John Canton: The last regular season week of the 2012 NFL season is here. As always I'm joined by Bret Clev and Mike Maloney to go over every game this week.
It's a week full of excitement for a dozen teams and for the others it's a time to reflect on what has happened in the last four months. Monday morning, which is New Year's Eve this year, has been affectionately named "Black Monday" simply because it's the day where coaches tend to get fired. This year we could see as many as seven or eight coaches get the axe. It wouldn't surprise me if five or six GMs also lose their job. That's just the way the NFL is. If you can't produce results then your team will find somebody that will.
As far as the playoffs go, we know the six teams that are in the AFC race: Houston, Denver, New England, Baltimore (all four of them won their divisions) and Indianapolis & Cincinnati. We don't know the exact order yet, so the top three teams will be battling to figure that out for us.
In the NFC the Atlanta Falcons have already clinched the first seed in the conference, so they have nothing to play for. I would expect to see plenty of backups on the field for them. The Green Bay Packers have won the NFC North and can get the #2 seed if they beat the Vikings. We know that the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks are in the playoffs, but the Seahawks can pass the 49ers if they beat the Rams while the 49ers lose at home to the Cardinals. The NFC East is up for grab as the Washington Redskins play host to the Dallas Cowboys. The winner of that game becomes the 4th seed and hosts a playoff game next weekend. The sixth spot could go to the Vikings, Bears, Redskins or Giants.
It's confusing isn't it? A little. The NFC is clearly the deeper conference, but the top three teams in the AFC have all been consistently great this season. It's a tough bracket to predict. If you need a detailed summary of the playoff picture, check out this handy page on NFL.com for all of that wonderful info.
Standings Straight Up After Week 16:
John 161-78-1 .674 (Last week 12-4)
Bret 159-80-1 .665 (14-2)
Mike 156-83-1 .653 (12-4)
Bret cut into my lead. I'm hoping to hold on. I'm pretty sure it's the best year of my life in picking games. Usually I'm around the .620 win percentage mark. I hope this success continues for one more week at least!
All of the games are on Sunday. There are nine early games, then six mid-afternoon games and one at night to determine the winner of the NFC East.
All game times are Eastern.
Tampa Bay (6-9) at Atlanta (13-2) 1:00 PM
Bret: We're lucky to only really have one game this week where I think one team will significantly rest their starters - and this is it. And yet, I still think the Falcons could win this game. Tampa Bay yet again has internal strife and chemistry issues and may have packed it in even more so than the Falcons.
Regardless, the math is simple - Tampa can't defend the pass and Atlanta, at home, will be able to do plenty of that. I think Atlanta gets up 10 or 14 points early and Tampa Bay rolls over after that. Atlanta 27 Tampa Bay 14
Mike: Fortunately we still have about nine games this week that have some kind of potential playoff implications (although that includes games like New England/Miami where there might not be much of a contest). Unfortunately, this game is not one of those 9 games. Atlanta has a tune up game before they head into their bye week, Tampa gets to try and figure out if Josh Freeman has another good game in him this year or if we'll be subject to another 4 turnover day. I think Atlanta doesn't make an effort, comes out flat, and Tampa looks a lot better than they have the last couple weeks. Tampa Bay 24 Atlanta 20
John: The Falcons have nothing to play for since they've locked up the top seed in the NFC. The Bucs were in the playoff race six weeks ago, but then they lost five week ago and now they're sitting at 6-9. The main reason for their failures is their pass defense, which is last in the NFL and I think once everybody in the league started to realize how bad their pass coverage was they attacked it. Their once prolific offense has sputtered too.
Despite how bad they have been, I'll take the Bucs because I would expect the Falcons to rest Roddy White and I don't think we'll see Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the rest of their starters for more than a quarter of player. Even a bad team that has lost six straight is better than the backups on most NFL teams. At least they should be. Buccaneers 27-23
NY Jets (6-9) at Buffalo (5-10) 1:00 PM
Bret: Speaking of teams that roll over! Have we ever heard more about a 6-9 team than we do the Jets? McElroy was way too conservative last week and got himself sacked a dozen or so times for his troubles. Buffalo continues to find ways to be more and more inept each and every week. Neither team is worth talking about. New York 20 Buffalo 14
Mike: TEBOW TEBOW TEBOW TEBOW TEBOW TEBOW TEBOW TEBOW TEBOW.
Sorry, I was under the impression that's all we were allowed to talk about these days when it comes to the Jets. I'm looking forward to Tim Tebow ending up either on the Jags or in the CFL; two places where I won't have to hear about him (not) playing in the NFL anymore. Both of these teams are...well, not good. I'll go with the home team. Buffalo 17 New York Jets 13
John: What do you get when you have two organizations where both GMs, both head coaches and both starting quarterbacks could be replaced before next year? You get the Jets and the Bills in week 17! I feel sorry for anybody that has to watch this game. I'll pick the Bills just because I think their RB CJ Spiller will be the best player on the field and can likely have a big day against a Jets team that has given up. Bills 24-14
Baltimore (10-5) at Cincinnati (9-6) 1:00 PM
Bret: Here's an interesting conundrum of a game. Baltimore is the team with something to play for - the chance at a 3 seed, yet I actually expect Cincinnati will be the team playing harder on Sunday. First, it's a home game against a rival - and ending the season with wins against Pittsburgh and Baltimore could be just important to this team as whatever they may do in the playoffs.
It comes down to matchups with both teams at 100% for me, and I love Cincinnati in that situation. The Cincinnati defense has quietly become one of the best in the league. They're stout against the rush and downright nasty rushing the passer. Offensively they have just enough - and know who they are - to beat a flawed team like the Ravens. If Cincy goes all out, I think they handle the Ravens easily. Cincinnati 27 Baltimore 14
Mike: In the unlikely scenario where New England loses to Miami, I think a Baltimore win would actually somehow propel them into the #3 seed. So I guess they have that to play for? And I have no idea if Cincinnati has anything to play for. If they win and the Colts lose, they'll have the same record, same conference record, they didn't play each other, then it gets into stuff like common opponents and strength of schedule.
Anyway, I'm going to go out on a bit of a limb here and take Cincinnati for the upset. Both teams are pretty average on offense and defense with an above average special teams, but I like Cincy's offensive playmakers (AJ Green and BenJarvus Green-Ellis) more than Baltimore's (Ray Rice and Torrey Smith), or at the very least I like their ability to utilize them well than I do Baltimore. Last time the Bengals beat Pittsburgh and Baltimore in the same season they went 10-6 and made the playoffs. Let's do it again! Cincinnati 23 Baltimore 17
John: This divisional game between two playoff teams doesn't really matter since the Ravens have won their division regardless of the result of this game. Playoff seeding is up for grabs, but I don't think it really matters since the Ravens are home next week and the Bengals are on the road. That cannot change. I could see the Ravens resting some guys while the Bengals may go all out to keep their momentum going since they've won six of their last seven to get into the playoffs. That Bengals defense is fantastic. They're going to be tough to deal with next week. I like them to win here too. Bengals 23-13
Chicago (9-6) at Detroit (4-11) 1:00 PM
Bret: Tough game to call for me. Detroit put forth more effort than I expected from them last week - even in a loss, and Chicago doesn't seem like a team with much 'umph' left in the tank. I think the problem for Chicago has been age and depth - which has caused them to wear down in the last month of the season. Having to play a Detroit team that's playing hard to end the season may not be great for them.
But, the stats are just too far in Chicago's favor. Detroit has no rushing game, no one to draw the cover-2 away from Calvin Johnson, and no one in their secondary to compete with Brandon Marshall. It's not pretty, but Chicago wins the game. Chicago 20 Detroit 17
Mike: It seems like people are just kind of penciling in Minnesota as the #6 seed in the NFC, which is a little odd since Chicago has to be the favorite to get that last playoff spot. Yes, they've been in quite the funk the second half of the season, but they also only have to beat the Lions, who can't get out from under their own feet.
Obviously they need the Vikings to lose to the Packers as well, but Green Bay is favored to win that game, so if things play out the way that they're expected to play out, Chicago is in. Even with the Bears' issues I don't see how they lose this game. Despite Detroit's intimidating front line they rank 25th in defensive DVOA and are 20th against the pass. That means Cutler should have enough time to throw and Forte should have some room to run. And offensively the Lions have looked pretty ugly as of late, and they're going to need more than just Megatron to move the ball against the Bears. Chicago 28 Detroit 13
John: The Bears need the win if they want to get in the playoffs while the Lions are having a season that is worse than a lot of us expected. They were a playoff team last year with a lot of good young players. Now all they seem to care about is trying to get Calvin Johnson's receiving numbers over 2,000 yards on the year. It's not a productive way to play football. Even though the Bears are stumbling to end the season, they should win this game to finish the year at 10-6 and we'll see if that gets them into the playoffs. I don't think it will. Bears 20-14
Jacksonville (2-13) at Tennessee (5-10) 1:00 PM
Bret: Not worth more than a sentence or two to be honest. I'm going with the team who still gives a crap - that simple. Jacksonville 31 Tennessee 14
Mike: I'm bummed out I missed the Titans game last week. I was with family in Minnesota so I had to watch the Vikings instead. I would have loved to have seen Jake Locker's 13-30 performance, or Chris Johnson rushing 11 times for 28 yards. That's the kind of offensive production that will get you the 29th spot in DVOA. But hey, you know who's 28th? The Jacksonville Jaguars! Aren't you excited for this game? I feel like I've already spent too much time talking about this. Tennessee is at home, and Jacksonville is awful against the run, so I'll go with the Titans. Tennessee 24 Jacksonville 16
John: Does it matter? The Jags are getting a top two pick in the draft, which apparently isn't loaded with talent on the top. Even with the first or second pick they have a long way to go to get better. The Titans aren't that much ahead of the Jags in terms of talent, but they should be able to win this game with Chris Johnson running the ball and perhaps a few deep balls to Kenny Britt. I know I'm reaching here. Once again I feel sorry for anybody that has to watch this game. Titans 27-20
Houston (12-3) at Indianapolis (10-5) 1:00 PM
Bret: Warning! Warning! Warning! Beware the overly trendy upset pick! Let's review the facts:
A) Indianapolis is on something like their 6th starting nose tackle.
B) Indianapolis is 19th in offensive DVOA and 32nd in defensive.
C) Indianapolis has nothing to play for in this game.
D) If Houston loses this game they could fall all the way to the 3 seed.
Why is Houston losing this? Houston 28 Indianapolis 24 (After a 10 point Chuck comeback)
Mike: In theory I'm totally on the Texans bandwagon for this game. Like I said two weeks ago, the Colts story is a nice one, but the Texans are the better team, and they are built to beat a team like the Colts. But...that would also mean going against #ChuckStrong. I mean, there's an article on ESPN about how Chuck Pagano came into work Wednesday despite the traffic and blizzard going on in the state of Indiana!
So do I pick against that? In short, yes, yes I do. Indianapolis is still a pretty bad 28th overall in DVOA, including dead last on defense (they're only 18th offensively for that matter). The Texans are only averaging 109 yards/game on the ground their last four games, but you know which game they rushed for 178 yards and bumped up that average? The Colts game. I'm sure there will be a ton of energy at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday, and Pagano being there will be a great story and all, but this still shouldn't be that close of a game. Houston 27 Indianapolis 13
John: Due to the Texans loss last week, they have to win this game to earn home field advantage in the AFC. That would be huge for them because they're much more comfortable playing at home. The Colts can't move up from where they are as a wild card team and I get the feeling that they are going to rest players especially top wideout Reggie Wayne.
I think the Texans will play with a sense of urgency on defense and make things difficult on the Colts offense. If you get in Andrew Luck's face he can definitely make some mistakes, which would then allow the Texans to create some turnovers and put some points on the board. If Houston establishes the run game with Arian Foster and Ben Tate early they should control the pace of the game. When they played two weeks ago the Texans jumped out to a 20-3 lead and they held on for the 29-17 win. I think we'll see something similar in this game too. The Texans know they better not keep things close because if they do we've seen Luck bring his team back to win those close games in the final minutes. Texans 31-23
Carolina (6-9) at New Orleans (7-8) 1:00 PM
Bret: Two teams who will have a lot of regrets after this week, both trending up for next year. Both teams have problems with their defense. New Orleans gives up the most yards per pass in the league, Carolina has the worst completion percentage against in the league.
I expect this to be another bombs away New Orleans game. With a fired up crowd - and an angry one at that - I'll give New Orleans the slight home advantage and win in this one to get to .500. Shame what the NFL did to them; with Sean Payton coaching I really wonder if they'd have been a dangerous playoff team. New Orleans 31 Carolina 30
Mike: It's actually kind of an interesting game when you think about it; between two teams you thought might be fighting for a playoff spot this year. If this was in Carolina I think I'd actually take the Panthers (they did beat New Orleans in week 2 during their 1-6 start), as they're playing pretty well winning 3 in a row. But I feel like Drew Brees has things going for him again, and I like taking the Saints in New Orleans. New Orleans 30 Carolina 24
John: Both of these teams started the year poorly, but then they picked it up and are looking to finish the year strong. It's impressive to see the Saints on the verge of 8-8 considering their 0-4 start. I'd like to personally thank Drew Brees for playing so well in the last two weeks to help me cash $500 in one of my money leagues. I remember people saying he was having a down year yet here he is on the verge of 40 TDs and another 219 yards gets him to 5,000 yards once again. That's impressive. He did throw too many INTs, but for the most part he's been awesome.
I've been impressed by the second half performance of Cam Newton. He's playing with a lot more confidence now. I think early in the year he tried to press too much and was making a lot of mistakes. Don't sleep on him next year. The problem with the Panthers is they are seriously lacking weapons for Newton. Aside from Steve Smith, who is an aging WR at this point, they are not deep at the skill positions. Still, Newton has been carrying them and they can be a threat next year if they get him some better receivers. For this game I'm going with the Panthers to win a high scoring game because they've impressed me with three wins in a row and I don't think the Saints are going to be able to stop them that much. Panthers 37-31
Philadelphia (4-11) at NY Giants (8-7) 1:00 PM
Bret: When I look at the advanced stats of these two teams - they're surprisingly close. Both teams are in the mid to low teens in most offensive and defensive stats. Why the four game discrepancy in record? Turnovers. New York is averaging 1.4 giveaways and 2.3 takeaways per game (10th and 3rd respectively). Meanwhile, Philadelphia is averaging a whopping 2.1 giveaways and .a measly 0.9 takeaways (31st and 30th in the league).
While turnovers are generally random, that's a big enough difference that I think it's going to be hard for Philadelphia to overcome. I really want to pick Philadelphia here, but too much ball insecurity, and New York is too professional to roll over in this one. I'll have to take New York. New York 24 Philadelphia 20
Mike: Forget all the playoff scenarios for the Giants because I think this season is just flat out done for them, and I think the Eagle are somehow going to pull off the upset win. The Giants are probably going to be down two more cornerbacks on Sunday, which means they'll have three total left on the roster, and none of them are any good. Their offense is just a mess, with Eli throwing multiple touchdowns just twice in his last 10 games. Hakeem Nicks is still hurt and unlike previous years, is nowhere near as effective while playing injured.
With Mike Vick back, playing his last game as an Eagle, and Lesean McCoy totally back from his injury, I just think things are set up for the Eagles to shock the Giants, who are on life support as it is. You kept waiting for the Giants to make a run, to get their act together, and it never happened. Now it's too late and instead of trying to figure out who has to beat who to make it in, a loss to the Eagles will make the math a lot easier. Philadelphia 23 New York Giants 17
John: The only way the Giants make the playoffs is if the Cowboys, Vikings and Bears all lose while the Giants would have to win this game. Wouldn't it be funny if those three losses end up happening while the Giants lost this game to the lowly Eagles? It would be fitting for this disappointing Giants season. You could call the season disappointing, but is it all that surprising? The Giants were 9-7 last year and they could be there again this year. The difference is the other teams in their division got better this year, except the Eagles. Even the inconsistent Giants can kick their ass. Giants 31-17
Cleveland (5-10) at Pittsburgh (7-8) 1:00 PM
Bret: Pittsburgh is playing for pride in this one - and it's one team that I think will actually get up to play for pride. Meanwhile Cleveland has Richardson on the bench and may be down to Thaddeus Lewis at QB. I'm taking Pittsburgh to keep themselves out of the losing season column. Pittsburgh 17 Cleveland 9
Mike: I don't know about you guys, but I'm pretty stoked for the Thad Lewis era to begin in Cleveland! For those of you less informed folk, Mr. Thaddeus Lewis is a 2nd year player out of Duke University. He started for three years there, and threw for over 10,000 yards and 67 touchdowns over the course of his college career. He went undrafted and signed on with the Browns practice squad at the beginning of the season. If that doesn't tell you how this game's going to go, I don't know what will. Pittsburgh 20 Cleveland 10
John: I think the Steelers have underachieved this year. Their defense has played so well. Last week they lost their biggest game of the year and their defense didn't even give up a touchdown. It was the offense that let them down. I think the Steelers should do well against the Browns, who have offensive issues like usual and could be going through another coaching change this offseason. What else is new with them? I'd expect Ben Roethlisberger and company to end the season on a high note. Steelers 27-10
Oakland (4-11) at San Diego (6-9) 4:25 PM
Bret: Once again one team has a professional quarterback (sort of), the other one is starting Matt Leinart - or maybe Terrell Pryor. San Diego wins in December once again - and maybe, just maybe, we get another year of Norv Turner? A Bronco fan can dream! San Diego 27 Oakland 10
Mike: Have fun entire state of California and Nevada, looks like you'll be the only non-Sunday Ticket football fans stuck having to watch this game instead of Miami/New England or Kansas City/Denver. Well, okay, let's face it, the late slate of CBS games sucks all around, but this is clearly the worst of the bunch. It'll be sad to see the last of NOOOOOOOOOOORV in San Diego. What happens if they hire a competent coach for next season? Hopefully they keep AJ Smith around so that he can keep screwing things up from behind the curtain.
Nonetheless, I'm taking the Chargers, because Terrelle Pryor is starting for the Raiders. That's really all that needs to be said. San Diego 24 Oakland 13
John: Another bad game. It's amazing that the Chargers are going to be a seven win team despite how poorly they have played for much of the year. Lucky for them the QB on the other team is going to be Terrelle Pryor (announced Friday afternoon). It's a pretty simple formula. If a guy like Pryor starts you pick the other team. Done. Chargers 31-16
Arizona (5-10) at San Francisco (10-4-1) 4:25 PM
Bret: Wow! The trifecta of "Who's playing QB!?!" games! When a guy who you signed 3 weeks ago is the best QB option on your team, you're an absolute mess. Arizona no shows this one offensively, and the defense can't score the three TDs the team will need. I guess there's a slight chance Brian Hoyer is Tom Brady in the making and this is his 'Holy Crap!' game, but I doubt it, not against San Francisco at home. San Francisco 24 Arizona 12
Mike: I thought the Niners would streamroll the Seahawks, and I'm glad I was completely wrong about it. That being said, the steamrolling will be back in force this week against the Cardinals. Brian Hoyer (probably) can't throw, and Beanie Wells (definitely) can't run. San Francisco tends to excel against teams that exhibit this kind of trend on offense. Plus they're going to be pissed off about losing last week, and regardless of whether or not Justin Smith plays, this game is already all kinds of over. San Francisco 42 Arizona 9
John: The 49ers are very angry after getting their asses kicked by the Seahawks last week. I feel sorry for the Cardinals for having to play this game because it's not going to be a close one. The Niners need to win to hold on for the NFC West division title and they could become the two seed with a win plus a Packers loss. In other words they're going to want to win this game, which is bad news for the hapless Cardinals. I like the Niners to win it in a major way. 49ers 27-3
St. Louis (7-7-1) at Seattle (10-5) 4:25 PM
Bret: Seattle is following the perfect playbook to make a playoff run. Play defense, protect the ball, and get hot late. They are a dangerous team in January - no matter where they are playing. If they come in as the 5 seed, I like them to go far. They're doing everything right - they're even winning courtroom battles!
St. Louis is certainly on the rise too, and I know they'll show up for this one with the motivation of staying on the right side of .500, they just don't have the talent offensively to do enough against this big scary athletic defense. Kind of a boring game here - I could actually see this one getting out of hand too. Seattle 28 St. Louis 10
Mike: I wish I could have more faith in St. Louis this week. But they're on the road. They're playing Seattle. The game is in Seattle. We know how this is going to play out. The Seahawks are still playing for the remote chance to win the division should the Niners somehow lose. It was a nice win for them last week against Tampa Bay (I'm done betting on the Rams, by the way), but it's not like Tampa's been knocking down anyone's door lately.
Seattle is firing on all cylinders right now, and regardless of how that helps them in the playoffs, it's definitely going to help them go to 11-5 on the season and ready to play the Redskins/Cowboys next week. Seattle 27 St. Louis 17
John: My Rams won earlier this year, but that was in St. Louis and that was before this Seattle offense was playing at an elite level. The current incarnation of the Seahawks is very scary. They're very difficult to beat at home too. With the division title still up for grabs they have something to play for too, so I think they're going to come out very motivated to send a strong message to the other playoff teams.
As much as I'd love to see the Rams end the year with a record above .500 I don't think it's going to happen. Next year the Rams will better and they could be a playoff team, but right now the Seahawks are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. That's why they'll win this game. I don't see them letting up or losing focus. Seahawks 27-13
Green Bay (11-4) at Minnesota (9-6) 4:25 PM
Bret: Now here's one that matters! Last week I loved Minnesota on the road in Houston. I just thought the match ups played really well for them - and it turned out they did. So how about at home against the Packers? Ehh...not so much - but not for the reasons you may think!
Despite the tag of being a bad pass defense, Minnesota has actually had quite a nice year in all phases of defense including their 11th ranked (YPA) pass defense. Minnesota's problem will be getting past a Green Bay defense which continues to improve and is at this point a better defense than Houston. Adrian Peterson will probably still get 150 yards or so (but not the record), but I'll take Rodgers arm vs. Peterson's legs almost any day of the week. I picked Minnesota as my sleeper team before the season started (I, sadly, didn't consider Buffalo a sleeper at the time!) so I'd love for them to make the playoffs. I just think Green Bay is a little too sophisticated offensively and talented defensively to let the #2 seed slip away. Green Bay 27 Minnesota 24
Mike: A few thoughts on this game. First, like the Bears game a couple weeks ago, I'm a little worried about this game, but I still think if the Packers play like they've been playing this is a game they should win. There is going to be no question of motivation here. The Packers know what it's like to lose to a team and let them into the playoffs only to have it come back and bite you, the Bears did that very thing to the Packers in 2010 only to have the Packers come back and beat the Bears in the NFC Championship en route to the Super Bowl. They want that #2 seed, because playing San Francisco a second time will be tough enough as it is, they don't need to do it on the road as well.
Despite talk of how the Vikings play the Packers well at the dome, Aaron Rodgers is 2-2 there, and has actually played really well in three of the four games. The Packers have also beat the Vikings 5 straight times, ever since that Brett Favre guy retired. Minnesota has looked really solid the last few weeks, mostly due to Adrian Peterson playing out of his mind, but also because the team has been able to get themselves into winnable situations. And that involves Christian Ponder not having to win games for them. That is something he can do against teams like the Bears, the Rams, the Texans, teams that win with their defense and not as much with their offense. Little bit tougher to do that against a team like the Packers, that has plenty of firepower in its offense to make its opponent's offense also have to work.
And that's why I'm taking the Packers. Minnesota just does not have the same caliber quarterback play to match up with Aaron Rodgers. Adrian Peterson can take you a long way, but against certain teams you need more than that. That's why the Vikings only mustered 14 points last time they played, and why they'll struggle again. Green Bay 31 Minnesota 17
John: I'm not totally sure why the Vikings are as good as they are, but magic is in the air for them. Adrian Peterson is having a dream season and is carrying them on their back. I always said Barry Sanders is the best running back I've ever seen play (too young to see Jim Brown obviously). Peterson might be better. He's in year six so he has plenty of time to show us how great he can be. The other thing that impresses me is how well the Vikings defense is playing. They went on the road last week and in a must win game they completely shut down an excellent Texans offense.
If the Packers lose and the Niners win that makes the Packers the three seed in the NFC. They were my preseason NFC Super Bowl team (Patriots were my AFC team) and I'm not sure if I'll pick them to go the whole way when I make those picks at some point next week. The NFC is tough to call.
When the Vikings played the Packers two weeks ago they lost 23-14 after they were up 14-10. I have a feeling that this time when the Vikings get that lead they're going to hold on and with the win they'll be in the playoffs. I also think a win here will give Adrian Peterson the MVP award. I know it usually goes to a QB, but the guy deserves it whether he tops 2,000 yards or the 2,105 single season record of my favorite player as a kid, Eric Dickerson. Vikings 24-23
Miami (7-8) at New England (11-4) 4:25 PM
Bret: To beat New England at home you need to put consistent pressure on Tom Brady, disrupt their rhythm, and have an opportunistic offense that can take advantage of every 1st half punt. Miami is 8th in the league in sack rate - so they could put the pressure on Brady, but I don't think they have the offense to take advantage of whatever punts their defense might give them (21st in yards per pass).
I don't think New England puts up a 40 burger here, but they pull out another win much like Jacksonville last week - but maybe closer at the end. New England 24 Miami 21
Mike: As I said earlier, technically this game could mean something in the potential playoff seeding, but the reality of the situation is that I don't see how the Dolphins win this game. They haven't won a road game in two months, and even when they did it was against the Jets. Rob Gronkowski might finally be back to get in a warmup game before the playoffs, and you know the Patriots are going to want to come out and win this game with the hope that the Texans fall and New England can take that #2 seed away from them. New England 38 Miami 17
John: The Patriots don't mess around in games like this. I know the Dolphins defense can be stingy at times and they're getting the ball to Reggie Bush - their best offensive player - a lot more than they were earlier in the year. However, I don't think the Dolphins defense is going to slow down the Patriots offense enough to stay in this game. Momentum going into the playoffs is important and no team knows that more than the Patriots. I'd expect a big game from Tom Brady and that offense. Patriots 31-17
Kansas City (2-13) at Denver (12-3) 4:25 PM
Bret: The absolute best thing about having Peyton Manning on your team is the lack of 'you never know when we might blow one' worry. This team takes care of business. They might give up 300 yards rushing like Indy did last week - but I still have no doubt they'll pull it out.
If Kansas City wants any hope of winning this game they'll need to stick with the run no matter the score. Denver is built to take the lead with Manning and then unleash Von Doom - who feast on QBs like Brady Quinn/Matt Cassel or whoever may be in there this week. Denver 31 Kansas City 14
Mike: Another game that technically means something, but again, there's no chance Denver loses this game. Crazy to think that the Broncos could end up with the #1 overall seed in the AFC after their rocky 2-3 start. Yes, it's been a pretty easy second half schedule, but they've also made the most of it, especially with an impressive road win against Baltimore two weeks ago. I still don't think I'd give Peyton Manning the MVP over Adrian Peterson or JJ Watt, but he's got my vote for Comeback Player of the Year or whatever they call that award, 4500+ yards and 35+ TDs is pretty impressive after missing an entire season due to a neck injury. Denver 34 Kansas City 12
John: Huge blowout. Broncos go up big in the first half and rest their starters in the second half as they lock up the two seed in AFC. If Houston slips up they can be the one seed and they'll know that result going into this game. Even though the Chiefs have the worst record in the NFL they still have five Pro Bowl players while the Falcons and Packers have three each. I won't even try to explain that one. The Broncos will win their eleventh in a row in another blowout. Broncos 34-10
Dallas (8-7) at Washington (9-6) 8:20 PM
Bret: What a great game. Washington's win in Dallas on Thanksgiving is what really propelled this team to the place they are now - and strangely enough, Dallas' lost in that game seems to have done the same for them!
I expect big plays from Washington (their 1st in yards per play, the Dallas defense is 23rd in opponents yards per play), especially in the passing game (1st and 27th there) - which may not be what most people expect from Washington. RGIII clearly was not at 100% mobility last week, and even if he's healed up the match up will allow him to stand and throw deep in this one.
The Dallas offense will have to do the same - their running game continues to decline and they continue to be more and more reliant on Dez Bryant. That will be enough to keep them in this game, but Washington at home will just have too much space in their passing game for Dallas to catch up with them. I could see Dallas winning this game if they managed to have a +2 or better turnover differential, but otherwise it will be difficult. Washington 31 Dallas 27
Mike: I suppose this is an exciting Sunday night game, right? See which team can stumble into the NFC East title and serve as fodder for the Seahawks next weekend? Sure, the game carries a lot of magnitude with each team, but from an outsider's perspective, I don't think either team is good enough, nor have they shown the capability of being good enough to contend for the Super Bowl, let alone beat the Seahawks the way they're playing right now. So in the grand scheme of things I'm not sure this game matters too much.
I'm still amazed both of these teams have a chance to make the playoffs. I'm going to go with the Redskins and RGIII because Dallas' pass defense is 25th in the league in DVOA, and, well, they're playing RGIII. Really I could see either team winning, as Romo's been pulling some late game drives out of his butt as of late, but I like Griffin more than anyone else on either team, so I'll stick with him. Plus, it's more fun when Dallas loses important games. Washington 27 Dallas 23
John: I'm all about the Redskins in this game. Obviously the Cowboys could win and they deserve credit for pulling out two close wins in the last three weeks although they did drop that game to the Saints in overtime last week. In their last six games the score differential was less than seven points every time and three of them went to overtime. It's dangerous to play so many close games. That's why you end up with a 8-7 record with your season on the line in a road game against a team that has won six in a row.
In winning six games in a row coming off their bye, the Redskins have become a complete team. Their offense, led by Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris, has been consistently great the entire year. They're first in the league in rushing with 167 yards per game on the game and the passing game is 18th at 222 yards per game. The passing game has been noticeably better during the win streak because their top receiver Pierre Garcon is back after having a foot injury in the first half of the year. While their defense isn't elite (they clearly miss star OLB Brian Orakpo), they have improved as the season has gone on and they do enough to keep the team in the win. I remember when this team was 3-6 and I thought it was great that they sucked because that meant a higher draft pick for my Rams. Six wins later they're a playoff team. That's how the NFL works.
The NFC East is constantly overrated by the media, but with a playoff berth on the line this should be a fun game to watch. Both offenses should produce a lot of points. I wonder if the Redskins will jump out to an early lead like they did on Thanksgiving (it was 28-3 at the half) or if the Cowboys will be aggressive on offense. The key for Dallas is to run the ball a bit with DeMarco Murray before they go to Dez Bryant, who is having an amazing year. I have a feeling that the Cowboys will play very well, but I think the Redskins offense with the more consistent running game and Robert Griffin III being more mobile this week will propel them to victory as well as the division title.
As I said earlier, it's pretty amazing to see the Redskins in this position considering they were 3-6 six weeks ago while the Giants were 6-3. Give credit to the Redskins for persevering. In a year full of great coaching performances, Mike Shanahan and his group of coaches are right near the top. Redskins 31-23
The Degenerates Dungeon
This is where we give you some picks for our best bets of the week. Note that lines moves from the time we write this (Friday AM) to the time the games kickoff. We keep track of the odds and we'll use that to write down our records too.
Records so far:
Mike 40-38-2 (3-2)
Bret 37-41-2 (3-2)
John 37-41-2 (3-2)
1. Philadelphia +7.5
Bet them to win the game if you can still get it near +300 as well.
2. Miami +11
New England won't be able to put up 40, and Miami can certainly keep it within 10.
3. Minnesota +3.5
Gotta love those half points!
4. Houston -6.5
Indy just isn't that good!
5. Washington/Dallas Over 48
I expect this to be much like their Thanksgiving game.
Chicago (-3) at Detroit - Detroit is terrible, how is this line not higher?
Kansas City @ Denver Over 42 - I think Denver might score over 42 themselves.
Jacksonville @ Tennessee Titans (-4) - JAX is 30th against the run. The return of CJ2K!!!
Philadelphia (+7) @ New York Giants - I believe in Michael Vick. (No I don't.)
Green Bay (-3.5) @ Minnesota - Probably shouldn't jinx my team, but so what, I'm betting against Adrian Peterson! Yeah, I went there.
NY Jets @ Buffalo -3.5 - This is against the Jets more than anything else.
Arizona @ San Francisco UNDER 39.5 - The Cardinals will have a tough time scoring.
Baltimore @ Cincinnati -1 - Just a hunch.
Carolina +5 @ New Orleans - I have the Panthers winning, so I'll take the points.
Houston -7 @ Indianapolis - Colts will rest guys despite what they say publicly. Plus you know Houston doesn't want to play on the road in the playoffs, so I see them winning here.
That's all from us for this week. Follow us on Twitter:
You can also email John Canton at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or comments.