Oh, the places you will go! This week we travel to London with the 2012 (or 1985) Patriots, peek under the beds of Eagles fans, poke through the Chargers’ medicine cabinet, enjoy VIP access at a nightclub with Young Jeezy and visit Monte Carlo in 1913 with Ken Whisenhunt. The Magical Mystery Tour begins with a Jersey guy’s triumphant return to the Big Easy, because no suspension is strong enough to hold back the Week 8 Lowdown.
(All times Eastern; all Sunday games ranked by quality of matchup.)
Saints at Broncos
8:20 p.m. Sunday, NBC
Line: Broncos by 7
The latest refugee to tunnel under Roger Goodell’s leaky firewall is Joe Vitt, who takes over as the Saints’ temporary head coach for Aaron Whatshisface. Yes, Jersey Joe, Captain Interim, the Human Doughnut Spare has returned to do the job he does best: run an NFL team when the real coach has been fired, hospitalized or sucked into the Goodell Phantom Zone.
Vitt is an old-fashioned motivator, not an X’s and O’s guy; Drew Brees called him “one of those guys who just loves his players” this week, while Junior Galette said that Vitt “says everything with conviction.” “He could say, ‘Hey, the sky is black,’ and he’ll get you to believe that.” Vitt is apparently even more convincing at night.
Brees also indicated that Vitt has gotten a new perspective by watching games on television. "I've heard him on a couple of occasions make comments to me and others: 'You know, I saw some things on TV or just from afar that I probably wouldn't have noticed otherwise.’" If distance and television viewing makes coaches smarter, Sean Payton is going to hover three inches above the ground and shoot sparks from his forehead when he returns.
Jersey Joe will get the Saints roaring out of the tunnel, but they always have a hard time finishing games (see last week). The Broncos will roll out of bed around 6:30 p.m. ET, as usual. If the Saints are up 21-3 at half, they have played right into the Broncos’ hands.
Prediction: Broncos 27, Saints 24
* * *
Giants at Cowboys
4:25 p.m. Sunday, FOX
Line: Giants by 1
We return, so soon, to where the season began, with the Cowboys allegedly “humbling” the success-drunk Giants in the season opener two months ago. Whatever lessons in humility one can possibly learn from Jerry Jones surely took, as the Giants have been one of the two or three best teams in the NFL ever since, while the Cowboys have been reduced to trying to spin narrow wins over the Panthers as “statements.”
With two divisional losses already in the books, the real danger for the Giants is a repeat of the 2010 scenario: They finish 10-6, but tiebreaker disadvantages keep them out of the playoffs. The Giants get swept by a divisional opponent almost every year -- the Redskins last year, the Cowboys in 2007, the Eagles in 2009 and 2010 – which should be no surprise in such a competitive division. This season could end up like 2007, with a Cowboys sweep and a Giants Super Bowl. Both sides could claim victory in such a scenario, but really, only one side could claim victory.
Prediction: Giants 22, Cowboys 21
* * *
Chargers at Browns
1 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: Chargers by 2 ½
By now, Chargers public relations director Bill Johnston’s “take a chill pill” missive has been completely biodegraded by the rest of the media, with the silliness of his tone-deaf, self-serving, condescending message to fans only trumped by the fulminating, blood-vessel-bursting condemnations it received from just about everyone who responded to it. Every time someone screams “HOW DARE YOU ACCUSE US OF OVERREACTING TO THE ACTIONS OF A FOOTBALL FRANCHISE,” irony takes another poison-tipped arrow to the torso.
In honor of Johnston’s toe-dips into Valley Girl aphorisms and pharmaceutical solutions to journalistic problems, here is what this week’s Chargers-Browns capsule would look like if it were written under the influences of some common bathroom-cabinet substances.
Male Enhancement Medication: Guys, are you waiting for that right moment to go for it? Like, say, fourth-and-1, on the opponent’s side of midfield, late in the fourth quarter? Pat Shurmur used to be just like you, punting away those golden opportunities. But now he knows he can go the extra yard, if you get my drift. He even has more confidence with his boss, who was so apoplectic last week he would have fired the Browns’ cheerleaders if there were such a thing. So bring back that extra spark and go for it all, before it’s too late and Jimmy Haslam dumps you into a bathtub and pushes you off a cliff. (Warning: If the urge to go for it on fourth down persists for four hours, consult a physician or Mike Smith.)
ADHD Medication (lack thereof): The Chargers blew a 24-point lead before the bye to Peyton Manning, and don’t you get a kick out of that car commercial where Manning barks audibles and the car responds? I’m afraid that if I cursed after someone cut me off, my car would take my words literally, which would bring us right back to the male enhancement gags in the last paragraph. Eli Manning is really good, too. Did you see that pass to Victor Cruz to beat the Redskins? I hope Robert Griffin is on the cover of next year’s “Madden” video game, except that I am a little worried about the Madden Curse. “Madden” isn’t that good anymore, anyway. I have been playing as the Islanders in “NHL 13.” Hey, the Islanders are moving to Brooklyn. Does Jay-Z own them, too? Beyoncé is hot. Is she still Beyoncé Knowles, or is it Beyoncé-Z now? Trent Richardson is the man. Wait, was Mike Holmgren fired?
Stickum: HHaaannnnnndsssss stttiiiiiccckkkkiiiinnnnggggg tttooo keeeeyyybbbbboooaaaarrrrrdddd cannnnotttt typppppeeeeee.
Laxatives: Chargers 27, Browns 1 … oof … BRB!
Alcohol: As you might expect, excess alcohol would produce no discernible change to these game capsules.
The Red Pill from “The Matrix:” Good heavens, the shimmering clarity! It is all so simple! The Chargers have been getting diminishing returns from Norv Turner for years, and those returns started off pretty diminished. Also, general manager A.J. Smith’s dictatorial approach has led directly to many of the team’s problems, possibly including a corporate culture that makes a PR director believe that he can use the team’s website to vent his spleen. But the Browns have the opposite problem: a new owner on a rampage who is embarking on a Change for Change Sake’s initiative, the kind that should make Browns fans who have suffered through too many regime changes in too few years really nervous.
Also, I know Kung Fu.
Prediction: Chargers 27, Browns 19
* * *
Falcons at Eagles
1 p.m. Sunday, FOX
Line: Eagles by 1
The Eagles are 13-0 after the bye week under Andy Reid. There are fans throughout the Delaware Valley who are shivering under their beds, clutching their commemorative Brian Dawkins Wolverine posters from Week 4, repeating those very words like a mantra. Reid has never been a popular character among Philly fans, even during the Super Bowl runs (the phaithful prefer coaches who have tempers somewhere between an Africanized honey bee and Larry Bowa), but Reid’s decision to fire defensive coordinator/loyal company man Juan Castillo last week actually increased the head coach’s approval ratings. Also, the Aztecs loved a good human sacrifice.
Reid’s Eagles have also had success against the Mike Smith Falcons. The Eagles beat the Falcons 27-14 after a bye in 2008, trounced them 34-7 in 2009 and beat them 31-17 in 2010. Chris Redman started for the Falcons at quarterback in 2009, but Kevin Kolb started for the Eagles in 2010, so that washes out. And the Falcons won 35-31 last year, but that was clearly Castillo’s fault. Right? Right? The Eagles are 13-0 after the bye week under Andy Reid. The Eagles are 13-0 after the bye week under Andy Reid.
Prediction: Eagles 24, Falcons 20
* * *
Seahawks at Lions
1 p.m. Sunday, FOX
Line: Lions by 1
Sideline reporter Alex Flanagan revealed during last Thursday night’s Seahawks-49ers telecast that rookie quarterback Russell Wilson is so dedicated to being a team leader that he text messages game-plan notes and facts about the Seahawks’ upcoming opponents to his teammates every Monday morning.
Kids these days and their smart phones. Wilson must have quintuple-jointed hands and thumbs like pneumatic hammers to be able to pound out hundreds of words of complex information efficiently via text message. If he uses a touch screen, the display protector must be made from the transparent aluminum they used for the whale tank in “Star Trek IV” just to handle the stress.
The risk of communicating by text message is that some of the recipients may go passive-aggressive on you. You know how that looks:
WILSON: This wk, the Lions have a tough D-line, and I don’t want 2 get killed by Suh. Every1 must make sure they know thr hot reads.
BRAYLON EDWARDS: k
WILSON: Seriously, we had 2 many drops vs 49ers. Braylon, you gotta make sure u make adjustments vs. blitz.
BRAYLON EDWARDS: k
WILSON: U mad bro?
Teachers everywhere have learned in recent years that their students’ elaborately researched term papers are sometimes just cribbed from Wikipedia. Similarly, Wilson’s diligent NFL text messages may really originate from another reliable, highly respected source. Here’s a snippet stolen straight from Wilson’s smart phone: “The latest refugee to tunnel under Roger Goodell’s leaky firewall is Joe Vitt, who takes over as the Saints’ temporary head coach for Aaron Whatshisface …”
Prediction: Seahawks 20, Lions 16
* * *
Panthers at Bears
1 p.m. Sunday, FOX
Line: Bears by 9
Now that Jay Cutler endured a brutal hit by Ndamukong Suh and returned to lead a 13-7 win over the Lions, no one will question his toughness again. Nope. We’ll just question his leadership, coachability, maturity, throwing mechanics, decision-making in the pocket, posture and general likeability. But not his toughness.
Cutler’s crawl back from the turf did erase memories of some early-season gaffes. Now, he will be treated no worse by the media than Tony Romo, Joe Flacco, Alex Smith and the other quarterbacks in his age-accomplishment weight class; that is to say, he will still be treated pretty terribly. But he will now be one healthy step above the reigning Crown Prince of Sideline Histrionics, Cam Newton, who has proven once and for all that you cannot be the face of the franchise when wearing a pink towel around your head.
Newton needs to ditch the towel, which he drapes over his head after both good drives and bad. It makes him look like a cross between a Russian babushka and Linus playing a shepherd in the Charlie Brown Christmas pageant. Sideline accoutrements really boil the blood of old-timey football players, which is a big problem on a team owned by an old-timey football player. Jerry Richardson fired general manager Marty Hurney this week, and if the losses keep piling up, Newton could go from Face of the NFL’s Future to the Destroyer of Regimes in record time, all thanks to a pouty demeanor.
What Newton really needs is for a Bears defender to wallop him so he can prove his gumption by dusting himself off and returning to the huddle. Or maybe he needs Cutler’s stubble beard. No one looks like a wimp with a stubble beard. Even if he has a pink towel on his head.
Prediction: Bears 22, Panthers 20
* * *
Colts at Titans
1 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: Titans by 3
Titans tackle Michael Roos needed an emergency appendectomy this week, leaving backup Mike Otto to take all the practice snaps on Matt Hasselbeck’s blind side. Barring a Roos miracle, Otto will face Dwight Freeney, and as a Titans lineman, he will have 100 percent responsibility for Chris Johnson’s failures and some marginal impact on his successes. The real question in Tennessee is whether it is mandatory for a Titans left tackle to have four-letter last name with two O’s in it. The answer is yes: The team is stuck around .500 on the field but absolutely committed to dominating “Words with Friends.”
Prediction: Colts 20, Titans 13
* * *
Patriots at Rams (London)
1 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: Patriots by 7 ½
England’s fascination with the NFL began, and for most of the nation’s population ended, with the 1985 Bears. Colorful stars like Jim McMahon and William “The Refrigerator” Perry introduced Brits to a brash, blustery version of the sport, and the Bears became international heroes when they crushed the Patriots in Super Bowl XX. So while many British fans know a great deal about the modern-era Patriots, most remember them as a talented-yet-flawed team capable of hammering out a solid regular-season record but obviously and demonstrably below true championship standards. Those British fans will not be surprised or disappointed at all by the Patriots they see in Wembley Stadium.
Prediction: Patriots 28, Rams 17
* * *
Dolphins at Jets
1 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: Jets by 1
We have now been reduced, as a society, to putting microphones in Jets defenders’ faces, asking them to talk about Reggie Bush, and trying to goad them into discipline-worthy statements about wanting to hit him really hard. The urge to slap Bush around was a national epidemic for about five years; it launched and nurtured entire talk radio careers. But now, when Aaron Maybin says he wants to knock Bush out, we consult Shelby the Political Correctness Turtle, then decide if Maybin has gone too far based on whether or not Shelby ducks and covers.
Whatever. Let’s talk about marijuana instead! Here’s a transcript from a radio interview with former Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder, who seems to be telling a story of Michael Phelps smoking pot with Young Jeezy three years ago:
“I’ll tell another one about swimmers. Michael Phelps. You know the whole thing about him smoking weed and the picture on TMZ. I was on South Beach. This is probably, three weeks, no exaggeration, before that. And it sounds crazy but anybody who know who Young Jeezy is, he’s in there, we have a section. I think it’s me and Ronnie got a section, and Jeezy. ‘Cause it’s Young Jeezy and Michael Phelps are in the next section over at B.E.D. down on South Beach. So I look I’m like, ‘Oh, you know that’s Jeezy or whatever.’ I listened to him and I don’t know the man. But I’m from Atlanta, ‘Hey wassup I’m halfway drunk anyway so I’m a go say hi.’ I look I’m like, ‘Young Jeezy’s hanging out with a white guy.’ Big ol’ white boy. I’m like, ‘That’s Ryan Lochte. His shoulders are two times wider than mine.’ Not Ryan Lochte, Michael Phelps … and I see him hit the blunt later on when Jeezy passes … no lie! It’s amazing to me. I don’t get star struck or impressed by many people. But when I saw Young Jeezy hand Michael Phelps the blunt, that might’ve been my famous story of my life. I’ve met Jordan and LT and all them guys, but that was impressive to me.”
In summary, Crowder thinks stoned Michael Phelps is so much more impressive than Michael Jordan and Lawrence Taylor that he misidentifies him as Ryan Lochte.
Prediction: Jets 23, Dolphins 20
* * *
Redskins at Steelers
1 p.m. Sunday, FOX
Line: Steelers by 4 ½
TODD HALEY: “Bubble screen. Tunnel screen. End around. Bubble screen.”
KYLE SHANAHAN: “Pistol option. Pistol dive. Pistol play-fake, seamer to the tight end.”
TODD HALEY: “Tunnel screen. End around! Slip screen! WIDE RECEIVER OPTION PASS TO BARON BATCH!”
KYLE SHANAHAN: “Pistol Zone Read! Pistol with Full House Backfield!!! PISTOL SHOVEL PASS! Grrrrrrrrr…”
CHAN GAILEY: “Hey, boys! I thought I would visit y’all during my bye week. I think it’s great that y’all are so devoted to funky college strategies. Keep fiddlin’ with your crazy strategies, and your careers will turn out just like mine: get bossed around by Jerry Jones for a year or two, knock around some colleges, then get a cushy job in Buffalo!”
TODD HALEY: “…”
KYLE SHANAHAN: “…”
TODD HALEY: “Sigh. Mike Wallace on a skinny post.”
KYLE SHANAHAN: “Off-tackle run to Alfred Morris. Double Sigh.”
Prediction: Steelers 24, Redskins 21
* * *
Jaguars at Packers
1 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: Packers by 16 ½
Maurice Jones-Drew (foot) is out, Blaine Gabbert (non-throwing shoulder) is less than 100 percent and the Jaguars coughed up a 17-3 lead last week as if climbing on the backs of the lowly Raiders for a few quarters had given them altitude sickness. The Packers should be fine as long as they don’t get overconfident.
“I'm going to say 42-7," said a Packers executive, as quoted by Bob McGinn in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "The Packers are playing against a team that can't run the ball. This is a game where [Aaron] Rodgers should throw five or six touchdown passes if they want to throw the ball.” McGinn quotes another scout saying “the Packers should have about eight sacks in this game.”
Oh dear, we all know what overconfidence among executives, scouts, fans and others who have minimal contact with the players can do to a team’s psyche. Better adjust the prediction to account for the crippling, detrimental effect these statements will have on the Packers.
Prediction: Packers 41, Jaguars 7
* * *
Raiders at Chiefs
4:05 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Brady Quinn replaced Matt Cassel as the Chiefs’ quarterback because Romeo Crennel’s “gut” told him the team needed “a different dynamic.” (Try that phrase with your boss when you want to shuffle some personnel and see how it flies.) Meanwhile, Tamba Hali called the Raiders a dirty team. “It’s a tradition,’’ Hali told the Kansas City Star. “The Raiders, they come in, they cheap shot, they hit you. I’m not saying [any] names. It is what it is. We’ve got to be ready to play and keep our composure, stay poised and be able to get this win.”
The real story here is that the Chiefs are facing their historic arch-rivals and going through a quarterback controversy, but these were the lead stories on the Kansas City Star’s website on Wednesday night: 1) Kansas State Football Highlights; 2) Texas Tech (K-State’s Saturday opponent) and its balanced new offense; 3) Royals hire two new hitting instructors; 4) Preview of Sporting KC vs. the Philadelphia Union in soccer (Kansas City won); 5) Hali calls the Raiders “dirty.” Kansas State’s football team is awesome this year, but Royals coaching changes and MLS soccer getting top billing over Chiefs-Raiders? My gut tells me the Chiefs need a different dynamic than Quinn or Crennel can provide.
Prediction: Chiefs 19, Raiders 16
* * *
49ers at Cardinals
8:30 p.m. Monday, ESPN
Line: 49ers by 7
At the casino in Monte Carlo in August of 1913, one roulette wheel suddenly had a black-number streak. After 15 consecutive balls landed on black, gamblers crowded the wheel, investing huge sums of francs in the notion that red was “due.” As 17th, 18th and 19th consecutive spins resulted in black numbers, gamblers doubled and tripled their bets. By the time red came up, on the 27th spin, a few intrepid gamblers made a tidy sum, but dozens of others were wiped out, and the house made millions on the Gambler’s Fallacy, a false belief that a streak of good luck must somehow quickly even itself out.
The Cardinals finished last season 7-2, then started this season 4-0 on a string of late-game and overtime heroics, plus some great defense. Even those of us who understand the Gambler’s Fallacy came to believe that the Cardinals were “due” to lose, in part because football games are not random like roulette spins, in part because the opposite of the Gambler’s Fallacy, the “Hot Hand Fallacy” (some magical momentum caused the Cardinals to be exceptionally great at 20-17 wins), made even less sense.
So the Cardinals’ current three-game losing streak is not karma or probabilistic retribution, and the Cardinals could just as easily embark on another string of close wins. The Cardinals beat the 49ers last year, not because of magic, but because their defense forced the 49ers to settle for three short field goals (a persistent problem for Jim Harbaugh’s team), while John Skelton completed a few long touchdowns. The Cardinals could do the same things this year.
Of course, Ken Whisenhunt has been spotted wearing one of those “Power Balance” bracelets on the sidelines, meaning that he is the kind of superstitious fellow who would spend the summer of 1913 shouting “sacre bleu” as an uncooperative roulette wheel and a logical fallacy gobbled up his fortune.
Prediction: 49ers 22, Cardinals 21