The Cowboys are back! The Chiefs are finished! The Giants and Steelers have begun their second annual second-half swoons. Michael Vick is the greatest player to ever step foot on a football field and Donovan McNabb should be on the next cover of AARP magazine, with the headline "So Darn Old, But, Oh, So Darn Rich!"
It’s easy to jump to conclusions, but if we’ve learned anything from the first 10 weeks of the season, it’s that from one Sunday to the next, nothing is predictable in today’s NFL. Last week, the Jags won on a Hail Mary pass, the Jets became the first team in NFL history to win consecutive road games in overtime, and the Buffalo Bills actually won a real-life, regular-season football game. The Dolphins and Titans went through a few too many quarterbacks, and there was an unfriendly postgame handshake exchange that didn’t involve Bill Belichick or Eric Mangini.
This week? You never know.
Let’s jump into the picks.
Week 10 Record: 6-8 Overall Record: 78-66
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
Baltimore at Carolina: Lost in Joe Theismann’s breathless four-hour Shakespearean sonnet to Matt Ryan last Thursday night was a pretty darn impressive showing out of Joe Flacco, too. With his back against the wall on the road against a team that hadn’t lost in its own building all season, Flacco led the Ravens on a furious fourth-quarter comeback and nearly escaped Atlanta with a win. Of course, the Ravens would be a lot better served in these road games if they actually remembered to show up for the start of them. In five away games this season, the Ravens have managed to combine for just three first-quarter points. The Ravens haven’t held the lead at the end of a first quarter since Oct. 10 against the Broncos. Fortunately, they’re playing the league’s youngest — and arguably most banged-up — team on Sunday. They should have no problems at the start, middle or end of this one.
The Pick: Ravens 30, Panthers 14
Houston at New York Jets: After a red-hot 3-1 start, the preseason media darling Houston Faux-ans dropped to 4-5, the bottom of the AFC South standings, with a heartbreaking loss on Sunday. The Hail Mary pass at the end was certainly unfortunate, but also not the only reason Houston fell to Jacksonville. The Texans’ defense is the AFC’s worst. Counting the Hail Mary pass, Houston allowed 491 yards to the Jaguars. This Sunday, the offense should have some trouble, too. Rex Ryan’s defenses have seemingly owned Gary Kubiak’s offenses the past two years. In 2008, Ryan’s Ravens beat Kubiak’s Texans 41-13. Last year, the Jets beat Houston 24-7. Expect more of the same in this one.
The Pick: Jets 31, Texans 17
Washington at Tennessee: Matt Millen called McNabb’s new Redskins contract "illogical" on Monday. I think a lot of people in Detroit got a few chuckles (or frowns) out of that one. As one of my Lions fan friends said, "And that’s coming from an expert!" Something no Redskins fans were laughing about on Monday was the 28-0 first quarter hole Washington found itself in against the rival Eagles at home. Deadspin quipped with the headline, "Young, Underpaid Quarterback Outperforms Older, Overpaid Quarterback". Michael Vick gave the ‘Skins D fits in that one; look for Chris Johnson to do the same on Sunday. I’m not sure how a team recovers from that kind of beating with just six days rest.
The Pick: Titans 30, Redskins 20
Buffalo at Cincinnati: The Bengals are in the midst of a miserable six-game losing streak, now the second-longest of the Marvin Lewis era, with all six losses having been by eight or fewer points. Pretty much out of the playoff race in the loaded AFC, the Bengals host the Bills in what might be the one game they’ll be favored in from here on out. Everyone appears to be focusing on T.O. facing his former team, here, but Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is up against his old squad, too. Look for the Bengals to win on their home field before another gruesome stretch that includes games against the Jets, Saints, and Steelers.
The Pick: Bengals 24, Bills 19
Cleveland at Jacksonville: Sunday’s Hail Mary victory for Jacksonville marked only the fourth regular season win in NFL history to be decided on a 50-yard or more touchdown pass on the final play of a game. Oddly enough, it was the first time it happened for a home team. The win moved Jacksonville to 5-4 and into the thick of the AFC’s crowded postseason hunt. The Jags can’t afford to lose to the Browns on Sunday, though, as four of their final six games are on the road, including a game at the New York Giants and then road games at all three division rivals, the Titans, Colts and Texans. Forget January; their playoffs start on Sunday. They’ll find a way over a tough Cleveland squad.
The Pick: Jaguars 23, Browns 20
Detroit at Dallas: Sure, the Cowboys haven’t won at home all season, but the Lions haven’t won a road game since October 2007. I like the Cowboys’ chances in this one. The Dallas offense looked revitalized in Sunday’s win over New York, totaling 427 total yards and establishing a previously non-existent running game. "This isn’t exactly winning the playoff ring; this isn’t winning the NFC championship game," Jerry Jones said afterward. "But in a way, it gives us something to be positive about. Even if it’s a small consolation, I hope it’s a good feeling for our fans." Dallas will move to 3-7 on Sunday. Baby steps.
The Pick: Cowboys 34, Lions 13
Oakland at Pittsburgh: With injuries piling up and what has been described as the worst loss in Mike Tomlin’s coaching career coming Sunday night versus New England, it is hard not to get a déjà vu feeling about the Steelers. Last year, Pittsburgh started out 6-2, only to lose its next five games and miss the playoffs. The Steelers’ loss to the Raiders at home last season was the absolute nadir of a forgettable ’09 campaign. In that game, the Steelers allowed 21 points in the final quarter to lose with nine seconds left on a touchdown pass. I promised readers last week that I would stop picking the Raiders based solely on the fact I predicted them to win the AFC West prior to the start of the season. I’ll abide by that promise and instead pick the Raiders to win because I truly think they’re the better — and far healthier — football team in this one.
The Pick: Raiders 27, Steelers 23
Green Bay at Minnesota: Talking about the Vikings’ fading playoff hopes this week, Jared Allen told reporters: "It ain’t over yet. We can still make 10-6. I know that’s optimistic. We have to beat the Green Bay Packers at home (Sunday). We’ve got to go home and beat the Green Bay Packers. That’s the only thing we can do." They won’t.
The Pick: Packers 34, Vikings 21
Arizona at Kansas City: Ken Whisenhunt and Todd Haley’s friendship goes back to their time spent as assistants with the New York Jets in the late ’90s. They would golf together, play hoops together and construct offensive game plans into the wee hours of the night. Though they both reached the pinnacle of their professional careers working together in 2008 with the NFC champion Cardinals, both men are going through some major growing pains of late. Kansas City has lost two straight and is no longer the leader of the AFC West, while Arizona has dropped four in a row and has plummeted from first place to the NFC West’s cellar. The Chiefs haven’t lost at Arrowhead all season and the suddenly Three Stooges-like Cardinals defense couldn’t catch a cold at this point. Give me Haley over his buddy in a must-win for K.C. And, yes, there will be a handshake afterwards.
The Pick: Chiefs 30, Cardinals 21
4 p.m. ET
Atlanta at St. Louis: When all the (cough, way too early and absolutely meaningless) midseason awards were passed out by media members last week, I never once heard Matt Ryan’s name mentioned for MVP honors. Ryan has been a star for the NFC South-leading Falcons, calling 30-35 plays per game from the no-huddle and leading Atlanta to a commanding 7-2 record. The Falcons have been unbeatable at home under Ryan (18-1 all-time, 5-0 this year). The Rams have lost only one game in their building this season but will be facing a well-rested, well-prepared Atlanta squad with an MVP candidate under center. I’ll take that guy over a rookie, regardless of what building the game’s being played in. A key player to watch? Former Missouri star and first-round pick Sean Weatherspoon, back from missing four weeks with an injury, will be in the lineup at linebacker for the Falcons.
The Pick: Falcons 27, Rams 16
Tampa Bay at San Francisco: Seven rookies started for the Bucs in last Sunday’s win over the Panthers, excluding running back LeGarrette Blount, who saw the bulk of the action at the position and technically came off the bench. The last team to start that many rookies in a win was the Cowboys in 2002. The second-youngest team in the NFL, the Baby Bucs boast a 3-1 record on the road. Tampa Bay has a certain mojo going on that I see carrying right on over into San Francisco on Sunday afternoon.
The Pick: Buccaneers 32, 49ers 21
Seattle at New Orleans: Though they haven’t exactly been the league’s most impressive squad this season, getting outscored 74-10 in Weeks 8 and 9, the Seahawks sit alone atop the NFC West at 5-4. (The Rams are 4-5, and the Cardinals and the Niners are tied at 3-6.) Winning the NFC West is kind of like winning a cheesy reality TV dating show — it’s not exactly a shining achievement, but it’s an achievement, nevertheless. Fresh off a bye, the Saints should have no problem with the ‘Hawks in Seattle on Sunday.
The Pick: Saints 35, Seahawks 20
Indianapolis at New England: Peyton Manning and Tom Brady — numbers 7 and 21, respectively, on NFL Films’ recent "Top 100" all-time players list — are in the midst of arguably the very best campaigns of their pro careers this season. In Sunday’s 23-17 Colts win over Cincinnati, Manning’s offensive weapons included such NFL luminaries as tight ends Jacob Tamme (who?) and Gijon Robinson (who?), undrafted rookie Brandon James (who?), second-year running back Donald Brown and an undrafted running back named Javarris James. Brady, meanwhile, led the Pats to 39 points against the league’s top defensive unit, including three touchdown passes to rookie Rob Gronkowski. This annual pre-Thanksgiving battle always comes down to the final minute. Gimme the Patriots at home with Brady saving his best for last.
The Pick: Patriots 30, Colts 27
New York Giants at Philadelphia: Like the Steelers, the Giants suffered through a collapse in 2009, losing eight of their final 11 games and missing the playoffs for the first time in several years. Seeing Big Blue get blown out by Jon Kitna and the Cowboys in New York last Sunday, one would have to wonder if they’re headed down the same rocky road in 2010. "I feel as though we have learned from (the loss)," Justin Tuck said on Monday. "I am actually kind of glad in a way. Maybe this is that wakeup call we can use. Maybe this is a chance for us to kind of look at ourselves and say that we aren’t as good as we thought we were, and it gives us an opportunity to go back to the drawing board and continue to go out there in practice and work." With injuries mounting and Vick looking like Superman on Monday night, I see the Eagles getting the best of New York in Philly on Sunday night.
The Pick: Eagles 34, Giants 23
San Diego at Denver: Coming out of the bye week, it’s now or never time for 4-5 San Diego. The four-time defending division champions face the Broncos, Raiders and Chiefs — all at home — in three of their next four games. Denver quarterback Kyle Orton was barely touched in Sunday’s blowout win over Kansas City, tossing three touchdown passes in the first quarter, and the Broncos’ rushing game finally had a day worth being proud of, going for a season-high 153 yards. The AFC West has been a complete mystery this year. In other words, it’s been completely representative of the rest of the league. I’ll take the Chargers at home in this one, I guess.
The Pick: Chargers 31, Broncos 25
Cheat Sheet Trivia Question of the Week
Tim Tebow became the first Broncos rookie quarterback to rush and pass for a touchdown in the same game since 1983. Who was the Broncos rookie gunslinger who did it on Nov. 20, 1983?
Reader E-Mail of the Week
I’m a 21-year-old college senior. I’m also a longtime suffering Lions fan. My team’s franchise quarterback has spent more time with Dr. James Andrews down in Birmingham in his first two seasons than he has in our huddle. Our offensive line is made of a bunch of failed first-round picks and journeymen, and the defense — though improved — is probably still a few years away. You have to realize just how long it’s been for us Lions fans since our team last won a road game, 2007. That may not sound so long ago to you, but I was a college freshman — pledging a fraternity — the last time we won a road game. I’m a senior now, who’s already deactivated one fraternity, pledged and joined another, dated seven different girls, broken up with seven different girls, spent two semesters abroad, and been on three different completely wild Spring Break road trips. Dude, Facebook wasn’t even popular when the Lions last won a road game! The way I see it this week in Dallas against our old quarterback Jon Kitna presents our last chance for a road win this season. Give me some hope. Whatta ya say? We can do this on Sunday, right?
Seven girlfriends?! Craig, you lothario! Sounds like you’ve had quite the college experience. The only memories I have from my fraternity pledge semester was waking up in a cold sweat at 3 a.m. every night, doing mindless favors for a bunch of older guys that didn’t know my name, and wearing hideous khaki pants and bad ties around campus. It’s amazing you can remember watching a football game during that time of your life. And three Spring Breaks? Look. At. You! The Lions aren’t winning on the road this weekend, though, pal. And looking at their schedule, there’s a good chance they won’t win one the rest of the way. If I were you, I’d enjoy the rest of your senior year and take advantage of the few months of college you have left. Though, from the sound of it, I’m certain you already are.
Cheat Sheet Trivia Answer of the Week
On Nov. 20, 1983, Gary Kubiak went 10-for-18 with a touchdown pass to Steve Watson, and ran in a score in a 38-27 win over Dave Krieg’s Seattle Seahawks. A week later, fellow rookie John Elway returned to the lineup.