By Mark Wald
Cold, Hard Football Facts Texan at Heart
Fourth quarter, four games to go, and we’re running the table.
A few years ago former Giants’ coach Jim Fassel famously put all the Giants’ chips on the table.
Fassel and Gary Kubiak must be poker buddies because Kubiak’s playing the Texans’ bad hand like a master.
We love a guy who’s all-in at crunch time.
Houston at Cincinnati
Line: Bengals (-3)
Last week we felt sorry for Houston coach Gary Kubiak. Kubiak said up yours with your sanctimonious sympathy, then hawked a Texas size loogie at the Flutie Curse as Wade Phillips peered timidly from behind, a ring of garlic hanging from his portly neck.
Give it up for Kubiak. The Texans won six games in a row with Peter, Cleveland, and Quagmire at quarterback. The other day he acquired Beavis (Jeff Garcia).
The man is going all-in for the 2011 stretch run. Who’s to doubt him? Whatever herb Gary is smoking, Lovie Smith would do well to get some because the effect on the Texans’ passing attack is a killer buzz and we’re not talking medicinal.
If Marvin Lewis finds a way to get the Bengals’ head screwed back on after the debacle in Pittsburgh, this could be a good game.
That’s a big if. After what happened in Pittsburgh the Bengals might have checked into Sylvia Plath’s oven, and that’s a room a room you don’t come back from.
Chicago at Denver
Line: Broncos (-3.5)
Feel it? Not Tebow mania. The cosmic, omniscient, shit-eating grin of The Maverick.
Al Davis was no Broncos fans but he would’ve loved Tim Tebow.
“Coach the team on the field”, he told his coaches, refusing to believe great athletes couldn’t make great plays. He sacked coach after coach who hid behind scheme at the expense of athletic execution, and word has it the Broncos run an old-style, outdated offense because that’s what Li’l Timmy’s good at.
If it’s not quite Davis’ long ball offense pundits say can’t win in today’s NFL it’s still a great athlete making great plays, nothing more and nothing less. Tebow is proof that any system can win.
All of which leads to this: How are the Broncos favored by only 3.5 points?
We promised to give Caleb Hanie three games before writing him off. Two games and six interceptions later, maybe the linemakers made the same vow. Don’t know about them, but we’re reneging. Charge it to errors and omissions and issue the quarterly statement.
But it raises an interesting question. Can Tebow win as a decided Favorite? Because that’s what the Broncos will be if they keep this up. The NFL is full of guys who put a few games together under the radar. Success is harder to deal with than failure.
This is the first game Tebow “should” win.
Philadelphia at Miami
Line: Dolphins (-3)
Dolphins guard Richie Incognito: Makin’ friends.
Incognito extends his hand. Players punch him. They punch him because Richie’s got a joy buzzer in his hand.
It isn’t the first time Richard Seymour’s been thrown out of a game and probably not the last, but Incognito provokes that kind of reaction.
Kicked to the curb two years ago, the Dolphins took a chance on the tattooed, brawling fat boy. Smart move. With proper coaching Incognito is Jon Runyan, the nasty former Eagles tackle who didn’t back down from anyone. A guy who takes the best man on defensive out of his game. A guy you want on your team—with proper coaching.
Maybe Incognito’s getting it because Tony Sparano is looking right proper these days.
This is a meaningless game in the playoff picture, but there are still questions to be answered. Can Sparano keep the ball rolling? Can Andy Reid get it rolling again?
We’ll say no more. Ours is not to speculate on coaches’ jobs.
We’ll criticize them, make fun of their personal appearance, gamble on their teams, and covet their wives. But we won’t speculate on their jobs.
Unless there’s money in it.
New England at Washington
Line: Patriots (-7.5)
Philosophical question: At what point is a defense no longer a defense?
When you remove one defensive back? Two defensive backs? Send your best defensive player to Oakland? Play scrubs?
Look, there are two statistics that matter: W/L and PF/PA. The Patriots scoring defense is ranked 13th
. That makes it middle of the road.
Now, as CHFF’s Colonel Comey pointed out earlier this week, one unit of a team can be helped and hurt by the other units. Call it holistic football. That’s where Bill Belichick could use a little more Bill Parcells.
It’s no secret that Parcells’ star faded as Belichick’s star brightened, for reasons not entirely coincidental. But Parcells knew how to work a game.
Concerning Patriots-Redskins, New England is in a different class. Silly as it sounds and as pathetic as Indianapolis is, the Redskins seem even less equipped to keep up with the Patriots’ offense than the Colts.
Would we have made that observation a week ago? Probably not.
Oakland at Green Bay
Line: Packers (-11)
What a difference a week makes, sang Dinah Washington. Esther Phillips’ smacked out disco-soul version is better. And that’s day
, not week
Whatever. A week ago the Raiders were served up as a potential peach pit in the Packers’ quest for perfection. No one really believed it, but it was served up nonetheless, floating in that dreadful syrup that canned media sound bites usually float in.
No Raiders syrup this week. We’ll never call a game a l-o-c-k. We’re so repelled by the word we can’t even write it, so we spell it instead. That trick doesn’t work, though; our Dogs figured it out a long time ago. Let’s just say the crystal ball has a rather green and yellow Hue to it.
It’s a shame the Raiders couldn’t hold on to Charles Woodson, the great defensive back. But truth be told, Woodson was just a good player in Oakland, often victimized, nothing close to the player he is now. Then again, the environment in Oakland isn’t exactly conducive to player development.
Call this game Woodson’s revenge.
Atlanta at Carolina
Line: Falcons (-3)
Feline musk. The last couple weeks the Panthers are spraying it high and hard.
Granted, it’s landing on the likes of Indianapolis and Tampa Bay. But the Panthers don’t control who’s downwind. The tail goes up, the musk comes out. You get nailed? Too bad.
Philosophical question: If Carolina sprays Atlanta will they qualify as a good team?
Philosophical answer: Only if someone’s there to smell it.
Indianapolis at Baltimore
Line: Ravens (-16)
Two games, two humiliatingly large point-spreads. Will the Colts cover again, like they covered as 20.5-point underdogs last week?
Sorry, no bold predictions this time. When we score a touchdown we quietly hand the ball to the ref and walk away like we’ve been there before. Here’s what we said:
The only way the Colts cover is if they develop a sudden thirst for manhood or if Belichick develops a heart. Or if Dan Orlovsky goes 30 for 37 for 353 yards and two touchdowns.
Yep, that’s what we said.
Favored by 16 points, this is the second biggest point-spread advantage in Ravens history. They were favored by 17 over Cleveland in 2000.
Historic trends favor both Indianapolis and Baltimore. The Colts are 9-2 straight up against the Ravens, and haven't lost to them since 2001. But Baltimore is the NFL's top Home Favorite since 1970 (as we wrote about at Insider).
Those aren’t predictions. They’re observations. Want a prediction? Go to Insider.
Tampa Bay at Jacksonville
Chargers 38, Jaguars 14. The Mel Tucker era started out with a roar. Fans are sure to flock to Everbank Field now.
Philosophical question: If two teams suck, why bet on the game?
Philosophical answer: Because its there.
Bonus Philosophical question: If two teams suck, will anyone watch?
Bonus Philosophical answer: No.
Kansas City at New York Jets
Line: Jets (-9)
For a team that doesn’t do anything the easy way the Jets sure get a lot of respect from linemakers.
New York’s 34-19 victory over the Redskins was a lot closer than the score. If not for the late heroics of the NFL’s least respected quarterback the Jets’ playoff hopes would’ve broken apart like the fuselage of an overloaded 747 teetering 150 feet above the runway.
Kansas Cityis game two in New York’s five-game gauntlet separating them from the playoffs. Add Clint Eastwood, Sandra Locke and a bus and we’ve got a box office smash.
Remember those? They hung around for 26 weeks, not two weekends.
The Chiefs are playing well but they’re about to discover the difference between Mark Sanchez and Caleb Hanie: Sanchez plays like Hanie until the fourth quarter. Hanie plays like First Quarter Sanchez the entire game.
Big line. Hu-yeeeeah.
San Francisco at Arizona
Line: 49ers (-3.5)
Back in 1989 we caught Metallica on the And Justice for All
tour at Met Center in Minneapolis. Dudes rocked a room of 15,000 for three hours.
Two weeks later we caught them in Bismarck, N.D. Attendance: 600, as in people.
James Hetfield came out, looked at the crowd, said, “This is like a small party. We’ve played small parties before.” then rocked hard for three hours.
The opening band, The Cult, however, treated the gig like a joke. Ian Astbury shoved the mic in the drummer’s face; made him sing half the words.
Moral of the story: Give Crackling Jim and his Three Chord Wonders credit. They win the games they’re supposed to win because they treat the small gigs just like the big ones.
That’s more than you can say for most jingle jangle outfits.
Minnesota at Detroit
Line: Lions (-7)
The NFL gives an award for the best coaching job of the year. Maybe they should give an award for the worst. This year it’d go to a guy named Jim—and it wouldn’t be Caldwell.
This ignominious award would go to the coach who did the least with the most, messed up a good situation, or lost control of his team.
Hello, Jim Schwartz.
Schwartz deserves both a handshake and a kick in the ass for turning the Lions around and running them into the ground—in the same season.
He’s the high school kid who packed so much performance into his ’68 Mustang it ended up too much car for him. Distracted, head out the window and yelling at frat boys, Schwartz’s after-market monstrosity is skipping curbs, knocking over fire hydrants, and tearing up front lawns.
Anyone else notice how this demolition started just after Schwartz’s sophomoric confrontation with Cracklin’ Jim back in week 6?
Sure we loved it, but Sophomoric is our middle name. No head coaching job in our future (or yours, highbrows).
Detroit’s loads from shop class have slipped on so much axle grease it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Vikings drop a dime on them.
Not sure we’d bet on it. But we wouldn’t bet against it.
Buffalo at San Diego
Line: Chargers (-6.5)
As bad as the Bills are playing, Norv Turner’s Chargers could start a Sparano-esque run of the table. Their remaining schedule isn’t that daunting. The Ravens in San Diego are the only real challenge.
They’ve rallied before. Rallied so often, in fact, it’d be about as boring as Christmas alone in your studio apartment.
That doesn’t sound half bad, actually. Think of the stat-crunching…those CDs you haven’t listened to in a while…the time spent drinking alone. Does it get any better?
New Orleans at Tennessee
Line: Saints (-4)
Proof there is a god: the Saints play a game outside of a domed stadium. That hasn’t happened since November 6.
The Detroit Lions were still relevant on November 6. Hue Jackson was the man who returned the Raiders to greatness back on November 6.
Hell, we were under the illusion we were getting paid for this gig back on November 6, that’s how long ago November 6 was.
Sean Payton, Drew Brees and their Indoor Air Carnival are only 2-2 in the wild, woolly outdoors. Dangerous stuff out there. Like grass, dirt, wind and other poisonous stuff that can muck up a milquetoast cyber-football machine.
This game is a clash of styles. Mike Munchak wears Bruno Maglis on the grass field of the Titans’ outdoor stadium. Sean Payton wears tennis shoes on the indoor dancing floor of the Benson Ballroom. Something’s got to give.
Unlike the Packers, the NFL’s other X-Box team, the Saints are a different team away from the comforting climes of the Benson Ballroom.
New York Giants at Dallas
Line: Cowboys (-3.5)
Despite the losses, if the Giants run the table they’re in.
Fat chance that’ll happen with Ol’ Second Half Swoon chucking the pigger.
101.4 passer rating the last two games. Sooie!
The Giants’ problems are simple. They give up points like your girlfriend gave it up when you were away at college. Your buddies tried to tell you. You called them jealous liars.
It was true, of course. As true as the Giants’ defensive struggles. Forget the torching by the Packers and Saints. New York gave up 24+ points to the Cardinals, Seahawks, Redskins, and 49ers.
Ouch. Somebody put a Defense on Eli Manning’s Amazon.com Wish List.
The Giants are begging to be written off like a prison snitch accepting a favor. One problem: Ol’ Second Half Swoon refuses to die.
St. Louis Rams at Seattle
Check out Seattle’s last four games.
Rams at home
Bears at the M*A*S*H unit
49ers at home
Cardinals at the Air Conditioned Nightmare
If you’re quaking in fear, you’d be the only one. The Seahawks could run this table. That’d put them at 9-7. If the other NFC contenders continue dropping like flies Seattle could sneak in the playoffs for the second straight year.
This would be a hell of an inconvenience for the NFL punditry. They’d have to come up with new reasons to disrespect Pete Carroll.
Mark Wald is an NFL researcher, writer and regular Cold, Hard Football Facts and CHFF Insider contributor. He has built one of the nation’s most comprehensive databases of historic pointspreads. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.