I’ve taken quite the beating on Twitter and over email this past week. An absolute clobbering, really. Not surprisingly, most of the pummeling has come from the 206 area code. Why do Seattle fans have such a beef with me?
Because I didn’t buy into the Seahawks hype this summer. I pegged the Seahawks as the third-best — yes, the third-best — team in the NFC West behind the 49ers and Rams. I thought the league would catch up with Russell Wilson after having an offseason to watch him on film, and I wasn’t quite sure if the Seahawks were capable of winning games on the road.
Four weeks into the season, Seattle fans, here’s my apology. I was wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
The Seahawks are the real deal. The X-factor I didn’t take into account in my crackpot summertime declarations? The Seattle defense, even with longtime defensive coordinator Gus Bradley leaving the coaching staff for the Jacksonville job, is going to keep this team in every game, whether it’s in front of the 12th man or on the road in unfriendly confines.
The D, now under coordinator Dan Quinn, has gotten the most out of a ferocious front seven and the biggest defensive backfield you’ll ever see on a football field. With Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner — the only cornerback duo made up of two players who are 6-foot-2 or taller — along with Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas at safety, there’s a physicality that actually does travel quite well.
And that defensive backfield couldn’t play the man-to-man lockdown coverage it does without a front seven that gets to the quarterback. They’re not as highly decorated as the Lions, Bears, or 49ers front seven, but this group gets to the quarterback at an alarming pace. The addition of Cliff Avril is already paying dividends, as the former Lions star has recorded two sacks and has forced a fumble in three games this season. Sherman, a man who truly has never met a tape recorder, video camera or Twitter antagonist he hasn’t loved to engage, gets all the headlines, and that’s fine. It’s the lesser-known guys up front like Avril, Brandon Mebane, and Chris Clemons that allow Sherman and his cohorts to do what they do.
Last week’s win over the Texans was more than a big comeback on the road. It did more than extend the Seahawks’ lead in the NFC West. It did something even more unlikely: It shut me up.
Seattle’s for real. Watch out, Denver.
CHEAT SHEET TRIVIA QUESTION OF THE WEEK
Prior to last week’s win in Tampa Bay, the last time the Cardinals overcame a 10-plus-point fourth-quarter deficit and won in regulation was Week 17 against the Vikings in 2003. Who were the quarterback and the receiver who connected on the famous final play of that game?
Now, on to the picks.
Last week was a brutal one for me. Yuck.
Week 4 record: 7-8 Overall record: 35-28
Buffalo at Cleveland: As if we needed another reason to love the NFL … the Bills-Browns Week 5 game that was universally panned by football fans and art enthusiasts everywhere in August is now one of the most important contests on the slate in October. Hoyer and Manuel! Marrone and Chud! Give me the home team on “Jim Brown Day” in Cleveland. This town hasn’t been this excited about football since the Derek Anderson era. Remember that one?
The pick: Browns 23, Bills 20
New Orleans at Chicago: My defensive MVP of the NFL season’s first quarter? It’s not a player. It’s a person. Give me Rob Ryan, who almost overnight has turned the Saints’ D from historically one of the worst units in the sport’s history into a dominant one. And they’re doing it without Will Smith and several other starters in the lineup. The Saints don’t historically travel too well, but this game isn’t being played in cold weather.
The pick: Saints 33, Bears 28
New England at Cincinnati: The Giants and Steelers are off to disappointing starts to the 2013 season, sure, but what’s up with everybody’s preseason favorites, the Bengals? After a summer of endless hype and the widespread popularity that comes with a season of HBO’s “Hard Knocks”, the Bengals have limped out of the gates with a 2-2 record. Is Andy Dalton the guy? That’s a heck of a defense and arguably the best number one wide receiver in the league on the roster. They shouldn’t be losing to Cleveland.
The pick: Patriots 24, Bengals 20
Detroit at Green Bay: The Packers, coming off the bye week, find themselves at 1-2 and in an unfamiliar spot of third place in the NFC North. I love what the Lions are doing this year, but can’t see Green Bay losing at home after a week to prepare.
The pick: Packers 31, Lions 27
Kansas City at Tennessee: Go back to August. Who circled Chiefs-Titans as one of the NFL’s biggest games in Week 5? Again, I love it. Tennessee’s the real deal. I’m not certain Ryan Fitzpatrick for Jake Locker isn’t an upgrade. But this game will be won at the line of scrimmage, and I’ll take Tennessee’s offensive and defensive lines over just about every other one in the league.
The pick: Titans 27, Chiefs 23
Seattle at Indianapolis: Does every other NFC team watch Seahawks road games wearing the clothes and shaking pom poms of whomever Seattle’s playing that week? If the Seahawks lock up home-field advantage, it’s over in the NFC. And if the Broncos weren’t playing like the ’78 Steelers, ’85 Bears, and ’99 Rams all rolled into one, I’d say this was a potential Super Bowl XLVIII preview. I love what the Colts have done the past two weeks, proving there’s still a place for smashmouth “run the ball down your throat” football in a read-option, Chip Kelly-fied world. But I can’t pick against Seattle.
The pick: Seahawks 23, Colts 17
Jacksonville at St. Louis: The struggling Rams need a pat on the back, a pick-me-up and a gift from the scheduling gods. They’ve got one Sunday. The Jaguars have the Broncos in Week 6. That one, as I am told by many in the gambling community, will shatter NFL point-spread records.
The pick: Rams 20, Jaguars 16
Baltimore at Miami: The way some others in the media have reacted to Joe Flacco’s five-interception performance last Sunday, I’m shocked he hasn’t been blamed for the government shutdown yet. If Joe Flacco does one very thing well, it’s respond to adversity. He’s been doubted before. No one’s high on the Ravens at the moment — understandably so — but this is just the type of game they find a way to win.
The pick: Ravens 23, Dolphins 21
Philadelphia at New York Giants: Little known story — Chip Kelly was an assistant coach at New Hampshire several years ago when an NFL coach met with him and offered him a quality control job. Tom Coughlin, as he described at the league meetings in March, was very impressed by this young football mind. Now, he’ll have to find a way to defeat him. The way the Giants look this season? I don’t see it. The boo birds will be out at MetLife on Sunday.
The pick: Eagles 34, Giants 21
Carolina at Arizona: The Cardinals are breaking out their black jerseys this weekend, a rare treat from the sartorial gods. They’ll also get star linebacker Daryl Washington back from his four-game suspension. The Panthers looked great in a Week 3 blowout of the Giants and have had a week off to prepare, but I’m going with the home team in the desert.
The pick: Cardinals 24, Panthers 20
Denver at Dallas: Through four weeks, the Broncos are on pace to shatter the 2007 Patriots all-time scoring record, Peyton Manning is on pace to throw 64 touchdowns and no interceptions, and Wes Welker is on pace to break Randy Moss’s all-time single-season touchdowns record. Can they keep it up? Why not?
The pick: Broncos 42, Cowboys 27
Houston at San Francisco: I’ll be covering this one for Fox Sports 1 and am most curious to see how Matt Schaub responds to last Sunday’s heartbreaking loss to Seattle. Up 20-13 late in the fourth quarter, Schaub threw a horribly ill-advised pass that turned into a pick-six for Richard Sherman. It was the 10-year veteran’s third straight game with an interception returned for a touchdown. San Francisco responded to a 1-2 start — with just about everyone wondering what was wrong — with a dominant 35-11 win. There are similar questions around the Texans right now; I just don’t see them stealing one from the 49ers in San Francisco.
The pick: 49ers 27, Texans 20
San Diego at Oakland: The Chargers have now won two very impressive games and lost two gut punchers in the final 30 seconds of both contests. San Diego is 2-2 and as under the radar as it comes, but they’re a few odd bounces from being 4-0 right alongside their fellow AFC West media darlings in Denver and Kansas City. Odd bounces and bad losses have been “the Chargers Way” for years. Ask their fans. I see that changing under Mike McCoy. Circle them for a win here.
The pick: Chargers 31, Raiders 21
New York Jets at Atlanta: The Jets offense isn’t exactly sparkling with skill-position stars to begin with, and two of them — Stephen Hill and Santonio Holmes — are nursing injuries this week. The Jets just don’t have the weapons offensively to compete with teams like Atlanta. The Falcons need a win in the worst way. They’ll get one on Monday.
The pick: Falcons 27, Jets 13
CHEAT SHEET TRIVIA ANSWER OF THE WEEK
Cardinals quarterback Josh McCown hit Nate Poole on a 28-yard pass with no time remaining to eliminate the Vikings from playoff contention on the final play of both teams’ 2003 seasons. Poole would finish his career with 34 NFL receptions, none more memorable than the one that ruined Minnesota’s ’03 Super Bowl dreams.