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NFL : SAM FARMER'S PICKS: WEEK 11

Ready for some football

November 14, 2008|Sam Farmer | Farmer is a Times staff writer.

Return men are a big deal for several NFL teams this weekend.

And that's not necessarily a reference to players who run back kickoffs and punts.

These returners are key players who are coming back from injuries -- Dallas quarterback Tony Romo and running back Felix Jones, New Orleans running back Reggie Bush, Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and St. Louis running back Steven Jackson.

Each of those players has the potential to be a difference-maker for a team in trouble.

The Cowboys, coming back from a week off, have lost three of four and are tied with Philadelphia for last in the NFC East, three games behind the New York Giants.

The Saints are in danger of tumbling out of contention in the NFC South, and need the big-play threat of Bush -- even as a decoy -- to get defenses thinking.

In Seattle, Hasselbeck is expected to return after missing five games with a bulging disk in his back. The two-win Seahawks are on their last gasp, but play host to the NFC West-leading Arizona Cardinals.

The Rams, who stunned the league with consecutive victories over Washington and Dallas, would love to get Jackson back for Sunday's game at San Francisco. He tried to play two weeks ago against Arizona, but found he was rushing the recovery of his strained thigh.

Jackson has practiced in a limited way this week, and Coach Jim Haslett said he's waiting to see him "open it up and go" before making a decision about playing him against the 49ers.

That theme could work for all these players. Open it up and go . . . or the season is gone.

Denver at Atlanta: On one side is the Falcons' big-bad offensive line. On the other, Denver's defense that's just, well, bad. Ball control wins this one. Pick: Atlanta.

Philadelphia at Cincinnati: Bengals quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is a Harvard man, but even an Ivy League education won't help him much against a mastermind like Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. Pick: Philadelphia.

Chicago at Green Bay: The Bears have won five of six meetings with the Packers, and four in a row at Lambeau. Look for a big day from Chicago rookie Matt Forte against a defense that can't stop the run. Pick: Chicago.

Houston at Indianapolis: The Texans have lost seven in a row on the road, and they have never won in six tries at Indianapolis. Those games were in the old RCA Dome, of course. Won't matter. Pick: Indianapolis.

New Orleans at Kansas City: The Chiefs are still a bad team, having lost 17 of 18, but they're actually inching closer to respectability. The Saints have lost their best cornerback, Mike McKenzie, and up-and-coming Kansas City quarterback Tyler Thigpen can exploit that. Pick: Kansas City.

Oakland at Miami: Bill Parcells has rebuilt his Dolphins the right way, with defense. Now it's time for Al Davis to rebuild his Raiders the right way, with dynamite. Pick: Miami.

Baltimore at New York Giants: It's hard to pick against the Giants at home -- or anywhere, for that matter -- but the Ravens will definitely put up a good fight. Joe Flacco is gaining confidence by the week, and Baltimore's defense is typically outstanding. Pick: New York Giants.

Minnesota at Tampa Bay: The Vikings showed some good things last Sunday, including great running by Adrian Peterson, but that was at home. They've lost five in a row at Tampa, and the Buccaneers still have a pretty solid run defense. Pick: Tampa Bay.

Detroit at Carolina: One of these weeks, the stars will align for Detroit and the Lions will catch an opponent unaware, pulling off a stunning upset. Not this week: Pick: Carolina.

Tennessee at Jacksonville: The Jaguars go from facing consecutive winless teams -- Cincinnati and Detroit -- to the league's only undefeated team. Actually, this game should be close. Pick: Tennessee.

St. Louis at San Francisco: Despite being disappointments, both of these teams have shown flashes of promise. The jury's still out on whether the Rams even fielded an actual defense last week against the Jets. Pick: San Francisco.

Arizona at Seattle: Even if Hasselbeck returns after sitting out the last five games, the Cardinals are simply a better team. Arizona is primed to break a five-game losing streak at Seattle. Pick: Arizona.

San Diego at Pittsburgh: Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera will try to take advantage of Pittsburgh's suspect offensive line. But until San Diego proves it can win a big game the way it used to, the nod has to go to the Steelers. Pick: Pittsburgh.

Dallas at Washington: Both teams are coming off a bye and licking their wounds after big losses. Tony Romo returns for the Cowboys, but he'll be facing a more seasoned Redskins team than the one that won at Dallas seven weeks ago. Pick: Washington.

Cleveland at Buffalo: The Browns, who have blown big second-half leads in consecutive weeks, need to find a way to finish. Buffalo has lost four of five after a 4-0 start. Brady Quinn will be the difference here. Pick: Cleveland.

Season record: 82-62.

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

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