Note: The quotes in this article are fictional.
Pittsburgh @ Kansas City (+10)
The Steelers lost their showdown with the Bengals, dropping an 18-12 decision that essentially gave control of the division to Cincinnati. At 7-3, Pittsburgh trails the 8-2 Bengals by only a game, but with two head-to-head wins, Cincy has a decided edge in the AFC North.
"When it comes to Chad Ochocinco's shenanigans," says Ben Roethlisberger, "Marvin Lewis 'cuts the mustard.' Having our asses handed to us at Heinz Field? That doesn't cut the mustard."
"As for the rumors that Larry Johnson was to become a Steeler, well, they were unfounded. We knew that Johnson never could have co-existed on the same team with cornerback William Gay, so we recommended L.J. to the Bengals, and those suckers took the bait. If we can't beat 'em, then the least we can do is undermine their team chemistry."
The Chiefs will face the Steelers without leading receiver Dwayne Bowe, who was suspended four games for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug (PED) policy.
"Apparently, Dwayne's 'Bowe-d' up on something," says Todd Haley. "Therefore, he's been placed on the 'ICUPED'ed' list as mandated by the league."
Do the Steelers really need Troy Polamalu to beat the Chiefs? No, and they surely don't need Larry Johnson. Despite two losses to the Bengals, the Steelers are in great position for the playoffs, and decent position to win the division. Cincinnati controls its destiny, but if signing Johnson is their first act of "controlling its destiny," then Pittsburgh has them right where they want them.
Roethlisberger throws for 280 yards and 2 touchdowns, and the Steelers' defense sacks Matt Cassel 5 times and forces 2 turnovers.
Pittsburgh wins, 26-7.
Atlanta @ NY Giants (-6??)
The Giants have lost four straight, while the Falcons are likewise slumping, losers of three of their last five games. Atlanta lost 28-19 last Sunday in Carolina, despite out-gaining the Panthers, as two Matt Ryan interceptions ended drives prematurely.
"Matt seems to be going through a rough patch in which very little's going right," says Mike Smith. "He's a lot like DeAngelo Hall - they're both 'cursed.' I think a lot of this started with Matt's role in one of ESPN "SportsCenter" promos. Matt looks as uncomfortable behind the camera as he does behind center right now. Unlike Peyton Manning, Matt's got the charisma of a goal post. Sadly, that's even less than Eli Manning."
As the Giants can tell you, a 5-0 start is not so impressive followed for a four-game losing streak. Amazingly, the Giants lead the league in total defense, and are fifth in total offense.
"That just makes no sense to me," says Tom Coughlin, "which is probably why I continually wear this incredulous look on my face. Our losses in games are matched only by my loss of patience. And our troubles can't be blamed on one aspect of the game. We've been horrible on both sides of the ball, as well as special teams. One would think with such a team of 'Giant killers,' we'd be better than 5-4. But that's life. C'est la G-ie."
With Michael Turner out with a sprained ankle, the offensive burden will fall on Ryan and the receiving corps. Is that necessarily bad news? Probably only for the Giants defensive backs, who can barely check the weather, much less a receiver. But Coughlin has a plan, and that's to pressure Ryan unmercifully and take his chances. And give the ball to Brandon Jacobs.
New York wins, 28-24.
New Orleans @ Tampa Bay (+11??)
The Saints are a perfect 9-0 after a surprisingly tough 28-23 win in St. Louis, boosted by 2 touchdowns from Reggie Bush. But the Saints were anything but dominant, and the Rams were in New Orleans territory before a Marc Bulger interception ended the game.
"Reggie's not just another pretty face," says Sean Payton. "He just dates one. We won't allow the Buccaneers to put a 'wrench' in our plans. However, we don't have a problem at all with Reggie putting a 'wench' in them. In fact, having a Kardashian in the locker room is quite convenient. She loves beaded necklaces, and she's just like a convertible - she doesn't mind putting the top down. And while we're on the subject of 'booty,' the Buccaneers and their pirate ship will present a 'stern' test for us. I'm sure knocking us from the ranks of the undefeated is on their 'Buc-it list.'"
The Bucs appear to have found the quarterback of their future in Josh Freeman, who, in only his second start, played well, nearly leading the Bucs to an upset over the Dolphins. Freeman will be tested by a Saints defense that leads the NFL in interceptions.
"It's apparent that this team is making progress," says Raheem Morris. "Here in Tampa, that's equivalent to saying Warren Sapp's spit cup is half full instead of half empty. Freeman may be only 21, but his knowledge of the game is 'a-vast.'"
Are the Saints the team to beat in the NFC? You can just say "N.O.," or, if you're a Vikings fan and believe that the Saints' rush defense precludes them from that distinction, then you can just say "no."
New Orleans wins, 27-20.
Buffalo @ Jacksonville (-8)
It's a battle of small market teams as the struggling Bills head to Jacksonville to face the Jaguars and Maurice Jones-Drew, known to some as the "Short Bus," while known to some fantasy owners as the 'Knee-Jerk." Last week against the Jets, Jones-Drew took a knee on the Jets one-yard line with the Jags trailing 22-21. Jacksonville then ran the clock down, and Josh Scobee kicked the winning field goal as time expired.
"Hey, for all you fantasy owners," says Jones-Drew, "don't blame me. Blame it on Rio. It was Jack Del Rio's idea. Who knew the 'killer' instinct he's been preaching about was directed at my fantasy owners who desperately needed the points? But that's just Jack's conservative nature. He's no Sarah Palin, though. His idea of 'going rogue' is going for it on third down."
On Tuesday, the Bills fired head coach Dick Jauron, citing a desire to take the team in a different direction - up. Owner Ralph Wilson, unlike his aged counterpart Bud Adams in Tennessee, gave this Bill the "boot," and not the "finger."
"It was time to say 'sa-Jauron-a,'" said Wilson. "Sometimes, you have to take a 'Buffalo stance.' I'm sorry we had to cut Dick loose, but he won't leave here without a severance 'package.' We've replaced Jauron with assistant Perry Fewell, who may be somewhat anonymous in football circles, but is known throughout the music industry as the founder and lead singer of Jane's Addiction. You see, in the NFL world of hirings and firings, 'nothing's shocking.'"
Jones-Drew should have a big day against the Bills defense, a unit ranked last in the league. So, it would seem that the only person able to stop Jones-Drew is himself.
MJ-D rushes for 126 yards and 2 touchdowns, then later 'takes a knee' to the groin from a disgruntled fan and fantasy player who breeches security.
Jacksonville wins, 27-16.
Cleveland @ Detroit (-3??)
When two 1-8 teams collide, does it make a sound? And, would a tree in the forest, fallen or standing, really give a damn about this game? Probably not. This game was obviously scheduled as part of the NFL's "Misery Loves Company" campaign, which matches underprivileged teams to those with similarly needy status.
"Looks like a perfect fit," says Eric Mangini. "How I wish I could say that about a starting quarterback selection. Now, it looks like Brady Quinn has raised the ire of the Ravens with a cut block that injured Terrell Suggs. Quinn will no doubt lose some money over that. Heck, that will be the first time anyone says 'fine' in regards to something Brady did on the field. And the Ravens aren't likely to forget what he did. There will be a bounty on Brady when the Browns and Ravens meet next year. I'm interested to see whether the money collected in Baltimore exceeds what's been collected already here in Cleveland to 'take out' Quinn."
The Lions are looking at Sunday's game as a tune-up for their Thanksgiving Day game with the Packers.
"I think both of these teams can identify with turkeys," says Matthew Stafford, known as the 'Lion Tamer' by star wideout Calvin Johnson. "Like turkeys, we're both defenseless victims."
Detroit wins, 22-11.
Washington @ Dallas (-13)
Of course it was too early to overly praise the Cowboys after a win in Philadelphia gave them the NFC East lead. With a load of momentum, Tony Romo and the 'Boys went to Green Bay and were shutdown by the Packers, 17-7. Now the Redskins, fresh off an upset win over the Broncos, visit Cowboys Stadium
"It's funny," says Tony Romo. "As soon as we establish ourselves as the 'team to beat,' we seem to take it literally. 'Premature infatuation' seems to be a real problem with this team. Our bandwagon sees more action than that of Alcoholics Anonymous."
The Redskins could pull to within two games of the division lead with a win in Dallas. It will be Washington's first visit to Dallas' new stadium in Arlington.
"If such a structure exists than can contain both the egos of Daniel Snyder and Jerry Jones," says Jim Zorn, "then that's the place. Too bad it's not underwater, or in outer space. Anyway, we can't let our win over the Broncos go to our heads. Success in this league can be very fleeting, as can the time that Chris Simms spends in the game, which happened to be long enough to mount a comeback while the Denver offense stalled. But let's be fair. Simms was playing without a spleen, which is akin to coaching without any pride."
"Now, I know the Cowboys are heavily favored, we should have something for them. I know I will. I just won a contest on the Redskins web site to call one play in the game. By golly, I'm going to make it count. So look for the fullback dive over right tackle."
Dallas wins, 27-20.
Seattle @ Minnesota (-11)
In last week's 27-10 win over the Lions last week, the Vikings powered by Detroit behind the strength of Brett Favre's arm (344 yards passing) and Adrian Peterson's legs (133 yards rushing, 2 touchdowns). But the hands of Peterson (2 fumbles) kept the Vikes from taking complete control of the game until late.
"All this talk of body parts in Minnesota can mean one of two things," says Brett Favre. "Either there's a 'Whizzinator' on the loose, or there's new video from a Lake Minnetonka cruise to be analyzed. Jared Allen's the big game hunter, so we'll let him track down the beast while the rest of us take a hands-on approach to film study."
"As for Adrian and his fumbling issues, 'All Day' most certainly can't refer to his grip. Everyone is aware of his fumbling issues, so he should expect a lot a grabbing, tugging, and pulling from defenders, which is the same treatment I got from Brad Childress in the offseason."
Turnovers will be a key component to the game, and Jim Mora knows the Seahawks will need to force their share to hang with the Vikings.
"We'll certainly be looking for takeaways," says Mora. "But I suspect Peterson and his teammates will be well aware of our intentions. They're always on their toes when 'strippers' come to town."
Vikings win, 27-19.
Indianapolis @ Baltimore (-1)
With an assist from Bill Belichick, the Colts are 9-0 and two games ahead of the Bengals in the race for playoff home-field advantage. A loss to the Patriots was nearly in the books until the Patriots eschewed a punt on 4th-and-2, and instead went for the first down. Tom Brady's pass to Kevin Faulk was stopped short by defensive back Melvin Bullitt.
"Unlike Faulk," says Peyton Manning, "we dodged a 'Bullitt,' and in turn gave Belichick a 'Melvin.'"
"But that game certainly told us a lot about ourselves, especially the fact that the Patriots are much more adept at stopping themselves than we are of stopping them."
"Now, I don't think Baltimore's Jim Harbaugh would duplicate Belichick's decision. I'm sure Harbaugh would punt it and rely on his defense. But should he? The Baltimore defense isn't what it used to be. In fact, if a shutout can possibly be underwhelming, then the Ravens' 16-0 blanking of the Browns was just that. This isn't the suffocating, Ray Lewis-led defense of the Ravens Super Bowl year. This is the Ray of 'Lite' defense."
It's been a frustrating year so far for the Ravens, made even more so on Monday night when Brady Quinn's cut block injured linebacker Terrell Suggs, a play that had Ray Lewis and his teammates seething.
"Son of a ****," quoth the Raven. "Son of a ****. I don't think we have to worry about Manning cheap shots. First of all, Manning is not at all known for his blocking skills. Second of all, the Colts would never put him in a position to even attempt a block. That's what's so ironic about the Quinn/Suggs situation. Obviously, Eric Mangini called a play in which he knew Quinn would meet Suggs, with the intention being that Quinn would get laid out, and therefore not meet playing time bonuses. Instead, Quinn got lucky, and laid Suggs out. It's just another example of another Mangini plan going awry."
Do my eyes deceive me, or are the Colts actually underdogs? If a certain Washington running back named Ladell was currency, you can best believe I'd be placing my "Betts" on the Colts. Or should I? Is this that game that happens every year in which the Colts run defense is exposed for a quarter-mile of rushing yards?
Manning picks apart the Baltimore defense, throwing for 258 yards and 3 touchdowns. Reggie Wayne catches two of those, and the Colts overcome a lackluster defensive effort to win, 31-27.
San Francisco @ Green Bay (-5??)
Despite facing the usual protection issues, Aaron Rodgers led the Packers to a big 17-7 win over Dallas last week, a victory that for now gives Green bay hope in what will be a tight battle for the two wild card spots. Rodgers was sacked 4 times, but scored on a one-yard run and threw a TD pass.
"I feel it's my duty to put this team on my back," says Rodgers. "After all the times they've put me on my back, I think I owe them."
Like the Packers, the 49ers picked up a much-needed win, beating the Bears 10-6 last Thursday. The 49ers pressured Jay Cutler into 5 interceptions, and will likely employ a similar strategy to disrupt Rodgers.
"Rodgers and Cutler have one thing in common," says Mike Singletary. "No, it's not that they're good quarterbacks, because Cutler's got nothing in common with a good quarterback. It's that neither knows when to throw the ball away."
Packers win, 20-16.
Arizona @ St. Louis (+9??)
Kurt Warner and the 6-3 Cardinals make the pilgrimage to St. Louis to face the 1-8 Rams. It will likely be an emotional homecoming for Warner, who led the Rams to the franchise's only Super Bowl in 2001.
"I'll always have a soft spot for the Rams," says Warner. "They resurrected my career, the first time. Going from bagging groceries to winning the Super Bowl and being the most valuable player? That's the greatest story ever told, or at least the second greatest story ever told."
"I like to believe I'm responsible for returning two franchises to glory, and giving the fans in those cities reason to cheer. I'm no faith healer, I just play one on the field."
"Judging by Beanie Wells' performance in last week's win, it looks as though we've finally got a solid rushing dimension to balance our offense. That should come in handy in the playoffs when a run attack is necessary in winter's uncertain weather. Wait a minute, though. Will there even be an outdoor game in the NFC playoffs this year? All four division leaders play indoors, so is a running game that necessary? Sounds like a vast, right wing conspiracy to me, one that as a staunch Republican supporter, I could really get behind."
The Rams played the NFC South division-leading Saints tough last week, and hope for a repeat performance against the Cardinals, who lead the West.
"Warner may be a St. Louis icon," says linebacker James Laurinaitis, "but he won't see the same welcome when he arrives at the Gateway Arch as he will when he arrives at heaven's pearly gates. We plan to throw everything we've got at him, including clotheslines, pile drivers, shoulder blocks, arm bars, scripted plays, blasphemy, and so much pressure that he'll be proclaiming 'What a rush!'"
Arizona wins, 30-24.
NY Jets @ New England (-11)
If he could turn back time, would Bill Belichick reconsider his decision to gamble on 4th-and-2 from his own 28 with a 34-28 lead over Peyton Manning and the Colts?
"Would I reconsider it?" says Belichick. "Yes, I would reconsider it, hopefully long enough for Tom Brady to realize that the wise thing to do in that situation would be to take a delay of game penalty. It takes a certain amount of arrogance to make that call in the first place, and even more to say I'd do it again. I'm haughty by nature, not because I hate you. Now, I'm down with 'O.P.P.-robrium.'"
The Jets 16-9 win over the Patriots in week two seems like a distant memory. Since then, New York is 2-5 and struggling defensively. And they know the Pats haven't forgotten that early beat down, and they're likely still stinging from their shocking loss to the Colts.
"We all know Belichick's a known cheater," says Mark Sanchez. "Who knew he was guilty of cheating himself? And yet he says he would do it again. Would that be called 'fourth and too?'"
"Of course the Patriots don't take too kindly to embarrassing defeat. When they're out for revenge, they're a lot like Oprah Winfrey - they can drop 50 before you know it. We know we'll have to play as well as, if not better, than we did in week two. Personally, I won't rest easy until the game, and a weiner, are in hand."
The Patriots come out fired up, and casually march 80 yards on their first possession for a score. Instead of kicking the extra point, Belichick again decides to 'go for two,' and this time succeeds, as Brady finds Ben Watson for the conversion. Rex Ryan cries at this show of gamesmanship, and the rout is on.
New England wins, 37-20.
Cincinnati @ Oakland (+9??)
With the AFC North well in hand after last Sunday's 18-12 win in Pittsburgh, the Bengals can turn their attention to more trivial things, like the Raiders.
"I think the Steelers are stunned that we've beaten them twice," says Carson Palmer. "I'm sure they didn't expect us to take them down at Heinz Field. But what's the best way to remove a 'line in the sand?' By 'sweeping' it away, of course."
"Marvin Lewis now has the kind of team he's always wanted, one that is defined by an attacking defense and an efficient, mistake-free offense. It took him awhile, but Marvin's finally been able to put his best defenders on the field instead of in the courtroom."
In Oakland's 16-10 loss to the Chiefs last week, Jamarcus Russell was a dismal 9-of-24 for 67 yards, an effort that got him benched, put not punched, by Tom Cable. Bruce Gradkowski took over at quarterback and was worse, throwing 2 interceptions.
"No. 2 was stinking up the joint," says Tom Cable, "so I had no choice but to pull him. That's doing what any decent-minded person would do - I executed a courtesy flush."
"Now, for this franchise, choosing a quarterback is a lot like choosing a head coach - it's a 'hit or miss' exercise. Of course, in the case of my selection as coach, it's both 'hit and miss.'"
With Cedric Benson injured, the Bengals signed former Kansas City troublemaker Larry Johnson to reinforce their rushing attack, a development that left many observers spitting their drinks out in surprise. Some even denounced their sexuality. Hopefully, for the sake of the Bengals and their postseason aspirations, Johnson will "run in" to a game before he has a "run-in" with the law.
Cincinnati wins, 23-7.
San Diego @ Denver (+3)
Boom! Boom! Pow! Just like that, the Broncos have lost three straight, while the hot Chargers have reeled off three wins in a row, leaving the two rivals deadlocked at the top in the AFC West. Barring a tie, that will change when the two meet at Invesco Field in Denver.
"As Kyle Orton's ankle injury indicated," says Josh McDaniels, "this team doesn't function well without him. And this team with Chris Simms at quarterback? Well, let's just say it's a case of 'no guts, no glory.'"
The Chargers hope to avenge a Week 6 34-23 loss to the Broncos in San Diego that left San Diego 3-3 and questioning themselves. Since then, the Chargers have rebounded with three consecutive wins.
"Things couldn't get much better for me personally," says Philip Rivers. "We've won three, the Broncos have lost three, and Jay Cutler doesn't need me to taunt him when Bears fans are perfectly capable, and more than willing."
"Here in San Diego, LaDainian Tomlinson has just become an expectant father, and Shawne Merriman is being sued by Tila Tequila. So L.T. has some late-night feedings to look forward to, while Merri' Poppins has a late-night beating to regret. It looks like both situations could use a 'pacifier.'"
San Diego wins, 27-21.
Philadelphia @ Chicago (+1)
When the Bears brought Jay Cutler to Chicago, the primary reason was the belief that he could do things that Rex Grossman couldn't. Well, they were right. Last Thursday, Cutler tossed 5 picks in a 10-6 loss in San Francisco. It was Cutler's second game this year with four or more interceptions, something Grossman never did, although he certainly had the talent.
"Cutler puts the 'inept' in 'interception,'" says Lovie Smith. "Usually, a team relies on its defense to force a change of possession. Cutler's pretty good at doing that himself. But we've had 10 days to put all that behind us, which is two days for every Cutler interception."
The Eagles have lost two straight, but trail the Cowboys by only a game in the NFC East, a division which seems to have lost its luster as the top-to-bottom power center of the NFC. It would be no stretch to say that all four teams are struggling, and Philly's problems can mostly be attributed to red zone futility.
"I'm not one to regurgitate statistics," says Donovan McNabb, "but if I jam my finger down my throat, I can. We're ranked 22nd in red zone efficiency. That's not good. You could paint the town red and we still couldn't cash in. And the Bears aren't much better. Save for Sammy Sosa's skin color, 'red' is the most talked about color right now in Chicago."
Chicago makes it 2-0 against Pennsylvania. Bears win, 29-27.
Tennessee @ Houston (-3??)
Could Chris Johnson be on to something? Several weeks ago, when the Titans were languishing at 0-6, Johnson vowed that Tennessee would eventually finish 10-6 and make the playoffs. Since then, the Titans have won three in a row and Johnson has been on a tear.
"Even owner Bud Adams agrees," says Johnson. "We've been 'flipping' awesome lately. That old-timer rains fingers down on Bills like Pacman Jones rains bills down on strippers. It's surprising that no one, not even arthritis, had the foresight to stop him. Now Commissioner Roger Goodell has rained down a 'bill' for $250,000. If that's not clearly a case of age discrimination, I don't know what is. If a player does that, he wouldn't be fined anything close to that amount."
The Texans are 5-4 and in the thick of the race for a playoff wild card position. They'll need a big game from quarterback Matt Schaub to stay in the race.
"I'll put my arm up against Vince Young's any day," says Schaub, "and my fingers up against Bud Adams.' Really, what's an 86-year-old man doing flipping the bird? The only finger he should be worrying about is that of his proctologist."
Texans win, 30-27.