Things are starting to got into crunch time this NFL season, and over the next few weeks we should see separation from the contenders and pretenders.
In every division the two leading teams are either tied or within a game (or game-and-a-half depending on head-to-head matchups) of each other. Much of this should start to get sorted out over the next few weeks, and there are some big games this week that are going to go a long way to do just that.
Last Week's Record: 11-5* (Asterisk for Roy Williams blowing the Dallas game for me.)
Last week the pick I made generating the most comments was trusting in Michael Vick against the Chicago Bears defense. Wrong, so wrong. Apologies to Bears fans.
Neither the Texans nor the Eagles have shown dominance on the road or at home, so you can throw that one out. For the season Houston is minus-23 in scoring differential versus plus-53 for the Eagles.
Vick has shown some poise in the pocket this year and his immediate impulse is not to always take off. I like that against a Texans defense that is ranked 31st overall in passing yards against. I also like Philadelphia in the cold weather on grass.
Pick: Philadelphia Eagles
The Bills are coming off yet another heartbreaking loss this past week, this time against the Pittsburgh Steelers, 19-16 in OT. They continue to play hard each week and better than their 2-9 record would indicate.
The Vikings seem to be a happier team now that Brad Childress is gone. Although the bar is a little low, Brett Favre played one of his better games last week.
Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a pleasant surprise, but the Vikings play very good pass defense. While Buffalo finally got a road win two weeks ago against Cincinnati, the Vikings are not the Bengals.
Pick: Minnesota Vikings
I was really starting to believe in Cleveland until last week's squeaker against the Carolina Panthers. With quarterback Colt McCoy questionable due to a high ankle sprain, my confidence in them goes down another big notch.
Miami quarterback Chad Henne returned last week after one week on the bench due to injury. He throws too many picks for my liking, but Cleveland plays some pretty poor pass defense.
Cleveland is a bad road team and inexplicably Miami has been terrible at home with both teams having a 1-4 mark. While it is unlikely the Dolphins could have a very long shot at a Wild Card, the Browns are looking to next season.
Pick: Miami Dolphins
With the whole Vince Young/Jeff Fisher controversy, the Titans are fast becoming a mess. That said, don't sell Fisher short and completely discount the Titans.
Veteran quarterback Kerry Collins may be available for a start this week, and while he showed some big time rust against Pittsburgh early in the season, he is still their best option. The entire AFC South is tight with only a game separating last place Tennessee from first place Jacksonville.
Both teams can run the ball and are suspect against the pass. My heart wants to take Tennessee to rally around Jeff Fisher, but they are riding a four-game skid so I'll listen to my head.
Pick: Jacksonville Jaguars
I have nothing to say on this one. The Bengals are 2-9 and have lost seven straight. They have quit and I wouldn't be surprised that with all of the preseason expectations, head coach Marvin Lewis will be out after this train wreck of a season is over.
Pick: New Orleans Saints
Without going into the whole video taping controversy of head coach Josh McDaniels, who was fined $50,000 by the NFL, we have to be talking about a distraction for a 3-8 Broncos team that doesn't need any help losing games. Kind of makes you wonder about McDaniels' job security.
Kansas City sits atop the AFC West and has the always late surging San Diego Chargers breathing down their necks. Last month the Chiefs lost to the Broncos, 49-29 at home. The Broncos can throw the rock around, but can't do much of anything else. I'm inclined not to worry about last month and bank on the fact that the Chiefs need this one going into a home stretch that includes several divisional games.
Pick: Kansas City Chiefs
The 5-6 Redskins have been more or less plodding along during this season, and with the exception of getting blown out 59-28 four weeks ago by the Eagles, have been in most of their games.
They rank 10th in the NFL in passing, but in the low 20's for just about every other team category. The Giants are a half game behind the Eagles in the NFC East and got healthy against Jacksonville last week after dropping their previous two.
This game has the potential to be close, but I really don't like the Redskins minus-47 point differential against Eli Manning's 23 touchdown passes this year.
Pick: New York Giants
The Bears have been my alternative to the Bills this year. I keep wanting the Bills to win, and I keep thinking that the Bears are finally going to fade.
Not looking like it is going to happen this year and the Bears are for real. At 8-3 they control their own destiny in the NFC North.
The Bears have been a great road team at 4-1 and Detroit is winless at home. The Lions can't run, and despite Ndamukong Suh they can't stop the run. Fantasy players should look for a nice day from Matt Forte.
Pick: Chicago Bears
I'm not sure but some signs are pointing to San Francisco head coach Mike Singletary being on the hot seat with a disappointing 4-7 record. The 49ers in their four wins have no victories of note other than maybe the Oakland Raiders back in October.
Green Bay at 7-4 is within striking distance of the 8-3 Chicago Bears in the NFC North. Aaron Rodgers is having a great year with 20 touchdowns against nine interceptions.
Green Bay is very good at home (4-1) and San Francisco is very bad on the road (1-4). I also always like the cold weather against West Coast teams.
Pick: Green Bay Packers
Week 13 is not a great time for a quarterback controversy, but the Raiders seem to have managed one. First Jason Campbell is the man, then it's Bruce Gradkowski, then he gets hurt and it's back to Campbell. Does wonders for confidence.
The Chargers are hot having won their last four games, and quarterback Philip Rivers is having himself a career year.
The good news for Oakland is that they play the pass very well (fifth in the NFL) and can run the football. Still, I think the Chargers are too hot come this time of the year, and with the Raiders coming off two consecutive losses, they are getting ready for the old late season fade.
Pick: San Diego Chargers
The 7-4 Buccaneers need this type of game against the division leading 9-2 Falcons to get themselves back into the playoff hunt. On the other side, the Falcons have the New Orleans Saints breathing down their necks just waiting for their window of opportunity.
Atlanta is riding a five-game winning streak while Tampa Bay played a very tough Baltimore Ravens team to a close 17-10 loss. Atlanta's two losses this year are on the road. You would like to think that Tampa Bay could step it up and pull off an upset, but I think that the Falcons just have too much firepower.
Pick: Atlanta Falcons
Probably one of the bigger surprises this year is that the Indianapolis Colts are 6-5 and showing signs of being human. Quarterback Peyton Manning much feel like he is another person having thrown seven interceptions in the past two games.
In the last three games, the 3-8 Cowboys seem to be getting their act together, winning two of their last three with a close loss against the Saints. They seemed to have not missed a beat, and some might argue are improved with backup Jon Kitna taking the reins over from injured Tony Romo.
All of that said, the Colts are just too good at home and the Cowboys are not going to keep this up for the rest of the season. Look for Manning to rebound this week.
Pick: Indianapolis Colts
This one is kind of hard to get too excited about. The 3-8 Cardinals have dropped their last six games and with the exception of an overtime loss to Minnesota, the scores haven't been close.
Arizona is near the bottom of the NFL in all team statistical categories, and have been outscored this year by 125 points.
St. Louis has been one of the more pleasant surprises, going 5-6 with a first-year rookie quarterback in Sam Bradford. In the first week of the season, the Cardinals beat the Rams, 17-13. A lot of time has passed since then. St. Louis controls its own destiny in the NFC West and needs to start getting some division victories. I'm looking for that to start this weekend.
Pick: St. Louis Rams
Carolina is done and looking forward to the 2011 NFL Draft at 1-10. In fact, in almost all of those losses, the Panthers haven't even been competitive. Head coach John Fox is a goner after the season, as most likely some of the players will be.
Seattle is 5-6, but has an advantage of playing in the lousy NFC West where its playoff chances are still very much alive. I've always like Seattle at home and if Matt Hasselbeck can manage to lay off the interceptions for a week, the Seahawks will move back to .500.
Pick: Seattle Seahawks
This Sunday night contest is the game of the week, pitting the 8-3 Steelers against the 8-3 Ravens. Baltimore holds a half game advantage over Pittsburgh in the AFC North, having won the first meeting in Pittsburgh 17-14. That said, the Week 4 Steelers were led by Charlie Batch, not Ben Roethlisberger.
To say that these teams hate each other is probably an understatement. However, under the new Goodell rules, this game may not be as fun as we are used to. Pittsburgh is leading the league in rushing yards against only giving up an amazing average of 64 yards per game.
However, that is not how I expect Baltimore to attack the Steelers, since it is in the air that the Steelers have shown significant vulnerability.
Both quarterbacks have been very protective of the football and are not making many mistakes.
I see this as a game of what ifs. If the Steelers actually go back to what they do well and bring people on blitzes to get to Joe Flacco, they have a good chance. If Baltimore's Haloti Ngata lives in Pittsburgh's backfield like he did in Week 4, it could be a long day for Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers running game.
This is a coin flip in my mind, but I don't like Pittsburgh's patchwork offensive line.
Pick: Baltimore Ravens
Game of the Week No. 2 here on Monday night.
The Jets and Patriots are tied at 9-2 atop the AFC East, with New York holding the advantage by virtue of their 28-14 win at home in Week 2. Can you say big game?
In their two of their last three victories, the Patriots defeated the Colts and blasted the Steelers. New England is nothing spectacular statistically, except for quarterback Tom Brady's 23 touchdowns against four interceptions.
On the other side, the Jets have won four straight, including two in overtime. They are near the top of the league on both sides of the ball in terms of rushing, but I think that their pass defense is a bit overrated, and that is where I expect this game to be fought.
New England is 5-0 at home, while the Jets are 5-0 on the road so far this year.
Tom Brady hasn't thrown an interception since Week 4, and he is going to expose the New York secondary.
Pick: New England Patriots