BALTIMORE - SEPTEMBER 26: Ray Lewis #52 of the Baltimore Ravens is introduced before the game against the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium on September 26 2010 in Baltimore Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Browns 24-17. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
Pro football returns to Thursday night, so there's extra time to call the bookies. The NFL's Week 10 lines feature a lot of intrigue, including a winless favorite.
There's a silver lining to the colder temperatures, shorter days, and leaf-littered yards: the NFL is back on Thursday night. No longer will football fans be forced to watch South Florida, Louisiana Tech or UCLA while waiting for the weekend. No, this is big-boy football, and the next few weeks will feature marquee names like Chad Pennington, Shaun Hill and Jay Cutler. Huzzah!
Oh, but that's just snark for snark's sake, because the Thursday night lineup starts with one of the best matchups of the year, Atlanta's own Falcons hosting the Baltimore Ravens. Each team is 6-2 and a legitimate Super Bowl candidate, and viewers might hear some comparisons between destiny-sharing third-year quarterbacks.
Baltimore @ Atlanta (-1). It's the typical fan's lament, but Atlanta has appeared to get ignored by the national media this year. At the beginning of the season, focus seemed to be divided between the disappointing teams (Vikings, Cowboys) and the old standbys (Patriots, Steelers). And now, after a five-game winning streak, the Giants are feeling the love. Well, Falcons fans, here is the opportunity for national acclaim - all NFL eyes will be on this game tonight, and an impressive performance will leave the team unheralded no longer. And thank goodness it's at home, because that will make the difference. PICK: Atlanta
Cincinnati @ Indianapolis (-7). PICK: Indianapolis
Houston @ Jacksonville (-1 1/2). A beautiful tweet from @jaguarsinsider on Thursday: "Blackout has been lifted for Sunday's game. Way to go Jacksonville. Tickets are still available." So, in essence, the game is sold out, but not really, but way to go anyway! PICK: Houston
Minnesota (-1) @ Chicago. The Vikings ain't dead, folks. Assuming they're 4-5 after beating Chicago - and I am assuming that - Minnesota soldiers on to face, among others, Washington, Buffalo, Chicago again, and Detroit. That could be eight wins right there, and never put it past Favre to beat Green Bay at home, or pull off an upset in Philadelphia. That would be a scary team in the playoffs. PICK: Minnesota
NY Jets (-3) @ Cleveland. Alright, Brownies, don't fail me now. Last week I predicted a Cleveland upset over New England, and I'm not about to jump off a hot horse. Especially when my prized stallion is up against a ready-for-the-glue-factory Jets offense. PICK: Cleveland
Tennessee (-2) @ Miami. I was a little confused when I saw this line, but not 15 minutes later heard the Dolphins planned to start Chad Pennington on Sunday. (I don't think this line has anything to do with Miami's 0-3 home record, considering those losses came to the Jets, Pats and Steelers). PICK: Tennessee
Detroit @ Buffalo (-3). The Bills are favored. And that's all I"m going to say, because just typing that sentence felt like I was handling unstable dynamite. PICK: Buffalo (BOOM!)
Carolina @ Tampa Bay (-7). "With the 16th selection of the second round, the Carolina Panthers select - Colt McCoy, quarterback from Texas." But no, that's not the way things turned out, and the Panthers selected Jimmy Clausen, who practically had "bust" written across his forehead in super glue and glitter. It's one of those draft picks that could cost a team years of losing, so thankfully it resides in the NFC South. (For the record, I'm not surprised by McCoy's success - I clearly said he would be "decent" in my dusty blog's draft preview. And I think that about sums him up so far.) PICK: Carolina
Kansas City (-1) @ Denver. PICK: Kansas City
Dallas @ NY Giants (-14). The Jason Garrett era begins in Dallas, as the once-hyped coordinator takes over head coaching duties from Wade Phillips. Of course, he's just keeping the seat warm for Jon Gruden, but how much fun is he going to have running this bunch? Huge names like Kitna! Brooking! Williams! (Don't bother looking it up - I'm talking about Roy. Remember him?) Oh, reports say he'll keep his job if the team turns it around - but I'm guessing Garrett's resume is being updated as we speak. PICK: Dallas
Seattle @ Arizona (-3). Speaking of the Cowboys - I don't mind ignoring Seahawks/Cardinals - how about that Miles Austin contract in the off-season? The Monmouth University receiver goes zero-to-hero in his fourth year, and is handed a 6-year, $54 million extension by Jerry Jones. And after hauling in 11 touchdowns as a 2009 cheapie, he's on pace for about three as a multi-multi-multi-millionaire. Oh, Dallas, you so crazy. PICK: Arizona
St. Louis @ San Francisco (-6). I was about to call this "a matchup only fantasy footballers could love," but if you're relying on any Rams or 49ers, your season is probably already over. PICK: St. Louis
New England @ Pittsburgh (-5). PICK: New England
Philadelphia (-3) @ Washington. An honest thumbs-up to the NFL schedule-makers this week. It's difficult to predict good match-ups months in advance, but they were pretty much 3-for-3 this week in prime-time: a battle of 6-2 teams on Thursday AND Sunday nights, and a fun-to-watch Eagles team up against a potentially imploding (though still in the playoff hunt) Redskins squad on Monday. Cheers, gentlepeople. PICK: Philadelphia
Last week: 9-3-1