The winless Tennessee Titans go into Washington (one of the hardest places for visiting teams to play) and beat the heavily favored Redskins. The winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers holds Cincinnati, an AFC powerhouse, to 13 points and wins in an upset 14-13. (Though I’d say Mike Carey, one of the league’s best officials, generously extended the Bucs touchdown drive with a bogus roughing-the-passer penalty)
The steady play of Drew Brees, and smart play-calling by Sean Payton, keeps Donovan McNabb, the early favorite for NFL MVP, on the sidelines for the game’s final 8 minutes and 26 seconds, as they march down the field to kick the game-winning field goal as time expires. Everyone knows about the 2-minute offense, and most people know about the 4-minute offense. Thanks to Sean Payton, we know have the 8-minute offense.
St. Louis appeared to have stuck the dagger in the hearts of the Seahawks with Torry Holt’s miraculous 67-yard touchdown catch that gave the Rams the 28-27 lead with less than 2 minutes to go in the game. Game over, right? Nope. Seattle easily drives the ball into Josh Brown’s field goal range, and Brown drills a 54-yarder to win the game.
In Dallas, the Cowboys trail the Houston Texans 6-3 at the half, which leads to a Terrell Owens explosion. Only Owens doesn’t erupt on his usual victims (Todd Haley, Drew Bledsoe, pill bottles), he takes his frustrations out on the Texans secondary, torching them for 3 second-half touchdowns in a 34-6 blowout.
And then on Monday night, the Arizona Cardinals lead 20-0 at the half, force six Rex Grossman turnovers and don’t allow the Bears offense into the end zone…and Chicago wins, 24-23.
What set of stars had to align for the events of last week to unfold the way they did? Should we be stocking up on canned goods and bottled water?
Last Week: 4-9
Carolina at Cincinnati (-3 ½) – With the Pittsburgh Steelers suddenly breathing down their necks, this is pretty much a must-win game for the Bengals. Ever since the offensive line was hit with a rash of injuries, and Chris Henry was suspended, the offense hasn’t been able to do much of anything. Going up against Carolina, particularly Julius Peppers, it won’t get any easier.
Will the Panthers 4-0 record since Steve Smith returned from a hamstring injury vault him into the MVP discussion? It should. Pick: Panthers +3 ½
Detroit at NY Jets (-3 ½) – Does anyone realize that if the Jets beat Detroit this week and Cleveland next week, New York will be 5-3 when they head into the bye week? If you look at their schedule, the Jets could win 9 games this year. Hey, I’m just saying it’s possible.
Detroit has won a whopping 5 road games this decade, and with their best player (Shaun Rogers) serving a 4-game suspension, I think that number will remain unchanged. Pick: Jets -3 ½
Green Bay at Miami (-4) – Since Chicago is off this week, Kyle Orton will able to attend the reunion of the 2005 NFC North Starting Quarterbacks this Sunday. I heard there’s going to be a seminar on clipboard carrying, and afterwards, a meet-and-great with Eric Hipple, Lynn Dickey and Shane Matthews! Pick: Packers +4 (I still refuse to take Miami in any game for the rest of 2006)
Jacksonville (-9 ½) at Houston – You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to see that when David Carr struggles, the Texans go nowhere. Hell, even when he excels, the Texans go nowhere. This week, Carr & Co. get to face a Jaguars team that is pretty good (9th) against the pass, so I think this will be more of the “Carr struggles, Texans lose” variety.
Now, if we can just find out who that mystery man is that has been wearing Rashean Mathis’ jersey this year…Pick: Jaguars –9 ½
New England (-5 ½) at Buffalo – The Bills may be a scrappy bunch, but they’re a very young team that’ll be matching up against an older, more experienced New England Patriots. With two weeks to prepare, and Tom Brady going up against a pair of rookie safeties, how can you not like the Pats this week? Pick: Patriots –5 ½
Philadelphia (-5) at Tampa Bay – The Eagles strike me as the type of team that know how to respond to a loss. Going up against a Buccaneers team that was waving a white flag at the 2006 season earlier in the week, this one has all the making of a blowout. Pick: Eagles -5
Pittsburgh (-1 ½) at Atlanta – Beating Kansas City, at home, by a score of 45-7 doesn’t prove to me that Pittsburgh is suddenly “back”. I think it just shows that they’re capable of pummeling an inferior, mistake-prone team that was playing with a journeyman quarterback, by a very wide margin.
I snuck some glances at the Falcons-Giants game last week, and I wonder if any team does less with the talent they have than the Atlanta Falcons? They have talent all over the place, but for some reason, they can’t seem to put it all together. At this point, shouldn’t Jim Mora be sensing an increase in the temperature of his seat? Pick: Steelers -1 ½
San Diego (-5 ½) at Kansas City – Arrowhead Stadium is a notoriously tough place to play in, especially if you’re an AFC West rival. Kansas City Chiefs fans are loyal, loud and clad in red. They’ll be ready for this game. The bigger question is will the Chiefs players be ready for this game? They were just embarrassed a week ago, and the struggling offense has shown no signs of life. After ranking 1st in the NFL in total offense during the 2004 and 2005 seasons, the absence of Trent Green, Willie Roaf and Al Saunders has dropped the Chiefs to 26th.
I wasn’t sold on the Chargers before the season, but the more I see, the more I like. The defense is nasty, and while “Martyball” isn’t aesthetically pleasing, it’s getting the job done. Pick: Chargers -5 ½
Denver (-4 ½) at Cleveland – I’ll make 3 guarantees about this game:
- CBS will show plenty of clips from “The Drive”
- CBS will show plenty of clips of Earnest Byner’s fumble during the 1987 AFC Championship game
- Everyone in Cleveland will hate CBS
Pick: Broncos -4 ½
Arizona (-2 ½) at Oakland – The one bright spot in Arizona this year has been Matt Leinart. I’ve got to admit that I didn’t expect much from Leinart. I, too, thought he had a “Hollywood” mentality and wouldn’t be too concerned with putting in the work necessary for him to become a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback. After watching both of his starts, I’ve come to realize that Leinart’s talent has him closer to that level than most quarterbacks are when they’re coming out of college.
Few people outside of Arizona and the Bay Area will be watching this, but there are some things worth tuning in for:
- Oakland is one of the teams that probably should’ve drafted a quarterback last April, but they passed on Matt Leinart. Don’t think Leinart isn’t aware of that.
- How do the Cardinals respond after being the unwitting recipient of the stomach punch to end all stomach punches?
- How many times will FOX show a split-screen of Art Shell and Dennis Green? When they are in a split-screen, how many times will both coaches have a stunned look on their face?
- When Anquan Boldin makes his 1st catch of the day, he’ll be the fastest player in NFL history to reach 300 catches in his career. Since we know he won’t be shut out on Sunday, he’ll reach that milestone in just 46 games.
To top it all off, FOX is going to defy every law of physics, and will somehow cram Tony Siragusa into the booth for this game. Pick: Cardinals -2 ½
(Waking up Tuesday morning and seeing “at Oakland” on the schedule had to take some of the sting out of blowing that Monday night game, right? Um…right?)
Minnesota at Seattle (-6 ½) – Steve Hutchinson is a left guard who went out got the best deal he possibly could. There is a business side to the NFL, and while it’s not pretty, I can’t hold it against him for doing what he needed to do. As a Seahawks fan, it would’ve been nice if Hutchinson had stayed in Seattle. The again, if he was here would the Seahawks have Julian Peterson and Deion Branch? Probably not, and I think it’s harder to find impact players like that than it is to find an interior offensive lineman, even one as great as Hutchinson.
I’m still not sold on the Vikings. Offensively, they’ve struggled, and while the defense is good (5th in the NFL), have they played any team with a decent offense? Sure, they played Carolina in Week 2, but the Panthers were without Steve Smith (and gave that game away with poor special teams play). Pick: Seahawks -6 ½
Ten Second Runoff Rule (-10) over Scott Linehan – I have to mention this, and since the Rams have a bye week, I’m stealing a long-running gag from Bill Simmons to do so.
After Mike Martz was fired, I was worried that I wouldn’t have another coach in the NFC West to re-direct the hatred I felt towards Captain Tinfoil. My dislike of Martz began the day the Seahawks choked away a 17-point lead in the 4th quarter against St. Louis, and I had to watch Martz jubilantly celebrating on the field. That image drove me nuts, and when he was fired, I wondered if I could ever feel the same way about his replacement, Scott Linehan.
The torch was officially passed with Linehan’s on-field display in the game’s final 4 seconds, as well as his complaining about the “integrity of the 10-second runoff” rule in his post-game press conference.
Washington at Indianapolis (-9 ½) – Is it possible that the Colts have been playing possum this year? After years of dominating during the regular season, and checking out early in January, could the Colts have decided to hold back a bit during the early part of the year to avoid peaking too early or to decrease the pressure put on them when they head into the playoffs? Pick: Colts -9 ½
NY Giants at Dallas (-3) – Monday Night Football is the ideal platform for two of the NFL’s biggest drama queens to do battle.
The challenger, the New York Giants, have seem players complain to union officials about Tom Coughlin’s off-season regimen. One of their star players, Jeremy Shockey, recently called out the coaching staff, claiming they were “out-coached” against Seattle. And this week, Tiki Barber has been anything but subtle about this year possibly being his last in the NFL.
No team has more drama than the Dallas Cowboys. Between Jerry Jones’ bizarre facelifts, Bill Parcells ever-expanding ego (and bra size), and Terrell Owens’ “25 million reasons to live”, the ‘Boys are filled to the brim with the stuff.
Both teams will give ESPN’s MNF crew plenty to talk about. So much, in fact, that maybe we’ll go a week without hearing about Kornheiser’s fantasy football team (Editor’s Note: Don’t bet on it…) Pick: Cowboys –3
Brian McIntyre writes about football from all angles, and he does not wear a tinfoil fedora. You can contact Brian here.