Last week, very little went right with this column, and we gave back many of the gains that we made in the first three weeks. Between the Broncos, Steelers, Eagles, Cowboys and Bengals, we couldn't buy a break (and by break, we mean "game changing injury that came out after the picks were made"). Just one of the perils of a Thursday column, really.
Meanwhile, I stomped two of my three fantasy leagues, and would have been completely fine with the week had Correll Buckhalter simply gotten another yard.
The lesson, as always... if you simply have enough irons in the fire with the NFL, some of them have to come out for you. My choice is in CAPS. So enjoy, and on to the picks!
CHICAGO at Detroit (+3.5)
A classic trap game, if you believe in such things. The Bears were lucky to win last week and will be traveling to face a team coming off the bye. But I'm still going with the road team, because the Lions won't be able to run the ball against the Bears, and Jon Kitna will turn the ball over. Also, they are the Lions, and they suck.
Besides, and I hate to say this out loud... but Kyle Orton doesn't look like the worst quarterback in the league. He might even be the best one in this game.
Bears 24, Lions 17
Atlanta at GREEN BAY (No line)
This one's off the board because people don't know if Aaron Rodgers will play or not. Even if he doesn't, I like the Pack to win this one, as Ryan Grant finally (FINALLY) pays off for his fantasy league owners, most of whom are probably out of the running by now anyway.
The Packers could miss DL Cullen Jenkins in this game, which is worrisome given the good Falcons' running game. But I'm betting that Matt Ryan is just not ready to beat a good team on the road, and won't be for at least another year... and I really do suspect that Rodgers will play, and play well.
Packers 27, Falcons 16
SAN DIEGO at Miami (+6.5)
The Chargers come off a suck-out cover for the ages against the Kiffin-less Raiders, while the Dolphins sat home and watched that Patriot game film while giggling like schoolkids.
It's another one of those trap games that I don't quite buy, and I'm thinking the Dolphin defense will look more like the El Foldo outfit that got torched by the Cardinals, rather than the shutdown outfit that blanked the Patriots. (Why? Because Phillip Rivers can throw the ball more than 20 yards. Admittedly, not much more than that, but hey.)
Chargers 31, Dolphins 24
Seattle at NEW YORK GIANTS (-7.0)
A Seahawks team that never travels well meets a Giants team that's coming off a bye. At least they get to avoid the ugliness that is Plaxico Burress, who will be serving a one-game suspension for being Plaxico Burress, and they're getting closer to having actual wideouts. They'll also need to generate some turnovers against Eli Manning, especially because they really aren't going to be able to generate much on the ground with Julius Jones.
For the Giants, I think they eventually turn the Seahawks' line into hamburger with their three-headed running back attack. I also suspect Matt Hasselbeck will taste turf fairly often. But if the line were 10.5, I'd be tempted to go the other way.
Giants 28, Seahawks 20
WASHINGTON at Philadelphia (-6.0)
This line makes no sense. Washington has won three straight games, handling the Cowboys at home. The Eagles might still be without the services of Brian Westbrook. The Redskins have gotten better every week. The Eagles have been wildly up and down, with strong performance at home and weak efforts on the road. This series always produces close games, and the Eagles defense has been disturbingly generous to the passing game. I'm very afraid of Chris Cooley in this game, and the very rejuvenate Santana Moss might also produce. Remember, as well, that the 'Skins won last year in Philadelphia, so it's not like they can't do it again.
Having said all of that, I think this is the week that the Eagles' special teams makes a big play, and I don't think Clinton Portis runs for more than 60 yards in this game. So... a win, but no cover. No way.
Eagles 24, Redskins 20
KANSAS CITY at Carolina (-9.5)
Another line that I think is kind of nuts, in that Kansas City got frisky last week against the Broncos, and Larry Johnson got off the mat from his early lead as Fantasy Bust 2008. The betting public agrees, as it's moved down from 11 earlier in the week.
This Panthers team is prone to keeping a bad team around, and I don't really buy their running game enough to think that Jake Delhomme is going to have time all day. Damon Huard gives the Chiefs a little too much juice for a blowout.
Panthers 24, Chiefs 17
Tennessee at BALTIMORE (-3)
Another game where the starting line has moved significantly (from a pick'em game), as the public really isn't seeing a 5-0 Titans record, despite their extremely good defense, and a short week for the Ravens.
As I wrote in the Monday night round-up, I like this Ravens team more in defeat than I did in victory. Derrick Mason still has some jump, Joe Flacco looks like he's better than the average rookie, and fullback LaRon McClain is an absolute power running monster. For the Titans, Kerry Collins has given them some life in the wideouts, and the slow rollout of stud rookie running back Chris Johnson has given them exactly what they needed. It wouldn't stun me if both of these teams make the post-season, though neither of them should go deep.
Anyway, the pick... count on the Ravens defense to make a play or two, and for that to be the difference. If you like 1970s football with plenty of running, lots of hitting, and a game time of well less than three hours, this is your game of the week.
Ravens 17, Titans 13
INDIANAPOLIS at Houston (+3)
I like this Houston team, I really do. They covered last week in Jacksonville in one of my few good reads, and rookie back Steve Slaton is going to save my keeper league team from utter uselessness. But with the hurricane, the near-misses and the lack of emergence from the defense (what, is Mario Williams trying to go back from the assessment that he's better than Reggie Bush?), it's just not going to happen for them this year.
Especially with a Colts team that got the bye just when they needed it, with Jeff Saturday back from injury, and Dallas Clark rounding back into shape as well. This is the kind of game that Peyton Manning just doesn't lose, and the reason why the Colts win so many games, year after year.
Colts 31, Texans 24
Tampa Bay at DENVER (-3)
No one saw the loss to the Chiefs coming, really -- even though they seem to lose in Arrowhead every year -- and the Bucs looked extremely physical in taking out the Packers last week at home. But this is the kind of game where I think the road team really has trouble with pace and altitude, and if it gets to shootout, Brian Griese is Brian Griese.
I think Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal are good enough to expose the Tampa cover two, and for this to be the kind of loss that hurts the Bucs all year, as other teams use it to find weaknesses.
Oh, and there's also this: Mike Shanahan will know how to game plan for Griese. Even with this defense.
Broncos 34, Bucs 24
Cincinnati at DALLAS (-17)
Is there a line where you don't take the Cowboys in this game? Well, maybe... but it's not 17, especially if there's any more Ryan Fitzpatrick to be seen. The Cowboys are a little fragile right now, especially with the long-overdue return of Bad TO. (He comes out when the team loses. Y'all should have realized this by now.) Which really sets the bar high for Blowout; they are going to want to Prove A Point about what happened last week.
What's really going to crush this Bengal team isn't the passing game; it's the fact that last week's game proved to everyone that when the Cowboys forget about the running game and try to force the ball to Owens, they get a heck of a lot easier to defend. Expect to see 30+ carries for Barber and Felix Jones, 200+ yards on the ground, and a rested defense forcing turnovers.
There's also this: the Bengals are winless for a reason, and that reason is that they are gutless punks that will quit on contact. That's what happens when your talent department brings in people like Chris Henry and Cedric Benson. The corrupt take over. Marvin Lewis can't get fired fast enough, but it's really more of a Mike Brown problem.
Cowboys 38, Bengals 17
BUFFALO at Arizona (pick 'em)
Buffalo's magical schedule season continues with a road game in the desert against a Cardinals team that just looked helpless on defense against the Jets last week. Honestly, it's hard to overestimate how open the Jet receivers were in that game, and how there were, really, no bad choices of who to throw the ball to. Brett Favre went from a guy who didn't know the offense to a guy throwing six touchdowns. I trust Lehman Brothers more than I do the Cardinls' defense right now.
I don't see that getting fixed all of a sudden, but odd things do happen when East Coast teams go to Arizona. Also, it seems more likely than not that the Cardinals will be without the services of Anquan Boldin, who suffered a broken sinus in one of the scariest hits you'll ever see last week.
The Cards will score points anyway, because Kurt Warner is playing fine when he's given any kind of time to throw, and he'll get that at home. But I don't think they win. This one smells like one of those last-second Bills magic games, or similarly, a last second Neil Rackers miss. He's good at that.
Bills 28, Cardinals 27
NEW ENGLAND at San Francisco (+3)
You couldn't imagine this line at the start of the season, but much has happened, and it's hard to overstate just how badly the Patriots got crunched by the Dolphins at home before the bye.
The Niners have been frisky, with wins at Seattle and over Detroit, but they got exposed a bit on the road in New Orleans, and it's hard to imagine a Belichick team playing that badly after a bye week. Frank Gore could have a big game against the slow Pats linebackers, but the Niners can't protect JT O'Sullivan, and the Patriots' defensive line is still good.
If New England loses this game, you can forget about the postseason, but I don't see that happening. Keep an eye out to see how the visitors get Randy Moss involved, because he's well on his way to that Raider Era Nonchalance that can just kill a team...
Patriots 24, Niners 17
PITTSBURGH at Jacksonville (-4)
The Steelers were down to their last healthy running back (Mewelde Moore) before signing the sports blogosphere's darling, Najeh "My Obituary Has Already Been Written, And It Leads With Pooping In My Girlfriend's Hamper" Davenport. The Jaguars were a long Josh Scobee field goal away from starting 0-3; now, after an overtime win against the snakebitten Texans, they are 2-2 and poised to be a force in the surprisingly vulnerable AFC South.
The Steelers are as good as you can be when your offensive line is borderline horrible. Seriously, if Ben Rothlesberger wasn't good at escaping from pressure, this team would be DOA. The Jaguars are as good as you can be when your wideouts could appear on milk cartons. Neither team seems like what they should be, but both could easily pull it together in a down year for the AFC. Really, it's the most intriguing game on the slate this week; Titans-Ravens may have better records, but it'll be harder on the eyes.
The pick here is for the Steelers to cover, if not win, because the Jags are terrible about putting teams away. Also, the Steelers have good special teams, and this Jags' team isn't as good at stopping the run as they'll need to be.
Jaguars 27, Steelers 24
Minnesota at NEW ORLEANS (-3)
Desperation time for the 1-3 Vikings, who got taken apart by that Titans defense last week on the road. The Saints enjoyed home cooking against the Niners, and even resuscitated their running game with the return of Deuce McAllister. Saints QB Drew Brees is looking like a borderline MVP candidate this year, as he's put up huge numbers despite missing Marques Colston and Jeremy Shockey. I think it'll continue against the Vikings, who just don't have the firepower to keep up on the road.
Besides, if the Saints have a power running game (and, eventually, healthy front-line receivers), they might have the best offense in the league. Yes, that includes Denver, because I don't trust Denver to run the ball well, and the Cowboys, because I just think Brees and Colston are better than Romo and Owens.
Saints 28, Vikings 20
Last week: 4-9
Year to date: 33-27