Because the AFC is so vastly superior to the NFC ... Oh, wait. Hang on. I accidentally hit the macro to type that phrase. What I meant to type was: Have you noticed that the NFC seems to have caught up to the AFC?
It's easy to think the AFC is the dominant conference, since it really has been dominant for the last few seasons, and therefore a lot of us typists and chatterers have "AFC is vastly superior to the NFC" on an automatic cut-and-paste on our computers.
Plus, the New England Patriots are running roughshod over the league, and until three weeks ago the Indianapolis Colts were sort of co-roughshodding. But the Patriots are just one team, and they could just as well be in the NFC. You can't give the whole conference credit for the Patriots being 10-0. In fact, you might do the opposite: Who are they mostly beating?
The facts simply don't back up the theory -- which, don't get me wrong, is no reason to abandon a beautiful theory. But the AFC-is-dominant theory probably isn't sexy enough to buck reality.
The facts, among others, are that the NFC is 23-21 against the AFC. The nonpareil Patriots and some of the NFC dogs have only played two of their four interconference games and the NFC-leading Green Bay Packers, Dallas Cowboys and some of the AFC dogs have played three or all four of theirs, so that's maybe a little misleading, but only a little.
The six AFC teams that would qualify for the playoffs if the season ended today are 13-5 against the NFC. The six NFC playoff teams are 11-5 against the AFC. In head-to-head games, the AFC playoff teams have won four of six against the NFC playoff teams, but in three of those games, the NFC playoff teams have been represented by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have gone 1-2.
Both conferences have two good divisions and two lousy ones. The AFC North and South are good, East and West are bad. The NFC North and East are good, South and West are bad.
Both have a similarly sized handful of teams that have, for the moment, separated themselves at the top and bottom. The AFC has New England, Pittsburgh -- Sunday's loss to the Jets notwithstanding -- and maybe Indianapolis in the penthouse, Miami, the Jets and Oakland in the outhouse. The NFC has Dallas, Green Bay and maybe the Giants up top, with Detroit sort of hanging around after Sunday's loss to the Giants. San Francisco and St. Louis are at the bottom, with Atlanta having crawled out of the muck.
The AFC probably still has a slight advantage, most notably at the very top, meaning the Patriots, but also because the next group after the elite teams favors the AFC. The wild cards, weak-division champs and top playoff non-qualifiers in the AFC are a stronger group than in the NFC. But it's just not true that the AFC is dominating.
Which means people with jobs like mine have to change our assumptions a little bit, not to mention our macros. And you know how much we hate doing that.
Next thing you know, someone will try to convince us that teams don't have to establish the run to set up the pass.
Here are the Thanksgiving week picks, with winners in caps and the prognostications of my kids, game-picking 4-year-old Buster and coin-flipping 2-year-old Daisy, included. The kids take all favorites of six points or more. And most of the pumpkin pie.
Thanksgiving Day games
Green Bay (9-1) at DETROIT (6-4)
Perfect for Thanksgiving: A turkey of a game from Detroit. Oh, wait. Hang on. I accidentally hit the macro to type that sentence. For once, this tradition works out. The Lions are still in the second wild-card spot after their loss to the Giants, but their schedule is in the process of biting them.
The combined winning percentage of their first nine opponents is .444. For their last seven, starting with the Giants last week, it's .670. They need wins. Three teams are one game behind them and another four are two games back. The Packers, meanwhile, are coasting to the NFC North title with a three-game lead, but they're tied with the Cowboys for the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Those teams play each other next Thursday.
Because of the Lions' desperation, the possibility of the Packers looking ahead to Dallas and not a single football-related reason, I'm taking the Lions.
Buster: Green Bay
N.Y. Jets (2-8) at DALLAS (9-1)
The other two games, though: Gobble gobble. It'd be funny if the Packers and Cowboys both lost the week before their big showdown, especially after I just got done singing the praises of the NFC. But I don't think the Jets have a second straight upset in them.
Kids: Dallas (14-point favorite)
INDIANAPOLIS (8-2) at Atlanta (3-7)
Ohhhhh. I'm full. Any sweet potatoes left?
Kids: Indianapolis (11.5-point favorite)
Sunday early games
Houston (5-5) at CLEVELAND (6-4)
Here's where the AFC's still a little better. Neither of these teams would qualify for the playoffs if the season ended today, though the Browns would only miss because of the esoteric fifth tie-breaker -- strength of victory -- with Tennessee. But both look better than the teams just outside the NFC playoffs, Washington, Philadelphia and Arizona, and they're probably better than Detroit.
The Texans are a whole different kettle of cow patties with receiver Andre Johnson back in the lineup. They're 3-0 with him, 2-5 without him, and they'll have him in the lineup against one of the worst pass defenses in the league. Unfortunately for the Texans, they also have one of the worst pass defenses in the league. I'll take Derek Anderson over Matt Schaub in what looks like it should be a fun one, and there's something that hasn't been said too many times in the Browns-Texans rivalry.
Buffalo (5-5) at JACKSONVILLE (7-3)
The Jaguars are going to have to do without middle linebacker Mike Peterson for a while, maybe the rest of the year, after he broke his hand. That'll hurt them a lot more next week against Indy, but it won't exactly help against the Bills. The Jaguars are better offensively and worse defensively than their reputation would lead you to believe, especially with quarterback David Garrard healthy, which he is. They should be OK at home, but I'd take those points.
Kids: Jacksonville (7.5-point favorite)
Washington (5-5) at TAMPA BAY (6-4)
The Football Outsiders team efficiency stats say the Bucs, not the Giants, are the best NFC team outside of the Packers and Cowboys. Inside of the Packers and Cowboys, it's too dark to read. The Outsiders have been saying Buccaneers all year to anyone who'll listen. I'm not sure I'm quite ready to listen, but I'm picking the wax out of my ears a little. And I think this game will effectively end the idea of Washington as a playoff team, though be warned that for years now, every time I write off the Washingtons, they commence winning.
Kids: Tampa Bay
Oakland (2-8) at KANSAS CITY (4-6)
The Raiders are one of the top two NFL teams in the Complicated Calculus of Who I Root For. Their 2-8 record masks how bad they really are.
Kids: Kansas City (6-point favorite)
SEATTLE (6-4) at St. Louis (2-8)
The Rams are one of the top two NFL teams in the Complicated Calculus of Who I Root For. Their 2-8 record masks how bad they really are.
Buster: St. Louis
Minnesota (4-6) at N.Y. GIANTS (7-3)
With Adrian Peterson out, Chester Taylor ran for 641 yards and 13 touchdowns against the Raiders. OK, 164 and three. It won't be so easy against the Giants, though New York will miss linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka, out for the year with a broken leg.
A Florida orthopedic specialist named Dr. Johnny Benjamin has been making the media rounds saying that Peterson's knee injury is serious enough that, with the Vikings going nowhere, they should shut him down for the year and protect his glittering future. This column, which got Benjamin's press release, has missed connections with him twice this week. I agree with his basic premise, but if the Vikes win this one, they'll be in the thick of the wild-card race, especially if the Lions lose Thursday, and I'm not sure about that big point spread. I'm also not sure why I'm suddenly interested in point spreads this week.
But the Giants won't be able to run against the Vikes and the Vikes might be able to run against the Giants. That means the Giants will have to put the game in the hands of Eli Manning. He's the better quarterback in this game, but only by default.
Kids: New York (7.5-point favorite)
NEW ORLEANS (4-6) at Carolina (4-6)
The Saints are going to beat the Panthers to improve to 5-6 and cozy up to the wild-card race, and everybody's going to be all "I can't figure the Saints out! Are they any good or not?" And all that will have happened is that they beat a lousy team.
Kids: New Orleans
TENNESSEE (6-4) at Cincinnati (3-7)
If the Titans are ever going to move the ball, it's going to be in this one.
Sunday late games
San Francisco (2-8) at ARIZONA (5-5)
Because of who the top two NFL teams in the Complicated Calculus of Who I Root For are, I always root against the 49ers. Their 2-8 record masks how bad they really are.
Kids: Arizona (10.5-point favorite)
Baltimore (4-6) at SAN DIEGO (5-5)
Yeah, I don't know. I can't figure out the Chargers. They should be better than this. The image of their season might be Shawn Merriman getting pancaked by Maurice Jones-Drew last week. Then again, if the season ended today, they'd make the playoffs. Mmm, say the Ravens, losers of four straight. Season ending today. If only.
Kids: San Diego (9.5-point favorite)
DENVER (5-5) at Chicago (4-6)
The Broncos are having a funky season, but one thing that's been pretty consistent is they've beaten the teams they're supposed to beat. They're 3-0 against teams that would miss the playoffs if the season ended today. Man, I've got to stop talking about the season ending today. If it did, I'd have to start paying attention to the NBA. Anyway, the Broncos are supposed to beat the Bears, so they won't, which is why I'm picking them, if you follow.
Sunday night game
Philadelphia (5-5) at NEW ENGLAND (10-0)
Donovan McNabb might not play because of a bum ankle. If there were no such thing as the Miami Dolphins, and if the Eagles had one more loss, this would be a serious What the Heck candidate. Wait, there might not be any such thing as the Miami Dolphins.
Kids: New England (22-point -- ! -- favorite)
Monday night game
MIAMI (0-10) at Pittsburgh (7-3)
What the Heck Pick of the week. The Dolphins -- if there really is such a thing -- are pretty automatic for the duration. Nice job with the scheduling. Got any plans Monday night?
Kids: Pittsburgh (16-point favorite)
Extra credit: Grey Cup
Winnipeg Blue Bombers (10-7-1) at SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS (12-6)
The CFL's championship game is a flyover final. Two prairie teams will meet after having upset big-market teams in the conference finals. The Roughriders beat my B.C. Lions 26-17 in the West, the Blue Bombers beat the Toronto Argonauts 19-9 in the East. That sound you heard and couldn't recognize Sunday was CBC executives going, "Dang. Dang!" I didn't know what it was either, but it made me drool for some reason.
Too bad the Argos lost because the Grey Cup game is being played in Toronto. That really would have been special because Jerome Bettis is from Detroit. Kickoff is at 5 p.m. EST.
The Blue Bombers' win over the Lions came at a steep price: Right-handed quarterback Kevin Glenn, the leading passer by yards in the league, broke his left arm and will miss the title game. His replacement is Ryan Dinwiddie, whom those of you who were hip to Boise State before last year's Fiesta Bowl will recognize as the leading passer in Broncos history.
Dinwiddie threw 24 passes this season, exactly the number he threw last season and 597 fewer than Glenn. He completed 17 of them for 175 yards, which is nice. If he quarterbacks the Bombers to the Grey Cup, having thrown 48 career passes -- not counting playoffs and his one year in NFL Europe -- it'd be one of the great stories of the year. At least in Canada. And here.
The Roughriders are led by speedy veteran quarterback -- and former Seattle Seahawks safety -- Kerry Joseph. Either Joseph or Glenn will be named the league's outstanding player at a banquet Thursday, and then Joseph will lift the Grey Cup Sunday night.
Kids: Saskatchewan (11.5-point favorite)
Note: This column uses Danny Sheridan's odds at USAToday.com for point spreads, and Sheridan had Winnipeg as an 11-point favorite Tuesday, but since several Canadian newspapers and Web sites listed the favorite as Saskatchewan by 11 and a half, I assumed that was a typo.
Season record: 100-60
Last week: 13-3
What the Heck Picks: 2-8 (two straight wins)
Lifetime record picking Grey Cup: 0-0
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Long weekend [PERMALINK]
I'm taking one more day off Monday, and then it's straight through to December. Have a happy Thanksgiving. I'll see you Tuesday.
Previous column: A-Rod: It all makes sense
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