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Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Week 13 Pigskin Pick 'em/Eliminator preview

By AJ Mass
ESPN.com

Week 12 was not all that good. Maybe we should have expected a bit of a comedown after our successful Week 11, but sadly, we were under .500 both with and without the spread. We're a bit bitter that our record was marred by a half-point loss with the Redskins and the Chargers' fourth-down ineptitude on both sides of the ball, which led to their demise. However, we still have a lot to be thankful for, as things easily could be far worse. So, we're going to spend some quality time with the extended family, carve up some turkey and watch the Lions get thrown to the slaughter on national television. I wonder what people in other countries think of this bizarre annual ritual we Americans perform each November: eating a large feast of poultry, cranberries and mashed potatoes while watching gridiron gladiators duke it out from noon to midnight. It probably elicits the same sort of head-scratching that reading about some of these annual British celebrations will cause you to do. With that shaky premise for this week's selections out of the way, here's the Week 13 rundown:

Tale of the Tape
Week 12, Straight Up:7-9 (Overall: 105-70-1)
Week 12, Versus the Spread:6-10 (Overall: 87-89)

Thursday

Tennessee at Detroit (+11½)

In February, the first Sunday service in Dalston is reserved for clowns, who come to church in full makeup. This isn't much different than in the U.S., where the first football game each Thanksgiving is reserved for the Lions, who usually have spent the whole season playing like clowns. They might have snuck up on Tennessee, if it hadn't lost to the Jets. Now? Prepare for a lot of slipping on banana peels.

Prediction: Titans by 19

Seattle at Dallas (-12½)

On Whit Sunday in Gloucestershire, baskets full of bread are thrown at a wall near the old castle, and everyone rushes to grab as much as possible. Sounds like a day at the beach, where sea birds hover around your sandwich, hoping to steal a bite. Usually, though, they are no match for the alert sunbather, just as Tony Romo and Terrell Owens should be able to play keep-away and keep the Seahawks' secondary hungry.

Prediction: Cowboys by 10

Arizona at Philadelphia (-2½)

On Twelfth Night, church bells ring in the afternoon and the 'Lord' and his 11 'Boggins' head to town, where they are greeted by the 'Fool,' who gives a lengthy speech before they may continue on their way. Well, this sounds like the ritual of Philadelphia, where the 'Donovan McNabb' and his offensive 11 try to lead the Eagles to victory, only to be forced to sit and wait by 'Andy Reid.' It sounds like this festival is very positive in nature, so who knows? Perhaps the Eagles are on to something.

Prediction: Eagles by 2

Sunday

San Francisco at Buffalo (-6½)

On St. Blaise's day, lit candles are tied together and touched to the necks of people suffering from sore throats. With all the bad weather that is commonplace in Buffalo, perhaps the fans there might be willing to try this strange-sounding homemade remedy for sore throats. If that doesn't work, they should try Plan B: welcoming the 49ers to town. That should cure whatever has been ailing Trent Edwards.

Prediction: Bills by 10

Baltimore at Cincinnati (+7½)

On Guy Fawkes Night, in Shebbear, residents turn over a large stone that sits under an ancient oak tree to prevent the devil from escaping from underneath. After this season, nobody in Ohio is likely to be taking any such measures to prevent the underperforming Chad Ocho Cinco from escaping, although this ritual does sound like something Mr. 85 might perform after a touchdown. That is, assuming he ever gets back into the end zone.

Prediction: Ravens by 15

Indianapolis at Cleveland (+4½)

On May Day, dancers with ribbons interweave in an intricate pattern as they make their way around a pole. For the Colts, receivers run down the field interweaving in an intricate pattern as they make their way toward the goalposts. Peyton Manning then throws the football to them, and more often than not, they do a dance of their own.

Prediction: Colts by 1

Carolina at Green Bay (-3½)

On Spring Bank Holiday Monday, it is customary for a round cheese to be rolled down a hill and chased by competitors, with the first person to grab the cheese declared the winner. Cheese? Sounds familiar, but I'm not quite sure why. Assuming Ryan Grant can avoid his pursuers, the Packers should end up the winner in this competition.

Prediction: Packers by 5

Miami at St. Louis (+7½)

On Easter Monday in Leicestershire, ale is placed in bottles and blessed. Two rugby teams then prepare for a game as spectators attempt to hurl the bottles into the opposing team's stream. To be honest, the rules of this British game are a bit murky to me, but the upshot appears to be that the winner is the one who reaches the water successfully. That sounds more like a Dolphin than a Ram to me.

Prediction: Dolphins by 14

New Orleans at Tampa Bay (-4½)

A Derbyshire festival involves the decorating of wells with framed panels covered in flowers, seeds, grass, tree bark and anything of a topiary nature. That can mean only one thing: Reggie Bush shall return, and the celebration among New Orleans Saints' fans can begin. But it shall be a temporary high, as the Saints' playoff chances fall down that well with a loss to Tampa Bay.

Prediction: Bucs by 7

Giants at Washington (+3½)

In Cornwall, in February, the whole town plays a giant game of hurling. After hours of play, whatever townsperson is holding the silver ball as the clock strikes noon is declared the big winner. The way that Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Clinton Portis are running the ball this season, the one who has the ball in his hands as the referee blows his silver whistle likely will be declared the big winner of this divisional tilt.

Prediction: Giants by 10

Atlanta at San Diego (-5½)

Each year in the River Thames, rowboats head out to capture the local swan population and designate which new offspring are officially property of the Queen. After a strong rookie campaign, there's no doubting Atlanta fans will be more than happy to claim Matt Ryan as property of the Falcons for many years to come.

Prediction: Falcons by 1

Denver at Jets (-7½)

On Sweeps Day, a festival honoring the oldest workers in the country is held. All hail the chimney sweep. After upsetting the league's lone remaining unbeaten team, the Meadowlands will hold a festival of its own, honoring one of the most respected veterans in the league. All hail Brett Favre.

Prediction: Jets by 15

Kansas City at Oakland (-2½)

On Holy Saturday in Lancashire, people paint their faces black and wear exotic costumes in honor of the mining roots of the town. No word on whether or not donning a Darth Vader mask counts as joining in the festivities, but these days, it's a rare day when Raider Nation gets to be optimistic about its chances of winning, so we're going to throw it a bone against the Chiefs.

Prediction: Raiders by 6

Pittsburgh at New England (-1½)

New Year's Eve in Northumberland is celebrated by men carrying pans of blazing tar on their heads. I'm trying hard not to think about what happens if one of these pan-carriers suffers from bad posture. Still, blazing tar conjures up images of steel mills, so I'm going with the Pittsburgh posse in a nail-biter against the Patriots, who are bound to have Matt Cassel come back to earth a bit this week.

Prediction: Steelers by 1

Chicago at Minnesota (-3½)

Every winter on Up-Helly-Aa night, Shetlanders dress up in Viking clothes and drag a model Viking ship through the town and out to the sea. They sing songs of praise to the great Vikings of yore. You can't spell Up-Helly-Aa without AP, so we're going to go with Adrian Peterson and his Vikings of today to be worthy of songs of praise.

Prediction: Vikings by 1

Monday

Jacksonville at Houston (-3½)

Plough Monday is a celebration that sees a man in a straw animal costume paraded around the town. The Texans' defense has been performing well of late. Could it be the straw man they are carrying around this Monday is none other than David Garrard? By the way, be thankful we're sticking with British festivals, because for the same festival in Italy, the "straw man" is replaced by "cross-dressing goose dancers." Garrard probably is thankful, too.

Prediction: Texans by 1

Eliminator

The ESPN Eliminator requires you make one and only one pick each week. You win, and you live to pick again. You lose, and it's all over. In Week 12, we hit once again with our primary pick of the Steelers, and of our five options, we failed only to foresee exactly how badly the Broncos would perform against the Raiders and Darren McFadden. Still, we scored 12 out of 15 possible points and kept our success rate at 78 percent for the season. Just this past week, British revelers celebrated Old Clem's Night, which celebrates the patron saint of blacksmiths and metalworkers and features the rollicking beggar's ditty, "Cattern and Clemen, be here be here! Some of your apples and some of your beer!" In other words, these beggars will take whatever they can get, which is kind of like the diet of the omnivorous Ravens. This week, they'll be feasting on Bengals, and you should feel free to select them accordingly. In the event you've already used the fine team from Baltimore, here's the full list of our top picks for this week's Eliminator, in order of our confidence:

DEFCON 5: Ravens
DEFCON 4: Titans
DEFCON 3: Cowboys
DEFCON 2: Jets
DEFCON 1: Dolphins

Good luck to all of you, and remember, it's only a few more months until Shrove Tuesday comes around again, so be sure to have your pancakes ready for the eating!

AJ Mass is a fantasy football, baseball and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.