The 2005 NFL season has offered plenty of surprises so far. The Dolphins, 49ers and Saints winning in Week 1 while the Eagles and Chargers lost and the Jets got destroyed. The Bears scoring 38 points and the Colts 10 in Week 2.
But one thing remains as constant as the tides. As it was last year, so it is again: Your servant is leading the Panel o' Experts after two weeks of the season. Call me Mr. September.
On the back of a surprising but not unprecedented 2-0 record in What the Heck Picks -- same as last year -- I'm ahead of all the other "experts" in our pool, about which they are mostly blissfully unaware, by at least one win with a record of 20-12.
Keep in mind that WTH picks mean I choose a team to win even though I think it's going to lose -- because, you know, What the Heck? -- so I'm not bragging when I point out I'm in first place. I'm just pointing out that luck and incompetence have combined in salubrious ways for me.
It's also worth noting that 20-12 is a pretty lackluster record for first place. At this time last year, long before my White Sox-like collapse, I was in first place at 26-6, and a 20-12 record was only good for a fifth-place tie. But it's been an unpredictable season.
How unpredictable? I decided to keep track of what happens when ESPN's experts, all of whom are in the pool, are unanimous about a game. When the experts are sure, when all eight of them agree that one team is going to win, when there's simply no doubt which is the better team ... the experts' unanimous picks have gone 5-7.
In fact, a lot of us have been wrong more than we've been right, and by saying "us," I condescendingly mean "them." While the entire 14-member panel spent all of last year over .500 except Ron Jaworski and my son Buster, then the coin-flippinest 1-year-old in America, through the first two weeks, this year almost half of the 15-member panel is underwater so far.
Cris Carter of Yahoo is 12-20. Peter King of Sports Illustrated is 13-19 after a hideous 4-12 last week, which, pending verification by the Guinness people, is the worst showing in Panel o' Experts history, Buster's coin included.
And Buster's tied for second with Merril Hoge of ESPN and Vinnie Iyer of the Sporting News at 19-13, though I must point out that he (Buster) no longer picks by straight coin flip.
Now that he's a sophisticated 2-year-old, Buster uses Danny Sheridan's odds in USA Today and picks all favorites of six points or greater, though if I look at Sheridan's page one more time on a Friday morning and the NFL odds are missing, as they were today, we're changing oddsmakers.
Prognosticating is a cut-throat business. This week's automatic picks, using the odds as of Thursday night, are the Rams, Eagles, Colts, Seahawks and Cowboys. I'm fairly confident this method, six-point favorites plus coin flipping, will keep Buster in contention for the Panel o' Experts championship all year.
So we turn to Week 3, with Baltimore, Detroit, Houston and Washington getting a much-needed bye week after the two-game trudge to this point. They'll come back refreshed for that last 87.5 percent of the season.
Winners in caps, this year featuring NFL logos on the front, like the refs have.
Atlanta (1-1) at BUFFALO (1-1): Rookie quarterback J.P. Losman took some lumps against the Bucs last week, as rookie quarterbacks will do. He's going to take some more this week, but with Michael Vick hurting, the Falcons are going to have trouble getting anything done on offense. Kind of like when he's not hurting. The Bills in an ugly one.
TAMPA BAY (2-0) at Green Bay (0-2): I haven't been able to see Tampa Bay yet this season, but I've seen Green Bay, and they are ad-bay. I've seen highlights of Cadillac Williams, and I've seen the Packers try to tackle people. Oy-bay, oh, oy-bay.
New Orleans (1-1) at MINNESOTA (0-2): The Saints hit the road. Ha ha. Little black humor there. Two teams feeling really crummy about things right about now, and one of them is going to be feeling a little better.
I'm afraid the Saints are headed down a long, bumpy hill, that their win over the Panthers on opening day was a version of that thing where a team rises up and plays well for one game after losing its star. Then they kind of look around, go, "Oh, crap, we lost our star," and fall apart.
The Saints lost their whole city. Then they kind of looked around -- they were in New Jersey at this point, playing a supposed home game -- and said, "Man, on top of everything else, we're getting screwed by the league, having to play in the visiting team's park."
And then they got hammered. And it's just going to get more and more tiring and depressing and sad and reality is just going to sink in deeper and deeper, and I don't think it's going to get much better all year.
Unless the Vikings really are as bad as they looked last week in Cincinnati, in which case, even a depressed Saints club will stomp them. I don't think the Vikings are that bad, though I have to admit I never think the Vikings are as bad as they really are, and, damnedest thing, they always are as bad as they really are.
CLEVELAND (1-1) at Indianapolis (2-0): What the Heck Pick of the week. Pretty obvious choice. The Colts are favored by two touchdowns. That's a college point spread. Federal investigators are hovering around WTH Headquarters in the wake of two straight correct picks to start the season, though there is precedent. Believe it or not -- I had forgotten this -- I ran the WTH table in October 2003, nailing five straight. You can look it up, though if you did I'd suggest you seek therapy immediately. But anyway, feds, don't think I don't recognize you across the street there in your Crown Victorias. Browns win this game, I may have to send next week's picks from a foreign country, like Wyoming.
CAROLINA (1-1) at Miami (1-1): The Panthers are primed for a letdown in their first road game after a big win over the Patriots. The Dolphins are tough enough on defense that they can stay close with anyone, and if they can force a few turnovers, they can win. But I think the Panthers' interior strength on both sides of the ball will be the difference.
Tennessee (1-1) at ST. LOUIS (1-1): The Titans are banged up on defense after smothering the Ravens. The Rams are at home, where they tend to beat the teams they should beat. They'll present Tennessee a little more of a challenge than that Baltimore attack, he wrote sarcastically.
Oakland (0-2) at PHILADELPHIA (1-1): Randy Moss vs. Terrell Owens. Two fabulous receivers, two head cases. Prediction: They both make some big plays, but neither one scores a touchdown. Sort of a What the Heck prop bet. The Eagles defense will stop the Raiders enough to carry the day.
JACKSONVILLE (1-1) at N.Y. Jets (1-1): I haven't liked the way Chad Pennington's been looking this year, and with Curtis Martin hurting, the Jets could be in trouble. Even with the injury to safety Donovin Darius, the Jags defense should bottle them up.
CINCINNATI (2-0) at Chicago (1-1): If the Vikings really are as bad as they really are, are the Bengals as good as they looked last week when they blew out Minnesota? We'll see when Carson Palmer plays a real defense. If the Bears can shut him down and get a win here, they'll have the look of a division winner. If not -- and I don't think they will -- the Bengals will have the look of a playoff team, at least.
DALLAS (1-1) at San Francisco (1-1): The 49ers secondary will make Drew Bledsoe look like a young man. Maybe even a young Drew Bledsoe. Probably better. Note to the Dallas defense: Stop giving up long touchdowns in the last few minutes of the game. Thanks.
ARIZONA (0-2) at Seattle (1-1): Why do I have the feeling this won't be the last time this year that a .500 team and a sub-.500 from the NFC West meet with at least a share of first place on the line? I picked the Cardinals to win that division, but if they lose this game, they officially become fair game for a What the Heck Pick in Week 4. But guess what: I'm picking them straight up in Week 3. I do not have a good reason for doing this.
NEW ENGLAND (1-1) at Pittsburgh (2-0): The Steelers are rolling and the Pats are coming off a stumble in Carolina and facing their second straight road game. We all know the Steelers don't lose in the regular season, right? I can think of lots of reasons why the Steelers ought to win this game, but I keep coming back to the reason I don't think the Patriots will lose it: They're the Patriots.
N.Y. Giants (2-0) at SAN DIEGO (0-2): I'm not ready to give the Chargers up for dead after two losses to maybe playoff teams, and I'm not ready to jump on the Giants bandwagon after two wins over maybe last-place teams. Eli Manning's in for a rough day against his "old" team. But then the game will start. That should be pretty tough too, but also pretty exciting. I think the Chargers will save their season by scratching out a win in an ugly game.
Kansas City (2-0) at DENVER (1-1): If the Chiefs win this Monday night game, will people start talking about them having the first undefeated season since the 1972 Dolphins, the way they did in 2003, when Kansas City won its first nine games, then went 4-3? Eh, probably not. But anyway if the Broncos can prevent big plays on defense, they should be able to grind down a still-suspect Chiefs run defense. Denver is tough at home before it gets cold. It hasn't lost a home game in the first month of the season since 2001.
Season record: 20-12
Last week: 10-6
What the Heck Picks: 2-0
Record for most consecutive successful What the Heck Picks: 5, beginning Oct. 3, 2003.
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