By Rich Levine
"Baby steps onto the elevator . . . Baby steps into the elevator . . . I'm IN the elevator!" Bob Wiley, "What About Bob?"
After a 6-8-1 record in Week 1 of this here NFL picks column, I guaranteed improvement. I demanded improvement. I really wanted to improve!!
And I did . . . by a game.
So after my heroic 7-8-1 Week 2 performance I'm taking a similar guarantee into this Sunday. Mark my words. 8-8 or bust!
God, that's pathetic.
Onto the picks.
The Game: Cleveland at Baltimore (-10.5)
It's about to get ugly in Cleveland.
First of all, this week theBrowns head to Baltimore for the Ravens' home opener. They wouldn't have a chance here if it was Week 17 and the Ravens had Tony Banks back under center. But for the home opener? After fans in Baltimore had to spend two frustrating, high drama weeks watching their team from afar? This won't even be a game. It will be a massacre. The crowd will be insane. The Ravens team will be worse.
Seriously, you didn't hear it from me, but an inside source in Baltimore tells me Ray Lewis plans to eat a ball boy during warmups, because he thinks it give him strength. Lewis, not the ball boy.
Anyway, back to Cleveland and the upcoming tour of misery.
After this trip over to Baltimore, Mangini's boys (mostly boys, I think) will host the Bengals, the Falcons, then travel to Pittsburgh and New Orleans before returning home for dates with the Pats and the Jets. Yeeeikes. Tough times, Cleveland, but hey, it's not all bad Mo Williams said he's not retiring anymore! Yay?
The only shot the Browns have here is to somehow get to Joe Flacco early and the turn the crowd against him. If Flacco falters, and the Browns can get ahead quickly, Ravens fans will be screaming, "Bring back Banks!!" before halftime.
The Pick: Ravens (-10.5)
The Game: Cincinnati (-3) at Carolina
The fact that Jimmy Clausen couldn't beat out Matt Moore in the preseason worries me.
Seriously, think about that for a second.
Over the course of two months, Clausen was unable to prove that he's a better quarterback than Matt Moore. And that's not to say Moore's a total slouch. He did go 4-1 as a starter last season (that's a lot better than I did), but come on. Matt Moore!?!?
So while it's too early to know whether Clausen can make it at the next level, you've got to think it's a long shot that he can make it this Sunday.
The Pick: Bengals (-3)
The Game: Buffalo at New England (-14.5)
I'm just a little frightened here. Just a little. If for no other reason than that everyone else is so confident. I mean, it's not just that every single football commentatorreporterfan in the free and unfree world is picking the Pats to win (can you imagine what percentage of Survivor poolers have New England this week?), it's that no one will even entertain the possibility that they'll lose. By all counts, it's literally impossible. That always scares me.
Obviously, the Bills are awful. But they come into Sunday's game with a new QB, a deadly young runner who's yet to have his coming-out party, and a defense which, especially in the secondary, isn't that bad. Meanwhile, the Pats are coming off a crushing loss in New York, a week full a drama in the aftermath, have a bunch of question on defense and just lost one their best and most reliable offensive weapons.
The Pats will win this game, but will they really blow them out? If you consider 14 points a blowout, then sure.
The Pick: Bills (14.5)
The Game: Pittsburgh (-2.5) at Tampa Bay
It's been two weeks now, and over that time I've used this space to roast the Bucs like I was Jeff Ross (only not funny). And for two weeks, they've made me look like an ass.
Maybe that's a sign that I need to give Tampa some respect. Maybe I need to hop on the Josh Freeman bandwagon. Maybe I need paint my body orange and tattoo an image of Buccaneer Guy across my forehead. Maybe I have to believe the Bucs are for real?
Nah. No way.
Do your worst, Tampa. I'm not backing down.
And also, I know it's cool to make fun of Charlie Batch, but for some reason I'm relatively optimistic (if I'm betting on the Steelers) about how Batch might fit in. Listen, I would never hand-select Batch to quarterback my team. Not even if this was 1999. (Damn, that feel like a long time ago already.) But can't you do a lot worse than him? I know he's not great, but is Batch so awful that he can't manage a team with a solid ground game, dominating defense, and playing against one of the league's worst?
I don't know. Clearly I'm trying to talk myself into that. Not sure if it will stick, but for now I'm sold on the Steelers. Or maybe it's more that I'm so sold against the Bucs.
Still might get that tattoo, though.
The Pick: Steelers (-2.5)
The Game: Tennessee at NY Giants (-3.5)
Vince Young might be the most schizophrenic NFL player since Herschel Walker. He plays quarterback like I golf. My game's constant peaks and valleys. Perpetual mind games. I'll catch a hot streak, get a little confidence, and maybe start to think I've figured it out. Two rounds later, everything unravels and my friends are trying to convince me not to drive my golf cart off a cliff. (OK, they're usually encouraging me.)
That's how Vince Young felt last Sunday. He was angry, frustrated, embarrassed that he once again failed to capture that success in a bottle, and instead breathed new life into a career that should have been dead three years ago. Luckily, Kerry Collins didn't do enough to steal Vince's sunshine, so VY lives to see another week
So, which Vince will show up? Assuming that the Giants can't stop Chris Johnson and judging by the way they were carved up by Joseph Addai and Donald Brown, that's no wild assumption I'm seeing the return of the Good Vince. The Meadowlands is a big time NFL stage, Young eats up the big stage like it's seafood. Right, Vince?
@VinceYoung10 Seafood is great.
Yes! Thanks, buddy.
The Pick: Titans 3.5
The Game: San Francisco (-2.5) at Kansas City
If there was ever a time for NFL Films to mic up Mike Singletary for an entire game, this is it. Seriously, guys. How hard would this be? I'll even give you a name: Mike'd Up. There. Just do it
Anyway, I'd like to say that, at 0-2, the Niners are playing for their playoff lives here, but a team could start 0-6 and still have a chance in the NFC West. Still, 0-3 will not sit well in Mr. Singletary's neighborhood. Man, he'd probably go the whole week of practice with his pants around his legs.
Singletary will have his guys ready on Sunday. They will be very aware of what's on the line, and scared absolutely silly of what coach might do after a loss. They'll be on fire. And I think that will work in the Chiefs' favor.
The Chiefs still have everything to prove this season. No one believes in Kansas City yet. OK, I do, but nobody who matters does. Most people think that their 2-0 record is a joke, and that there's no chance in hell that they can match the 49ers' desperation. You don't think that pumps the Chiefs up? You don't think that gives them just as much motivation, or makes them just as desperate? After Sunday, Kansas City has back-to-back road games at Indianapolis and Houston, which means Sunday's game is essentially the difference between starting 3-2 or 2-3.
That's pretty desperate. Not to mention, Chiefs fans are dying to root for this team right. That stadium will be louder on Sunday than you'll ever hear it at Gillette. I think it's going to be a frustrating day for San Francisco.
Even more reason to set up that mic!
The Pick: Chiefs (2.5)
The Pick: Detroit at Minnesota (-11)
Making fun of Brett Favre for being old is almost as played out as making fun of Rex Ryan for being fat (although, that hasn't really stopped me), but all jokes aside, I'm blown away by just how old Brett Favre looks this season. It's like he went from 35 to 50 over the summer. His skin's wrinkled, his eyes are always tired, it takes him 15 minutes to use the urinal (unconfirmed). He just looks old. He looks miserable. It's like he doesn't even want to be there.
And I love every second of it.
I'll take 3-1 odds that he quits before Thanksgiving.
The Pick: Lions (11)
The Pick: Dallas at Houston (-3)
This is one of those games that will define the season. If the Texans improve to 3-0, with two of those wins coming against the Colts and Cowboys, then they are for real. There will be no more, "Yeah, they're good, but . . . " No more buts. The Texans will be for real.
With a loss, the Cowboys drop to 0-3, and all hell breaks loose. Maybe Wade Phillips gets fired, fans start calling for Romo's head, Jerry Jones runs off in a panic and buys himself a sleeker looking nose. Who knows?
And this might be wishful thinking, but both of those above scenarios make sense to me. I'm ready for a world where the Texans finally make it, and Jones finally pays the price (or pays the price again) for continuing to give Wade Phillips chance after squandered chance to do anything but look overmatched every Sunday.
The Pick: Texans (-3)
The Game: Atlanta at New Orleans (-4)
Bold prediction time! The Saints not only win (and cover) today, but they'll go 10-0 to start the season before losing on November 25 at 4-6 Dallas. Don't worry about remembering I called it either. I'll be right here to remind you.
The Pick: Saints (-4)
The Game: Washington (-3.5) at St. Louis
The Redskins are recovering from a crushing loss last week against the Texans. The Rams have been recovering from a crushing loss nearly every week since 2006. Don't think Washington will find much sympathy in St. Louis. However, they will find another especially bad Rams team.
The future's is brighter for St. Louis now than it's been at any point over the last five seasons, but the present is still about as dull as a M. Night Shamalayan joint.
The Pick: Redskins (-3.5) (couldn't feel worse about this pick)
The Game: Philadelphia (-3) at Jacksonville
This past weekend, I used one of my fantasy waiver moves to pick up Redskins backup running back Keiland Williams. I really know nothing about him, but read his name in a Matthew Berry column, saw LJ get cut, know that Clinton Portis is on life support, and then for some reason made the leap. Doesn't he just sound like a star running back? Keiland Williams! I don't know, I just had a feeling.
But even as I was picking him up, I knew I really should have been going after Mike Tolbert, the backup in San Diego. After all, Ryan Mathews had left the game early that Sunday, every single web site said Tolbert was a fantasy factor, and even if Mathews played, Tolbert was still in line to steal some touchdowns. But still, there was something about that name. I'm serious. I had this weird hunch about Keiland Williams that defied all logic, so I did it. And immediately regretted it. The second I made the transaction, I knew it was wrong. I knew I should dropp him for Tolbert. I needed to. But I didn't. In the end, because I would've felt like a moron for cutting a guy who I'd just picked up. I hate that guy. I make fun of that guy behind his back.
Basically, I was embarrassed to admit I was wrong.
Next thing you know, Mathews is diagnosed with a high ankle sprain, he'll be down for a few weeks, I rush to go pick up Tolbert, and he's gone. To one of the best teams in my league.
All because I was stupid, and then more stupid for not admitting that I was stupid to begin with.
So, that's one thing I'll give Andy Reid credit for. Clearly, he seriously messed up the quarterback situation in Philly. Clearly, he realizes he made the wrong decision in naming Kevin Kolb the starter. But instead of sticking with a guy who he thinks is inferior and stubbornly costing the Eagles victories, he sucked it up and went with who he thinks give him the best chance to win.
There are many, many things you can fault Andy Reid for in this situation, but not wanting to win isn't one of them.
The Pick: Eagles (-3)The Game: Indianapolis (-5.5) at Denver
I hate to even bring up the death of Kenny McKinley within the confines of a joke NFL picks column. It doesn't really have any place.
But you can't discount the fact that the Broncos will be playing with a little extra passion this week. Even if McKinley wasn't a huge part of this year's team, his death will have a profound effect on the atmosphere in Denver on Sunday.
The Pick: Broncos 5.5
The Game: Oakland at Arizona (-4.5)
Arizona joins the Ravens and Dolphins as the last teams to host their home opener, and I'm picking all three to cover. And believe it or not, the fact that the Raiders are the road team here didn't exactly sway me to the other direction.
Say it with me, Pats fans: "Bruce Grad-Kowski! Bruce Grad-KOWski!! Bruce Grad-KOWSKI!!!"
As long as Tom Cable stays with this guy, dreams of next year's No. 1 pick creeper closer towards reality.
The Pick: Cardinals (-4.5)
The Game: San Diego (-5.5) at Seattle
Last week, the Seahawks bandwagon crashed head on into the base of the Rockies. There were no survivors. But it's time to rev it back up, baby!!! Or at least that's how Pete Carroll must say it. I'll tell you this, though, it's a hell of a lot more fun rooting for Pete Carroll when the fate of your hometown team doesn't rest in his spray-tanned hands.
I love being able to watch him bop around the sidelines like Shooter McGavin making a fool out of himself and pissing off the other team's head coach to no end, and not having to care how it all turns it. It's better that way. New England is a better place without that anxiety.
But for this week, I'm getting the bandwagon back together. The Seahawks are a different team at home, and the Chargers are down their starting running back. Seahawks take this game outright.
"Wooh! Let's go, baby! Let's go Hawks! Yeeeaaah!! That's how we DO it!"
"Um, coach. That was only a four-yard screen pass . . . "
"No kidding? I thought we only got two! You hear that everybody??! Yeahhh!!!"
P.S. The Chargers were also the opponent in Pete Carroll's first game as Patriots coach. New England won that one 41-7. Not a bad game for Drew 26-for-39, 340 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. Game also featured a pick-six for Big Play Willie Clay.
The Pick: Seahawks (5.5)
The Game: N.Y. Jets at Miami (-2)
Here's a thought: If the Jets really want to teach Braylon Edwards a lesson, why don't they just make him take a cab down to Miami? Can you imagine how miserable that would be? And make it one of those disgusting cabs with cigarette smells stained on all the seats, napkins smothered with ketchup and coffee stains all over the floor and windows that only go down a quarter of a centimeter.
Here's another thought: I kind of like the way the division schedule is set up this season. You get one round of rivalry games out of the way early; kind of measure where you are against the rest of your competition. Then you head off around the league for a while, develop your real identity, then winter comes along and it's on. You're right back into the division, for three (or at least two) of the biggest games of the year at the most critical juncture of the schedule. Who could have a problem with this?
OK, maybe the Bills., but for fans it's great. Although here's a question for Patriots fans out there. Who do you want to win this game? I mean, you never want to root for the Jets, but would you rather the Dolphins start the season 3-0? In that case, would have the potential to be two games back after only four weeks.
It's a tough call. But deciding the winner isn't. I think the Dolphins do start 3-0. The Jets aren't mentally tough enough to deal with the high of last week's win or the distraction of Edwards' breathalyzer results.
The Pick: Dolphins (-2)
The Game: Green Bay (-3) at Chicago
In Week 3, you're still not quite sure what to make of all these teams. In some ways, it's easier to just pick the games in a vacuum; to look at this one and say, "You know, if Green Bay was going to lose any time soon, it would probably be this game; a huge rivalry, on the road, on Monday night, against a pretty hot team."
But then you take a step back and look at the bigger picture, and wonder, "Wait, can the Bears really start this season 3-0? Is that who they are? Were we really all that wrong?" I don't think we were. I'm going big picture.
The Pick: Packers (-3)
Last Week: 7-8-1Overall: 13-16-2
Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33