The late Pete Rozelle, for nearly 30 years the czar of the National Football League, would be loving this season,
Rozelle’s reign as commissioner began in January 1960 and lasted until November 1989. During his tenure, football passed baseball as the most popular team sport in the U.S., the game found a lasting home on television and he somehow got a group of rich guys to understand that by putting the league’s interests ahead of their own, they’d all become even more rich.
Besides “think league,” Rozelle’s other constant quest during his three decades at the helm was for parity. Rozelle wanted a league where anything was possible on any given Sunday, a league where a team might go 4-12 one season and win the Super Bowl the next.
Through the first six weeks of the season, just two of the AFC’s 16 teams have winning records. Those would be the 5-1 Baltimore Ravens and the 5-1 Houston Texans. The entire AFC East is 3-3 and that record is also good enough to have a share of the lead in the AFC West.
As one might imagine, navigating picks and point spreads in an environment where every team in the NFL is bad enough to lose on any given Sunday has been a challenge.
And with that, here are this week’s picks, with home team in CAPS:
Seahawks (plus 7) over 49ERS: Seattle is the little engine that could cover. I think San Francisco bounces back from their debacle against the Giants last week, but the Seahawks won’t make it easy.
BILLS (minus 3) over Titans: Both teams are coming off upset wins but Buffalo being at home against a bad road team is enough to convince me.
COLTS (minus 2½) over Browns: Cleveland’s players and coaching staff will be going the rest of the season looking at the swinging guillotine just above their heads now that the ownership change is complete. That just seems like a bad way to play football.
RAMS (plus 5) over Packers: The Packers’ talent might prevail but St. Louis’ grit keeps it close.
VIKINGS (minus 6) over Cardinals: Minnesota is coming off a game where the wheels came off in Washington while Arizona gave away a game in the desert to the Bills. Vikings have enough to hold off the punchless Cardinal attack.
GIANTS (minus 5½) over Redskins: New York has a running game. Sorry, forgot to warn everyone to sit down first. My bad. Washington has Robert Griffin III and not a lot of defense.
Saints (minus 2½) over BUCCANEERS: New Orleans has had a bye week to work out the kinks after a nice comeback win over San Diego before the bye. Tampa Bay just doesn’t have enough firepower to compete in this one.
Cowboys (minus 2) over PANTHERS: Give Dallas the edge in a match-up of disappointing teams.
TEXANS (minus 6½) over Ravens: Ray Lewis on the sidelines is not the same as Ray Lewis in the huddle, but the bigger of the season-ending losses for Baltimore last week was Lardarius Webb.
RAIDERS (minus 4) over Jaguars: Oakland nearly pulled off a stunner in Atlanta before Carson Palmer remembered he was, in fact, Carson Palmer. If Jacksonville’s not the worst team in the league, it’s not a long list of teams behind it.
Jets (plus 10½) over PATRIOTS: Just when I think I have this New England team figured out, it goes out and gives away a 13-point lead to a middling team like the Seahawks.
Steelers (minus 1) over BENGALS: Cincinnati has talent. But it sure does lack consistency.
BEARS (minus 6) over Lions: Both of these teams can light it up offensively. Both of these defensive lines can take over. But only one of these defenses is a threat to score on its own every series.
Last Week: 5-7-1
Season: 35-52-3 (at this point, I’m contemplating tanking for the first pick in next year’s draft)