My faith in the underdog has been restored.
Week 5 was a good one in terms of prognosticating – 10 of 14 in the crazy world of today’s NFL isn’t half-bad and I even got back on track with my upset picks, nailing the Jets’ conquest of previously unbeaten Tampa Bay. The Patriots, Titans and Steelers were other ‘dogs who made me look good.
Hey, even blind squirrels find acorns occasionally.
On to Week 6…
OVERALL PREDICTIONS, 2005
Straight-Up: 43-31 (58%) ATS: 40-32-2 (56%) Over/Under: 34-39-1 (47%)
Straight-Up: 10-4 ATS: 9-4-1 Over/Under: 4-10
Miami (2-2) at Tampa Bay (4-1)
Line: Buccaneers favored by 4½ (total points line is 33)
Series: These teams have faced off only twice in the regular season since 1990 (they play every pre-season), with Tampa Bay winning both – one at Miami, the other at home.
Dolphins Status Report: Miami dropped a 20-14 decision at Buffalo last week. The Dolphins are in second in the AFC East, a half-game behind New England.
Bucs Status Report: Tampa Bay lost for the first time this season, by a 14-12 score to the New York Jets on the road last week. The Bucs remain in first place in the AFC South, a game up on both Atlanta and Carolina.
Other Noteworthy Info: Two notes regarding running backs named Williams: Ricky will return to the fold for Miami after a four-game suspension to begin the season, and Carnell – otherwise known as Cadillac – is expected to be healthy enough to start for Tampa Bay.
Game Summary: Both teams are solid defensively, but Tampa Bay gets a boost with the return of its Williams. Nothing dramatic here… just a fairly close win by the host Bucs because they’re just a little better on both sides of the ball.
Prediction: BUCCANEERS, 20-14
Cleveland (2-2) at Baltimore (1-3)
Line: Ravens favored by 5½ (total points line is 34)
Series: The Ravens have won three of the last four meetings, each by at least two TDs, but the loss was a 20-3 decision at Cleveland last season.
Browns Status Report: Cleveland’s defense was solid again in a 20-10 home win over Chicago.
Ravens Status Report: Baltimore came unraveled emotionally in a bitterly frustrating 35-17 loss at Detroit last week.
Other Noteworthy Info: Cleveland RB Lee Suggs will be out another month, so Reuben Droughns remains the featured back despite having no TDs to this point. Also, WR Braylon Edwards probably will miss one more week after undergoing surgery for an infection in his elbow, although it’s still possible he will play.
Game Summary: The Browns are playing hard and tough under new coach Romeo Crennel, but the Ravens desperately need this game. At home in a division game, the Ravens defense will regroup after last week’s debacle at Detroit and lead the way to a close victory. Expect RB Jamal Lewis to have his best game yet – he’s dominated the Browns in recent seasons.
Prediction: RAVENS, 17-13
Cincinnati (4-1) at Tennessee (2-3)
Line: Bengals favored by 3 (total points line is 45)
Series: These former division rivals have played only once in the last four years – a Titans 27-20 home victory last December.
Bengals Status Report: Cincinnati suffered its first loss of ’05 Sunday night, falling at Jacksonville, 23-20. The Bengals are still atop the AFC North, a half-game ahead of Pittsburgh.
Titans Status Report: Tennessee gained its first road win last week, topping host Houston, 34-20. The Titans are in third place in the AFC South, three games behind front-running Indianapolis.
Other Noteworthy Info: Second-year back Chris Perry got nine touches last week and is expected to continue being a part of the Cincinnati offense, especially on third downs.
Game Summary: This could be an ambush game for the Bengals if they allow themselves to look ahead to next week’s showdown with Pittsburgh. But because the game is at Tennessee, and after the loss at Jacksonville last week, it’s doubtful the Bengals outside of brash WR Chad Johnson will be very cocky. In short, the Bengals have too much on offense for the banged-up Titans to contend with.
Prediction: BENGALS, 28-20
Jacksonville (3-2) at Pittsburgh (3-1)
Line: Steelers favored by 3 (total points line is 35½)
Series: The Steelers won at Jacksonville last December, 17-16, but since 1992 the teams have split 16 meetings going back to when they were both a part of the AFC Central. Home teams have dominated, especially against the spread.
Jaguars Status Report: Jacksonville posted a quality win Sunday night, 23-20 over previously unbeaten Cincinnati. The Jaguars are in second in the AFC South, two games behind Indianapolis.
Steelers Status Report: Pittsburgh rallied with a late field goal to prevail at San Diego Monday night, 24-22. The Steelers are a half-game back of Cincinnati in the AFC North.
Other Noteworthy Info: Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, who sustained a hyper-extended knee Monday, is probably a gametime decision this week. Most pundits predict he will not play, in which case either of veterans Tommy Maddox or Charlie Batch would get the start.
Game Summary: The small spread indicates that the oddsmakers believe Roethlisberger will sit, but I don’t believe it matters a great deal either way. Pittsburgh runs the ball, and plays ultra-physical defense. The Jaguars have trouble slowing the run, and are not any better than average offensively. The stats point to a solid Steelers win, with or without Big Ben, so I won’t argue.
Prediction: STEELERS, 20-10
Washington (3-1) at Kansas City (2-2)
Line: Chiefs favored by 6 (total points line is 43)
Series: The Chiefs have won the last four meetings, the most recent in 2001.
Redskins Status Report: Washington played tough but fell at Denver last week, 21-19. The Redskins are tied with the New York Giants atop the NFC East, a half-game ahead of Dallas and Philadelphia.
Chiefs Status Report: Kansas City was on a bye last week after coming from ahead to lose at home to Philadelphia Oct. 2. The Chiefs are in second in the AFC West, a game and a half behind Denver.
Other Noteworthy Info: Washington could have won at Denver last week if not for the infamous “tuck rule,” which bailed Broncos QB Jake Plummer out of a potential fumble in his own end zone.
Game Summary: This is a tough assignment for the Redskins, traveling over much of the country for the second consecutive week to face a talented opponent who is rested after enjoying a bye last week. Still, I’m a defense first guy… and that’s why I like Washington to keep it tight. No upset pick, though – the Chiefs will find a way at home.
Prediction: CHIEFS, 22-17
New York Giants (3-1) at Dallas (3-2)
Line: Cowboys favored by 3½ (total points line is 47½)
Series: Dallas had won five straight in the series before getting swept last year – 26-10 at Dallas and 28-24 at The Meadowlands.
Giants Status Report: The G-Men were on a bye last week after having walloped St. Louis, 44-24, on Oct. 2. They are tied with Washington on top of the tight NFC East.
Cowboys Status Report: Dallas shocked most observers with its 33-10 rout of visiting Philadelphia last week. The Cowboys trail the leaders by a half-game.
Other Noteworthy Info: Dallas RB Julius Jones is expected to be a gametime decision after turning an ankle against the Eagles. Veteran Anthony Thomas and youngster Tyson Thompson are candidates to be featured if Jones is unable to go.
Game Summary: A lot of people believe the Cowboys are for real. I’m not convinced, although there’s no question that coach Bill Parcells will get the most out of them. Still, they’re inconsistent. Look at the trend – play well at San Diego, blow it at home to Washington, rally past San Francisco, look mostly ugly at Oakland, and then are brilliant against the Eagles. I believe they will totter rather than teeter. The Giants are rested and healthy… and had success at Texas Stadium last year. On the other hand, they came off their bye a year ago and laid an egg at home in a 15-point loss to Detroit. But this Giants group is a more confident team… and this is my upset special.
Prediction: GIANTS, 26-23
Minnesota (1-3) at Chicago (1-3)
Line: Bears favored by 3 (total points line is 37)
Series: The home team has won the last five meetings. Last year, Chicago won at home, 24-14, and the Vikings prevailed at The Metrodome, 27-22.
Vikings Status Report: Minnesota was off last week, after having been whipped at Atlanta Oct. 2. The Vikings are tied with the Bears, a game behind Detroit in the NFC North.
Bears Status Report: Chicago lost at Cleveland last week, 20-10.
Other Noteworthy Info: Vikings WR Nate Burleson was expected to return to the lineup, but that might be delayed another week because of a tender shoulder. For Chicago, RB Thomas Jones will likely sit. Rookie Cedric Benson should get most of the work.
Game Summary: The home team has dominated this series and, well, Minnesota simply isn’t doing anything in incite confidence in its ability to take a road division game. It’s a hunch, really, but I think Benson will be ultra-impressive in his starting debut. Defense will win out on top of Benson’s production, as the Bears force more Daunte Culpepper turnovers.
Prediction: BEARS, 24-17
Carolina (3-2) at Detroit (2-2)
Line: Even (total points line is 41½)
Series: The Panthers have won two of the three previous meetings including a 20-14 triumph at home in 2003.
Panthers Status Report: Carolina rallied at Arizona last week for a 24-20 win. The Panthers trail first-place Tampa Bay by a game in the NFC South.
Lions Status Report: Detroit routed visiting Baltimore, 35-17, to even its record and take over sole possession of first place in the weak NFC North.
Other Noteworthy Info: Carolina RBs Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster are both listed as questionable but Davis is expected to start as usual. For Detroit, WR Roy Williams is expected to be sidelined for this week’s game.
Game Summary: As the even line would indicate, this is a tough call. The Panthers are a better team overall, but Detroit is tough at home and Carolina is playing its second straight road game. In the end, I like the Panthers’ D to harass Detroit QB Joey Harrington into just enough mistakes, because the Carolina run defense will perform better than the vaunted Ravens did last week.
Prediction: PANTHERS, 24-20
Atlanta (3-2) vs. New Orleans (2-3) at San Antonio, TX
Line: Falcons favored by 4½ (total points line is 42½)
Series: Atlanta had won 10 of the previous 12 meetings at New Orleans before stumbling there last year, 26-13. The Falcons prevailed at home, 24-21. Of course, this year’s game isn’t at The Superdome.
Falcons Status Report: Atlanta lost at home to New England last week, 31-28, and is tied for second in the NFC South with Carolina.
Saints Status Report: New Orleans was embarrassed last week at Green Bay, 52-3. The Saints are in last in the NFC South, but only two games from first.
Other Noteworthy Info: New Orleans RB Deuce McAlister is out for the season with a torn ACL. Veteran Antowain Smith figures to start this week. In addition, WR Joe Horn is nursing a tender hamstring. For Atlanta, QB Michael Vick is expected to start though the Falcons might opt to be extra cautious, knowing that backup Matt Schaub played well last week and that he figures to be at least adequate against the Saints.
Game Summary: Usually, I consider Atlanta’s hopes to be prominently on the shoulders of Vick. But even if he doesn’t suit up at all, I like the Falcons to rebound on defense against a decidedly under-manned, fatigued Saints offense at what is essentially a neutral field.
Prediction: FALCONS, 23-7
New York Jets (2-3) at Buffalo (2-3)
Line: Bills favored by 3 (total points line is 33)
Series: The home team has won six in a row in this series. In 2004, the Bills won at home, 22-17, and lost at The Meadowlands, 16-14.
Jets Status Report: The Jets upset previously undefeated Tampa Bay at home, 14-12.
Bills Status Report: Buffalo snapped a three-game skid with a 20-14 home win over Miami.
Other Noteworthy Info: Veteran Kelly Holcomb will remain the Bills starting QB for the time being, coach Mike Mullarkey said this week.
Game Summary: Statistically, the Bills have the edge – mainly because they’re playing at home. And while I usually don’t buck stronger trends, the road team has to win in this series sooner or later and in terms of coaching motivation, this is a mismatch in the Jets’ favor. I also like that veteran QB Vinny Testaverde has resuscitated the confidence of the offense, and that RB Curtis Martin rejuvenated in time to get two rushing TDs last week. Pretty much a toss-up, so I’m taking the visiting Jets to get over the .500 mark.
Prediction: JETS, 20-17
New England (3-2) at Denver (4-1)
Line: Broncos favored by 3 (total points line is 47)
Series: Denver has won seven of the last 10 meetings, but New England won at Denver, 30-26, in the most recent clash, in 2003.
Patriots Status Report: New England over Atlanta on the road for a 31-28 triumph last week. The Pats are atop the AFC East, a half-game over Miami.
Broncos Status Report: Denver held off Washington at home Sunday, 21-19, and has won four straight. The Broncos lead the AFC West.
Other Noteworthy Info: Patriots DE Willie McGinest suffered a broken hand last week. Six others who started on defense in Super Bowl XXXIX are hurt.
Game Summary: If the Patriots weren’t absolutely ravaged by injuries to their defense, I’d give them a decent chance to win here. But they’re so shorthanded, it’ll be next to impossible for even genius head coach Bill Bellichick to scheme against the Broncos, who figure to run the ball mercilessly against the patchwork New England front.
Prediction: BRONCOS, 31-17
San Diego (2-3) at Oakland (1-3)
Line: Chargers favored by 2 (total points line is 50½)
Series: San Diego has won the last three meetings including a 23-17 victory at Oakland last season.
Chargers Status Report: San Diego lost at home Monday night to Pittsburgh, 24-22. Despite its record, the Chargers have led in the fourth quarter of all their games. They trail Denver by two games in the AFC West.
Raiders Status Report: Oakland was off last week after defeating Dallas, 19-13, on Oct. 2. The Raiders are currently last in the AFC West.
Other Noteworthy Info: In the Chargers’ 42-14 rout of Oakland at San Diego last season, QB Drew Brees threw for five touchdowns.
Game Summary: These teams tend to play well defensively against each other when they play at Oakland. No tangible reason why, but that’s just what tends to happen. So regardless of the winner, expect the score to be well under the number. Oh, and I expect the Chargers to win handily even though Raiders wideout Randy Moss could do damage against San Diego’s suspect secondary.
Prediction: CHARGERS, 27-17
Houston (0-4) at Seattle (3-2)
Line: Seahawks favored by 10 (total points line is 45½)
Series: First meeting.
Texans Status Report: Houston lost at home to Tennessee last week, 34-20, and continues to struggle protecting its passer or sustaining an offense.
Seahawks Status Report: Seattle won at St. Louis last week, 37-31, to snap a four-game skid against the Rams and take over sole possession of first place in the NFC West.
Other Noteworthy Info: Houston WR Andre Johnson strained a calf muscle and is listed as questionable. Seattle’s No. 1 target, Darrell Jackson, is also sidelined.
Game Summary: RB Shaun Alexander always comes up big on primetime, so there certainly is no reason to expect a lesser showing against the hapless Texans at home. Still, Houston won’t leave anything on the field at this point and the club has more talent than its record would suggest. I’m expecting a Seahawks win, but not a blowout because Houston can control the ball to some extent with RB Domanick Davis – if it would just commit to doing so.
Prediction: SEAHAWKS, 24-16
St. Louis (2-3) at Indianapolis (5-0)
Line: Colts favored by 13½ (total points line is 51)
Series: These teams have split the only two meetings since 1991, none recent.
Rams Status Report: St. Louis lost at home to Seattle last week, 37-31, and trail the Seahawks by a game in the NFC West.
Colts Status Report: Indy easily disposed of San Francisco on the road, 28-3, and is now the league’s only remaining unbeaten, sporting a two-game lead in the AFC South.
Other Noteworthy Info: Rams WR Isaac Bruce remains out with turf toe. Kevin Curtis again starts in his place.
Game Summary: Last year, this would have been a fantastic matchup with a final score of something like 60-54. But the Colts had to go and learn how to play defense, and now that’s how they actually win games (yawn). The Rams don’t disappoint us, though, as they still can score a lot of points and give up even more. With head coach Mike Martz out indefinitely with a heart-related ailment, it’s tough to envision the Rams getting up enough to pull off such a mighty upset. Colts should take it fairly easily because of a far superior D.
Prediction: COLTS, 34-14