- The Washington Times - Friday, December 1, 2006

Darn those Pittsburgh Steelers. Had they shown up and played like the defending Super Bowl champions and defeated Baltimore last week, I would have gone a perfect 13-0 in my picks. Instead, the Steelers laid an egg, my only defeat in an otherwise masterful exhibition of selecting.

As the season enters the final month, it’s become clear the Steelers won’t be returning to the playoffs, much less repeating as world champs. But the power remains in the AFC where several league rankings have Indianapolis, San Diego, New England and Baltimore ranked ahead of the NFC’s best team, Chicago or Dallas.

The Five-Game Contest

Thought to be running out of time and out of hope in my contest with Jim Ducibella of the Virginian-Pilot, the young buck (me) went 4-0-1 against the old timer (him) last week, cutting the deficit to a single game. He leads 21-20-15. The moral of last week’s results — I picked up four games — It’s far easier to pick winners through detailed analysis (like I did) rather than picking games based on how far one can throw a drumstick (like Duce did).

The prize for the winner remains dinner at El Gaucho’s in Seattle, Duce’s favorite Pacific Northwest eatery. This was contingent on the Redskins making a return playoff trip to Seattle. Chances are, Five Guys on the Loudoun County Parkway will have to suffice.

Atlanta at Washington: This is how bad the Falcons’ pass offense is: They average 100 yards LESS than the Redskins and Washington hasn’t exactly been an aerial circus this year. Vick will make his plays, but the Redskins will win. Redskins 22-6.

Duce: Falcons 23-17

Dallas at NY Giants: The Giants are imploding. The Cowboys are flying. The Giants’ locker room is full of strife. The Cowboys’ locker room is a picture of harmony. The Giants’ QB is struggling. The Cowboys’ QB is starring. So call this one a hunch. Giants 13-12.

Duce: Cowboys 34-31

Carolina at Philadelphia: The Panthers were downright awful and they should think about going to Chris Weinke at quarterback. But Philadelphia is done, finished, kaput without McNabb. Panthers 16-15.

Duce: Eagles 24-23

Seattle at Denver: Jay Cutler gets his first start against the Seahawks on Sunday night. The Broncos will get the same kind of lift Jason Campbell gave the Redskins. Broncos 31-21.

Duce: Broncos 27-24

Toilet Bowl - Houston at Oakland: The Raiders have changed offensive coordinators, to a guy (John Shoop) with the same name as the Mark Harmon character in “Summer School.” Oh, yeah, that’ll turn the team around. Texans 6-3.

Duce: Raiders 10-9

Rest of the games

Arizona at St. Louis: Denny “Mr. Football” Green can’t be fired fast enough. Rams 66-3.

Detroit at New England: The Patriots finally won a big home game last week, downing the Bears. This team will be dangerous in the playoffs because they can win on the road. Patriots 20-13.

Indianapolis at Tennessee: Impressive comeback - albeit aided by the Giants’ fold-job - by Vince Young and Co. last week. But the Manning they face this week isn’t nearly as mistake prone as the Manning they faced last week. Colts 44-28.

Kansas City at Cleveland: A big reason why Al Saunders’ offense worked so well in KC was that he had running backs like Larry Johnson, an absolute stud. Even when Portis is healthy, he isn’t as good as L.J. Chiefs 20-6.

Minnesota at Chicago: The jury remains out on Rex Grossman. It’s tough to trust somebody who turns it over as much as he does. This could be a repeat of last year - great regular season and then lose at home in the playoffs. But my Vikings are struggling. Bears 35-17.

NY Jets at Green Bay: The way announcers talk about Brett Favre, it’s like he cured polio, should be in charge of the United Nations and split the atom. Jets 23-21.

San Diego at Buffalo: Forecast Sunday for Buffalo is 35 degrees and snow showers. Edge to the Bills, but for just a little bit. Running backs like L.T. are still effective in cold weather. Chargers 30-17.

San Francisco at New Orleans: The Redskins will see how good New Orleans’ offense is in a few weeks. The 49ers will get to see up close this Sunday. Saints 37-24.

Jacksonville at Miami: The Jaguars are more inconsistent than the Redskins and it could cost Jack Del Rio his job. Dolphins 19-14.

Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh: These teams won a combined 21 games last year; this year they’ve won a combined six. Steelers 27-14.

Last week: 12-1

Season: 109-70

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