Cleveland at Houston (-11)
Analysis: Houston escaped last week in what amounted to a trap game against the Jaguars. Another potential trap spot looms here against Cleveland, although the Texans are 4-2 lifetime vs. the Browns. Andre Johnson might miss this one again and the Texans may feel that at this point, doing just enough to get by is sufficient. The Browns don’t put up a ton of points which also makes them a dangerous selection, but Houston, like Atlanta, seems to be the type of team to let its guard down in a game like this, so I don’t foresee a blowout here. The pick: Browns.
Miami at Kansas City (-4.5)
Analysis: The Chiefs truly pulled one out of the hat last week against San Diego, but you won’t hear Todd Haley or his lucky beard complaining. Winners of four straight after an 0-3 start, Kansas City is tied for first atop the AFC West with Oakland and San Diego and now gets the winless Dolphins. Miami put up a good fight against the Giants last week and doesn’t appear woeful enough to go 0-16 this year, but Arrowhead is a tough spot to get off the mat and with the Chiefs riding some momentum, they should have enough to get by in what doesn’t figure to be an easy one. The pick: Chiefs.
New York Jets at Buffalo (-1)
Analysis: Who would have thought this would be such a big game? The Bills continue to surprise at 5-2, while the 4-3 Jets are simply looking to notch their first road win of 2011. New York needs this game desperately with another Patriots showdown looming next week, and Buffalo hasn’t exactly faced many elite defenses this year. The Jets’ defense isn’t quite elite, but better than what the Bills have seen, and that could be the difference here. How well the Bills run the ball will be telling, as the Jets seem to have gotten their ground game going after a slow start. This one figures to be a tussle either way, but Gang Green may have just enough with an added sense of urgency to pull off the road win. The pick: Jets.
San Francisco (-3.5) at Washington
Analysis: How quickly things have changed for the Redskins. Once 3-1, the inevitable has happened: the quarterback quandary has caught up with them. John Beck was sacked nine times last week and the Mike Shanahan suffered the first shutout loss of his entire coaching career, 23-0. The 49ers are a stunning 6-1 despite Alex Smith not exactly lighting it up, although he has been efficient. Still, this could be a trap spot with the Giants looming and another long east coast trip for a 49ers team that has already played three games in the Eastern time zone this year. Washington should at the very least keep this one competitive, and an upset is possible is they can force Alex Smith into a turnover or two (always a possibility). The pick: Redskins.
Seattle at Dallas (-11.5)
Analysis: The Cowboys suddenly can’t buy a close game. After 11 straight decided by four points or less, they have been on both ends of a 34-7 score the past two games. Now they get the Seahawks and their anemic offense coming to Big D. Seattle has reverted to, well, Seattle, after a shocking upset win at the Giants in Week 5. Dallas needs to play with a sense of urgency after falling to 3-4, two games back of the Giants in the NFC East. With a tough schedule looming, this has to be a game where they step it up against one of the league’s punching bags. The pick: Cowboys.
Tampa Bay at New Orleans (-9)
Analysis: The oddsmakers seem to love the Saints and their high-flying offense despite the fact that they lost to woeful, winless Rams last week. They also lost to Tampa Bay just three weeks ago in a painful game that saw head coach Sean Payton suffer a broken leg. The Bucs are coming off their bye following the London game, a close loss to the Bears, but the Saints should be feeling the heat even more. They lead the 4-3 Bucs by a half-game atop the NFC South, but it’s clear that their defense isn’t where it needs to be. Tampa Bay has some serious injury issues at running back, putting more pressure on Josh Freeman, who threw four picks against the Bears. New Orleans should bounce back with the win, but this is a rivalry game and a good one at that, meaning a nailbiter is to be expected. The pick: Buccaneers.
Cincinnati at Tennessee (-2.5)
Analysis: Anyone seen Chris Johnson this year? His massive contract has not led to massive production, yet the Titans are a respectable and surprising 4-3. But no one is more surprising than the 5-2 Bengals, who now face a “donut” game with the Steelers looming next Sunday. Andy Dalton has been efficient and Cedric Benson has run well, but the story is the outstanding play of the fourth-ranked defense. The Titans are in the third game of a three-game homestand and sit just one game out of first in the AFC South, but the Bengals are making believers every week and have a chance to prove even more people wrong in this spot. The Titans, to their credit, have found a way to win some games despite not getting much from Johnson, but are a very up-and-down team that is hard to trust. The pick: Bengals.
Denver at Oakland (-7.5)
Analysis: Boy was I a victim of drinking the Tebow-mania cool aid last week. One 35-point loss later, my upset special was officially a bust, and Tebow has been shredded like scratch paper in the media. The Broncos lost at home opening night to Oakland, 23-20, and were blasted in two meetings last year by a combined score of 98-37. Denver’s one glimmer of hope is if Carson Palmer falls flat on his face as he did before the bye in the team’s unsightly 28-0 loss to Kansas City, and Darren McFadden will likely miss this game. A blowout is possible, but with things not quite settled in Raider Nation just yet, the Broncos could have just enough to hang around in his old-fashioned AFC West rivalry game. Just a hunch and maybe a bad one, but perhaps the Broncos owe it to me after last week to put up more of a fight. The pick: Broncos.
Green Bay (-6) at San Diego
Analysis: What a typical Norv Turner loss last week. The undisciplined Chargers are as embarrassing a 4-3 team as I have ever witnessed, never ceasing to amaze in finding new ways to shoot themselves in the foot. So a perfect time to welcome the undefeated Packers into town, right? Teams haven’t been overly sharp off byes this year, and Green Bay has a few issues to sort out on defense, but they are catching the overhyped Bolts at just the right time. Aaron Rodgers could have yet another big day against a defense that doesn’t seem to make big plays when they count most, and with Philip Rivers struggling the way he is, San Diego will be hard-pressed to match the Pack score for score. They could keep this one close, as they are the type of team to always do just enough to lose the game in the end, but the Packers should have enough to stay perfect. The pick: Packers.
New York Giants at New England (-9)
Analysis: It may only take a few minutes in this one for the Giants to stop resting on their laurels of Super Bowl XLII. The Patriots rarely lose two in a row (only twice since 2002, in fact), and are 29-2 in their last 31 regular-season games against NFC foes. Giants fans have to be concerned about the team’s recent homestand, in which they lost to the lowly Seahawks and narrowly avoided defeat against the winless Dolphins. New England usually not only comes back from a loss, but does so with authority. The Giants’ pass-rush definitely could have an impact, and New England’s defense is suspect, but Bill Belichick will have plenty of ways to expose Eli Manning and an up-and-down New York defense. It would be foolish to expect a major blowout, but the Patriots shouldn’t struggle with a Giants team entering a murderous portion of their schedule. The pick: Patriots.
St. Louis at Arizona (-2.5)
Analysis: The Rams are 1-6, but must feel like they are 6-1. Not having exceeded 16 points in any of their first six games, they hung 31 on the Saints last week and now find themselves only tied for last with 1-6 Arizona, losers of six straight. Sam Bradford could sit this one out again, but Arizona has to be feeling awful after letting a 24-3 lead in Baltimore slip away. The Rams got a major game from Steven Jackson last week and should lean heavily on him again. Kevin Kolb also could miss this week’s game, meaning an affair already expected to be ugly could get even more unsightly. St. Louis, undefeated since their Cardinals won the World Series, should have enough to keep the Arizona Cardinals feeling snakebit. The pick: Rams.
Baltimore at Pittsburgh (-3)
Analysis: This truly is a bloodbath. Playing twice and sometimes thrice a year, the Ravens and Steelers beat each other up like street fighters. In Week 1, the Ravens forced seven turnovers in a 35-7 rout to exact some revenge from their playoff loss last season. But the Steelers have won six of seven since, and the Ravens offense has yet to get untracked in a loss to Jacksonville and lucky escape against Arizona. Though this should be a tight one as usual, but momentum and quarterback favor Pittsburgh. Hate to do it but… The pick: Steelers
Chicago at Philadelphia (-7.5)
Analysis: The Bears are coming off their bye after a win in London over the Bucs and should have confidence coming in after beating the Eagles last season, because they have the defensive speed to contain the electric Michael Vick and Matt Forte, unhappy with his current contract but running like a man who intends to get paid, could pose problems for the Philly defense. The key, as usual, is Jay Cutler, but if he avoids the turnovers, the Bears have enough juice to make this a real game. Should be a good Monday nighter on the heels of a nailbiter last week between the Bolts and Chiefs. The pick: Bears.
Upset of the Week: REDSKINS over 49ERS. San Francisco makes its fourth trip to the Eastern time zone, where they are 3-0 this year, but it’s the Redskins with their desperate backs against the wall. The 49ers have plenty of margin for error here and could be looking ahead to playing the Giants next week. The Bears are also a candidate, but it’s hard to pick against the Eagles as they have gotten on a bit of a roll.