Week 13 of the NFL season is here and it is time for teams to buckle up and fight for a playoff spot. We have seen some great football this season—and some very ugly football—but now it's time to start the dogfight.
December is beginning and the playoff picture is as unclear as it has ever been.
Some teams have established themselves as favorites, some have been inconsistent, some have the benefit of playing in terrible divisions so they still have a shot, and some are just plain lost.
The NFL did a great job of scheduling their games this season, putting a lot of inter-division games on the late season schedule. As it winds down, there are plenty of exciting match-ups on the slate this week.
Once again, my picks were all over the place last week, as I finished just 8-8. So far, my record in Bleacher Report articles is 28-16 against the spread.
Without further ado, here are this weeks picks, with home teams in CAPS.
The last time I dealt with the Eagles and said "don't let last week fool you," I was badly burned by the Eagles running over the Giants.
This week I am walking the same path.
As a reader pointed out to me last week, I was naive for picking the Eagles in Chicago because Vick has never played well in Chicago. He further commented that Vick also doesn't play well on grass, and that the grass in Chicago is nothing like the grass at FedEx Field in Washington, where Vick ran all over the Redskins.
But Vick will be returning home this week, and following the loss, the Eagles will be looking to get more separation at the top of the NFC East from the Giants, who just won't go away.
On the other "don't be fooled side" is Houston. Do not be fooled by the Texans shutting out the Titans last week. Unfortunately for them, they still have the Texans defense, and that defense is still awful against the pass.
Last week the Texans had the benefit of going up against a third string Titans quarterback named Rusty Smith, who's biggest receiving threat was a very unmotivated Randy Moss.
While the Texans were able to keep the Titans off the scoreboard, it will be nowhere near as easy in Philadelphia. Houston's corners will have trouble keeping up with speedy wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Jeremy Macklin, and then they will have to worry about Michael Vick's legs.
Expect Vick to bounce back for this game, as the Eagles will look to blow the Texans away.
Twice this year I have been burned by picking against teams that had just fired their coach that the players had already quit on. This week, I will jump on the Vikings bandwagon.
Both teams are very tough to judge this week. The Vikings have been bad, but we also know that they quit on their coach.
So were the Vikings really that bad?
Or was it the product of them not wanting to play for their coach?
Meanwhile at 2-9, Buffalo has one of the worst records in football. But they are far from one of the worst teams in football.
Buffalo has won two out of their last three, and they were very unlucky to not beat the Steelers this past weekend, coming just a Steve Johnson dropped touchdown catch in overtime short.
The week before that the Bills rallied from a 31-14 halftime deficit to beat Cleveland. In fact, the Bills have played in just three games that could be described as blowouts this season, winning one of them and losing the other two.
The rest of Buffalo's games have been close this season, and they have played many of the top teams in the league closely.
But Brett Favre is 12-2 at the home since becoming the Vikings quarterback, and the Vikings are actually playing for their new head coach. This week we will see if the Vikings simply managed to be better then a bad Redskins team, or if they have actually found a new fire for their new coach.
Last Sunday at Oakland, Chad Henne looked like he had something to prove after he had previously been benched and then missed time with a knee injury. Henne had one of his best games of the season leading Miami to a win in Oakland.
Miami's next opponent is Cleveland, who are likely to start Jake Delhomme at quarterback.
If Cleveland were starting Colt McCoy things might be a little different. The Browns sprang to life with McCoy under center, beating the Saints and Patriots, and keeping things close against other top teams.
With Delhomme under center it has been miserable for Browns fans. He was awful at the beginning of the season, and last week he struggled to beat the terrible Carolina Panthers.
Miami has been poor at home, but this week they get to play against a terrible quarterback, and that swings the balance.
Before diving into the AFC South match-ups, maybe we should take a step back and ask who in the AFC South is actually good?
This was expected to be one of the top divisions in football.
The Titans had won their last eight games last season and were coming into this season with momentum.
The Texans finished one spot out of the playoffs and had the best offense in the NFL last season, this was supposed to be the year they made the jump.
The Colts were coming off of a season where they won their first 14 game regular season games, made it to the Super Bowl, and only lost their last two regular season games because they rested their starters.
But now this division is led by Jacksonville and Indianapolis at 6-5, and the Titans and Texans are right behind them at 5-6.
So are the Colts really that bad? Its looking like they might be, we didn't want to believe it all season. Or are they just struggling with injuries and the Jaguars are really that good?
These answers are still mysteries, and you could bet as soon as everyone anoints the Jags as the top team, they will lose a bad game, or when everyone writes off the Colts they'll come storming back.
For right now we know that the Titans are not that great. They've had injuries at quarterback, and even though Kerry Collins is expected to start, he hasn't made it through a whole game in a while.
Meanwhile the Titans are 0-3 since picking up disgruntled wide receiver Randy Moss.
The Jaguars are hanging in there and finding ways to win. They don't do it pretty, but they are winning games, despite dropping a close one to the injury weakened Giants.
The Jags have a legitimate shot at their division, and they won't let a divisional opponent get in their way. The Titans have been really bad recently, so bad that not even the "Law of Gus" could save them this week.
In Week 6 I had to write an article predicting who would have breakout performances that week. Figuring that since the Chiefs had started the season hot and were 3-1 at the time, I would pick Matt Cassel. When I did the research I discovered that at the time, the Chiefs were 31st in the league in passing offense.
It came as a pretty big shock to me and made me reconsider my pick.
But then I settled on Cassel because he was facing Houston and the Texans were dead last in passing defense. My faith was rewarded as that was Cassel's breakout game for the season.
Cassel threw for 201 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-31 loss to the Texans, but since then Cassel has been nothing short of brilliant. Cassel now has the leagues fourth highest QB rating, and is tied for fifth in the league with 22 touchdown passes.
Matt Cassel and Dwayne Bowe are becoming an absolutely lethal combination, as the two have connected 58 times this year for 885 yards and an astonishing 14 touchdowns. That's only through 12 games.
Meanwhile Kansas City has not slowed down from their hot start. While they started great at home and poorly on the road, they have picked up their road play, going into Seattle and picking up a dominating with over the Seahawks.
The Chiefs are still undefeated at home, where they will play this week against the Broncos as they try to hold off the suddenly surging Chargers for first place in the AFC West.
Meanwhile the Broncos are facing distractions amid their own spygate controversy with head coach Josh McDaniels. Football-wise the news doesn't get better for the Broncos, who are coming off a big loss at home to the St. Louis Rams, a dome team that hadn't won on the road all season, playing at high altitude, which was no easy task for the Rams.
The Broncos have won just once on the road this season, and Arrowhead Stadium is still one of the most difficult places for visiting teams to win. It will be even more difficult on Sunday as the fans will show up ready, as their Chiefs are legitimate playoff contenders.
Its very hard to judge these two teams. By watching them, it is obvious, the Giants are a much better team then the Redskins; but it is so hard to trust the Giants right now.
The Giants have been hit by the injury bug this season, HARD! They will go into this game missing several players on both offense and defense, including for the second week in a row their top three receivers Hakeem Nicks, Steve Smith, and Remses Barden.
The news didn't get better for the Giants when last week head coach Tom Coughlin really had no choice but to bench starting running back Ahmad Bradshaw because of fumbling problems.
Eli Manning has done as best as he can given the circumstances, but the former Super Bowl MVP has already thrown 16 interceptions this season. While at the beginning of the season many of his passes were deflecting off of his receivers hands, that hasn't been the case as of late.
The Giants still own the No. 1 passing defense in the league, a trait that will come very much in handy against the Redskins, who struggle to run the ball.
Since the Redskins were blown out at home on Monday Night Football by the Eagles, they have managed to hang in their games and keep them close.
Though the Giants are 4-2 at home, it is hard to trust a team that not only has been struggling as of late, but is also missing so many of their starters. The Redskins will keep this one close.
The Lions are doing a great job fooling us all. We keep thinking they're a pretty frisky team, especially at home, and that they could compete with anyone. The truth is, while they are a tough team that has played some good teams really close, they only hang in there for so long.
We saw it on Thanksgiving when the Lions gave the Patriots all they could handle for the first half, but melted away in the second half.
I haven't bought into the Bears yet this season, but after getting some reader feedback from Bears fans I'm throwing them a bone.
Some Bears fans pointed out that I was crazy for not thinking the Bears to beat the Eagles. After being accused of being close minded, I decided there might be some value to that claim.
After listening to people belittle the Jets after every win, and claiming you can't get to 9-2 without having a good team, the same logic applies to the Bears. They've amassed an 8-3 record and are sitting on top of the NFC North. That doesn't happen by accident.
While two of their losses have come against weak teams, they have beaten their fair share of good teams as well.
While the Bears may not be getting respect around the league, I'm buying into them, at least for this week.
After starting the season 0-5 the 49ers are now just one game out of first place in the terrible NFC West. The 49ers are 4-2 in their last six games, and are right on the doorstep of potentially stealing the division title in the NFC West, which is looking ever-more likely to be won by a team with a losing record.
But too many things are working against the 49ers in this one. Of their four wins, only one has come on the road, and that was this past week when they destroyed and awful Cardinals team. The 49ers will also have to deal with this game starting at 1pm Eastern time. While the game will be at 12:00 local time, for the West Coast 49ers, that is still 10:00 am on their body clocks, making this a very difficult task for them.
Meanwhile the Packers have put their slow injury-filled start to the season behind them. They have won four of their last five games, losing only on the road to Atlanta, who are practically unbeatable at home with Matt Ryan.
Aaron Rodgers is back to putting up big numbers and defenses are beginning to have trouble with the Packers offense.
While the Packers may not be as strong as everyone thought they would be, they are starting to turn it on as they try to chase down the Bears for NFC North supremacy.
It is never a good sign when your star free agent wide receiver is telling the media that you are terrible. Or when your receivers start trash talking their next opponent's defensive backs only to have those defensive backs shut you down for the whole game. But that is what the Cincinnati Bengals have been doing lately.
Both of these teams played on Thanksgiving so they will both be well rested for this game. The Saints managed to barely hold on to beat the Cowboys, while the Bengals looked lost against the Jets.
The Saints are starting to get back to playing dominant football and they come into this game riding a four game winning streak. Despite the slow start, Drew Brees has gotten the Saints' passing offense back up to third in the league.
In Cincinnati it has been a disaster. After starting the season 2-1 including a win over the Ravens, the Bengals have lost their last eight.
In the middle of the season the Bengals were falling into a habit of getting off to bad starts, before rallying to make it close at the end of games. But even that has let up as the Bengals blew a 17-point halftime lead against Buffalo and failed to get anything going last week against the Jets.
Despite this game being outdoors in a cold city, New Orleans won't have much of a problem leaving the dome and taking care of business.
Bold prediction here: Tampa Bay will win this game outright.
Despite their 7-4 record many people are still not taking the Bucs for real. Mainly because they haven't beaten a good team yet.
But the Bucs are starting to get stronger. They held Baltimore to just 17 points last week, and came very close to coming back and tying that game. From a spectator standpoint, it looked as if Tampa Bay's coaches realized that they had waited just a little bit too long to switch over the hurry-up offense; where Josh Freeman thrives.
If they are in a similar situation this week, expect the Bucs to make the switch a little earlier in the game. Freeman plays his best out of the hurry up offense, and could lead the Bucs back in a close game.
Meanwhile Atlanta is becoming everyone's new hot team. The Falcons have won their last five in a row, but only one of those games came on the road and that was to the St. Louis Rams of the dreadful NFC West.
Matt Ryan may be 19-1 in his career at home, but those numbers take a big drop when he leaves the Georgia Dome.
Though they have been pulling out wins, the Falcons have been shaky in three of their last four games. They rallied late in the fourth quarter last week against the Packers, and two weeks before that they gave up a go-ahead touchdown with just about a minute left against the Ravens, requiring Matt Ryan to lead a miracle last minute drive to save them.
When these two teams last met, it was in Atlanta, and the Bucs held their own, losing by just six points. Atlanta is not as good on the road, but more importantly, the Bucs have a top 10 pass defense that can shut down Atlanta's offense. Meanwhile the Falcons' secondary has been terrible this season, which will allow Josh Freeman to throw on the Falcons.
It will come down to the wire, but Tampa Bay is going to get their first big win of the season, and they will turn the race for the NFC South into a crazier affair then it already is.
Heading into their bye week, the Oakland Raiders had won three games in a row, and were sitting on a 5-4 record. They were playing good football and had us all believing that the franchise may have turned a corner.
But then the Raiders went and got destroyed by the Steelers and followed that up by losing at home to the Dolphins; a game where their home field advantage was a considerable advantage.
The Raiders are now right back where we thought they would be, a bad team, they may even have one more win then we thought they would at this point.
But the Raiders, who are 1-4 on the road this season, are now heading to San Diego to face the suddenly red-hot San Diego Chargers. The Chargers are 4-1 at home and, not to anyone's surprise, are having another late season surge, a staple during the Norv Turner era.
The Chargers also enter the game with one of the leagues best offenses and one of the leagues best defenses, a tough task for the Raiders to handle.
One last thing, we are now in the month of December. Phillip Rivers is undefeated as a starter in the month of December. Consider yourself warned.
Who to pick for this game?
Carolina Panthers' quarterback Jimmy Clausen returned last week and threw a season high 195 yards as the Panthers lost by just a point to the Cleveland Browns. Meanwhile Seattle has gotten crushed in their last two home games.
Clausen has struggled this season, but can build on last weeks performance, especially against a Seattle defense that is third-to-last against the pass.
Ultimately this comes down to numbers. Rookie quarterbacks are 1-4 at Quest Field since the stadium first opened. Jimmy Clausen has thrown five interceptions this year compared to only one touchdown.
The Panthers have committed the second most turnovers in the league this season, and Seattle has forced 14 turnovers in the five games that they've won. With Clausen's 1:5 TD:INT ratio combined with a stadium that gets so loud it rattles even experienced quarterbacks, the Panthers could be in for a long afternoon.
The honeymoon period for Jason Garett in Dallas is over. The Cowboys won their first two games under Garett, and fought back to make it close against New Orleans on Thanksgiving, but they now must travel to Indianapolis to face Peyton Manning and the Colts.
There would be nothing more wrong then to describe the Colts as red hot. The Colts come into this game struggling. They have lost three of their last four games, and Peyton Manning is coming off of the worst home loss of his career.
The Colts have been good for a long time, so it is not inconceivable to think that their team is getting old and their period of AFC elitism is coming to an end.
The Colts may just not be as good as they used to be. The Colts have also been hammered by injuries this season, so that could be a factor in their 6-5 record as well. It could just be a combination of both.
The one thing we do know is that just because the Colts are not as good as they used to be, that doesn't mean Peyton Manning isn't as good as he used to be.
Manning is still one of the best two quarterbacks in the league and one of the best of all time. There is something that all great quarterbacks do, they don't let themselves have two bad games in a row.
Manning threw four interceptions last week, one of the worst performances in his career. The one thing you could be sure of for this week is that nobody is working harder this week then Peyton Manning.
Manning will simply not allow another bad performance like that, especially at home where the Colts are 4-1 this season. The Colts will bounce back this week as they continue to try to hold off the Jaguars for first place in the AFC South.
When was the last time we saw a quarterback get taken first overall in the draft, get thrown under center right away, and be able to learn and have success as quickly as Sam Bradford has? This is one of the biggest stories of the 2010 NFL season and it is getting no coverage at all.
Maybe we are just spoiled in terms of rookie quarterbacks. In the last two years alone we've seen Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, and Mark Sanchez all take their teams to the playoffs in their rookie years. The latter two even made it to the AFC Championship game.
While all of those guys were first round picks, neither of those players were taken first overall. Quarterbacks that have been taken first overall recently besides Bradford and Matthew Stafford whom the jury is still out on have usually been busts. JaMarcus Russell, David Carr, Tim Couch, Alex Smith have all been terrible in their NFL careers.
Of quarterbacks taken first overall this decade, only Eli Manning has had great success. Carson Palmer has been mediocre at best, and only this season has Michael Vick become a great quarterback.
While Bradford definitely has the luxury of playing in the NFC West his play has still gotten tremendously better as the season has progressed. He is not only playing well, but he is making mature decisions as well.
Furthermore, he is allowing several no-name players on the Rams to shine this season and he has just been getting better.
Until last week Bradford had yet to win a game on the road, a reasonable struggle. But last week Bradford traveled to Denver and defeated the Broncos for his first road win.
While Denver may be struggling, playing altitude is no easy feat, and many players who are not used to it often struggle.
When you win up in Denver, traveling to Arizona the following week is not too much of a challenge. Especially when the biggest news out of Arizona this week has been QB Derek Anderson yelling at the media who questioned him about laughing on the sidelines during a blowout. Not even a blowout to a good team, but to the 49ers who are terrible.
The situation in Arizona is bleak right now, while the situation in St. Louis is one of a lot of potential.
This is one of the toughest games to pick of the season. So much so, that I really thought about flipping a coin to decide.
I eventually settled on the Steelers because there are strong reasons to believe that they will bounce back from last weeks near-loss against the Bills. You can't look too closely into that game because Buffalo happens to be a very difficult place to play in November and December.
Meanwhile the Ravens had to hold off a late rally from the Buccaneers and were held to just 17 points on the day.
For as great as everyone believes the Ravens to be, the Ravens have not been playing dominant football as of late. They had to hold on to beat Tampa, and two weeks before that they blew a lead in the final minute to the Falcons.
These two teams met earlier in the season with Baltimore squeaking out a 17-14 victory. But that game was played while Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was still serving his four game suspension.
Roethlisberger is back, and the Steelers will be looking to avoid being swept by their fierce division rivals. A win would put the Steelers a game ahead of the Ravens and would not allow the Ravens to take the tie-breaker.
The Steelers are not ready to concede this division just yet.
What a schedule the NFL has given us this week.
After torturing us with the Cardinals and 49ers on Monday Night Football last week, they are giving us a battle of two 8-3 teams at the top of the AFC North on Sunday night, followed by two 9-2 teams at the top of the AFC East on Monday night.
The Jets and Patriots are two big rivals, due to the animosity between New York and Boston, and for all the player swapping, coach swapping and back-stabbing these two organizations have had recently.
Tom Brady came out early this year and said he hates the Jets, those feelings are mutual between these two teams.
Rex Ryan started the trash talk right away this week, putting praise on Patriots head coach Bill Belichik while also taking shot at him.
Ryan said that since the Jets were trying to build the best team in football, they would have to beat the best team in football, which he said they saw as the Colts and the Patriots. Therefore, Ryan and GM Mike Tannenbaum built their team to beat the Colts and Patriots.
There is no doubt that the Jets were built to be able to beat the Patriots, and they defeated the Pats 28-14 when the two teams met in Week 2.
But these are not the same Patriots that the Jets defeated in the second week of the season, nor are these the same Patriots that the Jets were built to defeat.
The Jets were built to stop Randy Moss and Wes Welker, as well as the other weapons the Patriots could throw at them. But the Pats have since traded away Moss, added Deion Branch, and have unleashed a pair of rookie tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.
While the Patriots have somehow managed to take over the title of "worst passing defense" in the NFL from the Houston Texans, the Jets did manage to make the Texans defense look competent until the final drive of the game.
Second year quarterback Mark Sanchez will be facing a tough New England crowd that has helped Tom Brady win his last 25 straight regular season home games.
Neither team has played since Thanksgiving, meaning both teams will have had 11 days off since their last game.
The Jets' track record when they have had extra time off this season has been awful. The team's two losses came in Week 1 and in Week 8, which was right after their bye week. In the two games where the Jets had more then a week to prepare, the offense looked far more complex then usual. The result was the offense playing terribly and scoring just nine points in the two games.
If the Jets coaching staff has not learned from their previous mistakes of having too much time to prepare this could be a disaster for the Jets, and a field day for all the Jets critics out there.