Thursday, September 29, 2005

Not yet October, but the heat is on

Last week's Big Ten picks were a moderate success, going 5-0 straight up and 3-2 against the spread. Illinois didn't quite keep within double digits of Michigan State like I thought, and Penn State failed to win by a full touchdown over Northwestern ... BUT, considering I nailed Wisconsin beating Michigan and Minnesota's 3OT upset over Purdue, I'll take it.

On to Week 2 in the conference, where Lloyd Carr and the Wolverines are feeling some major heat, and it's not even October. Michigan is in East Lansing this week to battle Michigan State, and its only gimme win the rest of the way is a home tilt against a still-meek Indiana squad in mid-November. Assuming they lost to the Spartans, next week's homecoming matchup against Minnesota will likely tell all we need to know about both of those programs: the Gophers haven't been able to clear the Michigan hurdle for a long, long time, and should Michigan lose to wind up at 2-4, going bowling will be a pipe dream and the Bassett Hound who roams the sidelines for the maize and blue may be out of a job.

Other things we learned last week:

1. Iowa was vastly overrated.
2. Ohio State's pretty damn good.
3. Michael Robinson could single-handedly win a few games and lose a few games for the Nittany Lions this year.
4. Wisconsin isn't exciting to watch, but it's a fitting team for Barry Alvarez to have in his final year as the Badgers' head coach.
5a. Minnesota likes to run the ball.
5b. Minnesota can pass the ball.
5c. Minnesota has a serviceable defense.
5d. OK, we knew the first of those previous three statements. But it's the next two that matter, anyway.
6. Purdue should still rebound just fine.
7. Michigan State can score with the best of 'em. I, for one, am witholding judgment until they play Michigan at home and Ohio State on the road in their next two contests.
8. Indiana shouldn't be campaigning for top 25 votes until it wins a conference game. Which ain't happening this week in Madison.

On to the Week 2 picks:

MICHIGAN STATE (-5.5) over Michigan
Michigan State still has a lot to prove to the rest of the country as far as being a consistently dangerous team, but it doesn't have anything to prove to itself. The Spartans rolled through Kent State, Hawaii and Illinois, and held on at Notre Dame despite blowing a 21-point lead. Drew Stanton has completed 73 percent of his passes thus far, throwing for 13 touchdown and just two interceptions. True freshman running back Javon Ringer and sophomore Jehuu Caulcrick both have 300 yards rushing, something the Spartans have struggled to do consistently since oh, about 1997. Michigan is reeling but you know the Bassett Hound himself will have his Wolverines ready for the big intrastate showdown. Believe it or not, Michigan State still has the pressure in this matchup, though that is by no means saying that the Wolvereines aren't feeling heat. But if the Spartans win here, no one will question their status as a top 10 team. Michigan's secondary is too vulnerable and Ryan Mundy is out for the year. Stanton will light the maize and blue up and the Spartan defense will do enough to give Michigan State its first win since 2001 against Michigan.
Pick: Michigan State 37, Michigan 28

Minnesota (-2.5) over PENN STATE
Another game where there is a good amount of pressure on both teams. Minnesota finally beat a quality team last week in Purdue, and Penn State won a conference road game outside of Bloomington. But again, these are two teams that have been unable to get past certain hurdles in recent years. Penn State is 4-0 but has turned the ball over an amazing 13 times in those wins. Justin King, Derrick Williams and Deon Butler give this offense three game-breakers, and Jordan Norwood stepped up last week in Evanston. Meanwhile, Laurence Maroney carried the ball 46 times last week, though Bryan Cupito did manage to throw for 271 yards and 3 TDs as well. This game will come down to two big IFs. IF Penn State can avoid critical turnovers (and the alarming volume with which they've occured) it should win. IF Laurence Maroney doesn't have as much success on the ground against a stout PSU D, and Cupito is forced to win the game, Minnesota should lose. That said, Maroney will find enough running room to keep the Penn State defense on the field until it tires in the fourth quarter, and the Gophers escape.
Pick: Minnesota 27, Penn State 24

IOWA (-18) over Illinois
Iowa got smoked in Columbus, but Kirk Ferentz will make sure his team keeps the ill-effects to a minimum. This spread is a bit tricky considering Iowa's offense has been poor, but Iowa's D is capable of shutting down anyone, particularly an average offense like Illinois. Iowa has to rebound quickly with a trip to West Lafayette on the horizon next week, but at the same time, it can't afford to look ahead. Iowa should use this week to get its offensive kinks worked out, and odds are it will do enough to cover an 18-point spread.
Pick: Iowa 34, Illinois 14

WISCONSIN (-18) over Indiana
Quite frankly, this spread is nowhere near as tricky as the other 18-point spread. Right now, at least, Wisconsin is a better team than Iowa and despite its record, Indiana is a worse team than Illinois. Remember, Indiana struggled mightily to put away a mighty Nicholls State squad just two weeks earlier. Wisconsin showed how dominant it can be against a JV team like Temple and JV defense like Bowling Green. Indiana would struggle to win three conference games playing in the MAC West, so don't look for any miracles from Terry Hoeppner's boys just yet. Brian Calhoun will have plenty of running room in this one and it really shouldn't be close. The Badgers play at Northwestern next week, so it's not as if there's much to look ahead to. The Hoosiers' only chance to keep it close Wisconsin still being caught up in last week's thrilling win over Michigan. Still, Indiana isn't good enough.
Pick: Wisconsin 41, Indiana 16

PURDUE (-3) over Notre Dame
This game should be quite a spectacle, as Purdue tries to win three in a row against the Irish for the first time in over 30 years. It's at night in West Lafayette and the place should be rocking as Charlie Weis brings his boys into town. Purdue will have to suffer through the hangover of a close loss at Minnesota, and should struggle early. But Brandon Kirsch and that offense are too talented to be kept down for too long, and Notre Dame's defense was proven to be a bit of a paper tiger by a talented Michigan State offense a few weeks back. Notre Dame will put up some points thanks mostly to Brady Quinn and Maurice Stovall, but the key for the Irish is getting Darius Walker the ball early and often. Purdue had the No. 1 rushing defense in the country heading into the Metrodome last week, but limped out after being run over by the Laurence Maroiney freight train. Walker won't do nearly as much damage though, and Purdue's home crowd should give it enough of a push to fend off an admirable effort by the Irish.
Pick: Purdue 31, Notre Dame 27

-- Northwestern and Ohio State have the week off before the Wildcats host Wisconsin next week and Penn State welcomes the Buckeyes to Happy Valley for a 7:45 night tilt to be televised by ESPN.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Big how many out of Ten?

The joke with the Big Ten conference over the years has always been that it's more like the Big 2 (Ohio State and Michigan) and Little 8 (everyone else). Things started to change when Penn State joined the conference full-time in 1993 and as Purdue, Wisconsin and Minnesota became actual warm-blooded football programs. Northwestern, for the doormat it is typically considered to be, has won or shared more Big Ten titles since 1995 than everyone but Michigan.
But recently, the Big Ten has become a target for pundits to preach its status as overrated. Michigan has lost a non-conference game in each of the last six years with their loss to Notre Dame two weeks ago included. Penn State has won just one league title since it joined the league. Minnesota and Purdue have been respectable but have earned reputations as peaking in September and subsequently "choking" when the weather gets cold. Illinois and Indiana have been, well, Illinois and Indiana. And Michigan State's Jekyll and Hyde approach (beat a top 10 team, lose to an unranked team the following week) has won it few supporters.
(Of course, when Penn State joined the name "Big Ten" became a bit of a joke in itself, as the conference was now home to 11 schools. But back to the point at hand.)
Come 2005, the Big Ten was supposed to be back. Iowa, Michigan and Ohio State were all top 10 teams and the conference was supposed to have depth not seen in years.
Then came Sept. 10.
Ohio State lost, 25-22 to No. 2 Texas in Columbus. Disappointing but hardly heartbreaking for the conference. Ohio State did nothing to disprove itself as a top 10 team; Texas was just better on that day. But Michigan put up 10 points in a loss at home to Notre Dame. And Iowa was embarrased by rival Iowa State in a 23-3 shellacking.
Conference play hadn't begun and the Big 3 were, for all intents and purposes, out of the national championship race.
But make no mistake about it ... the Big Ten is actually back this season. OSU's loss was to a team no one except USC could really hang with right now. Michigan lost to a Notre Dame team that was ready to rebound under Charlie Weis sooner than anyone expected. Iowa's loss, though startling, was to a major in-state rival, on the road, and their star quarterback Drew Tate was injured early and never came back.
For certain, those three teams will be right there at the end of the season. But the key this time is what's beyond those three. It's Purdue, which misses Michigan and Ohio State on the schedule, but has a solid team and perhaps the easiest path to 8-0 in conference. It's Penn State, which has an offense to go with a phenomenal defense. It's Michigan State, which won for the fifth straight time in South Bend and has put up 40+ points in three games. It's Wisconsin, which made national sleeper Bowling Green look silly. It's Minnesota, which features a stud running back and offensive line to keep it in any game. Throw in Northwestern, which has won seven straight home games for the first time since the mid-90s and Illinois, which is slowly slipping out of its bottom-feeder status under Ron Zook and you finally have a true Big Ten. At least truer than it's been in years.
Unfortunately, Indiana is still lurking around in the conference. But the league only needs 10 teams to live up to its namesake anyway.
Big Ten, Little IU. It's settled.
As for what will actually happen this season...
Purdue, as mentioned earlier, has the easiest path to 8-0. In fact, its biggest roadblock may be this week at Minnesota. Iowa is at home and Michigan and Ohio State are nowhere to be found. The Boilers still have to play at Wisconsin and at Penn State, but as usual, nothing in this conference will come easy. Look for Purdue to end up 7-1, with a loss this week at Minnesota as its only blemish.
Michigan also has a tough opener in conference play, at Wisconsin. The Badgers are playing over their heads right now, but going to Madison isn't easy for any team. Michigan State and Iowa are additional road games, and Penn State and Ohio State, along with Minnesota, come to the Big House. The Wolverines will likely lose at Iowa and are a good bet to be upset this week in Madison, leaving them 6-2 at the end of the conference year.
Ohio State is, talent-wise, the best team in the conference. But a schedule that included a non-conference game against Texas won't get any easier. Iowa visits this week and Penn State, Minnesota and Michigan loom on the road later on. Happy Valley will be more than revved up for a night game against the Buckeyes, and Michigan is due for a win over their hated rivals, especially in Ann Arbor. The Buckeyes will finish 6-2 in a tie for second place in the conference.
Iowa got off to a rough start to the season by losing to Iowa State, but losing badly out of conference happened to the Hawkeyes last year as well, and they rebounded nicely with 10 wins. At Ohio State and at Purdue are likely to be losses, and look for Northwestern to spring an upset on the Hawkeyes late in the season. 5-3 is the likely finish for the Hawkeyes, which will be good for a tie in fourth place with a team they won't find on their schedule ...
Penn State, which is looking for an offense to go with that stud defense, and just may have found one with its speedy freshman wideouts. The Lions' toughest road game is at Michigan, a team Penn State hasn't beaten since 1996. Michigan State will be tough at home at the end of the year as well, and Purdue's visit to State College at the end of October may well wind up as the conference game of the year. Should the Nittany Lions win, there may be as many as five Big Ten teams tied for the conference title at 6-2.
Minnesota has a fine offensive line and Lawrence Maroney behind it, but Bryan Cupito is still a question at QB and the defense hasn't been tested as of yet. After possibly taking out Purdue this weekend, the Gophers play at Penn State and at Michigan before returning home for Wisconsin and Ohio State. Iowa is in to close the year, ending a very difficult slate for Minnesota. 4-4 is their likely outcome, a step up over last year's late season collapse.
Michigan State is coming off a huge win at Notre Dame, and is actually 9-1 in its last 10 games against top 10 teams. But so often, they follow those games with a stinker against an unranked team a few weeks later. Illinois visits this week and that should be a win, but the schedule heats up after that. Michigan and at Ohio State could well be losses, and at Purdue and Minnesota to start November won't be very forgiving. A big late-season win at home over Penn State could mean the Spartans end up at 4-4, tied with Minnesota and ...
Wisconsin, a team that didn't expect to contend but looked solid in three non-conference wins. Purdue, Penn State, Michigan and Minnesota is a tough slate to negotiate and Iowa visits Madison late in the season. Look for the Badgers to drop four of those games, but if they get off a good start this weekend against Michigan, things could be looking up. It's hard to separate those three 4-4 teams, but they're definitely a step up over the bottom three teams, starting with ...

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Week 2 picks and other thoughts

Time to break out the Week 2 picks. For the record, though I didn't get them posted for last week, I went 9-7. Not horrible for the first week of the season, but we'll look to improve this time around. Home teams are in caps.

Baltimore (-4) over TENNESSEE
The Ravens aren't as bad as they looked against the Colts, and we don't really know if the Titans are as bad as they looked against the Steelers. Tennessee's defense is porous and the Ravens should be able to win this game by controlling the clock with Jamal Lewis and Chester Taylor. Kyle Boller is out, which, as usual, is a blessing in disguise for Baltimore. The Titans need to get Tyrone Calico and Drew Bennett involved downfield in order to have a chance.
Pick: Baltimore 23, Tennessee 16

Pittsburgh (-6) over HOUSTON
Though Bill Cowher warned the media his team isn't looking ahead to next week's showdown against the Patriots, that won't be proven until the Steelers take the field Sunday. It is the very definition of a trap game save for one crucial element: the Texans stink. That said, they did beat the Steelers 24-6 in their only meeting three years ago. With Dunta Robinson ailing, look for Ben Roethlisberger to throw more than 11 times this game. Willie Parker will top 100 yards, and the Steelers should force David Carr to turn the ball over at least twice.
Pick: Pittsburgh 26, Houston 13

Jacksonville (+9) over INDIANAPOLIS
This game is by far the biggest roadblock to the Colts' chances of starting the season 7-0 before their bye week. Jacksonville took a big step toward playoff contention last year and should get in this year. They don't have enough offensive firepower to dethrone the Colts in the AFC South, but they can hang with them. Look for Peyton Manning to be stifled by the Jags' defense early in the game, similar to last week's effort against the Ravens. The Jaguars need a big game out of Fred Taylor and they can't afford to have Byron Leftwich make mistakes. The Colts should put it away late, but don't be surprised if Jacksonville wins outright.
Pick: Indianapolis 27, Jacksonville 21

CHICAGO (+2) over Detroit
There are going to be a lot of close games in the NFC North this season and the Bears' defense is a big reason for that. Since the Bears' offense should continue to set the passing game back 50 years, Brian Urlacher and company will have to keep the team in games. Look for them to confuse Joey Harrington and take Roy Williams and Charles Rogers out of the game, forcing Detroit to try to pound it out on the ground with Kevin Jones. If Kyle Orton can hand the ball off to Cedric Benson and Thomas Jones, and occasionally find Muhsin Muhammed for 10 yards or so, the Bears should grind this one out at Soldier Field.
Pick: Chicago 16, Detroit 12

Minnesota (+3) over CINCINNATI
Well, Chad Johnson is at it again. This time, the Bengals' loquacious wideout publicly attacked Vikings cornerback Fred Smoot, saying "Smoot ... Smoot ... let's go." He went on to say that Smoot talked a better game than he played. Johnson's comments shouldn't make much of a difference though, because both teams will score at will. Minnesota's defense is slightly better than a Bengals' unit that is still looking for an identity, and after last week's home loss to a mediocre Tampa Bay team, the Vikings need a win desperately. Daunte Culpepper should rebound from his dreadful Week 1 performance and though Carson Palmer will have a big day as well, look for Minnesota to pull this one out.
Pick: Minnesota 34, Cincinnati 30

San Francisco (+13.5) over PHILADELPHIA
Maybe the 49ers aren't as bad as everyone thought. Though the Rams outgained San Francisco by 200 yards, the young 49ers still pulled out a victory at home last week. Donovan McNabb is questionable though he has said he'll play. The Eagles should be primed to explode after a drab effort at Atlanta on Monday night, and Terrell Owens always has a little extra motivation when he's playing his much-loved former team. That said, look for the 49ers to get a late score to make the score look respectable and make the oddsmakers pout.
Pick: Philadelphia 28, San Francisco 17

TAMPA BAY (-2.5) over Buffalo
One of the true tough games to pick this week. Both teams came off pretty convincing Week 1 victories, with the Bucs' win being over a better team on the road in Minnesota. J.P. Losman looked like he was up to the task of managing the game to let Willis McGahee and his defense win it against Houston last week, but he faces a more formidable defense this time around. If Brian Griese can avoid having an interception returned for six points and if Cadillac Williams can come close to equaling his effort against the Vikings, Tampa Bay should be able to win in the friendly confines of Raymond James Stadium.
Pick: Tampa Bay 19, Buffalo 14

New England (-3) over CAROLINA
Possibly the game of the week, and what many feel is a Super Bowl preview, should live up to its billing. But the Panthers lost Kris Jenkins for the season last week, and they still have what looks to be a vulnerable secondary. Tom Brady won't have as easy of a time picking Carolina apart as he did against the Raiders' woeful defense, but he should still be able to put up 275+ yards since the Panthers should be keying on Corey Dillon. Dillon is very much a second-half back, taking advantage of fatigued defenses late in games, and look for that trend to continue today after Brady and the wideouts score some early points through the air. Jake Delhomme will need to find someone other than Steve Smith this week, as Belichick and his staff will find a way to contain the Panthers No. 1 receiver.
Pick: New England 24, Carolina 20

Atlanta (+1) over SEATTLE
Seattle's defense is certainly a downgrade from the unit Michael Vick and the Faclons faced last week, and this is a team Vick should be able to run against more often. He looked shaky throwing the ball last week, still trying to find a No. 1 receiver. Michael Jenkins stepped up for a few big plays, and Vick still has his No. 1 target roaming around in Alge Crumpler. Matt Hasselbeck is mistake-prone and Atlanta has a playmaking defense. Shaun Alexander's ability to run the ball will be key for the Seahawks, who will be desperate to avoid an 0-2 start. But the combination of Warrick Dunn, T.J. Duckett and Vick getting to the outside will be something the Seahawks will struggle to contain all day.
Pick: Atlanta 27, Seattle 17

St. Louis (+1) over ARIZONA
Yet another road underdog is the pick in a game that could really go either way. St. Louis, expected to be back to their explosive pre-2003 style on offense and expected to be improved on defense, looked like it didn't really care when it counted against the 49ers last week. The Cardinals have a chance to be a good football team, but as the offense transitions to Kurt Warner leading the attack, it will take some time to completely adjust. If this game is played in Week 6, the Cards would be the pick, but look for the Rams to put up enough points to hold off a late Arizona charge, as Warner looks for Larry Fitzgerald often. If the Cardinals terrible running game can get going, watch out.
Pick: St. Louis 30, Arizona 23

GREEN BAY (-6.5) over Cleveland
Let's face it, if Brett Favre can't lead his team to a win at home over one of the worst teams in football, No. 4 should hang it up on Monday morning. With or without Javon Walker, the Packers should be too much for the Browns depleted secondary. Gary Baxter may be back at cornerback for the Browns this week, and he is really Cleveland's only chance. Otherwise, Leigh Bodden and an injury-riddled Daylon McCutcheon will be out there together. Trent Dilfer should be able to pile up some yards throwing to Antonio Bryant, Frisman Jackson and possibly Braylon Edwards, but the Browns running game needs to pick a back and get moving. This will not be a defensive struggle by any stretch.
Pick: Green Bay 31, Cleveland 21

NY JETS (-6) over Miami
Miami shocked everyone by clobbering Denver in Week 1 and Gus Frerotte looked very good in doing so. The Jets looked miserable in getting clobbered by Kansas City and Chad Pennington looked very bad in doing so. Actually, Pennington wasn't just bad ... he was six fumbles and two interceptions bad. In reality, going by the old cliche, Miami isn't as good as it looked and the Jets aren't as bad as they looked. Pennington will bounce back to a degree this week and Curtis Martin will find some running room. Laveranues Coles has to get his hands on the ball and hold onto it because the Jets don't have much else to throw to. As for Miami's running game ... with that offensive line, Ronnie Brown is going to have trouble running against what is a fairly stout front four of the Jets.
Pick: NY Jets 19, Miami 10

San Diego (+3) over DENVER
We already mentioned how good Denver looked last week and San Diego struggled as well, losing on a late score to the Cowboys. But Drew Brees was without his favorite target, Antonio Gates, who will return from his one game suspension this weekend. Denver is a team on the decline and the Broncos offense is especially a mess. Jake Plummer can explode in any given week, but it's a lack of a consistent running threat that had Denver's O unusually average. Mike Anderson is banged up and Tatum Bell seems to be in Mike Shanahan's doghouse. The Chargers will get LaDainian Tomlinson revved up in the mile-high air and Brees will find Gates early and often. Invesco Field is a good home-field advantage typically, but San Diego is simply a better team.
Pick: San Diego 27, Denver 24

Kansas City (-1) over Oakland
The Chiefs delivered arguably the most impressive performance in the league last weekend, throttling a Jets team that nearly played in the AFC Championship game last year. Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson loooked like the most dynamic combo in the same backfield since Bo Jackson and Marcus Allen and the Kansas City defense, moribund for the past three years, shut the Jets out for all intents and purposes. The offense should continue to roll this week, as Oakland's defense really can't stop anyone as proven against New England in Foxboro. But the Raiders will get some points, especially playing at home in the Black Hole. Look for Randy Moss to gain 150+ yards and grab two TDs, but the Chiefs will hold Lamont Jordan under 100 yards and walk out with a win over their dreaded rivals.
Pick: Kansas City 33, Oakland 28

New Orleans (+3) over NY GIANTS
This is actually the Saints' first home game, despite the fact it's being played in Giants Stadium. After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, no one knew what to expect from the Saints physically, mentally and emotionally last week at Carolina. But the Saints played with an immense amount of heart and knocked off a very highly regarded Panthers team. Whether that was just one week of all-out effort or a sign of things to come is what the league will be looking at this week. One things's for sure: the talent is there. Aaron Brooks has all the physical skills to be a star QB and Deuce McAllister is a Pro Bowler. Look for McAllister to have a big game and the Saints D to attack Eli Manning. Tiki Barber will have to do it all if the Giants are to win this one. The Giants' 42 points were a bit deceiving last week as 14 came on special teams. They are due for a bit of a letdown and the Saints should be sky high with the game being on Monday night as part of the league's Katrina relief effort.
Pick: New Orleans 24, NY Giants 17

DALLAS (-6) over Washington
The Redskins had the good fortune of playing the Bears last week and should be well aware that they likely would have lost to anyone other than Kyle Orton and Co. The Cowboys were very impressive on the road in San Diego and Drew Bledsoe looked revived playing for Bill Parcells. The Cowboys are getting some playmakers that they've lacked for the past few years, as Julius Jones is ready to explode and Patrick Crayton has shown some promise as a speedy wideout. Throw in Jason Witten, who wasn't used much last week, and the Cowboys are a fairly dangerous offense. Mark Brunell gets the start for the Redskins, who have Clinton Portis and not much else to speak of on offense. Dallas' defense will give Portis some trouble, which means Washington will be in big trouble. Brunell isn't exactly the most mobile guy behind center anymore.
Pick: Dallas 21, Washington 9

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

And it has begun...

Well, Week One of the NFL season is officially in the books with tonight's 14-10 victory by the Falcons over the Eagles on Monday Night Football. And thus, America's fascination with the gridiron game is back for another fall of 60-minute battles from Minneapolis to Mexico City (yes, the fine folks south of the border get Cards-49ers in lucky they are). Some thoughts after a small sampling of the action from around the league...

  • The Bears offense is going to be painful to watch for quite a while. They are a team that will find their way eventually because Lovie Smith is a quality NFL coach, but Cedric Benson needs some time to get his footing in the league and Kyle Orton got benched briefly for a Big Ten team about 10 months ago. Fortunately for Chicago, they compete in the NFC, which right now is no better than the NBA's Eastern Conference circa 2002 or the woebegone NL West circa right now.
  • The Redskins offense isn't much better.
  • The Bengals keep getting better every year, but it's yet to reflect in the standings at the end of the year. They've been 8-8 for the past two years and the next logical leap is the playoffs, where in the NFC they'd be no worse than the conference's third or fourth best team. But, they pass and catch in the AFC, where right now New England, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Jacksonville, San Diego, Buffalo and Baltimore are all arguably as good or better. They may go 9-7 or 10-6, but it might now be enough.
  • The Browns will win no more than 5 games, with 4 being the more likely number. If they go 7-9, Romeo Crennel should not only be the NFL's Coach of the Year - he should be sainted and given a Purple Heart for working with a team who started Leigh Bodden at cornerback in the first week of action.
  • Tom Brady is a much better passer than many people think. Anyone who doesn't think he's a good Fantasy Football player has a few screws loose - the guy can throw for 300 yards any time he wants and he has no fewer than seven solid options to throw the ball to. New England wins the AFC East in a landslide.
  • Kerry Collins and Randy Moss might hook up for about 12 or 15 TD passes of 30+ yards this year, but Collins' passer rating might top at right around the price we're paying for a barrel of oil right now.
  • If Gus Frerotte throws for 275 yards every week, the Dolphins might go 12-4. But if A.J. Feeley threw for 275 yards every week, the discontinuation of taxes and women's menstrual cycles might not be out of the question.
  • This just in, nine years into his NFL career, Jake Plummer still doesn't get it.
  • Hi, I'm Brian Billick and if anyone could recover the naked pictures Kyle Boller has of me, please return them to my office at M&T Stadium before I'm unemployed.
  • The Colts will go no worse than 13-3 with the offense they've had for a while and the somehow obscenely easy schedule they're playing despite winning the AFC South last year. But it's their speedy, resilient defense that will give them a shot come January.
  • Houston, we have a ... nah, too easy.
  • J.P. Losman, get back to me when you score some points against a better team than the Texans. The next "soft" defense you get is in Week 7 at Oakland.
  • Well done New Orleans, well done. No one should be questioning the heart of Jim Haslett or the Saints after that performance. It would be great to see them keep it up for the next four months, but it they can't, no one would blame them.
  • Jinx No. 1: Carolina should be just fine. But then you hear Kris Jenkins is out for the year after about a half of one game. What if Jake Delhomme misses any time? Chris Weinke's AARP meetings might cut into his studying the playbook. That and he's not even a viable CFL quarterback. If it turns into last year and they spend more time in the infirmary than the end zone, the SI cover jinx will be the least of their problems.
  • Jinx No. 2: Until Ben Roethlisberger loses Hines Ward, Alan Faneca, Marvel Smith, Jeff Hartings, Willie Parker, Heath Miller, Antwaan Randle El, Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis all in the same week, the sophomore jinx won't happen.
  • Steve McNair deserves better than the team he's going to be playing with for the next 15 Sundays.
  • Jeff Fisher, the mullet is still out.
  • All those who thought the Minnesota Vikings would be vastly improved, raise your hands. Keep those hands up if you considered that Mike Tice is still their head coach. Where'd the hands go?
  • Tampa Bay will be the mercurial team of the 2005 season. They'll win when they should lose, lose when they should win, and they'll do it all with a Cadillac stretching defenses thin and a man who once hurt himself tripping over his dog in his own driveway throwing passes. Thank God for Brian Griese.
  • Kansas City won't allow fewer than 10 points the rest of the season. Hold off on printing the Super Bowl XL tickets until they face a varsity offense.
  • I'm sorry Mr. Vermeil, I didn't mean to offend you. Tissue?
  • Jacksonville is a lot better than people realize. Playoff-caliber good this year and maybe more once Leftwich really gets going.
  • Is Mike Holmgren still coaching the Seahawks? He's done less with more over a longer period of time than George W. Bush.
  • Chad Pennington and Herm Edwards need some marriage counseling.
  • The Kurt Warner of 1999 probably isn't going to emerge in the desert this fall. And even if he does, the Cards might want to try stopping someone.
  • The Giants aren't very good.
  • Green Bay might be worse. Javon Walker out for the year. Brett Favre looking older and less patient with the football. Mike Sherman still on the sidelines. If they don't beat Cleveland this week, No. 4 might want to call it quits.
  • Dallas will hang around the playoff race until Week 16 in Carolina when Drew Bledsoe gets sacked an NFL record 343 times in one game.
  • Maybe the Chargers should have let that Antonio Gates suspension go when the real games began.
  • The march of the Mike's continues with Mike Martz having his team finely tuned for their game at San Francisco. Try to avoid throwing the ball 60 times next week at Arizona, Mike. One man who was ready to take advantage of Martz's diminishing skills as a coach was ...
  • Mike Nolan, who needs to send a greeting card to Marc Bulger for throwing the game away in the final minutes, and a fruit cake to the NFL offices for allowing his virgin head coaching experience to include coaching against a man who probably believes he could run a four-minute mile while eating more hot dogs than Takeru Kobayashi.
  • Joey Harrington, your team should probably be scoring more than 17 points against Green Bay's defense.
  • The Eagles may be headed directly toward a self-destructive situation with Terrell Owens' silly feud with Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook's lack of a new contract. But it's still tough to pick anyone else to emerge from the NFC except maybe ...
  • The Atlanta Falcons. If Michael Vick can play the role of Trent Dilfer (OK, bad comparison) and simply not make mistakes (asking a lot, I know), then Atlanta could easily win the NFC. And there's something inherently likable about Jim Mora Jr. Playoffs?!? For this Mora, definitely.

Back later this week for more NFL and college football thoughts, some predictions for next week, and whatever else comes to mind. New England at Carolina looks like the prime game of the week, with Jacksonville at Indianapolis not far behind. If you know what's good for yourself, avoid Detroit at Chicago at all costs. The revolutionary concept of the forward pass may become obsolete at Soldier Field on Sunday.