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THURSDAY NIGHT SPECIAL

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS AT TENNESSEE TITANS: Just a few weeks ago I looked at the schedule, saw this game and thought to myself, “that will be a big, fantastic game. Both teams are winning (as usual) and should be amped up for a big battle that will matter in their division.” Well, I was half right. The Titans have been one of the biggest pushovers in the NFL the last couple of weeks, and we have to be asking ourselves if Vince Young is going to win his micturation battle with Jeff Fisher. If so, Coach Fish will be available for all of about 3.8 seconds before several teams come calling with enormous offers. At any rate, the Titans are playing for pride at this point. Which is where the Colts will be if they don’t rattle of a string of wins to finish the season. It means more to the Colts, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to be the idiot to bet on Peyton Manning playing a fourth straight bad game at quarterback.  COLTS 27, TITANS 16.

FOOTBALLSICKNESS.COM GAME OF THE WEEK DOUBLEHEADER:

Philip Rivers and Jamaal Charles are both having huge years in prolific offenses.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS AT SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: This game got even bigger- like, “better win it or make a lot of golf reservations for mid January through late February” bigger- when the Chargers got blown out of their own building by a gale force Autumn Wind out of Oakland. They can afford no further losses or their string of fortuitous comebacks from early-season losing streaks will be over. And you can rest assured that nobody would enjoy finishing them off more than the Chiefs, a young, talented, spirited bunch that are proving every week that the moment is not too big for them. Matt Cassel is playing Pro Bowl-level quarterback, the running game is dominant, they’ve got athletes all over the place, and the D bends but makes plays when it must, characteristic of a Romeo Crennel defense. But Philip Rivers is playing even better than Cassel, and the Chargers are the defending division champs several times over. The trump card? The rule of desperation. The Bolts are far more desperate, and will win it because they have to.  CHARGERS 27, CHIEFS 23.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS AT CHICAGO BEARS: Ah, here we are. Another nice test for the Bears, who continue their stubborn and misguided refusal to prove me right. They squeaked by the Lions for the second time this season, and are now an impressive 9-3. Mostly, it’s impressive because, as with a great magician, I have absolutely no idea how they’re doing it. But whatever they’re doing, I doubt very much it will work against the Patriots, who appear to have been awakened from a deep slumber by the thumping they took from the Browns a month back. Since then, they’ve rattled off four quality wins, culminating in Monday Night’s 45-3 thrashing of the Jets. Tom and Bill don’t allow letdown games.  PATRIOTS 30, BEARS 20.

THE REST:

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES AT DALLAS COWBOYS: The Cowboys wasted the first half of their year, but if the second yields them a new coach and a new organizational culture, perhaps it will have been worth it. The Eagles spent most of this season finding out that they scored big time when they chose to act as Michael Vick’s lifeline two years ago. Vick has turned into one of the more impressive stories in the NFL in a long time, and has the Eagles looking like a Super Bowl contender. But they have to be concerned at their inability to pound it on the ground when the time comes to do so, and the injuries in the secondary are an issue on defense. I like them to beat the Cowboys, but Jason Garrett has Dallas executing, so Philly better come to play. EAGLES 33, COWBOYS 30.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS AT SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: This should really be a bigger game on the national radar, and is one of the better new school rivalries in the NFL. But both teams have given us reason not to take them too seriously this year. The Niners fell on their collective face coming out of the gate, and while they have put together a few wins of late, they have not been anything resembling consistent. Now, Frank Gore is done for the year and the primary curiosity is whether coach Mike Singletary survives to 2011. The Seahawks had lower expectations to start the year but are at .500 with four games to play and tied for the NFC West lead. They’ve got more to play for, but have struggled on the road. Who knows what’s going to happen, but I’ll take the Seahawks as they try to get out in front of the Rams. SEAHAWKS 23, NINERS 20.

GREEN BAY PACKERS AT DETROIT LIONS: The Packers have a division title to chase and cannot be bothered. They will brush the Lions aside like an actual lion brushes aside a fly. PACKERS 37, LIONS 22.

The vastly underrated Marcel Reece and the Raiders still have a look at the postseason as they head to Jacksonville.

OAKLAND RAIDERS AT JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: This game actually has a ton of relevance to the AFC playoff picture. A win would thrust the Raiders toward the top of the bubble crowd, while a loss would drop Jacksonville back into that group, with the Colts hot on their heels. These are both physical teams, but to me, the Jags have been getting by on the residue of preparation and a little Gus Johnson – MoJo Drew magic. The Raiders absolutely pounded on the Chargers in San Diego this Sunday, and while I am going back on an earlier self-warning never to trust them to string two together, I’m going to pick them. I’m not trusting them, mind you. I just think they’re better. RAIDERS 24, JAGS 20.

CLEVELAND BROWNS AT BUFFALO BILLS: The Browns are 5-7 and have to feel like they blew their shot to be right in it, because they could easily have won several of those 7 L’s. Of course, the same can be said about the Bills, to a lesser degree. Buffalo has suffered several late heartbreakers, but is showing signs of growing up. Both teams require continued injections of talent, but the programs appear to be on track. This is the kind of game the Browns will almost always lose, so…I’m going to take them.  BROWNS 24, BILLS 20.

NEW YORK GIANTS AT MINNESOTA VIKINGS: Will he or won’t he? Everybody (or so I’m told by ESPN and the NFL Network) is waiting to see whether Brett Favre’s streak of consecutive starts, which dates to the Mesozoic era, will finally be broken. I assume he’ll play until I’m informed otherwise. That plan has served me well for two decades now. Either way, Leslie Frazier has made clear that Adrian Peterson will be the centerpiece of the offense, to which I think we can all say “it’s about freaking time.” They’ll be a tough out at home for the Giants, who are now looking to Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw to carry them into the postseason. It all depends on which Brother Eli shows up: the one who throws touchdowns or the one who throws picks and breaks out regularly into a super-sour ManningFace. I’ll guess the former. GIANTS 28, VIKINGS 24.

MIAMI DOLPHINS AT NEW YORK JETS: This is normally a close divisional battle, but I would not want to be the first team to face Rex & his Jets after that beat-down they took on Monday Night. And the ‘Phins just scored 10 points at home against the Browns. Yikes.  JETS 30, DOLPHINS 13.

CINCINNATI BENGALS AT PITTSBURGH STEELERS: How To Do It Right vs. How To Do It Wrong. STEELERS 23, BENGALS 17.

Josh Freeman, #5 is leading a better team than DMac5.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS AT WASHINGTON REDSKINS: A fascinating study in contrast. On one hand, we have a young, talented squad led by a young, inspiring coach and a gifted young quarterback on the rise. And on the other, an aging roster laden with has-been’s, could-have-been’s and never-will-be’s led by a recycled, uninspiring former Super Bowl winning head coach and a declining quarterback whose body is much older than his age and who just signed a massive extension. And who just suspended their best defensive player for stealing $20 Million, which seems a reasonable punishment. Maybe even a bit light. The only similarity is the quarterbacks are both wearing #5. I’ll take the team that looks every week like it really cares. BUCS 24, REDSKINS 17.

ATLANTA FALCONS AT CAROLINA PANTHERS: Best team in the NFC versus the worst. FALCONS 34, PANTHERS 17.

ST. LOUIS RAMS AT NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: A year ago, there would have been no reason to tune in. Now? Sure, I expect the Saints to win, but I’m actually really curious to see how Sam Bradford and the young Rams’ D handles a trip to the SuperDome. Hey, the Browns won there handily just a little over a month ago. It can be done. It won’t, of course- the Saints are back to playing really good, championship contender football. But it can.  SAINTS 33, RAMS 23.

DENVER BRONCOS AT ARIZONA CARDINALS: Here’s a fascinating battle between two teams with a lot going for them.  BRONCOS 24, CARDINALS 17.

MONDAY NIGHTCAP

BALTIMORE RAVENS AT HOUSTON TEXANS: The Texans are D-U-N with 7 losses, but that doesn’t mean you want to be trying to beat them in Houston to cement your own spot. They’re tough to beat and this is usually when they play their best: when the chips are no longer down, but have been collected and pushed over to the guy with the blue horseshoe on his hat. The Ravens, on the other hand, are right in the thick of the playoff picture, but blew a golden opportunity to put the Steelers behind them in the divisional race (and also to prove that they were finishers…so much for that). Baltimore couldn’t put Pittsburgh away despite an evening full of opportunities to do so, and that is not the mark of a championship football team. It’s just one game, but the Ravens better strap it on for a fight down in H-Town, where the Texans play well.  RAVENS 27, TEXANS 24.

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