The glory of the AFC is slain upon thy high places. How are the mighty fallen? (Samuel II, almost).
Having trouble finding an AFC Super Bowl team after last weekend's carnage? Join the mob. San Diego, everybody's smart pick, got nipped at the wire by Carolina. Indianapolis, which just about has a lock on the playoffs every year, was beaten to the punch by Chicago. The dark horse Jaguars were so dark they were almost invisible, after Tennessee did them in. The Browns, whose fans have been proclaiming that this is the year in which everything finally comes together, were humiliated in their own stadium by the Cowboys.
The Patriots won one, but paid a terrible price fof the victory,
One proud old warrior is still holding on to its noble tradition, however. The Steelers, hardly a sexy pick to reach the Super Bowl, went about their business and handed Houston a thorough whipping, in a game that was decided very early. They seem to be the only one of the AFC's major powers that didn't stumble. And this week they'll spend Sunday night in Cleveland, in a game that seems to have almost Super Bowl proportions for the Browns.
It's a very bitter rivalry if you're a Browns fan. Pittsburgh has won the last nine, but even more humiliating is the fact that they seemed to have dished out their worst whippings under the eyes of the Cleveland fans. They beat the Browns, 41-0, in Cleveland three years ago, the game marked by linebacker
Cleveland was the site of the opening game last year, and again, the fans watched a blowout, this time 34-7, but the game was memorable because it marked the end of
Well, the book on Cleveland was that this will finally be the year they challenge Pittsburgh in the division. And it's a book that will close pretty fast if they put on another show like last week's against Dallas. Their pass rush was a joke.
Well, maybe now with the stakes higher, the Browns will show a little life. Anderson is a streak thrower. He can get hot and worry anybody, but he can look awfully bad, too, if his protection breaks down. The Browns' best downfield receiver, Braylon Edwards, dropped four against Dallas. That's as good a way as any to blow it against a solid team, such as the Steelers.
I see a lot of early emotion by the Browns, and then the game settling into a slugfest in which they get outslugged. Pitsburgh's good at these. Good enough to make it 10 straight, covering the spread, of course.
Why does Houston-Baltimore intrigue me so much? The Ravens' defense squashed Cincinnati, the Texans lost by three touchdowns to Pittsburgh, yet Houston is favored by 4 1/2 points. When in doubt, go with the guys who call the shots in Vegas. It's a formula pick, The Texans to win it, in a very fluky game.
I've got another one like that, then I'll get off this formula madness and into real football. Cincinnati, which got undressed by the Ravens, is a slight favorite at home over victorious Tennessee, with
The game of the week is the Monday nighter, Philly at Dallas, both of whom won big last weekend. No, I'm not picking this for the record because I can't get a clear reading on the Eagles, based on their blowout of the helpless Rams. The Cowboys were effective in all phases against Cleveland, so if I had to make a pick, I'd take the Cowboys to win, under the number, but not for the record-my record.
Jets to beat the Patriots by more than three.
Cassell will be schooled to face an afternoon of weirdness. Two linemen, no down linemen, linebackers who shuffle around like derelicts looking for a handout, 350-pound nose tackles lining up at cornerback...no, just kidding ...
San Diego to get back on track against the Broncos, riding high after they blew out
Washington, backed mightily by the home crowd, to beat New Orleans. And now, here's my strangest play of the day, a play that's so strange that I won't venture a pick on the game. Until the Colts get some of their wounded linemen back, they're very soft up front, very vulnerable to aggressive front fours. Chicago blew 'em apart Monday night and the Vikings, with plenty of mean people who wear 90's on their backs, could do the same.
Yet Indy, crippled and bleeding, comes up a slight favorite-at Minnesota yet. My special trap formula says to play the Colts hard because I had the Vikes favored by 3 in my Sunday night line, but this one is just so illogical that I'm laying off it. Yeah, I'm chicken. I just got through preaching that this is exactly the time when the formula works best, when all logic is against it, but I just can't do it this time. Forgive me.
One more quickpick. Miami to get in under the 7-point spread at Arizona.
Last week-2-2 on formula games. I hedged on Cincy-Baltimore when made my pick, didn't count it, sort of. None of that, I say. I'll take a loss there, just to show you I don't cut corners.