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Cheat Sheet: Vikings are for real
I felt like a college freshman doing the dreaded “Walk of Shame” as I left the neighborhood sports bar Sunday afternoon. I’d been warned. I’d been told time and time again to stay away. And yet, there I was, looking at the piercing sun, shaking my head in regret with a foolish, avoidable mistake I had made.
Rewind the clock to two months ago. Late August. Perfect weather. The NFL season was just a few weeks away. There was unbridled optimism and baseless media hype around all 32 teams. And I was staring at my preseason predictions survey sent to me by my FOXSports.com NFL editor, Nancy Gay.
“Fill this in,” she wrote in an email. “Make your playoff picks.”
So I began.
And then I got to the crossroads.
I scanned over the list of would-be suitors long and hard. The Bengals had the best young defensive line in the league and a nice QB-WR combo, but I had fears about their December schedule. The Chargers had a few nice additions to the offense, but could they overcome Norv Turner’s coaching mishaps in big games? I danced with the Chiefs, the Jets, and even the Dolphins. The Browns and Raiders got a sniff. None felt right.
Then I saw her. She had a dazzling $200 million defensive line. A fleet of capable running backs behind a young offensive line. A $56 million quarterback and a newly inked $36.25 million receiver with the first name "Stevie." She hadn’t been to the playoffs since 1999 — the longest drought in the league — but I was smitten. She looked great, smelled great, and even had others talking about her.
I knew better, but I convinced myself — this was going to be the year she would turn it all around.
And with conviction, I took my pen, and I inked her in. Yes, the 2012 Buffalo Bills were a playoff team.
Three weeks into the season, the Bills were 2-1 and atop the AFC East standings. Two weeks later, I’m not convinced they’re not the worst team in the entire NFL.
Seven days after giving up 52 points in New England, Buffalo lost 45-3 in San Francisco on Sunday. Since taking a 21-7 lead against the Patriots in Week 4, Buffalo has been outscored 90-10. The Patriots and 49ers combined to gain 1,201 yards in two games.
The scary part is that the Bills offense looks no better. Ryan Fitzpatrick’s been inaccurate, sloppy, and mediocre at best. The offensive line and running game, something that flourished at the start of the year, failed to do anything of note in Weeks 4 and 5. The Bills O is stagnant and it seems as though teams have already caught on and game-planned for whatever wrinkles Chan Gailey put in place this summer.
It only gets worse. After being outscored by 80 points in the last five quarters, the Bills face the Arizona Cardinals defense — one of the tops in the league — on Sunday.
Like a college girl chasing after the quarterback (something Mario Williams hasn’t done all season), I fell for the Bills when I should have known better. This isn’t a playoff team. All the bright, shiny new contracts in the world can’t turn this team around. All the glowing August media articles and puff pieces can’t sack a quarterback.
The longest playoff drought in the league appears to have another year in it.
I feel for you, Bills fans. This time, I got sucked into the hype, too. Like a jilted lover, I feel your pain.
Maybe next year.
And with that, on to the Week 6 Cheat Sheet.
Week 5 Record: 10-4
Overall Season Record: 45-31
WEEK 6 CHEAT SHEET TRIVIA QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Andrew Luck led the Colts back from an 18-point deficit last Sunday, finding a way to come back from 21-3 to beat the Packers 30-27 in Indianapolis. Who was the last rookie quarterback to lead a team back from an 18-plus point deficit? Who was the opposing quarterback in that game? (See below for answer)
Pittsburgh at Tennessee: The Titans are one of the few teams in the league that have been less impressive than the Bills. Tennessee’s one flukey win — yes, that win over Detroit was flukey — away from being winless. Chris Johnson picked up a bunch of garbage yards in garbage time versus the Texans, leading the fantasy experts to conclude he’s "back." He’s not. CJ2.9 will fare even worse against the Steelers.
The Pick: Steelers 23, Titans 10
Sunday, 1 P.M. ET GAMES
Indianapolis at New York Jets: Reggie Wayne’s the man. A lot of people around the league (including me) just assumed he’d sign with the Broncos, re-unite with Peyton, and ride off into the sunset as one of Manning’s guys. Instead, he re-signed with the team he’s played with for 12 seasons, took a rookie quarterback under his wing, and put up career numbers five weeks into the season. Wayne finished with 13 receptions for a career-high 212 yards — the second-highest total in Colts history behind Hall of Famer Raymond Berry in 1957 — last week. He wore orange gloves — not the pink ones being worn around the league this month — because orange is the color for leukemia awareness. Indy’s 2-2 and they’re #ChuckStrong. Reggie Wayne’s the best story on a roster full of great ones. He’ll have a field day against those Jets defensive backs.
The Pick: Colts 34, Jets 24
Kansas City at Tampa Bay: My initial reaction to Eric Winston’s nine-minute diatribe towards Chiefs fans after Sunday’s 9-3 loss to the Ravens? “Well, it’s nice to see Eric Winston protect Matt Cassel for once this season.” The fans are cheering an injured quarterback, the players are mad at the fans, and Scott Pioli remains quiet in what I imagine is some ivory tower. Tampa Bay’s played tough football this season. They’ll score their second win of the season on Sunday.
The Pick: Buccaneers 24, Chiefs 20
Oakland at Atlanta: Asked about the last time the Falcons were 4-0 (1986) last week, Falcons safety William Moore told reporters, “I was probably chilling in the cradle, you know what I mean. I was watching TV or something. I was born in 1985. I was chilling, probably watching Sesame Street." The Falcons are now 5-0 for the first time in franchise history. Home against the Raiders? They’ll be 6-0 by Sunday afternoon.
The Pick: Falcons 34, Raiders 24
Dallas at Baltimore: The Ravens have won 13 straight home games and get back on a somewhat normal schedule with their first 1 p.m. start at M&T Bank Stadium this Sunday. There’s magic in the air in Baltimore this season. The Orioles were good for the first time in 15 years, Baltimore native Julie Bowen won an Emmy for Best Supporting Actress last week, and Michael Phelps is living the good life after winning his millionth gold medal this summer. The Ravens haven’t played a complete game this season and are still 4-1, alone atop the AFC North. And I’ve looked it up — there are seven different Victoria’s Secret shops in the greater Baltimore area, just in case Jerry gets homesick during this Cowboys loss.
The Pick: Ravens 27, Cowboys 14
St. Louis at Miami: Two years ago, the Dolphins went 1-7 at home and 6-2 on the road, finishing the season 7-9. The 2012 St. Louis Rams are the complete opposite. The Rams have looked like world-beaters at home in their three home wins over conference opponents, but haven’t looked the same in two road losses to the Bears and Lions. I see the Rams doing just fine at home this season, but struggling on the road. Miami’s front seven’s legit. They’ll give Sam Bradford fits on Sunday.
The Pick: Dolphins 24, Rams 20
Detroit at Philadelphia: The Lions started the year 5-0 last season and enjoyed a nice little media blitz about their young defense. They’ve gone 6-10 since that 5-0 start and the defense has been routinely lit up. Detroit’s one fortunate last-minute victory over the Rams away from being 0-4 and in the “What’s wrong with the ___?” conversation on studio shows across cable TV. They’ll lose again on Sunday. Michael Vick struggles against good defensive lines. I’m not sure the Lions have one of those.
The Pick: Eagles 31, Lions 24
Cincinnati at Cleveland: This is the week. The Browns are going to notch their first win of the year. Cleveland’s 0-5 but gave the Giants and Ravens tough battles the last two weeks on the road. They’re home, they’re against a division rival, and they’re primed to win the Battle of Ohio Part II. And if they don’t? Well, there’s a legitimate chance they go 0-16 this season.
The Pick: Browns 34, Bengals 23
SUNDAY, 4 P.M. GAMES
New England at Seattle: Once upon a time, Pete Carroll was the coach of the New England Patriots. And once upon a time, there was concern around the Patriots running game. Both feel like forever ago. New England’s ground attack has been the best untold story of the season. The Patriots have run for 200 yards in each of the last two weeks, the first time they’ve done that since 1978. They’ll get the ground game going early and Brady will notch a victory over another mid-round quarterback in Russell Wilson on Sunday.
The Pick: Patriots 27, Seahawks 16
Buffalo at Arizona: Any concerns about the Cardinals offense and the fact they don’t have a healthy NFL running back on the roster will be put to rest this Sunday. They play the Bills. Pencil in another home win for the Cardinals. Arizona has arguably the worst offensive line in the league, and they’ll still be fine against Buffalo’s front four.
The Pick: Cardinals 31, Bills 20
Minnesota at Washington: It’s real easy. The key to beating the Vikings is stopping Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson. You do that, and you win. Of course, that’s far easier said than done. The Vikes are for real, folks. And as long as Harvin and Peterson stay healthy (they’re both getting better each week), they’ll be in this NFC North division race until the end. Minnesota’s just 1-1 on the road, but I think they’ll get the best of the Redskins on Sunday.
The Pick: Vikings 31, Redskins 26
NY Giants at San Francisco: Here’s your game of the week. Everyone talks about the 49ers defense, but it’s the offense that has me most impressed this year. San Francisco’s now outscored its last two opponents 79-3 and only seem to be getting better and better in each passing week. Alex Smith threw for a season-high 303 yards and three touchdowns last Sunday, as Frank Gore ran for 106 yards and a the 49ers amassed a franchise-record 621 yards. The Giants got the best of San Francisco in Candlestick in the NFC Championship Game last season, but I don’t see them getting by this 49ers team on Sunday. Forget the defense, which has been just as good as it was a year ago. I don’t see the Giants D stopping this San Francisco offense.
The Pick: 49ers 31, Giants 23
Green Bay at Houston: The Packers haven’t been the same team since they lost to the Chiefs last season. With Sunday’s historic second half meltdown in Indianapolis, Green Bay has now lost four of its six games dating back to last January’s playoff debacle versus the Giants. Houston’s D is for real. I’m not sure the Packers offense is what we all just seem to expect it to be. If you don’t change things up, teams catch up. Green Bay hasn’t changed anything up. And guess what? Teams have caught up.
The Pick: Texans 33, Packers 27
Denver at San Diego: In one commercial break during Sunday’s early games, we got the Peyton Manning Papa John’s commercial, followed by Peyton Manning’s car one, followed by the Peyton Manning's DirecTV one with the olive tapenade. Then, Chris Berman was screaming about Applebee’s. Three out of four tolerable commercials ain’t bad. Two wins out of five games is, though. Peyton’s looked fine in his comeback season, but his Broncos are under .500 five games into the season. Denver’s schedule gets a lot easier over the next few months, but I still don’t see them suddenly running away with the AFC West. I like San Diego in an overtime victory on Monday.
The Pick: Chargers 27, Broncos 24 (OT)
READER EMAIL OF THE WEEK
Loved last week’s “Cheat Sheet”. Much respect for that Colts pick over the Packers. I was going to take Green Bay in my Survivor Pool, read what you wrote, and went with the Bears over the Jags instead. I’m still alive now. I must say, though, your utter disdain for the Jets and your complete mancrush on Jay Cutler is alarming. You might want to get some professional help.
--Greg, Houston, Texas
No lie, former Washington Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington told me I looked like Jay Cutler last week and my heart fluttered. It was the ultimate compliment. He could have said, “Dude, you deserve a Pulitzer” and I would have been less flattered. Jay Cutler’s my guy. Mancrush or not, I love any dude who thrives on other people’s negativity. When he wins the Lombardi Trophy this year, we’re going to do one of those Jerry Maguire/Rod Tidwell glances across the press conference. It’s going to be very special. Keep an eye out for it. As for the Jets, I have nothing against any of the Gang Green players or coaches on a personal level. I love the fan base. As far as football goes, I actually think they’d make for a very competitive team in the Big East, too.
OH, AND BY THE WAY …
1. I only caught the final seconds of North Carolina State’s win over Florida State on Saturday night and that was all I needed to see. Why? Because I got to see THIS GUY. Love, love, love that guy.
2. I was upset to hear the news that Danny Devito and Rhea Perlman are splitting up. Probably my favorite celebrity couple ever. Well, after Tila Tequila and Billy Corgan, of course. Yes, they dated.
3. After seeing two replacement refs on “Inside the NFL” on Wednesday and then another on Sunday, I’d love it if ESPN launched a “Replacement Ref House” reality show. Each Saturday, they ref low-level college games together and vote one of the other guys off. Then, on Sundays, they sit and gossip about what a blowhard Hochuli is or the bad calls made by Walt Coleman. Would you watch this? I probably would.
4. Think the 49ers offense looks good now? Just wait until rookies A.J. Jenkins and LaMichael James get involved. San Francisco’s dangerous. And they’ve got more tricks up their sleeve, just waiting to be unleashed.
5. Everyone should follow Martellus Bennett on Twitter. The Giants’ tight end’s handle, @Marty1987, is a must read. My favorite tweet from Sunday? This gem about his injured knee: “I feel like 2 panda bears have been chewing on my knee while sitting on my thighs.” I’m with you, Black Unicorn. I hate that feeling, too.
WEEK 6 CHEAT SHEET TRIVIA ANSWER: The Detroit Lions found themselves down 24-3 at home to the Cleveland Browns in a Week 12 game against the Browns in 2009. Rookie Matt Stafford responded by throwing 5 touchdown passes and rallying the Lions to a dramatic 38-37 comeback win. The opposing quarterback was Brady Quinn.