The NFL season is roughly at the midway point, with all teams having played either eight or nine of their 16 games, so it's a good time to evaluate how everyone's doing. Here we go:
Good: The Chiefs, Colts, Patriots, Cowboys, Seahawks and Panthers.
Not so good: The Jaguars, Chargers, Raiders, Steelers, Falcons and me.
You can't get this kind of sophisticated analysis just anywhere.
Scheduled to have a bad prognosticating outing last week, because I had more time to pay attention to football with the baseball playoffs finished, I actually did pretty well, rebounding from a 7-7 Week 8 to go 9-5. Without really meaning to, I must have made some gutsy picks, because it seems that everybody else I know stunk up the joint last week. In fact, my modest 9-5 was better than all eight men on ESPN's panel of experts, five of whom had a sub-.500 week. That allowed me to gain a little ground in the yearlong competition I'm having with them, which of course they don't know about.
Here's how the standings look through Week 9:
Ron Jaworski, 91-39 (8-6 last week)
Sean Salisbury, 88-42 (8-6)
Mark Schlereth, 87-43 (6-8)
Chris Mortensen, 84-46 (7-7)
Joe Theismann, 74-47 (6-7)
King Kaufman, 78-52 (9-5)
Mike Golic, 78-52 (5-9)
Merril Hoge, 77-53 (8-6)
Eric Allen, 75-55 (6-8)
Theismann is ahead of me because of his higher winning percentage, which projects out to an 80-50 record. He doesn't pick the Sunday night game, which he broadcasts. I guess the idea is to guard his objectivity. Like if he picked the Ravens over the Rams this week he wouldn't be able to be fair in his analysis. Note to ESPN's distinguished ombudsman: You're taking this NFL predictions thing a bit too seriously.
It's no laughing matter, though, that my What the Heck Pick has been correct a breathtaking five straight times. I found a bug in my office this week, but the FBI denies that I'm being investigated in a game-fixing scandal. I suppose I should believe that, since the bug was a cricket. But I worry about these things.
I incurred the wrath of Panthers fans by picking the Texans over them with my What the Heck Pick last week, which was nice because I got a lot of letters explaining why I was wrong when I said the Panthers weren't as good as their 6-1 record. It's nice to get mail. Then the Panthers went out and lost to the Texans, and now I get so doggone lonesome.
Here are this week's picks, with winners in caps as always. Maybe they'd do better if they wore helmets.
SEATTLE (6-2) at Washington (3-5): The Seahawks were my preseason pick to win the NFC West, and look at 'em sittin' up there on top of it at the midway point. I'm just beginning to doubt that second-year Redskins coach Steve Spurrier will turn the stiff old NFL on its ear.
Atlanta (1-7) at N.Y. GIANTS (4-4): Deion Sanders wants to coach the Falcons. You keep reading. I'm going to sit here and try to think of a joke.
TAMPA BAY (4-4) at Carolina (6-2): The Bucs' season so far has gone win, lose, win, lose, win, lose, win, lose. Hmm. Detect a pattern? I don't either. But I'm going with them anyway, because the Panthers are not as good as the '72 Dolphins, the '27 Yankees or the 275 B.C. Romans.
Arizona (3-5) at PITTSBURGH (2-6): Last week I picked the Raiders over the Lions, and I wrote that it was an indication of just how far the Raiders have fallen that I actually hesitated before picking them. Ha! They lost. They're even worst than I thought. Now I'm feeling the exact same way about the Steelers, who are on a five-game losing streak. I should take the Cardinals. I'll kick myself if they win this one.
Houston (3-5) at CINCINNATI (3-5): The Bengals were starting to put together a nice little run before they lost to the Cardinals last week. Meanwhile the Texans surprised the Panthers. I'll take the Bengals based on the inability of either of these teams to do anything consistently.
Miami (5-3) at TENNESSEE (6-2): The Titans are coming off a bye week, meaning quarterback Steve McNair has had a chance to get healthy. I'm picking them anyway.
CLEVELAND (3-5) at Kansas City (8-0): What the Heck Pick of the week. I mean, what the heck. Let's see if this thing really has some power. (Stares down barrel...)
INDIANAPOLIS (7-1) at Jacksonville (1-7): A good What the Heck candidate.
Chicago (3-5) at DETROIT (2-6): No way the Bears win three straight. No way.
MINNESOTA (6-2) at San Diego (1-7): No way the Vikings lose three straight. At least not when game No. 3 is in San Diego.
BUFFALO (4-4) at Dallas (6-2): I'm going with a little hunch here. The Bills are the most unpredictable team in the league this year, and I started the season picking them to lose to the Patriots, whom they beat by a googol. But I'm 5-3 overall picking their games, and at least this way I'm guaranteed to stay ahead of their record.
N.Y. JETS (2-6) at Oakland (2-6): This marks the fifth straight year the Jets have played a regular-season game in Oakland, and counting each of the last two playoff years, the seventh straight time the Jets have called on the Raiders. Would it kill the Raiders to go to New Jersey once in a while? Drop in, say hello? They haven't been since 1997. This is why nobody likes the Raiders. They don't reciprocate. They did go to Jersey two years ago to play the Giants, but the Jets had a bye that week and were visiting their Aunt Sadie in Florida. Of course, maybe the Jets are stalking them. That must be it, now that I think of it, because the Raiders changed their phone number and they're starting Rick Mirer at quarterback.
Baltimore (5-3) at ST. LOUIS (5-3): Keep picking against the Rams, a Rams fan wrote me before last week's game, it's doing wonders for them. Actually, counting last week's loss to the 49ers, the Rams are 2-3 when I pick against them, 3-0 when I pick them. I say this to preempt agonized letters from Rams fans upset that I'm taking them this week. I won't have time to read them with all those letters I'll be getting from Panthers fans.
Philadelphia (5-3) at GREEN BAY (4-4): I've gone back and forth on this one about 12 times, so I'll settle on the home team, even though Donovan McNabb's thumb is better than Brett Favre's thumb. The Eagles are on a roll, but the schedule has been kind to them, and the Packers, who aren't on a roll but did beat the Vikings last week, are still pretty tough at Lambeau Field when the weather gets cold. I think.
Season record: 78-52
Last week: 9-5
What the Heck Picks: 5-4 and possibly the subject of a federal probe
Counting this column, the number of times this season when I haven't mentioned Mike Vick, who has yet to take a snap, in the blurb about the Atlanta game: 1
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