NFL Week 17: Mike Tanier's Previews and Score Predictions
In the final 2015 regular-season edition of Game Previews:
• The Packers and Vikings battle for the NFC North crown.
• The Cardinals scare the heck out of everyone.
• The Bengals go into survival mode at quarterback.
• Rex Ryan expresses regret.
• Chip Kelly regrets nothing. NOTHING!
• The Saints and Falcons rewrite a Motown classic: "Ain't No Over-Under High Enough."
And much more.
These previews are presented in the order that you are supposed to read them. Unless otherwise stated, predictions are based on teams playing their starters. All times are Eastern.
Minnesota Vikings (10-5) at Green Bay Packers (10-5), Sunday, 8:30 p.m.
An NFL season is a short lifetime. Players develop. Players deteriorate. Teams rise and fall. November's results are only slightly more meaningful than results from 1977.
The Packers crushed the Vikings in Week 11? That was then. This is now.
That 30-13 rout in Week 11 halted a five-game Vikings winning streak and nearly stunted the team's development. Adrian Peterson carried the ball just 13 times in that game and then complained about his role, oblivious to the fact that his 3.5 yards per rush would have been counterproductive to erasing a 17-point deficit. The Vikings soon lost Harrison Smith and other defensive leaders, falling to the Seahawks and Cardinals to prove that they belonged squarely among the second tier of NFC contenders.
Yet the Vikings persevered through their slump. They struck a better balance between Peterson, his backups and Teddy Bridgewater. Smith and the other defenders returned. Maybe blowout wins over the Bears and Giants did not prove the Vikings belonged in the Super Bowl conversation, but they sure don't look like the team that bowed so easily to the Packers.
The Packers don't exactly look like the team from Week 11, either. That win halted a three-game losing streak, but before anyone could sound the "all clear" siren, they lost to the Bears and then needed a fluke penalty and Hail Mary to beat the Lions.
The Packers have been, at best, an average team since Halloween. They were awful against the Cardinals on Sunday, and two recent Cardinals games show just how much has changed for the Packers and Vikings in the last two months: The injury-plagued Vikings fought until the final gun on a short week of rest, while the Packers got gutted like a carcass on the Serengeti in a playoff-important Game of the Week.
The Packers cannot beat quality opponents without David Bakhtiari (ankle) at left tackle and Sam Shields (concussion) at cornerback. Both are questionable. Years of home-growing all of their own talent, with few early-round draft picks at their disposal, has gone from an advantage to a weakness. They are a team trending downward. The Vikings are young at every position but running back. The NFC North is ripe for a changing of the guard.
The Packers were Super Bowl favorites as recently as late October. But the NFL season is a short lifetime. The Vikings are the team that is growing up at just the right time.
Prediction: Vikings 27, Packers 21
Seattle Seahawks (9-6) at Arizona Cardinals (13-2), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
Congratulations, Arizona Cardinals! After 95 years in existence, after three playoff-caliber seasons under Bruce Arians, after 15 exceptional football games, you are finally not merely a promising team, a surprising team, a dangerous team, a curiosity, a stealth contender or some strange little desert upstart that should be content to "cause trouble" in the playoffs.
You are officially the Scariest Team in the NFL™.
The Cardinals earned the title last week, after NFL nation watched the Panthers and Patriots get upset and sat down to enjoy a Packers-Cardinals showdown that promised to be an entertaining battle of…Whoa. What is happening to poor Aaron Rodgers? Ouch. Can you even show that on broadcast television? Cover the children's eyes!
The Cardinals have never been this scary. Maybe they were close in 1947-48. That team was scary: Charley Trippi, Pat Harder and so on. Ask your great-grandpa. Even when they reached the Super Bowl in 2008, the Cardinals were a quirky .500 team on a Kurt Warner hot streak. There has never been a Cardinals team like this.
The Seahawks were the scariest team in the NFL until last week—scarier than the Panthers by virtue of their Super Bowl pedigree. But the Cardinals beat the Seahawks 39-32 in Week 10. Those were the new, improved Seahawks, mind you: Russell Wilson's protection was as stable as it ever gets, the offense had already been rebooted, and Marshawn Lynch and Jimmy Graham were both available. The Cardinals beat them, in Seattle, and have only gotten scarier since.
Don't take Game Previews' word for it: Vegas has made the Cardinals co-favorites with the Patriots to win the Super Bowl, both at plus-350, according to Odds Shark.
Maybe the Seahawks—looking for a win to help secure a cushy trip to Washington (as opposed to a possible trip to Lambeau)—can defang them a bit. Regardless, the Cardinals are deep, experienced and dangerous enough to throw a scare into even a dynasty.
Prediction: Cardinals 33, Seahawks 24
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-9) at Carolina Panthers (14-1), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
Reasons for the Panthers and their fans to worry:
• The Cardinals are playing better football than the Panthers right now. (The Cardinals are playing better football than anyone right now.)
• Cam Newton is almost going out of his way to take extra hits these days. Going on the road for the NFC Championship Game is probably better than letting six defenders slam into Newton so he can run for a first down on 3rd-and-5 in Week 17.
• While Josh Norman absorbs all the cool-kid, more-overrated-than-The Force Awakens backlash, the best way to beat the Panthers defense is to attack old guys, such as Charles Tillman and Cortland Finnegan, in the secondary. A team with a deep receiving corps can do just that. See: the Arizona Cardinals.
• Ted Ginn Jr.'s knee injury isn't considered serious, but you know you are cutting things close as a Super Bowl contender when an injury to Ted Ginn Jr. can change the shape of your postseason.
• The Buccaneers are on a three-game losing streak, but they played hard (and reasonably well) in all three games. They are not a team quitting on a coach about to be fired. They are a young team eager to end the season on an encouraging note. They put up a better fight than the score suggests in their 37-23 loss to the Panthers (two missed field goals kept them from staying close) in Week 4 and should put up a fair fight this week.
Sorry for all the gloom and doom. The Panthers remain Game Previews' favorite to win the NFC. But the field, and particularly a certain team from Arizona, is not very far behind them.
Prediction: Panthers 27, Buccaneers 20
New England Patriots (12-3) at Miami Dolphins (5-10), Sunday, 1 p.m.
Even when these Week 17 divisional challenge matchups prove to be meaningless or only count for playoff seedings, they still provide a chance to reflect on the many twists and turns a season can take.
When Patriots at Dolphins first appeared on the schedule as a season finale, it was a potential Circle-It matchup. Remember that the Dolphins had just signed Ndamukong Suh. They were having an impressive offseason after a .500 finish, while the Patriots were mired in Deflategate.
Would this game decide the AFC East? Maybe the Dolphins would be fighting for a wild-card berth? Maybe (shudder) the Patriots would be fighting for a wild-card berth?
When the Patriots and Dolphins met in Week 8, Dan Campbell was the toast of the NFL among folks who perpetually mistake short-term improvement after a management shake-up for meaningful change. The Dolphins were coming off 38-10 and 44-26 wins.
The Patriots were in Giant Attack Robot mode, but perhaps the Dolphins could produce an upset and climb back into the wild-card picture. The Patriots responded with a 36-7 win that brought reality crashing back down on the Dolphins' heads.
So here we are. The Patriots are humming toward the Super Bowl—at less-than-peak capacity but still humming—while the Dolphins embark on yet another regime change. The way the Dolphins played against the Colts last week, they don't even have an upset in them (the way the Bills did in their Patriots finale last year), especially against a team that would clinch home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs with a win.
Maybe next year's season-ending AFC East divisional showdown will be meaningful. It probably won't. But it is bound to be interesting in its own way.
Prediction: Patriots 31, Dolphins 16
San Diego Chargers (4-11) at Denver Broncos (11-4), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
C.J. Anderson is a good bad-weather running back, at least according to Mike Klis of 9News television in Denver. Anderson scored a 39-yard touchdown in icy conditions Monday night. He rushed for 113 yards in the snow against the Patriots earlier in the season. He rushed for 101 yards in a night game against the Packers in Week 8 when the weather was…rather nice. But it was a night game between the Packers and Broncos, so it probably felt cold.
"I hope it's cold every game from here on out," Anderson said, per Klis.
It probably will be. The Denver forecast for Sunday predicts seasonably mild temperatures, but mild in Denver should hover in the low 40s at best, which is frigid by San Diego circumstances. A Denver win and a Patriots loss will provide home-field advantage, cold weather and a guarantee of the high-altitude conditions that took the life out of the Bengals in the fourth quarter Monday night.
The weather conditions may have been different each time, but the common denominators of the Broncos' three biggest wins of the season (Packers-Patriots-Bengals) were A) home-field advantage and B) solid performances from Anderson and the running game. On the road, rushing for just 3.4 yards per carry a month ago against the Chargers, the result was a too-close-for-comfort 17-3 win. The Broncos need their running backs to secure the top seed in the playoffs, then they need both the running game and the mountains to give them the edge they need to beat the Patriots (or whoever, but really the Patriots) and reach the Super Bowl.
Even if they have to go on the road, the Broncos can benefit from a back who likes cold weather. None of the powerhouses of the AFC plans to move to Los Angeles anytime soon.
Prediction: Broncos 27, Chargers 13
Baltimore Ravens (5-10) at Cincinnati Bengals (11-4), Sunday, 1:00 PM
A.J. McCarron sprained his non-throwing wrist in Monday night's trench war against the Broncos. He's expected to play against the Ravens, and the Bengals need him. If they win and the Broncos lose, the Bengals get a first-round bye that could buy Andy Dalton the time he needs to recover from his thumb injury. If the Bengals lose, they will host one of the AFC's scary wild-card teams in the opening round.
This is a good time to point out that McCarron is not a seasoned 30-something-year-old quarterback with a great feel for self-preservation in the pocket. His ability to handle pass-rushing pressure is, let's say, a work in progress. The Ravens have nothing to lose and proved against the Steelers that they will blitz from all over the place just to see what happens.
McCarron is going to take some hits that will hurt.
His backup is Keith Wenning, a second-year player from Ball State who spent last season on the Ravens practice squad. Wenning threw 13 preseason passes this year, completing six with one interception; he's not exactly in the quarterback-of-the-future pipeline. The Bengals expressed interest in Ryan Mallett when searching for emergency quarterbacks, according to Pro Football Talk's Zac Jackson, but Mallett signed with the Ravens instead.
We've somehow come to this: a Super Bowl contender hoping that it doesn't have to resort to its third-string quarterback while looking across the field enviously at Mallett.
If the Bengals end up losing in the first round of the playoffs, many fans will shrug their shoulders about the "same old Bengals." These aren't the same old Bengals. They are much better, but they may be doomed because the one guy we thought was holding them back turned out to be the guy who glued them together. That makes this a different kind of Bengals team, although the results are just as depressing.
Prediction: Ravens 23, Bengals 20
New York Jets (10-5) at Buffalo Bills (7-8), Sunday, 1 p.m.
The perfect Christmas present for Rex Ryan would be stationery with the words "I deeply regret guaranteeing" written in fancy calligraphy across the top. The gift would arrive just in time for his annual end-of-season apology for completely failing to deliver on all the promises he made while jumping out of airplanes or shotgunning dog biscuits before the season started.
"The thing that kind of gives this team a black eye when we're looking at it is, I let my mouth get ahead of everything," Ryan said on Buffalo sports-talk station WGR 550 early in the week, via Newsday. Ryan guaranteed a playoff berth and promised to build "a bully" in Buffalo when he was hired. "I think if I would have come in there and said, 'Hey, we're going to compete' and do all that stuff, maybe we wouldn't have such a bad feeling about this team."
Ryan has finally learned his lesson. Except that he learned the same lesson in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Come August, he'll be the first guy to claim a third-string linebacker off waivers who was released by his last team for hitting his own quarterback over the head with a folding chair during a scrimmage. Ryan's annual humility festival is like our annual New Year's resolution to start going to the gym instead of Waffles 'n' Fudge four times per week. It never lasts through February.
Ryan may also be beating his breast one week too soon. The Bills beat the Jets in their first meeting. A victory Sunday could provide double-deluxe revenge. Not only could it knock the Jets out of the playoffs, but it could also knock the Steelers into the playoffs, much to Bill Belichick's consternation.
But Ryan is not thinking that way now. He has changed. He's humble.
(He's almost certainly quietly still thinking that way.)
Prediction: Jets 22, Bills 17
Tennessee Titans (3-12) at Indianapolis Colts (7-8), Sunday, 1 p.m.
A countdown of the five teams that squandered the greatest opportunities in 2015:
5. Dallas Cowboys: Great offensive line, solid skill-position talent, established coaching staff, defense that wouldn't look so bad if it had some leads to protect and dreadful division. No one in the organization had a single idea what to do when the starting quarterback got injured.
4. New Orleans Saints: Hall of Fame quarterback, influx of defensive talent, head coach with a Super Bowl ring, easy schedule against the AFC South and NFC East. The Saints would have been wild-card contenders had they just ran some vanilla single-high-safety-man-coverage defense on every play instead of whatever the hell Rob Ryan and Dennis Allen were trying to accomplish.
3. St. Louis Rams: Roster laden with first-round picks, likely Rookie of the Year at running back, possible Defensive Player of the Year at defensive tackle, pair of wins against the division rival they needed to beat to stay in the wild-card race. Eh, just give Jeff Fisher five or six more years to rebuild.
2. Philadelphia Eagles: Easy division, massive talent influx for a 10-win team, reasonable health for most of the season, unique scheme that is supposed to provide a variety of advantages. C'mon kids: Chip Kelly's magic only works if you believe in it really, really hard…
1. Indianapolis Colts: Super Bowl-caliber skill-position talent, free-agent crop that performed fairly well overall (don't blame Frank Gore for this mess), good-enough defensive talent, great specialists, division with two pushovers and a top contender reduced to starting its fourth-string quarterback. Even factoring in Andrew Luck's injury, the Colts should be resting starters this week, not hoping for a precise combination of upsets across the NFL, NBA and political spectrum that will let them wriggle into the playoffs through the ventilator ducts.
Playoff opportunities in the NFL are precious. Squandering one has consequences. We'll learn just how severe those consequences are on Monday.
Prediction: Colts 26, Titans 13
Jacksonville Jaguars (5-10) at Houston Texans (8-7), Sunday, 1 p.m.
Here's an update on the AFC South Round Robin of Sadness, a three-team tourney to determine which AFC South team is least worthy of a well-thought-out game preview that seemed like a great idea when we started it in October.
The Titans have one win and three losses in the round robin. The Jaguars have one win and two losses.
A Jaguars loss will tie the Titans and Jaguars for the title of Saddest Team in the AFC South (and therefore on earth). The winner will be announced in the Monday Morning Hangover column for Week 17. The tiebreaker procedure is elaborate and makes the Colts' playoff scenario look like a coin flip. (We'll probably just give the title to the Titans and pretend we followed a tiebreaking procedure).
The Texans are not sad at all, though they have every right to be.
They proved this season that a team can win important games with a fourth-string quarterback who didn't even start the season with the organization, with a Pro Bowl running back on injured reserve and with an MVP-caliber defender playing with a cast on his hand. That's inspiring. With Brian Hoyer returning from a concussion, the Texans should finish the season with a winning record and at least force a few sleepless nights for the wild-card team that must block J.J. Watt and cover DeAndre Hopkins.
If the Jaguars pull an upset, it could spark an elaborate domino effect that involves eight other games, including the TaxSlayer Bowl and Warriors-Lakers on January 5, that could lift the Colts into the playoffs.
If that happens, no round robin could possibly do the sadness of the AFC South justice.
Prediction: Texans 27, Jaguars 23
Washington Redskins (8-7) at Dallas Cowboys (4-11), Sunday, 1 p.m.
Tony Romo discussed the possibility of having a small plate surgically attached to his collarbone in the offseason to prevent further injuries on a radio show early this week.
"We have a few ideas of what we can do with the collarbone," Romo told KTCK-AM 1310, via the Dallas Morning News. "If we have to put a plate in there, something small, we'll do that."
A plate or a chip? A chip that controls Romo's thoughts and actions. It would be programmed with the three laws of Jerry Jones Romotics:
• No Romo shall ever harm Jerry Jones.
• No Romo shall ever harm himself, except in an effort to protect Jerry Jones.
• For Pete's sake son, go get Stephen and me some brisket and beers. We're hungrier than a bunch of razorback hogs on a Christmas tree farm!
Robo-Romo can quarterback the Cowboys until his metal skeletal attachments start to wear out in 10 years. By then, the program to harvest cloned Kellen Moore organs for transplants will be complete.
Back to the here and now, the Redskins are slotted as the No. 4 seed in the playoffs. That means they can rest important starters, including Kirk Cousins.
And does that mean…Robert Griffin III will play? Jay Gruden told reporters Thursday he plans to start Cousins, but he gave no indicators as to how long Cousins would stay in there. It's a great chance to showcase Griffin and generate a little trade interest, perhaps even from the Cowboys.
You know a relationship is over when you can have coffee or lunch with your ex and feel nothing: no love, hatred, disappointment, desire, frustration or regret, just mild respect and kinship toward a fellow member of the human species.
This would be a great time for Griffin, the Redskins and their fans to prove they can all have coffee or lunch together.
Prediction: Cowboys 22, Redskins 17
Philadelphia Eagles (6-9) at New York Giants (6-9), Sunday, 1 p.m.
In what has become an annual tradition in East Rutherford, New Jersey, Giants players spent the week before the final game of the season lamenting their inability to win enough games for Tom Coughlin, while he stoically deflected job speculation and urged everyone to finish the season with dignity. It was like the last 25 chapters of a Russian novel, all courage and sorrow in the face of the inevitable, except that history shows we may be repeating the ritual next year.
The mood in Philadelphia was more like a kindergarten goldfish funeral. We all loved Chippywhiskers, and we will miss him or her. (Flush). Now, Ms. Nubbings promises to go straight to Pet Warehouse this afternoon, right after happy hour at Tipsy McStaggerbury's!
The Eagles fired Chip Kelly after one last Mad Hatter press conference in which he deferred blame for all of the decisions he clearly made this year, arguing semantically like Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory about the meaning of the term "general manager" (which technically was not his title) instead of claiming ownership for the Eagles' burning sofa of a season. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur takes over as head coach for a week. Tom Donahoe will handle any front-office decisions that may come up over the next few days. Howie Roseman finally hacksawed through the handcuffs that had him chained to a drainpipe in the bowels of Lincoln Financial Field.
There's a Goldilocks Zone between too much change and too little change in the NFL: Kelly destroyed his offense by swapping out too many parts, while the Giants have now spent four years doing things the same way and expecting different results. There's also a sweet spot between a franchise acting too much like an assembly line (or college) and too much like a family.
Coughlin started leading the Giants to Super Bowls when he adjusted his coaching style—and his team culture—to fit the realities of the NFL. Kelly believed that reality would adjust to him. That's not how it works, Chip. That's not how it works.
Prediction: Giants 22, Eagles 13
Pittsburgh Steelers (9-6) at Cleveland Browns (3-12), Sunday, 1 p.m.
The Steelers are 9-1 in December and January regular-season games against the Browns since the rebirth of the Browns franchise in 2000. The lone Browns victory was a 13-6 final on December 10, 2009, when the wind chill in Cleveland was minus-six degrees.
The average final score of the 10 December/January Steelers-Browns games since 2000 is Steelers 24.5, Browns 6.5. The Browns have not scored more than 13 points against the Steelers in the final month-plus of the regular season since 1987. They have not scored more than 20 points in December or January since 1983, when Brian Sipe threw four touchdowns in a 30-17 Browns win.
This is a Steelers team like any other of recent history: solid and scratching for the playoffs. This is a Browns team like any other of recent history: limping to the finish line and making nearly all of its news off the field.
So yes, this should be easy.
Be careful. That’s what we said last week.
Prediction: Steelers 38, Browns 13
Detroit Lions (6-9) at Chicago Bears (6-9), Sunday, 1 p.m.
If Golden Tate's touchdown catch in Week 6 had been ruled an interception—because that's precisely what it was, according to every rule in the rulebook, particularly the rule requiring conclusive evidence to overturn a call via replay—then the Bears would have won that wild 37-34 overtime game instead of the Lions. The score wouldn't be 37-34, but you get the idea.
If Robbie Gould converted a chip-shot field goal at the end of regulation in Week 13, the Bears would have beaten the 49ers.
If Gould makes one of two 50-plus-yard field goals against the Vikings in Week 8 or the Redskins in the fourth quarter in Week 15, the Bears win one of those games.
If Jay Cutler punches in a touchdown on 1st-and-goal at the 7-yard line against the Broncos, or Jeremy Langford at least converts a two-pointer after a touchdown, the Bears could have another win.
Just by changing four plays or so, one of them a bad call, we have made the Bears 10-5 competitors for the NFC North.
This exercise can be done with most teams that manage to win five to seven games in a season; it's a-play-here-and-a-play-there reasoning with the plays specified. It illustrates two points: First, it's a baby step from a 6-10 or 7-9 record to the playoffs. Second, squeaking into the playoffs as one of the weakest teams is neither much of an accomplishment nor much of a goal. Great teams minimize the risk of losing on bad calls and missed field goals by winning games convincingly.
Nine or 10 wins and an extended stay in the wild-card picture would have been fun, but it would not change the fact that the hard work lies ahead for both the Bears and Lions. The real action and intrigue begin for both teams when the final gun sounds.
That said, the Tate touchdown was an interception. I mean, c'mon.
Prediction: Bears 24, Lions 20
New Orleans Saints (6-9) at Atlanta Falcons (8-7), Sunday, 1 p.m.
The over-under betting line for this game is 53, according to Odds Shark. That marks the eighth time this season that the total for a Saints game was 50 or higher. Only 15 other teams in pro football history have prompted eight or more 50-plus numbers in one year, according to Pro Football Reference.
The Sean Payton-era Saints have usually fielded explosive offenses and so-so defenses, and they play most of their games in domes or fair-weather cities, creating favorable conditions for scoring. So it should be no surprise that the 50-plus over-under list is dominated by recent Saints teams. The 2012 Saints hold the record with 15 numbers of 50 or more. With the defense obliterated by Bountygate, oddsmakers predicted high-scoring games for practically the entire season. The 2009, 2011 and 2014 Saints each prompted nine games with 50-plus numbers.
The first team to prompt a half-season's worth of huge over-unders was the 1983 Chargers: Dan Fouts, Kellen Winslow, Air Coryell and all that. Peyton Manning teams are common on the all-time list. Tom Brady teams are less common, with oddsmakers expecting gamblers to hedge against 42-7 Patriots final scores. Chip Kelly's Eagles were on the list in 2013 and 2014 with at least 10 numbers of 50-plus each year. Vegas respected Kelly then. Lots of cities did.
The Saints are 5-2 at clearing 50-plus over-unders this season. Give them a high number, and both their offense and defense will work hard to clear it.
That's really all the information you need for this game.
Prediction: Saints 38, Falcons 34
St. Louis Rams (7-8) at San Francisco 49ers (4-11), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
Game Previews celebrates this meaningful matchup of unwatchable teams with a parade of ridiculous 3rd-and-long surrenders:
• Rams, Week 11 vs. Ravens: Case Keenum throws a three-yard pass to Jared Cook on 3rd-and-17.
• 49ers, Week 16 vs. Lions: Blaine Gabbert throws a three-yard pass to Bruce Ellington on 3rd-and-24.
• Rams, Week 1 vs. Seahawks: Nick Foles runs up the middle for one yard on 3rd-and-21.
• 49ers, Week 5 vs. Giants: Colin Kaepernick throws a four-yard pass to Quinton Patton on 3rd-and-20.
Isn't this fun? We can do this for the whole slide.
• Rams, Week 14 vs. Lions: Keenum throws an eight-yard pass to Benny Cunningham on 3rd-and-24.
• 49ers, Week 7 vs. Seahawks: Reggie Bush runs for six yards on 3rd-and-26.
The supply is nearly limitless.
• 49ers, Week 14 vs. Browns: Gabbert throws a seven-yard pass to Shaun Draughn on 3rd-and-25.
• Rams, Week 7 vs. Browns: Foles throws a three-yard pass to Cunningham on 3rd-and-14.
Eh, this is getting boring.
49ers, Week 13 vs. Bears: Gabbert throws a six-yard pass to Vance McDonald on 3rd-and-16.
Stop, Blaine, Stop!
49ers, Week 15 vs. Bengals: Gabbert throws a six-yard pass to Travaris Cadet on 3rd-and-18.
Gabbert is not going to stop throwing worthless passes on 3rd-and-forever. At least that makes the prediction easy.
Prediction: Rams 19, 49ers 6
Oakland Raiders (7-8) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-5), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
Game Previews headquarters is located just six miles from Philadelphia Eagles headquarters. For 14 years, we had a close-up perspective on Andy Reid, allowing us to examine what Reid does poorly (timeouts are used in some fascinating situations) and the many, many things he does well.
B.J. Kissel of the Chiefs website wrote about the glory of the team's winning streak early in the week. You know how it is with articles on team websites ("Everything is awesome!"), but Kissel went into deep detail about the injuries the Chiefs have overcome and the backups and role players who have filled in. If you are still wondering how the Chiefs reached the playoffs without Jamaal Charles and Justin Houston, Kissel's article contains all the answers.
But here's the short version: The Chiefs are in the playoffs because Reid organizes. The 43rd to 53rd men on the roster, plus the guys on the practice squad, know their roles and expectations. Reid and his coaches also know their players' limitations. Everyone practices hard and plays hard. Everyone is treated with respect. Therefore, while the Chiefs can lose to superior opponents, they never lose to themselves.
Here in Philadelphia, where fans grumbled for years about Reid's boring public persona and game plans that seemed predictable before we experienced a playbook with only two running plays, a coaching regime just crumbled after three seasons due to disorganization, confusion about roles, unrealistic expectations and lack of communication. All the creativity and talent in the world cannot save a coach who doesn't have at least a little Reid in him.
Congratulations on making the playoffs and possibly winning the AFC West, Kansas City Chiefs. You did the dirty work that splashier organizations could not bother themselves with. May you make some noise with Houston potentially back for the playoffs and then give Reid a chance to make even more noise with Charles (and, ahem, a No. 2 wide receiver) in 2016.
Prediction: Chiefs 20, Raiders 17