I NEVER like to watch football with people around me because of the distraction, but I needed something to break the pattern of my miserable handicapping season. So I called a few Chargers fans I know and asked them to help me root for one of my iffiest picks last week, believing that if I started Sunday with a San Diego win over Baltimore, everything else would fall into place. Instead the Ravens' victory launched one of the worst weekends of my life. The game looked great for a while: The Chargers went with a hurry-up, and Philip Rivers was delivering the ball beautifully in the face of that nasty Baltimore rush. At halftime, with San Diego up 13--7, one of my guests said, "I think we've got it."
"Not so fast," said someone who'd watched Marty Schottenheimer for years. "This is where the Chargers go Martyball."
How can you sit on a six-point lead on the road against a good team? When you've got the enemy on the run, don't you try to pour it on? Uh-uh. In Marty's book you ease up and run the ball. Until the last 34 seconds, when Baltimore scored to take a 16--13 lead and put San Diego in a hopeless catch-up situation, the Chargers called 19 runs in the second half and only four passes.
There were other depressing sights. Near the end of the Ravens' winning TD drive, the Chargers' defense pulled in its horns and went to a three-man rush, nullifying outside rushers Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips. And then the Ravens walked in.
San Diego is a team, don't forget, that blew four fourth-quarter leads last year, a team that seems to have it all, except the ability to put away an opponent. I won't be picking them for a while.
Pittsburgh was one of the teams that came from behind to beat the Chargers last year. The Steelers have their own problems, such as a quarterback who still has to straighten out his game. I don't care. I'm picking Pittsburgh in an upset at San Diego.
The rest of my selections aren't as dramatic or emotional. The Jets have shown considerable courage against the big boys, but Jacksonville's pattern this season is win at home, lose on the road. This one's a homer. Jags are the pick. Last year turnovers killed the Ravens in their two-point loss at Denver. Kyle Boller made three of them. Steve McNair won't do that. Ravens get the upset on the road in the Monday-nighter.
The Joe Gibbs offense goes against a Giants secondary that's been sleepwalking all season, but here's a shaky choice: Giants over the Redskins. Dallas goes to Philadelphia in another NFC East biggie. Do you know how good the Eagles are? I don't. I sense a Cowboys upset here, but you know how my hunches have gone this season. I'll take Dallas anyway. Finally the Chiefs, who are enjoying a defensive rebirth this season, will give Matt Leinart a rude welcome in his first start for Arizona.
Last week 3--4 Season 16--16
Dr. Z writes for the Web every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at SI.com/nfl.