A difficult week to pick!

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 24, 2002

St. Louis 35, Washington 17. Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk are still tentative from their respective injuries, but a massacre of the Redskins today should heighten their confidence if nothing else. The Washington offense, led by Danny Wuerffel (the lesser of three awfuls) hasn’t done anything for two weeks, and a Ram defense that tore through Chicago last week will sink them even farther into the land of also-rans.

Detroit 28, Chicago 13. The Lions get this Pick for one reason: the Bears don’t deserve it. Chicago will set a team record for consecutive defeats (nine) with a loss today, and after going from the Monsters to the Midwives of the Midway, they’ve heaped enough shame on the city that Walter Payton made proud for so many years. Detroit, which defeated Chicago 23-20 on Nov. 20, won’t be a contender this year (or next), but Joey Harrington would be the most well-known young quarterback in the NFL if Michael Vick weren’t around.

Tennessee 30, Baltimore 20. Back in 2000, Tennessee was in the midst of an eight-game winning streak. But the future Super Bowl champion Ravens took them down a notch with a 24-23 win. Now, the Titans ride a five-game streak into Maryland, and with Steve McNair and Eddie George tearing up the offense like they did on the way to the Super Bowl in 1999, the Titans should take it home handily.

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Atlanta 35, Carolina 3. Currently a half-game behind New Orleans and 1.5 games behind Tampa Bay in the NFC South, the Falcons are on a roll after six lostless weeks. Today (and next week against Minnesota), they should get some momentum for when they head to Tampa Bay in two weeks. But the Panthers, in the midst of an 0-7 streak, haven’t troubled anyone for nearly two months, so Dan Reeves might be able to take Michael Vick out of this one early.

Jacksonville 25, Dallas 12. The Cowboys have the worst offense in the league, racking up only 11.8 points per game, and the Jag offense is second in the AFC, allowing only 18.5. Neither team will mean diddly when the playoffs start, but Mark Brunell should have an easy time of things today.

San Diego 21, Miami 20. The toss-up game of the week. Miami got back on track last week with a 26-7 whomping of Baltimore, and San Diego hasn’t forgotten the nine-game losing streak that Fed Ex’ed them out of the playoffs last season. The teams’ running games are mirror images, with NFL-leader LaDanian Tomlinson racking up 1,053 yards for the Chargers and Ricky Williams churning out 913. But the quarterbacking gives the Chargers the edge, and the Pick; Drew Brees has thrown for 1,999 yards and 12 touchdowns, while Ray Lucas gave two games away for Miami before getting things together last week.

New Orleans 42, Cleveland 6. The Mardi Gras Monsters will win today, but their offense needs to get things on track in time for the playoffs. The Falcons embarrassed the Saint offense last week, knocking the Saints to a game behind Tampa Bay in the NFC West. If Aaron Brooks and Duece McAllister are going to help their team defeat the Bucs next Sunday, they’d better tear the field to pieces today.

Buffalo 42, New York Jets 40. Here’s another toss-up. The name of Drew Bledsoe is known to many more fans than that of Chad Pennington, but Pennington has completed 75 percent of his passes for a 110.2 rating as a starter; the best in the AFC. On the other hand, Bledsoe has the NFL’s top receiving tandem in Peerless Prince and Eric Moulds, who have combined for 130 catches, 1768 yards and 13 touchdowns. That, and the fact that the Jet defense has been proven vulnerable against the run (Travis Henry burned them for 149 yards and three touchdowns in the teams’ season opener) give the Bills the Pick.

Pittsburgh 24, Cincinnati 10. With Tommy Maddox on the sidelines with cerebral and spinal concussions, the erratic Kordell Stewart (who gets more and more boos with every interception) comes back to lead the Steelers. But Amos Zereoue and Jerome Bettis, who combined for 22 yards in last week’s loss to Tennessee are anxious to atone for their poor showings, and will take some slack off Slash.

Oakland 30, Arizona 7. The Raiders had lost four straight before regrouping against New England last week, and they’ll build more momentum with a win today. The Cardinals started strong, but they’ve lost four in a row and were embarrassed by Philadelphia last week. The Arizona defense has given up 130 points in the past month, so look for Rich Gannon to have a 250-plus yard day.

Kansas City 27, Seattle 11. Kansas City is starting to regroup after falling to last in the AFC West, with Priest Holmes burning Buffalo for 104 yards last week and the Chief defense giving up 14.3 point the past three weeks. The Seahawks have gotten a rude welcome from the NFC, and the Chiefs will give them one last going-away present.

Tampa Bay 31, Green Bay 30. What is it with this week and tough games to call? This one could determine homefield advantage for the playoffs, which would be incentive enough to win. The Packers lost a chance to clinch the NFC North when they choked against Minnesota last week, but they’ve lost in their last four trips to Tampa Bay.

New York Giants 50, Houston 2. The Giants are a game behind Philadelphia for first in the NFC East, and they’ve won three in a row. They demolished Houston 34-17 in the Hall of Fame game last August, and they’ve scored eight touchdowns the past three weeks. This one might be over before the National Anthem finishes.

Denver 27, Indianapolis 24. Another tough one! Both teams are without major offensive weapons, as Bronco quarterback Brian Griese and Colt running back Edgerrin James are out. But the Broncos have a replacement in Steve Beuerlein; the Colts don’t.

San Francisco 17, Philadelphia 16. Philly is without Donovan McNabb, who’s out with a broken ankle, and the 49ers aren’t known for their sympathy. San Fran is also coming off a tough loss to San Diego, so they’re raring. Terrell Owens has had three consecutive 100-yard receiving games, and his matchup with Troy Vincent will be a shootout. To take this one, the Eagles will have to show why they’re second in the NFC in defense, and Duce Staley will need the game of his life.