I was talking with Danny a few days ago and one thing led to another, which led to another, which led to me saying "Of course I'd be happy to write a weekly column in which I pick the winners of NFL games!" Danny followed that with something about what the hell was I talking about, he was just wondering if I could come over to his place and water his Formica plants* while he went away for a couple of days. I enthusiastically thanked him for the opportunity and sprinted to my computer, which happened to be absolutely nowhere nearby.
*That's a thing, right?
Starting something ten weeks too late is a good way to approach things, as none of my teachers or parents will tell you. I'm assuming that Danny offered me this spot because of my otherworldly prognosticating abilities, and honestly, who can blame him?
I was ranked ahead of 99.6% of the world entering last week's picks, but I made the two-sided mistake of trusting Phillip Rivers and not trusting Tim Tebow. Idiot. Anyhow, what follows is a lengthy (and informative! Potentially!) aside from my wanton self-glorification. If you're smart, you'll steal your kids' allowance money and wager it on the teams I predict to win. Go ahead and do it, right now. They're probably at school and won't notice for awhile anyway. Plus, it's really your money that you gave to them because kids are tiny and awful and still think that eight bucks is a fortune. They're so cute. I'll wait.
Did you get it? Good. Now, on to the predictions.
I'll be honest, these are two teams that NFL Network has made me hate. Few things are more tiresome than coverage of Rex Ryan and forced debates over intangible qualities. The fact that this is a featured game only exacerbates these issues. First of all, Rex Ryan isn't funny. He's not even close to funny. He's only considered funny in comparison to other NFL coaches, which is far more an indisctment of the inanity of the collective than it is an endorsement of Ryan's humor. Hey Rex, why don't you and your veneers stop giving out asinine guarantees and start offering national TV audiences something more exciting than running Shonn Greene between the tackles 23 times for 61 yards every week?
On the flip side, I'll give kudos to John Fox, who is doing a remarkable job of making the most of his arranged marriage to the quarterback he doesn't want. Last week, the Broncos ran the ball on 87% of their offensive snaps, which I'm pretty sure would be above average even before the forward pass was legal. I guess if your team doesn't have a quarterback, receivers, or a defense, choking the life out of a football game with an option-oriented offense is a good way to mask those flaws. Also a good way to set the game of pro football back 50 years.
This is, on the surface, a very dull game to kick off the week with, but the Jets are superior in talent in every phase of the game except pass rush and kicking 50+ yard field goals OVER THE UPRIGHTS, and considering that the Broncos won't pass, one of those deficiencies is completely negated. Man, what a boring game to be a cornerback in. THE PICK: JETS
The AFC East is arguably the most talked about division in the NFL, for many reasons. None of those reasons have anything to do with either the Bills or the Dolphins. Buffalo got off to a cute start back when nobody knew what they were doing because the off-season was a joke and every game was a virtual coin toss, but they've regressed pretty hard, losing four out of five since starting off 4-0, including a 44-7 thrashing in the world's most seizure-inducing stadium in Dallas. The Bills are 5-4 and are mathematically very much alive for a playoff berth, but lets be real here. The team is young and has proverbial "upside", but I think they're probably the ninth or tenth best team in the AFC based on true talent. That doesn't mean I don't like them, though. I think that they're the flashiest mediocre football team in the league. Fred Jackson is unbelievable and their defense, while generally awful, makes up for it by gambling all the damn time and causing a ton of turnovers. I've always said that if you're not going to be good, at least be exciting, and the Bills are certainly that.
Miami is a bad team. A bad team that took half the season to figure out how to get the ball to their best play-maker. You know, because they have so many other options. They'd probably have been better off not figuring it out, because their two game win streak has cost them the silver lining that once surrounded their dreary cloud of existence. THE PICK: BILLS
First of all, let me use this as an opportunity to say that I've never once successfully spelled Cincinnati correctly on the first attempt. Secondly, while the records say that these teams are equal, they most certainly are not. The Bengals have definitely been a surprise so far this season, taking care of business during the cushy half of their schedule and winning six out of nine NFL games is no fluke. Andy Dalton, as much as I grit my teeth when I say it, has been damn good for a rookie QB and while their defense doesn't have much name-value, the numbers don't lie. This is a team headed swiftly in the right direction, no doubt.
Unfortunately for the stripe-heads, this game is where shit gets real. Baltimore is one of the few teams that can make a legitimate claim to being the best in the conference and I just don't see them losing at home to a rookie QB whose only legitimate offensive threat, first-year phenom (and Richard Sherman's best friend) AJ Green is questionable at best after a severely tweaking his knee. The Ravens are beatable, as we all know, but the only thing that Seattle's win over Baltimore exposed is that the way to beat the Ravens is have their kick returner fumble on his own 15 yard-line every time. I won't be surprised to see the Bengals hang around for a while, but this day will not be theirs. THE PICK: RAVENS
Nothing to see here. This is tryptophan vs Nyquil. THE PICK: BROWNS
The NFL would love for this once important rivalry to mean something again, but that's a physical impossibility as long as Dan Snyder exists. I still think that Dallas is a really good team, and they seem to be hitting their proverbial stride. Plus, I think Tony Romo is a very good quarterback. Dez Bryant has nigh Andre Johnson potential and the ragtag offensive line is giving the former plenty of time to find the latter. The one thing that has hamstrung the Cowboys more than anything since the Emmitt Smith era is not Romo's game management, it's the lack of a strong running game. Enter DeMarco Murray. This kid is the real deal; I've always thought so and I was shocked to see him fall so far in the draft. Add to all of this that Rob Ryan has done a great job with the defense and you've got a team that is capable of beating any NFL team outside of Wisconsin. On a side note, I bet if you took a stool sample from DeMarcus Ware, you'd find partially digested bits of opposing quarterbacks.
I don't like the Cowboys, but I don't bet based on personal affinity, either. Plus, Mike Shanahan stopped being a good coach the moment the rest of the league figured out what a zone-blocking scheme was. THE PICK: COWBOYS
Cam Newton is quickly becoming one of my favorite players in the NFL. I thought he had Vince Young written all over him, to be honest, and while it's still way too early to make a definitive statement about him, he's well on his way to proving that he's much more than an ultra-athlete lining up under center. I think he has everything a quarterback needs to become a megastar. There's a fine line between reckless and fearless when it comes to playing QB, and Newton is on the right side of it. He's got the most under-rated receiver in the game to throw to in Steve Smith and his swagger has no learning curve. The Panthers are must watch TV when they have the football.
Sadly, Carolina can't have the football the entire game, and when they don't, it gets real ugly. Quick, name a player on the Panthers defense. See? The last thing a team like that needs is a trip to Detroit, where the Lions are averaging 39.7 points/game against teams with losing records. Matthew Stafford-to-Calvin Johnson is fast becoming one of the premier hookups in the NFL and I'll be very surprised if the Lions don't hang at least 35 points on the Panthers. This game does have the potential to fill up the Top plays countdowns, which will be exciting, but I don't think the game itself will be very close. THE PICK: LIONS
I'm comfortable saying that the Packers are playing some of the best football I've ever seen. I'm also comfortable saying that Aaron Rodgers is playing as well as any quarterback I've ever seen. I could spend 18 hours watching him run that offense and consider it a day well spent. I think the Packers are good enough to be favored by a touchdown against any team on any field this season and a Tampa Bay team whose youth is painfully obvious is not the squad that will make me change my mind. This game would have a chance of being competitive into the second half if it was being played in Tampa, but at Lambeau I think we'll see an encore performance of the Matt Flynn Mop-Up Tour long before the final gun sounds. THE PICK: PACKERS
The Raiders have made a lot of headlines this season. They lost Nnamdi Asomugha. They drafted Terrelle Pryor. They traded all the tea in China for Carson Palmer. Their previously indestructible owner died. I can go on, but I'm not going to because, whatever. The Raiders strike me as the kind of team with enough talent and enough flaws to be the prototypical 8-8 team. When it clicks, they can be very good, but if it doesn't click, they can get housed by 28.
Minnesota ain't great, but they're better than they're record; at least I think they are. The Oakland has a defense in the loosest sense of the term, and this is a perfect matchup for a young quarterback and one of the best running backs we've ever seen. If Leslie Frazier is smart / simple enough to hand the ball off to Adrian Peterson all day long, it'll set rookie QB Christian Ponder up to hit on some play action passes. The Vikings don't have any great receivers, but the Raiders don't have anybody who can cover, either. I say it's a close one all the way through. THE PICK: VIKINGS
Before the season, I was really comfortable with the idea of Seattle and St. Louis splitting their season series by each winning at home. That was before everything went Fannie Mae for the Rams. Their main (only) offensive strength is Steven Jackson, but Seattle's best defensive attribute is stopping the run. Add to that the fact that every cornerback who has either played for the Rams this year, thought about playing for the Rams this year, or even mentioned the word "rams" this year has gotten hurt and I think the balance is solidly in favor of the 'Hawks.
If there was any game for Sidney Rice (if healthy) to break out, this is it. Tarvaris Jackson probably won't have all day to sit back and throw, as Chris Long is pretty good at getting pressure and at this point Seattle's O-Line is comprised mostly of bank tellers and Craigslist ad responders, but if he's willing to be decisive and accurate underneath early, the big play will be there late. The real decider, if you ask me, is the fact that it looks like the Seahawks have a legitimate running game for the first time in half a decade. the slough of injuries on the line should dampen that, but the slough of not being very good on the Rams defense should even things out, too. Expect to see plenty of leg-humping from Pete Carroll in this one. THE PICK: SEAHAWKS
I'm past the point where I'm expecting the 49ers to regress to a team closer to what I expected. They're good. I don't know that they're built for dynasty-level dominance, but potentially clinching your division by Week 12 is no joke, no matter how weak the other teams are. Not only are the 49ers 8-1, they're 4-0 on the East Coast, which is like Bambi going 4-0 against hunters. I think that San Francisco knows that a first-round bye in the playoffs is a very attainable goal and I don't see them faltering at home to John Skelton. San Fran's grind it out style and Arizona's relative ineptitude can make for a pretty boring game, but the Cards' Larry Fitzgerald might be the most talented wide receiver on the planet, and that's always worth watching. THE PICK: 49ERS
The Titans kind of remind me of the Bengals in that when I hear about them, I still automatically think of a 6-10 team. Unlike the Bengals, however, I don't really think Tennessee is good enough to hang around too much longer. I will say this, the team is a perfect fir for Matt Hasselbeck and I'm happy to see him doing pretty well over there. If you told me before the season that the Titans would be 5-4, I'd have been fairly surprised, but I would have figured that was because Chris Johnson was having a great year. The fact that they have a winning record is a testament to Hasselbeck's handling of the offense. Don't spend too much time talking about how the Seahawks should have kept him either, because a.) that's the deadest horse on the block 2.) there's no way Seattle was going to give him two years anyway, and D.) he'd be nothing more than a chalk outline behind our offensive line.
The Falcons are a much different type of 5-4, the kind that has waaay more talent than Tennessee but also plays a much harder schedule. I don't see Pegasus Turner getting stopped on the ground and Matt Ryan is finally shaking off the rust. Atlanta made it clear that the time is now when they traded a decent chunk of their future to draft Julio Jones and Tennessee won't be the team that proves otherwise. THE PICK: FALCONS
I want a reason to pick San Diego in this one, I just can't find one. Chicago's defense finally looks like Chicago's defense and Sand Diego, while usually in full juggernaut mode in November, look much more like their traditional September versions. I just can't do it. THE PICK: BEARS
The Eagles are 3-6 this year, which means I am 3-6 when it comes to picking their games. I admit it, I bought the hype. i still think they're one of the three or four most talented teams in the world, but man do they look dysfunctional. Plus, it looks like Vick is either too hurt to play or too hurt to play well and without Jeremy Maclin or an effective DeSean Jackson, it won't take long for the Giants defense to key in on LeSean McCoy who, by the way, is the closes thing we've had to Barry Sanders since Barry Sanders.
On top of all of Philadelphia's woes, Eli Manning is playing the best football of his life right now and that pass rush is nightmarishly awesome. It's going to take a lot of things that I don't see happening for Philly to pull this one off, which means we get to spend another week listening to analysts try and figure out what's wrong with the Eagles. THE PICK: GIANTS
Tune in early, because by mid-3rd-quarter, Tirico, Jaws, and Gruden will be looking for things other than the game to talk about. THE PICK: PATRIOTS