NFL vacation season is over. Every team has had its bye and from now on everybody's hard at work every week. Noses to the grindstone, shoulders to the wheel, that sort of thing, starting right here!
Except this column, which is on vacation, feet up, umbrella in the drink, Danielle Steel novel face down on its sunburned belly. Longtime readers know how much I hate to disappoint them, but I'm doing a Week 11 preview anyway.
Winners in caps, followed by the picks of my son, Buster, the game-pickinest 5-year-old sailing the seven seas, and my daughter, Daisy, the coin-flippinest 3-year-old who ever blew her allowance playing the slots in Reno.
Sunday early games
Denver (5-4) at ATLANTA (6-3)
Wow, I must have really been out of touch on my vacation. How did the Falcons get a better record than the Broncos? Isn't John Elway having a good year? No? Well, they still have that good defense, right? What?
Houston (3-6) at INDIANAPOLIS (5-4)
Houston quarterback Sage Rosenfels was the story in Week 5, when his two fumbles and an interception in the fourth quarter helped the Colts stage a 21-point comeback faster than you can say, "Pool boy, another margarita, please." Or at least faster than I can get him to hear me. Yo! Pool boy! Anyhow, Rosenfels is still the Texans' quarterback, and Peyton Manning is the Colts quarterback, and that's the story in Week 11. Does anybody work here?
Kids: Indianapolis (8.5-point favorite)
Oakland (2-7) at MIAMI (5-4)
The Dolphins, 1-15 last year and contending for a playoff spot this season, are proof of how quickly fortunes can change in the NFL. The Raiders are a solid counter-argument.
Kids: Miami (10.5-point favorite)
Baltimore (6-3) at N.Y. GIANTS (8-1)
If the Ravens can protect quarterback Joe Flacco from the Giants pass rush they've got a shot at a huge road win, and you'd have to like the chances of a repeat of Super Bowl 35, in the 2000 season. Well, you wouldn't have to like that, but you might acknowledge the possibility. I think the rush will get there and Eli Manning and Brandon Jacobs will get enough done on offense to win a bruiser.
Kids: New York (6.5-point favorite)
DETROIT (0-9) at Carolina (7-2)
What the Heck™ Pick of the week. If you're thinking about looking at the Lions schedule to try to find their most winnable game, their best chance to avoid 0-16, don't bother. First of all, every remaining opponent is at least decent. The only ones with losing records are the Saints and Packers, who are both 4-5. Second, teams like the Lions don't get their one or two wins over beatable teams. They bite somebody in the butt, What the Heck™ style. So why not the Lions over Carolina?
Because the Lions stink beyond all reason is why. But I think you get my point, on the off chance I have one.
Kids: Carolina (14-point favorite)
PHILADELPHIA (5-4) at Cincinnati (1-8)
The Bengals are a case in point. Did they beat the Browns or Texans, who are both 2-6 when not playing Cincinnati? No, they beat the Jaguars, who are 4-4 against everybody else. It'd be a better point if the Jags were 7-1 against everybody else, but listen, I'm late for a luau.
Kids: Philadelphia (9.5-point favorite)
Chicago (5-4) at GREEN BAY (4-5)
Did the Packers really give up two safeties last week? And it still took a heroic performance by Adrian Peterson to beat them. The Bears don't have an Adrian Peterson. OK, they do, but you know what I mean. And if you don't, you should try the margaritas.
Buster: Green Bay
NEW ORLEANS (4-5) at Kansas City (1-8)
Matt Eagon of the Hartford Courant wondered in his blog last week if Chiefs coach Herm Edwards would be hailed as an American hero for going for two points and the win against the Chargers, rather than kicking the extra point and going to overtime. He wondered that because I, King Kaufman of Salon, had used those words to sing the praises of Denver coach Mike Shanahan for doing the same thing against the same team in Week 2.
I happened to be passing through Hartford in my camper, which is why I was able to read the local blogs, and my dog Charley and I agree that Herm Edwards is an American hero, one whose team is going to lose again this week. Bad.
Buster: New Orleans
Daisy: Kansas City
Minnesota (5-4) at TAMPA BAY (6-3)
The Vikings have the Adrian Peterson you want to have. They also have Gus Frerotte at quarterback, and the Bucs are a little more able than the Packers to make Frerotte be the hero. Tampa has also activated running back Cadillac Williams, who might see some playing time.
Buster: Tampa Bay
Sunday late games
St. Louis (2-7) at SAN FRANCISCO (2-7)
A huge, huge game in the three-way battle for distant second in the NFC West. Huge.
Kids: San Francisco (6-point favorite)
Arizona (6-3) at SEATTLE (2-7)
On Sept. 12, 1976, the Seattle Seahawks played their inaugural game, hosting the St. Louis Cardinals at the Kingdome. The Seahawks trailed 20-7 at the half and 30-10 in the fourth quarter, but quarterback Jim Zorn -- now the rookie head coach in Washington -- led a furious comeback. Seattle trailed only 30-24 when Zorn's Hail Mary was intercepted in the end zone at the gun.
These were the "Air Coryell" Cardinals, coming off an 11-3 record and back-to-back playoff appearances. They would go 10-4 in '76 and just miss the playoffs. They'd have made it today, but only four teams in each conference qualified back then.
Why am I yammering on about a game that happened when Gerald Ford was president and "(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty" by K.C. and the Sunshine Band was the No. 1 record? Because I rarely get the chance to get paid for typing "(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty."
But also because I'd be willing to place a small wager that that was the last time the Cardinals were favored to win a game in Seattle. The only other candidate that I can see among the nine contests between the teams in Seattle since then would be the one on Dec. 19, 1993, when it was the Phoenix Cardinals visiting the Kingdome. The Cardinals finished with the better record that year, 7-9 to Seattle's 6-10, but at the time they met, Phoenix was 4-9 and the Seahawks -- featuring kicker Jon Kasay, to give you an idea of how long ago this was -- were 5-8. I bet the home team was favored.
The Cardinals haven't won in their now-annual visit to Seattle since 2002, and this week the struggling Seahawks get quarterback Matt Hasselbeck back. Hey, who let Chris Berman in here? Anyway, not for either of those reasons but for no reason at all, I think the Seahawks are going to win again.
TENNESSEE (9-0) at Jacksonville (4-5)
The Titans keep doing just enough to win, which is usually a formula for not continuing to win, but this week they get to play the Jaguars, who have a habit of doing just enough to lose.
San Diego (4-5) at PITTSBURGH (6-3)
I don't quite know what to make of this game, but the weather report says snow showers and wind, and when a warm weather team from a California beach city pulls into Pittsburgh for a snow game, that can only mean one thing: Charley and I are steering clear of Pittsburgh.
Sunday night game
DALLAS (5-4) at Washington (6-3)
Injuries could be the biggest factor in this big wild-card sort-'em-out. Tony Romo returns just in time for the Cowboys, who were on the road to nowhere without him, and Clinton Portis is reportedly unlikely to play for Washington with a strained knee. The Cowboys looked like they were going to cruise to the playoffs when Washington, which had started badly, beat them in Week 4, leaving both teams 3-1 but heading in different directions. It says here the return of Romo and the absence of Portis will again leave these teams tied and heading in opposite directions.
Monday night game
Cleveland (3-6) at BUFFALO (5-4)
After the Browns coughed up a big lead and lost to the Broncos last week, running back Jamal Lewis and return man Josh Cribbs both accused some players of quitting. Coach Romeo Crennel took offense at the remarks, saying, "When you say that the team quit, that's saying that I quit." Asked to comment on the controversy, the rest of the team sent this text from the Swiss Alps: "Season still on?"
Season record: 85-60
This week so far: 0-1
Last week: 8-6
What the Heck™ Picks: 2-8
Amount of time since the only appearance of the words "(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty" in a non-wire story in Salon, according to Google: Nine years, two months, four booty-shakin' days