By Neil Keefe
» More columns
I have played the Thursday Night Football theme about 59 times this week in anticipation of its return, and this also led to me playing just about every other network sports theme ever created. (I don’t think there will ever be anything that rivals the ESPN National Hockey Night theme.)
Thursday Night Football! Now if only the league would implement Friday Night Football, we would have the NFL on four days a week. Why can’t this happen? Let’s make this happen.
Last week I switched my picks back to Thursday because I had been more successful on Thursdays than Fridays, and I knew that I would have to do them for Thursday this week anyway. I also guaranteed that I would have an over .500 week in Week 9, and I went 7-7, and I still don’t know how it happened. I mean I know how it happened, but I don’t really know how it happened. So let’s look at the three games that prevented me from going 10-4 and instead made me go 7-7.
Dallas 23, Seattle 13 (I had the Cowboys -12)
This was the least of the daggers, but still a disappointing finish.
The Cowboys led 23-6 with 11:22 left in the game. That’s still a lot of time, but it’s the Seahawks. That’s all.
New Orleans 27, Tampa Bay 16 (I had the Bucs +8.5)
The Saints are up 24-16 (I’m covering) late in the fourth quarter and they have the ball fourth-and-1 on the Tampa Bay 17. The Bucs are out of timeouts, so with a little over one minute left, the Saints have a couple options…
1. The Saints can kick the field goal to make it a two-possession game and lock up the win. But there is a chance the field goal could get blocked or there could be a bad snap or they could miss the field goal and give the Bucs better field position than they might have had otherwise, or any one of a number of things that could go wrong.
2. The Saints can run the ball and go for it. If they convert the fourth-and-1 then they can kneel the ball and kill the clock. If they don’t convert then the Bucs have just over a minute with no timeouts to go 83 yards to score and still need a successful two-point conversation to tie the game. There is a chance the Saints could fumble the ball if they go for it, but it’s likely the Bucs will just jump on it and would still need to go the length of the field.
The Saints kick the field goal to go up 27-16. The Bucs get the ball with 1:17 left and no timeouts and don’t cover.
Baltimore 23, Pittsburgh 20 (I had the Steelers -3.5)
The Steelers scored to go up 20-16 with 2:17 left. ESPN went to commercial and I fell asleep. The next day I woke up thinking I had won. I was wrong.
The Ravens started their final drive at their own 8-yard line! The 8-yard line! They had all three timeouts left and the two-minute warning, but still needed to go 92 yards to win the game with Joe Flacco as their quarterback.
What went wrong? Well, the Ravens converted a fourth-and-1. Then they converted a third-and-8. Then to win the game, they scored a touchdown on third-and-10 from the Pittsburgh 26 for a 26-yard touchdown. Yes, this happened.
Joe Flacco goes 92 yards needing a touchdown to win in Heinz Field against the Ravens’ rival and gets a touchdown. Not just a touchdown, but a 26-yard touchdown.
So, that’s how a possible 10-4 week turned into a 7-7 week. And if you thought last week was bad like I did, then you can expect this week this week to be worse. Nine of the 16 games have spreads of three points or less (and the Giants-49ers line is 3.5). I feel like Week 10 is the Sink or Swim Week. Actually I know it is. Let’s hope next Thursday I have a more positive intro for you.
Week 10 … let’s go!
(Home team in caps)
Oakland +7 over SAN DIEGO
The Raiders were 4-2. Then they traded for Carson Palmer and now they’re 4-4. This should come as a surprise to no one.
The Chargers were 4-1. Then they had a bye, when most teams get healthy and usually get it together, and now they’re 4-4. This should come as a surprise to no one.
The AFC West is a mess. Three teams at 4-4 and the Broncos at 3-5. Please tell me how the Broncos are one game off the division lead! Please! Can we just get rid of both NFL West divisions?
What scares me about picking the Raiders (aside from Carson Palmer being their quarterback) is that they have given up 20 points or more in every game this season, and 66 points in their last two games combined. This doesn’t bode well going to San Diego.
But you know what doesn’t scare me about picking the Raiders? Norv Turner and Philip Rivers are Chargers. Just that alone would have been enough for me to pick the Raiders. Giving me seven points to work with just makes it that much easier.
CINCINNATI +3 over Pittsburgh
Here is what the Steelers have done on the road.
Lost to the Ravens 35-7 points in Week 1.
Beat the winless Colts 23-20 in Week 3.
Lost to the Texans 17-10 in Week 4.
Beat the Cardinals 32-20 in Week 7.
I trust the Steelers to cover like I trust Boone Logan to retire a lefty. I trust the Steelers to cover on the road like I trust Nick Swisher with runners in scoring position in the playoffs. I also want the Bengals to come out of the AFC North because how awesome would it before the Bengals win the division with a rookie quarterback over the Steelers and Ravens? Pretty effing awesome.
PHILADELPHIA -14 over Arizona
The Eagles aren’t going to go away. They never do. When they get shot their wounds heal like T-1000’s in Terminator 2 and it’s almost like you can’t kill them. If the Cardinals can somehow find a way to beat the Eagles this week, then yes, we can finally call the 2011 Eagles season over. But until they get that sixth loss I’m still scared of them. Even at six losses I think I will still be scared of them.
Denver +3 over KANSAS CITY
I called Arrowhead “the best atmosphere in football” and then the Chiefs lost by 28 points to an 0-7 team in that atmosphere. I haven’t given up faith in the Chiefs (though I probably should) because when you play in the AFC West, you’re never out of it. And that’s where the Broncos come in.
On Monday Night Football in Week 1, I watched the Denver crowd boo Kyle Orton and chant Tim Tebow’s name as the Broncos lost at home to the Raiders. The Broncos fans got their wish and now Tebow is their quarterback, and they are two games under .500, but magically just one game off a four-way tie for first place in the AFC West.
I want Tebow to succeed because everyone keeps throwing dirt on him because he isn’t the stereotypical or model quarterback. The same people who thought JaMarcus Russell would succeed in the league as well as Ryan Leaf and Tim Cough and Joey Harrington and Matt Leinart and a hundred other quarterbacks that failed. The same people that didn’t make a big deal about Tom Brady falling to the sixth round in his draft, and the same people that thought Ray Rice wouldn’t be a good NFL running back and that Reggie Bush would be.
I was never a fan of the attention Tebow drew the same way I wasn’t about Tyler Hansbrough, but I’m on the Tim Tebow bandwagon now.
Jacksonville -3 over INDIANAPOLIS
The Colts stand alone in their quest for Andrew Luck right now, which makes for an exciting race to Week 17 and the offseason and the draft with Peyton Manning apparently being a free agent after this season.
What do the Colts do if they draft Luck? Do they keep Peyton and Luck? Do they let Peyton go somewhere else via free agency? Do they sign Peyton back and then trade him? Do they trade Luck? Manning would be the best possible tutor for Luck, but he shouldn’t be sitting on the bench depriving football fans of his ability.
I have no idea what the Colts should do if presented with this situation. I do know they will be 0-10 after Sunday.
Buffalo +5.5 over DALLAS
Last week I said, “At some point the Bills will remember they are still the Bills and that will likely start to happen this week.” Some Bills fan took exception to it on Twitter. Then the Bills gave up a chance of sole possession in the AFC East by losing 27-11 to a division rival.
I think the Bills are still the Bills. I also think the Cowboys are still the Cowboys and a 5.5 line seems a little high even for the nation’s most popular team.
TAMPA BAY +3 over Houston
I should want the Bucs to lose because it will be another team on its way out of the NFC playoff race in the event the Giants go for a three-peat and need a wild card berth to get in. I’m taking the Bucs and giving them a chance at redemption at home after failing for me in New Orleans.
Tennessee +3 over CAROLINA
The only thing standing between the Texans and their first playoff appearance in franchise history is the Titans. The Colts’ season was over before the season started and the Jaguars are terrible. But the Titans sit there at 4-4 just hanging around (Teddy KGB voice) like Mikey McD waiting to make a possible move. I don’t know if they even have a move to make, but you know that Texans fans keep checking the standings and keep waiting to see the Titans three or four games back and not 1 1/2 games back.
Last week I said, “I think the Texans are going to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history this year. I just think they are going to make their fans go through a few bottles of whiskey each week doing it.” I’m sticking by that.
Washington +4 over MIAMI
If I’m a Dolphins fan, I’m devastated about the Week 9 win in Kansas City. You’re 0-7.You’re right in the thick of it with the Colts for the Andrew Luck sweepstakes and then you go out and win in Kansas City for no reason at all. If you’re not going to make the playoffs then there’s no difference in winning no games or one game or seven games.
I’m not condoning losing on purpose or suggesting it, I’m just saying that if I were a Dolphins fan I would be upset with my team for winning (as crazy as that sounds). The Dolphins need a franchise quarterback. They need Andrew Luck in the worst way. I think the only people happy about that win over the Chiefs are Tony Sparano and Matt Moore, and their happiness is irrelevant to the future of the Dolphins.
I think the Dolphins return home this week with their home crowd backing the Redskins and hoping for a Dolphins loss. If they’re not, they should be.
ATLANTA 0 over New Orleans
I don’t know if the Falcons are back and for real like they were in preseason predictions, but I think they just might be.
St. Louis +2.5 over CLEVELAND
A scary game. A scary, scary game. I’m not sure anyone can justify either side of this line or persuade someone one way or the other. When in doubt, take the points. If you bet on this game are aren’t from St. Louis or Cleveland or aren’t a Rams or Browns fan, you might want to check out a hotline number.
Baltimore -7 over SEATTLE
I fall asleep for a few minutes at the end of Monday Night Football and Joe Flacco turns into Eli Manning in the two-minute drill. How does this happen? Against the Steelers? In Pittsburgh!
Taking a team favored by a touchdown on the road is not usually a good idea even if that team is playing the Seahawks. But when I think about this game try to envision how it will play out in my head, I have a hard time figuring out how the Seahawks will score. (This likely means they will return the opening kickoff for a touchdown.)
CHICAGO -3 over Detroit
Trap game! Trap game! Trap game! Not in the sense of a traditional trap game in that one team is coming off a significant win only to lose to an inferior opponent. But a trap game in the sense that the Bears won on the road in Philadelphia as eight-point underdogs on Monday Night Football, and now there is likely to be a lot of Bears fans in the country on Sunday.
The problem is the Bears will screw you as soon as you begin to believe in them, and they are led by Matt Forte, who is notorious for this. Pick against Forte and he will run over the Vikings defense like a senior in high school playing Pop Warner. Pick for Matt Forte and he will fumble twice in the same game after not fumbling for 39,876 carries. Yes, the Bears won and covered for me, but it wasn’t as easy as it could have been.
I’m taking the Bears, but this is a decision I will probably end up regretting. I think I already do.
New York Giants +3.5 over SAN FRANCISCO
The Giants were my Upset of the Week last week. (Maybe I should only do an Upset of the Week since I seem to be good at those after hitting on Kansas City over San Diego the week before?) This week I don’t know if I can take them as my Upset of the Week because it feels too easy, but I’m going to anyway.
I’m not sure how a team that runs Alex Smith out there every week is 7-1. I really don’t. The guy has thrown for 201 yards or less in seven of the 49ers’ eight games, yet they are 7-1. I understand that the 49ers have a defense that wins game for them, but how can a starting quarterback have numbers like that the way the league favors quarterbacks and the passing game now? How is this possible? Is this real life?
NEW YORK JETS -1 over New England
If you’re a Patriots fan, you can’t like what is happening to your 2011 team. (And I know a lot of Patriots fans and this pleases me.) Every week there seems to be a new problem with the Patriots, and if they have a three-game losing streak after Sunday, maybe they will invite Josh Beckett to give a pregame speech before Week 11 or show them the proper technique to crushing rally beers. Giants fans for Jets this week? Sure, why not!
GREEN BAY -13.5 over Minnesota
The team that’s 8-0 and has covered the spread in seven of eight games is at home against the team that I said I would pick against for the rest of the season no matter what the line is. Could it be any easier? To steal a line from the Hawks in The Mighty Ducks, “It’s not worth winning if you can’t win big!”
Last Week: 7-7-0
Follow Neil on Twitter @NeilKeefe