BOSTON (CBS) — We’re through the NFL’s quarter pole, and here’s what we know: Nothing.
I say that because, come on, this is the NFL. The second you start thinking you’ve got it all figured out is the exact moment everything goes wrong for you. Trying to accurately forecast every single NFL game requires a delicate balance of gathering information based on hours and hours of observation and tossing that same information out the window because it’s football and nothing ever makes sense.
–Rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III has as many victories as Peyton Manning.
–The leading receiver in the NFL is Miami’s Brian Hartline. His quarterback is rookie Ryan Tannehill.
–The Dolphins are 1-3 despite a minus-4 point differential. The Eagles are 3-1 despite a minus-17 point differential.
–Ryan Fitzpatrick leads the entire NFL with 12 touchdown passes. He’s also tied for second in the league with seven interceptions.
–The Arizona Cardinals are 4-0, earning 50 percent of last year’s final victory tally in 25 percent of the time.
–For that matter, the Saints, who went 13-3 last year, are on pace to go 0-16.
–Members of the New York Jets show no hesitation in giving the ball to the other team for free, easy touchdowns.
See what I mean? It’s tough.
And now that we’re through four weeks, it’s even harder to get a good read on the lines. The 4-0 and 3-1 teams will get a ton of respect, while the 1-3 and 0-4 teams will be treated like high school JV squads. Are the good teams really that good, and are the bad teams really that bad? Doubtful. That’s why this is hard.
It’s also why, as always, I’ll rehash some Ridiculous Quotes From Last Week’s Picks (RQFLWP) throughout this week’s selections. Let’s go!
(Home team in caps; Thursday lines)
Arizona (-1) over ST. LOUIS
The magic has to run out at some point for the Cardinals, especially considering we now know that Jay Feely whistles Flo Rida songs before kicks. That’s a recipe for disaster, folks. But the magic won’t run out this week. The Rams haven’t won two games in a row since Weeks 12 and 13 in 2010.
Cleveland (+8.5) over NEW YORK GIANTS
My frienemy, Neil Keefe, who wears Giants footy pajamas to bed every night, pointed out this quote from Eli Manning after Sunday night’s loss: “We’re going to see Philly the last game of the season and I have a feeling that’s going to be a big game for us.”
Even the Giants’ starting quarterback knows that his team is destined to go 8-8 or 9-7 … and then somehow win the Super Bowl.
Ridiculous Quote From Last Week’s Picks: “If I’m going to get back to respectability, I’m going to have to follow what I believe in. And the Cleveland Browns are the exact opposite of what I believe in.”
Note: I’ll be damned if Brandon Weeden didn’t look good last week. He was so good that I won’t even mention this week that he got stuck under a giant American flag in Week 1 … though I suppose I just did, didn’t I?
INDIANAPOLIS (+7) over Green Bay
Is this the week for the Packers to finally break out and turn in that dominating performance? I don’t think so. Their defense just isn’t good enough. That’s why they’ve outscored opponents by just four total points this season.
Andrew Luck’s thrown for more than 300 yards in two of his three starts. It’s safe to bet he’ll set his new career high this weekend.
RQFLWP: “The Packers are going to win by 200 points this weekend.”
Note: I don’t feel badly about this one. If not for an official ruling that an upright player was down on the ground, maybe this could have happened. Seriously, what did Green Bay do to deserve all these terrible calls? Oh, right, it’s all those discount double check commercials. Those are annoying. Carry on, officials.
PITTSBURGH (-3) over Philadelphia
No-brainer. James Harrison and Troy Polamalu back, after a bye week, against an Eagles team that’s greatly overachieved thus far. I’ll take it.
WASHINGTON (+3) over Atlanta
I think Robert Griffin is figuring things out. I think Mike Shanahan is still a great coach. I think Atlanta is “undefeated” only through the technicality of the Panthers forgetting that they should cover Roddy White. I think it ends this Sunday.
RQFLWP: “It took a couple of extra weeks, but Robert Griffin officially looks like a rookie.”
Note: He didn’t look much like a rookie when he was casually winning the game in the final minute.
Baltimore (-5) over KANSAS CITY
I know the people who call sports talk radio shows don’t necessarily represent a significant segment of the population, but whenever I see stories that say Matt Cassel is in danger of losing his quarterback job for the Chiefs, I always think back to the summer of 2009, when real, live people called the radio to say the Patriots should trade Tom Brady and keep Cassel for the future. This happened in real life, I’m telling you.
Oh, and about this game, well … Kansas City is baddddd, man. If they’re not getting at least 7 points, I’m not even going to consider taking them.
Miami (+3) over CINCINNATI
Last week, I cautioned to not let two strong performances against bad teams alter your view of the Dolphins, but can we now let three strong performances affect us a little? I say we have to. And this is my column, so what I say goes.
RQFLWP: “The only thing the Dolphins can do is run the ball and stop the run.”
Note: Miami passed for 431 yards and ran for just 86 yards. So I missed that. But they did stop the run!
Chicago (-6) over JACKSONVILLE
Don’t let a Monday night beatdown of Tony Romo get you to start thinking the Chicago Bears have got everything figured out this season. They don’t. But against the Jaguars, who rank 31st in the NFL in passing yards and 30th in opponents’ rushing yards, they’ll look like world beaters.
RQFLWP: “Smokin’ Jay Cutler! Tony Romo! A whole … bunch … of sacks! And interceptions! Monday Night Football!”
Note: I was right about the picks. Only three sacks, though. Can’t win ’em all.
CAROLINA (-3) over Seattle
The meeting of the two teams who tempt me every week but manage to make me look bad, no matter which way I go. I assume this one will be a push, just because of that trend, but instead I’ll go with the admittedly flawed logic that West Coast teams have trouble playing on the East Coast … even though this game’s at 4:05 p.m. But with two teams that defy analysis on a weekly basis, it’s all I have.
SAN FRANCISCO (-10) over Buffalo
I struggled with this one. On the one hand, I realize how difficult it will be for the 49ers to put on a similarly dominant display this week. At the same time, I feel the Patriots, beginning with Vince Wilfork’s fumble recovery before halftime and culminating with a 45-7 stretch in the second half, absolutely ended the Bills’ season last week. Just ripped out their soul, stomped on it and left it for dead. I’ll be surprised if 45 Bills even show up to play this week. It was that bad. Oh, and if guys named Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden can combine for 243 yards on the ground against Buffalo, what can Frank Gore do?
By the way, that $100 million contract for Mario “Haynesworth” Williams is looking like a wise investment in Buffalo. Way to go, Buffalo!
Tennessee (+5.5) over MINNESOTA
Jake Locker is injured. I’m not sure if that helps or hurts the Titans.
Regardless, come off it with this Vikings as a 5.5-point favorite thing. Seriously. Come. Off. It. They’re 3-1 with just one impressive victory (San Francisco), which is negated by one unimpressive loss (Indianapolis). Their quarterback is Christian Ponder, who’s yet to throw an interception. If you think that’s going to last (to the tune of 5.5 points!), then I don’t know what to tell you.
NEW ENGLAND (-7) over Denver
I understand there’s been a minor change at quarterback for the Broncos, but the rest of the team is still similarly built to last year’s squad, which went 0-2 against the Patriots and lost by an average of 26.5 points. That included the playoff game, during which defenses generally try their very best, when Brady threw for six touchdowns.
I don’t care who is taking snaps for the Broncos, because I know Tom Brady is taking snaps for the Patriots. His 683 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception against the Broncos last year tell me that Brady’s got that defense figured out pretty well.
RQFLWP: “The Patriots are going to win by 100 points this weekend. I have no doubt.”
Note: I wrote that as a joke but it almost turned out to be true.
NEW ORLEANS (-3.5) over San Diego
San Diego is the safe pick, but is it the smart pick? The Saints have to wake up at some point, right? If I ask another question, will it make this pick more convincing? Yes? Maybe? No? Please?
Houston (-9) over NEW YORK JETS
That thing I was saying about the bad teams getting treated like high school JV teams? In the case of the Jets, that may actually not be too inaccurate.
RQFLWP: “I’ve decided to see if my wife can beat me in NFL picks. … Every time I ask for her pick on the Jacksonville game, she asks me to remind her what the team name is. I’m going to have to start saying ‘Purple Parrots,’ ‘Orange Iguanas’ and ‘Blue Baracudas’ to mess with her.
Note: Guys. Don’t make jokes at your wife’s expense in your stories. That’s the safest bet you can make this week.
Last week: 8-7