Note: the quotes in this article are fictional.
Denver @ Cleveland (-3)
Football returns to the NFL Network for the fist time this year as the 3-5 Browns host the 4-4 Broncos on Thursday night. NFL fans can take comfort in the fact that Thursday night football will be around for the next seven weeks, and more comfort with the knowledge that Bryant Gumbel won't be anywhere near the broadcast booth. And while Thursday's contest won't pack the importance nor drama of the Broncos/Browns 1986 AFC Championship classic, Mike Shanahan knows it's a must win for Denver after three straight losses.
"I've certainly rethought my decision to cut Travis Henry," says Shanahan, "especially after our 12-rush, 14-yard performance against the Dolphins. That's barely getting back to the line of scrimmage. Sadly, in Travis' case, he doesn't respond well to 'imaginary' lines, but you show him a line he can see, smell, or snort, then he's golden. Of course, Travis lost my trust long ago, and his plead of 'not guilty' to cocaine charges further brings into question issues of trust and honesty. Not guilty? Jesus Christ. You've got Eric Clapton listed as a character witness. Come on, Travis. With you, 'conviction' is just as likely as 'conception.'"
Brady Quinn has been named starter for the Browns, replacing the erratic Derek Anderson, who threw an interception last week that the Ravens returned for a score, sealing their 37-27 win.
"I'd like to quote a Tom Petty and the Hearbreakers' song to describe this situation," says Quinn. "No, not 'You Got Lucky,' although that would certainly capture Anderson's 2007 Pro Bowl year and subsequent new contract. I'm referring to 'The Waiting is the Hardest Part.' That's describes my feelings perfectly. Whether sweating it out in the green room at the 2007 NFL draft or watching helplessly under a baseball cap this year, it's been difficult. I'm ready to go. We've got a solid group of receivers. Braylon Edwards may have a problem with drops, but Kellen Winslow definitely 'is catching.'"
The Dawg Pound is always a difficult place to play. Just ask the Browns; they're 1-3 there. But seriously, their one win came on a Monday night in prime time. Well, it's Thursday night in prime time, and the locals will be fired up. Denver has been shaky on the road, going 1-2 on the road. The Broncos are also 1-2 in road games settled by 14 or more points. They're also 1-0 in games settled by Ed Hochuli.
Jay Cutler, whose play lately has him referred to as "Elway-esque" only in France, is happy just to lead the Broncos on 'a' drive, and not necessarily 'The' Drive. Cutler takes to Broncos in for a score on their first drive. However, Quinn plays well, and the Browns overcome a late Ernest Byner goal-line fumble to win, 27-20.
Tennessee @ Chicago (-3)
The Titans remained the NFL's only undefeated team after pulling out a 19-16 overtime win over Green Bay last week. On Sunday, Tennessee will put that perfect record on the line in Chicago, which puts those ornery old codgers from the 1972 17-0 Dolphins team in the awkward position of pulling for the Bears. In 1985, the Dolphins ended the 12-0 Bears' hopes for an undefeated season.
"If those geezers want to put the champagne on ice," says Jeff Fisher, "then so be it. However, the only bubbles those old timers will be seeing this Sunday won't be from champagne, but from the tablet of Efferdent dissolving in their bedside glass of water. They might not have teeth, but we do. We plan to play our game, which is to establish the run with the combination of the hefty, food-loving LenDale White, and the shifty speed-merchant Chris Johnson, a duo I like to call 'Dine and Dash.' I'll have that copyrighted soon, as I will Vince Young's costume, which was a big hit on Halloween. It's called the 'Incredible Sulk.'"
The Bears lead the NFC North by one game, and to hold that lead, they'll have to pin a loss on the Titans with Rex Grossman at quarterback. Kyle Orton suffered an ankle injury last Sunday and is likely to miss Sunday's game.
"I guess it's time for me to utter those five words people have become accustomed to hearing," says Lovie Smith. "No, not 'Rex Grossman is our quarterback,' but 'Dear God, somebody help me!' I guess we'll be relying on our defense for this one."
Titans win, 22-13.
St. Louis @ NY Jets (-9)
After head coach Eric Mangini asked Brett Favre not to "take so many chances" after a 3-interception game two weeks ago, Favre mostly heeded that advice last Sunday. Favre threw only 1 interception, and although it was returned for a touchdown, he otherwise played flawlessly as the Jets upset the Bills, 26-17.
"Hey, Sarah Palin's not the only one that likes to go 'rogue,'" says Favre. "I also hear she likes to go 'commando' on occasion, often when blasting a moose while perched in a hovering helicopter. That's a campaign poster right there for the gun-toting, panty-less demographic. Myself, I'm not one to go 'commando,' especially since doing so in a pair of Wranglers will cause some serious chaffing. However, I've been known to go 'rogue' quite often, which is why I have 300 career interceptions, the most ever. Hey, a record is a record. I've been known to give up some easy sacks, or should I say 'sack?' But I'm also pretty darn generous with the errant passes."
Sunday's game against the Rams will mark Favre's 260th consecutive start, a mark perceived as amazing to most, and more so to St. Louis quarterback Marc Bulger.
"So, Favre's got a 'consecutive-start-to-interception ratio of approximately 2.6:3?" says Bulger. "I'm not impressed. But 260 consecutive games is something else. I'm lucky if I can make 260 plays, much less games. No one has ever made the mistake of calling me 'Iron Man,' except on Halloween, when I went as 'Iron Man (With Sore Ribs).' I was the only one in that costume. In the future, feel free to call me 'Iron Maiden,' 'Steel Magnolia,' or 'Iron Deficiency,' at your leisure."
Jets win, 26-20.
Green Bay @ Minnesota (-1)
The Vikings have charged back from an 0-2 start to the season and, at 4-4, are tied with the Packers for second place in the NFC North. The winner of Sunday's game could very well jump into a tie for the division lead, assuming the Bears lose to the undefeated Titans.
"I guess I've silenced those who were quick to say my job was on the chopping block," says Brad Childress. "Hopefully, I've proved, once and for all, that a man can look like the tenor in a barbershop quartet and still be an effective coach. That's assuming his two defensive tackles, who closely resemble The Weather Girls in size, remain on the field and aren't suspended for what is known in the Viking locker room as 'water-pill-aging.' And, that's also assuming our quarterback, Gus Frerotte, continues to make big plays while limiting his mistakes, and tempers his touchdown celebrations so as not to result in concussions."
The Packers signed quarterback Aaron Rodgers to a five-year contract extension last week that makes him the NFL's fourth-highest paid quarterback, behind Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer, and Ben Roethlisberger. Rodgers celebrated the extension by deciding to buy a Brett Favre jersey, then changing his mind.
"I tell you what," says Rodgers. "The Packers aren't afraid to lay the money on the table. They'll do whatever it takes to make this team better. Whether it's a $65 million offer to me to keep playing, or a $20 million offer to Brett Favre to stop playing, the Green Bay organization has it covered. Money talks, Favre walks, with a slight limp, I might add."
For 65 extra-large, I'm guessing the Packers expect Rodgers to "take them somewhere" in addition to the bank. An NFC North title would be a great start, and a rematch with the Giants in the cold of January would also be appreciated. A win in Minnesota is a start in that direction. After the Vikings take a 6-0 lead, Rodgers gets the Packer air assault in gear, throwing for two scores. Safety Atari Bigby, who's a real gamer, returns a Frerotte interception for a score. Green Bay wins, 30-23.
Baltimore @ Houston (-2)
When the Ravens face the Texans, number one on the Ravens' "to do" list is stopping Andre Johnson, the NFL's leading receiver. Johnson just had his streak of four straight 130-yard receiving games broken in Houston's 28-21 loss to the Vikings.
"Four straight 130-yard games?" says John Harbaugh. "What's the big deal? Our quarterback, Joe Flacco, did that in five straight games. Sure he's a quarterback, but in my ultra-conservative offense, that's saying something. Anyway, Joe fits in great with my philosophy. I think he may be one of the top two starting rookie quarterbacks in this league. What's that? There are only two rookie starting quarterbacks in the league? Well, then, you just verified my statement. Sure, Joe trails Matt Ryan in every major statistical category, including number of eyebrows, but I'll take Joe over Matt any day, except Sunday."
Houston's Matt Schaub injured his knee last week and is out 2-4 weeks, so backup Sage Rosenfels will see his first action since Week 5's loss to the Colts. In that game, three late Rosenfels turnovers allowed the Colts to turn a 27-10 deficit into a 31-27 win. Rosenfels will have to protect the ball better if the Texans are to overcome the rugged and opportunistic Baltimore defense.
"We plan to go after Rosenfels from the start," says Ray Lewis. "We here in Baltimore don't condone placing bounties on opposing players, and I normally don't wink this much. But rest assured, 'Sage' is on our 'grocery list,' and we like to hunt, I mean shop. As you may well know, 'Sage' goes great with pork, which is why Rosenfels has agreed to a candid interview with Tony Siragusa. It's always good to hear Siragusa's take on football, unless you're a football fan. Inevitably, the 'Goose' will plug his 'Retirement From Football' diet, in which he's given up the pigskin, but not the pork."
With the Giants and Eagles up next for the Ravens, a win over the Texans is imperative for Baltimore's playoff hopes. And the Ravens defense is like a 'wing man' to their offense - always putting them in position to score.
Rosenfels is sacked three times and intercepted twice. Baltimore wins, 23-16.
Jacksonville @ Detroit (+6½)
Could the Jaguars, picked by many in the preseason to represent the AFC in the playoffs, if not the Super Bowl, lose in consecutive weeks to two winless teams? Should Jacksonville fall to the 0-8 Lions, that will be the case. Last week, the Jags fell 21-19 to the winless Bengals, and surrendered two Chad Ocho Cinco touchdown catches.
"I pride myself on always keeping my team positive, no matter the circumstances," says Jack Del Rio. "Sure, you may say it's 'losing to two winless teams,' but I prefer to call it 'improving our draft position.' But, as we discovered last week, a winless team whose mascot is a feline is a dangerous being. However, we're not intimidated. A lion's roar in the jungle may be frightening, but a Lion's roar inside Ford Field barely registers on the fear meter. I've heard scarier stomachs growling. And just like a growling stomach, I've heard that you can toss a Snickers bar at the Lions and they'll quiet down."
The news in Detroit was a gigantic announcement of an addition to the roster. Daunte Culpepper? No way. I'm talking 'bout Allen Iverson joining the Pistons. What do Culpepper and Iverson have in common? Neither will do a thing to help the Lions win a game.
I don't know about you, but I'm pulling for the Jaguars to win. Three more losses and the Lions will be 0-11; assuming the Titans remain undefeated, then we'll have a great Thanksgiving Day matchup pitting the 0-11 Lions hosting the 11-0 Titans. Could be quite the turkey basting. Jaguars win, 25-20.
Seattle @ Miami (-9½)
Times are tough in Seattle. Injuries are mounting, and the Seahawks are last in the NFC West. In addition, a grueling cross-country flight to Miami looms for the Seahawks, where the red-hot Dolphins await.
"Matt Hasselbeck is still suffering the effects of 'dead leg syndrome,'" says Mike Holmgren. "That could be a problem on the flight to Miami, because, if I understand airport regulations correctly, a 'dead leg' has to be 'checked' and can't be 'carried on.' And, it's hard for Matt to get any kind of exercise with this 'dead leg' affliction. It seems that any time he tries to walk, he just goes in circles."
"And our receiving situation isn't any better. Deion Branch hasn't played in awhile. And by 'awhile,' I mean 'since winning the Super Bowl XXXIX most valuable player award.'"
The Dolphins are healthy and riding the crest of a two-game winning streak, which has placed them firmly in the hunt for the AFC East crown. The 'Fins are 4-2, and equally as important, are 2-1 in the division. Steady play by Chad Pennington and a reliable running game have boosted the offense, while linebacker Joey Porter, who leads the NFL with 11½ sacks, has anchored the defense. Last week, after Miami's 26-17 win in Denver, Porter called Denver wide receiver Brandon Marshall "soft."
"Hey, if I were a rapper, they'd call me 'Afrikka Bombastica," says Porter. "Look, I'm just trying to talk a little trash here. Besides sacking quarterbacks, that's really all I know how to do. If Marshall's got the guts to settle this mano y mano, then he should meet me at the only place suitable for such an encounter - the Superstars obstacle course. Bring it on, Brandon."
Miami wins, 24-13.
Buffalo @ New England (-4)
With a three-way tie atop the AFC East standings, and Miami only a game behind, the East title is up for grabs. In year's past, that hasn't always been the case, as the Patriots have often unofficially clinched the division sometime in November, with the official clinch coming soon thereafter. The Bills' lead has been nearly hunted to extinction, and their 4-0 start is quickly becoming a distant memory.
"Sure, I can say 'overrated,'" says Dick Jauron. "Just as easily as I can say 'overpaid.' The Bills sign me to a three-year extension, and look what happens - we lose our next two. Am I the man to lead this team to the Super Bowl? Am I the 'chosen one?' Can I handle the pressure? Calgon, take me away! Better yet, (Al) Cowlings, take me away!"
Get a hold of yourself, Dick!
The Patriots are 5-3, and while they're not dropping 50 points on numerous opponents like they were last year, they're doing plenty to stay in the division and playoff race.
"With Tom Brady out," says Bill Belichick, "I've found it necessary to rely less on players and more on game tape. I've never been one to pass on a good video tape, especially one passed to me under the table at a roadside greasy spoon by a mysterious stranger who looks a lot like a New England employee, video tape division. I'm not camera shy, but I am a camera shyster."
Can the Bills afford their third straight division loss? No, especially since they've sunk all of their money into Jauron's contract. Buffalo wins, 23-21.
New Orleans @ Atlanta (-1)
In the highly competitive NFC South, even the last-place team is dangerous, especially when that last place team is the Saints, and their quarterback is Drew Brees, who leads the NFL in passing. New Orleans will look to stay in the race with a win in Atlanta, where the youthful Falcons are 3-0 this year.
"I have to credit Mike Smith with his coaching job," says Sean Payton. "I haven't seen anyone work this well with kids since Mary Kay LeTourneau. Matt Ryan is the front-runner for rookie of the year, and he's gathering quite a fan base. The NFL Network's Marshall Faulk even said that Ryan is better than Peyton Manning was in his rookie year. When Manning heard that, it took more than just The Chicken to hold him back from going after Faulk."
The Saints and their top-ranked offense are putting up over 403 yards of total offense per game, and Drew Brees is still on pace to eclipse Dan Marino's single-season record for passing yardage.
"Hey, I just take what the defense gives me," says Brees. "No the opposition's defense, ours. They usually hand me a deficit to work with. But I'm happy to do whatever it takes to win. If I have to cover for defensive deficiencies by throwing nearly 40 times a game, then I'll do it. If the defense stinks, then I have to mask the smell, with the scent I call 'Fe-Brees.'"
NFC South teams don't lose at home. And the Falcons prove they can win a shootout. Atlanta wins, 31-29.
Carolina @ Oakland (+9)
The Panthers lead the NFC South with a 6-2 record, and with a bye week under their belts, Carolina should be well-rested for the long trip to Oakland, where the 2-6 Raiders and their unruly fans await.
"Hey, I much prefer two week breaks mandated by the league schedule," says Steve Smith, "as opposed to two week breaks mandated by my head coach. And it's unfortunate the Raiders released DeAngelo Hall before Sunday. I could have made him lose his mind as well as his job."
"We know going to Oakland is always a dangerous proposition, not necessarily for players, but for anyone affiliated with the opposition who dares trek into the 'Black Hole' or anywhere in the city, for that matter. That goes for our fans, but mostly for our cheerleaders, who in times past, have wandered into strange sports bars. In Oakland sports bar, more so than in other cities, like Tampa, there's even a greater chance of cheerleaders being 'eaten.'"
Last week, the Raiders were shutout at home 24-0 by the Falcons, and only managed 77 yards of total offense and three first downs. The Raiders have hit rock bottom, and the Falcon loss was a "black eye" for the "Black Hole."
"It's gotten so bad," says former Raiders and current dancing machine Warren Sapp, "that it's hard to watch. Even the raider on the Oakland helmet has resorted to wearing two eye patches. I'm not afraid to tell it like it is, nor am I afraid to trip the light fantastic, as many have seen on Dancing With the Stars, but the only way this franchise recovers is if Al is found 'sleeping with the fishes.'"
Everyone knows the Raiders are like an expired grocery coupon - they have no redeemable value. And the Raiders are stuck with Davis just like the morning newspaper is stuck to Lester Hayes' stickum-encrusted fingers.
Carolina wins, 27-9. Sebastian Janikowski misses a 79-yard field goal as time expires.
Kansas City @ San Diego (-14)
In most cases, a 3-5 record halfway into the season would leave a team with little hope for a playoff spot, much less a division title. Luckily for the Chargers, that's not the case. In the mediocre AFC West, the Bolts' 3-5 record has them only one game behind the 4-4 Broncos.
"This bye week has been great for us," says Norv Turner. "While we were sitting home, all of our AFC West counterparts took a loss. If we could just take the rest of the year off, we'd win this division easily. Unfortunately, this bye week wasn't so great for defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell. Sorry, Ted. The writing was on the wall. We had the 28th-worst defense in the league, and we had gone nine quarters without registering a sack. He should have seen this coming. Anyway, he could have looked at our schedule, which clearly stated that in Week 9 there would be a 'bye.' Well, so long."
Cottrell didn't contest the move, and wished his replacement, Ron Rivera, the best of luck. Cottrell did, however, change his name to "Colt Seavers," also known as television's "Fall Guy."
Last week in Kansas City, the Chiefs "played to win the game," but for only three quarters. KC carried a 24-13 lead over Tampa into the fourth quarter, but allowed the Bucs two touchdowns in the fourth, and eventually lost in overtime.
"You see, that's when a closer like Larry Johnson would come in handy," says Herman Edwards. "When you're protecting a lead, nothing kills the clock like three straight two-yard runs right slap into the middle of the defense."
With the West winner likely to finish 8-8, division wins are extremely important for tie-breaking purposes. Is that my analysis? No, that's Turner's pre-game motivational speech.
Chargers win, 31-20.
Indianapolis @ Pittsburgh (-2½)
The last time the Colts met the Steelers, Pittsburgh stunned the top-seeded Colts 21-18 in the AFC divisional playoffs at the RCA Dome on the way to the Steelers Super Bowl crown. While not nearly as much is on the line this Sunday, Pittsburgh has a one-game lead in the AFC North to protect, while the 4-4 Colts are desperate for some continuity to a season which has seen them above .500 for only one week.
"Although we lost," says Peyton Manning, "that game was a classic. I remember it well. Jerome Bettis' fumble, Ben Roethlisberger's tackle of Nick Harper, and Mike Vanderjagt's kick sailing wide right by the length of a zip code. Talk about an 'idiot kick-er' to the balls. I guess that's why they call him 'Canadian Missed.'"
"I know when I stare across the line of scrimmage at the Pittsburgh defense, I'll be engaged in a battle of wits with their defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. Well, let me tell you something. Dick LeBeau doesn't scare me, nor does Pepe Le Pew, Simon LeBon, Greg LeMond, Jack LaLanne, or Shia LaBeouf. I tell you what does scare me. LaMarr Woodley, and his linebacker counterparts Larry Foote, James Farrior, and James Harrison. When I see a linebackers unit that good across from me, I might just LeFreak out."
The Steelers finally got a win over an NFC East team, vanquishing the Redskins 23-6, in a game marked by an injury to Roethlisberger and flawless, if not spectacular, relief by Byron Leftwich.
"Obviously, we don't select our quarterbacks based on nimble footwork," says Tomlin. "If Ben can go, then I've got a tough decision to make. Ben or Byron? And you know when I'm faced with a tough decision, I usually make the wrong one."
It's a classic battle. Manning and his audibles against a Pittsburgh defense intent on confusing him. Indy steers clear of the Steelers run defense by simply not running the ball, instead opting to pick on the Pittsburgh secondary.
Adam Vinatieri kicks the game-winner. Colts win, 22-19.
NY Giants @ Philadelphia (-3)
While the Cowboys and Redskins lick their wounds from their respective beatings at the hands of the Giants and Steelers, the Eagles and G-Men face off in a crucial NFC East matchup. While the Giants enjoy a two-game lead in the division, the Eagles can slice that lead in half with a win on Sunday night.
"Hey, we're doing Philly fans a favor by coming to town," says Brandon Jacobs. "What Eagles' fan hasn't been dying to say 'The world champs are in Philadelphia?' Well, we're here. And there's two things they can do about it - nothing and like it."
"We've been watching inspirational movies to get fired up for this one," says Vinnie, who, along with his partner Joey, forms one of Philly's most inept mobster duos. "You know like Rocky, Invincible, High School Musical 3, and Philadelphia. "
For the Eagles to have a chance, they'll need a big game from Brian Westbrook, who, when healthy, is a threat to go all the way, provided he doesn't decide to take a knee at the one. The Eagles will be fired up for this one, but don't you think the Giants will be as well? They're the defending Super Bowl champions, they're 7-1, and they're three-point underdogs?
New York wins, 26-21.
San Francisco @ Arizona (-10)
It's funny. I really can't see Hank Williams, Jr. and all of his rowdy friends hanging out in Arizona, but regardless of who shows up, Monday Night Football will feature the 49ers and new head coach Mike Singletary trying to stop Kurt Warner and the Cardinals potent offense.
"It's disappointing that Arizona senator John McCain failed to win the presidency," says Warner. "But that disappointment is offset somewhat by the fact that we'll have a president who can correctly pronounce the word 'nuclear.'"
"Anyway, this team is hitting on all cylinders. Things couldn't be better, although Matt Leinart may beg to differ. Oh no, it's got nothing to do with playing time. Matt's upset because he claims the makers of the movie Zack and Miri Make a Porno stole his idea. Matt had planned to make a movie called Matt and Myriad Girls Make a Porno. Once again, Matt plays 'second banana,' which also happens to be a film he's working on."
Speaking of "soft core," Singletary is making headlines in San Francisco, whether he's ordering Vernon Davis off the field in the middle of a game, or dropping his drawers in the locker room.
"Jim Varney once said 'Hey Vern, you're outta here,'" says Singletary. "I think that was in the movie Ernest Goes to the Locker Room in the Third Quarter. Honestly, though, I don't understand why dropping my pants caused such a stir. I even got a letter from Joe Buck that simply said 'That's disgusting!'"
The Cardinals don't exactly beat the pants off of the 49ers, but they do win 30-17 behind 276 yards and 2 touchdowns from Warner.