NFL picks, week 10. Wichita Lineman stands in

November 11, 2011

Week Nine had some great finishes with the Giants topping the Patriots, and Ravens overtaking the Steelers in the final seconds of road upsets. A couple of favorites let the Lineman down, as the Dallas Cowboys failed to cover against the underwhelming Seattle Seahawks and 7.5-point favorites Oakland Raiders lost by 14 points to Tim Tebow’s Denver Broncos. Go figure. Otherwise a splendid week of prognostication. This week, cousin Wichita Lineman fills in, “searching in the sun for another overload” or at least enough good picks to match last year’s 4-2 fill-in mark.

As the teams pick up steam for the second half of the season, let’s not waste time on the riff-raff and take our stabs at some of the most meaningful tilts in Week 10.

Record: 29-25; Last week 4-2; Pick of the Week: 7-2

PICK OF THE WEEK

Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3) at Cincinnati Bengals (6-2) (Line Steelers favored by 3)

The young, hungry Bengals (6-2) have a better record than the Steelers (6-3) and are riding a five-game winning streak, but it is Cincinnati with something to prove in Sunday’s intra-division game against an angry Pittsburgh posse. The Bengals have taken advantage of a soft schedule, with wins over Seattle, Indianapolis and Jacksonville among their last five. To earn their AFC North stripes they need to claw their way past the Steelers in the first of four meetings to come against Pittsburgh and the Baltimore Ravens (6-2).

Pittsburgh, who lost last week on a 92-yard drive by the visiting Ravens, are eager to bounce back.. Cincinnati is stingy on defense, ranking 10th against the pass and second in the NFL against the run. Their offensive stats are more modest as first-year quarterback Andy Dalton directs an offense that ranks 21st in both passing and rushing yards. The Steelers are banged up after another bruising game against Baltimore, but proud Pittsburgh has a way of rising to a challenge, and have Big Ben Roethlisberger playing at a high level.

This season he became the first Steelers quarterback to pass for 300 yards in three consecutive games and is on pace to break his team record of 4,328 yards set in 2009. Two trends back Pittsburgh’s case against the Bengals, who last year were a dismal 4-12. Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s sophisticated unit, which ranks third in pass defense and total defense, has thrived against rookie quarterbacks since 2004, going 1-9 in games against rookies facing them for the first time. And Pittsburgh feels right at home in Paul Brown Stadium, having won nine out of their last 10 in Cincinnati. Expect the Steelers to open up the run with their passing attack and find it easier to score points. Take Pittsburgh and give the 3.

New York Giants (6-2) at San Francisco 49ers (7-1) (San Francisco favored by 3.5 points)

Heavyweight clash of two of the biggest surprises in the league, with the 49ers rebounding from a 6-10 record last year under rookie head coach Jim Harbaugh to post a 7-1 mark as runaway leaders in the NFC West, and the Giants overcoming preseason and early season injuries to claim a two-game lead in the NFC East. The hard-hitting Niners are doing it the old fashioned way, by running the ball and stopping the run. Frank Gore has been leading a San Francisco ball control attack directed by quarterback Alex Smith with 782 yards rushing and five touchdowns, while the rugged defense ranks first in fewest points allowed per game.

New York has parlayed their two trump cards – a relentless crew of pass-rushing defensive linemen and a resurgent Eli Manning at quarterback – into a fourth-quarter comeback machine with five wins claimed on fourth-quarter scores. Traveling cross-country is a chore for the Giants, but given their daunting lineup of upcoming games, including showdowns against New Orleans and Green Bay, the New Yorkers will be determined to deposit one in the win column and save for rainy day blues farther down the road. Take the Giants and 3.5 points in what could be a tight game.

New England Patriots (5-3) at New York Jets (5-3) (pick ‘em)

This rivalry has produced many surprises not to mention hard feelings. Last year, the Pats shot down the Jets 45-3 in a December clash in Foxborough when they were both 9-2 to earn the inside track to the AFC East title. The wild card Jets returned to New England and beat them in their divisional playoff contest to reach their second successive AFC title game. The teams enter this clash tied with Buffalo for the AFC East lead, but these just don’t seem to be the Patriots of old. Quarterback Tom Brady is still at the controls for the Pats, but he does not have a deep threat to stretch the defense and a so-so running attack. More damaging is the state of New England’s defense – ranked last in the league, mostly due to a porous secondary.

Offense has not been New York’s strong suit, but quarterback Mark Sanchez has dangerous receivers and in recent weeks has limited mistakes and run a more balanced attack with some useful rushing yards. The Jets soar on defense, especially with Darrelle Revis and the secondary. Armed with blueprints provided by the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants, who frustrated the Pats’ attack to hand New England back-to-back losses, New York could be on their way to a fourth straight win. Take the Jets to win the game and give their home fans something to smile about Sunday night.

New Orleans (6-3) at Atlanta (5-3) (pick ‘em)

Hey, these are tough, whose idea was it to pick only important games? This Southern rivalry clash could send the Saints on their way to a breezy run to the NFC South title or continue a red-hot streak that already has Atlanta burning with three straight wins. New Orleans makes sweet music with a high-decibel, league-leading attack led by stellar quarterback Drew Brees and an assortment of contributors including the versatile Darren Sproles, a quick, shifty running back with a flair for tacking on big yards after hauling in short passes.

Defense is the quieter side of the Saints, especially in the red zone, and the better balanced Falcons could take advantage spurred on by a roaring home crowd. Michael Turner provides Atlanta with grind-it-out yardage on the ground, and quarterback Matt Ryan now has speedy Julio Jones to complement go-to receiver Roddy White. The defense has picked up after a poor start to the season. The form sheet favors New Orleans. The Saints may have been hit by some inconsistency of late, but they are comfortable in the Georgia Dome, winning four of five at the otherwise inhospitable indoor stadium. The Falcons have suffered only two other losses in their last 22 regular-season home games. I’m going with the team that needs it more. The trend ends. Take the Falcons to win a squeaker.

Denver Broncos (3-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (4-4) (Kansas City favored by 3)

What, this is an important game? Well, 4-4 puts Kansas City a half-game behind Oakland and a half-game ahead of San Diego, with Denver another half-game back in the wide open AFC West. Don’t look now but the Broncos have won two of their last three after installing Tim Tebow as starting quarterback to the amazement of his detractors. Denver has developed a strong ground game and is the top five team in yards per attempt (5.2) and rushing yards per game (147) with Willis McGahee leading the way assisted by the inspirational Tebow, who last week ran for 118 yards against the Raiders. The long, slow passing delivery of Tebow has produced a woeful 46.4 completion percentage.

But a winner is a winner is a winner, and the former Heisman Trophy winner and national college champion at University of Florida has connected for six touchdowns and only one interception as he runs a read-option offense similar to what he directed at Florda. The Chiefs were rolling along with four wins in a row after losing their opening three before being ambushed last week at home by the previously winless Miami Dolphins, who embarrassed them 31-3. Kansas City figures to stack the box to thwart the run and try to force Denver into passing situations to test Tebow in hopes of improving on their total of 13 interceptions this season, third most in the NFL. Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassell, sacked five times last week, tries to get an offense that averaged 25 points during their four-win streak back on track. I’m still not buying the long-term success of Tebow, and expect the Chiefs to force some Tebow turnovers. Take Kansas City and lay the 3 points

Detroit Lions (6-2) at Chicago Bears (5-3) (Chicago favored by 2.5 points)

A well-rested Lions team coming off their bye week take on NFC North rival Bears, working on a short week after beating the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night. Detroit has been great pressuring the passer, but struggled against the run. Chicago has done well handing the ball off to running back Matt Forte, but have strong-armed Jay Cutler at quarterback and pass-happy offensive coordinator Mike Martz calling the offense and a scarcity of quality receivers.

The Lions have a weak running game but a long-strike passing attack with quarterback Matthew Stafford always a threat to find big, fast Calvin Johnson, who has scored 11 touchdowns. Chicago has the special teams edge with the always dangerous Devin Hester returning kicks. Detroit won their first game this season, but the Bears have been improving especially with their offensive line play. I can see the young Lions roaring out of the gate to begin their second half. Take the Lions and enjoy the 2.5 points

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