What else would you rather do on a Friday morning than watch a poor man swing away at his weekly NFL Picks and Power Rankings? We’ll even throw in some extra purple with Three Reasons for Optimism and Three Reasons to Go `Uh-Oh.’
1, Texans (10-1)
Last week: No. 1.
Comment: They got a gift touchdown in a three-point OT win at Detroit on Thanksgiving. A Texans TD that should have been reviewed automatically and would have been overturned couldn’t be reviewed because Lions coach Jim Schwartz threw his challenge flag? Sounds like it’s time to review that reviewing rule. Penalize the Lions for Schwartz’s mistake. But don’t allow an 81-yard touchdown that’s not really a touchdown stand. That’s a bad rule. Four days earlier, the Texans gave up 37 points in an OT win against Jacksonville. And their run defense doesn’t look so dominant anymore. But there’s also something to be said about doing enough to win two games in four days to go to 10-1.
2. Packers (7-3)
Last week: No. 2.
Comment: The Packers didn’t look all that great at Detroit last week either. But there’s something about this Packers team that’s better than last year’s team that went 15-1 in the regular season. This year’s team knows what it’s like to have to fight for wins. Last year’s team seemed to glide through the regular season in white suites that got nary a grass stain on them. Then that team got slapped aside at home by the Giants in its first playoff game.
3. Falcons (9-1)
Last week: No. 3.
Comment: Again, we have a top-3 team that didn’t look very good last week. Five interceptions by Matt Ryan is reason enough to say the Falcons could be ranked lower. But to win a game in which you’ve thrown five picks is impressive – even if the team you beat was Arizona.
30. Jaguars (1-9)
Last week: No. 32.
Comment: The Jags didn’t win, but the effort and the rare high point total in last week’s OT loss to Houston. Now, the Jags might want to consider playing a competitive contest at home, where they’ve lost by 20, 17, 38, 17 and 17 points.
31. Eagles (3-7)
Last week: No. 30.
Comment: After six straight losses, even Andy Reid has to be wondering why Andy Reid hasn’t been fired. A seventh straight loss at home to 2-8 Carolina probably would be the breaking point.
32. Chiefs (1-9)
Last week: No. 31.
Comment: After a week out of the basement, the Chiefs return following a lifeless 22-point home loss to the Bengals. That drops KC to 0-5 at home with losses of 16, 17, 10 and 22 points.
2. Packers (6-3)
Last week: No. 2.
9. Bears (7-3)
Last week: No. 4.
Comment: They’ve lost two straight and they’re coming off a 32-7 loss at San Francisco that raised even more doubts than a typical 25-point beatdown. Even if Jay Cutler returns, can the Bears protect him against a team with a strong pass rush? Don’t be surprised if Soldier Field is extra wet and sloshy on Sunday when the Vikings visit.
15. Vikings (6-4)
Last week: No. 15.
Comment: The Vikings battle cry heading into the final six weeks should be, “Uh, guys, you know everybody else seems to have as many flaws as we do, so, um, why not us?” Remember. In the NFL, one doesn’t have to sustain greatness to win a championship. Just be extremely hot at the right time.
19. Lions (4-7).
Last week: No. 19.
Comment: The Lions should have beaten the Texans. It’s amazing that even with all the safeguards in place against blown officiating calls, there are games still decided by blown officiating calls. But the NFL is filled with “We should haves.” This one brought the competitive portion of the Lions’ season to an end.
4. Ravens (8-2); 5. Patriots (8-3); 6. 49ers (7-2-1); 7. Broncos (7-3); 8. Saints (5-5); 10. Steelers (6-4); 11. Buccaneers (6-4); 12. Colts (6-4); 13. Giants (6-4); 14. Seahawks (6-4); 16. Bengals (5-5); 17. Redskins (5-6); 18. Bills (4-6); 20. Cowboys (5-6); 21. Titans (4-6); 22. Dolphins (4-6); 23. Chargers (4-6); 24. Panthers (2-8); 25. Rams (3-6-1); 26. Jets (4-7); 27. Cardinals (4-6); 28. Raiders (3-7); 29. Browns (2-8).
THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM
1, Bears’ pass protection: When a team’s offensive tackles have grass stains on their backs, it’s a pretty good sign of incredibly poor pass protection. The Vikings’ offense might not want to face the Bears twice in three weeks, but the Vikings’ pass rushers sure do. Especially in two weeks, when Jay Cutler or whichever QB is still healthy enough has to stand behind Chicago’s offensive line at the Metrodome.
2, Peterson’s list of paybacks: This is Adrian Peterson’s payback season. He’s running even angrier than he did before blowing out his left knee last December. Even when defenses are stacked to stop him, he still produces big numbers. He’s riding a four-game streak of 100-yard games. That ties his career high. He’s had three sub-par games at Soldier Field, the same place where he went for 224 yards in just his fifth NFL game back in 2007.
3, Blair Walsh: If anyone can bomb kickoffs through the end zone consistently at Soldier Field, it will be Vikings rookie Blair Walsh. Walsh already has a team-record 41 kickoff touchbacks this season. That’s good news for a Vikings team that plays a prominent supporting role in the career highlight film of Bears return man Devin Hester.
THREE REASONS TO GO `UH-OH’
1, Bounce-back factor: Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams was asked if there’s any lift provided when one sees his next opponent get drilled 32-7 the week before. Williams laughed and said no because in the NFL, you tend to see the exact opposite the following week. Especially when the team getting drilled is a good team, which the Bears are. Playing the Bears in Chicago after they’ve lost two straight and were humiliated on Monday Night Football? Talk about an `uh-oh’ scenario.
2, Turnovers: Does Christian Ponder have what it takes to let loose the way 49ers backup Colin Kaepernick did against the Bears’ defense on Monday night? There’s a big difference between being the backup with low expectations and little to lose and where Ponder is in his career. Kaepernick was able to be cautious and aggressive at the same time. But it took pinpoint accuracy with high-risk throws down the field. Ponder has trouble letting loose like that. If he’s too hesitant, look out. The Bears lead the league in takeaways (30), interceptions (19) and interception returns for touchdowns (seven).
3, Harvin’s health: It seemed to be a slam dunk that Percy Harvin would return from his sprained left ankle to face the Bears. But he didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday. If he doesn’t practice today, don’t be surprised if he sits again.
Bears 24, Vikings 17: For starters, look for Jay Cutler to return. That will make a huge difference for a team that’s pretty average without him, despite a great defense. The pass protection will be better at home, which will be the primary reason the Bears will snap a two-game losing streak. Peterson will have a decent game, but Ponder will have to avoid turnovers while making plays down the field for the Vikings to have a chance.
Record picking Vikings games: 5-3.
VIK plus-1 at CHI: Bears by 7.
OAK plus-8 ½ at CIN: Bengals by 7.
PIT minus-1 at CLE: Browns by 3.
BUF plus-3 at IND: Bills by 7.
DEN minus-10 ½ at KC: Broncos by 7.
TEN minus-3 at JAC: Jaguars by 3.
ATL minus-1 at TB: Buccaneers by 3.
SEA minus-3 at MIA: Dolphins by 7.
BAL minus-1 at SD: Chargers by 3.
STL plus-2 ½ at ARI: Cardinals by 3.
GB plus-2 ½ at NYG: Giants by 3.
CAR minus-2 ½ at PHI: Panthers by 7.
Overall Record Last Week: 10-3. Vs. Spread: 11-2.
Record Season: 81-48-1. Vs. Spread: 64-61-3.
SF minus-1 at NO.
Saints 31, 49ers 28: The 49ers tend to trip right about the time TV analysts start to hand them the Lombardi Trophy early. We’ve hit another one of those times in the wake of San Francisco’s 32-7 Monday night win over the Bears. It’s time for the 49ers to go on the road and face Drew Brees. The Saints’ defense will have a hard time stopping the 49ers, but Brees will tag an outstanding 49ers defense with a season-high 31 points.
Last week: NYJ plus-3 ½ at STL. Prediction: Jets 16, Rams 10 OT. Actual: Jets 27, Rams 13.