THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL
Arizona (4-0) at St Louis (2-2): Ignore the fact that these two teams are a combined 6-2. When I look across the board I see only one plus unit, the Cards defense, and I balance that against the natural advantage accruing to the home team on a Thursday night, especially with the visitors coming from the Pacific Time Zone, and the fact that the Rams played well against the Seahawks, and have Legatron in case the game gets close. Somehow, I see Sam Bradford coming under intense pressure, and finding the BBC's Danny Amendola short of a lot of first downs. Pick (made with a shudder on Thursday): Cards
Friday morning autopsy: Welcome back Crads! Kevin Kolb can be protected by a game plan, but if you can't protect him from a defense, he isn't protected. If you'd told me the Rams would lose Amendola and still outperform Arizona on offense I would have been incredulous, and if you'd told me the Rams' D would outperform the Crads, I would have said, 'well, that's Thursday night for you'. Many thanks to Henry Hodgson for the first 1972 Dolphins reference as the Crads lost their unbeaten record. The Rams are over .500 for the first time in six years!
Miami (1-3) at Cincinnati (3-1): Peter King Weird Mathematical Fact of the Week: this is the first of four matchups where the teams sport identical palindromic records! Only in America! After Thursday's game a big uh oh was uttered by Henry H and all those other Dolphins who thought playing the Crads tight was a positive sign. BenJarvus Green-Ellis has fumbled three times in his last two games, after having never fumbled in his NFL career with the Pats. Guess it took him two games to adjust to being a Bungle. Pick: Bengals
Green Bay (2-2) at Indianapolis (1-2): The best thing about the Packers is their Sesame Street Defense, which features guys named AJ, BJ, CJ, and DJ. Which is why they also need an MD. Plus there's TJ, who's exiled to the offense. Too bad EJ Holub isn't still playing. Bruce Arians will be the Colts' interim head coach while Chuck Pagano is treated for leukemia, which is no laughing matter. The SSD is vulnerable, but I'd like the Colts' chances of getting to Rodgers better if Pagano were still with the team. I keep waiting for the Pack to settle down to their old form and they do seem to miss Desmond Bishop a lot and Marshall Newhouse a lot too. What? You mean Newhouse is playing? Pick: Pack
Baltimore (3-1) at Kansas City (1-3): The Ravens don't resemble most offensive juggernauts, but then the Chiefs don't really resemble most offenses, unless you're willing to allow Jamaal Charles to run through you. Matt Cassel and Dwayne Bowe are both NFL leaders in garbage time, and they ought to get more of those opportunities to shine this week. Pick: Ravens
Tennessee (1-3) at Minnesota (3-1): will start again this week, having already performed surgery on Jake Locker which went badly wrong. Actually, he only diagnosed Locker's left shoulder injury as being much worse than his, and he ought to know. Last week he threw two picks, but they were both returned for touchdowns. Christian Ponder hasn't thrown any picks yet, which probably means he's in line for one or two this week, but I don't see the Vikes getting away from the game plan. Pick: Vikes
Atlanta (4-0) at Washington (2-2): The Falcons are 2-0 on the road, which has been their bete noire in past seasons. A visit to historic Fedex Field isn't going to be the most intimidating thing they've faced but they will have to figure out a way to contain Robert Griffin. They ought to be able to do that. Isn't Matty Ice the lamest nickname in all of pro sports? Well, short of Matty Nice, for Matt Flynn. Pick: Falcons
Cleveland (0-4) at New Jersey Giants (2-2): The Giants threw away a couple of good chances to beat the Eagles, with Eli Manning throwing a very bad pick, and their receivers ultimately losing the game of pass interference Russian roulette to the Eagles and the real refs. With West Virginia laying 70 on Baylor last week, maybe the Browns ought to ask Dana Halgorsen to draw up a few Brandon Weeden plays? Pick: Giants
Philadelphia (3-1) at Pittsburgh (1-2): Pennsylvania Derby! I-80 Bowl! Andy 'Ice' Reid made a good effort to hand the game back to the Giants, but 54 yards was a yard further than Lawrence Tynes' range. One of the criticisms we always make about the Steelers is that they are an aging team, but coming off the bye week they're rested and ready. A better criticism might be that Todd Haley is game-plan semtex to NFL players. The key to the Eagles' offense is giving Mike Vick the time to let DeSean Jackson get open downfield, and for all the criticism of the lack of run game, you saw the way Reid passes to get a lead and then let's McCoy loose on a tiring defense to hold that lead. Or maybe that's because it's the Giants and Reid knows you have to run to keep the Giants' D line honest? If, as Bill Parcells famously said, 'you are what your record says you are' then this pick is easy. But if you're the Steelers coming off a bye week at home, pick: Steelers
Seattle (2-2) at Carolina (1-3): Pretty in Pink Bowl! Cam Newton had the clinching first down made, but fumbled the ball to give Atlanta a last chance to win. The Panthers' D did the rest, so his atonement this week may be too self-flagellating, as he wears pink shoes to remind us about breast cancer awareness. Although I saw a stat that the Panthers were 5 of 6 on converting fourth downs, in a coaches mind all that matters is the bad result if you don't, as opposed to the potential bad results if you pay the book and kick. Of course you don't have to buy a play action fake and surrender a 59 yard completion in the final minute from the opposition's one yard line. Seattle can hold most teams in check, but have trouble scoring points of their own, especially with real refs. Pick: Panthers
Chicago (3-1) at Jacksonville (1-3): There was a moment circulating on the internet with Jay Cutler getting up and going for the bottle as soon as Mike Tice sat down next to him. I hope it was just water and not vodka in that bottle. But with Matt Forte back and Tice committed to keeping Cutler on two feet, at least before that incident, the Bears ought to be able to hold the ball long enough to let their aging defense rest. I dislike it intensely when the visiting team on Monday Night has to travel again the following Sunday, but this is travelling to Jacksonville. Pick: Bears
Denver (2-2) at New England (2-2): Brandon Lloyd/Josh McDaniels/Dan Koppen Bowl! (What, you thought it was about Peyton Manning and Tom Brady? Then why isn't it on prime time?!!!) Koppen starts for the Broncs after JD Walton's injury, and the good news for the Pats is if he has a monster day few will notice. Lloyd and Josh were a package deal, but so far the all-new Pats' O has stuttered, especially since they can't get him the ball downfield. For the last time, Lloyd is not Randy Moss II: he's a better version of Jabbar Gaffney. Three of these teams' four losses have come against 4-0 teams (other was the Pats' to 3-1 Baltimore), but if teams really are what their records say they are then how do we pick this Peyton Brady Bowl? When you think that Chandler Jones was in grade school when this QB battle began, you may get some idea of its real importance. Of course I'm not sure Jones was even alive when Brandon Stokeley entered the NFL. The reality is that so far this year both guys have looked out of sorts at times, but when they're all sorts they can still destroy almost anyone. I doubt John Fox is going to come out in a 4-1-6 like the Bills insisted on playing against the Pats; you beat these guys by confusing them, or by keeping them off the field. The Pats seem better suited to doing that, but the Broncs have the better big-play weapons. Still, pick: Pats
Buffalo (2-2) at San Francisco (3-1): You may have picked up a clue or two as to why the Texans were willing to let Mario Williams walk. Buffalo played CJ Spiller despite his injury and probably made it worse, and Fred Jackson is back too, not that it will make much difference. Pick: Niners
SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL LIVE ON CHANNEL FOUR:
San Diego (3-1) at New Orleans (0-4): Drew Brees/Darren Sproles Bowl! Players often say they don't carry grudges against their old teams. Do you think Johnny Unitas carried one against the Colts when they let him go to the Chargers to play out his string (and, incidentally, his TD pass streak which Brees is likely to break in this game)? He did seem to carry a grudge when the Colts left Baltimore, but that's another story. Having said all that, why do I feel like players do carry a grudge as long as AJ Smith is involved? Remember when Smith was trying to choose which running backs he ought to keep off the Chargers surf n turf buffet line of Tomlinson, Turner, and Sproles? Which one comes with fries, he asked. Ryan Matthews was the answer, but between injuries and fumbles, that seems to be the wrong answer. It's hard to imagine an 0-4 team being three point favourites to a 3-1 team, but that was the opening line on this game, which indicates the bookies are figuring Drew Brees and Co. can't keep running around like headless chickens forever. But you know what they do with chickens to make them headless in New Orleans, don' y'all cher? More important, Spags' defense is terrifically unsuited for the personnel he has. Kinda like when he was with the Rams. On paper, I really think the Chargers can execute and win this game. But the question is whether no leadership is better than Norv. This is the toughest came of the week to call (see poem below) especially if you do believe you are what your record says you are. Pick: Saints
Little Quentin Jammer was trying to bring the hammer
And make big Marques cry
Said his coach John Pagano, it's not about mano-a-mano
So don't you even try.
But still little Quentin Jammer launched another hammer
And smashed it on his thumb
And as Colston celebrated, the Chargers Norvulated
Making those who picked them dumb.
MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL LIVE ON BBC RED BUTTON:
Houston (4-0) at New Jersey Jest (2-2): Like the Falcons, Houston seems to have found a new identity on the road, and Wade Phillips' version of the 3-4 defense, which usually looks more like a 5-2, has been steps ahead of whatever wrinkles Rex has managed to unfurl. The loss of Santonio is probably not as killing for the Jest as the New Jersey media is making it out to be, because they can't get him the ball anyway. Woody Johnson's endorsement of Mitt Romney didn't distract the media for long, but that was probably out of personal kindness. I don't expect Mark Sanchez to get much of that this week, unless it's from Eva. Pick: Texans.
DALLAS (2-2): If I were Jer' Jones I might fire my GM. One of these days Tony Romo is going to wake up shot in the shower and discover it was all a dream.
BYE BYE WEEK:
DETROIT (1-3): Since going 5-0 to open last season, the Lions have gone 6-10. Attention Crads fans! So far they've avoided any major arrests during the week off, so that's a positive.
OAKLAND (1-3): Gnat asked me how long the Raiders would stick with Carson Palmer. As Earl Weaver once said, about pitcher Mike Cuellar, who thought he deserved another chance, 'I gave him more chances than I gave my second wife'. Palmer's not the core of the problem, but how long does it take you to say 'Matt Leinart' or 'Terrelle Pryor'?
TAMPA BAY (1-3): Turns out Greg Schiano was being prescient when he introduced a special D for the opposition's Victory formations. He'll probably be seeing a lot of them.
LAST WEEK: 10-5 SEASON: 34-29