Starting to settle in and see signs of life after a rough start to our season. Hit a few nice picks last week, including bull’s-eyes on a pair of outright upsets with Rams over Cardinals and Seahawks over Panthers. Also had Dolphins and Jets with the points. Got unlucky on our Upset of the Week call. Thought we were looking pretty good with Skins over Falcons until Robert Griffin III went out and suddenly “Aawwk!” turned to “awww.” Looking for a big week against the spread. Let’s go! [Note: Thursday-game pick was Steelers (-5 1/2) over Titans, 24-16.]
Dolphins this week
Longtime Dolphins defensive stalwarts and fan favorites Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas will be inducted Sunday onto the team’s stadium Honor Roll, and I have a feeling they’re going to like what they see happening on the field. That would be a defense-oriented game won by their old team against the coach, Jeff Fisher, who turned down the Miami job in favor of St. Louis. The Rams’ best offensive weapon, Steven Jackson, won’t do much against Miami’s tough run defense, while QB Sam Bradford will be missing his top target in injured Danny Amendola. Key for Miami on offense will be the play of the line, because the Rams can do that sack dance. Rookie Ryan Tannehill will need a quick release and a big ground game from Reggie Bush. Bush announced this week that his girlfriend is expecting. So am I. I’m expecting a big afternoon from Reggie, who has legged for 436 yards in his past four home games. Rams are 0-2 on the road and catching a Dolphins team feeling very confident right now. St. Lou hasn’t had a three-game winning streak since 2006. Why start now?
Game of the week
Game of the Week committee looked hard at Green Bay-Houston for Week 6, too, but how can you turn down a grudge rematch of last season’s NFC Championship Game? (You can’t). Niners lost that one at home on their own mistakes and felt the better team did not advance to the Super Bowl. San Fran wants this one. Badly. Both teams have explosive offenses, but even NYG’s can’t match the balance of a 49ers squad that last week became first team ever with 300 yards passing AND rushing in the same game. Also, only one of these teams has a really good defense, and it ain’t the Biggies. I’d still play this one inside the betting line, though. Eli Manning is awfully good to get a five-point head start.
Upset of the week
“AAAWWWK!” bleats the Upset Bird, gliding over the neighborhood tipsy on Old Milwaukee and wearing a cheesehead hat. “Green Bay Paaawwwk!” Love this ready-for-prime-time matchup. Two big offenses led by Aaron Rodgers and Arian Foster. And two exciting defenses led by Clay Matthews and J.J. Watt. (Houston will miss injured LB Brain Cushing, though). Green Bay’s D will have its hands full; then again, Matt Schaub has not yet faced a pass rush like the Pack’s. I’m banking on Greg Jennings playing and on Gee Bees being fired up to prove to doubters they’re still elite. “And another unbeaten falls beak-first into the dust,” notes U-Bird. “Somebody wake the ’72 Dolphins. Still perfect! Still 17 and aaawwwk!”
Dog of the week
Easy choice for the Dog panel, which hailed this game the worst of the week with a bang of a gavel then repaired to the Quill & Swill to drink lunch. Chiefs played Ravens tough in a 9-6 loss last week but lose QB Matt Cassel to a concussion. KC fans cheered Cassel’s injury — but only because they hadn’t seen Brady Quinn play. He makes his first start since 2009. Both team’s propensity to ineptness makes this a nervous call either way, but Chiefs are a turnover waiting to happen so (with fingers crossed and minimal confidence) give me the home team coming off a bye.
Here is the NFL’s other unbeaten team, and it ’s hard to imagine the Falcs not staying that way in this one. Atlanta is 27-0 when Matt Ryan has a 100 passer rating, and Ryan should go happy-stats-nuts against an Oaks pass-D allowing a 71.5 completion percentage. Also, Birds have won six straight at home, and Pirates are 0-2 on road by a combined 72-19 score.
Ohio is too close to call with Obama-Romney, and apparently with Bengals-Browns, too. Near pick-’em game finds Earthtones with a big shot to get off the winless schneid in the Pound, especially with top CB Joe Haden back from suspension and a good bet to neutralize A.J. Green. Cincy has won 13 of past 16 in this rivalry including 34-27 in September, but every Dawg has is day. Upset!
Struggling Jets offense is sticking with QB Mark Sanchez for now. Could it be because the alternative is Tim Tebow? Going from Sanchez to Tebow is like wanting a safer neighborhood and moving from Beirut to Fallujah. Andrew Luck and rejuvenated Reggie Wayne are coming off a big upset of Packers, but Planes are too desperate for something good to happen to not find a way at home.
Lions have lost six in a row the in series since last beating Philly in 1986. And Motown is on a 1-6 skid on the road, allowing 36.6 points per game in the process. Nevertheless I’d still play this one closer than the bet-line. Birds and Mike Vick are error-prone, while disappointing Detroit is desperate and off a bye, and Calvin Johnson has 716 catch-yards in past four roadies.
This one got a brief whiff from the Game of the Week panel. Dallas coming in off a bye and Crows off their game last week, barely beating KC, has a leveling effect here. An outright upset would not stun me, but I still like Crabbies in a venue call. Baltimore has won 13 straight regular-season homies, and I see a bounceback game from Joe Flacco, Ray Rice and that crowd.
Another legit Game of the Week nominee, with Patriots putting that big, great offense up against a Seahawks defense that is terrific. Seattle also is a different (better) team at home. Upset watch here, but I can’t not like an English attack that has Tom Brady AND averages 165 yards on the ground. By the way, anybody remember that Pete Carroll was Pats head coach in 1997-99? (Anybody care?)
Buffalo’s defense has allowed 1,201 yards the past two games – most by any team over a two-game stretch since 1950. That same Williams defense has been outscored 52-7 in the past two fourth quarters, indication of a team quitting. Did I mention the Buffs’ offense also is struggling? Chan Gailey could be the first coach fired. On the other side, ’Zona has won eight straight at home.
This stayed off betting boards late into week because of Washers QB Robert Griffin III leaving last week’s game with a mild concussion. He has been cleared to play and likely will, and this pick assumes he’ll do just that. Think Vikes would have been a small favorite, but I see Minny due a road stumble, and Skins are way beyond due to end that eight-game home losing streak.
A bit of Game of the Week heft from this one, too, what with the division battle, the Monday stage and the prospect of a shootout. Peyton Manning is 11-4 on MNF and Philip Rivers 7-3, so the gunslingers will be ready. Denver has won two of past three in Diego, but as a Colt this was a nemesis opponent for Manning – 1-5 personal run vs. Bolts with 15 picks – so I’m riding Rivers at home.
Off this week