I have been writing these Friday Page NFL predictions for 23 seasons now, since 1991, and last week continued the worst three-week slump of my career. Somehow, I have turned into the Jacksonville Jaguars. Last week’s records both straight-up and against the spread were so bad I cannot bring myself to say them aloud. I did nail my Upset of the Week – Colts over Seahawks, “Aawwk!” – and had Cowboys-with-points over Denver, but that was it, friends. Everything else was a freefall on a defective bungee cord. But I’ll bounce back like Wile E. Coyote. Smashed in the ravine one minute, good as new the next. [Note: Thursday-game pick was Bears (-8) over Giants, 34-23].
SAINTS (5-0) AT PATRIOTS (4-1)
Not a lot of matchups fill an NFL marquee better than two teams thinking Super Bowl, Drew Brees vs. Tom Brady, Sean Payton vs. Bill Belichick and the possible long-awaited season debut of Pats TE Rob Gronkowski. Saints a very fashionable upset pick; I get that. But I’m done overanalyzing as I try to hoist myself out of the deep well I’ve fallen into with my recent Friday Page slump. Time to rely on instincts again and on my ample gut, and those things tell me Pats will bounce back big from last week’s offensive fizzle in Cincy. Homies have won 32 of past 35 in the Foxborough foxhole, and Brady (0-3 vs. Brees) is due to one-up his fellow Canton-bound quarterback. I’ll feel a lot better about this pick, admittedly, if Gronkowski plays and gives Brady the same weapon Brees has in Jimmy Graham. Perhaps the football gods would consider my recent won-lost record and benevolently grant me that. (Please?)
PACKERS (2-2) AT RAVENS (3-2)
“AAAWWWK!” bellows the Upset Bird, preening in unabashed fellowship with his aviary cousin, the Raven. “Baltimaawwk!” There are bigger point spreads among my four upset picks this week, but why be a slave to numbers? Crows are 35-7 at home under John Harbaugh, and Gee Bees can’t help but suffer from the injury of top defender Clay Matthews, whose absence should make Joe Flacco’s afternoon a bit less chaotic. “Quoth the Raven: Nevermore shall Aaron Rodgers strafe me for 300 yards,” recites the U-Bird, slightly adapting Poe. “Nevermaaawwwk!”
JAGUARS (0-5) AT BRONCOS (5-0)
The opening 28-point line (in some sports books) tied the all-time NFL mark for largest betting spread, a suggestion of lopsidedness that made easy work for the Dog panel. There has even been media chatter that Peyton Manning should sit this one out, so foregone is the conclusion. That won’t happen, of course, although I could see a heavy dose of backup Brock Osweiler if the score gets too silly. Jax has lost its past three by 76 combined points, and Denver is on a record scoring pace, but I’ll take anybody getting this many points.
Giving Buffs a medium-sized outright upset shot here. Cincy is 0-2 on the road and Bison have won six straight at home in this series. But a Cincy pass defense that gave Tom Brady fits last week (and ended his 52-game TD streak) probably will be up to the challenge of Thad Lewis, fresh off the Bills practice squad and making his second career start.
Upset! Cleveland has a bit of swagger going and growing, gunning for its first four-game win streak since 2009, and Brandon Weeden is motivated to show he deserves to start on merit, not just because Brian Hoyer got hurt. This pick also presumes that Lions WR Calvin Johnson will be sidelined a second straight game.
Oakland swept this series last season and has won six straight times at Arrowhead, but some trends are just aching to end. I keep waiting for the Chiefs to collapse. Don’t think it’ll be here, although I like Oaks to keep it inside the big betting number, especially if last week’s Terrelle Pryor shows up again.
Cats are a decent upset pick, but mainly because I don’t trust the Vikings. Stick with Minny at home, though, as Matt Cassel likely starts against while newly signed Josh Freeman readies in the wings. Cam Newton has struggled behind a poor O-line, and Adrian Peterson should carry the day.
Upset! Yes, I get that Pittsburgh’s record is no mirage. But I also see a Jets team coming off a short week while the Steelers are coming off a bye. And I also see a Pitt defense that has yet to force a turnover against a mistake-prone Planes offense. Ben Roethlisberger is the best player in this game, and it’s time for his team’s darkest start since 1968 to finally see some light.
Upset! Philly has more talent, but the Birds’ awful defense should be at least a partial remedy for what has been ailing T-Bay’s offense. Darrelle Revis on DeSean Jackson, a delicious matchup, also should diminish one of Nick Foles’ top targets as he (likely) subs again for Mike Vick. Bucs, home and off a bye, finally turn onto W Street and lessen the heat on Greg Schiano. At least for now.
Houston, alleged Super Bowl hopeful, has lost three straight by a combined 87-32, and Matt Schaub has set a dubious NFL record with a pick-6 interception in four straight games. A fan supposedly tracked down Schaub at his home to berate him this week. Much more of this and Schaub’s own teammates will be picketing his house. I like the Texans to get well behind Arian Foster as he exploits a Rams run-D that has allowed an average of 169.3 ground yards the past three games.
Tennessee has been a pleasant surprise so far, but Seattle is money at home. Russell Wilson is 10-0 in his young career in Javatown, with a 119.9 passer rating. That betting line seems awfully big, though, for what I’d figure as a fairly low-scoring game.
San Fran has won seven of past eight in this series, including the past four by the Bay by a combined score of 112-36. I’d hunch this one just inside the bet-line, though. Cardbirds aren’t that bad. In particular, Cacti bring a very solid run defense to present to Frank Gore.
Washington swept this NFC East series last season — with Robert Griffin III throwing for 304 yards and four TDs in Dallas — but this year finds RG III still off his rookie form and the Cowboys improved despite their record. Tony Romo threw for 500 yards in the shootout loss to Denver last week and could approach that stratosphere again in this prime-timer versus the Unmentionable Nicknames’ abysmal air defense. Big D has won 17 of past 21 at home in series, and that trends continues.
Indianapolis hosts Denver and the emotional return of Peyron Manning next week, so let’s find out how well the Colts set aside that distraction and deal with a Bolts squad that is typically inconsistent but good enough to win behind a hot-armed Philip Rivers. Monday nighter could be a good one. Give San-D a medium home-dog upset shot, but give me Andrew Luck in his MNF debut to pilot Indy’s road record to 3-0.