SAM FARMER’S NFL PICKS: WEEK 8
We’re almost to the halfway point of the NFL season, and the game results are half-nuts.
Who would have guessed that the rebuilt Atlanta Falcons would already have matched their 2007 total of four victories, more than San Diego, Jacksonville and Indianapolis?
Would anyone have believed that Peyton would be the other Manning brother?
Or how about this: Kyle Orton has more touchdown passes than these Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks: the Mannings, Ben Roethlisberger, Brad Johnson, and, of course, the injured Tom Brady. Not more than Kurt Warner, though.
For all the unexpected things that have happened this season, some things are still predictable. For example, Sunday’s game between the New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers being a biggie. Both teams are 5-1 and atop their divisions, both have top-tier quarterbacks, and the matchup pits the Giants’ outstanding running game and Pittsburgh’s predictably strong defense.
Whereas much of the focus will be on Roethlisberger and Eli Manning, the X-factor could be New York receiver Plaxico Burress, who has played for both teams.
It’s the first game back in Pittsburgh for Burress, who played for the Steelers from 2000-04 before the team let him go, choosing instead to make a major investment in Hines Ward. While that move has paid off handsomely for the Steelers, Burress has been very productive too, and last season caught the winning touchdown pass in the Giants’ Super Bowl victory over New England.
Burress wasn’t made available to Pittsburgh reporters this week and was uncharacteristically (but predictably) dull when talking to the New York media. Roethlisberger had some high praise for him, though.
“Plax really helped kind of mold me and make me who I am,” he said. “He made me a better quarterback. It was a privilege and an honor to play with Plax.”
Somehow, I don’t see Pittsburgh fans treating Burress with the same reverence.
And in this game, I like the Steelers.
As for the rest of the games:
Oakland at Baltimore: For an example of how hard it is for a so-so team to make a trip across the country and win, look no further to the New York Jets’ loss at Oakland last Sunday. Now, the Raiders are the road-weary visitors. Pick: Baltimore.
Arizona at Carolina: Both teams are much better when they play at home, where they’re undefeated. It’s hard to say which is hungrier, but a loss would be far more damaging to the Panthers because of their divisional logjam. Pick: Carolina.
Tampa Bay at Dallas: Last Sunday’s face plant at St. Louis was no fluke for the Cowboys. They’re in serious trouble. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers are rolling, and the play of Jeff Garcia is a big reason why. Pick: Tampa Bay.
Washington at Detroit: Like last season’s Dolphins, this Detroit team has the potential to lose every game. The way the Redskins are playing, this has the makings of a blowout. Pick: Washington.
Buffalo at Miami: The Bills had a heck of a ramp-up to this game, coming off a convincing victory over San Diego. Miami has improved, but its running game is sputtering. Pick: Buffalo.
St. Louis at New England: Tough as they are at home, the Patriots are coming off a short week and suffered a big loss when safety Rodney Harrison went down. They’re ripe for the picking by the rejuvenated Rams. Pick: St. Louis.
San Diego vs. New Orleans in London: Fans in London might be disappointed they won’t get a chance to see Reggie Bush, but these are still two talent-laden teams. Pick: San Diego.
Kansas City at New York Jets: Down to their third quarterback, the Chiefs will give Tyler Thigpen his second career start. That’s grim. The Jets shouldn’t have much of a problem rebounding from their loss at Oakland. Pick: New York Jets.
Atlanta at Philadelphia: The Eagles are 9-0 coming off a bye under Coach Andy Reid, and this week they have the added advantage of getting Brian Westbrook and Kevin Curtis back. That, along with being at home, should be enough to hold off the upstart Falcons. Pick: Philadelphia.
Cleveland at Jacksonville: The Jaguars are getting center Brad Meester back, and that’s bad news for Cleveland, which ranks 26th against the run. Jacksonville has the manpower to play keep-away by controlling the clock with the run. Pick: Jacksonville.
Cincinnati at Houston: Ryan Fitzpatrick, meet Mario Williams. Williams has emerged as one of the league’s better pass rushers, and Cincinnati’s Fitzpatrick -- making his third consecutive start in place of Carson Palmer -- was sacked seven times last Sunday by Pittsburgh. Pick: Houston.
Seattle at San Francisco: A coach named Mike will win this game, and it won’t be Mike Nolan, fired by the 49ers this week. It’s not likely to be Mike Holmgren, either, considering the sub-par talent he has in Seattle. So that leaves Mike Singletary, who will win his debut as San Francisco’s coach. Pick: San Francisco.
Indianapolis at Tennessee: The Colts have won seven in a row on “Monday Night Football,” where the Titans haven’t played for almost four years. But these are two franchises crossing in the night, and undefeated Tennessee clearly has the upper hand. Pick: Tennessee.
Season record: 57-45.