Matt Ryan and the Falcons kick off Week 16 on Saturday night at Detroit.
There are just 32 regular-season games to go in NFL 2012.
And while we’ve crowned five of the eight division champions and have figured out more than half of the playoff field, the best may be yet to come.
Of course, we’ve been giving our best all season and another 16-0 showing in Week 15 raised our record to 223-1.
The games are getting harder to figure out every week. Still, we told you that the New York Giants would be shut out at Atlanta, that the 49ers would blow a 28-point lead and still beat the New England Patriots on the road and that the Seattle Seahawks would score 50 points for the second straight week.
OK, sure there are skeptics out there doubting our record. Therefore, we’ll go with the safest choice on the board.
I predict everyone out there will have a very Merry Christmas and a joyous holiday.
Remember, always take the (Yule)Tide and the points.
It’s been a terrific year for quarterback Matt Ryan as the 12-2 Atlanta Falcons close in on the best record in the NFC.
It’s been a horrific year for quarterback Matthew Stafford as the 4-10 Detroit Lions look to avoid a seventh straight loss.
It has been a tremendous 2012 for Lions wide Calvin Johnson, who has more receiving yards (1,667) than his team has rushing (1,462) and is within 181 yards of tying Jerry Rice’s NFL record for receiving yards in a season (1,848), set while Rice was with the 49ers in 1995.
Johnson has also totaled 100-plus receiving yards in seven straight games, tying a league mark. But if the former Georgia Tech star had plans of equaling or breaking Rice’s mark this week, you may have to postpone the celebration as Stafford will complete more balls to the Falcons (four) than Johnson (three) in Atlanta’s 31-19 victory in Motown.
So what exactly has happened to San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers?
You may know the numbers in your sleep. According to pro-football-reference.com, dating back to the start of last season, the former Pro Bowl signal-caller has 49 touchdown passes and 47 turnovers, compared to 135 touchdown passes and 76 turnovers in his first five seasons as a starter.
This year's figures are even more damning when you consider the Chargers have committed 54 turnovers and Rivers has all but seven of them.
Still, that miscue total this season is three short of the number of turnovers (50) by New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez in his last 30 games. And with five of Sanchez's coming in the Monday night loss to the Tennessee Titans, the former first-rounder will take a seat this week and Greg McElroy will make his first NFL start.
That move will pay off for Rex Ryan and company as the former Alabama standout will complete 19-of-20 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns in New York’s 24-21 win over the Bolts.
It’s been a long year for the Tennessee Titans.
A season after finishing 9-7 and missing the playoffs, head coach Mike Munchak’s second year on the job has produced nine losses.
These Titans have given up 396 points and 38 offensive touchdowns in 14 games, quite a turnaround for a club that allowed only 317 points and 31 offensive touchdowns last season.
The newly crowned NFC North champion Green Bay Packers have won three straight and eight of their last nine. While quarterback Aaron Rodgers is having another great year, the return of outside linebacker Clay Matthews (11.0 sacks) is crucial.
Of course, Titans quarterback Jake Locker isn’t a fan of Matthews, and he won't be after being sacked four times by him, with one of those resulting in a fumble return for a touchdown. Add in three interceptions, one taken back for a score, and four Rodgers scoring tosses and Green Bay will walk away with a 42-13 win.
A mere 10 years ago, Oakland Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer was the 2002 Heisman Trophy winner following an outstanding season at USC.
Eight years later, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton walked away with the same prestigious honor and led Auburn to a national championship.
Both men would go on to be the first overall picks in the draft. And while Palmer didn’t play a down during his rookie season in 2003, Newton put up big numbers for a 6-10 Carolina club and walked (rather ran) away with Offensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2011.
Following a rough start, the Panthers' quarterback has been hot as of late, throwing 10 touchdown passes without an interception while rushing for 293 yards and three scores in the team’s last five games, three resulting in wins.
Meanwhile, it’s been a struggle for Palmer, whose team pitched a 15-0 shutout last week against the Kansas City Chiefs but failed to score a touchdown.
It all seems so simple and that’s exactly what you’ll see. After an early interception, Newton will throw for 245 yards and three scores while the Panthers’ defense will blank the Silver and Black in Carolina’s 24-0 victory.
Is there a faint glimmer of hope for the Miami Dolphins?
At 6-8, Joe Philbin’s team is not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.
When last these teams met, the Buffalo Bills used a punt return for a touchdown from Leodis McKelvin and four Rian Lindell field goals to beat the Dolphins, 19-14, five weeks ago at Orchard Park.
It’s time to flip the script. Some will remember that Dolphins’ return artist Marcus Thigpen had a 96-yard kickoff return for a score in the five-point loss. He will once again strike fear in the hearts of the Bills’ coverage teams by returning a punt 81 yards for a touchdown.
Add in four field goals by Nate Kaeding (replacing an injured Dan Carpenter), two from 50-plus yards, and a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown by cornerback Sean Smith, and Philbin’s team “returns” the favor from November with a 26-9 win.
A rare opportunity awaits the Cincinnati Bengals.
If Marvin Lewis’ team is able to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, the franchise will be headed back to the playoffs for the second straight season, something the team has done just once before (1981 and ’82).
It won’t be easy considering Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has had his way in this series. Including a playoff victory at Cincinnati in 2005, Ben has been big in this rivalry, throwing 24 touchdown passes (compared to 16 interceptions) and winning 14 of 18 meetings.
This tilt figures to be quite the defensive struggle. But Mike Tomlin’s club will be on the right side of a 7-6 lead late in the fourth quarter. With a chance to ice the game, Roethlisberger will drop back on third down, fire a ball over the middle to No. 33 Isaac Redman.
The pass will hit the Steelers’ running back on the shoulder, and the deflection will wind up in the hands of Bengals cornerback Terence Newman. He will return it 60 yards for a score, enabling Lewis’ team to escape the Steel City with a 13-7 victory.
Call it a hunch.
Opposites may or may not attract, but that doesn’t mean they’re not on each other’s schedule.
No team in the NFL has scored more points than the New England Patriots (506) while only the Kansas City Chiefs have scored fewer points than the Jacksonville Jaguars (219).
And while the Pats have now won at least 10 games in 10 consecutive seasons, the 2-12 Jaguars are looking to avoid a team-record 13th loss.
Of course, the city of Jacksonville has been kind to Bill Belichick’s team as the Patriots held off the Philadelphia Eagles, 24-21, in this building in Super Bowl XXXIX.
And after a 41-34 home loss to the San Francisco 49ers in which New England coughed up the ball four times, it will be a back-to-basics afternoon for quarterback Tom Brady. Veteran wideout Deion Branch will be Brady’s most valuable target, pulling in 11 passes for 133 yards (albeit no touchdowns) and the Patriots will eventually walk away 44-21 winners.
We’ll do our best not to focus on the negative here, but we’re left little choice this week.
The Indianapolis Colts, 2-14 in 2011, have been a remarkable story. And at 9-5, a win at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday ends the franchise’s playoff drought at one.
But when considering this meeting with the disappointing Kansas City Chiefs, who at 2-12 are in the same position as the Colts last season, it's hard not to focus on turnovers.
No team in the league has given up the football more than the Chiefs, whose 34 turnovers and minus-22 differential have them tied with the Philadelphia Eagles for the NFL's worst.
But not far behind are the Colts, who are minus-17 in the same category, mainly because they’ve managed a league-low 10 takeaways in 14 games.
But that all changes this week as Chuck Pagano’s squad will eek out an ugly 17-13 win at Kansas City, thanks to a pair of touchdown runs by quarterback Andrew Luck and six takeaways by the Indianapolis’ defense.
Despite a three-game winning streak and wins in five of their last six contests, the skeptics remain when it comes to the Dallas Cowboys.
The unexplainable has been the team’s performance at home since moving into Cowboys Stadium in 2009.
Jason Garrett’s club is just 4-3 in front of its own fans, matching the team’s 4-3 record on the road. And while the Pokes have committed 25 turnovers in 14 games this season, 19 of those miscues have come at home.
The New Orleans Saints come off a 41-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in which they’re much-maligned defense picked off quarterback Josh Freeman four times. Of course, this was on the heels of a 52-27 loss to the Giants one week earlier.
So the Saints’ roller coaster of a season will head downhill again, as Joe Vitt’s club will fail to come up with a takeaway against the Cowboys. Tony Romo will find Dez Bryant three times for touchdowns in Dallas’ 24-7 win.
Winners of five straight games, the once 3-6 Washington Redskins are now two games over .500 and in position to win their first division title since the five-team days of the NFC East in 1999.
With quarterback Robert Griffin III expected to return to the starting lineup this week after sitting out last Sunday’s 38-21 win at Cleveland, you can look for even more production from the NFL’s top-ranked ground game.
In particular, you can expect a big afternoon from the league’s third-leading ground-gainer.
In any other season, running back Alfred Morris might be the front-runner for Offensive Rookie of the Year honors with his 1,322 yards rushing and nine touchdowns.
Look for the seventh-round draft choice to earn a few votes after he runs through the struggling Philadelphia Eagles for 178 yards and two scores on 31 carries in Washington’s 23-12 win.
Can you say AM1?
Things are certainly looking up for the St. Louis Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Head coaches Jeff Fisher and Greg Schiano have done a terrific job establishing a new culture with their respective teams. And although Schiano has now watched his Bucs lose their last four games, there’s been no signs of the shoddy play that was a staple of the team’s season-ending 10-game losing streak a year ago.
We’ll make this as quick and as simple as A, B, C.
Although Tampa Bay remains No. 1 in the league against the run, look for St. Louis veteran back Steven Jackson to rush for 85 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
However, it will be the Josh Freeman-to-Vincent Jackson show for the majority of the afternoon, the tandem connecting for three scores, the final with 1:23 to play as Tampa gets back on the winning track, 21-14.
That’s five touchdowns by the Jacksons. Could that be some sort of record?
At this time a season ago, the New York Giants were 7-7 and coming off a home loss to the Washington Redskins.
Who knew this team would win Super Bowl XLVI less than two months later?
We thought we knew the Baltimore Ravens, who are headed back to the playoffs for the fifth straight year, the longest active streak in the league.
But these Ravens have also lost three straight games following a 9-2 start, including two in a row at Baltimore, a place where they had won 16 straight.
Now the 8-6 Giants are hoping they can get back into the playoffs to defend their Super Bowl title. And late in the fourth quarter and trailing 10-7, safety Stevie Brown will pick Joe Flacco (the Ravens’ quarterback’s fourth interception of the game) and return it 49 yards for a score to give New York a 14-10 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, Jacoby Jones will do it once again, scoring on a 97-yard return just 18 seconds after Brown’s touchdown to give Baltimore a 17-14 lead.
But now it’s the Giants’ turn, and 18 seconds later, David Wilson will take the kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown, which will prove to be the difference in Big Blue’s 21-17 victory.
Talk about a comeback and shifting into a higher gear?
Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has gone from medical marvel to astounding story.
It was Week 16 last season at Washington when the workhorse performer severely injured his knee and put his status for 2012 in doubt.
Now there’s no doubting Peterson, who has rushed for a league-high 1,812 yards, including 212 in last week’s win at St. Louis. He is within range of surpassing Erick Dickerson’s single-season mark of 2,105 yards set with the Rams in 1984.
The Houston Texans’ defense remains one of the best in the business, but it won't be able to delay AP’s date with destiny as the Vikings’ back will run for 165 yards this day.
But the Texans have a pretty good runner themselves in Arian Foster, who comes off a 165-yard performance in the division-clinching 29-17 win over the Colts. You can look for the 2010 rushing champion to respond with 212 yards rushing and a score as Gary Kubiak’s club will put a crimp in Minnesota’s playoff plans with a 27-14 win.
The Denver Broncos are AFC West champions and have won nine games in a row.
The Cleveland Browns have lost nine games, guaranteeing the franchise a 12th losing season in the last 14 years.
Despite a 38-21 loss last Sunday to the Washington Redskins, Pat Shurmur’s team has played much better as of late. And as the Browns head to Denver looking to snap a nine-game losing streak in this series, the Broncos look to secure a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Still, Shurmur’s feisty team will own a 20-16 lead midway through the fourth quarter thanks to a Brandon Weeden touchdown pass to fellow rookie Josh Gordon. And thanks to a misplayed ball on the ensuing kickoff, Denver will have the ball on its own 2-yard line with roughly seven minutes to play.
Enter quarterback Peyton Manning, who will drive his team 98 yards (maybe 98 and a half) and throw a touchdown pass to a sliding Eric Decker to give the Broncos a 23-20 lead with 2:29 to play.
Cleveland will make a valiant comeback effort. After a few completions from Weeden, the Browns will find themselves on the Denver 8-yard line with 1:12 remaining. But on his way to the end zone, Browns’ running back Trent Richardson will be stripped of the ball by Von Miller, who recovers the fumble to preserve the team’s three-point win.
What’s more disheartening; opening the season at 7-1 and dropping five of your next six games or getting off to a 4-0 start and losing nine straight?
The answer is C, as in both of the above.
The Chicago Bears and Arizona Cardinals have turned promising starts into seasons of frustration.
However, one thing both clubs have learned to do fairly well is turn over the opposition. Chicago (37) and Arizona (32) have combined for an impressive 69 takeaways this season.
The Cardinals (22) and Bears rank 1-2 in the league in interceptions. And while Lovie Smith’s team has taken back seven of those picks for scores, Ken Whisenhunt’s team comes off a 38-10 win over the Detroit Lions in which the defense returned two Matthew Stafford picks for touchdowns.
Look for more of the same this week as Bears’ quarterback Jay Cutler will throw his second ill-advised pass of the afternoon with 1:01 to play, and a sure Chicago victory will turn into defeat as Adrian Wilson returns the errant pass 53 yards for a score and the Cardinals win their second straight, 24-23.
Who can stop these Seattle Seahawks?
Pete Carroll’s 9-5 club once again put 50 points on the board last week in a 33-point victory over the Buffalo Bills at Toronto. That means the suddenly explosive Seahawks have scored a combined 108 points in their last two games, quite a turnaround for a club that totaled only 242 points (20.3 average) in their first 12 games.
Enter the NFC West-leading San Francisco 49ers, who know all about rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, the team’s imposing defense and the ‘Hawks 609 record at home this season.
Of course, you’re also talking about a Jim Harbaugh-led team that has already won at Lambeau Field and Foxborough this season and was the last team to beat the Seahawks in Seattle.
But how do you slow down Wilson and company, especially after your own formidable defense squandered a 28-point lead last week to the New England Patriots, although Harbaugh and company would hold on to win, 41-34.
What it tells you is that the Niners also know how to score points. While you can expect another enormous outing from Carroll’s crew, four Frank Gore touchdown runs, three Colin Kaepernick scoring passes, two David Akers field goals and a safety on a blocked punt will offset the ‘Hawks latest explosive outing in a 57-51 49ers' win.
And a merry NFC West title to the Niners.