Hey, a Thursday night win! I’m off to a
good start to a week for the first time this year. And now we kick
back Sunday to enjoy what figures to be a good finish to the year.
Patriots-Broncos headlines things, with Ravens-Chargers and
Steelers-49ers following suit. Other games will feature teams simply
playing for pride or their coaches’ jobs.
Last week: 9-7
Dallas (-7) at Tampa Bay
Analysis: Raheem Morris is still the
coach in Tampa despite a report that the Bucs intended to fire him
Monday. They have lost seven straight, so perhaps there actually is a
team that is under more scrutiny than the reeling Cowboys. They blew
a 12-point fourth-quarter lead for the third time in 2011 and it could cost
defensive coordinator Rex Ryan his job, with more heads rolling with a letdown here. Tampa Bay gets an undeserved prime-time game and
a chance for Josh Freeman to silence some critics, while Dallas can’t
seem to avoid playing tight games, so the Bucs should cover. The
Panthers blew a 16-point lead last week, while Houston had a defining
moment under rookie T.J. Yates, driving for the winning score with 2
seconds left against the Bengals. While winning out could get Houston
home-field advantage, this could be a classic letdown spot against a
Carolina team that plays hard every week. The pick: Panthers.
at St. Louis
Analysis: The Rams
anemic offense makes playing competitive games quite difficult for
the 2-11 Rams. St. Louis is playing for its coaches job, as Steve
Spagnuolo is on the hot seat, while the Bengals are fighting for
their playoff lives. What a brutal loss last week, as the Bengals
watched third-string rookie quarterback T.J. Yates drive the Texans
for the winning touchdown with 2 seconds remaining. It has been a
great turnaround year for Marvin Lewis’ young team, and they bring
enough of a defense every week to stay competitive, but with all the
pressure on them, this one could be a struggle. The pick: Rams.
Green Bay (-13.5)
at Kansas City
Analysis: The Todd
Haley era is officially over, and thus so too is the disastrous Tyler
Palko era. Kyle Orton could give the Chiefs a slight spark, but
points are always at a premium for the injury-riddled Chiefs, meaning
hanging with the unbeaten Packers could be asking too much. The
Miami (-1.5) at Buffalo
Analysis: Tony Sparano is gone, so one has to wonder if the Dolphins, who always fought hard for him, will have the same kind of battling mentality for interim coach Todd Bowles. The woeful Bills have lost six straight but figure to have one last decent effort in them before fading into the offseason once again, and with Denver and New England to follow, this might be it. Good news on the Patriots conspiracy front: Matt Moore suffered a mild concussion and is expected to play. Miami visits New England next. The pick: Bills.
New Orleans (-6.5)
woeful Vikings found life with Joe Webb last week, but their porous
defense will need a miracle to stop the Saints playing in a dome,
even if it is a road game. New Orleans has a second division title in
three years within its sights, and after previous letdowns against
Tampa Bay at St. Louis, they should keep their poise here. The
Seattle at Chicago
Barber became a major goat last week, and got himself into more
trouble this week by not speaking to the media and incurring a fine
from the league. Matt Forte is unlikely to play and Jay Cutler is
still out, but this Bears team should be playing with a chip on its
shoulder and its defense should have no problem with Tarvaris Jackson
and Seattle’s weak passing game. Keeping Marshawn Lynch under wraps
is never easy, but Seattle is not a strong road team and the Bears,
who lost to the Hawks in the regular season at home last year before
blowing them out in the playoffs, need a win with a visit to Green
Bay looming and their playoff hopes fading. The pick: Bears.
this finally be the week? The 0-13 Colts are running out of time and
chances. Houston comes in next, leaving a visit to Jacksonville as
their last hope for a victory. Matt Hasselbeck is banged up but
expected to play, and the Titans really need this one with the
playoffs in sight. Still, the Colts have fought hard against top
teams the last couple weeks, at least as much as can be expected. As
their coach may simply be playing out the string, expect a good
effort from Jim Caldwell’s bunch, even if a win isn’t in the cards.
The pick: Colts.
Washington at New
York Giants (-6.5)
Analysis: So the
Giants are back, right? Rallying from a 34-22 deficit for a 37-34 win
in Dallas Sunday night snapped Big Blue’s four-game losing skid, and
now it’s time to exact a little revenge against a Redskins team that
beat them, 28-14, in Week 1 with Rex Grossman throwing for 300 yards
and three touchdowns. New York’s suspect defense should have no
problem with the sliding Skins, who are 1-8 since a 3-1 start. The
Giants can be a liability off a big win, but with their playoff and
division hopes very much alive, this is no time to let down their
guard. The pick: Giants.
Detroit (-1) at
two playoff hopefuls that no one expected are slumping after strong
starts. The Lions do get Ndamukong Suh back, giving their defense a
much-needed boost. But can they get back to winning on the road? The
Raiders, who suffered a blowout loss to Green Bay last week, are
struggling to find offensive consistency, especially in the first
half the past two weeks, where they have been outscored by combined
51-0. Matthew Stafford will need to have a big day, as the Lions have
struggled to run the ball most of the year, but Calvin Johnson should
pick up the slack. The pick: Lions.
are hot in Cleveland alright – as in one hot mess. Colt McCoy got
knocked senseless by James Harrison and the Steelers, but give the
Browns credit for hanging tough despite their listless offense.
Arizona is rolling, having won five of six after a rotten 1-6 start,
and still has an outside shot at the playoffs. Tight wins the past
two weeks against Dallas and San Francisco certainly have given them
confidence, but can they avoid a letdown against lowly Cleveland?
It’s tempting to go with the Browns in this spot, but Beanie Wells
and Larry Fitzgerald have hot hands right now and Arizona should do
enough to get by. The pick: Cardinals.
New England (-6.5)
Analysis: What is
a more shocking number: That Tim Tebow is 6-1 as a starter, or that
Tom Brady is 1-6 lifetime against the Broncos? Believe it or not Bill
Belichick has more wins as Patriots head coach against Denver with
other quarterbacks (Bledsoe and Cassel) than he does with Brady, but
Denver’s miracle run likely ends here against the Patriots, who know
a thing or two about miracles and fortuitous breaks. Though Denver
has had the upper hand in this series lately, Tebow and the Broncos
simply will not be able to score enough points to keep up with New
England, and they also don’t figure to have an answer for Rob
Gronkowski. The pick: Patriots.
New York Jets at
miracles are needed, the Eagles live to see another week in the NFC
East. The 8-5 Jets quietly marching towards a third consecutive
playoff appearance, but have struggled this year with quality teams.
Philadelphia may not quite be that, but they are a much more
dangerous bunch with Michael Vick under center, and Andy Reid has
always been able to rally his troops when things look their bleakest.
The pick: Eagles.
at San Diego
come the Chargers again… sort of. At 6-7 and with Denver likely to
lose to New England, the Chargers are still very much alive in the
AFC West. Though they have yet to beat a team with a winning record
other than Denver (who they beat before Tebow was a starter), San
Diego is getting hot in December yet again, and the Ravens seem to
let down when they need a win the most. Philip Rivers could have a
big game and Joe Flacco could struggle. Needing to win out to get
home-field advantage, knowing that New England has a cakewalk the
rest of the way and Houston also could get to 13-3 could put too much
pressure on Baltimore. The pick: Chargers.
Pittsburgh at San
Analysis: It appears as it Ben Roethlisberger will play, meaning the 49ers could be in for their first losing streak under Jim Harbaugh. Even with James Harrison suspended for the Steelers, Alex Smith figures to struggle to put up enough points to create any separation, meaning Big Ben could pull one out at the end. Patrick Willis is out for the Niners, and with Baltimore losing and the Steelers now controlling their own destiny for homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, they won’t slip up here against an overachieving bunch. The pick: Steelers.
Upset of the
Week: PANTHERS over TEXANS. Sounds like a bit of a reach, but Cam
Newton and the Panthers are always dangerous though they haven’t
learned how to win. But the Texans could let down their guard even
with home-field advantage in sight, and if Andre Johnson can’t go,
Steve Smith, who made big plays in this stadium in Super Bowl
XXXVIII, could steal the show.