Jason Friedman’s NFL Picks, Week Nine: Tony Romo and Britney Spears? Lance Armstrong and Ashley Olsen? Vince Young and David Carr? What’s the Deal with All These Mismatches?

What a bizarre year so far in the football world. It’s almost as if the college and pro ranks decided to switch personalities for one season. On one hand, you have the NCAA, which has taken a page from the NFL’s playbook by bathing itself with the lukewarm waters of parity. Meanwhile, the National Football League boasts the sort of clarity at the top that the BCS could only dream of: It’s New England and Indianapolis, and everyone else is simply playing for sloppy seconds. Sort of like Tony Romo, if the rumors of him receiving a lap dance from Britney Spears are to be believed. And I’m just going to assume they are. I mean, is that the best rumor ever, or what?!?

Anyway, after openly defying the gods last week, I still managed to post a respectable 8-5 mark, bringing my overall record for ’07 to a somewhat stunning 62-47-7 against the spread. Has Zeus allowed me to reach even greater heights just so he can sit back and enjoy an even more spectacular crash when my inevitable fall occurs? Who knows? Figuring out the inner-workings of a deity is no concern of mine. I’m just here to make picks, crack a few jokes, and figure out why the hell Lance Armstrong is smooching Ashley Olsen. And since it’s probably going to take me a few millennia to solve that last riddle, I better go ahead and get the prediction part out of the way.

On to the Week Nine picks (home team in caps):

Houston (+3) over OAKLAND

So let’s see… The Texans will most likely be playing without their top quarterback, wide receiver, running back and tight end. They’re coming off a five-week stretch which has been particularly putrid, even by this woebegone franchise’s standards. And I’m picking them to cover? On the road??? It’s crazy, I know.

The thing is, Oakland is pretty bad, too. When you’re counting on Josh McCown to provide a spark, you know you’ve just about reached your nadir. Any way you slice it, this game is the polar opposite of Colts-Pats, which is why I’ll be abandoning the comfort of my apartment this weekend for a table at the local sports bar. I’ll happily watch both games simultaneously. But there’s no way in hell I’m going to miss the game of the year just because I restricted myself to another Texans-Raiders debacle (remember last year? Yuck.) That’d be like settling for a night spent at home blogging, while the girl of your dreams is begging you to come over and reenact Armstrong-Olsen. Not that I’d know anything about that particular dilemma, of course. (Sorry, honey. I’ll make it all up to you with Movie Tavern gift cards and free T-shirts, I promise!)

Anyway, you don’t want to hear about my personal life, you want to know about the game. It’s pretty simple: if the Texans are going to keep it close, they’ll have to do it with solid defense and special teams. God knows that’s a dicey proposition — this is the Texans we’re talking about, after all -- but that’s exactly what I expect to happen.

Raiders 15 – Texans 13

NY JETS (+3 ½) over Washington

Well, what do you know? Eric Mangini finally saw the light and replaced Chad Pennington with Kellen Clemens. The move comes about right weeks too late, but hey, it’s not like it was an obvious decision to make. Oh wait, yes it was. In fact, it was so freaking obvious that even my three-year-old nephew says he’s been boycotting noodles since August. I can only assume he made that decision to protest Chad’s noodle arm; not because he’s on the Atkin’s Diet.

Redskins 21 – Jets 20

Green Bay (+2 ½) over KANSAS CITY

Sometimes, the NFL just baffles me. Take this game for instance. When all is said and done Sunday evening, either a weak Kansas City team is going to be 5-3, or a slightly above average Packer squad is going to sport a ridiculous 7-1 mark. I don’t think I like this new world.

Packers 20 – Chiefs 17

Arizona (+3 ½) over TAMPA BAY

Uh oh. This isn’t a good sign. We’re four games into my picks, and I’ve gone with the underdog every time. The gods are obviously messing with my mind. Or perhaps I’m simply still reeling from being exposed to this abomination. I think it’s the latter.

Cardinals 16 – Buccaneers 13

TENNESSEE (-4) over Carolina

It hasn’t been the best of times for Vince Young this year. But something tells me a visit from David Carr and the Panthers may just be the cure for what ails him.

Titans 24 – Panthers 10

San Francisco (+3) over ATLANTA

My philosophy: When you’ve got a match-up between two teams this bad, always take the points.

49ers 17 – Falcons 13

NEW ORLEANS (-3 ½) over Jacksonville

I’ve gone back and forth on this game about 2.8 million times. I desperately want to take the Jags. Last week I felt the same way about Miami, only to chicken out at the last second and bail on them, too. You saw how that worked out. So consider yourself warned.

Saints 21 – Jaguars 17

DETROIT (-3) over Denver

I’ve decided this is just a tough week. I’m feeling far too wishy-washy on these games. Never a good sign. But anytime a team is led by a Christian quarterback who dresses up for Halloween like a naked man, I have to support them.

Lions 24 – Broncos 17

BUFFALO (PK) over Cincinnati

Citizens of Cincinnati, beware! With the Bengals season going straight down the toilet, you have to assume a major crime spree is just around the corner.

Bills 27 – Bengals 24

MINNESOTA (+7) over San Diego

Are the Chargers really back on track? This game should give us a pretty good hint. But for now, since Norv Turner is still involved, I’m just going to assume the answer is “No.”

Chargers 20 – Vikings 17

CLEVELAND (-1) over Seattle

More NFL madness. One of these teams is going to wake up 5-3 Monday morning. Please tell me how that’s possible. Those Bee Movie Shorts on NBC make more sense to me than the state of pro football right now.

Browns 34 – Seahawks 31

PHILADELPHIA (+3) over Dallas

This is essentially Philly’s last stand. And I also feel compelled to once again remind you of the Romo-Spears lap dance rumor. (Come on, just pretend it’s true. Your life will be better for believing it.) Of course, Eagles coach Andy Reid has his own problems and, unfortunately, they’re neither false nor funny. There’s nothing amusing about having a judge call your home a “drug emporium” while sentencing your sons to jail. That can’t be pleasant.

Eagles 24 – Cowboys 23

PITTSBURGH (-9) over Baltimore

I happen to believe the Steelers are pretty good. I happen to know that the Ravens are not.

Steelers 23 – Ravens 10

New England (-5 ½) over INDIANAPOLIS

The game of the year, decade, century, millennium, whatever. If you’re a true football fan, you owe it to yourself to find a way to watch this game. In this salary cap era of the NFL, you just don’t get too many opportunities to see a pair of truly great teams face off, and these are two truly great teams. In fact, one of them might go down as the greatest team ever. And that club is not only going to win this Sunday, it’s also going to prevail in the upcoming playoff rematch as well.

There is only one game I am absolutely sure of this week. And this is it.

Patriots 31 – Colts 24

Last week against the spread: 8-5 (62-47-7 in ‘07) Last week straight-up (7-6) (68-48 in ’07)

-- Jason Friedman

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