Okay, we’re three weeks into the 2005 season and the crazier things get in the NFL, the more they stay the same.
Crazy is the norm, you know.
Allow me a moment to quickly explain my philosophy for this column, because it’s clear by some of the message boards I’ve been perusing that many of you don’t quite get it.
David Dorey’s are the predictions of reason. His analysis is solid and reliable. He lets you know what should happen, and his record for prognosticating is quite consistent – he usually beats me in straight-up picks from week to week… and I usually beat him against the spread. There’s a reason for this.
When I complete my analysis of each game and render my picks, I’m attempting to find the soft spots in what is perceived to be reality. Every week in the NFL, without exception, there are at least three or four games that go against what was the conventional wisdom going in. Last week, for instance, we had the following: Indianapolis scoring only 13 points at home against Cleveland, but still winning; winless Oakland coming within an eyelash of prevailing at Philadelphia; Jacksonville winning in overtime at the New York Jets on a long pass play
None of these were total shockers, but each goes against what most would agree was going to happen. Also, there are at least two outright upsets every week. That is, underdogs who win the game as well as cover the number. Last week, we had Atlanta, Miami, Jacksonville and New England as underdog winners. Not one of those was a stunner in my opinion, but all were legitimate “mild” upsets.
That’s where I come in. I attempt to unearth these games for you. Specifically, I seek out those games in which I believe the underdog has a realistic shot at the victory outright. I try to consider as many factors as I can, tangible and otherwise.
Bear in mind that upset picks are a low-percentage play to begin with. A prognosticator who hits about a third of his upset picks, as I have over the last several years, is doing pretty well. Factor in that many other of my underdog picks who fail to win nevertheless cover the spread and, well, you have a nice contrast of information at your disposal when compared with Mr. Dorey’s no-nonsense approach.
It’s fun, and it gives you another angle to consider. That is and always has been the intention.
Oh, and just one more thing…
I won’t be picking the Cardinals to win any more road games, especially at Seattle. Please excuse me on that one.
OVERALL PREDICTIONS, 2005
Straight-Up: 24-22 (52%) ATS: 23-22-1 (51%) Over/Under: 24-21-1 (53%)
Straight-Up: 8-6 ATS: 7-7 Over/Under: 9-5
San Diego (1-2) at New England (2-1)
Line: Patriots favored by 5 (total points line is 47)
Series: There are no recent meetings, the last being in 2001, but when these teams do get together the Patriots usually have their way. They have won seven of the last eight in the series including all four at home.
Chargers Status Report: San Diego broke into the win column in impressive fashion Sunday, throttling the visiting New York Giants, 45-23, as RB LaDainian Tomlinson accounted for four touchdowns. The Chargers are a game back of AFC West co-leaders Denver and Kansas City.
Patriots Status Report: All of us should learn if we pick against the Pats, it’s at our peril. New England won at Pittsburgh last week, 23-20, and is tied with Miami atop the AFC East.
Other Noteworthy Info: Ex-Chargers defensive back Rodney Harrison of the Patriots tore all three major ligaments in a knee last week and is sidelined for the rest of the season.
Game Summary: It was nice to see the Chargers offense finally commit to making Tomlinson the central focus (duh…), but now they must prove they can enjoy similar success on the road against a quality foe. San Diego, whether a good team or not, has had no success at Foxboro. The Patriots remain remarkably resilient and there’s no reason to expect any kind of a letdown following their emotional win over the Steelers, even without Harrison. I believe both offenses will have productive days.
Prediction: PATRIOTS, 31-23
Buffalo (1-2) vs. New Orleans (1-2) at San Antonio, Tex.
Line: Even(total points line is 39)
Series: No recent meetings, but the Bills have won the last two meetings in a series surprisingly dominated by the road teams since the 1980s.
Bills Status Report: Buffalo fell at home to Atlanta Sunday, 24-16, and has dropped two in a row. The Bills are tied for third in the AFC East a game behind co-leaders Miami and New England.
Saints Status Report: New Orleans fumbled the opening kickoff at Minnesota last week and was never really in the game thereafter, losing to the Vikings, 33-16. The Saints trail unbeaten Tampa Bay by two games in the NFC South.
Other Noteworthy Info: Saints WR Joe Horn is listed as questionable, so fantasy owners need to monitor his status right up until kickoff. Buffalo suffered a huge loss with LB Takeo Spikes tearing an Achilles tendon. He’s done for the year.
Game Summary: This is the Saints’ true “home” opener, because certainly a game against the New York Giants at East Rutherford, NJ can’t reasonably count for that. Unlike that game, the Saints will be the clear home team here even if it’s in a state other than Louisiana. These teams are similar going in – both played inspired season openers but have fallen on hard times the last two weeks. Buffalo’s offense has struggled, the Saints’ defense is inconsistent. The pick? I like the Saints to ride the emotion that is sure to pour out of the stands at The Alamo Dome to a victory over a quality but slumping foe.
Prediction: SAINTS, 24-20
Houston (0-2) at Cincinnati (3-0)
Line: Bengals favored by 9½ (total points line is 42)
Series: Cincinnati has won both previous meetings, including a 34-27 home victory in 2003.
Texans Status Report: Houston is coming off a bye after losing to Pittsburgh by 20 points in Week 2.
Bengals Status Report: Cincinnati is unbeaten and alone on top of the AFC North after whipping the Bears at Chicago, 24-7.
Other Noteworthy Info: The Texans played one of their most impressive games of last season following their bye, a 20-6 thumping of Jacksonville.
Game Summary: The Bengals are on some kind of roll, and Houston is struggling offensively and has changed coordinators. A mismatch on paper that justifies the large spread, but a word of caution here. We are talking the Cincinnati Bengals.
Prediction: BENGALS, 30-14
Indianapolis (3-0) at Tennessee (1-2)
Line: Colts favored by 7 (total points line is 45)
Series: Indy has won the last four meetings in this rivalry, three of those decisively. In the last meeting at Tennessee, in ’04, the Colts won, 31-17. At home last year, Indy was a runaway victor, 51-24.
Colts Status Report: The Colts are unbeaten, but all anyone wants to talk about is the offense’s lack of production. Indy won at home over Cleveland last week, 13-6, and is alone atop the AFC South.
Titans Status Report: Tennessee played tough again last week, falling short of winning at St. Louis, 31-27. The Titans are two games behind the Colts in third place in the South.
Other Noteworthy Info: Colts WR Brandon Stokley was held to one catch for nine yards last week.
Game Summary: It’s my belief that the Colts will break out of their offensive slump all at once, and I pity the poor team that’s trying to play defense when it happens. The Titans are out-manned but scrappy and they’re a significant home underdog in a division game, which is a statistical boon for prognosticators. Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher is an excellent motivator, and you know he has his troops convinced that they can win. It would be a pretty big shocker, I concede, and the Colts are certainly the superior team. But I know there’s going to be a big upset this week because there were no real stunners last week… and this is the game that jumps out. Titans QB Steve McNair will play the hero for an ultra-fired up squad, and thus you have my upset special as the Colts offense goes one more week without significant fireworks.
Prediction: TITANS, 23-20
Denver (2-1) at Jacksonville (2-1)
Line: Jaguars favored by 4 (total points line is 37)
Series: Jacksonville prevailed at home last season, 7-6, in a game that was as ugly as it was a yawner, despite being so close. The teams have split six meetings overall.
Broncos Status Report: Denver routed Kansas City at home on Monday night, 30-10, and is tied with the Chiefs for first in the AFC West.
Jaguars Status Report: Jacksonville rallied and beat the New York Jets in overtime on the road, 26-20, on a TD pass to ageless Jimmy Smith. The Jaguars are in second in the AFC South, a game behind Indianapolis.
Other Noteworthy Info: Broncos DB Champ Bailey’s status is uncertain because of a strained hamstring, but he’s quoted on the Broncos official website as saying he will play.
Game Summary: Denver is 2-0 at home, 0-1 on the road – and that loss was in Florida, no less. The Jaguars won their only home game so far, and are playing solid smashmouth-style football. With the Broncos having one day less to prepare, I like this contest to have a similar feel to last year’s meeting, with a little more offense – but not a lot more.
Prediction: JAGUARS, 17-14
Philadelphia (2-1) at Kansas City (2-1)
Line: Chiefs favored by 2½ (total points line is 46½)
Series: These teams have played only three times since 1990, with KC winning two including a split of a pair at home.
Eagles Status Report: Philadelphia held off Oakland at home last week, 23-20, and is tied with both Dallas and the New York Giants, a half-game behind NFC East-leading Washington.
Chiefs Status Report: Kansas City was throttled at Denver on Monday night, 30-10, but is tied with the Broncos for the lead in the AFC West.
Other Noteworthy Info: Chiefs TE Tony Gonzalez has yet to score this season, and QB Trent Green has just one TD pass, during garbage time last week.
Game Summary: Is Kansas City’s defense, stellar the first two weeks, a fraud? I don’t think so. Lots of teams have trouble slowing the Broncos at Mile High. But on the other hand, the defense the Chiefs face this week is even more formidable than Denver’s. With KC’s offense not yet hitting on all the proverbial cylinders, I’ll take the in-the-trenches persona of the Eagles to get it done, even though the game is at Arrowhead.
Prediction: EAGLES, 24-19
St. Louis (2-1) at New York Giants (2-1)
Line: Giants favored by 3 (total points line is 46)
Series: The Rams have won seven of the last 10 meetings, but the Giants are 2-1 in the last three including a 23-13 victory at The Meadowlands in 2003 – the game that marked the eventual end of two-time MVP QB Kurt Warner’s tenure with St. Louis.
Rams Status Report: St. Louis has won two straight including last week’s 31-27 home triumph over Tennessee. The Rams are tied with Seattle for first in the NFC West.
Giants Status Report: The Giants went to San Diego Sunday night and got whupped by the Chargers, 45-23. They are in a three-way tie for second in the NFC East.
Other Noteworthy Info: Rams WR Isaac Bruce is likely to miss the contest with a leg injury suffered last week. Kevin Curtis would stand to benefit most from Bruce’s absence.
Game Summary: I know the Rams are 2-1, but they’re so unimpressive. And this will be their third road game in four weeks. The Giants are especially tough on defense at home, and are adept at forcing turnovers. The Rams turn the ball over more than most teams - not a recipe for success if your Rams coach Mike Martz. Gimme the home team and fast-improving QB Eli Manning.
Prediction: GIANTS, 28-16
Seattle (2-1) at Washington (2-0)
Line: Redskins favored by 2 (total points line is 36½)
Series: This series has been roughly even over the years. The only recent meeting is a 27-20 Redskins win at home in 2003.
Seahawks Status Report: Seattle routed Arizona at home last week, 37-12, and has won two straight after opening with a loss at Jacksonville.
Redskins Status Report: Washington was on a bye last week, giving the Redskins lots of time to dwell on their come-from-behind victory at Dallas Sept. 19.
Other Noteworthy Info: The Redskins lead the NFC East, where all four clubs sport winning records.
Game Summary: The Redskins defense has been excellent, but the offense was completely shut down right up until it inexplicably hit on two bombs to Santana Moss in the rally past Dallas. This is a team with a lot of issues, and the Seahawks are coming off a destruction of a division foe. I like the more talented Seahawks and stud RB Shaun Alexander to hand Washington its first defeat in a grind-it-out sort of game.
Prediction: SEAHAWKS, 16-13
Detroit (1-1) at Tampa Bay (3-0)
Line: Bucs favored by 6 1/2 (total points line is 34)
Series: No recent meetings between these former division rivals, but the Lions have won 6 of the 10 meetings including a split of four at Tampa.
Lions Status Report: Detroit has been forced to stew over a 38-6 drubbing at the hands of Chicago two weeks ago, because last week the Lions had a bye. They are in first place by default in the NFC North, a half-game ahead of the Bears and Minnesota.
Bucs Status Report: Tampa Bay held on for a 17-16 victory at Green Bay last week, the margin of victory provided by a missed PAT for the Packers. The Bucs lead the NFC South by a game over Atlanta.
Other Noteworthy Info: How come no one questioned the Packers’ decision not to go for two points after their touchdown last week? Score was 17-12 after the TD, late first half. Too early to go for two? Perhaps, but I bet coach Mike Sherman wishes he had done so now.
Game Summary: I don’t believe that the Bucs are this good nor do I buy Detroit being as bad as it looked at Chicago two weeks ago. With that said, I can’t envision a Lions upset here, because the Bucs defense simply will create too many problems for unsteady QB Joey Harrington to sort out effectively.
Prediction: BUCS, 27-13
New York Jets (1-2) at Baltimore (0-2)
Line: Ravens favored by 7½ (total points line is 31)
Series: The Ravens won at The Meadowlands last season, 20-17, and have won the last five meetings.
Jets Status Report: Not only did the Jets lose a heartbreaker to Jacksonville in OT, 26-20, but lost their first and second-string QBs to injury. Unknown Brooks Bollinger will start, with veteran Vinny Testaverde to back him up.
Ravens Status Report: Baltimore was idle last week after getting swamped at Tennessee in Week 2, 25-10. The Ravens trail front-running Cincinnati by 2½ games already in the AFC North.
Other Noteworthy Info: RB Curtis Martin showed virtually no ill-effects last week from his knee strain suffered in Week 2.
Game Summary: Try as they might, the Jets won’t sustain any measure of offense at Baltimore with a third-string QB. Martin can do only so much, and this is a home team hungry for its first win and rested because of last week’s bye.
Prediction: RAVENS, 20-9
Dallas (2-1) at Oakland (0-3)
Line: Raiders favored by 3 (total points line is 46)
Series: No recent meetings, but the Cowboys have won three of their last four trips to Oakland including 4-0 against the spread.
Cowboys Status Report: The Cowboys rallied to edge San Francisco, 34-31, also in the Bay Area, last week.
Raiders Status Report: Oakland lost at Philadelphia Sunday, 23-20.
Other Noteworthy Info: Statistical oddity of the year so far – the Cowboys are 2-0 in California this season, 0-1 in Texas.
Game Summary: Trends, schmends… the Raiders are due and will get their first victory. Sure, they’re 0-3 – but they played at New England (and were competitive most of the way), lost a close game at home to Kansas City that only penalties prevented them from winning, and came fairly close to upsetting Philly on the road. Dallas? Played well at San Diego but probably would have lost if the Chargers hadn’t forgotten they had LaDainian Tomlinson, gagged against Washington at home before a national TV audience and then nearly got beat by the lowly 49ers before rallying. Bill Parcells is a great coach, no question, but I’m not yet impressed. Emotional/hostile Raiders crowd will be the difference… oh, and I like the Oakland aerial game led by Randy Moss to exploit the Cowboys’ shockingly feeble pass defense.
Prediction: RAIDERS, 31-24
Minnesota (1-2) at Atlanta (2-1)
Line: Falcons favored by 5 1/2 (total points line is 44 ½)
Series: The visiting team has won the last five games in this series, including Atlanta’s 1998 NFC Championship Game triumph at The Metrodome. Last meeting was Vikings, 39-26, at Atlanta in 2003.
Vikings Status Report: Minnesota broke out of its funk in a big way, drubbing a tired New Orleans club last week at home, 33-16. Minnesota is tied for second in the NFC North, a half-game behind Detroit.
Falcons Status Report: Atlanta was solid on both sides of the ball last week in a 24-16 victory at Buffalo. The Falcons trail Tampa Bay by a game in the NFC South.
Other Noteworthy Info: According to the Vikings’ website, Mewelde Moore is officially the starting running back.
Game Summary: Although I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Vikings prevail, especially considering the team’s track record of success in this series, the one thing I can’t get past is Atlanta’s fly-all-over-place defense potentially forcing mistakes… several of them. I’m also having a hard time envisioning the Vikings defense being able to slow QB Michael Vick in his home arena. I prefer the home dome team here.
Prediction: FALCONS, 27-20
San Francisco (1-2) vs. Arizona (0-3) at Mexico City, Mexico
Line: Cardinals favored by 2½ (total points line is 42)
Series: The 49ers won only two games last season, and both were against the Cardinals, and both were in overtime by scores of 31-28.
49ers Status Report: The 49ers built a big early lead at home against Dallas last week, but ended up losing, 34-31. They’re a game behind NFC West co-leaders Seattle and St. Louis.
Cardinals Status Report: Going in as my upset special last week, the Cardinals were so inspired by my confidence in them that they laid a 37-12 egg at Seattle. Thanks, guys.
Other Noteworthy Info: QB Kurt Warner is expected to be out about a month with a strained groin muscle. Joshua McCown replaces him.
Game Summary: No need to discuss this game too much. The 49ers are roughly as bad as we figured they would be, and the Cardinals are a lot worse than we thought they would be. Es usted listo para algún futbol de Americano?
Prediction: 49ERS, 31-28 (in overtime, naturally)
Green Bay (0-3) at Carolina (1-2)
Line: Panthers favored by 7½ (total points line is 43)
Series: The Packers won last year’s meeting at Carolina, 24-14, and are 6-2 in the series including 4-1 at Ericsson Stadium.
Packers Status Report: Green Bay played better last week, but came up short in a 17-16 loss to Tampa Bay, the Packers’ first loss to the Bucs at home in 17 years.
Panthers Status Report: Carolina went into Miami favored, but lost 27-24. The Panthers are two games behind Tampa Bay in the NFC South.
Other Noteworthy Info: Packers TE Bubba Franks is likely to sit out, although an official decision had not been made at presstime.
Game Summary: This is a great MNF matchup, but for the wrong reasons. The Pack is desperate, and QB Brett Favre has enjoyed significant success against the Panthers including beating them in the 1996 NFC Title Game. Carolina has beaten the two-time defending champion New England Patriots this season, but lost to have-nots New Orleans and Miami. Who do the Panthers think they are? The Rams? At home on the big stage, Favre will likely play pretty well. But the Panthers defense will bounce back from last week stinker in south Florida, with the Packers offensive line having no answer to Carolina DE Julius Peppers.
Prediction: PANTHERS, 27-23