First things first: the older you get, the more you like Thanks-giving. That's true for a million reasons, not the least of which is:
1) Every year you can look around the table and not see an empty chair, that's a win. Not everyone gets that. Be thankful.
2) Any amount of family works. People you can't stand are coming over? They're probably bringing food, and will either watch the game and be tolerable or stay out of your way while you do that. No one's coming? Great, that means more food and less mess, or you can go eat on someone else's dime. Unless you're the most miserably alone SOB on the planet, it's a win. And even then, you've probably got the day off work.
3) I realize that I'm not the one cooking this, but the meal is pretty freaking easy. Yes, I like and notice when the turkey isn't bone-dry, and can tell a difference between a badly cooked meal and a good one. But if you give me a jar of store brand cranberry sauce with the can ridges in it, a pot of stuffing (perhaps the most neglected side dish ever; I could eat this stuff at every meal) that can be a straight from the box sodium bomb, and as many kinds of pie as you like (blueberry, cherry, apple, pumpkin, more; buy it from the store or bakery if baking isn't your thing), that's a great meal. As a people, we do not eat enough pie, or at least, I don't.
I could have Thanksgiving every week, really. And so could you. Unless you are going for some Martha Stewart Nightmare Bird, or are one of those people that need to serve your food with a heaping helping of lifestyle stress -- and if you are one of those people, for heaven's sake, STOP -- the cost is fairly trivial, and it's not as if The Good Silver and Plates are getting enough work. The fact that we don't eat like this more often is proof, not that we really need it, that we make life harder than it has to be on ourselves. And don't give me the nonsense that Thanksgiving is just our way of being morbidly obese; we do that 365 days a year.
Anyway, back to the reason you are here. Every year in the NFL, there are the following five consistent bitchfests. They are, in order:
1) The overtime rules are addled
2) The preseason is at best meaningless, and at worst, actively abhorrent
3) The announcers are mind-boggingly stupid
4) The NFL Network is right up there with puppy rape in terms of being an idea whose time has not come, and
5) Dear God In Heaven, get the freaking Detroit Lions off my television set every Thanksgiving.
Seeing how the calendar has reached Thanksgiving Week, we're now up to our usual annoyance with these games. But here's the real reason why the world hates the Lions in November: the game is always unwatchable, because they always get a tolerable or better team on the schedule.
Last Sunday, the 1-8 Lions faced the 1-8 Browns. It was only the best game of the weekend, assuming you like a back and forth pinball, QBs dodging medical personnel to complete the game winner, and all kinds of fantasy goodness for those brave or desperate enough to start everything but the defense. That was because football, when it is played by teams with equivalent talent levels, can be entertaining... while squash games, are, well, dull.
So keep Detroit in this game, but insist that they are playing a terrible, terrible team. No division rivals, no traditional powerhouses. You're telling me that the NFL is so kwa-zee that no one knows who the dog teams will be at the start of the year? I give you the perennial murderee's row of Oakland, Cleveland, San Francisco, St. Louis or Kansas City, or perhaps Seattle, since the last road game they showed up for was in 2005. Along with Detroit, do you think anyone in those markets was really counting on games in January?
So now that Detroit gets Designated Bunny... can we *stop* giving that team to Dallas? Look, I'll fix Thanksgiving in one moment: Detroit v. Oakland, Green Bay v. Dallas. Done. (As for the NFLN game, there are some things that are just beyond the powers of this column.) Go read the Dallas preview, and you'll see their recent history. It's as if the league really wants you to go watch your local high school team, or knows that you're going to be asleep from the post-meal turkey coma, and makes it want to seem OK.
So anyway, if we get a decent game this year, consider yourself blessed, and to be honest, it's probably better that we don't. When it comes to turkey week, football widows can be staring down the barrel of eight nationally televised games (the three on Thursday, the usual three that you get on Sunday from your local Fox and CBS affiliates, and the SNF/MNF tandem) to gorge yourself on. There just aren't that many good games to go around, and by having dogs on the holiday, the league is letting you look like less of a gambling / sports degenerate. Sure, honey, I can turn this game off! It's just a silly (unwatchable) game, after all. I'd love to spend more time with your mom!
And with that... on to the picks!
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GREEN BAY (+10.5) at Detroit
Last week at home against the Niners in the first half, Aaron Rodgers was not sacked. He threw for 275 yards. There is something of a correlation here, really. With the eventual (not covering, grr) win against the Mehners, the Pack moved to 6-4, right in the thick of wild-card consideration, which can only end with a third soul-crushing loss at the hands of Brett Favre and the Vikings. I think I just made Packer Fan toss his cheese.
This week, they get a de facto bye in Detroit, who appear to sincerely regret the win against Cleveland, given that it's going to cost them QB Matthew Stafford, and in response, WR Calvin Johnson is going to murder my fantasy team some more. How you go from 161 yards and a touchdown to questionable the next week, I'm not sure, but it's not as if Megatron should care about his only opportunity to shine for a national audience this year. This one will be Rodgers' national coming out party, and a continuing reminder of why no one really wants Daunte Culpepper to be their QB anymore.
Packers 41, Lions 20
Oakland at DALLAS (-14)
If the NFL were any more in the tank for the Cowboys, there would be an NC-17 rating. Remember holidays of yore, when the rookie Randy Moss Vikings came to town and treated Dallas like a used dishrag? Not recently, where the last three years have seen three Cowboy wins and a combined score of 106-22; the *closest* of those games was last year's 25-point squeaker over the Seahawks. (The other two world beaters? The Kellen Winslow Jets and the Bruce Gradkowski Bucs.) So there's your storyline for this one -- The Return Of Gradkowski!
Oakland can win this game if Dallas continues to take its offensive cues from the increasingly insane Jerruh Jones, who telegraphed last week's playcalling against the Redskins by demanding more touches for Felix Jones and Miles Austin. A dutiful running game followed, leading to QB Tony Romo taking 55 minutes to get loose, but since they were playing the godawful Redskins, it led to a 7-6 win that redefined ugliness in our time. I'm hoping that game will keep the point spread down to sanity, but even if it's not, I'm not going against the road team's tendency to take the confetti bucket. Especially when that team is Oakland, who likes to follow up their occasional wins with utter and complete gutlessness.
Cowboys 38, Raiders 9
NY GIANTS (+7) at Denver
The final turkey of the day will be in Denver, where the suddenly reeling Broncos host the Giants, who weren't quite as resurgent as expected in last week's survival win at home against the Falcons. In that game, QB Eli Manning went against his career-long trend of weak second half regular season sauce, thanks to quality weapons (WRs Steve Smith, Mario Manningham, and TE Kevin Boss) and a weak Falcons secondary. This week, weather permitting, he's going to benefit from more of the same, as the Broncos are starting to show their warts on defense, and will overcompensate on the running game, the way too many Giant opponents do these days.
On the other side of the ball, Denver is becoming a heck of a lot easier to defend these days, with rookie RB Knowshon Moreno having fumble issues, WR Brandon Marshall going back to diva status, and QB Kyle "Greatest Winner In NFL History" Orton being sadly limited by a recurring ankle injury. It's right up there with the injury history to Gale Sayers, in terms of being an unmistakable NFL tragedy. Along with this game, which has already moved two points for the favorite in just the few hours that it's been up.
Giants 27, Broncos 16
Tampa Bay at ATLANTA (-11.5)
A relatively little-known national fact about this Falcons team is that their schedule has been kind of insane. They have been home twice since Week 2 (!), and are 4-0 in home games, with wins over Miami, Carolina, Chicago and Washington. This week, they get a Bucs team that took an early lead against the Saints, then rolled over and died. I've been concerned about the Falcons, especially with RB Michael Turner out and QB Matt Ryan struggling, but when they had a chance to call it quits on the road in New York last week, they sacked up and forced overtime, a period in which their offense never touched the ball. The defensive secondary is still pretty bad, but the rest of the team seems to give a damn, and maybe I've just been underrating how hard the constant road work has been on them.
As for the Bucs, they put original starting QB Byron Leftwich on the IR today, haven't seen nearly enough of #1 WR Anotonio Bryant, have done the offensive coordinator hokey pokey, and lost nine out of ten games this year. And faced with the need for changes in that situation, they chose instead to talk about how RB Earnest Graham is going to get carries again... um, yeah. That's going to sell some tickets. It also doesn't help that the defensive secondary has been porous. The fantasy rebirth of Matt Ryan continues.
Atlanta 27, Bucs 13
MIAMI at Buffalo (+3.5)
Can RB Ricky Williams survive the rest of the year as a #1 back? That's really the question for this Dolphins team, who started the year 0-3 and are now 5-5 and dreaming of the playoffs. They get there by rushing for the 4th most yards in the NFL, leading to an above average points output, despite the 30th ranking in passing. Now, imagine this team if they had a real WR or two, and a QB with more experience. Give them another year or two, and I really do think this Dolphins team might be the best team in the division; they've got the line building blocks that make tolerable offensive weapons look great.
As for the home field Bills, they at least got fantasy killing WR Terrell Owens some numbers last week, while still losing (of course) to Jacksonville. I'm not seeing enough from new coach Perry "I Pity The" Fewell, mostly because Ryan Fitzpatrick and Trent Edwards are Detmers in disguise. It's also really depressing me that Owens hasn't done anything spectacularly loco this season. Do not go gentle into that good night, Terrible! You have a legacy to protect!
Dolphins 24, Bills 17
CLEVELAND at Cincinnati (-14)
I blame RB Cedric Benson for last week's loss in Oakland, despite the fact the The Entertainer did not even suit up for the game. The issue is that when your star players take games off due to the opponent being terrible, it just sends the wrong message. Benson might not have done anything meaningful against the Raiders, and he might not have been any better than his backups; I am not advocating for guys to go out and play when they could jeopardize their careers. But for optional injury moments, especially for a guy having the kind of charmed year that Benson is having, you suit up. Otherwise the rest of the team might think they can coast, too.
And guess what? They are going to do it again this week, too. The Bengals are just that capable of back to back naptimes, especially as their loss last week in Oakland didn't cost them at all, since the whole division tanked. Against a Browns team that probably gets up for the Battle of Ohio (in that passionless brain-dead football zombies can be said to be "up" for a game), that's going to provide far more interesting football than Bengal Fans wants to see. It's not exactly pulse-quickening, but when you are Cleveland Fan, you aren't looking for a pulse. You are just looking for a small spark of hope that the zombies wearing your laundry care a little, and might want to do so again next year.
As for the Browns... has a team ever mutinied on its coach in the middle of a game? Because I'm not quite getting why any professional football player would listen to a thing that Eric Mangini would tell them right now. At least they let QB Brady Quinn throw the ball more than five yards downfield last week, so the Browns resemble a football team again. Note: it's just a resemblance. (And such is my confidence in the Browns in covering that when the line is 14, I'm predicting a 13 point Bengal win. That's gambling speak for Garbage Time Suckout.)
Bengals 30, Browns 17
CAROLINA at NY Jets (-3)
Two teams going south, with quarterbacks that can't keep the ball away from the defense, and it's hard to see this game is going to wind up with anything other than a game-ending pick. So it comes down to which running back (Thomas Jones or DeAngelo Williams) gives his team the lead, and if the home field has any actual advantage for the Jets, given how their fans are staring down the barrel of yet another playoff-free year, despite very solid lines and secondary. You can see why these people are more than a little unhinged, really.
Every time the Panthers get close to .500, they spit the bit, mostly because they are a control study in how you far you can go with a QB that's just killing you. At least with the Jets, QB Mark Sanchez makes some plays with his feet, and is young enough to get better. And since Carolina is two games under, that makes them due, really.
As for this game, I like the Panther running game more than the Jets, and the home field isn't going to do them any favors. There's also this: WR Steve Smith, ever since Muhsin Muhammad came back, has resembled his old self. He won't do very much against Darelle Reavis, but it will be enough.
Panthers 24, Jets 17
Washington at PHILADELPHIA (-9.5)
In last week's war crime of a football game in Dallas, Redskins QB Jason Campbell answered a big question as to why his numbers aren't as terrible as you would expect from a team that scores as few points as DC NonUnited. On any long third down -- and thanks to sacks, a poor running game, and persistent penalties, they were plentiful -- the Dallas defense would send pressure and give him a free check down, and he'd take it. Sometimes without even the pressure, really. It was as if Campbell thinks that his weapons are Prime Era Jerry Rice or Jim Brown, and can be expected to run through a half dozen guys to the sticks. If you were a Redskins fan and watching this, the best you could say about this was that he was managing the game for field position, and considering that the Skins played 60 minutes in Dallas last week without an offensive touchdown, there really isn't much benefit to that. You throw ahead of the sticks, you are just running a maddening offense for the benefit of your personal stats.
And Fox talking head Troy Aikmann... fellated Campbell for his third down prowess in this game. No, really. I'm not making this up. I can only assume a recurring concussion issue, or that NFL announcers are required by law to do the deed for any quarterback that takes pre-game interviews, or doesn't throw picks.
Anyhoo... this game is always close, and the Eagles are just too young and beat-up to be trusted with a meaningful point spread. But on the other hand, TE Chris Cooley and RBs Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts are out, and the Redskins use a senior center bingo caller to call their plays. I know this is not news, but it's still kind of relevant. It's also somewhat telling that QB Donovan McNabb has been playing some of the best football of his life in the past few weeks, and while the Skins have a defense, he'll have plenty of chances to crack them, and for once this one won't be a nail biter. For anyone not looking at the cover.
Eagles 27, Redskins 16
Indianapolis at HOUSTON (+3.5)
On MNF, at home, off a bye, the Texans made a bid for You Crap The Bed by centering the ball for a 48 yard game trying field goal with eight seconds left on the clock, rather than trying to get the ball closer to the uprights. Head coach Gary Kubiak spent his final timeout in the most conservative fashion possible, rather than use WR Andre Johnson or any of their other weapons. And that's telling, really; instead of trying to win the game, Kubiak was trying not to lose it. And since his place kicker (Kris Brown, the sole Original Texan) is now shaky, having missed a big kick against the Colts a few weeks ago, there's really no reason to think he's long for this job, or that Texan Fan will mourn his passing in the least.
This week, they get the unbeaten Colts again, this time at home, in a game that's more or less an elimination game for their season. Indy just wins every week while somehow looking worse than ever; last week they needed a startlingly bad mistake from Ravens QB Joe Flacco to escape. And while it's hard to summon the courage to fellate Peyton Manning after everyone else in the world already has done it, here goes: Manning is winning every week with young and erratic skill players (Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie, whatever second tight end they trot out there when the opposition decides to sell out on Dallas Clark, Donald Brown) and line play that's far from pristine. In other words, he's got the exact same situation as Donovan McNabb, only with many fewer losses, and a Super Bowl ring. If he didn't routinely torture the Patriots, he'd be completely insufferable.
This point spread in this one is diabolical. The Colts don't seem interested in covering any more, but Houston is too gutless to actually call for the win. In other words, I hate everything about this pick, and consider the Houston Texans to be the single biggest reason why I'm not over .500 for the year.
And don't be swayed by the idea that someone needs to beat the Colts before the season ends so that we don't have two unbeaten teams playing in the Super Bowl. We actually kind of do; if for no other reason that it would finally put the 1973 Douchebag Dolphins into the Billy Miller Vault of Richly Deserved Obscurity. (And yes, Billy Miller is richly deserving in his obscurity, and not just because he's on the IR this year for the Saints. He's also the ex-record holder for "Donkey Kong", and the most hissable villain ever in the documentary "King of Kong." Go rent this, and you'll want to cave in his smug little greasy beard and mullet with a shovel. Good fun!)
Finally, there's this. Have you ever met a Saints or Colts fan? Do they even have the Internet there? In the scale of annoying fan bases, they don't even register.
Colts 31, Texans 28
SEATTLE at St. Louis (-1)
Does it seem to you that the NFC West teams all play each other four times a year, rather than two? That's because thinking about finding something to write about these games is so mentally draining, it's like writing two previews at once. Watching the actual games, of course, is more like spending a week in solitary; while the calendar says it's just seven days, your brain will treat it more like a year. A very, very, very bad year.
Adding to the eye crime in this one will be that starting Rams QB Marc Bulger, who has moments this year of actual footballery, will miss the game with one of his increasingly common injuries. Bulger needs to be airlifted out of this mess, given a clipboard for a decent team, and come in for some surprisingly competent relief work in Week 13 for a contender. You aren't telling me that he'd look completely rejuvenated throwing the ball in Houston during one of Matt Schaub's not fresh times, or that the Cardinals would look a lot more formidable with him behind Warner than Trustafarian Leinart? It's a no brainer. And so is Kyle Boller, who will remind everyone why a bad completion percentage in college becomes a bad completion percentage in the pros. So long as he hands it off to Stephen Jackson twenty five times, the world will give them a pass, because Stephen Jackson is the only player on the Rams that anyone outside of St. Louis cares about.
As for the Seabags... same old same old. They don't have an offensive line, so the decent QB and WRs are mostly theoretical. They also seem enamored with bringing back the incompetent walrus (Mike Holmgren, still somehow not on an ice floe) that helped drive the team to a state where, well, they have no offensive line. That'll work! If Bulger had played, I'd probably be picking against them, but Boller has powers. Powers of interception.
Seattle 24, St. Louis 16
Kansas City at SAN DIEGO (-14)
In the past month, the Chargers have embraced prosperity to the tune of a lead in the AFC West, and all that is left for them to do is to (a) pile up enough wins to make people forget that Norvalicious is coaching them, thereby making sure that they don't advance in the playoffs to their talent level, or (b) inexplicably cough up games to teams that should not be on the same field with them, to remind them of Noravlicious. Just know that, as a gambler, your bankroll is decided by such coin flips. Yay!
Thankfully, the Chiefs are going to overrule that little bit of nastiness by refusing to show up for two straight weeks, especially on the road. It's what bad teams, and bad organizations, do: fail to follow up, and/or overrate their big upsets as a sign that the tide has turned. I get that leaving Larry Johnson behind makes the Chiefs a million times less loserly, but they are still employing Chris Chambers, and if you think he's got a Vengeance Game in him, you probably also believe in Norv. Oh, and in other news, the Chiefs can't defend.
Chargers 34, Chiefs 16
JACKSONVILLE at San Francisco (-3.5)
Did you know that Jacksonville was 6-4 and with an inside track at a wildcard in the AFC? It's one of those state secrets, mostly because the Jags might fly under the radar more than any team in the NFL, and the biggest reason why Vegas somehow considers the 4-6 Niners to be an equal team in talent. If Maurice Jones-Drew wasn't a top fantasy RB, I'm not sure their games would even make highlight films, really, but the real key to this team (along with the fact that their schedule hasn't exactly been murderous) is that QB David Garrard has finally got a #1 WR in Mike Sims-Walker.
As for the Niners... well, if you can figure them out, you are better than me. They came out in Green Bay last week and were month-old milk awful, with absolutely no pressure on the QB and an offense that looked like it was going to set some historical records for ineptitude. Then they woke up, rallied to cover, and made me convinced that gambling is impossible. QB Alex Smith remembered that he had WR Michael Crabtree, and that's really a good thing to remember, considering that only terrible QBs make the TE the primary focus in their throwing game. If you feel really confident about either of these teams, you're probably reading this picks column just for amusement. (Which is to be recommended, really.)
Jaguars 23, Niners 17
ARIZONA at Tennessee (NL)
Another road test for those suddenly robust Cardinals, who gave fantasy owners only half a loaf of bountiful goodness last week in St. Louis, because QB Kurt Warner took a head shot and a seat. Reports seem to indicate that he'll play on Sunday, and if the Cards like their chances to win a playoff game, they'll block like gangbusters for the man, because whoa, nelly, Matt Leinart is terrible. And that leads me to one of those tangents that y'all read me for, at least in theory... whatever happened to the hot backp-up QB?
When I was a mere lad, you used to worry if the back-up came in, because he might be Don Strock or Matt Cavanugh or Joe Pisarcik or someone who could run more than the starting statue that they scraped off the carpet earlier. Hell, there were games, especially in those wackily prepared Buddy Ryan Eagles years, when I'd be pleading with the green guys on the television screen to ease the QB down *gently*, if for no other reason that I wanted to see more of him. The back-up was probably worse, but not always, and it rarely seemed to work out to the benefit of the defense.
Now? The mid-game QB replacement is almost always horrible; I do not remember the last game I saw where it worked. Maybe offenses are just so much more complex now, and the same for defenses, but realistically? I think it's because we've done so much to coddle QBs, and there really isn't so much danger to them (compare the injury rate between them and the other skill positions, and you'll see there is no comparison), that the clipboard carriers of the world just aren't preparing for the games in the way they used to. In any event, no one can convince me that Leinart has worked a day in his life more than he absolutely had to, or that he's really in any way annoyed at how his life is turning out. It's a mighty fine paycheck still, after all, and unlike Captain Jebus, his risk of concussion is pretty small. On the other side of the ball, Vince Young looked horrible until he had the official job and a bye week to prepare. Now? He's won four in a row and gotten the Lemur heads talking about his lifetime won-loss record. When, of course, he would have never lost the job in the first place had he simply been more, well, prepared for games.
Back to the game... Tennessee has won four in a row on the legs of RB Chris Johnson, who would be an MVP candidate if the Titans had simply started the year 2-4 or 1-5, rather than 0-6. The Titans need to run the table to give themselves a shot at the most improbable playoff year ever. Arizona just needs to go .500 for the last six games to win the NFC West with ease, but they've also still got dreams of a #2 seed. It should be a very tight and interesting game, and the Titans secondary is a lot better than they were in September and October.
Oh, and one final point: there's no line to this game because no one knows if Warner is playing yet. If he's not, I'm going to bitch about how writing a picks column early in the week costs me money. And if he doesn't play and the Cards still win, I won't mention it at all. That's Integrity you can bank on, my friends.
Cardinals 31, Titans 20
CHICAGO at Minnesota (-11)
Don't look now - seriously, you'll jinx it, and then you will never forgive yourself - but QB Brett Favre is having the best year of his life, and is a credible MVP candidate, especially if the unbeaten teams fall. (I'd go for Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Maurice Jones-Drew first.)
And while I can denigrate the accomplishment all I want by citing his kitteny schedule and rocking chair situation, at some point you just have to give the quitter his due. Favre managed to drop himself into the best situation for a QB of his age and skills, and he's going to get himself something rare and valuable for it; a chance to utterly and completely rip the hearts out of a new fanbase with a playoff meltdown that will be excused away by his media enablers. See, I'm really starting to get over my Favre problem!
In this game, he gets the Bear secondary, which isn't very good unless the Bear DL is providing major pressure. I keep thinking that Bear QB Jay Cutler will break through with a big game, and it's not like you can't throw on the Vikes... but having watched him all year, he's just a beaten man. For five to ten throws a game, he throws the prettiest ball in the league. The problem is that's not how the game works, but I'm counting on Traditional Division Nastiness to keep this one close enough for a cover. That, or a feel-nothing Cutler garbage time touchdown.
Vikings 27, Bears 20
PITTSBURGH at Baltimore (NL)
Here's a small NFL mystery: why the hell do the Steelers stink at special teams? It's a smart talent situation where they don't usually blow draft picks. There is athletic talent all over the roster. They generally always have good backup and developing linebackers. The coaching staff doesn't seem to make mistakes on any other side of the ball. While the kicker and punter don't wow you with distance, they do seem fairly consistent. And... they've given up 217 kick returns for touchdowns this year. (OK, I made that number up, and it's wrong. But I also own this defense / special teams in one of my fantasy leagues, and It Is Freaking Maddening to see them give up a touchdown every damn week.)
Assuming that coach Mike Tomlin just tells no contact kicker Jeff Reed to put it out of bounds every play -- tell me, Steeler Fan, if you would really be all that opposed to this plan at this point -- I like their chances to win this week. Baltimore isn't good on defense anymore, and I think Big Ben plays despite last Sunday's head problem. Recently (and eternally against the Steelers), the Ravens have struggled on offense. Besides, everybody knows that they will eventually commit enough dumb and/or questionable penalties to cost them the game in a close one. You know, just like every other time these teams play.
Steelers 24, Ravens 20
New England at NEW ORLEANS (-3)
Don't you kind of hate it when MNF is a big game? Sure, it's fun to be able to see it in isolation, but the usual ESPN fellatery just goes into plainly ridiculous. Drew Brees and Tom Brady could combine for eight picks in this game while strangling three cheerleaders (I'm giving Dreamboat the spare, as he just seems like the kind of guy that couldn't strangle just one), and color slobbers Jon Gruden and Ron Jaworski would praise their grit, throw the wideouts under the bus, and admire their skill with a belt. I just watched a MNF game in which orgasmic bliss was achieved when Titans center Kevin Mawae pulled to block a man. The World Wide Lemur would be wise to bring in drop cloths to the booth for this one. With spares.
Getting back to the game... a hidden reason for the Pats being 7-3 and scary again is that they have their running game under control again. Had they only, um, run it against the Colts on third down a few weeks ago, they would probably be 8-2, but I digress. When New England is going good, they succeed in the red zone by running, not passing; the Moss-Welker-Watson combo means that the line only has to handle an equivalent number of defenders for the win. RB Lawrence Maroney has scored in five straight games, and he's the Patriot equivalent of a victory cigar these days.
And despite that, I'm picking the Saints. Why? Well, and this is new... I am just not sold on Belichick in a close game anymore, and the Pats do not have the talent to make this a comfortable margin. If this game gets tight down the stretch, I trust Brees and Sean Payton more than the Empire. Especially when they employ S Darren Sharper to make the crucial back-breaking pick, and when they've got 70K Katrina survivors screaming their hearts out for the magic to continue.
Saints 34, Patriots 30
Last week: 9-7
Year to date: 76-80-3
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
First things first: the older you get, the more you like Thanks-giving. That's true for a million reasons, not the least of which is: