As it turned out, the best part of the long weekend was Thursday, both from a food and football standpoint. The highlight of my week was watching the Broncos dismantle the New York Giants, while eating some apple pie.
In terms of picks, it was all downhill from there. Between Sunday and Monday night, I went 4-9, running my season record to 97-79.
While I like the symmetry of the overall record, I don’t like posting an ugly week with the selections. Here’s the rundown of where I (mostly) went wrong:
Colts 35, Texans 27 (Houston, +3.5)
This pick was looking good until Matt Schaub hit Indianapolis linebacker Clint Session right in the chest with a pass, and Session returned the errant pass for a touchdown, giving the Colts a 28-20 lead with about eight minutes to go.
The ensuing Texans’ possession resulted in a forced fumble, as Schaub dropped back to pass. Indianapolis recovered the fumble and eventually scored another touchdown a few plays later.
The Texans seemed on their way to a signature win for the 2009 season, leading Indianapolis 17-0 at one point. Instead, it was another frustrating loss for the Texans. Meanwhile, the Colts have won 20 straight games in the regular season. Yawn. (0-1)
Bengals 16, Browns 7 (Cleveland, +14)
This was a game for fans of rushing-oriented offenses and good defensive play. The Bengals, behind new addition Larry Johnson, topped 200 yards rushing against the Browns. Cincinnati also limited the awful Browns' offense to just 169 total yards.
Cincinnati’s conservative game plan was effective, and it was enough to get them the win. The big spread allowed the Browns to cover. (1-1)
Eagles 27, Redskins 24 (Philadelphia, -9)
I had a bad feeling about this game the moment the Eagles started with an onside kick that the Redskins recovered, giving them a short field. Four plays later, Washington led 7-0, and any hope I had of the Eagles covering a nine-point spread went kaput.
To the Eagles’ credit, they wound up making a spirited comeback to win the game and go to 7-4 on the season. With the play-off picture in both conferences becoming muddied by some poor performances from contending teams this week, the Eagles and Donovan McNabb stepped up when it mattered most. (1-2)
Bills 31, Dolphins 14 (Miami, -3)
Count the Dolphins among the “contenders” who had a bad week.
Miami led 14-7, following a 16-play, 83-yard touchdown drive that covered over nine minutes of game time at the start of the second half. The Bills responded with an impressive drive of their own, one that spanned 75 yards in 13 plays and tied the score at 14-14 early in the fourth quarter.
From there, the Bills’ defense clamped down on the Dolphins, allowing just four first downs the rest of the way. After taking a 17-14 lead late in the fourth quarter, the Bills intercepted Miami QB Chad Henne on the Dolphins’ final three possessions.
Buffalo capitalized on Henne’s miscues, scoring two quick touchdowns in the waning minutes of the game to put the game out of reach, eliminating any chance of Miami winning or covering the spread. (1-3)
Seahawks 27, Rams 17 (St. Louis, +3)
My pick was based on Seattle’s struggles running the ball and their poor track record on the road this year. Seattle RB Justin Forsett had 130 yards rushing and two touchdowns, and he was a big reason why the Seahawks stopped their five-game road losing streak against the Rams. So much for my powers of prognosis.
Forsett’s big day was his second in three games; he had 123 yards and a touchdown in a Seattle loss to Arizona two weeks ago. In what has turned into a disappointing season for the Seahawks, Forsett may be developing into a productive running back for the rest of this season and beyond. (1-4)
Falcons 20, Buccaneers 17 (Atlanta, -12)
Matt Ryan left the game early in the first quarter. Michael Turner re-injured his right ankle in the third. Any hope of the Falcons covering a 12-point spread left once their stars were sidelined.
Chris Redman filled in admirably for Ryan, leading the Falcons to a come-from-behind win. However, the Falcons’ chances of reaching the playoffs suffer with Ryan and Turner out.
Josh Freeman played well, throwing for a career-high 250 yards and playing error-free ball. The Buccaneers continue to challenge their opponents and cover spreads in their recent games. I’ll be curious to see what the line is for their game against the Panthers next week. (1-5)
Jets 17, Panthers 6 (Carolina, +3)
I was uncomfortable picking either of these teams. The Jets had lost 5-of-6, while the Panthers had turnover-prone Jake Delhomme doing the heavy lifting under center. I believed the Panthers were the lesser of two evils.
One 67-yard interception return for a touchdown by the Jets’ Darrelle Revis changed that perception pretty quickly. The Jets’ defense played with renewed vigor against the run, too, forcing the Panthers to throw the ball more, which lead to four Delhomme interceptions. (1-6)
Vikings 36, Bears 10 (Minnesota, -11)
One note of concern for the Vikings: Adrian Peterson fumbled twice, turning the ball over once. He’s lost five fumbles this year through 11 games, something that bears watching the rest of the way, as well as in the postseason. (2-6)
Titans 20, Cardinals 17 (Tennessee, -2.5)
Now, the Vince Young Comeback Tour includes a game-winning 99-yard drive, capped by a 10-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Britt as time expires.
While the world wonders if Young will walk on water for an encore, Chris Johnson reeled off his sixth-straight game with 125 or more rushing yards, tying a NFL record in the process.
Without entering into a debate over who has been more important, what is known is that the play of Young and Johnson, coupled with the struggles of several other teams, has elevated the Titans back into the AFC playoff picture. The AFC South title is long gone, but the Titans are in the mix for a wild card spot, something that seemed impossible five weeks ago.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals have some issues to tend to. Despite the close score, they gave up well over 500 yards of offense to the Titans, and a similar defensive effort next week against the Minnesota Vikings will result in another loss. (3-6)
49ers 20, Jaguars 3 (Jacksonville, +3)
If I were picking games outright, instead of against the spread, I’d be able to call this a winner, as I predicted the 49ers to edge the Jags.
For the Jaguars, they will reflect on this game as one filled with missed opportunities. Jacksonville kicker Josh Scobee missed field goals of 40 and 21 yards, and the Jags fumbled twice on consecutive possessions, as they were mounting sustainable drives into San Francisco territory. (3-7)
Chargers 43, Chiefs 14 (Kansas City, +13.5)
One fumble recovery was converted into a touchdown for the Chargers. Three other Kansas City turnovers indirectly led to Chargers TDs as well.
Any chance the Chiefs had of covering the spread evaporated by halftime. I was not pleased. (3-8)
Ravens 20, Steelers 17, OT (Baltimore, -2.5)
Baltimore had a lot going for them in this game, simply because Dennis Dixon was making his first NFL start in place of Ben Roethlisberger for the Steelers. As it turned out, Dixon played a solid game and the Ravens needed two short field goals—one late in the fourth quarter and the other in overtime—to win a game they probably should have won handily.
The Ravens moved the ball well against the Steelers' defense, but two fumbles and two missed chances at touchdowns while in Pittsburgh’s red zone area, cost Baltimore. Pittsburgh’s defense sacked Baltimore QB Joe Flacco five times and knocked him down on seven other occasions.
With both teams now at 6-5 on the year, the next game between these rivals in a few weeks could be for the final AFC playoff berth. (4-8)
Saints 38, Patriots 17 (New England, +2.5)
Living in Massachusetts has provided me the opportunity to see many New England Patriots games in the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick Era. This game against the Saints is about as bad as I’ve seen the Patriots play.
I’m not going to jump on the “New England is no longer an elite team” bandwagon at this juncture. There’s a lot of football to be played. However, the Patriots’ game against the Dolphins in Miami this coming week takes on new significance: They’ve yet to win a “true” road game this season, and a loss to Miami would allow their division rivals to cut the deficit in the division to one game.
It’s easy to root for the Saints; they are the personification of a “Madden NFL '10” team. Now at 11-0, New Orleans, like Indianapolis, has a clear path to an undefeated regular season. If either (or both) makes it that far, the idea that the NFL is driven by parity can get thrown out the window.
And, with the strong possibility of a 2010 season without a salary cap, the divide between great teams and bad teams could grow further and diminish these gaudy regular seasons we’ve seen in recent years. (4-9)
Bonus Thursday Night Pick
Week 13 Thursday Night (home team in bold )
NY Jets (-3) over Buffalo
The Jets lost the previous meeting between these teams due in large part to Mark Sanchez’s five interceptions. The Jets ran for over 300 yards in that game and should again enjoy success against a porous Bills’ defense.
The Bills, to their credit, have played better football in the last couple of weeks, and they should be able to move the ball on a weakened Jets’ defense. However, the key matchup will feature Terrell Owens against the Jets’ DB Darrelle Revis. If Revis again shuts Owens down as he did earlier in the season (13 yards receiving on three catches), then the Bills could lose by quite a bit.
Here’s hoping for a good start to week 13!
Jets 24, Bills 14