By Rich Levine
"Hi, my name is Rich."
"And I havent had a losing Sunday in a month.
"But to be honest, the fear of dropping back down below the .500 mark, even for a week, wears on me each and every day. I can remember how awful it felt. How embarrassed I was just knowing that everyone was watching. That I'd let everyone down. That most of all, I'd let myself down.
"I never want to go back to that place.
"I hate that place.
"So, today, Im here to pledge to you my commitment to a fourth straight winning week at .500 or above. Ive come too far to look back now."
The Game: Pittsburgh (-3) at Miami
Theres nothing strange about Miami's 3-2 record. Given the Dolphins' early season schedule, and the expectations most of us had coming in, 3-2 is right where we figured they'd be. Not great, but definitely good. Sounds about right, doesnt it?
But the way they got to 3-2 is weirder than Ricky Williams. Through five games, the Dolphins are 3-0 on the road including impressive wins in Green Bay and Minnesota but 0-2 at home, where theyve lost to the Jets and Pats. Miami's the bizarre Chargers! And somethings got to give.
Meanwhile, Big Ben got to wade into the NFL waters last weekend with a home game against Colt McCoy and the Browns, but this week the water finally hits his mid-section, and things start to get uncomfortable. By the end of this game, Big Ben's the one wholl feel violated another victim of the Cameron Wake sack parade. And it won't help when James Harrison retires mid-game after a second-quarter encroachment penalty.
"What?!?!? We can't even jump offsides no more??! Yo, coach, I'm outta here."
The Pick: Dolphins (3)
The Game: Cincinnati at Atlanta (-3.5)
Did you catch this week's Sports Illustrated poll where a sample of 269 NFL Players voted Terrell Owens the most overrated player in the league?
Don't get me wrong, I hate me some TO as much as the next guy. But something tells me that if you polled the Bengals locker room right now, TO wouldn't even win for most overrated player on his team.
The de-evolution of Carson Palmer has truly been something to behold, and now's not the time for him to take his (lack of) talents into the raucous Georgia Dome against a Falcons team that's coming off a demoralizing loss to the Eagles.
Speaking of which, last week, Atlanta showed us its true colors . . . wait, what colors mediocre again?
OK, that's probably a little too harsh, but I think it's fair to say that the promise of the Falcons' 4-1 start was slightly premature. They're not a bad team, but they're by no means a great team, and with the Saints now back tied for first in the NFC South, the pressure's on Matty Ice and the Falcons to keep pace, or start praying for the Wild Card.
For one week, they will. Call it the Carson Palmer Effect.
The Pick: Falcons (-3.5)
The Game: Jacksonville at Kansas City (-9.5)
Vegas was late posting a line on this one, as the world awaited word on whether Todd Bouman who was just signed this week, is 38-year-old and hasnt thrown n NFL pass since 2005 would get the start for the Jags.
As it turns out, he will.
Now read that first paragraph again, and youll understand my pick
The Pick: Chiefs (-9.5)
The Game: Philadelphia at Tennessee (-3)
With Andy Reid, the fewer decisions he has to make the better. So, regardless of the fact that everyone is now convinced that the two-head quarterback experiment can work in Philly, I'm not buying it for a second.
Will VicKolb do damage to a few below average teams? Will they have their Sundays in the sun? Sure. But against good teams, when the games on the line, in pressure situations, Reids going to choke.
The Pick: Titans (-3)
The Game: Washington at Chicago (-3)
Outside of their Week 3 loss to St. Louis (albeit it's a loss we can't overlook in picking this game), here are the margins of loss andor victory in the Redskins other five contests.
6, 3, 5, 3, 3.
Shanahan's boys like themselves a close game, and the spread reflects that. It also reflects Chicago's embarrassing home loss to the Seahawks last week, but shhh, that one works against my logic.
Anyway, despite their flare for the nailbiter, this one will get away from the Skins in the running game. Ryan Torain showed he could run on the porous Colts last week, but the Bears don't play like that.
They're only giving up 82 yards a game on the ground, and have the kind of swarming D that will give a slower, north to south runner like Torain fits. Once the running games toast, Julius Peppers and friends can tee off on McNabb.
The Pick: Bears (-3)
The Game: Cleveland at New Orleans (-13)
Its been a hell of a start to Colt McCoy's NFL career. And I mean that literally, this has got to be hell for him.
In start No. 1, he had the pleasure of heading into Pittsburgh to be tied up and gagged by 60,000 terrible towels (although that's probably better than being clobbered by James Harrison's helmet), and for an encore? Why not take a trip down to New Orleans to take on the defending champs in the loudest, most volatile dome in the league?
Granted, McCoy certainly played in front of a few crazy crowds during his college days, but then again, those Texas teams could probably beat the Browns.
The Pick: Saints (-13)
The Game: Buffalo at Baltimore (-13)
The Bills have the second fewest sacks in the league. They're giving up a league high 182 (!) yards a game on the ground. Theyre tied for the league lead in rushing TDs allowed. Theyre tied for fourth in passing TDs allowed. They havent won a game and have looked phenomenally awful not doing so.
And now theyre heading into Baltimore against a Ravens squad that's all kind of pissed off over what happened in Foxboro and well aware they cant afford to drop two straight.
You remember how in The Waterboy, Bobby Boucher would gain motivation from envisioning someone he hated in place of the opposing quarterback's face?
When Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis look across the line at Ryan Fitzpatrick this week, all they're going to see are the long flowing locks of Tom Brady and theyre going in for the kill.
The Pick: Ravens (-13)
The Game: San Francisco (-3) at Carolina
Sucks that my personal research assistant is on his honeymoon this week, because this has to be a first I just don't have time to prove it.
Can you imagine another time when a 1-5 team has been favored on the road?
Anyway, this is a huge game for the Niners. Obviously, at 1-5, every game is huge, but if they have any slim hope of making something of this season, it's riding on Sunday. If they beat the Panthers, the 49ers embark on a three-game homestand against the Broncos, Buccaneers and Rams, followed by a visit to Arizona.
All very winnable games. Combined with the potential win on Sunday, that's a run that could bring the Niners to 6-5, and in a great position to still win the NFC West. It won't be easy, but without a win on Sunday, it's impossible.
Lets just say that SanFran fans better hope the Giants come through in Philly, because otherwise its going to be a dark, dark weekend in the City by the Bay.
With Matt Moore back at the helm, the Panthers dont necessarily earn an upgrade in skill level over Jimmy Clausen, but they do gain a more poised, reliable QB. Of course, a Ritalin-deprived first grader would be calmer in the pocket than Clausen, but still, Moore makes them better for the moment, and with Steve Smith ready to get back on the field, the Panthers are ready to get their first win.
The Pick: Panthers (3)
The Game: St. Louis at Tampa Bay (-3)
I understand how difficult it must be to create 32 equally fair and balanced NFL schedules. I understand how and why teams that were worse last season should have a somewhat easier go this time around. I also understand that with the crazy disparity between some of the divisions, and the fact that those division games make up almost 40 percent of the schedule, some problems are just plain unavoidable. But this is a little ridiculous.
Check out the first 10 games this season for Rams, compared to, lets say, the Dolphins.
St. Louis Miami
&8232;Washington NY Jets
&8232;Seattle New England&8232;
@Detroit @Green Bay
&8232;San Diego Pittsburgh&8232;@
@San Francisco Tennessee
Really? Honestly, take a look at the comparison again.
Out of spite, I'm taking the Bucs here.
Well, spite, and the fact that that the Rams have nothing on the road. Literally, nothing.
Come on, they lost by 38 points to the Lions. Yes, those Lions. Shaun Hill's Lions!
The Pick: Buccaneers (-3)
The Game: Arizona at Seattle (-5.5)
The pitter-patter of ass-slapping echoes throughout the city of Seattle . . . Pom-Pom Pete brought home a winner!
OK, maybe 3-2 isn't reason for any super celebration although by Pom-Poms standards, a second-quarter first down is a worthy cause but in the NFC West, 3-2 is serious business. And with Seattle still holding one of the greatest home field advantages in the NFL, I think we'll start to see the Seahawks make easy work of their division foes.
"W-O-R-K! Work is what we'll do today!! Yeah! Come on, boys! I belieeeeeeeeeve in you!!"
"Um, OK coach."
The Pick: Seahawks (-5.5)
The Game: New England at San Diego (-3)
Let me just get this out of the way I'm a sucker.
If the visiting team in this game were any 4-1 team other than the Patriots, I'd probably bet my paycheck on the Chargers. After what they've been through so far this season with back-to-back losses against the Raiders and Rams (which hasn't been cool since 2001), not to mention all sorts of injuries and chemistry issues it's crazy to think that theyre favored.
Just crazy enough to make complete sense.
Especially with the cross country trip, the Ravens-win hangover, and all the hype of Randy's return looming on the other side.
Its your classic trap game.
But I'm going with my gut on this one. And my gut says that, for the first time since the 2007 season, the Patriots have an identity. Stylistically, it couldn't be more different from that 2007 squad, but it's an identity nonetheless. And my gut says this identity, and how excited the team seems to be to embrace it, will overcome any potential trap game. At least at this juncture.
(P.S. Dont forget: Sucker)
The Pick: Patriots (3)
The Game: Oakland at Denver (-8.5)
After back-to-back weeks against the Ravens and Jets, the Broncos are loving the Raiders 'D' this week. That's like flying from Hong Kong to LA, LA to NYC, and then NYC to Boston. First two legs suck, but third brings serious relief. Compared to the other two, it's a piece of cake.
The Broncos struggled so much in their last two games because the Ravens and Jets knew that Denver couldn't run, developed a solid plan to attack Orton, and forced him into relative inefficiency.
Won't work that way with the Raiders. That's not to say the Broncos are about to rush for 200 yards, but against Oakland's 30th-ranked run defense, and with Knoshon Moreno pretty much back to normal, Denver will run just enough to keep Oakland honest. That allows Orton, Brandon Lloyd and company pick Oaklland apart. Josh McDaniel-style.
Tough times for the Raiders. Al Davis must be rolling over his grave.
The Pick: Broncos (-8.5)
The Game: Minnesota at Green Bay (-2.5)
Wacky month for the Vikings. You had the Randy trade, then the sexting, now Favre's latest return to Green Baby, followed by Moss first return to New England. In fact, with all the craziness, its amazing that Minnesota's been able to remain at a respectable oh wait, oops, it hasnt worked out at all. And if the Vikes cant build on that Cowboys win and get on a roll in Green Bay, then thats how it will stay.
And it will.
Packers by a field goal.
The Pick: Packers (-2.5)
The Game: N.Y. Giants at Dallas (-3)
You have to appreciate the contrast between these two coaches here. And by appreciate, I mean laugh about how inept Wade Phillips is. Honestly, though, this is one of the most serious and unfathomable story lines of the season.
How does Phillips still have a job?!
On one hand, it seems useless to get worked up about a team I don't care about, but in the end, we've all suffered enough. Jerry, it's enough already!
I'm still picking the Cowboys to take this game, but do so knowing that it will be despite the actions of their head coach. And that at some point, his hijinx will once again hurt them. Meanwhile, Jones will use this victory to justify keeping Phillips around, and ignore the issues that go far beyond basic Xs and Os. Not that Phillips understands that, either.
The Pick: Cowboys (-3)
Last Week: 7-5-2&8232;&8232;