Laughter was heard around the NFL when veteran quarterback Jon Kitna boldly predicted the Detroit Lions would win 10 games this season.
The Lions were coming off a 3-13 finish, so no one took Kitna seriously. But what he said, although still a long shot, is not such a big joke now.
Detroit is looking for its fourth win today, when it hosts the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Lions are 2-point favorites, and they are handicapper Lee Sterling's top play of the week.
"Detroit is a team that not too many people believe in even though they stand 3-2 and are right in the playoff hunt in a wide-open NFC," Sterling said. "A lot of that skepticism has to do with their history of losing season after season.
"I'm not saying this is one of the best teams in the NFC, but the Lions are vastly improved, and Kitna has them believing they can beat anyone on the schedule."
Detroit made an improbable comeback against the Chicago Bears in Week 4, scoring 24 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to win 37-27. The Lions also defeated Minnesota and Oakland but were blown out by Philadelphia and Washington.
After a 34-3 loss to the Redskins on Oct. 7, Detroit had a bye.
Sterling (paramountsports. com) said the Lions are 17-10 against the spread at home after scoring 10 points or fewer in a game. They also are 5-0 against the spread versus Tampa Bay.
The Buccaneers often struggle on the road, going 3-17 against the spread versus nondivision opponents.
"I like both the matchups and the fact that Detroit is coming off the bye week," said Sterling, a Miami-based handicapper who was the third-place finisher in the 2006-07 World Series of Sports Handicapping Football Contest.
Lions coach Rod Marinelli, the Buccaneers' defensive line coach two years ago, knows Tampa Bay's personnel well.
Detroit has depth at running back and should get a boost by Kevin Jones, who is healthy after a foot injury. Jones might share carries with Tatum Bell and T.J. Duckett.
"I look for the Lions' running game to pick up as Jones is healthy again," Sterling said. "If they are forced to throw, Kitna has tall and talented receivers who will have an advantage in the red zone against Tampa Bay's small cornerbacks."
Sterling breaks down the rest of today's Week 7 schedule:
• Arizona at Washington (-8) -- What a mistake the Cardinals made by keeping only two quarterbacks on the roster heading into the season. They now have lost both, and Tim Rattay is under center, although Kurt Warner hopes to play with a bad left elbow. Unless Edgerrin James rushes for 150 yards, they are in for a long day.
Look for the Redskins secondary to get at least two interceptions and set up easy scores for the offense in what should be a walkover win for Washington.
• Atlanta at New Orleans (-71/2) -- Last week's win at Seattle might have jump-started the Saints. Switching quarterbacks to Byron Leftwich sounds good for the Falcons, but Leftwich is not really an upgrade over Joey Harrington.
The Falcons are an amazing 19-2 against the spread as a 'dog in New Orleans, but that was in the past. Atlanta is the NFL's worst team and will lose by double digits for a second straight week.
• Baltimore (-3) at Buffalo -- Laying points on the road in the NFL when you have little or no offense is a recipe for disaster. The Ravens were 4-point road favorites twice this season, and both times they didn't cover the spread.
The Bills really like rookie quarterback Trent Edwards, who will get his third start.
• Minnesota at Dallas (-91/2) -- The Cowboys' hangover after getting destroyed at home by New England might be too much to overcome.
Teams win on the road by running the football and stopping the run. If there was any question who the best rookie running back in the league is, that question was answered last week when the Vikings' Adrian Peterson rushed for 224 yards against the Bears. Minnesota isn't flashy but should get the cover here.
• New England (-161/2) at Miami -- Tom Brady is 7-5 versus the Dolphins and has lost twice in Miami during his team's Super Bowl championship seasons. Last year, the Dolphins sacked Brady four times and held him to 78 yards passing in a 21-0 Miami victory.
The Dolphins won't win the game but should cover, and I look for defensive end Jason Taylor to have his best game of the season.
• San Francisco at New York Giants (-91/2) -- The Giants finally are clicking and are playing the best of any NFC team. The 49ers had fewer than 200 yards of offense in four of their five games this season, and if you can't score, you can't keep up with Eli Manning and what is turning into a potent New York offense. Manning is golden in October, going 8-1 against the spread since he started his professional career.
• Tennessee (-11/2) at Houston -- This is a tough game to figure out since Titans quarterback Vince Young might not play. Houston is on the rise, and with All-Pro wide receiver Andre Johnson back in the lineup, the Texans have more playmakers than a Tennessee team that needs Young on the field to function well on offense.
Houston is 11-4 off back-to-back point-spread losses, and that might be the difference as the Texans probably won't drop three in a row.
• Kansas City at Oakland (-3) -- As bad as Damon Huard is at quarterback for the Chiefs, he's much better than the Raiders' Daunte Culpepper, who threw two interceptions and was sacked six times last week.
Kansas City's defense is underrated and will be all over him. Look for running back Larry Johnson to be in midseason form and lead the Chiefs to victory.
• New York Jets at Cincinnati (-6) -- To stop the Bengals and what they do best, which is pass the ball, you have to play pass defense. The Jets are horrible in that category, ranking 27th in the NFL. They are allowing 243 yards per game on 67 percent completions. Carson Palmer will make Cincinnati fans forget their problems for at least a day.
• Chicago at Philadelphia (-51/2) -- After the Vikings ran over the Bears last week, I expect a better performance by Chicago's front seven on defense.
The Eagles are successful on offense when they run the ball to set up the pass. I expect a low-scoring game that goes under the total (42), with a special-teams play or a kicker winning it late.
• St. Louis at Seattle (-81/2) -- The Rams are playing their fourth road game in five weeks, and they are by far the NFL's most injured team. Their offensive line is a patchwork group, and Seattle's defense is its strongest unit and should stop the Rams.
Weather should be a factor, as rain is expected. I look for the Seahawks, behind running back Shaun Alexander, to wear down a St. Louis team that could be headed for a top-three selection in the 2008 draft.
• Pittsburgh (-31/2) at Denver -- With the Broncos missing their top wideouts, Rod Smith and Javon Walker, they have a shell of what used to be one of the AFC's best offenses.
Denver has scored more than 20 points only once this season and is riding a three-game losing streak. Make that four losses in a row after the Steelers whip up on the Broncos.
Compiled by Review-Journal sportswriter Matt Youmans.