Note: the quotes in this article are fictional.
NY Jets @ New England (-4)
First place in the AFC East rides on the outcome of Thursday night's Jets/Patriots showdown, a game in which quarterbacks Brett Favre and Matt Cassel will take center stage. While Favre's status as a "gunslinger" is legendary, Cassel is known as a mostly conservative quarterback, and if there's a knock against the Pats' offense, it's that it lacks big-play capability with Cassel.
"I pride myself on taking chances," says Favre. "There's not a throw I don't think I can make, or a phone call. I'm as free with my passes as I am with Packer game plans. Cassel is strictly by the book. His idea of 'taking a chance' is changing the snap count from 'one' to 'two.' Lately, though, Cassel has shown some Tom Brady-like qualities. He's looking for Randy Moss more, and he's dating a hand model, whom I'm believe goes by the name 'Lefty.'"
While the Cassel-to-Moss connection hasn't produced nearly the same numbers as the Brady-to-Moss hookup did, Moss hasn't complained at all, and he remained the consummate professional.
"I'm not sure what you're implying," says Moss, "but regardless of how comfortable I get with Matt, I don't plan to 'consummate' anything with him. Oh, you mean the other 'consummate.' You threw me. It's not often I'm called the 'consummate professional.' You know it's a pretty sad state of affairs for wide receivers when I'm the poster boy for good behavior. While other receivers are criticizing quarterbacks and coaches, or doing cocaine in public, or planning ill-conceived praise for our president-elect, or making out with their coach, I'm going about my business. I'm living proof that the most humbling experience in football is a flight out of Oakland."
The Jets signed former cornerback Ty Law, not for his "picks," but to "pick" his brain for Patriot tendencies. It's proof that Eric Mangini will go to any lengths to get a jump on his former boss, Bill Belichick, who will also go to any length, particularly 8 millimeters, for a competitive edge. If you like semi-unethical information gathering methods, this is the game for you - "The Ice" Mangini versus "The Fantastic Voyeur" Belichick.
Favre throws for 2 short touchdowns, and the Jets win, 24-21. After the game, Belichick coldly congratulates Mangini with the most awkward chest bump in NFL history.
Denver @ Atlanta (-4½)
The Broncos scored 21 fourth quarter points to beat the Browns 34-30 last Thursday, maintaining the Broncos' shaky one-game lead over the Chargers in the AFC West. Quarterback Jay Cutler and the Denver offense have proved to be quite a dangerous entity, especially against horrible defenses, or while benefitting from monumentally egregious officiating blunders. The Broncos will likely see neither when they travel to Atlanta and the Georgia Dome, where the Falcons are 4-0.
"We won't take them lightly," says Mike Smith. "Cutler may not have the strongest arm in the history of recorded time, but he definitely has the strongest arm on his body. And Brandon Marshall is a powerful receiver, capable of pulling amazing catches out of the air and presidential tributes out of his pants. Say what you will about the shortcomings of the AFC West, but one thing is for certain about that division - there will be a wildcard team advancing to the second round of the playoffs at the expense of the West division winner."
Matt Ryan threw for 248 yards and 2 touchdowns last week against the Saints, and this Sunday, the Falcons will face a defense that has even less to offer than the Saints.
"You must be referring to 'resistance,'" says Ryan. "What's softer? Brandon Marshall or the Bronco defense? With apologies to Joey Porter, I'd have to say the Bronco defense, a unit which considers an opponent's touchdown a 'stop.' Technically, I guess that's true. As for Cutler, our defensive scheme is to show him some looks that he didn't see in Cleveland, like 'coverage.'"
With a week off, the Broncos have had time to make defensive adjustments. That means defensive coordinator Bob Slowik has scrapped the "Cover Who?" defense in favor of a more concrete defensive ploy. Luckily for the Falcons, the new Denver defense is like a one-color Rubik's Cube - easily solved. Atlanta wins, 31-21.
Minnesota @ Tampa Bay (-4)
The Vikes share the lead in the NFC North after a narrow 28-27 win over Green Bay, made possible by a big day from Adrian Peterson and a dominant defensive effort that held the Packers to 184 total yards. That formula of a strong rushing attack and a sturdy defense is what the Vikes must ride if they are to claim the division crown.
"When this team stays focused," says Brad Childress, "we're dangerous. Staying focused in Tampa will be difficult, especially with a huge distraction like a boat, of all things, in the end zone. Has that pirate ship always been there, or did the Bucs place it there in a nefarious attempt to rekindle a situation this team has tried to put behind it? For God's sake, no one say 'permission to come aboard."
"In light of Kevin and Pat Williams drug testing issues, I would expect nothing less than to see a 'Whizzinator' in the other end zone. No, the 'Whizzinator' is not a cyborg assassin sent to earth to destroy any human who dares try to beat a drug test. I'm talking about the apparatus that allows you to walk in to a drug test and easily whip out a clean urine sample."
The Bucs are 6-3, second in the NFC South, and 4-0 at home. A victory over the Vikings hinges on Tampa's red zone efficiency. Too often this year, the Bucs have settled for field goals when their offense stalled inside their opponent's 20-yard line.
"Our red zone offense has left me 'kicking and screaming,'" says Jon Gruden. "As for the University of Tennessee head coaching job? I'm not interested. I'm a highly-paid professional coach. Why the heck would I do 'Volunteer' work?"
What's the plan for the Bucs? Load up the box, take Adrian Peterson out of the game, and force Gus Frerotte to throw into man coverage. That's just how Tampa defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin chiseled it into a stone tablet. It's a close one, but the Bucs win, 19-16.
Baltimore @ NY Giants (-6½)
The 8-1 Giants are clearly the class of the NFC, while the emerging Ravens are tied with the Steelers for first in the AFC North. Sunday's matchup in the Meadowlands will be a rematch of Super Bowl XXXV, won by the Ravens, 34-7.
"While much has changed in Baltimore since then," says John Harbaugh, "one thing has remained constant, and that's the presence of Ray Lewis in the middle of the defense. It's no fun looking across and seeing the piercing gaze of Lewis staring back at you. Whether it's a Parchesi board, a pane of glass, or the line of scrimmage separating you and Ray, it's frightening to know that his attention is all on you. It will be a test of wills when Eli Manning and Ray face off. Manning is a master of disguising what he's thinking. That's usually because, no matter the situation, he always looks confused."
"I know the Ravens will come after me like a bunch of crazed dogs," says Manning. "I hate to steal a line from the great Lawrence Taylor, but heaven knows, I'm sure he's stolen his share of lines in his day. We'll be ready to play, and I'm sure Plaxico Burress will, at the very least, be in uniform. Ready to play? Maybe. Heck, I might just call a short crossing pattern for Plaxico just so Lewis can flatten him and Coach Coughlin can taunt Plax."
Baltimore's defense will keep them in the game, but in the fourth quarter, when big-game experience matters, Manning will make the plays that Joe Flacco cannot. Giants win, 19-10.
Oakland @ Miami (-11)
Ricky Williams rushed for 105 yards, including a 51-yard touchdown run, in Miami's 21-19 win last week over the Seahawks, Williams' first 100-yard game since the 2005 season. With the win, the 'Fins remained one game out of the AFC East lead, trailing the Jets and Patriots.
"Nothing will rejuvenate a career like taking some direct snaps from center," says Williams. "It's just like I discovered when I started a florescent-lit 'garden' in my attic - everything's better without the middleman. It's like my career has been resuscitated, or I've been given a mouth-to-mouth breath of new life. A few years ago, I guess I would have called that a 'shotgun,' which is exactly how I take snaps from center now. So, it looks like everything has come full circle."
In Oakland, 'offensive ineptitude' is the word, although 'grease' is the word in Al Davis' hair. Last week, the Raiders managed only two Sebastian Janikowski field goals in a 17-6 loss to the Panthers. Oakland has now gone nine straight quarters without scoring an offensive touchdown.
"I guess you could say we can't score without Janikowski," says Tom Cable. "Which is bothersome, because I've found that if you need Janikowski to 'score,' then you're in trouble, most likely with law enforcement in relation to slipping certain substances into the drinks of unsuspecting co-eds. Maybe we should try that on some opposing defenses."
With a 2-7 record and coming off such a dismal performance, the flight from Oakland to Miami will be long and arduous, mostly because the charter plane lacks such amenities as leather upholstery, personalized sleeping quarters, and an assistant named Renfield, amenities found in Al Davis' chartered hearse. Miami wins, 22-9.
New Orleans @ Kansas City (+4½)
You've got to hand it to Herman Edwards. Going for the winning two-point conversion after a touchdown in San Diego with the Chiefs trailing the Chargers 20-19 was a gutsy call, but one that will be questioned.
"Do I have to say it again?" says Edwards. "You play to win the game. I felt that was our only chance to win the game. There was no way our fatigued defense could stop their offense. Does that sound like a cliché'd explanation to a failed two-point conversion, when an otherwise routine extra point would have forced overtime? Well, it is. Who's to say we wouldn't have got the ball first and scored, without our defense having to set foot on the field? I considered that, but I figured our captains were too darn fatigued themselves to make the correct choice at the coin toss."
The Saints always play to win the game, which inevitably means having to score more than 30 points because the New Orleans defense surrendered at least that much.
"Yes, we have defensive issues," says Sean Payton. "But it is patently not true that opposing offenses can toss bead necklaces at our defense and expect an even easier route to the end zone. However, it is true that you can toss Jeremy Shockey a bead necklace and he'll 'lose his top.'"
If the Saints were in another division, they might have a better record, but they're in the South, home to much better defenses. I think they'd be great in the "Wild West" division, because every game is a "shootout." New Orleans wins, 30-24.
Detroit @ Carolina (-14)
Sure, the Panthers are 7-2 and leading the NFC South, but are there any positives when your quarterback, Jake Delhomme, suffers through a 7-for-27, 72-yard, 4-interception day in Carolina's 17-6 win over Oakland?
"You want positives?" says John Fox. "I'll give you one. I'm positive that was the worst quarterback performance in Panthers' history. Chris Weinke, you're off the hook. However, Jake's quarterback rating was 12.3. That's positive. And I'm positive that Jake's 12.3 rating will soon be established as the football equivalent to baseball's 'Mendoza Line.'"
The Lions lost to the Jaguars 38-14 last week, falling to 0-9, as new quarterback Daunte Culpepper was benched in the second quarter.
"Despite the outcome," says Rod Marinelli, "we made progress. We proved that even without Matt Millen's input, this organization can still make bad decisions. Isn't that just what a team desperate for a spark needs? The addition of an outsider who only takes playing time away from Drew Stanton, who may be your quarterback of the future? I will say, though, Culpepper did have some great Randy Moss stories, and his sex boat anecdotes really lifted our sprits."
As if Detroit needed more bad luck, they'll soon be crossing the paths of over fifty black cats. But in the Lion tradition of wise decisions, they'll be running under ladders and breaking mirrors before they do.
With a loss, the Lions could be facing official elimination from the playoffs. With a win, they'll still suck. Carolina wins, 26-17.
Philadelphia @ Cincinnati (+9½)
With their 36-31 loss to the Giants last week, the Eagles might as well concede the division crown to the Giants and dig in for what is to be a lengthy battle for one of the two wildcard positions. Philly is 0-3 in the division and tied with the Cowboys in last, albeit with a 5-4 record.
"We don't dwell on the negatives," says Donovan McNabb. "That doesn't leave very much else to talk about, but there is good news - wide receiver Hank Baskett announced his engagement to former Playboy playmate and Girl Next Door Kendra Wilkinson, previously of Hugh Hefner's stable. I can't wait to see her - with clothes on. Hefner even wants to give her away at the wedding. Hank wants to 'take her back' before the wedding. If you're a fan of The Girls Next Door, then you're probably aware that Wilkinson was the girl with the irritating laugh, and also the originator of the 'Hef-ty Bag.'"
Baskett and Wilkinson will no doubt seal their nuptials with a kiss, and Chad Johnson and Marvin Lewis have buried any lingering animosity with what has become almost a weekly smooch of their own. The Bengals are fresh off their first win of the season, a 21-19 win over Jacksonville in Week 9, and enjoyed a bye last week.
"We've still got a long way to go," says Marvin Lewis. "One win is nothing to be satisfied about. I myself am interested to see which comes first, our second win or Chad Johnson getting to second base. You know, Chad's nothing but a tease. It's just like when he plans all these touchdown celebration and then doesn't even score. He's all foreplay and no action."
Eagles' defensive coordinator Jim Johnson is certain to put the heat on Cincinnati quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. If Fitzpatrick can read these blitzes, then he should find lots of one-on-one matchups with Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and Chris Henry. If not, he, like the Bengals, will go down hard. Eagles win, 28-20.
Chicago @ Green Bay (-4)
The Bears and Packers both lost last week, with Chicago falling to the undefeated Titans and Green Bay dropping a heartbreaking 28-27 loss in Minnesota. The Bears stuffed Tennessee's running game, but couldn't stop Kerry Collins, while the Packers picked off Gus Frerotte three times, but were smacked around on the ground by 192 yards by Adrian Peterson.
"Why did I challenge Adrian Peterson's game-winning touchdown run?" says Mike McCarthy. "The same reason an idiotic Wheel of Fortune contestant would buy a vowel when facing the puzzle 'Dumb_ss.' I'd like to buy an 'A,' Pat. I'm one of those guys known to go just a little bit too far on occasion, whether it be challenging an obvious call, or telling a three-time NFL MVP that he's not needed anymore."
In Chicago, the "wheel" in question in the Bears' wheel of fortune is the right leg of quarterback Kyle Orton. Orton suffered a high ankle sprain two weeks ago against the Lions and has stated that there's a chance he'll play this Sunday in Green Bay.
"I was never much of a Wheel fan," says Lovie Smith, "although it was cool when former San Diego kicker Rolf Benirschke hosted. I was more attuned to Jeopardy, because you never had to know the answers, just the questions. My quarterback situation is much like Jeopardy - Orton usually has answers, and Rex Grossman usually has questions, like 'There was a safety there?!' or 'What do you mean the middle linebacker knew where I was going to throw it by just looking at my eyes?'"
"'Kyle Orton.' Who is my starting quarterback?"
It's a huge game in the North, but aren't they all when three teams are separated by one game? Aaron Rodgers makes up for last week's game with 2 touchdown passes, and finally comes to the realization that "safety" is a misleading term for what happens when you're tackled in your opponent's end zone. Green Bay wins, 26-19.
Houston @ Indianapolis (-9)
In a 41-13 blowout loss to the Ravens last week, quarterback Sage Rosenfels threw 4 interceptions, and the Texans lost their second straight game to fall to 3-6, last in the AFC South.
"In the vague and loosely defined interpretation of the term common in the state of Texas," says Gary Kubiak, "Sage is known as a 'weapon of mass destruction.' He's responsible for more picks than Yao Ming."
The Colts went to Pittsburgh and emerged with a 5-4 record and renewed vitality when many expected them to be outmuscled by the Steeler defense. Peyton Manning threw for three scores, and the Indy defense intercepted Ben Roethlisberger three times.
"Manning's 2, Steelers 0," says Manning. "And those two points didn't come from a deep snap out of the end zone. I realize that Big Ben was playing hurt, but you can't throw those types of interceptions and expect to win, place, or show, or keep your job. It was a satisfying win, because, truthfully, I'm a little envious of Ben's status as the highest-paid player in the NFL. And he's obviously got a great insurance package that would make a Canadian jealous. Luckily, I'm able to supplement my meager income by endorsing loads of luxury consumer products."
Colts win, 30-24.
St. Louis @ San Francisco (-3)
After two promising wins after an 0-4 start, the Rams have lost three in a row and are again in turmoil. Jim Haslett benched quarterback Marc Bulger in last week's 47-3 loss to the Jets, but recently announced that Bulger would start against the 49ers this Sunday.
"If there's one quality I look for in a quarterback," says Haslett, "it's 'decisiveness.' At least I think so. Maybe. Let me think about that. Yes, 'decisiveness.' That's the word. I think this entire organization could benefit by being more decisive. The word 'interim' is used entirely too much around here. We've got 'interim' coaches, 'interim' quarterbacks, and 'interim' fans. But we've dropped the 'interim' from Steven Jackson's title; right now, he's just a 'pansy,' with no 'interim' to it."
Although 0-2 under new head coach Mike Singletary, the 49ers are playing with a newfound passion, and very nearly upset the Cardinals last Monday, losing 29-24. Singletary brings to the job the hard-nosed discipline of a middle linebacker and an enthusiastic rapport with his players. And he's shown that if necessary to make a point, he'll drop his pants anytime, anywhere to do so.
"Well, the employees at the Wal-mart produce section would disagree with that statement," says Singletary. "But there's only one way I know how to check a cantaloupe for ripeness, and that's with my pants down. Call my methods unorthodox; I call them 'unortho-Dockers."
San Francisco wins, 31-17. Afterwards, Singletary addresses the media from the Pants Off, Dance Off studios of Fuse TV. On Monday, Mike Ditka salutes the 49ers' win by dropping his trousers on the set of Monday Night Primetime.
Arizona @ Seattle (+3)
With a 6-3 record, the Cardinals have opened up a comfortable four-game lead over all three of their NFC West counterparts. In last week's 29-24 win over the 49ers, Kurt Warner passed for 3 touchdowns, as Arizona's high-powered passing attack again proved to be unstoppable.
"A lot of people ask me, 'Kurt, why do you guys even bother calling running plays?'" says Warner. "They expect me to reply with some token response, like 'to keep the defense honest' or 'to maintain offensive balance.' Eventually, I tell Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, and Steve Breaston to stop asking me that question all the time. Then, I give 'em the honest answer: the reason we call running plays is so I can audible out of them. After all, we are 'The Greatest Show on Retractable Turf.'"
Arizona wins, 24-22.
Tennessee @ Jacksonville (+3)
With their running game shut down by the Bears last week, the Titans were forced to take the air, and Kerry Collins responded with 289 yards passing and 2 touchdowns. One criticism of the Tennessee offense was that Collins relied too much on short passes to tight ends and running backs. The Titans remained perfect, and will take their 9-0 record to Jacksonville to face the unpredictable Jaguars.
"Kerry doesn't have a 'drinking' problem," says Jeff Fisher, "nor does he have a 'dinking' problem."
When the Jaguars have their running game going, they can beat anybody, or at least the 0-8 Lions. Against the undefeated Titans, Jacksonville will find yards on the ground hard to come by.
"It's been a frustrating year," says Jack Del Rio. "This team is great one week, and horrible the next, and horrible the next, then decent the next, then bad the next. This team is like 'Heaven and Hell.' I don't know if I'm 'Jack Del Rio' or 'Ronnie James Dio.' On top of that, I have to deal with an issue of insubordination from linebacker Mike Peterson, who's supposedly one of the leaders of this team. Guess what, Mike. It's my way, or the highway. Careful, or you'll get my kicks on Route '86.'"
"Now, to turn this team around, I'm going to do something that's never been done by an NFL coach. I'm going to quote Eric Cartman of South Park and urge my players to 'Respect my authori-ty!'"
Are the Jaguars the team to end the Titans' unbeaten streak? To answer that, ask yourself these tough questions - is a win over the Lions that impressive? And is a fruit basket from the 1972 Dolphins really that motivational? I just don't see a Jeff Fisher-coached team suffering a letdown, and Tennessee's defense excels in stopping the very things Jacksonville needs to do to win. Tennessee wins, 23-13.
San Diego @ Pittsburgh (-3½)
Ben Roethlisberger lost his quarterback duel with Peyton Manning last week, as Roethlisberger's 3 interceptions essentially allowed the Colts to win in Pittsburgh 24-20.
"Big Ben struck '3,'" says Mike Tomlin. "In England, I believe that means it's time for a spot of tea. In Pittsburgh, I think that means it might be time to make a change. Do I have the guts to bench the league's highest paid player? Heck, I have the guts to go for a two-point conversion when I don't need to, so this decision shouldn't be a problem. When all is said and done, putting our best quarterback on the field is the only reasonable option. Therefore, Hines Ward will be the starter."
The Chargers are 4-5 and still very much in the hunt in the AFC West, chasing the 5-4 Broncos. Facing the Steelers' No. 1-ranked rush defense, the Chargers will likely have to attack through the air.
"Philip Rivers is certainly capable of doing that," says Norv Turner. "I guess if the 1998 NFL draft had turned out slightly differently, Peyton Manning very well could be the Chargers quarterback today. And the Colts would be living with the embarrassment of drafting Ryan Leaf. It's too bad Leaf couldn't make it in the NFL. There's so many more players to ask for painkillers here in the NFL than in the college game."
Who will Tomlin choose to start a quarterback? Luckily, against the Chargers' subpar defense, Roethlisberger or Byron Leftwich could get the job done. At Heinz Field against the Chargers, any quarterback will cut the mustard, especially when handing off to Willie Parker 20 times. Steelers win, 27-20.
Dallas @ Washington (+1½)
Tony Romo makes his return to the Cowboy lineup after missing four weeks with a broken pinkie, during which the Cowboys lost two of three and their play was little better than "finger-lacking bad." Now, with Romo back, the pressure to win is immense, and a loss to the Redskins with Romo may bring the Cowboys to the breaking point.
"Brad Johnson and Brooks Bolinger tried their best," says owner Jerry Jones. "For their efforts, they'll be enshrined in the Cowboys 'Ring of Horror.' We are hoping and praying that Romo's return will re-establish this team as a viable Super Bowl contender. In other words, what I'm saying is that the only reason this team sucks right now is because of Romo's absence. If we had a theme song right now, it would be 'Wrapped Around Your Finger' by the Police. See, you can say 'Police' in Dallas without mentioning the name 'Pacman Jones.' Now, excuse me while I go take out my frustrations by donning a white cotton suit and knocking over an **** load of candles."
The Redskins are 6-3, two games behind the Giants and one game ahead of the Cowboys and Eagles. The 'Skins were dominated by the Steelers in their last game, and coach Jim Zorn realizes another loss could send his team into a Cowboy-like tailspin.
"Have you noticed that nearly every 'tailspin' that team goes into," says Zorn. "Nearly every one involves the actions of Tony Romo or someone close to him. Whether it's a fumbled snap, his girlfriend wearing a pink-numbered jersey, or a broken pinkie, the Cowboys are all about Romo. And we think Terrell Owens is self-centered."
"And Jerry Jones can talk sideways out of his mouth all he wants about how Wade Phillips' job is safe. Bull. The only reason Jones keeps Phillips around is so he can call him a 'Bum,' then slyly correct himself and tell Wade he accidentally called him by his father's name. There's just too much drama in Dallas. Even Ewing Oil looks tame by comparison."
That's right. In Washington, you can save the drama for Obama.
Surprisingly, it's a defensive struggle in D.C. The 'Skins hold the Cowboys to a field goal before Joe Theismann runs out of his own end zone in celebration, giving Dallas a safety and the Redskins a 9-5 win. Sorry, that was 1978. Actually, Jason Campbell throws for a score, and Clinton Portis guts out 87 yards and a short score on the ground. DeAngelo Hall and Terrell Owens go head-to-head for the title of the NFL's "MPP," "Most Petulant Player."
Washington wins, 27-24.
Cleveland @ Buffalo (-4½)
The Bills have lost three straight division games, tarnishing their promising 4-1 start to the season. In three weeks, Buffalo has gone from first to last in the division, giving Dick Jauron cause for concern.
"Oh, I have no doubts that we'll rebound from this," says Jauron. "My true concern is that I'll never listen to the Goo Goo Dolls' song 'Slide' again without thinking Johnny Rzeznik is making a sly criticism of my coaching. If he is, I'll forgive him. How can you be mad at a guy wearing eyeliner?"
For the Browns, more than one player has accused the team of quitting in last Thursday's loss to the Broncos. Originally, Jamal Lewis made the accusation, and his assertion was seconded by others, including Joshua Cribbs.
"The last thing this team needs is to be separated into warring factions," says Romeo Crenel. "You got the Jets and the Sharks ... no, I mean the Bloods and Crips ... no, it's the Socs and the Greasers. Again, I'm wrong. Actually, we've got 'those accused of quitting' on one side and 'those who accused others of quitting' on the other side. It's not good. Something like this can only end in tragedy. Just ask my ex-girlfriend, Juliet."
So, which team is ready and/or capable of a turnaround? If you guessed "the team from the city on the shores of Lake Erie," then you are correct. I say there's less quit in the Bills, and more importantly, more defense. Or should I say, some defense. Bills win, 29-21.