Solid week. Went 10-6 against the spread. Which brings me to 112-92-4. I lost track of the Locks and Upsets, but that's for the best because they haven't been pretty. I'm 8-5 on Lions games.
Made the playoffs in both the A League and B League. I play my bro in one league and Otto in the other. Pretty optimistic I'll make the finals in at least one league. Made the playoffs in 5 of my 10 other leagues. One of those teams went 13-1. That roster is virtually unbeatable: Brady, AP, Hillis, Foster, Roddy, Bowe, Branch, Tamme, Steelers D ... with Blount, Forte, Matt Ryan, Austin, and Floyd on the bench. I scored 1,365 points in that league, and finished the regular season on a 10 game winning streak. I'm such a huge dork.
Anyway, here are the Week 14 Wrap Ups, followed by the Week 15 Picks.
Indy 30, Titans 28
Colts missed the cover by 1 point thanks to a Bo Scaife garbage touchdown as time expired. Screw you Jeff Fisher.
Falcons 31, Panthers 10
Atlanta takes one step closer to homefield throughout, and the way that Michael Turner is running nobody's going to beat them.
Bills 13, Browns 6
Cleveland continues to play to the level of their competition. With this win, Buffalo loses their chance at Andrew Luck.
Jags 38, Raiders 31
Those feisty Jaguars. They gave up 30 fantasy points to McFadden and were down 10 in the fourth quarter, but they just keep getting wins.
Steelers 23, Bengals 7
Troy Polamalu proves yet again why he's the best defensive player in the NFL. He might actually be making DMVP a close battle. But Clay Matthews still has the edge.
Bucs 17, Redskins 16
The BBR (Black Ben Roethlisberger) has yet another fourth quarter comeback win. That makes 6 for Josh Freeman in his 2 year career. Amazing. Tampa remains in the playoff hunt.
Saints 31, Rams 13
This game could have been closer, but a Steven Jackson fumble in the first quarter led to a 14-0 hole which the Rams couldn't climb out of. The Saints have quietly won 6 straight.
49ers 40, Seahawks 21
Another NFC West instant classic. These teams are both so bad that they don't deserve my thoughts.
Cardinals 41, Broncos 13
The problem with firing Josh McDaniels was that you lost not only a head coach, but a playcaller too. Kyle Orton's QB rating of 27 tells the whole story. Oh, also, the Cardinals kicker had 5 field goals and a rushing TD.
Patriots 36, Bears 7
Laughable on all accounts. In the Patriots last three snow games, they led by a combined 103-0 at halftime. If there was any doubt about league MVP, there isn't anymore. Brady's got 29 TDs and 4 INTs. Chicago is very lucky that the Packers lost. We'll get to that later.
Dolphins 10, Jets 6
Chad Henne had 5 completions in a winning effort. The Jets are not a good team. Thanks for the memories Rex Ryan. Oh by the way, I'm 99% sure that Rex Ryan is somehow responsible for the assistant coach tripping the Dolphins player, and letting him take the fall for it.
Chargers 31, Chiefs 0
Glad I changed this pick at the last minute! Apparently Brodie Croyle (now 0-9 as a starting QB) isn't going to be getting many big offers this offseason. KC had 67 yards of offense somehow, despite zero turnovers. Also zero third-down conversions.
Eagles 30, Cowboys 27
Both of these teams are really good. This was a great game. Too bad Dallas started the season 1-7 or we could have a playoff rematch. Also, Michael Vick is going to get massively overpaid this spring. I'm thinking Philly gives him 5 years, $95 million, and he barely finishes the second year of his deal before he either falls apart physically or mentally.
Giants 21, Vikings 3
Well, the Favre streak finally ended. Now let's just hope his wretched career will end. The Giants needed this win to keep their playoff hopes alive (since New Orleans has basically clinched a wildcard) and they got it, thanks to an anemic Vikings offense. Seriously Peterson? 1.9 ypc?
Ravens 34, Texans 28
The only team in the NFL to never make a postseason appearance continues its streak with this crushing overtime loss. What's the opposite of clutch? Unclutch? Anticlutch? Well that's Matt Schaub. And don't look now but Haloti Ngata might be in the conversation with Matthews and Polamalu for DMVP.
And that brings us to ...
Lions 7, Packers 3
If you would have told me on Saturday that Detroit would score only 7 points, I would have given them a 0.00000001% chance of winning. But despite just one catch from Calvin Johnson and a 39.4 QB rating from Drew "I Better Update My Resume" Stanton, the Lions pulled out this incredible, stunning victory for one reason, and one reason only: defense.
Okay, maybe a couple reasons. Rodgers's injury definitely helped. Stefan Logan did a great job on kick returns. The Packers helped us out with 3 turnovers, particularly the drop by Jennings which was a surefire TD if he held on. But really, it was all defense.
Green Bay went just 2 for 12 on third downs; their running backs combined for 37 yards on 15 carries; Detroit had 4 sacks (without KVB) and 6 tackles for loss; the Packers were forced to punt 8 times; and best of all, Ndamukong Suh was an unblockable machine despite being double and triple teamed on several occasions.
What a fantastic victory. Detroit hadn't won a divisional game in their last 19 tries. This was huge. Great game for confidence - for the coaches, for the young players, and for the fans. And how awesome is it to potentially deliver the knockout blow to a hated rival. Heck, I don't even hate the Packers as much as the Bears or Vikings, but to win a game which has potential playoff implications is phenomenal!
Now, for the Week 15 picks ...
49ers (5-8) @ Chargers (7-6)
Predicted Line: SD by 7.5
Actual Line: SD by 9
These teams are both probably the best teams in crappy divisions, and they both desperately need to win. But that's about all they have in common. San Diego is good - possibly Super Bowl good. San Francisco absolutely sucks. They just keep beating doormats. Their five wins are against Denver, Oakland, and the three teams in their division. And without Frank Gore they just don't have an offense. Sorry Alex Smith, you can put up 40 points against Seattle but you aren't fooling anybody. You stink.
This has blowout written all over it. Chargers in a must-win December game against a crappy team? Come on. I'll take those 9 points gladly.
Cleveland (5-8) @ Cincinnati (2-11)
Predicted Line: CLE by 1
Actual Line: CIN by 1.5
It took fourteen weeks, but Terrell Owens finally did his thing. Quote:
"You start with the owner, you start with the coaches. As players, we are a product of what the coaches are coaching us throughout the course of the week. Of course, we've got to go out there and play the game. But in order for us to do what we're allowed to do to the best of our abilities, the coaches have to put the players in the best position."
Everything he said is completely true. Marvin Lewis has been deplorable and should have been fired by now. But come on. Couldn't he just keep his mouth shut like the other 52 guys on the team?
I'm officially giving up on the Bengals. They won't be able to stop Peyton Hillis, and Colt McCoy will be back. The Browns are still playing for pride. I'll take them to win pretty convincingly.
Redskins (5-8) @ Cowboys (5-8)
Predicted Line: DAL by 8
Actual Line: DAL by 6
Mike Shanahan is being really weird about his quarterback situation. Really weird, and incredibly stupid. He's contemplating benching Donovan McNabb, not for some young hotshot with a chance to prove himself, but for Turnover Machine Rex Grossman, a proven loser. This just weeks after extending McNabb's contract for 5 years and $78 million. It's been the weirdest not-talked-about story of the season. Paying a guy Pro Bowl money in the midst of his worst season in a decade, and then threatening to bench him. My only explanation is that the Redskins plan to cut ties altogether with McNabb by the end of 2010, and the contract ploy was a means of saving money. If McNabb is removed from the roster by the end of the season, it will save the Skins $10 million on his contract. Very strange and possibly scandalous.
As for the pick, it depends slightly on the QB status. If McNabb plays, Dallas will win by 7 or 10. If Grossman plays, Dallas will win by at least 20. Either way, I like Dallas.
This just in - Grossman will start. I'm not only taking the Cowboys, but I'm gleefully making it the Lock of the Week.
Texans (5-8) @ Titans (5-8)
Predicted Line: TEN by 1
Actual Line: TEN by 1.5
Both teams are coming off emotional losses that eliminated them from playoff contention. What is there to play for?
Well, for one thing, both coaches are playing to keep their jobs. For another, Arian Foster is playing to win the Rushing title.
Matt Schaub is trying to keep a starting job in the NFL. Kerry Collins is trying to keep a job, period. Chris Johnson is playing for revenge, because in his last game against Houston he rushed for like 7 total yards. Randy Moss is playing solely for the paycheck.
So ... in the meaningless battle for individual accolades and retaining employment, I guess I'll side with the team that doesn't have Randy Moss. Titans are 0-5 since picking him up.
Jags (8-5) @ Colts (7-6)
Predicted Line: IND by 6.5
Actual Line: IND by 5
Colts win, but Jags keep it close. I hate this line. I'll say Colts win by 4. So I'll take Jacksonville ATS.
Chiefs (8-5) @ Rams (6-7)
Predicted Line: Pick Em
Actual Line: KC by 1 (Cassel expected to play)
If Cassel plays I'm guessing the line is somewhere close to KC by 2. If Croyle starts, I'm guessing STL by 3. I'm just going to guess the game straight up, and my hunch is Cassel plays. KC can't feel good about their playoff chances with Brodie Croyle and his 0-9 career record as a starter.
If Cassel does play, I'll take the Chiefs. They should be able to run on the Rams and control the clock. Jamaal Charles won't have much trouble against the Rams defense.
But if Croyle plays, the Rams will put 11 men in the box and destroy the Chiefs offense just like the Chargers did. Actually, I'm changing the pick to Rams either way. If Cassel does play he probably won't be near 100%. Bah I don't know! I'll just stick with the Rams.
Bills (3-10) @ Dolphins (7-6)
Predicted Line: MIA by 6.5
Actual Line: MIA by 5.5
If the Jets continue to collapse and lose their remaining three games (very possible), Miami figures to be in a battle with Jacksonville for the remaining Wildcard spot that doesn't go to Baltimore. Assuming Indy wins on Sunday and the Dolphins win this game, both teams will be 8-6, and the Jets will be 9-5 after they lose to Pittsburgh. So all that to say, Miami has a half-decent chance to get blown out by San Diego in the first round.
For this game, I want to take the points because Buffalo is frisky and Miami's head coach is 0-7 lifetime at covering a spread of 4 points or more. I also want to take Buffalo because of how terrible Chad Henne has played lately. But, I'm going against my instincts and taking Miami in what I think will be a low-scoring, 13-20 game.
Lions (3-10) @ Bucs (8-5)
Predicted Line: TB by 8
Actual Line: TB by 6
This line was tough to guess. On one hand the Lions just beat the Packers and held them to 3 points; on the other hand, Drew Stanton. Six points might be a little low on the road.
One of the great tragedies of this season will be Tampa Bay missing the playoffs at 9-7 while St. Louis makes the playoffs at 7-9. I want to say the rules should be changed, but what are we going to do, keep a division winner from making the playoffs? Can't do that. We just have to live with a crappy system.
For this game, I'm actually taking the Lions to cover the spread, and I think they might win outright for their first road victory in 78 years. People don't realize how injury-plagued Tampa is. Their best defensive player, Aqib Talib, is on IR as of 3 weeks ago. They also lost stud safety Tanard Jackson to a drug-related suspension and rookie safety Cody Grimm to a season-ending knee injury. They put linebacker Quincy Black (one of their leading tacklers) on IR earlier this week, and #3 overall pick Gerald McCoy is likely to miss this game with a bicep injury. In short, Tampa's defense is in shambles, and even a hooligan like Drew Stanton might rush for 40 yards and throw 20 completions. This is a good week to own Calvin Johnson in fantasy football, and a bad week to be playing against him in the playoffs. Unfortunately, I am the latter.
Tampa's defense ranks 11th against the pass, and 27th against the run. But given the injuries, especially to a shutdown corner in Talib, you have to view them as perhaps the worst overall defense in the NFL. Their secondary is just as inept as the Lions, and they don't have a pass rusher with more than 5 sacks all year. (The Lions have 3). In fact, Tampa has the fewest overall sacks in the NFC, and ranks third-worst in the NFL in terms of YPC defense. They give up an average of 4.7 yards per rush. It's time for Jahvid Best to earn his paycheck.
On the other side of the ball, it's just as ugly. Detroit's defense looked fabulous against Matt Flynn, but Josh Freeman is efficient and knows how to move the chains. Tampa's third-down conversion rate is 42.1%, 7th best in the NFL and only trailing teams with QBs named Manning, Rivers, Brees, Brady, Ryan and Schaub. To slow down the Tampa offense, it's got to start up front in containment against LeGarrette Blount.
The Tampa offensive line isn't good, and will have to double-team Suh to keep him out of the backfield. As usual, that will allow Avril and McBride and Williams to be a little more aggressive, and should allow for some effective blitz packages. The Lions have the 22nd ranked rush defense, but I feel like it's better now than it was early in the season, especially with DeAndre Levy back at MLB. I actually think Blount will struggle to gain consistent yards on 1st and 2nd down. Of course, I wouldn't bench him in fantasy football, because he'll likely score on a 60 yard play.
The absolute key to this game will be Tampa's vertical offense. How can the Detroit secondary respond to third-and-longs, and how can the Detroit pass rush fare without KVB? I expect Josh Freeman to attempt upwards of 40 passes (he averages about 29 per game), with plenty of downfield strikes to Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn. It's up to the Detroit secondary to avoid big plays. If they can survive this game without giving up a 50+ yard score, they'll win.
Despite the gloomy 3-10 record, I really, REALLY want Detroit to win this game. Tampa isn't as talented as their 8-5 record suggests, but they embody what Detroit wants to be: an under-talented team which plays smart and focused and wins close games. Beating Tampa, and essentially knocking them out of the playoff race, would be a big step for our franchise. It would mean back-to-back wins against teams hoping to make the playoffs, and twice as many wins as last year. Our remaining games are Miami and Minnesota, so 6-10 is still within reach.
Forget the draft. With the win last week Detroit lost its chances for Patrick Peterson, unless Cincy and Denver magically win a couple games. PP is not sliding past the #2 pick. After Peterson the draft is a total crapshoot, and I'd prefer to win as many games as possible this year so we get the latest possible pick, so we're not on the hook for another godawful contract. The one good aspect of preposterous rookie contracts is that it motivates bad teams to win late in the season.
I think the spread for this game makes sense, but I also think Detroit has at least a 40% chance of winning. Josh Freeman is a comeback fiend, but doesn't have any prior experience blowing teams out. I'm expecting a high-scoring game (maybe 35-38) and ultimately another Freeman comeback. But I will take Detroit and the points.
Random crazy prediction: Drew Stanton has 22 fantasy points. 23-43, 225 yards, 2 TDs, 35 rushing yards, 1 INT.
Cardinals (4-9) @ Panthers (1-12)
Predicted Line: ARZ by 1
Actual Line: CAR by 2
Pretty sure these are the two worst teams in the NFL. Yippee. Brace yourselves for stunning analysis.
In terms of defense, these teams rank 29th and 26th in points allowed; offensively, they rank 32nd and 27th in points scored. Carolina might have the worst offense ever assembled, but they've figured out how to run the ball lately and the Cards give up 143 rushing yards per game. John Skelton had a 52.3 QB rating and 40.5% completion percentage last week for Arizona in his first start, but played effectively as a game manager while Tim Hightower ran like crazy. He's probably better than Anderson or Max Hall. But will he seriously begin his career 2-0? And if Carolina loses this game, they are guaranteed to finish 1-15 with remaining road games against the 2nd and 3rd best teams in the NFL. So what's more likely - Skelton starting 2-0 or Carolina finishing 1-15? (I picked them to go 5-11 back in June).
I really don't know. Carolina is awful. Skelton stinks, but he's probably better than Claussen. I think both teams will run the ball well, but probably just kick a few field goals. It should be something like 10-6 at halftime and thus the final score will be close. And since Arizona is getting two points, I guess I'll take them.
Saints (10-3) @ Ravens (9-4)
Predicted Line: BAL by 1.5
Actual Line: BAL by 1.5
I was about to proclaim this a Super Bowl Preview when I realized I was just getting overly excited because - This is the first game yet where both teams are actually good! Geez oh pete.
I'm playing against Drew Brees AND Ray Rice in the fantasy playoffs in this game, and I'm pretty happy with how the matchups align. Either guy could explode, but I kind of see this as a low-key, feel-each-other-out, field-position kind of 20-17 game. The line essentially means nothing so it's a straight up pick, and it's tough not to pick against the Saints. Brees is on fire.
But wouldn't it be appropriate for the Madden Curse to strike now, late in the season, with playoff hopes on the line, when nobody expects it? It makes me a little queasy to pick New Orleans. Baltimore's a very good team at home (17-5 the last three years). I'm waffling. I can't decide. My gut says New Orleans.
Eagles (9-4) @ Giants (9-4)
Predicted Line: PHI by 1
Actual Line: NYG by 3
Shocking line. People LOVE to bet on Michael Vick. Before I even check the Vegas page I'll guess that 85% of the betting action is on the Eagles. And ... nope, it's only 68%. But still. This line should be Giants by 1. I thought it would skew in the other direction. No disrespect to the Giants, I just thought Vick-mania was a little more prominent.
However, Vick hasn't faced this good of a denfese since ... well, since the last time he played the Giants. Philly won that game 27-17 in Philly, but the Giants had 5 turnovers in that game, which won't happen again. Justin Tuck sacked Vick three times. Vick simply can't run around like crazy against this athletic front 4.
But no matter how good the defense is, you can't keep Philly from scoring; you need at least three touchdowns to beat them. Fortunately, (I say fortunately because I root against the Eagles almost as strenuously as I root against the Steelers and Jets - I detest Michael Vick) the Eagles have enough injuries on defense that New York should be able to pass the ball easily. Asante Samuel is back, but he's incredibly overrated. Linebacker Stewart Bradley and DE Brandon Graham are out, as is CB Ellis Hobbs. A big matchup is DE Trent Cole against LT David Diehl. Those are two borderline Pro Bowlers who get almost no recognition. I expect Chris Snee to lead the Giants rushing attack to a pretty great game and try to keep Vick on the sideline. 75 yards apiece for Jacobs and Bradshaw. If they can move the chains and avoid fumbles, New York has a chance.
However, come on. The better team is getting 3 points here. I've got to pick Philadelphia. Did I mention that both teams are 9-4 and the winning team is assured a playoff birth, while the loser likely gets a wildcard, but maybe gets nothing. You think they'll be fired up?
Here's how the NFC Playoffs shake out:
Atlanta (11-2) and New Orleans (10-3) are IN. They play each other next week at the Georgia Dome. The winner of that game is likely the #1 seed, and the loser is the top Wildcard team.
Somebody from the NFC West will win the division at either 7-9 or 8-8, and then get demolished. It could be Seattle, San Fran or St. Louis. It doesn't matter, but it'll probably be St. Louis.
That leaves three spots for five contenders: Philly, Chicago, New York, Green Bay, and Tampa Bay. The first three are 9-4 and the Packers and Bucs are 8-5. Aaron Rodgers injury is huge. Spend a little time on this site and you'll see how intricate those 3 spots become. New York plays Philly this week; the Giants play the Packers next week; and then Tampa plays New Orleans while Chicago plays Green Bay week 17.
So, if Atlanta loses this week to Seattle (not likely) and then loses to New Orleans next week (50-50) while the Saints beat Baltimore this week, and meanwhile Tampa takes care of Detroit and Seattle in two home games, that sets up 12-3 Saints against 10-5 Tampa, while the 11-4 Falcons would have no shot at the #1 seed, thus New Orleans could rest its starters, which might allow Tampa to win its final game, which would make them 11-5 and probably mean both wildcard positions come from the NFC South.
But if Atlanta beats Seattle this week (which they should, however Seattle needs the win to keep their playoff hopes alive), they'll have a game lead over New Orleans heading into next week's showdown, and that's assuming the Saints beat the Ravens, which they might not. Either way, and regarless of the outcome of ATL-NO week 16, the Saints will have a reason to play week 17, which means Tampa will have to fight for its life at the Superdome.
All that to say, Tampa not only needs to beat Detroit and Seattle in home games (which they should, but remember all their injuries and lack of talent in the first place), but they also need to hope New Orleans wins their next two while Atlanta loses their next two, because then a rest-the-starters situation helps Tampa claim a wildcard spot at 11-5, UNLESS Green Bay wins out without Rodgers (highly unlikey, as they play New England, Chicago, and the Giants) or UNLESS the loser of the PHI-NYG game wins their next two games AND the winner of PHI-NYG wins at least one of its two next games, which is unlikely because the Giants play the Packers and Redskins and the Eagles play Dallas and Minnesota. Plus, with @Minnesota, @Green Bay, and vs. NY Jets remaining on the schedule, there's no guarantee that Chicago wins any of its remaining games, so they might wind up 9-7 or 10-6, which would also help Tampa's chances if Green Bay surprisingly wins out and goes 11-5, because Tampa would then take the Wildcard instead of Chicago, unless the PHI-NYG loser wins out, which as I said, is unlikely.
The small version: don't count Tampa out.
The bigger version: Detroit has extra motivation to beat Tampa this week, at least in my mind.
Having said all that, here are my predictions:
Week 15 - Eagles over Giants, Vikings over Bears, Saints over Ravens, Tampa over Detroit, Atlanta over Seattle, Patriots over Packers.
Week 16 - Jets over Bears, Saints over Falcons, Eagles over Vikings, Tampa over Seattle, Packers over Giants.
Week 17 - Saints over Bucs, Packers over Bears, Giants over Redskins, Atlanta over Carolina, Philly over Dallas.
If that all happens according to plan, the NFC Playoffs look like this:
Byes: Falcons & Eagles
#6 Giants @ #3 Packers
#5 Saints @ #4 Winner of NFC West
So we'd have a 13-3 team on the road in the first round of the playoffs. That's brilliant.
You may have noticed that Chicago is omitted from my playoff projection. That's because I think they'll lose out. Loses to the Steelers and Jets sets up a week 17 game at Lambeau - winner gets the #3 seed. Unless Green Bay loses to the Giants week 16, in which case Green Bay is out almost for sure, unless they somehow beat New England this week. If they do that, they're basically in.
Here's another crazy scenario - even if New Orleans beats Baltimore on the road this week, they could still potentially MISS the playoffs at 11-5, while two teams with inferior records sneak in. That would happen if they lost back-to-back divisional games to Atlanta and Tampa, unless they got some help from the Redskins beating the Giants week 17, or Dallas beating Philly, both of which are unlikely, since those teams won't be trying. It's obviously unlikely for New Orleans to lose weeks 16 and 17, but remember, Madden Curse is still waiting to strike like a poisonous viper.
Here's one more scenario for you - if the Giants beat Philly, then Philly would NEED to win its next two games (Vikings & Cowboys) to avoid missing the playoffs, and even if they won out they still would miss the playoffs if Tampa also wins out, which could happen, especially because of the Saints-rest-the-starters possiblity.
Okay, that's enough of that. Moving on ...
Falcons (11-2) @ Seahawks (6-7)
Predicted Line: ATL by 7
Actual Line: ATL by 6
In their last five games against teams not quarterbacked by Jimmy Claussen, Max Hall or Derek "Okay, That's Fine" Anderson, the Seahawks have lost by scores of 30, 34, 15, 18, and 19.
I think this line's too low. I'll take Atlanta.
Jets (9-4) @ Steelers (10-3)
Predicted Line: PIT by 5.5
Actual Line: PIT by 6
Bad timing for the Jets, who need to get their offense back on track. Not going to happen against a historically-good defense with 4 linebackers who should all be in the Pro Bowl and a strong safety who is making an argument as the best overall player in the NFL.
That said, this line is a little high. Pittsburgh's offense shouldn't be trusted to score against any defense that doesn't completely suck. The Jets have the #2 ranked rush defense and they'll have Revis covering Mike Wallace. Looks like a typical Steelers 17-13 win to me. I'll take the points and the Jets. Uggh .
*EDIT* Polamalu will miss this game. I feel better about my Jets pick. I'll actually make it the Upset of the Week.
Broncos (3-10) @ Raiders (6-7)
Predicted Line: OAK by 7
Actual Line: OAK by 7
Believe it or not, Oakland is not out of playoff contention. Even with San Diego winning on Thursday night.
All Oakland needs is:
-To win their remaining games.
-At least one loss from each San Diego and KC in the next two weeks. If KC beats the Rams but then loses to the Titans, or vice versa, they would finish 9-7 if Oakland beats them week 17. And if San Diego loses to either Cincinnati or Denver, they'll finish 9-7 too. If Oakland wins its remaining games, there will be a three-way tie at 9-7, and Oakland would win the tie-breaker for head-to-head record.
So basically, Oakland not only needs to beat Denver, but needs to travel to Indianapolis next week and beat Peyton Manning in his own building. If they do that, assuming they get a little bit of help, they'll control their own destiny in a week 17 matchup at Arrowhead.
Of course, the most likely scenario is that San Diego wins its remaining two games and finishes 10-6, which means they win the division. UNLESS Kansas City wins its remaining three games and goes 11-5, and in that case San Diego might take a Wildcard instead of the Jets. This would happen if the Jets lose at least two of their next three games (@Pittsburgh, @Chicago, so it might happen), and if the Bolts and Jets tie at 10-6, San Diego wins the tiebreaker for strength of schedule. Yet another wonderful scenario in which Rex Ryan misses the playoffs.
All that to say ... I don't love Oakland's chances, but they aren't elminated yet, and as a result they should play their asses off in this game against a depleted, deflated, demoralized Denver team with an interim coach who is in over his head, a nonexistent offensive coordinator, and a first-round rookie QB who isn't allowed to play, but even if he does play he'll be terrible.
Last time these teams met, Oakland won 59-14 behind 190 yards and 4 TDs for Darren McFadden. That game was in Denver. Now they're in Oakland. I can't believe I'm putting my faith in the Raiders to cover a 7 point spread, but it's more a reflection of my distrust in Denver. They can't stop the run, they can't rush the passer, they can't do anything defensively. And offensively, Kyle Orton seems to be falling apart at the exact moment that the Raiders defense is playing great. Nnamdi Asomugha will eliminate Lloyd from the game, and force injured Kyle Orton to spread the ball around elsewhere.
I'm anticipating another great fantasy day from Knowshon Moreno, who I wish I wouldn't have traded, but ultimately I don't think Denver's offense can keep up. Oakland wins 30-17.
*EDIT* Orton is out; Tebow will start. Still taking Oakland.
Packers (8-5) @ Patriots (11-2)
Predicted Line: NE by 8.5
Actual Line: No Line (Rodgers)
Geez, this is one of the toughest games to call of the season. I have no idea whether or not Rodgers will play, and thus no idea what the line will be. It seems as if he'll be a gametime decision, but when concussions are involved there are NFL-mandated rules. So even if Green Bay wants to play Rodgers - which they will, because this game is basically a must-win - he might not be allowed to play. If Matt Flynn starts, forget about it. Patriots by 50.
But I, for one, think Rodgers will play, or at least will attempt to play. I don't think Green Bay can afford to start Flynn in Foxboro knowing their playoff hopes are on the line. And I'm going to pick this game assuming Rodgers plays, which means the line should be NE by 8.5 or something in that area. And believe it or not, I kind of want to pick the Packers.
Not because Tom Brady isn't amazing or because the Patriots aren't playing like Champs. I realize Brady has won like 25 straight games at home and is lifetime 93-61 against the spread, but not all of those wins are blowouts. Green Bay's defense might present problems for the Patriots O-line, and we might see the 2009 Patriots who kicked field goals instead of scoring 7 on every drive. If that's the case, Green Bay might keep this game close in the fourth quarter, and for that reason I'm temporarily picking the Packers.
However, I will be monitoring this game, and if Rodgers is inactive I'll be changing the pick immediately, even if the line jumps up to Patriots by 35.
*EDIT* Rodgers is doubtful; I'm taking the Pats.
Bears (9-4) @ Vikings (5-9) - Monday night
Predicted Line: CHI by 2
Actual Line: No Line (Favre, AP)
These no line games are annoying. Nobody has any idea if Favre will play, or if AP will play (he probably will), so there is no line. But I'll keep the line at Chicago by 2.
This game isn't in the Metrodome, but outdoors at the U of Minnesota, which means the temperature drops from 65 degrees to 5 degrees. That benefits the Vikings, who have a better running game and aren't stupid like Mike Martz.
However, since Favre missed last week and the streak ended, it's presumable that he'll sit this game out as well. Tarvaris Jackson has been placed on IR. Which means either converted WR Joe Webb will start at quarterback, or newly-signed Patrick Ramsey, who I just assumed was 38 years old, but he's really only 31. Joe Webb is reportedly suffering from a hamstring issue, and since his primary strength as a QB is escapability, I assume that Ramsey will start.
And you know, that might not be a horrible thing. He hasn't actually played a significant game in 4 years, but he couldn't be much worse than Favre, and at least he has something to prove. If nothing else, Ramsey's presence will encourage the coaching staff to run the ball with AP 30+ times, which is a recipe for winning.
However, the Bears are third-best in the NFL at stopping the run, despite giving up 230 rushing yards in the last two weeks. AP might not break many big plays, especially in the snow, and if Ramsey has to convert third-downs, Chicago will eat him alive. Julius Peppers might bring his karate chop and shatter Ramsey's arm, forcing the Vikings to play Webb, which turns them into a video-game offense and takes AP out of a normal rhythm.
Assuming Ramsey does play, or even if Favre plays, I'll probably take the Bears +2. All year they've been able to beat crummy teams, and they'll be playing with a chip on their shoulders after being blown out by New England. Plus, they know they have to win this game, because if they lose it sets up must-win games against the Jets and Packers, and they don't want to be in that situation.
So even though I wrote earlir that the Vikings would beat the Bears, I'm picking the Bears here, because it looks more and more likely that Favre's career is over, and Patrick Ramsey doesn't inspire much confidence, even against Jay Cutler.
That's all I got.
And stay tuned for the top 50 players in the NBA - 2010 edition.
It's a work in progress.