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AFC South is poster boy for NFL parity
To everyone’s great dismay, I’m sure, we won’t be seeing any members of the 1972 Dolphins doing their annual “bashing whoever is undefeated in November” media tour this year.
In ’07, it was the Patriots who felt their collective wrath. In 2008, the Titans were 10-0 heading into Week 12. Five teams were 5-0 at this time last year, and both the Colts and Saints started Week 15 with flawless records. As for 2010? For the first time since 1970, we’re five weeks into the season and not a single team is undefeated.
As the NFL enters Week 6, there are 20 teams with .500 or better records. That’s tied for the most such teams through the first five weeks of a season in NFL history (2001). Of the eight teams with just one loss, five failed to qualify for the playoffs last season. In short, it’s wide open.
Welcome to 2010, the year anything can — and will — happen.
What can we expect in Week 6? Who knows?
Let’s get to the picks.
Week 5 Record: 8-6
Overall 2010 Record: 41-35
Sunday 1 p.m. ET games
Kansas City at Houston: Through five weeks, no division is as wide open as the AFC South. All four teams — Houston, Indy, Jacksonville, and Tennessee — are tied for first (and last) with 3-2 records. Texans beginning to hit the panic button should relax. They’ll win on Sunday, Matt Schaub will light up that young Kansas City secondary and the Chiefs media bandwagon — packed to the brim with hangers-on just a week ago — will be all but empty by Monday. The Pick: Texans 31, Chiefs 13
Atlanta at Philadelphia: Philadelphia is 3-0 on the road but winless at home in 2010. I don’t see that changing on Sunday. Though Kevin Kolb looked somewhat Vick-ian on a third-and-18, third-quarter scramble on Sunday night, he’ll need a lot more than shifty moves to solve the Falcons defense. Did you see that uber-athletic, game-sealing interception touchdown return from Kroy Biermann last weekend? The 2007 Big Sky Conference Defensive MVP was an All-State wrestler in Montana back in high school. Thankfully, he pursued football as a profession and not wrestling. Thankfully, he doesn’t have cauliflower ear, either. The Pick: Falcons 27, Eagles 17
San Diego at St. Louis: In their three road losses this season, the Chargers have allowed four special teams touchdowns. After their first two possessions Sunday, they gave up a TD and a safety following two blocked punts. Remember Kassim Osgood, the three-time Pro Bowl special teams ace that A.J. Smith let walk and sign with Jacksonville last offseason? Yeah, maybe he could have helped. The Chargers win on Sunday, but not without a fight from the Rams and at least a couple of blunders from their special teams. The Pick: Chargers 31, Rams 23
New Orleans at Tampa Bay: To quote Vince Vaughn’s character Trent in Swingers, the Baby Bucs are “all growns up” after their miraculous comeback win over the Bengals in Cincy on Sunday. The league’s second-youngest team is getting production from a bunch of kids at just about every position. Rookies Cody Grimm,
Detroit at New York Giants: Giants defensive ends Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora have combined for nine sacks over the past two games. They combined for just 13 all of last season. After an offseason when New York sports talk radio hosts debated whether to cut him or keep him, Umenyiora is playing at an All-Pro level. The Lions look much improved this season and kicked the snot out of the Rams last weekend, but they’re not beating the Giants in New Jersey on Sunday. Tuesday was Kirk Cameron’s 40th birthday. The last time the Lions won a road game, Growing Pains was popular. The Pick: Giants 34, Lions 17
Seattle at Chicago: Todd Collins, a 38-year-old who hadn't started a game in nearly three years, completed six of 16 passes for 32 yards, tossed four interceptions and finished with a passer rating of 6.2 Sunday against Carolina. He did all that, and the Bears still won by 17 points. Julius Peppers was a beast, Matt Forte ran for 166 yards, and the Panthers got absolutely nothing from their offense. Look for Chicago’s D to silence Matt Hasselbeck and for the Bears to notch another win this weekend. And that’s whether it’s with Cutler, Collins, Hanie, Moses Moreno, Cade McNown or Bob Avellini under center. The Pick: Bears 23, Seahawks 19
Miami at Green Bay: Remember back in August when every pundit and TV talking head had the Packers averaging 80 points and cruising to a Super Bowl title after a few preseason games? Five weeks into the season, the Packers are 3-2, the Lions are averaging more points and Ryan Fitzpatrick has a higher passer rating than Aaron Rodgers. The perfectly healthy Greg Jennings (remember him?) is tied with NFL legends Daniel Fells and Roscoe Parrish for 75th in the league in receptions, with just 14. With Rodgers likely out with a concussion, it looks like Matt Flynn will be just the third quarterback to start a game for the Packers since 1992. Give me the defensively sound Dolphins, coming off a bye, in Lambeau on Sunday. The Pick: Dolphins 17, Packers 16
Baltimore at New England: “The receivers have something to say every play,” quarterback Joe Flacco told reporters after the Ravens’ 31-17 win over the Broncos on Sunday. And to think, we were all concerned about the Bengals receivers being attention-starved divas this season. Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron got a game ball after the team’s win in Pittsburgh, but he and Flacco deserve a lot more than honorary pigskins for tuning out all the noise (or silence, in Derrick Mason’s case) coming from the team’s receivers and leading Baltimore to a 4-1 record. The Patriots are 8-2 in weeks following the bye under Bill Belichick, and they haven’t lost such a game since 2002. Give me the home team in a close one between two of the top squads in the AFC. The Pick: Patriots 24, Ravens 20
Cleveland at Pittsburgh: Oh, hey there, Colt McCoy. It appears as though you’ll be making your first NFL start on Sunday. That’s great news! The bad news? Both of the veteran quarterbacks in front of you on the depth chart are sidelined with severe ankle injuries, you’re going up against Dick LeBeau’s defense after it has had two weeks to prepare and you’re playing in Pittsburgh. Oh, and the Steelers are still smarting from a nationally televised loss in Cleveland last December that eliminated them from playoff contention, and Peyton Hillis — the one guy who’s done anything for the Cleveland offense — could be out with a strained quad. Ah, and Big Ben is returning after a four-week suspension. So, yeah, good luck with all that, kid. The Pick: Steelers 33, Browns 14
4 p.m. ET games
New York Jets at Denver: Don “Wink” Martindale’s Denver defense was average at best to start the season. Now, already without Elvis Dumervil for the year, the unit has lost Robert Ayers to a broken foot for six weeks and Brian Dawkins with a strained right knee ligament for at least the next two. The offense has gotten by with some spare parts this season, but the defense could be in some serious trouble. Give me the Jets and that mistake-free quarterback of theirs. The Pick: Jets 27, Broncos 16
Oakland at San Francisco: Sunday’s comeback win over San Diego marked the third straight victory for the Raiders where the winning score was generated by the backup quarterback, including JaMarcus Russell's comeback in Denver last season after Charlie Frye was injured and Bruce Gradkowski’s relief job of Jason Campbell in Week 2. There’s history there, of course. The Raiders have had success in the past with backups, whether it was George Blanda leading comebacks in relief of Daryle Lamonica or Jim Plunkett filling in for Dan Pastorini. Whoever the quarterback is — Gradkowski or Campbell or, hell, even Kyle Boller — he should lead the Raiders past the hapless Niners on Sunday. The Pick: Raiders 30, 49ers 23
Dallas at Minnesota: Before the season, I circled this one as being the biggest game of the first half of the NFL season. Five weeks in, it’s a battle between two mistake-prone 1-3 teams. Such is life in today’s NFL. The Cowboys were embarrassed in Minnesota last January and are coming off a bad loss against Tennessee Sunday. The Minnesota offense took a while to get going on Monday night but found a groove in the second half. I’ll take the Vikings at home and in the carpet but would like to see something out of the pass rush. Has anyone seen or heard from Jared Allen this season? There’s currently an APB out for him in greater Hennepin County. The Pick: Vikings 31, Cowboys 23
Indianapolis at Washington: Colts fifth-year safety Antoine Bethea, my preseason pick for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, made the game-changing play in Indy’s win over Kansas City on Sunday, jarring a ball lose from Jamaal Charles in the second half. But LaRon Landry — not Bethea and not Troy Polamalu — has been the NFL’s best safety this season. Landry, moved back to the strong safety after years playing out of position, leads the NFL in tackles and caused a fumble, intercepted Aaron Rodgers in overtime and made a game-high 13 tackles in last weekend’s win over Green Bay. Forget McNabb and Manning. Bethea and Landry is the better duel. The Pick: Colts 23, Redskins 20
Tennessee at Jacksonville: In September, 2,620 adults who follow professional football were asked by Harris Interactive to name their two favorite NFL teams. The top five teams were the Cowboys, Colts, Packers, Steelers and Saints. The NFL franchise that garnered the least votes? The Jacksonville Jaguars, of course. Good thing football is not a popularity contest. At 3-2, the Jags are one of the best surprises of the 2010 season — survey results, be damned. Give me Jacksonville as home underdogs Monday night against Tennessee. The Pick: Jaguars 31, Titans 27
Cheat Sheet Trivia Question of the Week: Browns quarterback Colt McCoy is the NCAA all-time record-holder for wins. Which former college quarterback is the NCAA all-time record-holder for bowl wins?
E-mail of the Week
Any chance my Bills sack Chan Gailey and bring in both Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck this offseason? Please, please, please, please, say yes. — Chris, Buffalo, N.Y.
Funny you use the word "sack." With Buffalo's pass rushing stats this season, that’s a word most Bills fans aren’t familiar with. As for your suggestion, while I was watching Luck pick apart the USC defense on Saturday night, I suggested to friends the Bills should not only bring in Harbaugh as coach and Luck as their quarterback, but they should also hire Stanford defensive coordinator and 3-4 mastermind Vic Fangio as the new man to oversee the defense. And they might as well get the tree mascot, too, while they're at it.
The most recent example of a former college coach bringing in his old college quarterback was Steve Spurrier’s signing Danny Wuerffel when he took over in Washington in 2002. That experiment failed miserably. But Harbaugh and Luck are a different case. They run a pro-style offense at Stanford now, not the run-’n’-shoot style Wuerffel ran when he won the Heisman at Florida in 1996.
Perhaps, after the way Trent Edwards worked out for the Bills, Buffalo’s front office brass would be gun-shy about putting all of its eggs in another Stanford quarterback’s basket. And there’s a good shot Carolina — not Buffalo — gets the first overall pick in the 2011 draft, anyway.
And perhaps the allure of coaching and living in Buffalo wouldn’t be enough to pull Harbaugh from Palo Alto.
It’s certainly something worth considering, though. After all, Harbaugh did his best work as a Colt in the old AFC East.
Cheat Sheet Trivia Answer of the Week: Pat White — formerly a quarterback for the Miami Dolphins, currently an outfielder in the Kansas City Royals organization — is the only quarterback in college football history to record four bowl wins as a starter. At West Virginia, he led the Mountaineers over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, over Georgia Tech in the Gator Bowl, over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl and over North Carolina in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
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