How the darts landed
There were signs of a very good week. We bull’s-eyed our Upset of the Week with Packers beating Texans (“Aawwk!”) and nailed another outright upset with Browns over Bengals. Also had the ’dog Lions and Giants with points. And yet it was another desultory week overall. Here’s how my luck is running: Dolphins beat Rams 17-14. I’d predicted 19-13. Close, right? Yeah. But I lost it against the spread by a half-point. OK, enough complaining. Forward we go! [Thursday pick: 49ers (-7) over Seahawks, 20-17].
Game of the Week jury quickly waved off all other Week 7 contenders and bowed reverently to this heavyweight bout that will leave the victor grand marshaling the AFC parade. Watching Arian Foster and Ray Rice roll up fantasy points will be this game’s hub, and I think I like Foster a little bit more against a depleted Baltimore defense with Ray Lewis likely out for the year and others banged up. (By the way, pundits, quit speaking of Lewis’ career in obituary tones. Assume a comeback until the old Cane says otherwise.) Ravens are 6-0 all-time in this series and an outright upset would not surprise much, but give me Texans getting off that series schneid at home. Houston got humbled by Green Bay last week and it’s bounceback time. Close, though. Betting line disrespects the Crows, who are wounded and perhaps all the more dangerous for it.
“AAAWWWK!” booms the Upset Bird. “After consulting a binder full of women I go with Cincinnaaawwwk!” We are well aware Pittsburgh has won 10 of the past 11 trips to Cincy. Ever heard of the law of averages? These are battered, diminished Steelers who are 0-3 on the road this year. Pitt QB Ben Roethisberger, likely missing Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, could be under siege from a ’Gals pass rush that has 20 sacks, second in the NFL. Especially with RBs Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman both iffy to play. Cincy is healthier, home and out to prove itself ready for prime time. “Bengals defense will be shopping at Sacks Fifth Avenue,” notes U-Bird. “Sacks Fifth Avenaawwwk!”
Regular readers know our Dog of the Week refers not to our favorite betting ’dog but to the week’s muttiest, least attractive game, and this one was quick work for the selectors. Jacksonville’s is the league’s worst offense, and I doubt a bye week solved that. Oakland isn’t breaking any scoreboards, either, but Carson Palmer should have all day back there because Jags are last in league in sacks. Raiders played unbeaten Falcons very tough last week. If they remember they aren’t that good and don’t let down, this game is theirs.
Signs of life! These are the league’s two worst scoring defenses, but Titans surprised Pittsburgh last Thursday and Bills are coming off a nice OT win over Arizona. My gut says Tenners have a big upset shot here, but they are 0-3 on the road and no NFL pass defense (107.9 opponent passer rating) is worse. Just wish I trusted the erratic Bison even a little bit.
Like the Brownies here. It might be a bigger upset than our Upset of the Week, but just doesn’t feel like it. The Andrew Luck/Brandon Weeden rookie QB duel tops this game’s marquee, but the result swings on Cleveland as a better balanced team, and I think Trent Richardson can run on this Nags defense. Yeah, I know Cleveland has lost 10 in a row on the road. Law of averages, remember?
Giants played their best game in humbling the Niners in San Fran last week, so the letdown factor is in play, but Biggies are too experienced and well-coached for that. Plus it’s a division game and rivalry. Remember how NYG’s Osi Umenyiora called Robert Griffin III “Bob” because he said he hadn’t earned the RG3 nickname? He’s earned it and will prove it here even in narrowly losing.
Chatter in this game’s preamble centered on whether Saints LB Jonathan Vilma, Bountygate poster child, might make his season debut while appealing his suspension. Whatever. The result for me turns on this: Drew Brees vs. a Bucs team allowing 312 passing yards per game. N’Awlins is 0-2 on road and Tee Bees have won three of past five in series, but still like the Fleur de Lis.
’Boys will be missing RB DeMarco Murray but Tony Romo still has ample weapons to outscore a floundering Panthers attack that has produced 12 offensive points over the past three home games. Oh, Cam Newton, where for art thou? Fans want to trade in the 2012 Cam for the rookie model. Carolina has sunk into the NFL’s lower tier until the Cats do something to prove otherwise.
I loved Aaron Rodgers’ comment after his six TD passes humbled previously unbeaten Houston last week. Asked what he’d tell his team’s critics, he simply said, “Shhh.” Perfect. Write off the Pack at your own peril. St. Lou is an admirable 3-0 at home but looks overmatched here. Rodgers (calf) is officially questionable but of course will play. Enough said.
Here’s your Game of the Week in the Upstart Division, with two expected NFC also-rans making a play at credibility. Make it a venue call. Vikes have beaten Cacti eight of past 10 and are 3-0 at home. Plus, ’Zona’s shabby O-line has allowed 22 sacks in past three games, and Jared Allen told me Minny has a pretty good pass rush. John Skelton would not be your fantasy play this week.
Rex Ryan this week: “I want [the Patriots] to know, and I think they know, that I think we’re going to beat them.” Ooooh! Rex, you so cocky! And then what happens is, Tom Brady throws for 317 yards and Mark Sanchez is still Mark Sanchez. Point spread feels fat, but odds of a rout are simply greater than odds of a close game, and none of Rex’s cartoon bluster changes any of that.
There is every reason to love (or Lovie!) da Bears in this Monday night grudge match. They are 2-0 at home, coming off a bye, and have won their past three games by a combined 98-27. They are on a 7-1 roll in this series, and 8-2 on MNF under Lovie Smith . So why does this pick make me queasy? Because in this nutty league, when all conventional wisdom points one way it is often cause to look the other way. I’m not doing it. Just sort of pre-second-guessing myself!
OFF THIS WEEK