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Week 13 NFL Picks

The Saints and Lions meet in our first Flex game and a handful of contenders battle for playoff positioning. Yes, December is here. Intensity increases, stakes are raised, and Andy Reid is at his best… uh, cancel that last part.

Last Week:  11 – 5 – 0
Season:      109 – 67 – 0

Thursday Night (8:20PM ET)

Eagles at Seahawks
It was an awful night for the Eagles. The team clearly accepted its fate long before the opening whistle. As a result, the remainder of the season will revolve around questions pertaining to who stays and who goes. There’s plenty of time for that later. For now, let’s focus on the positives. The Eagles haven’t blown a 4th quarter lead in weeks. See? It’s not ALL bad.

Early Games (1:00PM ET)

Panthers at Buccaneers
Consistency is what fans crave from their favorite sports franchises. The Panthers, in one simple way, have provided that this season. After a 4PM ET start on opening weekend in Arizona, the Panthers have played and will play at 1PM ET for every one of their final 15 games. It must be comforting knowing exactly when your team plays every week. Speaking of consistency, the Carolina defense has been consistently atrocious this year. Will Sean McDermott get canned twice in the past 12 months, or do the Panthers give him a free pass and blame the defense’s struggles on the injuries that decimated the linebacking core? Either way, I doubt Ron Rivera seeks Andy Reid’s approval on his next defensive coordinator. As for the game, the Buccaneers entered the season with playoff hopes. They’re finished and it shows. The Panthers entered with no expectations and really never had anything to play for, but they’re still fighting. PANTHERS If I were Charles Barkley; Panthers +3.5

Bengals at Steelers
The schedule didn’t do the Bengals any favors here. Facing the Steelers in Pittsburgh first would have been better for Cincinnati. Allow me to explain. The Steelers are the big brother in the AFC North. They’re Superbowl champions, perennial contenders, and they’re tough as nails. As a young, green, and up-and-coming team, the Bengals’ first tussle with the Steelers was always going to be a loss. It’s just the way these things work. The Bengals needed a taste of that intensity before they could really compete. We saw this in their first matchup when the Steelers jumped out to a 14-0 lead before the Bengals even finished stretching. Sure, the Bengals regrouped, fought back, and came within a late interception of tying, but they lost because they weren’t ready. They needed that game experience first. Well, to come full circle on my point, the Bengals are now ready. Unfortunately, they’re in Pittsburgh this time. Since the 2010 season, only the Ravens, Patriots, and Jets have won in Pittsburgh. The Bengals are built to win on the road, but winning this late in the season against a proven contender like the Steelers is asking a lot. If it were in Cincinnati, I’d like the Bengals. It’s not, so I don’t. STEELERS If I were Charles Barkley; Steelers -6.5

Falcons at Texans
Donovan McNabb will reportedly be released today. Say what you will about McNabb, but he’s better than at least seven of the quarterbacks currently starting in the NFL. The Texans should especially take a long look at McNabb. Despite mounting injuries, Houston will be in the playoffs. McNabb has the necessary experience to lead a team into the postseason. Let’s also not forget that McNabb’s best year came when he was paired with a big, physical, and talented receiver, something he never had again. Obviously, McNabb isn’t on the same level as he was in 2004, but it’d be interesting to see him and Andre Johnson together over the final month of the season. Unfortunately, the Bears also need a quarterback. McNabb would probably jump at the opportunity to lead his hometown Bears into the playoffs while the Eagles, Redskins, and Vikings sit at home. I’m not big on the Falcons, but the Texans are in limbo right now. FALCONS If I were Charles Barkley; Falcons -2.5
[UPDATE:
The Texans reportedly have no interest in McNabb. Bummer.]

Jets at Redskins
The Jets aren’t any good. They’re simply waiting around for someone to deliver the knockout blow. The Redskins oblige on Sunday. At 4-7, is it such a stretch to argue the Redskins would be 5-6 or even 6-5 and in playoff contention had Mike Shanahan not prematurely benched Rex Grossman for the horrendous John Beck? Had Grossman continued to be Washington’s starting quarterback, Mike Shanahan would be competing for a division title and a playoff berth right now. Instead, he’s fighting for his job. REDSKINS If I were Charles Barkley; Redskins +3

Colts at Patriots
Only the Cleveland Cavaliers can sympathize with the Colts implosion. For only the second time in the last decade, no one cares about the Colts/Patriots annual showdown. I understand Indianapolis’ efforts to get Andrew Luck, but I find it hard to believe the entire roster is on board with tanking the season to do so. Which begs the question; is the entire roster in-step with this tankapalooza, or is the Colts roster just THAT bad? If there’s any heartbeat within the Colts organization, they go to New England fired up. A 21 point line doesn’t reflect a lack of talent, it means you have no dignity. Time for the Colts to prove they care, if only a tiny bit. PATRIOTS If I were Charles Barkley; Colts +21

Raiders at Dolphins
With all five of their remaining games against teams still mathematically in the NFL playoff hunt; the Dolphins are this year’s spoiler. With the Broncos surging, the Raiders can ill-afford to lose to a lesser team, especially one Denver defeated last month (record in common games is critical to winning tiebreakers). I like the Raiders. Carson Palmer looks settled, the running game is a force, and Sebastian Janikowski and Shane Lechler are the best kickers in the NFL. Traveling east for an early game makes me hesitant, though. And are we confident the Raiders are good? They struggled to put away the Bears last week without Jay Cutler. Plus, Oakand’s starting linebacker is pointing guns at heads in Alabama. I just talked myself out of the Raiders winning. The feisty Dolphins are on a two game home winning streak. Let’s make it three. DOLPHINS If I were Charles Barkley; Dolphins -3

Broncos at Vikings
The cynic in me thinks the Broncos are due for an unexpected, deflating loss. If that were indeed the case, this would be the week. The Vikings are the best awful team in the NFL. On the other hand, the Broncos have that focused, united look to them. They may lose eventually, but I doubt it’ll be to a lesser opponent. Also, anyone else think it’s appropriate Jake Plummer was the one to criticize Tim Tebow for voicing his religious beliefs so frequently? Plummer’s nickname was “Jake the Snake.” Tebow loves God. God and snakes go way back. BRONCOS If I were Charles Barkley; Broncos +2

Titans at Bills
I want to believe the Titans take advantage of the opportunity in front of them. The AFC South is still within reach. A Wildcard berth is also a possibility. Buffalo made its final stand a week ago in New York and fell short. They’re checked out. If Tennessee is a playoff team, they win this game. Considering the Titans have failed to beat a good team since taking down Baltimore in Week 2, I’m not buying them as a playoff team. BILLS If I were Charles Barkley; Bills -2.5

Chiefs at Bears
Two entertaining defenses that will hit you in the mouth battle two atrocious offenses that will make you cover your eyes. Ok, that’s not totally fair. Despite multiple turnovers, Caleb Hanie was good enough to put up 20 points against a decent Oakland defense. I don’t think Hanie is good enough to get Chicago into the Division Round of the playoffs, though, so if Cutler could really be out for up to ten weeks, the Bears must move fast to grab Donovan McNabb or another proven veteran. Devin Hester and the Bears defense can only do so much. As for the Chiefs, I hate to admit I enjoy watching someone fail, but Todd Haley’s “Why is this happening” face is priceless. Todd, it’s happening because you’re a bad coach. If I were Charles Barkley; Bears -7

Game to Watch: Bengals at Steelers
Game on Call: Falcons at Texans

Afternoon Games (4:05PM ET)

Ravens at Browns
Don’t even bother watching. I’ll tell you exactly what happens… The talented, AFC North-leading Ravens find a way to play miserably, allowing the Browns to lead for most of the game. Finally, at some point midway through the 4th quarter, the Ravens take their first lead in the game and escape with a division win and another uninspiring performance against a weaker opponent. I’m calling the 2011 Baltimore Ravens the “Chameleons.” They blend in with their surroundings. The Browns suck, so the Ravens will too. RAVENS If I were Charles Barkley; Ravens -7

Cowboys at Cardinals
We’re not yet sure just how good the Cowboys are, if they’re good at all. However, it doesn’t really matter anymore. The rest of the NFC East has run away from the Cowboys… but in the opposite direction. The Giants have lost three straight and face the undefeated Packers Sunday. The Eagles have lost four of five. Their viewing is scheduled for Tuesday with a burial service to follow for family members and close friends only. The Redskins finally got off a six game snide last week but are too far behind to catch the Cowboys. In other words, it doesn’t matter if Tony Romo collapses again in December. It doesn’t matter if the Cowboys really aren’t very good. Unless the Giants miraculously turn their season around within the next two weeks, the Cowboys can sleepwalk to an NFC East title. Please excuse me while I slam my head in a door. COWBOYS If I were Charles Barkley; Cowboys -4.5

Packers at Giants
I’ve already flip-flopped on some of the picks I made in my playoff projections just two days ago, but this is not one of them. The Giants can’t lose four in a row, especially with two of those losses possibly coming at home in front of a national audience. Contrary to public opinion, defeating Green Bay won’t depend entirely on the defense. Eli Manning and New York’s offense should have plenty of opportunities to keep up with Aaron Rodgers, and the Giants offense is good enough to win a shootout. While they create turnovers, the Packer defense is hardly impenetrable. Expect a lot of points and the Giants to come through at home. Sleep well, 1972 Dolphins. (Note to the rest of America: You need to root for the Giants this week. Someone needs to fight the Cowboys in the NFC East.) GIANTS If I were Charles Barkley; Giants +7

Rams at 49ers
Sam Bradford is getting dangerously close to the Alex Smith career path. Already on his second offensive coordinator in two seasons, Bradford appears destined for his 3rd next season after Steve Spagnuolo is fired and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels likely looks for employment elsewhere. Seven different coordinators in seven seasons severely crippled Smith’s development in San Francisco and nearly cost him his career with the 49ers. For Bradford’s sake, let’s hope stability is on the horizon in St. Louis. 49ERS If I were Charles Barkley; 49ers -13

Game to Watch: Packers at Giants
Game on Call: Uhh… Ravens at Browns, I guess

Sunday Night (8:20PM ET)

Lions at Saints
Let’s give another round of applause to the NFL and NBC for Flex Scheduling. Instead of watching the Patriots destroy the winless Colts, we get an intriguing matchup of NFC playoff hopefuls. The Saints big win over the Giants last week garnered a lot of attention. However, I’m not jumping on the bandwagon just yet. New Orleans’ defense is average most times and downright lousy others. I’ll reevaluate my feelings on the Saints after seeing what they do to contain Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. As for Detroit, in order to take down Drew Brees and the Saints at home, the Lions will need their defense to put its foot down… ok, ok, ok, I’m sorry. I couldn’t resist. SAINTS If I were Charles Barkley; Saints -9

Monday Night (8:30PM ET)

Chargers at Jaguars
I’ve hung with every Monday night game this season. Even the brutal Ravens/Jaguars slop fest and the Packers slaughter of the Vikings couldn’t push me away. I might be out this week, though. I’m not convinced anyone ever told the Chargers and Philip Rivers the NFL lockout ended. Only Andy Reid and the Eagles can compete with Rivers in the, “2012 can’t get here soon enough and I don’t mean that awful movie with John Cusack,” award. I’m going with the Chargers because Blaine Gabbert is even worse than Rivers. CHARGERS If I were Charles Barkley; Chargers -3

*****

If I were Charles Barkley
Last Week: 7 – 9 – 0
Season:     84 – 85 – 7

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