Today's absurd prediction: The AFC East gets its first non-division, non-Patriot win.
Even if I get one of these predictions wrong, the above statement will be correct, because I'm picking an AFC East win over an AFC North team during the early games, and then another during the later games.
Baltimore at Buffalo - I'm going to kick things off with an upset. Trent Edwards has completed over 70% of his passes in his last two games, leading Buffalo to its first win of the season, then nearly upsetting then-undefeated Dallas. Baltimore looks good at 4-2, but their wins have been against some awful teams, and the games have been close. Sure, they beat the Rams by 19, but they only got one touchdown, after getting nary a TD in beating the 49ers 9-7. There's a wild card in this game: will Willis McGahee be hungriest to shut the former team up, or will the team be hungrier to shut him up? Will he return to Ralph Wilson stadium and make fans wonder why they let him go? Or will Buffalo defend the team's honor and shut him down? I see Lynch outperforming McGahee, and Buffalo crawling away with a win. Ravens 16, Bills 17. Game MVP: Trent Edwards - 22 of 30 passing, 233 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT.
Arizona at Washington - Tim Rattay, aren't you glad you escaped QB collector Jon Gruden? Now you get to start... against the league's most "surprising" pass defense (I put it in quotes because I wasn't surprised, just most other people). Hungry for a win after getting beaten by a fumble return, this defense is going to be twice as dangerous. The Redskins' offense won't do anything exciting; but they'll do enough. The real question in this game is, if Rattay gets hurt, will Tim Hasselbeck light it up against his former team? No, I'm not serious, thanks for asking. Cardinals 10, Redskins 23. Game MVP: Sean Taylor - 7 tackles, 2 FF, 2 PD.
Atlanta at New Orleans - Drew Brees, you finally got a win. And suddenly there are teams with worse records than yours, including the 1-5 Falcons, who have already given up on Joey Harrington and will start Byron Leftwich. Joe Horn returns to his former stadium, where I expect the fans will applaud him rather than jeer him, even if he scores a winning touchdown - this isn't any kind of grudge match. The Falcons have shown some defensive ability this year, though last Monday is an exception, and might be able to handle what the Saints throw at them. But I say the Saints get some momentum going with a 2-game streak. Falcons 14, Saints 27. Game MVP: Drew Brees - 26 of 40 passing, 317 yds, 2 TDs, 0 INTs.
San Francisco at NY Giants - Going into week 3, they were 2-0 and 0-2, respectively. The Giants haven't lost since, and the 49ers haven't won since. Something changed around halftime in week 3; since then New York has outscored their opponents 103-37, and San Francisco has been bested 57-20. I expect the trend to continue: San Francisco has allowed 18 sacks thus far (by comparison, New York has allowed 7), and against Steve Spagnuolo's pass rush, they'll allow several more. 49ers 9, Giants 28. Game MVP: Eli Manning - 27 for 43 passing, 361 yds, 3 TDs, 1 INT.
New England at Miami - Bill Belichick is 2-5 in Miami (as a Patriot). A few years ago, the two faced off, and it was the upset of the season. It could happen again this week-except I have two very good reasons to believe that it won't. 1) The Patriots lose to inferior teams in trap games; which was the case against Miami in previous losses. This one, however, is not a trap. Brady and Belichick know very well that they don't do well in Miami, and will prepare as hard as they did for the Dallas game. 2) The Dolphins' trade of Chris Chambers for draft picks, and the accompanying quote from GM Randy Mueller, "Draft picks are valuable to our team right now," tell me that Miami has lost interest in salvaging the season, even though it's something they have done before (remember Nick Saban's first year?). Chambers represented a chance to turn the season around; instead they've turned their eye on the future by getting a second-round pick in 2008. So expect a brutal game, because Brady actually feels like he has something to prove. Oh yeah, and so does Wes Welker - his old team didn't throw money at him after a breakout year, then drafted a receiver-returner early in the draft. If Sammy Morris plays, that's three. This one will be ugly. Patriots 42, Dolphins 13. Game MVP: Tom Brady - 27 for 32 passing, 388 yds, 4 TDs, 0 INTs.
Tennessee at Houston - It looks like the Texans are without Andre Johnson for yet another week at least. That's too bad - they could use him against archrival Tennessee. Kevin Walter broke loose last week, and Owen Daniels has played solidly, giving the Texans a bit of a passing game without their stud wideout, but against a defense like Tennessee's it won't be enough, especially with Ahman Green still below 100%. Tennessee will keep the game close, because they always do, but Vince Young will win in his hometown once again. Titans 24, Texans 20. Game MVP: David Thornton - 9 tackles, INT, PD.
Tampa Bay at Detroit - Jeff Garcia's return to Detroit is probably the least compelling homecoming story of this week. Detroit doesn't blame Garcia for his poor play there; they know the team's problems ran far deeper. Garcia has played in so many places since leaving San Francisco that it's not really a big deal for him. But Garcia vs. Kitna is an interesting matchup. Kitna has better weapons; Garcia has a better defense to keep the pressure off. Both teams have created a lot of turnovers this season. A home victory isn't out of the question, but I have to go with the Bucs to continue their revival season. Buccaneers 27, Lions 24. Game MVP: Phillip Buchanon - 7 tackles, INT, 2 PD.
Kansas City at Oakland - Divisional contests are usually very hard to predict, as upsets or narrow scrapes happen far more often than usual-that is, unless the Raiders are involved. They are 0 of their last 16 against AFC rivals; last week they notched their eighth straight loss against San Diego, and they haven't beaten Kansas City since 2002. Damon Huard is getting his 2006 form back, Tony Gonzalez doesn't look 31, and Dwayne Bowe is the top rookie receiver in the NFL right now. Chiefs 19, Raiders 10. Game MVP: Derrick Johnson - 4 tackles, 1 sack, FF, PD.
Jets at Cincinnati - I've been picking the Bengals to finally get back on track for some time now. You'd think that, at home, against the sad-sack Jets, it might happen. But I'm tired of them disappointing me, and I'm picking the Jets. Thomas Jones finally showed a little sum'm-sum'm last week, and looks poised to rock against the rocky Cincy D. And with a good performance, Chad Pennington will hold the Clemens coup at bay one more week. Jets 33, Bengals 31. Game MVP: Thomas Jones - 23 carries for 145 yds, 2 TDs.
St. Louis at Seattle - Last week, I figured Seattle at home against a winless team was a sure bet. Oops. Well, it's the same situation this week, and people from Starbucks City will be chucking their lattes at the TV if they give a division rival their first win of the season. Fortunately, the Rams' offensive line is made up of more scrap pieces than Frankenstein's monster. Both teams are extremely embarrassed at themselves, but only Seattle has the tools to recover. Rams 13, Seahawks 30. Game MVP: Julian Peterson - 6 tackles, 2 sacks, FF, FR.
Chicago at Philadelphia - another "what happened to these guys?" matchup, with the last six teams I've written about all coming off of playoff appearances or near-misses. Both the Bears and Eagles are doing a terrible job of defending their 2006 division titles, and currently hold the 4th spot. However, one could make the case that the Eagles have lost to three of the NFC's 4 best teams; Green Bay, Washington, and New York. Chicago has lost to Minnesota, Detroit, and San Diego before they got their groove back. Donovan McNabb put a "shut up, critics" performance last time he played at home - this one won't be as dominant, but a few huge plays to Westbrook will put Chicago away. Bears 20, Eagles 31. Game MVP: Brian Westbrook - 19 carries for 97 yds, 5 catches for 112 yds, 2 TDs.
Minnesota at Dallas - After seeing what he did to Chicago last week, Wade Phillips will have one goal for his defense: Stop #28. All Day Peterson is basically the Vikes' only weapon on offense, and while committing two people to him at all times might open up a huge pass play or two, Dallas has a good enough passing game of its own to win a shootout. I don't think it'll even come to that. Vikings 21, Cowboys 38. Game MVP: Terrell Owens - 10 catches for 144 yds, 3 TDs.
Pittsburgh at Denver - The return of Troy Polamalu to a defense that shut out Seattle without him, and Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes' return on offense, should scare the mile-high dickens out of Denver. Of course, I wouldn't expect a good game from Ward and Holmes, going up against Bailey and Bly (which sounds like a financial firm, but is in fact a cornerback team), but were they not in the game, Denver wouldn't even have to worry about the pass and might be able to shut down the run. Willie Parker will tie his career high in carries this week, running the clock after the defense shuts out Denver in the first half, and take the Steelers to 5-1. Steelers 26, Broncos 10. Game MVP: Willie Parker - 37 carries for 177 yds, 2 TDs.
Indianapolis at Jacksonville - Beware Monday night. Beware division rivalries. Beware the ever-improving David Garrard and his stout defense. I smell an upset, a tie for the AFC South lead, and the hopes of an undefeated Indy-New England matchup dashed upon the shores of northern Florida. Colts 23, Jaguars 24. Game MVP: Maurice Jones-Drew - 16 carries for 119 yds, 3 TDs.
Oh, and don't forget to check out Josh's picks. They're very nice.