Having won the House and Senate and the nation's governorships, Democrats stood poised Friday to take over the National Football League.
"We think we're in good shape in California and Texas," said Rep-elect Heath Shuler, D-N.C. "Especially with that Raiders offense. We just need to establish the ground game, not commit turnovers and keep talking about Mark Foley and the war."
Though Shuler has a history of being wrong more often than right -- a 47.7 percent completion percentage in a Washington uniform -- political watchers agree there's no way the Democrats can lose this weekend short of the Republicans blocking a field goal and the Dems committing a 15-yard face-mask penalty on the ensuing runback to put the GOP into field-goal range.
"Yeah," snorted Rep-elect Nick Lampson, who won Tom DeLay's old seat in Texas Tuesday, "like that ever happens."
Analysts also expected Democrats to take over Fox News, the National Weather Service and a pancake restaurant in Lewiston, Idaho.
Princeton University political science professor John Friesz summed up the likely rout: "You can crown their asses," he said.
Politics aside, the NFL returns this week to a full slate of 16 games. And you get those two extra bad predictions from this column -- which is 68-60 and tied for last in the Panel o' Experts standings -- at no charge!
Winners in caps, along with, by popular vote, the picks of the coin-flippinest 3-year-old in the 3rd District.
Sunday early games
BALTIMORE (6-2) at Tennessee (2-6): The good news is that, unlike last summer, the Titans have to let Steve McNair onto the premises this time. The bad news is the Titans also have to let the Ravens defense in.
Buster's pick: Baltimore (7-point favorite)
Washington (3-5) at PHILADELPHIA (4-4): The Eagles are one of two Pennsylvania teams better than their record would indicate. Can you guess the other one? If there's a way for them to lose this game, they've got a good chance of finding it, but sooner or later, they've got to figure out how to get out of their own way, don't they? Maybe the bye week helped.
Buster's pick: Philadelphia (7-point favorite)
Santa Clara (3-5) at DETROIT (2-6): They're both coming off surprising home wins, the 49ers over the Vikings and the Lions over the Falcons. Hey, your guess is as good as mine. I think I'll take the home team.
What am I talking about? I'm 68-60. Your guess is way better than mine.
Buster's pick: Detroit (6-point favorite)
SAN DIEGO (6-2) at Cincinnati (4-4): The Chargers are a good but beatable team because of their vulnerable secondary, but the Bengals are all banged up on both sides of the ball. And besides, they have a Christmas hood ornament playing wide receiver! Whatever that is.
Buster's pick: San Diego (coin)
N.Y. Jets (4-4) at NEW ENGLAND (6-2): The Colts were my Super Bowl pick and I'm rather pleased to see them 8-0 at the midway point, but I think if that Pats-Colts game last week were replayed 10 times, New England would win eight or nine of them. The Pats are embarking on a run of games against relative patsies interrupted only by a home game against the Bears in two weeks.
Buster's pick: New England (10.5-point favorite)
KANSAS CITY (5-3) at Miami (2-6): I know the Dolphins beat the Bears last week and everything, but you're not going to force, and/or luck into, 37 or 38 turnovers every week. The Chiefs should be able to stop the Dolphins' anemic offense and do just enough with their own banged-up bunch against a good Dolphins defense. A tougher win than the records would indicate, but the Chiefs, a game behind Denver and San Diego in the AFC West and in a thick wild-card race, should get an important win.
Buster's pick: Miami (coin -- this marked the end of Buster's streak of consecutive heads flips at 10)
Houston (2-6) at JACKSONVILLE (5-3): Except for the Dallas game, the Texans are not getting blown out in their losses, and one of their wins was a blowout over the Jags, the most surprising game of the year before Miami-Chicago. But the Jags appear to be a better team with David Garrard at quarterback than with Byron Leftwich, who played in that 27-7 disaster three weeks ago.
Buster's pick: Jacksonville (10.5-point favorite)
Green Bay (3-5) at MINNESOTA (4-4): I'm hoping the Packers win this one and increase the chances that more than half the NFC is either 5-4 or 4-5 after this weekend's games. Parity! Prediction: This game will be more entertaining than the Vikings' 9-3 loss to the 49ers last week. Wait, it already is, and it's not starting for two days.
Buster's pick: Minnesota (coin)
Cleveland (2-6) at ATLANTA (5-3): Did I say last week that Michael Vick was the hottest passer in the NFL? I did, and it was hyperbole, but he didn't have to go out and prove me that wrong. Normal amount of wrong is sufficient. The Browns are pretty good defending the pass, but the Falcons should be able to run at will.
Buster's pick: Atlanta (8-point favorite)
Buffalo (3-5) at INDIANAPOLIS (8-0): The Colts' next three games are this one, at Dallas and home vs. Philadelphia. Prediction: They'll lose one of them. This is the least likely, but it's likely enough that I can't make it a What the Heck Pick of the Bills.
Buster's pick: Indianapolis (11.5-point favorite)
Sunday late games
Denver (6-2) at OAKLAND (2-6): Since the Raiders have already had their day of surprising somebody at home, I feel fairly safe that I'll get back on the losing track with my What the Heck Pick of the week.
Buster's pick: Denver (9-point favorite)
New Orleans (6-2) at PITTSBURGH (2-6): If you've been in the woods since Labor Day and just got back to civilization, don't write me that e-mail. I haven't reversed the records.
The Saints looked like they were coming back to earth before they put a whipping on Tampa Bay last week in Florida. The Steelers look like they're starting to skid.
But while they may not even make the playoffs in defense of their Super Bowl title, I can't help thinking the Steelers are better than a 2-6 team. If they can stop turning the ball over every time they touch it and win this game, which I think they will, it probably won't save their season, but it'll make the NFC South really, really interesting.
Buster's pick: New Orleans (coin)
St. Louis (4-4) at SEATTLE (5-3): If injured Shaun Alexander's backup, Maurice Morris, enjoyed playing the Raiders last week -- he ran for 138 yards on 30 carries -- wait'll he gets a load of the Rams, who still have LaDainian Tomlinson and Larry Johnson tread all over them from the last two games.
Buster's pick: Seattle (coin)
DALLAS (4-4) at Arizona (1-7): You know who are who we thought they were? The Cardinals. Crown their asses! I don't even know what that means, but I've been walking around saying, "Crown their asses!" since Week 6. It's working for me.
Buster's pick: Dallas (7-point favorite)
Sunday night game
CHICAGO (7-1) at N.Y. Giants (6-2): This is the week NBC's flexible schedule kicks in, where the Peacock gets to choose which game it wants to put in prime time. Kind of a no-brainer to pick the only game on the schedule between two teams with winning records, although the networks have a strange and unexplainable love for the Raiders, who are playing one of their big rivals. So let's be thankful and not take anything for granted.
The Giants are actually slight favorites in this game. Jeez, you lose by three touchdowns to one one-win team and look what happens. Listen, I know, you put enough pressure on Rex Grossman and he gets all goofy. The Cardinals showed it before they got their asses crowned, and then last week the Dolphins showed it.
But if you want to judge a team on one game just because it was the most recent, did you get a load of the Giants almost losing to Houston last week?
Eli Manning is running out of receivers to miss. Amani Toomer's out for the year and Plaxico Burress has a bad back. The Bears won't make it any easier.
So they won't go undefeated. So they weren't going undefeated anyway. So they'll win this one over a team that also figures to be missing Michael Strahan and some or all of Osi Umenyiora, Sam Madison, Carlos Emmons and Brandon Short, and they'll go 13-3 or something and be the team to beat in the NFC playoffs. And maybe I'll quit starting sentences with the word "so" and get back to starting them with "and."
Buster's pick: Chicago (coin)
Monday night game
Tampa Bay (2-6) at CAROLINA (4-4): Things could get really, really interesting in the NFC South if the Saints lose to the Steelers, and really, really, really interesting if that happens and the Panthers win this one, which they should. Then you'd have three teams within a game of each other, whatever the Falcons do, and the preseason favorite, these Panthers, likely in third place.
If Carolina can fix its defense, it could still win the division. This is the first of three straight games against beatable but also lose-to-able teams -- St. Louis and at Washington are the next two -- that the Panthers have to win before tackling a brutal five-game stretch to end the season: at Philadelphia, Giants, Pittsburgh, at Atlanta and at New Orleans.
The Bucs are looking like their nice pair of wins over the Bengals and Eagles in Weeks 6 and 7 is going to be the highlight of their year. The famous defense has only been OK, Cadillac Williams isn't gaining many yards and substitute quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, well, he hasn't exactly been Chris Simms. The rookie's been thrown in over his head, but when your quarterback's not meeting the Chris Simms standard, it's going to be a long year.
Buster's pick: Carolina (9.5-point favorite)
Season record: 68-60
Last week: 8-6
What the Heck Picks: 1-8
Record this column needs the rest of the way to match the final win total of 2005 Panel o' Experts champ Sean Salisbury: 112-16
Previous column: A great Election Day
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