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Week 9 Picks

How Things Have Changed
NFL Hits Halfway Point This Week

The league's only two undefeated teams play each other. The only two winless teams are off. We can maintain this status if the latter game ends in a tie. Aside of those four teams, most of the league looks much different than it did after Week 2.

San Diego is and New Orleans might be returning to 2006 form. The Giants are 6-0 after an 0-2 start. San Francisco has gone 0-5 after a 2-0 start. Add in Kansas City, who has gone 4-1 after an 0-2 start, and AFC West division-mate Denver who is 1-4 after a 2-0 start.

Houston has gone 1-4 after making the AFC South look like the greatest division ever. Buffalo has gone 3-2 to return from the dead after surviving an 0-2 start and a rash of injuries.

Some things haven't changed. Green Bay, Detroit and Arizona are still surprise teams. The Jets and Atlanta might be even worse than they looked early on. Dallas still has just one blemish (a big one) on their record. Tennessee and Jacksonville continue to battle for second and are tied with another division leader for the third best record in the AFC behind the two undefeated teams.

A couple other statistical notes: Two division leaders (Kansas City and Carolina) have scored fewer points than they have allowed, both by 11. Their respective divisions two of four in which three of the four teams have point deficits and in both cases the second-place team is the only team in the division with an edge in points.

Only two teams -- the undefeated ones -- have outscored their opponents by more than 100 points; both, actually, by more than 120. Pittsburgh is third in that category with a net edge of 93 points, followed by Dallas (69). No other team is outscoring opponents by more than 45. Only one team is being outscored by more than 100 (St. Louis, 120), followed by Miami and San Francisco (78), the Jets (68), and Denver (64).

Here are the picks:

Sunday, Nov. 4
San Francisco 49ers (2-5) at Atlanta Falcons (1-6), 1 p.m.
New England's first-round pick enters the game tied for the league's fifth worst record and 31st in points per game scored (12.6). However, they're playing one of those four teams with a worse record, who is also 30th in points scored (13.6). Neither team scores; both give up huge numbers. Atlanta is coming off a bye week. The week previous, they lost to New Orleans. Last week, San Fran lost to New Orleans. San Fran isn't looking at a playoff berth, and they traded their first-rounder -- what motivation of any kind do they have? Atlanta could be playing for a draft pick, meaning they're better off losing. But they're at home, and fans will want them to beat a horrible team and a former division rival.
Prediction: 49ers, 13-10.

Cincinnati Bengals (2-5) at Buffalo Bills (3-4), 1 p.m.
Despite both teams way outside looking in at the playoffs, both have a lot at stake. Cincinnati has Marvin Lewis's future at stake. After "cleaning up" the program, Cincy has done nothing to make anyone believe this team is far ahead of where they were before Lewis took over -- outside of they have a few premiere players that would be great wherever they play. Buffalo has their future at stake. No, it's not their make-or-break type of future; it's the building-for-next-year-despite-injuries-and-adversity type of future. If Buffalo is going to have a quarterback controversy, better this year than next, because the winner will call signals when the team is healthy to start next season. Cincinnati is 6th in points scored and 31th in points allowed. Buffalo is 29st in points scored, 13th in points allowed. Cincy has the edge because they have the 5th best passing attack in the league, and Buffalo has the 4th worst passing defense.
Prediction: Bengals, 24-17.

Denver Broncos (3-4) at Detroit Lions (5-2), 1 p.m.
Mike Shanahan really blew it the last few minutes of the game against Green Bay, which Denver should have won. Now Denver faces another surprise winning NFC North team, this time on the road and on a short week; and the method by which Denver lost in overtime is again the strength of this week's opponent. That may have been an anomaly, because Denver is generally very good against the pass. They just haven't been that good as a team, and with a couple key injuries, the job gets a lot tougher. Meanwhile, Matt Millen is on his way to front office executive of the year, and Jon Kitna is looking more like a prophet than a prognosticator, but Detroit hasn't exactly played what most would call a difficult schedule. Still, they're at home, where they're 3-0 this season.
Prediction: Lions, 23-20.

Green Bay Packers (6-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (4-3), 1 p.m.
It's a meeting of division leaders. Green Bay shares the short week with Denver, and they had to travel. And they have to travel again, and to another tough home stadium of another AFC West team, one that's exceeding expectations as much as the last opponent is failing to meet them. Kansas City, meanwhile, has had two weeks to prepare, and they're at home (obviously). This almost feels like an Original Six game, not the least of which is because Brett Favre used to play for one of them (I think). Both teams are playing well on defense, but Green Bay has been fearsome on offense and Kansas City has been inconsistent at best. Green Bay is banged up, and that could have an impact. Don't be surprised if Kansas City pulls this one off.
Prediction: Packers, 21-16.

San Diego Chargers (4-3) at Minnesota Vikings (2-5), 1 p.m.
I don't think any of Minnesota's quarterbacks (Tarvaris Jackson, Kelly Holcomb or Brooks Bollinger) can beat San Diego.
Prediction: Chargers, 28-14.

Jacksonville Jaguars (5-2) at New Orleans Saints (3-4), 1 p.m.
Here's an interesting one. Or it would be, at least, if David Garrard could play. New Orleans is on a three-game winning streak, granted against not the most stellar competition. With the loss of Garrard, Jacksonville is reduced to as one-dimensional an offense as there is, and New Orleans has played fairly well against the run. New Orleans' offense has awakened, but Jacksonville has one of the league's better defenses (No. 4 in points allowed). I don't see Jacksonville scoring enough with Quinn Gray.
Prediction: Saints, 17-10.

Washington Redskins (4-3) at New York Jets (1-7), 1 p.m.
Washington drops from No. 5 in overall defense to No. 12. TV hacks are saying they have something to prove after getting lambasted by New England last week. What better way to make a statement than to run up the score against a terrible team? (Not that they'd do such a thing, and if they get a big lead, they'll start running the ball just to prove it. People are so impressionable.) New Jersey is in utter turmoil, yet "Mangenius" is making cell phone commercials. But they're funny! Hee hee hee! Injuries and quarterback controversy don't help, but that's what happens when a coach loses complete control of his team. Maybe he should have stuck around as a coordinator and learned a few more things. (He's going to get a big lesson in about 6 weeks.)
Prediction: Redskins, 27-13.

Arizona Cardinals (3-4) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-4), 1 p.m.
Arizona is coming off the bye; Tampa is heading into one. Both teams have scored 147 points; Tampa has given up 23 fewer. Arizona is 1-3 on the road, all the losses by 3 or less, and the one win by just 3 over 0-8 St. Louis. Tampa is 3-1 at home, the loss coming by 1 point last week to Jacksonville.
Prediction: Buccaneers, 20-17.

Carolina Panthers (4-3) at Tennessee Titans (5-2), 1 p.m.
Despite some bumps in the road, Tennessee has played better against better opponents. Both teams primarily run, but Tennessee leads the league in rushing defense. Carolina will need David Carr or Vinny Testaverde to change up the offense a little. I think Testaverde gives them the better chance to win, so we'll see who gets the call.
Prediction: Titans, 23-13.

Seattle Seahawks (4-3) at Cleveland Browns (4-3), 4:05 p.m.
Before the season, there was no way I would have picked Cleveland. Despite the even records and the AFC's general dominance over the NFC, Seattle is the better team. They don't score quite as many, but they're efficient; they certainly allow fewer, and they're a better overall team. Cleveland has an offense but no defense.
Prediction: Seahawks, 27-21.

New England Patriots (8-0) at Indianapolis Colts (7-0), 4:15 p.m.
Please see separately posted game preview.
Prediction: Thank you for reading Pats Pulpit.

Houston Texans (3-5) at Oakland Raiders (2-5), 4:15 p.m.
I don't know what to make of either team. Four of Oakland's games have been decided by 3 or less. The other three were all decided by at least two touchdowns. After opening with two wins, Houston has beaten only Miami and by just 3 -- at home. But they also scored 36 and lost at home by 2 to Tennessee. Who can figure these guys? Both teams are on three-game losing streaks. I think Houston definitely wins if the game is in Texas. It isn't so it's a toss up.
Prediction: Texans, 13-9.

Dallas Cowboys (6-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (3-4), 8:15 p.m.
Dallas has had two weeks to prepare for a game they shouldn't need two weeks to prepare. Philadelphia has been more inconsistent than Houston and Oakland. Donovan McNabb has a great game, an awful game, a great game, an awful game. He just had a great game. And that's really how it's been for Philly. When McNabb plays well, they usually win. When he plays terribly, they usually lose. Dallas has a very good defense, and McNabb hasn't played well against the better defenses. I don't think home field helps Philly that much today.
Prediction: Cowboys, 28-17.

Monday, Nov. 5
Baltimore Ravens (4-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2), 8:30 p.m.
Baltimore has beaten the Jets (by 7), Arizona (by 3), San Francisco (by 2 on the road) and St. Louis (by 19). They have lost to Cincinnati, Cleveland and Buffalo. Talk about a weak schedule, and they beat only an 0-8 team by more than a touchdown (and lost to only Buffalo by less than a touchdown). Pittsburgh lost to Arizona (by 7), but they have handled most other opponents easily, and they're undefeated at home. Pitt wins with defense and should be able to beat Baltimore at their own game.
Prediction: Steelers, 17-10.

Open Date: Chicago Bears (3-5), Miami Dolphins (0-8), New York Giants (6-2), St. Louis Rams (0-8)

Last week: 12 - 1 (92.3 percent).
The one game I lost was Jacksonville 24, Tampa Bay 23.
Season: 84 - 40 (67.7 percent).
Last year: 69-45 (60.5) following a 7-7 week.