- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 4, 2006

Most teams, including the Redskins, reach the halfway mark of the NFL season this weekend. Some teams are hitting on every possible cylinder, some are sputtering after fast starts, some are bouncing back after slow starts and some have yet to get their feet out of cement.

Speaking of bouncing back, I’m well rested after the Redskins’ bye weekend to improve upon a rather pathetic 7-7 record last week. But who knew the Steelers would turtle in Oakland or the Bengals would fall to Atlanta at home?

To the picks …

The Five-Game Contest

Jim Ducibella of the Virginian-Pilot and I have engaged in this contest the entire season and not much of anything has been settled. I went 2-3, he went 3-2 last week so he’s pulled ahead by a game.

By the way, Duce is calling this match up the “El Gaucho Bowl,” named after his favorite restaurant in Seattle. Last year, before the Redskins traveled to Seattle, the Big Fella was all excited about eating at El Gaucho on Friday night, Jan. 13. But bad things happen on Friday the 13th. (Except that it was my birthday). The dinner never happened because Duce endured a day full of delayed flights. Yours truly flew non-stop on the great Alaska Airlines flight from Dulles and was in Seattle in no time.

Anyway, the winner of this contest gets dinner bought by the other at El Gaucho. But since the Redskins are unlikely to be in Seattle this January, Duce will have to settle for the IHOP in Fredricksburg.

Dallas at Washington: The Redskins are due for a decent home game and are only 1-2 at the Mistake by the Beltway this season, including stinkers-of-a-loss to Minnesota and Tennessee. But the Cowboys have the momentum. Cowboys 37-30.

Duce: Redskins 27-23.

Houston at NY Giants: Speaking of momentum, the Giants have it. Big Blue has won four straight games following a 1-2 start and are in control of the NFC East. They won’t let down against the Texans, especially with the Bears next up. Giants 21-3.

Duce: Giants 30-14.

Indianapolis at New England: Game of the Year in the NFL and it has all the qualities of a shootout. The Colts can’t stop the run. The Patriots have trouble against good quarterbacks. And Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are the NFL’s top two quarterbacks. Patriots 40-39.

Duce: Colts 31-28.

Cincinnati at Baltimore: The Bengals and Ravens have lucked out this season because the Steelers have gone in the toilet (2-5) so the winner of this game has a firmer grip on the AFC North. Ravens 29-19.

Duce: Bengals 16-14.

Toilet Bowl Game - Green Bay at Buffalo: The Packers have shown signs of life the last two weeks, taking care of Miami and Arizona. I’m picking Buffalo only because Duce has the Pack. Bills 10-9.

Duce: Packers 37-31.

The rest of the games

Miami at Chicago: Nick Saban isn’t going anywhere; the Dolphins have too much invested in him and it’s only his second year. He shouldn’t be in trouble. The Bears are 7-0 but any 16-0 talk should end because they have road games at the Giants and New England this month. Bears 40-14.

Atlanta at Detroit: Memo to the talking heads - Michael Vick has had two solid passing games in a row, but he’s not exactly pitching the ball down field like Manning and Brady. So hold off on anointing him a changed quarterback. Falcons 27-22.

Kansas City at St. Louis: The Battle of Interstate 70 has some intrigue because both teams still have great offenses. And both teams are a little shaky on defense so expect a shoot out. Rams 45-43.

Tennessee at Jacksonville: Interesting situation developing down in J’ville with the quarterback. D.C. native Byron Leftwich won’t start again this week because of a - wink, wink - injury. David Garrard gets the call. Trouble could be looming between Leftwich and coach Jack Del Rio. Jaguars 12-7.

New Orleans at Tampa Bay: The Saints are 5-2 and Tampa Bay is 2-5. But the Bucs winning on Sunday won’t be that big of an upset. Bucs 20-19.

Minnesota at San Francisco: My only hope for the Purple last week was to not get embarrassed by the Patriots on national TV. Well, that’s exactly what happened. Thank goodness the Niners are up next. Vikings 33-12.

Denver at Pittsburgh: Just as it is for the Redskins, this is the “final” last shot for the 2-5 Steelers. Win over the Broncos and Pittsburgh lives to play another week. Lose and they’re done. Consider them done. Broncos 14-13.

Cleveland at San Diego: Cleveland’s offense is so bad, the Chargers could spot them 20 points before kickoff and it wouldn’t matter. Chargers 50-20.

Oakland at Seattle: Not exactly a stirring Monday night match up. Andrew Walter vs. Seneca Wallace. Expect ESPN to fawn over Randy Moss and Deion Branch. Seahawks 31-10.

Last week: 7-7

Season record: 73-48

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