Back in August, Las Vegas sportsbooks had -200 odds on the Chargers winning more than 11 games this season. The Bolts will have to win out to reach that total. The 1-4 Cowboys? Their Vegas over/under was 10 wins. The Seahawks, Rams, and Bucs, meanwhile, are just a few wins away from surpassing all preseason expectations. As we’re learning every week, August predictions and forecasts mean nothing once actual football is being played.
As for the Super Bowl frontrunners right now? Your guess is as good as mine. In fact, 13 NFL teams currently have at least a share of first place in their respective divisions, which is the new record for the most in NFL history at this point in the season. Several of this weekend’s games will help us sort out some of the contenders from the pretenders. Or, at least we’d hope so.
Let’s dig into the picks.
Week 6 Record: 9-5
Overall 2010 Record: 50-40
1 p.m. ET Games:
Washington at Chicago: The Mike Martz Honeymoon period in Chicago is officially over, and with Jay Cutler being sacked a combined 15 times over his last two starts, it’s time to start wondering whether he’ll even be around for a November/December playoff push. The Bears have started four different offensive line combinations in their last four games. None have been even remotely serviceable. Cutler’s been sacked more than any other quarterback in the league, and now has to go up against Brian Orakpo, LaRon Landry, and the rest of Jim Haslett’s hard-charging Redskins D? Good luck, my man .The Pick: Redskins 24, Bears 14
Cincinnati at Atlanta: According to the New York Post, Terrell Owens has hired the matchmaking firm Kelleher International, to find him a soul mate. Kelleher, which has 18 international offices and charges clients anywhere from $15,000 to $150,000, is reportedly searching for a woman that looks like Kim Kardashian. No word as to whether Kelleher can find Owens a quarterback that looks like the Carson Palmer of old. He’d be a hot commodity. The cannon-armed Palmer that Owens likely thought he was joining in Cincy this season has been missing since the end of 2008. The one he’s got now appears to have a pellet gun for an arm. The Pick: Falcons 31, Bengals 24
Buffalo at Baltimore: Still reeling from an OT loss on the road in which they squandered a 10-point fourth quarter lead, I’d usually point to this one as a classic “let down” game for Baltimore. Against 30 other teams, I’d go there. But they’re playing the Bills, which means an easy “W”. “We are going home and then we are going to the bye week,” an angry Ray Lewis said this week. “It’s going to be rough on Buffalo.” Ryan Fitzpatrick, you might want to consider faking the flu Sunday morning. The Pick: Ravens 24, Bills 10
Cleveland at New Orleans: It dawned on me that I’m considered a big Colt McCoy fan when Jason McIntyre at TheBigLead referred to him as “Your boy, Colt McCoy” in tweets and emails last week. Well, I guess the secret’s out. I loved McCoy’s game in college, thought 31 NFL teams made mistakes by letting him slip to the middle of the third round in April, and see a whole lot of Drew Brees in that 6-foot body. He’ll go against the real Drew Brees and the Saints in New Orleans on Sunday. Road games at Pittsburgh and New Orleans to start an NFL career? Sometimes the scheduling gods are just plain cruel. Look for “my boy, Colt McCoy” to have another solid outing, but in another tough Browns loss. The Pick: Saints 27, Browns 20
St. Louis at Tampa Bay: My favorite behind-the-scenes story from last weekend came from the St. Louis huddle. With a little over 2 minutes left with the Rams holding on to a 20-17 lead over the rallying Chargers and facing third-and-6 in their own territory, Steven Jackson found a way to gallop for 7 yards and get a first down. Two plays later, he ripped off a 12-yard gain, putting the biggest upset of the weekend on ice. After the game, Jackson told reporters, "I just conveyed the exact message coach gave to me. Our defense was gassed. It was no secret. It was going to come down to who had the ball last, and to be in a three-minute situation, to run out the clock, we knew we had to get a first down and we had to get it in a convincing matter to take their will away from them, and we did that. Coach challenged me, and I challenged the offensive line, and everyone responded." It’s hard not to love this team, who are just a win away from surpassing their win total from the past two seasons. They’re winless on the road this year, but I’m taking ‘em on Sunday. The Pick: Rams 21, Buccaneers 13
Philadelphia at Tennessee: Michael Vick and Kevin Kolb have combined for five 100-plus passer-rating performances in the first six games this season. The most 100-plus rating games in a season by the Eagles during the Andy Reid era is nine, by Donovan McNabb in 2004. Yet, for as wonderful as the quarterback play has been in Philly this year, props need to be given out to the patchwork offensive line, too. Tackle King Dunlap (Full name: King David Dunlap V), disregarded as an overweight catastrophe out of Auburn prior to the 2008 NFL Draft, has shed his seventh-round status (and several pounds in the process) and become a stalwart in protecting Kolb’s blindside. The Eagles are flyin’ and the no-name offensive line is one of the major reasons why. Give me Philly over the red-hot Titans in this one. The Pick: Eagles 30, Titans 23
San Francisco at Carolina: Clausen or Moore? Moore or Clausen? It’s like Rodney Peete and Chris Weinke all over again in Carolina. Peete and Weinke were the quarterbacks during the Panthers’ forgettable 1-15 season back in 2001, and from the looks of it, we could be headed down a similar path this season. Neither of Carolina’s two quarterbacks has completed more than 50 percent of their pass attempts and the two men have combined for five touchdowns and 16 turnovers on the year. Carolina’s averaging 10.4 points per game, the very least in the league, and features three rookie wide receivers as the top targets. Moore’s getting the nod on Sunday, but does it even matter? The Pick: 49ers 24, Panthers 21
Jacksonville at Kansas City: Chiefs fans gave me hell for predicting the Texans would score 31 points on the mighty KC defense in last week’s “Cheat Sheet”. Of course, I was wrong on that prediction. Houston didn’t score 31; they scored 35. In truth, I think Romeo Crennel’s worked wonders with the unit this season. I just don’t think they’re the second coming of the ’76 Steelers, as some of the Chiefs faithful were preaching after a 31-3 win over the Niners in Week 3. After a hot 3-0 start, it’s back to reality for Kansas City at 3-2. Make it 3-3 after Maurice Jones-Drew and the Trent Edwards Show comes to town this weekend. The Pick: Jaguars 27, Chiefs 21
Pittsburgh at Miami: I’ve been talking Cameron Wake up since he stepped foot on the field last season, but the man had his national coming out party last weekend in Green Bay. The undrafted, former two-time Canadian Football League Defensive MVP sacked Aaron Rodgers three times in Miami’s Overtime win, giving him six on the year. In addition to the three sacks, Wake also induced a key holding penalty with the Packers on the move for a score. Forget “Breakout Player of the Year”; Cam Wake could end up being the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. To be certain, he’d be the only player ever to win the award in both the CFL and the NFL. Give me Wake and that Mike Nolan defense over the Big Ben-led Steelers in this one. The Pick: Dolphins 21, Steelers 20
4 p.m. ET games:
New England at San Diego: In four road games this season, the Chargers have lost to the Chiefs, Seahawks, Raiders and Rams. Those four were a combined 15-49 last year with none finishing better than 5-11. Lost in the muck of those four losses, though, are two dominant victories at home, in which the Bolts outscored the Jaguars and Cardinals 79-23. The Patriots looked like the Patriots of old in Week 6’s comeback win over Baltimore — six different players got carries, Deion Branch caught nine balls, Tom Brady was throwing temper tantrums after getting hit — but Sunday won’t be a walk in the park. Give me the Chargers, who are in full-on desperation mode, over the 4-1 Patriots. The Pick: Chargers 28, Patriots 21
Arizona at Seattle: Though both teams have looked downright horrendous during their two losses, the 3-2 Cardinals play the 3-2 Seahawks up at Qwest with the NFC West division lead on the line Sunday. The Cardinals won the NFC West the past two seasons, beating the Seahawks in their home building both years. However, even with Early Doucet, Steve Breaston, and Gerald Hayes returning to the Arizona lineup Sunday, I can’t see rookie Max Hall getting the Cardinals their third straight victory up at Qwest. The Pick: Seahawks 20, Cardinals 14
Oakland at Denver: The Twitter-azzi was collectively referring to Jason Campbell as JaMarcus Campbell during Sunday’s woeful loss in San Francisco, and with good reason. Campbell was dreadful in the 17-9 loss, completing just 8 of 21 passes for 83 yards with two interceptions and a 10.7 passer rating. For as ugly as Oakland and Denver’s 2-4 records look on paper, both teams are just a game and a half out of first place in the AFC West. A 6-10 record could conceivably win the division this year. Give me Denver and Wink Martindale’s banged up D in a rematch of last season’s December dud that ultimately eliminated the Broncos from the playoff hunt. Charlie Frye was relieved in the fourth quarter by JaMarcus in that one. Russell, not Campbell. The Pick: Broncos 27, Raiders 14
Minnesota at Green Bay: Want some stats to munch on this week? Over the course of his five year NFL career, Aaron Rodgers is 7-13 in games decided by a touchdown or less and 1-11 in games decided by four points or less. You know the media’s going to be going to be consumed with Ryan Longwell’s return to Green Bay Sunday night — they always are — but Brett Favre actually returns to Lambeau Field this week, as well. Give me Favre, Longwell, and the Vikes on the road in a must-win for both NFC North squads. The Pick: Vikings 31, Packers 27
N.Y. Giants at Dallas: My 2010 Comeback Player of the Year? Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora. The two-time Pro Bowler, all but written off by Giants fans and talk radio hosts this off-season, has seven sacks and six forced fumbles…in the past three games. "Unbelievable! Unbelievable!," defensive tackle Chris Canty said after the Giants third straight win on Sunday. "I don’t know if this guy has a cape on or something. I don’t know, man. We’re trying to figure out ways as other defensive linemen to slow him down so we can get some sacks." Osi and his fellow sack-hungry defensive linemen would love nothing more than to beat Dallas in JerryWorld, dropping the preseason Super Bowl favorite Cowboys to 1-5. I just don’t see it happening. The Pick: Cowboys 26, Giants 17
Cheat Sheet Trivia Question of the Week: Who is the most recent Grey Cup Most Valuable Player award winner to go on to be an NFL Pro Bowler?
Reader E-Mail of the Week:
Die-hard Panthers fan, here. I’m already looking towards April’s draft. We took Clausen in the second round last year, meaning we probably won’t go with one of the big quarterbacks like Luck or Locker. Though I know it’s way off, who would you grab with the first pick overall this year if it’s the Panthers on the clock?
Craig T., Winston-Salem, N.C.
The Panthers need to improve their league-worst offense via the draft and free agency this off-season. Carolina took three wideouts last April — Brandon LaFell out of LSU, David Gettis out of Baylor, and Appalachian State quarterback-turned-receiver Armanti Edwards — and all three players are already contributing. But none of those three are quite the number one target Jimmy Clausen needs. Insert A.J. Green out of Georgia. If Green opts to leave Athens early, he’s the guy I’d be watching if I was a Carolina fan. That jersey-selling fiasco behind him (I’m still not convinced he did anything wrong), Green’s got national showcase games against Kentucky and Florida the next two Saturdays. In the latter, he’ll be matched up against one of the nation’s best cornerbacks in Florida’s Janoris Jenkins. Check him out if you can. I’m fairly sure you’ll like what you’ll see.
Cheat Sheet Trivia Answer: Jeff Garcia won the Grey Cup MVP Award while playing for the Calgary Stampeders in 1998. He went on to play in four Pro Bowls — three with the 49ers, one with the Buccaneers — over the course of his ten-year NFL career. He’s also married to Carmella DeCesare, the 2004 Playboy Plamate of the Year. The Cheat Sheet, folks — where you learn something new every week.