By Rich Levine
This is the time of year when gambling on the NFL starts to get tough . . .
. . . is what I'd be saying right now if the entire year to date hadn't already been so challenging.
So instead, I'll say: This is the time of year when NFL gambling starts to get tougher.
Yeah, that sounds right.
On one hand, by the time you reach Week 11, you know so much more about these teams than you ever did. You know their strengths and weaknesses, the kind of teams they play well against and the kind of teams they can't beat. For the teams that are still in contention, you have a pretty good idea of what makes them tick. In that sense, things are a little more simplified.
But what gets tricky is when youre dealing with the teams whose season is already over. I'm talking about the 1-8, 2-7 and 3-6's of the world. Do they have the fortitude to keep fighting like it matters, or have they lost their edge and now more worried about staying healthy and focused for next season?
Do they still have the drive? Has the losing worn them down? Have they already quit on the their coach?
We'll see, but for the purposes of this column, I hope you didnt quit on me.
After the travesty that was my 4-8-1 Week 10, I wouldnt have blamed you, but if you showed some faith, then you were rewarded with a 9-5 Week 11.
By the way, I know that there's not a single person crazy enough to invest anything in my fake picks, but just humor me for a second or at least the next 2,500 words.
On to the picks:
The Game: Green Bay (-3) at Minnesota
It's hard to figure out exactly to what extent the Vikings have quit on their coach, but I've narrowed it down to two possibilities:
It's anyones guess.
With the loss to the Bears last week, Minnesota basically confirmed but we've all known for months the Vikings aren't making the playoffs. And as a result, they're now being led by a lame-duck coach and a lame-duck quarterback who just happen to hate each other's guts. Good times!
Where's the motivation for the Vikings right now? Haven't we learned anything from the Wade Phillips situation? They're done.
Throw in the fact that the Packers are playing remarkably well (three straights wins) despite all their injuries and the fact that Aaron Rodgers would undoubtedly love to deliver one last screw you to Brett Favre on his way out the door, and you've got another miserable day in Minnesota.
The Pick: Packers (-3) The Game: Washington at Tennessee (-7)
Speaking of motivation, will Albert Haynesworth gain any extra motivation from playing against his former team? Maybe get a little sentimental like Randy did in New England? Maybe stomp on an unsuspecting center's face for old times sake?
And what about the Redskins defense on the whole? How will they bounce back from what happened against Michael Vick? Is it even possible to bounce back after an embarrassment like that? Why I am I asking so many questions!?!
I think getting out of Washington will do the Redskins good this week. Between the Haynesworth drama, the McNabb drama and the Monday night mess, there's a lot of bad mojo around there, and some distance between the city and the team could be beneficial.
Meanwhile, for the Titans, this game will be a great test of The Randy Moss Effect. With Moss only catching one ball and Tennessee losing in his first game, Kerry Collins or Vince Young will now feel pressure to get Moss the ball this week.
How will that turn out? You know the answer.
The Redskins defense might not be great (or even good) (OK, theyre awful), but they do have a few solid playmakers in the secondary playmakers who will feast on the bad decisions of Titans QBs, and at least keep this game close.
The Pick: Redskins (7)The Game: Houston at N.Y. Jets (-7)
Are you ready for the Mark Sanchez hype train? Because it's coming, and faster than you can say: "Let's go eat a G--damn snack!"
Basically heres whats going to happen
First of all, as you know, Sanchez had himself a pretty little game last week in Cleveland. He threw for 299 yards, and two touchdowns, ran for another, and threw only one INT. He made a couple bad throws, but enough great ones that NFL analysts everywhere began to wonder: Has Sanchez figured it out?
Of course, we're not even two weeks removed from the Jets having to implement pouting fines on the kid, yet back-to-back overtime wins against the Lions and Browns have people bursting with confidence. And that's only going to get worse after this week.
Sanchez will torch the sad Texans defense. Rex Ryan could torch the Texans 'D'. They're awful. Do you think it was a coincidence that Houston was the team to give up that ridiculous Hail Mary to the Jaguars? I don't. Yeah, I know, it was a very unlucky chain of events, but there were 10 things that a more prepared team could have and would have done to prevent that from happening. That's why it almost never does!
Anyway, Sanchez will rock Houston, and everyone will assume it's because of him (not the terrible Texans), and run wild with the "Sanchez has arrived" story lines. Hell have a decent game the week after in a win over the Bengals, the good times will continue to roll, and then . . .
You guessed it:
Week 13. Monday Night Football. Jets at Patriots.
Belichick dismantles Sanchez and we all go back to wondering if the Jets can win with an inconsistent second-year quartback under center.
OK, now back to present day, and my lock of the week.
The Pick: Jets (-7)The Game: Arizona at Kansas City (-8)
After a 3-0 start, the new-season smell has worn off in the Chiefs' locker room. They've gone 2-4 in their last six games, culminating in last week's loss to the Broncos that was so one-side that Todd Haley actually walked off the field in tears (or pretty much). Hey, Denver's a tough place to play; no one can deny that. But they also cant deny that those werent John Elway's Broncos beating the Chiefs down last Sunday. They werent even Brian Griese's Broncos.
Now the Chiefs find themselves in a tie for first place (with the Raiders, somehow) and the Chargers are only a game back and hotter than the tip of Snoop Dogg's lighter. It's sink or swim time for my adopted sons from the Midwest.
If they lose to Arizona you can probably call it a season. But thankfully, for them, I don't think the Cardinals will let that happen. They gave up on their own season as soon as they re-named Derek Anderson the starting QB. Or if not then, when they blew that big lead in Minnesota. Or if not then, when they got destroyed, at home, by the Seahawks last week. Whenever you want to say it happened is fine. Just know that it did. The Cardinals are done, and won't be able to keep it close in front of an insane KC crowd.
Although Haley better not run up the score!
The Pick: Chiefs (-8)The Game: Baltimore (-10) at Carolina
First of all, I need to point out that less than two weeks ago, Brian St. Pierre was in our Burlington studios talking Pats with Holley and Tanguay.
Second of all . . . wait, do I really need a second of all?
The Pick: Ravens (-10)The Game: Detroit at Dallas (-6.5)
I have no clue.
On one hand, you know the Cowboys still have talent. Hell, each of their top three receivers are probably more dangerous than the Patriots' No. 1. They have a deep, versatile running game. They have a big name (although beat up) defense. And even though Jon Kitna is, well, Jon Kitna, hes still got an arm. He can still make plays.
On the other hand, does one week one with the built-in motivation of playing for a new head coach, on the road against a bitter division rival really change that much? As you can assume from my original sentence, I don't know. It's just too early to tell. Maybe that Giants win was all the Cowboys needed to remind themselves that they were, and still are, a legitimate playoff team, and that with this season already a loss cause, they're now free to roll over, stay healthy, get a high draft pick and hit the reset button next summer. Maybe they'll go back to being the crappy, dysfunctional Cowboys.
But here's the thing: Even the dysfunctional Cowboys could beat the current version of the Lions. Yes, the same Lions who, a couple of weeks ago, I picked to make a run at the playoffs. But that was before Matthew Stafford's latest season-ending injury. That killed them both physically and mentally. And in losing both games since Stafford went down (including last weeks loss to the 0-for-life Bills), Detroits now back in that loser's mentality. It's like the spirit of Matt Millen is back at the helm. "Screw another backup QB, we need more receivers!"
It's really too bad. I really thought this might be the year for the Lions to make a leap, even if it was a tiny one. But now, it's just another case of "Maybe next year . . . "
The Pats won't mind when Thanksgiving rolls around.
The Pick: Cowboys (-6.5)The Game: Cleveland at Jacksonville (-1)
I wonder what this line would have looked like had Chansi Stuckey not fumbled that ball in OT.
We can all agree that if he holds on, Cleveland wins the game, right? That would have been three straight wins, against the Saints, Patriots and Jets. That would have been the most impressive three-game stretch of any team this season. And in that case, there's no way that the Browns would have been an underdog against the Jaguars regardless of where they were playing.
Cleveland would have at least been a three-point favorite.
But of course, Stuckey did drop it. And the Browns dropped to 3-6, and heading on the road against a 5-4 Jaguars team, it makes sense for them to get points. At least on paper. But here's my question" Are they really a different or less talented team because one guy fumbled one ball in one key situation? Why does one late-game fumble result in the entire team playing worse the next week?
In this case, I think Stuckey's fumble and the resulting loss merely brought the Browns back to Earth. It reminded them Psst, youre the Browns! It gave them a reason to doubt, and that didnt exist during the previous 12 12 quarters of fantastic football.
Now it's back. And the spread makes sense.
The Pick: Jacksonville (-1)The Game: Oakland at Pittsburgh (-7)
I was watching the NFL Network yesterday afternoon, and saw the craziest thing.
The scene was the Raiders' locker room in the moments after their 23-20 win over the Kansas City, and in the middle of the crowd, surrounded by his players, was coach Tom Cable.
Hes in there yelling and screaming and carrying on like hes Vince Lombardi. Triumphantly throwing his arms in the air and declaring that the Raiders are "building something special" and that there's reason to believe! And guess what?
They were eating it up. That's right. Tom Cable, the same guy who stood stoic and disinterested for the better part of the last two seasons, who constantly had the look of man who was waiting in line at the DMV, who, up to this point, was best known for punching out one of his own coaches, that same Tom Cable . . .
He has the Raiders believing! He's got himself a football team!
And against the broken down Steelers especially if Hines Ward can't go that football team is going to put up a fight. Maybe they don't win, but they'll keep it close.
And if they do win, I just pray to God or whatever that NFL Films is there to catch it.
The Pick: Raiders (7)The Game: Buffalo at Cincinnati (-5.5)
Yee-ikes. Do I really need to waste anyone's time writing about this one? OK, glad we agree. Either way, the Bills will hang around. They always do.
The Pick: Bills (5.5)The Game: Atlanta (-3) at St. Louis
While the NFL world slobbers all over Mike Vick after only four full games of MVP-football, Matty Ryan is putting together quite the impressive and complete season for Vick's former team.
Matty Ice has thrown 16 touchdowns and only five interceptions so far; he's got his team in first place and considering they still have two games against the Panthers, theres a great chance Atlanta stays there.
So, you don't want to vote for Ryan? How about Roddy White?
White's first in the league in receptions, seconds in yards and tied for second in touchdowns. He has a serious shot at the triple crown! If he grabs, hell definitely garner some MVP attention.
Anyway, my point is, the Falcons are for real, and while every divisional road game comes with its share of difficulties, I think Atlanta's above that when it comes to St. Louis.
The Pick: Falcons (-3)The Game: Seattle at New Orleans (-12)
Everyones so quick to criticize the quarterbacking of Seattle's Charlie Frye, so I'm going to take a chance to focus on some of the positives, starting with . . .
With . . .
With . . .
Damn. Sorry, Charlie. Not in New Orleans.
The Pick: Saints (-12) The Game: Tampa Bay at San Francisco (-3)
Um, did Vegas not get the memo?
Tampa? Team of the Millenium? Would've beaten the '85 Bears at Soldiers Field? Should always be favored in every possible scenario?
OK, I'm sorry, that joke's getting old. So I'm going to switch things up. The Bucs are no longer the "Team of the Millenium." What they are is the "Best Bad Team of the Millenium."
If you're halfway decent, then you can handle Tampa. But if you're not, if you're a bad team, like, say, San Francisco, then you don't have a shot.
I'll admit that the fact that Tampa's playing on the road scares me a little, as does the fact that the Niners somehow, inexplicably, still have a chance to sneak back into the NFC West race. But I'm hopping on the Tampa Bay Bad Team Bandwagon.
I believe in Josh Freeman. I really believe in LeGarrette Blount. And I think the Bucs' 'D' will make enough plays to beat Troy Smith. The Rams almost did it; Tampa will.
The Pick: Buccaneers (3)The Game: Indianapolis at New England (-3.5)
I keep hearing about all the injuries; about how the Colts aren't the same team and are ripe for a beating. But at the same time, I still see names like Manning, Wayne, Freeney and Mathis and can't help but hold on to some level of trepidation.
But this rivalry comes down to is home field, and it's been a while since the Pats have had it. They play the Colts every year, yet this is the first time since Week 9 of the 2006 season that Indy has visited Gillette. It's about time. And it's the perfect time. Despite the fact that the Colts are still very dangerous, it's clear that they're not currently at their best. And it's hard to imagine a time this season when the Pats have been more confident and in-tune with what they can do.
The Pick: Pats (-3.5)The Game: N.Y. Giants at Philadelphia (-3)
Earlier in the week, I asked this question on Twitter:
"A year ago today, which story line would've been more unbelievable: 'Tiger Woods: Sex Machine' or 'Michael Vick: America's Sweetheart'?"
So what do you think? I'm still not sure. But I am sure that if the Eagles manage to win this game, the Vick-for-MVP talk will hit an all-time high and I'll totally freak out.
Doesn't all the Vick hype remind you at least a little of the push to give Drew Bledsoe the MVP halfway through the 2002 season? Remember that was the year the Pats traded Drew to Buffalo and he came out put up a couple of enormous stat lines. It was a great story. It was perfect for the mainstream media to latch on to. And they did, regardless of how ridiculous it was.
I'm not saying that Vick is as bad as Drew was, but lets see the guy play more than four games before we hand him with the greatest individual honor in the league.
The Pick: Giants (3)The Game: Denver at San Diego (-10)
Hey, I think I've seen this episode before! Isn't this the one where the Chargers start the season playing like garbage, everyone writes them off and says, "Oh my God! San Diego's toast! This is the year they won't turn it around!" Until they do, at which point those same people scream, "Ahh! The Chargers! They do it every year! We'll never count them out again!" Isn't this the one?
Yeah, this is it. The Chargers have turned it around. I swear I'll never count them out again (until next year).
As for Denver, last week's win was huge in that it stopped the bleeding of an ugly four-game losing streak which featured that beatdown from the Raiders and the loss in London to the Niners not to mention that it came in front of their home fans. I think it built up some good will, and I wouldn't be remotely surprised if that's why Josh McDaniels never took his foot off the gas against the Chiefs. He wanted the home crowd to have some fun, because he knows it will be few and far between going forward. At least for this year. And definitely for this week.
The Pick: Chargers (-10)
Last Week: 9-5&8232;