Once again, happy holidays to all.
No time to waste. The new year is close, close, close.
I blew my Charger prediction by ignoring all of my glowing words about San Diego and buying into a few kindnesses about the Titans. I said I wasn’t going to do that again. Arrgh!!!! 8-21, 89 yards, 2 interceptions? That’s just awful. It’s the kind of game that saps Comeback Player of the Year momentum. There will be something to play for in Week 17. San Diego 42, Tennessee 17.
(I’ll be darned if Jeff Fisher hasn’t been in the craziest pictures I’ve seen all year. That’s #3)
Playing Out the String. One factor that has made picking certain games prohibitively difficult for me has been the injury report and the game day status of many players. There have been several games this season where my picks went down the tubes because critical player A played in a game or missed the game, but the determination was not made until just before the game. So, when it comes to the Buffalo Bills visiting the Atlanta Falcons, I can honestly say that I have no idea who will be playing in this game. I do know that the Atlanta Falcons are 7-7, and that they have scored (and allowed) 312 points. I also know that they have beaten the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets, but not the Patriots. Back in Week 10, the Falcons were fresh off a big win vs. the Redskins and through one quarter vs. Carolina, Michael Turner has 111 yards on 9 carries…then the wheels came off. Turner was injured and the Falcons lost four of their next five conference games. Atlanta 14, Buffalo 13.
Something to Fight For. The Kansas City Chiefs have proven, in games vs. the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers that they can score points. The team has had an odd mix of players on the field this season. If someone told you that Chris Chambers would have more memorable catches for the team this season that Dwayne Bowe, the average Chiefs fan would have been shocked. Jamaal Charles’ supplanting of Larry Johnson is not quite as surprising — but that brings us to the heart of the matter. Larry Johnson is now a Cincinnati Bengal — and he’ll be as anxious to get on the field and march all over the Chiefs as Cedric Benson was to run at the Bears. Cincinnati blasted Chicago 45-10. After tough losses at Minnesota and at San Diego, sandwiched around the death of Chris Henry, I expect the Bengals to focus sharply and pound the Chiefs on the ground. The Bengals have already lost to every team in the AFC West. They need this game in many, many respects. Cincinnati 37, Kansas City 28.
Pure Hell for Steelers Fans. The Raiders are 5-3 in games decided by 8 points or less and have beaten the Steelers, Eagles, Broncos and Bengals. Last week, I noted that the Raiders have had a split personality this season. They have 6 losses by an average score of 32-6, and 3 losses by an average of 6 points. The Raiders have a chance to make this season be remembered for something more than Battery by Cable, or the Wayward Draft of Heyward-Bey, or the Elongated Delivery/Learning Curve of JaMarcus Russell. If the Raiders beat Cleveland and finish strong with a home win over the playoff hunting Baltimore Ravens in Week 17, Raider Nation will remember 2009 as the year the lights came back on in Alameda County. Oakland 28, Cleveland 18.
Yesterday’s News. So done. So four years ago. The Seattle Seahawks are just a mess. Then again, how many teams can afford to lose a player as talented and effective as LT Walter Jones? Not many. I bet TJ Houshmandzadeh wishes he’d stayed in Cincinnati — for more reasons than one. I wish he had as well. I bet a lot of things would be different in both places. Green Bay 33, Seattle 10.
In This Corner, Wearing Light Blue Trunks and Fighting for Survival. It is very hard to beat the Miami Dolphins in Miami unless you can run the ball. The Texans don’t run the ball often or effectively…and even if they did, it might not matter. Andre Johnson is coming home and will make some noise. But that’s not likely to be enough either. The Dolphins have lost 2 games at home all season long: to the Indianapolis Colts by 4 and to the Saints by 12. The memorable thing about both of those games is that the Dolphins had both of their visitors on the ropes and desperately looking for a way out. Peyton Manning found Pierre Garcon to turn that game around. Drew Brees found a secondary missing Will Allen more susceptible to the pass. The Saints needed 22 4th quarter points to keep Miami down. Houston is a decent team, but their lone significant win this season was at Cincinnati in a classic trap game (after Cincy’s 17-14 win at Baltimore). Miami 29, Houston 28.
The Head Bangers Ball. In nearly every game that I’ve picked the Steelers to win, they’ve lost. I feel like a Las Vegas oddsmaker. There is no point in over analyzing this game. Division rivals who really do not like one another are playing for a playoff spot. Whether the best team wins or not is immaterial. The game is going to come down to who makes the most plays — and whether or not the NFL is ready to part with Steeler Nation as a ratings draw. Santonio Holmes has scored touchdowns in every game (6) he’s played versus Baltimore since 2007. No Troy Polamalu, no Aaron Smith, and maybe — no James Harrison. Pittsburgh __. Baltimore __.
We Have to Stop BOTH of Them! Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams are coming to New York on Sunday…and if that wasn’t headache enough for Tom Coughlin and company, they also have to worry about Matt Moore and Steve Smith — the real damn Steve Smith…the one that gives DBs night sweats and breaks ankles and punces teammates in the grille and gets the crowd hyped and sells tickets and jerseys and popcorn…that STEVE SMITH, not the one with a franchise record 90 catches (and counting). If the Giants are going to the playoffs, the know they have to stop the running game of the Panthers. It is the combination of Stewart and Williams that make this team so formidable, regardless of their record. And most teams know, you may stop one of them but you rarely stop both of them. This is going to be a great test for the Giants. The Panthers were able to get pressure with four linemen last week. They were also able to keep Adrian Peterson bottled up and provide decent coverage with Chris Gamble and Richard Marshall. Home cooking! New York Giants 31, Carolina Panthers 28.
FINISH HIM!!!! The Jacksonville Jack Del Rio’s are annoying. I need them to lose and get out of the discussion of potential playoff teams. I have a deep and abiding contempt for the Patriots, but I’ll be rooting for them on Sunday. The Jaguars are not worthy. With -56 net points, the Jags might be the worst statistical entrant into the playoff field — if the Patriots fail to do their duty. Del Rio’s bunch have lost 3 of their last 4 games and they were the first team to begin the healing for Vince Young and the Titans. They blessed Seattle with a 41-0 “play it from the airport” game earlier this season. I still like Maurice Jones-Drew. Belichick : “Finish him!!!” New England 59, Jacksonville 14.
Closer than the Experts think! I like Tampa to find a way to make this interesting. It may not show up on the scoreboard. Still, I don’t think New Orleans has an easy time of it in this one. New Orleans 38, Tampa Bay 24.
Birds of a Feather Return to the Roost. I like the St. Louis Cardinals over the Arizona Cardinals. I like the Los Angeles Raiders over the Los Angeles Rams and, of course, the Arizona Cardinals over the St. Louis Rams. Arizona 48, St. Louis 20.
In Every Bundle, A Lemon. Detroit at San Francisco. It shouldn’t have to happen to anyone. Michael Crabtree missed the first five weeks of the season, but he ranks 5th among the rookie class with 41 receptions. I wonder what Shaun Hill and Alex Smith think about his holdout. Crabtree had to get his money (you get one shot, not two or three), but there was collateral damage. Next year, the 49ers need to draft another receiver if they can to really support what Crabtree and Vernon Davis can do. The Lions are going to get Gored. San Francisco 27, Detroit 6.
The Return of Weapon X. Is this the most emotion-filled non-division, non-playoff game ever played in Philadelphia? Brian Dawkins is coming back and he’s wearing orange. If you want a bunch of 250-lb. factory workers cry into their cheesesteak, this is your game. It is bigger than the Week 2 game versus the New Orleans Saints. The problem is that for all the emotion of this game, it won’t tell you much about either TEAM. The Eagles are a bona fide Super Bowl contender. The Denver Broncos are a smoke and mirrors who were exposed in consecutive weeks by the Steelers and Ravens — and if the Broncos lose this game, it will be those losses that likely knock them out of the playoffs — again. Philadelphia 42, Denver 17.
Reggie vs. Revis: A Little R & R. For most of my days, the Colts and the Jets were division rivals. Of course, for most of that time the Colts were not as good as they are now, but they have almost always had an entertaining offense. The marquee matchup here pits Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne vs. Jet CB Darrelle Revis. The Jets struck gold when they moved up in the draft to select the former Pitt DB in ’06. Revis has established a national reputation with shutdown performances against receivers like Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Andre Johnson, Roddy White, and anyone else willing to face him this season. This is the premier contest for the Jets, though. It should be a classic – and I think that Peyton will have to look elsewhere. Indianapolis 24, New York Jets 20.
Turn Out the Lights, the Party’s Over. The Redskins have tremendously loyal fans, but the team is in complete disarray. When a player on whom you’ve spent $100M publicly asserts that his coaches are against him — IN WEEK 16 — you have a problem. This team has more problems than it useful to enumerate. The Cowboys did a great deal to shed their image as the winter’s boys of slumber with a win over New Orleans. Personally, I’d like to see ’em do it again (As in, I don’t think they can.) Dallas is primed to enter the playoffs with a defense that allows fewer points than anyone in the NFC. That’s a statistic that travels well — indoors and out. Dallas 34, Washington 21.
Back On Track or Derailed?? Brett and the boys need to get it together — and fast. The Bears could care less, but with all their injuries I wonder what they’ll try to take away first? I wonder why the Vikings don’t use Percy Harvin more to scare the daylights out of their opponents. Minnesota 23, Chicago 21.