Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Hail Mary - Week 15

The slate of games on Sunday are so good that this is the one time as a man you reclaim your balls. You let the wife/girlfriend/spouse/mistress know that you are busy on Sunday and will be on your duff watching football from 1 PM to 11 PM. There will be six games between teams with winning records, with most of those being divisional battles. With just three weeks left in the regular season every game starts to mean a little more. Some teams are fighting for playoff berths, others for things like playoff byes and home field advantage. In my biased opinion, the game of the weekend is the San Francisco 49ers traveling to New England to take on the red hot Patriots. The 49ers defense against the Patriots offense, a clash of the titans. When the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Dallas Cowboys is probably the 6th best game on Sunday, you know you are in for a hell of a football Sunday.


Thursday, December 13

Cincinnati (7-6) at Philadelphia (4-9), Cincinnati favored by 4 1/2

The Bengals missed a huge opportunity to take control of their destiny in capturing a playoff spot when they blew a nine point lead at home to the Cowboys. With both the Ravens and Steelers losing, a Bengals win would have meant not only holding the final playoff spot but also been right there with Baltimore for the AFC North crown. They proved that while they are getting better, they still can't win the games they should win when the pressure is on. They have a chance to rectify that tonight at Philadelphia. The Eagles finally got off the schneid, shocking the Bucs and ending their eight game losing streak. Nick Foles played his best game since taking over for Michael Vick and the Eagles showed that they aren't ready to roll over and quit. Tonight, the Eagles will attempt to end their four game home losing streak and put a huge dent in the Bengals playoff hopes. They will once again be without LaSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, and now Brent Celek. Their offensive line is also banged up and that is where the Bengals can dominate. I expect Foles to be running for his life most of the night, avoiding the pressure of Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson. The Eagles are a turnover prone team and the Bengals have the players to exploit that. They also have the offense to make some plays on the Eagles woeful defense, and after a quiet week last week, I think A.J. Green will shine.

Prediction: Cincinnati 24, Philadelphia 17 




Sunday, December 16

Jacksonville (2-11) at Miami (5-8), Miami favored by 7

This game has playoff implications in the sense that the Dolphins are still mathematically alive. They would basically have to win all of their games and then get a lot of help. Last week they finally seemed to figure out that Reggie Bush is their best option at running back and should be getting the bulk of the touches. Too little too late for the season, but if they follow that formula Sunday they should have no problem with the Jags.

Prediction: Miami 23, Jacksonville 14  

Minnesota (7-6) at St. Louis (6-6-1), St. Louis favored by 3

The loser of this game could see their playoff chances completely extinguish. The Rams have won three straight and have been winning on their backs of their young, up and coming defense. That doesn't bode well for Christian Ponder, who has played terribly since losing Percy Harvin to injury. The Vikings have also been awful on the road, with a 1-5 record. For them to have a chance it will be the same formula as every week. Adrian Peterson will have to have a monster game and Ponder will have to avoid making too many mistakes. Ponder can't seem to avoid crippling mistakes on the road, so I don't like the Vikings chances.

Prediction: St. Louis 21, Minnesota 14 

Washington (7-6) at Cleveland (5-8), Washington favored by 1

Will RG3 play or not play, that is the question. From everything I have heard this week, with him practicing and supposedly looking good, I expect Griffin to suit up and give it a go. It remains to be seen if he will make it through the entire game and how limited he will be with his injured knee. Idiots on DC sports radio keep talking about how the Redskins could be alright with a loss because the Browns are an AFC team, but that is a lie. The Skins are one back of the Giants in the NFC East and one back of the Seahawks and Bears for the Wild Card. If you are behind anyone, you can't afford any losses. The Browns are one of the hottest teams in the league, winners of three straight, although two of those wins came against putrid Oakland and Kansas City. For all the talk I have heard about Brandon Weeden playing better of late, he still has 13 TDs against 15 INTs. Even during the Browns winning streak he has just 2 TDs against 3 picks. With or without RG3, I think that Alfred Morris is the key to this game. If he keeps running like he has been, that will take a ton of pressure off the quarterback position. I think if Cousins does start we can expect Morris to get 25-30 carries, heck, even with RG3 in there, he might see that many. This will be a gritty, grind it out type of game, and with the hot streak the Skins are on, I wouldn't bet against them.

Prediction: Washington 24, Cleveland 21  

New York Giants (8-5) at Atlanta (11-2), Atlanta favored by 1

The Falcons will be looking for revenge after being embarrassed by the Giants in the playoffs last year. New York will just be looking for a win and to keep their lead in the NFC East. The Falcons were humbled last week at Carolina, and provided more fodder for the critics that doubt they are as good as their record indicates. For years, the Giants have been known as road warriors but currently have lost their last two road games. Neither teams defense is that strong, so their should be plenty of opportunities for Eli Manning and Matt Ryan. The difference will be the running game, as even if Ahmad Bradshaw doesn't play, I like the Giants rushing attack far more than the Falcons.

Prediction: New York Giants 30, Atlanta 22  

Green Bay (9-4) at Chicago (8-5), Green Bay favored by 3

The Packers can clinch the NFC North with a victory at Soldier Field. The Bears have dropped four of their last five games and the firing squad is forming around longtime coach Lovie Smith. If the Bears end up missing the playoffs, it would be the second straight season that happened after a 7-3 start. These games are always slug fests, and Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense always has a hell of a time with the Bears defense. It will help that Brian Urlacher won't be playing and the Packers defense usually makes life for Jay Cutler. The Packers are trending upwards while the Bears are stumbling, so I expect the Packers to wrap up the North on enemy turf.

Prediction: Green Bay 27, Chicago 17  

Tampa Bay (6-7) at New Orleans (5-8), New Orleans favored by 3 1/2

Both of these teams are still mathematically alive but are both unlikely to be able to make the playoffs. Neither team's defense is particularly strong, and I think the Bucs secondary is the tonic that Drew Brees needs to get back on track after three sub par performances in a row. If Brees can avoid throwing costly interceptions, I like the Saints to win the game on the last drive. 

Prediction: New Orleans 38, Tampa Bay 35  

Denver (10-3) at Baltimore (9-4), Denver favored by 2 1/2

John Harbaugh seemed to realize that even at 9-4 his team was pretty fraudy and fired his offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron. I'm not sure replacing him with the robotic Jim Caldwell will make much of a difference. The Broncos have won eight in a row but many of those wins have come against poor teams. The Ravens aren't a great team but they are a tough team to beat in Baltimore. I will take the Broncos Super Bowl chances much more seriously if they can pull out the win at M&T. Peyton Manning has always had trouble with the Ravens defense, but this isn't the same Ravens, even if Ray Lewis returns, and Terrell Suggs ends up playing. 

Prediction: Denver 28, Baltimore 21  

Indianapolis (9-4) at Houston (11-2), Houston favored by 8 1/2

The Colts are two games back of the Texans in the South but with two of their final three games against the Texans are still very much alive. The Texans are coming off an embarrassing loss at New England. Most disconcerting the last month has been the play the Texans defense, as they have been gashed in three of their last four games. Andrew Luck continued to pile up interceptions while his team found ways to overcome those mistakes and win. Luck will definitely be good for two or three turnovers in this game, and won't be able to pull a rabbit out of his hat this time.

Prediction: Houston 34, Indianapolis 27  

Seattle (8-5) at Buffalo (5-8), in Toronto, Seattle favored by 5 1/2

The Seahawks are unstoppable at home and the schedule breaks out perfectly for them as their lone remaining road game is actually in Toronto instead of Buffalo. The Seahawks are still very much in play in the NFC West, as a win here and a 49ers loss to New England, would have Seattle playing for first place next week at home against San Francisco. The Bills had a chance to stay in the thick of the AFC playoff race, but lost late at home to St. Louis and probably sealed the fate of their coach, Chan Gailey. Seattle is clicking on both sides of the ball while the Bills can never get both sides on the same, so all signs point to Seattle winning for the fifth time in six games. 

Prediction: Seattle 26, Buffalo 20

Detroit (4-9) at Arizona (4-9), Detroit favored by 6

For as good as the 1:00 games are this week, the 4:00 games, save for Pittsburgh at Dallas are as bad.  The only thing to watch for in this game is to see what new low the Cardinals can fall to with Ryan Lindley at quarterback. I mean seriously, Donovan McNabb or Vince Young isn't better than the poo poo platter the Cardinals have been putting on the field at quarterback?

Prediction: Detroit 28, Arizona 14   

Carolina (4-9) at San Diego (5-8), San Diego favored by 3

It was so Norv like that when it is leaked that he is a goner at the end of the season, the Chargers shock the Steelers on the road in dominant fashion. Knowing Norv, the Chargers will end up finishing 8-8 and he will somehow keep his job. The Panthers won impressively at home against the Falcons, playing how myself and many others expected when we picked Carolina to make the playoffs. 

Prediction: San Diego 28, Carolina 24  

Pittsburgh (7-6) at Dallas (7-6), Pittsburgh favored by 1

This game has massive implications for both teams. Neither one can afford to lose so expect to see some heavy hitting and tough, gritty play. These two teams have met in three Super Bowls, so it is always fun when they play each other. Eight years ago was the last time Ben Roethlisberger played in Dallas and he was a rookie at the time. I remember watching him in that game and thinking that the Steelers had really found something. Two Super Bowl titles later that has proven to be true and now they need him to try to carry them into the playoffs. The Steelers stunk the bed last week, but I expect the offense to play far better this week, and Tony Romo to do Romoish things that cost Dallas.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 29, Dallas 26  

Kansas City (2-11) at Oakland (3-10), Oakland favored by 3

Blech.

Prediction: Oakland 21, Kansas City 13  

San Francisco (9-3-1) at New England (10-3), New England favored by 5 

It is downright befuddling to me how few people are giving the 49ers a chance in this game. No denying the Patriots are hot right now. They have won 7 straight and Tom Brady is having another MVP like season. But the 49ers, especially their awesome defense are no slouches. They already took down Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees on the road, and I think they can hit the trifecta against Brady. The question mark the 49ers have is on offense, and QB Colin Kaepernick. Kap has proven to be a game manager like Alex Smith, but the difference is that Kap can break off a 50 yard run to seal a game like he did against Miami and Alex can't. If Kap plays poised like he did in the Superdome, which let's face it, is a much tougher place to play than New England, the 49ers can win on the back of their defense. It would be nice if Randy Moss can see a few balls as he returns to New England, and it will also be important to feed Frank "the tank" Gore consistently, as well as mix in the recently debuting LaMichael James. I know the 49ers have been hearing all week how little chance they have so I expect them to be amped for this game. 

Prediction: San Francisco 21, New England 20 


Monday, December 17

New York Jets (6-7) at Tennessee (4-9), Tennessee favored by 1

The Jets are still lurking for a playoff berth and the schedule lines up for them where 9-7 is entirely possible. However, with how inconsistent and bad they have been at times, 6-10 is just as likely. The Titans are terrible and have lost five of their last six games. Even with the Jets still having a sliver of hope to make the playoffs, this is an awful way to end the Monday Night football season. I expect to see lots of penalties, and generally awful football.

Prediction: Tennessee 19, New York Jets 15  

Last Week Against the Spread: 6-9-1
Overall Against the Spread: 92-109-7

Last Week Straight Up: 11-5
Overall Straight Up: 133-74-1

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