Not sure if he's smiling or not, but I don't think he'll be smiling after Sunday Night

So we have finally crossed the midway point of the regular season in the NFL and so far, as expected there have been some surprises and some disappointments.  My ability to pick games probably falls in neither of those areas, but rather in more of an “as expected category.”  After last week’s 5-8 disaster, the season record crept further downward to 65-61-1 (.516).  Here’s another attempt at a turnaround in Week 10.

Thursday Night
Bears (+3)
at 49ers: After seeing both of these teams play last week, the NFL probably regrets putting them in the Thursday Night game this week.  The Mike Singletary vs. the Team He Used to Play For storyline loses its luster when you see these two teams matchup.  I’ll take the Bears, solely because I know they’ll put up some points and they’ll win if they can just stop Frank Gore.  Alex Smith will throw at least 2 picks to bail out Chicago.

Sunday Games
Bills (+7)
at Titans: I have no idea what has gotten into the Tennessee Titans the last couple of weeks but they have looked very good.  However, I think part of that is because they haven’t been pressed into making Vince Young make a whole lot of big plays.  I think that the Bills will load the box early and often for Chris Johnson to make this happen.  Also, it sounds like Trent Edwards is going to be back from his injury, so the Bills might even have a halfway competent passing game this week.

Saints (-14) at Rams:  This needs very little analysis.  The Saints are 8-0 and rolling over opponents.  The Rams are 1-7 and beat the Lions for their only win.  New Orleans should crush them.  This one will be over by halftime.

Buccaneers at Dolphins (-10): My first impression of this game was to pick Tampa Bay.  Then I realized I would be taking the league’s 30th-ranked rush defense against Miami’s wildcat offense, which is prided on the run.  That made my decision much easier.  As long as Joey Porter shows up this week (he had a big ZERO tackles in New England) the Fish should be fine.

Lions at Vikings (-17): Minnesota got off to a slow start in Detroit and still managed to beat the Lions 27-13 at Ford Field.  That being said, I think Minnesota has gotten stronger while Detroit is starting to pack it in again.  Minnesota should be able to win by at least 17 in the Metrodome.

Jaguars (+7) at Jets:  I really don’t understand how the Jets are favored by 7 points in this game.  Other than the 38-0 win over Oakland, they haven’t blown anyone away, and since starting 3-0, just haven’t looked like the same team.  Jacksonville is a lot tougher than people give them credit for, and a win would put them at 5-4 with the Texans and into the playoff hunt.

Bengals (+7) at Steelers: So yet again the Bengals are playing a team they beat once already and are the underdog?  Did Vegas learn nothing from Cincy’s 17-7 win over Baltimore last weekend?  Apparently not.  I’m not sure who’s going to win this game, but you can be certain that the Bengals and Steelers will play a hard-fought and close game.

Broncos (-4) at Redskins:  Denver’s been knocked back to Earth the last couple of weeks, but those were two tough opponents.  Washington should provide the kind of bounce-back they are looking for.  I expect to see Denver have much greater success running the ball against the Skins and win by at least a touchdown.

Falcons at Panthers (+2): I have really liked what I’ve seen from the Panthers the last couple of weeks.  It seems like John Fox just opened his playbook to the section listed as “running plays” and it’s been looking pretty good ever since.  So long as they don’t put the game in Jake Delhomme’s hands at any point, I like Carolina’s chances at home against a struggling Matt Ryan and the Falcons.

Chiefs (+2) at Raiders:  I have no real explanation for picking the Chiefs to beat the Raiders other than the fact that they should have beaten them in Week 2 at home.  The game will be low-scoring, unwatched, and forgotten about soon after, but Kansas City might have its last chance at winning a game this weekend.

Eagles at Chargers (-3): The Chargers seem to be getting hot again as they attempt to chase down the AFC West-leading Broncos and are coming off a big win over the Giants.  The Eagles need this one just as badly after dropping their battle with the Cowboys last week to drop out of first place, but are without Brian Westbrook again it appears right now.  They need him on the field to be successful against San Diego’s defense.

Seahawks at Cardinals (-9): The Seahawks and Cardinals are two teams going in very different directions right now.  Since blowing out Jacksonville 41-0, Seattle has look just terrible, not even looking very convincing in its 32-20 win over Detroit last week.  The Cardinals, on the other hand, scored an easy win over the Bears and Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald looked very much on the same page.  That’s bad news for the Seahawks’ secondary.

Cowboys (-3) at Packers: Dallas showed up in a big way last week by beating the Eagles.  Green Bay decided not to show up by losing to the Bucs.  Who do you think I should pick???

Patriots (+3) at Colts: From a completely biased view, I would love to see the Colts win, even though I’m about as much a fan of Peyton Manning as I am of Tom Brady.  However, I’ve seen this matchup before and Brady has gotten the better of Manning five out of seven times in the regular season.  The Pats take another step towards being a Super Bowl contender by beating the Colts, 24-21.

Monday Night
Ravens (-11)
at Browns: This could be -21 and I would probably still take the Ravens to shellac the Cleveland Browns.  Cleveland is in complete disarray right now and just doesn’t show any signs of life.  Baltimore desperately needs a win to try and catch the loser of the Pittsburgh-Cincy game if they expect to make the playoffs.

So as we reach the end of Week 9, every team is now halfway through the regular season.  Some teams have been great surprises and others have not. Meanwhile, Oakland is, well, yeah.  It’s at this point in the season where I like to take a look at my preseason predictions and see which ones were good, and which ones were not so good.  Let’s start with some of the good ones.

The Good-AFC

1. As predicted, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are well on their way to taking yet another AFC East crown with relative ease.  Since the Week

This is the one prediction I would have truly been OK with being wrong on. Why do you torture me, Tom Brady?

2 loss to the upstart Jets, the Pats have looked very much like the perennial playoff team we’ve been used to seeing since the beginning of this decade.  Their true test of whether or not they are completely back as a contender comes on Sunday night against the undefeated Colts, but even if they lose that game, it’s hard to see them lose this division.  It would take a collapse much like the Jets had last year, but let’s be serious now people. If anyone truly believes that The Golden Boy is going to let his team falter then stand up and show yourself because I’d like to examine your brain.  Yet again, the bane of my existence in Tom Brady will guide the Pats to a deep playoff run.

2. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the T.O. in Buffalo situation just doesn’t seem to be working at all, which I feared at the beginning of the year and is the main reason I had picked them to finish dead last in the AFC East.  Through eight games, Owens has been limited to 15 catches for 215 yards and 1 TD…wow.  Trent Edwards has somehow managed to avoid his primadonna wideout’s venom so far this season.  However, if this trend continues, expect to be hearing from ESPN’s favorite disgruntled WR very soon.  Get Ed Werder on the next flight from Dallas-Fort Worth to Buffalo.

3. The Indianapolis Colts remain the class of the AFC South, especially after pulling out a 20-17 win over the Texans today.  At 8-0, it’s only a matter of time before the Colts clinch the division and start playing Jim Sorgi and a plethora of other reserves in the middle of Week 14.  It’s amazing how consistently dominant the Colts have been since Peyton Manning took the reins of the franchise in 1999.  Staying in this division, the Houston Texans, despite the loss, seem to be in decent position to make the playoffs as a wild card.  So long as they can avoid some of the baffling losses they’ve had in the past, they should be able to get to 9-10 wins and sneak into the postseason.

The Bad-AFC

1. The Cincinnati Bengals are 6-2 and leading the AFC North at the end of Week 9.  I predicted said Bungles to finish 5-11 this year.  It’s partly luck that

I am still not justifying this man's idiocy by calling him by his legally changed last name. Why are people I dislike doing so well this season?!?

they are where they are, but it’s also partly bad luck that they aren’t 7-1 considering their Week 1 loss to Denver, who we’ll revisit in a bit.  Cedric Benson has been a massive surprise on the offensive side of the ball, giving Carson Palmer the complement that he hasn’t had since Rudi Johnson’s sudden decline and subsequent exiling to Detroit.  If the Bengals have staying power, then I look for this team to finish with 11 wins and potentially win the AFC North, meaning that either Pittsburgh or Baltimore is staying home this year for the Playoffs.

2. Well, I was right about the Tennessee Titans taking a step back this year.  But they have taken several hundred steps back.  sitting at 2-6, with back-to-back wins now, thanks in part to Chris Johnson getting going in a big way.  Vince Young has replaced Kerry Collins, playoff hopes seem bleak at best, and we even had Jeff Fisher donning a Peyton Manning jersey because he “wanted to feel what it was like to be a winner.” This team’s got issues, but should manage to finish with 5-6 wins and spend the offseason regrouping for 2010.

3. Who are these Denver Broncos, and since when do teams in complete disarray perform well on the field? (see Raiders, Oakland) I guess at 6-1 going into their Monday Night showdown with Pittsburgh, we have to say that the Broncos are for real, even if I can’t figure out how they’re winning games.  I still think San Diego is going to win this division, and I really think Denver should have lost in Cincy and at home to New England, yet Kyle Orton continues to win like he’s still in Chicago.  I guess it’s poetic justice in the sense that Orton has outperformed Jay Cutler, but other than that I just don’t get how this team hasn’t completely melted down yet.

The Good-NFC

1. Brett Favre has been as good as advertised for the Minnesota Vikings, who at 7-1 look poised to run away the NFC North.  Jared Allen has looked

I hate this guy too...but the Minnesota Favres wouldn't have been this good without him there.

completely revitalized and Adrian Peterson is making Favre look like the All-Pro QB he was in his prime.  I really hope that we get to see these guys play the New Orleans Saints for the NFC title.  That would be one helluva game.

2. The NFC East remains the toughest division to call in all of the NFL.  After a 5-0 start, the New York Giants have fallen way back to Earth and almost to the .500 mark at 5-4. Meanwhile, after looking like they were going nowhere fast, the Dallas Cowboys are leading the pack at 6-2, scoring a big win in Philadelphia earlier tonight.  The Eagles, Cowboys, and Giants will certainly take advantage to playing the Redskins, so it should come down to head-to-head battles between the three teams.

3. The worst teams in the NFL still reside in the NFC.  The Rams, Lions, and Buccaneers’ seasons are already over, as all three stand at 1-7.  The question at this point is will these teams continue to play hard for the final eight games, or think better of it and just throw away contests to try and get the first pick?  It’s never fun to have to look at it that way, but it’s a cruel reality in St. Louis, Detroit, and Tampa Bay this year.

The Bad-NFC

1. Who Dat? Apparently “Dat” is the New Orleans Saints, led by Drew Brees, a solid rushing attack, and a better than advertised defense.  The Saints are 8-

I think I liked it better when the Saints were bad and they wore paper bags over their heads.

0, and unless they do the unthinkable and lose every single game from here out, they will not finish 8-8 as I originally thought.  The Saints have separated themselves from the pack and hold a three game lead over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South.  With games left against their division opponents, they should have very little trouble getting to 11 wins.  How many beyond that remains to be seen, but if they get to 10-0 or 11-0, you know that Mercury Morris and the ’72 Dolphins are going to be getting thirsty for their champagne.

2. The Eagles are definitely not a 12-win team this year and with the loss to the Cowboys tonight, might not even make the playoffs.  The team just has too many issues on the offensive line and too many young skill position players to win big games, which showed tonight.  To complicate things further, Brian Westbrook’s concussion took the main cog right out of the Philly offense, which means it’ll be on LeSean McCoy and Leonard Weaver to get the job done, which they failed to do tonight.

That just about does it for the things that are either surprisingly spot-on or just way off mark for me in the first half of the season.  If I missed anything or if you just want to nitpick a bit, then go right ahead.  Look back for picks for Week 10 on Thursday or Friday.