The AFC East is the best division in the league. Yeah, you can make an argument for the AFC West, until you mention 2-11 Oakland. But every team in the East is 6-7 or better. Six and seven! Heck, the Miami Dolphins or Buffalo Bills are only a game behind the second-place New York Jets. One of those three teams is going to finish last in the East and might end up with as good a record or better than a team that makes the NFC playoffs!
We have been joking that a second- or third-place team with a very good record in the AFC could miss the playoffs and a sub-.500 NFC team "earn" a Wild Card, but this would be ridiculous (and not a Stuart Scott-style ridiculous). As Mike Patrick would say (if he was still employed), "Are you kidding me!"
Here are the picks:
Sunday, Dec. 17
Cleveland (4-9) at Baltimore (10-3), 1 p.m.
You know, with the NFC looking like NCAA Division I-AA, Baltimore could repeat as winner of the worst Super Bowl matchup of all time if they face, say, the New York Giants?
Prediction: Ravens, 26-17.
Detroit (2-11) at Green Bay (5-8), 1 p.m.
Green Bay has a chance to catch Minnesota for second place in the NFC North. Black and Blue Division? Must be from all the beatings they take, especially at the hands of the AFC East.
Prediction: Packers, 28-16.
Houston (4-9) at New England (9-4), 1 p.m.
See separately posted game preview.
Prediction: Have a nice day.
Jacksonville (8-5) at Tennessee (6-7), 1 p.m.
Jacksonville is just 2-4 on the road. That has to make them nervous. That and Tennessee's four-game winning streak, mostly over pretty good teams. It would take a Music City Miracle for Tennessee to make the playoffs, but it's not totally impossible ... yet. You'd have to think Jacksonville can rise above and win a game when they need to. Of course, you'd think that of a lot of teams. Oh, without those two losses to Houston, Jacksonville would be tied for the division lead. Imagine that?
Prediction: Jaguars, 34-28.
Miami (6-7) at Buffalo (6-7), 1 p.m.
One team may still have a prayer with a win today. The other is definitely dead. Amazing that either is even in this position after their bye weeks. We in these parts know plenty about Miami's recent exploits. Buffalo has one four of six with losses by 1 point to Indianapolis and 3 points to San Diego. They have beaten Jacksonville and the New York Jets. Should be some game. It's unseasonably warm in western New York, so weather will not be the factor it could be. Should be interesting. I'll take Miami's defense.
Prediction: Dolphins, 17-14.
N.Y. Jets (7-6) at Minnesota (6-7), 1 p.m.
Minnesota just hasn't beaten a good team since their bye week, and they've lost more than they've won. New York's wins have been more impressive, but far consistently good. Of course, the AFC East against the NFC North?
Prediction: Jets, 28-10.
Pittsburgh (6-7) at Carolina (6-7), 1 p.m.
I can't remember a team as streaky as Carolina: 2 losses, 4 wins, 2 losses, 2 wins, 3 losses (these last all to the NFC East). Carolina is 2-1 against the AFC North. On the other hand, Pittsburgh's recent wins are against Tampa Bay and twice (once very lucky) over Cleveland . In August, this looked like an important late-season game. I'm going to stick with the AFC.
Prediction: Steelers, 23-21.
Tampa Bay (3-10) at Chicago (11-2), 1 p.m.
Chicago is pretty good against Division I-AA.
Prediction: Bears, 34-13.
Washington (4-9) at New Orleans (9-4), 1 p.m.
New Orleans maintains a full one-game lead over Dallas for the No. 2 seed in the NFC with a win. Washington can maintain a one-game deficit for the next to last seed with a loss.
Prediction: Saints, 38-16.
Denver (7-6) at Arizona (4-9), 4:05 p.m.
Arizona has won two straight and Denver has lost four straight. I don't know why Arizona wanted to win those games. And I don't know why Mike Shanahan wanted to lose the last two. Denver is now a full-game out of the Wild Card and is as desperate as any team. Maybe a trip to the desert is just what the doctor ordered. But can a cold-weather team win in a warm-weather climate? Anyone around here have an opinion on that?
Prediction: Broncos, 20-10.
Philadelphia (7-6) at N.Y. Giants (7-6), 4:15 p.m.
This game is just as big as I thought it was going to be. I just thought these teams would both be 10-3 or 9-4. New York is 3-3 at home. Philly is 3-3 on the road. Very even matchup in many respects. Neither team has played to expectations. They lose when you expect them to win and win when you expect them to lose. I have no idea what to think.
Prediction: Giants, 26-24.
St. Louis (5-8) at Oakland (2-11), 4:15 p.m.
Oakland is 2-4 at home, and that's the best you can say about them. Teams really fear that Black Hole, huh, JT? They're winless in their last six. St. Louis is 2-4 on the road, and they're 1-7 in the last eight. Someone has to win this game. (Watch them tie.) Remember 2001 when St. Louis was talking about being the next dynasty?
Prediction: Rams, 16-14.
Kansas City (7-6) at San Diego (11-2), 8:15 p.m.
Kansas City handed San Diego one of their two losses, 30-27, on Oct. 22. San Diego has lost only one other game, (Baltimore, Oct. 1) also by 3. The earlier game was in Arrowhead Stadium. San Diego has won seven straight, is home and is playing for the No. 1 conference seed. I'm sure they want to demonstrate that October was anomalous.
Prediction: Chargers, 42-21.
Monday, Dec. 18
Cincinnati (8-5) at Indianapolis (10-3), 8:30 p.m.
Cincy has won four straight. Indy, in typical Indy late-season fashion, has lost three of four. Maybe they swooned early enough that they can make a late run. Not surprisingly, they're 6-0 at home.
Prediction: Colts, 31-24.