I finally found my groove in the Weekly Pick’em with easily my best performance of the year at 14-2 in Week 12. Only the Chicago Bears upsetting the Philadelphia Eagles and the Oakland Raiders dropping a game at home to the Miami Dolphins prevented me from having a perfect week.
This week there are a number of games that are going to give us clarity in the NFL playoff picture. Tennessee is in a near must win game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. If they win, they will be tied for the lead in the AFC South.
If they lose, they will drop two games back in the division and would probably need to win out to have any shot of capturing the AFC South. The Titans are on a four-game losing streak and need to stop the bleeding.
The Washington Redskins are in a similar position against the New York Giants. If they win, they will be only a game behind the Giants for second place in the NFC East. They could also move within a game of the Philadelphia Eagles, depending on what the Eagles do against the Houston Texans.
Tampa Bay will be able to show us if they are for real when they face the Atlanta Falcons at home this weekend. If they can win, they will keep pace in the competitive NFC South. If they lose, the Falcons and Saints will have put some distance between themselves and the Buccaneers with Tampa continuing to fall back to the other NFC Wild Card contenders.
Finally, the four best teams in the AFC East have been the New England Patriots, New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens beat the Steelers and the Jets beat the Patriots earlier in the season. Now those division foes face off this weekend with each tied in the standings.
If the Jets and Ravens can win, they will have swept their best competition in the division and be in position for a division title and first round bye. If they lose, the Patriots and Steelers will have one-game leads and be in position to earn tiebreakers, depending on how each team finishes in the division. These are big games that will go a long way towards shaping the playoff picture.
Here is how I see the playoff picture in each conference heading in to this pivotal week.
AFC Playoff Picture
Great Position: New England Patriots (9-2), New York Jets (9-2), Baltimore Ravens (8-3), Pittsburgh Steelers (8-3), Kansas City Chiefs (7-4), Jacksonville Jaguars (6-5) and Indianapolis Colts (6-5).
On the Bubble: Miami Dolphins (6-5), San Diego Chargers (6-5), Houston Texans (5-6), Oakland Raiders (5-6) and Tennessee Titans (5-6).
Life Support NFL: Cleveland Browns (4-7)
Eliminated NFL: Denver Broncos (3-8), Buffalo Bills (2-9), Cincinnati Bengals (2-9).
NFC Playoff Picture
Great Position NFC: Atlanta Falcons (9-2), Chicago Bears (8-3), New Orleans Saints (8-3), Green Bay Packers (7-4), Philadelphia Eagles (7-4), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-4) and New York Giants (7-4).
On the Bubble NFC: Seattle Seahawks (5-6), St. Louis Rams (5-6) and San Francisco 49ers (4-7).
Life Support: Washington Redskins (5-6) Minnesota Vikings (4-7).
Eliminated: Arizona Cardinals (3-8), Dallas Cowboys (3-8), Detroit Lions (2-9) and Carolina Panthers (1-10).
Now it is time for my Week 13 picks. Here are the five biggest games of the week, followed by the other 11 games. My record for the season is 101-75.
1) Jacksonville Jaguars (6-5) at Tennessee Titans (5-6) – This is not an elimination game for either team, but realistically if either hopes to win the AFC South, they are going to need to win this game. Divisional games are too important and if the Titans lose, they will be two games behind the Jaguars with four games to play.
QB Kerry Collins looks to be coming back this week, which will help the Titans' passing game. WR Randy Moss has been a liability to every team he has played with this season. The Patriots traded him and are 6-1 since they made the trade to Minnesota for a third round pick. The Minnesota Vikings went 1-3 with him and subsequently waived him. The Titans were 5-3 when they claimed; they are 0-3 since. This is not an accident; despite his superior talents, he does not play hard and drags the team down. I fully expect the Titans to waive him as soon as WR Kenny Britt gets healthy. Winner: Jacksonville
2) Washington Redskins (5-6) at New York Giants (7-4) – This is going to be the last stand for the Washington Redskins. If they lose this game, they will be two games behind the New York Giants and if the Eagles win on Thursday, three games behind them. With four games to play that is too many games to overcome for a team that struggles to string two good games together.
I like the New York Giants defense to pressure QB Donovan McNabb into sacks and turnovers and the Giants should be able to exploit the Redskins' terrible secondary, even without their weapons. The only reason this game is interesting is that WRs Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks will not play. Expect the Giants to still pull out a victory. Winner: New York
3) Atlanta Falcons (9-2) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-4) – Realistically, this is an elimination game for Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers are 7-0 against teams with losing records and 0-4 against teams with winning records. They still have to play New Orleans and if they lose both this game and the Saints game, they cannot finish any better than third in the division. I do not believe the NFC South will have three teams in the playoffs, as the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers and New York Giants should take two of those three spots.
The Buccaneers played the Falcons close in Atlanta, losing 27-21 on a goal line stand by the Falcons' run defense. I have thought the Falcons were the best team in the NFC since they beat the New Orleans Saints in overtime and they have won tough games against the Packers and Ravens in recent weeks. The Buccaneers have not shown they can beat a quality team all season. I look for them to lose another close game to a winning team. Winner: Atlanta
4) Pittsburgh Steelers (8-3) at Baltimore Ravens (8-3) – The Steelers and Ravens are easily one of the most anticipated games over the last few seasons. Since 2008, the last five regular season games have been decided by four points or less, with the Steelers going 3-2 in those five games. The Steelers also beat the Ravens in a competitive 2008 AFC Championship Game 23-14.
I fully expect this to be a close game that goes right down to the wire. The key for me is that QB Ben Roethlisberger is wearing a boot in practice this week and even if he plays, that injury should take away the mobility that allows him to make plays out of the pocket. I like the Ravens defense to make enough plays in this game to keep their offense in the game to win it in the fourth quarter. QB Joe Flacco threw the game winning touchdown pass the last time around, and this game may set up for him to have some more heroics in the rematch. Winner: Baltimore
5) New York Jets (9-2) at New England Patriots (9-2) - This game has also become a lot more interesting since 2008. That was the year the Jets had the huge offseason spending spree in an attempt to overtake the Patriots and acquired QB Brett Favre to put them over the top. They split the series that season with the Jets winning 34-31 in New England and the Patriots winning 19-10 in New York. Last season, the Jets hired head coach Rex Ryan and drafted QB Mark Sanchez and the rivalry remained intense. The Jets won at home 16-9, but lost in New England 31-14.
The Jets have been building for this moment since 2007 when they went 4-12 and the Patriots 16-0. They have been trying to overtake the Patriots to win the AFC East and have signed or traded for every veteran player they could find to make that happen. I think this is the weekend that it finally comes together for them. The Jets did something they have not done in recent years; they not only beat the Patriots but also laid a hurt on them, beating them by two touchdowns the last time.
The Patriots defense is not spectacular this year. They are 22nd in points allowed and 31st in yards allowed. They are winning behind their offense that leads the league in points scored and is 13th in yards gained. The Jets not only have the defense that can slow the Patriots (fourth in points allowed and third in yards), but the offense that is finally holding up its end of the bargain. The Jets are 10th in points scored and 11th in yards gained. I like the Jets running game and receiving core to be able to move the ball on the Patriots and beating the Jets with the pass is a tough task, even for Tom Brady. I think the Jets officially pass the Patriots in the AFC East as the division’s best team. Winner: New York
6) Houston Texans (5-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (7-4) – The Texans have the worst secondary in the NFL and the Eagles have one of the fastest offenses in the NFL. The Eagles will be looking for redemption after dropping a game in Soldier Field to the Chicago Bears last week. I look for QB Michael Vick to have a huge game this week. Winner: Philadelphia
7) New Orleans Saints (8-3) at Cincinnati Bengals (2-9) – The joke that is the Bengals' season rolls on and they are going to lose their eighth straight. Hard to believe this team was once a dark horse to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. They are now a favorite to have the worst record in the AFC and a dark horse to have the worst record in the NFL. Winner: New Orleans
8) Cleveland Browns (4-7) at Miami Dolphins (6-5) – A good game between two teams that could compete in the AFC or NFC West, but are just not ready to play with the New England Patriots, New York Jets, Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers. The strangest statistic I have seen in a long time has the Dolphins 5-1 on the road and 1-4 at home. Rarely do you see a team win that many more games on the road. Part of that is home losses to the Jets, Patriots, Steelers and Bears. Those teams have a combined 34-10 on the season. All four would be in the playoffs if the postseason started today and all are in position to earn a first round bye in the playoffs. Look for the Dolphins to pick up their second home win against an easier opponent. Winner: Miami
9) San Francisco 49ers (4-7) at Green Bay Packers (7-4) – In any other division the 49ers would already be eliminated, but in the NFC West they are only a game back for the division lead. They fall two games back after this week, as they lost their top weapon, RB Frank Gore, for the season and I would not have picked them to win in Green Bay with Gore anyway. Packers win and win big. Winner: Green Bay
10) Chicago Bears (8-3) at Detroit Lions (2-9) – Every week I look for the Bears to finally collapse and every week the Bears win another football game. Bill Parcells once said that you are what your record says you are and the record says the Bears are a very good football team. The Lions are going to have to go with third string QB Drew Stanton, which is bad news for the Lions. The Bears are second in points allowed and fourth in yards allowed; it is a bad spot for him to earn his first start of the season. Winner: Chicago
11) Denver Broncos (3-8) at Kansas City Chiefs (7-4) – The last time these teams played in Denver, the Broncos pulled a major upset winning 49-29. The Chiefs are 5-0 at home this season and only 2-4 on the road. The Broncos have lost two straight games and are an absolute mess right now. I like the Chiefs at home. Winner: Kansas City
12) Buffalo Bills (2-9) at Minnesota Vikings (4-7) – This is a very tough game to pick. The Vikings may be without both RB Adrian Peterson and G Steve Hutchinson, which would be a very big blow to the offense. The Bills may be the best 2-9 team in the history of the NFL, as they have lost three games in OT this year by three points, the first time that has happened in the history of the NFL. They also lost by five points to Miami and three points to Chicago in regulation. I expect this to be another close game, but the Vikings have typically played well at home this year and I like the Vikings to be able to exploit the terrible run defense of the Bills. Winner: Minnesota
13) Oakland Raiders (5-6) at San Diego Chargers (6-5) – The wheels are coming off the Raiders wagon, as they have lost two straight and the Chargers are starting their late-season surge having won three games in a row. Chargers should win this game by a large margin. Winner: San Diego
14) Carolina Panthers (1-10) at Seattle Seahawks (5-6) – It is a sad state of affairs when the Seahawks are still in first place despite a losing record, but that is the state of affairs in the NFC West. The perfect cure for the Seahawks is the Panthers coming to town, as long as they can limit their running game. If the game were in Carolina, I would pick the Panthers to win, but I do not think the Panthers are good enough to go on the road and win this game. Winner: Seattle
15) St. Louis Rams (5-6) at Arizona Cardinals (3-8) – The Rams are the one team in this division that is not disappointing. They were 1-15 last year, but are on the verge of being .500 with five games to play and have put a competitive team on the field. They have the most optimism for the future with their young QB Sam Bradford. Until the Cardinals find a new offense, defense and special teams I cannot pick them to beat anyone. Rams go on the road and win this game. Winner: St Louis
16) Dallas Cowboys (3-8) at Indianapolis Colts (6-5) - The Colts are in real trouble having lost three of their last four games and having their worst record at this point of the season since 2001, the last time they missed the playoffs. I think the Colts will eventually take control of this division, but if they are going to do that, they have to beat a poor team like the Cowboys. I think QB Peyton Manning wills his team towards victory in this game. Winner: Indianapolis
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