A sportswriter on vacation is a funny thing. "Finally," I found myself saying, "a weekend where I don't have to sit around with my feet up watching football for two days!"
And it's a good thing I was otherwise occupied Sunday, because I didn't have to witness the carnage of my NFL picks. The league went upset happy in Week 10, the Redskins, Jaguars, Falcons and Chargers all winning. Almost (but not quite) the only underdogs not to come through were the Browns, who kept the Chiefs undefeated and ended my five-week run of picking a winner with my What the Heck Pick of the week.
I went 6-8, and you probably did too. This was one of those Sundays of the any given variety. Everybody struggled. The only one of the eight ESPN.com "fearless experts" who picked more winners than losers was Joe Theismann, who went an uninspiring 7-6. Speaking of that crowd, I made a mistake when I compared my results to theirs last Friday, shorting Sean Salisbury two wins. He was really 88-42 after Week 9, and ahead of Mark Schlereth in second place. Now you know.
I also want to thank the many readers who wrote to tell me that the injured Atlanta quarterback is Mike Vick, not Mick Vick, as I'd typed it Thursday while simultaneously packing a bag, evidently. Those helpful e-mails languished in my in box for a full, blissful, computer-free week. I've corrected Vick's name and Salisbury's score in Friday's column, which brings up all sorts of ethical questions that I'm ignoring.
A quick comment about college football before we dive into Week 11: Some fans got their face paint in a bunch this week after Oklahoma beat Texas A&M 77-0. They ran up the score, went the complaint. The Sooners were still passing late in the first half with a 35-0 lead, though they ran almost exclusively after halftime. I got this from news reports, having ignored everything in the last week that I couldn't eat.
I used to go along with the prevailing attitude on this question, thinking it gauche for teams to keep the hammer down even with a big lead against a weaker opponent. I find that I've changed my mind, even though the best excuse for running up the score was removed last year when the nonsensical BCS ratings system, which ranks teams for placement in the major bowl games, dropped margin of victory as a factor.
I guess I've gotten older and I've been on the losing side of the scoreboard a few times, as it were, and now I think I would find it condescending and insulting if I were on a team getting swamped and the other side eased up, took pity on us hapless losers. Having established dominance, it would be nice if the better team refrained from rubbing it in with excessive celebration over every sack and first down, but I don't think it's rubbing it in to just keep playing.
And I find complaints about rolling up the score tiresome and whiny. If you don't want your opponent to throw deep when they're leading by six touchdowns, or to steal bases when they're up by eight runs, then play better. Part of the price of being in a major conference is that there are going to be times when you're having a down year and you have to play the best team in the country, and they might drill you 77-0. Deal with it or go play in the Sun Belt Conference. There are plenty of schools willing to get smoked 77-0 for the right price.
Running up the score is rarely an issue in the NFL, where every team is good enough to win any game, especially if I've picked their opponent. Here are my Week 11 picks, with the winners in all caps. You'll notice that the NFL returns to a full schedule this week. No more bye weeks, meaning I'm not the only one with no vacation time left. I also have two more games to be wrong about every week. Ugh. I need a rest.
Jacksonville (2-7) at TENNESSEE (7-2): The Titans, the choice of this column's readers to win the Super Bowl, are on a roll. They've scored at least 30 points in six straight games, five of them wins, and the average margin of victory during their current four-game winning streak is 19 and a half points. They're running up the score, the curs! And it's not like they've been playing Texas A&M. Last week they belted the Dolphins 31-7, and this streak includes a road win over the Panthers. You readers are looking like geniuses.
St. Louis (6-3) at CHICAGO (3-6): What the Heck Pick of the week.
N.Y. GIANTS (4-5) at Philadelphia (6-3): The Giants are coming off an embarrassing rout by the Falcons, and the Eagles have been living on borrowed time, pulling out win after win in the fourth quarter. This game is tailor-made for a cockamamie theory pick: The Giants, even without the injured Jeremy Shockey, will rebound after that terrible loss and the Eagles' luck will finally run out in a game they should win.
Washington (4-5) at CAROLINA (7-2): Sensitive Panthers fans will have to find another commentator to yell at. I'm picking their boys this week.
Houston (3-6) at BUFFALO (4-5): I don't know what's happened to the Bills' offense, but whatever it is, I hope it's not contagious. Maybe they'll get better against the Texans' lousy defense, but remember how the Bills were 2-0 and headed for the Super Bowl?
Baltimore (5-4) at MIAMI (5-4): Anthony Wright gets the start at quarterback for the Ravens over Chris Redman, who last week in relief of the injured Kyle Boller against the Rams had a quarterback rating of 31.3, about seven points lower than if he'd done nothing but throw incomplete passes. The NFL's quarterback rating system, which is pretty useless, is not so useless that you can't rack up a 31.3 without being really bad. Wright, by completing his first 11 throws Sunday, can improve his lifetime completion percentage to 50. He last played in 2001 for the Cowboys. The Dolphins, meanwhile, got mugged by the Titans last week, so cockamamie theory says they should play well.
Arizona (3-6) at CLEVELAND (3-6): I don't want to talk about this game, so I'll just use this space to say that Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon Webb wuz robbed when Dontrelle Willis was named National League Rookie of the Year this week. Seriously. I hope Willis can figure out how to get hitters out the way he was doing in the spring because I love watching him, but Webb had a much better year.
KANSAS CITY (9-0) at Cincinnati (4-5): One of these weeks the Chiefs are going to lose for the first time, and I'm going to be there, having picked their opponent. Unless, that is, they lose this week.
Atlanta (2-7) at NEW ORLEANS (4-5): Mike Vick -- I like to call him Mick -- might dress for this one, though he probably won't play until next week against the Titans. Last week's win over the Giants was a mirage. Even with Vick in the lineup, this is a lost year for the Falcons, except that it will likely accomplish getting Dan Reeves fired. The Saints, meanwhile, are coming off a bye, and they've played well after a bad start. They should have fun against the Falcons defense, as they did a month ago when they gained 507 yards in a 45-17 win on the road.
San Diego (2-7) at DENVER (5-4): The Broncos get Jake Plummer back. That should help against the suddenly not-so-bad Chargers, who have benefited from Doug Flutie's annual little run.
N.Y. Jets (3-6) at INDIANAPOLIS (7-2): Remember how the Jets bulldozed the Colts 41-0 in last year's playoffs? Yeah. That's not happening this week.
Green Bay (4-5) at TAMPA BAY (4-5): The Bucs' season so far has gone win, lose, win, lose, win, lose, win, lose, lose. Dang! I was just starting to see a pattern. This is a pretty damn intriguing game considering it matches two losing teams that will each have to mount a serious run to make the playoffs. I think the Packers are a little more legitimately sub-.500.
Detroit (3-6) at SEATTLE (6-3): The Seahawks have won six straight home games dating to last year. The Lions have lost 20 straight road games dating to 2001. It's too easy! The Lions will win! Except they won't.
MINNESOTA (6-3) at Oakland (2-7): When the Vikings lost to the Giants, it was just an undefeated team slipping up at last. Then they lost a close one to the Packers, and OK, that was the Packers, with Brett Favre and everything. Then they lost to the Chargers, and all of a sudden that 6-0 start is starting to seem like it happened in another lifetime. If the Vikes lose to the Raiders, who seem to be on a mission to explore the vast frontier of awfulness, it will be time to panic.
Dallas (7-2) at NEW ENGLAND (7-2): Bill Parcells tries to go for the hat trick, beating each of his three former teams in his first year in Dallas. He's beaten the Jets and Giants, but the Patriots are a whole different kettle of dolphins. The media focus has been on Parcells' rivalry with Pats coach Bill Belichick, his former assistant who resigned after one day when Parcells hired him to coach the Jets. But the story will be Belichick's defense shutting down Cowboys quarterback Quincy Carter.
PITTSBURGH (3-6) at San Francisco (4-5): The 49ers seem to be putting things together a little bit, but I think the honeymoon will be over for Tim Rattay after his big game against the Rams. The Steelers will stay in the chase for the AFC North title, which with Baltimore in trouble they can still win.
Season record: 84-60
Last week: 6-8
What the Heck Picks: 5-5
Failed attempts to get a joke about the Paris Hilton Sex Tape into one of the game blurbs: 16
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