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Playoff Push. Week 15 NFL Picks

It’s do or die for playoff hopefuls. The Jaguars died on Thursday night, opening up the sixth and final spot in the AFC playoffs. In the NFC, all eyes are on the showdown in New Orleans. I also make a surprising case for retaining two coaches on the hot seat.

Many football people believe this week’s sexiest matchup is on Saturday night. Don’t be fooled. If you end up Christmas shopping on Sunday you’ll be extremely disappointed. Week 15 is an underrated slate of games. By my fuzzy math, only 3.5 Sunday games are deadbeats (AZ/DET, HOU/STL, TB/SEA, and CLE/KC – I can’t explain it, I kind of like watching the Browns, it must be the orange). Additionally, all but three of Sunday’s games have playoff implications. NFL Ticket just isn’t enough this time of the year. I need more TVs. If you can help, let me know.

Last Week:  12 – 4 – 0
Season:       130 – 78 – 0

Thursday (8:20PM ET)

Colts at Jaguars
Jacksonville FINALLY sold out and fans in attendance were treated to a fantastic contest. But in the end, Manning conquered (just put “Manning conquered” at the end of any of his primetime games). Even in defeat, the Jaguars proved they’re a legitimate playoff contender, not simply the product of a weak schedule. Through 57 minutes, David Garrard was brilliant. At one point he was 6/6 on 3rd downs. All Jacksonville needed was one final drive to maintain control of their playoff destiny and end Indianapolis’ pursuit of perfection. Garrard didn’t get the memo. While he moved the offense down the field, Garrard was erratic, missing open receivers until one errant pass was finally intercepted. Game over. For consecutive weeks Jacksonville failed to orchestrate a game winning 4th quarter drive. The Jaguars now face the harsh reality of missing the postseason. Playing the Colts tougher than anyone this season is a nice consolation. Unfortunately for Jacksonville, moral victories don’t produce playoff appearances. COLTS

Saturday (8:20PM ET)

Cowboys at Saints
For the third consecutive December, the Dallas Cowboys have fallen from Super Bowl contender to flailing playoff hopeful. In 2007, Dallas’ struggles down the stretch weren’t enough to overcome their early season success. They reached the playoffs as the NFC’s top seed only to fall at home to the Giants in the Divisional round. Jerry Jones’ boys may not be so fortunate this year. Their remaining opponents (NO, WASH, PHI) are arguably three of the hottest teams in the NFC. On the other hand, the Saints are secretly trying to lose. Sean Payton doesn’t want the “perfection” talk distracting his players from a title. That’s why he faked a 4th quarter field goal last week, and that’s why he’ll make one or two head scratching calls this week. Still, it won’t be enough for Dallas. SAINTS

Early Games (1:00PM ET)

Patriots at Bills
Tom Brady is nursing injuries, Randy Moss has already gone home for Christmas, and it’s going to be cold, cold, cold with flurries in Buffalo. Not a winning formula for a team with a struggling defense and an offense that relies heavily on the passing game. If Buffalo manages to pull the upset, the Patriots will fall out of first in the division with a Miami victory in Tennessee. The Bills offense is pedestrian, so it won’t take an offensive explosion by New England to win. A healthy running game and Wes Welker will suffice. PATRIOTS

Cardinals at Lions
Are we certain the Cardinals are any good? Of their eight victories, three have come against “decent” teams (Jaguars, Texans, Giants) and one against a “good” team (Vikings). Arizona’s cupcake schedule may be inflating their playoff chances. Of course, they pulled this last season and nearly won the Super Bowl, so I’ll wait to declare them irrelevant. Speaking of irrelevant, when do the Lions get demoted to the NHL? CARDINALS

Dolphins at Titans
This could be the best game of the week. The Dolphins and Texans are tough-nosed, hard-hitting teams that need a win to keep their respective playoff hopes alive. Tennessee fans are some of the NFL’s most underrated and should be rowdy enough to create a playoff atmosphere. Both teams rely heavily on their running game, so we should be in for a slugfest as well. Chris Johnson has been elevated to my “Barry Sanders” level of excitement in my NFL viewing guide. He currently joins DeSean Jackson and Peyton Manning. I’ll cover the complete viewing guide in the offseason some time. TITANS

Browns at Chiefs
I’m not a big Eric Mangini fan. However, he should not absorb all the blame for the Browns putrid season. The Browns feature one of, if not the worst rosters in the NFL. Excluding Joshua Cribbs, there’s no one to fear on the offense. On the other hand, Mangini does deserve credit for his team’s recent play. In my opinion, a team with zero playoff hopes that closes out the season without packing it in, is a reflection of the coach. Mangini’s players are still playing hard, are still improving, and still have not quit. I think that alone earns Mangini a second year at the helm in Cleveland. Todd Haley? Not so much. The Chiefs Head Coach is in trouble. Kansas City has progressively gotten worse, lacks intensity, and dislikes their coach (watch their faces on the sideline). BROWNS

Texans at Rams
Professional football in Texas equals unintentional comedy. As we all know, the Cowboys annually fall apart in December. What we ignore is the Texans annual collapse in November (they’ve finished 1-3 in ‘08 and ‘09). It gets better. The Cowboys have only two defeats in that same span. The tables turn in December. Houston finished 3-2 in ‘07 and 4-1 in ‘08. Dallas finished 2-2 in ‘07, 1-3 in ‘08, and is currently 0-2 in ‘09. You can’t make this stuff up. To review, November = Dallas good, Houston bad. December = Dallas bad, Houston good. Texans/Rams December matchups lead to such musings. My apologies. TEXANS

Falcons at Jets
The Atlanta Falcons are the NFL’s recipient of the “bad break” award. Atlanta was right in the thick of the NFC playoff race before injuries sidelined one of the league’s premier backs and the franchise quarterback. They’ve also suffered significant injuries in the secondary and offensive line. The Jets win the 2009 “old school” award. New York wins with tough defense and a downhill rushing attack. It will be cold and possibly snowy in the Meadowlands come Sunday, so the “old school” recipient will prevail. Cold + dome team outdoors + injuries = the 2009 season can’t end soon enough for Atlanta. JETS

Game I’ll Watch: Dolphins at Titans
Game I’ll DVR: Patriots at Bills

Afternoon Games (4:05PM ET)

Bengals at Chargers
The Chargers are on an eight game winning streak and have an opportunity to essentially clinch the second seed in the AFC. Apparently, fans in San Diego aren’t impressed. Despite the magnitude of Sunday’s game, the Chargers barely avoided a blackout. Yet another reason prosecutors are winning the “northern cities with inclimate weather make better football cities” debate. As for the game, Sunday’s AFC clash will be more than a physical battle for the visiting Bengals after the tragic death of WR Chris Henry. Cincinnati has already rallied from the death of defensive coordinator, Mike Zimmer’s wife earlier in the season. Bouncing back after the death of a teammate will present an entirely new and more difficult obstacle. Marvin Lewis knows his team. It won’t be this week, but his Bengals will bounce back. Hopefully the Henry family will as well. CHARGERS

49ers at Eagles (Moved from 1PM start due to snow)
The 49ers are not a walkover. They have offensive weapons that are beginning to gel, and their defense is underappreciated. Worst of all (from an Eagles’ perspective), they employ an amazingly gifted tight end, Vernon Davis. Tight ends have terrorized Philadelphia’s defense for years. Davis is built like a linebacker, catches like a receiver, and a runs like a back. This game reminds me a lot of the Washington game in week 16 last year. The Eagles were making a push and needed what looked to be an easy win. Instead, their offense was horrific in an ugly loss to the lowly Redskins. On the game’s final drive, DeSean Jackson dropped the winning touchdown and Reggie Brown was stopped at the one as time expired. It was a disaster. Let’s hope Andy Reid reminded his players of last year’s letdown to avoid a repeat performance. EAGLES

Bears at Ravens (Moved from 1PM start due to snow)
Before Jay Cutler and an overrated defense threw away Chicago’s season; I circled this game and the GB/PITT game as the two I most wanted to watch. All four teams and both matchups epitomized December football. Here we are weeks later and only the Packers and the weather lived up to the billing. The Bears and Steelers imploded on top of preseason expectations and mid-season collapses, while the Ravens have been average and inconsistent. Please, please, please, FOX, I can’t take anymore close ups of Cutler. I just can’t. I hope there’s snow. Snow, steam, and Ray Rice will keep me entertained. RAVENS

Raiders at Broncos
The Broncos battle a quarterback-less Raider team before escorting Brian Dawkins back to his kingdom next week. When your QB depth chart reads, Charlie Frye, JaMarcus Russell, JP Losman, you know you’re not a very good football team. BRONCOS

Packers at Steelers
The defending champs are a disgrace. Only Troy Polamalu’s shampoo commercials have caused the city of Pittsburgh more shame this season. (Seriously, what football player would appear in those commercials?) There’s a tiny glimmer of hope for the Steelers, but they’ll need help from a lot of different places, including Jay Cutler and whoever the Raiders trot out at quarterback. Needless to say, it doesn’t look good. Green Bay has finally played like the elite team most experts expected in September. Regardless, I can’t imagine Pittsburgh losing six a row. STEELERS

Buccaneers at Seahawks
I’ve tried to watch the Seahawks this year, several times. After realizing they play with less energy than Randy Moss, I eventually gave up. Seattle’s roster has the talent. They play in the NFL’s worst division. Yet somehow they can’t sniff the playoffs. Allow me to list why. Jim Mora Jr. is not a very good coach, their running game is awful, and the defense has underachieved. Replace the coach and the other pieces will fall into place. Partially related note: Yesterday I watched portions of an NBA game with my dad. He has zero love for the garbage basketball in the NBA. (His judgment is based on the 76ers.) Anyway, the Oklahoma City Thunder were on ESPN. My Dad had never heard of them so I told him they’re the Seattle Sonics transplanted in Oklahoma. “The Sonics moved?” he said. Welcome to Philadelphia, where the NBA has been M.I.A. since 2003. SEAHAWKS

Game I’ll Watch: 49ers at Eagles
Game I’ll DVR:
Bengals at Chargers

Sunday Night (8:20PM ET)

Vikings at Panthers
This is the power of Brett Favre. In the midst of the NFL’s playoff push, Favre’s Minnesota Vikings are featured in a primetime matchup with the Carolina Panthers.  Carolina hasn’t played a meaningful game since last season’s playoffs. There are no playoff implications on the line other than Minnesota’s seeding. Even worse, the Panthers don’t have a quarterback. Teams without a stable quarterback are the toughest to watch (see Buffalo, Kansas City, St. Louis, Oakland, Cleveland, Detroit, Tampa Bay). Why was this game chosen over a Dolphins/Titans playoff-intensity slugfest? Yep, you guessed it. Brett Favre. Despite everything I just mentioned, I’m tempted to take the Panthers and their underrated defense. If I had a guarantee Carolina would rush the football 45 times, I’d go with the Panthers. Jon Fox hasn’t returned my calls. VIKINGS

Monday Night (8:30PM ET)

Giants at Washington
With a Saints win on Saturday, the Giants can leap frog the Cowboys for the NFC’s final wildcard spot. I can’t wait for Monday. This just in: I love the NFC East. Find me another division where every division game means as match as they do in the NFC East. You can’t. There’s too much history, too much hatred, too much on the line. TANGENT… As an Eagles’ fan, I’ll be thrilled if Washington decides to bring in Mike Shanahan. Sure, the offense will improve but he’ll no doubt replace Defensive Coordinator, Greg Blache with one of his own guys. As an opposing fan, I’ll trade a stout defense and an average offense for a poor defense and improved offense any day. And yes, Shanahan always has a poor defense. Without Terrell Davis (and partly John Elway), Shanahan is a glorified offensive coordinator. With what Jim Zorn has overcome in the second half of the season (injuries, humiliation), he does not deserve to lose his job. Daniel Snyder is the best owner in the league at making his team worse. It’s not even close. And we’re back… The Redskins are on a tear. The Giants are desperate. The NFC East is in primetime. It’s Christmas four days early. REDSKINS

If I were Charles Barkley…

Weekly Reminder: I pick every game so I don’t look like a pansy and only pick the easy ones. Flipping a coin for eight of my picks last week worked out relatively well. I finished 5-3. Hopefully I can use that momentum to return to form. My goal was to be around 60% at season’s end (now impossible). As is the weekly custom, there is one over/under as well (because they’re too much fun not to have at least one).

Picks
Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars (+3.5)
Dallas Cowboys (+8) at New Orleans Saints
Miami Dolphins at Tennessee Titans (-3.5) (According to Yahoo!)
New England Patriots (-7.5) at Buffalo Bills
Arizona Cardinals (-12.5) at Detroit Lions
San Francisco 49ers (+7.5) at Philadelphia Eagles (According to Yahoo!)
Atlanta Falcons (+6) at New York Jets
Chicago Bears (+11) at Baltimore Ravens
Cleveland Browns (+1.5) at Kansas City Chiefs
Houston Texans (-12.5) at St. Louis Rams (According to Yahoo!)

Cincinnati Bengals (+7) at San Diego Chargers
Green Bay Packers at Pittsburgh Steelers (-1)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Seattle Seahawks (-7)
Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos (-14)

Minnesota Vikings at Carolina Panthers (+9)

New York Giants at Washington Redskins (+3)

Last Week: 9 – 7 – 0
Season: 94 – 95 – 4

Over/Under
Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs Under 37

Last Week: 0 – 0 – 1
Season: 6 – 7 – 1

(Lines as of 12/18, 1:10PM ET, from bodog)

One Comment

  1. danielle

    Titans fans – really? I’m still pondering that one. What about this Saturday night game that I am unable to watch? Why can’t us poor, cableless folk enjoy good football, too? =)

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