The Chargers and Colts face off against division rivals with their playoff lives on the line. The Eagles, Packers, and Jets need victories to maintain playoff positioning. Also, the Browns can still win the AFC North (true!), fantasy football playoffs, and the Dolphins need change.
You know playoff intensity has arrived when I can spew out 3,000 plus words for a weekly preview.
Last Week: 11 – 5 – 0
Season: 120 – 77 – 0
Thursday Night (8:20PM ET)
Colts at Titans
Peyton Manning’s last stand. Lose, and any chance of reaching the playoffs are gone. Win, and the possibility of extending Manning’s playoff streak lives on for another week. I can’t figure out the Colts. Injuries have obviously decimated the team, but Manning has overcome injuries before. Is Indianapolis too old? Too tired? Poorly coached? Are they that team we expect to eventually turn it around but they never do, or do they finally right the ship this week, win four straight and host a playoff game a month from now? I wish I knew the answer. I doubt this week will provide further clarity because the Titans quit on Jeff Fisher two weeks ago. Although the Titans are at home, I can’t imagine Manning playing so poorly for an entire month. He’s got to snap out of it sometime. As for Tennessee, why does Jeff Fisher still have a job? He’s a skinnier, poor man’s version of Andy Reid. While neither coach has won a Superbowl, at least Reid keeps the Eagles competing for the playoffs on a consistent basis. Including this season, Fisher has gotten the Titans to the playoffs twice in the past seven seasons. He’s 0-2 in those playoff appearances. I can’t wait until Fisher is coaching the Cowboys next season. COLTS If I were Charles Barkely; Colts -4
Early Games (1:00PM ET)
Browns at Bills
Stevie Johnson caught two balls for 36 yards Sunday in Minnesota. In case you’re wondering; it was his worst outing of the season. Turns out blaming God for a bad case of the dropsies didn’t work out. I never would have guessed this. In case you’re wondering, part two; the Browns can absolutely win the AFC North title if… they win out, the Steelers lose their final four games, and Baltimore finishes 1-3 or worse. Believe, Cleveland. Believe. Something good is bound to happen for your city at some point. In case you’re wondering, part three; I’ve confirmed via a league source that C.J. Spiller won’t win AFC rookie of the year. BROWNS If I were Charles Barkely; Browns +1
Bengals at Steelers
It’s been a rough year for Cincinnati, to say the least. There’s rarely a silver lining in a football season where your team suffers through a nine game losing streak (and counting). However, the Bengals haven’t been as awful as one would expect from a 2-10 team. Of their nine consecutive losses, only two have been by more than one score. Furthermore, the Bengals have beaten the Ravens, and lost to the Buccaneers, Falcons, Steelers, Colts, and Saints by 3, 7, 6, 6, and 4, respectively. The biggest reasons for Cincinnati’s decline in 2010 have been the inconsistency of the defense and Carson Palmer’s dreadful play. While I still like the Bengals to win a game or two before 2011, I can’t in good conscience pick against the Steelers after such a dominating defensive performance. STEELERS If I were Charles Barkely; Bengals +9
Packers at Lions
Green Bay’s schedule down the stretch is brutal, so it’s critical the Packers get the “easy” wins while they still can. After Sunday, the Packers go to New England before hosting the Giants and Bears. Depending on how the chips fall, Green Bay may need to win two of those final three to make the playoffs. Even with a 3rd string quarterback, the Lions are overdue for a win. If Aaron Rodgers is off, or takes a blow to the head from the massive clubs of Ndamukong Suh, Green Bay could be in trouble. On PTI this week, Mike Wilbon said he would take Suh ahead of Sam Bradford if the draft were today. And you know what? That notion isn’t all that crazy because Suh is that good, Reggie White good, according to Wilbon. ReggieWhite was/is/always will be my favorite NFL player, so I’ll be watching Suh closely for the next decade to see how he measures up. PACKERS If I were Charles Barkely; Packers -7
Giants at Vikings
As of this moment, Brett Favre’s status for Sunday remains up in the air. Although the Vikings beat Buffalo by 24 last week, Tarvaris Jackson still threw three interceptions. Apparently, regardless of who starts at quarterback, the Vikings need to overcome turnovers to win. Speaking of turnovers, the Giants defense leads the NFL in takeaways. That’s bad news for Minnesota. If Eli Manning is without his top two receivers again, the Vikings could win with a heavy dosage of Adrian Peterson and no turnovers. This would be ideal for Eagle fans. Scary version: Giants win, Eagles lose, and then the Eagles head to the new Meadowlands next week a game down in the NFC East standings. The Giants should beat Minnesota, but this is the season of miracles, so anything is possible. VIKINGS If I were Charles Barkely; Vikings +1
Buccaneers at Redskins
The Buccaneers are injured and still distraught over last week’s collapse, the Redskins quit weeks ago. Therefore, allow me to use this space to tell a fantasy football story. I know, I know, I’m that guy. Sorry. If you’ve never watched The Wire, this may not make sense to you, but enjoy anyway… So the playoffs in my keeper fantasy football league start this week. My team (Wee-Bey Brice) was set to face my friend Brad’s team (Stringer Bell). Obviously, I changed my team name to Brother Mouzone because -SPOILER ALERT- Mouzone kills Stringer Bell in season three. Brad responded by changing his team name to Chris Partlow. Why? I’m not sure. My other friend in the league wasn’t sure either. Here’s the email he sent me:
I will give Brad some credit as he is in a bad spot with Brother Mouzone, but Chris Partlow is the best he can do? What does he think; he can hide out and avoid his fate because he is serving life in prison? If Brother Mouzone wants you dead, prison will not save you. I would have respected Brad much more if he would have just gone with Snoop who knew the end was near and accepted it. He could have said, “How my team look Ry?” as you finish him off.
Classic emails are one of the million reasons fantasy football is great. REDSKINS If I were Charles Barkely; Redskins +2
Falcons at Panthers
Is it possible the Panthers purposely tanked last Sunday in Seattle? While unlikely, allow me to argue why Carolina would commit such a heinous act. Earlier in the afternoon, the Bills, Bengals, and Lions lost. After their respective losses, all three fell to 2-10. The Panthers entered Sunday’s play at 1-10. A win in Seattle would result in a four-way tie for the league’s worst record and probably force a tie with at least one other team at season’s end. With a rookie pay scale supposedly being implemented in the new labor agreement, the top pick is more appealing than it’s been in recent memory. If you’ve watched Carolina at all this year, they NEED that top pick. A franchise quarterback would be the first quarterback the Panthers would have to build around since they drafted Kerry Collins out of Penn State in their inaugural season. On Sunday, Carolina jumped out to an early 14-0 lead over the Seahawks before mysteriously falling flat on their collective face. The Panthers are absolutely bad enough to suffer such a collapse. However, the Panthers are more concerned about the future than the here and now, and that’s why throwing the game makes more sense than winning it. Moving on… I would call this a trap game for Atlanta but a trap needs teeth to snare its prey. The Panthers have no teeth. FALCONS If I were Charles Barkely; Falcons -7.5
Raiders at Jaguars
The early afternoon lineup isn’t the most enticing collection of games I’ve ever seen. In fact, this is the only game that matches two potential playoff teams. Thus, I chose it as the top game to watch. Ok, so the Raiders are a long, long shot for the postseason, but they’re still technically in contention. Anyway, the Raiders don’t travel too well. They’re 2-4 on the road with both wins coming within the division (at Denver and at San Diego). A closer look reveals the Raiders are 0-2 when traveling east. Jacksonville is hot, winning four of their last five and needs a win to keep pressure on the Colts. I’m still not a big fan of the Jaguars, but expecting Jason Campbell and the Raiders to travel across the country and play well after an emotional division win is trouble. I’ll take the safe bet. JAGUARS If I were Charles Barkely; Raiders +5
Game to Watch: Raiders at Jaguars
Game on Call: Giants at Vikings
Afternoon Games (4:05PM ET)
Seahawks at 49ers
I’m not sure I understand Mike Singletary’s logic in inserting Alex Smith back into the starting lineup. What good could come of it? Last season, Smith played well down the stretch. So well in fact, the 49ers thought they had their starting quarterback for the foreseeable future. Obviously, Smith regressed (again) and the 49ers are where they are now. If Smith again finishes strong, what do the 49ers do? Bring him back for another season because he played well in the team’s final four games? Smith had his chance(s) to prove himself in San Francisco. It’s time for him and the team to move on. The 49ers should instead take an extended look at Troy Smith. While they’re technically still alive in the NFC West, their hopes of winning the division are slim. San Francisco knows all there is to know about Alex Smith. There’s still more to learn about Troy Smith. If he struggles, then maybe give David Carr one final shot at being an NFL starter, but don’t go back to Alex Smith. Best case scenario, the 49ers head into the 2011 season trying to convince everyone that Alex Smith finally has the position figured out. While he may still one day become a solid NFL quarterback, Alex Smith’s run in San Francisco needs to end. Why we loathe the NFC West, volume 73: No one team in the division has outscored their opponents, and yes, its the only division in the NFL that can make that claim. Every other division has at least two teams that have outscored their opponents. 49ERS If I were Charles Barkely; 49ers -5.5
Rams at Saints
New Orleans has been flirting with defeat thanks to late game collapses in consecutive games. A boneheaded fumble and an even more boneheaded offside penalty have bailed them out. Will the Saints’ late game struggles continue, or will some home cooking cure their ills? I really like the upstart Rams and Sam Bradford. Half glass full; St. Louis has overcome a 0-4 start on the road to win their last two contests away from the Edward Jones Dome. Half glass empty; those two wins came in Denver and in Arizona. This will be the toughest road test to date for the young Rams. With two huge games in Baltimore and Atlanta over the next two weeks, it’s possible the Saints overlook the Rams here. However, as they’ve recently proven, New Orleans can overcome slow starts. The ‘Nawlins faithful should keep Drew Brees and Co. focused until the final whistle. SAINTS If I were Charles Barkely; Saints -9
Dolphins at Jets
Growing up I remember the Dolphins as one of the most popular teams in the NFL. They were always competitive, always on TV, and always made the playoffs. Then Dan Marino retired. Since Marino’s retirement, the Dolphins have slipped into oblivion. While they’re rarely horrible, they’re rarely a playoff contender, either. I’m not sure which is worse. I think it’s time to bail on the Chad Henne era and consider a regime change. I also think the uniforms have to go. I know they’ve been around forever, but so what. Those colors are too soft for the NFL. I feel like I’m watching the WNBA, not a football game. This week, Miami will be the piñata the Jets use to release the anger/embarrassment/frustration built up after the lashing they absorbed at the hands of the Patriots on Monday night. JETS If I were Charles Barkely; Jets -6
Broncos at Cardinals
The title for league’s worst team is on the line. Mike Lombardi of NFL.com blames the Broncos organization for its current situation. According to Lombardi, Denver hasn’t fully committed to change and therefore cut ties with Josh McDaniels before allowing him enough time to fully implement his system and build the team his way. Obviously, Lombardi knows what he’s talking about. I mostly agree with him, too. However, McDaniels made a handful of devastating personnel moves, often shipping assets out for little in return. Those mistakes cannot be pinned on the Denver organization, especially when McDaniels had final say over personnel. Trading Jay Cutler brought in high draft picks, but trading a 25-year-old franchise quarterback is rarely a good idea. Kyle Orton has been good, but Cutler has the potential to be great. Brandon Marshall and Peyton Hillis were also sent packing, and McDaniels blew a high pick on Tim Tebow in the 2010 draft and another mid round pick in 2011 to bring in the underachieving Laurence Maroney. The Bronco organization might be misguided, but McDaniels’ personnel moves made him appear just as lost. Let’s see if interim coaches can move to 3-0. BRONCOS If I were Charles Barkely; Broncos -5.5
Chiefs at Chargers
I went with this game as my game to watch over New England/Chicago for three reasons. First, inter-conference games are rarely as intense as an intra-division rivalry, especially when both teams are fighting for the playoffs. Second, this is the Chargers’ final chance at saving their season. Desperation makes for good football. (By the way, San Diego’s loss in Oakland last week reminded me of the Eagles week 16 loss in D.C. during the 2008 season. That loss came right after the Eagles clawed their way back into contention. The Eagles rebounded and smoked Dallas the next week and got extremely lucky when the Raiders beat the favored Buccaneers in Tampa. Maybe the Chargers will get lucky, too.) Finally, I think this could be the week Todd Haley passes on a field goal that will ultimately cost his Chiefs a win and maybe even a playoff spot down the road. Real quick, who ranks 5th in the NFL in quarterback rating, above Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan? That’s right. Matt Cassel. CHARGERS If I were Charles Barkely; Chiefs +7
Patriots at Bears
I’m a little nervous about the Patriots taking the week off against an NFC opponent. To make matters worse, the Bears will undoubtedly be jacked up to knock off the NFL’s best team. My Eagles need a Chicago loss almost as much as they need a win over the Cowboys. How about Lovie Smith? He and Jack Del Rio should publish a book titled, “How to maintain a job despite only achieving success once every three years.” Those two are seriously amazing at rebounding just when it looks like they’ve reached the end. Anyway, these are the times when I’m glad my site is only read by a small number of visitors. Remember a month ago when I said Tom Brady no longer remains in the same class as Drew Brees and Peyton Manning? If you’ve forgotten, then never mind, it may or may not have ever happened. If you remember, what I meant is that he’s surpassed the level of Manning and Brees. Why would I write such a thing after an ugly loss to the Browns? Because I’m smart like that. PATRIOTS If I were Charles Barkely; Patriots -3
Game to Watch: Chiefs at Chargers
Game on Call: Patriots at Bears
Sunday Night (8:20PM ET)
Eagles at Cowboys
Without question, this is one of those games I’ll watch by peeking my head out from behind a pillow. Last season’s two week meltdown in Dallas scarred me. Luckily (for the Eagles at least), Dez Bryant won’t be available to torch the Philadelphia secondary. Miles Austin will be, though, and he and Jason Witten have always terrorized the Eagles. I can already picture Stewart Bradley counting the letters in “Witten” as he trails three yards behind the Dallas tight end. (By the way, Stewart, there are six letters in “Witten.”) On a positive note, the Eagles will have Michael Vick’s cool confidence under center instead of Donovan McNabb’s, “I’m smiling, I’m cool, I’m totally not peeing my pants,” façade. Even better, Philadelphia’s quarterback won’t jam on his air guitar while exiting the tunnel, or so we hope. As bad as I feel about this game, I would feel a whole lot worse if Andy Reid didn’t have an extra three days to prepare. Reid’s undefeated following a bye week, and 10 days between games is virtually a bye week, right? Right? Please say yes. My son’s never seen me cry before. Hopefully Sunday night won’t be the first time. EAGLES If I were Charles Barkely; Eagles -3.5
Monday Night (8:30PM ET)
Ravens at Texans
There’s a part of me that believes Sunday night’s back-breaking loss to Pittsburgh will have a lingering affect on the Ravens. I also believe the Texans have been playing pretty well over the past month despite a 1-4 record. How does that make any sense? I don’t know. Let’s forget I said it. It’s funny that naysayers (myself included) ripped Joe Flacco for coming up small on Sunday night. Looking back at the game, he outplayed Ben Roethlisberger for 57 minutes. Maybe Flacco should have realized the blitz was coming, but what quarterback isn’t going to fumble in that same scenario? Better yet, why throw the ball in that situation, especially considering how well the Raven defense was playing? Regardless, I still think the offense will again cost Baltimore a shot at the Superbowl, but I would pin most of the blame on the disappearance of Ray Rice and the Baltimore ground game, not Flacco. In 2009, they ranked 5th in the NFL in rushing yards. In 2010, they rank 16th. To control the clock and keep Tom Brady off the field in the playoffs, Baltimore will need a running game. One like Houston’s would be nice. TEXANS If I were Charles Barkely; Texans +3
Last Week: 9 – 7 – 0
Season: 82 – 105 – 5
(Lines as of 12/9, 6:40PM ET, from bodog)
The Colts barely won that game against the Titans, and the Titans aren’t even playing that good right now. I’m a little worried the Colts won’t reach the playoffs this season.
Out of all these games I’m really looking forward to the Bears and Patriots game. And I’m sorry but I still remember when you said Brady is no longer on the same level as Peyton and Drew. Tom must have read that post, because he has been playing just as good as he was that season they went undefeated until the Superbowl.
The Eagles and Cowboys’ game is going to be good too. The cowboys have been playing great with their new coach. But I agree with you, it will be hard to beat Andy Reid when he has extra days to prepare. I don’t think your son will see you cry Sunday night, because I think the Eagles will win this one.
I agree, Tom read my post. I should ask for donations from Patriots nation.
Thankfully, my son did not see me cry Sunday night. Hopefully that streak will remain intact after the Giants game.
Thanks for reading and for the comments!