You know the old adage that numbers never lie? Well, I’m here to exclaim with unwavering conviction that they certainly do… on occasion.
Take last week’s Minnesota-New York Giants game. The numbers were so tilted in favor of the G-Men going in there was barely a reason to even play the game. And yet, the Giants played their worst game during the modern era of football and lost.
This game appeared to be so lopsided going in, that it took the Vikings a field goal in the final minutes to claim victory even though the Giants yielded two special teams touchdowns, a TD scored by Minnesota’s defense and a 28-yard missed field goal by usually-reliable Jay Feely.
If just half of the Giants had shown up Sunday, I would have had to find a different angle leading into this week;s picks. The numbers indicated one thing, but the players did another. That, my friends, is sporting life.
Okay, on to Week 11:
OVERALL PREDICTIONS, 2005
Straight-Up: 94-50 (65%) ATS: 77-61-4 (56%) Over/Under: 64-75-5 (46%)
Straight-Up: 11-3 ATS: 10-4 Over/Under: 8-5-1
Miami (3-6) at Cleveland (3-6)
Line: Browns favored by 2 (total points line is 36)
Series: Miami has won five straight in the series, including a 10-7 decision at Miami last season.
Dolphins Status Report: Miami lost at home to New England last week, 23-16. The Dolphins are third in the AFC East, two games behind the Patriots.
Browns Status Report: Cleveland lost at Pittsburgh Sunday night, 34-21. The Browns are third in the AFC North, four games behind co-leaders Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
Fantasy Tidbit: Both teams are likely to favor the run against suspect run defenses, so look for the Browns’ Reuben Droughns and Miami’s Ronnie Brown to get plenty of work. Dolphins back Ricky Williams will be busy as well.
Game Summary: The Browns were game for a while at Pittsburgh, but were eventually outclassed. Only some highly questionable play-calling at the end prevented Miami from sending the Patriots to overtime. This game is a toss-up, but Miami has a slight edge in three key areas – rushing, rushing defense and turnover ratio.
Prediction: DOLPHINS, 16-14
New Orleans (2-7) at New England (5-4)
Line: Patriots favored by 10 (total points line is 46)
Series: The Saints have actually won in two of their last three trips to Foxboro, although none have occurred recently.
Saints Status Report: New Orleans was on a bye last week. In Week 9, the Saints were beaten by Chicago at Baton Rouge, 20-17, for their fifth straight defeat. They are last in the NFC South.
Patriots Status Report: New England rallied past Miami on the road a week ago, 23-16, and is alone atop the AFC East, a game ahead of Buffalo.
Fantasy Tidbit: Although the matchup is great, you’re better off staying away from New England running backs this week. Corey Dillon may end up as a gametime decision, first backups Patrick Pass and Kevin Faulk are both possible to return, and unheralded Heath Evans is also in the mix.
Game Summary: The Patriots defense played its best game of the season last week, and it appears that the unit is slowly getting healthier and inching toward its pre-2005 form. New Orleans is gassed, playing what amounts to 16 road games and with not much to play for. Plus, last season the Saints came off their bye and got drubbed at San Diego by 27 points.
Prediction: PATRIOTS, 31-13
Indianapolis (9-0) at Cincinnati (7-2)
Line: Colts favored by 4½ (total points line is 47)
Series: There are no recent meetings. The Colts have won three of their last four at Cincinnati.
Colts Status Report: Indy cruised past Houston at home last week, 31-17, and is three games up on Jacksonville for first place in the AFC South.
Bengals Status Report: Cincinnati was off last week. In Week 9, the Bengals rolled to a 21-9 victory at Baltimore. They are co-leaders with Pittsburgh in the AFC North.
Fantasy Tidbit: Cincinnati’s run defense ranks in the lower third of the league, so Colts RB Edgerrin James – a star who should always be in your lineup anyway – is an especially good play this week.
Game Summary: The Bengals are enjoying a great year, and I’m genuinely happy for their fans. But as I’ve pointed out previously, a look at their schedule reveals that they haven’t beaten anyone of note. A road win at Chicago early this year tops the list. The team couldn’t handle Jacksonville and was thumped at home by Pittsburgh in their most important contest of this season to date. The Colts have exceeded all expectations. I doubt they will go 16-0, although they’re well-rounded enough to do so. Bottom line, they’re a more complete team.
Prediction: COLTS, 24-17
Jacksonville (6-3) at Tennessee (2-7)
Line: Jaguars favored by 4 (total points line is 38½)
Series: The teams split the season series a year ago, each squad winning by a field goal on the road. The visiting team has covered ATS in the last five meetings.
Jaguars Status Report: Jacksonville routed Baltimore at home Sunday, 30-3, and is second in the AFC South.
Titans Status Report: Tennessee was on a bye last week. In Week 9, the Titans lost at Cleveland, 20-14. They’re third in the AFC South.
Fantasy Tidbit: For whatever reason, these teams tend to kick lots of field goals when they go at one another – so kickers Rod Bironas of Tennessee and the Jags’ Josh Scobee are strong plays.
Game Summary: This was a tempting upset pick until I dug into the numbers more. Plus, I’ve picked the Titans twice as ‘dogs this year and that’s precisely how they played each time. Jacksonville found itself offensively last week, scoring at least 30 points in a game for the first time in forever, so here’s a bold prediction within a prediction – they’ll do it two straight weeks.
Prediction: JAGUARS, 31-16
Oakland (3-6) at Washington (5-4)
Line: Redskins favored by 6 (total points line is 42½)
Series: The Raiders have won the last two meetings in Washington, neither recent.
Raiders Status Report: Oakland lost at home to Denver last week, 31-17, and is last in the AFC West.
Redskins Status Report: Washington lost at Tampa Bay on the controversial 1-yard plunge for a two-point conversion by Mike Alstott, and is second in the NFC East – a game behind co-leaders Dallas and the New York Giants.
Fantasy Tidbit: After a brief mini-slump, QB Mark Brunell looked good against the Bucs. He’s capable of putting up great numbers against a decidedly suspect Raiders defense.
Game Summary: Lately, the Raiders have played better on the road than they have at home. Washington’s defense is looking tired – the Redskins never should have allowed that many points to a Chris Simms-led attack. I smell an upset… and, yes, this is my upset special of the week. Oakland has bounced back decently from two previous poor performances. I’m looking for them to do that again.
Prediction: RAIDERS, 27-23
Philadelphia (4-5) at New York Giants (6-3)
Line: Giants favored by 7 (total points line is 41)
Series: Philadelphia has dominated this series in recent years, winning the last four meetings and seven of eight. In last year’s clash at The Meadowlands, the Eagles romped, 27-6.
Eagles Status Report: Philadelphia lost at home to Dallas Monday night, 21-20, on an inexplicably poor decision by QB Donovan McNabb to throw an outside pass, which was picked off and returned for the game-winning TD. The Eagles are last in the NFC East, two games behind the Cowboys and Giants.
Giants Status Report: The Giants played horrifically on special teams last week, and not a lot better anywhere else, in a 24-21 home loss to Minnesota.
Fantasy Tidbit: It is as-of-yet undetermined who will start at QB for the Eagles – Koy Detmer or Mike McMahon – but it really doesn’t matter, because the absence of McNabb means young receivers Greg Lewis and Reggie Brown should be benched. The sole fantasy-worthy Eagles player is RB Brian Westbrook.
Game Summary: Philadelphia is not going to roll over here. Coach Andy Reid is too good to allow that under his watch. But the under-manned Eagles will be running into a Giants team that will be extremely chippy about last week’s loss and ultra-motivated in the wake of Philly’s recent domination in this series. I expect the defenses to control the line of scrimmage, both ways, and the Giants to get the win in anything but easy fashion.
Prediction: GIANTS, 19-13
Detroit (4-5) at Dallas (6-3)
Line: Cowboys favored by 8 (total points line is 39)
Series: Dallas won last year at home, 31-21, and has won eight of the last nine between the two in Big D. Overall, however, the teams have split the last six get-togethers.
Lions Status Report: Detroit pounded Arizona at home last week, 29-21. The Lions are second in the NFC North, two games behind Chicago and tied with Minnesota.
Cowboys Status Report: Dallas rallied for an unlikely 21-20 win at Philadelphia Monday night. The Cowboys are tied with the New York Giants atop the NFC East.
Fantasy Tidbit: Cowboys RB Julius Jones didn’t get a lot of work last week, with Marion Barber III still somewhat of a fixture in the offense. That essentially makes either only a lukewarm start.
Game Summary: There’s nothing complicated about this game. The Cowboys are the better team and are at home. The short week isn’t critical with a home game, and Detroit’s issues at QB and, essentially, throughout its offense doesn’t inspire much confidence in a potential upset.
Predictions: COWBOYS, 27-14
Carolina (7-2) at Chicago (6-3)
Line: Panthers favored by 2½ (total points line is 34½)
Series: These teams have met only twice all-time, splitting home wins. Neither contest was recent. The Panthers covered ATS in both games.
Panthers Status Report: Carolina mauled the New York Jets at home, 30-3, for its sixth straight victory. The Panthers are alone atop the NFC South, a game up on Atlanta and Tampa Bay.
Bears Status Report: Chicago dispatched with San Francisco, 17-9, in a wind-plagued home game Sunday. The Bears, who have won five in a row, lead the NFC North by two games.
Fantasy Tidbit: Trying to sort out whether Thomas Jones or Adrian Peterson will start at featured back for the Bears? Don’t concern yourself, because neither should be in your lineup anyway unless you’re really thin at RB. The Panthers are second in the NFL in rushing defense.
Game Summary: In the Something’s Gotta Give Bowl, two squads with extended winning skeins collide. The fashionable choice, no doubt, will be Carolina… the Panthers were the pick for NFC champs this year by several pundits. But I’m a defense guy. Great defenses shut down potent attacks. Carolina’s defense will, of course, keep Chicago’s weak little attack in check. But the reverse will also be true, and some. This is one of those situations when the Panthers would be the choice if this were a series. But it’s a single game, at Chicago. By taking the Bears, I get to pick a division leader as a home underdog. I like them to put together an inspired effort.
Prediction: BEARS, 16-13
Tampa Bay (6-3) at Atlanta (6-3)
Line: Falcons favored by 6 (total points line is 39)
Series: The Buccaneers have won five of the last seven meetings, including a 27-0 home rout last December. In last season’s other meeting, Atlanta prevailed, 24-14.
Bucs Status Report: Tampa Bay rallied to edge Washington at home last week, 36-35. The Bucs are tied with the Falcons for second in the NFC South, a game behind Carolina.
Falcons Status Report: Atlanta put forth its poorest performance of the season at home against Green Bay, losing 33-25.
Fantasy Tidbit: Tampa Bay QB Michael Vick’s passing exploits will end after a two-week run of solid numbers. Ex-Buc RB Warrick Dunn is a solid start, however.
Game Summary: Although I believe the spread is too many, I like Atlanta to rebound from last week’s debacle. I simply can’t picture the Falcons dropping consecutive home games. Tampa Bay’s defense struggled last week and it’s arguably even tougher to slow Atlanta on the road.
Prediction: FALCONS, 28-24
Arizona (2-7) at St. Louis (4-5)
Line: Rams favored by 9½ (total points line is 49)
Series: St. Louis won at Arizona in September, 17-12, but have been outscored by nine points cumulative over the last four meetings, despite winning three of them.
Cardinals Status Report: Arizona lost at Detroit, 29-21, and is tied for third with San Francisco in the NFC West.
Rams Status Report: St. Louis lost at Seattle, 31-16, and is second in the NFC West, three games behind the Seahawks.
Fantasy Tidbit: Simply put, every Rams offensive player who might be on a fantasy roster somewhere in the world should be in the starting lineup.
Game Summary: Although the Rams usually prevail when these two teams get together, it’s almost always close. In fact, the only lopsided score in the last four was a 31-7 Arizona win at home last year. Still, these Cardinals are so bitterly disappointing… and it’s likely that the team has at least subconsciously cashed it in after pre-season expectations were relatively high. But Arizona did outplay the Rams in their first meeting in many aspects… and that’s enough for me to call this one another close Rams victory.
Prediction: RAMS, 31-24
Seattle (7-2) at San Francisco (2-7)
Line: Seahawks favored by 12 (total points line is 42½)
Series: The Seahawks won at San Francisco last season, 42-27, and prevailed at home, 34-0. They have won the last four meetings.
Seahawks Status Report: Seattle whipped St. Louis at home, 31-16, to take command of the NFC West. They lead by three games over the Rams, and have the tiebreaker in hand as well.
49ers Status Report: San Francisco lost at Chicago a week ago, 17-9, amid gusting winds.
Fantasy Tidbit: If you own 49ers WR Brandon Lloyd, plant him on your bench indefinitely. He was seen demonstrating “alligator arms” twice against the Bears, obviously afraid of taking a hit as he was making a catch and, instead, letting the ball fall to the turf. You know the 49ers coaches saw the film, if we have.
Game Summary: The Seahawks are looking dominant enough to make a legit run at the Super Bowl. How they handle inferior foes, especially on the road, is one indication of how far they’ve progressed. Already this season, they’ve made progress on that front.
Prediction: SEAHAWKS, 35-17
Buffalo (4-5) at San Diego (5-4)
Line: Chargers favored by 10 (total points line is 42½)
Series: No recent meetings. The home team has won the last five encounters.
Bills Status Report: Buffalo whipped visiting Kansas City last weekend, 14-3. The Bills are second in the AFC East, a game behind New England.
Chargers Status Report: San Diego was idle last week. In Week 9, the Chargers held off the New York Jets on the road, 31-26. They are tied with the Chiefs for second in the AFC West, two games behind Denver.
Fantasy Tidbit: This is an ugly matchup for Buffalo. QB J.P. Losman is far from a proven commodity, and RB Willis McGahee will be pitted against the league’s top-rated run defense. Use any Bills at your own peril.
Game Summary: This should be a fairly easy and decisive victory for the rested Chargers, but how often do we actually see what should happen? Still, with the extra time to plan and with the Bills traveling cross-country, San Diego is the logical pick even with the hefty spread.
Prediction: CHARGERS, 34-17
New York Jets (2-7) at Denver (7-2)
Line: Broncos favored by 12½ (total points line is 40)
Series: Denver has won three of the last four meetings, none recent.
Jets Status Report: The Jets were hammered at Carolina last week, 30-3, and are in last in the AFC East. They have lost four in a row.
Broncos Status Report: The Broncos triumphed at Oakland, 31-17, and sport a two-game lead in the AFC West. They have won seven of their last eight.
Fantasy Tidbit: Broncos QB Jake Plummer tends to be a lot better at home, but the Jets have yielded the fewest TD passes in the league… so it’s more likely that the RB duo of Mike Anderson and Tatum Bell will excel for Denver.
Game Summary: On paper, this is a total mismatch… but then again, didn’t I also write that last week for the Minnesota-N.Y. Giants game? Anyway, young Jets QB Brooks Bollinger may or may not have a bright future. Either way, though, his present isn’t very promising. At Mile High, the Broncos can’t afford to lose sight of the ultimate prize.
Prediction: BRONCOS, 28-10
Pittsburgh (7-2) at Baltimore (2-7)
Line: Steelers favored by 4 (total points line is 34½)
Series: Pittsburgh won the first meeting this season at home, 20-19, on a Monday night. The Ravens have won the last two meetings at Baltimore, although the Steelers have taken six of the last nine overall.
Ravens Status Report: Baltimore was humbled at Jacksonville Sunday, 30-3, and is in last place in the AFC North.
Steelers Status Report: Pittsburgh pulled away from visiting Cleveland Sunday night for a 34-21 triumph. The Steelers are tied with Cincinnati atop the AFC North.
Fantasy Tidbit: The only sure thing as a fantasy play for either team is Steelers kicker Jeff Reed, who has achieved double-figures five times this season.
Game Summary: Even with the return of QB Kyle Boller, the Ravens simply aren’t capable of putting up enough points. They played perhaps their best overall game of the season in the first meeting, but came up a tick shy. The Steelers, locked in a battle for division supremacy, need the game a lot more at this point.
Prediction: STEELERS, 23-7
Kansas City (5-4) at Houston (1-8)
Line: Chiefs favored by 6½ (total points line is 44)
Series: The teams have split two meetings, with the visitors winning each time. Houston earned a 24-21 upset at KC last season, and the Chiefs won in a romp, 42-14, at Houston in 2003.
Chiefs Status Report: Kansas City’s offense was stymied at Buffalo Sunday in a 14-3 loss. The Chiefs are tied for second with San Diego in the AFC West.
Texans Status Report: Houston dropped a 31-17 decision at Indianapolis last week.
Fantasy Tidbit: Chiefs QB Trent Green was terrible last week at Buffalo. Expect a rebound performance, with nice complementary production from RB Larry Johnson.
Game Summary: The Texans are scrappy, but overmatched. They might score some points, but are unlikely to keep up with an offense that is eager to gear it up again after running into a wall last week.
Prediction: CHIEFS, 31-20
Minnesota (4-5) at Green Bay (2-7)
Line: Packers favored by 4 (total points line is 44½)
Series: The Vikings won the first meeting this season at Minnesota, 23-20, on a 58-yard field goal by Paul Edinger with just seconds remaining. Minnesota has won two of the last three meetings at Green Bay, and covered ATS in four consecutive appearances at Lambeau Field.
Vikings Status Report: Minnesota pulled off arguably the biggest upset of the season to date last week, beating the Giants at The Meadowlands, 24-21. The Vikes are just two games behind front-running Chicago in the NFC North.
Packers Status Report: Green Bay halted its latest skid with a 33-25 upset of the Falcons at Atlanta. The Pack remains last in the NFC North.
Fantasy Tidbit: It might end up being temporary, but for now Packers RB Samko Gado is the real deal. Stick with him, unless your alternative is an elite back.
Game Summary: When the Packers routed New Orleans at home last month, I thought it was going to be the beginning of a roll that would carry them to a division title similar to how they rallied last season. But of course, that was not to be. So can last week’s win do that? Well, after the Vikings at home the Packers have road games at Philly and Chicago. Tough to envision an extended winning streak. Still, two isn’t too much to ask… and let’s be honest. The Vikings got three non-offensive TDs and still didn’t claim victory over the Giants last week until the final minute. Two wins in a row or not, Minnesota is not a quality team.
Prediction: PACKERS, 30-23