NFL Headlines and Week 11 Picks
I’m never been big on headlines but what the hell, I feel like breaking from tradition. So before dishing out Week 11 picks, here are a trio of underappreciated stories that are bound to become major headlines as the 2008 season plays out.
Colts have Titans feeling the heat!
This is more about Indy than it is Tennessee. The Titans have the AFC South and home field throughout the playoffs sewn up. However, four of their next six games are losable. Ranging from a grudge match (at Jacksonville, Sunday) to a trip game (at Houston, 12/14), not to mention a pair of wars to be waged in the trenches (vs. Jets, 11/23 and vs. Steelers, 12/21), the mettle of the Titans will be tested. And retested. This may be the last unbeaten team still standing, but history will not repeat itself. Tennessee has the look of a solid 13-win squad. Nothing more.
Now let’s consider the Colts. If Bill Belichick doesn’t squander his timeouts two weeks ago, the Colts season is over and for the first time since the NFL realigned Peyton Manning is golfing in January (or watching Eli from the sky box, but we’ll get to that). Instead, a rejuvenated Peyton has led Indy to back-to-back victories over his arch rivals, the Patriots and Steelers. Suddenly the Colts are 5-4, with some swagger. Their toughest matchup over the next five weeks is the Chargers, who as Charles Barkley would gladly point out, are simply turrrible. It’s not inconceivable that they tear through that stretch and head into Week 16 sitting at 10-4. If the Titans start sputtering — which they will — out of the blue you’ll start hearing about a Week 17 “showdown” between the Colts and Titans. A game, mind you, that no one even knew existed in November.
One thing history has taught us is to respect the Colts more when they’re supposedly less (see: 2006).
BYE the way, 11 wins will do it in AFC
Here’s a fun fact. Since the NFL realigned into four divisions per conference beginning with the 2002 campaign, the recipient of the second bye in the AFC has finished with at least 13 wins every year except the inaugural ’02 season. That’s five years running that it’s taken a grueling 13 victories to earn the right to win one home game and play with a Super Bowl on the line. However, every so often the AFC softens (get it?) and 11 wins becomes the magic number. This is one of those years, chiefly because the NFC East has feasted on its brother conference (6-2 record) and the AFC West has been arguably the biggest collective embarrassment the league has seen this decade.
Which brings us to Thursday night, when the 6-3 Jets will meet the 6-3 Patriots, with the winner gaining the inside track to not only the AFC East title, but that crucial second bye. It can’t be sufficiently stressed what a luxury it is for teams to be able to scout potential opponents from the comfort of their homes one week, then host a squad that has just emerged from a fierce playoff battle the next week. There is no more significant postseason advantage in sports. That’s essentially what the Pats and Jets are playing for Thursday. The winner will be 7-3 and competing with the Steelers and Ravens (both 6-3) for that no-longer-so-elusive second bye.
Patriots, Jets, Steelers and Ravens. First to 11 wins … wins.
Giants looking flat-out Patriotic
Dating back to the playoffs, the Giants are 12-1 over their last 13 games. Though it’s not just all the wins they’ve piled up that has them drawing comparisons to the old Patriots, it’s the adaptive brand of football they’ve established. The same brand that launched the 2003-04 Patriots to 32 of 34 including consecutive Super Bowls. As exhilarating as they were to watch last year, the 18-0 Patriots had a quarterback who was never touched and a defense that was never really tested. The Giants, on the other hand, had grown accustomed to adapting to their given opponent, keeping games tight, and excelling in crunch time.
Like the three-time champion Patriots — and as opposed to the 18-0 outfit — the Giants are frequently in close games and can beat you in a variety of ways. Shootouts? Yup, they’ll put points on the board when necessary. Defensive affairs? Look no further than their wins over the Redskins and Steelers this year. Come-from-behind triumphs? Ask Cincinnati (or New England …). The G-Men are nearly impossible to beat because they control both sides of the line of scrimmage and limit their mental mistakes. They have a defense that bends at times, but consistently makes the one huge play required to preserve victory (like last Sunday night in Philly). And then there’s the quarterback, who it seems, is always at his best when the game is on the line. Sound familiar? It should.
Indeed, the Giants hijacked the blueprint of the Patriots dynasty, stuffed it in their face last February, and are poised to use it to become the first repeat champion since New England.
(Please allow me a second to wipe the tears off my keyboard.)
Thanks. Here are the Week 11 Picks (Home Teams in CAPS)
NEW ENGLAND over NY Jets
ATLANTA over Denver
Philadelphia over CINCINNATI
GREEN BAY over Chicago
INDIANAPOLIS over Houston
New Orleans over KANSAS CITY
MIAMI over Oakland
NY GIANTS over Baltimore
TAMPA BAY over Minnesota
CAROLINA over Detroit
SAN FRANCISCO over St. Louis
Arizona over SEATTLE
JACKSONVILLE over Tennessee
PITTSBURGH over San Diego
WASHINGTON over Dallas
BUFFALO over Cleveland
Last Week: 9-4