We have arrived at the final two weeks of the regular season with playoff or seeding implications affecting 14 of the 16 match-ups. In a different twist, how about a full slate of Saturday NFL action? Since Christmas is on Sunday this year, and it belongs to the NBA, the bulk of the NFL action will be on Christmas Eve.
Last week was almost perfectly mediocre, but considering what a wacky week it became, I guess it's not so bad. The marks last week were 9-7 straight up, and 8-8 against the spread. Now though, it's about closing out the season on a stronger note. So let's get started.
Before I begin though, I want to wish everybody a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. I hope you all have blessed times celebrating with your loved ones.
HOUSTON (-6.5) AT INDIANAPOLIS- Since the Colts finally busted into the win column, the big question is whether or not they'll blow the top pick. Because that Houston defense did look pretty bad, especially early in that loss to Carolina. The Texans came back down to earth a bit, but maybe they needed it. The talk last week was just how T.J. Yates was filling in more than admirably under center. It didn't help, that defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips was absent after recovering from kidney and gallbladder surgery. Still, I look for the Texans to bounce back as they're still locked in a battle for a bye.
ARIZONA AT CINCINNATI (-4.5)- Now head coach, Ken Whisenhunt is in a bit of a dilemma. The Cardinals are really coming on strong (though this run will most likely fall short), but who is the quarterback? It hasn't been pretty at times, but John Skelton along with a much improved defense have been the focal point of Arizona's turn-around. Meanwhile, Kevin Kolb missed last week after dealing with a concussion. The Bengals are on the outside of the playoff race looking in, and do get the benefit of coming back home after facing the lowly St. Louis Rams on the road. This will be a tight game, but I expect the home team to come out on top.
N.Y. GIANTS AT N.Y. JETS (-3.5)- In the battle for the back pages, both teams are in danger of missing the post-season. The Giants are chasing, while the Jets are hanging by a thread. Oh, and both got blown out last week. What does that say? Rex Ryan's been running his mouth again, but let's look at the most important position on the field for this one. Mark Sanchez has been in a horrible slump. Eli Manning did self-destruct after that early drop by Hakeem Nicks, but still who would you take in a must-win situation? One week doesn't deter my line of thinking. Manning takes advantage of a Jets secondary that misses Jim Leonhard.
N.Y. GIANTS-28 N.Y. JETS-23
JACKSONVILLE AT TENNESSEE (-8.5)- Last week was humiliating for a Titans squad that is in the chase for a wild card spot. They gave Indianapolis their first win because they couldn't get defensive stops late after being hurt by a slow start. Now they face Jacksonville who looks dead in the water. Their offensive line has all kind of issues that were uncovered again in the loss to Atlanta. The Jaguars have scored more than 20 points only once in the last nine games.
MIAMI AT NEW ENGLAND (-10.5)- With Andre Carter down for the year, the Patriots defense took another hit it could not afford going into the post-season in a few weeks. They still took control against Denver last week, thanks to a big 2nd quarter momentum shift. Plus, they do still have the 1-seed firmly in their grasp now, which would be a huge get considering just how bad that defense has been. Miami is a completely different team though from the first time these two hooked up, and part of that is they have found balance in the running game more consistently. The Patriots win, but Miami keeps it close enough to cover.
NEW ENGLAND-34 MIAMI-26
CLEVELAND AT BALTIMORE (-13.5)- After watching Ray Lewis return, and the Ravens still get stomped, it makes you see why Baltimore is not considered a serious enough contender for the Super Bowl. In games where that defense struggles early against better offenses, Joe Flacco has to make plays, and again he did not last week. The task gets easier against Cleveland who wound up falling after getting off to a solid start against Arizona. Lost in the shuffle was that the Ravens made life tough for Ryan Mathews early, but just got worn down.
OAKLAND AT KANSAS CITY (-1.5)- Something tells me this may be a trap spread. The common logic would be that with a new coach and quarterback, the Chiefs beat the lone undefeated team in the league last week. Why couldn't they pull another win against a divisional opponent at home? Especially when you consider that divisional opponent blew a 13-point 4th quarter lead last week? If it is a trap though, I'll fall for it. The Raiders have been gashed on the ground, especially lately.
KANSAS CITY-20 OAKLAND-16
MINNESOTA AT WASHINGTON (-6.5)- Here may be a trend to think about. The Redskins are 5-9, but let's take their last three wins. The trend is this- after going on the road and putting forth solid defensive efforts in wins over St. Louis and Seattle, Washington returned home the next week both times only to get beaten up by Philadelphia, and crushed in the 4th quarter by the Jets. Wait, what about the third? That came last week of course, on the road. See where I'm going? Because I just wrote five lines to tell you, I'm going the opposite way. I can have a little fun, can't I? Seriously though, that pass defense for Minnesota is just awful. Adrian Peterson can keep the Vikings around though.
TAMPA BAY AT CAROLINA (-7.5)- Cam Newton has hushed the doubters. Just look at the numbers from his rookie season. Yes, you'll see higher turnover games, but that's to be expected. The point is there is a foundation there, and the Panthers are one of those teams that won't stay irrelevant much longer. The Buccaneers prove every week that they've checked out on Raheem Morris. How much of that is the fault of Morris is another argument, but this stretch may wind up costing his job.
CAROLINA-31 TAMPA BAY-17
DENVER (-3.5) AT BUFFALO- Did even the biggest Tim Tebow supporter expect the magic to continue? Tom Brady has been in much bigger situations than last week, and the moment got to the Broncos. Even on the road, they get a break against Buffalo who has fallen apart in the last two months. Tebow made some good throws last week, and I think that confidence should carry over. The Broncos will get back on the winning track in their usual fashion.
ST. LOUIS AT PITTSBURGH (-14.5)- It's not a question of whether or not the Steelers can win these last two games without Ben Roethlisberger. It's a question of what they'll do anyway. Do they rest Roethlisberger for the post-season? Plus, James Harrison will return, and consider that the Steelers didn't play poorly on defense against San Francisco. They were done in by turnovers, and shorter fields to defend.
PITTSBURGH-28 ST. LOUIS-10
SAN DIEGO AT DETROIT (-2.5)- Look who else is heating up. The Chargers were ultra impressive against Baltimore on Sunday night, and that was a tougher defensive front against the run than they'll face this week which is 27th against the run. Matthew Stafford found Calvin Johnson repeatedly in the comeback win, and he's had some big moments this season. The Lions are on the brink of the playoffs, but that may have to wait another week. I like that the Chargers aren't giving up a ton of big plays, and they're staying more away from turnovers.
SAN DIEGO-27 DETROIT-23
PHILADELPHIA AT DALLAS (-2.5)- I warned myself, and still picked against myself. The Eagles are actually still alive for the playoffs, but barely. Still, they're out to show their full potential in this final month of the season, and at least start the hype machine again next year. Dallas did a solid job taking care of a weakened opponent, but this is a whole different animal. While I don't see a blow-out, which is what this game was the first time around, I still like the Eagles to take this one by a narrow margin.
SAN FRANCISCO (-2.5) AT SEATTLE- Las Vegas surely isn't fully behind the 49ers as possible Super Bowl contenders. Or are the Seahawks that good now? Tarvaris Jackson hasn't thrown an interception in the past three games, and Marshawn Lynch has been awesome. However, he's meeting his equal in a front that hasn't allowed a rushing touchdown all season. It'll be tough sledding for Lynch, which puts more pressure on Jackson to make plays. Seattle won't disgrace themselves at all, but the road team escapes.
SAN FRANCISCO-17 SEATTLE-14
SUNDAY NIGHT- MERRY CHRISTMAS!
CHICAGO AT GREEN BAY (-13.5)- Something tells me I may get it good here for going where I'm thinking. The Packers showed just how big of a loss Greg Jennings is with how everybody else performed in a larger role. While the Bears have become suddenly bare on the offensive side of the ball, they still have the defense that can keep the game close enough. Plus, Green Bay's offensive line is hurting in a bad way as well. It won't be pretty, but the Packers bounce back.
GREEN BAY-27 CHICAGO-17
ATLANTA AT NEW ORLEANS (-6.5)- On a night where Drew Brees could set himself up to break Dan Marino's record for passing yards in a season, what better way to get it than against the Saints' biggest rival on Monday night? If the spread seems a bit inflated, that's because it is. Recent history tells us this is almost always a close game. 6 of the last 9 contests between these teams have been decided by less than a touchdown, which is the number here. The Saints have done well on Monday night lately, but their inability to force turnovers keeps Atlanta around.
NEW ORLEANS-34 ATLANTA-28
9-7 STRAIGHT UP
8-8 AGAINST THE SPREAD
146-78 STRAIGHT UP
104-120 AGAINST THE SPREAD
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