Friday, December 21, 2012

The Hail Mary - Week 16

Last week's bonanza of upper echelon games didn't quite live up to the hype. Many of the game between teams with winning records were blowouts. However, the Steelers/Cowboys and the Patriots/49ers games lived up to the hype and showed the NFL at its best. This weekend there are just three games between teams with winning records, but every game but two has some sort of playoff implication tied to its result. The game of the weekend once again features the 49ers facing a difficult road test at Seattle. The Niners have already mowed through Lambeau, the Superdome, and Gillette, they now look to add CenturyLink Field and their 12th man to the list.

Saturday,  December 22

Atlanta (12-2) at Detroit (4-10), Atlanta favored by 4

It is kind of nice to see that things are back to normal and the Detroit Lions suck at football. Calvin Johnson may have overcome the Madden Curse after a slow start to the season, but we can now say the curse struck the Lions. Detroit has lost six straight and it would take an upset in one of their last two games to avoid ending the season on a 8 game losing streak. I'm not really talking about the Falcons because really who cares about Atlanta and regular seasons. They can get home field advantage and no one will really be scared to play them at the Georgia Dome after the Packers made them mince meat their two years ago. For Atlanta, it really is all about how they perform in the playoffs.

Prediction: Atlanta 34, Detroit 20

Sunday, December 23

Buffalo (5-9) at Miami (6-8), Miami favored by 4 1/2

The Dolphins are still technically alive for a playoff berth but it would take a tremendous confluence of events to happen for them to sneak in. More realistically, they are playing to finish their first season under Joe Philbin and Ryan Tannehill at .500 and have something to build from. Bills fans are hoping they have just two games left of the Chan Gailey and Ryan Fitzpatrick era.

Prediction: Miami 24, Buffalo 16

Minnesota (8-6) at Houston (12-2), Houston favored by 8 1/2

Another huge game this weekend is in Houston. The Texans can clinch home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win, while the Vikings need to keep winning to try to stay in the playoff picture. It is amazing that without a viable passing game, RB Adrian Peterson continues to run at a record pace. He is only 188 yards from a 2,000 yard season, and that isn't even what people are talking about. They basically assume Peterson will get that, the real question is will he break Eric Dickerson's single season record of 2,105 rushing yards? The Texans are 5th best in the league against the run so Peterson will have his work cut out for him. Christian Ponder has to avoid any mistakes and Vikings will have to play excellent defense to stay in this game. I think they will be competitive, but Peterson alone can't will them to victory against a top flight team.

Prediction: Houston 23, Minnesota 20

Washington (8-6) at Philadelphia (4-10), Washington favored by 4 1/2

Well, Kirk Cousins and Mike Shanahan sure made a lot of people look foolish last weekend. They made people that thrashed the Skins for picking Cousins in the fourth round look foolish, and they made people talking about how they should have played Sexy Rexy instead look really foolish. Now it appears that the reigns will be handed back to RG3, who from all indications will start on Sunday. This game is making me nervous as Skins fans are dangerously assuming this is a victory. Sure, the Eagles are terrible but they still are professionals and aren't just going to roll over, especially at home. They also get back RB LaSean McCoy, who will be raring to go after sitting out the past month with a concussion. The Redskins will be hoping that Bryce Brown still receives plenty of touches since he is good for a fumble returned to the house at least once a game. The big question is will Griffin show any rust or will it be business as usual? I expect this game to prove to be a tense affair, with the Skins scratching and clawing their way to victory and just one win away from their first NFC East title in 13 years.

Prediction: Washington 28, Philadelphia 21

New Orleans (6-8) at Dallas (8-6), Dallas favored by 3

The Cowboys and Redskins are headed towards a prime time showdown next Sunday night for the division title and possibly just to make it into the playoffs. Before that the Cowboys have to handle their business at home against the Saints. I want to pick New Orleans in this game but they have been mostly dreadful on the road, especially QB Drew Brees. The battle between Brees and Tony Romo could either be exquisite, or one that is downright ugly and filled with turnovers. I am going to go with the former, but think the Cowboys defense being better than the Saints defense, will be the difference.

Prediction: Dallas 35, New Orleans 31

Tennessee (5-9) at Green Bay (10-4), Green Bay favored by 12

The Packers wrapped up the NFC North with their victory over Chicago last weekend and now in a battle with San Francisco for the second seed and a bye the first week of the playoffs. The Packers sometimes play down to their competition and surprisingly the offense hasn't broken 30 points in over a month. I think the Pack are due to have a breakout game against a bad Titans team. 

Prediction: Green Bay 35, Tennessee 17

Indianapolis (9-5) at Kansas City (2-12), Indianapolis favored by 6

The Colts can wrap up a playoff berth with a victory at lowly Kansas City. They received great news this week, as head coach Chuck Pagano is expected to rejoin the team Monday after being given a clean bill of health from his doctors. What better way to celebrate Pagano coming back then with a playoff berth secured. 

Prediction: Indianapolis 27, Kansas City 14

San Diego (5-9) at New York Jets (6-8), New York Jets favored by 3

Absolutely no reason to watch this game, including even if you are a Chargers or Jets fan. The way that Jets blew that abortion of a game on Monday night against the Titans was comical. Now with the season over, coach Rex Ryan has decided it is finally time to pull Mark Sanchez. Too little too late for Rex and the Jets, but I have to say Rex deserves a ton of credit for dragging this rag tag bunch to 6 wins.

Prediction: San Diego 19, New York Jets 12

Cincinnati (8-6) at Pittsburgh (7-7), Pittsburgh favored by 4 1/2

Huge statement game for the Bengals. A win gets them into the playoffs and fittingly they have to do it against a team that has had their number the last few years. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green are building a nice foundation in Cincinnati but the duo has yet to defeat either the Steelers or the Ravens. Now is the time to do it as the Steelers are reeling and Ben Roethlisberger let his frustration with offensive coordinator Todd Haley's offense become public. I don't doubt that the Bengals can win this game but I am not picking them in a game like this until they prove they can win it.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 25, Cincinnati 21

St. Louis (6-7-1) at Tampa Bay (6-8), Tampa Bay favored by 3

The Rams have faint playoff hopes but really are just playing out the string. The Buccaneers were riding high at 6-4 but have lost four straight, with things reaching their nadir last weekend when they were somehow shutout by the atrocious Saints defense. I think they have some fight left in them though and won't suffer a complete collapse to end the season like they did under Raheem Morris last season.

Prediction: Tampa Bay 24, St. Louis 20

Oakland (4-10) at Carolina (5-9), Carolina favored by 9

The only interesting storyline in this game is that Raiders backup Terrell Pryor might see some action. Carolina could possibly be headed to another 6-10 season, whoopity doo.

Prediction: Carolina 30, Oakland 22

New England (10-4) at Jacksonville (2-12), New England favored by 14

Something is very wrong if the Patriots don't absolutely beat the crap out of the Jaguars. They might even have the Gronk back for this game!

Prediction: New England 42, Jacksonville 17

Cleveland (5-9) at Denver (11-3), Denver favored by 12 1/2

The Broncos are neck and neck with the Texans for home field advantage and also need to keep winning to secure a first round bye. Browns and Broncos was quite a rivalry in the 80s, now it is just another game the Browns are major underdogs in, or the status quo.

Prediction: Denver 30, Cleveland 20

Chicago (8-6) at Arizona (5-9), Chicago favored by 5 1/2

The Bears collapse continues and now they are on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoffs. If they can't beat Arizona on Sunday they definitely don't deserve to make the playoffs. The Cardinals ended their nine game losing streak last week but they still are completely dreadful on offense, and the Bears defense, though depleted, should dictate this game.

Prediction: Chicago 20, Arizona 13

New York Giants (8-6) at Baltimore (9-5), New York Giants favored by 1

Someone has to win this game between two reeling teams. Well, I suppose they could tie but the chances of that are very slim. The Ravens were once unbeatable at home, but have now lost two straight. The Giants were once road warriors but have lost three in a row away from home. Both of their quarterbacks, Eli Manning and Joe Flacco can look great and awful multiple times a game. Flacco is catching a lot of grief but his numbers are actually better than Eli's. This game is a toss up, but I can't envision Baltimore dropping a third straight home game, so I will go with them.

Prediction: Baltimore 26, New York Giants 23

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

Another week, another road challenge for the 49ers and another week of people picking them to lose. The Seahawks are unbeaten at home this year and have beaten some really good teams in Seattle. The win over the Packers shouldn't really count because of the ref fiasco but they did beat New England, Minnesota, and Dallas at home, and those are all teams either in the playoffs or right there to make the playoffs. Things have changed quite a bit for both teams since their last meeting two months ago in San Francisco, which the Niners won 13-6. The Seahawks offense is now rolling and Russell Wilson is no longer a liability, he has become a star. The 49ers are no longer held under the constraints that the Alex Smith era held them in, they have renewed hope and life on offense with Colin Kaepernick. In their tough road wins this season, the Niners have done a good job of taking the lead early and silencing the crowd quickly. They will need to follow a similar path if they want to be successful Sunday night. That means not allowing Marshawn Lynch to get going, which was a problem in the first meeting. The run game worked for Seattle in October, they just couldn't generate an aerial attack. They had plenty of chances but either guys dropped balls or Wilson threw bad passes. Those things have been improved since then, so the 49ers will have a very slim margin of error on defense. I'm not worried about them suffering from a letdown. Coach Harbaugh will have them ready to play and they know that this is an opportunity to wrap up the division in their biggest rivals house. I have complete faith in this team to conquer another challenge.

Prediction: San Francisco 20, Seattle 17

Last Week Against the Spread: 10-6 (bout damn time)
Overall Against the Spread: 102-115-7

Last Week Straight Up: 11-5
Overall Straight Up: 144-79-1

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