By: Dave Baker
Great news, everybody. Seth MacFarlane, the guy behind Family Guy, is dating Emilia Clarke, the silver-haired smokeshow from Game of Thrones, affirming that if you’re stupid rich you can pull hot British chicks that star in edgy HBO dramas, even if you look like Johnny Knoxville with Down syndrome. More surprising than Peter Griffin shacking up with Daenrys Stormborn of the House Targaryen might be the fact that only three teams in the National Football League remain undefeated through four weeks of play, none of them from Green Bay, New England, or Philadelphia. The Houston Texans, Atlanta Falcons, and Arizona Cardinals stand as the only threats to the 1972 Miami Dolphins’ perfect season record. Now, it’s not that I don’t have any faith in Matt Schaub, Matty Ice, or Kevin Kolb; I just know they’re going to fail. The Texans look like the most complete team in football. They have the franchise quarterback, a strong running back tandem, an All-World wide receiver, and they’re shedding their role as “the other team” in Texas. Sound familiar? Houston found itself in an almost identical scenario last year, running away with a weak AFC South, and gearing up for a deep playoff run, until they lost their first and second string quarterbacks to freak injuries – some guy named T.J. Yates played the Ravens instead, and everyone agreed it was pretty forgettable. Will the Texans get dealt a hand like that again? Probably not, but Matt Schaub did lose a chunk of his ear after Broncos linebacker Joe Mays hit him so hard his girlfriend died. That didn’t affect Schaub’s play; I just thought it was kind of gross. Atlanta will most likely go 14-2 and blow home field advantage, losing in the divisional round of the playoffs, because the Falcons are the Greatest Regular Season Team of All Time, and that’s what the Greatest Regular Season Team of All Time does. The Cardinals look solid after knocking of Philly and New England. Unfortunately for Ken Whisenhunt’s boys, they have to play the 49ers. Twice. Get that champagne ready, Don Shula.
The game America will be watching
Sunday, 10/7 4:25 ET
Denver Broncos @ New England Patriots
Matchup: With a weak slate of nationally televised games, the game of the week figures to be the 278th meeting between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. The on-going discussion on which quarterback is better has been dragged out, exhausted, and beaten into the ground. The facts speak for themselves: four Super Bowl rings, five Super Bowl appearances and a litany of NFL records between the two of them all points to Manning and Brady being irreplaceable. The Manning-less Colts went 2-14 last season and when Brady went down with a torn ACL in 2008, the Patriots won 11 games but failed to beat out the Dolphins for a division title. Though Manning and Brady have met three times in the AFC Championship, their rivalry is no longer the league’s premier matchup of NFL quarterbacks. Both signal callers experienced career-altering struggles in 2011. Manning’s season was spent recovering from neck surgery and weighing retirement or free agency, while Brady lost a second Super Bowl to Tom Coughlin and Peyton’s kid brother. With both New England and Denver sitting at .500, this game will go a long way in providing either team with some much-needed momentum.
Players to Watch: Broncos RB Willis McGahee and Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski
The Patriots currently rank 7th in the league in run defense, holding opponents to only 85 rushing yards per game. The Broncos ground game has picked up a bit, but to open better passing lanes for Manning they’ll need more production from running backs Willis McGahee and Lance Ball. McGahee, a ten year veteran, continues to fight father time and has played out of his mind during the first quarter of the season, posting 325 yards on 69 carries and three TDs. Can the hard runner from Miami continue this mini career resurgence in Denver? He’ll have to, for this Denver offense hopes to make Uncle Johnny happy.
I admit that, at first, I hated Rob Gronkowski. More accurately, I think I hated the way Patriot fans worshipped the guy. Is there anything more obnoxious than a superstar white athlete playing in Boston? I can’t count the number of conversations I’ve had with Patriots fans that started with the phrase, “You see fuckin’ Gronko, dude? Guy’s a beast.” Then I heard Gronk mic’d up – guy’s an idiot. But he didn’t become a Pro Bowl tight end by acing his SAT verbal. He did it by having sick hands and great football instincts. Rob Gronkowski is a straight bro and definitely strikes me as someone who listens to Nickelback, and while I fundamentally despise everything about frat culture, Nickelback, and ultimate Frisbee, I can’t help but respect Gronkowski for owning what he is: a 23-year-old kid loving life in the NFL. So go on, Gronk, do you. Party with porn stars, get drunk on the reg, and keep tearing up dance floors. The party won’t last forever, and we’ll see how good you are at 28 playing with a quarterback not named Tom Brady.
Prediction: Broncos 34 Patriots 31
Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning usually turns into a shootout. Both teams have suffered disappointing early-season losses, but the Broncos’ losses came against Houston and Atlanta, while the Patriots lost at Baltimore and were upset at home by the Arizona Cardinals, who may or may not be the best team in the NFL. There’s no way to be sure of these things.
Games America won’t be watching but you should still give a shit about
Arizona Cardinals @ St. Louis Rams
The team that may or may not be the best team in the NFL takes a trip to St. Louis for a clash with its NFC West rivals. Nobody is particularly excited for this game, including Rams head coach Jeff Fisher. Fisher usually spends his Thursday night crushing dollar drafts at the Elks lodge and playing darts with Korean War vets Rod Fulton and Mike “Mad Dog” McKeehan. They tell Fisher war stories, typical stuff like spooning four to a foxhole to stave of the freezing cold along the Chosin Reservoir and surviving on one can of C-rations per week. Then they call him a pussy and remind him he’s a terrible coach, to which a hammered-drunk Fisher asks, “Why aren’t you proud of me, Pa?” before remembering these bitter old fucks aren’t his father, they’re just some tapped Korean war vets. Fisher caps off his night by drunk-dialing Sam Bradford and eating Wendy’s in bed. Fulton and McKeehan have yet to claim the two fifty-yard-line seats Fisher reserves for them at every home game. It’s really sad stuff.
Prediction: Cardinals 20 Rams 16
Philadelphia Eagles @ Pittsburg Steelers
It may not be pretty, but the Philadelphia Eagles are winning. They don’t care. Keep the style points; the Eagles will take the wins. The way Andy Reid’s squad has been playing, though, they’ll be in for a long day against a rested Steelers team. Coming off an early bye week, the Steelers have recovered from a tough loss to the Oakland Raiders, and believe their best football is ahead of them. Linebacker LaMarr Woodley took the week to center himself, and enjoy J.K. Rowling’s new novel The Casual Vacancy. “I was skeptical at first, but it’s so refreshing to see her step out of her comfort zone and pander to a more mature auidience,” Woodley said. “Rowling’s talent can’t be confined to just Hogwarts and she shows some real flashes of humor in here with her ever-so deft touch. Coach Tomlin’s gonna love it.”
Prediction: Steelers 24 Eagles 17
Green Bay Packers @ Indianapolis Colts
Through the first quarter of the season, Colts rookie QB Andrew Luck looks good. He’s shown incredible arm strength, poise, and he’s keeping his team in games. Indy’s defense, however, is abysmal. It hasn’t been an easy four-game stretch for Green Bay, but with their offense finally starting to click, Aaron Rodgers and co. will tee-off against a Colts D giving up nearly 30 points a game. Bear in mind, this Packers team is a far cry from the 15-1 squad that dominated the 2011 regular season. Their offense is uncharacteristically out of sync, and the defensive side of the ball is being forced to step up. The Packers are going to be in the conversation all season playing in the NFC North, arguably to most competitive division in football, but you have to wonder when that blown call in Seattle is gong to come back to haunt them.
Prediction: Packers 28 Colts 20
Cleveland Browns @ New York Giants
The Giants sucked against the Eagles on Sunday night. They failed to convert down stretch, their defense couldn’t contain the Eagles’ playmakers, and Lawrence Tynes went 0-2 on what would have been a game-winning field goal. The good news for Big Blue: Cleveland kind of sucks too. The Ravens rocked Brandon Weeden, the Ginger Cringer himself, and there doesn’t appear to be any legitimate playmakers in Cleveland outside of rookie running back Trent Richardson. How much worse is it going to get in Cleveland? The smart money says a lot.
Prediction: Giants 24 Browns 16
Atlanta Falcons @ Washington Redskins
If RG III keeps absorbing hits, he’s not going to finish his rookie campaign. The kid is a gamer, there’s no question about that, but will Mike Shannahan please protect his assets and teach him how to slide? I like the way this Redskins team is playing, and their a few devastating injuries on defense shy of being serious contenders in the NFC East. They’ll drop to 2-3 this week against the Greatest Regular Season Team of All Time.
Prediction: Falcons 34 Redskins 27
Miami Dolphins @ Cincinnati Bengals
How is it that Ryan Tannehill has nobody to throw to? Name the starting receivers for the Miami Dolphins. Go on, I’ll wait. If only Miami had a Pro Bowl wideout who constantly commands a double team and catches everything thrown his direction. You know, one of those rare talents with freakish athletic ability. If the Dolphin’s front office managed to acquire that, there is no way they should trade him for a third round pick.
Prediction: Bengals 21 Dolphins 13
Baltimore Ravens @ Kansas City Chiefs
Imagine being so inept at your job that your boss can only think of one thing you do well. Sure, you’re job requires skill and proficiency in a number of facets, but as long as you can do one thing OK, you’re boss is cool with it. Enter the Matt Cassel era in Kansas City. No coach seems to have less faith in his quarterback than Romeo Crennel does in Matt Cassel. After a turnover-laden performance against San Diego, the only encouragement Crennel could muster in the postgame press conference was, “we think he’s capable.” I’m going to start using Cassel as a word to describe any sort of subpar performance. For example, “Jimmy from work is a real Cassel. Guy has no idea what he’s doing,” or “I really Cassel-ed it up with that chick. She’s not into it.” Cassel: it’s gonna be a thing.
Prediction: Ravens 41 Chiefs 20
Seattle Seahawks @ Carolina Panthers
I’m looking at the NFL.com Game Center for this matchup and they have both teams at 50-50 odds to win this game. I’m not sold on either team, so here’s the Bake Shop’s Completely Bold and Groundless Prediction of the Year: the first tie since the Eagles/Bengals 13-13 stalemate in 2008. Weird things happen when Russell Wilson plays quarterback; the dude just has that air about him. And with Mr. Sophomore Slump himself involved, this game will get trippier than watching 90’s Nickelodeon on mushrooms. I would know. I’ve done that.
Prediction: Seahawks 17 Panthers 17
Chicago Bears @ Jacksonville Jaguars
Smokin’ Jay Cutler put together one of the most efficient games of his career Monday night against the Dallas Cowboys, completing 18 of 24 passes for 275 yards and 2 TDs. The Super Best Friends finally got back on track after two rough outings against Green Bay and St. Louis, and with the Bears defense playing lights out, this team looks like they can play with anybody. Unless of course something crazy happens, like Brian Urlacher’s knee giving out or Matt Forte getting injured (again). Or maybe Brandon Marshall’s split personality claims the better of him and he renounces football, converts to Islam and makes a pilgrimage to Mecca. After the Hajj, Marshall changes his name to Muhammad Abdul Ali and uses the balance of his guaranteed money to fund sleeper cells across North America, launching a new global Jihad and declaring himself the Caliph of America. None of that could ever happen.
Prediction: Bears 34 Jaguars 13
Monday, 10/8 8:30 ET
Houston Texans @ New York
Tim Tebow may be a lot of things: Christian, virgin, NFL quarterback who can’t actually throw a football or do other quarterback stuff. But most importantly, Tim Tebow is a leader of men. All he does is eat, pray, and win football games. Would I want him quarterbacking my team? Absolutely not. 1) Smokin’ Jay Cutler calls the plays on my team, so I’m good and 2) The God stuff is only cute in small doses. Anything more than a few “God Blesses” in a press conference or the occasional kneel-and-pray on the sideline just freaks me out. Now, if someone asked me “would you go to war with Tim Tebow,” or “would you vote Tebow for president,” that would require some serious thinking. The Mile High Miracle that was the 2011 Broncos’ season proved to me that Tim Tebow has earned the right to play quarterback in the National Football League. With his team circling failure, New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan would be a fool to not consider starting Tebow over shell-shocked starter Mark Sanchez. Now in his fourth year as the Jets’ starter, Sanchez has consistently failed time and time again to take that next step in his progression as a quarterback. The city of New York is giving up on him and soon his team will give up on him. The New York Jets need a spark. The New York Jets need leadership. The New York Jets need Timothy Richard Tebow.
Prediction: Texans 38 Jets 20