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Surprises galore in NFL this season

December 8, 2011
By STEVE BROWNLEE - Journal Sports Writer ( , The Mining Journal

In horse racing terms, we've reached the three-quarters pole of the NFL regular season.

What are the biggest surprises?

- The Packers at 12-0? Naw, we knew how good this team could be when not decimated by injuries. And all these guys did last season was win the Super Bowl.

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- Maybe it's the Lions with a winning record? Two or three years ago, just removed from an 0-16 season, sure. But after winning their four straight to end last season, the Lions were a smart pick for biggest improvement this season.

- How about the Philadelphia Eagles? The NFL "Dream Team" was going to make everyone - including the Packers - look silly. Instead, they're a contender for biggest flop of the season.

- What about Tim Tebow putting Denver into playoff contention? It would be one thing if he suddenly turned into the next Brett Favre or Joe Montana, but to lead a team to a 6-1 record with passing lines like 2 of 8 or 10 of 25 completions in some of his victories is pretty amazing.

Next thing you know, coach Ken Hofer of Menominee will be called on to install the single-wing formation in Jacksonville or Arizona.

- There are some other good story lines in places like San Francisco and Cincinnati, but the one that has really surprised me is Indianapolis.

If you emphasize "valuable" in MVP, it's amazing how the Colts have made Peyton Manning the true frontrunner for this award by his absence.

The only question before this season was whether Manning would play: if he did, the Colts were playoff shoo-ins. Now without him, they're an even better lock for the No. 1 draft pick, and the only question is whether they'll win even one game.

Just another season in the NFL that proves the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction.

Here's another week's worth of picks:

Tonight, 8:20 p.m.

Cleveland at Pittsburgh - Not a game that should send you to your local watering hole if you don't have the NFL Network at home. Steelers, 24-13.

Sunday, 1 p.m.

Minnesota at Detroit - This game could go a long ways toward showing whether coach Jim Schwartz has full control of the Detroit locker room. He's got good reason to put his players on a short leash after all the selfish antics they've pulled the past two games. I'll bet he has that control. Lions, 31-20.

Indianapolis at Baltimore - The Ravens have played several putrid games and lost to some lesser teams, but one good quarter should be all it takes this week. Ravens, 27-10.

Atlanta at Carolina - Atlanta desperately needs this win after losing to a third-string quarterback in Houston last week. Falcons, 37-31.

Houston at Cincinnati - Two teams hard to trust right now. Houston is down to its third-string QB, while the Bengals well, they're the Bengals. Texans, 17-13.

Tampa Bay at Jacksonville - I didn't realize how shorthanded the Jaguars were until I heard reports from their Monday night blowout to San Diego. Buccaneers, 20-13.

Philadelphia at Miami - Michael Vick may be back this week, but it's too late to slow the Eagles' precipitous slide. Dolphins, 23-16.

Kansas City at N.Y. Jets - Give KC credit for picking the Bears' carcass clean last week. But this opponent isn't quite as offensively-challenged. Jets, 17-10.

New Orleans at Tennessee - The Saints are about five times more formidable at home than on the road, so in an upset, Titans, 28-27.

New England at Washington - With the U.S. Postal Service cutting back service in 2012, it's a good thing the Redskins mailed it in now so we still get next-day delivery. Patriots, 40-20.

Sunday, 4 p.m.

Oakland at Green Bay - A Super Bowl preview? Actually, this game could look like Green Bay's season opener against the Saints if Raiders QB Carson Palmer takes advantage of all the speed he has on hand. Packers, 38-34.

San Francisco at Arizona - Well, let's see the Cardinals beat Dallas in overtime last week, while the Cowboys won in OT against San Fran early in the season. It's that kind of logic that bad picks are made from. 49ers, 27-17.

Chicago at Denver - Think of Bears' current QB Caleb Hanie as a poor man's Tebow. Really poor, at least as far as running ability goes. Or passing, for that matter. Broncos, 17-6.

Buffalo at San Diego - If the Bills are good guests, maybe they can stay in San Diego and not have to travel back to Buffalo anytime soon. Chargers, 24-14.

Sunday, 8 p.m.

N.Y. Giants at Dallas - Though both teams remind me of a car careening out of control on a slippery road, one will win the NFC East. But it's New York that's had to turn up its level of play after facing Green Bay, New Orleans, New England and San Francisco in the past five weeks. Giants, 23-20.

Monday night

St. Louis at Seattle - Flex scheduling only applies to Sunday games. Otherwise, this one would've been played at 10:30 some Wednesday morning. Seahawks, 19-10.

Last week - 9-7, 56 percent. Season - 127-65, 66 percent.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.



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