(At right, NFL contact lenses, for the ultimate in sports fan myopia.)
In the first two weeks of the season, the Giants, Jets and Eagles have combined to go 0-6. A major cheating scandal has erupted in one of the league's marquee teams, the Patriots. Last year's feel-good story, the Saints, have also gone 0-2 and looked bad doing it. The league is filled with parity, with 2-0 teams like Houston, Denver, Green Bay, San Francisco, Detroit and Washington looking like they have glaring holes, and suspected powerhouses like San Diego and Chicago looking much worse than last year. Offenses have been behind defenses for the most part, and many of the league's showcase games have been something of a snore.
If this were the NBA, I am utterly certain that the stories in the mainstream media would be how the league was in turmoil and in trouble, especially with the vital New York / Philadelphia megalopolis having no good teams, and how the league has never recovered from ten years ago, when Big Star X walked the earth like a god. Oh, and that foreign or young players are ruining offense, and that the players were Out of Control.
If this were MLB, the story would be how incompetent commissioner-for-life Bud Selig was failing to confront a cheating scandal that is rocking the foundations of his sport, and how this just proved there was a double standard between rich cheaters and poor teams that didn't have enough money for video cameras and operators. Also, that too many teams had weakened talent to the point where any team could get off to a fast start.
In the NFL... it's wild and unpredictable! Low scores are proof of strong defenses! There can never be anything but a continuing happy talk of coverage, because we just love football so much, we're positively Pravda-esque about it! And that's a good thing! Wear the merch contact lenses and see the happiness all around you!
OK, maybe there are faint stirrings of discontent, most of them circling around resentment of the Patriots. But if the New York teams stink, the world and league will go on; they don't even have a team in Los Angeles, so what do they care about markets for? Green Bay has a team in a city with fewer people many suburbs. It doesn't matter. Put a team in Antarctica if you like, so long as they play their games on Eastern or Pacific time, and their players' numbers count the same in our fantasy leagues.
That, Nation, is a double standard, and violates the law of markets: things that can not continue will not. But then again on the Pravda tip, let's also consider how complicit the media that covers the NFL is. Will ESPN, NBC, CBS or FOX slag the game that drives their biggest ratings? Will ABC, which owns ESPN? Consider, as well, the media tentacles and consolidation, where seven companies control 95% of the stuff you'll read or see on the television.
No, folks, the sad fact is that the only people who will tell you that the NFL season so far has been a dry and chokey biscuit made out of something you don't want to think too hard about are, well, your fellow NFL fans. Also, blogs like this one.
And those blogs are much more likely to notice if their team is 0-2, and their picks record is sub-.500 against the spread. (Whistles loudly, looks around sheepishly)
Anyway... it's not like the badness is going to keep us from watching now, is it? On with the picks!
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Colts covering (6) over TEXANS. Will the earth cease to rotate on its axis with a 3-0 Texans start? Is this really what the AFC South is going to consider as a Big Division Game this year? Or will the home team get a bit exposed, as they usually do, to Peyton's pre-snap machinations? We're taking just the latter, thanks, under the theory that if Matt Schwab was really this good, he's have done more in the games he played in Atlanta. But as one of the last best hopes for the Western World to avoid the Cheatriot Menance, it'd be nice to see the defending champs show up and kick sand in the home team's faces.
NEW ENGLAND covering (16.5!) over Bills. Should any NFL team, in any matchup, get a 16.5 point spread? Probably not, but this is the 19-0 Patriots we're talking about here, the team that Bill Simmons says that anyone who bet with the Chargers last week "you should have known better." You're gosh darn right, Bill -- anyone who goes against your team isn't only stupid, but shameful. And I, for one, am never going to let it happen again. From now on, Any point spread, any game, we're taking the Pats, because they're just an epoch-shattering orgasm of football goodness and proof that there is no comeuppance for the wicked in this side of the grave. 19-0, baby! Cancel the rest of the season now, so the team has more time to enjoy their Super Bowl Rings!
(Also, this -- the Steelers could have been up 20 on this Bills' team in the first half last week, and teams have finally figured out that covering that Evans guy is just about all you have to do to stop the Bills. Finally, there's this: if Coach Nixon is so beyond the pale as to cheat in every possible way short of having his players tackle opponents near the sideline like heel wrestlers in a lumberjack match, you think he's not going to run up the score, too? Let's face it: Bill is a gas mask away from being the football equivalent of Dennis Hopper's character in "Blue Velvet" right now.)
JETS covering (3) over Dolphins. What do the Dolphins have to do to convince the oddsmakers that they are, in fact, a terrible team? Let's see, we've got the rookie head coach who is burying the only possible plus RB on the roster, the most overrated WR in football, a washed-up and not mobile QB, and a defense that while good, is not looking too spry. They've got six wins written all over them, and yet they are only a three point road dog to a team that was a drop or two away from beating a tolerable Ravens team on the road last week. I don't get it.
Besides, some New York team has to win this year, right, or has the Mangenius angered some supernatural element (no, not God -- I'm thinking Satan, really) for daring to blow the whistle on the Cheatriots? In any event, we're taking the Jets.
Lions as an (6) underdog against the EAGLES. This is my official Costanza Pick, where I do the opposite of what I want because going with my worst idea seems to be the only way to get above water. Besides, God healed Jon Kitna last week in time for Him (Kitna that is, though if God was personally involved, perhaps Jon is now better addressed as The Lion Messiah) to beat the Vikings in a game that we're thinking the Allmighty was watching because He (God, that is, and not Kitna) clearly enjoys slapstick.
Anyway, the Eagles can't get much worse in the red zone then they've been so far this year; maybe they'll remember that they have the only really good RB in this game and use him. I'm still not taking them because they've got the shorter week and the Linc is not a good place for an 0-2 home team. BOOOOOOO.
STEELERS cover (9) against the Niners. Our second Big Undefeated Exposure game comes when the Niners bring their one-point wire winning act to Steely McBeamy town. While the Bay team may enjoy the radical tolerance showed by the Steel City (keep chasing that rainbow!), they're not going to enjoy a Steeler attack that would have really wiped the floor with the Bills last week with only marginal competence in the red zone. The best realistic thing that can happen for the Niners in this game is to lose but score points, and start to get some of their confidence in Alex Smith back. It just doesn't seem very likely to me.
TAMPA BAY covers (3.5) against the Rams. St. Louis is 0-2, doesn't have their dominant offensive lineman, and is facing a suddenly explosive Garcia-to-Galloway tandem that shocked the Saints last week. Expect more of the same here, as the Bucs defense enjoys the September good times and keeps Stephen Jackson in check, and the Rams WRs are confined to underneath routes against the aging but still effective 2 deep zone. This is one of those games that if they played it in December in St. Louis, I'd think the Rams would win by double digits... but on a slow grass track while the Bucs defense is still feeling like football players instead of glue factory nags, this is not the right matchup for them. And with every game like this one, Jon Gruden buys more time to torture Chris Simms.
San Diego covers (5) against GREEN BAY. Yes, we know, Norv Turner Is So Stupid, He Can Even Ruin LaDanian Tomlinson, and the Rivers/Brees combo that looked so good last year is shinola now. Brett Favre has clearly drank from the Fountain of Youth, and the Packers defense has spent eight quarters on the field making the NFC East curl into the fetal position. But remember, kids, the NFC is the junior league, and since the Packers' biggest strength this year is at CB until Woodson and Harris start slowing down with wear and tear, even Norv Wiggums will get the hint and work on getting Antonio Gates going this week. I see a lot of Chargers sacking Favre and forcing turnovers, and the Chargers looking like themselves again. If only for a little while.
Arizona covers (8) as a road dog against the RAVENS. I may be the only person in America not named Boller who feels this way, but I don't think Steve McNair gives this Ravens team their best chance to win this year. At this point in his career, he's a caretaker quarterback, which should be enough when you've got a dominant defense like the Ravens do... but there's one problem with that, which is that the Ravens haven't played all that great on defense yet. I don't think the Cards are good enough to pull off the upset, but a cheap late TD to make the number? That's why all the fantasy nerds in the house love the Cards.
Minnesota as a (3) road dog against the CHIEFS. The Vikes are a single player away from playoff contention. Unfortunately, that player is at quarterback, which is a real problem in a tough setting at Arrowhead. Maybe LJ finally breaks out and does something in this game, but I'm betting this one will be ugly all over, with the Vikings DL eventually making the turnover play that winds up making them a cover-your-eyes winner. The Vikes are kind of a control study to see how good a team can be without WRs or QBs - fascinating, but only if you don't have to actually watch it. (See the Atlanta Falcons for past precedent.)
OAKLAND (3) as a road favorite over those always entertaining Browns. The Raiders are maybe the best 0-2 team on the board in terms of line play, with a defense that could be dangerous if they ever got help. In both Raiders games this year, their offensive line did enough to move the ball on the ground. So why haven't they run more? Because NFL coaches are a stubborn lot who need to win Their Way... and possibly because Monte Kiffin knows he's playing for next year anyway, so he might as well call plays that are more developmental than Lamont Jordan left, right and center. Meanwhile for the Browns... I have no idea which offense shows up in this game, but my head tells me that Derek Anderson is not Dan Fouts. Expect this game to be in the teens.
SEATTLE (3.5) as a home favorite over the Bengals. Which Bengals D shows up - the ridiculously generous folks who burned the canny types that played them against the moribund Browns, or the Week 1 ballhawkers that made Steve McNair look old and obsolete? Probably closer to the former, especially in a road game against perhaps the best home crowd in the NFL. The number looks low until you realize that the Hawks gagged up a game at home last week to those ever imposing Cardinals. NFL Parity Is Fantastic!
DENVER (3) covers at home against Jacksonville. Last week upset special (Falcons to cover and possibly win on the road in Jacksonville) actually came to fruition, as the Falcons hung tough all day against the play-at-your-level Jags. The Broncos have been more lucky than good with two game-winning FGs in their first two games, but against a Jags team that has shown no evidence of good coaching in close games to date, we're going with the home team. This is also about the point in the season where Maurice Jones-Drew is going to come very cheap from the guys that reached for him in their drafts...
ATLANTA (3.5) working as a home dog against Carolina. Possibly the last game of the Harrington Era in Atlanta, who signed Byron Leftwich this week to a deal where he promises to not become fast, inaccurate, or a sadistic and pathologically stupid criminal. Lord Byron's turn will come, but not this week, as the Falcons use home field and a patient play calling attack to take and keep an early lead. How the Panthers still get the ball to Steve Smith is nothing short of a miracle, really... and while CB DeAngelo Hall is overrated, he's not untalented. I'm thinking it's time for Jake Delhomme to blow a game and remind everyone that he's, well, Jake Delhomme.
WASHINGTON (3.5) working as a home favorite against the Giants. How are you supposed to take the Giants when they drop their home opener by 20+ points to the Brett Favre Packers? You don't, especially when all of the Giant QBs seem to be wearing the latest in Opposing Blitzer for this fall's hottest new accessory. (And as a side note, the Jared Lorenzon bangwagon still has good seats available.) After this game, expect the always sober DC sports (and blogger) media to anoint Jason Campbell as the greatest QB Messiah Not Named Kitna.
Dallas covers (3) as a road dog in Chicago. Another in a series of "Gosh, if Rex Grossman can't score a lot of points in this game, can Chicago ever win with him?" games. Right now, they win more with Devin Hester than anything else. As for Dallas, they look to be the class of the NFC East, but they don't award titles in September, and they one inevitable TO Incident away from having a lot of problems. But for now, it's time to throw your guns in the air and get down with your bad selves. (Oh, and keep a special eye on Tank Johnson's performance this week. You'll need to, because he actually kinda sucks, not that anyone should, you know, tell him. Not a good man to annoy, really.)
NEW ORLEANS (4.5) as a home favorite against the Titans. It's getting late in the day for the Saints to look worthwhile, but a little home cooking against a Titans team that I just can't believe in, under the MNF lights, sounds like a cure for what ails them. Then again, so did a Bucs game last week. I'm just going to keep picking against the Titans until someone gets it right. And if there was anyway where I could beat the over on Hurricane Katrina mentions in this telecast from the pathologically not present Tony Kornheiser... that's be my lock of the week, assuming the number was 20 or less. Hell, make it 30.
Last Week: 6-9-1
Friday, September 21, 2007
(At right, NFL contact lenses, for the ultimate in sports fan myopia.)