All eyes will be on Lambeau Field Sunday afternoon, as the Green Bay Packers’ march to 16-0 continues against Oakland. In the evening they will turn to Jerry World, where the Giants and Cowboys will face off in the first of two meetings in the season’s final four weeks to decide the NFC East. As for me, I need a miracle to finish over .500. My chances are about as good as that of the Bills – as in non-existent.
Last week: 7-9
Atlanta (-3) at Carolina
is playing better with Cam Newton having an outstanding year and the defense
finding itself somewhat, but they have always had trouble with the Falcons.
Atlanta needs to bounce back after a questionable finish last week against
Houston, and at 7-5 can’t afford a letdown with a wild card spot and possibly
even a division title in their sights. The pick: Falcons.
Houston at Cincinnati (-3)
Yates held his own in his first career start, while the Bengals simply rolled
over for the Steelers. Still, Houston’s six-game winning streak has to end at
some point, and this may be the spot against a stingy defense trying to
preserve its surprise season. The pick: Bengals.
Indianapolis at Baltimore (-16.5)
Colts rallied for 21 points in the 4th quarter to lose by a
respectable 31-24 to New England last week, but moral victories mean nothing
when you’re 0-12. Baltimore can’t afford a letdown, and was able to avoid one
in Cleveland last week, but odds are they will take the Colts lightly enough to
keep the continually-battling Colts close enough to cover. The pick: Colts.
Kansas City at New York Jets (-10.5)
remarkable seeing the oddsmakers continually making the Jets such heavy
favorites. Mark Sanchez has played marginally better than his numbers suggest,
but New York will have to scratch and claw to get back to the playoffs. The Chiefs
are amazingly still alive in the tepid AFC West, and their chances for an upset
hinge on making plays on defense against Sanchez. Since that is a likely
possibility, a close game is to be expected. The pick: Chiefs.
Minnesota at Detroit (-10)
Vikings never cease to amaze in finding new and improved ways to lose. Perhaps
nearing the end of their Minnesota tenure, their biggest source of pride now is
to avenge a furious comeback by the Lions in Week 3, in which Detroit trailed
20-0 at halftime before rallying to win in overtime, 26-23. Adrian Peterson’s
likely return from injury gives them hope against a Detroit team feeling the
heat of being in a real playoff chase for the first time in over a decade, so
if Christian Ponder can minimize mistakes, Detroit will make enough to keep
this one close. The pick: Vikings.
New England (-9) at Washington
about great Patriots timing – again. Fred Davis and Trent Williams were
conveniently suspended this week for substance abuse violations they committed
– prior to the season. As is the Patriots luck, Washington’s top playmaker and
top offensive lineman are out, and hence so are any chances of keeping this one
close. Tom Brady lost in his only previous trip to FedEx Field – then proceeded
to win 21 straight games. The pick: Patriots.
New Orleans (-3.5) at Tennessee
will the final score of this game be? How about 23-17? That’s been the score of
the Titans’ last three games, two of them wins. The Saints are a different team
away from the Superdome, and with Chris Johnson on a roll, Tennessee has a
playoff berth within their sights. A New Orleans team that let down against the
Rams and the Bucs on the road may be in for a battle against the Titans. The
Philadelphia at Miami (-3)
Eagles are mathematically alive in the NFC East, but the red-hot Dolphins don’t
care. Miami has won four of five after an 0-7 start and is playing for pride
and Tony Sparano’s job. Michael Vick returns for Philadelphia, who should be
playing with a little more pride themselves after embarrassing losses to New
England and Seattle the last two weeks. The pick: Eagles.
Tampa Bay (-1) at Jacksonville
Freeman should return for Tampa Bay, but the Bucs are a mess. Then again, so
are the Jags, who rolled over for San Diego in Mel Tucker’s interim debut
Monday night. A once-glorified battle of North Florida promises to be a dud,
but the Jaguars’ offensive ineptitude could be the determining factor. The
Chicago at Denver (-3.5)
legend of Tim Tebow grows every week, but what will Brian Urlacher have to say
about it? The slumping Bears are hanging on for dear life while Jay Cutler, who
will miss his reunion game with the Broncos, tries to heal from a broken thumb.
Defensively they could make some things happen against Tebow, but with such
ineptitude on offense and now the absence of Matt Forte, unless the defense
scores, the Bears’ slide will continue. Note to Tebow: Be careful. Your next game
is against the Patriots, so steer clear of injury as best you can. It’s been
known to happen. The pick: Broncos.
San Francisco (-4) at Arizona
up the Cardinals! Arizona has caught fire, winning three of four after a
dreadful 2-6 start to creep back into wild card contention. Upsetting the NFC
West champion 49ers would be a major boost to a franchise looking for a
long-term answer at quarterback. San Francisco brings a defense to the party,
even without Patrick Willis, but one has to wonder about a letdown after the
joy of winning its first division title in nine years and the possibility of
looking ahead to a Monday night showdown with Pittsburgh. Patrick Peterson,
with an NFL-record-tying four punt returns for touchdowns in this his rookie
season, may hold the keys to an upset. The pick: Cardinals.
Buffalo at San Diego (-9)
anyone surprised the wheels have come off for Buffalo? Losers of five straight,
the Bills’ 5-2 start is a distant memory now. The Chargers, also 5-7, are very
much alive in the AFC West after throttling the lowly Jaguars on Monday night,
and need this one badly with Baltimore, Detroit, and Oakland looming. The
Chargers are always shaky as big favorites, but they are due in one of these
spots and the slumping Bills should be the perfect patsy. The pick:
Oakland at Green Bay (-11)
the train keeps rolling along. The 12-0 Packers have now won 18 straight dating
back to last year, surviving the Giants’ upset attempt last Sunday in the Meadowlands.
For all the talk about Green Bay’s supposed Achilles’ heel, their defense, they
came up with a pick-six in the first half last week and their aggressive style
of play is not something they plan to change. Oakland received an ugly wake-up
call in Miami last week, so their weaknesses are the ones that could be on
display here. It’s unlikely Carson Palmer and Co. will be able to muster enough
offense to hang with the Packers, even though Oakland is a competent enough
team to give Green Bay a game. The pick: Packers.
New York Giants at Dallas (-3.5)
Tom Coughlin can catch a break this week because the media simply won’t let go
of the fact that his counterpart here, Jason Garrett, dubiously iced his own
kicker last week in an overtime loss to Arizona. In the first of two meetings
in four weeks that will undoubtedly decide the fate of the NFC East, the Giants
need to find a way to pull it all together in the midst of a four-game slide
that has turned a 6-2 start into a 6-6 disaster. The last time they lost 38-35
to an undefeated team, they became Super Bowl champions, but would simply
settle for a win here. The big factor here is whether Big Blue will have the
services of their running back tandem, Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw. New
York has won three of their last four visits to Dallas, including a playoff
victory, and with the collar tightening around Garrett, Tony Romo, and the
Boys, this could be a resurrection spot for the G-Men. The pick: Giants.
St. Louis at Seattle (-9.5)
Analysis: Tim Brandstater anyone? No, actually, there is a chance Sam Bradford will play for the Rams, but will it matter? St. Louis is averaging less than 12 points a game this season, topping 16 just twice. Steven Jackson may be this generation’s Barry Sanders, at least to a degree – a great back with zero supporting cast. The Seahawks, at 5-7, are still alive in the wild card hunt and will face the Bears next week with a chance to reach .500 if they can avoid a letdown against the Rams. Blowing a 10-point fourth-quarter lead to the Redskins two weeks ago was damaging, but the Rams will provide a boost of confidence. Marshawn Lynch loves the spotlight and should carry the day again. The pick: Seahawks.
Upset of the Week: GIANTS over COWBOYS. Why not? I haven’t hit on one of these since taking the Niners over the then-undefeated Lions in Week 6. New York is two-for-two at Jerry World and is catching the Cowboys during their own usual late-season swoon. Big Blue should be brimming with confidence for giving the unbeaten Packers their toughest test yet. When they did the same in 2007 to the Patriots, they became Super Bowl champions. If Jacobs and Bradshaw are healthy, Eli Manning will be much more effective.