Ahead of the Curve
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Last Chance Grill & Gas

It's the half-way marker on our long & winding road to Super Bowl 47 in New Orleans, so make a pit-stop, get your goodies, hop back in and "fasten your seat-belts ('cause) it's going to be a bumpy (ride) (Davis)" the rest of NFL 2012.

Eight weeks back the road was dark, sights unseen and too early to know what lay ahead along interstate NFL.  Now we've seen the line-ups, gandered at the game-plans and have a pretty fair idea which teams got 'zots under the hood' and which are, how should I put it, in need of some serious lift-time.

National Cherry Coupes

1) New York Giants

1) Green Bay Packers

3) San Francisco 49ers

Where are the Falcons and Bears?  When it comes to rules of the real roadway, I always use my turn-signal (me and about eight other people on the North American continent), but in sport analysis, rules be damned.

There seems an un-written rule that W-L records rule the ranking.  But would you really pick Atlanta or Chicago to topple any of the three listed above?  That's right.  At home, maybe the Birds & Bruins prevail, but on the road, not bloody likely.

Dates to circle on the calendar: Falcons, 11-11 & 11-29 (Saints), the Bears, 12-16 (Pack).  These are the 'mettle-games' for both squads.  Until they can knock-off their long-time nemeses, Atlanta & Chicago are just post-season pretenders.  But if they do, watch out.

American Cherry Coupes

1) New England Patriots

2) Pittsburgh Steelers

3) Denver Broncos

Texans proved playoff-worthy last January but play in mediocre South, took a drubbing from GB (24-42), get back up at home vs. leaderless Ravens, beat an out-of-sync Denver WK3 and, like Baltimore (Lewis), will need more time to fill big shoes (Cushing).

College Notes

State of flux: that's college football in the new millennium.  But traditionalism still runs deep.  As long as there's a human element in the ranking, a program like Chip Kelly's (Oregon) with its run-up-the-score 80s mentality (70-14 v. CO) and total deference to marketers (Nike), will always get passed-over by some voters when they're given any viable choice.

Cherry Picks Week 9

Miami Dolphins (4-3) @ Indianapolis Colts (4-3) (11-4 / 1:00 CBS)

Land of Opportunity Bowl.  Lesson #1: Wk-1 results (MIA 10-30 HOU / IND 21-41 CHI) mean about as much as a Fox News political panel.  No mucho.  Makes you wanta' duct-tape alarmists in Lakers-land.  But here they be, 'Phins & Colts, lookin' like players.  October: Colts 3-1 (GB); Miami 3-0 (NYJ).  Kind of an 'immovable object vs irresistible force' thing, in reverse, or something: Colts pass (9), stop pass (7), Dolphins can't (27); Miami runs (11), stops runs (3), Indy can't (27).  QBs even-Steven.  Colts win at Lucas Oil.

Chicago Bears (6-1) @ Tennessee Titans (3-5) (1:00 Fox)

It's the Halas way: stout D, ground-grind.  But '85 Bears don't shine w/out McMahon. As '12 defense is older than Ryan's and run-game (Forte-Bush) not quite Payton-Suehy, Jay needs better distribution (BM (40%)), TD-ratio and line help (25-S).  Veteran Hasselbeck spreads the ball while Johnson's hitting stride at right time.  Playing well of late (2-1), top tackle-corps of Ayers, Griffin & Babineaux keep it close.  Home Titans take upset win.

Minnesota Vikings (5-3) @ Seattle Seahawks (4-4) (4:05 Fox)

No "Clash of the Titans" (2010 movie: I vote '81 Burgess-Bubo ticket), both teams a year off, built on defense (M-11 / S-5), serious run-game (7 (AD) / 8 (Lynch)), manager QBs and look for bounce after stumble of late (1-2).  Young QBs Ponder & Wilson impress with suitable-stats, pocket progress and press-room maturity usually found in vets.  Home turf helps Hawks after 2 tough road losses, while Vikes' engine knocks (TB).  Seahawks win.

Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3) @ New York Giants (6-2) (4:25 CBS)

Certified C.O.T, 4 of last 7 Super Bowl winners.  No-Respect Bowl: Ben & Eli keep hoisting the hardware and all talk is about Tom, Tim, Peyton & RG3.  Cliff-Notes: Steelers got balance (10-O / 2-D), G-men keep finding a way (4-O / 24-D).  Quality wins, NYG (2): @ DAL and SF; Pitt (1) vs. NYJ (.5) and PHI (.5).  Pitt's well of RBs running dry (Dwyer / quad) but Giant Bradshaw hobbled too.  Pass-proficiency will dictate as both QBs distribute like venders.  Ben's groovin' (67 Comp% / 14-3 ratio) while Eli's protected (6-S / 2300 yds).  Pass Ds: Pitt's stingy (1) but key cog Clark Q'able and Giants soft (26).  Steelers win.

Dallas Cowboys (3-4) @ Atlanta Falcons (7-0) (8:20 NBC)

Falcons are funny.  Away they win convincingly (4), at home they eke out Ws vs. early-Broncos, Carolina & Oakland.  Too good to lay an egg Sunday, Birds face Dallas team that's talented and angry (BAL / NYG).  Cowboy D works (4 / 3P), 1st-down ratio nice and pass-game clicks under Tony (3) who's pressing (9-13 ratio).  Bank on injury-news (Bryant-Murray-Jones) and you'll suffer, so I won't.  Like NYG tussle, should be aerial-act as Falcons' run-show (24) no bigger hit than Boys.  Atlanta falls, Cowboys lasso a W.

Steven Keys                                                                                                                       

NFL Hunch Line

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