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Maybe Kitna isn't crazy after all

Pigskin Pick 'Em

Posted: Friday, November 16, 2007

Jon Kitna could have been hosting the Academy Awards. Better yet, his statement should have appeared on the Emergency Broadcast System.

That's how far his prediction resonated across the country.

The Detroit Lions quarterback may as well have pinned himself to a clothesline because he hung himself out to dry before taking his first snap of the season.

Leaving himself open to criticism, laughter and mockery, Kitna boldly predicted the Lions, a team that's totaled just 22 wins in the past five seasons, would reach 10 victories this year.

"Are you crazy?" I recall thinking at the time.

It's OK. You can admit it. You were saying the same thing, too.

Funny how quickly things can change, though, isn't it?

Sitting comfortably in second place in the NFC North, two games behind the surprising Green Bay Packers, the 6-3 Lions it sounds awkward just saying it currently hold one of the two wild-card spots available.

So, who's chuckling now?

Any takers?

"Nobody expected it," said Lions receiver Roy Williams. "Hopefully, we're turning a lot of heads around the league. A lot of people laughed at us in the beginning of the season, but we're not a laughingstock any longer."

They certainly aren't.

Powered by Kitna and his ever-growing slew of receivers and a defense leading the league in takeaways (28), Detroit, undefeated at home, enters the toughest stretch of its schedule beginning Sunday when they host the New York Giants, another 6-3, second-place squad sitting behind the Dallas Cowboys, the NFC's other 8-1 team.

Following that contest, the Lions host the Packers on Thanksgiving, travel to Minnesota, host Dallas, head to San Diego, host Kansas City and close the season on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.

With the recent string of success, Kitna has changed his tune a little.

"I don't play this game for any other reason but to win a Super Bowl," he said before a 44-7 thrashing of Denver in Week 9. "I'm not trying to go to the playoffs. I'm not trying to win 10 games. I'm not trying to do moral victories. I'm trying to win in a Super Bowl."

For the time being, though, Kitna can't overlook the Giants, who are favored by three and are currently in possession of the remaining wild-card berth.

But there's more similarities between the two teams than meets the eye.

Kitna, predominantly a backup until taking the reigns in Detroit last year, and Giants quarterback Eli Manning can be wildly inconsistent at times, having combined to throw nearly as many interceptions (19) as they have touchdowns (26).

Both teams also lost premier running backs when Detroit's Barry Sanders and New York's Tiki Barber retired prematurely, leaving open the question of how good the Lions could have been had Sanders, by far the best running back in the game at the time, hadn't selfishly stepped down in 1999 just 1,457 yards short of Walter Payton's career rushing record.

Back to the present, though.

Boasting vastly different defenses, the Giants ranked eighth and the Lions 26th, both still feature maybe the best pass rushers in the game, especially with the Colts' Dwight Freeney lost for the season.

Detroit defensive tackle Shaun Rogers is having the best year of his career with an interception for a touchdown, two blocked field goals and 4 1/2 sacks, just one off his career best set in 2005.

Terrorizing Kitna, who's been sacked an NFL-high 37 times, will be defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who's forced three fumbles and leads the Giants with eight sacks, six coming in a win over Philadelphia.

A win on Sunday would go a long way toward ensuring that Kitna's preseason prognostication stands up.

Then again, they're playing the Giants, a team that won five in a row last season before dropping six of their final eight games.

Coincidentally, New York just ended a six-game winning streak with a loss to Dallas last week.

Do the math.

There's now seven games remaining. Exactly enough for the Giants to duplicate last year's disastrous finish.

LIONS, 33-31.

Arizona (plus 3) Cincinnati

Bengals aren't out of playoff contention ... yet. BENGALS, 41-27.

Carolina (plus 9 1/2) at Green Bay

Panthers are 4-1 on the road. A misleading stat considering they won at St. Louis, Atlanta, New Orleans and Arizona. PACKERS, 35-10.

Cleveland (minus 2 1/2) at Baltimore

The Browns favored at Baltimore? The times sure have changed. BROWNS, 27-20.

Pittsburgh (minus 9 1/2) at New York Jets

Steelers lead all-time series 16-2. Make that 17-2. STEELERS, 38-10.

Kansas City (plus 14 1/2) at Indianapolis

Colts haven't lost three in a row since 2002. COLTS, 38-17.

Miami (plus 10) at Philadelphia

If Ricky Williams were playing it may be a different story. But ... EAGLES, 28-14.

New Orleans (plus 1) at Houston

Reggie Bush makes Texans pay for not drafting him with top pick. SAINTS, 45-28.

Oakland (plus 5) at Minnesota

Adrian Peterson may be sidelined with an injury, but Daunte Culpepper is starting for Oakland. VIKINGS, 24-20.

San Diego (plus 3) at Jacksonville

Jacksonville defense is too much for LT. JAGUARS, 31-29.

Tampa Bay (minus 3) at Atlanta

Atlanta is quietly sneaking back into the mediocre NFC South race. FALCONS, 17-14.

Washington (plus 10 1/2) at Dallas

T.O. is averaging 38.3 yards in eight games against the Redskins, who haven't surrendered a 100-yard game to a receiver all year. REDSKINS, 24-23.

St. Louis (minus 3) at San Francisco

The 49ers last win came in Week 2 over St. Louis. It's Week 11, people. RAMS, 41-17.

Chicago (plus 6) at Seattle

Battle of the past two NFC champions. Neither come close this year. SEAHAWKS, 24-21.

New England (minus 16 1/2) at Buffalo

Pats have outscored the Bills by a combined 123-19 over the last four seasons in the teams' annual second meeting. PATRIOTS, 52-28.

Monday

Tennessee (plus 2 1/2) at Denver

Denver is 10-4 on Monday night under coach Mike Shanahan. BRONCOS, 20-17.

LAST WEEK: 7-6-1 (spread); 7-7 (straight up)

SEASON: 80-53-10 (spread); 90-54 (straight up)

Comments and criticisms can be sent to Clarion sports reporter Matthew Carroll at matthew.carroll@peninsulaclarion.com.



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