The Bills and Lions — with a combined zero playoff appearances this century — are two of the league’s three remaining undefeated teams. The 2-1 Raiders — yes, the same Raiders who haven’t finished a season with a record above .500 since 2002 — look like the most physically imposing power football team in the league. Rookies, seemingly everywhere you look, are making tremendous impacts, despite a lockout-shortened offseason. There were four bad snaps out of the shotgun and eight field goals on Monday night, and the NFL’s first-ever 13-8 final score on Sunday.
Oh, and did we mention that the Bills and Lions are undefeated?
I had some ups (I loved the Raiders and Bucs last week) and a few downs (I foolishly assumed the Dolphins would actually use their power running back instead of Reggie Bush in late-game “kill the clock” situations) in Week 3. Overall, it was a good week to follow my picks. Get on the train, folks!
Let’s dig into Week 4.
Week 3 Record: 11-5 Overall 2011 Record: 33-15
WEEK 3 CHEAT SHEET TRIVIA QUESTION OF THE WEEK:
32 quarterbacks finished games in Week 3. Of those 32 quarterbacks, which college/university was represented by the most former players lining up under center? (ANSWER BELOW)
WEEK 3 CHEAT SHEET GROSS UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE WEEK:
"Any time we get a chance to spread the defense out, we can give them a little trouble.” — Saints wide receiver Lance Moore, moments after Drew Brees went 31-for-44 for 370 yards and three touchdowns in Sunday’s 40-33 win over Houston.
WEEK 3 IMPRESS YOUR COLLEAGUES WATER COOLER FACT OF THE WEEK:
The last time the Lions started the season 3-0 was 1980. Matt Stafford was born in 1988.
Sunday, 1 pm EST Games:
Buffalo at Cincinnati: ESPN had an “NFL Sunday Countdown” piece last week all about the fact that Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Bills quarterback, went to Harvard. I had no idea that’s where he went to college! Forget the questions about the Bills’ secondary and their rigorous October schedule. The real question is: When are we done with the “Ryan Fitzpatrick went to Harvard” storyline? When will we be able to watch a Bills highlight without the guy reading the highlights telling us that Ryan Fitzpatrick went to Harvard and saying Harvard with that obnoxious "Haaahhhvahd" voice? As for Buffalo, they’ve been an absolute joy to watch this season and sure are easy to root for. 28 of the 53 guys on their roster were either 5th, 6th or 7th round selections or went undrafted. One of those guys is Ryan Fitzpatrick . . . who, I’m not sure if you knew this, went to Harvard. He’ll beat one of his former teams on Sunday.
The Pick: Bills 27, Bengals 16
Tennessee at Cleveland: Colt McCoy sure is scrappy. Not crappy; scrappy. Scrambling and rolling outside the pocket on seemingly every single passing play, the second-year quarterback bounced back from a 10-for-26 start to complete nine of 13 passes on the Browns’ game-winning drive in last Sunday’s win vs. the Dolphins. Though it’s rarely aesthetically pleasing, McCoy seems to just get the job done when it matters most. Browns fans, who haven’t seen a home playoff game since New Year’s Day 1994, will take that over 40-point shootouts any day. Gimme Cleveland at home over the Titans in another close one on Sunday.
The Pick: Browns 23, Titans 19
Carolina at Chicago: One week after Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz acknowledged that the run to pass play-calling ratio was grossly imbalanced in the Bears’ 30-13 loss in New Orleans, Martz called just 11 running plays to 52 passing plays in Sunday’s 27-17 loss to the Packers. In back-to-back Bears losses, Martz has called for 20 runs and 95 passes. Carolina will give the Bears a scare, but look for Chicago to get back on track on this one; that’s with a running game or not.
The Pick: Bears 27, Panthers 21
Detroit at Dallas: I’m not sure what was tougher to look at on Monday night — the Cowboys’ young receivers running all those wrong routes and those wayward Phil Costa snaps or Nancy Grace’s “wardrobe malfunction” on “Dancing With the Stars.” Haven’t seen the latter yet? You probably shouldn’t type that search into Google. Well, not at work, at least. As for the 3-0 Lions, they’ve been an absolute pleasure to watch this season. However, I think the inexperienced, injured and error-prone Cowboys find a way to put an end to Detroit’s undefeated season in this one. Romo, as he often seems to do, somehow finds a way in a thriller.
The Pick: Cowboys 27, Lions 24 (OT)
New Orleans at Jacksonville: Try to resist laughing, but I’m going to compliment the Saints defense for their performance in last Sunday’s 40-33 shootout with Houston. Though they gave up 473 yards on the afternoon, they held the Texans to just one touchdown in five trips inside the red zone and both sacked and intercepted Matt Schaub in the game’s final drive. They bent … a lot … but they didn’t quite break. Look for a better, less flexible, effort Sunday against Jaguars rookie Blaine Gabbert.
The Pick: Saints 34, Jaguars 14
Minnesota at Kansas City: Every group of friends has that one single buddy who seems to spend entire nights at bars talking to girls, only to always go home solo, with no phone number or Facebook friend request to show for it. Back in college, we called our friend with this “issue” our very own “Mel Rojas”, appropriately named after the disastrous former New York Mets reliever who simply couldn’t close games out. If the 32 NFL teams were a crew of guys going out on the town each week, the winless Minnesota Vikings — who’ve already squandered 13-, 14- and 20-point halftime leads this season — would undoubtedly be that guy. The Chiefs had a catastrophic first five halves of football this season, then started to get things going Sunday in San Diego, nearly shocking the Chargers and killing 1,000,000 “Survivor” pools in the process. I like ‘em at home on Sunday vs. the Minnesota Fightin’ Mel Rojases.
The Pick: Chiefs 21, Vikings 20
Atlanta at Seattle: While they were widely praised for trading a thousand draft picks to acquire another wide receiver and spending big bucks to bring in the currently sackless Ray Edwards this offseason, the Falcons didn’t address an offensive line that showed its holes in last January’s playoff loss to the Packers. This season, Matt Ryan has been sacked 13 times and hit 21 times. Last season, he was sacked just 23 times. I wasn’t buying Atlanta as a Super Bowl team in August, and I’m not buying them now. But I think they’ll have their way with Seattle on Sunday.
The Pick: Falcons 24, Seahawks 13
Pittsburgh at Houston: The way the Colts defensive line abused the Pittsburgh front five on Sunday night, I wouldn’t be shocked if Steelers GM Kevin Colbert felt the urge to break out his old Rolodex and start calling up guys like Tunch Ilkin, Dermontti Dawson and John Jackson to see if they’d be interested in “you know, coming in for a workout, and giving it the ol’ college try” this week. In my “20 Bold Predictions” piece for the site back in August, I expressed my concerns with the Steelers O-Line and got lambasted by emails from the black and gold faithful. The line’s going to struggle again on Sunday. Give me the Texans in yet another game in which Big Ben’s being attacked from all angles.
The Pick: Texans 31, Steelers 26
Washington at St. Louis: The Rams have been outscored 96-36, haven’t come close to sniffing a victory, and appear to only be getting worse as the season goes on. Sunday’s bloodbath against the Ravens saw St. Louis get outgained 246-35 in the first quarter and 406-81 by halftime. The Rams also punted five times in the first quarter and only seven of their first 17 plays gained positive yardage. But guess what? I still think they’ll win the woeful NFC West. The long road back to respectability starts with a Sunday win over a ‘Skins team playing on just six days rest.
The Pick: Rams 24, Redskins 20s
San Francisco at Philadelphia: Mike Kafka, Jamar Chaney, Moise Fokou, Casey Matthews, Brian Rolle — ladies and gentlemen, please meet your “DREAM TEAM 2011 Philadelphia Eagles!” OK, it’s easy to poke fun at the team with the biggest targets on their backs this week, especially when Nnamdi Asomugha — hyped as a Deion Sanders/Champ Bailey caliber cornerback all summer — got absolutely outplayed by someone named Victor Cruz on Sunday. The amazing thing is that this upcoming stretch was expected to be the Eagles’ soft spot of the schedule: the Niners at home, followed by road trips to Buffalo and Washington. Now? They’ll be fortunate to win two of those. I think Philly finds a way over the offensively inept and road-weary 49ers in an ugly one on Sunday, but it’ll be anything but easy.
The Pick: Eagles 23, 49ers 19
Sunday, 4 pm ET Games:
Denver at Green Bay: Sure, the fans’ cries for Tim Tebow to be the starter in Denver may not matter much to John Fox. But what about some measured pleas to consider Tebow in select short-yardage situations this season? Facing a 1st and goal from the Titans 2-yard line on Sunday, Kyle Orton threw the ball away on first down and Willis McGahee got stuffed on three straight runs, resulting in a Broncos turnover on downs. Tebow couldn’t have been inserted in that situation? Hey, it’s worth considering. The Broncos upsetting the defending champions in Laumbeau? Yeah, well that’s not something worth considering.
The Pick: Packers 30, Broncos 17
Miami at San Diego: The guys at BetOnline.com opened up a prop bet this week for “The first coach to be fired.” Who’s the frontrunner? Look no further than Dolphins coach Tony Sparano, who at -130 odds has the slight lead over Kansas City coach Todd Haley. Sparano’s seat isn’t hot; it’s melting. Karlos Dansby, the team’s defensive leader, did more than merely hint at his coach’s shaky job security, telling reporters on Monday: “Right now his job is on the line, and we’ve got to do a better job of defending it for him. We’re the only ones who can.” Yikes. Situations like these — especially when they emerge before October — don’t tend to end well.
The Pick: Chargers 27, Dolphins 17
New England at Oakland: I think I speak for most NFL fans when I say that it’s darn good to have the Oakland Raiders respected, relevant and feared again. It’s certainly been a while. Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly — one half of the NFL’s best defensive line — combined for a sack of Mark Sanchez on Sunday and Seymour got up with his arms crossed, explaining after the game, "When I throw up the ‘X,’ that means it’s time to put the kids to bed. It’s X-rated out there. That means if you’re 13 and under, don’t watch this." There’s something awfully ‘70’s “Commitment to Excellence”-ish about this defense and the power run game screams of “Just Win, Baby.” No one’s been able to stop Tom Brady. This defense, in front of that crowd, can. I’m taking the Patriots, but they’ll have to earn every inch in this one.
The Pick: Patriots 28, Raiders 23
New York Giants at Arizona: When I picked the Giants to finish the season as one of the two wild-card teams coming out of the NFC and Tom Coughlin as my 2011 NFL Coach of the Year back in August, I was accused by readers for being a “homer,” a Giants apologist and a bumbling fool. Those emails stopped trickling in around 4 p.m. ET on Sunday, with the Giants up two scores on the Eagles in Philly. As for the downright ridiculous rumor that I was wearing a Hunter Hynoski jersey around the streets of Manhattan all last week? That’s absolutely untrue. It was a Jacquian Williams jersey. Get it right, guys.
The Pick: Giants 27, Cardinals 20
New York Jets at Baltimore: Sunday night will mark the first trip back to Baltimore for Rex Ryan, Jim Leonhard and Bart Scott since they left The Charm City for the Big Apple two and a half years ago. Perhaps they’ll bring something that resembles the Jets defense of 2009 and 2010 with them? This year’s unit has struggled immensely, with the nadir coming last Sunday in a game in which Oakland piled on 234 yards on the ground. I said last week that the Jets would be fortunate to win one of the three games on this Oakland-Baltimore-New England three-game road trip. I don’t think they will.
The Pick: Ravens 24, Jets 16
Indianapolis at Tampa Bay: The Colts are now 0-3 for the 10th time in franchise history. Of those nine other seasons, Indy rebounded and posted a winning season only once (1988). Six of those times, the Colts failed to win more than three games. With back-to-back gritty wins, Josh Freeman and the “Baby Bucs” are on a roll. Though Indy played inspired football on Sunday night, I don’t see them topping Raheem Morris’ guys in their first Monday night game since 2003. They’ll get over the early excitement and eagerness, settle down and win a fun one.
The Pick: Buccaneers 27, Colts 21
Reader Email of the Week:
Your thoughts on buying a kicker’s jersey? I am an Oklahoma State alum and a diehard Cowboys fan, and am tempted to pick up a Dan Bailey jersey. Wanted your “expert” opinion on such a matter.
Little Rock, Arkansas
I’m generally wary of a grown man wearing a football jersey in public anywhere outside an NFL stadium or a costume party, but if you’re going to buy one — make sure it’s unique. A Dan Bailey jersey? Well, that certainly qualifies. That said, Cowboys kickers don’t exactly have the best track record with long-term employment. You might want to give it a few more weeks before plunking down the $80. For some additional insight, you might want to reach out to the 14 people who have Nick Folk Cowboys jerseys hanging in their closets collecting dust.
WEEK 3 CHEAT SHEET TRIVIA ANSWER:
Purdue University, with three quarterbacks — Drew Brees (New Orleans), Kyle Orton (Purdue), and Curtis Painter (Indianapolis) — had more quarterbacks finish games last week than any other school. Michigan (Tom Brady, Chad Henne), USC (Mark Sanchez, Matt Cassel), Boston College (Matt Hasselbeck, Matt Ryan), and Auburn (Jason Campbell, Cameron Newton) tied for second place with two. Harvard — I’m not sure you were aware, but Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick went to Harvard — was tied for third with 20 other schools with just one.