Slow news week?
Did I say that out loud? Ha ha! No, it can only mean there's a big game coming up. Yessiree, and one of the players in that game, safety Anthony Smith of the Pittsburgh Steelers, has guaranteed that his team will hand the New England Patriots their first loss of the season in Foxboro, Mass., Sunday.
If the Steelers somehow lose this game, Smith will personally refund every dollar every Steelers fan has spent on the team this season.
I'm just assuming that. It couldn't be that he just said he guaranteed the Steelers would win, and it became a news story, and his teammates warned him about giving the Patriots bulletin-board material and all that, and that the guarantee doesn't mean a damn thing.
"You don't need to give New England any bulletin-board material to motivate themselves," Steelers receiver Hines Ward was quoted as saying this week. "You've got to be smarter and be careful what you say."
The Patriots have to be happy that some second-year safety whom Rodney Harrison of the Patriots amusingly said he'd never heard of before decided to open his mouth. If he hadn't, the Pats, four wins away from the first undefeated NFL regular season in 35 years, just wouldn't have been able to figure out what their motivation was supposed to be.
Before I say anything to get anybody all motivated, I better give up the picks for Week 14, with winners in caps. The picks of Buster and Daisy, game-pickinest 4-year-old and coin-flippinest 2-year-old south of Alcatraz, follow.
Sunday early games
MIAMI (0-12) at Buffalo (6-6)
Bang. What the Heck Pick of the week. Miami's pretty automatic at this point, though I do have this funny feeling in my trick knee that I think means the Dolphins are going to win one by accident one of these weeks. Oh, wait, I'm just kneeling in some applesauce. In the last four weeks, What the Heck Picks are 2-2, with both losses being three-point games.
Kids: Buffalo (7-point favorite)
San Diego (7-5) at TENNESSEE (7-5)
The Titans are tied with Cleveland for the last AFC wild-card spot, while the Chargers have a two-game cushion in the West. More motivation, home-field advantage, a solid game last week against Houston and the Chargers' season-long weirdness all favor Tennessee. OK, Tennessee. A Tennessee guarantee.
TAMPA BAY (8-4) at Houston (5-7)
The Bucs have a three-game lead and a cream-puff of a remaining schedule. The Texans pretty much left their playoff hopes in Nashville last week. Trap game. But with Sage Rosenfels starting at quarterback behind a patchwork offensive line, I can guarantee that Houston won't be able to cash in.
Carolina (5-7) at JACKSONVILLE (8-4)
We now know where the Jaguars stand. They took their best swings at the Colts and lost, and now they lead the wild-card race, which looks about right. Win the games they should win and they'll cruise into January. No guarantees or anything. I mean, this is the NFL. But they should win this one.
Kids: Jacksonville (10.5-point favorite)
N.Y. Giants (8-4) at PHILADELPHIA (5-7)
No, every NFL game doesn't have to include a team that's 5-7. Why do you ask? There are, count 'em, eight NFC teams that started the week either 6-6 or 5-7, all playing for one playoff spot, the second wild card. The Chicago Bears' loss to Washington Thursday night probably knocked them out of it, but it's still seven teams playing for one spot.
That is, unless the Giants come back to the pack, in which case it's eight again, playing for two. Got that? Judging from Week 4, when the Giants sacked Donovan McNabb 12 times on the way to a 16-3 win, the Eagles aren't the team to start pulling the Giants in. But you can't just look at Week 4. You can also look at the rest of the weeks.
Actually, the Eagles aren't playing that poorly of late, losing their last two to the Patriots and Seahawks by a combined seven points with A.J. Feeley at quarterback. And I can guarantee the Giants aren't going to sack McNabb 12 times again, even if he is just back from a sprained ankle.
The Giants don't own a single win over a team that now has a winning record. They're 0-3 against clubs that fit that description. The Eagles don't fit that description, but they're healthier than they were 10 weeks ago. Force Eli Manning into a couple of mistakes -- hardly an outlandish idea -- and this game's there for them.
DALLAS (11-1) at Detroit (6-6)
With nary a winning team left on their schedule and essentially a two-game lead on the Packers for the top NFC seed and home-field advantage in the playoffs, the Cowboys are in danger of a post-Game of the Century (NFC version) letdown. Detroit's lost four straight, including a 42-10 hammering at Minnesota last week.
The Cowboys look like they're trying to guard against that by bringing up some year-old trash talk uttered by Lions quarterback Jon Kitna after a meaningless -- to Detroit, though it hurt Dallas -- Week 17 win last year. Cornerback Terrence Newman has been warned by the league that he's being watched after telling a radio interviewer that Kitna better watch for him on the blitz, because "because I've got 15, 25, 30, however much it would be for a fine. I've got that much for one fine. Revenge will be sweet definitely."
The numbers referred to thousands of dollars. NFL players are so rich they don't even say "thousand" anymore. Anyway, I don't think it'll work. The Cowboys will still let down, but the Lions will lose to them anyway.
Kids: Dallas (10-point favorite)
Oakland (4-8) at GREEN BAY (10-2)
Brett Favre says he'll play, though we now know it's not a big deal if he doesn't. Daunte Culpepper probably won't play. Ditto. The Packers don't have much to do except not burst into flames -- and they'd probably still win the NFC North if they did that. With four games left they have a four-game lead in the division and a two-game lead for the No. 2 seed and a first-round playoff bye, and they trail Dallas by one game plus the tie-breaker for home-field advantage. So they could also be in danger of letting down. And I guarantee it: It won't be a big deal.
Kids: Green Bay (10.5-point favorite)
St. Louis (3-9) at CINCINNATI (4-8)
Kids: Cincinnati (6-point favorite)
Sunday late games
MINNESOTA (6-6) at San Francisco (3-9)
Here's an idea for the Vikings: Give the ball to Adrian Peterson. OK, Vikes, you take it from there.
Kids: Minnesota (8.5-point favorite)
Arizona (6-6) at SEATTLE (8-4)
The Cardinals beat the Seahawks in Week 2, so if they win this one, they'll be in decent position to win the NFC West. They'd be down by a game with three to go, but they'd hold the tie-breaker. The Cards' remaining schedule is at New Orleans, then home vs. Atlanta and St. Louis. For Seattle it's at Carolina, vs Baltimore, at Atlanta. Arizona being a game better over that stretch isn't an outrageous proposition.
But they've got to win this one first. On the road and with receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin banged up and uncertain to play, that doesn't appear likely.
Kids: Seattle (6.5-point favorite)
PITTSBURGH (9-3) at New England (12-0)
How can I not take the Steelers? Some guy named Smith guaranteed a victory! The Patriots are in a mid-late-season funk, and I don't think their gift-wrapped win over Baltimore Monday snapped them out of it. This loss will, though. I can -- oh, never mind. The Steelers are kind of a hipster pick, but I'll take them anyway. I was hip once.
OK, I wasn't.
Kids: New England (10-point favorite)
Kansas City (4-8) at DENVER (5-7)
The Chiefs appear to be in freefall, but don't sell the Broncos short. They dropped a game to the Raiders last week in even more decisive fashion than the Chiefs were able to manage the week before. I've picked the Broncos to win six times this year and they're 1-5 in those games. They're also 4-2 when I pick against them. If you were ever going to put money on a game based on my pick, bet on the Chiefs. (But really: Don't.)
Kids: Denver (6.5-point favorite)
CLEVELAND (7-5) at N.Y. Jets (3-9)
The Jets are 2-0 against the Dolphins, 1-9 against everybody else, and the win is over the Steelers. I still can't get over that. If the Browns lose this one, they have no business in the playoffs. If they don't score five touchdowns, there's something seriously wrong.
Buster: New York
Sunday night game
INDIANAPOLIS (10-2) at Baltimore (4-8)
They're both coming off tough ones, an Indy win over Jacksonville and a Baltimore loss to New England. If Kyle Boller and Willis McGahee keep playing like they did last week, the Colts will have their hands full. But that's a big if. The Colts would love to have Marvin Harrison back, but it looks like it's going to be another week. Barring a letdown, which doesn't seem likely against a team they beat in a grinder of a playoff game last year, the Colts should be OK.
Kids: Indianapolis (9.5-point favorite)
Monday night game
NEW ORLEANS (5-7) at Atlanta (3-9)
Hey, you know what they need for these Monday night games? Flexible scheduling. That'd help, I guarantee it. Chris Redman set to start at quarterback for the Falcons. No, I'm not kidding. Why do you ask?
Buster: New Orleans
Season record: 116-77
So far this week: 0-1
Last week: 7-9
What the Heck Picks: 2-10
Probable record for guarantees: 2-5
Previous column: Stop that @! swearing!
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