Monday, November 30, 2009

NFL Week 12: You Crap The Bed

This week on You Crap, we're brought to you by Japanese Toilets, the perfect gift for everyone on your Christmas shopping list who wants their bowel movements to be a baffling and expensive ordeal. Once you've dropped a bomb on one of these, you'll never want to commit a war crime on anything less!

You all know how to play the game. Each week, we give you the chance to out-think people who are actually paid to make NFL decisions. Now, let's all play... You Crap The Bed!

1) You are Eagles coach Andy Reid. Facing the last place Redskins at home, you lose the opening coin toss. You choose to:

a) Kick it deep, because the Redskins are a terrible team that does not need any chance of a hot start

b) Kick it really deep, because place kicker David Akers has been putting the ball in the end zone fairly routinely this year, and your kickoff coverage has been quietly terrible recently, and needs every yard it can get

c) No, seriously, kick it deep, because you really can't take the risk that, even if you catch the Redskins off guard with an onside kick, that you can feel good about the chances that your rookie-infested special teams will execute the recovery perfectly

d) Squib or pooch it, I suppose, and give yourselves the chance of recovering the kick without giving up debilitating field position to start the game

e) Try an onside kick, because even though the new NFL rules have made that play mostly impossible now, they won't be expecting it, it worked once ten years ago in Dallas, and it allows the mouth breathers on Fox (Darryl Johnson, Tony Siragusa) to fellate you about how much guts you have

If you choose (e), preferably while stalking the sidelines like a bear with constipation, congratulations... you crapped the bed! And you've won a fast hole against a terrible opponent, the knowledge that you're going to spend most of the day dicking around with a terrible team, and the full-throated booing of a fan base with 49 years and counting of self-fulfilling negativity. Well done!

But not to be outcrapped, in the very same game...

2) You are Redskins bystander Jim Zorn, offensive bingo caller Sherman Lewis, or whatever theoretical human calls plays for this train wreck. You are down 27-24 to the Eagles on the road, having blown an eight point fourth quarter lead. On first down, QB Jason Campbell is nearly killed by the Eagles pass rush on a slow developing pass play that goes incomplete. On second down, Campbell and TE Fred Davis fail to connect on a deep post. On third and 10 from your 15 with 1:33 left, Campbell is barely able to get the ball to WR Antwan Randle-El, who nearly gets the first down to prolong the game, but is tripped up a half a yard from the sticks.

On fourth and one at your own 25 with 1:25 left, you choose to:

a) Run a QB draw to make sure you get the first down, especially since the pass rush has been mostly coming from the edge

b) Run a just plain draw, maybe to RB Quinton Gaither, who has 5 carries for 32 yards and has looked like your fastest back today

c) Throw a quick out to TE Davis, who is always open, given that he is a pass catching TE that is playing the Eagles

d) Honestly, just run it; you need to keep the game alive and give yourself a chance; it's not as if you are completely out of time, or need to do anything more than get 40 yards to give yourself a shot at the tying field goal, or

e) Throw a slow developing middle zone pass to WR Santana Moss, because it's not as if the Eagles aren't usually terrific at taking away the #1 option, or that the Eagles have been getting a ton of pressure

If you chose (e), preferably while looking around the stadium like you were trying to find a lost child at the mall, congratulations... you crapped the bed! And you've won a game-ending incomplete from pressure, yet another terrible loss in a season filled with them, and the perverse happiness of many people in your fan base, who are actively rooting against your team at this point. Either that, or the sweet embrace of death. Golf clap, whoever you are!

3) You are Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin, or offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. In overtime on the road in Baltimore, you are starting third-string QB Dennis Dixon, who has been nearly picked on several occasions late in the game, but has not turned it over. With 10:14 left in overtime after the teams exchanged punts, you have a third and five at midfield. You choose to:

a) Hand it off to RB Rashard Mendenhall, who has 24 carries for 95 yards and has looked strong in the late going against a defense that might be tiring, and knowing that a punt in this situation is not fatal, seeing how there's ten minutes left in overtime

b) Call a QB draw for Dixon, who scored on a 24- yard bootleg to give you the lead in the fourth quarter, and clearly has good quicks

c) Throw a safe bubble screen to WRs Hines Ward or Santonio Holmes, both of which have been effective in this game

d) Try something mildly tricky, like an end around or shuffle pass, that has a reasonable chance at getting five yards but not a massive INT risk, or

e) Drop back Dixon in the same kind of formation and throw that has almost been picked on multiple occasions in the second half, maybe to ice-cold TE Heath Miller (1 catch for 2 yards)

If you chose (e), all while proving that your Super Bowl hangover year means that you somehow finish games worse than even Baltimore, congratulations... you crapped the bed! And you've won a game-changing interception and return on a terrible mistake by Dixon, the increasing likelihood that you are going to have to sweat out all 17 weeks just to get a wildcard, and the knowledge that you could have left BMore absolutely dead and buried with a road win from a back-up, only to let them off the hook. Bravo!

Well, I'm afraid that's all we have time for this week. But remember, with a little fiber, determination and inspiration -- or the abject horror that is when freakishly invasive Japanese technology meets your digestive system -- you too can... Crap The Bed! Good night, everybody!

NESW Drop: Enemies List Vol. 4

Your weekly dose of hate gives you the second straight Bud Attack. This Bud, I think you've heard of. There's also my first words on L'Affaire Le Tigre, aka Mr. Woods Gets Eldrickish.

As always, it's worth your click, link, and devotion, if for no other reason than we need to show love for Dick Nixon. (Look him up on Wikipedia, youngsters. He's worth knowing.)

A very small note of site bidness

If you've been reading this blog through the mirrored and edited feed at the Bleacher Report, that relationship has been terminated. So, um, stop.

And if you are a blogger that's been thinking about allowing that site to use your content, don't. I let it run for six months with nearly no boost to traffic; it's a pointless and unpaid way to build someone else's brand, all while enduring frequently clueless editor comments. It's a waste of time.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled program.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Top 10 NFL Week 12 Ad Notes

10) Why is Steve Young so angry about who gets into the NFL Hall of Fame? (I'm betting it has something to do with him having to wear that blazer.)

9) Is the biggest reason why I should choose DirecTV the distasteful nature of cable executives and installers, since that seems to be their most consistent advertising message?

8) Does eating Tostitos make you start hearing slow talking and vapid voices in your head?

7) Why, exactly, should your theoretical preference for one male model over another in an emo vampire movie dictate your choice of fast food?

6) Why does the Jeep ad that talks about how much better Jeep owners are fail to show the vehicle until the last five seconds, or the face of any Jeep owner?

5) Isn't Nuvifone making you slower than everyone else kind of like becoming a voluntary imbecile?

4) Is it really a hardship to not be sitting near people who are eating a McDonald's breakfast?

3) Do I have to talk like an idiot to eat at Outback Steakhouse?

2) Does drinking Bud Light cause a complete lack of knowledge about what is effective or acceptable public behavior?

1) Will owning an iPod Nano make me become an insufferable narcissist?

Eagles - Redskins Notes

> If you didn't know the standings of the teams coming into the game, you'd have thought that the Eagles were the team with the terrible record. An onside kick, going for it on fourth down twice in the first 12 minutes of game play, two QB draw plays with the backup... it didn't exactly scream out confidence in your personnel. Or that Cap'n Andy was expecting anything but a 60-minute hairpull, despite the Redskins being, well, terrible. And he got exactly what he expected.

> Fox pointed out how everyone was playing the run on a third and one QB draw by Michael Vick. In other words, Washington has actually watched the tape of the 2009 Philadelphia Eagles.

> In re Redskins QB Jason Campbell, I've just never been scared of a QB who reads plays off a wristband. It looks like a little kid who hasn't studied for a test.

> How you keep a bad team around: do not defend third down, and make the opponent's touchdowns downright easy. I had hopes of the defense gelling in the stretch run, like they've done many times before in the Reid Era, but it's overstating the case to think they looked like that today. Once the offense turned the tide, perhaps. But they'll need more than that to win playoff games.

> Fox cited the Redskins injuries, and yes, they've been decimated. But it's kind of telling that so many games are lost to bad franchises. You see this a lot in the NBA; guys that find the training room more interesting than the field in a lost year. If it walks like a dog and barks like a dog, and routinely blows fourth quarter leads...

> Did you have 10 minutes left in the second quarter for Sav Rocca's first terrible punt of the day in your pool? I had the time right, but the wrong quarter. It's so hard to win that bet. And thanks to Eldra Buckley for a remarkably dumb 15 yard penalty to make that one more memorable. It takes a team wide effort to look like a worse team than the Redskins.

> Don't forget that Campbell to Eagles CB Asante Samuel, with two picks in the late going in the second quarter, is your margin of victory today. Yes, Washington is really bad.

> With nine seconds left in the half, the Redskins recovered a squib kick and gave themselves a chance at the Hail Mary, but couldn't keep Trent Cole from a speed sack of Campbell. Is there a more dispiriting play for an offense than a sack against prevent coverage? I say no. Or, at least, hope so.

> Of course Redskins TE Fred Davis registered his longest career catch and an eventual touchdown today. Can we please draft for this next year, Capn Andy? We finally got that #1 WR problem taken care of. Hope springs eternal for a stud LB.

> Down to a terrible team with the defense taking third downs off, Fox's Darryl Johnston talked about how the crowd wasn't into the game. Well, when you give up 8 of 10 third down conversions, and your laundry is playing its annual inexplicably awful game against the division's poor stepchild, it's not exactly a good thing to watch. Honest. And if I had a dollar for all of the missed tackles today, the blogging would be very lucrative indeed.

> Notable: TE Brent Celek not making the play on three straight catchable balls. What is, "What a young and inconsistent offensive team does, Alex?"

> Did you enjoy Johnston's mouth job for the Skins offensive line before their fourth false start penalty, followed by a holding call that prevented a first down? I know I did.

> After yet another drop by Celek, McNabb was hit while throwing to set up a pick, and we're well in the range of this game being over. Utterly maddening, but at least Washington was too paranoid of turnovers to get the killshot touchdown. Hey, there are coaches that are worse than whatever is managing the Skins these days!

> Does any announcing team praise players for moments in plays that are wiped out by penalty more than Fox? Perhaps head trauma is contaigous.

> McNabb finally stopped throwing it to Celek, and the result was three straight throws to the surprisingly emerging Avant, two of which netted 68 yards. Unfortunately, that also led to Avant being on the ground. Man, I hate Redskins games.

> Vick on a rollout missed Celek by a mile, and I'm pretty sure that Eagle Fan has had just about enough of Vick by now. McCoy then took over for a screen, run, and first, followed by a huge hole for Weaver to get it to the one. Eldra Buckley is the short yardage back of the week that isn't Leonard Weaver, and two straight plays get a big fat nothing. The utterly unsurprising play action to Celek failed, and yes, Eagle Fan, you have seen this movie before; thankfully, a Skins penalty kept this from being fourth down. I want to play poker with Andy Reid. I'm pretty sure I could get a read on him. Or that he'd keep asking the table what hands are the best.

> Finally, Green tried Buckley off to the side, and the left side executed for six. An utterly maddening timeout to discuss the two-point conversion call followed, because the team clearly couldn't think ahead for a wildly important play call, but Shady McCoy refused to let that happen with a fantastic play for the conversion on a shuffle pass. Just unreal balance there, play of the day. If he doesn't make it, maybe Green still wins this game, but I'm not sure; it brought the Mo Men Tum in a big way.

> Good kickoff coverage continued the wave, and after a ridiculously easy deep out, the defense got a stop. The offense then did everything but win it by taking four minutes off the clock and setting up the chip shot field goal. Notable on the drive were a number of strong runs from McCoy and Weaver, then a fantastic sideline fly to Maclin; there is no doubt in my mind that Donovan's playing some of his best ball ever right now. On a third and five, he throws a perfect dart to Maclin that moved the chains, ate three Washington timeouts, and got the ball in close, and he also had the presence of mind to slide on a failed rollout to keep the clock moving. Akers converted to give them the lead, 27-24, with 1:48 left.

> After an outstanding kickoff from Akers, and coverage from Moises Fokou, the Skins started at their own 16 with 104 seconds left and no timeouts. Heavy pressure on Campbell forced an incomplete on first, as Cole continued to own his matchup. Davis was open on a deep slant on second and ten, but couldn't bring it in. A blitz doesn't quite get there on third and ten, but a saving tackle forced a fourth down, and the Skins inexplicably seemed to forget that they needed a yard to keep the game alive. The refs turned a blind eye to a possible roughing the passer call, mostly, one suspects, because they were too offended by the stupidity to give them another chance, and that was that. 27-24, Green.

> As with any escape win, especially at home, it's hard to feel too great about the game, if for no other reason then there was a disturbing amount of things that need to get better, and shouldn't look like that in late November. Vick, Rocca, Celek, Trotter and Reid all had big lapses in this game that would have just killed them against a good team. But a win is a win is a win, Redskin Fan continues to have Big Misery, and they are still in contention for the division and wildcard. There's also the fact that their QB is playing some of the best football of his life, and so long as that's true, they've got a puncher's chance, especially if the skill players make plays. Moving on...

To AI Or Not To AI

Much hullabaloo on the Intertubes and locally about why the Sixers should sign the freely available Allen Iverson. So let's break it down.

The Case For

1) He'd fill some seats. The Sixers have the second lowest attendance in the NBA; only the utterly terrible Memphis Grizzlies draw fewer people. This doesn't mean that the town has soured on basketball, but the simple fact of the matter is that you can't give away seats right now. Elton Brand ain't filling the stands, and while Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young have talent, no one is stopping the world to go see them.

2) He'd win some games.
Iverson is, at this point, an insulted man playing for his legacy, with his back against the wall. That's usually a great combination for his value, and even in the few games that he played in Memphis before auto-ejecting, he shot for a high percentage.

3) He'd be interesting.
This site hasn't spent a word on the Sixers since the start of the regular season, and it's actually getting hard to find them on the cable channels, outside of the NBA cable package. Even if the team blows with him, Iverson remains compelling, if only for the fact that there probably hasn't been a more genuinely emotional player in the league during his time.

4) He's not Willie Green or Royal Ivey, and Lou Williams is out. Right now, the Sixers starts Iguodala and Jrue Holiday, the 19 (!) year old number one pick from UCLA who is shooting 34.8% from the floor. Before Williams' injury, Holiday hadn't played more than 15 minutes in any game, for a team that's 5-11. And, um, Green and Ivey are terrible players who should not be in the NBA. Green especially, in that he's played an unconscionable amount of minutes for this team over the years, for no good reason at all.

5) You could make the playoffs with him. At 5-11, the Sixers are three games out of the #8 slot (Chicago, 6-8), and that's important to this franchise. Especially in this economy, and who knows; you could catch lighting or injuries in a bottle. This franchise is guilty of many things, but tanking isn't one of them.

6) He's motivated. The entire Association has washed their hands of him. No one is calling. I'm just a wee bit excited, really, at seeing what Enormously Dissed AI is capable of. Aren't you?

The Case Against

1) He really wouldn't fill seats
. The history of pro hoop in Philadelphia is simple: if you have a good team, you sell tickets. If you don't, you don't. Even 2001 AI is not getting this team to win a playoff series, and it's not as if the place was jumping in his last days here. We love him, but not unconditionally.

2) He probably isn't winning games. Even at his peak, AI was a defensive problem, with all of his value coming from gambling for steals. He still gets a couple of these a game, but you can absolutely murder him in the post, and he's not stopping anyone one on one. Offensively, he gets his numbers and helps other people get to the glass, but he also dominates the ball and tends to limit the effectiveness of his teammates. It's rare that any perimeter superstar is a win at age 34, and AI doesn't do anything to solve the Sixers' consistent problem for the last 15 years (high percentage three point shooting).

3) He's not all that interesting. People remember the glory years of AI, especially in relation to the current yawnathon. But the AI you are getting today looks a lot more like the '05 and '06 model, which didn't go to the playoffs or provide any terribly meaningful moment.

4) He'd slow, or prevent, the development of the young players. If the Sixers are actually going to become a good team, they will only do it with remarkable development from the young players (Young, Maresse Speights, Williams and Holiday). Maybe these guys are bad basketball players with no real chance of developing into top drawer talents; that's certainly the best odds, really. But those odds are still better than a high minutes, high volume speed guard leading them to glory in his mid 30s.

5) You could make the playoffs with him, and lose fast. The last time AI was on a team that won a playoff series? 2003. That's not changing this year, either.

6) Why would this be any different than his last three stops? Dissing AI is not exactly a recent phenomenon, and both the Sixers and Nuggets got a lot better in the short term after getting rid of him. There is an ever-increasing amount of evidence that you just can't win with him.

As a blogger and unrepentant AI fan, I can't say that I'd hate the signing. Ideally, he gives them a boost for a couple of months, gets them back to near a .500 record, and makes them better by allowing Holiday and Williams to learn how to draw contact and get to the line. It's also hard to see how 70 more games of this is going to do much.

Finally, however, I wind up on the side of a signing, for just one reason. Iverson is, for good or ill, one of the best players in the history of the franchise; he is also the favorite player in franchise history for a large portion of the fan base. When you have a player like that, and the end of his career goes badly, it doesn't just demean his legacy. It also takes down the laundry.

One of my favorite players in the history of team was shooting guard Andrew Toney, a key part of the '83 Moses championship. He had the quickest first step in the league, routinely devoured Danny Ainge and Celtics in ways that delivered orgasmic levels of happiness, and had a shooting style that looked like a cobra strike. His career was cut short by foot issues and fights with the team's medical staff, and what should have been a borderline Hall of Fame career was just gone, lost in fading memories, just another set of numbers on a historical record.

AI's impact -- the cultural shift, the infamous media moments, the cornrows, the jersey sales -- ensures that won't happen to the same extent. But it does happen. An Iverson return, and maybe a false spring of wins and playoff contention, might stop that. And what it costs, given that we're talking about a year that's already looking lost, just doesn't matter that much. I'd do the deal.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Random Thanksgiving Game Notes

I didn't have complete attention to the second and third games on the day, as I was hosting in-laws and wrangling kids, but here goes.

> Cowboys RB Tashard Choice seems to have the 2008 Felix Jones role of looking good on limited carries. This means that he'll get too much hype as a breakout candidate in 2010 and under-deliver, but honestly, if I managed the Cowboys, you'd see a lot less Marion Barber.

> The Raiders actually looked like a football team for portions of this game today, but when your QB is Bruce Gradkowski and your WRs are a half dozen guys that won't be in the league in five years, you are not exactly working with a net.

> I suppose even the greats are allowed to have off days, but has the Nmandi Asomugha Era ended? Dallas WR Miles Austin had a monster day today, and it wasn't a case of Asomugha working on Roy Williams; many of the plays were in front of the man. Considering how much Austin has been erased in the last few weeks against other top corners, you have to wonder if the Nmandi Era is starting to end. And just when I had finally learned how to spell his name. I think.

> I've been waiting all year for Giants RB Brandon Jacobs to show up and play well. I think we can stop waiting. If you want a power back to dance in the hole and lose yards, he's your man.

> Broncos WR Brandon Marshall may be a diva, a bonehead, and a team cancer. He might also be the best in the game, at least when he's bringing the "A" game. He made a one-handed catch on a sideline fly pattern tonight that was sick, sick, sick.

> The Broncos were at home, playing crisply, with good defense and special teams, against a Giants team that didn't seem interested. And in the fourth, they were only up 10 points. You can keep your Game Manager QBs, folks... but at least QB Kyle Orton was able to hit a ridiculously wide open Brandon Stokely for the clinching TD.

> I went 2-1 on picks today, and I'd like to apologize for the one. The Giants came into this game whining about the trip and schedule, and with a terrible red zone defense and troublesome at best running game, I should have gotten over my Orton hate and gone with the home dogs. From having watched this game tonight (I don't get NFLN, but being close enough to NY to be considered that market, I did get the game), I could not have been less impressed. It's possible that the Giants are worse then the Redskins, really.

> A small but nice note for Eagle Fans: Brian Dawkins played great in this game, and so did Correll Buckhalter. I'm imagining that they were pretty up for this game. And will be when they come to Philadelphia in a few weeks.

> Bronco RB Knowshon Moreno is the real deal, and TE Tony Scheffler has surprising quicks for a big white guy. Either that, or the Giants are just terrible. Very, very possible.

> Finally, with the loss, the Giants fall to 6-5, which means that an Eagle win on Sunday gives them a game lead over them for the wildcard, and a possible two-game lead over the next best record (Atlanta). If you are thinking that the NFC is entirely about the top two seeds right now, you'd be absolutely right, but a lot can change in two months.

All We Are Saying...

is Josh McDaniels is a potty mouth. (And NFLN doesn't edit.)

Packers-Lions Thanksgiving Game Notes

> Is it me, or was Detroit Fan never into this game, even when they had a lead and the Packers looked like they were going to sleep through this? I bow to your wisdom, Lion Fan. Of course, you did go to this game in the first place.

> In my judgment, there is no way that a black guy was ever involved, in any way, with the Jimmy Football ads for Bud Light.

> Packers TE Jeremichal Finley drew a flag from taking a helmet into the chin. There was a recent piece in the Wall Street Journal, I think, where the writer proposed the idea that if there were no helmets, we'd have a much safer game, since defensive players wouldn't hit with it. Compared to, say, rugby players and Aussie footballers, the danger to concussion is just much greater. It's an intriguing idea, even if that level of change in a game that doesn't seem broken will never happen. Finley then shook off the hit, came back in, and drew another 15 yarder on the very next play for a horse collar. Why do the Lions hate Finley so much?

> Why did Fox play the Monty Python theme music as background for the messages from soldiers? Is there a danger of them being squashed by a giant foot?

> With 38 seconds left in the third, Aaron Rodgers to James Jones ended all suspense, and we are treated to Joe Buck and Troy Aikmann trying to give a crap about their idiotic Thanksgiving trophy. That sound you heard was America switching off to porn, and Lions Fan going to get the paint thinner to huff. And once again, the Lions have made America hate this idiotic tradition...

> With 2:16 left, the refs overturn a dubious fumble call, basically to end garbage time, or maybe just to stop Lions QB Matthew Stafford from getting hurt. That's a mercy killing right there, though Calvin Johnson's fantasy owners didn't think so.

> On a fourth and five from the Lions 36 with 40 seconds left, the Pack take a delay penalty and punt to be sporting. Dammit, Mason Crosby *needs* to practice his distance field goals, you jerks. (The fact that I own Crosby in a league? Immaterial.)

> Someone tell me again why Detroit plays every Thanksgiving? Or why we can't schedule them against Oakland every year, and have the game done by interns and recent journalism school grads? It's not like the ratings would change, and if we just do the stupid thing long enough, it'll be a tradition. And therefore unstoppable!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

NFL Picks Week 12: Fixing The Best Holiday of the Year

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!

* * * * *

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

Monday, November 23, 2009

NESW Drop: Enemies List Vol. 3

This week's festival of hate takes to task a nice collection of people who should know better, and do not. It is well worth your click, so go and do that, OK?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Eagles - Bears Notes

> And we're back to the game that has been the most miserable one for Eagle Fans: SNF. The record for the laundry in this game is downright atrocious, right up there with their record in close games. Any night game loss involves sleeplessness and hate. So let's have at it!

> The first third down for the Eagles is a third and one, and we got the first big play of Michael Vick's career, as he went for 35 yards from absolute pancake blocks from Winston Justice and Leonard Weaver. I'm not saying that the outcome of the play surprised me, but it's 2009's first "Holy Crap!" scream at the television. Knock me over with a feather. Sanity intrudes with red zone failure, and it's 3-0 Green.

> The first Bear drive ended on one of those breathtakingly bad wideout screens where Devin Hester had to make a half dozen guys miss, and he wound up losing three yards on the play. I get that bubble screens are all the rage, but when that play fails, it fails hard.

> The second Eagles drive was prolonged with a 15-yard face mask on a third down pass rush, and maybe I'm old, but it's hard to see how the defense is supposed to avoid that sort of thing, really. You are coming at a million miles an hour, trying to stop the opposing QB from prolonging the play, keeping your hands up to deflect a pass... and well, the face mask is right there. I think I liked the NFL better when the ref had the 5 and 15 yard flags for discretion.

> In the first 14 offensive play calls of the game, the Eagles had 7 rushes and 7 passes. Actual time of possession being won... and then a really nice screen for Jason Avant, who is having his first back to back good game, and Green went up by 10. Who said I hate SNF?

> On the next drive, Jay Cutler missed two very open receivers (the first being TE Greg Olsen, the second being Hester) in the end zone on 30 yard fly patterns, and the Bears settled for a Robbie Gould figgie. In other news, I am facing Matt Fore, Olsen, Hester and Gould in various H2H fantasy leagues. Have I mentioned that I hate fantasy football?

> I missed a good chunk of the second quarter for kidcare responsibilities, and that's probably all to the good, given how the Bear offense had 160 yards in that quarter, and the Eagles turned it over twice. But at least they kept the lead, even if I'm convinced that they are going to end the game by playing offensive players on defense, simply because all of the defensive players are hurt.

> Somewhere out there in this world, there is someone who is genuinely amused by the "Tailgating Innovations" segment in the NBC SNF halftime show. They live in a mental institution, and are deserving of your charity. Dan Patrick and Tony Dungy, not so much.

> Did you have early in the third quarter for Sav Rocca's weekly gut-bustingly awful punt? I had the second quarter. Dammit, I never win pools.

> Have I mentioned how much I hate fantasy football? Robbie Gould connected for Yet Another Goddamn Figgie, and the Bears took the lead. Yes, I know that teams that settle for figgies usually wind up losing, but the lead is the lead... and then McNabb hits DJ for the long ball, and my opponent has him, while I've got McNabb. Bittersweet, but mostly sweet. Wow. At 48 yards, it's DJ's shortest touchdown in 2009, which might be the stat of the year, really. 17-12, Green.

> A secret killer in this game, and one that hits a lot of Bear opponents: return coverage. Johnny Knox was big for the Bears tonight, and while Macho Harris had a nice night for the Birds, it's not really a swap... and it sets up a quick strike Bears TD of their own. Cutler with perfect touch on the ball. Adding to the misery, a two-point conversion to Forte, and the slow death by a thousand cuts of my fantasy team continues. 20-17 Black, and that drive is why Cutler still intrigues, even despite how this year is turning out.

> On a first down screen pass that got blown up, NBC's Cris Collingsworth took McNabb to task for taking too long to throw it away, leading to an ineligible man downfield penalty. However... if the QB had thrown it away, it's grounding, which is a bigger penalty. I realize that it's too much to ask of the announcers to notice such things, but, um, why?

> Later in the drive, a big play to Jeremy Maclin came back due to a trip by left tackle Jason Peters, and instead of having a first down, it was 2nd and 17. That's the kind of penalty that you just didn't see the laundry have in past years, mostly because Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan weren't capable of moving quickly enough to trip anyone, really. In a couple of years, this line could have the continuity that's necessary to provide excellence, and a little more health (alas, poor Andrews brothers, we knew you not well enough) wouldn't hurt either. For now, it's a key point as to why the team is so inconsistent, especially in short yardage. The drive ends on a contained short yardage pass to TE Brent Celek, and after another routinely terrible Rocca punt, it's the Bears' ball with the chance to ice it. Just like, um, the last two weeks.

> The Bears go three and out, with the third down being one of those maddening two men running in tandem blitzes, but Cutler is too gun-shy to throw in the face of the blitz. After a booming Brad Maynard punt (hey, look, 20 yards of field position difference, all from the choice of a terrible and inconsistent punter), it's on the offense again.

> All year, LeSean McCoy has shown the tools to be the new Brian Westbrook... but he's also been fumble-prone. At the end of a strong run to start the drive, it happened to him again, and that's the third turnover of the night on the offense, to none for the defense. The idea that you can be -3 on turnovers on the road and down by just 2 points is kind of amazing, really. Victor Abimiri made a saving tackle on a well-executed screen to Forte, and my laundry actually blocked a field goal, which almost never happens, really. Phew. Still 20-17 Black, and Bear Fan has to be nervous about leaving money on the table with that possession. Teams who are +3 in turns are 29-0 coming into this game, we are told later...

> Next drive started with McCoy for four, Avant for five, and an actually successful McNabb sneak for the first. Don's relative weakness on sneaks has been a recurring problem for this team in short yardage, so having him make that one counted as An Encouraging Development. We're at 28/21 on passes to runs, which is partly why this game hasn't seemed utterly frustrating. It's also seen an awful lot of DJ, which is another moment of sanity.

> A quick out to Maclin brought it to the Bear 25, and a Weaver run pushes the pile. McNabb missed Maclin on an out, but DJ hauls in a tough slant, and DJ's strength on those throws is telling, really; it's part of why he might be the best homegrown WR since Fred Barnett. McCoy busted it to the left edfe for the last 11, and while his single arm extension with the ball gave me pause, the actual run was bitching. After the Akers PAT, it's 24-20 Green, and come on, Jay Cutler, throw the clinching pick. I'm begging you.

> Good coverage on the kickoff for once, and then Orlando Pace false-started; Bers Fan Is Not Happy. A Forte screen ended with Zebra Pain, much to the delight of Bear Fan, but it only got two yards. A cross to Forte in the flat is defended by Jeremiah Trotter of all people, setting up a huge third down. A big blitz was picked up, and Cutler goes for it all to Knox, who runs by Brown but can't run it down. Three and out, and Bear Fan's faith in Cutler can't be big right now. Another big Maynard punt, and it was on the offense to close it.

> McCoy for three and a Bear timeout. I'm having a hard time imagining that Green wins this without McNabb completing some first down throws, but clock is big, too. Avant gets five on a rollout pass that ends out of bounds, which isn't good. Third and one for the game, and McCoy, on second effort, is right at the marker, and he got it by the nose. Huge, huge, huge. Another Bear timeout at 3:19. McCoy into the pile for a yard, forcing the last Bears timeout, and it looked like he had room to the left. McCoy stayed in bounds and got five to the left, and Green can end the game with a conversion here. For once, it's the Eagles with timeouts to use, and they took one at 2:28 to discuss the play call. Reid stayed conservative, and a left side run is stopped behind the line. At the two minute warning, it's 24-20 Green.

> Now that the game is over, I can say this out loud: Hester really isn't much returning punts anymore. Cutler needed to go 79 yards for the win, and he tried to do it by using no one but the players I'm facing in fantasy. Eight yards to Olsen. Earl Bennett is caught in bounds on a great play by Sheldon Brown. An incomplete to Hester leads to a fourth down with 67 seconds left. Can the defense end it? Nope; Knox for a slant. A spike stops the clock at 52 seconds left. And finally -- finally -- Cutler throws a pick, and it's a game-ender trying to force the ball to Olsen. Someone named Tracy White tips it, Sean Jones corrals it, and holy moley, Green is going to win on SNF and in a close game.

Green wins, I win both of my fantasy league H2H games, and the club is back to 6-4, with a home game against the Redskins coming up next week. And who knows, maybe it's the start of something great. After all, it's not like the Giants or Cowboys look unbeatable, and when the roster puts up 157 yards rushing, they almost resemble a watchable team.

And in the long run, of course, it doesn't matter, the Saints or Vikings will win the NFC. But if they can make Cowboy or Giant Fan disgusted in the meanwhile, so be it.

NFL Week 11: You Crap The Bed

This week, You Crap is brought to you by Seventh Generation Toilet Paper, the toilet paper that's somehow associated with Native Americans, so that you can feel less guilty about your bowel movements. For your own personal trail of tears -- hey, those recycled fibers aren't here to make you feel better -- there's nothing better than Seventh Generation. It's like losing money at an Indian casino in your own home!

You all know how to play the game. Each week, we give you the chance to out-think people who are actually paid to make NFL decisions. Now, let's all play... You Crap The Bed!

1) You are Baltimore safety Ed Reed. With 28 seconds left in the fourth quarter, it's 17-15 Colts. You are back to return the punt at your own 35. As the ball comes to you, you choose to:

a) Take a fair catch, so as to ensure every possible second to the offense, seeing as you only need 30 yards to try for the winning field goal

b) Go for the best possible run back, but knowing that ball security is absolutely paramount

c) Review choices (a) and (b) again, seeing how this is a punt return, and not some kind of crazy last play in the game interception return

d) Consider how insane it would be for you to try some kind of in-traffic cockamamie lateral, and how such a play would have you on every highlight package as Bonehead of the Week, or

e) Visualize just how awesome it would be for you to be the spark that started the pro game's answer to the Cal-Stanford game play, and try to lateral the ball as you are going to the ground

If you choose (e), preferably while being absolutely certain that all of the Raven fans that have worn your jersey will want to tear it to ribbons in self-loathing, congratulations... you crapped the bed! And you've won a game-ending turnover, the close-up camera shots of your sideline reaction of regret, along with very many false lateral moves, and the lingering suspicion that Baltimore is just too stupid to win close games. Well done!

2) You are Cleveland Browns safety Hank Poteat. You are on your fifth NFL team in a 10 year career, and while you are not considered one of the best to ever play your position, you are good enough to have a Super Bowl ring, as well as continued employment in the league. Your 1-8 team is on the road playing another 1-8 team (Detroit), and thanks to an utterly inexplicable career day for quarterback Brady Quinn (more touchdowns in this game than the rest of his whole career), you are up 37-31 with 8 seconds left, and the Lions are on your 32 yard line for one last Hail Mary. Do you:

a) Knock down any pass in front of you, since this play almost never works

b) If you don't knock down any pass, at the very least, don't go over the top in your coverage, since you have generally got to commit a felony to be called for defensive pass interference in this situation

c) Just fall down, in fear of making the jaw-dropping, release-inducing mistake that would be getting called for pass interference

d) Beg off for the play, maybe for some tall wide receiver, by faking a hamstring injury, or

e) Absolutely crush Detroit WR Calvin Johnson in front of the pass, because it's not as it the refs could possibly notice that kind of thing

If you choose (e), preferably while looking down at your jersey and contemplating all that this era of Browns football means, congratulations... you crapped the bed! And you've won a first down with no time on the clock for the Lions on your 1 yard line, an overwhelming sense of foreboding defeat that would be followed up by a game winning touchdown on the next play, and the absolute cementing of your status as the worst team in the NFL.

Oh, and a special callout to Browns coach Eric Mangini, who called a timeout after the pass interference penalty to let injured Lions QB Matthew Stafford, who had thrown for four touchdowns and over 400 yards, to have just enough time to heal up and get back on the field, rather than ice-cold and awful Daunte Culpepper. If you work with any Browns fans and they aren't at work this week, tell the cops to check the oven.

But cheer up, Browns Fan... you are now well on your way to the #1 pick in the draft. So perhaps you've crapped the bed like a fox!

3) You are Denver coach Josh McDaniels. After an improbable 6-0 start, your team is 6-3, with a division showdown against the Chargers at home to decide first place in the division. Starting QB Kyle Orton let the game early last week with an injured ankle, causing you to go to utterly underprepared backup QB Chris Simms in a loss to (really) Washington. Orton manages to practice this week despite the ankle. You choose to:

a) Start Orton, because while he's fairly terrible, he's a damn sight better than Simms

b) Start Simms, because even if you lose this game, you can't afford to risk losing Orton for the rest of the year, and you are in a race for the wild-card, if nothing else

c) Try an onside kick, go for it on fourth down on three different drives in the second half, and in general, manage the entire game as if you are convinced that the only way to win would be through your Coaching Super Genius

d) Bury rookie RB Knowshon Moreno for fumbling at the goal line, when in fact the turnover was caused by a perfect knee from a teammate, leading to a same team shoving match between Moreno and Still A Head Case WR Brandon Marshall, or

e) Start Simms, watch him fall behind early and stink for three series, then go to Orton, which gives you the benefit of risking Orton's health while also making sure that Simms has absolutely no hope or confidence if and when he's got to play again

If you chose (c), (d), *and* (e), all while trying to remember why people thought you were a genius in October when you will be home in January, congratulations... you crapped the bed!

Well, I'm afraid that's all we have time for this week. But remember, with a little fiber, determination and inspiration -- or the self-punishment power of Seventh Generation Recycled Toilet Paper -- you too can... Crap The Bed! Good night, everybody!

Top 10 Week 11 NFL Ad Questions

10) What is the percentage of people watching the BMW with the bow driving over the ski slopes that are hoping for a flip and deadly explosion?

9) Is Sirius satellite radio aware that more people watching their ads think of Elvis as a dead junkie who is buried like a hamster in his backyard, rather than as a transformative figure in music?

8) Staying with Sirius for a second, why exactly should we relate Michael Jordan to radio?

7) Isn't the most valuable lesson you can learn at McDonald's is to not eat at McDonald's?

6) Is the Unstoppable Eli Manning Citizen Watch inexplicably expensive?

5) Why do Santa's reindeer have cell phones, and given that they do not have opposable thumbs, how do they use them?

4) Has anyone in the course of human history chosen which camera to buy based on a camera company's sponsorship of still photos?

3) How, exactly, does making adults voices sound like children sell sandwiches?

2) Why does Ford think that letting Howie Long touch your tape measure and disparage your tool is a good idea?

1) Is there some federal law that requires advertisers to use the music from "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies" for their holiday promotion?

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Best

News today is that Brian Westbrook will make a full recovery from his second concussion in three weeks, and while everyone is talking as if he'll return to the field (perhaps in time for a hoped-for playoff), I'm just happy to hear the man isn't looking at reduced capabilities. And since I'm still not convinced that I'm ever going to see him in the active laundry again, it seems as good a time as any to see how he stacks up for the title of Best RB in Franchise History.

Realistically, there are three choices for the honor. The first is more or less unknown to modern fans, but given that he's got infinitely more rings than the others, that might not be fair.

Steve Van Buren

8 years, 5,860 career rushing yards, 69 TDs on the ground. Led the league in rushing and rushing touchdowns in four different years. Played both ways, as usual for the era, with 9 career interceptions as a secondary player. Added another 523 yards on the occasional screen pass, and scored 3 TDs through the air, and another 3 as a kick returner. Star player on two championship teams, 28th in career rushing touchdown, and a member of the Hall of Fame. First running back to win three straight rushing titles; only three other backs (Emmit Smith, Earl Campbell and Jim Brown) have done that. As a 6'-1", 200 pound back who ran a 9.8 100-yard dash, I'm pretty sure he could hold up to today's game.

There is also this: before SVB, the laundry never finished above fourth, and barely survived World War II for fear of being contracted with the Pittsburgh franchise. Had he not played for the club, there's a very real chance that the franchise would have had only one championship (the 1960 title over the not quite ready Packers) in over 75 years.

Old-time Eagle fans swear by van Buren, and for good reason. In both championship games, he was the best player on the field, and in the second championship, he set a then-league record with 196 yards on the ground. A seven-time All-Pro, he was basically Jim Brown 1.0, and by doing what he did in the late '40s and early '50s, it's not like he was doing this before people knew what they were doing. If you want to call him the best, I'm not going to argue.

Wilbert Montgomery

9 seasons, 6,789 career rushing yards, 2,502 career receiving. 45 touchdowns on the ground, another 12 as a receiver. 42 fumbles, including a league-leading 14 in his big 1979 year. At 5'-10", 195, he was a little small for every down use, and had good hands as a receiver and was just plain shifty. His emergence as a star after being picked in the sixth round in 1977 from Abilene Christian gave the populace the big clue that the Dick Vermeil / Carl Peterson era was going to be a good one in terms of finding untapped talent. Wilbert led the league in all-purpose yards in 1979, and went to two Pro Bowls, and was the best offensive player for the Super Bowl losing 1980 season. He also had the ball in his hands for the best moment in the history of the franchise. Let's look at again now, shall we?

Forty two yards, untouched, and a generation of losing to Dallas was done. Now let's watch it again, but with Merrill Reese.

Yeah, it is better. Merrill's got a way.

The twin chinks in Montgomery's armor are injuries (he only played the full 16-game slate once), and fumbles -- 42 is a lot, especially when you are being considered for the title of best RB in franchise history. Basically, he was fairly close to the late '70s Clinton Portis... or the next guy.

Brian Westbrook

Now in his 8th season, with 5,946 yards rushing and 3,765 yards receiving, which actually puts him just ahead of Montgomery for yards from scrimmage. 37 career rushing touchdowns and 29 through the air, so he's got the edge in total touchdowns, but this is an era in which more points are scored. Dub has only 12 career fumbles so far, which is a huge advantage. Possibly the most dangerous back I've ever seen on a screen pass. At 5'-8" and 200, has never really been seen as a workhorse back, with only three years of over 200 carries. Despite the waterbug size, was never really a change of pace back, mostly due to one of the best stiff arms in the business, and he never seemed to take a game off. He also had four straight years where you could count on him for 700 yards on 70+ catches. Outstanding at blitz pickup, with two rookie year kick returns for touchdowns, one of which helped the team absolutely steal a win in New York. This clip has that highlight and four other minutes that produce much happiness.

To my mind, Dub gets the gold, despite his similar or worse injury problems. I'm also inclined to and not just because he is doing it in the modern eras, with presumably better athletes and coaching. The fumbles are just too many for me to give the nod to Wilbert, and I'm also inclined to downgrade the better rushing TD numbers, since Captain Andy and the modern era have conspired to take away goal line touches from many of the best backs.

Now, Dub's candidacy isn't perfect. Unlike SVB, there are no rings, and unlike Wilbert, he's never been as absolutely necessary to the team's success, and even more injury-prone. Running yards should matter more than passing yards for a running back, too, and the very best Eagles RB in franchise history is probably SVB in between the tackles. Wilbert on any handoff that goes outside, and Dub on any pass play.

But all in all, give me Dub for everything. (And, shh, maybe Ricky Watters as a surprisingly good option. Only three years in the laundry, but the full career looks more like Walter Payton, Thurman Thomas or Jim Brown than you might imagine.)

But again, if you want to argue for SVB, or just tell me how Wilbert had your vote now and forever for 42 Untouched Yards, that is your prerogative.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

NFL Week 11 Picks: Don't Drive Angry

Like any long form piece of blogging, this column takes several days to write, and that time is not continuous. I don't get to lock myself away to the exclusion of all other pursuits and responsibilities. Whose fault is that? Yours, clearly. Had you merely told 1,000 of your closest friends about FTT, bought out all of my site T-shirts, or clicked on the PayPal button to donate a tithe-like portion of your income, I'd be much better at this, really. Bad Tooth Simmons gets to write best-selling books, and Big Daddy Drew Magary is now on a half dozen Web sites writing /door flies open, while I'm writing this on a subway as the guy next to me gets a pre-publication preview. It's just how the world keeps down a Philly Fan. Anyway, enough about your failures, and back to mine.

Last night as a continuing effort to educate my eldest daughter on somewhat advanced concepts through our entertainment choices (i.e., we don't watch the usual kiddie fare TV -- I'm much more inclined to put on a Marx Brothers DVD than Spongebob, not that there's anything really wrong with Spongebob), we watched "Groundhog Day." If you are somehow unfamiliar with this movie; shame on you and go rent it ASAP; it's the best thing Bill Murray and Harold Ramis ever did, which makes it a pretty great thing, really. Murray plays an amoral weather caster who is doomed to live the same day, over and over again, in Punxutawney PA for the Groundhog Day holiday. He's surrounded by good-natured hicks that he more or less despises. Eventually he goes through all stages of reconciliation with his curse, devotes himself to making other people's lives better, gets the girl and breaks the curse. It's one of my favorite movies on a lot of levels.

In the Blu-Ray commentary for the film, director Ramis talks about how different religious groups gravitated to the film, claiming it as their own; everyone from Hasidic Jews to Zen Buddhists. He also talks, rather gleefully, of how the groundhog bit Murray very badly in a scene in which the suicidally bored protagonist lets the quadruped drive a pick up truck. Ramis and Murray have worked together on a half dozen movies by now, and it's clear that Ramis thinks the world of Murray's talent and the sewer of his ego, so having him get a tetanus shot from handling an ill-tempered squirrel is just his idea of fun.

Let's just say that I'm seeing some parallels to my current job here. Especially as I take the same train that I take every day, and write in the same posture that I always use. And this guy is looking kind of squirrely, really. Nothing personal, buddy. Why not go back to staring at the ads for hair removal? Might help.

Anyway, last week was just brutal for this picks column. Favorites mailed it in, taking the home team coming off a bye was an absolute sinkhole, and every 50-50 ball went the wrong way. It was hardcore awful, and for a brief period of time I was wondering if we were going to get the bagel. The late games saved it from comedy, but we were still deep into debacle.

Meanwhile, I had my first 2-0 week all year in head to head fantasy leagues, keeping hopes of some suckout money alive. And in both matchups, I really wasn't expecting much.

But just to prove that life wasn't going to give me a pass, that was *just* the head to head teams. My roto points team pissed away another week, mostly because LaDanian Tomlinson was on my bench (finally), Cedric Benson got hurt, and the Patriots chose to take away Dallas Clark above all other priorities. (Thank the heavens that the Bills were getting Dick Jauron bounced with multiple TAInts, making my streaming defense pick of the Titans D the win of the week.)

The lesson, as always: I can't win. Especially since I am an Eagles fan in the relentlessly confusing Andy Reid Era, where every game is a lovely mix of Which Team Shows Up This Week... but at least we don't root for any of the truly terrible teams in the league.

So I can't lose, either. At least not until January. And if you are thinking that you've seen this Eagles season before, and if I'm thinking that I've seen this exact same close-but-no-money fantasy football season last year... well, hey. Don't drive angry. Or ride, I suppose.

And with that... on to the picks!

* * * * *

MIAMI at Carolina (-3)

Hoo boy! Is it another one of those classic NFL Network matchups, the ones with the awkward and overblown slo-mo promos that just define absurd hype? I can't get enough of those! This week's had Julius Peppers clebrating a tackle while the cult voice announcer said, "Here, Kitty, Kitty." That's because the Dolphins run the Wildcat offense a lot. Boy, where do these guys get their ideas?

Anyway... all eyesores aside, two teams that run and run some more, and both coming off wins. Carolina had the bigger one, surprising the home off a bye Falcons (grr) with some actual competency from Jake Delhomme and the usual road-grading running game. Miami survived the suddenly frisky Bucs on a last-minute game-winning drive, proving that you just can not hope to contain Chad Henne all game. I'm just sorry that the NFLN promo didn't talk about Hanging Chads. That would have even worked before original Dolphins starting QB Chad Pennington got hurt, and leads us to the following question, which is nearly as compelling as this small market snorefest... why are the Dolphins cornering the market on QBs named Chad? Maybe that was NFLN's back up idea for this game.

Anyway, back to the gambling. The Dolphins will win, you won't see it, and the game will put coffee drinkers to sleep. But hey... WILDCAT! WILDCAT! WILDCAT! You can't say it enough! It's always exciting!

Dolphins 24, Panthers 17

PITTSBURGH at Kansas City (+10)

The first of two AFC games this week where a terrible team will get smacked around the head and shoulders by a conference heavyweight. Once upon a time the Chiefs were a tough team at home, but those days are long gone. Perhaps Chiefs Fan is thinking that last week's win in Oakland is one to grow on, but honestly, you beat JaMarcus Russell in what might have been (please, Lord, please) his final start in the NFL. The road win is too small. Throw it back.

The Steelers will probably be missing Troy Polamalu, which means the defense will be more susceptible to the pass than usual, and give up seven more points than they should. But the Chiefs have decided to be accommodating by having #1 WR Dwayne Bowe get nicked for a drug suspension (a diuretic). To be fair, if you had to play football for Todd Haley and live in Kansas City, you'd be on something, too. Something stronger than a diuretic. And the same should go for fans who have to watch an offense where the #1 WR is Chris Chambers.

Steelers 30, Chiefs 17

Atlanta at NEW YORK GIANTS (-0)

How much did the bye week help the G-Men? If they are back to their old selves (especially after watching Dallas and Philadelphia play keep away from prosperity last week), the division will be theirs once again, and with speed. They'll take a swing at it against the suddenly reeling Falcons, who will be missing RB Michael Turner at the worst possible time. Jason Snelling and Jerious Norwood are reasonable backups and the road team will still run for yardage, but neither of them are the home run threat threat that the starter is.

The bigger problem is that the Falcons just don't defend the pass well enough, and the Giants actually have some reasonable weapons out there, between Steve Smith, Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks. Eli Manning should provide some numbers, provided that it's not, you know, windy. He's not paid enough to be able to throw the ball well in wind.

Giants 27, Falcons 20

San Francisco at GREEN BAY (-7)

Will the real Green Bay defense please stand up? One week after blowing a game to a winless team with a rookie QB (Tampa Bay and Josh Freeman), they throw a near shutout at the Cowboys at home. Who the hell saw this coming? Charles Woodson, you owe us all an apology, really. Had this team had that defense all year, they would not be sucking Favre fumes in the worst year ever to be Packer Fan.

The Niners come in with extra rest following their Thursday night escape against the Bears, and this is another defense I can't figure out. Are you the meek little kittens that got their lunch money taken by the Falcons and Titans, or the raging turnover monsters that took down the Bears, Cardinals and Rams, the last of which was the fantasy point payoff of the year for a defense? Signs point to bullying against finesse teams and cowardice against the power ones, which means this matchup has promise for them... but Ryan Grant is actually pretty good, and playing in Lambeau tends to bring out the quit in a road team. Of course, predicting this Packers team is just insanity, but last week in Dallas convinced me. So it's time for them to spit the bit again... but Alex Smith is spit-proof. Or something.

Packers 27, Niners 17

WASHINGTON at Dallas (-11)

One of the bigger lines that you will ever see for a team that won last week against a team that lost, and I think it's too much. These division games are almost always close and nasty, and now that the Skins have finally started to get some production from the running game from Ladell Betts and even a little hope from young wideout Devin Thomas, there's more than a reasonable shot at a cover.

Besides, it's not as if the Cowboys have shown a tremendous advantage from playing in their new crib, and the 'Skins can defend. Besides, so long as the Cowboys are trying to force-feed Roy Williams the ball, things aren't going to end well for them.

Cowboys 24, Redskins 20

Cleveland at DETROIT (-0)

Well, Lions Fan, you're going to get to see a second win this year. I'm guaranteeing it. Lock it down, book it, salt it away and book the post-game spread, because you'll be eating without the taste of tears that you've become so used to.

Now, why am I so confident? Well, I saw both of these teams play last week, and (a) Calvin Johnson is starting to look like his old self, and (b) Great Googly Moogly, the Browns are unspeakably bad. For sixty point-free minutes against the Ravens, they gave the team absolutely nothing to worry about... and now their single interesting offensive weapon (Josh Cribbs) is now on the shelf. Oh, and they are on a short week after their MNF loss, and on the road.

There is also this: the Lions aren't coached by an epic and unmotivated dunderhead, and the Browns are. That's kind of a problem, really.

Lions 24, Browns 6

New Orleans at TAMPA BAY (+11)

The Saints are really starting to replicate the '07 Perfectriots season; start off fast and look like you are just going to outscore everyone, then shift gears and start having to win in other ways. The only real difference is that since they haven't really gotten to a run it up moment, and they've never won it all before, the world doesn't hate them. But the gambling public is starting to, because they have stopped covering these big point spreads.

For two straight weeks under Josh Freemen, the Bucs have given a better-regarded team all that they can handle, with the Packers getting taken out at home and the Dolphins needing a game-winning drive and field goal to close them out. This week, I think the Bucs score enough points to cover, and maybe even pull off the upset... because the Saints aren't going to win every game this year. As a matter of fact, they even are starting to look ready for it, especially so long as WR Marques Colston is sleeping through games.

Saints 31, Bucs 24

Buffalo at JACKSONVILLE (-8.5)

Breaking news as I write this is that Dick Jauron has finally gotten the axe in upstate New York, as the 3-6 Bills prepare to become the backdrop to another monster fantasy football day for Maurice Jones-Drew. According to the World Wide Lemur, Jauron never saw it coming, which surprises Bills Fan not at all, given the general amount of preparation exhibited by the team to date. He'll also get paid, which is a big deal for a franchise that's whoring itself out to a disinterested Toronto, and replaced by no-name defensive coordinator Perry Fewell.

For the purposes of this column, I'm not seeing anything change right away; the Bills will continue to be a pedestrian offense with some interesting skill players that's betrayed by their offensive line. On defense, they've been routinely gashed by opposing name running backs, and with Jones-Drew on tap, that's really not going to get better. Finally, with both of their QBs showing their TAInts last week, there is really no good sign that they can cover, let alone win.

Jaguars 26, Bills 13

Seattle at MINNESOTA (-11)

The Viking Cupcake Tour continues, with a Seahawks team that has always been a road dog coming to town, and made even more cottony-soft by injuries to the offensive line and starting running back (Julius Jones). Last week at home against Detroit, the Vikings showed signs of looking fat, sloppy and complacent against the Lions, with multiple turnovers and questionable coaching decisions.

I'd love to go against them here, because I really do think Minnesota is starting to slide back to the norm; it's also telling that Adrian Peterson keeps putting the ball on the ground. But it's just too much to go with these dogs on the road, in a loud dome, against a team that goes 5-deep on players that can turn on the jets and make six from distance. It will worry me, but the Vikes should cover.

Vikings 34, Seahawks 20

INDIANAPOLIS at Baltimore (-0)

Never has an undefeated team won a huge night game to remain that way, and gotten less respect from Vegas, and I can't help but think that the gamblers have it right here. The Colts won thanks to the charity of Bill Belichick's defended but indefensible 4th down decision (put it this way: would anyone have argued for the merits of that call had the coach been Tom Cable? Mike Martz? Andy Reid? I rest my case) and their own furious comeback. but don't sleep on Lawrence Maroney fumbling for a touchback in the third. Had the man just held on or even fell down before the end zone, and you are looking at seven more Patriot points and early garbage time. The strip in that situation is just inexcusable, but it's also Maroney's career in a nutshell.

What happened to the Colts was something of a blueprint. Take away Dallas Clark and make the fading young WRs (Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie) beat you; it may happen, but it's going to happen a lot less than when Clark and Reggie Wayne do it. In last week's game, the Colts also lost RBs like popcorn, and they really don't need this game. Baltimore's kinda good, at home, and in the elements. So everything is pointing to a big solid cover for the Ravens, right? Not so fast.

The first point is that Baltimore comes off the short MNF week. The second is that you really don't want to overestimate the difficulty of that, seeing how they played the Cleveland Byes. The third point is that the Ravens defense really isn't what it used to be, specifically Ed Reed and Ray Lewis. And the fourth and final point is that Terrell Suggs, the Ravens' best pass rusher, will miss the game. Too much going against them. Oh, and that Manning guy. He's pretty good too.

Colts 24, Ravens 20

ARIZONA at St. Louis (+9)

The annual homecoming game for Kurt Warner, who probably enjoys this game more than any other on the schedule. He gets to play in a dome with mostly neutral fans, against a team that can't defend or rush the passer, and stick the knife into his old laundry while building the statistical case that he's a Hall of Fame QB. He also gets to look at what his wife looks like now (judging from what has happened in the last decade, Brenda will be the hottest woman in the world by 2018), as opposed to what she looked like during his Ram days. If Tim Hightower or Beanie Wells would just turn into Marshall Faulk already, the man would not be able to call the plays at the line of scrimmage for the self-satisfied chuckling. I have to say, Captain Jebus, if this is what a life in faith gets you, I might have to rethink things. Kurt's God is bringing it.

On the other side of grace are the Rams, who actually put a scare into the Saints last week (another favorite that didn't cover, grr) before faltering. In another 1 to 2 years, this Rams team could be mediocre again, at least as long as Steven Jackson is having an utterly ridiculous MVP year for a 4-12 team. They've managed to start to cobble together some spare part wideouts (Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson) that have promise, the defense hasn't quit (a tremendously good sign), and they do actually seem to be getting better, week to week. But their God is not Kurt's God, and they also don't have anyone to stop Larry Fitzgerald, let alone a healthy and motivated Anquan Boldin, and a murderously effective Steve Breaston. The circus comes back to town for one week only, Ram Fan. Can't be a fun game for you.

Cardinals 34, Rams 17

New York Jets at NEW ENGLAND (-10.5)

Here is our second squash game, with the reeling Jets coming to Foxborough for the payback game of the year. Early in the season the Jets punched New England in the mouth so thoroughly that many were ready to anoint them as the new beasts of the East, despite the fact that this was following the exact same pattern as last year. And just to make sure that New England was in no danger of treating this as a trap game, their relentlessly arrogant coach had to break the Internets with last week's 4th and Fail call that led to the Colt collapse.

The Jets could stay in this one by running it 40 times, limiting their turnovers, and having Darrelle Revis eliminate Randy Moss -- you know, the same thing that you did in September. But with Mark "The Sanchise" Sanchez continuing to show Joey Harrington-esque ball control and accuracy issues, I'm not liking his chances.

Besides, Papa Bill is very, very angry, and will be taking out his Run It Up stick for this one. Jet Fan, maybe you want to schedule some yard work. Maybe some gutter cleaning.

Patriots 41, Jets 17

CINCINNATI at Oakland (+10)

Picking Bengals games this year has been a walk. You ignore the lineage, enjoy the fact that the rest of the world hasn't adapted yet to the New Cedric Benson, and watch the lucky covers come in early and the solid wins come in late. They are just a Brandon Stokely miracle from being 8-1 and breathing down the neck of the smoke and mirrors Colts for the #1 seed in the conference, despite a few injuries. They've have a good defense for the better part of a year now, and in the last month Carson Palmer has gone back to his pre-knee injury self, albeit with less exciting weapons at WR. It's the first good thing to happen to Ohio this millennium, I think.

This week, I am already hearing and reading how the Raiders are going to play one of their semi-annual good games and cover this big number. Benson is iffy for the game with a hip problem, and the Bengals have decided to give their fans heart failure by importing the execrable Larry Johnson to share the load. If Oakland has finally given up the JaRuss ghost, they might actually complete a pass to a WR, and now that RB Darren McFadden has killed every last fantasy team he's ever been on, it's time for him to rip off a huge game. The game is at home, the Bengals are going to sleep on it after sweeping the Steelers, and it's all Trap Gamey.

To which I say, thank you. Please keep betting against this Bengals team. I need all the help I can get with these picks.

Bengals 27, Raiders 13

SAN DIEGO at Denver (-0)

Astute readers of this blog will have clicked on Monday night's Enemies List, which is a feature I do for the good people over at NESW Sports. The temptation to lead off last week's list of odious sports figures with LaDanian Tomlinson was, frankly, off the charts. After going all-in with him for my roto auction team, I've gotten injuries and squat, and he looked for all the world like a completely spent figure, despite still being the only three-down back on the roster. Darren Sproles might not survive with a full workload, but Lord knows he was actually doing something with his touches, unlike the 30 going on 60 LdT.

And then my laundry comes to town, and I dutifully put him on the bench, because my laundry generally keeps RBs down, if for no other reason than the opponent will spend all day gleefully throwing to the TE. And what does this SOB do on my bench? Go off for two touchdowns and nearly 100 yards, just like it's old times, in a Chargers win. Maximum Fail. I hate you, Tomlinson.

And I'm going to hate him even more this week in Denver, where the reeling Broncos will try and fail to regain control of the division against the only other team in the division that plays football, rather than some vague approximation of it. Tomlinson will be back in my lineup, in all likelihood, which means he'll go back to one of those 10 carries for 18 yards days. The Broncos will lose anyway, because Chris Simms under center for Kyle Orton is making Bronco Fan even more appreciative of the Greatest Winner In Pro Football History and his neckbeard. And the real reason why will be that Antonio Gates will absolutely own Denver, because when you have Brian Dawkins covering big TEs at this point in his career, that is what happens.

Chargers 27, Broncos 20

PHILADELPHIA at Chicago (+3)

As I started writing this pick, the subway I was on decided to stall and then go to the entirely wrong destination due to "mechanical issues." Adding to the fun was that the last five minutes of the trip to the wrong station where spent nudging foot by foot up the platform, then waiting an extra five minutes for the doors to open. Meanwhile, the train we needed to take back to our original destination left in front of us.

I've been making this exact same commute for 2.5 years now, probably over a thousand trips in all, and this has never happened before. It is going to add at least an hour to my commute, if not more, and mean that my kids are going to be bent out of shape from not getting to see much of their Dad tonight. It sucks on every level, and there is nothing to be done but eat it.

Now, the question for the reader: did thinking about these two teams cause the train to malfunction? Because I would not put it past either of them, really.

Lost in the mess of San Diego was that Donovan McNabb played great, and I am hoping the defense will be a little less disjointed now that they've had an extra week to practice with replacement personnel. I still have hope for a playoff game, which is probably a bad thing to hope for, but what the hell... that is what we said about this time last year.

As for the Bears, they usually win this game against my laundry, and they are (much) better than, say, Oakland. Greg Olsen will have the usual big game that TEs have, but the Eagle secondary has caught interceptions this year.

In a close game, I'd count on Captain Andy doing something to blow this game. McNabb won't give him the chance. Nor will Cutler.

Eagles 34, Bears 24

Tennessee at HOUSTON (-5)

Wow, did this game look awful a few weeks ago. Now, it's just a bit intriguing, with Vince Young just a win or two away from full career recovery, such as it is, and the Titans defense waking up the echoes with two garbage time TAInts against the Buffalos last week.

They'll face a Texans team that was the last to the bye, and not nearly as dangerous as they were before Owen Daniels got hurt and Steve Slaton became Ryan Moats.

In general, I almost always like a home team coming off a bye against a team that played. Here, I am tempted to go against that and the point spread, if for no other reason than this Texans team is surprisingly gutless. Besides, Chris Johnson is terrifying. But the Texans started to show some proficiency in stopping the run in October, and Young is due to remind us why he lost his job in the first place.

Texans 27, Titans 16

Last week: 5-9-1

Year to date: 67-73-3

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