Having said all this, the matchups this week are an absolute picker’s nightmare. I’m standing at 25-7 for the season, but I can see myself picking 4-10 this week. I’m so glad I’m not a gambler; this week just smells like an “I’ve got to start working weekends at Wal-Mart” experience.
Carolina at Tampa Bay
Steve Smith returns like a superhero to save Carolina’s season and wreck what’s left of Tampa’s. The question from here on out is, “What does Jon Gruden do with Chris Sims?” How long will it be until Tampa’s offense scores a touchdown? What’s the NFL record?
Panthers 27, Bucs 9
Just how bad is Carolina? Yeah, I know they won, but just barely, on the foot of clutch kicker Jon Casey. Maybe you have to give Gruden credit for getting his team back in, but Carolina sure doesn't look like NFC champs by any stretch of the imagination.
Panthers 26, Bucs 24
Cincinnati at Pittsburgh
It all comes down to this for me: Cincy believes that if Carson Palmer hadn’t been injured against the Steelers, they would have been the ones going to Detroit. This is, plain and simple, a revenge game where the Bengals show they are the alpha dog in the AFC North.
Bengals 24, Steelers 17
I'm gonna have to get Dish Network, I guess. My local CBS station was carrying the atrocious Tennessee-Miami game instead of this one. Guh! The Steelers path to the playoffs just got harder; now they have to win in Cincinnati just to even the series.
Bengals 28, Steelers 20
Green Bay at Detroit
This should be the week Mike Martz takes his offense off of the city streets and onto the Interstate; Favre may still have another good week, but Green Bay doesn’t have any defense, especially a secondary. Fantasy geeks who took Jon Kitna should feel good this week.
Lions 27, Packers 13
Note to self: STOP PICKING THE LIONS TO WIN--EVER!!!
Packers 31, Lions 24
Tennessee at Miami
I’ll take Miami this week in spite of Culpepper just because Tennessee is such a mess right now. I agree with Jeff Fisher taking it slow with Vince Young; losing is losing—there’s no point in killing your rookie QB when it won’t make any difference.
Dolphins 17, Titans 6
Yikes, Miami is a really bad football team. I thought Saban would have a better team than this. Yuck.
Dolphins 13, Titans 10
Jacksonville at Indianapolis
The Colts had trouble with the Jags last year, when Indy was clearly the better team. Now, Indy’s taken a step back in the running game with the loss of Edge James, and their defense is suffering key injuries. In the meantime, Jax has built the most intimidating defense in the league. My gut feeling says Indy simply cannot win this game.
Jaguars 21, Colts 17
Boy, Indy really showed me something last week by withstanding an early barrage of absolute dominance by the Jags without falling apart. Peyton looked like a warrior in the second half, and even though it won't silence the haters (who simply live to hate because Peyton's not on their team), the Colts asserted themselves as the favorites again in the AFC.
Colts 21, Jags 14
NY Jets at Buffalo
Buffalo’s defense is the exact opposite of the Rams’ offense: it’s much better than I thought it would be, and until they show me something different, all things being equal, I’m sticking with them, especially at home against the Jets.
Bills 17, Jets 13
Oh crap, I forgot about Buffalo's offense! And so did they!
Jets 28, Bills 20
Washington at Houston
The question to be asked at each and every Texans game for the rest of season is, obviously, “Why didn’t you idiots take Reggie Bush?” If they had Reggie, people would consider that they at least had a fighting chance every game. As it is, does anyone think to themselves, “Well, the Texans have Mario Williams, and he ought to be able to stop Portis and Brunell!” Yeah, me neither.
Redskins 23, Texans 14
Even though Houston's baseball team is going to steal the NL Central away from the Cardinals here in the last week, I can take solace in two facts: 1) the worst president in the history of the U.S. claims your smog-ridden hellhole as home; 2) Reggie Bush! Reggie Bush! Reggie Bush! Reggie Bush! Reggie FREAKIN' BUSH!!!!!
Skins 31, Mario Williams 15
Chicago at Minnesota
Probably the most intriguing matchup of 2-0 teams because those of us who are fans (Vikings and Bears both) want to know if our team is for real. For the Bears, they need to find out if Rex Grossman’s the real deal; for the Vikes, we just need to know if the first two games were just a fluke. As much as it pains me to pick against the Purple, especially at the Dome, I just can’t see the Bears defense giving up more points to Brad Johnson and Chester Taylor than Grossman and company is going to score on the Vikes’ D. I think it’s close, but I don’t think the Purple has as much talent yet as the Black and Blue.
Bears 27, Vikings 20
The Vikings are for real, I think, but they also have a low-octane ball-control offense that leaves them absolutely no margin for error. If this team turns the ball over--like they did Sunday--then they'll lose close games. They need to shake off this game and focus on next week. I really like Brad Childress--he's right out of the no-nonsense Bud Grant mode this team needs.
Bears 19, Vikings 16
Baltimore at Cleveland
Baltimore is really benefiting early in the season from a relatively easy schedule. The real test for them—and more to the point, their offense—will come against Cincy and Pitt. But until then, they can run up their record on also-rans such as the Browns.
Ravens 21, Browns 10
What the heck? You mean Steve McNair's 57 years old? The Ravens won't be able to beat a team with a decent offense.
Ravens 15, Browns 14
Philadelphia at San Francisco
I think the Eagles are going to bounce back after last week’s choke against the Giants, and I think the Niners will be overconfident about beating the Rams’ hapless offensive (non)attack. This one won’t really be close.
Eagles 31, 49ers 14
Philly better work on closing out games, even with a big lead.
Eagles 38, Niners 24
NY Giants at Seattle
I wouldn’t count on the Giants come-from-behind win as a sign of things to come. Seattle, who simply doesn’t lose at home, is going to bring them back down to earth. In a weakened conference, all Seattle needs to do is win enough games to clinch home field, and it should be another trip to the NFC Championship.
Seahawks 23, Giants 16
Seattle looked invincible last week, but then Shawn Alexander came up with a broken bone in his foot. If teams can shut down the run now, will Hasselbeck still be able to pick apart secondaries like he did Sunday? This weeks showdown in Chicago will be very telling. Oh, and someone tell Eli Manning that the first three quarters count, too.
Seahawks 42, Giants 30
St. Louis at Arizona
I said it last week: until the Rams offense comes to life, I’m just not going to pick them on the road against a team that can score, and the Cardinals should score more than enough to beat the Rams, who simply aren’t capable of scoring more than 17 points. Look for Kurt Warner to have a huge day against his old mates.
Cardinals 31, Rams 13
I hate to say it, but Warner looks just done. Hey, it happens. He had a storybook run in St. Louis, but Matt Leinert's gonna be starting this season, sooner or later. The Cardinals choked this one up just as if they had never left St. Louis. Oh, and I still loathe Marc Bulger.
Rams 16, Cardinals 14
Denver at New England
It seems apparent at this point that Jake Plummer sold his soul to the devil last year, only to see Old Scratch renege on his deal in favor of Ben Roethlisberger. Satan’s just fickle, I guess, except where the NY Yankees are concerned, of course.
Patriots 38, Broncos 16
I've never been so glad to be wrong. The Patriots' dynasty is over. Oh, they'll still win their division--because it stinks--but they're not getting out of wild card weekend.
Broncos 17, Patriots 7
Atlanta at New Orleans
Sure, N.O. is the sentimental favorite, what with all the Katrina recovery hoopla, but Atlanta’s one of the top three teams in the NFC right now, and all the Reggie Bush magic in the world is not going to be able to stop the Falcons’ running attack. It ought to be an emotional MNF broadcast, though, and worth tuning in to.
Falcons 30, New Orleans 17
So, was this the emotion of the moment, or is New Orleans really the dominant team in the NFC South? And what happened to Atlanta's offensive attack? The beauty of the NFL is that every week brings new surprises and a host of unanswered questions--it's like "Lost" as a reality series.
Saints 23, Falcons 3
Last Week: 12-4