Every now and then, somebody will send me an email that says something like: “Man, you are an idiot. You really screwed up those football picks!”
Which makes me smile.
Picking games is the part of my job I probably dislike the most.
No. Check that. Making season predictions before a single game is played is the worst.
But I digress.
One of my colleagues once replied to a reader along the lines of: “Do you think we would do this if our bosses didn’t make us? Heck, no. We hate it!”
But something strange happened this week. I sent my predictions to my boss — following his midweek email reminding everybody to send in their picks, because we always forget — and something dawned on me.
I had predicted a clean sweep for our local teams for the first time in a long time.
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Michigan 38, Maryland 24. MSU 27, Minnesota 24. Lions 35, Vikings 31.
I didn’t plan it that way, at least not in the big picture. It just happened. (Kind of like my third kid, but that’s an entirely different story.)
Now, I know what you could say: “Jeff, you are nuts! Sparty is an underdog and so are the Lions.”
And you’d be right.
But this goes deeper than the individual games. It’s a belief in these three programs.
The more I think about it, this weekend will be vital for all three, though for different reasons.
All three have an amazing opportunity this weekend, and it starts with something I’m calling Show Me Saturday.
Michigan is gonna beat Maryland — I have no doubt. But how the Wolverines play will show us everything.
Michigan has approached its first three games like an NFL exhibition schedule. I’m not blaming the players. They can only play who is on the schedule.
Even if that schedule has been ridiculously easy.
But what do we really know about Michigan?
J.J. McCarthy is fantastic and efficient at quarterback … when he’s not really being challenged.
And that defense is stifling … when it’s not really being challenged.
And this team looks absolutely dominant … when it’s not really being challenged.
Does this team have a weakness? Have the Wolverines really replaced all of those defensive players that they lost without losing a step?
We don’t know.
I’m not saying Maryland is a great team, or even a great test.
But how Michigan looks on Saturday is going to tell us a lot.
If Michigan’s defense looks shaky, or if McCarthy starts to make bad decisions under pressure, that will be significant.
But if Michigan rolls, that No. 4 ranking might look more legit.
Because right now, it’s not really based on anything. Certainly not quality wins. (We’re still waiting for the Wolverines to get one of those.)
Michigan State also has a great opportunity on Saturday.
After the Spartans lost to Washington, coach Mel Tucker used words like “disgusted” and “sick.”
It was disappointing that MSU’s pass defense wasn’t better. But MSU has a chance to show that it can bounce back. That it can clean up some of its mistakes.
And, I’m guessing, it can make some changes and try some new players.
This is gut-check time for the Spartans. Will they fold up? Or will they show resolve?
After spending time around Tucker, I think this team will be a reflection of its coach: It will come out ticked off, more intense and even more urgent.
If Minnesota had an air-raid attack, I’d pick the Gophers, because MSU’s pass defense looked so bad.
But Minnesota is a great running team. And that’s great news for the Spartans. That’s a game they can win.
Finally, let’s talk about the Lions.
Or, more specifically, about the Eagles beating the Vikings on Monday night.
Midway through that game, I thought: Hmm. Maybe, the Eagles are better than I thought.
A while later I thought: Man, the Lions could beat the Vikings if they play like this.
And then my phone started blowing up.
My son texted: “Call me crazy, but the Lions could win 11 games this year.”
Yes, he’s still young and hasn’t had his heart ripped out 45 times.
My daughter replied: “And you’re crazy.”
I responded: “No more day drinking.”
Then, my wife: “You all got suckered in with a single win.”
Back and forth it went — yes, this is what it’s like to live in a football crazy family.
But I have a feeling that conversation is going on in lots of groups of friends and families right now.
Do you believe? Or are you guarded?
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The Vikings looked awful on Monday night.
Then again, Kirk Cousins is always bad on Mondays. It’s like he’s living that song by the Boomtown Rats:
“I don’t like Mondays, I wanna shoot the whole day down.”
Yes, Cousins is horrible on Mondays. So I suspect he’ll be better Sunday.
And the Vikings will certainly score on Detroit’s defense.
But, man, can the Vikings keep up with the Lions? Can they stop Amon-Ra St. Brown, and D’Andre Swift, and T.J. Hockenson, and DJ Chark?
Oh, really? Watch out, Quintez Cephus will take your head off with a nasty block on an end around.
And Jamaal Willliams is sneaky productive.
The more I start to think about it, the more I believe.
Lions 35, Vikings 31.
Thirty-five is the new magic number for the Lions. And I don’t think the Vikings can score with the Lions. Not when St. Brown looks over at another team that didn’t draft him. The NFL is learning: Don’t tick him off.
I convince myself the Lions aren’t just going to cover. They are going to win.
Just like the Spartans and Wolverines.
This could be one wild weekend, folks.
(And if I’m wrong, like I was that one time back in 2012, I’ll smile at your emails).