In theory, I love Halloween. The practice, however, is something entirely different.
In theory, this gives me a cool opportunity to show my creativity -- hell, I make my living at the day job for that.
In practice, I just don't have the time and money to do very cool costumes, and I always wind up having to cobble together something on the cheap and portable, since sitting on a train for an hour and a half in a costume doesn't appeal. When I'm on the train, I want invisibility and the ability to do things like write this picks column, rather than getting into a conversation with someone about the motivations behind my costume choice, or how someone Just Doesn't Get It. I'm also not a guy who's ever felt good with makeup on, even in situations (TV, stage) that have demanded it. So I usually wind up in a mask, which gets hot and nasty fast. Fah.
In theory, watching women try to outslut each other makes the holiday the very best day of the year.
In practice, I live with my wife and two daughters, which means that I'm not all that thrilled with my kids growing up too fast, or making the Shooter Wife insecure. (And for the record, women trying to outslut each other is still kinda great. Halloween is Christmas for horndogs.)
In theory, it's great to walk the neighborhood and bask in the glow of your kids having the most fun ever.
In practice, separating them from the dozens of pounds of candy, or trying to ration it out so that they aren't going bulimic at midnight, is like keeping meat from dogs. Hungry, hungry dogs.
And that's why, in the long run, Thanksgiving becomes your favorite holiday as a grown up, even though you thought it was kind of dull as a kid.
Besides, the latter holiday *always* has football.
And with that, on to the picks!
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HOUSTON at Buffalo (+3.5)
I'm still trying to figure out how, exactly, the Bills won going away last week against a Panthers team that, in theory at least, was trying to save their season at home. The Bills gave up a safety. They were outgained something like 2.5 to 1. They were starting a QB (Ryan Fitzpatrick) who is actually worse than Trent Edwards. They employ the shattered remains of Terrible Owens, who, independent of the terrible situation at QB, might be one of the worst WRs in the league right now. (No, seriously. Drop issues, motivation issues, no breakaway speed, and a nightmare in the huddle and locker room. Between the lines, I'd rather have Jason Avant. Outside the lines, I'd rather have Hannibal Lechter. And if you drafted him for your fantasy team and still have him, this derisive laughter is for you. Is his reality show still on?)
And then I remembered -- oh yeah. The Panthers employ Jake Delhomme.
Unfortunately for the Bills, Matt Schaub is not a terrible QB. As a matter of fact, he's one of the best in the business right now, especially when he's healthy. He is now, and with Steve Slaton giving them a devastating screen game to go with Owen Daniels in the middle and Andre Johnson deep, it's pinball time for Houston. Slaton's fumble issues even kind of help in that regard, since that means head coach Gary Kubiak doesn't get tempted to play ball control with a lead. I'd take this game at 6.5; I just don't see what the Bills have going for them right now.
There's also this: the Texans might not be terrible on defense against the run anymore. They held Cedric Benson to a season-low a couple of weeks ago and Frank Gore to 13 for 32 last week, and those aren't bad lines or backs. The secondary is still bad, but if their opponents become one dimensional, maybe they'll get to that 10 to 11 win and wilcdcard playoff status that the world has been waiting years for.
Of course, this is usually when the Texans pull the rug out and have a terrible loss. But not to this Bills team, especially if the team's only dimension doesn't work.
Texans 31, Bills 20
Cleveland at CHICAGO (-14)
Just how bad at the Browns, really? So bad that a Bears team that was absolutely balls-to-the-wall stinky last week against the Benson Vengeance Bengals is a two touchdown favorite, and rising.
The key in Cleveland is the worst quarterback situation in the NFL -- and yes, that includes Oakland, despite their very best efforts. I'm fairly sure that all three of the Eagles options (even the Still Looks Terrible Michael Vick) would be starting in Cleveland. If I were coach Eric Mangini -- well, first I'd punch myself for an hour, and then I'd give up on both terrible options and just go find some random Arena League guy who might, you know, have some idea where the ball is going. At least lose with something different, and give a moment of hope to Muhammad Massaquoi, who sees any number of balls go sailing over his head every week. Just a little accuracy would help.
For the Bears, the biggest story of the year is that Matt Forte has become just another guy, leading to the team becoming a wildly inconsistent team... and with Brian Urlacher gone, the defense has become as inconsistent. I'd love to bet against them, but the Browns are just this gutless, and you've got to think that Chicago is going to have a bounce-back game here. Besides, Joshua Cribbs is looking a little dinged up, and he's got to be ready to stop trying by now, and join the ret of the team's energy conservation effort.
Bears 31, Browns 13
SEATTLE at Dallas (-10)
Dallas got a big win last week at home against Atlanta while the Seahawks were on a bye. The Cowboys are flying high with Miles Austin finally giving them something approximating a #1 wideout, but the running game still isn't right, and that's a lot of points to give for a defense that just seems to lose focus routinely.
The reason why the line is this high, independent of the public's eternal willingness to be fooled by Dallas and the fact that big favorites have seemed to cover everything this year, is because the Seahawks are routinely awful on the road and working with something like their fourth-string offensive line. With Dallas actually getting a push in their last game, the line reflects the world thinking that this game will be a wilding.
Normally I'd be all over the underdog here, because the Dallas defense really isn't very good, and I'm thinking that the Seahawks have to come out of the bye with some juice. There's also the possibility that Julius Jones has a light vengeance game, and Matt Hasselbeck is certainly capable of putting up multiple touchdowns if he's upright. It's not exactly the most confident I've ever been about a cover, but I think Seattle gets it done.
Cowboys 27, Seahawks 20
St. Louis at DETROIT (NL)
The rarest of all things; a possible Lions blowout. Detroit comes into this one from a bye, while the Rams are on their second straight dome road game (last one, an evisceration in Indy). There's also the fun fact that the Rams have dropped 17 games in a row, but are such big losers that they haven't even had the sense of doing it all in one calendar year, so that they'd be noticeably awful. You have to applaud the creativity.
Detroit is likely to get back Calvin Johnson, who has been quietly murdering his fantasy owners all year. St. Louis has been seeing the best year from a RB that never scores (Stephen Jackson), but the same old terrible defense and quarterbacking has doomed them to the new low spot in the NFC.
I like Steve Spagnuolo, but it's also starting to get to the point where the new coach in a terrible situation's patience has to be wearing thin. The Rams also more or less threw in the towel this week by shipping out MLB Will Witherspoon to the Eagles (thanks, Spags!) for a fifth round pick. I didn't have a problem with that move for either side, but honestly, why just one? Jackson is still young and won't be when this team is good again, Jake Long might get you a speculative pick from someone who is still in love with his combine scores, and Donnie Avery should be moved on the general principle of celebrating when the team is getting its head kicked in. If you are going to flame out, best to do it with as many of your personnel choices as possible, really.
Here's how confident I am that the Lions will get it done this week -- I'm picking up their defense in a fantasy leagues due to a bye week issue. That team, by the way, is owned in just two percent of leagues. Which makes me wonder, really, who those two percent are, or if it's just a matter of Yahoo giving the Lions a courtesy stat...
Lions 24, Rams 13
San Francisco at INDIANAPOLIS (-13)
Didn't the Colts play this game last week? NFC West opponent, home game, defensive secondary licking their chops at a high probability of multiple picks, lone defensive worry an overrated RB? Check, check and check, with the only difference being that the Niners employ a few more defensive players than the Rams, or at least, did until Atlanta took them apart three weeks ago. Last week, they let the Texans run out and hide, then came roaring back to fall short behind the newly resurrected Alex Smith and the newly signed Michael Crabtree.
In time, Smith to Crabtree (and because Smith is still in Baby Mode as an NFL QB, TE Vernon Davis) might actually help this team get back to real respectability, rather than September NFC West fool's gold. But that time is not this week, against Peyton Manning at home, especially when Manning is playing Pinball Wizard with a half dozen targets. The only question that I have for this game is whether they make Smith look bad enough that Niners coach Mike Singletary goes back to Shaun Hill. And why that's actually a question, I'm not sure. (Oh, right, because I write a picks column, and will need to come up with something to say about the Niners next week. Perhaps Mike Singletary will drop trou or get a bigger crucifix. C'mon, Mike, help us out here.)
Colts 31, Niners 16
MIAMI at NY Jets (-3.5)
Will the real Jets please stand up? Are they the maddening, limited and turnover-prone bunch that dropped multiple games and looked like one of the league's great fade stories (just like last year, really), or are they the road-grading offensive line driven smashmouth artists that laughed their way through four quarters of garbage time in Oakland last week?
If you watch enough football, you start to realize when you've seen this movie before, and I have -- it's the mid-80s Eagles, only through a funhouse mirror. Instead of the OL being the focus, that was the QB, but otherwise, the same emotion and inconsistency reign, and there's a Ryan at the controls of both. Assuming the coach continues to work like the father, Jets Fan is in for a constant roller coaster ride that will end in a wild card weekend loss and future hopes that will never really work out. But considering what these fans have seen, I'm thinking they'll take it.
As for Miami, they raced out to a big early lead against the Saints, only to see the scariest team in the league come all the way back and more, in a game that I'm pretty sure clinched homefield for the playoffs for Brees and Co. (No? OK, it just seemed that way.) I think they'll run the ball a ton and get enough turnovers to keep this one close enough to take the points, but there's also the very real possibility that they had their hearts ripped out last week. It's not the most confident pick I've ever made, and whoever wins will still get stomped by the Big Bad Patriots later, anyway.
Jets 24, Dolphins 21
NY Giants (-1) at PHILADELPHIA
Two teams that looked like serious contenders a month ago, now with warts exposed to the point where I'm thinking the NFC North survivor will be the Saints' punching bag in the NFC championship game instead. The Eagles haven't played a good game since their bye, but have two wins thanks to the largesse of KC and Washington. The Giants have dropped consecutive games to the throwing Saints and Cardinals, which has to worry them coming into a game with the Throw Even When They Shouldn't Eagles. They've also seen their September passing circus turn sour, as Mario Manningham keeps getting open and not converting, and Eli Manning continues to show why his contract is a joke.
On the injury front for the Eagles, Brian Westbrook's concussion is a major cause of concern, and DeSean Jackson keeps scaring everyone in Philly with nicks and cuts. For the Giants, look for Giants TE Kevin Boss to have his best game of the year, since that's what every TE does to Philly. (To be fair, with these corners, you'd throw to the TE, too.) But the game will be won and lost on whether the defense stops Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw. I actually think they will, because MLB Will Witherspoon is actually a football player, and the Giants haven't blocked well as they usually do.
If this game was at a neutral site or NY, I'd be sadly taking Big Blue; the Westbrook injury is troubling on every level, and he has just owned the Giants more than any other team. But on a weekend of pure Philly-New York hate, I'm seeing the home team pulling out all the stops, and hopefully tabling the Michael Vick package until further notice. Should be a great game.
Eagles 24, Giants 20
Denver at BALTIMORE (-3)
Yes, I'm back on my anti-Bronco kick, and continuing to denigrate the Greatest Winner in NFL History, QB Kyle Orton. This week, Denver comes off a bye to visit the Ravens in Baltimore, but the Carrion were also off, negating the usual bye week advantage. I like the home team here just so that when the Broncos fall apart in the stretch this year (you know, just like last year, when their QB was the Greatest Loser In NFL History, Jay Cutler), I'll be able to say I always disbelieved.
Besides, there's also the fact that this Ravens team is actually pretty good, and I like the coaching staff enough to think they'll have done something productive with the bye week. Ray Rice (and more importantly, the lack of Willis McGahee) makes the offense explosive, and the next time you hear someone talk about how NFL players are all me-first greedbuckets, consider the career of La'Ron McClain, who went from a stunning rookie year as a power back to being just another blocker.
Anyway, back to the matter at hand. This one is just a matter of regressing to the mean. The Ravens have been unlucky so far in 2009 (made field goals, questionable ref calls, bad bounces), while the Broncos have been getting unreal breaks and happiness. In the probable cold and wet of Charm City, a place where even legendary QBs like Kyle Orton can struggle, it's time to slip, especially in the red zone.
Ravens 24, Broncos 16
Jacksonville at TENNESSEE (-3)
In Nashville, the owner wants to see Vince Young play. Coach Jeff Fisher seems to be in the one-year death spiral that won't hurt him too much when he hits the market, and maybe tying himself to the mast of Kerry Collins is just his way to get to the television booth faster. Either that, or he sees what the rest of the world sees when he looks at Vince Young: a terrible QB who doesn't have the head for the game, and who rode a nice little run of luck and team to post his first two years with a winning record.
For the record, I think Fisher is right to play Collins instead of Young, but at this point, I'd be thinking about the new equivalent of Billy Volek, too. The Titans aren't going anywhere this year, the defense was going to be worse without Albert Haynesworth anyway, and just to make matters worse, they are banged up, too. This week, they should win since they are at home, coming off a bye, and facing the constantly up and down Jaguars, but I've been sucked in too many times by this Titans team this year to trust them against a team with Maurice Jones-Drew.
Besides, if Fisher really is as far out the door as it seems, an extra week of preparation isn't going to help much.
Jaguars 27, Titans 17
Oakland at SAN DIEGO (-17)
You could make this line 24, and I'd be taking the Chargers... in the first half. There are clearly worse teams in the NFL than the Raiders, who've managed to have a couple of wins, but there's none that will quit on a game faster, or have less interest in staying with a game after they fall behind.
Which isn't to say that everything is right in Chargerland. Last week in KC, they did everything short of hold a telethon to get LaDanian Tomlinson into the end zone, to no avail, and the defense is capable of getting pushed around at the line of scrimmage. Despite the rampant talent on both sides of the ball, there's a malaise with this team that's capping them at 10 wins and a first round exit, and when you've got no dependable short yardage game and a QB (Phil Rivers) who's prone to holding the ball too long to try to make improv plays, that just means you're going to eventually come up craps in Turnover Roulette against a good defense. (Oh, and by the way, my fellow Eagles Fans, that shiver that just went up your spine from reading that last line? Intentional.)
But this week, Rivers will dink and dunk to Darren Sproles and Antonio Gates, then hit long balls to whoever Nmandi Asomugha isn't covering. Then, JaRuss and Co. will turn it over and give a short field, followed by the Raider run defense taking a nice SoCal siesta. If they can actually make Tomlinson look fantasy relevant for a week, I'd appreciate it. Maybe he can retire after the game, and go out with a nice 2 or 3 TD game. I'm just hoping, really.
If you're looking for reasons to believe in the Raiders to cover, well, maybe JaRuss will put it all together following his benching last week, and Darren McFadden might be back soon. The last time they played, the Raiders' offensive line dominated for a while on pure physicality, but as that was on opening weekend when the season was still in doubt, I'm not seeing it. And if you still believe that JaRuss is anything but The New Ryan Leaf (only less mobile), I've got a bridge to sell you. Many of them, actually.
Chargers 42, Raiders 6
Carolina at ARIZONA (-10.5)
Why, look who's back... the defending NFC champions, who were everyone's choice as So Last Year in the preseason and after a Week 1 loss to the Niners. Last week, the Warner Brothers went to New York and held the once-vaunted Giants running game to squat while actually running the ball a little themselves; Beanie Wells has moments of actual interest here, though he's still dicey with the ball and tries to do too much on broken plays. I'm not sure how a half-speed Anquan Boldin helps, but he'll probably be a little better this week, too, and if the Cards can keep DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart in check, this one has all the makings of a blowout, really.
The Cardinals won't make it to the Super Bowl again, but they are actually better than last year's team, and really starting to look like they could win the division early again -- and there's something to be said for a team that wins three straight games on the road. For the first time since, gulp, 1975. Yes, the Cardinals franchise has not exactly covered itself in glory for the past half a century.
For the Panthers, we're on Vote of Confidence #12 on Jake Delhomme, and someone really needs to just shoot him now and put him out of everyone's misery. Last week in Buffalo, the defense did everything you'd want, but just got overwhelmed by the short fields and constant overexposure that the Snake gave them. This week, on the road against a team with a real advantage, they'll quit a lot faster than that. I fear, for the sake of all gamblers, that this is the end for the Snake.
Cardinals 31, Panthers 16
Minnesota at GREEN BAY (-3)
I understand there's some off-field storyline to this one, but I thought I'd do something weird and focus on the game instead, seeing how it'll be a good one. The last time these two teams met, Aaron Rodgers rang up huge numbers when he wasn't getting hammered to the turf. Last week against the admittedly terrible Browns, he wasn't sacked once, and RB Ryan Grant broke out with a monster game. The difference? Green Bay got its veteran OLers back. Be afraid, NFC North...
Meanwhile in Pittsburgh, the Vikings took their first loss of the year on late turnovers for defensive scores. They also looked much easier to defend through the air after Bernard Berrian went down with a hamstring, and also gave up some huge plays through the air with their best CB, Antoine Winfield, on the shelf. Interesting.
You have to think the Lambeau stands are going to be fascinating, and that Jared Allen and Adrian Peterson will do damage. But I'm also seeing the Packers jump out to an early lead, which will make Favre take chances. And really, what would make for better poetic justice than a home team blowout? (Crap, I got sucked into the storyline, too...)
Packers 31, Vikings 17
Atlanta at NEW ORLEANS (-10)
One of the lighter point spreads that you'll see for the Saints in a home game, and I'm happy to have it. Atlanta just didn't look right last week in Dallas, and they'll need to be to stay with the home team in a loud dome, let alone a team as loaded as this one is. New Orleans remained undefeated despite a big early hole in Miami, and given how easy it would have been to just think that it wasn't your day and move on, I'm inclined to call that their most impressive win of the year.
Normally you'd worry about letdown with a double digit favorite at home, and think that the possibility for a letdown late cover would be in play. The trouble with that theory is that these are division rivals, and the Falcons are really the only possible rival to the Saints this year. New Orleans is going to be remembering past wrongs when they view game film this week, and the Michael Turner that ran them into the ground last year just isn't the guy wearing that jersey this year.
It also doesn't hurt, of course, that the Saints can actually run the ball this year themselves, and that they also are getting a bounce-back year from TE Jeremy Shockey to go with all of the other weapons. I'm pretty sure that the Saints won't go undefeated, but I'm also not sure when I'm actually going to pick them to lose a game. They really are this good.
Saints 38, Falcons 20
Last week: 6-5-1
Year to date: 51-49-2
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
In theory, I love Halloween. The practice, however, is something entirely different.