Thursday, October 12, 2006

NFL Weekly Predictions: Week 6

By Jeffrey Boswell

Note: the quotes in this article are fictional.

Buffalo @ Detroit

Detroit is one of only two winless teams remaining in the NFC, and the reason is clear: their defense can't keep opponents out of the end zone, nor can their offense. Last week, Minnesota returned two Jon Kitna turnovers for touchdowns as the Vikes scored 23 points in the fourth quarter to beat the Lions 26-17.

"I think it's time," says Lions general manager Matt Millen, contemplating firing himself, "for an ultimatum. Either we win, or I'm staying."

"Man, I've never thought of throwing a game," says Kitna. "Wait a minute, yes I have. I played in Cincinnati, and had some pretty serious conversations with Pete Rose. He's an intimidating guy ... when he's down 30 grand and holding a Louisville Slugger. Anyway, I never threw a game, at least not on purpose."

The Bills ran into arguably the best team in the NFL, the Chicago Bears, and were soundly beaten 40-7.

"You'll get no argument from me," says J.P. Losman, who threw three interceptions. "I thought the Bears would at least show me some compassion. After all, 'Losman' rhymes with 'Grossman.'"

Who's the better team here? The Bills, of course, but jobs are on the line in Detroit. Lions win, 20-17. Millen loses 10 pounds on sweat alone.

Carolina @ Baltimore

How's this for a situation that had the betting man pulling out his hair, or wildly celebrating: as nine-point underdogs, the Browns were down 20-9 with eight seconds left facing a fourth down. Coach Romeo Crenel decided to kick the field goal, and Phil Dawson's 32-yarder made it 20-12. After a failed onside kick, the Panthers won, the Browns covered, and a lot of money changed hands.

"It serves them right," adds Carolina head coach John Fox, "for picking us to cover. What kind of fool picks us to cover? My gosh, we can't even cover against the Browns in Carolina? It's like my buddy Jim Cornette said, right before he nailed a baby face with a tennis racket: 'We couldn't whip cream with an outboard motor.'"

Okay, not a good idea to pick the Panthers to cover. And speaking of bad ideas, how about throwing at Champ Bailey on third down in the red zone with the game tied 3-3? The Ravens did last Monday night, and Bailey intercepted Steve McNair. Instead of running the ball on third down and taking the field goal for a 6-3 lead, the Ravens left empty-handed and eventually lost 13-3.

"Just for the record," says Ravens quarterback Steve McNair, "I don't make my own play calls. And I usually don't audible, but that was a good time for one. That had to be the dumbest play call ever. Coach Billick let his smugness get the better of him, and it may have cost us the game."

Guess what? The Ravens are in another low-scoring game. Here's a few words of advice, Billick: double-cover Steve Smith. Remember, last year during the regular season, the Panthers visited Chicago and their tough defensive unit, and only Smith showed up to play. Oh yeah, and you might want to double-team Julius Peppers, and let your defense and field goal unit do the rest. You'll be glad you did.

Baltimore rebounds and wins, 19-13.

Cincinnati @ Tampa Bay

The Bengals spent their bye week resting, recuperating, and plea bargaining. The Odell Thurman DWI repercussions are still resonating, as wide receiver Chris Henry, who was with Thurman at the time of his arrest, was suspended two games by the NFL under its conduct and substance abuse policy.

"Damn, I'm sick of this," complains Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. "I don't even get to talk football in my press conferences. Reluctantly, I have to answer questions about my idiot players and their legal transgressions. And I don't even get to watch film on Friday and Saturday nights. I'm too busy listening to my police scanner. But in my players' defense, they really have done a good job keeping local highways clean. And, they've inspired CBS to make a new addition to their crime drama lineup with a show called DWI: Cincinnati. At least my criminals are making headlines. Heck, Chad Johnson can barely make the box score."

The rested Bengals will face a winless Buccaneers team that was on the brink of upsetting the Saints in New Orleans until Reggie Bush returned a punt for the winning score. However, Jon Gruden was encouraged by the play of Bruce Gradkowski, who threw for 225 yards and two touchdowns in his first start.

"If Bruce wasn't quarterbacking the Bucs," explains Gruden, "then he would likely be in his native homeland of Poland knocking back mugs of beer at Oktoberfest and hooking up with the St. Pauli girl. But unlike certain Bengals, Bruce puts football before drunken stupidity. There's a time and place for that. Apparently, that time and place is 3:00 AM on the streets of Cincy."

Moments before kickoff, Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer gets a booty call — from USC quarterback John David Booty, who offers Palmer words of encouragement. Palmer takes heed, and throws three touchdown passes as the Bengals prevail, 27-20.

Houston @ Dallas

Is it time for a quarterback change in Dallas? Drew Bledsoe threw three interceptions, lost a fumble, and was sacked seven times in Dallas' 38-24 loss to the Eagles.

"Bom-ba-di-da, bom-ba-di-da," sings Bill Parcells. "Happy trails to Drew, until we meet again. Seriously, though, as of this moment, Drew is still our quarterback. Okay, that moment is over. He's not our quarterback. When Drew's not busy distributing the ball to the other team, he's a pretty good quarterback. Actually, I plan to make a game-time decision to bench Drew."

Houston rookie Mario Williams recorded his first sack in Week 4 against suddenly-immobile Daunte Culpepper, and will get his shot at the permanently-immobile Bledsoe this Sunday at Texas Stadium.

"I've studied film on Bledsoe," says Williams, "and I've studied still pictures of him, and they both tell the same story: even snails call Bledsoe slow."

Parcells keeps it simple for Bledsoe, calling mostly three-step drops, which is ample time for Terry Glenn and Owens to navigate 60-yard, downfield routes. Bledsoe hits Glenn for a TD bomb, and appeases Owens with a short scoring pass.

Cowboys win, 30-13.

N.Y. Giants @ Atlanta

The Giants stormed back from a bye week with a 19-3 domination of the Redskins, allowing the 'Skins only 164 total yards and three points on the scoreboard. The G-Men improved to 2-2, tied for second in the NFC East with Dallas. Tight end Jeremy Shockey accused Joe Gibbs and his staff of being unprepared, and threw in a few profanities, because that's how he talks.

"Oh, that Shockey is one unpredictable SOB," says New York coach Tom Coughlin. "He's from 'The U,' right? I'm pleased that he went through sensitivity training at the real 'U,' IBU, I Blame University. And he really stepped up his play after blaming our coaches and myself for losing to the Seahawks. What'd he have? One catch for 13 yards?"

The Giants will travel to Atlanta to face the 3-1 Falcons and the league's No. 1 rushing offense. Atlanta averages 234 yards per game on the ground, which is nearly 60 more than the Chargers.

"You know, analysts insist that we need some balance on the offensive side," says Michael Vick, "meaning we need to pass more to keep defenses from loading up against the run. I'm all for that, but I don't think the coaches have confidence in me. Heck, even when I do a commercial, like for Nike Gridiron, they won't even let me pass. With the game on the line, LaDainian Tomlinson gets to make the game-winning pass to that kid Ryan."

The Giants answered questions about their defense last week. Not "Can they play it?" But, "Do they have one?" The outcome of this game will tell which of these teams is legitimate, or it might tell us that both are illegitimate. Fresh off a bye week, the Falcons keep running, and turn back the Giants, 25-20.

Philadelphia @ New Orleans

Okay, maybe Terrell Owens didn't get Donovan McNabb's text message. McNabb supposedly sent Owens a message after Owens' overdose two weeks ago; Owens says he didn't receive it.

"Is T.O. from North Korea?" asks McNabb. "'Cause he's Kim Jong Illin.' I sent the message. I know it. T.O. knows it. Who are you gonna believe? Me, or his lying eyes?"

I believe you, Donovan. But answer me this: did you end your message with a (:-)?

It took five weeks, but Reggie Bush finally scored his first touchdown, on a 65-yard punt return that gave the Saints a 24-21 win over the Bucs, and a 4-1 record.

"Wow! It was just like I was back in college," Bush says.

What, you just bought your parents another house?

"No, fool," replies Bush, "no one even came close to tackling me. Now, can I get a candy bar named after me?"

Saints' fans were justifiably excited by Bush's touchdown, but they are downright delusional when they start the "MVP! MVP!" chant as Bush takes the field. McNabb hears the chant, and assumes it's directed at him, so he sprints on the field to accept his "NFL First Quarter MVP" award from Tic-Tac mints, who present the Eagle QB with a Tic-Tac. Not a pack, just one. McNabb shakes off the effects of slightly minty breath to throw for three touchdowns as the Eagles win, 34-28.

Seattle @ St. Louis

"If the Seahawks want to win the West," says Rams coach Scott Linehan, "they'll have to go through St. Louis."

"Scott's right," says Seattle's Mike Holgren, covering his mouth with his laminated play sheet so no one can read his lips. "St. Louis is on the way from Seattle to Miami, home of this year's Super Bowl, so we will have to go through St. Louis, and we're stopping at every Waffle House possible. Our game plan is simple: we can't let Albert Pujols beat us."

Actually, Mike, it's Marc Bulger and Steven Jackson you should worry about. Bulger hasn't thrown an interception in his last 214 pass attempts, and Jackson is tied for the NFL lead in rushing.

"Just so everyone knows," says Jackson, "I'm Steven Jackson, not Stephen Jackson, the gun-toting fool of the Indiana Pacers. This gangster got hit by a car and retaliated by firing shots into the air? Hey, Stephen, you got hit by a car, not a plane. I know Chris Henry had to be around when this went down."

Can the Seahawks not win this game? The division lead is on the line against their division rivals. They want to re-establish themselves as a force after being humiliated by the Bears two weeks ago, and they're rested after a bye week. And, the Rams can't beat teams with a winning record. After giving up a Torry Holt touchdown reception, the Seahawks storm back and take outright control of the division.

Seattle wins, 33-21.

Tennessee @ Washington

The Titans surprised everyone by nearly upsetting the heavily-favored Colts in Indianapolis, falling 14-13 after leading 10-0 at half-time. Obviously, the fear of having their face stomped by a Tennessee player affected the play of the Colts, and it took a Peyton Manning touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne with five minutes left to give Indy the winning points.

"You'll notice I wasn't sacked in this game," says Manning. "There was no way I was going to end up on my back, face up, with 11 sets of Titan feet near my head."

That's great, Peyton. Why don't you get lost and go work on another commercial. Does the word "overexposure" mean anything to you?

The big news in Washington was the Redskins inability to score more than three points after dropping 36 on the Jaguars in the previous week. The loss leaves the 'Skins at 2-3, and 0-2 in the NFC East.

"It hasn't been the best of weeks in Washington," laments coach Joe Gibbs. "We couldn't run, we couldn't pass, and Florida Congressman Mark Foley has been bothering some of my younger players with creepy, perverted emails. For the last time, Foley, my players don't roll like that. But it does get kind of lonely here in the stadium late at night on weekdays."

Will the Redskins play like the team that was spanked by the Giants last week? Probably not. Will the Titans play like the team that almost shocked the Colts? I doubt it. Sean Taylor has a big game, content in knowing that spitting in a player's face is not nearly as bad as stomping on it. Taylor has an interception and several hits worthy of "Jacked Up!" consideration. Clinton Portis rushes for 130 yards and a score.

Washington wins, 27-9.

Kansas City @ Pittsburgh

The defending Super Bowl champion Steelers are 1-3 and in trouble. The offense can't score enough, Ben Roethlisberger is erratic, and the Steelers still have to go to Baltimore and Cincinnati.

"Have you ever heard of a quarterback playing like he did in winning the Super Bowl," says Bill Cowher, "and it be a bad thing? Well, Ben's playing like crap, just like he did in the Super Bowl, and Antwan Randle El is no longer here to make the big throws for him. But, there's no need for drastic measures. I'm only going to take down one of the one hundred life-size Fathead stickers from my bathroom wall."

After an 0-2 start, the Chiefs have won two straight, albeit over the 49ers and Cardinals, and are only one game out in the loss column in the AFC West. But a win against the wounded Steelers in Pittsburgh may be too much to ask for Herman Edwards and the Chiefs.

"I will not let his team be intimidated by the Pittsburgh crowd," says Edwards. "After all, the place is named for ketchup, which, in the defense of ketchup, is probably the most intimidating condiment on the planet. But we don't fear ketchup, especially Heinz ketchup, and we don't fear the Steelers. Although I do fear the Steelers if I'm playing without Larry Johnson."

Currently, Johnson is listed as questionable, but will probably play. The Steelers are backed into a corner, and cannot afford a fourth consecutive loss. Cowher ignores the crowd's chants of "We want Batch! We want Batch!" and starts Roethlisberger, who makes several mistake-free handoffs to Willie Parker, who rushes for 123 yards and a score.

Steelers win, 27-16.

Miami @ N.Y. Jets

The Jets were mauled by the Jaguars 41-0, their worst defeat in twenty years. Chad Pennington lost the personal battle with his former Marshall teammate and current friend Byron Leftwich, who tossed two touchdown passes.

"We were totally outclassed," says Pennington. "You know, like Alex Rodriguez in any playoff series."

The Dolphins fell to the Patriots 20-10 as Daunte Culpepper was benched in favor of Joey Harrington, who responded with a fairly decent game. Reports surfaced early in the week of a heated argument between Culpepper and Miami head coach Nick Saban that took place on the Friday before the Patriot-Dolphins game.

"Details are sketchy," says Harrington, "but sources say Coach Saban told Daunte that if he missed one more study hall, then he was off the team. Daunte then tried to run away, but Saban quickly caught him and sacked him for a loss."

The 'Fins are in dire need of a win, especially a division win. With a loss, they would be 0-3 in the East. Harrington's been there before, and he doesn't like it, and that's his motivation. The former Lion hits Chris Chambers for a score, and rushes for one himself.

Miami pulls off the upset, 21-20.

San Diego @ San Francisco

Are the Chargers the best team in the AFC? After handling the Steelers 27-13, the Bolts look like a team that has the skills to make a postseason run. Their defense is giving up only nine points a game, and coach Marty Schottenheimer has opened up the offense. The Chargers are fifth in the league in scoring with nearly 26 points per game.

"I wasn't around for it," says Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers, "but I've heard the stories about 'Martyball.' You know, three plays and a cloud of optimism. Marty's promised us that those days are long gone, at least until the playoffs start."

The 49ers, at 2-3, have a one game lead over the Cardinals in the junior varsity division of the NFC West. They are 2-1 at home, and running back Frank Gore is tied for the league lead in rushing yards.

"I'm fully aware that lurking on the other side of the ball is Shawne Merriman," says Gore, "and I'm frightened. Isn't he the guy that knocked Priest Holmes out of football? If I come out of this game with the NFL rushing lead, then I'll be happy. Heck, if I come out of this game without a fumble, I'll be happy."

It's a long day for Gore, as well as Alex Smith, as the 49ers finish their AFC West swing with a 1-2 record. LaDainian Tomlinson rushes for 68 yards in 2½ quarters, then watches Michael Turner gain 85 yards in mop-up duty.

Chargers win, 24-3.

Oakland @ Denver

Toss out the records and the rule books for this one, and toss out any chance of the Raiders winning. The Raiders are in turmoil and guess who wants out of Oakland — Randy Moss.

"This Raider team is a Big Wack Attack," says Moss, enjoying a two-pound bag of Skittles. "Frankly, I'm ashamed to be a Raider. I'm not sure we're capable of raiding anything, except maybe some panties. That reminds, could I be traded back to the Vikings? I'd really like to hang out with those guys on their bye week. Here, have a Skittle. Taste the rainbow, fool!"

Somewhere, Joe Buck is saying, "That's disgusting!"

The Broncos improved to 4-1 with a tough 13-3 win over the Ravens in a cold rain in Denver. Jake Plummer hit Rod Smith with a short touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter for the clinching points. Rumors are swirling that Plummer will be traded at the end of the year to make way for Jay Cutler, projected as the starter next year.

"Yes, I've heard those rumors," says Plummer, "but I've just got to play my game and stay positive. Like I did in the second half last Monday. Now, after the first half, in which I threw for all of six yards, I wouldn't have been surprised if the Broncos traded me right on the spot. But I'm hanging in, and my teammates and I should be well-prepared for our playoff swoon in January."

Plummer has his way with the Raider secondary, throwing for two TDs and 256 yards. Champ Bailey sticks to Moss like Afro-Sheen, holding Moss to a frustrating three catch, 40-yard day. Moss moons the Denver crowd and walks off the field in the third quarter.

Broncos win, 34-6.

Chicago @ Arizona

Monday Night Football makes its first trip to Arizona since 1999 as the 5-0 Bears face the 1-4 Cardinals in what is sure to be a four-star matchup (out of 10). The Bears lead the NFL in scoring offense and scoring defense.

"By golly," chirps Arizona head coach and rotund person Dennis Green, "how can you outscore them when you can't even score?"

Is that some kind of riddle, Dennis? If I answer correctly, will the sphinx remove its curse?

Lovie Smith and company will attempt to go to 6-0 in front of a national television audience and in brand new University of Phoenix Stadium.

"Wow! This is a fabulous facility," says Bears coach Lovie. "This turf is so soft, and a lovely shade of green. And those skyboxes look so luxurious, with such a fabulous view. Tell me, Dennis. Does the carpet match the drapes?"

I'm sure Green has no idea what you're talking about, Lovie. But he does know this: Matt Leinart is his quarterback. Leinart will get his second start in the wake of Kurt Warner's loss of all functioning motor skills. And if Leinart can master the Bears defense, then he can truly consider himself a real NFL starting quarterback. But that doesn't happen. Leinart has a shaky offensive line in front of him, and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is out. So it will be a tough day for Leinart, but a great learning experience, much like ballroom dancing class at USC.

Bears win, 29-9.

Although he doesn't make any during the game, Leinart makes a hot read afterwards at a downtown nightclub, and hooks up with two sets of identical twins.

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