Is It 'Parity' or 'Parody'?
First Quarter of Season Leaves Murky Picture
One quarter way (roughly) through the season, and a lot of teams remain enigmatic -- or do they? Is 4-1 St. Louis that good, or is it an illusion? They're playing 3-1 Seattle, who, like 1-3 Pittsburgh, seem to be suffering from the mysterious season-after-Super-Bowl slump -- something about playing more games than all the other teams.
And how about Philadelphia and New Orleans, both 4-1, but neither having faced much solid competition. And then there's that pair of New Jersey teams. One is 2-2, the other 2-3. One was supposed to be pretty darn good; the other, pretty darn bad. Who is who?
Certainly the two undefeated teams -- Indianapolis and Chicago, both with five wins -- surely, they can't be suffering identity problems. Or the winless teams. Tennessee, Oakland, Detroit and Tampa Bay. Are they so bad? [Hint: Yes.]
Of those six teams, only Indy is guaranteed of maintaining their status. They're idle this week.
The closer we get to Halloween, the spookier things get.
Or do they?
One other note from a couple weeks ago. Someone made a comment about me predicting scores that would imply a lot (if not a record number) of field goal attempts. And in the next breath, such people complain what a mistake it was for New England to let go of Adam Vinatieri. Go figure.
Only 13 games this week, following Friday the 13th. That's for all you triskaideka- and paraskavedekatriaphobiacs.
Here are the picks. (There's no Patriots this week, so "Who cares?", right?
Sunday, Oct. 15
Buffalo (2-3) at Detroit (0-5), 1 p.m.
Detroit has had multiple injuries on their offensive line. Now former Patriots budding star, guard Damien Woody, is on injured reserve, while guard Ross Verba and tackle Rex Tucker are listed as doubtful, which means they'll be ineffective if they even think of playing. They also have injuries (NT Shaun Cody is out, DT Shaun Rogers is probably) on their defensive line. That would be bad news for a good team. Buffalo has a few defensive injuries, but spread out and not to all key players. Detroit was up by 14 to start the fourth quarter and still lost by 9 to Minnesota. Buffalo was blown out in Chicago. One team will bounce back. You know what Detroit needs? A bye week. At least they won't lose.
Prediction: Bills, 31-17.
Carolina (3-2) at Baltimore (4-1), 1 p.m.
Baltimore is coming off their first loss of the season, looking horrible in averse weather against a Denver defense people may start taking seriously, a defense that looked just as good as the "other" defense in this game that always grabs the headlines, thanks to "Loudmouth" Lewis. Anyway, Carolina's defense finally looked like the Carolina defense should look -- but against only Cleveland. When they play like they should, they're as good as Baltimore or Denver. Steve McNair isn't having the great season many people expected. Yes, the defense has sustained them again, and they'll beat a lot of lesser teams. This is the meat of their schedule with New Orleans and Cincinnati coming up after next week's bye. Both offenses are struggling and both defenses are playing well. If, like me, you like low-scoring defensive battles, this one should be for you.
Prediction: Ravens, 13-10.
Cincinnati (3-1) at Tampa Bay (0-4), 1 p.m.
After one game (a loss) against a team not many people expected much from (New Orleans), some talking heads are already talking about Tampa Bay backup-turned-starter quarterback Bruce Gradkowski as The Next Tom Brady. (I thought they said Rex Grossman was. Gradkowski must be the next one after that). Gradkowski might be a better analogy, because he's taking over for an injured starter (Brady came in for Drew Bledsoe late in that season's Week 3). The analogy will be complete if he leads Tampa to the Super Bowl after an 0-4 start. Cincy is coming off a bye week, which followed the game against New England in which "the better team lost." So they say. With two weeks to prepare, they should make short work of The Next Tom Brady -- even if they couldn't beat the first one.
Prediction: Bengals, 38-16.
Houston (1-3) at Dallas (2-2), 1 p.m.
Dallas hasn't beaten anybody good. Houston barely beat a bad team. If Bledsoe loses to Houston, the calls for Tony Romo will be hard to ignore. But Cement Shoes did a pretty good job against Tennessee. Stop snickering. Ya, I can hear you! If No. 1 pick Mario Williams (just 7 solo tackles, 3 assist and 1.5 sacks in 4 games) is going to prove he has any value this season, this is his bank-account-sized opportunity. I just doubt that Williams, QB David Carr and a team of journeymen can match up against even an underachieving Bill Parcells team.
Prediction: Cowboys, 38-10.
N.Y. Giants (2-2) at Atlanta (3-1), 1 p.m.
This should be a good game, depending which teams decide to show up. In their three games since beating Carolina in Week 1, Atlanta hasn't beaten anyone of note. New York had a tough opening three weeks, but the defense looked fantastic against Washington last week. Of course, New York had two weeks to prepare for Washington, and Atlanta has had two weeks to prepare for New York. Atlanta has a spate of "questionables," including RB Jerious Norwood and DE John Abraham. New York has a few bumps and bruises, but nothing serious (nothing, I considers serious, anyway). New York can win if the defense shows up again and contains the run. Atlanta isn't going to win if they have to throw. New York is alreay a couple games behind 4-1 Philadelphia, and Atlanta is right on the tail of 4-1 New Orleans. Hey, that's the next game to pick.
Prediction: Giants, 26-23.
Philadelphia (4-1) at New Orleans (4-1), 1 p.m.
Neither of these teams have really beaten anyone. Philly handled Dallas last week, but Dallas more lost the game than Philadelphia won it, and Philly was at home. New Orleans has beat Atlanta in the Return to Thunderdome ... I mean, Superdome ... and lost to Carolina. The other wins were against weak, weak teams. But they can "leave it all out on the field," because they have a bye next week. Former New Orleans WR Donte Stallworth is doubtful (heel) and RB Brian Westbrook is questionable (knee) for Philly. Those will be two significant holes if they don't play. New Orleans has no injuries to worry about. It should be an aerial extravaganza (I couldn't find a good noun starting with "a", so I picked a word with a lot of a's in it) with Donovan McNabb and Drew Brees leading these offenses. Unless Deuce McAllister, Reggie Bush and Cornell Buckhalter have great ground games. Philly has won the last six head-to-head meetings. Very hard game to predict, because it's hard to say how good either team is defensively or against upper echelon teams. Against my gut instinct, I just have to go with New Orleans' balanced offense.
Prediction: Saints, 28-24.
Seattle (3-1) at St. Louis (4-1), 1 p.m.
Seattle has had a two weeks to stew about their trashing at the hands of Chicago. Like then, this underperforming team is without RB Shawn Alexander. This week, they're also without WR Bobby Engram, DE Joe Tafoya, and G Floyd Womack. Some of those injuries are more important than others, but effects should be felt from all of them. St. Louis is on a roll after beating up on a handful of bad and mediocre teams (opponents in the recent three-game winning streak are 2-13); and, to be honest, they haven't blown out any of them. It's an important division game, and the result will mean a lot to both teams. Despite being banged up, a team as good as Seattle should be able to gut-out a win on the road in a game like this.
Prediction: Seahawks, 28-17.
Tennessee (0-5) at Washington (2-3), 1 p.m.
Don't expect Tennessee to play everyone the way they played Indianapolis. The only team with a worse rushing defense than Indy is Tennessee. That's probably not good news against a healthy Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts. Meanwhile, Tennessee has a couple injured wide receivers (Former Patriot David Givens is out (hand)). Washington just got taught a lesson by New York, and they need a win just to keep pace in a very tough division. Despite a few injuries on the D line, they should be able to withstand Tennessee's ... um, assault.
Prediction: Redskins, 28-7.
Kansas City (2-2) at Pittsburgh (1-3), 4:15 p.m.
Pittsburgh can win this one on coaching alone. The Steelers' backs are against the wall, so expect them to be looking to "make a statement" at home. Kansas City has looked pretty poor against good teams. The question is: Is Pittsburgh a good team? Both teams have a busload (heh heh) of injuries, among the keys are K.C's running backs, and Pittsburgh's right outside linebackers. Kansas City QB Damon Huard has been playing absolutely fantastic against soft defenses, and not too shabby against better defenses. You almost think they're better off with Huard over Trent Green. It Pittsburgh shows up, it will be a much-needed win. If they don't, these pretenders can forget about repeating as Super Bowl champs, and K.C. might still have a shot in the AFC West. Ben "Bledsoe" Roethlisberger better be at his best against Ty Law, Sammy Knight and Patrick Surtain.
Prediction: Steelers, 21-17.
Miami (1-4) at N.Y. Jets (2-3), 4:15 p.m.
Miami is 0-3 on the road. They're not that good. This is their third straight game on the road. New York is 0-2 at home. They're not particularly good, either. They just took a merciless beating at the hands of Jacksonville. It appears the Daunte Culpepper Experiment could be over. And Joey Harrington looked pretty good against New England. The Pats defense just played too well that day. New York's passing isn't nearly that good. New York has a gazillion people listed on their injury report. Where do you think Eric Mangini learned such tactics? Mangini hasn't made the best in-game decisions. And then there's Nick Saban. Is he not fit for the pros? Or are his players letting him down? If Miami wins, it could turn the AFC East into a two-horse race. Or not.
Prediction: Jets, 20-14.
San Diego (3-1) at San Francisco (2-3), 4:15 p.m.
When San Fran had two wins by Week 8 (their seventh game), I was shocked. They have two now, although one is against St. Louis, whom they swept last season. Why do I bring that up? Because they have no chance to win this week. Marty Schottenheimer blew up at his players after practice Wednesday. After losing a tight one to Baltimore, which may very well be hung on Schottenheimer, himself, and then handing Pittsburgh their third loss, the coach thought his players were lackadaisical in preparation for this purported cakewalk. It's very likely they heard him. (For those of you not paying attention, for all the talk of Chicago's and Baltimore's defenses, San Diego (in four games) leads the league in pass defense (138.0 ypg), rushing defens (66.5 ypg), total defense (a meager 204.5 ypg) and time of possession (an astounding 24:31).
Prediction: Chargers, 34-3.
Oakland (0-4) at Denver (3-1), 8:15 p.m.
Ya, San Diego will give San Fran a pretty brutal beating. But that's not a division game. This will be like that disembowling scene from Braveheart. You really don't need to see it. I don't think Oakland will be crying "Freedom!" though.
Prediction: Broncos, 48-0.
Monday, Oct. 16
Chicago (5-0) at Arizona (1-4), 8:30 p.m.
The analogy I thought of would be so politically incorrect, even I can't bring myself to put it in print. But it will be interesting to see how many people pick Arizona as their Surprise Team of the Year next season.
Prediction: Bears, 33-10.
Open Date: Cleveland (1-4), Green Bay (1-4), Indianapolis (5-0), Jacksonville (3-2), Minnesota (3-2), New England (4-1)
Last week: 14 - 0.
I'm not expecting a repeat performance, but I won't complain if I get one. Quite honestly, while I haven't checked other experts' prediction results, I wouldn't be surprised if I had company. Last week's games just seemed kind of obvious last week. There are some toughies this week, for sure.
Season: 49 - 25.
That's 66.2 percent. Not too shabby, but not as good as I expect (70 percent or better). One must have goals.