Parity plays role in Pigskin PicksRICK LUBBERS: The NFL’s march toward league-wide mediocrity continues.
By: Rick Lubbers, Duluth News Tribune
The NFL’s march toward league-wide mediocrity continues.
Long gone are the days when a handful of teams dominated the league landscape. Now, there is so much parity it’s hard to determine a true upset.
With the exception of Seattle, last year’s NFC playoff teams all have losing records, the Kansas City Chiefs already have more victories than they had all of last season, and the Detroit Lions beat the Washington Redskins on the road for the first time in team history. No one in their right mind would have predicted that after three weeks the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions would reside atop the NFC North with a combined 5-1 record while the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers would languish in the division basement with a cumulative 1-5 mark.
That parity also makes it a bit tricky to pick winners, as evidenced by the 7-9 bloodbath I experienced last weekend.
At least the Packers get a bye week to lick their wounds; there are no bye weeks in the Pigskin Picks world:
Pittsburgh Steelers (0-3) “at” Minnesota Vikings (0-3)
Nobody is more thankful than Christian Ponder that the Vikings gave up a home game to play in London — far, far from the boo birds when he throws an interception or fumbles the ball. Most Brits in attendance won’t even know what he did wrong. But now that he has sore ribs, the Vikings might use that extremely convenient injury as an excuse to start backup QB Matt Cassel without hurting anyone’s feelings.
In all fairness to Ponder, the entire Vikings offense, defense, special teams and coaching staff made the Cleveland Browns look like the next NFL dynasty. Not that the 2013 Steelers remind anyone of the ’70s Steel Curtain, mind you, but QB Ben Roethlisberger and defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau’s attack-minded squad should be enough to hand the Vikings a loss on foreign soil. But was this really the best game the NFL could offer our English friends? This might set American-British relations back a hundred years. I bet they can’t wait for the San Francisco-Jacksonville matchup coming their way Oct. 27.
San Francisco 49ers (1-2) at St. Louis Rams (1-2)
The Rams have played the 49ers tough in the recent past (claiming a victory and a rare tie last year), and that was when San Francisco was making a Super Bowl march. This year, so far, Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers crew is woefully out of sync.
Baltimore Ravens (2-1) at Buffalo Bills (1-2)
Ravens running back Ray Rice is poised to return this weekend against the Bills. He will give the Buffalo defense fits … and that’s before kickoff.
Cincinnati Bengals (2-1) at Cleveland Browns (1-2)
Cleveland returns to reality. A week after using every trick play in their playbook to top the Vikings, the Browns face Cincy with no more ruses up their sleeves.
Chicago Bears (3-0) at Detroit Lions (2-1)
Only the Lions can break a decades-long curse in Washington, D.C., and then lose a player to injury two days later because he was reaching for a slice of pizza instead of watching where he was driving. With that said, there are hints that these are not the “Same Old Lions.” The Bears are solid on all fronts, but with Reggie Bush returning to the Lions fold this weekend, the Leos just might slip past Chicago in Motown.
New York Giants (0-3) at Kansas City Chiefs (3-0)
Repeat after me, “The Chiefs are for real.” “The Chiefs are for real.” “The Chiefs are for real.” Coach Andy Reid has turned around a squad that went 2-14 a year ago. The Giants? Well, QB Eli Manning is playing so poorly that the Giants decided to sign his oldest brother, Cooper.
Arizona Cardinals (1-2) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-3)
The Cardinals are 1-2, but you can’t fault their effort. They leave everything on the field: Defensive back Rashad Johnson lost part of a finger last weekend against the Saints. The Bucs should slip past the dinged-up Cards.
Indianapolis Colts (2-1) at Jacksonville Jaguars (0-3)
If Indy QB Andrew Luck and company can travel to San Francisco and pound the 49ers into submission, the Colts should be able to duplicate that effort in Jacksonville … right?
Seattle Seahawks (3-0) at Houston Texans (2-1)
The Seahawks are the only NFC playoff team from last year still firing on all cylinders. They get a stern test this weekend, though, at Houston. But the Texans have struggled to be 2-1 and haven’t faced a team as tough as Seattle yet.
New York Jets (2-1) at Tennessee Titans (2-1)
It’s a scary thought, but both the Jets and Titans could easily be 3-0. New York gave New England a good fright a couple of weeks ago and Tennessee nearly knocked off Houston. The Titans, though, look better built for a successful season.
Philadelphia Eagles (1-2) at Denver Broncos (3-0)
Two of the fastest-paced offenses square off at the stadium formerly known as Mile High. The Eagles will have a hard time catching their breath in that mountain air with Denver QB Peyton Manning throwing touchdown passes every few minutes.
Dallas Cowboys (2-1) at San Diego Chargers (1-2)
Anyone else sick of seeing Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and QB Tony Romo on ESPN every 15 minutes? Yeah, me too.
Washington Redskins (0-3) at Oakland Raiders (1-2)
Poor RG3 … he looks so happy in those “Subway” commercials, but so sad on the football field. It’s doubtful that a trip to the “Black Hole” in Oakland will cheer him up.
Winner: Da Raiders
New England Patriots (3-0) at Atlanta (1-2)
The unbeaten club will shrink a bit this week. Atlanta will find its lost mojo (Read: offense and defense) and hand the Patriots a long overdue loss.
Miami Dolphins (3-0) at New Orleans Saints (3-0)
Any hopes the 2013 Dolphins harbored for repeating the feat of their perfect 1972 counterparts are quashed by Saints QB Drew Brees and New Orleans’ revitalized defense. The Saints are mighty tough to top in their cozy little dome.
Survivor Pick: Denver Broncos — There isn’t a better quarterback in the league right now than Peyton Manning. I’m not betting against him.
Last week: 7-9 (Yikes!)
Contact News Tribune sports editor Rick Lubbers at email@example.com or (218) 723-5317. Follow him @ricklubbersdnt on Twitter. All predictions are for entertainment purposes only. Bet at the risk of losing your shirt.