Friday, December 28, 2012

The Hail Mary - Week 17

There are some big games this Sunday as the NFL closes out the 2012 regular season. The Minnesota Vikings are battling for a playoff spot as they host the Green Bay Packers. The Chicago Bears and New York Giants have must win games. The Houston Texans, Denver Broncos, and New England Patriots all are still trying to claim home field advantage in the AFC playoffs.  But no game is bigger than this Sunday night's game at FedEx Field between the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys, with the winner earning the NFC East title. For Dallas, if they lose they miss the playoffs entirely. Come 830, the Skins will know if its a win or die proposition for them. If the Bears and Vikings both lose then the Skins will be in the playoffs regardless. However, if one of those teams wins, they will have to beat the Cowboys to make the playoffs. The stakes already make this a huge game but adding on top of that the Redskins/Cowboys long standing rivalry and it makes the game feel like a huge event. Ticket prices have skyrocketed and there is a buzz around DC and the Skins that hasn't been seen in years. The Skins have won 6 straight, while Dallas has won 5 of their last 7. The Cowboys have perhaps the hottest player in football, WR Dez Bryant, who will be licking his chops going up against a porous Skins secondary. The Skins have one of the most potent offenses in the league, led by rookies RG3 and Alfred Morris, along with fantastic free agent signing Pierre Garcon. Skins fans are optimistic but cautiously so. The last 20 years have not been kind to Skins fans, and when you haven't won a division title in 13 years, it is normal for fans to expect the worst. It should be a hell of a battle and is a must see game on Sunday night.

Sunday, December 30

Philadelphia (4-11) at New York Giants (8-7), New York Giants favored by 7 1/2

The Giants have to beat the Eagles then hope that the Vikings, Bears, and Cowboys all lose to get themselves into the playoffs to defend their championship. On paper you would think that them beating the Eagles would be easy, but Philly will have both LaSean McCoy and Michael Vick back in the lineup. Plus, the Giants can't take anyone lightly with how crappy they have played the last two weeks. I think it is obvious that the Giants are trending downward, and they won't be able to quickly right the ship on Sunday. I like Philly to pull off the upset, and lead to a lot of soul searching for the Giants this off-season.

Prediction: Philadelphia 24, New York Giants 20

Tampa Bay (6-9) at Atlanta (13-2), No Line

For the Falcons this game is about just staying healthy so I wouldn't expect their starters to play the entire game. Even with their backups they should still beat Tampa Bay, losers of five straight, as they are collapsing at the end of the season for a second straight year.

Prediction: Atlanta 27, Tampa Bay 20

New York Jets (6-9) at Buffalo (5-10), Buffalo favored by 3 1/2

For some reason people care about who will start at quarterback for the Jets in a game that means absolutely nothing. Mark Sanchez is back as the starter as Greg McElroy is out with a concussion. The Bills have basically quit on Chan Gailey, so I expect the Jets to finish a season sweep of the Bills.

Prediction: New York Jets 22, Buffalo 19

Baltimore (10-5) at Cincinnati (9-6), Cincinnati favored by 3

Had the Ravens lost to New York last week this game could have been for the division title. Instead, not much is on the line, as the Bengals are locked in as the sixth seed for the second straight year. The Ravens could possibly move up to the third seed with a win and a Patriots loss, but that doesn't really make that much of a difference. The Bengals finally won a tough game, and I expect the confidence of this young team to be sky high. Because of that, and because of the Ravens recent struggles, I like Cincinnati to get revenge for their Week 1 shellacking from Baltimore.

Prediction: Cincinnati 27, Baltimore 16

Chicago (9-6) at Detroit (4-11), Chicago favored by 3 1/2

The Bears must win and then cheer for their arch rival, the Packers to defeat Minnesota later in the day. The Lions have the best passing attack in the league, but for some reason can hardly ever find the end zone that way. Stafford hasn't thrown a TD in his past two games despite passing for over 500 yards. Stafford has just 17 TDs and has regressed badly after his breakout season last year. Calvin Johnson set the single season receiving yards record last week against Atlanta. Now he looks to become the first ever receiver to break the 2,000 yard barrier. Johnson needs just 108 yards so it is definitely within reach. Even with Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall, the Bears have one of the worst passing attacks in the league. Because of that, they definitely need Matt Forte to play through his injury, especially with his backup Michael Bush already out for the season. I am tempted to take Lions but then remember that they have lost seven straight games and suck.

Prediction: Chicago 21, Detroit 17

Jacksonville (2-13) at Tennessee (5-10), Tennessee favored by 4

This might be Mike Munchak's swan song after a very disappointing year for the Titans. I think owner Bud Adams read my blog and saw that I picked Tennessee to win the AFC South, so a 6-10 season will be completely unacceptable. For the Jaguars this will be their last game before the probable Tim Tebow era starts next season.

Prediction: Tennessee 28, Jacksonville 21

Houston (12-3) at Indianapolis (10-5), Houston favored by 7

The Texans must win to guarantee home field advantage throughout the playoffs. A loss could and wins by the Broncos and Patriots would drop them to third, losing them a first round bye. For the Colts, they are locked in as the 5 seed, but they will be motivated by the return of head coach Chuck Pagano. Both teams will be highly motivated which should mean a very competitive game. Because of the emotions behind Pagano returning I think about taking the Colts, but feel like the Texans desperation to hold on to home field will win out. You know that over hyped Andrew Luck is good for a few turnovers, and that will prove to be the difference.

Prediction: Houston 35, Indianapolis 30

Carolina (6-9) at New Orleans (7-8), New Orleans favored by 5 1/2

These teams meet in the disappointing seasons bowl. Both caught fire towards the end of the year, but slow starts were too much to overcome.

Prediction: New Orleans 36, Carolina 24

Cleveland (5-10) at Pittsburgh (7-8), No Line

Speaking of disappointing seasons, the Steelers finish off their first non winning season since 2006. This might be coach Pat Shurmur's swan song and with Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy both hurting some scrub third stringer who I am too lazy to look up might start for the Browns. This season has already been bad enough for Pittsburgh, if they add getting swept by the Browns to it, Pittsburgh would become apoplectic.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 23, Cleveland 10

Arizona (5-10) at San Francisco (10-4-1), San Francisco favored by 16 1/2

Last weekend's butt whooping at the hands of the Seahawks was quite depressing to watch. The 49ers looked completely over matched and outclassed. Colin Kaepernick appeared overwhelmed by the crowd noise and it was the first time I wondered if Alex Smith would have performed better in that environment. Don't get me wrong, I am still all about keeping Kap at quarterback. Missing Justin Smith on the defensive end was huge. He tore his triceps against New England and will sit out his second straight game. The Niners are hoping he can play in the playoffs but it is doubtful he will be the impact player the Niners have grown accustomed to. San Francisco can clinch the division as long as they can stop Brian Hoyer and the bumbling Cardinals offense. They will be watching the score of Green Bay/Minnesota and rooting for the Vikings to win, so that San Francisco can earn a first round bye. Anything less than a blowout of the Cardinals will be highly disappointing and cause for concern.

Prediction: San Francisco 23, Arizona 6

Miami (7-8) at New England (11-4), New England favored by 10

The Patriots had a ton of trouble with Jacksonville, and seem to be struggling a bit heading into the playoffs. Despite all that, they actually have a chance at earning home field advantage throughout the playoffs. They would have to win and hope for losses by the Texans and Broncos. The Broncos losing to the Chiefs seems impossible, so the more likely scenario is that they can move ahead of Houston for a first round bye. Miami is hoping to finish off a .500 season with first year coach Joe Philbin and first year quarterback Ryan Tannehill. This could also be Reggie Bush's last game as a Dolphin, as his contract is up after this game. I hope they bring Reggie back, like he showed last week against Buffalo, when the coaches have made sure he gets the touches, he produces.

Prediction: New England 27, Miami 21

Green Bay (11-4) at Minnesota (9-6), Green Bay favored by 3 1/2

Tons of storylines in this game, making it the second most intriguing game of the weekend. The Packers have plenty to play for, as a win guarantees them a first round bye, while a loss more than likely means they will have to play next weekend. For the Vikings, they control their own destiny, a win guarantees them the sixth seed, while a loss throws everything into chaos. There is also the Adrian Peterson watch. Peterson is just 102 yards away from reaching the 2,000 yard mark for the season. Catching Eric Dickerson's all time single season rushing yardage record is still a remote possibility but not likely. Peterson will have to come up huge like he did against Green Bay the first time for Minnesota to have a chance. QB Christian Ponder has been better the last few weeks but still can't be trusted. Without his poor play in Lambeau, the Vikings had control of the Packers in Lambeau and might have won the game. The Vikings defense has also quietly been a strength this season and had one of their strongest performances in last week's win at Houston. The Green Bay offense has been up and down this season, but they are coming off a 55 point explosion last weekend. The Vikings crowd will be a great advantage for Minnesota and to me will be the difference in this game. This game will really come down to whether or not Ponder can manage it and avoid costly interceptions and turnovers.

Prediction: Minnesota 25, Green Bay 22

Kansas City (2-13) at Denver (12-3), Denver favored by 16

By time the game starts the Broncos will know if they still have a chance at earning home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Even if that isn't attainable, they will still be motivated to get the victory and hold on to a first round bye. For the Chiefs, this dreadful season can't end soon enough. Despite just 2 wins, they managed to have 5 Pro Bowlers, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Prediction: Denver 29, Kansas City 14

Oakland (4-11) at San Diego (6-9), No Line

Goodbye to the Norv Turner as head coach era. He can now enjoy the rest of his career as an offensive coordinator, something he actually does well.

Prediction: San Diego 17, Oakland 10

St. Louis (7-7-1) at Seattle (10-5), Seattle favored by 10 1/2

The Seahawks are on fire, averaging 50 points a game in their last three games. 50! The Rams have made a point of talking about this game being important as they want to finish over .500 and also go undefeated in the division. A great goal to have, and while they seemed to befuddle the 49ers this season, I don't think they have the chops to beat the scorching hot Seahawks in Seattle. Russell Wilson can't be stopped lately, and either can "Beast Mode" Marshawn Lynch.

Prediction: Seattle 30, St. Louis 16

Dallas (8-7) at Washington (9-6), Washington favored by 3

When these teams played on Thanksgiving it was a shootout, with the Skins jumping out to a big lead early and then hanging on. I expect another high scoring contest Sunday night. I had questions about how Washington would handle being the hunted, but those concerns were put to ease as they handled it well at Philadelphia last week. The defense has had a bend but don't break mentality during the Skins six game winning streak and that will probably be how things go on Sunday. The Cowboys have the weapons to take advantage of the Skins weak secondary, so the Skins have to make sure the Cowboys don't get their ground game going. If DeMarco Murray starts breaking runs, the Cowboys will win this game. As for RG3 and the Skins offense, they just need to keep following the formula that has worked all year for them. Avoid costly turnovers, get Alfred Morris his carries and then let RG3 hit the big play. I think the Skins might come out a little jumpy and let the atmosphere of this game get to them. But I expect after the first few possessions they will settle down and get into their groove. This game is really a toss up, but do you really think their is a chance in hell I pick the Cowboys? Hail to the Redskins!

Prediction: Washington 35, Dallas 27

Last Week Against the Spread: 10-6
Overall Against the Spread: 112-121-7

Last Week Straight Up: 11-5
Overall Straight Up: 155-84-1

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