One of the many factors licensed prognosticators consider, especially at this point in the season, is the “must-win” factor. You know, Team A “must win” to stay in the playoff race, or to save its coach’s job, or because it's playing the Detroit Lions and no team wants to be the first the lose to the Lions.
The common thinking is that teams that must win must play better.
But I'm not a common thinker. I tend to be leery of teams in must-win situations. Why? Because they have not won enough games to avoid must-win situations! If a team was good enough, it would not have to “must win.”
That being said, while my overall record still sparkles – a tidy 12-4 last week – my record against the spread slipped back to one game over the .500 mark. As a result, these are must-win games for me this week. Keep that in mind as you read, as always, for recreational purposes only.
New Orleans Saints at Chicago Bears (-3): When I looked at a chicagotribune.com poll, 73.7 percent of voters had picked the Bears to win. I voted for the Bears and that number jumped to 73.8 percent. That's in the face of all those who told me I'd never make a difference. Pick: Bears 28-24.
Buffalo Bills at New York Jets (-7): Despite being the “home” team last week in Toronto, Bills players said the number of Dolphins fans at the game made them feel as though they were on the road. The Bills looked like they were on the side of the road. Right next to the broken-down bandwagon I used to be riding. Pick: Jets 20-14.
Washington Redskins (-7) at Cincinnati Bengals: Note to Clinton Portis: If you want to sarcastically call your coach “a genius,” there are better times to do so than right before playing the Bengals, who can make any opposing coach on their schedule look like a genius. I can say that because the Vikings are not on Cincinnati's schedule. Pick: Redskins 21-13.
San Diego Chargers (-5) at Kansas City Chiefs: Proposed design changes to Arrowhead Stadium will mean the end of a longtime Chiefs fixture – the TD Pack Band. Band members are seeking to prove they are in tune with the Chiefs' changing needs by renaming their group the Field Goal Pack Band. Pick: Chargers 21-15.
Tennessee Titans (-3) at Houston Texans: Did you know that the Texans have a longer winning streak (four games) than the once-unbeaten and now once-beaten Titans (three)? Give me five, Texans fans, I'm calling for the upset! But if your team lets me down, I will personally come down there and rearrange all of your orange construction barrels into mean words. Pick: Texans 20-17.
San Francisco 49ers at Miami Dolphins (-6 1/2): Wouldn't it be funny if the Dolphins – with Chad Pennington at quarterback – make the playoffs and the Jets – with Chad Pennington not at quarterback – miss the playoffs? Pick: Dolphins 23-20.
Seattle Seahawks at St. Louis Rams (no line): This game is like Around the Horn – no reason to watch unless you are closely related to one of the participants. Pick: Seahawks 14-13.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons (-3): Tampa Bay can clinch a playoff spot by going back seven weeks and not being so conservative on offense against the Cowboys when they were without Tony Romo. Pick: Falcons 27-21.
Detroit Lions at Indianapolis Colts (-17): Lions center Dominic Raiola was fined $7,500 for showing Lions fans his middle finger fans last week. And I thought Raiola was merely letting Lions fans know how many games he still thinks the team can win this season. Well, he can say the same thing to Colts fans if he wants, because Detroit isn't winning this weekend, either. Pick: Colts 27-17.
Green Bay Packers (-2 1/2) at Jacksonville Jaguars: If the lady with the hair net at Luby's were to ask me, “Packers or Jaguars?” the only item on my tray would be red Jell-O. Pick: Packers 20-17.
Minnesota Vikings at Arizona Cardinals (no line): You know what they say about how if you keep saying something over and over, you'll finally convince yourself it's true? The Cardinals have clinched the division title. The Cardinals have clinched the division title. The Cardinals have clinched the division title. The Cardinals have clinched the division title. The Cardinals have clinched the division title. Pick: Cardinals 31-24.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens (-2): The Ravens will do what the Cowboys did not because rookie quarterback Joe Flacco will not do what Tony Romo did. Pick: Ravens 20-13.
Denver Broncos at Carolina Panthers (-7 1/2): After the Broncos lost their sixth running back to injury, Tatum Bell is the new starter a month after he was working at a cell phone kiosk in a mall. Just in case Bell gets hurt, too, the Broncos timed the Dippin' Dots guy in the 40. And the Cardinals have clinched the division title. Pick: Panthers 35-24.
New England Patriots (no line) at Oakland Raiders: In a prime-time 34-7 loss to the Chargers last week, the Raiders were abject, commiserative, contemptible, deplorable, despicable, dismal, grievous, inadequate, miserable, pathetic, pitiful, sad, sorry, woeful and wretched, among other things. (I love thesaurus.com.) Pick: Patriots 20-14.
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys (-3): The Giants ended the Cowboys' 2007 season with a 21-17 win at Texas Stadium. For all intents and purposes, they have a chance to do so again this season. Pick: Giants 21-17.
Cleveland Browns at Philadelphia Eagles (-14): My fearless Monday Night Football prediction: In the pregame spot from the booth, Ron Jaworski will say, “The Browns managed only three field goals against Tennessee last week in Ken Dorsey's first start at quarterback.” And Tony Kornheiser will say, “The Browns would have a better chance against Philadelphia's defense with Tommy Dorsey at quarterback. And the Cardinals have clinched the division title.” Pick: Eagles 31-9.
Last week: 12-4 (.750) overall, 7-8 (.467) vs. the spread. Season: 128-79-1 (.618) overall, 99-98-4 (.502) vs. the spread.