We were contemplating a legal name change and a disguise after our historically awful prior week, but at least we enjoyed a modest bounce-back last week. Bull’s-eyed our Upset special with Skins winning at Bucs (“Aawwk!”), and also had Saints with points over Pack and Vikes-plus over Detroit among our highlights. Not sure if this qualifies as momentum, but it’s close enough for a desperate man. [Note: Thursday-game pick was Rams (+1 1/2) over Cardinals, 20-17].
DOLPHINS (1-3) at BENGALS (3-1)
A 431-yard passer, a 253-yard receiver, eight defensive sacks and it isn’t enough — man, the Dolphins truly ARE inventing new ways to lose. Now, though, hard-luck Miami has won on six of its past seven trips to the Queen City, and I give the Fins a medium shot at an outright road win in this one, following heartbreak overtime losses the past two weeks. That upset hat hangs on this hook: Reggie Bush and a stout running game against a Cincinnati run defense allowing 5.4 yards per carry. Ball control to limit the Bengal offense’s time on the field is the big hope, otherwise Cincy WR A.J. Green will be a Week 5 fantasy darling against a Dolphins secondary that isn’t very good (or particularly healthy). Alas, I see a big day for Green and a purring Cats offense that has averaged 33 points in its current three-game win streak. I also think a ’Gals defense leading the NFL with 17 sacks will make it tougher on Ryan Tannehill than did Arizona a week earlier. That’s why I like The ’Nati outright. The betting line, though — that danging half-point is begging me, wooing and romancing me, to pick Miami to cover. I am smitten.
BRONCOS (2-2) at PATRIOTS (2-2)
The Game of the Week cabinet gave a cursory glance at Eagles-Steelers and Chargers-Saints this week but ultimately was drawn as if by hypnosis to the holy altar of Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady. I don’t wanna say this’ll be a shootout, but the score is already 24-21 and kickoff is still two days away. Brady affirmed his magic last week in engineering a 45-point second half that made Buffalo’s defense collapse like a U.S. Ryder Cup team, while Manning has middle-fingered his critics (though not literally; he’s Peyton!) with vintage 300-yard games back to back. Always like Brady at home, always, still, but bet Mr. Manning finds a way to keep it close and make it thrilling deep into the fourth.
FALCONS (4-0) at REDSKINS (2-2)
“AAAWWWK!” booms the Upset Bird. “I think I’m becoming infatuated with Washingtaawwk!” Hey, sometimes you go with your gut. When your gut is as big as mine, that’s unavoidable. Atlanta is unbeaten and Skins have somehow lost seven consecutive home games, but those trends shall end. See a big day for unheralded Alfred Morris against a run defense that is Falcs’ Achilles heel. “They’ll be dancing in D.C.!” notes the U-Bird. “Well, except at the White House after watching that presidential debaawwk. I’m counting on RGIII to have a better performance than Baraawwk Obaaawwwk!”
BROWNS (0-4) at GIANTS (2-2)
The Dog panel sifting for a week’s worst game always prefers the classic enjoining of two really bad teams but will settle on apparent disparity when needed. In this case that’s winless Browns — losers of 10 in a row dating to last season — against defending-champ Giants who are home and also hungry after last week’s two-point loss to Philly. Earthtones played Baltimore tough last week but I like Biggies’ D to dominate rook Brandon Weeden in this one.
How much does emotion weigh? That’s the question here as Indy plays its first game without coach Chuck Pagano since he was diagnosed with leukemia. No doubt Colts will be inspired, and the fact they’re coming off a bye and the Pack off a draining one-point win over Saints further levels this game. Then again, back in the real world, Aaron Rodgers has his way with Nags’ defense.
Ravens’ run D is better equipped than most to limit Jamaal Charles, meaning the game shifts into Matt Cassel’s error-prone hands, meaning uh-oh, Chiefs. Baltimore is rested after playing last Thursday, and Ray Rice figures for a big day. I’d also note that KC’s once-vaunted home-field edge at Arrowhead has withered with six L’s there in past seven games.
One needn’t be a Pennsylvanian to be excited about this one. Eagles have survived turnovers to win three games by four total points. Steelers, off a bye, are healthier than they’ve been in a long time and get Troy Polamalu, James Harrison and Rashard Mendenhall back. Philly might have more overall talent, but Pitt takes the state title on venue and Big Ben.
In Column A, I like Seattle’s defense, a lot, front to back, and I like a hot-running Marshawn Lynch to show up big against shaky Panthers run stopping. In Column B, ’Hawks rookie QB Russell Wilson worries me a bit, as does the long-trip factor. But, hey, what is life if not for the occasional risk, right? So give me Column A and that Seattle D. Upset!
Chitown is in off a short week and facing a letdown after that big Monday night rout at Dallas, but I can’t find a single way Jax has the talent to take advantage or make this much of a game. Bears D will limit Maurice Jones-Drew and make it rough on Blaine Gabbert. Remember when MJD questioned Jay Cutler’s manhood in a tweet during the 2011 playoffs? Payback.
Tennessee has a bad defense, is struggling on offense, isn’t great on the road and now has the ghost of Matt Hasselbeck at QB for injured Jake Locker. So, naturally, I give the Titans real upset shot because Minny is a flimsy 3-1 and ripe for a fall. (Aside to Chris Johnson: Thanks for the 141 yards last week — the week I finally sit you on my fantasy team! Oy.)
Expect a bit of a hey-we-still-have-pride-after-all, bounce-back effort by Buffs after that egregious second-half collapse against Pats last week. And expect Niners to maybe be a bit flat after that 34-0 flattening of the Jets. Can’t envision a San Fran loss, but Williams have enough going on the attack (NFL-best 16 TDs) to like them getting almost double figures here.
Sunday nighter is our Game of the Week runnerup by a whisker. NFL gave special permission for suspended coach Sean Payton to attend, because Drew Brees, facing his former team, figures to break Johnny Unitas’ record for consecutive games with a TD pass (now tied at 47). That record, Payton in the house and N’Awlins being winless/desperate all suggest a huge, emotional effort as Saints try to become first team since 1992 (San Diego) to start 0-4 but still make the playoffs.
It’s a Monday matchup made in ESPN heaven: A great, unbeaten team against a reeling, chaos-engulfed New York team. How long before Jon Gruden is leaning out the booth, Harry Caray-style, and leading the crowd in a “We want Tebow!” chant? I actually like the Stinkin’ Jets with the points here and give them a fair upset shot outright because they are struggling mightily and Mark Sanchez’s future is imploding and Houston is really, really good and the NFL is absolutely crazy.
OFF THIS WEEK