Our season records overall and against the spread are turning slowly in the right direction, and last week we had a couple of nice outright upset calls with Falcons winning at Philly (“Aawwk!”) and Raiders prevailing in KC. This is the prognosticating equivalent of a politician seeing an uptick in the national poll numbers and looking good in a couple of key swing states. (I’ve been watching waaay too much MSNBC.) Still shaky in my home state, though; I’m 3-4 on Dolphins games. Must carry Florida! [Thursday pick: Chargers (-8 1/2) over Chiefs, 24-19].
DOLPHINS (4-3) at COLTS (4-3)
It is November, Week 9 in the NFL, Thanksgiving almost close enough to smell the bird, and the Dolphins are playing an important game with bearing on the AFC playoff race. I call that progress. Heck it might be closer to miraculous considering the team was winless a year ago today. The thing is, Indy is much better, too, driven by rookie Andrew Luck and believing in itself just as much. What odds you could have gotten in July if you’d bet that both of these teams would be over .500 and winners of five consecutive games between them entering this one. In fact if Ryan Tannehill plays Sunday — he’s questionable with a bruised knee — he and Luck will be the first rookie QBs since the 1970 merger to meet in the regular season with at least three wins each. Impressive. Now the good news/bad news. The bad news: I hunch a Colts win in a slight upset. The good news: I’m only 3-4 picking Miami games this year so Dolfans should be delighted, perhaps. It isn’t so much the Tannehill question that has meaning leaning Indy, because backup Matt Moore is capable. It is more that Luck and Reggie Wayne are a mighty combo right now, sacker Dwight Freeney could finally be back, and Nags are 3-1 at home. The betting line doesn’t so much flatter Miami as disrespect Indy.
STEELERS (4-3) at GIANTS (6-2)
“AAWWWWK!” bellows the Upset Bird. “Pittsbaawwk!” It’s a 2-for-1 special, a rare Game of the Week/Upset of the Week combo platter. Part of the intrigue is Ben Roethlisberger vs. Eli Manning from the draft class of 2004. This marks the first time that multiple Super Bowl-winning QBs from different conferences have met in a regular-season game since Joe Montana and Jim Plunkett in 1985. Pitt’s 1-3 road mark concerns me, but I still like Big Ben vs. Biggies’ secondary more than I like Eli against Steelers’ air-D. I also like this arcane stat: NYG is 1-7 in Game 9s under Tom Coughlin. “A very fine trend to have unearthed,” notes U-Bird, pausing to projectile-vomit a fluorescent gorge of purloined Halloween candy. “I also like the lift Jonathan Dwaawwk, sorry, Dwyer has given the Steelers offense. Jonathaawwk Dwaaawwwk!”
When presented a weak crop of lousy matchups, a Jacksonville home game is generally a safe default pick. The Jags played Green Bay surprisingly tough last week but haven’t stopped being a moribund 1-6 squad without its best player in injured Maurice Jones-Drew. (Bonus fact: Matthew Stafford here will surpass 10,000 career passing yards in his 37th game. Only Kurt Warner, in 36 games, has done it faster.) Detroit isn’t much of a road team and so the upset factor here is medium-high, but error-prone Jax finds ways to lose.
Denver has won 14 of the past 17 in this series, and that was before Peyton Manning started pitching for the Broncs — Manning, who has at least 300 yards, three touchdown passes and 70 percent completions in four consecutive games. You would think Bengals, as home ’dogs coming off a bye, might be tempting, but Manning and slumping Andy Dalton are a stark contrast entering this one.
Baltimore has won nine games in a row over Cleveland in the Modell Bowl Series, and is 4-0 after byes under John Harbaugh. Don’t see it easy, though. Earthtones have won two in a row at home, their defense can be tough, and Ravens only won by 23-16 in first meeting five week ago. After getting spanked by Houston, Crows must earn back the trust.
Redbirds have lost four in a row and limp in off a short week after playing Monday. Pack has injury issues with Greg Jennings out and Jordy Nelson iffy. But I figure if Alax Smith can decimate the ’Zona pass-D with accuracy, so can Aaron Rodgers, even missing some pieces. The Cacti are getting a lot of points here, but this losing streak has shoved me off the bandwagon.
Chicago’s defense has scored 41 of its 185 points. Who cares if Jay Cutler and the offense struggle; the Bears are at their best when Cutler is sitting. Tennessee happens to have won 10 of its past 12 home games vs. NFC teams, but I’m not leaving this Chitown D when it’s this hot. Can’t see Chris Johnson or Matt Hasselbeck getting much done.
Past two Heisman Trophy winners duel in Robert Griffin III vs. the man he replaced as NFL Wunderkind, Cam Newton. And I like Cam’s Cats in an upset. Carolina is due some luck, with five of its losses coming by a combined 18 points. And nothing about either team is worse than Washington’s pass defense, which is on pace to be the first ever to allow 5,000 season yards.
Both teams are coming off byes; Bills may wish they had another one. Arian Foster isn’t having a huge (for him) season so far, but that could change fast here against a Buffs run-D allowing an absurd 177 yards per game. Mario Williams face his old team, but his old team will leave smiling. Texans are best team in AFC — maybe in NFL — until they indicate otherwise.
NFL’s top two rushers show some leg in Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch, each hoping to carry his team over a tough loss last week. I like Lynch a little bit more against a Minny run D that has allowed a 100-yard rusher each of past three games. Seattle and Russell Wilson also are appreciably better at home. Bet-number still feels a trifle fat, though.
Here is the closest Week 9 has to a pick-’em game. Tampa has won three in a row and scored at least 28 in each, but Bucs will really miss injured left tackle Carl Nicks, and Oakland is 5-0 at home in this occasional series. More than a venue pick, though, I think Carson Palmer could put up big numbers against a weak, depleted Bucs secondary.
Prime-time gets a good one Sunday, and an outright upset of the unbeaten Falcons would not surprise. Might have picked it, in fact, except that it looked like RB DeMarco Murray wouldn’t play for Dallas, and with backup Felix Jones also hurting, that’s a big chunk of offense missing. I still take the Birds with hesitation, and like ’Boys to keep it very close.
Two disappointing, desperate teams are a combined 5-9, each coming off a loss, but count on the Monday audience being entertained by a pointfest. N’Awlins should be good for what ails Mike Vick; Saints defense is first since 1950 to allow 400-plus yards each of its first seven games. And you know Drew Brees will get his stats, no matter the calamity around him. Nothing but a low-scoring game would surprise me.
OFF THIS WEEK