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Jason Friedman’s NFL Picks, Week Three: Approaching the Promised Land

Houston is finally a football town again.

Oh sure, we’ve had our dalliances with baseball and basketball over the years, but those were nothing more than mere trifles necessary to pass the time while our souls wandered through a pigskin-less wasteland. Deep down in our heart of hearts, there was only ever one true love. That’s why today, it is with great joy and elation that I offer you a message of hope: Yes, brothers and sisters, those long days of yearning and starvation appear to be over. Ahead in the distance, we can see what appears to be the land of milk, honey and HGH. (Oops. I mean, Gatorade, of course.) And whether our Moses is named Matt or Mario, it matters not. Right now, let us simply enjoy the fact that our wanderings have not been in vain.

Naturally, I expect resistance from the non-believers in our midst. Perhaps they would have you believe the Texans 2-0 start is nothing but a mirage; resulting from little more than good fortune and soft scheduling. Or maybe they’ve already poisoned your ears with whispers of the unbeatable Philistine army approaching from Indianapolis. To be sure, the Colts present a daunting challenge. But unbeatable? Perish the thought. Or have you already forgotten how our very own David vanquished these Goliaths less than one year ago? Okay, so our David didn’t really do anything special that December day and he’s gone now, anyway. That’s not the point. The thing you must remember is that this is a drastically improved Texans team. And even without its most skilled and valiant warrior, it remains capable of heroic, if not legendary, achievement.

No, we have not yet reached our destination. And, yes, there is still far to go. But the clouds of shame have parted, allowing us a vision of the great things beginning to take shape on the horizon. So rejoice and bask in the excitement of your fellow man. It’s okay to embrace this team. Really, it is. And what’s more, it’s absolutely great to be a football town again.

On to the week three picks (home team in caps):

HOUSTON (+6) over Indianapolis

Alright, so maybe I went a bit overboard while singing the Texans’ praises. I’m fully aware there are several legitimate questions facing the hometown team as it heads into its Sunday showdown with the Colts. Among them: How will they compensate for the loss of Andre Johnson? How can they possibly cover the unholy trinity of Harrison, Wayne and Clark when they had a hard enough time attempting to contain Carolina’s one (and only) receiving threat last week? How will they handle their first real taste of national love and respect? And finally, how will they respond to what promises to be the most electric atmosphere Reliant Stadium has seen since it first opened in 2002?

My gut tells me the Texans will probably come out too fired up and maybe even a little nervous. Some stupid mistakes and penalties will be made and they’ll probably fall behind early. As we’ve seen far too many times in the past, that formula has always spelled doom for Houston against the Colts. But that’s why I think last week’s victory over Carolina was such a monumental achievement. For the first time ever, the Texans kept their cool and eventually responded with a knock-out punch. The confidence gained from that game must be immense and it will serve them well Sunday. Look for Jacoby Jones or Jerome Mathis to spark a comeback with a big special teams play. Remember, Indy was awful in kick coverage last year.

So do I think it will be enough? Not to win, no. But I do expect Houston to keep it close and earn even more respect in the process. And best of all, no matter what unfolds this weekend, the Texans will still have a tremendous shot at starting the season 4-1. Yes, the schedule gods smiled upon Houston this year.

Colts 27 – Texans 24

GREEN BAY (+5) over San Diego

Tough to get a read on either one of these teams right now. The Chargers picked up an ugly win against Chicago in week one and followed that up with a shellacking at the hands of the once and future kings from New England. Meanwhile, Green Bay has a pair of wins against 0-2 teams. San Diego is clearly the more talented team, but how confident do you feel putting your money in the hands of Norv Turner? That’s what I thought.

Chargers 16 – Packers 13

Minnesota (+3) over KANSAS CITY

Good lord, what does it say about the state of quarterbacking in the NFL when the good people of Kansas City actually have to pay to watch a match-up featuring the likes of Damon Huard and Tavaris Jackson? As much as I love pro football, I’d almost be tempted to give away my tickets (because no one would buy them) and go to a Royals game instead. Almost.

Vikings 17 – Chiefs 13

Detroit (+6) over PHILADELPHIA

Am I reading this correctly? Did I really just pick Detroit to win… on the road? Who suffered the concussion last weekend? Jon Shitna? Or me?

Lions 21 – Eagles 20

Buffalo (+16 1/2) over NEW ENGLAND

So at this point, you’re probably saying, “Wait a second, Jason! You really have suffered a serious head injury. Not only are you taking Just Pitiful Losman and his Buffalo Bills on the road against the league’s best team, but you’ve also picked every single underdog so far!”

Fair point. But there’s a method to my madness. Last week, NFL pooches went 11-3-1 against the spread. What’s more, underdogs won nearly 56 percent of the time in 2006. And you have to admit, 16 ½ is a hell of a lot of points, even for the New England Patriots. Would you be shocked if the Pats suffered a bit of a letdown this week, or even just found themselves a little bored by the simplicity of their dominance?

If you’re still unconvinced, that’s fine. But at least check out this column on home ‘dogs by Freakonomics mastermind, Steven Levitt. It should at least make you feel better about the Texans’ chances this Sunday.

Patriots 31 – Bills 17

NEW YORK JETS (-3) over Miami

What scares me about this game: Looks like Chad Pennington is back and ready to assume the starter’s role. Considering the game will be played at the Meadowlands where the fans are calling for Chad’s noodle arm, that’s potentially disastrous for the Jets.

What doesn’t scare me about this game: Miami

Jets 17 – Dolphins 13

PITTSBURGH (-9) over San Francisco

Is Pittsburgh back among the NFL’s elite? I’m not ready to bestow that honor upon them just yet, but I am ready to declare that Alex Smith sucks. Sorry, San Francisco. You’ve got David Carr version 2.0. The sooner you realize it, the better off you’ll be.

Steelers 24 – 49ers 13

Arizona (+8) over BALTIMORE

I don’t know if Matt Leinart is going to become a superstar on the gridiron, but there’s certainly no denying his Jedi pimp status off the field. Having said that, he better enjoy his throne now because the heir apparent is just one or two years away. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Tim Tebow.

Oh, and as for the game…

Ravens 20 – Cardinals 17

St. Louis (+3 1/2) over TAMPA BAY

All right, St. Louis, this is your last chance. You hear me? I’ve just about had it with your shenanigans. I’m not even asking you to be my sleeper team, anymore. But is a single, solitary win too much to ask?

Rams 23 – Buccaneers 17

DENVER (-3) over Jacksonville

It looks like Jack Del Rio and Tom Coughlin are staging a contest to see who gets fired first. Right now, that race is too close to call.

Broncos 24 – Jaguars 14

Cincinnati (+3 1/2) over SEATTLE

The Bengals can’t possibly give up 51 points again, right? Right???

Seahawks 31 – Bengals 30

OAKLAND (-3) over Cleveland

Okay, so maybe Cincinnati is capable of surrendering half a hundred again. But I know this much: You’ll see David Carr sporting pretty white gloves before you see the Browns put another 51 on the scoreboard. Oh, snap!

Raiders 24 – Browns 17

Carolina (-4) over ATLANTA

I know, I know. This would be a perfect opportunity to follow my rule about going with home underdogs. But I’m pretty sure there’s a corollary that states the aforementioned law is deemed invalid whenever Joey Harrington is involved.

Panthers 20 – Falcons 6

WASHINGTON (-4) over New York Giants

Hey, Bryan Pittman is picking the Redskins to go to the Super Bowl. That’s good enough for me. Of course, last week he was on board the Saints’ bandwagon so, you know… proceed with caution.

Redskins 27 – Giants 17

CHICAGO (-3) over Dallas

Okay, so this week I’m picking teams quarterbacked by the likes of Tavaris Jackson, Jon Kitna, Chad Pennington, J.P. Losman and now, Rex Grossman. I highly recommend you ignore my advice today. I’ll bounce back next week, I promise.

Bears 24 – Cowboys 20

Tennessee (+4 1/2) over NEW ORLEANS

For the third week in a row, Vince and the Titans are underdogs. So far, they’ve covered each time and I see no reason why VY and co. won’t go three-for-three. And last but not least, can we all just say a prayer of thanks for the Texans’ great start? Otherwise, half the population of Houston might have committed hara-kiri while watching Vince and Reggie face-off in this game.

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Titans 28 – Saints 27

Last week against the spread 8-7-1 (17-13-2 in ’07)

Last week straight-up: 9-7 (19-13 in ’07)

-- Jason Friedman

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