The more things change, the more they stay the same.
In Week 11, the Colts-Patriots game was decided by three points, all four NFC West teams were blown out by double-digit margins, and the Lions lost their 26th straight road contest, a dubious streak dating to October 2007. Vince Young showed his immaturity (yet again), the Texans' defense showed its heinous warts and shortcomings (yet again) and the Jets found an improbable way to win in the final seconds (yet again). And naturally, like the changing of the seasons, the Chargers have shaken off an ugly start to rattle off three straight victories.
Everyone’s been “oohing” and “aahing” over how “unpredictable” the 2010 season has been, but it seems to me as though it has been fairly routine.
This week’s picks?
Let’s dig into the Week 12 Cheat Sheet.
Week 11 Record: 13-3
Overall 2010 Record: 91-69
Sunday, 1 p.m. EST
Carolina at Cleveland: The Browns may not be the league leaders in too many statistical categories, but they do lead the NFL in quarterbacks with ankle injuries. With a severely sprained ankle suffered in Sunday’s loss to Jacksonville, Colt McCoy became the third Browns starter this season to suffer such an injury. Fortunately, Cleveland faces the woeful Panthers on Sunday. Carolina has scored only 15 points in the first quarter this season — all on field goals. The defense, meanwhile, has allowed the opponent to score a touchdown on its opening drive in four of the past six games. That’s not good.
The Pick: Browns 20, Panthers 10
Pittsburgh at Buffalo: A week after being embarrassed on national television by the Patriots, the Steelers silenced all critics with a start-to-finish 35-3 blowout of the AFC West-leading Raiders. Buffalo, however, appears to be far better than its 2-8 record indicates. Seven of the Bills’ eight losses have come to teams that are either leading or tied for a division lead. The combined records of those teams? 49-21. Give me the Steelers on the road, but in a game that’s a lot closer than the Vegas sports books would have you imagine.
The Pick: Steelers 23, Bills 21
Jacksonville at New York Giants: With news of Hakeem Nicks being out for three weeks because of a leg injury, the Giants are now without Nicks, 2009 Pro Bowler Steve Smith and promising second-year man Ramses Barden at wide receiver. The ironic thing, of course, is that heading into the 2009 season, all the naysayers said the Giants could never win with such a young receiving corps. Now, everyone’s saying they can’t win without them. In what is their biggest game of the year, look for New York to find a way over the AFC South-leading (no, that’s not a misprint) Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Pick: Giants 23, Jaguars 17
Minnesota at Washington: Apparently the NFL is using advanced technical forensics to try to trace the origins of the disturbing photos sent to Jenn Sterger via cell phone. Whose job is that? While they’re at it, perhaps the league could use the same technical forensics to trace exactly where Brett Favre’s skills as a quarterback went in the matter of a year. Old Man Favre leads the league in interceptions with 17. The Vikings haven’t won a road game all season, they’ve cut a Hall of Fame receiver and fired a coach who took them to the NFC Championship Game last year. And their All-Pro running back hasn’t rushed for 100 yards in four games. Give me the Redskins.
The Pick: Redskins 30, Vikings 20
Tennessee at Houston: With a reception on Sunday, Randy Moss will become the first and only receiver in NFL history to be on the receiving end of passes from NFL legends Tom Brady, Brett Favre and Rusty Smith. Yes, the Rusty Smith era has begun in Tennessee! Yet, for as strange as things might be in Tennessee these days, they could be even odder in Houston. The Texans have lost in improbable fashion not two, but three weeks in a row. If losing on a Hail Mary pass in Jacksonville was like having your heart broken in an instant, Sunday’s loss in New Jersey was like having that broken heart violently stomped on for 53 seconds. Of course, there’s a better reason than just “bad luck” for why the Texans are at the bottom of the AFC South standings: Their defense is the very worst in the AFC. Houston will find a way over the unproven rookie in this one.
The Pick: Texans 28, Titans 13
Green Bay at Atlanta: Green Bay has allowed just 10 points in the past 12 quarters, but Atlanta’s Matt Ryan is 18-1 all-time at the Georgia Dome. Something’s gotta give in this one. I like the red-hot Falcons, who, despite very little media fanfare, would be the NFC’s top seed if the postseason were to start today. Ryan has not thrown an interception in his past 137 attempts, and the Falcons have not turned the ball over in their past three games. The Packers' D has been lights-out of late, but I see the NFL’s most underrated quarterback finding a way on Sunday.
The Pick: Falcons 23, Packers 20
Sunday, 4 p.m. EST
Miami at Oakland: Quarterback Tyler Thigpen had more rushing yards (27) than Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown combined (11) in Miami’s painful-to-watch loss versus Chicago last Thursday night. Falling behind 16-0 in the third quarter and having a banged up offensive line — including Pro Bowler Jake Long — certainly didn’t help the Dolphins’ cause. My Raiders (yes, I’m sticking by them) looked pretty awful Sunday in Pittsburgh. Look for them to rebound at home, where they’re 4-1 on the year.
The Pick: Raiders 23, Dolphins 15
Kansas City at Seattle: How bad is the NFC West this year? First, the Seahawks — at 5-5 — are far and away the best team in the division through 11 weeks. Second, the division’s four teams lost by a combined score of 120-49 in Week 11. In truth, a 7-9 record might be enough to “earn” a first-round home playoff game this year. Kansas City has been woeful on the road, but I don’t see it falling to the ‘Hawks in this one.
The Pick: Chiefs 33, Seahawks 23
Philadelphia at Chicago: For as great as Michael Vick’s legs have been this season, his arm has been all the more impressive. Vick has yet to throw an interception this season in 191 pass attempts. He's got a streak of 220 passes without an interception dating to 2006, when he played for the Falcons. The Giants' defensive line — particularly Justin Tuck — hit him pretty hard on Sunday night. Julius Peppers is no slouch, and Vick’s longtime NFC South nemesis could do the same in this one. But in the end, I like the Eagles to win at Soldier Field by the same score they lost 22 years ago in the Fog Bowl.
St. Louis at Denver: No NFL team has ever bounced back from a 3-7 start and made the playoffs, but Josh McDaniels wasn’t acknowledging that fact after Monday night’s loss in San Diego. “We don't have any crystal ball and can't predict what everybody else is going to do ," he said. "There's still a lot of football to be played. What we control is how we prepare and how we play.” For as great as Sam Bradford has been in his rookie campaign, he still has not won a road game. I don’t see it coming in this one, either.
The Pick: Broncos 31, Rams 23
Tampa Bay at Baltimore: The Ravens rarely lose games they should win. Under coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens are 14-1 against teams with losing records. They’re 4-0 at home this season. And for as much as I love the Baby Bucs this season, I just don’t see Tampa Bay coming into Baltimore and taking one from the Ravens on a late afternoon in November. The Bucs played 11 rookies in their 21-0 win over the Niners on Sunday, and seven of those rookies started. Raheem Morris is my no-brainer pick for Coach of the Year in 2010. If the Bucs knock off the Ravens in Baltimore on Sunday, you might as well hand him the award now.
The Pick: Ravens 23, Buccaneers 14
San Diego at Indianapolis: For whatever reason, Philip Rivers — and Billy Volek, in one instance — seem to just own the Colts. The Chargers are 4-1 in their past five matchups with the defending AFC champions, including a divisional playoff win at Indianapolis in 2007. But that one was at the old RCA Dome, not Lucas Oil Stadium, where Indy has lost only two games in two-and-a-half seasons. After playing six of their first 10 games away from Lucas Oil Stadium, the Colts will play four of their next six contests at home — including Sunday night's game. Look for Manning and his cast of spare parts to come out of this one with a “W.”
The Pick: Colts 34, Chargers 27
San Francisco at Arizona: Yuck. What else is on TV on Monday nights? Is that “Gossip Girl” show still on the air? I’ve never seen it; maybe I’ll give it a whirl. I don’t think I’ll be able to stomach this game between two of the league’s least interesting, most underwhelming teams. Even Jon Gruden might have a hard time heaping breathless praise on the players on the field in this one. I’ll take the Cardinals to break their five-game losing streak but only because they’re up against San Francisco.
Cheat Sheet Trivia Question of the Week: Rams rookie quarterback Sam Bradford set an NFL rookie record by throwing 169 passes without an interception before Atlanta's William Moore ended the streak Sunday. Which rookie quarterback from the past 15 years had the most consecutive pass attempts without an interception before Bradford's streak?
Cheat Sheet Reader E-mail of the Week:
My buddies and I were at a roulette table this past weekend in Las Vegas, partying it up at oh, 4 a.m. Every time the ball would land on a number, we’d scream out football players’ names that wore the numbers. For example, if the ball ended up on “11”, we’d all just one-up each other by screaming “Bledsoe!”, “Simms!”, “Damon Huard!” Or if was “34”, you’d get “Sweetness!”, “Ricky Williams”, “Earl Campbell!” So, obviously, after an hour of doing this, we’ve got the whole table—random college kids, a crew of dudes from Texas—joining in with us. Then, the number “26” came up. We were all dumbfounded. Someone mumbled Sean Taylor’s name, but it turned out Taylor wore 26 in college, not in the pros. Peter, can you name any noteworthy players who wore 26? Our crew is pretty football savvy, and not one of us could come up with a single name.
Greg, Sandusky, Ohio
I like this game, though I’m not sure I would have loved the exuberance of your crew if I were losing my money on these spins at the roulette table. To answer your question, there have actually been five Hall of Famers to wear the number 26 — Jim Thorpe, Herb Adderley, Paddy Driscoll, Rod Woodson, and Benny Friedman. You remember Benny Friedman, don’t you? The old quarterback from the 1920s Detroit Wolverines and New York Giants? Of course you do! In recent years, Pro Bowlers Clinton Portis, Deuce McCallister, Antoine Winfield have all worn No. 26. This year, Antrel Rolle is sporting it in New York.
Cheat Sheet Trivia Answer of the Week: Current Raiders quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, a rookie with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2006, threw 147 straight pass attempts between interceptions.