A week after going an all-time worst 5-8 in the Cheat Sheet, I bounced back with a respectable 8-5 effort in Week 8. Sure, I talked a big game about the Cowboys putting the final nail in the Eagles’ 2011 coffin; and yes, I jumped on the Tebow bandwagon like a giddy schoolgirl rushing to the local mall to meet her friends; and of course, I thought Drew Brees would feast on the Rams’ emaciated defensive backfield.
But this is the NFL, and with the NFL, you can’t take anything for granted.
As Alanis Morissette once told me, “You live, you learn. You love, you learn.”
Yep, an Alanis Morissette reference. I promise you that's the only time you'll see her name in an NFL picks column this week.
With that, let’s dig into this week’s Cheat Sheet, and hope for some better results in Week 9.
Week 8 Record: 8-5
Overall 2011 Record: 78-38
WEEK 9 CHEAT SHEET TRIVIA QUESTION OF THE WEEK
Carolina Panthers rookie quarterback Cam Newton passed for 290 yards with a career-high three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 117.6 passer rating against the Vikings on Sunday. The performance marked Newton’s fourth game with at least 290 yards passing. The No. 1 overall pick in 2011 is the fourth quarterback since 1960 to pass for at least 250 yards in five different games during his rookie campaign. Can you name the other three rookies to do so?
WEEK 9 CHEAT SHEET QUOTE OF THE WEEK
"In HD, it doesn't look too bad, but if a 70-year-old gimping down the field says it's a hold, that's what he saw." — Panthers receiver Steve Smith on his holding penalty on the 2-yard line in the final minute of Sunday’s loss to Minnesota.
WEEK 9 CHEAT SHEET GROSS UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE WEEK
“Last-second plays have not gone in our favor much this year." — Vikings coach Leslie Frazier after Minnesota finally pulled one out in the final minutes of a game this season.
WEEK 9 IMPRESS YOUR COLLEAGUES WATER COOLER FACT OF THE WEEK
Baltimore wide receiver Anquan Boldin had seven catches for 145 yards in the Ravens’ win over Arizona. Boldin played seven seasons for the Cardinals and recorded 7,520 receiving yards. Boldin’s 145 receiving yards on Sunday were the most in NFL history by a player in his first game facing a team for which he had at least 7,500 receiving yards.
Now, let’s get to the picks.
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET games
Seattle at Dallas: Cowboys fans drowning in sorrow and shaking their heads with confusion this week can take some solace in the fact that the next few weeks’ matchups will catapult the Cowboys right back into the playoff hunt. After they face the struggling Seahawks on Sunday, the Cowboys host the 5-2 Bills, and then have meetings with the sinking Redskins, the winless Dolphins, and the hapless 1-6 Cardinals. Don’t be shocked if Dallas heads into its Dec. 11 meeting with the Giants at 8-4 and atop the NFC East.
The pick: Cowboys 27, Seahawks 14
San Francisco at Washington: On Sunday, the Redskins lost their third straight game, making 2011 the 12th consecutive season they’ve “accomplished” such a feat. Though the 'Skins defense gave their fans little to be happy about last weekend, it was the offensive line that was most worrisome. The Bills had a grand total of five sacks all season before Sunday’s Toronto affair, but they got to John Beck nine times. The nine sacks were the most the Redskins have surrendered in a game in 33 years. And now they face Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman? Oh, boy.
Atlanta at Indianapolis: The Colts are 0-8 on the year but haven’t been nearly as horrific at home as they have been on the road. In their three games played in Indianapolis this season, the Colts have lost by a combined 14 points and by single digits in each outing. They’ll give the Falcons a better fight than most will expect (including Las Vegas) but will come up short in the end. Again.
The pick: Falcons 17, Colts 13
Tampa Bay at New Orleans: The Saints allowed six sacks for the first time since Sean Payton took over in 2006 in last weekend’s surprise loss to the Rams, and the running game was nonexistent. Buccaneers starting tailback LeGarrette Blount, who missed the past two games with a knee sprain, will return Sunday in this rare Week 9 must-win game. With victories over the Saints and Falcons already, a win over New Orleans in their building would put the Baby Bucs in the driver’s seat in the loaded NFC South. I like the kids in an upset pick this weekend.
The pick: Buccaneers 34, Saints 28
Miami at Kansas City: A reader pointed out in an email this week that just one day after Reggie Bush rushed for 100 yards for the first time since 2007, his celebrity ex-girlfriend suddenly left her husband of three months. Coincidence? Well, probably. Empirical data and Kris Humphries news aside, the Chiefs will take care of business at home on Sunday. Brace yourself for the inevitable Todd Haley “Mad Genius” puff pieces in two weeks. After the Dolphins, the Chiefs face the Broncos. 6-3 is a very strong possibility.
The pick: Chiefs 30, Dolphins 24
New York Jets at Buffalo: It’s a rare moment in sports when the entire country celebrates a guy getting a $59 million contract, but that’s just what happened when Ryan Fitzpatrick inked his new deal on Saturday. He’s a former seventh-round pick playing on his third NFL team, he’s got a tremendous scraggily beard and a collection of old T-shirts, and he’s one of the only quarterbacks to wear his wedding band on the field. The Bills and their newly minted quarterback are red hot, Marcell Dareus had his big coming-out party last weekend in Toronto with 2-1/2 sacks, and Fred Jackson might be the best back in the league this season. I’m riding this train — gimme Buffalo over the up-and-down Jets.
The pick: Bills 30, Jets 27
Cleveland at Houston: The Texans are 28-2 under Gary Kubiak when running the ball 30 times in a game, something they did in last week’s win over the Jaguars. They’re also 3-0 in the AFC South for the first time in franchise history and the defense has held opponents to less than 200 total yards in consecutive weekends for the first time ever. It’s tempting to take Colt McCoy in his “homecoming” trip to Houston, but he’s struggled in Pat Shurmur’s short-passing offense of late and there’s just not enough firepower on that offense to keep up with Houston. Everyone in the media tripped all over themselves while praising the Cleveland front office back in April for their draft day trade, but couldn’t this team use Julio Jones?
The pick: Texans 28, Browns 13
Sunday, 4 p.m. ET games
Cincinnati at Tennessee: People seemed to get a kick out of my “CJ625” nickname last week, but my buddy Scott topped me with one yesterday — “CJ2YPC.” Ask my friends and family, if there’s one thing they’ll all attest to, I’ve always been a fan of nicknames that incorporate acronyms for three-word, second-tier NFL statistics like “yards per carry.” The Titans were the beneficiaries of bad penalties and a struggling Indianapolis team last week. They won’t be as lucky on Sunday. Who dey?
The pick: Bengals 24, Titans 21 (OT)
Denver at Oakland: Though several columnists and screaming TV talking heads took offense to the Lions’ mocking of the “Tebowing” craze by going to their knees after sacking the trend’s namesake, teammate Champ Bailey wasn’t nearly as taken aback. "You know what I hate? When people cry about showing them up," Bailey said. "So what? Stop 'em. Plain and simple. People get so sensitive. 'They shouldn't run up the score . . .' Stop 'em. Plain and simple. You don't want them celebrating on your field, stop 'em. Period. That doesn't bother me." As much as I absolutely love that response by Bailey, it’s tough to take Denver on the road in this one.
St. Louis at Arizona: Entering play last Sunday, the Rams had led for a total of 6:28 in the first six games of the season. They had never taken an offensive snap with a lead. These are incredible facts. Want another fact that will blow your mind? Kevin Kolb, a fellow with a QB rating of 77.8 and just 14 career NFL starts under his belt, is due $65 million over the next six years. Arizona has lost six straight games, Kolb isn't showing any signs of improvement and his offensive line is a sieve. Take the suddenly not-so-terrible Rams.
The pick: Rams 27, Cardinals 19
Green Bay at San Diego: Before the season started, various writers and TV personalities pegged Philip Rivers as their preseason MVP pick. Few pundits, for whatever reason, went with Aaron Rodgers, who comes out of the bye week leading the league in completion percentage (71.5), touchdown passes (20) and passer rating (125.7), while throwing for 2,372 yards with only three interceptions. The Packers’ schedule, from here on out, isn’t all that rigorous. This team, behind the league’s unanimous midseason MVP, quite possibly could go 16-0. Someone wake my man Mercury Morris.
New York Giants at New England: The Giants have scratched and clawed their way to a division-leading 5-2 record, but their schedule’s about to get awfully difficult. After the Patriots this weekend, New York faces the 49ers, the Eagles, the Saints, the Packers and the Cowboys in consecutive weeks. This stretch will make or break the Giants’ season. Unless David Tyree finds his way on to the field on Sunday, I don’t see Big Blue coming into Foxborough and beating the Patriots.
The pick: Patriots 30, Giants 20
Sunday night game
Baltimore at Pittsburgh: How good is Mike Tomlin? With Sunday’s win over the Patriots, the Steelers reached the midway point of the season with a 6-2 record for the fifth straight year. The Ravens don’t appear to be the same team they were in their Week 1 blowout win over the Steelers, and Joe Flacco has struggled down the stretch in recent games at Heinz Field. I think the Steelers beat the Ravens on Sunday, but it’s not the last time these rivals will see each other this season.
The pick: Steelers 24, Ravens 20
Monday night game
Chicago at Philadelphia: Too early to toss LeSean McCoy’s name in the MVP conversation? “Shady” McCoy is second in the league in rushing to Adrian Peterson with 754 yards on 135 carries. He had a career-high 30 carries for a career-high 185 yards in Sunday's 34-7 win over the Cowboys. The press always will be about Michael Vick, but McCoy is who makes this offense click. He’ll do it again on a national stage Monday.
The pick: Eagles 27, Bears 20
Reader Email of the Week
Peter, I thought you’d appreciate my Halloween costume from this past weekend. Typical college fraternity house party where every girl goes as a “Sexy Nurse” and every guy goes as “The Jersey Shore” crew. I went as Bill Belichick. Hooded sweatshirt, headset, and white tennis shoes. I just grunted and sighed the entire night. It killed.
Scott, Burlington, Vt.
I dig it, though I think you should have gone as Todd Haley, instead. Crusty, worn-in, sandblasted hat, ratty 1998 Old Navy fleece, bushy beard, fiery eyes and “F bombs” all over the place. Oh, and Scott, please don’t take those college fraternity house Halloween parties for granted. There’s no such thing as “everyone going as a Sexy Nurse” once you enter the real world. And once you’re 30? The only Halloween photos you’ll see on Facebook are those of your buddies’ kids. Savor these days.
WEEK 9 CHEAT SHEET TRIVIA ANSWER
Aside from Newton, three other quarterbacks have thrown for at least 250 yards five times or more in their rookie seasons. Those quarterbacks are Peyton Manning (six times in 1998), Matt Ryan (five times in 2008), and Sam Bradford (five times in 2010).