ANY GIVEN TUESDAY
With the US elections on Tuesday, I should point out that among its other accomplishments the NFL provides a presidential predictor that has been 95 per cent accurate over the past 75 years. This is to follow the result of the Washington Redskins on Sunday, their last home game before the voting. If the Skins win, the incumbent candidate (or party) will win, if they lose the challenger will be elected. The streak began in 1936, when the Redskins, then based in Boston, defeated the Chicago (now Arizona, via St Louis) Cardinals 13-10 and Franklin Delano Roosevelt was relected in a landslide over Alf Landon. The Skins moved to Washington, and in 1940 beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 37-10; Roosevelt defeated Wendell Wilkie and the streak was on its way.
It had proven accurate for 17 consecutive elections when, in 2004, the Skins lost to the Green Bay Packers 28-14, but incumbent president George Bush defeated John Kerry. Blaming the failure on Kerry's inept campaigning, or Bush's 'swift-boating' of Kerry, was not enough, but there was a plausible explanation. The predictor had held true in 2000, when Washington lost to the Tennessee Titans 27-21, and Al Gore, the incumbent vice-president, lost to Bush. But as we now know, not only did Gore win the popular vote, he also would have won the election had the Supreme Court allowed the Florida votes to be recounted. So we can look at the 2004 hiccup as a way of the Skins' Predictor of righting-itself, paying the price, as it were for its error in 2000.
In 2008, it was back to business, as Washington lost 23-6 to Pittsburgh, and John McCain, from the incumbent Republicans, lost to Barack Obama. This year, Obama is the incumbent, so he needs Washington to win, but the Redskins boast a mediocre 3-5 record. But before Willard 'Mitt' Romney starts celebrating, the worse news is that the Skins are playing the thus-far hapless Carolina Panthers, whose record stands at one win against six losses. Of course on any given Sunday, or Tuesday, as they say. And whether right or wrong, it's still doing better than my picks this season...
THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL:
Kansas City (1-6) at San Diego (3-4): In two of their past three games the Chargers have managed to lose to the teams with the worst records in football (New Orleans, Cleveland) and now they get a chance for a trifecta. The main thing working against it is that because of Thursday night they get less time get coached, though you might well say the same thing about the Chiefs.
Actually, I feel a certain sympathy for Norv, because as I noted after the loss to Denver, if the players can't execute it's not his fault, and the reality is that the Chargers don't appear to have any playmakers. The finger of blame on that one ought to point directly at AJ Smith. Even so, the Chiefs have not actually led at any point in any game except the moment a Ryan Succop field goal got them their only win, in overtime. What I don't understand about Brian Daboll is, having seen what happened to Cassel in New England, where he needed to play in the shotgun to be effective, they keep using him under center. Pick (made Wednesday): Chargers
Friday Morning Autopsy: It wasn't pretty but it was probably enough to get everyone to shut up about Norv, Philip, and AJ until they travel to Tampa next week. The reality is their offense put only 17 points on the board. They signed Danario Alexander and brought back Seyi Ajirotutu to try to give them more big downfield threats but I doubt that's going to worry the Bucs. One thing for sure, Philip Rivers' 18/20 is getting a lot less attention than Alex Smith's 18/19.
Denver (4-3) at Cincinnati (3-4): Coming off a prime-time episode of Manning Mania, the Broncos will be everybody's favourites, despite the Bengals having had two weeks to prepare for him. The matchup I like best in this game, however, is the Broncos rush against a Bengals' line that has had problems, and AJ Green against Champ Bailey, which is the one I'd go to if I were Andy Dalton. The problem for Dalton is that teams have figured out he needs to be in a rhythm, and with less support from his line, or indeed his run game, he hasn't been able to get into one so far this season. This might be the toughest of the non-elite games (see how stupid that word is?) to pick. But I'm starting to think I over-rated the Bengals this season. And underrated John Fox and Manning. Pick: Broncos
Baltimore (5-2) at Cleveland (2-6): Pat Shurmur's game plan is to hope for higher winds off Lake Erie this week, and punt on third downs hoping to create turnovers. This could be shrewd, as Joe Flacco this season on the road has completed only 50% of his passes, has 2 TDs and 4 picks for a passer rating of 55.9. Even if Flacco plays like that the Ravens ought to have enough to carry them through, especially coming off a bye. Pick: Ravens
Arizona (4-4) at Green Bay (5-3): Alex Green averages less than three yards a carry. This would make him the Crads best running back by about a yard per carry. Aaron Rodgers is lacking top receivers, but his backups seem to do OK. The Crads have top receivers, but John Skelton, fresh from trick or treating as himself, throwing to them. Pick: Pack
Buffalo (3-4) at Houston (6-1): Mario Williams Bowl! Hope that wrist is healed already, cause he's going to have to be waving to a lot of people in the fans. Or making gestures or something. Pick: Texans
Miami (4-3) at Indianapolis (4-3): Tannehill vs Luck in the Rookie QB Bowl! Who's elite now? Miami are probably the more solid team, and who ever thought I'd be writing THAT nine weeks into the season! But Indy is at home, and they've shown a propensity for hanging close and stealing games. The Dolphins ought to be a pretty easy team to hang close to. Pick: Colts
Detroit (3-4) at Jacksonville (1-6): Mike Thomas Bowl! Thomas started the week with the Jags and will carry the deep secrets of Jax's offense with him to the Lions, who obviously felt they needed a secret agent to try to cope with Blaine Gabbert and co. Thomas was, in effect, a luxury for a team that wasn't able to let him play where he's most effective, in the slot, while for the Lions he'll play there and Ryan Broyles won't have to over-work his rehabbing knee. When you saw all the wishful thinking about Tebow to Jax, and the Thomas trade was all they could do, well, you wonder if they might petition the NFL for a territorial rights draft pick to the British League. Pick: Lions
Chicago (6-1) at Tennessee (3-5): Having been handed a surprise win by Buffalo, the Titans made a similar gift to the Colts last week. They took one look at the tape of the Bears' D and decided it was a good idea to rest Jake Locker for another week. Pick: Bears
Carolina (1-6) at Washington (3-5): I wonder if Robert Griffin is a closet Romney supporter, because this week he gave the Panthers some bulletin board ammunition when he said he wanted to be compared to Aaron Rodgers (great mobile quarterbacks) rather than Cam Newton (potentially great mobile, uh, quarterbacks). Even with that motivation, assuming the Skins' receivers remember how to hold footballs once they've travelled through the air to meet them, we can also assume the Obamas won't need to call the moving vans for another four years. Pick: Obama, I mean Skins
Tampa Bay (3-4) at Oakland (3-4): The Bucs who beat the Vikes 36-17 last Thursday ought to roll over the Raiders. But the Raiders are on a mini-roll themselves; since their bye they nearly beat the Falcons and then beat the Jags and Chiefs. The Bucs sandwiched a loss to the Saints in between wins over the Jags and Vikes, so it's the inevitable question of which version of which team shows up. The Raiders have less distance to travel to show up. Pick: Raiders
Minnesota (5-3) at Seattle (4-4): (Sidney) Rice Bowl! Three of Seattle's home wins have come as dogs, and the Vikes' D plays noticeably better at home, which could be because the pass rush is helped when the visitors can't hear their snap counts. It's a matchup of the league's top rushers, and the 49ers showed that you can run on Seattle. Part of the reason for MLB Bobby Wagner's success is the way ex-Crad tackle Alan Branch is absorbing blockers in the middle, while Brandon Mebane makes plays. Speaking of which, who among the Vikes' receivers is going to make plays against the Seahawks' big secondary? Pick: Seahawks
Pittsburgh (5-3) at New Jersey Giants (6-2): Who's Elite Now? Eliphiles don't like being reminded that Ben has 'won' two Super Bowls too (as has Jim Plunkett; Jack Kemp won two AFL championships in the pre-Super Bowl era). With Hurricane Sandy leaving them nothing better to do, the Giants were at the gamesmanship themselves this week, with Justin Tuck claiming refs give the Steelers O line all the breaks. They might sign Chris Christie and let him spell Kevin Boothe when the Steelers decide to flood one side of the line; this is going to be a test for the 'new look' Giants' line. When Pitt has the ball, they're giving Ben R lots of short drops and quick patterns to minimise the effects of playing behind an injury-riddled collection of journeymen. There seems to be a requirement that you get injured if you play on the Steelers' O line, or at RB, and Jonathan Dwyer, who's done a pretty good imitation of The Bus the past couple of weeks, is the latest limper back there. Dallas did a good job of shutting down the Giants' receivers, though their three corners are better as a group than Pittsburgh's. Although Jason Witten's 18 catches probably have Heath Miller salivating, assume the Giants will adjust their tight end coverage, and also remember a lot of those catches were underneath when Dallas needed a late TD to win. Lots of people are thinking the Giants' preparation was spoiled by the hurricane, but I think Tom Coughlin could take care of that. Pick: Giants
SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL LIVE ON CHANNEL FOUR:
Dallas (3-4) at Atlanta (7-0): This is the kind of game a team like the Cowboys is primed to win: a big shiny upset of the last unbeaten team in the league, a Falcons' team that struggled to be lesser opponents before systematically destroying the Eagles on the road last week. The Cowboys did a good job on Cruz, Nicks, and Hixon: in the off-season they wanted to upgrade their secondary, and with Carr and Claiborne at CB and Orlando Scandrick now in the slot, they have done so. Atlanta are a different challenge: Roddy White and Julio Jones both downfield threats, and Tony Gonzalez a match-up problem for safeties or linebackers. On the other side of the ball, the Falcons really miss Brent Grimes in terms of matching up against three wides; Asante Samuel will give Dez Bryant enough of a cushion for them to pick on him underneath, until Bryant hands him a pick, or fumbles, or runs the wrong route. And with Sean Weatherspoon out, coverage of Witten just became more of a problem for the Falcons. This one is primed for upset city, but pick: Falcons
MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL LIVE ON BBC RED BUTTON:
Philadelphia (3-4) at New Orleans (2-5): Two pass-happy offenses meet two generous defenses, though the Saints' D is the league's most generous. I went back and looked at Steve Spagnuolo's record as the Giants' DC against the Eagles; it was 3-2, including a playoff loss, so no help there. The problem for both Ds stems from their desire to get a pass rush with just the front four, and neither has been very good. Todd Bowles' advantage was supposed to be he could adjust better during games than Juan Castillo, but Atlanta pounded them with long drives and creative finishing. Long drives are a problem for this Saints' offense. I've mentioned before that the advantage for the Saints of rushing Roman Harper is it also takes him out of coverage, and the match-ups with Jackson, Maclin, and Celek would look more frightening if Mike Vick were able to actually deliver the ball to them. Vick's numbers look good superficially, but that's cause fumbles don't count, and the Eagles are playing from behind much of the time. This is the Saints' last chance to keep post-season hope alive; if Sean Payton were coaching they'd be aware of this, but if Sean Payton were coaching, they'd probably be better than 2-5. Last week I ignored Andy Reid being 13-0 after a bye; I wonder what his record is after losing the week after a bye? Pick: Saints
New England (5-3): Here was the Pats' O line on paper after last season: Matt Light/Logan Mankins/Dan Koppen/Brian Waters/Seb Vollmer. Here was the Pats' O line in London: Nate Solder/Donald Thomas/Ryan Wendell/Dan Connelly/Vollmer. Wendell and Connelly both went undrafted; Wendell from Fresno State where he was coached by former Belichick line coach Pat Hill, who's now with Atlanta. Connelly and Thomas, a sixth-round draft pick, were both cut by the Dolphins. Patriots' line coach Dante Scarnecchia has been with the team 29 years, and for good reason. Last night the Pats traded a fourth-round pick for the 'troubled' Bucs' corner Aquib Talib. He and Alfonzo Dennard ought to have a lot to talk about, maybe Bill sees himself as a new version of Jimmy Scalise?
St Louis (3-5): A few positives from the Rams' loss at Wembley: Michael Brockers dropping into coverage at the goalline (though Brady still hit Gronk with the TD). Chris Givens' speed (needs to learn those intermediate routes). James Laurinaitis' range. Trumaine Johnson, who looks like the real deal. A negatives: Where were Chris Long and Robert Quinn? Why didn't Cortland Finnegan try to start another fight after failing with Welker?
San Francisco (6-2): Jim Harbaugh tried to get the NFL to change an obvious lateral shovel pass to a forward pass so Alex Smith's 18 of 19 completions could become 19 of 20 and therefore an NFL record. Though I think maybe 16 would be a more reasonable minimum, given that teams are allowed to run the ball.
BYE BYE WEEK:
Newark Airport Jest (3-5): That was some message Antonio Cromartie sent to the Bush You Can Support at the start of last week's game. We care more about winning the trash talk than the game. And guess what? They lost. On the positive side, it was nice to see the Comish postpone the trade deadline by a couple of days after the Lord had unleashed Hurricane Sandy on New York in an effort to stop Tim Tebow being traded. If Jim Harbaugh thinks he's bothered by gobble gobble jive turkeys......
LAST WEEK: 9-5 SEASON: 72-47