All Eyes on December
Contender or Spoiler? That Is the Question.
OK, I blew it. I forgot to post my pick for the Thursday Night game. Pretty sure I had it wrong anyway. I was leaning toward picking Baltimore, but wasn?t entirely convinced. Anyway, chalk it up as a loss.
Meanwhile, the surprising AFC East is the only division in the league in which every team is within one game of being .500 or better, and the not-surprising AFC West is the only division that has three teams above .500. The NFC East, South and West each have two teams over .500 and one team at 5-6. Of those, only the East has its last-place team better than 3-8.
A lot of teams that were nearly desperate last week, like Atlanta and their thug non-quarterback, are desperate now. As I continued to draw parallels between twin former expansion teams Carolina and Jacksonville, both 6-4 prior to last week, they both lost to sub-.500 teams and put their playoff hopes in jeopardy. Knowing that, at 6-5, Carolina still holds the sixth playoff spot in the NFC means that this could be the year a sub-.500 team could make the playoffs.
Denver, at 7-4 and teetering on the playoff edge, is making an unprecedented quarterback change. Can you imagine if Drew Bledsoe had been 7-4 and healthy in New England and Bill Belichick made the change to Tom Brady then?
Five games per team (except Baltimore and Cincinnati) left. Do-or-die is getting very close to done-and-dead. And the alleged elite are strategizing for home-field in the playoffs. Now, it gets very interesting. Here are the picks:
Sunday, Dec. 3
Arizona (2-9) at St. Louis (5-6), 1 p.m.
Really, what is Arizona, Detroit or Oakland going to do with a No. 1 pick besides waste it? I think Dennis Green may be the next coach of the Raiders, if not in 2007, possibly 2008. What are the chances Arizona can, or wants to, beat St. Louis? Whoops, time is short. No time to waste here.
Prediction: Rams, 38-17.
Atlanta (5-6) at Washington (4-7), 1 p.m.
Despite four straight losses, Atlanta still has a chance to make the playoffs. Washington doesn?t. But they can wreck someone else?s season today. That?s almost as good as writing off your own. Like I said last week, Washington has been playing well at home, and they have a better rushing defense than New Orleans, Cleveland and Detroit, all of whom beat Atlanta. Atlanta has scored between 10 and 14 in all of their last four losses
Prediction: Redskins, 20-13.
Detroit (2-9) at New England (8-3), 1 p.m.
See separately posted game preview.
Prediction: Drive through, please.
Indianapolis (10-1) at Tennessee (4-7), 1 p.m.
Tennessee nearly beat Indy in the RCA Dome earlier this season. Can they really pull off the upset at home? This may at least be an interesting game, based solely on that. At least for a quarter.
Prediction: Colts, 28-13.
Kansas City (7-4) at Cleveland (3-8), 1 p.m.
Cleveland didn?t respond well to that last-second loss against Pittsburgh two weeks ago. And now they?ll have a hard time challenging for that No. 1 pick. Looks like Trent Green came back at the right time.
Prediction: Chiefs, 24-10.
Minnesota (5-6) at Chicago (9-2), 1 p.m.
I really wouldn?t want to play offense for Minnesota today. Like Mr. T as Clubber Lang in Rocky III, I have a prediction: Pain.
Prediction: Bears, 38-10.
N.Y. Jets (6-5) at Green Bay (4-7), 1 p.m.
New York still has a shot at the playoffs. It?s great that they have a cakewalk schedule, but what they really need is a couple head-to-head games with K.C. and Denver. Of course, they?d have to win them. They still have to win these cakewalk games, too. I don?t think Green Bay is ready to lay down, but they?re 1-2 against the AFC East so far.
Prediction: Jets, 26-20.
San Diego (9-2) at Buffalo (5-6), 1 p.m.
The term juggernaut comes to mind when I think of one of these teams, and I don?t mean the Bills of the 1990s. Buffalo has won three of four, losing only to Indy and only by a point. On the other hand, San Diego makes appetizers of such teams.
Prediction: Chargers, 33-20.
San Francisco (5-6) at New Orleans (7-4), 1 p.m.
Just when you thought San Francisco was coming out of oblivion and New Orleans was heading there, they both do an about-face. Are they both on their previous tracks, or are they ready for another 180? Heck, this parity thing really bites sometimes.
Prediction: Saints, 24-21.
Houston (3-8) at Oakland (2-9), 4:05 p.m.
Two first-year head coaches (well, it?s the second time Art Shell is a first-year head coach for the same team). This is all I have, folks. This is all there really is. Torn between pride and a No. 1 draft pick. Decisions, decisions. This is as good as flipping a coin: Oakland lost five, won two, lost four, so they?re due to lose another; Houston is very nearly on a lose-two-win-one schedule, and they?ve lost their last two, so they?re due for a win. Sound reasonable?
Prediction: Texans, 21-17.
Jacksonville (6-5) at Miami (5-6), 4:05 p.m.
Miami is the dark horse playoff contender. A little help from a couple other teams and a few wins, and they can make it. They only have Jacksonville, New England, the New York Jets, Buffalo and Indianapolis in their way. Unlikely as that sounds, they?ve won four straight after a 1-6 start. Jacksonville has been anything but consistent, and they?re 1-4 on the road. This is a desperation game for them,
Prediction: Dolphins, 24-21.
Dallas (7-4) at N.Y. Giants (6-5), 4:15 p.m.
New York is as desperate as a team gets. They?ve lost three straight and they should have won at least two of them. That?s not the way good teams play late in the season. Dallas has been fantastic since their quarterback change. Looks a lot like 2001 in Foxboro down there. New York probably wishes it would be a little colder right now. You really have to wonder if New York wants it bad enough. We?ll find out today. A loss at home to a good team with your own fortunes on the line is a death knell.
Prediction: Cowboys, 28-24.
Tampa Bay (3-8) at Pittsburgh (4-7), 4:15 p.m.
Neither team is that good, but Tampa is really bad, and Pittsburgh is at home.
Prediction: Steelers, 31-14.
Seattle (7-4) at Denver (7-4), 8:15 p.m.
Former division rivals. Denver is putting their eggs in the basket of a rookie quarterback who hasn?t played a meaningful down this season. Seattle looked pretty good with their star starters back. But that was just Green Bay. Denver will need its defense today.
Prediction: Broncos, 13-10.
Monday, Dec. 4
Carolina (6-5) at Philadelphia (5-6), 8:30 p.m.
This was clearly a game circled by many in the preseason as a battle for supremacy. Now for one team it?s a battle for relevance; for the other, a battle for a low playoff berth. You decide which is which.
Prediction: Panthers, 23-17.
Last week: 11 - 5.
Season: 105 - 71.