As much as I might try to put if off, I can't. Picks must be made. There are some games I'm quitely confident about, others.... not so much.
Before we get to that though, my new book has arrived; "Building a Champion; on football and the making of the 49ers," by Bill Walsh w/Glenn Dickey. I bought more for the insights of Walsh than for it being about the 49ers and from what I've read so far it's a good book. The main reason I bring this up is because I want to give credit to Thrift Books of Auburn, Washington (www.thriftbooks.com) for their excellent service. The book crossed the Atlantic and got here in less than a week, and arrived in exactly the condition described; a little worn (it was printed in 1991) but otherwise in good shape. I also want to credit the publisher, St. Martin's Press, who clearly had decided that back in the early '90's there simply weren't enough books that, when closed, had a pus yellow colouring to edge of the pages. So they set about rectifying this gross injustice.
Nice. On with the picks.
Redskins @ Panthers
If the Panthers are going to win a second game this season, this might just be the moment when it happens. The Redskins have problems in the back end of their defense and the Panthers have the right tools to exploit it. I moan about Cam Newton a lot but one thing he can do is launch that ball like a you-know-what. And I may sometimes moan about Steve Smith, but one thing he can do is catch jump balls like a you-know-what. The question is can the Panthers keep Newton's jersey clean long enough for this to happen?
You've got Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, both of whom will be out for blood against Carolina. This is, I think, a Redskins team that wants to avenge last weeks lost. I don't expect Rex Grossman will play, likely benched in favour of John Beck and I think the interception feast that the Redskins served up last week will effectively bully themselves into running it a bit more this week, which is something they do very well.
I think that combination, a Redskins offense that wont turn it over so much, coupled with an angry defense looking to take out some frustration on a rookie quarterback will pay dividends. For that reason, I'm saying Redskins win.
Seahawks @ Browns
And here the fun begins. I don't like the Seahawks. It has nothing to do with my allegiance to the Red and Gold of San Francisco (well maybe a little) and everything to do with the Seahawks just not being a particularly good football team. I think last year they caught a huge break... in that they play in the NFC West. I think most people would agree that if Seattle were a little more to the right of it's current location and the Seahawks found themselves playing in the NFC North, they wouldn't have made the playoffs.
In the intervening months between the 2010 and 2011 seasons, I don't think the Seahawks have addressed their more serious issues. They still don't have a consistent quarterback (Charlie Whitehurst is slated to start) and they still don't have enough play making ability on offense. The defense has gotten better, that's true. But it's still weak at the corners and it's still weak at the linebacker spot.
Are the Browns good enough though? Peyton Hillis is out so scratch that one off your list. Is it going to be another 60 pass attempt day for Colt McCoy? And if so, who does he throw to? Josh Cribbs is improving, but he's not there yet. Massaquoi is ok, without being great, and Greg Little gets better by the week, but he's still a rookie that needs a bit of work. You know what? For one more week I'm going to put aside my niggles about the Browns team and back them. Mainly because that's how bad I think the Seahawks are. Browns win.
Falcons @ Lions
Another tough one, principally because I don't like either of these teams right now! The Lions, I still maintain, are over rated. They didn't get beat by a super elite 49ers team last week, they get exposed by an average 49ers team. The Falcons maybe don't have the defense that the 49ers do, but they certainly have a better offense.
They have better receivers and more of them. They have a better quarterback. They have a better overall running back. The offensive line... perhaps not so much. And when your offensive line is potentially worse than the current 49ers, that's an issue. A big one. The only saving grace for the Falcons in this regard is that the Lions D-line hasn't played like we all thought it would.
Everyone thought that Suh, Fairley, Vanden Bosch and Avril would make a dominant front line. That just hasn't happened. Avril in particular has been a let down. After putting up 8.5 sacks last year and being a real force on the edge, he has just 2 so far this year. Suh had ten sacks last year, two this year. Fairley has played two games, both off the bench, and hasn't had a tackle yet. Like the Eagles dream team, this dream line just isn't living up to the hype.
That's why I think I like Atlanta a little more in this one. Last week everything came together for them, and let's not forget they pushed the Green Packers quite hard earlier in the season. They're not the complete package right now, and I'm not even sure they'll make the playoffs, but right now I think they're better than the Lions. Falcons win.
Broncos @ Dolphins
I've been backing Tim Tebow since the day the kid was drafted. It would look pretty stupid if I backed out now. That's why I'm sticking with the Broncos for this one. It has nothing to do with a Dolphins defense that can't generate pressure on the quarterback, can't cover receivers down field and can't seem to make tackles in the open field. Broncos win.
Chargers @ Jets
Another battle without an obvious winner. On the one hand you have the Jersey pulling Jets, who are still finding ways to generate pressure despite a lack of what might be called "elite" talent up front. They're having trouble stopping the run and offensively they still look horrific, but I don't think it's as easy as that to dismiss them from this game.
The reason is because the Chargers are struggling. They've really missed Antonio Gates and without him red zone scoring has been an issue. Phillip Rivers doesn't look as confident as he did in the pre-season and just generally you get this impression of the Chargers looking a little lost. The defense is still holding teams down yardage wise, but turnovers and sacks have dried up, which is problematic given the offenses own struggles with holding onto the ball.
In the end, for me it comes down to the Jets offense. Or rather, the fact that they don't really have one. If the Chargers D can just hold them to small-modest gains per play and force them to drive up the field with perfect execution, then the Jets offense will eventually begin to unravel as it has a dangerous want of doing. Offensively the Chargers run game could find a good match against the Jets D, and really just one or two scores could be enough to decide this. My only apprehension is the Chargers special teams coverage versus Joe McKnight returning kicks for the Jets! Chargers win.
Bears @ Buccaneers
The Bears and the Buccaneers travel to London where they will be met by literally hundreds of fans. I'm joking of course... they'll be lucky if that many people show up. I got a phone call yesterday from the ticket agent offering me tickets at what I would describe as "loss mitigation" prices. If it wasn't for an uncertain transport situation I might have bitten.
Anyway, focusing on what will happen on the field, who do I like? Well after watching the Bears against the Vikings, it's absolutely the Bears. No offense intended to Tampa, but the Bears finally pulled together all their disparate problems into a working solution. They ran the ball well. They protected Cutler. They made great use of play-action passing. They stopped Peterson a few times and got after the quarterback with vigour. It was probably the most complete performance I've seen out of the Bears in maybe two or three seasons.
That gives me a certain level of confidence in them, something I'm not sure about when I talk about the Buccaneers. They just seem so up and down on offense, one week finding the groove and not the next. At least the Bears have always kind of been working towards getting it right, learning in stages. The Buccaneers just seem to flail back and forth between good and goodness gracious me that was bad.
Defensively they're getting a lot of hype but I'm not sure how much of it is justified. Yes, they have their moments. But again, it's just not consistent enough. The front seven occasionally plays great, occasionally plays like they're back in high school. On balance I trust the Bears more than I do the Buccaneers. Bears win.
Texans @ Titans
Houston vs Tennessee. A right old Southern brawl as the two most likely candidates for the AFC South title go at it in a crucial battle. And I really don't know who to pick. The Texans without Andre Johnson had their struggles last week. My word did they struggle. But how will the Titans cope with a still impressive Texans defense?
The Titans bye week gave them the opportunity to sit down and really assess what they're doing offensively. Or more to the point, to help them assess how to get Chris Johnson more involved and how to get him over his current slump. Not only has he not run the ball as well, but he hasn't had as much of an impact in the passing game either. The Titans defense also needed to regroup after the Steelers game. Prior to that game they had held teams to 16, 13, 14 and 13 points. Then against Pittsburgh they gave up 38 points in one huge chunk. The bye couldn't have been better timed for the Titans.
I just worry about the Texans ability to score points. Even without Andre Johnson this hasn't been the explosive scoring offense that we're used to from Houston. Against a defense like Tennessee (if they can rekindle their earlier form) then I doubt the Texans ability to stay in the game. I'm going for a Titans win.
Steelers @ Cardinals
You have no idea how tempted I am to take the Cardinals. Just bear with, I can explain. See, the Steelers exploded two weeks ago against the Titans, with Roethlisberger playing his best game all season. But then next week he comes back and against the Jaguars? 17 points. The Jaguars don't even have a pass rush on any normal day, but the Steelers O-line was so bad they somehow managed to make the Jaguars D look good. Even with the Steelers defense playing the way it was, Pittsburgh still struggled.
Now granted, this is the Cardinals they're playing. The same Arizona Cardinals who have lost four on the bounce. The same Cardinals that lost to Seattle and picked up their sole win this season against Carolina. But There's just something about the Steelers that makes me nervous, and there is something about the Cardinals that makes me optimistic. Chris 'Beanie' Wells had three touchdowns against the Giants and I think he could form the spear head of a rushing attack that the Steelers might struggle with thanks to injuries to guys like James Harrison and Casey Hampton.
God help me, but I'm going to take a leap of (misplaced) faith. Cardinals win.
Chiefs @ Raiders
I can tell you now that I'm not taking the Raiders. That sounds almost bizarre just saying it, so I can only imagine what it would sound like for you reading it. This is a Chiefs team that scored just 10 points in its first two games of the season, while giving up 89. That's absolutely horrendous. But since then things have picked up. The Chiefs narrowly lost to the Chargers and then won two games in a row. Alright, so those two games were the Vikings and the Colts, but that's beside the point. They've been getting better. Matt Cassel has been getting better, Dwayne Bowe has been getting better, and the Chiefs seem to have settled on Jackie Battle as their new lead running back.
Oh and then there's the small matter that the Raiders QB choice this week is between; a) Terrelle Pryor, who only joined the team in the supplementary draft, b) Kyle Boller, who needs no further introduction or c) Carson Palmer, who has been with the team a whole three days, which are coincidentally the first three days he's spent with any team this season.
That means it all comes down to Darren McFadden in the running game, and Jacoby Ford, Darius Heyward-Bey and Denarius Moore is the passing/special teams game to come up with some big plays and push the team onwards. I don't see that happening. It's just not reliable enough to expect those guys to make big plays against a Chiefs defense that can go when it chooses to. On that note, Chiefs win.
Rams @ Cowboys
Surely even the Cowboys can't blow this one? Surely? Cowboys win (if they lose this, I'm never picking them again this season and I will make and burn a voodoo doll of Tony Romo in revenge).
Packers @ Vikings
If you thought me taking the Cardinals over the Steelers was scary, wait till you hear my thought process on this one. Because there's a part of me that just can't get over all the sketchy moments that the Packers have had. The Falcons game that they should have put away more comfortably. The Rams game where they fell asleep for the entire second half. Letting the Panthers of all people back into their week 2 game. I know I shouldn't, but I just can't stop doubting the Packers.
What makes it worse is that I'm optimistic about the Vikings. Even Vikings fans aren't at that stage yet. They're just getting over the fact that Ponder will start and they don't have to watch McNabb anymore. And yet here's me about to stick a rocket up the backsides of the Vikings and hype their offense perhaps a bit more than it really deserves.
Because I like Ponder. For me, he was the best quarterback in the 2011 draft and while many people were surprised he was taken where he was, I think it was a good bad pick. They got the quarterback they wanted and a good quarterback is what they got. He's perhaps being thrown into the fire a little earlier than planned, but hey, it had to come some time.
Of course the major benefit that Ponder has is the guy standing behind him in the backfield; one Adrian Peterson. And the Vikings have already shown that early in games they can lean on Peterson for yards and scores. Hopefully the dynamic that Ponder will bring to the table is the ability to punish teams for loading up the box against the run.
On top of that, the Vikings pass rush may not be all that consistent, but they have shown in the past that they've largely got the number of the Packers offensive tackles. Robsion is a good compliment to Jared Allen. The only probably really with this master plan is the Vikings secondary matched up with the Packers receivers. That's a mismatch that heavily favours the Packers.
Still, I'm going to do it. I'm going to bite on the chance and take yet another leap of faith. At this rate this week could either go really, really well for me, or be a complete write off/disaster/ruinous week for picks. Here goes nothing (maybe literally), Vikings win.
Colts @ Saints
You have to admire the Colts. They've actually gradually been picking up their game. They're finding plays that work for Curtis Painter and they're gradually pushing the ball down field more and more with each passing week. The problem they have is that as the offense picks up, so the defense seems to increasingly be adopting the attitude of 'it's ok, those guys will pick up the slack' and every week seem to fade away just a little more.
That's why I can't back Indianapolis. They've come so close a couple of times now, but 'so close' is still not 'actually won'. And while you couldn't pick a better team to play against if you're looking to revitalise your offense, with the Saints D back to it's old ways of giving up big yards and not creating turnovers, that Saints offense is probably going to be too much for the Colts to handle. Saints win.
Ravens @ Jaguars
Are you kidding? The Jaguars are probably the worst overall team in the NFL right now. You could argue it's a toss up perhaps between four or five teams, but for me the Jaguars are the lowest of the low. At least all the other teams have certain bright spots or certain hopes for the future. The Jaguars don't. Especially not against a Ravens team that is beginning to put together an offense that actually picks up some of the slack when their excellent defense has a down week. Ravens win.