I returned to earth at 8-6 this week, although it should have been 9-5 if I hadn't let the pundits talk me into switching my pick from Tennessee to Baltimore. Anyway, I'm going back to my gut this week, and my picks are:
Bears over FALCONS: I can see two possible endings to this game. One, Chicago's defense shows up, creates hell for Matt Ryan that he's so far only seen in Tampa (and what is Chicago's D except for a younger version of Tampa's?) and Kyle Orton plays another solid-but-unspectacular game and Chicago aces a second straight road contest. Two, Chicago's defense does not show up -- particularly in the secondary, where they're banged up -- and Ryan throws two 60-yard bombs, while Orton has at least one awful fumble returned for a touchdown. I really could go either way here, but I'm a Bears fan, so I'm going to be optimistic. It's always trouble picking my own squad. Which reminds me:
COLTS over Ravens and Eagles over 49ERS: Each of these teams has a franchise quarterback. And the second most important guy on each squad can't stay on the freakin' field. It's maddening. Indy's Bob Sanders and Philly's Brian Westbrook are constantly injured, and when they're in the lineup, their teams are Super Bowl caliber, and when they're not, they struggle to even make the playoffs. By rights I shouldn't pick either of these teams, especially since Indy is at home and Lucas Oil Stadium is apparently cursed -- bring back the RCA Dome! -- but I can't do it. Indy's D surely has enough to contain Baltimore's offense, and I have to believe -- as a Colts fan, if nothing else -- that they'll squeeze it out. As for San Fran, I still don't believe they're for real, especially after Seattle's rotten egg-laying at the Meadowlands on Sunday. Gotta pick Philly.
VIKINGS over Lions: Minnesota's crazy win last night in N'Orleans might propel them towards the playoffs in a denuded NFC North. This breaks my heart, because teams who wear CFL uniforms should not be allowed to be in the NFL playoffs. Don't get me started about the Buffalo Bills.
SAINTS over Raiders: At halftime, I recommend that the Saints kidnap Sebastian Janikowski, the only kicker ever drafted in the first round, to solve their kicking woes. The team is 2-3. If Martin Gramatica could hit 43-yarders like any normal NFL kicker, they'd be 4-1 and looking good as Marques Colston and Jeremy Shockey made ready to return. A secondary would also help.
JETS over Bengals: Hahaha who were you idiots who took the 17-point spread in the Cincy-Dallas game? I should have mentioned that in my picks. Never give 17 points, not in this league. Yeah, I know, even Dr. Z and Bill Simmons got fooled. No way. The bad teams in the NFL are too mediocre to get predictably blown out, and the good teams are too erratic to consistently lay it on somebody. The Bengals have been competitive in their last 3 losses, and indeed in most of their games this year. Now they get the Jets, on the road, same stadium where they nearly stunned the Giants not long ago. I will bet heaping sums of money that Brett Favre doesn't get six touchdowns again, although against this secondary there's every reason he could. Three, however, is definitely a possibility. Jets take it.
Meanwhile, if I'm an NFL owner whose team needs a new coach (we've already got two and counting in this young season), I'd look long and hard at Marvin Lewis. I know it's a sour ending, but just remember, he took the Bengals to the playoffs. He made 8-8 a disappointment in Cincy. Imagine what he could do with a real team.
Panthers over BUCCANEERS: Tampa Bay collects injured journeymen quarterbacks like some people collect baseball cards. Let's see, will Jon Gruden start injured veteran journeyman Jeff Garcia on Sunday against John Fox's crew? Or will he go with injured veteran journeyman Brian Griese? Too bad injured veteran Chris Simms isn't around anymore (though he could become a journeyman yet, and make his way back to Tampa. I wouldn't rule it out). Me? I'm going with the team with the healthy quarterback, whoever suits up for the Bucs.
REDSKINS over Rams: I can't deal with Jim Haslett coaching the St. Louis Rams. I'm picking them to lose every game for the rest of the year. This is like Bill Parcells jumping from the Patriots to the Jets, except way less interesting because Haslett's Saints were never that good.
Dolphins over TEXANS: It's the Sage Rosenfels war! Rosenfels, briefly the quarterback of the future for both these teams despite the fact that his name sounds like he should be a mythical herb that cures rheumatysm and witch-doctory, amazingly blew his chance to be the certified starter in Houston in two awful minutes against Indianapolis. The Texans may be 0-4, but their next five games (home against Miami, Detroit and Cincinnati, at Minnesota, and the makeup game against Baltimore) are all definitely winnable games, as is the game at Indy in Week 11, since Lucas Oil provides no home field advantage to the Colts whatsoever. Could we see a Wild Card push from the Texans? No. Could we see a respectable 6-10? Yes. Do I think they'll beat the Dolphins? Maybe. Am I making the pick? No.
BRONCOS over Jaguars: Remember when the 9-7 Jaguars went to Buffalo and Denver and won in back-to-back weeks in the '97 playoffs? No, no one remembers that, but it's what allowed a so-so New England team to sneak into the Super Bowl and lose to Green Bay. Anyway, since that happened it seems like Jacksonville has lost every doggone game to the Broncos, especially if it's at Mile High. Including two years later, where Jason Elam hit an NFL-record-tying 63-yard field goal. Stuff just seems to happen to Jacksonville at altitude. Denver wins it. And if San Diego doesn't find its defense soon, the Broncos might just take the AFC West going away.
SEAHAWKS over Packers: The battle between Mike Holmgren's old team and his new one has always featured great quarterback play ("we want the ball and we're going to score" aside), so to see an injured Aaron Rodgers battled it out with an ailing and receiver-less Matt Hasselback is kind of a bummer. When in doubt, I go with the home team. How sad is it that Seattle is STILL in the hunt for the division title?
Patriots over CHARGERS: Remember when these two teams played a pair of epic playoff games in back-to-back years, with the Patriots coming out on top both times? No, neither do I, but the second one was earlier this year in the AFC Championship game. Now you've got the Brady-less Patriots against the defenseless Chargers. The winner, therefore, will be Bill Belichick. Chargers fans, you can start chanting for Norv Turner's firing at about 10pm on the West Coast on Sunday night.
Also: Giants over BROWNS and Cowboys over CARDINALS
Last week: 8-6
Season: 48-26 (64.9%)