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WEEK SIX CRYSTAL BALL - WEEKEND: A Few Thoughts as the Season Takes Shape
My friends, I’m not one for preseason predictions but, after five full weeks of football, I feel comfortable saying a few things.
The Chiefs and the Eagles are again the class of the league with San Francisco and Buffalo close behind. Minnesota and Cincinnati won’t make the playoffs, but Miami and the Lions will. Carolina, New England, Denver and the Giants will all be making top-five picks in the 2024 NFL Draft.
Lamar Jackson is quietly having an outstanding season. Christian McCaffrey is loudly having an even better season. Seattle’s Devon Witherspoon will win Defensive Rookie of the Year. Houston’s C.J. Stroud will capture the offensive hardware.
Miami is the most explosive team I’ve seen since the “Greatest Show on Turf” St. Louis Rams. Chili remains the most explosive food I’ve ever eaten at a tailgate.
THE GURU’s record (50-29, .633) is pretty darn good. THE GURU’s record is also a facade that would make Sam Bankman-Fried blush. On to the games…
In London at 9:30 am ET, Baltimore (3-2) meets Tennessee (2-3) in a game that feels like it should go Maryland’s way. This seems apropos considering the state’s roots: it is named after Queen Henrietta Maria, ruler of Scotland, Ireland and, yes, England, from 1625-1649. John Harbaugh’s head-coaching tenure in Charm City stands at 16 years and, in almost any circumstance, his guys show up ready to play. Let’s call it Ravens, 22-19.1
In the 1 pm games, I’ll go with Minnesota (1-4) in Chicago (1-4)2, Houston (2-3) against visiting New Orleans (3-2), San Fran (5-0) in Cleveland (2-2) and the Jaguars, at home, against Indianapolis in a matchup of 3-2 teams.
Other early winners look like the Commies (2-3) in Atlanta (3-2), host Miami (4-1) vs. Carolina (0-5), and visiting Seattle (3-2) over Cincinnati (2-3).3
I’m not sure why I’m picking my beloved Washingtonians today as they’re riding a three-game losing streak and coming off a beating at the hands of the previously winless Bears. Indeed, the game vs. Chicago was over before THE CHIEF even had time to hurl his TV remote across the room.
Given last week, a DC victory today is wishful thinking, I suppose, but there is a path: the defensive line must dominate the Atlanta front five and rattle young QB Desmond Ridder. If Daron Payne & Co. make the kid uncomfortable and turn the Falcons into a one-dimensional outfit,4 we’ve got a shot. Otherwise, the losing streak hits four faster than you can say “extra crispy.”5
There’s a quartet of games in the 4 pm window and I’ll take two home teams - Vegas (2-3) over New England (1-4) and the Rams (2-3) against the Cards (1-4)6 - and two road squads - Philly (5-0) vs the Jets7 and Dee-troit (4-1) vs. Tampa (3-1).
The Lions and Bucs don’t play often any more8 but they did give us one of the biggest hits I can remember in 1985 when Tampa linebacker Scott Brantley tackled Dee-troit QB Eric Hipple.
Now you know how I felt after getting pounded by the Bears. Thankfully, Hipple was ok - he was one tough son of a gun - and THE TRE MAN and I will recover as well (probably). Not so sure about THE CHIEF.
In the night games, let’s roll with the Bills (3-2) over the Giants (1-4) in Orchard Park this evening and Dallas (3-2) to topple the Chargers (2-2) tomorrow.
That’s it for this week, folks. Enjoy the games and God bless!
Baltimore and Tennessee are forever connected by Steve McNair, the tough-as-nails quarterback who played for the Oilers/Titans (1995-2005) and Ravens (2006-07) in a career that included three Pro Bowls, the 2003 NFL MVP Award and a classic battle against the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV. In 2004, the late QB suffered such a debilitating chest injury that doctors grafted some bone from his hip onto his sternum to strengthen it. I can relate to McNair as I’m currently dealing with a painful corn on my left foot. No doubt that he’s looking down on me today, feeling very proud.
Some of the most interesting Bears-Vikings matchups were in the early 1980s when Walter Payton faced off against his older brother, Eddie, a six-year NFL veteran who returned kicks for Minnesota from 1980-82. As a rookie for Detroit in 1977 against the Vikings, he returned both a kick and a punt for touchdowns. He amassed 289 return yards on the day, which was third in NFL history at the time.
Seattle-Cincinnati is as much of a non-rivalry as one can get nowadays. Two teams in different conferences, more than 2,000 miles apart. But it wasn’t always that day. Before the Seahawks moved to the NFC, the teams met 15 times in a 20-year span (1981-99), including a Divisional Round playoff game during the Bengals’ Super Bowl run in 1988. Since Seattle arrived in the NFC West, they’ve met just five times, most recently in 2019.
As a guy who wears a hoodie and shorts most days, working in a pair of jeans once in a while, I’m a guy that knows one-dimensional outfits. Hey, it’s not cheap paying for all that fabric.
There is no other way to order bacon, by the way. It’s gotta be crispy and have a little char to it. For a time, I had a buddy who ordered “floppy bacon” when we had breakfast together and, as you can imagine, that relationship went the way of Blockbuster.
By the way, defeat is guaranteed for DC today if Atlanta backup QB Taylor Heinicke replaces Ridder at any point. The former Washington starter may not have the strongest arm in the world, but he’s got truckloads of moxie, and his juju would likely be too much for my squad to handle.
The St. Louis-Arizona game features two franchises that abandoned St. Louis for different pastures out west. I won’t say “greener pastures” as there are often droughts in that part of the country and it’s both time consuming and expensive to care for one’s lawn.
The Jets have never beaten the Eagles. Ever. The Birds are 13-0 and the odds of a fourteenth win are mighty high. Philly simply has too much up front.
As part of the 2002 divisional realignment that sent Seattle to the NFC West, the Bucs moved from the NFC Central (now the NFC North) to the newly formed NFC South. This dismantled rivalries like Detroit-Tampa, teams that met twice annually from 1978-2001. It wasn’t a bitter rivalry by any stretch but there were some fun games between these two oft-struggling outfits.