Last week, I once again went 1-2. I had too much confidence in the Browns I guess. Of course, when your starting QB is a rookie and he gets injured but tries to play out the game anyway, that doesn't help. But seriously, six turnovers and you can't find a way to win? That's just flat putrid. I have to wonder if the Browns started buying the hype after they took down two teams they shouldn't have in major upsets. And of course, I knew going in I should have picked the Steelers, but I was hoping to see more fight from the Raiders on the field (instead of in the cheap shot department).
The only game I got right I almost wish I hadn't. At least Carolina is still showing some fight. Good for them, just in general, for one, but they also need to win a couple more games as well. I want us to get that No. 1 pick next year, because even though I'm 90% sure we'd find a way to screw up somewhere, I hope we can at least get lucky and maybe trade a pick or two elsewhere to get a few extra shots at finding the help we so desperately need on both sides of the trenches.
So now I'm back below .500 again with a 9-10 record. Let's see if I can do better this weekend.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Buffalo Bills
No matter how good we made the Bills look, they still are who we thought they were. We may have let them off the hook, but the Steelers won't. The Bills only chance this weekend is for the Steelers to forget to catch their plane ride. Steelers 35, Bills 17.
Carolina Panthers @ Cleveland Browns
So which Browns team will show up this week? The one that schemed their way to a pair of blowout upsets of the Saints and the Patriots, or the one that managed to have a plus six turnover margin and still find a way to lose the game last week in Jacksonville? I have no idea, but while I can't take Carolina seriously until they win a game - any game - I can't take the Browns seriously either until they step up and handle their business against a team they should be able to beat. The Browns should win, but I almost hope they don't so that we can get that well-deserved No. 32 ranking in ESPN's power rankings. The really sad part of things is that most of us who live in Cincinnati will be stuck watching two of the worst teams in the league play at the same time Green Bay and Atlanta battle it out for the inside track on home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs. Watching the Pittsburgh game or watching a game that will be the pits? Tough decision there. So is picking a winner here, but I'll give the Browns one more chance to avoid snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Browns 17, Panthers 13.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Baltimore Ravens
Tampa Bay has an outright shocking 7-3 record, considering they had a 3-13 record last year. Unfortunately, their three losses have all come from the only teams they have played with a winning record. They did manage to come within a few inches of upsetting Atlanta, but couldn't pull it off. And they got absolutely hammered by Pittsburgh and New Orleans, by identical 25-point margins no less. Josh Freeman is no Tom Brady / Peyton Manning / Drew Brees just yet, but he's pretty good and getting better fast. He's already got multiple 4th quarter comeback wins, and he's given his team a shot at a few others. They have also beaten a few teams who were at .500 at the time, including, unfortunately, us. No matter how much the refs helped them, they did still play pretty well most of the game and very well when it counted the most.
As for Baltimore, no matter how badly their secondary was absolutely shredded (and cheated) by Atlanta, they are still at least decent. The front seven is short of elite play-makers, whether you count Ray Lewis as one or not, they still need more if they are going to be elite like they used to be. Their offense is a bit inconsistent at times. Still, the Ravens have beaten teams that they were supposed to beat most of the time, and have only lost to us (when our defense was still playing well), the Patriots to a fourth-quarter comeback due as much as anything else to the incredible chemistry of Brady and Branch still remaining despite years of separation, and the Falcons by cheating. On the other hand, you do have to ask where their signature wins are. They don't have too many, unless you count shutting down the Jets in week one, and the Jets are also a bit lacking in signature wins and have too many close calls for me to slobber over them. Beating Pittsburgh in the ketchup bottle was good, but they were also facing Batch that day and that does make it harder to buy as well.
This game, in my opinion, is truly too close to call. Yes the betting line is -7.5 points in Baltimore's favor, but I don't have a lot of respect for them right now. I almost want them to lose to keep the NFC playoffs as muddled as possible going into the last few weeks. Seriously, wouldn't it be cool to have six teams at 8-3 (and at least one - maybe two more at 7-4) battling it out for five playoff slots? I think so, and I bet the NFL would as well. Talk about TV ratings through the roof! So cheer for Tampa and Green Bay tomorrow and if both win, we'll get just that. Despite that, I guess I'll take Baltimore anyway, though I have fairly strong doubts they'll cover the spread. I haven't played any of this against the spread all year, and I won't start now, but I expect the Bucs to keep it fairly close at least most of the game, and maybe even steal the win if they get lucky enough. Ravens 31, Bucs 28.