When driving into the great state of Maine, you're greeted by a sign that reads "Maine: The Way Life Should Be."
As much as I love York Beach and Fisherman's Catch in Wells, I beg to differ.
The Boston team vs. the New York team with a division lead on the line: now that's the way life should be. While it was fun to see the new Red Sox-Rays rivalry spring to life this year, something's missing when the Yankees aren't the team to beat.
Thank God for Patriots-Jets, the NFL rivalry that keeps on giving in new and wondrous ways, from the trips Bill Parcells and Curtis Martin made westbound on the Connecticut Turnpike to Eric Mangini dropping dimes. As Dennis Miller once introduced a Pats-Jets Monday night game, there's more interbreeding in this rivalry than in the House of Plantagenet.
And both teams are much stronger squads than those taking the field two months ago at the Meadowlands. Matt Cassel was making his first NFL start, and Brett Favre hadn't decoded the Jets' offense yet. Since then, New York's been running up basketball scores and New England has pulled itself together as if a new piece of tendon served as a stronger anterior cruciate ligament (Adelius Thomas' apparent season-ending broken arm last week noitwithstanding).
The winner can legitimately think about a first-round bye. The stakes are high. Join me tonight for my live blog on SI.com.
On to the picks (14-6 last week, 125-75 overall). Confidence points in parentheses:
PATRIOTS 27, JETS 21 (9): New England's getting the pass rush it needs, and Cassel is finally being entrusted with Tom Brady's playbook. And the O-line? It helped a guy who started the preseason sixth on the depth chart (BenJarvus Green-Ellis) run for 100 yards against Buffalo.
DOLPHINS 24, RAIDERS 10 (14): If the Fish don't get caught looking ahead, they host the Pats in a big one next week.
COLTS 34, TEXANS 17 (15): Indy's issued fourth-quarter reminders the past two weeks not to let the playoffs start without them.
SAINTS 30, CHIEFS 24 (2): Drew Brees may be having an MVP-caliber season, but the guys around him aren't.
FALCONS 23, BRONCOS 16 (11): Would Atlanta be in playoff contention if Mike Vick were still around? Just think about it.
BUCCANEERS 21, VIKINGS 20 (6): Old-school NFC Central slugfest.
PANTHERS 31, LIONS 17 (16): Signs of improvement in Detroit, but this won't be the breakthrough.
PACKERS 17, BEARS 16 (4): The NFC Black and Blue Division is still up for grabs.
GIANTS 24, RAVENS 14 (13): Baltimore makes the sale with me if they can pull the upset.
EAGLES 37, BENGALS 16 (12): Is Philly a playoff team? My jury's out. Are the Iggles entertaining? Hell yeah.
CARDINALS 30, SEAHAWKS 13 (8): Betting against the MNF principle, but Seattle too often looks like it's just going through the motions.
49ers 14, RAMS 13 (1): Test of the theory: what does more harm, getting blown out or choking away a near-certain upset?
TITANS 17, JAGUARS 10 (10): If Tennessee can steal a game on the road where its vaunted ground attack manages just 20 yards, I have to let it ride at least another week.
STEELERS 24, CHARGERS 20 (5): Pittsburgh can't afford another tough home loss.
REDSKINS 20, COWBOYS 17 (7): Provided the Skins show up, as they failed to do in their last prime-time visit.
BILLS 16, BROWNS 14 (3): Something's lost Monday: Buffalo's playoff hopes or Romeo Crennel's job.
And in college:
FLORIDA 34, SOUTH CAROLINA 10: Sorry, Steve Spurrier: the Gators' SEC title date with 'Bama can't wait.
TEXAS 48, KANSAS 34: The Longhorns can potentially reach the BCS title game without making the Big 12 title game. Chew on that.
OHIO STATE 35, ILLINOIS 20: No repeat of the momumental '07 upset.
NORTH CAROLINA 20, MARYLAND 16: Finally, a football team Roy Williams and Dean Smith can be proud of.