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First down: Dallas at Baltimore
11 a.m., TV • Ch. 13
The skinny • New York Yankees legend Reggie Jackson once referred to himself as "the straw that stirs the drink," and it's been quite clear over the last couple decades that the Dallas Cowboys fancy themselves the NFL's equivalent, even if their self-created branding to express the sentiment ("America's Team") doesn't have quite the same panache. There's always something going on in Big D, even during the recent run of postseason futility from Tony Romo's bobbled hold of a kick to the building of a billion-dollar stadium and accompanying videoboard so ginormous it's clearly overcompensating for something. But this year? There's been more nothing than a "Seinfeld" episode. As a fan of a rival NFC East team, I've called the Cowboys a lot of things over the years. Never thought "boring" would be one of them.
The line • Ravens by 31/2.
The pick • Ravens. This team's been playing second fiddle in its own town to the now-dearly-departed Orioles, and it's still been more compelling than the cowpokes.
Second down: New England at Seattle
2:05 p.m., TV • Ch. 2
The skinny • This is the first game pitting the league's No. 1 offense (Patriots) against its No. 1 defense (Seahawks) in Week 6 or later since the 2007 season. That being the setup, expect to hear a lot of "Offense sells tickets but defense wins championships." Then cue all the mindless-drone pundits nodding in unison like the bobbleheads they are and trying in vain to keep self-satisfied smirks from creeping across their mugs. It's one of their favorite clichés. It's also one of the dumbest. How many Super Bowl winners were known more for their defense than their offense? The '03 Bucs, the '01 Ravens, the '86 Bears … you get the point. The only dynasty you could argue was defensive-oriented was the Steelers of the '70s and they had four skill-position players elected to the Hall of Fame.
The line • Patriots by 31/2.
The pick • Patriots. Point of reference: In that '07 game, the No. 1 offense (Patriots) just snuck past the No. 1 defense (Steelers) … 34-13.
Third down: N.Y. Giants at San Francisco
2:25 p.m., TV • Ch. 13
The skinny • Some people are just drama magnets. You know the type. Like, say, Green Day frontman Billie Joe Eyeliner … er, Armstrong. Total drama magnet. Sometimes drama just finds him (i.e. sagging pants on a Southwest Airlines flight), and sometimes he brings it on himself (i.e. concert tantrums and trips to rehab). Point is, you expect it from him. When considering who brings the drama-rama to the NFL, you might name the Jets, the Saints, the Cowboys, the Jets, the Patriots, the Jets … the Giants and Niners are likely a ways down the list. And yet, in the last week alone, they've beefed about players switching sides, the etiquette of stealing salsa routines, and the hyperbole inherent in the cliché "getting away with murder." These drama queens have made Billie Joe seem blasé by comparison.
The line • 49ers by 61/2.
The pick • Giants. For some reason, they tend to fare better away from all the drama of New York.
Fourth down: Green Bay at Houston
6:20 p.m., TV • Ch. 5
The skinny • Just a few short weeks ago, this matchup had more than a few talking heads cooing about the potential for it to being a Super Bowl preview. Those few short weeks sure seem like a long time ago now, though, for the Cheese- heads. How did it all go so wrong? Well, at it's most basic, t'would seem the Packers' wretched defense of a year ago has not improved at all, whilst the record-setting offense has somewhat predictably been unable to match its prolific precedent. I'm not ready to stick a fork in them just yet, but a loss Sunday pushes them closer to the silverware. As for the Texans … they've been legitimately great. Still, let's not crown them just yet, though. They may be undefeated, but that doesn't mean they're perfect. They did, after all, struggle against the Jets last week.
The line • Texans by 31/2.
The pick • Texans. Mmmmmm … cheese curds are gooooood.
… and eight to go
Oakland at Atlanta, 11 a.m. • Ryan vs. Palmer? Possibly the biggest QB mismatch since every freaking time Manning and Leaf are mentioned in the same sentence.
Kansas City at Tampa Bay, 11 a.m. • Vegas set the over/under at 40 points? They could've set it at zero and I'd still bet the under.
Indianapolis at N.Y. Jets, 11 a.m. • Perhaps overratedness is contagious and coach Rex Ryan accidentally infected his entire team.
Cincinnati at Cleveland, 11 a.m. • The NFL's two worst unis on the same field at the same time.
Detroit at Philadelphia, 11 a.m. • If you look at a U.S. map, you may notice that the exact midpoint between Detroit and Philly is a small town called "Failingtoliveuptothehypeville."
St. Louis at Miami, 11 a.m. • For a couple of teams that were supposed to be awful, being "meh" is reason to get excited, no?
Buffalo at Arizona, 2:05 p.m. • Cards may be least-impressive 5-1 team ever after this game.
Minnesota at Washington, 2:25 p.m. • Hey, Mr. RG3 … apparently no one told you, so I will: It's ok to not get hit on every play.
Byes • Carolina, Chicago, Jacksonville, New Orleans