Some days you get the bear. Some days the bear gets you.
In Harlan County, at least when the subject is football, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Before jumping into the pro scene, I wish the best of all possible outcomes tonight to the Black Bears and Coach Tom Larkey as they face Madison Southern at home in round two of the 5A playoffs.
In the interest of full disclosure, Coach Larkey and I are what you might call nephews-in-law, so I always hope the best for him and his teams.
(By nephews-in-law - which I just made up, I think - I mean that his dad’s brother and my aunt’s husband were the same guy. Unfortunately our Uncle Bob passed away a couple of months ago. One of his children, our cousin Bobbie Womack, is a missionary in Tacloban City in the Philippines that just got hammered dead center by the worst hurricane/typhoon anyone can remember. She and her family are physically well but they have lost everything, so give them a few of your prayers if you please.)
Now on to the far less important business of predicting the outcome of all but one of the games scheduled for the NFL’s Week 11.
(I say “all but one” because, since the bear got me this week, we have obviously missed the Thursday night Colts at Titans tilt, which I figured Indy would win in order to make up for that embarrassing thrashing they took at home to the formerly woebegone St. Louis Rams. I can only now hope I was right.)
Jets at Bills - New York has strong wild card playoff aspirations, a record that’s better than expected and good talent, but they also have the maddening habit of being totally inconsistent; for example beating New England and then turning right around the next week to get blown by out Cincinnati. Maybe future hall of famer Ed Reed will now help school them in the mental disciplines of player responsibility and identity so that they are the same team every play, every possession, every game.
Success in the NFL over the past decade of increasing parity has been all about getting healthy and hot at the right time, usually late in the season. Because so many things are so equal in the league, so much of what passes for winning football now comes down to team chemistry and passion, which is pretty hard to quantify (at least on this page).
Buffalo continues to suffer the pangs of youth and the pains of injury. They play well, but just can’t hang in there long enough. New York’s defense will require Buffalo to depend on rookie E.J. Manuel’s arm, and this will be his second game back following a month of physical recovery. This is probably the wrong defense to expect him to be able yet to take some advantage.
All in all, it’s probably the Jets game to win, which they should, but like the leaves in November, you just wait for them to fall.
Ravens at Bears - Baltimore needs to get Ray Rice the ball more and this is the team he can run over, around and through. Chicago’s defensive woes are largely due to the injury bug taking up residence on that side of their line, and too many substitutes always makes you vulnerable.
In their favor, Old Man Winter has finally walked in the door, and Soldier Field is one of the worst weather venues in the league (which is just how the Bears like it). The Ravens do not have the dominating defense that has come to define their team’s character over the past decade (or more), so while they are good they can no longer offer much shutdown potential, especially in road games.
Baltimore’s Joe Flacco remains inconsistent (there’s that word again!) in the quarterback position while Josh McCown has been doing tremendous work subbing for Jay Cutler. He’s got plenty of receivers and, amazingly, his offensive line has been providing good protection, so it’s the homers in a squeaker.
Browns at Bengals - Here’s Cleveland’s chance. Cincinnati has, once again, opened the door wide and invited them in. It would be just plain rude not to show up. With these two franchises, who make a habit out of not showing up when they are expected, there’s just too many unknowns to count on anything other than divisional rivalry football, which means bloody noses and field goal margins. It’s a home team pick, but don’t go getting all emotionally invested in it.
Raiders at Texans - At this point, we just have to give Houston the benefit of whatever emotional investment we wish to make in pro football this weekend. They need a win and Coach Gary Kubiak needs a comforting smile. It’s a good thing Oakland can’t win on the road. It would hurt my feelings if they did. And now that all the touch-feely stuff is out of the way, Houston’s defense is not at all vulnerable to what Oakland does best. That pretty much settles most pro games.
Cardinals at Jaguars - So Jacksonville pulled it together, played very well (relatively speaking) and punched a hole in the Titans’ home ticket last week. Good for them. They needed it. Meanwhile, Arizona is on a mini winning streak. They still had to work awfully hard the past two weeks to take down struggling teams, and the Cardinals are working at a 1-3 clip when they hit the road, so it hardly fills you with confidence.
Because you just cannot ever, ever, ever trust West Coast teams when they come east for a 1:00 start. While Arizona has a good looking rookie running back, he’s no Maurice Jones-Drew; provided Maurice is actually unleashed now.
Still, Arizona has a much better defense, more talent, and match up well on the outside. Even if Carson Palmer only finds Larry Fitzgerald three or four times, it will probably be enough. But it’s hard not to notice that the more Palmer has played, the more his completion percentage has degraded, especially in routes beyond 20 yards.
Redskins at Eagles - So why is Philadelphia in danger of losing their 10th straight game at home? Now some of the players are blaming the fans, as if we didn’t already know how obstinate Eagles fans have pretty much always been.
Hey Philly! Pop in a copy of “Invincible” Saturday night and get ready in the head to do what you have to do to win this one, for goodness sake! How often does the opportunity for a lead in the division come around for a 5-5 team? Nick Foles is hot. LeSean McCoy is cool. Take it and use it.
Divisional rivalry games are usually just that simple.
Lions at Steelers - One of these has a 6-3 record and is catching the view from the roof of their division while the other is 3-6 and working on their sump pump. There’s something fundamentally wrong when you find Steelers in the basement, but there they are.
Now wrap your head around this one: Detroit has not won a game in Pittsburgh in almost 60 years.
This year the Steelers’ defense is not fast enough, not strong enough up front, nor opportunistic enough to create those game-changers that are the signature plays for that team in championship mode.
But 60 years? While it all looks like things should go the Lions way this time, they are just going to have to prove it first.