November is here. The temperatures fall along with leaves, the days grow shorter, and NFL football heats up. With playoff positioning at stake, losses hurt twice as bad in November. Who can’t afford to lose in week 9? Let’s take a look.
Last Week: 6 – 7 – 0
Season: 64 – 53 – 0
Still Waiting for Ryan Howard to Swing (Bye Week)
Turns out the 49ers were starting the wrong “Smith” at quarterback. After going 1-6 under Alex, San Francisco is 1-0 under Troy. Unfortunately, at 2-6, Dan Marino could be at quarterback for the 49ers and they’d still miss the postseason.
As if being blown out by the Raiders by 45 points at home wasn’t bad enough, the Broncos traveled across the Atlantic to be embarrassed by the lowly 49ers in front of an entire country. Remember when the Broncos ALWAYS had a running game? In 2010, Denver isn’t even averaging 3.0 yards per rush.
Jack Del Rio’s got alligator blood. I don’t think he’s ever leaving Jacksonville.
It’s a tight race in the NFC West with the Rams and Seahawks as the frontrunners. Both are great at home and miserable on the road. The division could be decided in week 17 when Seattle travels to St. Louis. Could you imagine; I’m Joe Buck along with Troy Aikman. Welcome to St. Louis… Buck and Aikman calling an NFC West game to close the season. Who’d ‘a thunk it?
Benching Donovan McNabb for Rex Grossman in the final minutes made a lot of sense. Not quite as much sense as giving away a 3rd round pick to rent Randy Moss for a month, but it was close.
…Speak of the devil. Randy Moss comes to Nashville to lazily run routes and alligator arm passes under Jeff Fisher’s regime. The whole “Moss will stretch the field and free up Chris Johnson” is a nice theory. However, considering Moss only catches balls thrown directly to his hands, it’s unlikely opponents will respect his presence because “Vince Young” and “accuracy” don’t even come off the tongue right.
Early Games (1:00PM ET)
Buccaneers at Falcons
Believe it or not, the winner will be alone in first place of the NFC South. Yes, the Buccaneers could be in first place in November. Although the Bucs are 5-2, they’re not getting the respect of a 5-2 team. That lack of respect is understandable, too. Tampa Bay has been crushed by the Steelers and Saints, while beating the Browns, Panthers, Bengals, Rams, and Cardinals. So yeah, they don’t really deserve too much respect. I’m also skeptical about the Falcons. Like the Bucs, they have one win against a reasonable playoff contender. Maybe the NFC South has been overhyped because of creampuff schedules. Time will tell. FALCONS If I were Charles Barkley; Falcons -8.5
Bears at Bills
I’m beginning to think Jay Cutler is one of those guys that reaches maturity when they’re using a walker and sleeping with their teeth beside them in a glass. “Packer” from The Office would be a good example. If Chicago wants a franchise quarterback, they should just pay a high school stud to skip college and work for the organization as a “ball boy” until he’s 22. Then, plug him in as starter and make a movie about how one day after practice he was throwing the ball with an equipment manager and the coaches saw something they liked. The Bears would have their franchise quarterback; Disney gets its next sports movie; and YAHOO! Sports get another scandal to chase for the next decade. Everyone wins. Also, I had “Bills first victory” written all over this until I realized “at Buffalo” really meant, “in Toronto.” If you’re a Bills fans, imagine your 2008 self thinking, “it could be worse, Jay Cutler could be our quarterback.” Never would have happened. Now, that thought has probably run through the minds of thousands of western New Yorkers. In Buffalo, this is a win. In Toronto, it’s just depressing…and cruel. Buffalo fans deserve eight home games, not seven. By the way, I’ve never used so many quotation marks in one paragraph. “Just saying.” BEARS If I were Charles Barkley; Bills +3
Patriots at Browns
This is Eric Mangini’s AFC Championship, Suberbowl, and Pro Bowl combined as one. The Browns are one of the scrappiest teams in the league. They pound you with Peyton Hillis and hang around with a bend-but-don’t-break defense. In other words, they play defense like the Patriot teams that won multiple Superbowls last decade. A few weeks ago, I would have picked Cleveland to steal this one. However, the Patriots have returned to their roots. The high-flying offense is gone, the “me first” superstar has been exiled, and the defense is finding its groove. It’s amazing how the departure of one player has changed the perception of an entire team. For whatever reason, the Patriots are mean and feisty again. Also, Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning is just a few weeks away. PATRIOTS If I were Charles Barkley; Patriots -5
Jets at Lions
What’s more difficult? A. Challenging Darelle Revis in man-to-man coverage? B. Covering Calvin Johnson with man-to-man coverage? Or, C. Convincing Randy Moss that, from time to time, wide receivers do in fact get hit. If you said C, you’re correct, but A and B are quite difficult also. If I’m Matthew Stafford and I’m under heavy pressure, I would just chuck the football high in the air to Johnson. There’s no way he doesn’t make the first touch and at least make sure it isn’t intercepted. He’ll probably even come down with 60% of them. I don’t understand why quarterbacks don’t do this more. Isn’t this how Brett Favre became a legend? The trick is to throw it high enough so the ball comes straight down at the receiver, making it difficult for a charging safety to pick it off without out-jumping the receiver. And trust me; no one is out-jumping Calvin Johnson. No one. JETS If I were Charles Barkley; Jets -4
Saints at Panthers
Carolina already snuck up on the Saints earlier this season. Despite New Orleans going on the road after an emotional Sunday night victory at home, there’s no way it happens again. Ok, so it could happen, except the Panthers aren’t good enough to take advantage of a New Orleans lapse. Go get Leslie Frazier, Carolina. Just do it. SAINTS If I were Charles Barkley; Saints -7
Dolphins at Ravens
I can’t stop thinking about Ryan Fitzpatrick putting 34 points on the board against Ray Lewis’ defense and Joe Flacco dressed as “The Situation” from Jersey Shore. If you’re a legitimate Superbowl contender, those shouldn’t be the first two thoughts that come to mind. The Ravens need more from Ray Rice if they’re going to make a deep run into the postseason. Relying on Flacco to carry that offense spells D O O M. Miami is undefeated on the road and totally defeated at home. Unless they can find a red zone weapon other than Brandon Marshall, that trend will end Sunday. By the way, Dolphins kicker, Dan Carpenter has booted five field goals in two consecutive weeks. Obviously, I added him to my fantasy team. Will the Dolphins find the end zone this week, or worse, get shutout? I can almost guarantee it. RAVENS If I were Charles Barkley; Dolphins +5
Chargers at Texans
If you were to pick three teams that can’t afford to lose this week, the Vikings, Chargers, and Texans would be it in some order. Lucky for us, the Chargers and Texans go head to head. Two disappointing teams disappointing in different fashions. The Chargers started slow, lost three in a row, and have yet to string together multiple wins. The Texans flew out of the gates to knock off division bully Indianapolis and mounted an unlikely comeback in Washington. Since then, Houston has alternated wins and losses. A loss for either team on Sunday would make a division title unlikely and further hurt postseason chances. While both teams currently sit third in their respective divisions, San Diego faces a tougher climb. This is a small taste of playoff football in November. It’s like an early Christmas present. CHARGERS If I were Charles Barkley; Texans +3
Cardinals at Vikings
At my current job, I receive a fax whenever potential employees send in their work experience for consideration. I’m expecting Brad Childress’ resume within the next month. Oh, never mind. I forgot he’ll be the Eagles’ Third Down-Running Backs coach in 2011. When you’re from the Reid family of NFL coaches, you always have a job with Big Red. It’s like “La Cosa Nostra.” Just ask Marty Mornhinweg , Dick Jauron, Doug Pederson, and Mike Caldwell. VIKINGS If I were Charles Barkley; Vikings -8
Game to Watch: Chargers at Texans
Game on Call: Dolphins at Ravens
Afternoon Games (4:05PM ET)
Giants at Seahawks
Seattle is good at home. The Giants are good everywhere. After picking the Broncos last week, I’ve learned to never trust a team that loses to the Raiders by 30 points the week before. New York wins their fifth straight. GIANTS If I were Charles Barkley; Giants -7
Colts at Eagles
Andy Reid has two choices on Sunday. Drop Michael Vick back to pass and let Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis tee off on him, or run the ball early and slow the pass rush. The Texans went with option one last week (despite having the league’s top rusher average nearly seven yards a carry), and lost. Vick’s midsection is probably still tender, so establishing a running game to eliminate Indianapolis’ strongest asset (the pass rush) would give Philadelphia a huge edge. Bringing the Colts out of their dome is also a big advantage. On the other hand, if Kerry Collins and Kenny Britt ripped through the Eagles secondary, I can only imagine what Peyton Manning is capable of. Rookie safeties are taken to school by Manning. Nate Allen may need counseling after Sunday. Still, I like the Eagles’ chances. EAGLES If I were Charles Barkley; Eagles -3
Chiefs at Raiders
Oakland has outscored its opponents by 75 points over the last two weeks. They’ve also won three out of their last four with Jason Campbell under center. I’m intrigued by this matchup. The Raiders rank second in the NFL in rushing yards per game. Guess who’s first…..that’s right, the Chiefs. Neither team has much of a passing game (OAK ranks 20th, KC 32nd), but one statistic separates the two teams; opponents rushing yards. Kansas City allows 96 yards per game, good enough for 7th in the NFL, while Oakland ranks 26th, surrendering 127 yards. To recap, do you like 1 vs. 26 or 2 vs. 7? I’ll take my chances with 1 vs. 26. Also, Campbell is due for a clunker. CHIEFS If I were Charles Barkley; Chiefs +3
Game to Watch: Colts at Eagles
Game on Call: Chiefs at Raiders
Sunday Night (8:20PM ET)
Cowboys at Packers
Too bad the NFL Flex Scheduling doesn’t start this week. How many more times must the Cowboys’ stench be broadcasted to a national audience? Well, after Sunday night, at least two more times and possibly more if Tony Romo returns this season. Regardless of Dallas’ struggles, I’m not expecting a blowout. The Packers have only beaten a team by double digits once and that was Buffalo in week two. In fact, five of their eight games have been decided by four points or less. Green Bay is still a tough team, though, and I’ll admit, I gave up on them too early. As long as the defense can remain reasonably healthy, Aaron Rodgers is enough to take Green Bay deep into the playoffs. PACKERS If I were Charles Barkley; Packers -8
Monday Night (8:30PM ET)
Steelers at Bengals
I’d like to thank the Cincinnati Bengals for trashing all my happy memories from the 2009 team, and for transforming themselves into a soft, woe-is-me team that’s 1-3 at home and hasn’t won a game since September. Is it any coincidence that Terrell Owens joined the team this year? While I expect the Bengals to put up a good fight, I’ll be rooting for James Harrison to deliver one of his patented forearm shivers to TO. I’m done with Owens. I’m almost there with Chad Ochocinco, too. Also, if anyone’s seen the Bengals 2009 defense, please let them know that Cincinnati has been looking for them. It’s amazing how far that team has fallen. Amazingly, I still want to pick them to win because this is their Superbowl. I’ll resist the temptation because I need wins. So long, Marvin Lewis. STEELERS If I were Charles Barkley; Bengals +5
Last Week: 5 – 8 – 0
Season: 51 – 63 – 3
(Lines as of 11/4, 11:43PM ET, from bodog)