I figured the law of gravity might bring us down after that 13-1 week, and was unfortunately right. Damn you, Isaac Newton! I can abide the 9-4-1 mark straight up, but not the 6-8 against the point spread. Nailed another Upset of the Week with Saints over Falcons (“Aawwk!”) but had too many misfires, and that included a blindside hit on the Dolphins’ home-field disappearing act against the Titans. Didn’t see that one coming — those five words a lament too descriptive of our season thus far against the betting number. [Thursday pick: Bills (-1) over Dolphins, 24-20].
RAVENS (7-2) at STEELERS (6-3)
Close call on which game would grand-marshal the Week 11 parade. Game of the Week committee grappled mostly with this one and Bears-Niners, but since both games are affected by quarterback issues, we went with the division grudge match — and one of the best rivalries in the NFL. Shoulder and rib issues will shelve Ben Roethlisberger and foist veteran Byron Leftwich into his first start since 2009. This is one of three games this week affected by new QB injuries, and this one must fill a Steelers fan with dread considering Pitt needed overtime with Leftwich steering just to survive the lowly Chiefs last week. And Crows have won past two at the Ketchup Bottle even when Ben was pitching. Nevertheless! I’m still feeling a prime-time upset — maybe by hunch more than logic, I’d admit. Steelers are on a nice roll, are 4-0 at home, and will rise up with a big defensive effort.
EAGLES (3-6) at REDSKINS (3-6)
“AAAWWWK!” screams the Upset Bird, skittish as always as the calendar approaches the holiday that celebrates decapitating birds. Speaking of birds: “The Eagles live! Eagles laaawwwk!” I know, I know. Philly has lost five in a row, Andy Reid’s seat is so hot his a-- is on fire, and now rookie QB Nick Foles is all but certain to make his maiden start because of Mike Vick’s concussion. The thing is, Washington isn’t in much better shape, with three consecutive L’s, a 1-3 home record and a near-putrid pass defense. Birds need a spark, and it says here Foles could be it. “Know when to hold ’em, know when to Foles ’em,” croons U-Bird, looking silly in a cowboy hat. “The Gambler, 1978. Nineteenseventyaaawwwk!”
JAGUARS (1-8) at TEXANS (8-1)
Dog honors go to the worst matchup of the week, and normally we target two bad teams jousting, but in this case we opt for sheer lopsidedness. The very bad Jaguars — Baguars to their sack-over-head fans — and the very good Texans present an extreme talent contrast seldom witnessed. Houston beat Jax 27-7 in September and will dominate again, although I think I’ll accept the offer of those two-TD-plus ’dog points, thanks. Texans are coming off that big, emotional showdown win at Chicago, face a natural letdown and will be on autopilot in this one.
Atlanta lost its perfectness to Saints last week (setting off a weeklong celebration by Mercury Morris), and now the Falcs will be after The Big Rebound. ATL last lost consecutive regular-season games in December 2009, and Matt Ryan’s 30-4 is the best home record by a QB in the Super Bowl era. (And that includes an 8-0 run.) Reeling Cardbirds are OK on defense but just don’t have the offensive pop to hang in this game.
Clevers coming off bye is offset by the fact Earthtones have lost 11 games in a row on the road, and the offense has produced only one lonely TD during the past two games. ’Boys need to get on a roll and climb into playoff hunt to save Jason Garrett’s job and cannot afford to let this one slip. Garret could only be more under the gun if Mike Holmgren and Jon Gruden were lurking over his shoulder on the sideline like vultures.
Home teams almost always have a big shot in a division rivalry, and Lions are no exception here, but all indicators are aimed squarely at the Gee Bees. Green Bay is 11-1 in this series under Mike McCarthy and is coming off a bye. Pack has some key injuries (Greg Jennings, Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson), but in what should be a shootout at the O Corral, I’ll take Aaron Rodgers just about every time.
Despite playing Pittsburgh tough last week the Chiefs have reeked to six consecutive losses by a combined score of 157-78 and are 0-4 at Arrowhead, which officially is denuded as a scary place to play. KC is way due, though, and inconsistent Cincy figures to be overconfident and thinking it is better than it is after whippin’ the Giants last week. I’ll play this one safe, but be on Upset Alert.
The Dog panel looked at this game the way a buzzard looks at a road-killed possum. The tumultuous, bickering, reeling Jets are facing a fourth loss in a row here — especially if that 30th-ranked run D can’t manage a way to keep Steven Jackson. Hey, sometimes you make a pick just because, you know? Sometimes nothing is telling you it’s right except that strong gut feeling that just won’t go away. Upset!
Bucs barely got past Cats in September 16-10, but Carolina has sort of gone stagnant since then while Tampa has been en fuego, with five consecutive games of 28-plus points. Josh Freeman has had a 115.9 passer rating in those games, with zero picks in 151 attempts. Tardily, I think I’m finally on board that Bucs bandwagon. (Which might be what makes me so nervous about this pick.)
Two weeks ago, the Oakland defense was trampled for 278 rushing yards by Tampa. Last week, Oakland was bludgeoned for 51 points by Baltimore. And now here comes Drew Brees, who tends to make even GOOD defenses look bad. I mean, I know anything can happen in this weird NFL. But, beyond a Saints letdown after beating Atlanta, there is little here testifying on behalf of a Raiders upset.
San Diego has won three in a row at Mile High in this division rivalry, but things have changed. The change is named Peyton Manning. Chargers will have much incentive after embarrassingly blowing a 24-0 lead and losing to Denver 35-24 in October, but Broncos will have Manning, who in four home games has 10 TDs, zero picks and a 115.3 rating. Bolts have yet to beat a team with a winning record, but keep this one close.
This one got a Game of the Week sniff. Teams have won seven in a row between them and Tom Brady vs. Andrew Luck feels special, somehow. Very much like Pats to win at home but also like rejuvenated Indy to keep it close. Although trading for CB Aqib Talib will help, England’s pass defense has allowed 19 scoring throws and — you may have heard — Luck-to-Reggie Wayne can do a little damage.
Meet our Game of the Week first runner-up. (Bears-49ers would wear the crown only if Ravens-Steelers were caught in a scandal that forced expulsion from the pageant.) Monday nighter stayed off bet boards because both QBs, Bears’ Jay Cutler and Niners’ Alex Smith were battling concussions and iffy. As the week wore on it seemed likely that Smith would start but Cutler would sit in favor of experienced backup Jason Campbell. That and the venue steer this pick in what should be a delicious defensive battle.