Enjoyed a modestly slump-busting 8-7 mark against the spread last week, highlighted by Texans-with-points in my Upset of the Week call (“Aawwk!”) and a rare exact score bull’s-eye in Packers’ 31-13 win. Make no mistake, though. I’m still trying to crawl up out of the commode for the season. I don’t kid myself. This isn’t just a rough start; not with the NFL bearing down on midseason. This is just plainly an off-year so far. My .561 winning percentage overall and my .397 vs. the betting line both are on pace to be my worst ever across 23 seasons doing this. Avoiding the shame of that double ignominy is what drives me now. It may be time to consider steroids. [Note: Thursday-game pick was Panthers (-6) over Buccaneers, 24-16].
DOLPHINS (3-3) at PATRIOTS (5-2)
First things first. The Patriots aren’t scary. Games at New England used to be, but no more. Not with Tom Brady’s passer rating sputtering at a mediocre 75.3. Not with injuries disheveling Bill Belichick’s defense to the point even the Jets rang up 30 on ’em last week. Three of the Pats’ wins have been by a combined eight points. Yes, this is a beatable team, even up there, and Miami will keep it close and has a medium-to-large outright upset shot. (Get ready. Here comes the ’but’). But having Rob Gronkowski back will drag Brady back into sync, a process that could accelerate Sunday against a Miami defense not renowned for defending tight ends very well. The Pats haven’t stopped being a strong home team, either. They’re 3-0 at The Fox this year, and on a 13-0 home run in AFC East games. Also, Team Hoodie has won six straight in this series, three straight losses have staggered the visitors’ confidence, and now error-prone Ryan Tannehill – seven INTs, four lost fumbles – is playing with his right shoulder at less than 100 percent. Pats may be far from a juggernaut, but they’re still playoff-strong, and Foxborough remains a tough place for teams still trying to figure things out to get well.
COWBOYS (4-3) at LIONS (4-3)
I know. “What a lame Game of the Week!” you’re thinking. Hey, I can’t help that Week 8 is light on heavyweight bouts. Is it my fault this is one of only two games (Jets-Bengals) in which both teams have winning records? Give this game its props. Tony Romo and Matthew Stafford make an entertaining shootout likely, and we have a neat little subplot in Dez Bryant saying this week, of Calvin Johnson, “I can do whatever he can do.” I’ll like Dez’s chances better if Calvin is out injured, which I sort of prefer, given my pick here. Upset! Cowboys a nifty 6-1 against the spread this year, and Romo has 300-plus yards in three straight wins over Motown. Make it four, please.
FALCONS (2-4) at CARDINALS (3-4)
“AAWWK!” booms the Upset Bird, soaring over the landscape dressed as a businessman, his Halloween outfit. “Bird Bowl! Atlantaaawwwk!” I am not sure the Falcons, traveled across country, will beat Arizona. I’m MORE sure that Cardinals QB Carson Palmer, of the 11 interceptions in his past five games, will beat Arizona. Two erratic teams make this a dicey call, but I like Steven Jackson, likely back from injury, vs. a Cacti run-D that has struggled lately. “Need some INTs from Palmer,” agrees a nodding U-Bird. “Carson Pickmore. Paaawwwk!”
49ERS (5-2) vs. JAGUARS (0-7) in London
The Clash sang “London Calling.” The sequel for this game would be “London Wincing” as Brits are forced to lay eyes on the NFL’s worst team, winless Jacksonville. I’m surprised Jaguar, the British luxury carmaker, has not sued for defamation by association. The Jags’ involvement in this game should be considered a deportation, as I doubt Jacksonville will take them back. This is King Sport’s eighth regular season game at Wembley Stadium, which at least gets to see one good team in San Fran. If you have Frank Gore on your fantasy team, smile. Ordinarily I love an underdog getting silly-big points like this, but there are exceptions. Come to think of it, English fans should appreciate the Jags, because their score here will remind Brits of a soccer match.
The very definition of a bad quarterbacking situation is when your team benches Brandon Weeden in favor of Jason Campbell as the ghost of Jeff Garcia bangs on your door trolling for a tryout. Poor Jason. The Brownouts have a bad O-line, and Kansas City has 35 sacks, which is on pace to break the 1984 Bears’ NFL record of 72. Chiefs aren’t as fierce with the ball, but Jamaal Charles is the first player since the 1975, pre-punch line O.J. Simpson to have at least 100 scrimmage yards and a TD in each of the first seven games. The Chiefs WILL lose. But not this week.
Miami last week made the Bills look much better than they are. Buffalo and Thad Lewis will do very little offensively here, especially if C.J. Spiller is out. And Drew Brees is 15-4 at home since the start of the 2011 season, with a 113.5 passer rating in that stretch. Saints also coming off a bye. That, the venue and Brees will be too much for the so-so Bison to overcome. Buffs are 5-2 vs. the spread and tempt getting double-digits, but I see N’Awlins with the Big Easy win.
Bizarre clash of trends here. Giants have lost eight road games in a row. Far weirder, Eagles have lost nine home games in a row. Which trend ends? Philly’s. Birds expect Mike Vick back, and have won eight of past 10 over Biggies including 36-21 just three weeks ago. LeSean McCoy was only 20-for-46 in that one, but return of Vick should open things up. Two bad defenses. Could be a WNBA score.
Bengals are the real deal as long as Andy Dalton minds the ball, and Jets are one of the pleasant surprises in the league so far, as much as it pains me to dole out grudging respect to Rex Ryan. Like Cincy at home to extend its three-game win streak, but the Vegas line feels plump. Planes have won nine of past 10 in series, and Rex’s defense makes you work for it.
Do I think Pittsburgh is “back” based on two straight wins? Nope. Do I think the Oaks are a solid home-’dog bet? Yeah. But two things jump out at me here. One is that the Raiders’ offensive line is horrible; Terrelle Pryor is a punching bag. The other is that Oakland is on an 0-10 run following bye weeks. This team just finds ways to lose.
This actually is my Game of the Week runnerup, because Broncos at home are always a fun watch, because Mike Shanahan returns to the city where he coached 14 seasons, and because Peyton Manning, Robert Griffin III and two beatable secondaries should make for one entertaining game. Rare that an NFL over/under gets this close to 60 points. Quick aside: Shanahan leads the league in beady eyes and exquisitive tans.
Ex-Packers WR Greg Jennings spent the offseason slamming Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers but said this week he was only joking. What a hoot! Think Rodgers will be pumped for this prime-time division match? Gee Bees also bring tough run-D against a not-healthy Adrian Peterson. I still like Purples at home to keep it close, though. Vikes get Christian Ponder back and are 16-14 vs. Cheesers in the Metrodome.
St. Louis loses QB Sam Bradford for the year to a knee injury and, faced with Kellen Clemens, desperately inquires about luring 44-year-old Brett Favre out of retirement. What, they couldn’t reach Joe Namath? Fun! Seattle is really good and about to get Percy Harvin back from injury, which is like Bill Gates getting a raise. But ’Hawks have lost two of past three trips to St. Lou, and I’m hunching the Archies keep this close.