How the West is won in the NFL this year will be a much more pathetic tale.
The westernmost divisions of both conferences this season have bordered on embarrassing for a league that dominates the country's attention.
- The Arizona Cardinals have an NFL-worst minus-86 point differential, yet they're just two games out of first place.
- For that matter, all four teams in the NFC West have a negative point differntial, combining to post a minus-161 mark.
- The AFC West is unquestionably a bit stronger, but Oakland and Kansas City (tied for first place) have each lost a game by 20 points or more.
So what's the point?
Maybe Roger Goodell should take a break from his crackdown on hits to the head and instead start working on a rule change that will automatically relinquish a playoff spot for division winners with losing records. We may have to see two this year.
(Home team in caps.)
Chicago (+1.5) over MIAMI
Sorry, but when you lose two Chads and you're forced to turn to a Tyler all in one week, I'm not buying you as a favorite over anyone the following week. Especially when you have three days to prepare.
Ridiculous Quote From Last Week's Picks: "Fact: Chad Pennington will throw an awful interception."
Note: This was ridiculous of me to assume Chad Pennington wouldn't get hurt in the opening seconds of the game.
Oakland (+7) over PITTSBURGH
I was hoping that the lopsided loss would sway this line a little and make it easier to take Pittsburgh, but it didn't, and so it is not.
If you're looking for one reason to take Oakland, here it is: The Raiders have 27 sacks, just one shy of the NFL lead. The Patriots, who had just 13 in their first eight games, registered five last week against that Pittsburgh offensive line that has some serious issues.
Here's hoping we get to see another Rolando McClain suplex.
(Why? Because those are awesome.)
NEW YORK JETS (-7) over Houston
What in the world happened to the Jets on their bye week? They went in at 5-1, on a five-game winning streak and averaging a tick over 20 points per game. They came out, got shut out at home and have needed overtime to pick up wins against the Lions and Browns, averaging 14.4 points per game.
At some point, they have to snap out of it. Against a Houston defense that ranks 31st in yards allowed per game and 31st in points allowed per game, you have to like their chances this week at home.
Baltimore (-10) over CAROLINA
John Fox will soon be scanning Monster.com, but it's not his fault.
TENNESSEE (-7) over Washington
The Redskins got Vick'd so hard on Monday night that they sit dead last in the NFL in yards allowed per game. At least their fans can gain confidence in the brilliant performance that Donovan McNabb put on after signing his insane contract extension (two touchdowns, three picks).
P.S. — Did you know that Tennessee ranks second in the league in point differential at plus-62?
CINCINNATI (-5.5) over Buffalo
The "Yuck Bowl" of Week 11 rears its ugly head. With Terrell Owens posting huge garbage-time numbers two weeks ago, and Chad Ochocinco helping out just enough to spoil the day for those of us who picked Indy last week, it stands to reason that the two could actually combine to help the Bengals to a win.
Note: If you watch this game, you have something wrong with you. Just so you know.
RQFLWP: "You look at the sheet, you see it has Buffalo in the favorites column, and you automatically pick the other team. That's simply the rule, whether that other team is the Detroit Lions or the junior high B squad."
Note: Oh well. It's actually still hard to argue with that logic.
Detroit (+6.5)over DALLAS
Detroit is the only last-place team that has scored more points than its opponents (plus-13), and they're sort of a tough team to figure out.
Not nearly as hard, though, as Dallas, which put together a most-inspired effort in the Meadowlands last week.
If you're going to go anywhere with this one, it's not a bad idea to take the points. The last time we saw Dallas at home, the defense was busy making David Garrard look like a Hall of Famer. Let's see if it's Shaun Hill's turn now.
KANSAS CITY (-8) over Arizona
All year long, I've ridden the Chiefs, if for no other reason than my unabashed love of Romeo Crennel's work. After 10 weeks, though, that passion is fading. It's unclear when the exact moment of its decline started, but it might have been when Tim Tebow was running and throwing for touchdowns against his defense.
Still, do you jump off the Romeo train when the Cardinals are coming to town? The Cardinals are a brutal road team, and the Chiefs have been fairly excellent at home (4-0, average margin of victory of 13.25 points).
I'll give you one more chance, Romeo. You better not let me down.
RQFLWP: "Matt Cassel isn't horrible. His six-year, $62.7 million contract, however, is a bit ludicrous."
Note: The quarterback threw for 6 million yards and 23 touchdowns last week (seriously, look it up). Yeah, the entire game was pretty much garbage time, but it was an impressive showing nonetheless.
Green Bay (-3) over MIINNESOTA
"You name it. Pick something. I can't think of any one thing that doesn't need to change."
Those were the words of Brett Favre, and let me offer one suggestion: a quarterback swap. As fun as it was to watch that silly little celebration Favre did last week after throwing a touchdown, it's even funnier to watch it after looking at his stat line (18-for-31, 170 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT).
Thanks for playing, Brett.
Cleveland (+1.5) over JACKSONVILLE
I wasn't the only one watching the Browns game last week thinking, "You know … if they can pull this win off … and keep playing the way they're playing … this team could sneak into the playoffs and just might cause somebody a headache in January.
Of course, they then showed why they're the Browns and they throw up all over their own shoes late in tight games. Exhibit A: Chansi Stuckey fumbling while fighting for extra yards he didn't need. Exhibit B: Calling a passing play on first down when you're backed up on your own 3-yard line with less than two minutes to play in overtime.
Yet, they've been playing a winning brand of football since the end of October. Maybe they can't win tight games against playoff teams, but Jacksonville, at 4-4, is the type of team the Browns can beat.
Atlanta (-3) over ST. LOUIS
Have I mentioned how I feel about the NFC West?
NEW ORLEANS (-11.5) over Seattle
The Seattle Seahwawks are best bad team in sports. They can rout any team just as much as they can be routed. Just look at how they've done on a week-to-week basis this year:
The average margin of victory, one way or the other, in Seahawks games is 18 points.
So, basically, it comes down to whether you think the Seahawks are going to win or lose, because the points really don't matter. If they're going to lose, they're going to lose by 25. And though Matt Hasselbeck was fantastic in his return last week, he's going to have a bit tougher task facing the stingiest pass defense in the league. Think loss.
SAN FRANCISCO (-3) over Tampa Bay
If you look at the 49ers schedule, it will tell you that "Smith" was the team's leading passer every single game. It's a bit deceiving.
Alex Smith won't play this week, as the Niners believe Troy Smith to be the answer. He might not be, but he has just one career interception in 136 passes. After shooting themselves in the foot throughout the first half of the season, maybe that's all they need.
(If Tampa wins this one via blowout, expect another NFC West rant next week.)
NEW ENGLAND (-3) over Indianapolis
The Patriots aren't quite as dominant as they looked Sunday night, yet somehow, this matchup lacks the allure that your standard Pats-Colts game is supposed to have. That may have to do with the fact that Manning's been throwing the ball to a local flag football team (no offense meant to Jacob Tamme). That, and the Colts are thoroughly average on the road, and the Patriots still haven't lost at home since 2006.
The only bizarre part of this game is that it's not on in prime time. That breaks an unofficial streak of 77 years that the two teams had going. Al Michaels and John Madden actually called that game.
PHILADELPHIA (-3) over New York Giants
A bounce-back game from the G-Men? No way. Michael Vick-mania lives on for another week on national television.
RQFLWP: "That Michael Vick guy is good."
Note: Understatement of the year.
Denver (+10) over SAN DIEGO
The momentum is building for Phil Rivers and his Chargers, and they just may end up with that AFC West crown. But come on — the Broncos scored 49 points last week, and they're a 10-point underdog? Do the oddsmakers know that Josh McDaniels used to coach for the Patriots, who are the masters of playing the "nobody believes in us" card? For shame.
RQFLW: "Hi, Donovan, please sign the dotted line. I'd like to pay you $78 million to play quarterback for my football team."
Note: That wasn't said by me. It was actually (probably) said by Dan Snyder. It's getting placed here because it was by far the most ridiculous thing said last week. I could never compete with that.
Last week: 9-5