I keep waiting for the law of averages to rescue me. I keep waiting to have a big week just as the blind squirrel will happen upon an acorn by dumb luck. I keep waiting for God to feel sorry for my shame and intervene divinely. I’ll take anything at this point. Last week began and ended so well for me, with bull’s-eyes on outright upset calls Thursday (Vikes over Skins) and Monday (Bucs over Dolphs). In between I hit on Ravens’ upset of Bengals and very little else. My bad season finds no relief. Yet! I’m sad. But do I quit? I do not. [Note: Thursday-game pick was Colts (-3) over Titans, 24-20].
CHARGERS (4-5) AT DOLPHINS (4-5)
NFL Week 11 presents a huge game for a Dolphins squad trying to shake the stink of Bullygate and move on. It’s also an XXL-sized game in the AFC wild-card playoff chase, because, with a win here and two games still to play against the Jets, Miami would have regained a bit of command and control in the jockeying for that sixth spot. It won’t be easy, with Philip Rivers having as good a season as any QB not named Peyton or Drew, but I hunch the home-dog Dolphins here in an upset. Ryan Tannehill should see some open looks vs. a Chargers pass defense that allows 279.6 yards per game and a league-worst 104.3 opponent passer rating. (Neither does SD have the fearsome pass rush to take full advantage of Dolphins blocking woes). Also think Miami’s ground game should bounce back from last week’s 2-yard embarrassment against a Bolts run-D allowing 4.8 yards per carry. Trend heads will also like that Diego has lost all six trips to Miami since the teams’ famous Jan. 2, 1982, playoff game here won in overtime by the Chargers 41-38. As much as all that, I just feel like a Dolphins team gut-punched and derailed by Richie Incognito and strapped to a national media torture rack is due for something good to happen.
CHIEFS (9-0) AT BRONCOS (8-1)
Games of the Week have been iffy lately, the best of a tepid lot. Not this week. This is the Game of the Year to this point, a vintage contrast of a Peyton Manning-led Denver attack leading the league in scoring and a sack-minded Kansas City defense allowing the fewest points. You know how much Chiefs want this one because they’re playing WR Dwayne Bowe despite his recent pot bust. But KC’s best hope for an upset is to rattle and hound Manning and his gimpy ankle — a lot likelier since LT Ryan Clady was lost for the season. Chiefs can only win this game with at least a plus-2 on turnovers, which probably means interceptions. Andy Reid is 13-1 coming off byes, and I see this one closer than the betting line, but Peyton plus Broncs’ 5-0 home record will be too much to overcome. The last unbeaten falls. The ’72 Perfectos pop corks.
PATRIOTS (7-2) AT PANTHERS (6-3)
“AAAWWWK!” belts the Upset Bird. “Bill Belichick coming off a bye. Belichaawwk off a baaawwwk!” I’ve been predicting NFL games since men wore zoot suits, and can never remember the Patriots being an Upset of the Week pick before, possibly because the Pats are so seldom underdogs. This isn’t to diss the Panthers, who have won five straight by a 140-57 margin and are playing great defense. This is more in respect for New England, for Belichick with an extra week to prepare, for Tom Brady with his 13-4 record on Mondays, and for a veteran team more accustomed to prime time. “All valid points,” nods U-Bird. “Also like that Pats already have faced a few mobile QB attacks like Cam Newton’s. Cam Naaawwwk!”
FALCONS (2-7) AT BUCCANEERS (1-8)
Division games don’t get a lot worse. Tampa hasn’t stopped being sad just because it won a game, and Atlanta jousts Houston for the dubious title of the NFL’s most disappointing team. Falcs have lost three straight but Bucs look like a temporary remedy. ATL has won eight of past 10 in series including 31-23 on Oct. 20. Nervously, give me the better of two bads.
Jets tied NFL record by alternating wins and losses the first nine games. I like the chances of breaking the pattern. Rex Ryan is coming off a bye, and Planes have won seven of past eight over Bison including four of past five in Bufftown. (Good to see NYJ sign the old Cane Ed Reed, although his career tank seems just above ’E’).
This is a game I would watch. Chicago is missing injured QB Jay Cutler and a handful of defensive starters, but Josh McCown has filled in well and Bears have plenty left. The desperate Ravens’ disappointing ground game could come to life vs. a Chitown run-D that ranks 31st, but Baltimore’s 1-4 road record makes the defending Super Bowl champs a dicey pick.
Cincy has absorbed consecutive overtime losses during which Andy Dalton has slumped, but Bengals are 4-0 at home, and that should provide the needed lift. Gals used to own this state rivalry but Earthtones have won past two including 17-6 in September, and seek first series sweep since 2002. Won’t happen. Giovani Bernard will gouge Clevers’ run defense, and Cincy’s D will remind Jason Campbell he isn’t very good. Still like Brownies with the points, though.
Sometimes you bump into a trend that is so bizarre you know it HAS to end just because the law of averages are so overdue. Which brings us to Philly’s 10-game home losing streak including 0-4 this season. It is time. Give me a sizzling Nick Foles (16-0 on TDs/picks) and the NFL’s leading rusher (LeSean McCoy) against an Unmentionable Nicknames D giving up 32 points a game.
Steelers have a stout pass defense and Calvin Johnson (knee) seems to be a bona fide “questionable” after missing two days of practice. This is the basis of an admittedly risky upset pick. Detroit is alone atop division this late in season for first time in 14 years, but I like the home dogs. And I like Ben Roethlisberger to show his fans some love the week he strongly refuted a report he might ask for a trade after the season.
Jags finally got off the schneid last week but continues as a certifiably bad team that has been outscored 89-11 in its past three home games. Carson Palmer took a shot at Jags fans, saying he loves to play in front of big, hostile crowds on the road but wouldn’t get a chance this week. Like Zona outright but homies-with-points to stay close. Cacti are 1-3 on road.
Hey what a bad game! Our Dog of the Week runner-up finds Houston having lost seven in a row yet favored big, which tells you a little about Oakland. Texans placed Arian Foster on IR but get coach Gary Kubiak back after a health scare. Raiders are awful on the road and have nowhere to turn at QB, with Terrelle Pryor (questionable) in a bad slump and the alternative someone named “Matt McGloin.”
A Game of the Week-quality matchup marks San Fran’s first return to Superdome since last season’s Super Bowl. Maybe the Niners are hoping for another power outage to help them out. They will need help. Much as I respect SF, Drew Brees and his Cajuns are all but unstoppable at home. They’re 5-0 by the Bayou (by a 176-75 score), and Brees has two or more TD passes in 21 straight home games. That’s awesome.
What a weird game based on what this matchup would have looked like one month ago. The Giants were awful but have won three in a row. The Packers were really good but now their QB temporarily is not Aaron Rodgers but someone named “Scott Tolzien.” Benefit of doubt to Biggies at home, but still give Pack a large upset shot.
Let me count the ways. Seahawks 4-0 at home, Vikings 0-4 on road. Russell Wilson 12-0 at home, and now he has ex-Vikes WR Percy Harvin in his season debut. And Minny QB Christian Ponder questionable to play. Could be a blowout, yes. Like Purples with all those points, though. They’re proud and not that bad.