It’s that time of year again, friends. My annual revised NFL predictions.
It’s always fun to look back at the end of the season to see how poorly I fared on my preseason picks, but it’s even more of a kick to do so at the halfway mark with the added benefit of a chance at revisions.
So let’s take a quick look at each division, and what we can expect to be different (or continue to be different) than I originally envisioned back in August:
AFC EAST – Not much of a stretch to expect New England to maintain its comfortable edge and earn another division crown. Like everyone else, I had Miami as a wild-card contender. Oh, well… Revision: Patriots will be the only team in the division with a winning record by regular season’s end.
AFC NORTH – Pittsburgh has already endured the five regular season defeats I predicted, and a 9-0 finish isn’t likely. Baltimore is playing inspired ball, and the Bengals are right there despite inconsistent returns to date. Revision: Steelers will find their way back to the playoffs with a strong second half, but won’t win the division. Instead, the Ravens take it.
AFC SOUTH – I picked the Colts to go to the Super Bowl, as I have annually the last several years, and so far they’ve established themselves as the favorites (although let’s see what happens at New England this week). Houston isn’t as improved as I expected, but otherwise I’ve got this division nailed. Revision: Texans and Titans tie for third.
AFC WEST – Okay, so the Chargers are a lot better than I thought they’d be. They still have to prove they can win the tough road games at least occasionally. Kansas City might be as good as I thought, but my mentality when I picked the Chiefs to win this division figured in a healthy Trent Green for 16 games. Revision: Swap the Chargers and Chiefs… and lower Oakland’s win total from six to four.
NFC EAST – Oh, geez… I completely forgot that I picked Washington to take this division. I don’t do drugs, but that pick sure makes it look like I’m totin’ a dime bag around. The Giants are the class of the division, and the Eagles have rebounded from their dreadful 2005. One thing I was right about – this is the most difficult division to handicap. Revision: Giants win the division, Eagles and Cowboys contend for a wild-card berth but only one gets there.
NFC NORTH – Chicago was my pick at season’s beginning, but the Bears have been a lot more dominant than I envisioned. Minnesota will earn a wild-card berth. Revision: Bears finish 13-3 instead of 10-6. Otherwise, I’m sticking to my preseason guns.
NFC SOUTH – I still believe Carolina is the best team, and will prove it with a division title. I liked the Saints’ offense going into the season, but simply didn’t know their defense would play so well. Atlanta’s suddenly shaky defense is a concern. Tampa Bay is a disappointment, even with the injury to QB Chris Simms factored in. Revision: Saints finish with a winning record, and look for this division to tighten up down the stretch.
NFC WEST – I’m really asking for abuse by penning these revisions, because it brings attention to the fact that my predicted Cinderella story of 2006 was an Arizona division title. Sheesh… Anyway, I won’t attempt to defend the indefensible. Revision: Seahawks win the division by default (as in, it’s the Cardinals’ default they’re so bad), and St. Louis fades from the playoff picture late in the year.
What was my Super Bowl pick? Colts over Panthers? Yeah, I’ll stick with that. The Bears still have to prove they can win in the postseason. Then again, picking against Patriots QB Tom Brady probably isn’t too bright, either.
On to Week 9…
2006 Prognosticating Statistics:
FOR THE SEASON: Straight-Up – 73-41 (64 percent); ATS – 57-50-7 (53 percent)
LAST WEEK: Straight-Up – 7-7; ATS – 8-6
OVER/UNDER: 63-50-1 for the season, 10-4 last week.
MIAMI (1-6) at CHICAGO (7-0)
Line: Bears favored by 13½ (total points line is 37½)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Dolphins 0-6-1, Bears 5-1-1
Strongest Trend: See records ATS, above.
Last Meeting: Miami won at home, 27-9, in 2002.
Dolphins Status Report: Miami was on a bye last week. In Week 7, the Dolphins lost at home to Green Bay, 34-24.
Bears Status Report: Chicago raced to a 41-0 halftime lead last week at home en route to a 41-10 triumph over San Francisco. The Bears sport a three-game lead in the NFC North.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR MIAMI - none. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR MIAMI – RB Ronnie Brown, WR Chris Chambers, TE Randy McMichael. QUALITY STARTERS FOR CHICAGO – QB Rex Grossman, RB Thomas Jones, WRs Muhsin Muhammad and Bernard Berrian, TE Desmond Clark, K Robbie Gould, Bears defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR CHICAGO – RB Cedric Benson.
Game Summary: It would be a morale booster for the Dolphins if they can simply cover the two-TD spread. Sooner or later, I suppose, Miami figures to start playing better. But this match-up is not ideal for healing wounds, old or new.
Prediction: BEARS, 27-6
GREEN BAY (3-4) at BUFFALO (2-5)
Line: Bills favored by 3 (total points line is 40)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Packers 3-4, Bills 3-4
Strongest Trend: The Bills are 12-4 ATS in their last 16 against teams with losing records.
Last Meeting: The Packed blanked the Bills at home, 10-0, in 2002.
Packers Status Report: Green Bay’s 31-14 pasting of visiting Arizona last week was its second straight win. The Packers are third in the NFC North.
Bills Status Report: Buffalo was off last week. In Week 7, the Bills were humbled at home by New England, 28-6. The Bills are third in the AFC East.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR GREEN BAY – QB Brett Favre, RB Ahman Green, WR Donald Driver (check injury status). MARGINAL STARTERS FOR GREEN BAY – WR Greg Jennings (check injury status). QUALITY STARTERS FOR BUFFALO – RB Willis McGahee. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR BUFFALO – WR Lee Evans, K Rian Lindell.
Game Summary: Green Bay is on a mini-roll, because the offense is playing up to its skill-level while the defense has been adequate. Buffalo has been oddly out of it recently, and when you consider the QB match-up of Brett Favre versus J.P. Losman… the Pack gets the nod, even on the road.
Prediction: PACKERS, 21-20
CINCINNATI (4-3) at BALTIMORE (5-2)
Line: Ravens favored by 3 (total points line is 40½)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Bengals 3-3-1, Ravens 4-3
Strongest Trend: The Bengals have won the last two meetings at Baltimore.
Last Meeting: The Bengals won a wild one, 42-29, at Cincinnati last November.
Bengals Status Report: Cincinnati lost at home to Atlanta a week ago, 29-27. The Bengals are second in the AFC North, a game behind Baltimore.
Ravens Status Report: Baltimore whipped New Orleans on the road, 35-22.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR CINCINNATI – QB Carson Palmer, RB Rudi Johnson, WR Chad Johnson. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR CINCINNATI – WRs T.J. Houshmanzadeh and Chris Henry. QUALITY STARTERS FOR BALTIMORE – RB Jamal Lewis, TE Todd Heap, Ravens defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR BALTIMORE – QB Steve McNair, WR Derrick Mason, K Matt Stover.
Game Summary: Admittedly, something in my gut says that the Bengals will find a way to win again at Baltimore, where they’ve enjoyed some recent success. But the numbers and trends, supposedly our friends, play a decidedly different tune. Not only is Baltimore superior defensively – everyone pretty much acknowledges that – but the offense taken back by head coach Brian Billick might be on a par with the Bengals’ potent attack. The pieces are there. So I’m trusting the numbers and taking the host Ravens to extend their division lead.
Prediction: RAVENS, 28-17
TENNESSEE (2-5) at JACKSONVILLE (4-3)
Line: Jaguars favored by 10 (total points line is 37½)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Titans 4-3, Jaguars 4-2-1
Strongest Trend: The road team is 5-2 ATS in last seven meetings.
Last Meeting: The Jaguars rolled, 40-13, last New Year’s Day at home.
Titans Status Report: Tennessee has won two straight, including last week’s 28-22 conquest of visiting Houston.
Jaguars Status Report: Jacksonville pulled the upset at Philadelphia a week ago, beating the Eagles, 13-6. The Jags are second in the AFC South, three games behind Indianapolis.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR TENNESSEE – none. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR TENNESSEE – QB Vince Young, RB Travis Henry, WR Drew Bennett, Titans defense. QUALITY STARTERS FOR JACKSONVILLE – RB Fred Taylor, K Josh Scobee, Jaguars defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR JACKSONVILLE – QB Byron Leftwich (check health status), RB Maurice Drew-Jones, WR Reggie Williams.
Game Summary: Is there a team in all of pro football as unpredictable as the Jaguars? How can you lose by 20 points at Houston one week and then win by a TD at Philadelphia the next? Answer: Same way you struggle before holding off the Titans, as Jacksonville will do this week.
Prediction: JAGUARS, 20-16
HOUSTON (2-5) at NEW YORK GIANTS (5-2)
Line: Giants favored by 13 (total points line is 43)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Texans 2-5, Giants 5-2
Strongest Trend: The Giants have won their last four games, all by at least 13 points.
Last Meeting: Houston stunned the visiting Giants, 16-14, in 2002.
Texans Status Report: Houston lost at Tennessee, 28-22, on Sunday to drop into a third-place tie with the Titans in the AFC South.
Giants Status Report: The Giants easily defeated visiting Tampa Bay, 17-3, and is atop the NFC East by a game over Dallas.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR HOUSTON – WR Andre Johnson. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR HOUSTON – RB Wali Lundy. QUALITY STARTERS FOR NY GIANTS – QB Eli Manning, RB Tiki Barber, WRs Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer, TE Jeremy Shockey, K Jay Feely, Giants defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR NY GIANTS – RB Brandon Jacobs.
Game Summary: On paper, this is the most lopsided match-up of the week. The Giants are on a roll… their only true concern should be the temptation to look ahead to next week’s clash with Chicago. Coach Tom Coughlin doesn’t strike me, however, as tolerant of the overlook-the-current-foe approach.
Prediction: GIANTS, 31-10
KANSAS CITY (4-3) at ST. LOUIS (4-3)
Line: Rams favored by 2½ (total points line is 48)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Chiefs 4-2-1, Rams 4-2-1
Strongest Trend: The home team has won seven of the last eight meetings, although six of those were preseason contests.
Last Meeting (that counted): The Chiefs won in a laugher at home, 49-10, in 2002.
Chiefs Status Report: Kansas City held off visiting Seattle a week ago, 35-28, and is third in the AFC West, a game behind co-leaders Denver and San Diego.
Rams Status Report: St. Louis was beaten at San Diego Sunday, 38-24.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR KANSAS CITY – QB Damon Huard, RB Larry Johnson, TE Tony Gonzalez. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR KANSAS CITY – WR Eddie Kennison, K Lawrence Tynes. QUALITY STARTERS FOR ST. LOUIS – QB Marc Bulger, RB Stephen Jackson, WRs Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, K Jeff Wilkins. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR ST. LOUIS – WR Kevin Curtis.
Game Summary: A great clash of the “Show-Me Bowl.” These teams are so evenly matched, their straight-up and ATS records are identical. There should be plenty of points, and the Rams get the edge playing in their home dome. KC has been inconsistent at best on the road this season.
Prediction: RAMS, 30-24
DALLAS (4-3) at WASHINGTON (2-5)
Line: Cowboys favored by 3 (total points line is 42)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Cowboys 4-3, Redskins 2-5
Strongest Trend: Dallas is 12-3 ATS in the last 15 meetings, 1-0 this season.
Last Meeting: The Cowboys won at home, 27-10, in Week 2.
Cowboys Status Report: Dallas overcame an early 14-0 deficit with 35 unanswered points to shock Carolina on the road Sunday night, 35-14. The Cowboys are second in the NFC East, a game back of the New York Giants.
Redskins Status Report: Washington was off last week. In Week 7, the Redskins lost at Indianapolis. They are last in the NFC East.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR DALLAS – RB Julius Jones, WRs Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR DALLAS – QB Tony Romo, RB Marion Barber, TE Jason Witten, K Mike Vanderjagt, Cowboys defense. QUALITY STARTERS FOR WASHINGTON – RB Clinton Portis, TE Chris Cooley. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR WASHINGTON – QB Mark Brunell, WR Santana Moss (check injury status), Redskins defense.
Game Summary: Along with Green Bay over Buffalo, one of my two mini-upset picks this week. Dallas is playing its second of three straight on the road, and last week’s explosion at Carolina notwithstanding, has been unpredictably mediocre away from Big D. This game is absolutely huge for the Redskins, who are at home and have had an extra week to prepare. Ball control wins it for the home ‘dogs.
Prediction: REDSKINS, 27-21
ATLANTA (5-2) at DETROIT (1-6)
Line: Falcons favored by 5½ (total points line is 47)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Falcons 5-2, Lions 2-5
Strongest Trend: Visiting team has won each of the last two years.
Last Meeting: Atlanta won at Detroit, 27-7, last November.
Falcons Status Report: Atlanta edged Cincinnati on the road, 29-27, and is tied with New Orleans atop the NFC South.
Lions Status Report: Detroit was off last week. In Week 7, the Lions lost on the road to the New York Jets, 31-24.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR ATLANTA – QB Michael Vick, RB Warrick Dunn, TE Alge Crumpler. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR ATLANTA – WR Michael Jenkins, K Morton Andersen, Falcons defense. QUALITY STARTERS FOR DETROIT – QB Jon Kitna, RB Kevin Jones, WR Roy Williams, K Jason Hanson. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR DETROIT – WR Mike Furrey.
Game Summary: I think Detroit has a real shot at the upset here, especially considering the Falcons are playing away from home for the second week in a row and the Lions were off last week. But the torrid recent play of Vick prevents me from predicting the upset outright. Instead, Atlanta finds a way to eek out a win – presumably on a late Morton Andersen field goal.
Prediction: FALCONS, 24-21
NEW ORLEANS (5-2) at TAMPA BAY (2-5)
Line: Saints favored by 1 (total points line is 38½)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Saints 5-2, Buccaneers 4-3
Strongest Trend: Tampa Bay is 5-1 ATS in the last six meetings, including 1-0 this year.
Last Meeting: The Saints held off visiting Tampa Bay, 24-21, in Week 5.
Saints Status Report: New Orleans lost at home to Baltimore, 35-22, and is tied for first in the NFC South with Atlanta.
Buccaneers Status Report: Tampa Bay was felled by the New York Giants at the Meadowlands last week, 17-3.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR NEW ORLEANS – QB Drew Brees, RB Deuce McAlister, WRs Joe Horn and Marques Colston, Saints defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR NEW ORLEANS – RB Reggie Bush (check injury status), K John Carney. QUALITY STARTERS FOR TAMPA BAY – RB Carnell Williams. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR TAMPA BAY – WRs Michael Clayton and Joey Galloway, TE Alex Smith, K Matt Bryant, Buccaneers defense.
Game Summary: Is this when we find out if the Saints are truly for real or not? I believe so, because a victory on the road within the division would certainly qualify as a quality win. The Bucs defense is playing much better, however – they controlled the Giants on the road last week and shut down Cincinnati at home in Week 6 – and while I believe the Saints will remain a playoff contender all the way, this clash is not favorable for them. Even though my numbers lean toward the Saints, I’m opting for the host Buccaneers because of intangibles.
Prediction: BUCCANEERS, 20-17
MINNESOTA (4-3) at SAN FRANCISCO (2-5)
Line: Vikings favored by 5 (total points line is 42½)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Vikings 4-2-1, 49ers 3-4
Strongest Trends: The home team has won the last seven meetings.
Last Meeting: The Vikings won easily at home, 35-7, in 2003.
Vikings Status Report: Minnesota endured an old fashioned whuppin’ at the hands of visiting New England Monday night, 31-7. The Vikes are second in the NFC North.
49ers Status Report: San Francisco trailed by 41 points at the half – and lost at Chicago, 41-10, on Sunday.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR MINNESOTA – RB Chester Taylor, K Ryan Longwell. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR MINNESOTA – QB Brad Johnson, any WR, Vikings defense. QUALITY STARTERS FOR SAN FRANCISCO – RB Frank Gore. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR SAN FRANCISCO – QB Alex Smith, any WR or TE.
Game Summary: The Vikings were humbled last week and will be operating on a short week, but they’ve been solid on the road this season – sporting a 2-1 mark that includes a decisive win at Seattle in Week 6. The 49ers are a lot better at home, posting wins over the Rams and Raiders in their friendly confines. But Minnesota’s ball-control game and run defense should be the difference.
Prediction: VIKINGS, 24-17
CLEVELAND (2-5) at SAN DIEGO (5-2)
Line: Chargers favored by 12½ (total points line is 42)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Browns 3-4, Chargers 5-2
Strongest Trend: The Chargers are unbeaten at home this season and have won all three games by at least 10 points.
Last Meeting: The Chargers won at Cleveland, 21-0, in December of 2004.
Browns Status Report: Cleveland toppled the visiting New York Jets a week ago, 20-13, to catch Pittsburgh for third place in the AFC North.
Chargers Status Report: San Diego cruised past visiting St. Louis last week, 38-24, and is tied for first in the AFC West with Denver.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR CLEVELAND – none. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR CLEVELAND – RB Reuben Droughns, WRs Joe Jurevicius and Braylon Edwards, TE Kellen Winslow. QUALITY STARTERS FOR SAN DIEGO – QB Phillip Rivers, RB LaDainian Tomlinson, TE Antonio Gates, K Nate Kaeding, Chargers defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR SAN DIEGO – RB Michael Turner, Any WRs.
Game Summary: San Diego has been so dominant at home, there simply isn’t any reason to expect anything other than a continuation of that trend. The Chargers will struggle only if they get sloppy and/or take the Browns lightly, neither of which are likely.
Prediction: CHARGERS, 31-13
DENVER (5-2) at PITTSBURGH (2-5)
Line: Steelers favored by 2½ (total points line is 37)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Broncos 3-4, Steelers 2-5
Strongest Trend: none.
Last Meeting: The Steelers won at Denver, 34-17, in last January’s AFC Championship.
Broncos Status Report: Denver dropped a tough one at home to Indianapolis Sunday, 34-31. The Broncos are tied with San Diego atop the AFC West.
Steelers Status Report: The defending champs were beaten at Oakland, 20-13, despite not allowing an offensive touchdown. Pittsburgh is tied for last in the AFC North.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR DENVER –WR Javon Walker. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR DENVER – RB Mike Bell, Broncos defense. QUALITY STARTERS FOR PITTSBURGH – RB Willie Parker, WR Hines Ward, TE Heath Miller, Steelers defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR PITTSBURGH – K Jeff Reed.
Game Summary: My numbers suggest a close Denver victory, but those stats are skewed by Pittsburgh’s Jekyll-and-Hyde home/road issues this season. I believe the Steelers will not only win at home, but do so decisively against a defense that suddenly may be questioning itself just a little after getting picked clean by Indianapolis and Peyton Manning last week. And I really like QB Ben Roethlisberger to rebound from what was arguably his worst game as a pro, at Oakland. This is just the type of game when Pittsburgh and coach Bill Cowher’s us-against-the-world mentality is most effective.
Prediction: STEELERS, 27-13
INDIANAPOLIS (7-0) at NEW ENGLAND (6-1)
Line: Patriots favored by 3 (total points line is 48)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Colts 4-2-1, Patriots 4-2-1
Strongest Trend: The underdog is 7-2-1 ATS in the last 10 meetings.
Last Meeting: The Colts finally came away from Foxboro with a win, beating the Patriots almost exactly a year ago, 40-21.
Colts Status Report: Indy edged Denver on the road, 34-31, and has a three-game lead in the AFC South.
Patriots Status Report: New England routed host Minnesota Monday night, 31-7, and owns a 2½-game lead on the New York Jets in the AFC East.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR INDIANAPOLIS – QB Peyton Manning, WRs Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, K Adam Vinatieri. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR INDIANAPOLIS – RB Joseph Addai. QUALITY STARTERS FOR NEW ENGLAND – QB Tom Brady, RBs Corey Dillon and Lawrence Maroney, WR Doug Gabriel, TE Ben Watson. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR NEW ENGLAND – K Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots defense.
Game Summary: No big breakdown to follow here. Both teams are excellent – their records speak for themselves. But revenge is sweet – the Pats aren’t going to lose to the Colts at home two years in a row. Indy absorbs its first defeat.
Prediction: PATRIOTS, 31-20
OAKLAND (2-5) at SEATTLE (4-3)
Line: Seahawks favored by 7½ (total points line is 37½)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Raiders 3-3-1, Seahawks 2-5
Strongest Trend: The home team has won the last nine meetings, straight-up.
Last Meeting: The Raiders won at home, 31-17, in 2002. In a preseason game this past Aug. 31, the Seahawks rolled, 30-7.
Raiders Status Report: Oakland has won two in a row, including last weekend’s 20-13 home upset of Pittsburgh. The Raiders remain last in the AFC West.
Seahawks Status Report: Seattle lost at Kansas City, 35-28, and is tied atop the NFC West with St. Louis.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR OAKLAND – WR Randy Moss. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR OAKLAND – Whomever starts RB between Lamont Jordan (check health status) and Justin Fargas. QUALITY STARTERS FOR SEATTLE WRs Darrell Jackson and Deion Branch, K Josh Brown, Seahawks defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR SEATTLE – QB Seneca Wallace, RB Maurice Morris, TE Jerramy Stevens.
Game Summary: With all due respect to the Raiders’ recent winning ways, both of those games were at home and against struggling teams. The Seahawks are somewhat battered, but they have a winning record and a share of first place in their division. They’re persevering, and considering the home team’s dominance in this former divisional rivalry-turned inter-conference clash, it’s hard for me to envision a Raiders upset. With that said, I do like the game to be competitive because of the Raiders’ improved play on defense.
Prediction: SEAHAWKS, 23-17