Packers (-5.5) at Chargers: It's early, but Rodgers is smelling an undefeated sesaon
There's a lot great football going on this weekend in both the NFL and college. Alabama and LSU will square off this Saturday in one of the biggest college football games in years, with the winner (which will be Alabama) likely headed to the NCAA championship game.
On the same day, Oklahoma State and Stanford are also in action, with both teams in contention to be the recipient of the SEC champion.
But when the dust settles on Saturday night, there's plenty going on in and around the NFL on Sunday, including the Packers trying to keep an undefeated season alive at San Diego as a reasonably small favorite.
With 42 articles in the books over the last 13 months (all predictions) and a record of 29-12-1, I'll put these three teams to the test and look to bring home the bacon with two of them.
It's a couple of favorites, and an underdog to make up the trio of NFL Week 9's top plays.
Read on for the reasons why.
Pittsburgh lost the opener to the Ravens each of the last two seasons, and won the second game.
Sometimes the best time to pull a surprise is when the recipient will least expect it.
With the Ravens up 21-7 over the Steelers late in the third quarter in NFL's opening week, Joe Flacco threw an 18-yard pass to Ed Dickson for what looked like a 28-7 lead.
Make that 29-7.
In lieu of the extra point, holder Sam Koch took the football with him to the end zone, instead of placing it on the ground for the kicker.
The rout was on, but so are the memories.
It wasn't a bad coaching strategy. No lead under 40 points in safe in the NFL (just ask the 1992 Bills or Houston Oilers). But in a division rivalry such as this one, it's things like that which resonate in the players', and Mike Tomlin's head.
The Steelers come into this game at (-11) in turnover margin for the season and they were (-7) alone in the Ravens game, so we know the Steelers aren't likely to replicate such a sloppy game.
James Harrison is out for this game, and he has missed the last few games for the Steelers but the defense hasn't skipped a beat.
They held New England to 213 yards of offense, and held the ball for nearly 40 minutes.
If the Steelers can employ similar clock control, this will be a very tough team to defeat down the stretch, especially for a Ravens team that lost to Blaine Gabbert and Jacksonville, and had to come from behind to defeat a weak Cardinals team.
Joe Flacco has seen success in his career but his focus doesn't appear to be in full swing for 2011 as the quarterback is completing just under 54 percent of his passes.
The Ravens are a field-goal underdog in this game. Going with such a choice basically means one thinks there's a good chance the underdog will win outright, something the Ravens have failed to achieve each of the last two seasons over the Steelers in the rematch after defeating them in the first game.
However, each of the last six regular season games between these two teams have been decided by four points or less, and five of the six were decided by a field goal, which makes the line move from 3.5 down to three points very important.
Newly-married Ben Roethlisberger looks to be focused and mature this season (since Week 1, at least) so behind his leadership, look for Tomlin's crew to strike back and win this game by at least a field goal, but maybe more, especially if they go for a two-point conversion.
Take Pittsburgh to cover three points
Alex Smith and the Niners are 6-0-1 ATS and 3-0 in the east. Change is inevitable.
When you hit rock bottom, there's only one place to go, and that's up.
This week it's the Redskins, who return home off a shutout at Buffalo and take on the surprising 49ers.
But the most surprising thing about Jim Harbaugh's team may not be their 6-1 record.
Teams from the west coast traveling east and playing a 1:00 game in the eastern time zone have won only 35 percent of their games in recent years (a record of 28-52), but don't tell that to Alex Smith and Jim Harbaugh.
Even more impressively, they were underdogs in all three games.
This time they are favored.
One of the "factors" in this game is to realize is the 49ers are (+10) in turnover margin while the Redskins are (-6), which accounts for a 16-possession difference. That's significant for not even being halfway through the season.
NFL teams rarely get shutout twice in a row, so expect the Redskins will get some points in this game.
Unlike teams such as the Colts, who were seemingly set up to lose games this season due to very poor management at the upper levels, at least the Redskins are trying to improve. The team recently acquired running back Tashard Choice, who was released from the Cowboys last week, to step up the running game. His status is listed as "out" for the game against San Francisco, but keep that in mind when the Redskins play Dallas in two weeks.
"The best is yet to come" said Choice on his Twitter page.
For this game, the Redskins will have to milk every piece of their home-field advantage. Although cross-country travel often doesn't affect the best and most mature teams in the NFL, it could be a factor here.
The 49ers had to go to Philadelphia, then back home to play Tampa Bay. Then they had to travel to Detroit before coming back home to play Cleveland. Now they must go across the country again to play the Redskins in an early game, and history indicates a possible jet lag for Harbaugh's crew.
Of the four teams on the west coast, 17 times over the last decade they have played at least four games in the eastern time zone in a single season.
Only two times did these teams win at least four of those games, and one of them was San Francisco in 2001 as the 49ers won a pair of those games by a combined five points.
So, just once out of 17 times over the last 10 years did west coast teams win four east coast games by more than a field goal.
Already having a trio of wins over Detroit, Cincinnati and Philadelphia in the 1:00 eastern time slot, the third time might not be a charm.
Yet to lose a game against the spread, this is a fine time to go the other way for a game with San Francisco.
Don't expect the Niners to pull off the east coast treat four times in one, make that one-half, of a season.
Take Washington to cover 4 points
The Packers won the Super Bowl with 16 players on I.R. This season, the sky is the limit.
Two things that don't go hand-in-hand.
Without distraction, it's easier to focus. And with focus comes preparation.
Had Phillip Rivers not fumbled the ball late in regulation at Kansas City, the Chargers may have kicked the game-winning field goal and fans would be labeling this week's game in San Diego as the game of the week.
Instead, some may say it's time to figure out what's wrong with Phillip Rivers because of one play, and why he doesn't appear focused, especially after a sloppy fumble late in the game in Kansas City when the Chargers were driving for the winning field goal.
It wasn't just the Monday night game.
Let's not forget, the Chargers also just lost to the Jets and have yet to reach the 30-point mark after achieving it eight times last season.
Is Rivers becoming increasingly distracted? Is it something off the field during the week that could be taking up his time and mind away from football?
After all, he and his wife did just have their sixth child. It's a beautiful thing, but such a heavy commitment does tend to take a lot of time.
The Chargers had a very soft schedule through the first five games and got out to a 4-1 record with the only loss at New England. But they will have their work cut out for them.
This is a scheduling nightmare for the Chargers, getting Green Bay off a bye week while they have a short week to prepare.
Last season the Packers handily defeated Atlanta in the playoffs with an incredible 16 players on injured reserve, but this season they are locked and loaded, and poised for a possible undefeated season.
Aaron Rodgers wants it.
And now more than ever, perhaps he has extra motivation from Brett Farve's comments in early October in an interview with Atlanta's 790 The Zone.
Said Farve in the interview, about Rodgers' Super Bowl victory, "The biggest surprise to me would be that he didn't do it sooner" and that Rodgers "just kind of fell into a good situation."
Green Bay had a bit of a wake-up call in their last game at Minnesota against a rookie quarterback, so expect the Packers to learn from the closer than expected outcome.
Is this Packers team as good as the 2007 New England Patriots? Maybe not quite, yet, but those 2007 Patriots went into Indianapolis with a record of 7-0, just as the Packers are, and were favored over the Colts by 5.5 points like they are here.
Except the Colts were 7-0 as well, and had Peyton Manning instead of Phillip Rivers.
Rivers' is a great quarterback and a great person, but when it comes to football and preparation, perhaps his mind is a bit too much on preparation for diaper duty instead of preparation for the best team in the NFL.
Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers' mind is on an undefeated season.
Take Green Bay to cover 5.5 points