So let's get straight to the picks.
Atlanta Falcons @ St. Louis Rams -3.5
Durden: I’d be a hell of a lot more excited to pick the Rams if Bulger was playing, but I think we’ll just see more of Steven Jackson in turn, and it should be enough. It’s funny to think that this St. Louis team appears to be healthier, only because they’re now losing guys at a slightly slower rate than the others start to come back.
Pick: Rams -3.5
Mazzone: It’s pretty amazing how unappealing the schedule is this week and it starts with Gus Frerotte against whoever the Falcons decide to put out there.
Pick: Rams -3.5
Buffalo Bills @ Washington Redskins -6
Durden: Since I was a kid, I’ve always liked following the University of Miami’s football program, and Sean Taylor was undoubtedly my favorite player to ever come out of the U. I don’t know what it was specifically that intrigued me, but it could’ve been any combination of my fascination with the safety position, his being an athletic freak, his private personality and/or the dark visor. I would go on to name my fantasy football team after him and even come up with a clumsy anagram, WWSTD (What Would Sean Taylor Do), that I’d use for his big plays/games.
Admittedly, it became tougher to root for him as the list of off-the-field issues grew, but it appears he was still able to change his ways at a young age. Unfortunately, his tragic death now leaves those close to him grieving, and the rest of us wondering how great he could have been. I don’t think I ever checked a Miami or Redskins box score without checking to see his defensive stats, and for once, I think Clinton Portis summed something up better than anyone else could:
"Time after time I always told you all that he was the best player I've ever seen," Portis said. "For me to put that jersey on, I can't live up to those expectations. I can't be Sean Taylor, so I wouldn't even try."
Pick: Redskins -6
Mazzone: The sentimental favorite to make a late season run at the playoffs should have no problem with the Bills this week if they can keep their emotions in check.
Pick: ‘Skins -6
Detroit Lions @ Minnesota Vikings -3.5
Durden: Weeks ago, I think I’d have been all over the Lions here, but these teams appear to be headed in opposite directions. Detroit can’t seem to figure out what went wrong on offense, and facing the Vikings’ run D won’t help. Assuming they bottle up KJ, Kitna appears to be in for another day of getting beat up in the pocket. Oh yea, and that Adrian Peterson guy should be back for Minnesota…
Pick: Vikings -3.5
Mazzone: Two teams headed in opposite directions. The Vikings have looked good even without Adrian Peterson and the Lions have lost two straight. There are even unconfirmed rumors that Tarvaris Jackson actually threw a TD pass and only two incompletions (none of which were picked off) against the Giants. I feel like the Vikings are the obvious pick here, at home against the struggling Lions. But, I just can’t bring myself to believe Tarvaris Jackson is the obvious choice to back, and since the Lions love to pick the ball off, I’m going to give them a chance to redeem themselves for coming up short on Thanksgiving.
Pick: Lions +3.5
Houston Texans @ Tennessee Titans -4
Durden: The Texans nearly came back from 25 against the Titans in the first game, and they did so without Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson. Still, I feel obligated to stick with my mantra of “Albert Haynesworth just wins football games.” He’s back, and Tennessee will be too after Sunday.
Pick: Titans -4
Mazzone: Maybe Durden was right and it’s not Vince Young’s crappy QBing that’s been winning games, but Albert Haynesworth’s defense. Even though he's probably back, the Titans just seem to be out of gas, so I’m sticking with the Texans that I thought would finish above .500 and still need a few wins to get there.
Pick: Texans +4
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Indianapolis Colts -6.5
Durden: Since the game against New England, Indianapolis has struggled in large stretches of each of its last 3 games. When you consider that, Indy’s injuries, and how solid Jacksonville has been, this line seems high to me.
Pick: Jaguars +6.5
Mazzone: The Colts have been beat up, but are back on the winning track. Meanwhile, the Jags have been pretty consistent and solid despite all the pre-season turmoil surrounding their QB position. This is one of the few games I’d really like to watch this week, which leads me to believe it will be a disappointment. Colts took care of business the first time around, and I think Peyton should be able to rally the troops for a big game at home.
Pick: Colts -6.5
New York Jets @ Miami Dolphins -1.5
Durden: While I do think Miami can win this game, I’m also not-so-secretly rooting for them to pull it off. Why? Because I want no part of their first win coming against my Ravens.
Pick: Dolphins -1.5
Mazzone: 0-11 and STILL favored over the Jets! Alllllllright Miami!
Pick: Dolphins -1.5
San Diego Chargers @ Kansas City Chiefs +6
Durden: It appears as though the Chargers have come on, enough so that Norv Turner may not be able to screw this up a trip to the playoffs. Kansas City is spiraling after 4 consecutive losses, and I just can’t pick the combination of Brodie Croyle and Kolby Smith against a good team, even at home.
Pick: Chargers -6
Mazzone: I had been telling Durden that the “Open Gates Ahead” street sign outside of Qualcomm had nothing to do with stadium parking and everything to do with Antonio Gates being unstoppable. It couldn’t have been more true last weekend when we watched as the Ravens decided to not even bother trying to cover him. Phil Rivers still isn’t very good and KC is a tough place to play, but I think the Chiefs are terrible.
Pick: Chargers -6
Seattle Seahawks @ Philadelphia Eagles -3
Durden: And just like that, Seattle has begun to separate itself from the rest of the woeful NFC West teams. It’s not pretty and it doesn’t usually make sense, but I’ve come to accept Seattle’s annual trip to the playoffs, as I’ve written before. This means they’re due for a loss to keep it interesting, and the Eagles are a perfect team to take advantage after being America’s team for 59 minutes. Plus, maybe it’s not too late for Shaun Alexander to come back and ruin Seattle’s season, in addition to his and Mo Mo’s fantasy seasons.
Pick: Eagles -3
Mazzone: AJ YOU HAD THEM! THEY WERE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE AND YOU LET ‘EM OFF THE HOOK! I don’t think I’ve ever rooted so hard for a team I wasn’t actually a fan of. I was calling for the Feeley highlights of his victory over the Patriots with the Dolphins early on and when they showed them, I was downright giddy. Greg Lewis was even putting on a show that would have made Mini-Greg Lewis proud if he were still alive today.
The story of Mini-Greg Lewis:
In 2005, Durden and I went in on a few boxes for a Super Bowl pool, and it was Greg Lewis’ improbable 30-yard TD with under 2 minutes to play that made the final score 24-21 and made us the victors. With some of the money we purchased iPods and I named mine Mini-Greg Lewis in honor of the man who brought us the win. Since then, we’ve continued the routine and have won at least 1 quarter in each of the past 3 SB box pools. People insist on calling it luck, but we know better. I’ve since moved on to newer iPods, but I’ll never forget Mini-Greg Lewis and how he changed my life forever.With that, I’m going with the Seahawks.
Pick: ‘Hawks +3
San Francisco 49ers @ Carolina Panthers -3
Durden: Just a terrible game. I’ve been picking against the Panthers for weeks, and now there’s the added bonus of rooting for the 49ers to win, in hopes of the Patriots getting the worst draft pick possible.
Pick: 49ers +3
Mazzone: Another thriller courtesy of the NFC as the Panthers continue their quest to go winless at home. Hopefully, this is the week Steve Smith explodes and just starts body slamming his teammates and coaches.
Pick: Niners +3
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New Orleans Saints -3.5
Durden: I’m not gonna lie, I was all set to continue riding the Bucs with this pick, but it appears they’ll be without Jeff Garcia. Garcia may not be a worldbeater, but he doesn’t turn the ball over and it seems he’s been a perfect fit for their offense. Since I have no idea what they’ll get out of Luke McCowski, I’ll take New Orleans.
Pick: Saints -3.5
Mazzone: Last week the Redskins fumbled the game away to the Bucs, I don’t see the Saints doing the same. Two teams battling for the right to get bounced in the first round of the playoffs. I’d rather see the Saints, and I think they’ll cover this week, but Gruden has to get some props for what he’s done with this Bucs team. They are severely undermanned in terms of talent, but they come to play every week and could pretty much wrap up the division this week with a win.
Pick: Saints -3.5
Cleveland Browns @ Arizona Cardinals -1
Durden: See: Seahawks lucking into the playoffs.
Pick: Browns +1
Mazzone: Seeing Kurt Warner’s patented fumble cost the Cards the game was fun, but Neil Rackers should have never let it get that far. The thing with this game is that I can’t see Cleveland losing to the Jets, Bills, or San Fran, and it’s not like the Bengals are some great threat either. So out of the last 5 games, three wins are practically guaranteed. I can’t see the Browns finishing the season with 11+ wins and reeling off 7 straight to close the seasons, so this seems as good as any for them to stumble.
Pick: Cards -1
Denver Broncos @ Oakland Raiders +3.5
Durden: Denver had been playing well recently and they simply gave the Bears the game last week. Since they’ve been inconsistent this season, I’m cautious about picking them before I see how they bounce back from Sunday’s game. Meanwhile, the Raiders continue to be in nearly every game they play despite their record, so I’ll take the points at home.
Pick: Raiders +3.5
Mazzone: I think the Denver offense might finally be coming around. They also get Javon Walker and possibly Travis Henry back this week. As long as Cutler doesn’t turn the ball over and Hester doesn't suit up for the Raiders, this one should turn into a route pretty quickly.
Pick: Denver -3.5
New York Giants @ Chicago Bears +2
Durden: Here we go again with Plax. It appears he’s now down to one leg, can’t practice…sooo he should be good for 150 yards and a touch. The Giants simply aren’t as bad as they looked last week, while the Bears are as bad as they’ve looked all season.
Pick: Giants -2
Mazzone: It’s being built as Eli vs. Rex, but it’s not a fair fight. Last week’s performance aside, Eli and the Giants are just better on both sides of the ball. The good news for the Bears is that Cedric Benson is finally done for the year, so they don’t have to give him the ball and pretend like they think he’s going to be productive.
Pick: Giants -2
Cincinnati Bengals @ Pittsburgh Steelers -7
Durden: Earlier this season, some were claiming Pittsburgh would be a serious threat to New England while I was pointing out how weak their schedule was. Now with an 11-3 record, but coming off consecutive games decided by 3 points vs the Jets and Dolphins, it appears the truth is not surprisingly somewhere in the middle. Truthfully, I’d been planning on confidently taking the Steelers this week in my Survivor pool, but I’m not so confident after the Bengals blew the Titans out last week. This pick is a lot more wishful thinking than anything else.
Pick: Steelers -7
Mazzone: The Steelers tried their damndest to let the Dolphins win one on that poor excuse for a football field, but to no avail. Some think the Steelers performance last week knocks them down a peg, but if you watched the game the field was truly unplayable and you can't take anything away from it really. They are still a top team and I think the Bengals manhandling of the Titans was more a mirage than it was Cincy all of the sudden discovering themselves.
Pick: Steelers -7
New England Patriots @ Baltimore Ravens +20.5
Durden: Why not? (Don’t answer that.)
Pick: Ravens +20.5
Mazzone: I can’t see the Pats playing two close games in a row, but I’ll be rooting for Kyle Boller and company to pull of the miraculous upset. If there’s anyone who could take out Tom Brady for the rest of the season, it’d be the hard hitting Ravens defense. Maybe Ray-Ray will even bring his knife to the game.
Pick: Patriots -20.5