Apparently, we have slipped into some strange alternate universe. What else would explain why a Bears-Bengals meeting would be considered a big game, especially in Week Three?
Because it is.
Both of these normally downtrodden teams look like legit contenders in their respective divisions, the Bears sporting a defense that has allowed a mere fifteen points in two games, the Bengals running a high-octane offense that has steamrolled the Browns and Vikings, which might not be saying much actually, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.
This is the proverbial irresistible force vs. the immovable object.
So who will give?
One of these teams is going to make the jump from early-season feel-good story to a team suddenly thinking big - real big. For the Bears, a win here would mean plenty of good vibes heading into their bye week. A win here and you can expect two weeks of nonstop excited conversation in Chitown about how promising things are looking on the western shores of Lake Michigan. It will be an all-out lovefest. Nothing but nothing changes the mood of Chicago like the Bears and a win here means two weeks of people walking tall with an added hop in their step.
And isn't that what we all want?
And isn't that what we all need, particularly as the White Sox continue a possible collapse of historic proportions and the Cubs live in oblivion while wrapping up another season of disappointment?
With the Bengals offense running smoothly and Carson Palmer appearing to take the next step towards elite quarterback status, this is a golden opportunity for the Bears defense to make an undeniable statement. Shutting down offenses run by Mark Brunell (in his fifties) and Joey Harrington (bust, plays bad piano) the past two weeks is one thing, beating up on the Bengals is another.
It doesn't hurt that Chad Johnson, a truly colorful character, specifically mentioned the Bears defense on SportCenter the other day. Yes, I know he also said a bunch of really nice things about the Bears defense and how impressed he is and how he would be wise to keep his infamous trash talking to a minimum, but, hey, he did look into a camera and mutter Mike Brown's name with a sly grin on his face that said unmistakeably "Come and get me, suckers. I need to be removed from the grass by a spatuala" and that more than qualifies as reason to bust him up. Right? Right. At least that's what I heard.
The pick: Bears 19 Bengals 10A PIG'S PIGSKIN PICKS
CINCINNATI AT CHICAGO
Underrated streak of the seson thus far: No opposing starting quarterback has finished a game against the swarming Bears defense.
Overrated streak of the season: The amount of times I will gleefully mention that fact until the streak ends.
Spread: Bears +3
CAROLINA AT MIAMI
It won't be long now until the return of Ricky Williams. The Dolphins can use him, as Nick Saban has the Phins playing repectibly.
In the meantime, the Panthers made a nice, nice recovery in a statement game with New England last week. I can't imagine Gus Frerotte getting much accomplished now that the Panthers have their groove on.
Spread: Panthers -3
TAMPA BAY AT GREEN BAY
Are you a digruntled fan of an NFC North team looking for a little piece of Heaven? Well, look no further than Mike Sherman frantically glancing over his play sheets in the dying seconds of a game that only a miracle can win. Oh, good, good times, that is.
Sherman is a truly awful coach who was fortunate to take over a team assembled by talented former GM Ron Wolf and with a still dangerous (at the time) Brett Favre behind center. Thus, Sherman's massve inadequacies were masked. Not since the last time Angelina Jolie switched boyfriends has a dude been so lucky to take over for someone else. The fact that the Packers will stink up Monday Night Football three times this season is an affront to football fans everywhere. The Unknown Column demands an explanation from the NFL front office! And an apology.
This is one of those games in which before considering anything else, you should look no further than the coaching matchup. Sherman vs. John Gruden is a bigger mismatch than Rafael Palmeiro vs. the slimiest move possible to outdo the last slimy move. Palmeiro's going to lose this battle everytime.
Spread: Bucs -3.5
TENNESSEE AT ST. LOUIS
Speaking of odd coaching mismatches, the fact that both Jeff Fisher and Mike Martz share the same current legacy of having been to the Super Bowl once and lost is a cruel joke by the football gods. Fisher in a landslide.
Interesting game for the Titans who have been on both the good end and bad end of beatdowns this season. The Unknown Column is hoping to see Norm Chow's renowned offense take root for real in a big way in front of Mike Matrtz, whose head might explode in a freny of overused post routes.
Spread: Titans +6.5
ATLANTA AT BUFFALO
So how long until ESPN has a reporter and camera fixed on Michael Vick's tweaked hamstring 24-7. This has Pedro Gomez's name written all over it, that is if he isn't too busy analyzing and reporting on Barry Bond's bowel movements.
I can see Gomez reporting now:
"It remains to be seen how Vick's hamstring will hold up when he bends over to wipe his buttocks. This has to be a major concern to team doctors, who when approached for comment said, 'Who let this (bleep) reporter in here again?' I then posed the same question to Vick himself as I stood on an adjacent toilet and peered over the bathroom stall wall. A clearly suprised and unhappy Vick told me that if I didn't leave him alone and refrain from sleeping in his bushes he would call the police. Reporting live from Michael Vick's bathroom, Pedro Gomez, ESPN."
Spread: Falcons +2.5
OAKLAND AT PHILADELPHIA
So Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens have kissed and made up? That didn't take long. It's amazing what one lopsided win can do for a team's morale. Major props to Andy Reid for having the wisdom to ride the storm out and pacify while remaining firmly in charge of all proceedings. After navigatng the eternally rough waters that are the violent mood swings of TO, which would make a pregnant woman blush, Reid has truly entered the pantheon of all-time elite NFL coaches. Seriously. Pure winner. All he needs now is a Super Bowl win to truly cement the fact.
And this has me all flustered. I mean, I may have to rethink my whole theory on dudes with mustaches being tools. Although, Palmeiro has firmly entrenched himself as exhibit 1A in my case against the 'stache.
By the way, Chunky Soup commercials featuring Donovan McNabb's mother are near the top of the list of things that need to go. Now.
Spread: Eagles +8
JACKSONVILLE AT N.Y. JETS
So I think all-time tough guy Curtis Martin is leading the NFL in carries, no? And Byron Leftwich proved again last week while getting pounded by the Colts defense that he's a true trooper.
They should just give these two guys each a shovel and have them pummell each other at midfield. The team of the last man standing wins.
But seriously, this a key game between two teams walking the fine line between true AFC contenders and also-rans. Should be tight.
Spread: Jaguars +2.5
NEW ORLEANS AT MINNESOTA
Mike Tice vs. Jim Haslett. This game is a matchup of neanderthals, eh? How either of these guys still has an NFL coaching gig is a bigger mystery than fans of Bill O'Reilly. Wait, does O'Reilly even have fans? Didn't think so.
Do you know how on 'The Simpsons' they often depict the inside of Homer's brain and it's usually a monkey jumping around and whistling or something? I can't get that image out of my head when I think of Haslett and especially Tice. I'm still waiting for one of these guys to start frantically hopping around the sideline in a crazed monkey dance flinging their own poo a at ref following a disagreeable call.
Tice jokes will never get old. Never.
Spread: Saints +3.5
CLEVELAND AT INDIANAPOLIS
If you're the Browns, the worst possible scenario is walking onto the carpet of the RCA Dome a week after Peyton Manning was essentially shutdown. And that's what's happening here. Things might get out of hand.
Spread: Colts -14
ARIZONA AT SEATTLE
You have to love how Mike Holmgren already has the Seahawks operating at maximum mediocrity capablities. They're already 1-1 and blowing big leads and looking dumb.You just know this team is going to end up disappointing. Again. I give them credit for beating a contender last week in the Falcons, but even that came with huge late-game meltdown, the sort of meltdown few can pull off with the style of Holmgren.
Meanwhile, for the all the relative preseason excitement regarding the Cardinals chances to actually not suck for a change, if they fall to 0-3, this season will end just like every other in Arizona: nowhere. This is a big game in the Dennis Green era. That is, if you can use 'Cardinals' and 'big game' in the same sentence, which I'm pretty certain you can't unless you add 'just kidding' or 'some things in this world will never happen'. Too bad Green is pinning his chances on Kurt Warner who's still pinning his reputation to four years ago.
Spread: Seahawks -6
NEW ENGLAND AT PITTSBURGH
The Unknown Column loves this game. Loves it. And it has nothing to do with the fact that it pits two legit AFC contenders and the possibilty of photos of really hot chicks who happen to date star NFL quarterbacks. Speaking of which, I don't mean to offend Ben Roethlisberger, who is a fine quarterback and all that, but does anyone else ever say to themselves, "No way is that dude pulling that kind of tail if he's not a pro athlete"?
Anyway, this game has the potential for some good ole comeuppance of the highest order. And I want to see it. Look, after being humiliated by the Patriots at Heinz Field in last year's AFC title game, the steamrolling Steelers now get another shot at the Pats, who showed all sorts of cracks last week, not the least of which was Bill "Check Out My Man Boobs" Belichek whining about replay decisions.
Talk about smelling blood in the water.
And someone should tell Belichek to watch the Pats-Raiders playoff game in the snow from a few years ago before he complains about faulty decisions by referees. Brady fumbled. Like I have mentioned before, worst...dynasty...ever.
And the most boring, which is even worse.
Incidentally, I'm feeling all sorts of smart for reaching for Willie Parker early in my fantasy drafts. I mean, I'm feeling like the guy who invented halter tops for chicks. Genius!
Speaking of stud Steelers running backs from nowhere, whatever happened to Barry Foster?
Spread: Steelers -3
DALLAS AT SAN FRANCSICO
My favorite moment from Week Two had to be when Jerry Jones worriedly and speedily came waltzing down to the sideline in the final two minutes after the Cowboys blew a late lead to the Redskins. Hysterical. As if his sudden presence is going to change anything other than add to the laughter of Redskins fans everywhere.
Besides, if you had a jacuzzi in your luxury box shaped like Texas Stadium, is there anywhere else you should really be? Really
I mean, why would you even be wearing clothes?
One week after getting pounded by a team coming off a disappointing Monday night loss, the 49ers get another. At least they get the Drew Bledsoe-to-Terry Glenn show, as opposed to Donovan-to-TO.
Anyone else get the feeling that the Mike Nolan face is primed to be a regular occurrence? I don't know why, but I can't help the feeling it's all going to end badly for Nolan. How long until the NFL feels sorry for him and says in a condescendingly reassuring voice, "You go ahead and wear that suit jacket on the sideline, Mike. There, there."
N.Y. GIANTS AT SAN DIEGO
You know, it's a shame San Diego is such a laid back city, because Eli Manning's first trip to SoCal since spurning the Bolts at the 2004 draft has the potential to be ugly - real ugly. We're talking Ashlee Simpson-at-the-Orange Bowl ugly. Janice Dickinson on 'The Surreal Life' ugly. I don't mean to dismiss the passion of Chargers fans, but many of them are probably too chilled out on pot and lattes and sweet sunshine to truly take advantage of a situation that should rightfully make the hanging of Mussolini look like a compassionate crowd eager to forgive..
I mean, I can only imagine if the situation was reversed and Eli was coming to the Meadowlands, or Chicago or Philadelphia. You know, cities where football is taken more seriously than crabs.
I can't imagine what Bears fans would have to say to Eli as he entered Soldier Field. Actually, I can imagine it, but since the Unknown Column has a large youth readership, I'll refrain from sharing and let you, dear reader, imagine for yourself. (Yes, my highly reliable data says my youth following is massive actually. You should see all the hate mail I received this morning following last night's curse-laden rant on the White Sox. Jeez, internet-monitoring parents can be so picky about these things. Chill out. As if your kids don't know every curse in the book by third grade. And if they don't, they should. Stop sheltering them. As my old man likes to say, "It'll put hair on their chests", which would actually be gross on any young girls, but you know what I mean.)
In Chicago, I'm guessing Archie Manning, a meddling father of the highest order who really missed his truly calling as a lunatic tennis dad, would have to sit in a luxury box. Or anywhere his noggin would be out of the reach of batteries and bottles. And Eli? He would just cry. Seriously. He looks on the verge of tears at most times anyway, which is funny considering I've always suspected Archie wanted Eli in the Big Apple because he envisioned his son as some sort of commercial superstar in the county's biggest metropolis. Eli has about as much commercial appeal as roadside underwear. Broadway Joe he is not.
Spread: Giants +6
KANSAS CITY AT DENVER
Dick Vermeil vs. Mike Shanahan? This isn't even close.
Spread: Chiefs +3Last week
Straight-up: 10-6 (17-15 on the season)
Against the spread: 11-4-1 (20-11-1 on the season)