There are many pivotal games coming up in the NFL this week that will help to shape the playoff picture in both conferences. Here's how it will play out:
1) San Diego at Tennessee: San Diego is the hottest team in the league right now and is on a collision course with the Colts in the AFC championship game, but they're playing a very tough Titans team that has won 7 of their last 8. Both teams are coming off thrilling emotional wins last week, but the Titans are the more desperate team. Titans win this game in an upset.
2) Buffalo at Atlanta: Both teams are out of playoff contention and are banged up. It is unclear if Matt Ryan and Michael Turner will play for the Falcons, but either way, the Bills chances are very slim this week against a very tough team to beat at home in Atlanta. Atlanta has won 12 of their last 13 home games when Matt Ryan starts. Look for more of the same this week as the Falcons win.
3) Kansas City at Cincinnati: Cincinnati is still dealing with the tragic loss of Chris Henry, but they were able to come out and fight hard in week 15 against the Chargers even though the Chargers prevailed. Meanwhile, Kansas City was getting torched by Josh Cribbs and Jerome Harrison of the Browns in Kansas City. Obvious choice here, Cincinnati rolls and clinches their division.
4) Oakland at Cleveland: Both teams rallied last week to pick up unprobable wins. However, neither team is relevant in the playoff discussions. Although Cleveland's offense showed signs of life last week with Jerome Harrison running the ball and Cribbs returning kicks, don't expect it twice in a row. Oakland has won 3 of their last 4 road games and will continue it this week with a win over the Browns.
5) Seattle at Green Bay: Green Bay is coming off a heartbreaking, last-second loss to Pittsburgh and needs to bounce back to avoid falling out of the playoff picture. Seattle laid an egg last week against the lowly Buccaneers losing 24-7. Green Bay is obviously the superior team and needs this game, Packers roll easily over the Seahawks.
6) Houston at Miami: This is a critical match-up in the AFC playoff picture between two 7-7 teams looking to leap into a wild card spot. Houston is coming off a sub-par performance against the Rams, but they were able to squeak out a win. The Dolphins had a valiant comeback against the Titans, but eventually fell short in Overtime. Despite these results, Miami is the better football team and will win this game to stay alive in the hunt for the playoffs.
7) Baltimore at Pittsburgh: This is another one of those Ravens/Steelers games we've come to look forward to. This is a bitter rivalry between two of the best defensive teams of the decade with many of the hardest hitting players in the league. Oh by the way its a critical game for both team's playoff chances as well. The Steelers finally got broke their losing streak while the Ravens leaped into a wild card position. Both teams desperately need this game so it is sure to be a close, entertaining game. Although the terrible towels will be out, I don't think the Steelers have the defense to stop the developing Ravens offense and Ray Lewis sure won't let Big Ben throw for 500 yards. The Ravens step up and win this game to all but clinch a playoff spot.
8) Carolina at New York Giants: Carolina is coming off a very impressive win over the Vikings on Sunday Night and had owned the Giants lately up until last year. The Giants annihilated the Redskins on Monday Night to remain in the playoff hunt. The Giants looked like the team that started 5-0 for the first time since then. Carolina is just 2-5 this year on the road so don't expect the same effort you saw on Sunday night. Look for the Giants to remain in the playoff charge once again as they handle the Panthers rather easily and move to 9-6. Giants win.
9) Jacksonville at New England: Jacksonville is coming off a deflating loss last week and would now be considered a bubble team according to college basketball. With 6 teams at 7-7 in the AFC it is hard to determine how the tie-breakers would work out, but one thing is certain, they would need a win this week to stay alive. However, the Jaguars are just 2-4 on the road this year while the Patriots are a dominating 7-0 at home. Look for this trend to continue as the Patriots roll over the Jaguars in the snowy northeast. Pats win.
10) Tampa Bay at New Orleans: Say what you want about the Saints finally losing last week and the Bucaneers getting another win, it won't mean anything this week. The Bucs are a lousy 1-6 on the road this year while the Saints are now 6-1 at home. The Saints need this game to lock up home-field advantage in the NFC while the Bucs need to lose to lock up a good draft pick. Face the facts, 2-12 does not beat 13-1. Saints win easy.
11) St. Louis at Arizona: St.Louis once again found a way to lose last week to the Texans and are now the only 1 win team in football. Can't help but feel bad for Steven Jackson who will probably end up a pro-bowler. Arizona didn't look convincing against Detroit as they blew a 17-0 lead only to end up tied 24-24, but they were able to pull off the victory. Now that they have the division clinched, the only thing left for Arizona to play for is playoff seeding. Nonetheless, Arizona will play as hard as they need to win this game and continue to build confidence on their way to the playoffs. Arizona takes care of St.Louis to move to 10-5.
12) Detroit at San Francisco: Thanks to the 49ers losing in Philly last week, this game means nothing to either team. Detroit has been horrible this year, especially on the road where they are 0-7. Despite being 6-8, San Francisco is a respectable team at home with a record of 5-2. The Lions may have finally found themselves talent at quarterback with Matt Stafford and at receiver with Calvin Johnson, but it won't matter in this game. The Cardinals will win as they move to 10-5.
13) Denver at Philadelphia: This should be a good game between two teams looking to make a run in the playoffs. The Eagles have already clinched a playoff spot and are looking to win their 6th in a row to move closer to winning the NFC east. The Broncos are trying to avoid fading down the stretch for yet another year as they look to remain in position for a wild card in the AFC. However, it is always tough for a team from the west to come play in the east and the last time the Broncos came to the East coast they were upset by the Redskins. The Eagles offense is just too explosive for the Broncos to stop. If this game was out west it may be a different story, but here in the east, the Eagles will win this game.
14) New York Jets at Indianapolis: The Jets are coming off a heart-breaking defeat at home against the Falcons last week that revealed just how inept their offense is. The Colts are playing for perfection and are now just 2 games away from a perfect regular season. Peyton Manning may be poised for another MVP and possible Super Bowl run. Although the Colts have nothing to play for, they aren't about to blow their perfect season. The inept offense of the Jets will have no shot to keep up with the Colts firepower as the Colts win again to move to 15-0.
15) Dallas at Washington: The Redskins looked as bad as possible on Monday Night against the Giants and are clearly going to be making major changes. After a stretch of playing well against tough opponents, the Redskins laid an egg and were embarassed against the Giants. The Cowboys are coming off the signature win of the Tony Romo/Wade Phillips era to this point in their victory over the once 13-0 Saints. The December slump might finally be over. However, there is one factor that could make a difference in this game; it's a rivalry game. These two teams always play each other close. The Redskins will be torn up all week in the media and will want to put an end to that. The Cowboys will be flying high after their victory and may be a little too cocky and have a let-down. This is my upset pick of the week as the Redskins bounce back and derail the Cowboys once again in December.
16) Minnesota at Chicago: The Vikings put out a very poor showing against the Panthers, getting beat in all 3 phases of the game. There is all of a sudden a little turmoil within the locker room as the Brett Favre saga of the last 3 years rears its ugly head again. Nonetheless, the Vikings have clinched their division and are in good shape to take the #2 seed in the NFC if they can hold off the Eagles. The Bears have had a very dissappointing year as the "Jay Cutler Experiment" has clearly failed (at least this year). I don't expect the Bears to put up much of a fight and the Vikings will look to silence their critics. I see the Vikings winning this game to bounce back.
I thank you for reading and hope these picks can help you in your pools. I want to wish everyone a happy holiday season. Stay tuned for next week as the season wraps up along with my regular season picks. Once again thank you for reading and see you next week.