'Tis the season when upsets happen, and, as promised, coming off a week in which I went 2-2 predicting underdogs as outright winners, I'm back with a few more dogs worthy of your attention this Sunday.
Full disclosure: You might want to take these with a silo full of salt, because my favorite dog of the week happened to be the Packers.
I know you could make a case that they almost pulled it off, but show of hands -- who here among us thought that might happen when Aaron Rodgers came trotting off the bench? Yeah, I didn't think so. I had my hand on the red flag and was ready to toss it at my wet bar, when the kid proceeded to heave "the duke" for his first regular season NFL TD and boom -- we've got a game. Coulda, woulda, shoulda -- in the end, the high point of my evening was hearing Chris Collinsworth say, "That DeMarcus Ware ... what a tool he is!" The kind of moment where even the wife looks up from her computer and snorks.
Consider it a cautionary tale and assume a football position -- low and bouncy on the balls of our feet -- and take a manly look under the hood of this week's value picks. These are the result of some good ol', country number crunching, punched across the goal line thanks to my old friend, the Man-tangible: Difference-making esoterica that you'd be a fool to ignore ...
Seattle at Philly
NB's super-secret number machine: My ciphering adds up to the Seahawks prevailing in a high-scoring affair, 31-24.
Of course, the Eagles now have A.J. Feeley at the wheel, which actually looks like a good thing after that impressive run he took at the Patriots. Then there's the real kicker -- Philly is also still alive for a wild-card birth -- which should tell you everything you need to know about the mediocre muck that is the NFC. Meanwhile, Seattle has it's usual two-game lead in the West, thanks to Arizona's shameful meltdown at home against the Niners, so if you're looking for the team that has a bigger case of the hungries, advantage: Eagles.
The Man-tangible: Let's call this one "The Patriot Hangover Theory," and file it under "How a team responds." I took a look back to see how teams have fared the week following a Patriot thrashing and the results are inconclusive. If you take the teams that lost to New England by 17 or more points, they followed up with a cumulative 4-5 record in their next games -- nothing to hang your hat on there.
However, the experiment continues this Sunday because the Eagles are actually in a unique category by virtue of keeping things close. As remarkable as it sounds, there is only one other team that kept it closer than 17 points -- the Colts, who lost 24-20. Interestingly, they went on to lose again the following week to the Chargers in another tight one, 23-21.
Will Philly help us firm up the trend? Until we have further data, I'm going to go against my own numbers and call this an Eagles winner.
Regardless, it's a little soft to pick a perennial playoff team such as Seattle as your dog of the week. We like to think we roll a tad harder than that in the Manly House, so if you're looking for some dogs with a little more bark ... the kind guaranteed to put a bigger lump in your throat, then away we go:
Houston at Tennessee
The Man-tangible: Someone somewhere suggested Albert Haynesworth is the true MVP this season, thanks to the degree to which his absence has sent the Titans defense falling through a wormhole. It was a great observation, and the numbers support the case. Points allowed in their last three games: 35, 34, 28 -- woof.
The previous two games, with Haynesworth? Tennessee allowed seven and nine points, respectively.
Haynesworth is a game-time decision this Sunday, but here's the kicker: Go back one game further, and you see that even a healthy Haynesworth couldn't stop the Texans from hanging 36 points on the Titans -- and that was with Sage Rosenfels at quarterback and no Andre Johnson (**Game highlights**). Houston lost by two points that day, and that, my friends, spells revenge.
Take a look at Houston.
Jacksonville at Indianapolis
NB's super-secret number machine: Jacksonville, 24-17.
There is a part of me that thinks it is pure madness to go against the Colts at home after nine days of rest -- but you guessed it -- some weird voice inside me compels me to do it. We'll see if that's a smart voice, or just another text from that little girl from The Ring who was trapped in the well ...
Hey, you say "rested," I say "rusty." As good as the Colts are, they are even better at home. The Jags, after being humiliated by Indy on Monday Night Football, aren't just lusting for revenge, they are playing much better football. They stand one game behind Dungy & Co. in the South, and must be sick of this second-place slot that seems to have been their destiny for what feels like a decade.
I don't care how solid your team is, it says here the Colts will really feel the lack of Dwight Freeney and Marvin Harrison against a playoff-caliber squad. David Garrard is playing smart, poised football and has a chance to continue to do so without Freeney breathing down his neck. No doubt, he will need to get into the end zone more than he did last weekend, but the lack of Harrison has slowed the Colts' point machine, which means Garrard may not have to chase a big lead throwing to those middling Jaguars receivers. It also helps to keep Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew alive and active for four quarters.
Bottom line: Do you really think Jacksonville can consider itself an elite playoff team if they allow themselves to get swept by a division rival? Del Rio always gets the Jags up to play Indy tough, and I say this is the day they get it done.
The Man-tangible: Peyton's bouts with "Marino-itis." Nobody ever ran an angrier huddle than Dan Marino in his later years, and it really cost him style points -- not just in my book, but in is teammates' books, too. Without the benefit of a microphone in the huddle all we were left to do was interpret body language, attitude, and blood pressure level -- all of which indicated that at least one Dolphins receiver screwed up their route on every single play Marino ran from 1986-1999. Finger pointing, calling out in public, showing up -- it was never Danny's fault. Never once did you see him point to his own number and indicate "my bad."
Peyton's nowhere close to that bad, but when things aren't going well, he does tend to get that red Marino face, and he does pout and finger point. A Super Bowl win was supposed to ease him off that throttle, wasn't it? Well, I got a funny feeling we're going to see some blame going around this Sunday -- take a deep breath and consider Jacksonville.
San Francisco at Carolina
NB's super-secret number machine: I could break it all down scientifically for you, but why bother when I can remind you of an ugly truth: Carolina has yet to win a home game this season.
The Man-tangible: You say that means they are due?
I say "Vinnie."
You counter with "Dilfer?"
I say "exactly!" I know it wasn't that long ago that Alex Smith went down and I said Trent played so poorly off the bench, it looked like the Niners had yanked him out of a bar to play the second half.
Feeling creepy? Feeling crazy? Good. Hey, it ain't a real dog until you find yourself watching a meaningless game and realize your heart is beating like a rabbit's! There, there -- maybe it will settle your stomach a little if I remind you that Carolina is so out of sync this year, even Steve Smith isn't a factor. Wow. That takes some work.
Consider those Forty Niners ...
And by all means remember that I am still livin' the dream!