Thursday Night Game-Cleveland @ Pittsburgh
The wide receiver situation for Pittsburgh continues to get worse and worse, as now Cedrick Wilson has gotten injured. Hines Ward will miss his second consecutive game due to his surgery, and so Nate Washington and Santonio Holmes will start for the Steelers. Holmes has certainly made some great plays this season, but also had had some trouble holding on to the ball. Washington has been a capable third receiver, so one would think he would be at least average as a starter. It also helps that they are playing against the Browns secondary. Derek Anderson or Charlie Frye? Frye is injured, but before he got injured he was 6-7 for 80 yards and a touchdown. Anderson led the team to a late comeback victory in over time, with a key 33-yard scramble to set up Phil Dawson's game-winning kick. Frye is listed as questionable this week, so Anderson may get the opportunity to see what he can do over the course of a full game. Winning in Pittsburgh would go a long way towards solidifying his attempt to supplant Frye. However, I don't see that happening this week, as the Steelers defense is ready to play ball. Steelers take this one.
Atlanta @ Tampa Bay
Michael Vick's receivers can't catch, and even when they can, he can't get the ball to them. Jerious Norwood has some serious burst, as he now has several highlight reel runs in the NFL. He certainly needs more time in that offensive scheme. Bruce Gradkowski continues the learning process over in Tampa Bay, and Coach Gruden has to be wondering what the team is going to do at quarterback next year, as Chris Simms remains unsigned. There have been rumors that Luke McCown will be getting to start for the Bucs soon, but this has been categorically denied. So, who does Tampa go for, Calvin Johnson, Brady Quinn, or Brian Brohm in the draft? Atlanta, with the win over Washington last week, has all of a sudden thrust itself back into the middle of the NFC playoff race. They'll remain in it with a win this week.
Weekly Upset Game-Baltimore @ Kansas City
Trent Green threw four touchdowns against Cleveland, and still lost. I'm willing to bet he does not throw four touchdowns against the Ravens this week. Whether or not he wins remains to be seen. I would, however, expect Larry Johnson to be leaned on a lot in this game, and if the Chiefs make any big plays this week through the air, it will probably be against Samari Rolle. Rolle has been beaten for big gains several times this season. The Chiefs defense has certainly improved this season as opposed to previous years, but is still somewhat suspect. The Ravens are coming off a tough loss to the Bengals, and will be ready to take this game into their own hands. That won't happen, though, as the Chiefs pull out a surprising upset over the Ravens.
Indianapolis @ Jacksonville
Man that Jaguars team is annoying to pick. Anyway, I'm looking for Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew to have good games rushing the ball this week, but I am uncertain regarding the passing attack. David Garrard has had his moments this season, but he has also had some bad showings. Manning-Harrison just gets more dynamic every week, doesn't it? It really is incredible what the two of them have done over the course of their careers…now if they could just win the big game. No Manning has ever done that, though. Too bad. The Colts are going to be steaming after their last-second loss to Tennessee, so I believe they will come out with all guns blazing against Jacksonville, which shall result in an Indy victory.
Minnesota @ Detroit
Speaking of quarterbacks, here are two teams who need to figure out who their future is at this position. Minnesota thinks it could be Travaris Jackson, but he is not far enough in his development to be thrust into it at the moment. Brad Johnson has been ineffective, at best, and Brooks Bollinger, the primary backup, is dealing with an injury. Essentially, Jackson may get a shot this week. As for Detroit, Jon Kitna is their man for the rest of the season, but looking towards the future, they have to decide whether or not Josh McCown can get it done, or if they need a new guy. Chester Taylor and Kevin Jones have both been having productive seasons this year, which has certainly been one of the bright points for both organizations. This is a hard game to pick due to the uncertainty regarding who spearheads Minnesota's offense this week. Let's turn to the defenses. Detroit can't stop the pass or the run that well, but Minnesota has been one of the top teams in the league against the run. Forcing Kitna to beat you through the air sounds like a good idea to me, so long as you pressure him. I give this game to Minnesota on the road though.
New England @ Miami
Just when I think this Miami team is starting to pull it together, we all come crashing back to reality with the harsh reminder that Joey Harrington quarterbacks the Dolphins. It was only a matter of time before this happened. New England also got their reality shot, as they nearly lost to Detroit. Chalk up another fourth quarter comeback win for Tom Brady. Of course, Corey Dillon gets the credit for the TDs, but Brady moved them into position. Corey Dillon this season reminds me of Stephen Davis last season for Carolina…great at getting 3 yards when you need it, and great in the redzone. Of course, there's really no way I pick against the Patriots this week. New England can, and will, win this game.
NEW YORK GIANTS @ CAROLINA PANTHERS
Both teams are coming off of consecutive fourth quarter collapses, and both teams are prominent figures in the wildcard hunt. Jake Delhomme has a thumb injury on his throwing hand, which is causing the rumor weed to run rampant with ideas that Chris "I quarterbacked a 1-15 team" Weinke will play this week. Now, to be fair to Wink, as he's affectionately referred to, that season was not all his fault, and his pass attempts, completions, and yards as a rookie are second only to Peyton Manning's rookie numbers. Last season, these two teams met in the Wildcard round of the playoffs, where the Panthers blanked the Giants on the road, 23-0. DeShaun Foster ran all over the defense and John Kasay was excellent. This game won't be a shutout, though. In fact, it's likely to be a mini-shootout, as Carolina's defense is not stopping anybody at the moment. Steve Smith has scored in every game since the bye, and should continue that streak, as my Panthers win, keeping division title hopes alive. If we win out, we're guaranteed a playoff slot, so there's still hope.
Oakland @ Cincinnati
Cincinnati pulled off the win over Baltimore last week, thankfully. Now they get what should be a much lesser foe in the Oakland Raiders. Somehow, the Raiders found yet another way to lose last week, holding the Houston Texans to –5 yards passing yet still letting them do enough to win. I don't see how anybody can ever pick the Raiders to win with that sort of a track record, but I suppose somebody out there might. Chad Johnson cooled off a bit last week, being held without a touchdown, but who knows if that happens this week. Oakland has been stymieing me the past few weeks, doing things I wouldn't have expected them to do in a game, but they've still been losing, so as long as that continues, I'm happy. Bengals win, keeping their respective dreams alive for this year.
Philadelphia @ Washington
Wow, this game is annoying for a Panthers fan to pick. Both teams have taken advantage of the Panthers' seemingly expected fourth quarter collapses the past two weeks, and now they get to beat up on each other. While it's hard to pick, on the other hand, it is nice because so long as Carolina wins, the loser of this game can't bother Carolina too much more over the season, referring to tiebreakers of course. Santana Moss is finally healthy, Ladell Betts is doing very well running the ball, and Jason Campbell looks pretty good so far. Jeff Garcia is doing a good job holding down the fort over in Philly, and Brian Westbrook continues to do everything required of him. The defense has had some trouble allowing big plays of late though. This one goes to Philly, even though I can't stand the Eagles.
Tennessee @ Houston
This week I get to finally pay attention to the Titans, who have quietly spoiled my picks for at least three consecutive weeks now, in spectacular fashion. Rob Bironas made his first 50+ yarder of the year, and it was golden for the Titans, as they upset the Colts with his 60-yard boot. David Carr couldn't complete a pass in the entire second half against the Raiders, but the week before completed 22 straight passes against the Bills. What gives? I have no clue what to expect from him. Except, of course, that he'll get sacked. It's always wise to expect that. Slightly off-topic, those uniforms the Titans have been wearing with the dark blue and powder blue look funky. They are the type of clothing that makes you think, "Man, that looks cool, but I wouldn't be caught dead in it." Well, since the Titans have been rather insistent in this winning thing, I'll give them a win over Houston this week.
Green Bay @ San Francisco
If I had looked one week ahead in the schedule, I would have been fine with picking against Brett Favre last week, as he gets San Fran this time around. I suggest that anyone who has not read the featured article on him in last week's Sports Illustrated, to go find a copy and read it. It was an extremely good read. What am I, turning into a literature club? Let's get back to football now. Frank Gore has been the centerpiece of the 49ers' offense this year, and should continue to be. In fact, he should get plenty of carries against the Packers, as they are having a hard time stopping the run this season. San Fran's D leaves a lot to be desired in pass coverage, though, which gives a savvy veteran like Favre the advantage. Brett Favre and the Packers win this week.
Seattle @ Arizona
Arizona spoiled my pick last week with a blowout type win over the Rams. Seattle, however, in an exciting final ten minutes of their game, managed a come-from-behind victory to stay true to my pick. Oh sorry, one of my favorite dance mix songs just started playing…get back to this in a minute. *Comes back after finishing up with Cascada, wonders why the heck don't I just pick Seattle and get it done with* Anyway, Shaun Alexander is definitely ready to play. Good for him, and he should find running room in copious amounts this week. Edgerrin James managed to make it to 100 yards on the ground in a game! Stop the presses! Oh wait, Arizona's newspapers probably already did. That's really wonderful for him, and look, they won when he did it. Well, it won't happen this week, and they'll lose this week. Seattle wins it.
Buffalo @ NYJ
The Jets are definitely giving themselves a shot at an improbable playoff berth this season. Incredible, but then, I never gave up on Chad Pennington. So, is it Leon Washington, Cedric Houston, or Kevan Barlow at running back for them? No one really knows, the ball will go to whoever has the hottest feet. I think I have been a little hard on J.P. Losman in recent weeks. When I checked the game tracker for their game this past week in about the 3rd quarter, and Lee Evans was nowhere near his top receiver in terms of catches, I was surprised. Guess he's been checking my column out, huh? Oh well, here's some more advice to you, J.P., and that is, now make sure you actually have other guys who will make plays on that team, and keep the good work up. Going to give this one to the Jets at home, though.
Denver @ San Diego
This made for a whale of a game a few weeks ago, and has potential again. However, it being Jay Cutler's second game ever, and first in front of an hostile crowd, I can't say I really envy him this week. Oh wait, yeah, I do. I'd much rather be playing professional football and making millions of dollars than sitting here writing, but anyway. Shawn Merriman was, well, Shawn Merriman this past week, making some great tackles. Mr. LaDainian Tomlinson needs only 3 more TDs to break the TD record, and it's highly likely he does that this week against Denver, what with his current pace. Did I ever mention I know Philip Rivers' mom? Just had to get that in there. Cutler showed some promise against Seattle, but he won't show enough to win this week. Chargers take this one.
New Orleans @ Dallas
Ah, now here's a game that's clear-cut for me to pick. I don't like Dallas, I don't like New Orleans, but I don't care if Dallas wins. New Orleans, however, needs to lose at least one game aside from losing to Carolina in a few weeks in order for Carolina to have a shot at the division title. All along, I have believed that Reggie Bush was not worth the #2 pick of the draft, and I believe he will end up being nothing more than a scat-back/big-play receiver. However, I do have to say that he played a great game against the 49ers. Drew Brees is messing up his average for his 5000 yards! Oh well, I don't particularly care anyway. I'm going to go with Dallas for a victory this week.
Monday Night Football-Chicago @ St. Louis
Can Rex Grossman continue his horrible play and still have the defense bail him out? I have no clue how long it can happen, but I'd say it could continue another week or two. The "Start Griese" bandwagon just got larger, I'll tell you that. I can't watch this game, but actually, that's fine, because I don't really want to anyway. Torry Holt woke up from his slumber last week. About time he did that. Isaac Bruce also contributed a very good game, but they still lost. As I love the ludicrousness of the Bears' anemic offense being outscored by their special teams and defense every week, I say that it continues. Bears win it.
Last week you witnessed some bad history being made, as for the first time ever NAPC! finished with a losing record. I went 7-9 and am now 104-59 on the season.