Remember last week how I said Week 3 was this crossroads, where we'd find out a lot about a bunch of teams? Remember that? How I said we'd learn if the 2-0 teams are for real and which way the 1-1 teams would go and stuff like that? Huh? Member?
Why should I have been right about that? I've been wrong about everything else this season, which is why I'm in dead last place in the Panel o' Experts, someplace I've never been this late in the season. I've managed to go .500 so far, 23 games right, 23 wrong. Considering a penny could do the same job, it looks like I'm a bit overpaid.
Note to bosses: Kidding! Think of the intangibles!
Here's kind of a rough sketch of what I think we know so far.
Good teams: Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Chicago, Seattle.
Bad teams: Tennessee, Oakland.
Who the hell knows: Everybody else.
Now that we all know that Terrell Owens is a happy guy with no problems, let's see if we can learn anything from Week 4. As always, predicted winners are in capital letters. I should capitalize every other letter, in honor of my .500 season so far.
Early Sunday games
SAN DIEGO (2-0) at Baltimore (3-0): The day will end with an NFC Championship Game preview in Chicago, and it may start with an AFC preview in Baltimore. Maybe. The two top defenses in the league square off, and of course that means your final score will be 56-53.
I don't know that I'm ready to anoint the Chargers AFC favorites with the Colts still undefeated too, not to mention the Bengals, and have I mentioned the Jaguars? It's also too early to count out the Steelers and Patriots, and the Broncos may be coming around. Are the Jets for real? Dolphins: What do you think?
OK, where was I?
Oh, yeah. I was trying to say I think the Chargers can win this one because they bring more on offense than the Ravens do. That's not saying much, of course, and it depends on first-year starter Philip Rivers handling himself well against the Ravens pass rush. It helps to have LaDainian Tomlinson around, though. Neither of these teams has faced a live opponent yet, so this game should offer some bone-crunching insight into just how good they are. Famous last words.
Arizona (1-2) at ATLANTA (2-1): The Falcons are fresh off of playing the Washington Generals role in New Orleans. The Cardinals are fresh off a demoralizing you take it, no you take it loss to the Rams. Demoralizing for anyone who had to watch it, I mean.
Cards coach Dennis Green says that, contrary to a report early this week, he's sticking with Kurt Warner at quarterback. That must be because he likes turnovers. Mmm, turnovers. I like 'em too. Apple.
San Francisco (1-2) at KANSAS CITY (0-2): Trent Green is still out, but against a weak 49ers pass defense, this should be the week Damon Huard settles in to the kind of uninspiring competence that's kept him holding NFL clipboards for 63 years.
What I mean by that is he'll complete a few passes and hand off the ball to Larry Johnson a bunch of times.
NEW ORLEANS (3-0) at Carolina (1-2): OK, so you read your preseason newsstand annuals, took a three-week vacation on a beach in Thailand with no Internet access and now you're back and -- hey, typo. Kaufman's got the records backward.
The Saints are so obviously in for a letdown and the Panthers are so clearly due to put it together and start playing like the Super Bowl contenders they were supposed to be that I just can't help myself. I'm taking the Saints.
MINNESOTA (2-1) at Buffalo (1-2): Every year, there are one or two teams I just can't figure out, all season long. I think they're putting it together and they stink out the joint. I give up on them and they blow out some 8-1 team. It's looking like the Bills are one of those teams for me this year. I'm stumped.
The Vikings might be one of those teams too. They've played three games against pretty good teams, winning two by a field goal and losing one by a field goal, though one of the wins was handed to them by the Panthers. The Vikes are good at stopping the run, and that means the Bills will have to rely on quarterback J.P. Losman to make plays. I mean good plays. That could be a problem.
Or not. It's not like I know.
MIAMI (1-2) at Houston (0-3): OK, I lied. Every year there are like 23 teams I just can't figure out. The Dolphins look like they're developing into one of them. The Texans don't.
INDIANAPOLIS (3-0) at N.Y. Jets (2-1): This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Jets, and may still be, but they've opened some eyes so far, winning twice on the road and putting a scare into the Patriots, who may or may not be much good but for now are still the Patriots.
The Jets and Colts have both had trouble with the run. Neither team has done it well or stopped it well. The Jets have to open some holes for their backs to shorten the game and keep Indy's offense off the field. Kind of like the Jags did last week. And the Jags lost. The Jets probably don't have enough here, but all they've done so far is surprise people.
Dallas (1-1) at TENNESSEE (0-3): What the Heck Pick of the week. Not a lot of choices again this week. You know, if it weren't for the Raiders I could just go ahead and make Tennessee the WTH pick for the whole season.
Sunday late games
Detroit (0-3) at ST. LOUIS (2-1): The Rams could be one of those teams that stump me too, as long as we're talking about all 23 of them. They'll face their old coach, Mike Martz, in this one. He's now the offensive coordinator for the Lions, whose offense woke up a little in a loss to the Packers last week. The Rams defense is usually a welcome site for offenses looking to get well, but so far this year they've played well.
The problem for the Rams is they can't seem to score touchdowns. Not to get all technical and insidery on you, but touchdowns are important. Lions opponents, though, haven't had much of a problem finding the end zone.
New England (2-1) at CINCINNATI (3-0) Carson Palmer's coming off a bad, error-filled game in a win over Pittsburgh. He usually does a much better job of not turning the ball over, and I figure he'll be on his guard against the opportunistic but vulnerable Pats defense.
The Patriots have no passing game so far, but it looks like it could just be a matter of time before Brady and his squad of new receivers gel. The Bengals, still new to this contending business, made a statement last week against the champs. They should make another one here against the Patriots, even though the Patriots are struggling.
JACKSONVILLE (2-1) at Washington (1-2): The Jags will make it very difficult for Washington to run the ball, and they can chase Mark Brunell around, which is not as difficult as it used to be.
Brunell has some playmakers to work with, as finally became evident against the Texans last week, Washington's first win. Then again, Peyton Manning has playmakers too, and the Colts had a tough time despite beating the Jags. If the Jaguars can pound away on the ground and avoid the deadly mistakes they made last week -- two picks, two missed field goals and a touchdown allowed on a punt return -- they should get the road win.
CLEVELAND (0-3) at Oakland (0-2): A rare What the Heck Bowl! If there's a way for both teams to lose a game, these guys will find it. Actually, I'm not being fair. The Browns are in much better shape than the Raiders. Generalissimo Francisco Franco is in much better shape than the Raiders.
The Browns almost pulled off the first What the Heck upset of the year last week against Baltimore. They should get a win here and another one in Week 17 in Houston. Other than that, who knows. But they're in better shape than the Raiders.
Seattle (3-0) at CHICAGO (3-0): Last year's No. 1 offense against last year's No. 1 defense. The Bears have picked right up, allowing just one offensive touchdown so far this year. Another came on an interception return. The Seahawks offense got off to a slow start but with receiver Deion Branch in the fold and a new four-wide look, they exploded for 35 points in the first half against the Giants last week.
Then again, that was against the Giants, who apparently don't realize that those first three quarters count. And it was before Shaun Alexander went out with a broken foot.
So what we have here is your basic NFC Championship Game preview. Maybe, he disclaimed. The Seahawks are playing some defense, that now-habitual fourth-quarter flurry by the Giants notwithstanding, and the Bears are the new Seahawks, lighting up the scoreboard with future Hall of Famer Rex Grossman under center. Something like that.
I'd call this game too close to call, but I picked the Bears to win the conference, and they're playing at home, and they don't have to deal with Alexander. There. I think I've talked myself into it.
Green Bay (1-2) at PHILADELPHIA (2-1): The first of three prime-time appearances for the Packers, two more than the defending NFC South champion Buccaneers will get and one more than Super Bowl contender Cincinnati will have. Do the TV people love them some Brett Favre or what?
Favre has stopped his duck-and-chuck routine the last two weeks and he's playing well, though the Eagles defense, even struggling as it has been, should be better than what he saw in those two games. Donovan McNabb and the Eagles are hitting on all cylinders, averaging nearly 30 points a game, and should be too much for the Packers.
Bye this week: Denver, N.Y. Giants, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay
Season record: A pathetic 23-23
Last week: A dreary 7-7
What the Heck Picks: 0-3. Even these babies aren't bailing me out like usual.
Number of people who are neither a porn star nor 3 years old who have held either first or second place in the Panel o' Experts at any time this season: 0
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