Friday, December 31, 2010

Week 17 Pigskin Predictions

**All games this week are played on Sunday (Jan. 2)

Noon Games
FALCONS 31, panthers 10
Atlanta’s offensive star-power propels the Falcons (13-2) to an easy three-touchdown win over the hapless Carolina Panthers. Following a season-low 215 yards Monday Night in a loss to New Orleans, QB Matt Ryan, RB Michael Turner and WR Roddy White lead Atlanta’s offense in accruing 350-400 yards this Sunday against the Panthers. The win clinches home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs. The loss finishes Carolina’s season at 2-14, the team’s worst record since its franchise-low 1-15 record in 2001.

steel 20, BROWNS 6
Out of the playoff chase, Cleveland (5-10) would love nothing more than to spoil its rival of 60 years’ hopes of attaining a two-seed and first round playoff bye. However, Pittsburgh, under head coach Mike Tomlin, is too mentally tough to let the Browns pull the upset. With five-time Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu missing his third straight game due to an ankle injury, the remainder of the Steelers defense picks up the slack in leading Pittsburgh to victory.

vikes 24, LIONS 20
The 6-9 Vikings roll into Detroit this Sunday to face the Lions (5-10) in a battle for the NFC North basement. Minnesota comes in to this game following an impressive performance by rookie quarterback Joe Webb - who led the Vikings to a 24-14 win at Philadelphia. Many Vikings fans would like to see what Webb can do for an encore. However, he may not start this game, because the team’s banged-up, 41-year-old, future Hall of Fame quarterback is lobbying for one last start to end his 20-year career. Favre starts for the the Vikings, but he suffers another severe blow that takes him out of the game in the second quarter. Webb relieves Favre and plays well, but Adrian Peterson shines as the team’s brightest star this Sunday as Minnesota wins by four. Despite the defeat, the Lions’ take solace in the team’s solid three-win improvement from last season.

raiders 20, CHIEFS 16
Upset Special: Having clinched a playoff bid with its 34-14 defeat of Tennessee last week, Kansas City has already won its division as the team hosts AFC West rival Oakland at Arrowhead Stadium this Sunday. Sewn in as a 3- or 4-seed in the playoffs, one may think there’s not a great deal to gain this weekend. However, the Raiders (7-8) defeated KC earlier this season - a 23-30 overtime victory on Nov. 7 - and are looking to finish its season with a 6-0 division sweep. Raiders RB Darren McFadden totes the ball 30 times this Sunday as Oakland succeeds its unblemished AFC West mission in defeating its playoff-bound foes by four.

PATS 27, fins 20
With its 2010 NFL shoo-in MVP, Tom Brady, out for the bulk of this Sunday’s tilt against Miami, the Patriots still manage to win this game by a touchdown. Brady throws a touchdown pass and BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushes for another early in the game, before back-up QB Brain Hoyer guides the team the rest of its way as New England concludes its season with a league-best 14-2 record. The Dolphins are unable to stunt its disappointing downward slide - losing five of its last seven games - as the team finish its season at 7-9. The loss is soon after followed by the firing of Miami’s head coach, Tony Sparano.

SAINTS 30, bucs 17
After New Orleans’ disappointing start this season - 3-3 including home losses to Arizona and Cleveland - the defending Super Bowl champs defeated the 12-3 Falcons at Atlanta last week and have a chance to earn the NFC’s top playoff seed at home. The Saints will jump all over division opponent Tampa Bay this Sunday and accomplish a 13-point defeat. Conversely, the Buccaneers end its team’s playoff hopes and conclude its season at 9-7. Drew Brees leads New Orleans, passing for 300 yards and 2 TDs, but his team misses out on that top playoff spot as - virtually at the same time the Saints’ win - the Falcons win their season finale against Carolina. The Bucs fail to make the postseason but are encouraged by the impressive seasons of the team’s budding nucleus. Tampa’s youthful core is led by second-year QB Josh Freeman (3,196 passing yards, 23 TDs and 93.6 rating this season) and supported by rookies Mike Williams (WR - team-high 61 receptions, 924 rec yards and 10 TDs) and LeGarrette Blount (RB - team-high 941 rushing yards with a 5.2 per-carry average).

jets 16, BILLS 10
The Jets (10-5) are in this year’s playoff field already, but would like to finish its season with a staunch defensive effort against division foe Buffalo. Last year, New York’s defensive unit finished its season as the NFL’s best in both yards (252.3 per game) and points (14.8) allowed. This year, Rex Ryan’s gang has slid to 4th in overall defense (300.1 yards allowed per game) and 11th in points surrendered (19.8). With a 13th-ranked offense that has lost its punch in the second half of the season, Ryan knows his team needs a rebirth of its suffocating 2009 defense to succeed in this year’s playoffs. The 4-11 Bills, however, hope to upset the Jets to end its season on a high note. Buffalo has been a tough competitor at times (in games such as week 15’s upset win at Miami), but has appeared lifeless as well (i.e. the team’s 34-3 home loss last weekend). The Bills give it their all, but New York’s D proves triumphant as the Jets win by six.

RAVENS 24, bengals 17
Baltimore is in the playoffs, but could still secure a first-round bye. Cincinnati, meanwhile, is coming off a superbly impressive 34-20 win over the Chargers. The Bengals march into Baltimore’s M & T Bank Stadium and give its divisional foe a tough fight, but 11-time Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis leads Ravens to victory. As Lewis’ career is nearing its end, the wily 15-year veteran turns in a spirited effort this Sunday, enabling his Ravens a week of rest before hosting a second-round playoff game the week after.

Late Games
chargers 27, BRONCOS 17
Phillip Rivers has had an outstanding individual season, but unfortunately for San Diego it takes a team effort to make the playoffs. Rivers’ Chargers (8-7) travel to Denver to play the 4-11 Broncos this Sunday in an AFC West clash. While San Diego is sapped with disappointment, the team would like to finish its season above .500. Denver, meanwhile, has been gauging its rookie quarterback - 2007 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow - to see if he has what it takes to lead a future Broncos team to the Promise Land. Tebow has fared okay in his first two starts - throwing for 446 yards and 2 TDs throughout a week 15 loss at Oakland and a one-point home win over Houston last week - but has shown that his skills are still very raw. My prediction for this match-up is that Rivers tosses 3 TDs while Tebow throws a pair of picks and the Chargers defeat the Broncos by 10.

PACK 24, bears 17
Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers allows zero chance for longtime rival Chicago to win at Lambeau this weekend. In what is practically a pre-playoff playoff game, the host Packers conquer the Bears and officially earn entry into the postseason. Rodgers passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns while WR Greg Jennings records 100 of those yards and nabs one of those two TDs to lead Green Bay to a seven-point win.

COLTS 27, titans 23
As much as I’d like to see Jacksonville sneak its way into the playoffs, there’s a very flimsy film of a chance Peyton Manning lets that happen. The 2009 league MVP leads Indianapolis to its 4th victory in the past four weeks as the Colts win the AFC South and make the playoffs for its 10th consecutive season.

EAGLES 27, boys 17
The Dallas Cowboys will be in Philadelphia this Sunday in a match-up of division rivals with hobbled starting quarterbacks. Head coach Andy Reid has ruled out Eagles QB Michael Vick (quad) while Dallas QB Jon Kitna may not be able to go due to an oblique injury suffered last week at Arizona. The Cowboys back-up, Stephen McGee (who is actually the team’s third-stringer) filled in nicely last week in engineering a late 4th quarter, lead-taking touchdown drive. Unfortunately for Dallas (5-10), the team lost that game by one point and has to finish its season with this difficult match-up in Philly. McGee plays well for Dallas, but the game’s more experienced back-up - Philadelphia’s Kevin Kolb - leads the Eagles to a 10-point victory.

NINERS 23, cards 10
It’s one win too late for 5-10 San Francisco this Sunday as the team wins its season finale over Arizona (also 5-10) at home. In what has to be the least intriguing game of the NFL’s week 17 slate, one of the two quarterbacking San Francisco Smith’s (Alex or Troy) leads the 49ers in victory. Standout TE Vernon Davis finishes his season in fine fashion, leading the Niners with 8 catches and touchdown.

giants 31, SKINS 17
Eli Manning bounces back from a poor effort last week (in which he threw 4 INTs in his team’s 45-17 loss at Green Bay) to lead the Giants to a season finale win at Washington. The Redskins (6-9) have looked revived as of late, with back-up QB Rex Grossman at the helm; But talent-wise the Skins cannot compete with New York, especially when the Giants are at their best. With his team’s playoff hopes on the line in New York’s final game of the season, I’m expecting Eli to throw brilliantly and lead the Giants to a two-touchdown defeat.

TEXANS 27, jags 20
Jacksonville desperately needs to defeat Houston this Sunday to keep its playoff hopes alive. However, missing its starting quarterback, David Garrard (finger injury) and star running back Maurice Jones-Drew (knee) will make that challenge extremely difficult. As for the Texans, its star player (WR Andre Johnson) is highly unlikely to play Sunday as well. Both teams are not strong defensively, but Houston’s remaining offensive weapons - QB Matt Schaub, RB Arian Foster and WR Jacoby Jones - are much stronger than Jacksonville’s. The Texans have had a disappointing season (especially over its past nine games), but I’m expecting Houston to execute its spoiler role on Sunday and defeat the Jaguars by seven.

Sunday Night Game
rams 23, HAWKS 17
Game of the Week: Sure, maybe I’m taking the easy route by choosing NBC’s featured Sunday Night game as my pick for game of the week. Actually, I believe the network is taking a chance with this match-up. I mean, two sub-.500 teams fighting for a playoff bid?! Wow. That’s unheard of. While the game does decide a playoff berth, with these team’s caliber of play I’m not so certain that there aren’t four or five other games better suited for NBC’s national audience ... However, despite the poor talent collection, the intrigue of a team possibly making the playoffs with a losing record is compelling enough for me to tab this game as week 17’s top best. Yes, if Seattle (6-9) wins this game, the Seahawks will become the first team ever to enter the playoffs having lost more games than its won. If other option occurs, and St. Louis wins this game, the Rams would spoil Seattle’s potential historically dubious feat and garner playoff entry with a mighty 8-8 record. Here’s a rundown of just how poor these teams have been this season:

Seattle ― Offensively: Points scored - 19.6 per game (23rd in the NFL). Yards gained - 295.5 per game (28th) Defensive ranks: Points allowed - 26.7 per game (29th). Yards allowed - 380.9 per game (30th).

St. Louis ― Offensively: Points scored - 18.9 per game (25th in the NFL). Yards gained - 310.8 per game (25th). Defensive ranks: Points allowed - 20.8 (14th). Yards allowed - 337.0 per game (18th).

Seattle is the home team Sunday night, but while I’d love to see history made, I do not see the Seahawks winning this game. Instead, Rams RB Steven Jackson - the lone Pro Bowl representative from either team - will prove to be the difference. St. Louis defeats Seattle by six and thereby joins the 1985 Cleveland Browns and the 2008 San Diego Chargers as the only three teams to win their division with an even, 8-8 record.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Week 16 Pigskin Predictions

Thursday Night Game
STEELERS 23, panthers 10
(written on Thursday, prior to the game)
Carolina (2-12) shows a lot of defensive pluck tonight, but Pittsburgh (10-4) is too strong for the Panthers to pull the upset. The Steelers get strong performances from running back Rashad Mendenhall and wideout Mike Wallace. The team’s third-year RB (Mendenhall) rolls up 120 rushing yards, while Wallace hauls in 5 passes for 120 yards and a touchdown. One positive for Carolina is that the team’s four-time Pro Bowl receiver, Steve Smith, finally has a breakthrough game. I’m predicting for Smith to achieve his first 100-yard game of the season and score his third touchdown of the year for the Panthers’ lone TD.

RESULT: STEELERS 27, panthers 3
Ben Roethlisberger threw for a 320 yards as the Steelers crushed Carolina by 24. Mendenhall didn’t reach the 120 rushing yards I predicted, but Wallace proved me very close to dead-on in catching 4 balls for 104 yards and a TD. So much for the Carolina’s Smith. The Panthers WR caught just 3 passes for 17 yards in his team’s 13th loss of the season. A 4-time Pro Bowler, Smith is having a dismal season as the 31-year-old will enter his team’s final game next week at Atlanta with a mere 46 catches for 554 yards.

Saturday Night Game
boys 31, CARDS 17 (written Saturday morning)
The Cowboys offense stays hot tonight in the desert by celebrating Christmas with a 14-point throttling of the 4-10 Cardinals. Dallas, which comes into tonight’s game having scored 30 or more points in its last five, has a field day against Arizona’s 27th-ranked defense. Back-up QB Jon Kitna has quietly done a superb job filling in for injured starter Tony Romo. Since making his first start this season (Oct. 25), the 38-year-old has passed for 2,250 yards and 15 touchdowns with a 91.4 QB rating. Tonight, Kitna posts his fifth 300-yard passing game of the season, along with 3 TDs. Two of the three include one each for WR Miles Austin and TE Jason Witten. Dallas RBs Felix Jones and Tashard Choice also have solid performances as the Cowboys offense stomps all over Arizona’s weak D. The win improves Dallas to 6-9, while the loss drops the crumby Cards tack on its 11th loss in the team’s first Kurt Warner-less season since 2004.

Sunday Noon Games
pats 31, BILLS 20
Tom Brady and the Pats (12-2) offense extend their impressive streak of 30-plus point games to seven (all wins) as New England beats the Bills tomorrow afternoon in Buffalo. The win also clinches another division title for the Patriots - the team’s seventh in eight seasons - as well as home-field advantage for the AFC playoffs. The Bills compete hard but fall to 4-11. The frustrated franchise finishes its sixth straight losing season next week with a contest against the 10-4 New York Jets.

BEARS 20, jets 13
New York was very impressive last week in defeating the 11-4 Steelers in Pittsburgh. This week the Jets travel to Chicago’s Soldier Field tomorrow with a battle against the Bears. Last week, Chicago (10-4) was able to rebound from a 36-7 pasting at home against New England two weeks ago with a 40-14 romp over the Vikings at the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium. The Bears have already secured a spot in the playoffs, but a win Sunday gives them a chance to earn a first-round bye. The Jets (10-4) enter the game with its playoff aspirations still in lingo. Despite a sore shoulder, Jets QB Mark Sanchez plays through the pain in hopes of securing a playoff bid for his team. However, ferocious Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher leads the Chicago defense in stopping Sanchez and defeating the Jets. The Bears wins this game by seven.

ravens 24, BROWNS 16
Cleveland is happy to return home after losing to the 3-11 Bengals last week in Cincinnati. Behind the running back plow that is Peyton Hillis, the Browns put forth a feisty performance for their Dog Pound fans. However, Ray Rice and the Ravens show they are the better team by game’s end as Baltimore wins by eight.

CHIEFS 23, titans 17
Following its impressive 27-13 road win against St. Louis last week, Kansas City (8-6) closes in on the AFC West crown by defeating the Titans. Dwayne Bowe reverts to his mid-season dominance with a 120-yard, TD performance. The loss officially eliminates the Titans (6-8) from playoff contention.

niners 24, RAMS 20
The improved 2010 Rams extend the team’s losing streak to three and thus puts its playoff possibility in jeopardy. Fortunately for the Rams, the team remains in contention despite falling to 6-9. Running back Steven Jackson rolls up 150 combined rushing/receiving yards and a pair of scores for St. Louis. However, San Francisco’s Troy Smith passes for 250 yards and two TDs in leading his team to victory. The 49ers’ win bolsters the team’s shocking playoff hopes. After losing five straight games and six of seven to begin the season, the Niners - who with a win would be 6-9 overall and 4-1 in divisional play - could leave St. Louis in playoff position.

lions 17, FINS 13
Upset Special: Detroit, who enters tomorrow’s game as 3.5-point underdogs, wins its fifth game of the season in defeating the Dolphins in Miami. It’s a step in the right direction for a team that has won two games combined through its 2008 and 2009 seasons. To no surprise, the game’s star player is Calvin Johnson - who collects 6 catches for 100 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown is Johnson’s team-leading 13th of the season.

JAGS 33, skins 23
Jacksonville (8-6 overall, 3-2 AFC South) is listing its Pro Bowl running back, Maurice Jones-Drew, as doubtful with a knee injury for tomorrow’s home game versus Washington. With the playoffs on the line after the Jaguars disappointed its fans by losing a crucial game against division foe Indianapolis last week, I’d be shocked if MJD doesn’t give it a go. Not only does he play tomorrow, Jones-Drew plows through the Washington defense for 100 yards and two touchdowns as Jacksonville downs the Redskins by ten.

Sunday Late Games
chargers 27, BENGALS 13
San Diego (8-6) comes into Cincinnati’s Paul Brown Stadium after back-to-back strong performances - in which the Chargers outscored Kansas City and San Francisco by a collective score of 65-7. The Bengals won last week, but still bear a miserable 3-11 record. Expect Chargers QB Philip Rivers to continue his MVP-caliber season, passing for 300 yards and two touchdowns in leading his team to victory. WR Vincent Jackson also has a nice game for San Diego, hauling in two of Rivers’ passes for touchdowns as the Chargers keep pace with Kansas City in a deadlock for AFC West supremacy.

texans 27, BRONCOS 17
Quarterback Matt Shaub and the high-scoring Texans follow up a rare offensive struggle - scoring 17 points at Tennessee last week - in defeating Denver 27-17. Shaub passes for 250-plus yards and RB Arian Foster earns his eighth 100-yard effort of the season. Rookie QB Tim Tebow (Denver’s 2010 first round draft pick) starts his second consecutive game and passes for 200-230 yards but throws two picks in the loss. Following the team’s 8-8 record last season, this year’s Denver club falls to 3-12 as losers of 10 of its last 11 games.

colts 24, RAIDERS 20
Indianapolis builds off its recent resurgence in eking out a hard fought win at a hostile Oakland-Alameda County Stadium. The host Raiders (7-7) compete strongly, but lose its eighth game of the season. Despite the loss, an admirable effort against the defending AFC champion Colts is an encouraging sight for Oakland - a team that hasn’t posted a .500-or-better record since 2002. Indianapolis’ top running back, Joseph Addai, returns for this game after missing seven straight to help the Colts improve to 9-6 and keep pace division foe Jacksonville in its race for the AFC North crown.

PACK 20, giants 17 in OT
Coming of its mind-boggling, inexcusable loss to Philadelphia at home, the Giants - who allowed four touchdowns in the game’s final 7:28 last week - are desperate to redeem themselves against the Packers. However, a visit to Mr. Rodgers’ neighborhood isn’t exactly a welcoming sight this time of the year. New York (9-5) can guarantee a playoff appearance by defeating the 8-6 Packers tomorrow, but Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay’s Pro Bowl quarterback) has recovered from a concussion and is poised to lead his Cheeseheads to a huge home victory. On a frigid field with temperatures in the teens, two teams both on the cusp of playoff entry battle into overtime tomorrow with Rodgers’ Pack prevailing by a field goal.

BUCS 27, hawks 24 in OT
Tampa Bay lost at home to the lowly Lions last week to drop its record to 8-6. However, the Buccaneers handle the Seahawks (6-8) tomorrow to keep them in contention for a playoff spot. As one of the NFL’s biggest turnaround stories, after Tampa won just three games last season, Bucs head coach Rahim Morris successfully leads his team to its ninth win of 2010. Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman connects with his pair of rookie wideouts, Aurelious Benn and Mike Williams, for touchdowns in leading his team to victory. In the defeat, Seattle’s Mike Williams - a fourth-year WR - collects 7 receptions and a touchdown. Each team’s Mike Willams wide receivers continue their impressive seasons. Tampa’s Williams enters tomorrow’s tilt leading all NFL rookies in receptions (58), receiving yardage (880) and touchdowns (8). Seattle’s Williams - the 10th overall draft pick in the 2005 draft - has 60 catches for 720 yards this season. Williams has revived his career this season as the ex-USC standout has more than doubled his previous season-highs for each of those categories (Williams had 29 grabs for 350 yards in his rookie season with Detroit).

Sunday Night Game
EAGLES 34, vikes 16
The Vikings’ current players who were on Minnesota’s 2002 roster relive the nightmares that Michael Vick gave them on Dec. 1 of that season as the Eagles QB torments them tomorrow night in Philadelphia. In 2002, as a member of the Atlanta Falcons, Vick rushed for a career-high 173 yards - including a memorable 46-yard, game-clinching scamper - as his Falcons defeated the Vikings 30-24 in the Metrodome. This time Vick will not top that single-game, career high rushing total, but he will pass for 250-300 and 3 TDs in giving Philadelphia its 11th win of the season. For Minnesota (5-9) - who suffered an embarrassing 40-14 home loss with its injured 41-year-old quarterback (Brett Favre) at the helm - finally give Vikings rookie QB Joe Webb his first career start. The athletic, 6-foot-4, 24-year-old shows his speedy elusiveness in avoiding sacks and rushing for 50 yards. However, the task of defeating the NFC West-leading Eagles (10-4) is far too difficult to overcome as Philly wins this game by a wide margin.

Monday Night Football
saints 33, FALCONS 27
Game of the Week: An epic battle takes place this Monday as the 12-2 Falcons take on the 10-4 Saints at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome home. The battle features New Orleans’ 2009 Super Bowl MVP, Drew Brees, against 25-year-old Atlanta QB Matt Ryan. Despite losing 30-24 at Baltimore last Sunday, the Saints have won six of its last seven games with Brees passing for 2,093 yards and 27 TDs during that stretch. Meanwhile, Atlanta’s “Matty Ice” - as Ryan is known - enters tomorrow’s contest with career home record of 19-1. The Falcons defeated the Saints 27-24 in New Orleans earlier this season. On Monday, Brees makes sure his team isn’t swept by its NFC South foe as the Saints defeat Ryan’s Falcons by six.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Week 15 Pigskin Predictions

Thursday Night Game
CHARGERS 31, niners 10 (written Thursday prior to game)
Last week San Francisco (5-8) picked apart Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (intercepting him four times) en route to a 40-21 thrashing of its top division foe. This week the 49ers will not be as fortunate. On-again, off-again quarterback Alex Smith will contend with San Diego (7-6) and its No. 1-rated defense; and the results will not be pretty. Phillip Rivers (the AFC’s top-rated QB, 101.3) will light up the Niners secondary tonight, connecting with 2009 Pro Bowl WR Vincent Jackson and six-time Pro Bowl TE Antonio Gates for scores, in leading the Chargers to a 21-point victory. The win will be San Diego’s fifth in its past six games, lifting them within ½-game of 8-5 Kansas City for the AFC West division lead. The loss will drop San Francisco to 5-9 but not eliminate them from playoff contention in the lousy NFC West – where it appears very likely that a 7-9 team will win the division and become the first sub-.500 team to make the playoffs.

RESULT: CHARGERS 34, niners 7
I was fairly on target with my prediction for this game. Chargers won big, defeating the 49ers by 27 points. I had the Chargers winning big with my score only six points off. Gates didn’t play, which, combined with WR Macolm Floyd not playing -- both due to injuries -- opened the door for Jackson to look like the primary weapon he was last season. Jackson, who sat out several weeks this season due to contract disputes, caught 5 passes for 116 yards and a career-best 3 TDs. Rivers connected with his brawny, 6-foot-5-inch target (Jackson) for a 58-yard touchdown just over two minutes into the game, igniting the Chargers early on. From there, the San Diego defense took over with a big defensive stand on its goal line (denying a 4th-down rushing effort from Niners RB Anthony Dixon) and it was easy sailing from then on. The Bolts mounted a 34-0 lead before a late TD from San Francisco RB Brian Westbrook prevented his team from being shut out ... Given the game’s outcome, both teams will have their eyes on Sunday’s Chiefs/Rams game. Kansas City (8-5) has a half-game lead on San Diego (8-6) in the AFC West, while St. Louis (6-7) holds a 1.5 game lead on San Francisco (5-9) in the historically awful NFC West. Despite the loss, the 49ers still own a 3-1 division record, that combined with two very winnable divisional games on its remaining schedule (at St. Louis and home against 4-9 Arizona) make it very possible for crummy Niners to become team with a losing record to make the playoffs.

browns 20, BENGALS 17
The bottom two AFC North teams square off in Cincinnati today as the Bengals play host to the Browns at Paul Brown Stadium. Kind of strange, huh, the visiting team having a name virtually resembling the home team’s stadium name. Anyway, moving on, in a week with so many tantalizing match-ups, this game will hardly be an appetizer. Following up its 10-win playoff season last year, the 2010 Bengals are 2-11 and currently have a 10-game losing streak. Maybe there’s something to the unflattering “Team Obliterator” nickname WR Terrell Owens has been dubbed with at times. Sure, Owens does have team highs in catches (72) and receiving yards (983) and TDs (9) for the Bengals, but he’s previously been known to cause dissension in the NFL locker rooms and he is also the one noteworthy roster change on the team’s roster since last season. Perhaps Cincy’s dumbfounded downfall this season has nothing to do with Owens, but this year’s Bengals just reek of defeatism. Cleveland is not a team of much excitement either, but the Browns do have an emerging running back (Peyton Hillis) and have posted a couple huge wins this season (at New Orleans, vs. New England). Cleveland (5-8) wins this lackluster game at Paul Brown by three.

BOYS 38, redskins 10
It’s hard to predict a game between two NFC East divisional rivals to be such a blowout, but this is just how I feel. While both teams have matching 5-8 records, Dallas has elevated its game markedly over its past five games while Washington has severely spiraled downward. Dallas hit the lowest of lows when the team was blown out 45-7 on a nationally televised Monday night game in Green Bay. However, the following week the same Cowboys team turned things around in shocking the Giants (who, at the time, had won five straight games and were considered the hottest team in the league) 33-20 in New York. Counting that win and moving forward, Dallas has won three of its past five games, averaging 32 points per game with its only losses being 3-point defeats to Michael Vick’s 9-4 Eagles and Drew Brees’ 10-3 Saints. Today, facing Washington -- a team that’s lost five of six and has benched its $78 million quarterback (Donovan McNabb) in favor of Rex Grossman -- at home, expect Dallas to mop its Jerry World floor with the Redskins. The Cowboys offense will roll up 450-500 yards and 38 points in crushing the Grossman-led Skins by 28.

texans 34, TITANS 17
Another game featuring a pair of 5-8 teams takes place today in Tennessee. The visiting Houston Texans and host Titans both began their respective seasons with promise, however, both teams have sputtered miserably since then. Houston has lost six of its past seven games, while Tennessee has dropped six straight. Despite the similarity in recent drudgery, the Texans have been the more competitive team of the two. This past Monday, Houston impressively rallied a 28-7 deficit to push 9-4 Baltimore into overtime. The week before that the Texans had a had a fourth quarter lead against 9-4 Eagles at Philadelphia. The Texans lost both these games, but the feeling their quick-strike offense provides gives this team hope. Tennessee, meanwhile, has been mired on both sides of the ball for the majority of its past six games. Houston’s Achilles’ Heel is easily its defense (with NFL ranks of 28th overall and dead last against the pass), however, that said, the Texans still managed to blank Tennessee 20-zip three weeks ago in Houston. At home this time, I’m expecting Tennessee to show a little more fight today, but ultimately the Texans’ offensive weapons (QB Matt Shaub, RB Arian Foster and WR Andre Johnson, in particular) will be too much to handle as Houston wins by 14.

jags 31, COLTS 27
This game is one to salivate over. The Indianapolis Colts, one of the NFL’s most winningest teams throughout QB Peyton Manning’s 13-year tenure there, face the preseason playoff afterthought Jacksonville Jaguars. The year began with the defending AFC champion Colts as the prohibitive favorites to win its South division, while Jacksonville was thought to be a sub-.500 team near the bottom of the same division. Instead, the Colts (7-6) have struggled this season, while the Jaguars have an 8-5 record, pulled an upset win over the Colts at home earlier this season and enter today’s game at Indianapolis having won four of its last five games. On top of that the Jags also possess perhaps thee hottest weapon in football right now: RB Maurice Jones Drew. The fifth-year back out of UCLA has rushed for 100-plus yards in six straight games. Jones-Drew’s wrecking ball resembling body (5 feet, 7 inches, 208 pounds) has been plowing through NFL defenses in amassing 768 yards over the six-game span including a career-high 186 yards Dec. 5 at Tennessee and a game-winning 30-yard scamper last week against Oakland. That said, Indy has some favorable components heading into tomorrow as well. The Colts ended a three-game slide last week with at 30-28 win at Tennessee, Manning ended a dreadful run of interception-laden games with a pick-free, 319-yard, 2-TD effort in that win and Manning will get back one of his top receiving weapons today as WR Austin Collie (concussion) is expected to play for the first time since Nov. 21. It’ll be a fun match-up with to watch, as the game has enormous playoff implications and Indy’s Lucas Oil Stadium will be filled with tons of screaming Colts’ fans. While Indy is a five-point favorite for this game, I’m going with the visiting Jags in this game, pulling off a shocking, respect-building win. The Colts (and their 29th-ranked rush defense) won’t be able to hold down Jones-Drew as Jacksonville clinches its first division crown in 11 years.

RAMS 23, chiefs 20
Today at St. Louis’ Edward Jones Dome a pair of teams with a combined 5-27 records last season will meet with each team in playoff contention. The 1-15 2009 St. Louis Rams have become a 6-7 team thus far this season, while the 4-12 2009 Kansas City Chiefs transformed into an 8-5 division-leading team in 2010. With KC having a record that’s two wins better than the Rams, as well as a more challenging schedule, one might think the Chiefs would be marginal favorites in this game. However, with KC missing the quarterback who’s engineered the team’s turnaround this season, Matt Cassel, the host Rams are favored by a field goal. After needing an emergency appendectomy 10 days ago, Cassel missed last week’s game (a 31-0 loss at San Diego) and it appears very iffy if he’ll play tomorrow. That’s unfortunate for the Chiefs as Cassel has been a key part of the team’s success this year (throwing for 2,503 yards and 23 TDs with a career-best 98.4 QB rating). Also, KC’s back-up QB -- Brodie Croyle -- has yet to win an NFL game as a starter (0-10). If Cassel proves to be healthy and plays tomorrow the match-up may be favorable for the Chiefs, however I’m going with St. Louis regardless of whether Cassel plays or not. Rookie QB Sam Bradford delights his team’s home crowd as he and All-Pro RB Steven Jackson lead the Rams to victory.

bills 20, FINS 17
Upset Special: An AFC East contest of mild interest takes place this afternoon as the Bills visit the Dolphins in south Florida. Miami (who’s favored by 5.5 points in this game) is technically alive in the AFC playoff chase. Buffalo has competed admirably at times this season, but is saddled with a 3-10 record. Both teams won last week -- Buffalo defeated Cleveland 13-6 at home and Miami won 10-6 against the Jets in New York -- but neither has looked all that impressive in recent weeks. The only interesting factor is that the Dolphins will be playing in front of its home fans with a chance to improve its playoff probability. I’m just not seeing it happen. Despite a winning record (7-6), this team just seems to lack charisma or charm. Miami probably should have lost last week (the result was largely due to the Jets playing miserably) and will lose this week. Buffalo WR Stevie Jackson has had a strong year (66 receptions, 874 yards and 9 TDs) but struggled in his team’s last two games (7 recs, 78 yds combined). I’m looking for Johnson to re-ignite tomorrow and help lead his Bills past the mediocre Fins by three.

eagles 27, GIANTS 24 in OT
Game of the Week: Despite his team’s 27-17 home win against the Giants four weeks back, Eagles QB Michael Vick wasn’t very happy with his performance. Today he’ll face the Giants in New York in a mammoth battle of two 9-4 NFC East division-leading rivals. Philadelphia, under Vick’s resurgent mastery, has become the NFC’s top offense (402.8 yards per game), while New York is the conference’s stingiest defense (309.3 yards allowed per game). Moreover, the Giants have been producing the proverbial Championship-winning blend of a great defense and running games over the last two weeks. Over its week 13 and 14 wins over Washington and Minnesota, New York has allowed only 10 points while its rushing duo of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw have combined for a whopping 419 yards rushing with 6 TDs. Perhaps even more impressive is the dangerous duo’s combined 7.2 yards-per-carry average. The only dimmer of the Giants’ offensive glow has been QB Eli Manning and his league-leading 19 interceptions. Manning’s errors haven’t hurt him much yet -- with his team winning eight of its past ten games -- but the Giants will fall this afternoon at home. It will be a vicious, tightly fought battle with Jacobs and Bradshaw having their share of success, but Vick’s high-flying Eagles offense will trump New York’s defense in overtime as Philadelphia completes its season sweep of the Giants with a three-point win.

bucs 23, LIONS 13
If Drew Stanton looks as bad as he did last week the Lions will have no hope in defeating the Buccaneers today in Tampa Bay. The Bucs (8-5) are fortunate to get the 3-10 Lions at home and at the right time. Were it Matthew Stafford or Shaun Hill at the helm for Detroit, I’d be very tempted to pick the Lions. But it will most likely be Stanton at QB, thus I’m choosing Tampa to win by 10. After struggling to a 3-13 record last season, a victory this afternoon would elevate Tampa’s 2010 record to 9-5 and keep the team’s surprising playoff hopes alive. Think about this: Tampa’s final two games are a home game next week against Seattle and the season finale at New Orleans. The Seahawks (6-7) have been one of the league’s most miserable teams over the past four weeks, and the Saints -- while a far superior team to Tampa -- may have clinched a playoff seed that could not be improved with a win in week 17. So, it’s actually not too far fetched for the Bucs to finish with an 11-5 record -- a miraculous 8-game improvement from last season -- and in strong position for an NFC wildcard bid.

cards 16, PANTHERS 13
Wow, this is a bad game. There’s no two ways about it. 1-12 Carolina hosts the 4-9 Cardinals who are worse than their record indicates. Last week Arizona defeated Denver by a deceivingly lopsided 43-13 score. Some credit is certainly deserved when you win by that many points, but many of the points were late in the game after a miserable Broncos effort became even worse. As for the Panthers, they were blown out at home by Atlanta for its seventh straight loss. The Cards won’t be as fortunate today as they were last week when kicker Jay Feely scored the team’s first 22 points. However, with Arizona’s touchdown-challenged offense, Feely could very likely kick 3 FGs and account for the majority of his team’s points as the Cards defeat a Carolina team destined to finish its season with 15 losses.

saints 27, RAVENS 21
Drew Brees and the red-hot Saints (10-3) march into Baltimore today on a six-game winning streak. The Ravens, meanwhile, are 9-4 but looked very vulnerable this past Monday when they allowed 15 points in the game’s final six minutes to allow 5-8 Houston to tie the score and force overtime. Baltimore did win that game -- as Ravens cornerback Josh Wilson came up with a clutch interception return touchdown for the game-winner -- but faces a stiffer challenge this week. New Orleans appears to be the hottest team in the league outside of New England. Since suffering a shocking 30-17 loss to Cleveland on its home turf, the Saints have won six straight games by an average 11 points per contest. After struggling through his team’s 4-3 start, Saints QB Brees appears to have regained his 2009 league MVP form. Aside from Brees, the defending Super Bowl champions have a healthy Pierre Thomas ready to join emerging RB Chris Ivory to further strengthen the team’s already strong offense. While the Ravens have been getting strong play from QB Joe Flacco and still have a solid defense, I’m expecting the Saints to defeat Baltimore by six and extend its win streak to seven. The victory sets up the Saints for an epic NFC South divisional battle in the Georgia Dome next Monday night against the 11-2 Falcons.

Sunday Late Games
falcons 30, HAWKS 17
Seattle, especially Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck, desperately awaits the return of its top wideout, Mike Williams. Reunited with his former collegiate coach, Pete Carroll -- Williams’ coach at USC -- the former 1st round, 10th overall draft pick was having a career-reviving season. Through 10 games Williams had already hauled in a career-high 52 catches (nearly double his previous season-high, 29, accomplished in 2005 with Detroit) before an ankle injury has held him inactive in Seattle’s last three games. Not surprisingly, the Seahawks are 1-2 in those three contests with the only win against 1-12 Carolina. Well, Hasselbeck should have a healthy Williams available for tomorrow’s home game against Atlanta. The problem is that Atlanta (11-2) is a far superior to Seattle whether the Seahawks are at full strength or not. Hasselbeck and Williams may keep things interesting for awhile, but the Falcons will fly away with the win by game’s end. Atlanta wins this one by 13.

RAIDERS 23, broncos 10
Last season, Denver was beginning a fresh start with a youthful coach they felt very promising about. Josh McDaniels managed the Broncos to a 6-0 start last season, but scandals, questionable transactions and several losses led to McDaniels being dismissed a couple weeks ago. The team was already 3-9 entering its road game against then 3-9 Arizona last week when Denver may have hit its lowest of lows -- a 43-13 loss to a team ranking 31st in overall offense, 30th in overall defense and down to its third-string quarterback. At 6-7, Oakland has faint playoff hopes and the Raiders will manage to keep those hopes alive by defeating the bumbling Broncos by 13.

STEEL 24, jets 9
Remember the Jets who went to the AFC Championship last January and began this season 9-2? Well, these past couple weeks the team has produced two absolutely pitiful performances that may have put its previously airtight playoff hopes in jeopardy. At 9-4, New York heads to Pittsburgh today to play the 10-3 Steelers. Luckily for New York, Pittsburgh will be without its stellar All-Pro safety -- Troy Polamalu -- as well as the team’s top tight end (Heath Miller). However, the Steelers still have a strong defense, as well a a tougher-than-nails quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, leading the team’s offense. I just don’t see the Jets turning their troubles around tomorrow as Pittsburgh pounds them by 15.

PATS 31, pack 13
No Aaron Rodgers. No contest. Green Bay’s star QB will sit out tonight’s game in New England after suffering a concussion last Sunday. Hence, this game will be near impossible for the Packers to win. The Pack defense might keep them close for a little while, but Patriots QB Tom Brady will continue his hot streak and lead New England’s to a 21-point win. The victory will clinch the AFC East for the Patriots, as well as extend its winning streak to six. The Green Bay loss will drop the team to 8-6 and in serious jeopardy of making the playoffs. If Rodgers played, the Pack might have a glimpse of a chance, but back-up QB Matt Flynn will not be able to succeed against a mighty New England club that has been steamrolling its opponents as of late.

bears 20, VIKES 17 in OT
TCF Bank Stadium will be the host site for tomorrow’s Bears versus Vikings game as Minnesota plays its first outdoor home game since Dec. 20, 1981 -- exactly 29 years ago. The Vikings will be using the Minnesota Gophers’ stadium due a snowstorm that caved in its Metrodome home. As for tomorrow’s match-up, each team will enter the contest following miserable losses. Chicago (9-4) lost at home 35-7 to New England, while Minnesota (5-8) lost 21-3 to the New York Giants. The Bears’ poor performance came on a snowy field, which may benefit the Vikings as there’s a good chance for snow tomorrow night as well. However, Chicago needs this game badly to secure its playoff hopes and Minnesota will be starting Joe Webb, the team’s third-string quarterback. Webb’s speed and versatility could be exciting to watch, and I’m predicting for Minnesota to fight hard and push this game into overtime. However, Webb’s underdog Vikings will not be able to prevail in the end. Bears QB Jay Cutler will lead his team down the frigid TCF Bank turf and Chicago survives this game on a Robbie Gould field goal.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Week 14 Pigskin Predictions

Thursday Night Game
colts 27, TITANS 14 (written Thursday, prior to the game)
The once-dominant Indianapolis Colts march into Tennessee tonight to face the dissipating Titans. Indy, who comes in losers three straight, enters play tonight with a 6-6 record. This following a 26-6 combined record from the team’s last two seasons. Tennessee, meanwhile, enters tonight’s contest with arguably a more disappointing string of games, having lost five straight games after posting a 5-2 record to begin the season. The good thing for these two teams is that someone has to win. Tennessee has a star running back, Chris Johnson, while the Colts have a star quarterback, Peyton Manning. While the Colts QB has been performing poorly without the benefit of a couple prime targets (TE Dallas Clark and WR Austin Collie out due to injury), Manning still has good ol’ No. 87 -- 10-year veteran WR Reggie Wayne (90 receptions, 1,170 receiving yards this season).Tennessee’s Johnson may get his share of yards tonight, and probably a score as well, but look for Indy’s Manning-to-Wayne connection to be tonight’s main attraction. The Colts win this game by 13.

RESULT: colts 30, TEXANS 28
Well, my predicted score wasn’t terribly close, but some main feature of it played true. Manning was the primary reason for the Colts win, bouncing back from throwing 11 picks over his past three games (all loses) to throw for 319 yards and 2 TDs without an INT. Wayne had a solid game (4 recs, 106 rec yds), but it was Indy’s No. 2 WR last night, Pierre Garcon, who came up big with 6 catches, 93 yards and 2 TDs. As I expected, Tennessee’s Johnson certainly racked up his share of yards, 179 combined rushing/receiving, as well as a TD. However, Indianapolis had control of the game for most of the night and virtually iced it when a clutch 47-yard FG by Adam put the Colts up by nine (30-21) with 2:55 left in the game. The Titans answered with a virtually meaningless TD as the clock expired to make the score look a little better as Tennessee swallowed a two-point setback for its sixth straight loss.

Sunday Noon Games
BILLS 24, browns 20
For six straight weeks, the Buffalo Bills looked like the most respectable 2-9 NFL team in several years. After a 0-5 start, the Bills went 2-4 over its next six games with all four losses coming against division leaders by three points. However, last week, the 0-5 Bills returned in suffering their worst lost since Week 4. On Oct. 3, the Bills were steamrolled 38-14 at home by the New York Jets. Last Sunday, another team handed Buffalo an equally embarrassing drubbing, as the Bills incurred a 38-14 loss at Minnesota. The Bills return home today as they welcome in the Cleveland Browns to Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Browns (5-7) enter the game hoping to top their win total from last season (when they finished 5-11). Leading the way for Cleveland has been 24-year-old RB Peyton Hills, who the Browns received via trade this past off-season. After being limited to 57 rushing yards last week in Miami, Hillis (962 rush yds, 11 rush TDs) is salivating to face Buffalo’s league-worse rush defense. Expect for Hillis to top the 1,000-yard mark rushing to give Cleveland a fighting chance, but for Buffalo to emerge victorious. The Bills’ three-headed offensive attack of QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (2,384 pass yds with 20 TDs), RB Fred Jackson (663 rush yards, 27 recs, 7 total TDs) and WR Stevie Johnson (61 recs, 832 rec yards with 9 TDs) get back on track in leading their team to a four-point W.

pack 34, LIONS 24
Losers of five straight games, Detroit is due for a win. But facing QB Aaron Rodgers and the Packers is not the team to get it against. Lions QB Drew Stanton had a respectable game last week for his first NFL start (16-for-24 passing for 178 yards, 1 TD and no picks), but his team lost 24-20 to Chicago at home. Stanton gets to play at home once again but the QB opposite of him this week is of even higher caliber than Chicago’s. It’s very possible Stanton passes for 250 yards and a couple TDs today, but Rodgers will out-duel him. The Pack QB throws for 300-plus yards and 3 scores as Green Bay achieves its ninth win of the season by topping Detroit by ten.

STEEL 23, bengals 10
Division rivals clash in Steel City as 9-3 Pittsburgh hosts 2-10 Cincinnati this afternoon. The Steelers enter this contest winner’s of three straight games. The Bengals, thanks to a botched play in the final minute of last week’s 34-30 home loss to New Orleans, have lost nine straight. The bad thing for the Bengals is this week is they have to face Pittsburgh. The good thing this week is they won’t have to worry about a mishap during the game’s waning moments costing them the game. Pittsburgh’s stingy defense (ranking 5th in the NFL in total yards allowed, 1st in defending the rush) doesn’t allow Cincinnati to sniff even a faint scent of victory. The Steelers grab an early 10-point lead a cruise on for a 13-point W that will not be as close as the score suggests. Pittsburgh improves to 10-3 while the Bungals wallow their way home with their tenth straight loss.

bucs 24, SKINS 21
Tampa Bay QB Josh Freeman has quietly taken a huge step forward as a rising NFL talent. Last year, as a rookie, Freeman took the reins of a reeling 0-7 football team to defeat a tough Green Bay Packers team Nov. 8, 2009 in Tampa. From there, Freeman took his share of learning bumps as the Buccaneers lost its final eight games (finishing with a 1-15 record last season); but, the young QB has emerged rapidly in his sophomore season. Tampa was 1-11 through its first 12 games last season, this year the team is 7-5. Freeman finished last year passing for a 54.5% success rate (158-for-290) for 1,855 yards, 10 TDs and 18 INTs – good for a 59.8 QB rating. Thus far this season, the Bucs already have six more wins than last year and Freeman is 213-for-365 (58.4%) passing for 2,422 yards with 16 TDs and only 6 INTS, amounting in a quarterback rating of 86.4 (26.6 points higher than last season). This week the Bucs travel to Washington to face the woeful Redskins. Loser of four of its last five games, Washington owns a 5-7 record and the league’s worst defense (allowing 397.3 yards per game). Look for Freeman to take another step forward in his progression as he hooks up with his impressive rookie wide-out, Mike Williams (51 recs, 769 yds, 7 TDs), in leading Tampa to another win. Although Freeman may not lead the Bucs to a playoffs this season, he and Williams (Tampa’s 4th round, 101st pick this year) will finish this year’s season with gusto and have great hope heading into 2011.

falcons 27, PANTHERS 17
Teams at opposite ends of the NFL’s totem pole square off in Charlotte, North Carolina today as the 10-2 Falcons face the 1-11 Panthers. This game sets up to be the safest win for any NFL team this week, but will it be? Atlanta controls home-field advantage for the playoffs (as of now) after escaping Tampa Bay last week with a 28-24 win over the Bucs, while Carolina lost its sixth straight game by blowing an early two-touchdown lead to lose 31-14 in Seattle. This is what many analysts would call a “trap game” for the Falcons. A game they should win, and win rather easily, as long as they aren’t complacent. Carolina, who’s only win this season came against the 4-8 49ers at home, will fight hard for its home crowd. RB James Stewart will have a nice game in keeping Carolina close, but Atlanta’s offensive trio of QB Matt Ryan, WR Roddy White and RB Michael Turner are too hard to handle in the end. The Falcons win this one by 10.

JAGS 28, oak 17
Playoffs?! Don’t talk about playoffs?! Are you kidding me?! Playoffs?! Well, at 7-5, Jacksonville is hardly a shoo-in for the playoffs yet, but a win this week takes them another step closer to reaching that goal. The Jaguars host a 6-6 Oakland team that needs a win badly to keep its playoff hopes alive. Well, it’s not going to happen. RB Maurice Jones-Drew continues to carry his team toward the playoffs with sixth consecutive 100-yard rushing performance in leading Jacksonville over the Raiders this afternoon. The victory is much-needed after the Jags primary AFC South division contender, Indianapolis (7-6), snapped a three-game skid with a win at Tennessee last night. Speaking of the Colts, Jacksonville travels to Indianapolis next Sunday for what is sure to be a thriller. MJD’s Jags vs. Peyton Manning’s Colts – get your popcorn ready!

Sunday Late Games
SAINTS 34, rams 28
Rookie QB Sam Bradford leads 6-6 St. Louis into New Orleans today to face the 9-3 Saints. This game could be a blowout or could be really exciting? Whatever the case may be - the Saints will win. Bradford has been impressive, but New Orleans QB Drew Brees has more experience, more weapons and more confidence. Bradford, RB Steven Jackson and the Rams will hang tough with New Orleans, but it will be too much Brees in the end. The Saints beat St. Louis by six in keeping pace with 10-2 Atlanta in the NFC South.

hawks 23, NINERS 20
Upset of the Week: I’m not sensing too many underdogs to win this week, thus choosing the Seattle Seahawks to defeat the 4.5-point favorite 49ers in San Francisco late tomorrow afternoon for my upset special. However, with Seattle at 6-6 and the Niners 4-8, I’m not seeing this being much of an upset. San Francisco has been underachieving mightily this season. Perhaps the preseason projection of San Francisco’s talent – compared with Seattle’s – is why the odds-makers’ favor the Niners. However, with San Fran’s biggest star (RB Frank Gore) out due to injury, I’m really not buying the 49ers this week. Sure, Seattle’s no powerhouse, but it does appear they’ll get top wide-out Mike Williams back this week. Williams or no Williams, QB Matt Hasselbeck has enough to get the job done against a Frisco team with a mediocre defense and few offensive weapons. The Seahawks win by three.

pats 17, BEARS 14 in OT
A intriguing battle takes place at Soldier Field in Chicago today as the 9-3 Bears face the 10-2 Patriots. Tom Brady bears (no pun intended) the NFL’s best quarterback rating, 109.5, and his Patriots have the highest scoring offense (31.6 point per game). On the other end of the spectrum, Chicago owns the league’s 3rd-best defense (allowing 300.3 yards per game). New England comes in to Chi-town on the heels of a 45-point performance on Monday, but don’t expect anywhere near that point total today. The Bears contain the Patriots offense, holding them to 17 points. However, they will not produce enough offense of their own. New England passes its Windy City test with a three-point overtime defeat.

JETS 17, fins 13
Who was the team New England played when they scored 45 points on Monday? That would be the New York Jets, who countered with only 3 points. Things go a bit better for the Jets today. New York hosts mediocre Miami today and defeat the Dolphins by four.

broncos 31, CARDS 17
Denver responds to head coach Josh McDaniel’s firing, albeit against the pathetic Cardinals and their 3rd-string QB, Jon Skelton. The Broncos jump all over Arizona early and go on to win this lackluster battle of 3-9 teams by two touchdowns.

CHARGERS 27, chiefs 10
San Diego (6-6) is chomping at the bit to show its home fans that last week’s 28-13 home loss to Oakland was an aberration. Kansas City (8-4) would like to deliver a death blow to its AFC West counterpart in sweeping its season series against the Chargers and increasing its division lead to three games with three weeks to go. However, with Chiefs starting QB Matt Cassel out today, this challenge will be far tougher than Kansas City’s 21-14 season-opening victory over the Chargers. This afternoon, San Diego avenges that week one loss gets back to playing the type of impressive football that had them on a four-game winning streak before last week’s loss. The Chargers win today, keeping their playoff hopes alive by pummeling the Chiefs by 17.

eagles 34, COWBOYS 30
Game of the Week: With respect to the Patriots vs. Bears, I’m selecting tonight’s tilt between Philadelphia and Dallas to be Week 14’s game of the week. While the game this afternoon in Chicago should be a closely fought defensive battle, the game in Dallas tonight should be a closely fought shootout. Eagles QB Michael Vick brings with him a highly talented offensive arsenal (the NFL’s 2nd-ranked offensive in yards gained). The revived Cowboys, meanwhile, have shown some offensive ability of their own -- after winning just one its first 8 games, Dallas is 3-1 over its last four and averaging 33.25 points over that stretch. Tonight, look for the Eagles and Cowboys to exchange punches several times with Philadelphia landing the final blow in defeating Dallas by four.

ravens 24, TEXANS 17
The 8-4 Ravens fly into Houston tomorrow night hoping to keep pace with AFC North leading Pittsburgh. The Texans (5-7)appear to be in free-fall (losing five of their last six games) and, after a promising start, bound to miss the playoffs yet again. Houston’s offense is very potent, but its defense is awful. Baltimore’s stingy defense holds Houston to 17 points as Ravens QB Joe Flacco passes for 250 yards and a pair of touchdowns to lead his team past the Texans by seven.

giants 27, VIKES 23 (Date/Time TBD due to stadium problems)
All the Brett Favre “will he or won’t he” talk leads to what most expected – Favre makes his 298th consecutive start. However, whether it’s the 40-year-old vet or understudy QB Tavaris Jackson chucking the pigskin for the Purple, the Vikings (5-7) will fall short against the 8-4 Giants tomorrow night in Minnesota. New York QB Eli Manning will have his top two WRs (Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith) back from injury and those extra weapon will help the Giants eke out a tough win and improve to 9-4. Despite the loss, Minnesota WR Sidney rice takes another positive step since returning from his hip injury, hauling in 7 passes for 90 yards and a touchdown. Also, Vikings RB Adrian Peterson records his fifth 100-yard rushing game of the season to maintain his status as the NFC’s leading rusher.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Week 13 Pigskin Predictions

Thursday Night Game
EAGLES 38, texans 24
Michael Vick faces the NFL’s worst pass defense when the Eagles and Texans do battle Thursday night in Philadelphia. Houston (5-6) needs a victory to hold on to its playoff hopes while Philly looks to take sole possession of first place in the NFC East. I’m seeing Vick having his way with Houston as the Eagles jump out to an early two touchdown lead and cruise on to their eighth victory of the season. Vick piles up 350-400 combined passing and rushing yards and accounts for 4 TDs, while Eagles RB LeSean McCoy crosses the goal line twice and registers 150 total yards from scrimmage. Houston’s dangerous combo of QB Matt Shaub and WR Andre Johnson have huge nights as well, albeit in garbage time after Philly racks up a big lead.

RESULT: EAGLES 34, texans 24
My final score was nearly spot on but the game did not flow quite as I expected. Philadelphia was able to acquire a 14-3 lead less than a minute into the second quarter but Houston fought back admirably. Trailing 20-10 at halftime, Schaub led the Texans on a 12-play, 6-minute-11-second drive finished by a 13-yard TD pass to RB Arian Foster. Then, after a Vick interception, Schaub led his Texans on another long drive (6:23) completed with another Foster TD. After Houston had dominated the third quarter (2 TDs over 12 1/2 minutes of game clock) to take a 24-20 lead, Vick’s Eagles fought back with vengeance. Philadelphia scored on each of its next two drives to reclaim the lead and eventually earned a 10-point win by game’s end. Vick finished 22-of-33 passing for 302 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT with 48 rush yards and another TD. McCoy was Vick’s top receiving target, catching 8 balls for 86 yards and a TD. He also rushed for 44 yards and a score. For Houston, Schaub passed for 337 yards with 2 TDs and one pick, with Johnson accounting for nearly half of those yards (149 on 6 catches) while Foster finished with 109 total yards and 2 TDs as the Texans fell to 5-7.

Sunday Noon Games
bills 24, VIKINGS 20
Upset Special: Minnesota’s “Good Brett (Favre), Bad Brett” saga continues as Favre follows his first turnover-free game of the season with 2 INTs and the Bills upset the Vikings at the Metrodome tomorrow. Buffalo’s league-worst rush defense is able to contain Minnesota’s injury-hampered Adrian Peterson as the Peterson’s sprained ankle renders the NFC’s leading rusher ineffective. The Bills get quality production from QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, RB Fred Jackson and WR Stevie Johnson as snake-bitten Buffalo gets victory No. 3. After a 36-26 home loss to Jacksonville Oct. 10, the Bills were 0-5 and regarded as arguably the worst team in football. However, Fitzpatrick began to heat up in passing for 382 yards and 4 TDs in a 37-34 week six loss at Baltimore and the Bills have been very competitive from then on. While Buffalo has only won two of its past six games, the four losses have all been by 3 points with three of them ending in overtime. The Bills preservation pays off in victory tomorrow as the team’s three-pronged offensive attack (Fitzpatrick, Jackson and Johnson) lead Buffalo past the Purple.

saints 31, BENGALS 17
What is it with NFL cats this year? The Bengals, Lions and Panthers are a combined 5-28 ... Wait, I guess the Jaguars (6-5) fairly decent this year. But still, of 32 NFL teams, four of these teams have cat-related names, and of these four, three are among the league’s worst? (2-9 Buffalo being the only other NFL team with two or fewer victories) That is quite an eerie coincidence ... Okay, moving on, after a 2-1 start the Cincinnati Bengals have lost eight straight games. This week Cincy plays host to Drew Brees and the red-hot Saints. If Bengals fans weren’t wearing bags over their heads in previous home games, they will by the end of Sunday’s game. New Orleans beats the Bungals easily in earning its fifth straight victory.

bears 24, LIONS 17
This year’s Detroit team has looked better than last year’s Lions (2-14) most of the time, however, this 2010 club is still racking up the losses (2-9) and will be without both its starting QB (Matthew Stafford) and 2nd-stringer (Shaun Hill). Fourth-year QB Drew Stanton makes his first NFL start against one of the league’s top defenses when the Lions meet the Bears in Motown tomorrow. On the good side, Stanton’s gets to make his starting debut at home. On the bad side, he has to face six-time Pro Bowler Brian Urlacher and the league’s 2nd-best scoring defense. One other positive for Stanton is he has one of the NFL’s most dangerous wideouts in Detroit’s 6-foot-5-inch, 236-pound Calvin Johnson. Stanton and Johnson’s efforts won’t be enough for the win, however, as Chicago (8-3) earns its fifth straight win and maintains its narrow NFC North lead over the 7-4 Green Bay Packers.

PACK 31, niners 10
The good thing about your team facing Arizona: It’s likely to result in a W. The bad thing about your team facing Arizona: The Cardinals are so bad that your team is unconsciously ill-prepared for its next opponent (see Minnesota Vikings, weeks nine and 10). San Francisco sans star RB Frank Gore (who suffered a season-ending hip injury last week) loses to Aaron Rodgers and the Pack by a landslide tomorrow. Lambeau Leaps abound for Green Bay as WR Greg Jennings, WR James Jones and even Rodgers himself (on a rush TD) reach the Pack’s first-row faithful as the Cheeseheads improve to 8-4.

jags 27, TITANS 17
Jacksonville was not thought of as a playoff team before the 2010 season began. Three weeks in, after consecutive blowout losses to San Diego and Philadelphia (by a combined score of 66-16), the Jaguars were bordering the NFL’s garbage bin. However, after winning five of its next seven games, the Jags have picked up the scent of playoff entry. Despite a close loss in New York last week, the Jaguars (6-5) travel to Tennessee with plenty of confidence. The Titans (5-6), on the other hand, have looked downtrodden in recent weeks. Injuries and inconsistency at the quarterback position and the ineffectiveness of “play when I want to play” Randy Moss have been key components in Tennessee losing its past four games. Jacksonville QB David Garrard has a productive day tomorrow and MJD (Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew) rolls up his fifth straight rushing game as the Jags leave LP Field with a 10-point victory.

CHIEFS 30, broncos 17
How hot is Dwayne Bowe these days? The Kansas City wide receiver has caught at least one touchdown in each of the Chiefs’ past seven games. As if that’s not enough, perhaps an even more impressive feat involving Bowe occurred in KC’s 42-24 win at Seattle last week. Bowe and Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles became the first WR/RB teammate tandem to each record 170 yards in receiving and rushing, respectively -- Bowe had 13 receptions for 173 yards while Charles rushed for 170 yards on 22 carries. For the season, Bowe has caught 58 passes for 885 yards and 14 TDs. While his scoring pace could challenge Randy Moss’ 2007 single-season TD record (23), what’s possibly more impressive about Bowe is that he is having this remarkable season without the Chiefs having any other bona fide threat at the wide receiver position (WR Dexter McCluster -- who also lines up as RB sometimes -- has 15 catches, while wideouts Terrance Copper and Chris Chambers each have 13). Tomorrow, AFC West-leading Kansas City welcomes divisional rival Denver to Arrowhead Stadium with revenge on their minds. The 7-4 Chiefs have proven to be a far better team than Denver this season but the Broncos handed the Chiefs an embarrassing 49-29 loss in week 10. Chiefs coach Todd Haley will make sure his team is ready tomorrow as Bowe, Charles and QB Matt Cassel propel Kansas City past the Broncos to maintain its one-game division lead over the surging San Diego Chargers.

FINS 17, browns 13
Despite the Dolphins lack of flair, Miami’s win at Oakland last week kept its dim playoff hopes alive. Cleveland, meanwhile, has shown signs of improvement but is still a team in development. The one main bright spot for the Browns (4-7) has been RB Peyton Hills, who is one of the league’s biggest surprises of the season. The 3rd-year player out of Arkansas has posted 905 rushing yards, 46 receptions, 414 receiving yards and 13 total TDs. Hillis’ 1,319 yards from scrimmage have accounted nearly 40 percent of his team’s total offensive output (3,413 yards) whiles his touchdown tally is more than half of Cleveland’s offensive TD total (21). Besides the emergence of Hills, this game promises to be one the least intriguing of the NFL’s week 13 slate. The Dolphins (6-5) will not make the playoffs but will defeat Cleveland tomorrow for its seventh win of the season.

GIANTS 20, skins 16
New York’s injury problem at the wide receiver position is so bad that the team has acquired three WRs (Michael Clayton, Derek Hagan and Devin Thomas) who’ve recently been cut from their respective NFL rosters. Despite the lack of receiving threats, Giants QB Eli Manning will make use of his receivers as best as possible and depend on solid efforts from running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs in leading his team to victory. The loss will drop Washington to 5-7 and severely dash any playoff hopes the team may have had heading into the game. New York improves to 8-4, in a virtual deadlock with Philadelphia in the battle for NFC East supremacy.

Sunday Late Games
CHARGERS 34, raiders 10
In week one, three Chargers turnovers, two blocked punts, a fumble return TD and a safety plagued San Diego a 35-27 loss to Oakland. Since then, San Diego has cleaned up things in winning four straight games (including a 36-14 lambasting of the Colts in Indianapolis this past Sunday night and a 35-14 blowout of Denver the previous Monday). Tomorrow, the Chargers get Oakland (5-6) at home for the rematch. Expect San Diego (6-5) to gain revenge by rummaging through the Raiders for its third straight 20-plus-point win and fifth consecutive win overall. The victory sets up the Chargers for an epic AFC West battle against the division-leading Chiefs next week in San Diego.

COLTS 31, boys 27
Indianapolis has lost three of its last four games, including an embarrassing 22-point loss at home on Monday Night Football last week. While Colts QB Peyton Manning would like to have his top RB (Joseph Addai) and No. 2 wideout (Austin Collie) back from injuries, Manning will not let his team lose two straight home games. Dallas, on the other hand, despite a dismal 1-7 start has been very dangerous in recent weeks. The Cowboys have won two out of its past three games averaging over 30 points per game during that span. Following a close loss to defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans on Thanksgiving, these Cowboys are confident, well-rested and ready to go. However, undeterred by Indianapolis’ depleted offense, Manning rallies around the players he does have and puts forward a fierce fight. Tomorrow’s tilt should be a closely fought battle featuring lots of offense from both teams, but it will be Manning’s Colts scoring the final points for a four-point win.

rams 31, CARDS 16
Arizona’s record may be 3-8, but the Cardinals (who rank 31st in offense and 28th in defense) could arguably be considered the league’s worst team. This past Monday night, the Cardinals allowed 31-year-old Bryan Westbrook to come off San Francisco’s bench and rush for 136 yards on 23 carries in a 27-6 blowout loss at home. Tomorrow, Arizona will host the upstart 5-6 Rams who, after a 1-15 season in 2009, are looking to make an improbable playoff appearance. Rookie Chad Bradford has been brilliant for St. Louis this season and will undoubtedly turn in a fine performance against Arizona. But it will be Rams RB Steven Jackson who welcomes this match-up most. After struggling last week against Denver (29 carries for 72 yards, 1 reception for -6 yards), expect Jackson to blow by the Cards defense for 150 total yards and a pair of TDs as the Rams even their record at 6-6.

HAWKS 23, panthers 20
The Pathetic Panthers (1-10) roll into Seattle tomorrow on its second five-game losing streak of the season. The 5-6 Seahawks have lost two in a row but remain a playoff contender by virtue of competing in the NFL’s worst division. While Carolina has been awful offensively this season, its defense has remained competitive. The Panthers have posted league lows in both yards per game (259.2) and points per game (12.7), however its defense has admirably kept them competitive (at times), ranking near the middle of the league in yards and points allowed. Also, in recent weeks, newcomer RB Mike Goodson has injected some energy and hope for Carolina’s inept offense. Since being granted his first opportunity as starter in the NFL, the second-year Texans A&M alum has produced solid numbers. Over Carolina’s past three games Goodson has toted the rock for 275 yards on 59 carries (a 4.7 per-carry average) with 11 catches for 124 receiving yards. He also scored his first TD as a pro on a 26-yard scamper in the Panthers’ one-point loss at Cleveland last week. So, facing the Seattle’s 22nd-ranked rush defense this week, can Goodson and the Panthers notch win No. 2? Not quite. Seahawks veteran QB Matthew Hasselbeck will throw for 250-plus yards and a pair of touchdowns as Seattle prevails by a field goal.

falcons 24, BUCS 17
I have picked against Tampa Bay virtually every single week and they continue to prove me wrong. These past two weeks they’ve been particularly impressive. On Nov. 21 the Buccaneers posted a 21-0 shutout of the 49ers at San Francisco and last week they nearly pulled out a win over the Ravens in Baltimore. That said, being that Tampa has yet to beat a team with a winning record, the 7-4 Bucs still have more than its share of detractors. Facing their division’s top team (the 9-2 Atlanta Falcons) at home, the Bucs have a golden opportunity to register a huge statement win. Conversely, the Falcons, despite being tied for the league’s best record at 9-2, would like to quiet critics as well. While Atlanta has done enough to prove playoff-worthy most pundits have yet to consider the Falcons to be a serious Super Bowl contender, citing the team’s lack of quality road wins. So, which team wins this key NFC South match-up tomorrow? I’m picking against the Bucs yet again in forecasting the Falcons to win by seven (which is is probably good news for Tampa).

RAVENS 16, steel 13 (in OT)
Two of the league’s hardest-hitting defenses square off in Baltimore tomorrow night as the Ravens host the Steelers. This intense division rivalry renews itself with plenty of intrigue. Baltimore and Pittsburgh are tied for the AFC North lead with identical 8-3 records. Only, as of now, Baltimore owns the tiebreaker due to its week four win at Pittsburgh. However, the Steelers lost that Oct. 3 battle without its starting quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger. So, while the Ravens would like to beat Pittsburgh with its ace quarterback, Big Ben hopes to prove his Steelers are the better team this time around. This game will be a typical Steelers/Ravens defensive clash ending with Baltimore kicker Billy Cundiff’s game-winning field goal in overtime.

PATS 20, jets 17
Game of the Week: This game is very similar to tomorrow night’s match-up, only these division rivals have matching records that are one win higher than Baltimore’s and Pittsburgh’s. The 9-2 Jets play the 9-2 Patriots in New England in a Monday Night Football game that promises to be highly entertaining. I’m giving this game the “Game of the Week” edge over the Ravens/Steelers’ game because of the star power and big city hype that is involved. New York’s Rex Ryan has enjoyed making playful, yet serious, statements of his team’s superiority. Ryan’s Jets also boast the latest win in this rivalry, doubling up the Patriots 28-14 in week two. A lot has changed since then, however, as the Pats have won eight of its nine contests since that game. Since New England head coach Bill Belichek decided to part ways with star receiver Randy Moss, the Pats have played with renewed chemistry and confidence. QB Tom Brady has reconnected with one of his former favorite receivers (WR Deion Branch, who played for New England from 2002-2006 and was reacquired by the team in week six) and quickly built good chemistry with some new targets (TEs Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, WR/RB Danny Woodhead and WR Brandon Tate). Brady’s new bunch, which also includes emerging RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis (who’s rushed for 627 yards on 211 carries with 9 TDs), gives New England the edge tomorrow night as the Pats avenge their early season loss to New York and edge the Jets by three.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Week 12 Pigskin Predictions

Due to some time and travel constraints, my Week 12 Pigskin Predictions will be an abbreviated version ...

Week 12 Pigskin Predictions

Thanksgiving Day Games
pats 27, LIONS 24
Detroit fights hard for its home fans, but Tom Brady and his troops are too good to top. Brady passes the Patriots by the traditional Turkey Day Lions by a field goal.

RESULT: pats 45, LIONS 24
This game was shaping up to be closely lined up with my prediction as the third quarter ended in a 24-24 tie. However, Brady and his receiving corps took control in the fourth as New England cruised on to a three-touchdown defeat.

saints 31, BOYS 27
Dallas tries to win its third straight game and fourth consecutive on Thanksgiving. However, the Saints roll in as a hot team too, and they're primed to show the national stage that they're contenders to repeat as Super Bowls this winter. I'm seeing Brees easily eclipsing the 300-yard mark and the Saints eking out a four-point win.

RESULT: saints 30, BOYS 27
A game that had a blowout feeling early on (when the Saints jumped out to an early 17-0 lead) became very interesting toward the end of the third quarter. After a fumbled punt return by the Saints’ Reggie Bush, Dallas RB Marion Barber plowed through traffic for a 1-yard TD to get Dallas within three (23-20). The Cowboys then took their first lead when Tashard Choice burst over the pie-line 10 minutes into the fourth. But Brees fought back and hit Lance Moore more a 12-yard scoring strike to regain New Orleans’ lead. Dallas QB Jon Kitna gave the home crowd some late-game hope when he found Roy Williams for a 47-yard completion, however the Saints CB Malcom Jenkins ripped the ball away at the Dallas 11-yard mark to seal his team’s fourth straight win. The 30-27 New Orleans win was only one point off my prediction.

Thursday Night Game
JETS 24, bengals 10
Shonn Greene has the breakout game he's been searching for as the Jets trounce the Bengals by 14.

RESULT: JETS 26, bengals 10
My prediction was very close for this one too. Well, score-wise anyhow. New York cruised by Cincy 26-20 but it was Brad Smith -- not Greene -- who led his team to victory. The Jets’ multi-positioned specialist made, perhaps, the game’s two biggest plays -- a 53-yard TD run and an 89-yard kickoff return TD.

Sunday Noon Games
vikes 21, SKINS 13
Brett Favre shakes off the cobwebs of a dismal performance against his former team last week to rebound with a pleasant performance today. Favre connects with WR Sidney Rice for 5-6 receptions and Rice’s first TD of 2010 as the Purple defeat the Redskins in D.C.

pack 31, FALCONS 27
Green Bay repeats its passing success from last week to post 31 points against Atlanta. Although, unlike last week, the Packers’ opponents fire back with a fair share of points as well. The Falcons are always fierce at home, but Pack QB Aaron Rodgers finds his top target (WR Greg Jennings) several times as Green Bay wins by four.

steel 23, BILLS 13
After an 36-26 home loss to Jacksonville dropped Buffalo to 0-5, the Bills were looked upon as the NFL’s laughingstock. Then, suddenly, a three-pronged Bills attack (QB Ryan Fitzgerald, WR Steven Jackson and RB Fred Jackson) emerged as Buffalo fought hard for three straight 3-point losses. From there, the Bills fought through the heartbreaking frustration and won two straight. That said, Pittsburgh’s steely D halts the Bills resurgence with a 10-point road win.

BROWNS 24, panthers 10
QB Brian St. Pierre leads the 1-9 Panthers into ... ‘Nuff said. Cleveland clobbers Carolina.

GIANTS 20, jags 17
The loss of two key receivers (Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith) hurt Eli Manning and the Giants’ passing attack. However, New York’s RB tandem of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs successfully rush the G-Men to a narrow win over the Jaguars.

TEXANS 27, titans 20
Matt Shaub and Andre Johnson revive the Texans’ aerial attack as Houston tips the Titans and put an end to its four-game losing streak.

Sunday Late Games
RAIDERS 16, fins 13
Sebastian Janikowski kicks a key 54-yard field goal to give Oakland its sixth win of the season.

chiefs 24, HAWKS 19
Seattle misses its top wideout (Mike Williams) this week as the Seahawks’ lose by five. Conversely, Kansas City improves to 7-4 and maintains its AFC West lead.

eagles 24, BEARS 17
Ooh ... The Michael Vick show hits the Windy City. Chicago have won three straight as the its defense has been very staunch of late. However, the Bears can’t quite stymie Vick enough to earn a W this week.

rams 23, BRONCOS 17
Upset Special: Rookie QB Chad Bradford leads the Rams to an impressive road win to push St. Louis’ record to 5-6 and keep its playoff hopes alive. Yes, it is possible that a losing team wins the NFL’s most decrepit division -- otherwise known as the NFC West.

RAVENS 34, bucs 13
Tampa Bay (7-3) takes to the road today for a big opportunity to show they are a real playoff contender. The outcome? The Buccaneers fail miserably as Baltimore bludgeons them early and cruise on to a 21-point win.

chargers 27, COLTS 24
Game of the Week: San Diego continues its mid-season run to upend the host Colts for an exciting 3-point W.

niners 21, CARDS 17
In one of the worst Monday Night match-ups of recent memory, the 3-7 San 49ers eke by the 3-7 Cardinals in Arizona.