As we enter the homestretch of the 2005 season, it bears pointing out that only three teams (Houston, the New York Jets, San Francisco) have been officially eliminated from playoff contention. Even Green Bay is still mathematically alive. Ain’t parity grand? Or is it parody that I’m referring to?
Meanwhile, Seattle can sew up the NFC West with a victory Monday night preceded by a St. Louis loss Sunday afternoon. Also, the unbeaten Colts can virtually lock up the AFC South if they turn back Tennessee and if Jacksonville falls at Cleveland.
On the prognosticating front, last week turned out to be like a sandwich with stale bread - a rotten beginning and end to the weekend but decent in between. As is my wont, I picked too many upsets (those predictions of wins for the Lions and Steelers were insightful, ey?), but I’m compelled to ask: Where’s the fun in picking all the favorites?
All right… on to Week 13:
OVERALL PREDICTIONS, 2005
Straight-Up: 114-62 (65%) ATS: 95-74-5 (56%) Over/Under: 81-90-5 (47%)
Straight-Up: 9-7 ATS: 9-6-1 Over/Under: 6-10
Buffalo (4-7) at Miami (4-7)
Line: Dolphins favored by 4 (total points line is 35½)
Series: Buffalo has won the last three meetings including a 20-14 victory at home earlier this season and a 42-32 conquest at Miami last year.
Bills Status Report: Buffalo lost at home to Carolina Sunday, 13-9. The Bills are tied with Miami for second in the AFC East, two games back of New England.
Dolphins Status Report: Miami pulled off a 33-21 upset at Oakland last week.
Fantasy Tidbit: I don’t often recommend both running backs in a committee situation such as Miami’s, but Buffalo’s run defense ranks dead last in the NFL. Both Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are reasonable starts.
Game Summary: Miami coach Nick Saban made some interesting and potentially ill-advised comments after his team’s shutout loss at Cleveland in Week 11, referring to a lack of importance that he believes should be placed on winning. Uh, hello… it’s all about winning, Coach. Well, I guess when you sign the contract Saban did at the start of this season, you can say pretty much whatever you want. Anyway, the Dolphins responded with a victorious effort at Oakland and their defense is probably good enough to keep the Bills’ shaky attack under wraps.
Prediction: DOLPHINS, 24-16
Cincinnati (8-3) at Pittsburgh (7-4)
Line: Steelers favored by 3½ (total points line is 42½)
Series: Pittsburgh won the first meeting between these two this season, 27-13, at Cincinnati in late October. The Steelers have won five of the last six meetings overall.
Bengals Status Report: Cincinnati held off Baltimore at home last week, 42-29, to take a one-game lead over the Steelers in the AFC North.
Steelers Status Report: Pittsburgh was whupped at Indianapolis Monday night, 26-7. The Steelers are tied with two other clubs a game behind Jacksonville for the AFC wild-card lead.
Fantasy Tidbit: The Bengals offense has been on fire of late, but the Steelers’ D rarely yields much at home. The solution? Play ‘em all. These players and units are among the elite of the league. Don’t fool with them just because the matchups aren’t ideal.
Game Summary: Certainly, I was disappointed that the Steelers didn’t put up a better fight at Indy… but the Bengals still haven’t beaten anyone of note since a road win at Chicago very early in the campaign. Cincy’s offense is good enough to play with anyone, but the defense still isn’t quite there. In a game the Steelers have to have to win the AFC North, they get it because their offense will succeed where it consistently failed against the Colts.
Prediction: STEELERS, 27-21
Jacksonville (8-3) at Cleveland (4-7)
Line: Jaguars favored by 2½ (total points line is 33½)
Series: No meetings since 2001. The Jaguars have won seven of nine overall including all four played at Cleveland.
Jaguars Status Report: Jacksonville held off Arizona on the road, 24-17, but lost QB Byron Leftwich to a broken ankle. The Jaguars are second in the AFC South, three games behind Indianapolis, but are leading the wild-card chase.
Browns Status Report: Cleveland lost at Minnesota Sunday, 24-12. The Browns are third in the AFC North.
Fantasy Tidbit: With Leftwich out, David Garrard will get the call for the Jags – rendering virtually everyone on their offense fantasy-useless. Either among RBs Greg Jones or Fred Taylor is a modest play, but only if Taylor’s injury status is crystal clear.
Game Summary: A very difficult game to call… the Jaguars are the better team, most certainly, but with such inexperience at QB there’s no telling what path the contest may follow. Here’s the stat I like a lot – the Browns are allowing only 12.8 points per game at home. But here are some numbers I like even more – the Jaguars are in the thick of the playoff chase mostly because of their defense, and for whatever reason they’ve owned the Browns in this series.
Prediction: JAGUARS, 17-13
Houston (1-10) at Baltimore (3-8)
Line: Ravens favored by 8 (total points line is 37)
Series: The only previous meeting was a Baltimore triumph at Houston during the Texans’ inaugural 2002 campaign.
Texans Status Report: Houston squandered a 24-3 halftime lead over St. Louis at home last week and lost in overtime, 33-27.
Ravens Status Report: Baltimore rallied to make it close, but suffered a 42-29 setback at Cincinnati Sunday.
Fantasy Tidbit: RB Jamal Lewis finally enjoyed a strong game last week, and he’ll find the Houston defense even more to his liking. With Chester Taylor still ailing Lewis is likely to get all the work he can handle.
Game Summary: Is QB Kyle Boller finally getting it? Can the Ravens score points after all? Well, they should in this one. Houston’s mentality is hard to gauge… but the odds are the Texans will be emotionally spent. And even if they’re up for the game, they’re pretty blessed awful.
Prediction: RAVENS, 27-17
Tennessee (3-8) at Indianapolis (11-0)
Line: Colts favored by 16 (total points line is 49½)
Series: The Colts have won the last six meetings, all but one of those games decided by at least two touchdowns. Earlier this season, Indy won at Tennessee, 31-10, and in the most recent meeting at Indianapolis, the Colts rolled, 51-24.
Titans Status Report: Tennessee snapped a five-game losing streak Sunday with a 33-22 triumph over visiting San Francisco.
Colts Status Report: Indianapolis pasted Pittsburgh on Monday night at home, 26-7, has a three-game lead in the AFC South, and is two games up on Denver for the conference’s best record.
Fantasy Tidbit: Titans QB Steve McNair has been statistically effective of late, and if the Colts run out to a big lead in this one as most expect, he might pile up some yards and a late TD or two after the game is decided.
Game Summary: The Titans are due for a big upset, McNair is a big-game QB, the Colts are working with a short week…JUST KIDDING! Colts have too much on the line to stumble here. However, I’m taking Tennessee to cover the huge number because the Colts might let down a little after such a big effort against Pittsburgh, and with Jacksonville coming up next week they might even look ahead… just for a peek.
Prediction: COLTS, 35-21
Dallas (7-4) at New York Giants (7-4)
Line: Giants favored by 3 (total points line is 41½)
Series: The Cowboys prevailed at home in overtime earlier this season, 16-13. The Giants won at home a year ago, 28-24. This season series has finished in a sweep for one or the other four straight years.
Cowboys Status Report: Dallas lost at home to Denver on Thanksgiving Day, 24-21 in OT. The Cowboys are tied with the Giants atop the NFC East.
Giants Status Report: With K Jay Feely missing three potential game-winning field goals, including two he truly should have been able to convert, the Giants lost at Seattle in OT, 24-21.
Fantasy Tidbit: QB Eli Manning is a force at home for the Giants, and WRs Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer as well as TE Jeremy Shockey are all legit starts.
Game Summary: These teams have a lot more in common other than their records, standing in the division, and both coming off 24-21 OT losses. They almost always play close games. And while another series sweep would mean Dallas has to win here, I note that the first game went to OT and, as such, either team could have just as easily come away victorious. Except for the egg they laid against Minnesota, the Giants have been money at home this season. That decides it.
Prediction: GIANTS, 27-20
Green Bay (2-9) at Chicago (8-3)
Line: Bears favored by 7 (total points line is 30½)
Series: The Packers have owned this series, winning 23 of the last 30 meetings including 12 of 13 at Chicago.
Packers Status Report: Green Bay lost at Philadelphia last week, 19-14.
Bears Status Report: Chicago posted a 13-10 victory at Tampa Bay Sunday. The Bears lead the NFC North by two games over Minnesota and trail Seattle by one in the race for the NFC’s best record.
Fantasy Tidbit: Packers RB Sam Gado started against the Eagles and had a productive day, but he lost yet another fumble – his fourth in three games – and so it’s risky for fantasy owners to count on him. Against Chicago’s defense ranked No. 1 overall, bench him unless you truly have no one else.
Game Summary: Forgive me for tooting my horn, but I was the only pundit I could find who picked the Bears to win at Tampa… defense wins, bay-bee. This team will continue to have success as long as the D remains relatively injury-free. With all due respect to legendary QB Brett Favre… fuhgetaboutit.
Prediction: BEARS, 23-10
Minnesota (6-5) at Detroit (4-7)
Line: Vikings favored by 2½ (total points line is 38)
Series: Minnesota beat the Lions at home earlier this season, 27-14, and has won the last five meetings.
Vikings Status Report: Minnesota won its fourth in a row Sunday, 24-12, over visiting Cleveland. The Vikes are two games behind Chicago in the NFC North and just one back of the New York Giants, Atlanta, and Tampa Bay in the battle for two conference wild-card berths.
Lions Status Report: Detroit was embarrassed at home on Thanksgiving Day by Atlanta, 27-7… so much so, in fact, that coach Steve Mariucci was canned. Ex-Chicago head man Dick Jauron is the interim coach.
Fantasy Tidbit: QB Brad Johnson has been efficient for the Vikings, and he likes big targets – meaning that TE Jermaine Wiggins and WR Marcus Robinson are the preferred receivers over Troy Williamson, Nate Burleson and Koren Robinson… at least for now.
Game Summary: Despite what happened on Thanksgiving, I’d begun my analysis of this game leaning toward a Detroit upset. Even with the firing of “Mooch,” I was willing to take the Lions. But then I considered the QB mess and the controversy surrounding Dre’ Bly’s comments and I’ve decided there are too many distractions. I’m still not overly impressed with Minnesota, but I do like Johnson’s game management. I always have. With solid defense (gasp), the Vikes manage to add to their winning streak.
Prediction: VIKINGS, 20-14
Atlanta (7-4) at Carolina (8-3)
Line: Panthers favored by 3 (total points line is 43)
Series: The Falcons have won three in a row and five of the last six in this series.
Falcons Status Report: Atlanta toyed with host Detroit before finishing off the Lions, 27-7, on Thanksgiving Day. The Falcons trail Carolina by a game in the NFC South and are tied with Tampa Bay and the New York Giants for the wild-card lead.
Panthers Status Report: Carolina escaped with a 13-9 victory at Buffalo Sunday.
Fantasy Tidbit: Don’t shy away from Atlanta’s league-best ground game just because the Panthers rush defense is among the NFL’s elite. With QB Michael Vick always a threat to take off, traditional run-defense formations are sacrificed, either to spy Vick or to maintain backside containment. Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett will both be factors, as usual.
Game Summary: A very close game, but a couple of factors sway this one toward the visitors. Atlanta has been solid on the road this season, having lost only once. The Falcons have had two extra days to prepare. Carolina has managed just 16 points in its last eight quarters, and Atlanta is coming off the stellar defensive effort at Detroit. But here’s the biggie… by my count, Vick has never lost to the Panthers. So this is my designated upset special.
Prediction: FALCONS, 21-17
Tampa Bay (7-4) vs. New Orleans (3-8) at Baton Rouge, La.
Line: Buccaneers favored by 3½ (total points line is 39)
Series: The visiting team has won the last five meetings, and all have gone under the total.
Buccaneers Status Report: Tampa Bay lost at home to Chicago, 13-10, Sunday. The Bucs trail Carolina by a game in the NFC South, and are tied for the wild-card lead with Atlanta and the New York Giants.
Saints Status Report: New Orleans held off the New York Jets at the Meadowlands Sunday night, 21-19, to snap a six-game losing streak.
Fantasy Tidbit: In traditional scoring leagues, Tampa Bay RB Mike Alstott has become a force. He has four touchdowns in his last three games.
Game Summary: The status of each team is fairly obvious, and the history of this series clearly points to the visiting team (for whatever reason). In short, there isn’t a single reason that I can think of why Tampa Bay won’t prevail.
Prediction: BUCCANEERS, 20-10
Washington (5-6) at St. Louis (5-6)
Line: Redskins favored by 3 (total points line is 46)
Series: The Redskins have dominated this series, winning eight of the last 11 meetings including two of three at St. Louis.
Redskins Status Report: Washington lost at home to San Diego in overtime last week, 23-17. The Redskins, who have dropped six of eight after a 3-0 start, are tied with Philadelphia for third in the NFC East, two games behind co-leaders Dallas and the New York Giants.
Rams Status Report: St. Louis staged a remarkable rally at Houston a week ago, coming back from a 21-point halftime deficit to beat the Texans in OT, 33-27. The Rams are second in the NFC West, four games behind Seattle.
Fantasy Tidbit: The fantasy focus is usually on the Rams when they’re at home but this matchup provides great opportunity for Redskins QB Mark Brunell, RB Clinton Portis, TE Chris Cooley, and WR Santana Moss. All are must-starts.
Game Summary: Despite the heroics of rookie QB Ryan Fitzpatrick at Houston last week, the Rams are overmatched without Marc Bulger. Either Fitzpatrick and/or veteran Jamie Martin will have their hands full with the Redskins’ aggressive defense. Conversely, the Rams defense doesn’t offer much resistance these days. Washington has the personnel to grind out a win.
Prediction: REDSKINS, 28-23
Arizona (3-8) at San Francisco (2-9)
Line: Cardinals favored by 3 (total points line is 44½)
Series: Arizona won the first meeting this season, 31-14, in a game played in Mexico. The home team has dominated this series - especially the 49ers, who haven’t lost to the Cardinals at home since before Joe Montana was drafted. Last year, the 49ers won twice by identical 31-28 scores.
Cardinals Status Report: Arizona succumbed at home to Jacksonville Sunday, 24-17.
49ers Status Report: San Francisco was beaten at Tennessee last week, 33-22, and has lost four straight and 9 of 10.
Fantasy Tidbit: Even with this juicy matchup, it would be a surprise if the 49ers running game did much. With rookie QB Alex Smith starting, the Cardinals will likely see to it that Kevan Barlow, Frank Gore, and/or Maurice Hicks don’t beat them. Then again, we’re talking the Cardinals… so ya never know.
Game Summary: The 49ers have been quite respectable at home, nearly rallying past Seattle two weeks ago and beating Tampa Bay and St. Louis earlier this season. The Cardinals were QB’ed by Josh McCown when they throttled the Niners south of the Border… and the 49ers have a lot of pride at stake facing a sister weakling at home.
Prediction: 49ERS, 19-16
New York Jets (2-9) at New England (6-5)
Line: Patriots favored by 10 (total points line is 41½)
Series: The Patriots have dominated in recent years, winning the last six meetings, although the Jets usually play tough at Foxboro, going 8-4 ATS in the last dozen meetings.
Jets Status Report: Things are at their bleakest. The Jets couldn’t even defeat New Orleans at home, losing 21-19 for their seventh consecutive loss amid reports that coach Herm Edwards would prefer to coach elsewhere.
Patriots Status Report: New England fell at Kansas City last week, 26-16, but the Pats remain two games up in the AFC East.
Fantasy Tidbit: If Jets RB Curtis Martin is ever going to get untracked this season, it will be in this contest. The Patriots run defense hasn’t stopped anyone since the Super Bowl. Martin did manage 99 total yards last week against the Saints, but he’s been a shadow of his 2004 self.
Game Summary: The Jets are a mess… they’re toast. Their last link to respectability was cast aside with the rumors surrounding Edwards. New England and QB Tom Brady should have their way from the outset.
Prediction: PATRIOTS, 30-10
Denver (9-2) at Kansas City (7-4)
Line: Even (total points line is 45½)
Series: Denver rolled at home in September, 30-10, but the Chiefs have won the last three played at KC, including last December’s 45-17 drubbing.
Broncos Status Report: Denver won in overtime at Dallas on Thanksgiving, 24-21. The Broncos have won four straight and 9 of 10. They lead San Diego and the Chiefs by two games in the AFC West.
Chiefs Status Report: Kansas City whipped New England at home Sunday, 26-16.
Fantasy Tidbit: If you’re hoping that Chiefs TE Tony Gonzalez snaps out of his season-long TD slump (he has only one), the odds are that this isn’t the week he’ll do so. Gonzo has only one touchdown in his last five confrontations with the Denver secondary.
Game Summary: I usually like the Chiefs at home… nothing Earth-shattering there. But the stats, just about across the board, favor Denver. The key most likely will be Broncos QB Jake Plummer, who coming into this season was especially unreliable on the road but is anything but that this season.
Prediction: BRONCOS, 27-24
Oakland (4-7) at San Diego (7-4)
Line: Chargers favored by 11 (total points line is 50)
Series: San Diego has won the last four meetings, including a 27-14 triumph at Oakland earlier this year. In the last clash at San Diego, the Bolts routed the Raiders, 42-14.
Raiders Status Report: A week after their solid performance in an upset at Washington, the Raiders looked awful during a 33-21 home loss to Miami.
Chargers Status Report: San Diego rallied to edge Washington in OT, 23-17. The Chargers, who trail first-place Denver by two games in the AFC West, are tied with Kansas City and Pittsburgh for the second wild-card slot.
Fantasy Tidbit: Chargers QB Drew Brees tossed four touchdown passes against the Raiders at home last season, and had that many in his most recent home game – against Buffalo.
Game Summary: This once enjoyable rivalry has gotten ugly for the silver-and-black – four straight losses to the Chargers, and two of them lopsided. San Diego is on a roll now – the Bolts have won four straight – and with the testy schedule they’ve already faced this year, it’s difficult to envision a letdown here.
Prediction: CHARGERS, 34-27
Seattle (9-2) at Philadelphia (5-6)
Line: Seahawks favored by 4 (total points line is 42½)
Series: No recent meetings. Seattle won in its last trip to Philly, in 2000, but the Eagles have won four of the last six encounters overall.
Seahawks Status Report: Seattle survived at home against the New York Giants last week for a 24-21 OT victory achieved only after Giants kicker Jay Feely failed on three different attempts to kick a game-winning field goal. The Seahawks remain one game away from clinching the NFC West, however, although they sport the conference’s best record.
Eagles Status Report: Philadelphia turned back visiting Green Bay Sunday, 19-14. The Eagles are tied with Washington for third in the NFC East.
Fantasy Tidbit: Seattle RB Shaun Alexander is capable of putting up huge numbers literally any week, but bear in mind that when San Diego came to the City of Brotherly Love last month, the Eagles completely stymied LaDainian Tomlinson, holding him to seven net rushing yards.
Game Summary: No… no glorious proclamations of an upset for this Monday night. Allow me to pout about my pick of the Steelers over the Colts in peace, please. It’s reasonable, however, to conclude that the Eagles have a real shot to win this one. An injury-riddled but still mostly quality team as a home ‘dog on national TV. Definitely could happen. But Seattle knows it has something to prove to the rest of the league – can the Seahawks win in a hostile environment? I say that this is the time that the franchise finally begins to get over that hump – with a decisive victory before the entire country against the defending conference champs.
Prediction: SEAHAWKS, 24-14