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Pretenders, contenders should start moving

October 20, 2011
The Mining Journal

When the playoffs begin in 2 and a half months, we'll look back at late October as the time when pretenders start fading and true contenders begin their rise.

There always seems to be a team that comes out of nowhere and wows everyone with the improvement that it's made, sometimes getting to or even winning the Super Bowl.

But that's just one team, while at least a half dozen others are pretenders before a second-half fade.

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Sometimes it's injuries, sometimes the league starts figuring out how to defend some new exotic offensive scheme. But it always happens, trust me.

Until recently I thought San Francisco was a paper tiger at best, playing weak opponents early on. But the teams the 49ers have beaten, like Cincinnati, Dallas and now Detroit last week, are much better than originally thought. So the 49ers are my best bet to remain in the race, especially in the weak NFC West.

On the other hand, Buffalo looks like it may be ready to fade after losing two of its last three games against less-than-stellar competition.

The teams you might expect to start rising must feel like it's now or never - read Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, Philadelphia, Houston and the New York Jets, none of which has a winning record.

So start expecting some results that look like upsets now, but won't look that way by the time Week 17 of the regular season has come and gone.

With that in mind, here's the picks:

Sunday 1 p.m.

Atlanta at Detroit - From what I just said, this game makes me nervous as a Lions fan. However, I think the Falcons have a little of Kansas City in them - as in last year being an overachievement - though they're not bad. And I gotta go with Detroit when they're at home against all but the very best the NFL offers. Lions, 34-31.

Washington at Carolina - The change to John Beck at quarterback will look like a genius move for Washington coach Mike Shanahan as it faces a porous defense. Redskins, 28-23.

Seattle at Cleveland - I actually like Seattle since all its losses have been to good teams - Atlanta, Pittsburgh and San Francisco - while Cleveland's only victories are over winless Indianapolis and Miami. Seahawks, 23-19.

Denver at Miami - Even Tim Tebow's biggest detractors would have to admit the new Denver starting QB is better than anything the Dolphins have. Plus Tebow's coming home to Florida. Broncos, 17-12.

San Diego at N.Y. Jets - Two defenses that can make the opposing offenses look inept. But the Jets haven't needed help in that department. Chargers, 24-16.

Chicago vs. Tampa Bay (in London) - You'd think if the NFL wanted to sell its brand name in a new market, they'd trot out some high-powered offenses like New England or Green Bay. At least English fans are used to their "football" teams playing to scoreless ties. In another game without any goals (i.e., touchdowns), Buccaneers, 18-15.

Houston at Tennessee - Houston falls way behind in the division with a loss, so Texans, 27-23.

Sunday, 4 p.m.

Green Bay at Minnesota - Packer fans, lick your chops. Why? Your team will score enough points to force the Vikings to abandon their running game and count on QB Christian Ponder to bring them back in his first NFL start. Ain't happenin'. Packers, 40-26.

Pittsburgh at Arizona - Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt gets a shot at his former team. But he's short of ammunition in this gunfight at the OK Corral. Steelers, 24-14.

Kansas City at Oakland - Since he hasn't played or even practiced since January, this is the middle of the first week of the preseason for new Oakland QB Carson Palmer. Then again, the Chiefs look like they've been stuck in the preseason most of the year. Raiders, 27-20.

St. Louis at Dallas - Supposedly, Dallas QB Tony Romo can win or lose a game by himself. As long as he doesn't actually hand the ball off to the Rams, he'll be OK. Cowboys, 30-17.

Sunday, 8 p.m.

Indianapolis at New Orleans - NBC might want to pre-empt this game at halftime with the movie "Heidi." Saints, 49-17.


Baltimore at Jacksonville - Baltimore still plays defense like the Packers play offense. Ravens, 26-3.

Record last week: 9-4 (69 percent). Record this season: 63-27 (70 percent).

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.



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