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Consolation Prize: St. Louis and the Orioles Meet

By Chris Brocoum
sports columnist

The NFLnears the midpoint of the season. So far not a whole lot of meaningful stuff has been established. Or at least not at first glance. It takes expert analysis to determine the significance of the season thus far.

The problem is that not many teams are doing much of anything unusually good - or bad for that matter. Last week the games turned out numerous decisions by less than a touchdown. This does not mean that there haven't been some teams worth noting.

First, I feel it is my duty to note the state of the Jets and the Falcons. These teams are winless. If they can play in the NFL, MIT should play in the NFL. However, not to single them out, Cincinnati and Tampa Bay are seriously challenging the basement position at 16. Cincinnati seems to have taken a positive step by firing Dave Shula. Look for improvement sometime in the next 10 years.

On the other end of the spectrum, a few teams are establishing themselves as powerhouses. Well, Green Bay is establishing itself as a powerhouse. They are just dominating. Just one statistic that jumps out of the page - points for: 32.4, points against: 13.1. That is ridiculously good. At about half the level of Green Bay there is a mystically magic team, a couple of possibles, and an Elway.

Washington of course represents the mystical anomaly. Along with Green Bay and Denver, Washington has racked up a 61 record. A soft schedule and a touch of luck might start to explain their success, but basically people are going to have to admit that the

Denver is also looking strong, and I hate to admit it, but Elway might just get his shot. This weekend will be key when the Kansas City Chiefs come to town.

A wealth of 52 teams are all jockeying for position at the top of their respective divisions. Buffalo and Indianapolis are deadlocked atop the AFCEast. Pittsburgh blew it last week (I don't want to hear it), and they are now tied with Houston. Philadelphia and Dallas are lurking behind Washington. Minnesota seems a distant second to Green Bay even though they are only one game out. And Carolina and San Francisco are even in the NFCWest.

The key for the rest of the season will be who gets homefield advantage and who gets on a roll for the last four or so games of the season.

Now that all the boring analysis is out of the way, I have set the stage for this weeks picks. Here we go.

The picks, week 8

Buffalo and New England. The AFCEast is definitely the most heavily-contested division. Any game between these teams looks to be rough and well fought as well as extremely important for later in the season come playoff time. New England is coming off a key victory over the Colts. Take the Patriots.

Two possible contenders meet in Philadelphia. I'm getting sick and tired of the expansion Panthers winning so much. Make them wait their turn. Take the Eagles.

I'm still waiting for the Cowboys to come to town, but Indy will do. The Redskin Bandwagon will officially be pulled out of the garage and will begin touring after their victory over the Colts. It'll be a good game.

The New York Giants are wandering aimlessly. Detroit is just wandering. Take the Lions big time.

Pittsburgh at Atlanta. I have a great deal of disgust to get off my chest for the Steelers. Talk about reallyblowing it. They could have basically locked up the AFCCentral.

Instead they lost to the Oilers and are tied (author's note: I take some responsibility for jinxing them with my 10-game winning streak prediction. Therefore this week I will enter a much more reasonable nine-game goal). Look for a very focused Steeler team lead by a pissed off Bill Cowher to literally stomp on Atlanta. Atlanta is 07; why waste the effort to play?

St. Louis at Baltimore. Funny, but that sounds exactly like what the World Series should have been. It definitely doesn't sound like a good football game. Go for Baltimore in seven games, extra innings.

San Francisco at Houston has no direct significance except that both teams need a win to stay tied leading their divisions (brilliant observation isn't it? I might just consider a career as a color commentator). The Steelers reluctantly accept the Houston charity. Take the Niners.

Tampa Bay and Green Bay. First of all, Green Bay should probably be undefeated. Tampa Bay should definitely be winless. You figure out the math.

Cincinnati was already bad enough before Dave Shula got the boot. Now they are actually going to be worse. Take a lousy Jacksonville team to win.

Kansas City is heading to Denver. Look out. This is the game of the week by far. Both teams are solid and gritty. Look for Elway to work some magic in the Mile High City.

The Jets fail to heed my advice again:Neil O'Donnell just ain't gonna cut it. Chalk up another loss for New Jersey (after much discussion, the NFLhas decided that Arizona will be credited with .238 of a victory for beating the lowly Jets).

San Diego at Seattle means nothing in the grand scheme of things. It doesn't mean anything in the NFLeither. Take San Diego.

I don't like Miami much. But I like them a whole lot more than Dallas. Look for the Dolphins to get lucky. I'm serious.

Monday Night Special (note: this game is to be known as the Monday Night game that could have been): Da Bears at Minnesota. Two formerly powerful NFCCentral teams meet in a formerly key game. Then Green Bay came along and da Bears started to stink. Now just look for Minnesota to walk all over them.

Last week: 85 (this trend is good, but it has got to end), season record: 4730.

Shameless plug -coming next week: the Super Bowl prediction at the midpoint of the season.