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Sunday, July 15 2018

NFL Predictions 2009: Week 16

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Words cannot begin to describe how I feel about last week’s picks. Upset? Frustrated? Disappointed? It is tough watching games unfold in my favor, only to watch in horror as the result goes the other direction. I was definitely on a limb picking Kansas City over Cleveland. Then again, I’m not Todd Haley repeatedly kicking off in the direction of Josh Cribbs either. Another “gulp” pick I didn’t get was Green Bay over Pittsburgh. You could say I missed that one by inches. Another coaching decision played into that one. If Mike Tomlin had kicked off with his 30-28 lead it is likely the Packers drive the field, score and win with no time left. I pointed this out on Twitter as the Steelers marched for the winning touchdown. The final frustrating miss was Washington just not showing up on Monday Night.

 

In all I was a shameful 8-8 (152-72 overall). I would never have picked Tampa Bay over Seattle, and I mean never. Dallas showed up late in the season to stun undefeated New Orleans on the road. I suspected they might, but I played the odds. Atlanta beat the Jets with a miracle touchdown at the end, and Oakland basically did the same to Denver. Finally, Carolina was everything I expected them to be before the season began in dismantling Minnesota. No one saw that coming, other than ESPN’s Chris Mortensen who picked them. My results against Vegas were bad yet again. It seems once I lost my handle I never really recovered. I was 6-10 versus the spread (111-122-1 overall) and will need a furious finish to get even. The over/under produced a less embarrassing 7-9 mark (107-112-5 overall) but at least I have a shot to reach .500 before the season is over.

 

 

 

 

San Diego (11-3) @ Tennessee (7-7): I’m already grimacing over this pick. The Chargers are on a serious roll. From stuck multiple games behind the Broncos at 2-3 they now stand 60 minutes away from locking down the #2 seed and a bye week. Getting the win here would allow them to relax and rest starters for the finale against Washington. If not, they still might be locked in if New England loses this week to Jacksonville or next week at Houston in an early game. On the other side of the field the Titans are feeling desperate. They can put pressure on both teams occupying the wild card spots, Baltimore and Denver at 8-6, plus the other five squads tied with them at 7-7. Their path to get in might be unlikely, but playing in the spotlight of a (sort of) national TV audience on Christmas night expect them to be firing on all cylinders.

 

The stars should decide the outcome. There are really two MVP candidates on display. Obviously Chris Johnson is in the race. He has piled up 2,176 total yards and last failed to rush for 100 yards on October 11. The Chargers have a weakness in rush defense in terms of yardage including 4.4 a pop. They do clamp down when it matters, giving up the seventh fewest touchdowns on the ground (8). If it seems like he is ready to go off, think about the dark horse MVP candidate Philip Rivers. He might not have led an undefeated team into December, but he has piled up 3,891 yards passing with 25 touchdowns against 9 interceptions. His turnover total (12) is better than Peyton Manning (15) or Brees (17) and since October 25 only the Colts have won more games. The stat sheet shows the Titans second only to hapless Detroit in allowing 265.1 passing yards per game and 28 touchdown passes, second most in the NFL. Should we prepare for a shootout? As a fan and a viewer I hope so.

 

A week after Chad Henne lit up this defense for 349 yards passing it is hard to imagine Rivers not doing the same. He probably will do some damage, but there has to be some wear on the Chargers from this winning streak. The Bengals were physical with them and I look for the Titans to treat them the same way. This is also a bit of a rivalry game with plenty of bad blood. In 2007 San Diego won on this field 23-17 in OT, but the injuries and subsequent fines made the playoff rematch even more heated. It was a repeat performance in California, 17-6. Players might be saying they don’t remember. They do. It is going to be a physical showdown. I’m not going to be surprised if the Chargers win, but the drama provided by the Titans pulling this out has me leaning in that direction. I’m on the Vince Young train. He has transformed into a passing quarterback and will keep his team’s playoff hopes alive. After a string of close wins the Chargers finally let one get away: Tennessee 26, San Diego 24 (SD +3/over 47)

 

Tampa Bay (2-12) @ New Orleans (13-1): The Bucs burned me big time last week. It might have been a game hardly anyone watched, but they went up to Seattle and took it to the ‘Hawks who are normally very tough in their stadium. It marked the team’s first road win of the season and Josh Freeman’s first as a pro. Getting his second is going to be just a little bit harder against a team smarting from their first loss of the season. The Saints are not only angry, they retain motivation because instead of having the #1 seed already clinched now a win here will wrap it up. You can bet no one of note will be playing next week in Carolina once they polish off Tampa Bay.

 

The first meeting down in Florida was a wipeout. Brees was limited to just 187 yards passing, but in a 38-7 win he managed 3 touchdown passes. Thomas and Bell combined for 167 yards on 24 carries. Freeman threw 3 interceptions and fumbled, making him solely responsible for the 4-0 turnover disadvantage. He has become a better quarterback since then, but turnovers have been a huge problem. He has already thrown 14 picks and fumbled 9 times (2 lost) in basically 7 games. If Darren Sharper is healthy enough to play he will have a chance to tie Ronnie Lott for sixth all-time on the interception list with 63. Heck, a hat trick could land him in the top five.

 

Honestly my interest level in this game is very low. I want to see the rookie play well on the road and prove he can compete with these Saints going forward, but I don’t expect it to happen. Tampa Bay is likely to slow this game down with long running drives, a predictable strategy. New Orleans will counter with an angry offense and put the game out of reach early. The harder they play this week, the more rest they get next week. It’s that simple: New Orleans 30, Tampa Bay 14 (NO -14/under 49)

 

Buffalo (5-9) @ Atlanta (7-7): If Brian Brohm in fact starts this game for the Bills I’m curious to see how he plays. He was once a top NFL prospect before Bobby Petrino took his marbles and left Louisville for the Falcons. An uneven final college season dropped him to the late second round. The Packers also took LSU’s Matt Flynn in the seventh round that year, and when Brohm couldn’t beat him out his days became numbered. Now he is with the quarterback challenged Bills and has a chance to keep his career alive. It starts right here, even if this is a meaningless game. Well, almost meaningless.

 

The Falcons have a chance to finish with a winning record in consecutive seasons for the first time in franchise history. Everyone who romanticizes about Michael Vick’s success with this team should remember that little fact. His replacement, Matt Ryan, was the first quarterback taken in 2008 when Brohm became a Cheesehead a round later. His goal is to hit star tight end Tony Gonzalez at least 6 times so “Gonzo” can reach 1,000 career receptions in front of his new home crowd. He also has a decent chance at his third consecutive season with 1,000+ yards receiving and fifth of his career with 180 over the next two weeks.

 

All things considered this could be one of the more entertaining games of the week. I think Brohm provides a spark to the Buffalo passing game, assuming he can throw passes with defenders about to knock him senseless because his line is suspect. Atlanta’s pass defense is the third most generous in the NFL. Then again, Buffalo’s run defense is dead last. I can’t be sure which backs are healthy on the Falcon roster, but does it matter? They should control the action on the ground all game with the Bills striking deep occasionally to keep it close: Atlanta 27, Buffalo 17 (ATL -8.5/over 40.5)

 

Houston (7-7) @ Miami (7-7): This is essentially a playoff game. I don’t want to bog this down with the intricacies of NBC’s “flex” schedule, but unless CBS protected it I assume most people would have enjoyed this one under the lights. Except of course the Texans that is, because they are chokers. I never like to openly rip a team like this, but I’ve pretty much had it with their antics. Just when you start to believe in their ability to earn their first playoff berth (as I predicted before the season) the roof falls in at the last moment. Remember them at 5-3 heading to Indianapolis? How about their next game, well rested following a bye at home against Tennessee on MNF? They lost those games, and the Colts rematch and a visit to Jacksonville with the playoffs still in the picture. Now, just because they punished hapless Seattle and sputtered to beat 1-11 St. Louis I’m supposed to believe these guys are ready to make some noise?

 

The Dolphins have the same record, but I perceive them as much more ready to push forward in the frantic wild card chase. Their comeback at Tennessee fell short in OT on the heels of dramatic wins over New England and Jacksonville. Other than getting blown away in the fourth quarter at Buffalo this team has nothing to be ashamed of since starting the season 0-3. Their only home losses of the season have come against New Orleans and Indianapolis, the teams with the best records in football, and they were competitive in both games. Henne vs. Schaub should be an exciting showdown. In the past three games Henne has delivered 904 yards passing. His three picks were costly last week through, and he has only 1 touchdown pass over the last two games. Schaub has had a career season because this is the first time he has played a full slate, assuming he can finish. For a guy without much hype he has five games with 350+ yards passing this season. Not 300 (he has 8 of those) I’m talking 350.

 

A lot has been made of Andre Johnson’s homecoming in this game, but while the Dolphins have given up their share of yardage their touchdown total (18) is low, only the Vikings have more sacks (40) and they have the third lowest completion percentage allowed (56.5). If Schaub keeps misfiring it will get the Dolphin offense on the field and help them dictate the game’s pace. Their own pass defense gives up a high percentage of completions (62.5) and while the run defense has been solid, few players run harder than Ricky Williams. I will take a balanced offense over a team without a legitimate rushing threat just about every time: Miami 24, Houston 20 (MIA -1/under 45.5)

 

Seattle (5-9) @ Green Bay (9-5): Two guys who know what it is like to back up Brett Favre will be under center here. One of them is trying to give his team their first playoff berth since the living legend left town, and the other wants to spoil the party. The way the Seahawks, and Hasselbeck (4 picks) in particular, played last week it looks like this is going to be an easy win for the Cheeseheads. However, on the heels of Big Ben throwing for 5 bills on this secondary last week just about anything is possible. As poorly as Seattle performed, keep in mind Hasselbeck went 10 games prior to last week throwing a total of 6 interceptions. This field is still special to him and even with his team assured of a second consecutive losing season he wants to play well. He also has his career in mind. Another poor showing could nudge management towards drafting his replacement (he is 34) even if the team is without a first round pick at the moment.

 

Aaron Rodgers has to wonder what he can really do at this point. I have ridden him hard for not coming up with clutch wins. He has followed up last year’s 4,038 yards and 28 touchdown season with even better numbers in 2009. His yards per game are up 31.4 and his next touchdown will be #29. After turning it over a reasonably low 16 times last year he has 11. The wins are also way up, but so are the sacks – from 34 to 49 and counting. He has straightened that out too of late though with just 8 over the last five games. Not surprisingly the team is 4-1 with the loss being last week’s heartbreaker to Pittsburgh, which brings us back to the “clutch” factor. A season after failing numerous times in close games he has avoided those situations for the most part, and clearly their most recent loss is not his fault.

 

If Green Bay is going to make any noise in the playoffs it would help if their running game got going. Ryan Grant has been given opportunities, six consecutive starts with 18+ carries prior to 8 last week, but had just two games over 100 yards in that stretch. I know I’m talking about a high average in the games with 18-21, but the point is that by then he should be able to establish himself and get over on the opposing defense which leads to a carry total in the mid 20’s. He has gone past 21 just three times in 2009 and not since October 25 against Cleveland. His opposite number will be Justin Forsett, who during Rodgers’ final season at Cal was third on the depth chart behind J.J. Arrington (Cardinals) and Marshawn Lynch (Bills). Pretty good backfield huh? He has tailed off after providing a big spark rushing and receiving in late November. In December he has just 23 carries for 90 yards and 9 receptions for 86 yards in three games.

 

The Packers were bad on defense last week. At home it should be a different story even if a savvy veteran like Hasselbeck has the ability to find the open receiver against their injury depleted secondary. Most importantly, Rodgers is going to destroy this Seahawk pass defense. It will get ugly. On paper this has the makings of a passing shootout with these teams having allowed a combined 53 touchdown passes. When one team, in this case Green Bay, gets ahead in this situation things change and Seattle quits. Their defenders stop tackling. Their receivers stop running as hard. Basically the roof caves in: Green Bay 38, Seattle 15 (GB -14/over 41)

 

Carolina (6-8) @ NY Giants (8-6): On SNF the Panthers looked like the team I thought they would be all season. Julius Peppers was disruptive, Steve Smith made big plays (157 yards receiving) and Jonathan Stewart had balanced the offense (109 yards rushing). All it took was Matt Moore at quarterback apparently. The team still, incredibly, says Jake Delhomme is in their future plans. I can only imagine what sort of incriminating photos he has in a storage locker for management to fell that way. Back to the present, Carolina dominated a serious contender for the Super Bowl and even with no chance at a playoff berth they have to be taken seriously here.

 

New York also played in primetime last week, overwhelming Washington 45-12 on MNF. It was the kind of performance that reminded everyone why they were 5-0 at one point and picked to reach the Super Bowl by some including yours truly. Their defense shook off a late season swoon to render the Redskin offense helpless. Offensively it was a show from the opening kickoff. The only thing missing was a dominant rushing attack. Brandon Jacobs is still stuck in low gear. He needed 16 carries to reach 52 yards. Ahmad Bradshaw busted a run for 31 yards, but had only 30 on his other 8 carries. When the wind whips up at the Meadowlands this could turn into a problem. Of course, it is a worse problem for the less experienced Moore who has just one late season cold weather game on his resume, two weeks ago in New England (20-10 loss).

 

If the running games determine the outcome it is almost a coin flip game. DeAngelo Williams being out limits what the Panthers can do on offense. It didn’t hurt them against the Vikings at home, but with these conditions it is a very different story. The Giants have a much stronger run defense on the stat sheet and playing in front of a raucous crowd should be able to maintain momentum throughout. There is an added layer of course because this will be the final regular season home game for the Giants in this stadium, and barring a crazy scenario their last game period. Remember them spoiling the opening of a little palace in Dallas to start the season? It would be brutal payback of sorts if the Panthers were party poopers here. I don’t think so, although this feels like an ugly game to me: NY Giants 24, Carolina 15 (NYG -7.5/under 42.5)

 

Oakland (5-9) @ Cleveland (3-11): This is a typical December battle for draft order between two losing teams right? These days I’m not sure teams benefit too much (in most cases) from moving up in the draft by dumping a game. The cost of high draft picks has become a burden on franchises, something the Raiders know all too well. At present they have considerable dollars invested in a failed “franchise” quarterback, oft-injured running back and mostly ineffective safety from their top 7 picks in 2006-2008. I’ll leave DHB alone for the moment. At least in 2011 their pick belongs to New England courtesy of the Richard Seymour trade. It is possible for a team to trade out, much like Cleveland did this year (several times in fact) but it is extremely rare for teams to move up so high.

 

Other than draft implications, both teams are getting a chance to evaluate their failing quarterback situations. I’ve already touched on Russell. He will be benched again in favor of Frye, who of course was unceremoniously shipped out by these Browns in 2007. It must have been particularly difficult for a guy who had played all of his football in the state of Ohio, being born in Willard and playing collegiately at Akron. The move did put him in the hands of Mike Holmgren, ironically now the new president of Cleveland, who helped his development at the position. Got all that? This is the second time a Raider backup quarterback has gone home. Gradkowski helped them stun the Steelers. Can Frye pull off a less shocking win?

 

There is a precedent for Oakland surging late. Last year their only consecutive victories came in December. They have yet to win back-to-back in 2009 and other than last year’s surge the last time this team won twice in the same month was September 2007. One of their victims was Cleveland, who was starting (wait for it) – Derek Anderson. His roller coaster is about to stop if he is unable to impress management over these final two weeks he will be holding a clipboard at best in 2010. How in the world was he able to pass for 3,787 yards and 29 touchdowns in 2007? The element of surprise I guess. Since then he has made 16 appearances throwing for 2,296 yards and 11 touchdowns against 22 turnovers. Enough about the quarterbacks though. Jerome Harrison is chasing some history if he has another big game running the ball. He had 286 last week, third most ever in a single game. If he goes for 200 again he joins “Juice”, Campbell and Ricky Williams as the only players to pull that off consecutively. I can promise you “Seabass” won’t be kicking to Josh Cribbs, so forget about him extending his NFL record 8 kickoff returns for touchdowns. Ultimately I don’t trust the Raiders to win again with Frye, or to stop the big plays. It’s just that simple. Plus, I’m a well known fan and every time I pick against them they seem to win: Cleveland 23, Oakland 17 (CLE -3/over 37)

 

Jacksonville (7-7) @ New England (9-5): Unfortunately Fred Taylor will not be able to exact revenge on his former team personally, but his teammates are in excellent position to do it for him. For all the problems the Patriots have had this season, winning at home has not been one of them. They are a razor sharp 7-0 here and have won the last four by 10+ points. The Jaguars are one of the few warm weather teams capable of winning in cold weather cities. They pulled it off twice in 2007, knocking off the Steelers in the regular season and wild card game. These days their running game has been too much of a one man show. “Pocket Hercules” has yielded just 34 carries to rookie seventh round pick Rashad Jennings. When MJD gets the ball 23+ times they are 6-1 this season. That’s no accident. The Patriots are not very strong defending the run, but it’s all on Jones-Drew. If he has a poor game this is a rout.

 

Offensively New England has their 1-2 punch at receiver. Brady is hurt. Everyone knows it, no one is really sure how badly. He is playing through it. A Laurence Maroney sighting the past two weeks has helped them slug out a pair of ugly wins over Carolina and Buffalo. He has logged 45 carries and while the yardage was pedestrian (175) at least the defense had something to think about. Relying on aging backs like Faulk, Morris and Taylor has definitely hurt their continuity on offense and balance. No one fears them anymore. Even the Panthers, after a loss, smack talked about making Moss quit. Their house is not close to in order even if another AFC East title is within reach at game’s end.

 

Jacksonville is desperate, but they are firmly on the outside looking in on the true contenders. Coming close (twice) against the Colts is not good enough. They swept Houston, who is otherwise 7-5, and beat the Jets. Those teams are hardly elite yet they represent the biggest wins for them to date. Losing three of four has put them on the brink of extinction in the convoluted wild card hunt and while I’m not as ready as others to call this a stone cold lock, and definitely not a rout, December is Brady’s time: New England 23, Jacksonville 12 (NE -8/under 44)

 

Kansas City (3-11) @ Cincinnati (9-5): Ah yes, the revenge game for Larry Johnson we have all been waiting for. No? Well, it is certainly not often a player begins the season with one team and finishes it playing against them. Rightfully so it has been said LJ was unjustly rewarded in a sense for wriggling his way off the Chiefs. Personally, I have heard a lot worse in a locker room myself than anything Johnson put on his Twitter page. However, the comments were insensitive and he is the latest reclamation project on the Bengals. Sadly, one of their shining examples of redemption, Chris Henry, lost his life which makes this nonsense about gay slurs seem sort of ridiculous by comparison.

 

On the field this is no contest. Cincinnati is a tough football team. It is time for everyone to recognize their ability to get after the opposing team. When they were last division champs, as the team will be with a win here, it was all about Carson Palmer throwing strikes down the field to multiple receivers. Other than his injury shortened 2008 season this is clearly his least productive season since he was first put on the field in 2004. It hardly matters because the team is winning. Their running game has found a way to keep the offense scoring just enough, and when Benson was out other players stepped in to pick up the slack including Johnson. The biggest change is on defense where Zimmer has them playing at an elite level. They rank third in scoring, fifth in total yardage and third against the run. I dare anyone to walk into a bar and get a football fan sitting on a stool to name three defenders on this team. That’s what team defense is all about and how much a solid scheme can impact production.

 

The Chiefs demonstrated last week their defense is the polar opposite. No one wanted to tackle Jerome (who?) Harrison. I watched in horror as my pick to show up at Arrowhead and win played like a team ready for the offseason. You think it gets any easier on the road against a team trying to lock up a division title? This has rout written all over it. If anything, Cincinnati is still reeling from Henry’s death and of course coming back from a tough loss across the country at San Diego last week. They certainly don’t want to roll their helmets out here because Cassel to Chambers can still produce some points and Charles is a dangerous rusher. However, the tipping point for them to quit should be the opening kickoff: Cincinnati 34, Kansas City 9 (CIN -13/over 39)

 

Baltimore (8-6) @ Pittsburgh (7-7): You know those horror movies when someone gets buried alive? Then the camera pans over to the freshly covered grave and suddenly a hand thrusts out of the ground. Whoa! Alive?! That’s the Steelers after Mike Wallace tapped his toes on the turf while catching the game tying touchdown. An extra point later and their improbable win over Green Bay kept a pulse on their playoff hopes. It was a defining moment, but they need help to earn a wild card. Things are less complicated for the Ravens. Win twice, including next week at Oakland, and they are in. They are even alive for the North title although Cincinnati’s “magic number” is 1.

 

When these teams last got together it was hotly contested as usual. This is already the fifth time Joe Flacco has seen this defense. After three pedestrian passing efforts he was 23/35 for 289 yaards in leading his team to an OT win. Then again, all of it was made possible because Dennis Dixon was making his first NFL start. This time Roethlisberger takes the wheel. He is 4-1 career at Heinz Field against the hated Ravens. His only loss was an eerily similar situation to this though. The Steelers were defending champions that year (2006) too. They were also 7-7 which means it was week 16. You could say that Christmas Eve produced a lump of coal as Baltimore won 31-7 to officially end Pittsburgh’s title defense. Déjà vu?

 

I believe in history repeating itself, but not this time. The Steelers just exploited a defense missing a key cornerback. Now they face one with multiple players missing. The latest is their rookie Lardarius Webb who had started since the first meeting with Pittsburgh. Each team is missing their dominant safety, but Ed Reed would have been making up for the drop in talent around him. Big Ben just passed for 503 yards with the season on the line against an even better defense. I definitely like the momentum Baltimore has built blowing away two helpless opponents. They are confident and hungry. These are always close games it seems. Neither team has been successful in games decided by 6 points or less this season. The Steelers are 2-6, the Ravens are 2-4. Baltimore got it done the first time, but I can’t go against the Heinz Field magic after it burned my pick last week: Pittsburgh 19, Baltimore 17 (BAL +3/under 42.5)

 

St. Louis (1-13) @ Arizona (9-5): When a team loses this many games the only thing to look for is how many times they kept it close. In half of their losses the Rams lost by no more than 10 points. They have been blown out just once since the calendar turned to November. One of those close games was against these Cardinals who beat them 21-13 Thanksgiving week. Warner went out late in the third quarter though, with his team up by 18. Concussion concerns still follow him, but this game has seeding implications with Arizona still chasing Philadelphia and Minnesota who currently occupy the #2 and #3 spots. It is highly improbable they catch either though. Even worse, because of the game times they will not know if either has already won which would allow them to rest players if needed.

 

I’m looking for the Rams to play hard as they have shown the past two months. Steven Jackson will not quit. However, the last time it took him 24 carries to reach 116 yards and a huge chunk of that (48) came on a big run. Take it away and he slugged away for a low 2.96 average. The Cards can stop the run, and it’s a mystery which guy the Rams will even start at quarterback. Null? Boller? Does it matter? Their leading receiver is Donnie Avery and he probably won’t even match his rookie numbers (53 receptions, 674 yards). No one else has even 330 yards receiving. No one man gang is going to stop this team from putting pressure on the streaking Eagles and suddenly choking Vikings although I’m a little concerned they will let down after fading last year after clinching. However, the Rams need to be told “Mr. Suh” is at stake. If they win again he will be gone when they pick in the draft: Arizona 28, St. Louis 13 (AZ -14/under 43.5)

 

Detroit (2-12) @ San Francisco (6-8): I’m getting kind of tired talking about the last time these Lions won a road game. Was the iPod invented yet? How about the telephone? This has been a disappointing season for the 49ers. Then again, football in the Bay Area has stunk since 2002. How badly? Uh, a poll was taken identifying the best teams in the decade. A high school girls basketball team finished second behind the NL champion Giants (2002).  People hardly even remember the last time either the Raiders or Niners finished with non-losing records. It was 2002 and the combined percentage of votes for those two teams being the decade’s best was 8%. A Warrior basketball team (2006) got 8% on its own. Then again, the Lions know futility as well.

 

This is really a matter of which team wants to show up for a game impacting only draft order. The 49ers play well at home. They proved it against Arizona two weeks ago. Their defense can bring it and quietly has held half their opponents to no more than 18 points. Offensively Alex Smith can get it done when the pressure is off and Frank Gore will run hard. Detroit has nothing going for them. They mustered up a comeback last week against the Cards, but have already lost 9 times by double digits this season. Seven of those came on the road. Get the picture? Drew Stanton is making his first NFL start. Other than Matt Millen and perhaps his parents I’m not sure this excites anyone. Daunte Culpepper will be seen sulking on the sideline. He might get in when the 49ers build a big lead. Watch this game if you must, but if you live in the Bay Area I suggest NFL Red Zone: San Francisco 28, Detroit 10 (SF -12.5/under 41.5)

 

Denver (8-6) @ Philadelphia (10-4): I’m very surprised how quickly Brian Dawkins has become a leader for the Bronco defense. In his first season with the team he has helped turn the NFL’s biggest liability into the #3 unit. They have dropped over 80 yards per game off their 2008 average. Good grief, that’s basically a long touchdown drive. Of course, fans in this stadium know all about Dawkins’ exploits. Letting him go was the cost of doing business for Philly. Team above all else, and management felt paying an aging veteran was a bad idea. In retrospect they probably wish he was wearing their jersey in this game, but long term these are the decisions made by a team that has been to the NFL’s final 4 a half dozen times this decade.

 

When I look at this game I see a defensive struggle. The Broncos can match up defenders in the secondary to contain the big play ability of DeSean Jackson, and the Eagles can certainly find a way to slow down if not shut down Brandon Marshall. In the backfield Philly gets their superstar Brian Westbrook back, and Denver gets his former backup Correll Buckhalter returning from injury as well. The advantage is heavily in favor of the home team though. Rookie Knowshon Moreno has slumped. He was a big reason the Broncos couldn’t get past Oakland at home last week, gaining just 42 yards on 19 carries. Philadelphia also has a rookie rusher, but LeSean McCoy is still going strong in limited action. He gets about a dozen touches in an offense loaded with young talent. McNabb is like a parent of 10 trying to keep all the mouths fed.

 

At first blush I was seeing the Broncos pulling this one out. However, upon reflection let’s be honest about the facts. McNabb is a better distributor of the football than Orton. He also has more choices. Denver has Marshall and his single game NFL record 21 receptions. Notice anything about that? First of all, they lost decisively 28-16. Second of all, his long was just 23 and his average was low (9.5). Teams can double him at will, especially with Royal now out of the mix. Their offense is too limited for this defense on this field. Other than beating up the Giants on Thanksgiving this team has done nothing since their bye on week 7. The Eagles are hot and driving. They are also familiar with clutch playoff situations, which this basically is: Philadelphia 21, Denver 17 (DEN +7/under 42)

 

NY Jets (7-7) @ Indianapolis (14-0): A lot of people are identifying this as a letdown game for the Colts. They are the #1 seed and have a history of resting players in this situation. There are reasons for them to keep Peyton Manning on the field. He will be keeping his consecutive start streak alive for one thing, and is only 159 yards away from joining a very exclusive club by surpassing 50,000 for his career. Two more efforts of 300+ yards would give him a single season record of 11, but reaching that milestone is about as likely as him break dancing after a touchdown.

 

Their defense was the reason I saw their undefeated season continuing last week and although they gave up 31 Peyton put up 35. This time I really mean it. I think. Rookie Mark Sanchez has the second most turnovers in the NFL at 23. The team is 1-5 when he turns it over multiple times, as he did in last week’s heartbreaking 10-7 loss to Atlanta. Their wild card hopes are still alive, but a lot would have to go their way. Had they finished off the win I would be much more inclined to pick them. However, this is ultimately a battle of two pretty good defenses. One team has one of the most prolific passers in NFL history. The other has a turnover prone rookie. Even if the Colts pull Manning in favor of their own rookie Curtis Painter it would probably be after building a lead their defense should hold. Behind closed doors I think they want a perfect season. I really do: Indianapolis 23, NY Jets 16 (IND -4/under 41)

 

Dallas (9-5) @ Washington (4-10): Just a week ago everyone was talking about how the Redskins would impact the NFC East playoff race. Then they barely took the field on MNF, getting blasted by the Giants 45-12. There is definitely the matter of pride with this game again on display for a national television audience on their home field. Can they be that horrific again? I doubt it, but it is possible. Stud defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth will play although I wonder how interested he is in mixing it up after being sent home during the week. Would you want to fight off Leonard Davis for a shot to tackle Marion Barber at the tail end of a losing season? Thank you no.

 

There is a weakness for the Cowboys, and it is field goal kicker. They signed Suisham who was cut by the Redskins for being terrible. Apparently the gay kid from Glee was unavailable. I hear he’s pretty good once the music starts. Any close game and I’m wondering if the Cowboys can close the deal. Last time they benefitted from Suisham missing 2 field goals, scoring a late touchdown to win 7-6. At least he knows the kicking conditions on this field, but heaven help them if he needs to make a game winner. This is bound to be an emotional game. New York got on Washington early last week and never let up. Dallas needs to do the same or they are in big trouble.

 

The Redskins have an improved offensive line and Campbell is capable of throwing for 300 yards or more. There is also the matter of the ‘Boys slumping in December. They shook off some of that by knocking off New Orleans last Saturday night. Incidentally that gives them two more days rest and preparation, assuming Romo didn’t spend it on a tropical island with a mystery model. I’m conflicted on the margin of victory more than the outcome. There isn’t enough on the line for them to choke and it won’t come down to a kick: Dallas 27, Washington 16 (DAL -7/over 41.5)

 

Minnesota (11-3) @ Chicago (5-9): This has upset written all over it. Suddenly Favre can’t win a game in cold weather. The Vikings are bickering over audible calls and are just 4-3 on the road. Adrian Peterson has not rushed for 100 yards in a game since November 15 although he has 159 receiving yards over the past three weeks. Still, they just destroyed the Bears 36-10 a few weeks ago. I do mean destroyed. They finished with 537 total yards to 169 for Chicago, and had a 31-8 edge in first downs. Favre passed for 392 yards and 3 touchdowns. Cutler managed to complete 78% of his passes while getting blown out, but finished with only 147 yards and had 2 interceptions.

 

The rematch is unlikely to be so lopsided because as the saying goes this is Chicago’s Super Bowl. Well, without those cumbersome rings and the confetti of course, or the millions of viewers. It is going to be on MNF if anyone cares to watch the Favre/Chilly soap opera. The Vikings are interested. Home field in the playoffs is still on the line, and if the Eagles win a loss puts the #2 seed out of their control going into week 17. Chicago never really came out of their bye week. Since starting 3-1 they are 2-8 after taking a break and those wins were over Cleveland and St. Louis who will be picking in the top five on draft day. Last week Baltimore beat them up pretty good on the ground and I expect Minnesota to do the same assuming Favre obeys orders. Home field only goes so far at this point in the season. I sort of learned that (again) last week picking the Washington upset. The Vikings are smarting from a poor outing and will make the proper adjustments. Cutler is horrible in primetime this season: Minnesota 26, Chicago 17 (MIN -7/over 41)

 

 

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