Three games are in the books for Week 12. The Packers, Cowboys and Broncos got a leg up on the Week 13 competition by winning on Thursday. These teams have 9 days to refine what worked. The Lions and Raiders are on 2010 Watch, and the Giants have more than a week to prepare for the Cowboys’ visit to the Meadowlands. Let’s get to the rest of the league.
Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings. The beat-up Bears are 4-6 and on life support. They have nothing more than a “technical” chance of making the playoffs. With only two conference wins, Chicago ranks 10th in the NFC playoff chase. Every team ranked lower than Chicago (except for Seattle) has been ridiculed all season long. Minnesota is rolling. If this game were against any team other than the Bears, it would be the perfect trap game. (Vegas Note: I wonder if anyone keeps stats on division rivalry following the holidays?) I thought Sidney Rice was going to emerge a year ago. He has been worth the wait. The defense is tough and can stop the run without over-committing. The extended absence of Antoine Winfield has only served to make this defense deeper. Cutler’s up-close-and-personal with his inspiration should be interesting, but not too interesting. Minnesota 34, Chicago 10.
Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals. Cincinnati just fell into the Raiders trap. Cleveland is one week too late. Too bad. Cincinnati 45, Cleveland 0.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons. For the first time in a long time, the league may get a glimpse of Atlanta’s “Full Monty.” Michael Turner is healthy enough to run all over the Bucs — even with a new defensive coordinator (head coach Raheem Morris). Jerrious Norwood is back. Jason Snelling is ferocious. This could be the fastest game of the day. Atlanta 37, Tampa Bay 17.
Arizona Cardinals at Tennessee Titans. The run is over. The Titans excel at running the ball. The Cardinals excel at stopping the run. Ken Whisenhunt knows the Titans like the back of his hand — and they know him. The problem for Tennessee is that they knew Whizz when is receivers were Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Antwaan Randle-El and Cedric Wilson. This is a whole different deal. Vince has been masterful, but he hasn’t proven he can beat players like Adrian Wilson, Antrel Rolle and Dominique Rogers-Cromartie. His introduction to Wilson and Karlos Dansby should be interesting. Arizona 34, Tennessee 24.
Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers. Even though the Chiefs won last week vs. the Steelers, this still constitutes the perfect trap game because the Chargers are at home, in first place, and fresh off a win vs. the hated Denver Broncos. The Chargers have every reason to look past this game without thinking that’s what they’re doing. Kansas City benefitted from special teams and turnovers. San Diego wins a close one. San Diego 17, Kansas City 14.
Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans. If not now, then when? The Texans have to win this game or they can never really expect to beat the Colts until Peyton Manning retires. The Colts come to town without Bob Sanders…without Dwight Freeney…and without a convincing win in more than a month. The Texans were sitting pretty a few weeks ago. Now, they’re just sitting. Andre Johnson has to dominate. Today is the day. Houston 31, Indianapolis 28.
Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills. Miami is too strong even without Ronnie Brown. Buffalo competes, but they continue to come up short. Last week’s loss at Jacksonville was contrasted by the emergence of Terrell Owens…but how long will that last? Miami’s pass defense is usually equal to the task. Miami 26, Buffalo 14.
Carolina Panthers at New York Jets. Another matchup of strength vs. strength. The Panthers are best on the ground. The Jets are best against the run. The Jets even have a cornerback willing and able to shadow Steve Smith all over the field all day long. That’s arguably the best matchup of the weekend. I like Revis and company to win…but the Jets lack the toughness to win convincingly. New York 21, Carolina 19.
Jacksonville Jaguars at San Francisco 49ers. The last time the Jags went west, they were smoked by the 3-7 Seahawks 41-0. I think they find a way to repeat. San Francisco 30, Jacksonville 20.
Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles. A broken clock is right at least twice a day. The Redskins showed they can still play inspired football last week in Dallas. I like that inspiration to bear fruit this week. Washington 24, Philadelphia 23.
Seattle Seahawks at St. Louis Rams. The Seahawks are just struggling to find their way. It’s not like they’re a young team experiencing growing pains. Instead, they are an aging team who has failed to replace Shaun Alexander with a viable alternative. The receiving corps vacillates between the injured list and the ineffective list. Matt Hasselbeck can barely stay upright and Walter Jones is closer to Canton than training camp. St. Louis is going to find a way. St. Louis 31, Seattle 26.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens. I want to pick the Steelers. I really do. It’s a road game. Dennis Dixon is starting and the Ravens are ripe for the picking. It’s a little known secret that the Steelers defense (without Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith) has surrendered the fewest touchdowns in the league this season. They’re also ranked first in run defense and total defense. What the hell. I’ll ride the rookie and hope he can snatch some Oregon magic from the hungry Ravens. Pittsburgh 23, Baltimore 10.
New England Patriots at New Orleans Saints. I’ve been saying for weeks that I do not believe the Patriots are for real. I don’t believe they are back to their 2007 form. I do not believe that Brady and Moss are back. (I know Darrelle Revis doesn’t think those two are back.) Brady and Wes Welker are fine — but what QB and slot receiver aren’t fine? The Patriots defense is not even remotely impressive. The Saints, however, have to run the ball to counter schemes against the passing game. Perhaps the greatest strength of the team is actually the running game. Aside from Marques Colston, the Saints do not have an elite receiver. They have elite pass catchers at tight end and running back — but not in players like Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem. Still, the most important player on the field Monday night is likely to be Darren Sharper. He may not get an interception, but he is unlikely to bite on a fake and get beat deep over the top by Moss. I like Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell to make an impression on the Patriots interior linemen and the rest of the nation. New Orleans 41, New England 17.
A Blind Man’s Addendum: I had no idea that Matt Ryan was out for Atlanta.