seeds in the NFC square off. Both teams are bringing surprises with them. For the Giants, its piddling red zone conversions from surprisingly ineffective running for Brandon Jacobs, and less work for TE Kevin Boss. For the Saints, it's a willingness to slow the pace of the offense and win on the ground, along with the passing game failing to put up big numbers against Buffalo and the Jets.

In this game, expect vengeance for Saints TE Jeremy Shockey, who is, of course, denying that he's got any motivation at all for vengeance. Just once, I'd like to see a player admit to the lust for sticking it to the old laundry in advance of the game, really. Shock loses major points in my book for not calling the shot, but he's still going to score a touchdown in this one.

In the final analysis, it's very hard for me to go against a good dome team at home, especially when they combine an opportunistic defense with an opposing QB with high career INT rates. With them coming off the bye as well, and Eli Manning a little gimpy, it's too much to overcome. But only just.

Saints 28, Giants 24

Cleveland at PITTSBURGH (-13.5)

The Steelers lost starting defensive end Aaron Smith this week, which is a pretty crushing blow for a team that succeeds on defense more from straightforward quarterback pressure than exotic blitz packages. And for the record, there are 11 players on defense, and a relatively limited number of ways they can be arranged to rush the quarterback. Unless the defenders all are singing in German, cantering like horses, or re-enacting American Indian spirit quests at halftime, I'm not thinking the blitz package should really be called exotic. They also get back Troy Polamalu, which is a little more important, really.

On offense, the Steelers get back Willie Pipp Parker this week, and show some good signs of developing a quality third wideout option in Mike Wallace. So long as they can keep the Browns off Big Ben, expect a good amount of Heath Miller in this game, too. They really won't need that much.

As for the Browns, last week QB Derek Anderson "led" his team to victory while completing two -- yes, two -- passes. And before you excuse it all on the elements, his counterpart, the not exactly bound for Canton Trent Edwards, didn't have the same issues. Anderson will do a little better this week, but not much.

Steelers 31, Browns 13

CAROLINA at Tampa Bay (+3)

Can the Panthers dig themselves out of their winless September hole and get back in the NFC South race? The schedule would seem to say so, since they got both games against the winless Bucs in the next month as part of a kitten-soft schedule coming out of their bye. Last week they got a big comeback win with Jake Delhomme, of all people, making a big play late. The Bucs lost big and bad to the Eagles despite looking less than completely hopeless.

This week, I'm expecting the resurgent Julius Peppers to get after the QB, the Panthers to continue to slowly resuscitate their running game, and for the hometown Bucs to make just enough mistakes to lose. If they can get Antonio Bryant and Kellen Winslow contributing, and I think they will, they'll move the ball and score some points. But they'll still make the big mistakes to lose, because new head coach Raheem Morris is just that far in over his head right now. Bucs Fan has seen this before.

Panthers 24, Bucs 17

KANSAS CITY at Washington (-6.5)

For the sixth straight week, the Redskins face a winless team, and it tells you all that you need to know about their year that they are a sub .500 team, with local writers already encouraging boycotts. This week, they get a Chiefs team that lost in overtime because they couldn't cover the previously unheralded Miles Austin, who rang up 250 yards of pinball numbers in his bid to show up the execrable Roy Williams.

Despite that, I like the road team to cover this week, because Matt Cassel is good at garbage time points, and this Redskins team is in open turmoil with coaching upheavals. Both coaches could do the fantasy sports community and their own eyeballs a favor by giving up the notion that Clinton Portis and Larry Johnson are still stars, rather than spent. And if you can think of more to say about either of these terrible teams, you're either a fan of the laundry or have Serious Issues.

Redskins 24, Chiefs 23

St. Louis at JACKSONVILLE (-10)

Can the Jags keep the Rams winless? Of course and they should, but it's not like the Jags have never slept through a home game against a terrible opponent, and the Rams do come in with a freshly healthy Marc Bulger looking like he might be performing his annual display of a pulse to keep the job. Both QBs should put up numbers in a game that the world will little note nor long remember, but the Jags still have delusions of grandeur, especially if they can get wayward WR Mike Sims-Walker back into the lineup.

Thanks to the fact that the Jags have been terrible in pass defense, there will be plenty of fantasy goodness, and real-world awfulness, in this one. There's also a real temptation to go with the road team to cover, because Jag Fan does not exist, and even if he does exist, he can't afford to go to games in the economically crushed Panhandle region, for a town that should have never gotten an NFL franchise in the first place. But oh, Lord, the Rams are horrible.

Jaguars 31, Rams 20

Arizona at SEATTLE (-3)

One of the quietly great games of the day, especially now that the Niners fell apart last week and opened the division wide open again. Matt Hasselbeck returned just in time to save the Seahawks season from Seneca Wallace, as the Sawhawks punked the Jags early and often. The Cards jumped out to a big lead against Houston, then hung up for dear life.

This week, I like the home team for the following reasons. Seattle actually has a home field advantage, they are much better with Hasselbeck, the Cardinals passing attack is too willing to take the short ball this year, and the Cardinals give up way too many big plays to opposing wideouts. I'm just hoping that both teams actually show up for this one; neither is all that good with the consistency.

Seahawks 31, Cardinals 24

PHILADELPHIA at Oakland (+13)

When I lived in the Bay Area, I got to go to two Raider games, and developed a small amount of sympathy and rooting interest for them. Part of this was the natural movement towards the locals, since you are likely to run into fans of the laundry, and it only seems polite to know the team. Besides, as your kids get older, it is a little odd to make them root for teams from far away. Both of my kids were born in Cali.

The choice between the Niners and Raiders was surprisingly easy for the Silver and Black. Raider Fan might be mean, but Niner Fan is all too frequently a noxious frat boy, and as I wear my blue collar heritage like a badge, it was East Bay all the way. Besides, when I moved there, the GrudenBall Raiders with Jerry Rice and Tim Brown were on the rise, and that was a fun club. Finally, the Shooter Brother is a Chargers fan, and it's always fun to be on the other side of him. I am sure you will be shocked to learn that he gets irked easily.

Tuck Gate sucked.

Cut to now. At the day job, I have a coworker who has been a Raider fan since childhood. He's basically an NFL widow. Another friend of 25-plus years, who might have been the only person in Philadelphia who was happy to see the Jim Plunkett Raiders beat the Vermeil Eagles, has more or less given up on the NFL for hockey.

That's how bad the Raiders are now; they don't just make their fans miserable, they make them just stop. And if I still lived out there, there's no way that my kids would have ever known that I was mulling over giving them a Raider option with their fan loyalties.

Last week, they became the first team since 1960 to have four straight games with under 200 yards of offense. The Giants led last week by four touchdowns. After 20 minutes.

Eventually, Al Davis will die. Maybe the franchise moves to an area that can give them a 21st century stadium and a new start; I'd suggest Portland. This week, they might even the ball a little; the Eagles have issues with tight ends and power backs, and that's the two things the Raiders have.

But it's far more likely that they get blown out in front of a stadium that's 15K short of capacity and/or filled by brave men wearing green. And that those stands will be fairly empty by the end of the third quarter. If not sooner.

(As for the Eagles, it's something of a trap game, but Jeremiah Trotter looked good last week, so I don't think the Raiders will be able to run it the 45 times they would need to win. Also, watch for DeSean Jackson to take a punt back, since he'll have a mess of chances against Shane Lechler, who is quite prone to outkicking his coverage.)

Eagles 34, Raiders 13

Tennessee at NEW ENGLAND (-9)

The Titans come to Massachusetts as a dead team walking, with Titans Fan pining for Vince Young and wondering what happened to last year's team. The Pats continued to look terrible in their throwback jerseys, losing on the road in Denver and contributing to Boston Fan's season of woe. (Did you know that they haven't had a championship in years? The poor babies!)

This week, look for the Pats to win with a ball control passing game, some Titan turnovers, and a surprising amount of running yards. Your opportunity to buy low on Tom Brady just got a little better. But that low price might be the right one. It's not like Dreamboat was always the best QB in the business.

Patriots 24, Titans 13

Buffalo at NY JETS (-9.5)

Buffalo Fan moved on this week to the next stage in the TO Show, which is where you start to imagine which new team will take him off your hands for the price of a draft pick, because any number of top teams clearly must want a big star like Terrible.

Now, to be fair, Prime Era Jerry Rice wouldn't be putting up 1000 yards for the year with Trentative Edwards throwing him the ball; such is the magic of Captain Checkdown. But Terrible is not, well, good; he's a 35 year old possession wideout with faulty hands and motivation issues, and that, of course, doesn't even begin to touch on the off-the-field and locker room issues that will be his most enduring legacy, and the thing that keeps him out of the Hall of Fame for a few lovely years.

In other words, Bills Fan, He's Yours. Enjoy him. Treasure him, even. It might be the last jersey he ever wears, and certainly the one that he'll be least remembered in.

As for the actual game... Jets Fan is officially excited about the acquisition of Motivated Braylon Edwards, and still in shock that Chad Henne lit up the scoreboard on their presumed great defense in the fourth quarter of a crushing loss in Miami. They'll be fine this week at home against a Bills team that scored a whopping three points in a loss to Cleveland last week, and might put Trent Edwards on the ground a half dozen times. And outscore the offense with their defense.

Jets 27, Bills 6

CHICAGO at Atlanta (-3.5)

The Bears gets the SNF slot on their week after the bye, with a trip to Atlanta to visit the sky-high Falcons. Last week in San Francisco, the Dirty Birds ran roughshod over the paper tiger Niners, with the crowning play coming when Idiot Niner CB Dre Bly showboated on a possible TAInt, turning the play into a fresh set of downs for the Hawks, and a career-defining mistake and postgame Idiot Quote. Dre being Dre is just one for the ages, really.

Jay Cutler won't be easy to deal with as Shaun Hill, and I never like to go against a team coming off a bye, especially when they are going against a team that had a coast-co-coast plane trip in the last weekend. But it's not as if Cutler and his receivers are ready to play mistake-free ball yet, or that the Bear defense travels well, especially indoors. I like the Bears to cover, but not win.

Falcons 24, Bears 21

Denver at SAN DIEGO (-4)

The MNF game is the Chargers' last chance to get back into a race for the division with the Broncos and their QB, Greatest Winner In NFL History Kyle Orton.

Honestly, I can't see why the Chargers are being favored here. Sure, they are at home, have better talent, are coming off a bye, and are playing a team that has won a ridiculous number of close games with a ridiculous amount of what some people would call luck. There is also the fact that the Chargers have had the Broncos' number over the past few years, at least when the game has really mattered to the Bolts. They've shaken up the team by releasing former starting safety Clinton Hart, which usually has the effect of spurring the defense to better work, at least in the short term. I also keep thinking that the great performance of the Denver defense so far this year is eventually going to fade, given how much of it is coming from very old players.

But those people are missing the fact that Kyle Orton is The Greatest Winner In NFL History.

I'm going to pick against the Broncos here out of contrariness and being stubborn, but you should be aware that I don't like money or myself. In addition to rooting against Orton, I like to go for the Washington Generals, the Cavity Creeps and the smugglers in Hardy Boys books. You should probably go the other way here. Consider yourselves warned.

Chargers 31, Broncos 20

Last week: 9-5
Year to date: 38-37-1

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