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Don't look for predictable this season

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Peter Schrager

Peter Schrager is the Senior NFL Writer for FOXSports.com and the national sports correspondent for FOX News Channel's "FOX Report Weekend." He's the co-author of Victor Cruz's New York Times' best-selling memoir "Out of the Blue" and lives in New York. Feel free to e-mail him at peterschrager@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter.

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Despite 14 catches in four games since joining the Vikings on Oct. 5, Randy Moss was waived. The Buccaneers, the second-youngest team in the league, are tied for first place in the NFC South. The Cowboys, everyone’s preseason Super Bowl favorite, are tied with the lowly Panthers for fewest wins in the NFC.

Just another run-of-the-mill, predictable snoozefest of an NFL season, huh?

Last weekend, Troy Smith won his first NFL start in 34 months, Josh Freeman won his fifth straight road game dating to last season, and the Bills lost their second straight overtime game in epic, heartbreaking fashion. This week? Who knows what to expect?

Let’s get to the picks.

Week 8 Record: 7-6
2010 Overall Record: 61-56
 

1 p.m. ET games:

Arizona at Minnesota: So much for the Max Hall era in Arizona. Hall is now just 1-for-3 in completing games he’s started, being sidelined with a concussion in one and benched in another. In his last two outings, Hall has completed just 12 of 32 passes for 107 yards, while tossing three interceptions and only one touchdown. He admitted Monday that he's never seen such complicated defenses. Max Hall or Derek Anderson? Meh. It’d be great if there was a viable third option on the roster. You know, like a former first-round draft pick out of USC who’d spent the last four seasons learning from Kurt Warner.

The Pick: Vikings 27, Cardinals 17

New York Jets at Detroit: For years, the Lions were the laughingstock of the league for their annual tradition of making questionable first-round draft selections. Yet, while Joey Harrington, Charles Rogers and Stockar McDougle might not have worked out exactly as planned, Calvin Johnson (2008), Matt Stafford (2009), Brandon Pettigrew (2009), Ndamukong Suh (2010) and Jahvid Best (2010) all played significant roles in Sunday’s surprise victory over the Redskins. Suh, in particular, was a beast, recording multiple sacks and scoring a touchdown. There’s talk of him being named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. With 6.5 sacks and getting better by the week, I think he’s worth discussing for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. With momentum and all those young guns playing smart, Jim Schwartz-style football, give me the Lions in an upset over the visiting Jets.

The Pick: Lions 24, Jets 13

Miami at Baltimore: The Ravens are 3-0 at home and the Dolphins are 4-0 on the road. Something’s gotta give in this one. While New England, Indy, New York, Pittsburgh and Kansas City have rightfully received the bulk of the media’s love and attention in the AFC, both Miami and Baltimore are putting together very impressive seasons in the shadows. The Dolphins, in particular, showed a lot of fortitude last weekend, falling behind 14-6 in Cincy — just a week after a heartbreaking, last-second loss to the Steelers — only to rally and win 22-14. Kicker Dan Carpenter has booted 10 field goals over the past two weeks, but I see Baltimore’s kicker — ol’ Billy Cundiff — being the difference-maker in this one.

The Pick: Ravens 23, Dolphins 20

San Diego at Houston: Philip Rivers has 2,649 passing yards, the most ever over an NFL season's first eight games. Unfortunately, fantasy numbers don’t mean squat in the standings and a year after going a franchise-best 7-1 on the road, the Chargers are 0-4 away from home. Walking into Houston’s building and escaping with a victory will be anything but easy, but I think Rivers, Gates, and my favorite new name in football — undrafted free-agent wideout Seyi Ajirotutu — find a way. As for all those on the Texans bandwagon after that fast start? "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me every stinking year ..."

The Pick: Chargers 35, Texans 24

Chicago at Buffalo: You can’t help but feel at least a little bad for Bills fans this season. Their team hasn’t been to the playoffs since 1999, the guy they thought was going to be the starting quarterback all summer is now riding the pine down in Jacksonville, and their squad has lost the last two games in downright mind-blowing fashion. "Just when you think you can't get any closer than last week," linebacker Reggie Torbor said this week. "And then we fight the whole game and we lose another one. We just do things at crucial times in the game where we make bad mistakes. We give up a big run or take a penalty that sets us back, and in the end, that stuff gets you." Good teams find ways to win games they should lose. Bad teams find ways to lose games they should win. Alas, the Bills are a bad team. Expect another tough one on Sunday.

The Pick: Bears 27, Bills 23

Tampa Bay at Atlanta: Though I haven’t done all the research, I’m fairly sure absolutely zero pundits had the Nov. 7  Buccaneers-Falcons game circled as the biggest battle of Week 8 when the schedules were released last spring. I’m all about the Baby Bucs, who notched their fifth straight road victory dating to last season with a 38-35 thriller in Arizona last weekend. Currently tied for first with the Falcons in the AFC South, Raheem Morris is getting major production from a host of rookies — in particular, receiver Mike Williams, running back LeGarrette Blount, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, and receiver Arrelious Benn — and a Pro Bowl-caliber season from second-year quarterback Josh Freeman. I love Tampa’s “Why not us?” spirit and swagger, but think the veteran Falcons get the best of them in this one.

The Pick: Falcons 27, Buccaneers 21

New England at Cleveland: Ah, Mangini vs. Belichick. It’s been a while, but I guess it’s time to dig up all those tired plot lines from the 2007 and 2008 recycle bin, isn’t it? Spygate! My favorite! And I guess we have to pretend to care about the postgame handshake, too? Terrific. As for the actual football game that will be played on the field, I think we’re in store for a good one and can already smell this being everyone’s “upset special” of the week. In two road games, Colt McCoy’s played well in Pittsburgh and New Orleans — two of the toughest places for a young quarterback to function — even earning a victory in the latter. Though there’s still a chance Seneca Wallace gets the starting nod on Sunday, I don’t think which Browns quarterback is under center will matter. I can’t see Brady and Belichick losing this one.

The Pick: Patriots 23, Browns 16

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New Orleans at Carolina: Gregg Williams’ Saints defense has been sturdy all season, but without the weekly barrage of forced turnovers we became accustomed to last season, the league-wide perception has been that the defense has been struggling. Despite injuries to top corners Jabrai Greer, Tracy Porter and Randall Gay, the Saints D held Ben Roethlisberger under 300 yards passing and without a touchdown pass in Sunday night’s 20-10 victory. More importantly, the D got back to its 2009 ways, forcing two takeaways in the final seven minutes to ensure the win. Dare I say the Saints D is back? Look for them to feast on poor Matt Moore and the woeful Panthers offense on Sunday.

The Pick: Saints 30, Panthers 16

4 p.m. ET games:

New York Giants at Seattle: The Seahawks didn’t just get beat on the scoreboard Sunday in Oakland, they got the snot beat out of them on the field, too. Five Seattle starters suffered injuries that make them question marks for Sunday’s game. Matt Hasselbeck, who suffered a concussion in the 33-3 loss, was sacked eight times and knocked down another seven. Riddled with injuries, the Seahawks offensive line is as thin as Calista Flockhart. A Calista Flockhart reference! A Cheat Sheet first! Give me the Giants and that fearless pass rush.

The Pick: Giants 24, Seahawks 16

Jets/Patriots

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Kansas City at Oakland: As the official driver of the 2010 Oakland Raiders bandwagon,  it’s my duty to warn all latecomers that this week is the last and final chance to get on board the train. When I took the wheel of this puppy back in August, it was me, Al Davis, Tommy Cable and a bunch of dudes with spikes and face paint in Darrius Heyward-Bey jerseys. After two wins that have resulted in a combined score of 92-17, 567 rushing yards, and 1,053 yards of total offense, everyone’s suddenly starting to take notice of the Silver and Black. Kansas City’s been the surprise team of the AFC this year, but I don’t see the Chiefs escaping the Black Hole as victors on Sunday. Regardless of the outcome, most NFL fans would agree (except, perhaps, in San Diego and Denver) that it’s nice to have this game matter again. The last time the Chiefs and Raiders both finished with winning records in the same season? 1994.

The Pick: Raiders 23, Chiefs 17

Indianapolis at Philadelphia: The Eagles are 11-0 under Andy Reid in games immediately following bye weeks. Since 2000, Philadelphia has a .675 winning percentage (54-25-1) in its last eight regular-season games compared to .612 (49-31) in their first eight. They’re a second-half team and they’ll get off to a good start Sunday, beating the red-hot Colts in a shootout at the Linc. Indy’s riddled with injuries at every just about every position. I can see them faltering in this road battle.

The Pick: Eagles 31, Colts 27

Sunday Night:

Dallas at Green Bay: Just how bad are things in Dallas? Historically terrible. The Cowboys are 1-6 and off to their worst start since they went 1-15 in 1989. Green Bay’s defense, meanwhile, made up for an anemic offensive effort Sunday in New York, blanking the Jets offense despite two weeks for Sanchez and Co. to prepare. After the way Dallas insulted and disrespected Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, and a national TV audience by their complete non-effort on Sunday, I can only expect new lows Sunday night under the lights at Lambeau.

The Pick: Packers 36, Cowboys 16

Monday Night:

Pittsburgh at Cincinnati: After winning two of their first three games, the Bengals have lost four straight to fall to 2-5. It doesn’t get any easier for Marvin Lewis’ squad. Following the Steelers, they are at Indianapolis, home against an always-competitive Buffalo squad and then on the road in New York after a short week for a Thanksgiving night game against the Jets. In the loaded AFC, the season could be all but done with a loss in this one.

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The Pick: Steelers 27, Bengals 17

Cheat Sheet Trivia Question of the Week: San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey became the first rookie catcher to win a World Series since 1966. Since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, who are the only four rookie quarterbacks to start NFL conference championship games?

E-mail of the Week:

Peter, in your latest column, you wrote “I went 4-10 last week with my picks and have zero regrets or shame. Find me someone who had the Browns over the Saints, the Raiders putting up 59 points in Denver and the Panthers scoring 10 points in the final two minutes, and I'll send you a free FOXSports.com coffee mug.” I did just that. I’d like my mug now, please. You can ship it to my mailing address below. -- Danny, Tacoma, Wash.

Danny,

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You had the Raiders scoring 59 points in Denver? Hey, the mug is yours, then, my man. Just out of curiosity, though — if I’d written “Find me someone who’s been to Mars, eaten dinner with Christopher Columbus, and discussed the top 10 Wayne Arnold vs. Kevin Arnold fights on The Wonder Years with Fred Savage, and I’ll send you a free FoxSports.com coffee mug,” would you have responded with “I did just that. I’d like my mug, please,” too? Just curious.

Cheat Sheet Trivia Answer:

1. Mark Sanchez, New York Jets, 2009
2. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens, 2008
3. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers, 2004
4. Shaun King, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1999

No rookie quarterback has ever started a Super Bowl.
 

Tagged: Bills, Browns, Lions, Raiders, Dolphins, Vikings, Saints, Jets, Seahawks, Buccaneers, Redskins, Panthers, Ravens, Cardinals, Steelers, Chargers, Matt Hasselbeck, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Moore, Dan Carpenter, Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman, Jahvid Best, Colt McCoy, Max Hall

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