NFC East, AFC West up for grabs in season’s final week

Hard to believe a season that almost
never was is almost over. While most of the playoff spots have been
locked up there is still some drama remaining, including the NFC East
showdown between Dallas and the Giants and the final AFC wild card
spot. 16 divisional games are on the docket, which certainly isn’t a
foolproof solution to fixing some of these so-called meaningless
games, but nevertheless we are in for another fun finish.

Last week: 8-8

Season: 110-121-9

Buffalo at New England (-10)

Analysis: Could lightning strike twice?
The odds of that are as good as Foxborough having 80 degree weather
Sunday. The Pats got their obligatory wake-up call last week against
the Dolphins and the Bills got their obligatory “one for the road”
win, so this could get out of hand quickly. A nice holiday present
from Roger Goodell to send the Bills to New England, where they
haven’t won since 2000. Brady has a chance to catch Drew Brees in the
record books and the Patriots have not been swept by a divisional
opponent since 2000. This could get out of hand fast. The pick:

Carolina at New Orleans (-9)

Analysis: Record-setting Drew Brees
could see some bench time if the 49ers are rolling and the Saints are
locked into the No. 3 seed, which truly holds the keys to a Panthers’
upset. Rookie sensation Cam Newton has the Panthers rolling, tripling
last year’s win total, and as these two teams played a competitive,
30-27 game in Week 5, this could be another barnburner. The pick:

Chicago at Minnesota (pick)

Analysis: Hey, you can’t say Josh
McCown didn’t look like he was enjoying himself out there Sunday
night. Granted, dunking the ball over the goal post when you’re down
17 points in the fourth quarter won’t make you a lot of friends, but
the Bears had to be pleased they finally got a competent effort from
a Jay Cutler backup in what has been a lost season. Speaking of lost
seasons, you have to feel for Adrian Peterson, the lone offensive
bright spot in a miserable year for the Vikings. He tore his ACL and
MCL last week and could miss the start of next year. The smart move
for Leslie Frazier is to start Joe Webb, who has played well in
relief this year. Though the Vikings have won consecutive games just
once since 2009, Chicago hasn’t won in the Metrodome since 2006 and
may have just packed it in at this point. Khalil Bell was a bright
spot Sunday night, but the defense didn’t hold up its end of the
bargain, never a good sign if you’re the Bears. The pick: Vikings.

Detroit (-3.5) at Green Bay

Analysis: So you want to talk about
skeletons in the closet? Well last week Detroit shed a major one in
reaching the playoffs for the first time since 1999. Now they will
try and break an even bigger albatross when they attempt to get their
first win in Green Bay since 1991. Last week played out swimmingly
for Detroit, as Green Bay wrapped up homefield advantage yet isn’t
seeking 16-0 and New Orleans inched closer to a bye and beat Atlanta
in the process, meaning Detroit can avoid a return trip to the Big
Easy with a win. Aaron Rodgers is not likely to play the entire game
as many Packers regulars figure to sit, meaning the Lions could
finally end their Wisconsin hex and head into the playoffs with some
momentum. The pick: Lions.

Indianapolis at
Jacksonville (-3.5)

Analysis: The
“Suck For Luck” Bowl commences in Jacksonville at last. Well,
kinda. The Colts are still alive for the top pick in the draft, but
they are rolling at 2-13 and trying to follow in the footsteps of the
1986 Colts, who turned 0-13 into 3-13. Playing with pride against a
team playing with no direction and a miserable offense, they could
turn the trick. The pick: Colts.

New York Jets at
Miami (-1.5)

Analysis: Before
critics throw Mark Sanchez under the bus, they should consider
telling Rex Ryan to grow up. His loud-mouth antics have grown real
old real fast, and his supposed strength, the defense, is mediocre at
best. The Jets are a far cry from the team that reached the last two
AFC championship games, and they are catching the Dolphins –
despite their second-half collapse last week – at the wrong time.
Gang Green doesn’t deserve to be a playoff team this year and the
Dolphins, playing hard late in the year after a dismal 0-7 start,
should ensure New York is home for January. The pick: Dolphins.

San Francisco
(-10.5) St. Louis

Analysis: “Same
old sorry a** Rams.” Where’s Dana Stubblefield when you need him?
The league’s most anemic offense has a chance for the No. 1 overall
draft pick for the second time in three years, so the 49ers could be
off and running early here with a first-round bye in sight. With a
stout defense and strong running game, the Rams will likely pack it
in shortly after opening kickoff. The pick: 49ers.

Tennessee (-3) at

Analysis: The
Texans have nothing to play for and the Titans are trying to get into
the playoffs, so coupled with the Texans’ poor play of late and the
fact that they figure to rest most of their starters, Tennessee
should keep hope alive for a surprise playoff berth. They will be
undoubtedly be scoreboard watching throughout. The pick: Titans.

Washington at
Philadelphia (-9.5)

Analysis: It’s too
little, too late for the Eagles, but they are playing loose and
relaxed and Michael Vick is rediscovering his groove. The Redskins
are once again playing out the string and even though they have
played hard, they may be out of steam after losing at home to the
2-12 Vikings last week. The pick: Eagles.

Baltimore (-1.5)
at Cincinnati

Analysis: It’s
always dangerous to take the Ravens in a game they need, but their
saving grace could be the Bengals in a playoff-type atmosphere with a
rookie quarterback crumbling under the pressure. As bad as things
have been for the Ravens at times on the road this year, they need to
win this game as badly as anyone because of the disparity between
their home and road play. Hesitantly, I say they will. The pick:

Kansas City at
Denver (-3)

Analysis: Talk
about a juicy storyline. Tebow Mania would not have been made
possible had Kyle Orton not been ushered out of town earlier this
year. Orton led the Chiefs to a win over previously-unbeaten Green
Bay, but the Chiefs playoff hopes were dashed with an overtime loss
to the Raiders last week. But that won’t stop Orton and his teammates
from trying to knock Denver out of the playoffs, and they are
catching the Broncos at a very vulnerable time. Tebow’s aura has
significantly faded, and the pressure of a pending division title
could be the final straw. (Statistical oddity here as well: A Broncos
loss would mean all six of Denver’s divisional games would have been
won by the road team for the second time in three years. That is only
believed to have happened one other time, to the 2007 Panthers). The
pick: Chiefs.

Pittsburgh (-7.5)
at Cleveland

Analysis: The
Browns’ slim chances of an upset hinge on whether Big Ben makes yet
another miraculous recovery from the gruesome leg injury he suffered
against the Browns three weeks ago. It probably won’t matter, as the
Browns’ anemic offense usually kills the mood. Still, Charlie Batch
could have a turnover or two in him and the cold weather and slugfest
nature of these two teams could at least make it interesting. A
Steelers win is likely, but the Browns could muster up one final
decent effort. The pick: Browns.

San Diego at
Oakland (-2.5)

Analysis: The
Raiders are really the only AFC West team deserving of a playoff
berth, and even that truth is a reluctant one. Oakland has had its
share of ups, downs, and penalties (they are on pace to break the NFL
record) this year, but with the Chargers having thrown in the towel
for lame-duck coach Norv Turner, the Raiders should rise to the
occasion. The pick: Raiders.

Seattle at Arizona

Analysis: Too bad
for these two teams that they came up just short. The Hawks and Cards
made admirable second-half runs to come within shouting distance of
the playoffs, but ultimately fell short and will have to settle for
trying to get to .500. The Cardinals let one slip away in Week 3 when
Seattle beat them 13-10, but John Skelton has seemed to find a groove
with Larry Fitzgerald and as long as Arizona’s defense can somewhat
contain Marshawn Lynch, they should be the ones to get to 8-8. The
pick: Cardinals.

Tampa Bay at
Atlanta (-12)

Analysis: The
Falcons are smarting from the Saints running up the score on them
Monday night, so if they want revenge, perhaps they should take it
easy Sunday against the Buccaneers. At 9-6, the Falcons can still
squeeze into the No. 5 slot in the NFC with a win and a Lions loss,
but perhaps they should worry about fixing their defense first. Of
course, that shouldn’t be too difficult with the Buccaneers, losers
of nine straight, in town. Raheem Morris is almost certainly coaching
his final game with Tampa Bay, and it is quite evident his team has
packed it in at this point. For any players worried about their 2012
job security – and there should be plenty – this would be a good
time to play with a little heart. They should have just enough to
lose by less than 12, which would almost have to be considered a
victory at this point. Perhaps they can re-watch the game film from
Week 3, when they beat the Falcons 16-13 to go to 2-1. That must feel
like four years ago at this point. The pick: Buccaneers.

Dallas at New York
Giants (-2.5)

Analysis: What a
shock – Giants and Cowboys in prime time again. The league is
really abusing this flex-scheduling thing, but it’s what the “fans”
want. With the division on the line, this is another chance for both
teams to choke as is their MO in recent years. Tony Romo’s health is
a concern, as is the Cowboys’ penchant for blowing late leads. As bad
as things have been at times for the Giants, of the two they are
truly the only deserving playoff team. The pick: Giants.

Upset of the
Week: CHIEFS over BRONCOS. Kyle Orton has a shot to get back at the
team that unceremoniously dumped him for the unproven yet massively
popular Tebow, and the Chiefs look much more organized under him the
past two weeks. Kansas City has only one win at Invesco Field since
it opened in 2001, but their aggressive defense could be too much for
the struggling Tebow to overcome in a virtual playoff game for

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