In honor of my latest avatar (it's Dr. Byron Orpheus from The Venture Bros., for anyone who didn't know), I have chosen a Dr. Orpheus quote to apply to each game. To get the full effect of these quotes, imagine dramatic orchestral music is playing in the background; and the line swells to a peak. Orpheus is a necromancer, who is overly protective of his goth daughter Triana (aka "my pumpkin"). You should really go rent the DVDs, this show is great.
Cleveland at Baltimore - "Greetings pumpkin, I am at Mr. Venture's lab to right that which is wrong and repair the torn curtain of TIME ITSELF!" The stakes of this game are never as high in Cleveland as they are in Baltimore, but I'm sure that every time the Browns visit the Ravens, Browns fans at home still sit on the couch, clutching a blankie, scared they'll never see their team again. "L-l-last time they went to Baltimore...they n-n-never came back." Don't worry, you'll see your team again, and they'll be victorious, breaking the 4-game losing streak against Poe's boys. Kyle Boller finally takes over the starting job, and he might do some damage against a weak defense. But Derek Anderson will do better, getting a couple of solid drives going and pulling out the victory. Browns 20, Ravens 13. Game MVP: Kellen Winslow - 10 catches for 112 yds, 2 TDs.
Tampa Bay at Atlanta - "Evil has struck the house of Venture. The air reeks of an ill wind. Nay, though I have smelt it, that hath dealt it." Replace Venture with Blank, and you've got Atlanta. Vick hath dealt an ill wind that pollutes the air of Coca-Cola's hometown. Don't be fooled by the two-game winning streak. If you ask me, no teams are in worse shape right now than Carolina and San Francisco (not even Miami). Tampa Bay has been one of the few consistent teams in the league - they beat who they're supposed to and lost to who they should. And the too-close-to-call games go down to the wire. Well, they should beat Atlanta by shoving Earnest "Who?" Graham down their throats, and sneaking a play-action TD to Joey Galloway in there for fun. Buccaneers 31, Falcons 10. Game MVP: Earnest Graham - 32 carries for 145 yds, 2 TDs.
NY Giants at Detroit - Dr. Orpheus: "Two years, seventeen days." Action Man: "What?" Dr. Orpheus: "From a stroke. Good day!" It doesn't take a necromancer to feel the sense of impending doom here. Both of these teams are on the edge of disappointment. Last week, they were 6-2. Now they're 6-3 and headed into the tough part of the schedule. It's hard to imagine two of the other NFC teams rising up and challenging the current wild-card leaders; but it's almost certain that one will, be it Washington, Philadelphia, Arizona, or New Orleans. I believe that the winner of this game makes the playoffs, and the loser doesn't. Detroit hasn't lost at home yet, and are built around being opportunistic and winning on big plays, shrugging off mistakes. On the other hand, mistakes eat at the Giants and tend to pile up. And the Lions lead the league in turnovers forced. Giants 26, Lions 29. Game MVP: Gerald Alexander. 4 tackles, 2 INTs, TD.
Carolina at Green Bay - "But Hank, no, Hank is quite upset. Rage, I can hear his rage. He calls you a crumb bum. Or maybe a crampon. It's hard to hear him." Carolina is very upset after losing to Atlanta. And Tennessee and Indianapolis. But especially Atlanta. The problem is, the Panthers' roar isn't quite as loud as it used to be, and to someone like the Packers, it's about as intimidating as calling someone a "crumb bum." It sounds like a phrase from when Vinny Testaverde was born. Testaverde will most likely get the start, and shake his fists at that "young whippersnapper rapscallion" Favre who keeps leading long drives and keeping him off the field. Ryan Grant picks up a bunch of yards in garbage time. Panthers 14, Packers 34. Game MVP: Brett Favre - 24 for 30 passing, 298 yds, 3 TDs, before leaving in the 4th quarter to give Aaron Rodgers some game time.
Arizona at Cincinnati - "Whoooooo wants PIZZA ROLLLLLLS???!!!" Ladies and gentlemen, I believe I have found the league's biggest non-rivalry. They play miles apart, play each other once every four years, and have never contemplated meeting each other in the Super Bowl. They probably battled over a few high draft choices back in the 90's, but that's where any history of animosity ends. These teams have a good deal in common-a great set of receivers, ability to put a lot of points on the board, suspect defenses, and a long string of playoff failure (failure to get there, or failure to do anything once in). Neither offense is matching its output of recent years, partly due to injury. Both are coming off of an unexpected win (as is half the league). But there are a few reasons I'm going to pick Arizona here. 1) Ken Whisenhunt knows the Bengals pretty well, having coached in Pittsburgh. 2) Arizona has a chance to catch its division leader. 3) Cincinnati hasn't played a real offense in two weeks. 4) Kurt Warner is angry and looking to put on a show. 5) Anquan Boldin continues to recover from the injury that's hampered him. Cardinals 35, Bengals 27. Game MVP: Kurt Warner - 33 for 43 passing, 377 yds, 4 TDs, 1 INT.
Oakland at Minnesota - "When young women reach estrous the..ah..lingam..um...craves the stamen like skills of the yoni. This is quite natural." Daunte Culpepper's return to Viking town is the big story here. Okay it's his second return to Viking town - the Dolphins played there last year too. Anyway, it's sort of an awkward conversation, like a single father necromancer trying to explain the birds and the bees to his daughter, and the result is misused Sanskrit terms. The other story is what Minnesota will be able to do without Adrian Peterson. It's a very short story, and the ending leaves a lot to be desired, as does Minnesota's offense, which may well set an NFL record for turnovers. Raiders 23, Vikings 7. Game co-MVPs: Thomas Howard, Kirk Morrison, and Stuart Schweigart - combined for 19 tackles, 4 INTs, FR, 2 TDs.
Miami at Philadelphia - "There is a television behind the El Greco. Sadly the remote has VANISHED FROM THE MATERIAL SPHERE, so it's stuck on Animal Planet." I suppose there are fates worse than being stuck on some documentary about dolphins and eagles. This is probably as high as #11 on my priority list for games to watch this weekend; largely because my NAPOs predict the Dolphins are going to finally get a win. And I'm almost willing to pick that outcome, with a new QB, John Beck, perhaps providing a spark. But to avoid being considered psychotic twice this week, I'll pick the Eagles to win here. It will be close, though, and Eagles fans are going to let McNabb have it. Dolphins 16, Eagles 20. Game co-MVPs: Trent Cole and Juqua Thomas - combine for 11 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 FF.
New Orleans at Houston - "I'm sorry, pumpkin. I trust you to defend your honor. It's just that... MY PUMPKIN'S MAIDENHEAD IS NOT A PRIZE TO BE-" Kind of a weird quote to be using on a football game, but I had to save the more appropriate ones for some of the later games. But this is sort of how I think America generally thinks of the Saints. Last year, they became the NFL's darling, and it was a beautiful thing to see them blossom into a genuine team. Then they got beat up four times. Then it looked like they were turning it around, and Don Banks put them back in the Super Bowl (silly man). And they lost to a winless team. So sorry if it seems like I don't trust you, Saints, it's just that... STOP PLAYING WITH OUR EMOTIONS!" All right, enough of that. Really, the main reason I see Houston winning, other than home field advantage, is that Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson are back. Because if the defense actually gets a breather, the Texans can be a pretty scary team. Saints 20, Texans 31. Game MVP: Matt Schaub - 21 for 25 passing, 244 yds, 3 TDs.
San Diego at Jacksonville - "The seed of your loins is quite astute. I saved your mechanical man from certain damnation. For his frail, electronic eyes had gazed upon the impenetrable! He was an unwilling beholder to the impossible!" Norv Turner, on the other hand, has yet to be saved from certain damnation. He beheld the impossible, as Adam Vinatieri missed a chip-shot game-winner, and Peyton Manning threw 6 INTs, and he still only barely won. Jacksonville, on their home turf, can say "Hey, this is a chance to beat someone who beat the Colts. There's a statement for you!" Oh, and Garrard should be back (I know, I said that last week too). Garrard or Gray, the prediction stands. Chargers 17, Jaguars 28. Game MVP: Maurice Jones-Drew - 21 carries for 130 yds, 2 TDs.
Kansas City at Indianapolis - Dr. Orpheus: "Now I don't want to worry you with particulars but I am by trade a necromancer. You know what that means?" Brock Samson: "Uh, that you have [fun] with dead people?" Orpheus: "Phile. Necrophile. A necromancer can bring the dead to life!" Necromancer, Necrophile. They look similar, but there's a huge difference. Same deal with Herm Edwards and Tony Dungy. This is another one where the NAPOs make me nervous about the pick, but having Peyton Manning lose three in a row just seems ridiculous. And while the Colts are without Dwight Freeney, the Chiefs are still without Larry Johnson. And they're starting Brodie Croyle. The day Croyle beats Manning is the day I'll eat a mushroom. And I hate mushrooms. Chiefs 19, Colts 30. Game MVP: Joseph Addai - 22 rushes for 116 yds, 2 TDs.
Washington at Dallas - "These Oni are usually after some form of retribution, so what did you do? Violate a sacred temple? No, let me guess, you relieved yourself in someone's Zen garden?" Dallas should win this game. They're a way better team. Washington's been playing quite poorly lately. Sean Taylor is out. But having watched every Skins-Boys matchup I could get to since I was a wee lad, I know this: more often than not, the underdog wins. And also, in the NFC East, the visiting team wins a disproportionate amount of the time. In fact, the home team hasn't won an NFC East battle yet this year! Washington and Philadelphia beat each other on the road, NY won in Philly, and Dallas won in NY. Crazy. So I'll go nuts and say the trend continues with some type of unpredictable late-game score. I'll say a fumble recovery by some backup. And it'll leave the Cowboys wondering what kind of temple they violated to allow this to happen. Redskins 27, Cowboys 21. Game MVP: H.B. Blades - 3 tackles, FF, FR, TD.
St. Louis at San Francisco - "Do not be too hasty in entering that room. I had TACO BELL for lunch!" Something stinks in San Francisco, and it's not Mike Nolan. He's clean and well-dressed. It's coming from the direction of the rookie offensive coordinator, or maybe the starting quarterback standing next to him. For the record, I'd pick the Rams to win this game even if they'd lost to the Saints last week; in my mind the 49ers are the league's worst team right now. So the Rams will come out firing, get an early lead, and keep it, because the Niners will let them. I wonder when the last time was that two teams from the same division had an 8-game losing streak in the same season? Someone look that up for me, would ya? Rams 38, 49ers 16. Game MVP: Marc Bulger - 28 for 35 passing, 314 yds, 3 TDs, 0 INTs.
Pittsburgh at NY Jets - "How sweet, a Bible. Well, if you don't mind sir, I have book of my own for this little ritual. Keep your fingers clear of its mouth, he's a nibbler." Okay, you need the context for this quote, because it's great. Dr. Orpheus is called as a witness at a trial. He is asked to put his hand on the Bible to take an oath. He says the above quote, instead producing the Necronomicon, straight out of Army of Darkness, complete with mouth. The Jets come to this game with a Bible - good players capable of executing a textbook game plan. The Steelers come with a Necronomicon, all kinds of tricks up their sleeves. I'm stopping the metaphor there, because I'd never consider Mangini righteous, holy, or even plain old good. This one will be a bloodbath, one that makes Evil Dead 2 look like Evil Dead 1. Steelers 37, Jets 13. Game MVP: Willie Parker - 28 carries for 183 yds, TD.
Chicago at Seattle - "Consider this your final warning. You do not know the risk you are taking. For a whisper from my lips can open your mind to a world of arcane tortures!" -said the Bears' fans to Rex Grossman. Rex is back in the saddle, after sitting in time out for a few weeks to "think about what he did." He threw a beautiful game-winning pass against the Raiders last week, giving fans an inkling that he might be back to good. Here's the problem: that was against the Raiders. One good play would have beaten them; they put up 6 points. 50% completions with one good play won't do the trick against the Seahawks. The Bears' best chance is that the ‘Hawks will be overconfident after shutting out San Francisco, and the short week does them in. But I see Grossman caving in to pressure like he always does. Bears 14, Seahawks 24. Game MVP: Julian Peterson - 5 tackles, 3 sacks, countless hurries, and Grossman tries to put out a restraining order at halftime.
New England at Buffalo - "Well, if you must call me [a magician], yes. But if you are after mere parlor tricks you will be sorely disappointed, for if I reach behind your ear, it will not be a nickel I pull out, BUT YOUR VERY SOUL!" Many have said this is one of the best chances for an upset to put an end to the Patriots' perfect season. Don't buy it. To call Bill Belichick a magician would be a dire understatement; he's something much darker, more dangerous, and more evil. He will not be trapped. The Patriots will only lose to another good team who gets a few breaks (I'm looking at you, Pittsburgh). This one will prove to be one of the dumber flex game picks of the year, as half the country tunes out by halftime. Of course, the Pats won't - they'll keep piling on the points. Patriots 49, Bills 17. Game MVP: Duh. 28 for 34 passing, 339 yds, 5 TDs.
Tennessee at Denver - "This machine is powered by the soul of a forsaken child?" Ah, so that's how the Titans keep magically winning games - because it can't have anything to do with Vince Young's play. I wonder how many games Young will have to lose before people stop saying "I'll say this about Vince Young. He wins games." I think we'll tally another one here. They can't run the ball every down, and eventually, he'll throw an errant pass that the Bronco corners will gobble up. And he'll do it again in the second quarter. And the fourth. Maybe not the third, but we'll see. Titans 16, Broncos 24. Game MVP: Dre Bly - 4 tackles, 2 INTs, TD.
So there are my predictions. There are four puddings in the fridge. You may enjoy the contents of one of them. Dinner at six.
Or, instead, you may enjoy the contents of Josh's predictions.