November 7th, 2003

NFL — Week Nine

Goddamn, I hate weeks like this. Lots of heavy, heavy favorites mean there aren’t gonna be a whole lot of upsets. But there are, of course, gonna be one or two. And there’s almost no telling where they’re gonna happen. So picking straight up, you’re tempted to try to ID them, which is a giant trap. If you’re right, awesome. But if you tag two upsets and you miss both, and then they happen somewhere else, you’ve gone and missed four games making your best possible week 10-4, when you know you’re gonna need to finish 12-2 or even 13-1 to win your pool. Picking against the spread is even worse, because, look, heavy favorites are heavy favorites for a reason. But those games go one of two ways: either the 10-point favorite comes in, plays its game and absolutely blows the dog out of the stadium, or that big favorite gets overconfident and gets surprised, either losing or just managing to win by a field goal. Do you know which fave is gonna show up to play and which is gonna take the week off? I sure as hell don’t. And giving anything more than a touchdown pretty much scares the bejesus out of me. So what do I recommend? Read through the picks below. If my reasoning makes no sense to you, pick or bet the other way. If my reasoning makes sense to you, spend some time wondering why that is, and whether you’re the kind of person who ought to be gambling on pro football to begin with. Really, I have no fucking idea what I’m doing here. So whatever you do, do not take my advice.

Arizona (+7.5) at Pittsburgh Seven and a half points is a lot to give, particularly when the team giving it has one of the most uneven and unreliable offenses in the league. Then again, Arizona, despite two straight wins, ain’t exactly a juggernaut. Hell, even with Marcel Shipp piling up the yards, Arizona is still only the 18th best run offense in the league. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has the league’s fourth best run D (and the second best D overall). Unless you think Hines Ward is in for a two touchdown day, you have to question whether seven and a half points will actually be scored by both teams combined. So take the Steelers straight up, but take the Cards getting the points. Then hold your breath and hope Ward does just enough, but not too much. (And don’t start Shipp for your fantasy team this week.)

Atlanta (+10.5) at New York Giants This game poses rather a problem for me. You see, it seems the Giants are out to kick my ass. If I pick ’em to lose, they win. If I pick ’em to win, they lose. My best guess is that it’s a bit of revenge for the fact that I’ve kinda abandoned them in recent years. The Giants used to be my NFC team, and the team I rooted for most consistently after my real team, the Raiders. But then when Jon Gruden went and signed on with Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers became my NFC faves. I almost switched back to the Giants after the Bucs beat up on my poor Raiders in the Super Bowl last year, but then I realized that whole thing was Al Davis’ fucking fault (because, as I said often two years ago, he never, ever should have let Gruden go) and there was no sense holding that against Gruden and the Buccaneers. So I stuck with the Bucs, leaving the Giants short one almost fan. That has to hurt. So I figure they’re out to get me. And they’ve been doing a very good job of it. But now comes this game and, well, hell, you’ve gotta like the Giants straight up, right? I mean, the Falcons aren’t beating anyone, and they’re not gonna beat anyone until Michael Vick starts suiting up again (and Dan Reeves starts circulating his résumé). Look, the way the Falcons have been playing, you’ve gotta even like the Giants giving the damned ten and a half. Only, on Monday I swore that from then on, I’d always pick against the Giants when I thought they would win and with them when I thought they would lose. This means I should pick against them here. But doesn’t that kinda mean I think they’re gonna lose? So I should pick them. But then that means they’re gonna win. So I should … well, you get the point. This loop could go on and on. Maybe it’ll keep on spinning me around right through Sunday and I’ll never make a pick. Maybe this game is headed for a tie. Maybe if I stop thinking about this right now my head won’t explode. Damned Giants.

Chicago (+2) at Detroit The Bears have the Lions’ number. Marty Booker has caught for 100-plus yards in two of Chicago’s last three games against Detroit. And Chris Chandler has thrown more touchdown passes against the Lions in the last two years than he has against the rest of the league in his career (that last stat is totally made up, but it’s illustrative of a greater point, so deal with it). So take the Bears, take the points. And if you pick Detroit because they’re at home don’t come crying to me.

Cleveland (+10) at Kansas City Will the Browns be the team that earns champagne and whatever the hell else it is the ’72 Dolphins send to whatever team beats the last of the undefeateds each season? Probably not. I mean, eventually even the powerhouse Chiefs (coming soon to a Super Bowl near you — if, that is, you live near Houston) are gonna fall to someone. It’s just not even remotely conceivable that a team could go unbeaten through 16 games the way the NFL is these days. But there’s a good reason the Chiefs are heavy favorites, particularly with William “Mean” Green sitting on the sidelines with a bottle in his hand. The Chiefs are definitely gonna win this one straight up. Against the spread, though, I’ve gotta like a Browns team whose D has allowed 215-plus yards passing only once this season to keep it a bit closer than 10, maybe closer than a touchdown, even.

Houston (+5) at Cincinnati Here comes a classic QB duel: the Bengals’ Jon Kitna vs. the Texans David Carr. Think you can handle the anticipation? Holy Jesus, this is a dog. Add to the fact that neither of these teams is worth a damn, the fact that both starting running backs, Corey Dillon and Domanick Davis, are banged up and you get the ho-hum game of the week. Why’s Cinci gonna win it? Because they’re at home? No. It’s because they win games when they don’t turn the ball over. And facing the Texans’ 31st ranked defense, they ain’t gonna have much chance to turn the ball over. Take Cinci straight up, but lean toward Houston getting the five. And then look the other way.

Indianapolis (-6) at Jacksonville Look, there’s simply no question about where this game is headed. Peyton Manning eats the Jags for breakfast. He’s put up10 touchdowns in his four games against Jacksonville, and some of those were against much better teams than this year’s Jaguars. So round up his average and expect Manning to log about 300 yards and three touchdowns as the Colts absolutely smashify the Jags. (What I’m saying here is, give the points.)

Miami (+5) at Tennessee I’ve got a weird feeling about this game. I’ve got this thing inside me telling me Miami’s gonna find a way to win. They have to, you know. They really can’t afford to fall another game behind the Patriots in the AFC East. Plus, they’ve got Brian Griese playing for the starting job (which he’s probably already lost, only he doesn’t know it). And Ricky Williams is way overdue for a big game. That said, Javon Kearse lining up against a hideously weak O line, which doesn’t bode well for Mr. Griese. And , I don’t know, I can’t bring myself to pick Miami against a much better team strictly on a vibe. So I say go with Tennessee straight up in your pool unless you have much bigger balls than I do. And definitely take the Fins getting five. They’ll keep it within a field goal.

Seattle (-3) at Washington Looking at this game on paper, you can actually get to thinking the Redskins stand a semi-decent chance of pulling off the upset here. They’re at home. They’re facing a not particularly good pass rush from Seattle, which should give Patrick Ramsey a bit of time to find Laveranues Coles. And Seattle, which had had trouble completing touchdown
passes lately, is looking at playing without its best wideout, Koren Robinson (who’ll come in gimpy if he comes in at all). Still and all, you’ve gotta like Shaun Alexander’s chances against the Skins’ 26th-ranked run D a buttload better than barely healthy Trung Canidate’s chances against the Seattle run D, which is ranked 11th. So all that stuff you’ve been thinking about upsets is probably just bunk. Play it safe. Take the Seahawks and bet your hard-earned money on some other game (I’ve got a few suggestions in that regard below).

Tampa Bay (-3) at Carolina Sooner or later, Brad Johnson is gonna snap out of the down streak he’s been in for the past three games. I’m not so sure it’s gonna happen this week, though. The Bucs have had some trouble on their O line. And Carolina, though they’re really not all that good on D, does have a solid pass rush. Even though he’s a bit banged up (and a big, giant fuckhead), I think Michael Pittman has a good outing against the Panthers and gets Brad just enough wiggle room to pull this game out. The Bucs win it, but maybe only by a field goal. So take Tampa in your pool and just consider any bet you might have made a push (i.e. bet on some other game, some other time).

Minnesota (-5.5) at San Diego Marty Schottenheimer isn’t saying whether he’ll start ineffective and formerly overrated Drew Brees or 41-year-old never-was (unless you live in Canada) Doug Flutie at quarterback. That is, things are really, really, really bad in San Diego right now. Add to that the fact that LaDainian Tomlinson, the Chargers only real offensive weapon, missed two days of practice this week after having a wisdom tooth removed (shit, I’m no tough guy, but I remember being back at my job two days after having all four out), and the fact that David Boston is still a big, fat, useless load and you’ve got a formula for no offensive output from the Chargers once again this week. Things are even worse on the other side of the ball. The Chargers couldn’t stop Chicago last week. They sure as hell aren’t stopping the Vikings. I’d take the Vikes giving 28 here. OK, not really, but almost. Minnesota is a mortal lock.

Buffalo (+4) at Dallas Quick, who’s dumber, Drew Bledsoe or Quincy Carter? OK, you’re right, it’s an unanswerable question. And it doesn’t matter. What matters is whether Dallas will do a better job of shutting down Eric Moulds than Buffalo does stopping Troy Hambrick. If Hambrick can run, the Cowboys can win, whereas Travis Henry’s ability to run effectively won’t be enough to get the Bills over the hump. I’m betting Hambrick gets loads o’ carries, Terry Glenn has a few key red-zone catches and the Cowboys win it by six or so.

New York Jets (-3) at Oakland I’m a Raiders fan. And I hate, hate, hate the Jets. This makes it extremely painful for me to say that this is easily one of the bargains of the week. Chad Pennington, for those who haven’t noticed, is back in rather a big way. Yeah, the Jets lost to the Giants at the end of OT last week, but did you get a look at Pennington’s numbers? In his first start of the season no less (and only the second game he’s played at all). Santana Moss is catching balls like they’re going out of style. The Raiders D can’t stop the run, and they’re facing Curtis Martin, who gave them trouble even when they were better up front. And, to make this as thoroughly horrifying as possible, with Rich Gannon out another two weeks and Marques Tuiasosopo gone for the season, the Raiders are starting Rick Mirer at QB (with practice-squad QB Tee Martin listed second, and recently signed trainwreck Rob Johnson third). Charlie Garner will probably have a decent day, but he can’t win this game all by himself. The Jets win this one by 10 or more.

Baltimore (+7) at St. Louis Once again, I find myself having to point out that Jamal Lewis is not 11 people. Neither is Marshall Faulk. But the good news for the Rams is that Faulk doesn’t have to be. In fact, Faulk doesn’t even have to be one person for the Rams to win. The bad news for Baltimore, powerful though their defense may be, is that a healthy Faulk is usually two or three people. The Rams win. And, just ’cause they’re pissed off about last week’s slaughter in San Francisco, they cover, too.

Philadelphia (+4) at Green Bay What’s gonna be weird about this game is that Correll Buckhalter is gonna have a bigger night than Ahman Green. That shouldn’t happen. Not anywhere in the universe, and especially not at Lambeau. But the Pack can’t seem to stop the run this season, while stopping the run is what the Eagles do best. Does any of this mean you should take Philly? What, to win at Lambeau? No, numbskull, it doesn’t. The Eagles may be able to stop the run, but they can’t stop the pass, which means Brett Favre is gonna pick them apart all night long. Meanwhile, the only way Donovan McNabb has a big night is if the Packers over-commit to stopping Buckhalter (and maybe Duce Staley). They won’t do that, because they’ll know they don’t need to. The Pack outguns the Eagles to win it 28-21. Watch.

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