When I was growing up, Saturday mornings in the fall meant that Inside the NFL was on, and I’d never miss it. As a Seahawks fan living on the east coast in the pre-DirecTV days, Inside the NFL was often the only place I saw extensive highlights of my favorite team.
Probably the best aspect of the show, and the reason it’s still vital, is that the people on it haven’t made the show what it is. The hosts have been interchangeable. I don’t miss Dawson and Buoniconti’s involvement, the same way I don’t miss Jerry Glanville’s stint and won’t miss Cris Carter’s eyebrows. The show occasionally gets more confrontational than I’d like, but for the most part, it’s the only hour of NFL highlights and analysis worth watching.
Last week: 6-10
2006 Season: 85-102-5
NFL Week 14
Cleveland at Pittsburgh (-7 ½) – Less than 10 months ago, the word was that no team had a more loyal fan base than the Pittsburgh Steelers. “Pittsburgh Steelers fans travel all over the country to watch their team” was all you heard late last season. One guy suffered a heart attack when it appeared that Jerome Bettis’ career would end with a goal line fumble. This was a fan base that would gladly fork over their kid’s college funds to attend the Super Bowl.
Well, last week a little more than 59,000 people showed up at Heinz Field (cap. 65,000) to watch the Steelers play the Buccaneers. To me, all those empty seats are an example of how the Steelers fans really aren’t much different from fans of other teams. When they’re team sucks, they stay away, too.
If you want an example of a loyal fan base, check out the 70,000 people that showed up at a frigid, snowy Lambeau Field to watch the 4-7 Packers play the 6-5 Jets. Though I’m sure a few left at halftime (when the Jets led 31-0), most stayed.
This week, I’d expect those seats at Heinz Field to be full. Not just because it’s a divisional game against the Cleveland Browns, but because paying $35 to park and $6.50 for a beer is more appealing than listening to Bryant Gumbel whisper for 3 hours. Pick: Steelers -7 ½ Result: Pittsburgh 27, Cleveland 7.
NY Giants at Carolina (-3) – If the ligament damage in Jake Delhomme’s thumb won’t allow him to play this Sunday, John Fox will have no choice but to go with Chris Weinke. Delhomme hasn’t practiced yet this week, therefore...Pick: Giants +3
Oakland at Cincinnati (-11) – When he attempted to get into a nightclub that had already closed, Bengals rookie WR Reggie McNeal became the latest Bengal to do some late-night bracelet shopping. Hey, you can’t say McNeal isn’t a team player!
As for some actual analysis: Do not let the 7 points allowed in the last two weeks fool you. The Bengals defense isn’t very good. But they do create turnovers, and with Aaron Brooks coming to town, you’ve got to like Cincy in this one. Pick: Bengals -11
Minnesota at Detroit (-2 ½) – Forget that he’s willing to go over the middle and take the big hit to make a 1 st down catch. Forget the game-breaking ability to run after the catch. This is why I love Roy Williams:
“We played good. We had penalties and turnovers but we played good enough to win…”
That was Williams’ quote after last week’s loss to the New England Patriots. Someday, Roy Williams is going to realize that if you want to beat a legitimately good team, a team that has won 3 of the last 5 Super Bowl trophies, you can’t go into their stadium and commit that many penalties (7 for 70 yards), turnovers (5) and allow that many sacks (5) and expect to win. Furthermore, you can’t do all that and say that you played “good enough to win” afterwards. You didn’t so you didn’t.
You can play like that and beat the Vikings, though. Pick: Lions -2 ½ (Can anyone tell me how Seattle lost to the Vikings? Anyone? Bueller?)
Tennessee at Houston (-1 ½) – Vince Young and the Titans are playing extremely well right now and remember: Vince Young is from Houston and harbors some resentment towards the Texans organization for not making him the #1 pick in the 2006 draft. Pick: Titans +1 ½
Indianapolis (-1 ½) at Jacksonville – Living less than an hour from Foxborough, Massachusetts means that I don’t have to wander far to find someone who hates Peyton Manning with the intensity of 10,000 suns. The sight of Manning on TV sends even the most passive members of Patriot Nation into rage that Lewis Black would be proud of, mostly about how annoying his audibles at the line of scrimmage are, or how overrated he is because he throws so many 1-yard touchdown passes.
(That they’ve got Tom Brady dipped in gold for doing the exact same thing is deliciously ironic. This is the same group of people who hate Derek Jeter, yet Jeter is the Tom Brady of MLB. At least the Jeter from 1996-2000 was.)
Something happened at the end of the Colts loss to the Titans that kind of made me understand where these Patriot fans are coming from, though. After Bironas nailed that improbable 60-yard field goal, the CBS cameras caught Manning on the sidelines pointing at the Titans celebrating on the field and making the universal gesture that a flag should be thrown. As if it would’ve made a difference, Peyton. Pick: Colts -1 ½
Baltimore at Kansas City (-3) – The losses by both Baltimore and Kansas City last week were Britney Spears getting out of the car revealing.
Baltimore ’s allegedly improved offense couldn’t do anything against a pretty bad Bengals defense. Unlike many of the Ravens opponents, the Bengals didn’t turn the ball over so the Ravens lost. Kansas City ’s allegedly improved defense couldn’t hang on to a late 14 point lead against a very bad Browns offense that had lost its very bad starting quarterback.
Last week’s loss will likely be pointed to as the game that summarily ended the Chiefs’ playoff hopes. With games left against the Ravens, Chargers and Jaguars, the defense will have to improve, dramatically, for Herm Edwards to have a chance at submarining them in the playoffs this year. Pick: Chiefs -3 (Hey, it’s Arrowhead. The Chiefs rarely lose in Arrowhead)
New England (-3 ½) at Miami – Sure, the Patriots struggled to beat the Lions last Sunday. And sure, the Patriots usually struggle when they play the Dolphins in Miami . But that hissing sound you’ve heard all week has been the air leaking out of the Miami Dolphins playoff balloon. They have nothing but pride to play for this week, while the Patriots need to keep winning to get home-field advantage in January. Pick: Patriots -3 ½
Atlanta (-3) at Tampa Bay – After flipping the bird at Falcons fans two weeks ago, getting out of Atlanta , for just a short time, was just what Michael Vick needed. This two-week road trip that the Falcons are currently on is like another round of Valtrex treatments for Vick. Getting rid of the rash of mistakes, and the itching and burning Falcons fans feel for Matt Schaub. Pick: Falcons -3
Philadelphia (-1 ½) at Washington – You’ve got to love how demented Eagles fans are. Take Monday night, for example. The Eagles are trailing the Carolina Panthers, and despite not turning the ball over and tossing two touchdown passes, Philly fans actually booed when Jeff Garcia picked himself up after absorbing a brutal hit from Panthers’ DT Kris Jenkins. I wonder how many were still hoping to see AJ Feeley after Garcia led them to a win that has them in position to make the playoffs. Pick: Eagles -1 ½
Seattle (-3 ½) at Arizona – The job that Sean Payton has done in New Orleans makes him a deserving lock for Coach of the Year, but why hasn’t Mike Holmgren’s name been included in the discussion? Sure, Seattle hasn’t played the NFL’s toughest schedule, but with the amount of injuries the Seahawks have had to deal with (only starters Darrell Jackson, Walter Jones and Chris Gray have played every game on offense for Seattle), being 8-4 with a 2-game lead in any division ought to garner a bit more recognition than Holmgren is getting, right? Pick: Seahawks -3 ½
Green Bay at San Francisco (-4 ½) – Who can forget that five minute stretch of time when San Francisco was flirting with the playoffs and Mike Nolan was the most stylish NFL head coach since Jerry Glanville was raiding Johnny Cash’s wardrobe. It was an exhilarating time to be a 49er fan, wasn’t it? Pick: Packers +4 ½
Buffalo at NY Jets (-3 ½) – When the Jets visited their “in-state rival” earlier this year, Buffalo had a 150-yard rusher (Willis McGahee), a 300-yard passer (JP Losman) and two receivers with 100 yards each (Lee Evans, Roscoe “P. Coltrane” Parrish)…and lost. If Buffalo couldn’t beat the Jets with offensive production like that in Week 3, I doubt they’ll do it now that their offense is stuck in neutral and the Jets are beginning to realize that they’ve got a legitimate chance at the playoffs. Pick: Jets -3 ½
Denver at San Diego (-7 ½) – So the debut of Jay Cutler didn’t go as well as Mike Shanahan and Broncos fans planned. Oh well, it’s not like the Broncos are in the playoff hunt. Oh wait, they are? Uh-oh…Seriously, Denver fans really need to get over this whole “Next Elway” thing. The weight of having to fill Hall-of-Fame shoes is going to turn a talented quarterback like Cutler into Brian Griese pretty fast. Pick: Chargers -7 ½
New Orleans at Dallas (-6 ½) – The last time the Cowboys played on SNF, it was Tony Romo’s 1 st NFL start and John Madden wouldn’t stop talking about how Romo’s girlfriend broke up with him a week earlier. They also showed a clip of Romo impersonating Brett Favre, which explained a.) why John Madden loved him so much and b.) shed some light on where the ex-girlfriend was coming from. It was slightly north of bizarre.
It boggles my mind that the only playoff implication this game has is on who has the inside track on the #2 seed in the NFC. If you had told me in September that thanks to Tony Romo, Martin Gramatica, Drew Brees and Marques Colston, both of these teams are 8-4 and lead their divisions by 2 games each, I would’ve had you fitted for a straight-jacket. Pick: Cowboys -6 ½
Chicago (-6 ½) at St. Louis – Are you ready for some (mediocre) football? I bet Lovie Smith wishes he could smuggle Marc Bulger out of St. Louis with him after the game, and I have no doubt that Marc Bulger would be a willing participant. I’d also bet that ESPN has redistributed whoever negotiated the contract with the NFL to the mailroom. Pick: Bears -6 ½
Bryan McIntyre writes about football from all angles, and he has never, to our knowledge, broken up with Tony Romo. Feel free to e-mail him here.