That exact storyline will play out again in a rare Saturday night match up that pits the 13-0 Saints against the 8-5 Cowboys, who are trying to keep their playoff hopes alive.
After another solid bounce-back week where I went 12-4, I’m now 125-51 overall. Here are my picks for this week:
Indianapolis (13-0) @ Jacksonville (7-6)
My pick: Indianapolis
-The Colts are once again the real deal, like it or not. Peyton Manning has come up big whether it’s been a blowout, a nail biter or a come from behind situation, and they’ve had their fair share of each of those scenarios over the course of this season. The Jaguars are a good team, but are they good enough to dethrone one of the league’s two undefeated teams? I don’t think so. The Colts have serious threats at both receiver and on the ground, they’ve got a pretty strong defense, and if Manning is on his game (as he usually is), Indie will continue to a 14-0 record.
Dallas (8-5) @ New Orleans (13-0)
My pick: New Orleans
-Maybe it’s partly because I WANT to see the possibility of two perfect season continue for at least another week, but I’m taking the Saints to beat the Cowboys. Part of the reason that I think the Saints will take this game is the way they handled the New England Patriots at the Superdome a few weeks ago (a 38-17 win). They’ve won a couple of close three-point games since that win over the Pats, meanwhile the Cowboys have lost two in a row and three of five. Dallas is just 3-3 on the road this season and they seem to struggle in the month of December. I didn’t think much of that stat, but the fact is they continue to not win when they get to this month.
New England (8-5) @ Buffalo (5-8)
My pick: New England
-This won’t be an easy win for New England, but at this point in their season they’re a team looking to prove that they’re still among the “elite” in the league. If you take away their win over Tampa Bay in London, the Pats are 0-5 on the road this season, while posting a 7-0 record at home. Tom Brady and company know that to get deep into the playoffs, they’ll need to do some winning on the road – this is a good place to start. The Bills have won two of three, but are coming off an unconvincing win over Kansas City and back-to-back weeks where they’ve put up no more than 16 points. They’ll need to do better than that if they hope to come out on top.
Cleveland (2-11) @ Kansas City (3-10)
My pick: Kansas City
-This is a real heavyweight matchup between two teams with a combined 21 losses in 26 games this season. I’m taking the home team in this one, even though the Browns are coming off a win over the struggling Steelers. KC running back Jamaal Charles is averaging about 90 rushing yards over the past five weeks, with four touchdowns during that span. Look for him to be a big factor in this game on the ground.
San Francisco (6-7) @ Philadelphia (9-4)
My pick: Philadelphia
-The Eagles are coming off consecutive wins over quality opponents (Atlanta, NYG) and have won four in a row coming into this week’s home tilt with the Niners. San Fran has been solid at home, but like the Pats, they are 1-5 on the road this season. DeSean Jackson is one of the best big-play receivers in the league this season, which spells trouble for the 49ers 27th ranked pass defense. San Francisco beat Arizona last week, but to me that was more a case of the Cardinals falling apart at the seams. The Eagles are on fire, and that will continue this week.
Houston (6-7) @ St. Louis (1-12)
My pick: Houston
-The Texans snapped a four game losing skid last weekend with a win over the Seahawks, and they are more than due for another win this weekend. They lost by three points two weeks in a row (IND, TEN), lost by eight to the Colts again then lost by five to the Jags the next week. Statistically, Matt Schaub is one of the best quarterbacks in the league with almost 4,000 yards passing and 24 TD passes. He’s due for a big game against the 1-12 Rams, who are coming off a 40-point loss to the Titans.
Miami (7-6) @ Tennessee (6-7)
My pick: Tennessee
-It would be a shame if the Titans came this far after an 0-6 start and fell short of a playoff spot, or wasn’t in the hunt until the end at the very least. The Titans lost to the Colts two weeks ago (no shame in that), but they showed what they’re made of with a dominant performance against the lowly St. Louis Rams the following week. Titans fans may have been worried that after having their win streak snapped, the team would revert to their 0-6 ways, but that wasn’t the case in a 47-7 win. The Dolphins have won four of five, but I’m pulling for the Titans.
Atlanta (6-7) @ NY Jets (7-6)
My pick: New York
-Without their starting quarterback and their starting running back, the Falcons have suffered losses in two straight weeks, though they were against Philly and New Orleans, two solid teams. The Jets meanwhile seem to have regained their early-season form, stringing together three straight wins. They’ll get a boost with rookie QB Mark Sanchez returning to the lineup (depending on which Mark Sanchez decides to show up). The Jets are in the hunt for a playoff spot right now and a win would really help them in that respect. I think I read somewhere that Sanchez hasn’t really ever played in cold weather before (being a California boy), so that may be a factor. That being said, I’m taking the Jets to come out on top.
Arizona (8-5) @ Detroit (2-11)
My pick: Arizona
-Arizona has been very inconsistent at times this season, and this is one of those times. After going 5-0 on the road to start the season, they’ve lost two away games in a row, including a pathetic loss to San Francisco last week where ALL of the Niners points came off Arizona turnovers. They have to protect the ball better than that, regardless of who they are playing – but they should be able to get back on track away from home this week against the Detroit Lions. Last week the Lions were thrashed 48-3 by the Ravens (you’d think a lion would win that fight, wouldn’t you?). This should be a game where Kurt Warner and the Cards can get back on track, and they’ve got the Rams next week – a perfect chance to cement a playoff spot.
Oakland (4-9) @ Denver (8-5)
My pick: Denver
-With former number one draft pick JaMarcus Russell at the helm, the Raiders were a terrible (turrrrible) team. After nine games, Tom Cable sat Russell down and gave the starting job to Bruce Gradkowski and the team won two of its next four games. Last week, Gradkowski pulled the MCL in BOTH of his knees, and the Raiders won’t be putting Russell back in, instead going with a guy named Charlie Frye. Now, to the other team – the Denver Broncos have won two of three and shouldn’t have much trouble with the Raiders, especially with their quarterbacking situation.
Cincinnati (9-4) @ San Diego (10-3)
My pick: San Diego
-The Chargers have won eight in a row and are easily one of the best teams in the league at this point – part of that is due to the resurgence of running back LaDainian Tomlinson. After getting into the end zone just once in the first seven weeks of the season, everyone was talking about LT was past his prime – well since then, he has nine majors in seven weeks. The Bengals are coming off a big win last week, but also the loss of a teammate this week. The death of Chris Henry has deeply affected the team, and that may make it hard to focus when it comes time to get back to playing football.
Chicago (5-8) @ Baltimore (7-6)
My pick: Baltimore
-The Ravens are still in the hunt for a postseason berth and are coming off a dominant 48-3 win, albeit over the Detroit Lions. The thing is, it was their first decisive victory since the start of November, a stat that will likely have them riding high coming into this week. The Ravens are a better team than their record shows, which has got to be frustrating. Laying a beating on someone, even a team like Detroit, at this point in the season could be what the Ravens need to get back in the right mind frame. Ray Rice is coming off a 166 yard rushing, 58 yard receiving performance, his best of the year, look for him to be a factor.
Green Bay (9-4) @ Pittsburgh (6-7)
My pick: Green Bay
-After an up and down start to the season, the Packers have started to play consistently when it counts, winning five in a row in the second half of the season up to this point. On the other side of the field is the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers, who have dropped five in a row, including losses to Cleveland, Kansas City and Oakland. They’ve really fallen off, and I don’t think they’ve got what it takes to beat a surging Green Bay side. Both offensive lines have allowed their quarterbacks to get sacked an unhealthy amount this season, but GB’s Aaron Rodgers is winning despite that, while it seems to be taking its toll on Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger.
Tampa Bay (1-12) @ Seattle (5-8)
My pick: Seattle
-The undoing of the Seahawks this season has been their play on the road (1-6), despite a 4-2 home record. Seattle has won two of three and two straight on home turf, going up against a Tampa team with just one win on the season. Neither team really has much to play for, so I’m going to stick with the fact that the ‘Hawks play much better when they’re not on the road.
Minnesota (11-2) @ Carolina (5-8)
My pick: Minnesota
-For just the second time this season, the Vikings are coming off a loss and for the second time, I think they’ll bounce back with a victory. The Carolina Panthers will be relying on their backup QB to run the offense this week, with Jake Delhomme ruled out with a finger injury…he’s got a daunting task ahead of him going up against the 40-year-old wonder, Brett Favre. Even worse for the Panthers, they’ve been known to give up serious yardage on the ground and they’ll probably see a lot of the league’s fourth-best rusher, Adrian Peterson. Only one player has more rushing majors this season that Peterson, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he runs a few in this weekend.
NY Giants (7-6) @ Washington (4-9)
My pick: New York
-The Giants can’t let the Redskins play the role of spoiler this week – they’re the better team and they must play like it. If you like to read into obscure statistics, here’s one for you: the Giants are 0-5 when Eli Manning gets sacked more than once in a game and 7-1 when it’s once or not at all. Maybe it’s a confidence issue for Manning and his o-line, maybe it’s coincidence – but if you’re the Redskins, you’re trying to get to him as often as possible. If the Giants want to stay in the playoff picture, they need this win and I think they’ll get it.