I’m sure you are all happy to see me come back after two weeks of Jazz Shaw’s relentless Jets cheerleading so that I can get back to my relentless Steelers cheerleading. You are all happy about that, right? Right? Is this mic on, or what?
Fortunately, I came back just in time for the AFC North’s oldest rivalry, Pittsburgh vs. Cleveland. The Steelers are on a streak of late, winning two in a row and four of their last six, but only one of those was on the road … against the Jets, actually. (Heh.) The Steelers are still near the bottom in rushing offense and rushing defense, but their secondary has risen to the top 10 and Big Ben Roethlisberger has the passing O at 7th in the league. Both sides of the Browns’ offense is mediocre at best, but their defense is in the top 10 against both the run and the pass. I’m going to go against the line and pick the Steelers in a mild upset with a low-scoring 17-13 win on the road.
In my last week of picks (Week 9), I went 3-4 to bring my record to 33-28. In his two weeks at the helm, Jazz went, er … 11-3. Ahem. Now that I’m off my bye weeks, I’d better pick up my game, so here we go (all times ET):
- Vikings at Packers (1 pm, Fox) – Looks like this is Rivalry Week, and this one might provide more than we thought before I left. Aaron Rodgers is out, and with him the Packers’ ability to score. They’ve lost three games in a row since Rodgers’ injured shoulder, giving up 27 points each time. Still, these are the Vikings and they’re on the road, so Packers win 20-16.
- Panthers at Dolphins (1 pm, Fox) – Carolina has made themselves into a solid contender this year, wining six in a row after a 1-3 start. The Panther passing offense remains mired near the bottom of the league, but a solid rushing offense and a well-balance defense allows Cam Newton to win impressively over teams like New England and San Francisco. In comparison, Miami’s rankings are definitely second division, and they’ve lost five of their last seven games — but only got blown out once, in Week 4 against the Saints. I’ll go with Carolina 23-20, but this may be a really fun game to watch.
- Jets at Ravens (1 pm, CBS) – Normally I’d take the opportunity to beat up on the Jets on my return, but I’m really hoping that New York can find a way to pick off the Ravens. Baltimore has lost four of their last five and don’t have impressive rankings, but they’re playing at home, and the Jets aren’t really a road team. Maybe their top-ranked passing defense can contain Baltimore. I’ll offer up a 24-21 pick for an upset Jets win and hope Jazz has enough mojo for them to pull it off.
- Cowboys at Giants (4:25 pm, Fox) – Another great rivalry gets renewed this afternoon, made a little more compelling thanks to the Giants’ 4-game winning streak. That comes at the expense of second-division teams, but Dallas doesn’t have much better wins for bragging rights, either. The Saints shellacked them last week, and the week prior to that Dallas barely got by Minnesota at home. Giants need a meaningful win and will get one today, 31-27 at home.
- Broncos at Patriots (8:30 pm, NBC) – This has to be the game of the week, and might end up being a preview of the AFC championship game. Peyton Manning just topped Kansas City last week, ending their unbeaten streak, and Manning knows how to go on the road. New England hasn’t lost at home this season, but there’s a first time for everything, and their 27th-ranked secondary will be turned into minced meat by Manning. Denver 41-30 over New England.
- 49ers at Barrycaders (8:30 pm, MNF, ESPN) – Both teams have dropped two in a row, but there’s a qualitative difference in the competition, too. San Francisco lost close games to Carolina and New Orleans, while the Redskins lost to Minnesota and Philadelphia. Washington has the top-ranked rushing offense in the league, but the 49ers are 5th, and the 49ers play better defense. San Francisco over Washington, 31-23.