Good thing there’s Sunday. After bombing Thursday’s pick, it’s time to get back over .500 in a week featuring a number of key divisional and intraconference showdowns. Several divisions could see a changing of the guard, most notably the AFC East, where the Jets are looking to unseat the hated Patriots.
Last week: 6-8
Arizona at Philadelphia (-14)
Analysis: It appears as if Kevin Kolb’s homecoming won’t happen, meaning John Skelton gets to face the slumping, underachieving Eagles. Philadelphia’s playoff hopes are already in jeopardy so a loss here is not an option. Still, giving 14 points to a team with all the pressure on them is risky, so it may be presumptuous to expect a blowout. The pick: Cardinals.
Buffalo at Dallas (-5.5)
Analysis: It won’t conjure up memories of their 90’s Super Bowl clashes, but the 5-3 Bills and 4-4 Cowboys are two teams in desperate need of a win. The Bills choked away a 24-13 lead to Dallas on Monday night in 2007 despite six Cowboys turnovers, so maybe this is a time for retribution, but Dallas’ defense will make life tough for Buffalo. A close game should be expected, as the Cowboys struggled to get by Seattle last week. The pick: Bills.
Denver at Kansas City (-3)
Analysis: Tebow Mania is back! Okay, not really. But the Broncos, at 3-5, are just a game and a half out of first despite all their troubles. Kansas City got spanked by the winless Dolphins and now enter the finale of a three-game homestand. With a Monday night visit to New England looming, the Chiefs better not let this one slip away. It won’t be easy, but they should survive Denver. The pick: Chiefs.
Houston (-3) at Tampa Bay
Analysis: Houston has never been 6-3, let alone made the playoffs. They can smell the AFC South being a game and a half up, and they may be catching the Bucs at just the right time, as Tampa Bay is starting to press at 4-4. With a bevvy of running back injuries, the Texans’ own Arian Foster could steal the show here. The pick: Texans.
Jacksonville (-3) at Indianapolis
Analysis: The Jags have lost 9 of 12 to the Colts despite always playing them tough, but these are not your older brother’s Colts. Indy hasn’t been 0-9 since Jim Harbaugh and Paul Justin were tagteaming the 97 Colts. But if not now, when? The Colts don’t have many patsies left on their schedule, so the time may have to be now. The pick: Colts.
New Orleans at Atlanta (pick)
Analysis: Usually the road team has good success in this series between two dome teams, but the Falcons are quietly on a roll having won three straight. The Saints are up-and-down despite being in first, but ultimately Michael Turner may be the man to tip the scales in Atlanta’s favor. The pick: Falcons.
Pittsburgh (-3) at Cincinnati
Analysis: I like the sound of “third-place Steelers”, but don’t expect it to last. The Bengals and rookie quarterback Andy Dalton now enter the meat of their schedule, with a trip to Baltimore looming. Scoring points could prove treacherous against a Steelers team that has won eight of its last nine at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals should be able to pressure Big Ben, but the Ohio native always seems to have the magic at the end and the Steelers are steaming mad from letting one get away against the Ravens last Sunday night. The pick: Steelers.
St. Louis at Cleveland (-3)
Analysis: The Rams and the Cardinals did everything in their power to not win last week, but the Rams’ will was simply too strong in the end. At 1-7, St. Louis is scuffling on offense and going nowhere fast, but they won’t get any sympathy from the Browns. Cleveland is in a similar predicament, so if you thought last week’s St. Louis-Arizona tilt was a snoozer, wait till you watch this one. The pick: Rams.
Tennessee at Carolina (-3.5)
Analysis: Once upon a time in 2003, the Panthers were undefeated when the Titans came to town and spanked them to the tune of 37-17. But Cam Newton is proving he is a cut above Jake Delhomme, and the Panthers, who have already matched last year’s 2-win total, deserve a breakout game in a season of close losses. The Titans and slumping running back Chris Johnson — he of the massive contract and minimal contribution — are playing over their heads at 4-4. The pick: Panthers.
Washington at Miami (-4)
Analysis: Miami finally won a game last week, romping the Chiefs 31-3 at Arrowhead, but unfortunately they have to be at home now where they’ve lost 12 of 13. Plenty of Redskins fans will be on hand to watch their lowly team, losers of four straight, and the red-hot Dolphins are licking their chops, but since when does a 1-7 team deserve to be four-point favorites? The pick: Redskins.
Baltimore (-6.5) at Seattle
Analysis: Hopefully Baltimore learned its lesson to not let the exuberation of beating the Steelers linger when they fell flat on their face in Tennessee. The Seahawks, at 2-6, have a win over the Giants on the road under their belts, always play tough at home, but Baltimore has no excuse to let Tarvaris Jackson pick them apart the way former Seahawk Hasselbeck did in Week 2. The pick: Ravens.
Detroit at Chicago (-2.5)
Analysis: Calvin Johnson returns to Soldier Field, where he and all Lions fans are still convinced he caught the winning touchdown in Week 1 last year. The Lions exacted some revenge in winning the Monday night meeting in Week 5, 24-13, but they are red-hot on the road in winning six straight after losing the previous 26. The Bears are playing on a short week and at home for the first time since leaving for London after Week 6, but the Lions have a chance to create some distance for second place in the NFC North and should seize this opportunity. The pick: Lions.
New York Giants at San Francisco (-3)
Analysis: Alex Smith vs. Eli Manning in a game with first-round bye implications??!? Believe it, and it will happen, as Michael Strahan once said. These two teams have a great playoff history, and this one should shape up to be a good one, but the Giants are rolling off their comeback win at the Patriots and always thrive on the road, and Alex Smith may be under duress all day against Big Blue’s pass rush. The other shoe has to drop eventually for the Niners, doesn’t it? The pick: Giants.
New England at New York Jets (-2)
Analysis: The Patriots haven’t lost three straight since 2002, which also happens to be the last time the Jets won the AFC East. New York is out for revenge this time after losing in Foxborough, 30-21 in Week 5, as they have a chance to make a statement in the division. But it’s just hard to imagine Bill Belichick’s club dropping three straight, even if Sexy Rexy would love nothing more. The pick: Patriots.
Minnesota at Green Bay (-13.5)
Analysis: Christian Ponder has a solid debut against Green Bay three weeks ago, but Aaron Rodgers is simply on fire right now. The Vikings are actually 4-4 in their last eight trips to Lambeau Field including a playoff win (the Randy Moss “mooning” game), but unless Adrian Peterson goes off the charts, Green Bay will stay unbeaten. 16-0 is starting to look like a real possibility. The pick: Packers.
Upset of the Week: COLTS over JAGUARS. There weren’t a ton of candidates considering that 11 of Sunday’s 15 games had spreads of four points or less. But again for the Colts, if not now, when? Indy still has some top-notch players on its roster, so Curtis Painter simply needs to take care of the football and let the Colts’ overexposed defense put some pressure on Jags rookie Blaine Gabbert.
Analysis: The underwhelming AFC West leaders both desperately need a win here, but the pressure is more on the Chargers here as they have lost three straight and Philip Rivers is playing arguably the worst football of his career. Carson Palmer now has a couple games under his belt, but he still does not look comfortable in the offense, and the Raiders suffered a major letdown in the second half against Denver last week. Oakland did sweep San Diego last year for the first time since 2000, but this spot seems reminiscent of 2008 when the reeling Chargers’ season was all but over at 4-8 when the Raiders came to town on a short week. San Diego won that game 34-7 (I had a nice view from the nosebleed seats of Qualcomm Stadium) and ended up winning out to finish 8-8 and capture the AFC West crown. The key injury here is Darren McFadden, as the Raiders running back is saddled with an ankle injury suffered Oct. 23 and won’t play in this one. San Diego is always dangerous to give away seven points with, but they need this one badly with the sky falling, so they should have just enough to cover the points here. The pick: Chargers.