The new editing gig has been a real eye-opener for me. I'm learning so much. Just in the last three days I've figured out:
• You can use your computer to see if words are spelled incorrectly.
• Completely anonymously, to the readership anyway, you can make writers look idiotic.
• Don't try this with Gary Kamiya.
• Putting a steak on a black eye doesn't do much for your black eye and isn't real great for the steak.
• How to spell Blagojevich without looking it up.
I'm confident all of this new knowledge will make me a better picker of NFL winners. It can scarcely make me worse. I'm in 19th place in the 21-member Panel o' Experts, having correctly picked 123 winners in 208 games. The only people I'm beating are porn star Adriana Sage, with 117 wins, and my daughter, Daisy, the coin-flippinest 3-year-old who ever appeared in the same sentence with porn star Adriana Sage. Daisy's got 113 wins.
And the only reason I'm ahead of Sage is that she forgot to pick games in Week 1.
Actually, I do have something of an excuse for my standing, which is even worse than usual, which is merely middle-of-the-pack bad. My excuse is the Detroit Lions. Thanks mostly to their strict refusal to win a game, the What the Heck™ Pick of the week is 2-12. In a normal year the WTH™ Picks would be more like 5-9 or 6-8 by now, because I'm just as bad at knowing who's going to lose as I am at knowing who's going to win.
Four more wins would rocket me all the way up to a three-way tie for 15th with Jarrett Bell and Larry Weisman of USA Today. So: a little respect, please.
Your Panel o' Experts leader is Chris Morensen of ESPN at 144-63-1, a solid .695 winning percentage. He's got a comfortable three-game lead over the Accuscore computer. Mark Schlereth of ESPN is third with 138 wins, then come Merril Hoge of ESPN and Michael Silver of Yahoo at 136. I think those two are too far out to win it at this point.
Buster, the game-pickinest 5-year-old who ever ran spell checks for his dad at 50 cents a pop, is in a three-way tie with Ron Jaworski of ESPN and Charles Robinson of Yahoo, two former champs, with 128 wins.
His picks, along with those of his sister, are included as we survey Week 15, with this column's dubious choices in caps.
Sunday early games
TAMPA BAY (9-4) at Atlanta (8-5)
The Bucs are coming off a drubbing at the hands of Carolina in a Monday-night game for first place. Now they get to play another tough division game on the road after a short week. And I'm picking them for no reason other than that I think good teams that get pounded like Tampa did Monday find a way to play well the next week. Doesn't matter what's happening on the field. I'd pick the Bucs if they brought Steve Spurrier back to play quarterback. This is analysis by cat entrails.
Kids: Tampa Bay
WASHINGTON (7-6) at Cincinnati (1-11-1)
Tough crowd. There was at least one report this week that rookie coach Jim Zorn's job is in jeopardy. This after being hired as an afterthought in a chaotic offseason and leading Washington to a 6-2 first half. The team's struggling lately, but it still has a winning record, and it'll be guaranteed at least a .500 season after beating the perennial What the Heck™ understudy Bengals. With the talent on this roster, in this division, a .500 season or better is a nice job of coaching.
Kids: Washington (7-point favorite)
TENNESSEE (12-1) at Houston (6-7)
The Titans have already clinched the AFC South title and a first-round bye in the playoffs, and a home win over the Steelers next week would guarantee them the No. 1 seed in the AFC no matter what else happens in Weeks 15 and 17. That explains why the Titans are only three-point favorites. They're a good bet to fall victim to the same malaise that hit the Giants last week against Philadelphia. But the cat entrails say they'll win. In overtime.
DETROIT (0-13) at Indianapolis (9-4)
What the Heck™ Pick of the week.
Kids: Indianapolis (17.5 -- ! -- point favorite)
Green Bay (5-8) at JACKSONVILLE (4-9)
Because sooner or later, you have to pick a home team. If you'd looked ahead at the schedule on Labor Day weekend, this game would have looked pretty good.
San Diego (5-8) at KANSAS CITY (2-11)
The Chargers are having a rotten season, but at least they got to blow out the Raiders last week, and now they get to do the same to the Chiefs. Of course, last time they had a chance to do that, they escaped with their lives. And that was at home.
Kids: Kansas City
San Francisco (5-8) at MIAMI (8-5)
Word on the street in San Francisco is that if the Niners win this game, they win the AFC East. No, wait. It's that interim coach Mike Singletary, last seen being spoofed by David Letterman, will get hired permanently. It'll be a tall order without running back Frank Gore, who was expected to be a game-time decision with a bum ankle. It'll be a tall order even with him if he's a game-time decision. And when I say word on the street I mean word on the radio. I don't go out in the streets. They're a mess. Cat entrails everywhere near my house.
Kids: Miami (6.5-point favorite)
Buffalo (6-7) at N.Y. JETS (8-5)
These two teams will have a summit meeting at the pregame coin flip. They'll ask each other: How did you get beat by the 49ers? Here's how many points the Bills have scored in the last three games, in chronological order: 54, 3, 3. Detect a pattern there? That's right, they're stuck. The 54 points came against the Chiefs, and that converts to three points against anybody else. The Chiefs game was Buffalo's only win in its last seven games. The Bills are just the thing to cure the ills of the reeling Jets, who have followed a five-game win streak that was capped by a victory over the Titans with bad losses to Denver and at San Francisco.
Kids: New York (7.5-point favorite)
Seattle (2-11) at ST. LOUIS (2-11)
The What the Heck™ Avoidance Bowl.
Kids: St. Louis
Sunday late games
MINNESOTA (8-5) at Arizona (8-5)
For the second time in recent years, the Vikings are at the center of a sleazy scandal. This one's on a much smaller scale than that party boat business a few years ago, but it's pretty bad. You've probably heard about it. Fox cameras were in the postgame locker room after the Vikes' win over the Lions last week as Minnesota owner Zygi Wilf gave a little game-ball speech. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe was in the background of the shot when he dropped his towel, the only thing he was wearing. Be warned that the following photo is very disturbing and not safe for work, but go ahead and take a look.
I know. I know. What is that thing on Wilf's upper lip?
Yeef. I need to take a shower or something. Anyway, the Cardinals won their division about five months ago and the Vikings are still trying to fight off the Bears. Not to mention the caterpillars.
Pittsburgh (10-3) at BALTIMORE (9-4)
Hey, look, way down here. It's the game of the week. One of these days I'm going to have to think about reformatting this thing. Two of the league's best defenses meet for the second time, Pittsburgh having survived at home in late September. The Steelers, fresh off a rout of the Patriots and a come-from-behind win over the Cowboys, can clinch the AFC North with a win. The Ravens, winners of seven out of eight including routs of the Dolphins, Raiders, Texans, Eagles and Bengals, can pull into a tie. It's going to come down to which team can do just enough on offense, which mostly will mean avoiding sacks and turnovers. I say flip a coin on that question, but that's already part of the shtick, so let's go with the home field and the team that's a little bit hotter.
DENVER (8-5) at Carolina (10-3)
The cat entrails say the Panthers are going to let down after their big division win over Tampa Bay and lose a game they have no business losing.
Kids: Carolina (7.5-point favorite)
NEW ENGLAND (8-5) at Oakland (3-10)
You know what's funny about the Raiders? Yeah, me neither.
Kids: New England (7-point favorite)
Sunday night game
N.Y. Giants (11-2) at DALLAS (8-5)
Am I the only one who thinks the Giants are reliving their 2007 season, only in reverse? Are the Giants going to have to start looking for the playoff switch in a few weeks?
Daisy: New York
Monday night game
Cleveland (4-9) at PHILADELPHIA (7-5-1)
The Eagles' win over the Giants last week was probably one of those late-season motivation-problem hiccup losses for the defending champs. Then again, with what should be an easy win over the desiccated Browns, the Eagles will have gone 6-2-1 since the season's low point, when a loss to Washington dropped them to 2-3. They looked like they were through when they got smoked by Baltimore three weeks ago to fall to 5-5-1 without a win in three straight games, but a rout of Arizona and that win over the Giants have changed things. Philly is fourth in the wild-card race and only a half-game out of a playoff spot. The key has been Brian Westbrook fighting through a blizzard of injuries and playing well.
The Eagles did this last year too, remember? But they started later. They were 5-8 before they won their last three, finishing a game out of the playoffs. It'll be no picnic for the Eagles to win out, which they probably need to do. They finish with games at Washington and home vs. Dallas. And if we've all learned anything in these last 80 years of watching the NFL, it's that this Monday-night home game against the hapless Browns is a traperino.
Kids: Philadelphia (14-point favorite)
Season record: 124-84-1
So far this week: 1-0
Last week: 10-6
What the Heck™ Picks: 2-12
Number of cats harmed in the writing of this story: 0. Cats can't read