This is a great time of year in the NFL for the pundit class. With each team having played two games, there's enough information available to back up any theory about how the season will develop, and not nearly enough information to refute it.
Sure, you can say, the Bills have looked fabulous, but how good are the Patriots, whom they dominated in Week 1? Maybe pretty good, because look what the Pats did to the Eagles in Week 2. On the other hand, maybe the 0-2 Eagles are in a free-fall like the Rams were at this time last year. Hang on just one second, though. The Eagles have been beaten by the Patriots and Buccaneers, who might meet in the Super Bowl. Except that the Bucs got beat by the Panthers, who are either really good or, having struggled to beat the Jaguars, not.
And what about the Colts? Flukey bad game against the lousy Browns or flukey great game against the tough Titans? Or are the Browns better than they seem so far?
The answer, of course, is yes! To all of it! It's a great time to be alive.
This is the first of eight consecutive weeks in which four teams have open dates. The first four to draw a bye are Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia and Carolina. What that means is that this week, and this week only this season, it's a great time to be a Bears fan.
On to the picks, with the winner in all caps. Remember, folks: Do not use these picks as a basis for wagering. If you want me to be involved with your money going away, send it to me.
Pittsburgh (1-1) at CINCINNATI (0-2): It's the What the Heck Pick of the week right out of the chute, continuing this bold and innovative feature despite the reluctance of Rally's Hamburgers, whose slogan is "(Implied portion: What the heck) You gotta eat," to capitalize on an opportunity for synergistic cross-promotion by sponsoring it. I actually sort of halfway believe the Bengals are going to win this one, dazzled as I am by their almost-upset at Oakland last week and the fact that this will be their post-"hey, these guys might actually be decent" home opener. Steelers linebacker Joey Porter, who was shot in the butt three weeks ago, is expected to play, which is important because it gives me yet another chance to type the words "shot in the butt," which is something I enjoy doing.
Jacksonville (0-2) at INDIANAPOLIS (2-0): Given how tough it is to maintain a streak in the NFL, these teams' records have me leaning toward the Jags, but the Colts are 2-0 without having really started to play offense yet. They're due for that to happen, and a 3-0 start will really give Colts fans a shot in the butt.
NEW ORLEANS (1-1) at Tennessee (1-1): Interesting matchup. The Titans are a Super Bowl pick for a lot of people, including me, but they're looking a little shaky. Quarterback Steve McNair is injured again and questionable Sunday, and running back Eddie George is aging before our eyes -- he'll be 29.99178 years old Sunday, three days shy of 30, the magic age for running backs to fall apart if they haven't already. George has averaged 2.5 yards on 35 carries so far this year after averaging 3.4 yards a carry last year, more than a yard less than Tennessee's other runners. The Titans' 33-7 implosion at Indianapolis last week also comes to mind. On the other hand, good teams that lose embarrassingly tend to come back strong the next week, it seems to me without looking it up. Meanwhile the Saints are one of those teams that's hard to get a handle on so far. They had a bad loss at Seattle, then a good win over Houston. But since we don't really know how good Seattle is or how bad Houston is yet, it's hard to gauge what all that means. I like the Saints in an upset. It won't really be much of an upset if McNair doesn't play, but McNair always plays.
TAMPA BAY (1-1) at Atlanta (1-1): Have you ever heard of that theory that good teams come back strong after embarrassing losses? Poor Atlanta. First Mike Vick gets hurt and now this.
KANSAS CITY (2-0) at Houston (1-1): Unimpressive "news and notes" type item of the week: Chiefs quarterback Trent Green needs one 300-yard passing game to surpass Elvis Grbac for third most in team history. For what it's worth (nothing), I think he'll get it, especially if banged-up 29.95342-year-old running back Priest Holmes sits this one out.
N.Y. Jets (0-2) at NEW ENGLAND (1-1): The Pats will be missing half of their linebackers, with Ted Johnson out indefinitely with a broken foot and Rosey Colvin out Sunday with a bad hip. That would hurt them a lot against most teams, but Jets running back Curtis Martin, just to continue with the leitmotif here, will be 30.39452 years old Sunday. Last year, when he was 29, Martin ran for 1,094 yards, 4.2 per carry, half a yard better than the Jets' other runners. This year, he's averaging 3.2 yards per carry. To be fair, the Jets' other runners have minus 2 yards on eight carries. I don't know if that's good or bad news for the Jets, but here's a guess: bad. Maybe Vinnie Testaverde, 39.85479, will have a big game. But the Patriots seem to have gotten over their issues with the cutting of Lawyer Milloy. They followed their disaster against Buffalo by disastering the Eagles last week.
MINNESOTA (2-0) at Detroit (1-1): I'll take Daunte Culpepper and company to continue their recent tradition of shredding the Lions. And then the typing and chattering classes will spend the next week talking about how the Vikings are for real because they're 3-0, even though they got that way by beating the Packers, who have beaten only the Lions and, if they win Sunday, the Cardinals; the Bears, who haven't beaten anybody; and the Lions, who have only beaten the Cardinals. Also, Britney Spears wore the tiniest pair of shorts I've ever seen before the first game of the season two weeks ago. I just wanted to see if you were still reading after that sentence with all the semicolons in it.
GREEN BAY (1-1) at Arizona (0-2): The Cardinals turned the ball over three times in their opening loss at Detroit, so coach Dave McGinnis spent all last week exhorting his team not to make any mistakes against Seattle. The Cardinals' first four possessions went: lost fumble, interception, interception, lost fumble returned for a touchdown. That's more like it, boys! I'm starting to agree with the multitudes who are saying the Packers are through as an NFC power, but that won't matter in the desert.
St. Louis (1-1) at SEATTLE (2-0): What's gone unnoticed in all the Bulger-or-Warner talk in St. Louis is that Marshall Faulk, who will be 30.56712 years old Sunday, hasn't looked like his old self in the first two games. He averaged 4.4 yards a carry and 9.5 yards a catch before his 30th birthday, and he's averaged 3.1 yards a carry and 5.5 yards a catch in the two games since. That's a pretty small sample size, but he really hasn't looked like the explosive, Pepsi-generation Marshall Faulk. All the people who picked the Rams to win the NFC West breathed a sigh of relief after they beat the 49ers last week, but if San Francisco receiver Cedrick Wilson had dropped to one knee and called timeout in the last seconds of regulation, rather than running along the 30-yard line while time expired, the Rams would be 0-2 now. Seattle, meanwhile, is playing defense. The Seahawks defenders have allowed 10 points and forced 10 turnovers in two games, but they're ranked 21st in the NFL in team defense, which tells you all you need to know about the way the NFL measures team defense.
N.Y. GIANTS (1-1) at Washington (2-0): Hey, what do you know. Redskins coach Steve Spurrier, one of the most successful college coaches of his generation, might actually be as smart as all the typists and chatterers who said he couldn't coach in the NFL. Seems he's relying more on the running game, something the commentariat said he'd never do, and his team is 2-0 despite not having great heaps of talent. Every success for Spurrier is a little tweak of the NFL establishment's nose, but alas I think the Giants are going to be breathing fire this week after Monday night's miserable last-minute choke against the Cowboys.
Cleveland (0-2) at SAN FRANCISCO (1-1): Browns coach cuts all starting linebackers. Young backups are better, he says. Composite score after two games: Opponents 42, Browns 19. Jamal Lewis rushes for NFL-record 295 yards against them. Bad move to cut linebackers? Maybe. Bad move to employ staccato writing style? Yes.
Baltimore (1-1) at SAN DIEGO (0-2): Speaking of cutting linebackers and Jamal Lewis coming to town, I'll bet the Chargers wouldn't mind having a guy like Junior Seau around right about now. The Chargers are 29th against the run and have been torched so far by Priest Holmes and Clinton Portis. Two weeks ago the Chiefs' first five possessions against San Diego went touchdown, punt, touchdown, touchdown, field goal, and it was 24-0 by midway through the second quarter. Last week the Broncos' first five possessions against the Chargers went touchdown, touchdown, punt, touchdown, two-minute-drill field goal, and it was 24-10 at the half. All of those touchdown drives were at least 54 yards. Meanwhile, the Chargers offense has been no picnic either, with LaDainian Tomlinson neutralized by the huge early deficits that have forced San Diego to throw, and a foot injury sidelining receiver David Boston, who's questionable for Sunday. So why do I think San Diego's going to win this one? A hunch. The Ravens aren't going to come out and put a hurt on the Chargers in the first quarter like the Chiefs and Broncos did, and San Diego's due for things to start clicking a little bit.
Buffalo (2-0) at MIAMI (1-1): This is a huge game in the AFC East even though it's being played in Week 3. Wins and losses count the same in Week 3 as in Week 17, after all. We'll know a lot more about this division after this Sunday night game. Are the Bills as powerful as they've seemed in steamrolling the Patriots and Jaguars? Are the Dolphins legitimate contenders for the division title or was that loss to the Texans something more than a fluke? The fish didn't exactly destroy the weakened Jets last week. But even if the Dolphins play well and lose, they'll be in big trouble, two games back of the Bills with a December game in Buffalo still ahead of them. I'm not quite convinced by the Bills yet, though. Their opposition so far has been weak -- the Patriots are good but they were in a funk on Opening Day -- so I think their dominance so far has been a little misleading. If the Dolphins give the ball to Ricky Williams a lot and put a little pressure on Drew Bledsoe, they should be OK.
Oakland (1-1) at DENVER (2-0): We'll know more about the defending AFC champions too after this renewal of a favorite "Monday Night Football" rivalry. The Raiders have looked old and sluggish in losing to the Titans -- though their fans say poor officiating cost them that game -- and barely beating the Bengals. Last year the Raiders were circling the drain at 4-4, having lost four straight, when they went into Denver and stunned the Broncos 34-10. They only lost once more before the Super Bowl. I'd be as surprised this year as I was last year if they can do it again. Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer and running back Clinton Portis are both expected to play. Denver coach Mike Shanahan is in hot water for telling a CBS sideline reporter that Plummer had a concussion last week when he actually had a separated shoulder. He said he didn't want the Chargers to find out the actual injury and target that shoulder if Plummer returned to the game. I don't see anything wrong with lying to a sideline reporter, but Shanahan's gambit illustrates the NFL's cavalier attitude toward concussions. And presumably, Shanahan had no problem saying something that, by his thinking, would have had the Chargers targeting Plummer's head. Good grief.
A quick bookkeeping note: Reader Ryan Waddell helpfully points out that I miscalculated my record last week. I went 9-7, not 10-6. My mistake was in forgetting I'd picked Arizona over Seattle with my What the Heck Pick of the week. That's the kind of thing that wouldn't happen with the resources a sponsor could bring to the What the Heck Pick.
Season record: 17-15
Last week: 9-7
What the Heck Picks: 0-2
Mentions of Britney Spears' tiny shorts this week: 1
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