Tony Romo might find himself in this position again if the Eagles have it their way on Sunday Night

With the baseball season finally coming to its end last night, I can now focus 100% on the NFL the rest of the way.  This is probably coming at the best time possible considering the issues I’ve run into making picks the last few weeks.  Last week was OK, but not great, with a record of 7-6, thanks in part to that late field goal by Jason Elam that cut the Saints’ final margin to 8.  The season record moves to 60-53-1 (.531).  Here’s the picks for this week:

Redskins at Falcons (-10):  Despite the fact that they ended up losing last week in New Orleans, the Falcons looked pretty good, with the exception of all the turnovers forced by the Saints’ D on Matt Ryan, whose nickname I am temporarily taking away from him.  The good news for the Falcons is that they get to finally start playing some bad teams again, starting with the lowly Redskins on Sunday in the Georgia Dome, where Atlanta is unbeaten this year.

Cardinals at Bears (-3): This is a really tough game to choose simply because you can’t predict what you’re going to see from either of these teams.  Two weeks ago, Arizona looked solid in beating the Giants in New York.  Last week, they put up a Kurt Warner INT-filled fiasco against the Panthers.  Likewise, the Bears beat up on the Browns last week after getting just smoked by the surprising Bengals in Cincy.  But I’m taking the Bears for two reasons: they haven’t lost at home yet this year and because Chicago will force Kurt Warner to make mistakes.

Ravens at Bengals (+3): So, let me get this straight. Cincy beat Baltimore on the road 17-14 just a few weeks ago but the Bengals are the dog at home in the rematch? How did this happen?  In all seriousness, though, Cincy wants this game badly to put some separation between themselves and 3rd place B-More and they wouldn’t mind keeping pace with the Steelers, either.  The Ravens haven’t looked good in a few weeks and are in serious trouble if they lose this one.

Texans (+10) at Colts: I must be out of my mind picking against Peyton Manning & Co., especially considering their 7-0 record and the fact that the Texans’ D isn’t exactly one of the league’s best.  However, I think that you’ll see why Houston is considered to have one of the most explosive offenses in the league in this game, especially if Ryan Moats can get going on the ground to open it up for the Matt Schaub-Andre Johnson connection.  The Colts should win, but Houston will keep it interesting.

Dolphins at Patriots (-11): Ever since Miami introduced the Wildcat against the Pats at the beginning of last year, New England has had that game on its mind.  Now they get the Dolphins sans a competent QB.  New England will be well prepared to handle Ronnie Brown and his partners in crime and the Pats will cruise to an easy victory.

Packers (-10) at Buccaneers: Have you seen the Tampa Bay Bucs play this year? If the answer was yes, I’m sorry you had to suffer through it.  Packers by a significant margin.

Chiefs at Jaguars (-7): Jacksonville proves almost every week that they are a competitive team.  Last week’s loss to Vince Young and the Titans says otherwise, but I think that you’ll see Maurice Jones-Drew have a big day against the Chiefs’ run defense and that the Chiefs will continue to lack any kind of offensive consistency.

Lions (+10) at Seahawks: Both of these teams just don’t seem to have very much to play for already at this point in the season.  It’s important to note that Matt Hasselbeck continues to play with his broken ribs.  One bad hit and it’ll be back to Seneca Wallace and a lot less points being scored in the Pacific Northwest.  The Lions will find a way to keep it close, win or lose.

Panthers at Saints (-13): This would normally be a very easy pick, but it seems like Carolina remembered how to run the football last week with D’Angelo Williams and Johnathan Stewart, which is going to make it a lot tougher on their opponents to win big, if only because the Panthers can control possession better.  Still, no team has given me a good reason to pick against the Saints thus far and I expect to see an 8-0 team in the Big Easy.

Chargers (+5) at Giants: This is a game that both teams need badly since they’re both chasing good teams in front of them.  In the last few weeks, though, San Diego has looked as if they’re turning the corner after a slow start, especially with the reemergence of LaDanian Tomlinson.  The G-Men, on the other hand, have lost three straight and Eli Manning might be more injured than we’ve been led to believe because he has looked just awful the last two weeks.

Titans at 49ers (-5): The San Francisco defense should be able to contain Chris Johnson a good bit better than Jacksonville did, forcing Vince Young to actually make a tough play with his arm this week.  As a result, San Fran should probably win this game behind the legs of Frank Gore.

Cowboys at Eagles (-3): The last time that Dallas was in Philly, they got embarrassed as the Eagles claimed the final NFC playoff spot in Week 17 of last season.  I don’t think we’ll see a repeat of that, but I think we’ll see the same Eagles team that we saw last week against the Giants as they have just started to click on all cylinders.  Not to say that Dallas isn’t playing well right now, but once again we have Tony Romo in a big game, which could be enough to give the game to the Birds.

Steelers (-3) at Broncos: Denver finally looked the way I thought they would all year against Baltimore last week.  Now they get to play an even better opponent in Pittsburgh, who might need this game to keep pace with the Bengals depending on their result on Sunday.  The Broncos appear to be losing some of that head of steam they opened the season with, and that could mean the beginning of a painful end to the 2009 campaign in Denver.

That’ll do it for this week.  Make sure to check back on Tuesday for my mid-season recap and self-assessment on how right or wrong I’ve been so far. 

 

Leodis McKelvin made a name for himself in the worst way possible last night.

Leodis McKelvin made a name for himself in the worst way possible last night.

Last night’s Monday Night Football double-header provided more than just insomnia for people living on the East Coast.  It provided two games that were much more competitive than people were expecting and two of the marquee moments of this opening week of the NFL season.

First, the New England Patriots escaped at home with a 25-24 win over the Buffalo Bills after Tom “the Golden Boy” Brady found tight end Ben Watson in

In his first real game back, Brady was 39-53 for 378 yards with 2 TDs and 1 INT.

In his first real game back, Brady was 39-53 for 378 yards with 2 TDs and 1 INT.

the endzone twice in the final 5:43 to complete a great comeback from down 24-13.  However, its how the Pats got the chance to win the game that will be discussed more than anything else.  The Bills’ rising defensive star in CB Leodis McKelvin inexplicably decided to attempt to run back the kickoff after the Patriots cut the deficit to 24-19.  McKelvin, who by all accounts had a very nice game defensively, coughed up the ball at the Bills 32, setting up the game-winning strike from Brady to Watson.  Naturally, the camera focused on a forlorn Dick Jauron on the sidelines, who was once again left to wonder how his team could lose a game like THAT.  There are really only a few teams that could lose a game in such a fashion, namely, the Bengals, Lions, and now the Bills.  That’s not the kind of company you want to be in if you expect to be a winning team this year.  After the game, I was somewhat impressed by the way Brady and the Pats looked at the game, realizing that they had seized the opportunity given to them and that they could have played far better.  In actuality, this was a game where it seems like you were better lucky than good, as New England dominated almost every major stat category with 28 first downs to Buffalo’s 17, over 400 yards of offense, and just over 37 minutes of possession.  This sets up another battle with the division rival New York Jets in the Meadowlands on Sunday, which should certainly provide some fireworks both on and off the field this week.  As for the Bills, they will have to find a way to put this heartbreaker behind them as they host the Tampa Bay Bucs, who are coming off of a 34-14 loss at home to the Cowboys.

The second game might have been an even bigger surprise than the first, mainly because not one person really gave the Oakland Raiders a good

Rivers had a less-than-spectacular game, but was 6-7 for 79 yards on the Chargers winning drive.

Rivers had a less-than-spectacular game, but was 6-7 for 79 yards on the Chargers' winning drive.

chance against the San Diego Chargers.  Yet it took a final 89 yard TD drive, engineered by Philip Rivers, to help lift the Chargers to a 24-20 victory in the Black Hole.  The key to figuring out this one really is how well the Raiders ran the ball, as well as how they defended against the run.  Oakland out-rushed San Diego 148-77, and also forced LaDanian Tomlinson’s first lost fumble in almost 3 seasons.  Richard Seymour, whose status most people weren’t even sure of three days ago, looked like a force to be reckoned with in the trenches with his 6 tackles and 2 sacks, and the Raiders’ O-Line won their battle up front.  At the end of the day, though, the Raiders’ three turnovers proved to be very costly.  JaMarcus Russell threw two picks in the first half, showing that he still can’t make some of the throws a good NFL QB needs to be able to make and Darren McFadden doesn’t look like he’s cured his case of Fumble-itis.  The Raiders will look to bounce back next week as they face-off against another division foe in the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.  The Chargers will look to make it 2-0 as they host the Baltimore Ravens.

The NFL regular season is almost upon us, which for me means another chance to try and figure out who is going to win the Super Bowl before the first real snap is even taken.  Usually this means that by Week 9, I find myself looking at this article and laughing at my own stupdity.  This year I’m going with a new approach to this whole thing though.  In the past, I found myself buying into the ESPN hype machine on teams like the Browns, and Jaguars…not this time! This is basically blind analysis on my gut instinct this year, so it will certainly be interesting to see if this method works.  If not, I will walk from here in D.C. to Bristol, Connecticut, and apologize to John Clayton and his egghead for ever making fun of him.  So, here it goes, my predictions for this 2009-10 NFL Season. Today, the AFC.

AFC East
The East is one of the more intriguing divisions in the league this year because of the storylines surrounding each team.  The Patriots are a team

Much like Wes Mantooth said to Ron Burgundy.  Tom Brady, I hate you with every ounce of my soul. But, God do I respect you!

Much like Wes Mantooth said to Ron Burgundy. Tom Brady, I hate you with every ounce of my soul. But, God do I respect you!

that gets Tom “the Golden Boy” Brady back, but is going through a bit of a defensive revolution. The Dolphins are that team that everyone looks at and says “can they do what they did last year again?” The Bills have T.O, enough said and the Jets are led by a rookie QB and Head Coach.  That being said, this is how I see the East shaking out:

1. New England (13-3)
Yes the defense is a lot different looking and Tom Brady is coming off an injury, but anyone who thinks the Patriots aren’t going to continue to be the premier franchise in the NFL is out of their minds.  As much as it pains me to say this because of my unfortunate love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with the Jets, no one in this division will touch the Pats this year, and no one will get close to Tom Brady’s surgically-repaired knee because the Pats’ O-Line won’t allow for that and either will the NFL’s rules committee (The Bernard Pollard hit is now a 15-yard penalty).  Even with the changes on the defensive side, any offense that has Brady, Moss, Welker, and a re-vamped running game that now features Fred Taylor will be very hard to keep up with on the scoreboard.  The Patriots will win this division going away and look poised to make another deep playoff run.

2. Dolphins (8-8)
This might be even more painful than what I said about Tom Brady and the Patriots: I was wrong about Chad Pennington.  I admit that when Brett Favre became available, that I was vocal in wanting him and dumping No. 10, who ended up guiding the once hapless ‘Phins to an unlikely playoff run last year.  Granted, that was largely in part due to Brady’s injury and the Jets choke-job in the last five weeks, but hey, they won the division outright and you cannot take that away from Miami.  However, I struggle to see how the Dolphins have improved from the offseason and that combined with the parity of the NFL and the fact that the Ravens D exploded the wildcat last year leads me to believe that they will take a small step backwards this year.  Also, it’s important to note that Chad Pennington has only gotten through two straight seasons in his career without a serious injury once, and those were his first two seasons.  Chad Henne, be prepared to step in at some point this year.

3. Jets (6-10)
I’m feeling a little bullish on the J-E-T-S this year by even suggesting they will finish ahead of the Bills and win 6 games.  When I first saw the 2009-10 schedule, my gut reaction was 2-14 or 3-13.  The more I looked at it though, the more I relaized that this team isn’t awful, but they just can’t throw the ball.  They will get lucky a couple of times this year, and they do get games against the likes of Oakland and Cincinnati, so I think 6 wins is an achievable goal for “Mr. GQ” Mark Sanchez and Rex Ryan and his big mouth.  However, do not expect the games against teams like New England to be pretty, especially their Week 2 showdown, where Belichick and Co. will be looking to run up the score if they have the chance.

4. Bills (4-12)
Many people out there are talking about the Bills as a surprise team this year.  My question is: What team are you looking at?  Yes, they added T.O. (or as Skip Bayless calls him, Team Obliterator) and yes, the team seems to have found a bit of an identity, but they still aren’t very good.  Marshawn Lynch isn’t available for the first three games, T.O. is already banged up, and Trent Edwards isn’t exactly Jim Kelly, even with a very fast and dangerous receiving corps.  Defensively, I really struggled to identify any of their returning starters, save Aaron Schobel and Paul Posluszny, whose name it took me about five tries to spell properly.  Usually you can make the argument that it’s because no one pays attention to defense, but I don’t think it’s the case with the Buffalo/Toronto Bills.  They aren’t very good, sorry Bills fans.

AFC North
The AFC North is kind of like a Tale of Two Cities, except with four cities…or something like that.  In Pittsburgh and Baltimore, hopes are very high that

With a name like Big Ben you should expect a little bit of trouble.

With a name like "Big Ben" you should expect a little bit of trouble.

their teams will compete for the Lombardi Trophy this year.  In Cleveland and Cincinnati, they just hope that their teams make it through the whole season in one piece.  So, in a two-horse race, who will take the crown?

1. Steelers (12-4)
The defending champs remain one of the most complete teams in the league and lack any major glaring weaknesses coming into this season, so long as Big Ben avoids motorcycles, lawsuits from suppossed jilted ex-lovers, and any other kind of things that would really only happen around the starting QB for the Steelers (Just ask Terry Bradshaw.)  If anything was a problem for Pittsburgh, it was that the lacked a great running game last year and at times were forced to rely a little bit too much on the likes of Mewelde Moore (My fantasy team’s MVP last year!).  That gets some serious help with the return of second-year man Rashard Mendenhall, who looks poised to get a good amount of the carries down by the goal line for Pittsburgh.  I fully expect Pittsburgh to be seriously discussed as having a chance to repeat before the end of the regular season.

2. Ravens (10-6)
I really like Joe Flacco and what he’s been able to do for the Ravens offense, but the problem for him, as has been for so many of the Ravens QBs since Trent Dilfer led them to their lone Super Bowl is that the receiving corps is just kind of, well, meh…No offense to Derrick Mason, who has had a very nice NFL career, or to Todd Heap, who is one of the top TEs in the league, but they just don’t matchup great against the better NFL secondaries (especially Pittsburgh).  The Ravens D will be the Ravens D and Ray Lewis will continue to give players nightmares, but they are just lacking 1 or 2 pieces right now.  They’ll make the playoffs, no doubt,  but I struggle to see the grounded Birds do much against the best of the best.

3. Bengals (5-11)
Cincinnati basically already knows that they won’t be competing for anything other than the AFC North cellar this year, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be a very interesting team to watch.  From Chad Ochocinco’s Twittering antics, that will definitely get him at least one fine during the course of the season, to the maturation of rookie LB Rey Malauga, who I expect to be the Defensive Rookie of the Year, (Seriously, watch this guy play and you’ll be very impressed) the Bungles afre beginning to show signs of life again, so maybe this year their win total will surpass their arrest totals…but not by much.

4. Browns (3-13)
It’s not that I think the Browns are this bad, in fact, I want to think they are going to be better than this, BUT we are talking about the Cleveland Browns after all.  I predict that by mid-season the Browns will have gone through at least 2 QB changes between Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson, that the rest of the offense will either be injured or just MIA, that the defense will not matter because of this, and that Eric Mangini will call up his old friend Tony Soprano and take out a hit on himself. Don’t worry though Cleveland, at least you still have LeBron for now.

AFC South
The AFC South might be the toughest division to call this year just because you can’t really say that any of the four teams in the division are bad teams.

Hi, you can watch me on DirectTV! Most irritating commercials on TV.

"Hi, you can watch me on DirectTV!" Most irritating commercials on TV.

  The Colts still have Peyton Manning running their offense, the Titans seem like they are ready to join the AFC’s elite, the Texans are a good first half of the season away from being a perennial playoff team, and the Jaguars have enough talent to compete with anyone.  This division might come down to the last week of the season.

1. Colts (11-5)
In spite of the fact that Tony Dungy is gone and the Titans seem to be the cool pick, I’m sticking with Peyton Manning and the Colts offense, which never seems to slow down.  I don’t really think that their in the elite of the conference anymore, but I think that they have just enough left for one more run in the division.  If they finish above .500 against division foes, they should take it.

2. Texans (10-6)
OH I LIED!!! I am on the Texans bandwagon this year and I really think that this is a playoff-caliber team with the lone caveat being the health of Matt Schaub.  They have one of the most explosive offenses in the league with Andre Johnson and Steve Slaton leading a young and fast corps of skill position players.  That, combined with the experience that guys like Mario Williams and Amobi Okoye have gained on the D-Line and this team will surprise a lot of people. 

3. Titans (9-7)
I know I said that the Titans are looking like they could be in the AFC’s elite soon, but every team has to go through some growing pains, and for the Titans it’ll happen on both sides of the ball.  Kerry Collins and Chris Johnson will not have the same years they did last year.  LenDale White dropping weight eliminates Tennessee’s power running game which opened things up for the passing game.  Defensively, that team relied on Albert Haynesworth more than you think as one of the top rush defenses in the league last year.  All that equates to less wins, and no playoffs, for the Titans.

4. Jaguars (5-11)
The Jaguars will be tthe most deceiving team in the league, and that team that’ll ruin your bet on the spread every week.  Their record is going to be very deceiving, much like the Chiefs last season.  The Jags will be competitive, and very tough to beat.  However, they’ll be good enough to lose a lot of close games.  Expect good things from Maurice Jones-Drew this year as he tries to carry the offense for Jacksonville, as well as try and get some more seats into the dingy Jacksonville Municipal Stadium.

AFC West
This division is very simply the San Diego Chargers division to lose this year.  It’s not even because they’re that good, although they are pretty good,

Go, Chargers...Go

"Go, Chargers...Go"

but it’s more about how bad the other teams are in the division.  The Broncos are in complete disarray right now with Josh McDaniels systemically destroying every last trace of Mike Shanahan’s much-respected offense.  The Chiefs are already in trouble because of the injury to big money QB Matt Cassel, forcing them to bring back Tyler Thigpen, who I like as a player in the league, but makes way too many mistakes with the ball.  Finally, there’s the Raiders who are, well, um, yeah, they’re still the Raiders. I think that’s self-explanatory.

1. Chargers (10-6)
Like I said, this is the Chargers division to lose, and they aren’t going to lose it, unless both LaDanian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles suffer season-ending injuries and Shawne Merriman gets arrested for slapping Tila Tequila…oops.  Still only one of those things has happened so far and the Chargers have dealt with distractions and not having Merriman before.  They will presevere and go 5-1 at worst against division opponents and cruise into the playoffs.

2. Chiefs (7-9)
This is going to be one of the most improved teams in the AFC this year. They will beat teams that they probably shouldn’t and they’ll be competitive in every game much like last year, but they still aren’t a good team.  There are still numerous holes in Kansas City’s personnel to fill and they are about 2-3 years away from being a playoff team.  Chiefs fans are amongst the most loyal in the league and they deserve a winner, so I hope that this happens for them too.

3. Broncos (4-12)
As much as Denver has attempted to make itself as bad as the 2008-09 Lions, the Broncos will find a way to win a few games this year, especially since they get to play the Raiders twice, but it goes without saying that this team is just lousy.  They downgraded at QB, are relying on a rookie running back to carry the load, and their star receiver is so unhappy, he’s willing to go play for the Jets, which is usually not a good sign.  That, combined with one of the most porous defenses in the league last year means hard times at Mile High for the Broncos faithful, who are still looking for the second-coming of John Elway.

4. Raiders (3-13)
This is another team that I don’t think is THAT bad, but again it’s the Raiders we’re talking about.  Al Davis will find a way to ruin that team, whether it’s by having Tom Cable go Mike Tyson on JaMarcus Russell, or by alienating Darren McFadden by writing a letter calling him a pathological liar and a cheater, Oakland will find a way to destroy itself because that’s what Oakland does.  I figure that the Raiders will steal a few games from underachieving and unsuspecting foes this year, most of which will be too scared to go into the Black Hole because it makes them think of nearby Alcatraz with the characters in there.

So, there you have it.  Look back tomorrow for my preview of the NFC, where mercifully I won’t have to kiss Tom Brady’s golden…arm.