Picks Record NFL Weeks 1-4
Totals: Straight Up: 44 – 20, Against the Spread: 37 – 27, Over/Under: 35 – 29
The National Football League lost Al Davis this week. Every tribute, statement and tweet that I’ve seen thus far has begun with the words, “Love him or hate him.” I think that encapsulates his life, at least his public life. I’ve been among those who firmly believed that the Raiders would not achieve lasting success again until Al retired or died. And I always knew it would end up being the latter. But I will always respect and appreciate his contribution to both the rise of the AFL and the creation of the modern NFL. And I will always be grateful for his intervention during the last collective bargaining storm, when he led the initiative that kept football going over a decade ago. The president of the Pro Football Hall of Fame called Mr. Davis “a giant of the game.” Love him or hate him, that much is sure.
Can I just say that I am heartbroken? Sunday Night Football has CGI’d Peyton Manning out of their opening! I understand, but that’s cold, man. Sniff, sniff.
My second observation has to do with actual football: how are we going to inspire young boys to play DB in the NFL with Andre and Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and Wes Welker playing on offense? Inevitably once or twice a game one or more of you professional DB’s blows a coverage and then you have to listen to, “How do you leave Johnson/Fitz/Welker wide open?” And inevitably once or twice a game two (or more) of you are covering Johnson/Fitz/Welker–and they make the catch anyway. What young man in middle school is going to sign up for a future filled with that kind of repetitive humiliation?
Final note: We all support the NFL’s breast cancer awareness month. I think it might truly save lives. Nothing beats the NHL’s pink ice, but I am all in favor of the pink shoes and gloves. But seriously guys, pink WHISTLES?
New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers
Straight Up: New Orleans
Against the Spread: New Orleans -5.5
Over/Under: Over 51 points – unless the skies open up again. It’s supposed to be mid-70’s and partly cloudy. But then, two weeks ago it was 20 percent chance of showers, too!
I will be surprised if this turns into a blowout, odd as that sounds. No wonder Cam Newton went and talked to Brett Favre; they are cut from the same cloth. No. 1 is a star. Not a star-in-the-making, a full-fledged star. I know that the Bears’ D is not on the right side of the “prime” curve, but they are still a legitimate Bears’ D. And Newton darn near brought his team back last Sunday in the Windy City. I am now officially going to stop apologizing to my readers for being totally wrong on this kid. I figure four mea culpa’s is enough.
It may sound odd to say that 115 yards per game rushing is not enough for the Panthers. It’s not as if Cam isn’t slinging it down the field; it’s just that Carolina really doesn’t want him to have to. With Shockey returning from concussion, Cam will have his four short-yardage receivers back in the fold. And those of you who were saying that Steve Smith was all washed up are probably feeling just a bit silly right about now. But, Ron, can we hand the ball off to Williams and Stewart more often please?
Not that it will probably affect the ultimate outcome of this one. As if Brees didn’t have enough offensive targets, we now have the emergence of TE Jimmy Graham. Yes, I know that Henderson and Colston are both hurt. So, that leaves Drew the following pitiful assortment of ball catchers: Meacham, Roby, Thomas, Sproles, Ingram, Graham and Lance Moore. So I guess he’ll only throw touchdown passes to four different guys instead of six.
Now, to be “fair and balanced” here, the Carolina secondary has been quietly allowing less than 175 yards per game through the air recently. Can they hold Brees to that? Not in this lifetime, but I wouldn’t be surprised if No. 9 gets a tad frustrated here and there on Sunday. Where the Panthers do not excel is run D, so the Saints rushing triumvirate should feel like they are back on the playground.
I was frankly surprised that the Saints have only given up 18.7 points on average this month: they look so much worse than that to the naked eye. So I think Gregg Williams would like to see them (with Vilma back) shut down Newton and limit Williams and Stewart. If they can accomplish this, I’ll feel much better about the rest of their season.
The only squeak in this wagon is the fact that N’awleans’ sophomore Center Matt Tennant may be in for the injured Olin Kreutz. Not ideal, but I think the Saints can overcome.
Philadelphia Eagles at Buffalo Bills
Straight Up: Buffalo
Against the Spread: Buffalo +3
Over/Under: Over 48.5: 76 degrees and sunny with two potent offenses.
I may not have exactly supported Michael Vick in his rant against the refs last week, but I did go on record as agreeing with him. Which, considering my personal core belief that Vick is a frighteningly dysfunctional soul, was pretty decent of me (if I do say so myself who shouldn’t.) But this week he is officially back to whining. He’s a punk and it’s showing–again. Can no one on the planet teach this man to mouth platitudes without someone stationed at his shoulder to force Vick’s ego back in line at all times? Come on. Put on Costner’s classic speech and then play a Brady presser. I know Mike doesn’t know how to behave–can’t he at least imitate? Ugh. And I’m accepting apologies from all of you out there who told me I was being unfair when I said that he was disingenuously reciting prepared statements the entire first two years out of jail. The minute he goes off script his true self comes out. And it’s not pretty is it?
Anyway–I would love to think that the Bills could beat Philly at Orchard Park. But I am afraid that the combination of talent and embarrassment and desperation will be too much to allow the Eagles to drop another game. On the other hand, the brilliant Andy Reid’s team did just lose to the 49ers. So I’ll take Buffalo as a home underdog.
Now, how are they supposed to accomplish this? I would suggest giving Fred Jackson 40 carries and then giving C.J. Spiller 20 more. Once you have those weak Philly linebackers firmly planted in the box, throw it. To Johnson, Jones, Nelson or Chandler–they all seem able to find the end zone.
Philly will need to get past the loss of Trent Cole and Jason Peters, but Vick against the Bills’ secondary might be trouble for Buffalo. But since both Jenkins and Babin (Philly D-linemen and terrorizers of QBs) are playing I suggest that Mr. Fitzpatrick avoid them at all costs.
Seattle Seahawks at New York Giants
Straight Up: New York G-men
Against the Spread: New York Giants -9.5 (but don’t go higher)
Over/Under: under 43.5 (only because Big Blue will probably be without half of their running game if Jacobs can’t play)
I am in the uncomfortable position of having to admit that Carroll’s ‘Hawks are playing better. They even mounted a vigorous fourth quarter comeback attempt that almost worked. However, since it was against the Falcons’ defense I don’t know how impressed we should all be about that.
Tavaris Jackson even passed for over 300 yards (has he ever even done that before?) and Marshawn Lynch ripped off a couple of good runs. I swear; it’s as if Marshawn is asleep most of the time and only occasionally “snaps to” and remembers that he’s playing in a football game. Seattle’s 12th man will be watching on TV, but they had better hope Lynch is awake, because the Giants’ run D is still not exactly dominating as they give up over 130 yards per game.
Now let’s put in an atta boy for Eli. You know, Joe Montana had one facial expression most of the time. Whether he was in the zone or just in the first quarter doing business as usual. But, down by 14 in the last 3 minutes, he got that laser eye-focus thing going and you KNEW. You just knew.
With Eli Manning, the switch flips to throw him into the zone and there’s nothing in his face. Nothing. Frankly, it’s all just a little “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” for me. But I surely do enjoy watching him lead a fourth quarter comeback. People forget that he does it relatively often. And I love that he topped it off in Arizona with the same TD pass play with which he won the Super Bowl. Nice touch, guys.
Cincinnati Bengals at Jacksonville Jaguars
Straight Up: Cincinnati
Against the Spread: Cincinnati Bengals (defense travels) +2.5
Over/Under: under 37.5 (It’s going to be raining and windy with two very young QBs)
This is the Battle of the Rocky Road Rookie QB’s. I hope they both play well, but high-quality passing is probably not in the cards this weekend. However, expect each one to complete a couple of beauties that remind everyone why they have their current jobs.
Little known fact: the Bengals have one of the best defenses in the League, led by Maualuga–who has finally become the grownup and leader that we all thought he would be coming out of USC. Then there’s pass-rushing second-year DE Carlos Dunlap. Look out, Blaine.
Put in your favorite superlatives here about MJD. We all know that Pocket Hercules will do his best to carry his team to victory. I don’t think he can do it alone this week.
I’m more and more impressed by Mr. Andy Dalton. His team respects him because he isn’t afraid. Now, that may not speak particularly well of his instincts for self-preservation, but it goes a long way in the locker room. I honestly think this redhead is showing us all “true grit.” He has Gresham, newly emerging Simpson and Green to catch passes and Leonard and Benson ran for over 200 yards last weekend.
Best comment of the week (after someone ripped Dalton’s hat off): “Just spray paint some black stripes on that head and he wouldn’t even need a helmet!.”
Kansas City Chiefs at Indianapolis Colts
Straight Up: Indy
Against the Spread: Indianapolis -1.5
Over/Under: Under 39 On their home running track of a field, Freeney and Mathis will annoy Matt C. all day.
The only thing that I know for sure about this week is that Haley and Cassel had better keep screaming at each other.
1) It may be the only thing keeping the tension level from blowing everybody’s head off and
2) It worked: they won.
Now this stat amazes me: the Chiefs are averaging 112 yards per game on the ground. How? I’ve always liked Thomas Jones, but he can’t get more than a yard a play these days and McCluster is the size of a flea. It’s a mystery. Cassel started connecting with some WRs last week so Indy’s injured DB’s will have their hands full.
But I think this is the week that Indy’s offense comes together–and scores a whopping 17 points. And I’ll go way out on a limb and say that 14 of those points will even be touchdowns. I know; I’m either prescient or delusional.
And that Indy D should get a unit commendation for heart as they’ve kept the team from going completely down the toilet. The Colts have to win sometime, don’t they?
The game will rest on the passers: neither team can stop the run or run very well. On paper the advantage should go to Matt Cassel. But I’m willing to accept that maybe the Colts’ locker room has been right and that Painter has promise. Time to show me, Curtis.
Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers
Straight Up: Tennessee
Against the Spread: Tennessee +7.5
Over/Under: over 39.5 It will be a lovely day in PA.
This is going to be a very interesting game. The Steelers have looked dreadful and the Titans have been terrific (well, except for that first week disaster.) But this is another case of “consider the competition.”
If I were a Pittsburgh fan, I’d be a lot more worried about Mendenhall and Moore than I would be about Harrison and Roethlisberger. I’m a woman so of course I’m not a “big” Ben fan, but that man is tough with a capital “T.” He will play and probably play well. However, without a running game it’s going to be hard for even No. 7 to stay upright. Particularly with two O-linemen hurt and one doubtful. And that line was highly suspect to start with–to be kind.
Conversely, I am a huge Hasselbeck fan and I am so happy that he is somewhere with a decent O-line. He’ll make all of those receivers better: maybe not as good as Britt, but better. The team gets FB Hall back this week, so Johnson will be ready to rock after finding his wheels last Sunday in Cleveland.
The Steelers have not been able to stop the run. Did I just say that? Wow–when was the last time the Steelers couldn’t stop a running back? Okay, I’m not old enough to remember, either. (Dungy and Harrison made a good point on SNF about the fact that, with fewer practices in pads, fixing this problem is going to be even more difficult.)
Did I mention the Titans’ defense? They are allowing 13 points and less than 300 yards. Of course, we’ve all seen the Steelers win games on much less than 300 yards. But the metal is severely cracked in Pittsburgh these days.
Arizona Cardinals at the Minnesota Vikings
Straight Up: Minnesota
Against the Spread: Minnesota -1.5
Over/Under: Over 45.5
I am digging in my heels on this pick; I admit it. I have picked the Vikings every single week and every single week they have completely sc*$%ed me over. But it can’t continue–can it? I mean, they have to win soon. Right? I figure that if they only play the first half, this pick is safe.
On the other hand, Arizona is going to be very, very angry about the way it went down at home last week against the Giants. Here’s the key: can Minnesota’s old secondary manage Larry F.? See the opening of this article for my opinion on that (especially without CB Winfield.)
So, I am reduced to wanting desperately to believe that
1) Minnesota can’t go 0-5 and
2) the Vikings’ O-line will at some point at least try to pass protect out of sheer embarrassment
Helping this potentially Ostrich-esque point of view is the perennially soft Arizona defense.
Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans
Straight Up: Houston
Against the Spread: Houston -6.5
Over/Under: Here’s that forecast that I hate: thunderstorms. Oh, please. Is it going to rain or not? I’ll go with under 48.5 points
Unless Mario Williams and company can pressure Campbell early and often, this could be more of a contest than we originally thought. And the D might be just a tad busy against the run. Two weeks in a row, Darren McFadden has made opposing defenses look downright foolish. I’m guessing they will not have such good luck versus the newly fortified Texans’ D.
Can we just say right here that Wade Phillips is a top-notch defensive coordinator? I cannot stand to see him standing clueless on the sidelines as a Head Coach, but he sure as heck knows how to build a D. I never thought that he could make this many positional and scheme changes with no off-season and meet with this kind of success. Good for him.
Oakland’s passing game still has not clicked, even though they are rushing for over 175 yards per game. This would be a good week for that click to happen, since the game will be fairly even on the ground with McFadden and Foster racing up and down the field.
Normally, I wouldn’t even think about whether or not Schaub/Johnson could out-sling Campbell/anyone. But there won’t be a Johnson out there this week. Come on, Jason Campbell, I’m pulling for you.
My original pick for this game was Houston to win and Oakland to cover against the spread. However, I do not believe that the Silver and Black have the leadership to handle Al Davis’ death, travel and play well.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at San Francisco 49ers
Straight Up: San Francisco
Against the Spread: San Francisco -.5
Over/Under: over 41.5
Up and comers versus smoke and mirrors? Raheem Morris deserves consideration as Coach of the Year and GM Mark Dominik as Exec of the Year for the job they are doing in building a team through the draft with an ownership family that is, well let’s be kind and say that they are—-scattered.
I love LeGarrette Blount. I love his running and his self-rehabilitation. I love Freeman’s quiet confidence. I love the coach’s intelligent bravado. I love watching Ronde Barber direct traffic on the defense.
On the other side you have a savvy NFL veteran QB turned Head Coach returning to the “bigs” with a team based on a couple of tough defenders, a star runner and a star TE. That’s about it. And they just beat the Eagles. Not bad, Jim.
Now that Frank Gore is all better, that running game will be back on track. If Alex Smith can keep it together, the Niners could win a few games. I wish I thought that their victory over the Eagles last week was by virtue of talent, instead of by virtue of Philly implosion. I do believe in Gore and I’m starting to believe in the defense.
With Tampa Bay coming off of a short week, a hard-fought win and having to travel 3,000 miles, I am sticking with the gold-diggers.
New York Jets at New England Patriots
Straight Up: New England
Against the Spread: New York Gang Green +10
Over/Under: over 48.5
The Patriots re-asserted their dominance on Sunday while the Jets got beaten and bloodied for four hours. Inarguably, the Pats are in better shape.
Again, I want to believe that the Jets can win. But here’s the deal: Rex is determined to run the ball. But here is the problem: they don’t have a running back. I’ve been (okay, let’s call it what it is) bitching about Greene for two years: he does not have “it.” He has never had “it.” The O-line just used to be good enough to cover it up and they handed off to LT enough times to distract the defense. I don’t know whether it’s a lack of strength or a lack of heart, but without that O-line at full strength Greene is virtually useless. Rex is acting like he’s still in Baltimore with Jamal Lewis and his churning legs.
In the meantime, how about a few two TE sets so that Mark doesn’t have to look deep in order to pass? Or here’s a thought–a slot receiver! Heck, try Mason over the middle. He’s not big, but he’s tough and he knows how to catch a football. Not to mention the fact that every time they throw dump-offs to Tomlinson it turns into yards. He’s not the LT of 10 years ago, but he’s a little like Kevin Faulk if you use him that way.
Whatever you decide to do, do it this week. You need the victory in the division, you need the victory over the Pats–and the New England defense is, well, let’s just say “vulnerable.” They were struggling before this week and now they have lost LB Mayo. This is the young man who was heir apparent to Bruschi and Vrabel. He wasn’t there yet, but he was rising fast. You don’t get a weakness in a Belichick team that lasts all year, so strike while you can.
And let’s repeat this one more time class, “The only way to beat Tom Brady is to put him on his backside. A lot.” For Pete’s sake, they are down an O-lineman, too, how come no one is sacking him? Like, ever. Yes, part of it is Brady’s talent and decisiveness. But, let’s at least give it a shot, boys.
Brady might get Hernandez back this week, which means that we all know he’s going to two tight end the Jets to death unless they can sack him. Unless he decides to throw even more balls to Wes Welker. (Marvin Harrison has got to be sitting at home thinking “That’s the guy that’s going to break my record?”) I am not a Pats fan, but I do love No. 83. Short, quick and over-looked. You go, Wes.
San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos
Straight Up: San Diego
Against the Spread: San Diego -3.5
Over/Under: under 47 It is supposed to rain in the morning, but hopefully will clear up
So, do Elway and Fox let Tebow play in the (mostly vain) hope that he will generate enough excitement to trade him? Or do they continue trying to win games? If so, perhaps the fans could put a little more focus on the Denver defense–or lack thereof and get off of Orton’s back! Last Sunday, Aaron Rodgers might just as well have been participating in a stats-padding scrimmage. If you are a Denver fan and you didn’t see that game, be thankful.
Can we at least try to be fair? Orton has one legit WR, no running game (Moreno and Shonn Greene both need to just go away somewhere and be soft together) and absolutely no support outside of the locker room. Knowing Fox, he doesn’t have any managerial support in the locker room either. John Fox wouldn’t know how to fix an offense if his life depended on it. Man, he must give a terrific good-ole-boy interview! Or maybe he’s like J. Edgar Hoover, with a dirty little file on half of the GMs in the NFL?
By the same token, I would dearly love to get excited for the Chargers. But I don’t have the faith. I’m sorry; I don’t. However, Vincent Jackson looked much healthier than I had thought and Matthews is…coming along. If I were Turner I would give the ball to Tolbert, Rivers and Jackson–period. They can win it for you. Which is good, because Antonio Gates’ foot looks like it might be a career-ending injury, I am very sorry to say.
If we are to take this team seriously at all as a contender they should handle the Broncos, uh, handily.
SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL
Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons
Straight Up: Atlanta
Against the Spread: Atlanta +6
Over/Under: definitely over 53
OOOOOH–can you say, “Grudge match?” Matt Ryan and Mike Smith are probably too classy to say it–but I will! I only wish that I had any reasonable hope that the Atlanta defense can put even a dent in the Packer offensive Juggernaut. Can you say, “Greatest Show on Turf 2?”
The only way under heaven for Atlanta to win this game is to run Michael Turner until his tongue hangs out. And then run Snelling, Rodgers and Smith. Giving the ball back to Aaron Rodgers is like kicking it to Devin Hester.
At the risk of getting slammed for my gender-influenced perspective: how charming is Aaron Rodgers? In case you don’t know, No. 12 is generally known among the prettier NFL fans as “the one with the beautiful hazel eyes.” But seriously, he is the epitome of tact in front of the microphone and carries just the right amount of humor and fun into the huddle. And he’s starting to remind me of a cross between Fouts and Young–with more personality. Of course, keeping that WRing corps together after a Super Bowl win (while due in large part to a lockout) is nothing short of a miracle and something for which Aaron had better be thankful every day of his career.
Like Brady, he has the competition convinced that his team is invincible even in the face of rather dismal facts about their relative defenses. Losing Nick Collins seems to have placed the secondary’s common sense onto I-R too. So Atlanta’s Ryan, White and Jones could do well. Has anyone else noticed that Tony Gonzalez is literally all over the field catching everything in the vicinity? This latter day Ponce de Leon is making me want to try his nutritional products! Wow.
The game will turn on the Falcons’ red zone D and the Pack’s secondary.
MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL
Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions
Straight Up: Detroit
Against the Spread: Detroit -6.5
Over/Under: over 47.5
At least that’s what Chicago fans are saying.
Detroit fans are getting downright smug these days. Can’t say that I blame them. Do you not think that Matthew Stafford is becoming absolutely dazzling? After a few years of watching very talented and promising NFL QBs under the age of 25, this guy is achieving a star power reserved for the likes of… Well, I don’t know to be honest. Is he Brady with a smile? Montana with a personality? Elway without the legs? I just don’t know, but I hope that he stays healthy for the next decade. Not that I’m a Lions’ fan (although I think they are more than due a turn in the sun.) I just want to watch. He’s, well he’s dazzling.
Okay, love poems over–who will win this game? Detroit will, unless their O-line cannot stop Chicago’s pass rush. Or unless Suh continues to rack up 15-yard penalties. Schwartz has a reputation for dirty D and this young man needs to watch it, because his own reputation is suffering.
Similar to my recommended Falcons’ strategy, I devoutly hope that Lovie locks Martz in a closet and gives Forte the ball every down, maintaining possession for 45 minutes. Because it has become abundantly clear that no one can stop Calvin Johnson when it comes to catching a touchdown pass.
The one fly in the Lions’ ointment (how’s that for a tortured animal metaphor?) is their lack of a running game. Don’t get me wrong, I like Best. I like him a lot. But Michael Turner he is not. However, TE Pettigrew can probably pick up the slack on those yards and he is built like an oak.
Did you know that the Detroit Lions are averaging 36 points per game while only giving up 18.7? No wonder they’re winning. Enjoy it, Detroit. And enjoy the Tigers, too! You are the heart of America in this recession and you deserve to revel in sports’ glory.