The NFL is in its home stretch. It's the final five weeks of the season and teams still alive for a playoff spot will see their season change for better or worse.
Following my worst week of the season (6-10) last week, hopefully Thursday's win will serve as a springboard.
Remember the picks are for entertainment purposes only. Here's the rest of week 13:
At this time of year, with bye weeks now in everyone’s rear-view mirrors, playing on Sunday following a Thursday night game is the closest thing a team will get to having an extra week off.
Traditionally, Denver is brutal at Kansas City in the month of December, and the Chiefs have played better recently—with the exception of their game against the Chargers last week. This could be a prime example of a “trap game.”
However, take the bait and the Broncos. They have playoffs on their minds, they’re rested, they’re running the football with renewed vigor, and they're simply the better football team.
Broncos 24, Chiefs 13
Given their road woes this season, it was surprising to see the Patriots favored by five points. All four losses this season have come away from Gillette Stadium.
Following the rout in New Orleans in Week 12, a loss that pushed their road record to 0-4 in the continental U.S., the Patriots recognize they need a win—and a convincing one—in Miami, for two reasons.
First and foremost, a loss to the Dolphins puts the Pats at 7-5, giving the Dolphins and Jets belief that they have a shot at the AFC East.
Secondly, a big road win against a division rival restores confidence and gives New England good reason to believe they can win the rest of their games—a run which would give them an outside shot at the AFC’s No. 2 seed.
The Patriots are due. They’re better than they’ve shown in road games, and at this time of year in season's past, they’ve played their best football. It won't be different in 2009.
Patriots 31, Dolphins 17
Like the Broncos, the Raiders have had a little extra time off, thanks to their Thanksgiving Day game in Dallas. Initially, the thinking was that the Raiders would be competitive due to the rest and the uncertainty regarding Ben Roethlisberger.
However, after some thought, the Steelers can win this game by two touchdowns with Dennis Dixon under center—that is, if Mike Tomlin and the Steelers decided to rest Roethlisberger another week.
With Oakland allowing something in the neighborhood of 160 yards per game on the ground, the Steelers should be able to run the ball capably and dominate the Raiders.
Plus, if motivation means anything, the Steelers have lost three games in a row—the last two in overtime—and they need a win to improve their playoff hopes.
Steelers 28, Raiders 10
Last week’s deflating loss to the Colts effectively ended any chance the Texans had of making the playoffs. According to most “in the know,” it also marked the beginning of the end of the Gary Kubiak Era in Houston as well.
The Texans struggle to defend the run, and the Jaguars have Maurice Jones-Drew. The Jaguars don’t defend the pass well, while Houston thrives on using the air attack to moving the ball offensively.
So long as Jaguars’ QB David Garrard can complete a few passes to keep Houston’s defense honest, the Jags should be able to control the ball and keep the Houston offense off the field, giving them the edge in this one.
Jaguars 24, Texans 21
Tennessee (+7) over Indianapolis
Peyton Manning should feast on the Titans’ pass defense, as he did earlier this season (309 yards and 3 touchdowns). The Colts are capable of striking early, and the Titans would probably have a tough time playing catch-up.
However, these Titans are different from the ones that were blown out by the Colts earlier this season. The main differences are at quarterback and running back.
Vince Young has taken over under center and completed nearly 63 per cent of his passes, well above his career average (58 per cent). He seems poised and offers more versatility at the QB position than Kerry Collins.
At running back, Chris Johnson is no longer splitting carries with LenDale White. During Tennessee’s five-game winning streak, the 18 carries he had last week against Arizona was his lowest total. He had averaged 26 carries per game in the previous four victories.
This is a winnable game for the Titans. More importantly, they need to win in order to stay alive in the AFC playoff picture. For the Colts, reaching 12-0 and 21 straight wins in the regular season—tying an NFL record—would be important milestones.
It would be nice to see the Titans win. More likely, though, Manning has a huge game, and the Colts survive a 130-yard effort from Johnson to win a close one at home.
Colts 27, Titans 24
With Matt Ryan and Michael Turner dinged up, the Falcons turn to their understudies—QB Chris Redman and RBs Jerious Norwood and Jason Snelling) to salvage their playoff hopes.
Meanwhile, the home crowd will be riled up for an appearance from former franchise quarterback Michael Vick.
Those storylines aside, the Eagles are better defensively and have highly-skilled, big-play receivers on offense that should have no trouble moving the ball and scoring points against an Atlanta defense that isn’t good.
Eagles 31, Falcons 17
Cincinnati’s pass defense is very good, led by the under-publicized Leon Hall at corner back.
Should Calvin Johnson play for the Lions, Hall will get the nod to start opposite him. He should quietly limit Johnson to one of his worst games of the season.
Cincinnati’s run-based offense should thrive against the Lions, who can’t seem to stop anyone on the ground or in the passing game. Expect big days for all of the Bengals’ skill players as they attempt to cement their status as the No. 2 seed in the AFC.
It sounds preposterous with the Bengals as a potential No. 2 seed, but it’s the reality of the NFL in 2009.
Bengals 31, Lions 10
Washington (+9.5) over New Orleans
First, let's get the obvious out the way: the Saints are clearly the better team in this matchup.
However, the Redskins’ defense is very good against the pass, and it could potentially negate the Saints’ strength on offense.
Up front, the Redskins are not as strong defensively against the run, and the Saints’ group of running backs should be able to pound the ball and control the time of possession—if it gets done to it.
The matchups seem to lead to a closer game than many would expect. Factor in the point that the Saints are coming off an emotional home win, they have a slightly shorter week to prepare, and they travel to Washington. This could be a trap game for the Saints.
Take the Redskins outright. At the very least, they should cover.
Redskins 24, Saints 21
Believe it or not, the Buccaneers enter this game with the more stable quarterback situation. Nobody has faith in Jake Delhomme, besides his receiver Steve Smith, and neither should Carolina at this point.
Still, the Panthers’ offense is based in large part on their strong running game, and the Buccaneers struggle to defend the run.
Whether Delhomme starts or the Panthers turn to backup Matt Moore, Carolina’s running backs will have to do much of the work, and the Buccaneers should be able to load up the line of scrimmage to stop the run.
The Panthers’ passing game can't make enough plays to prevent the Bucs from keying in on the run. The Panthers’ defense isn’t what it used to be either.
Buccaneers 20, Panthers 13
St. Louis (+9) over Chicago
The Rams could be just what the doctor ordered for the struggling Bears. However, with the Bears struggling both offensively and defensively, they’ll be locked in a tight game with the Rams.
The bottom line is that the Bears have to play mistake-free football to cover this spread—something they are capable of right now. Talent-wise, they should win. If the Rams are forced into a few turnovers, the Bears will win easily.
The Rams’ Stephen Jackson will be heavily utilized against the Bears, and rightfully so. If he has a big game, the Rams have a chance to win this game outright.
Bears 24, Rams 20
San Diego (-13) over Cleveland
Does this one even need explaining? It was a surprise to see this spread under two touchdowns.
Chargers 37, Browns 13
The 49ers still have a shot at a playoff berth, and their offense has some emerging talent. Meanwhile, the Seahawks have struggled lately on both sides of the ball.
One thing working in the Seahawks’ favor is that they haven’t played a home game in nearly a month; their last three games have come away from Qwest Field. They tend to play significantly better at home.
Still, the 49ers’ desperation to win and stay in the NFC West and wildcard races will be the deciding factor in what should be a close game.
49ers 20, Seahawks 17
NY Giants (+2) over Dallas
Both teams enter this game having last played on Thanksgiving, so they’ve both enjoyed a longer break between games.
The Giants have seemingly lost the ability to run the ball. Their quarterback is playing through the effects of plantar fascilitis. Their defense is struggling. It's no wonder the Giants have lost five of their last six.
Yet, despite these issues, they are desperate and will be playing at home, which might help them rediscover some of what made them successful in the last couple seasons rushing the passer and pounding the football on the ground.
Simultaneously, a Giants win will cast doubt on whether or not the Cowboys are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Dallas’ struggles in the month of December with Tony Romo as quarterback are well-known, and a loss in this game will only reignite that doubt.
Giants 24, Cowboys 21
Minnesota (-3) over Arizona
Many believe the Vikings are the best team in football—certainly among the best. If the Cardinals were to beat Minnesota, they’d need to be at full strength, meaning that Kurt Warner would play and play well.
Given that Warner sat out last week and is a game-time decision this week, you have to question his ability to have the kind of game necessary to keep the Cardinals competitive against Brett Favre and the Vikings' explosive offense.
Regardless of whether Warner plays, or how effective he might be if plays, the key matchup will be Arizona's run defense against Adrian Peterson. Arizona’s run defense had a great start to the season, but has struggled in recent games.
If the Cardinals can limit Peterson, their chances or covering the spread or winning improves significantly. If they can’t slow Peterson down, the Vikings will win easily, no matter who is under center for Arizona.
Vikings 27, Cardinals 17
Oh sure, the Ravens’ defense isn’t what it once was. In fact, statistically speaking, the Packers are better than the Ravens defensively.
However, Baltimore's five losses this season have all come against teams in the playoff picture in their respective conferences (New England, Minnesota, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati twice). Is it possible the Ravens are underrated?
That isn’t to say the Packers are overrated. Three of their four losses have also come to playoff-type teams (Minnesota twice and Cincinnati). But Aaron Rodgers is playing Pro Bowl-caliber football.
The Ravens should be favored in this one. They still have some big performers on defense, even if the unit as a whole seems to be in decline. A big game on a big stage is where Ray Lewis shines, and it's likely he'll make a few big plays to turn the tide in a close Baltimore win.
Ravens 17, Packers 13
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