As our beloved Vikings are facing that most evil of evils this week, that being their annual bye, we have no distractions this week as we put our picks together. It would be tough for us to have as good a week as we did in Week 8, where we went 10-2 straight-up (with our only misses being, of all teams, the New England Patriots and the New Orleans Saints), and did well enough against the number to get ourselves over the break-even point again.
There are plenty of really good games on this week's schedule, so let's get right to it.
Game of the Week - Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers (-3.5)
We're getting into the time of the year when we start getting into divisional rematches, and few are as highly anticipated as the encore between the Ravens and the Steelers. Not because their first meeting this season was so great. . .the Ravens blew the Steelers out in Baltimore, 35-7. . .but because this is one of the great rivalries in the National Football League. These teams simply do not like each other, and you see it every time they get together. I certainly don't think we're going to get a repeat of the first game, because Pittsburgh has gotten markedly better since then, while the Ravens (and notably quarterback Joe Flacco) have not. Under the glare of the Sunday night lights, I think Big Ben and company come up big and get themselves a measure of revenge.
Straight-Up: Steelers, ATS: Steelers
Lock of the Week - Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders (-9)
The Raiders are coming off of a bye week, in which they hopefully got Carson Palmer significantly more spun up on the offense than he was in his Raider debut, and they get to face a Bronco team that's once again running Tim Tebow out there at quarterback. I don't get why people bang Tebow on his faith so much. . .there are so many legitimate football-related reasons to criticize him that I would think his religious fervor would be a fair way down the list. The Raiders know they need a win here to keep up in the AFC West, and barring a total meltdown, they ought to get an easy one here.
Straight-Up: Raiders, ATS: Raiders
Upset of the Week - Miami Dolphins at Kansas City Chiefs (-4)
That's right, ladies and gentlemen. . .I am officially picking the Dolphins to get off the schneid this week. The Dolphins are, inexplicably, a much better team on the road than they are at home, and the Chiefs don't get a whole lot of pressure on the quarterback. I'm not saying that Matt Moore is a world-beater or anything like that, but given time, he can get the job done. The Dolphins have to win one eventually. . .don't they?
Straight-Up: Dolphins, ATS: Dolphins
The Rest Of The Week
San Francisco 49ers (-3.5) at Washington Redskins
The Redskins' offense is just a mess right now. . .a complete, utter, through mess. It isn't going to matter of Mike Shanahan starts Rex Grossman, John Beck, or Sonny Jurgensen at quarterback, because none of them are going to get the job done (although Jurgensen would probably have the best shot at this point). The Niners' defense ought to have a field day in this one. . .and don't look now, but the Niners are going to clinch the NFC West before Thanksgiving, get themselves a first-round bye, and possibly the top seed in the NFC. Who would have predicted that back in August?
Straight-Up: Niners, ATS: Niners
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints (-10)
The Saints are going to be ticked off this week, and for good reason. They lost to a Rams team last week that they had absolutely no business losing to (with all due respect to St. Louis), and they're going to want to take it out on the Buccaneers, particularly after Tampa won the first meeting between these two teams earlier this year. Josh Freeman has regressed a bit at quarterback for the Buccaneers. I don't see Drew Brees and company regressing from last week in any way. It's a big number, but I think the Saints can handle it.
Straight-Up: Saints, ATS: Saints
Atlanta Falcons (-8) at Indianapolis Colts
How bad are the Colts right now? I think that if they matched up with the Dolphins, Miami would win by ten points. They're that bad. I'm only half joking when I say that Peyton Manning should win his fifth NFL MVP award this season because. . .well, look at how that team looks without him. The Falcons can't afford to fall too far behind the Saints in the NFC South race, and they have a pretty stiff battle for the wild card on their hands, too. They couldn't have gotten themselves a better opponent if they want to get the second half of their season off to a good start.
Straight-Up: Falcons, ATS: Falcons
Cleveland Browns at Houston Texans (-12)
Well, what do you know. . .the Texans' offense can get along just fine without Andre Johnson after all. Matt Schaub and company were averaging 27 points a game with Johnson in the lineup, and 25 points a game without him, so the drop-off has been minimal. Having Arian Foster going crazy every week generally helps that sort of thing. On the other side, Peyton Hillis is keeping the Madden Curse alive and well for this year, there are questions about whether or not Colt McCoy is the guy after all, and the Browns are the only AFC North team that is pretty much out of it. Other than that, though, things on the shores of Lake Erie are going wonderfully.
Straight-Up: Texans, ATS: Texans
Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys (-13)
See, I don't get why Vegas insists on making the Cowboys big favorites in some of these games. I realize that the Seahawks aren't a great team, or even a good team, or even an average team. . .but I still don't buy into Tony Romo, and I probably never will. The guy just isn't all that great. The Cowboys should win this game behind the newly emerging DeMarco Murray, but I expect Romo to make enough mistakes to keep Seattle closer than they ought to be. Then again, that's what I expect from Romo every week.
Straight-Up: Cowboys, ATS: Seahawks
New York Jets at Buffalo Bills (-1)
The AFC East-leading Bills. . .read that again a couple times, because I still have trouble believing it, too. . .play host to their division rivals in one of the week's more interesting match-ups. For all the bluster from Rex Ryan about his team's defense, they really haven't been anything spectacular this year (outside of Darrelle Revis, who is just having an other-worldly season). They're particularly bad against the run, and the Bills sport one of the best backs in the NFL in Fred Jackson. Jackson should open things up, and as long as Ryan Fitzpatrick is smart enough to avoid Revis for the afternoon. . .that shouldn't be much of an issue for a Harvard man. . .the Bills should be able to remain on top of their division.
Straight-Up: Bills, ATS: Bills
Cincinnati Bengals at Tennessee Titans (-1.5)
The Titans are favored in this game? Huh wha? I'm serious here, folks. I just don't see how the Tennessee offense, after having lost Kenny Britt and having Chris Johnson relocated deeper into the tank than Shamu after a feeding session, gets anything done against this vastly improved Cincinnati defense. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have really gotten a nice little rhythm going, and Cincinnati should be able to keep pace in the AFC North by taking this game that would only be an upset in Vegas.
Straight-Up: Bengals, ATS: Bengals
Green Bay Packers (-5.5) at San Diego Chargers
I don't like the Green Bay Packers. No, I don't feel the need to be objective. They're my picks, darn it.
Straight-Up: Chargers, ATS: Chargers
New York Giants at New England Patriots (-10.5)
I get that the Patriots are the better team. . .but a double-digit favorite over the Giants? Really? I wouldn't have thought that. The Giants' pass rush has the potential to make things every bit as miserable for Tom Brady this week as the Steelers made it for him last week, and Eli Manning is having a very good year sort of under the radar (as under the radar as a quarterback in New York can be, I guess). I still think that the Patriots can win this game, but unless Manning reverts back to "bad Eli," I don't think the Patriots can cover that number against a team of this caliber.
Straight-Up: Patriots, ATS: Giants
St. Louis Rams at Arizona Cardinals (-1)
My mother always taught me that if you can't say anything nice. . .here's thinking the Rams build on last week.
Straight-Up: Rams, ATS: Rams
Chicago Bears at Philadelphia Eagles (-9)
The Eagles appear to have finally gotten it together after appearing to have fallen a bit in love with themselves early in the season. They'll have to put together a heck of a run to get to the top of the NFC East, but they certainly have the talent to do it. The Bears are in a bit of a tough spot. . .they have a long road to hoe to attempt to catch the top two teams in the NFC North, but they're in the wild card chase, and could really use this one to better their position. Unfortunately for them, I don't think it happens this week. I think the Bears cover, because Devin Hester will do something crazy in a prime-time game (as he is wont to do) to keep things close, but LeSean McCoy and company will prove to be too much.
Straight-Up: Eagles, ATS: Bears
Straight-Up For Season: 71-35 (10-2 last week)
ATS For Season: 51-49-6 (8-3-1 last week)
Lock of the Week: 5-2
Upset of the Week: 3-4