Well, we were riding pretty high with our picks last week after the early games finished up. With the seven games that kicked off at noon Central time in the books, we had gone 6-1 with our picks (both straight-up and against the number), with the only miss coming from the Bills-Jets game, and I was envisioning how this article was going to start out with another tale of how great our week had gone.
Yeah, not so much. By the time the smoke had cleared and the dust had settled on the action in Week Nine of the NFL, we had gone 1-6 in all of the games that started on Sunday afternoon, Sunday night, and Monday night. The "Lock of the Week" was anything but, as the Oakland Raiders appear to be falling apart before our eyes, but the "Upset of the Week" call was a good one, as the Miami Dolphins got off the proverbial schneid by blowing out the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead.
And such stories, ladies and gentlemen, are why our spread picks are for entertainment purposes only, and that anyone that bets on the NFL for anything other than an occasional kick is a fool.
So, since there's a Thursday night game this week (and every other week the rest of the way), let's get to it, shall we?
Game of the Week - Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears (-2.5)
If the NFL season ended today, three of the four teams from the NFC North would make it to the post season, with these two teams claiming the two Wild Card spots in the conference. These two teams have met once before this season, with the Lions making the Bears look sort of bad in Detroit on a Monday night a few weeks back. . .a game that featured a ton of false starts by the Bears and an offensive line that looked like it was trying to get Jay Cutler killed. That's the only loss the Bears have suffered in their last five games, however, and their offensive line appears to be gelling again like they did around this time last season. With the home crowd in their corner this time around, I think the Bears have an opportunity to return the favor to the Lions and hand them a loss in this one.
Straight-Up: Bears, ATS: Bears
Lock of the Week - Oakland Raiders at San Diego Chargers (-7)
Speaking of those Thursday night games I mentioned above, this is the first one of the season, and it will take place this evening in San Diego. Since trading for Carson Palmer, the Raiders have looked horrific, throwing nine interceptions in the past eight quarters of football, with six of those coming from Palmer himself. Yes, I know he's still getting adjusted to the offense, but after giving up what they did, the Raiders really aren't in a position to try to work him in slowly. Darren McFadden has already been ruled out for this one, which won't make things any easier on the Silver and Black. The Chargers, after giving the league's last undefeated team a pretty serious run for their money this last week, know that they need this one, and with the disarray the Raiders are currently in, I think they're going to get it.
Straight-Up: Chargers, ATS: Chargers
Upset of the Week - Jacksonville Jaguars (-3) at Indianapolis Colts
That's right, ladies and gentlemen. . .after picking the Miami Dolphins to get their first victory of 2011 last week, we're going to go with the NFL's last winless team to get their first victory and allow the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers to pop the tops on a case of R.C. Cola. (Champagne, unlike the 1972 Dolphins, just wouldn't seem appropriate for this sort of thing.) The Jaguars really aren't a very good football team, and I'm not really sure why they're favored over anybody at this point, even a team like the Colts. Looking at Indy's schedule the rest of the way, this might be the last chance they have to get a victory this season. . .I think they do so.
Straight-Up: Colts, ATS: Colts
The Rest of the Week
Houston Texans (-3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers are really starting to fade in the NFC South race, now sitting behind the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons, and things don't get any easier for them with the Texans coming to town. Houston has been humming along without Andre Johnson, and have a very good chance of getting themselves a first round bye in the AFC. There's a good chance that Johnson will be back this week, which will make Matt Schaub (not to mention numerous fantasy football teams) very happy. The Bucs have really been a disappointment this season, and even though they are a better team at home, I think the Texans are just playing too well at this point to fall to a struggling outfit like the Bucs.
Straight-Up: Texans, ATS: Texans
Arizona Cardinals at Philadelphia Eagles (no line at this time)
The "Dream Team" Eagles are reeling, sitting at 3-5 and fading quickly in the NFC. They had an opportunity to get back into the thick of things, but blew a fourth-quarter lead against Chicago on Monday night to keep that from happening. With that said, though, there's no reason to think that they should lose to Arizona. The Cardinals got an exciting 99-yard punt return from rookie Patrick Peterson on Sunday to beat the St. Louis Rams at home, but they might be without Kevin Kolb at quarterback for this one (which might not mean much, as John Skelton now has as many victories this year as Kolb does). The Eagles should be able to get themselves a little healthy at home this weekend. Be sure to check back later in the week for the spread pick on this one.
Straight-Up: Eagles, ATS pick coming later in the week when a line is established
Washington Redskins at Miami Dolphins (-4)
Break up the Dolphins! A week after getting their first victory, the Dolphins are suddenly favored to put themselves on a two-game winning streak at the expense of the Redskins. Not terribly surprising, as over the last two weeks the Redskins have averaged only slightly more points per game than Darko Milicic. Mike Shanahan's offense is a mess right now, and I'm not sure they even have what it takes to take advantage of a fairly porous Miami defense. The Dolphins get their second straight win in this one, and the Redskins get further confirmation that going into a season with Rex Grossman and John Beck as your options at quarterback is a really, really bad idea.
Straight-Up: Dolphins, ATS: Dolphins
Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs (-3)
I'm still not buying into Tim Tebow. I will never buy into Tim Tebow as a starting NFL quarterback. The Chiefs got thumped at home last week by the Dolphins, but I think they come out pretty angry at home, and try to restore a bit of their pride at the expense of the Broncos. The AFC West race is going to be an interesting one over the next couple of weeks, and if the Chiefs want to be a part of it, they need to win this game.
Straight-Up: Chiefs, ATS: Chiefs
Buffalo Bills at Dallas Cowboys (-5)
Is the luster coming off of the Bills after their loss to the Jets on Sunday? I don't think so. The Jets' defense is really hitting their stride, and when they're on, very few teams can cover like they can. The Cowboys are not one of those teams. Ryan Fitzpatrick will have to be aware of DeMarcus Ware, to be certain, but I think the combination of Fitzpatrick and Fred Jackson will get the Bills back on track and pull off the mild upset at Jerryworld on Sunday afternoon.
Straight-Up: Bills, ATS: Bills
St. Louis Rams at Cleveland Browns (-2.5)
This game will be viewed by the families and friends of the players involved, and pretty much nobody else. Both these teams are, for all intents and purposes, out of the playoff picture in their respective divisions and conferences, and there really aren't very many attractive fantasy options in this one to keep track of, either, save for Steven Jackson. That's a recipe for a cure for insomnia. But, since we have to pick a winner, let's pick a winner.
Straight-Up: Browns, ATS: Browns
Pittsburgh Steelers (-3) at Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals have been a really nice story in the AFC this year, and if the season ended today, the road to the Super Bowl in the AFC would run through Paul Brown Stadium. However, they have four games remaining against the Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens yet, and those four games will be the true test of just how far the Bengals have come this season. Pittsburgh let one slip away on Sunday night against Baltimore in a major way. The Steelers are still one of the AFC's best teams, and winning this game on the road will go a long way towards proving that. As much as I love Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, I think the Steelers will get a bounce-back victory in this one.
Straight-Up: Steelers, ATS: Steelers
Tennessee Titans at Carolina Panthers (-3.5)
The Titans still have a shot at winning the AFC South, but those chances are fading as the Houston Texans continue to play good football. This week, they travel to take on a Carolina team led Cam Newton and Steve Smith, a team that is much better than their 2-6 record would indicate. Titans' back Chris Johnson had his best game of the season last week, but I think the Panthers' defense will be keyed up to stop him, and I'm not sure the Titans' passing game can truly take advantage of the extra attention Johnson will be receiving. I think the Panthers get this one by a field goal.
Straight-Up: Panthers, ATS: Titans
New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons (pick 'em)
The winner of this one will really be in the driver's seat in the NFC South. A win for the Saints would move them to 7-3 on the year, while a win for the Falcons would allow them to leapfrog the Saints into the top spot in the division. The Falcons finally had a healthy Julio Jones this past Sunday, and he showed why the Falcons traded up to get him in this year's draft (even though this writer feels that they still gave up too much). The Saints haven't won consecutive games in a month, and at the Georgia Dome, they're going to have a hard time doing so this time, too. Matt Ryan and company might be getting hot at the right time, and the home-field advantage could be what tips the scales in this one.
Straight-Up: Falcons, ATS: Falcons
Baltimore Ravens (-7) at Seattle Seahawks
The Ravens are coming off of a huge victory over their division rivals from Pittsburgh, giving them a sweep of the season series and a huge advantage in any potential playoff tiebreakers. The Ravens have been a bit inconsistent this season and could be in for a letdown (see their loss to Jacksonville earlier this year), but with as poorly as the Seahawks are playing right now, I don't think the Ravens could mess this one up if they wanted to. (Now, watch the Ravens go out and mess things up.)
Straight-Up: Ravens, ATS: Ravens
New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers (-3.5)
The brutal part of the Giants' schedule continues, as they follow up their exciting victory over the New England Patriots with a trip to Candlestick Park for a battle with one of the NFL's best team. Jim Harbaugh has his team sitting at 7-1 and holding a legitimate chance of getting the top seed in the NFC if other teams stumble. Eli Manning is having a great season for the Giants so far, but this one is going to be a tall order, even for him. This should be a great game to watch, but I think the Niners have what it takes to pull out a close one.
Straight-Up: 49ers, ATS: Giants
New England Patriots at New York Jets (pick 'em)
One of the NFL's best rivalries will take center stage on Sunday night. Rex Ryan's team appears to be poised to put together another second-half surge, and with Darrelle Revis shutting down anything that gets in his path, the Jets are a team that really bears watching as we go down the stretch this season. The Patriots are in trouble, in this writer's opinion, as teams are realizing that New England doesn't have a defense to really slow many offenses down, and that with as great as Tom Brady is, the lack of a true deep threat on the New England roster is really becoming a detriment. The Jets should be able to send the Patriots to a third straight loss for the first time since 2002, and put themselves in prime position in the AFC East.
Straight-Up: Jets, ATS: Jets
Straight-Up For Season: 78-42 (7-7 last week)
ATS For Season: 59-55-6 (8-6 last week)
Lock of the Week: 5-3
Upset of the Week: 4-4