Making the Turn for Home
Middle-of-the-Pack Teams Need to Perform
Week 10 was a week of upsets, and boy was I upset. I suppose this may be the parity the league and broadcasters gush about, but I think it's just one of those things that's always happened. I am surprised, however, at the number of teams who really needed wins, whom you would expect would be in "midseason form" (it being midseason and all), who phoned it in and lost to lesser teams.
It's the proverbial gut-check time for a lot of teams with playoff hopes. Any team that's 5-4 or 4-5 needs to start putting things together or get shuffled to the also-ran bin. There might be a couple 3-6 teams that have an outside shot of making the playoffs, but this would have to be considered a must-win week for them. Teams that are 6-3, 7-2 or better -- and that includes a fantastic intra-division battle Sunday night -- are fighting for seeding and home field in the playoffs.
We're creeping up on turkey day, so I have to check my gut, too, but that's a little different.
Don't forget: There are Thursday games for the next five weeks starting with Thanksgiving Day later this week. I'll post picks for those games on Wednesday and the remainder on Saturday-ish.
Here are the early turkeys:
Sunday, Nov. 19
Atlanta (5-4) at Baltimore (7-2), 1 p.m.
For two weeks, the Michael Vick supporters were coming out of the woodwork like a band of Colts fans, claiming total and complete victory, telling us how they were right all along. Losses to Detroit and Cleveland have quieted them down a bit. It's looking like three straight (at least). Baltimore, who isn't as good as their record, still has a defense good enough to beat these pretenders, and their offense has been scoring (although against mostly weak defenses) since Brian Billick fired Jim Fassel. Both teams have injuries, but Atlanta has more and bigger. You know, with their easy schedule, Baltimore could be dangerous in the playoffs if they secure the No. 2 or 3 seed.
Prediction: Ravens, 28-23.
Buffalo (3-6) at Houston (3-6), 1 p.m.
Both teams have played pretty well recently. Since the bye, Buffalo has beaten Green Bay and lost late to Indy. Houston lost by four to the N.Y. Giants and beat Jacksonville -- for the second time. Two of Houston's three wins are against Jacksonville. Buffalo will be missing RB Willis McGahee and WR Josh Reed. That's going to make J.P. Losman's job tougher. Neither offense or defense is very good at all. The game is virtually meaningless. Perhaps the best the coaches can hope for is that some players will feel like they're auditioning for their jobs. This is where the oddsmakers earn their keep.
Prediction: Texans, 26-24.
Chicago (8-1) at N.Y. Jets (5-4), 1 p.m.
This is Chicago's second of back-to-back trips to the Meadowlands and three straight to the Northeast. This will be the easiest of the trips, but the way Eric Mangini has this team coming along, it's going to be no prance through the, uh, meadow, um, lands. Chicago has been a hard team to figure. The almost lose to Arizona, pummel San Fran, lose to Miami and destroy the N.Y. Giants. If they play to the level of their opponent, they should be about average this week. Despite my previous compliment, I'm hardly sold on New York. Yes, they beat New England in Foxboro last week, but they had two weeks to prepare for a team with a lot of key injuries, but prior to that they were annihilated by Jacksonville and then handled Miami and Detroit before losing to Cleveland. This could be a trap game for Chicago, it being sandwiched between the Giants and New England. I think this will be closer than most people suspect. I wouldn't be surprised at all if New York pulls it off.
Prediction: Bears, 24-21.
Cincinnati (4-5) at New Orleans (6-3), 1 p.m.
The team that claimed the better team lost in Foxboro in Week 4 has lost five of six, including that game, and there's been a lot of finger-pointing. How many more losses can such a team endure before the supposed stars become quitters? I'm thinking five, maybe six. They're still talking big, though, saying that they had "a bad half of football" last week. (What about the last 6 weeks?) After a 5-1 start, New Orleans suffered a tough road loss (basically on two running plays) and have been shaky in a three-game stretch. For all the recent talk of Cincinnati's reinvigorated offense, New Orleans has the No. 3 offense in the league. They also have a much better defense (Cincy is 29th), they're mostly healthy, and they're playing in the dome. Unable to extend their lead in the division last week, I expect New Orleans to respond.
Prediction: Saints, 31-17.
Minnesota (4-5) at Miami (3-6), 1 p.m.
Ever hear "teams heading in opposite directions"? Minnesota is 2-5 after a 2-0 start, has lost three straight, and only the first (New England) was against a good team. Since their Week 8 bye, Miami has won two in a row against Chicago and Kansas City. Are they going on another late-season run like 2005? They're a different team with Joey Harrington behind center, and they seem to have recovered from their three consecutive road games in October. I'm basing this pick almost purely on upward and downward momentum.
Prediction: Dolphins, 17-13.
New England (6-3) at Green Bay (4-5), 1 p.m.
See separately posted game preview.
Prediction: Have a nice day.
Oakland (2-7) at Kansas City (5-4), 1 p.m.
I'm not too keen on Trent Green starting this week for K.C. That's a pretty major change -- and an unnecessary one -- midway through the season. Damon Huard's reward for a 5-2 record after the team started 0-2 is getting kicked to the corner. It goes back to the argument of whether you play your (statistically) best players, or the players that give you the best chance to win. Unless you can attribute these recent wins to something other than Huard, I can't rationalize replacing such a key position with a (fragile) player who hasn't seen live contact in more than seven weeks. Oakland's offense is deplorable, but the defense is playing well, and they could take advantage of a green Green.
Prediction: Chiefs, 16-13.
Pittsburgh (3-6) at Cleveland (3-6), 1 p.m.
I have to tell you: I would love to see this game, even more to see Cleveland win. There's just no way Cleveland's awful rushing defense will be able to stop Willie Parker. Of course, there's no way they should have been able to (sort of) stop Atlanta last week, either. I don't think Parker will fumble with 2:18 left.
Prediction: Steelers, 27-13.
St. Louis (4-5) at Carolina (5-4), 1 p.m.
St. Louis has four straight losses, including the "grudge match" against still Hasselbeck/Alexander-less Seattle. Meanwhile, Carolina can't seem to get themselves figured out, so I'm not going to even try. St. Louis isn't out of it while Seattle remains without its stars, and Carolina really needs to win to say within keep pace in their division. This game has the shortest injury list (3 players) of all 16 games this week. St. Louis still simply hasn't beaten anyone of quality except the Week 1 fluke against Denver. Carolina is the better team and needs to show it.
Prediction: Panthers, 27-21.
Tennessee (2-7) at Philadelphia (5-4), 1 p.m.
The funny thing is: Philly lost three straight until head coach Andy Reid turned over the play-calling duties to Marty Mornhigweg. If they play the way they're capable, Tennessee is simply overmatched. That's really all there is to it.
Prediction: Eagles, 30-10.
Washington (3-6) at Tampa Bay (2-7), 1 p.m.
You'd think this would be the worst game of the week. But if you can believe it, it's not even close. Eight weeks after breaking an NFL record by starting a game with 22 straight completions, Washington quarterback Mark Brunell has been discarded for a kid who has never played a down in an NFL regular-season game -- as though Brunell is the biggest problem on this team. Washington is generally playing better, and against generally higher quality opponents. But, again, I just don't agree with this quarterback change. What's the point when you're in last and have no chance of making the playoffs? Washington is the only team in the league who lists no one on their injury report.
Prediction: Redskins, 24-17.
Detroit (2-7) at Arizona (1-8), 4:05 p.m.
Oh, yes. Much worse. Much, much worse. These teams could (and should) set an in- and off-season record for firings, starting in January. Detroit has won two of their last four. Arizona hasn't won since beating Frisco in Week 1. I wouldn't have believed then that a team could be worse than Detroit. This is pretty much Arizona's last chance to not finish last. Four of their last six are on the road, and the home games are against Seattle and Denver.
Prediction: Lions, 20-17.
Seattle (6-3) at San Francisco (4-5), 4:05 p.m.
San Francisco is 4-5? They're tied for second? Where have I been? (Or is that "Where have I been?") If the beat Seattle, they'll be just a game out of first. It's not out of the realm of possibility, but it's not likely. San Fran hasn't beated anybody too spectacular (floundering Minnesota would be the best team they've beaten), and Seattle is still a pretty good team even with those key injuries -- but they lost to Minnesota a few weeks ago.
Prediction: Seahawks, 13-7.
Indianapolis (9-0) at Dallas (5-4), 4:15 p.m.
Indy has more injuries listed than Washington, St. Louis, Carolina, San Francisco, Dallas, Miami and Chicago combined. Can you imagine the unlikely chance that the win the big one? What an embarrassment to the league that would be. While they beat New England and Denver, they've been scraping by mostly far inferior teams by a couple points here and there. Dallas is ranked third in total defense and sixth in total offense, and yet they're just 5-4. Must be turnovers in previous losses. They have a chance if they get Julius Jones and Marion Barber going -- and stick with them. But ultimately, I don't think Dallas is ready to win a game of this magnitude, even at home. Hey, at least they're not a bunch of deceitful whiners.
Prediction: Colts, 34-24.
San Diego (7-2) at Denver (7-2), 8:15 p.m.
What a game this is going to be! I think it's far more appealing than last week's Bears-Giants matchup. Denver has allowed a league low 111 points, but has scored an unimpressive 158. San Diego has scored a whopping 297 points to lead the NFL, but has allowed 175, which leaves them just outside the top 10 defensively. These teams meet again in southern Cali in three weeks. How much does that affect preparation for this game? You could analyze this matchup six ways to Sunday and still have no idea how it will play out. I think S.D.'s 175 points allowed is a little misleading. They have a fantastic defense, and I think Denver will have a hard time scoring. It's expected to be in the low 40s, and I don't think that's low enough to adversely affect San Diego.
Prediction: Chargers, 26-22.
Monday, Nov. 20
N.Y. Giants (6-3) at Jacksonville (5-4), 8:30 p.m.
Jacksonville remains tied for the sixth seed in the AFC, so this game is very nearly of monumental importance. Quite honestly, it's more important for them to beat a quality team at home than it is simply to keep pace with K.C. and the N.Y.J. Meanwhile, the ever-enigmatic N.Y.G. need to forget last week's choke job at home against Chicago and beat a pretty good team on the road. Philly will probably beat Tennessee, so New York needs the win to maintain sole possession of first in the NFC East and keep pace for one of the top two spots in the conference. Jacksonville and Carolina have paralleled each other for much of their history, and they're doing it again. I just can't figure them out. They beat some pretty good teams, almost beat Indy, and then lose to Houston twice in a month. But when you look at New York again, they haven't played a lot of top-tier teams, and they haven't beaten any of them. Don't be surprised if Jacksonville pulls this one out. Of course, the way things have played out the last couple weeks, you can't be surprised by much of anything.
Prediction: Giants, 23-13.
Last week: 8 - 8.
I feel like Lucy just pulled the ball away when I was just about to kick it. Incidentally, is the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving the least entertaining of all the Peanuts specials?
Season: 86 - 58.
That's 59.7 percent. I'm under 60! Devastating. Absolutely devastating. Oh, well. I'm not going to let this commercial dog ruin my holiday season. Whatever that means.