The playoffs are four games away and one of these teams will celebrate a championship in about two months. Which one will it be?
In the AFC, the Steelers and Titans look like the dominant teams while the Ravens and Colts, likely divisional runner-ups and current Wild Card leaders, will look to spoil the season on the Jets and Broncos.
Meanwhile, in the NFC, the Giants are running away with the NFC East and the conference in general.
The Panthers and Buccaneers play a pivotal game in Carolina that will likely determine who wins the NFC South and gets the first-round bye. Then there's the Cowboys, a team with the talent to win it all that just needs to somehow find the chemistry and toughness to win important games.
If the NFC North winner* and the Cardinals are the other two divisional winners, we'll be looking at possibly four Wild Card upsets in the first round.
* Whoever sucks the least between the Vikings, Packers and Bears.
Cincinnati at Indianapolis
Line: Colts by 13.5
The preceeding link should tell you the importance of Jeff Saturday. There is an 11 point scoring differential when he's not in the lineup. That's huge, and the reason Indy's offense was stagnant last week against the Browns, failing to score an offensive touchdown for the first time in the Peyton Manning era. Thankfully, for the second week in a row, Indy faces an inept offensive squad, so they may not have to score too much to win.
Colts 19, Bengals 7
Jacksonville at Chicago
Line: Bears by 6.5
Jacksonville looked positively sad against Houston, as if they've completely quit on the season, which I believe they have. There were many running plays on which Steve Slaton was able to slash through the defense untouched. Matt Forte should have no trouble doing the same, meaning the Bears won't have to lean on Orton this week to win a game for them.
Bears 28, Jaguars 20
Houston at Green Bay
Line: Packers by 6
Houston is looking like an up-and-coming team, but they're still young and bringing back a rusty Matt Schaub into frigid Lambeau. This game means too much to the Packers; their backs are against the wall and they're desperate, so I think they get it done against Houston as they have a bit more offensive firepower.
Packers 24, Texans 17
Cleveland at Tennessee
Line: Titans by 14
Braylon Edwards won't drop any of Dorsey's passes. They'll all fall five yards short of him as he finishes his routes. Cleveland's QB's are dropping like flies as Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn are both out for the year. That's not a good sign going against the rugged Titans defense.
Titans 27, Browns 3
Minnesota at Detroit
Line: Vikings by 10
Will the Lions finally win a game? Interestingly, this is the team they came the closest to beating, almost pulling out an ugly 12-10 slopfest in Minnesota. I predict that luck finally shines on the city of Detroit. It has to after the millions of layoffs in the auto industry. Let's just call it Culpepper's revenge.
Lions 28, Vikings 27
Philadelphia at New York Giants
Line: Giants by 5.5
Heading into next week's showdown in Dallas, the Giants move a step closer to clinching the division as they sink a long-time nemisis in the Eagles. I just can't trust the Eagles offense, last week's shredding of a porous Cardinals team was a mirage. It won't happen again against Big Blue, a team that can take you out of your element running the football and make you one-dimensional.
Giants 20, Eagles 10
Atlanta at New Orleans
Line: Saints by 3
Just how long before people finally get the memo smacked across their forehead? The Falcons are for real! I for one will back an 8-4 team that has won every game it "wasn't supposed to win." Now, with the playoffs in their sights, Matt Ryan will out play Drew Brees in a shootout to catapult the Dirty Birds one step closer to achieving the improbable.
Falcons 38, Saints 37
New York Jets at San Francisco
Line: Jets by 3.5
The Jets are coming off a disappointing loss to Denver and going into the final months of the season, they rebound with an important road victory in San Francisco. The truth is, they shouldn't have lost to Denver except for Mangini's one-sided play-calling, which featured only 16 runs against the abysmal Denver run defense. Mangini finally gets it done out on the West Coast.
Jets 27, 49ers 24
Miami vs Buffalo (Toronto)
Line: Bills by 1
Going all the way past the Canadian border doesn't bode well for the warm weather Dolphins. Buffalo should keep its slim playoff hopes alive on a neutral field that seems to favor them...although barely if JP "Lost, Man" has to start at QB.
Bills 16, Dolphins 13
Kansas City at Denver
Line: Broncos by 8.5
Upset alert! One thing about this Broncos team is that they can't handle prosperity. The last three home games they've lost and failed to cover, yet the last three road games they've won outright. Kansas City was playing hard before finally breaking through with a win against Oakland and the way they moved the ball last time against Denver, they'll be coming into this game with a lot of confidence, especially with Larry Johnson back and being nice to women again.
Chiefs 31, Broncos 30
St. Louis at Arizona
Line: Cardinals by 14
Since Stephen Jackson is back, it's time to start giving the Rams a little bit of credit, especially against a pillow-soft Cardinals defense. Fortunately for the Cardinals, the Rams defense isn't much better either. They were able to shred them running the football with Tim Hightower and they're not even a great running team. Plus, I'm pretty sure Warner has a good record against his former team.
Cardinals 38, Rams 28
Dallas at Pittsburgh
Line: Steelers by 3
The Cowboys are a terrific offensive team with a great aerial attack and a ground game that can slice and dice defenses to death, but if Barber isn't healthy for the Pittsburgh game, it won't be close. Outside of the Titans and Giants, Pittsburgh might have the best defense in the NFL and they will waste no time pressuring Romo and smashing the Cowboy receivers like clay pigeons. If they win the battle up front, which I think they will because Dallas's offensive line has been suspect this year, they win the game.
Steelers 20, Cowboys 13
New England at Seattle
Line: Patriots by 6.5
Great revenge game for the Pats, who need this game for playoff reasons and get a pushover opponent that's banged up and waiting for Week 17 to end.
Patriots 27, Seahawks 9
Washington at Baltimore
Line: Ravens by 5.5
The Redskins bring a banged up Clinton Portis into Baltimore for the Beltway battle. Chances are, they'll be limping home by the end of the contest. The Redskins simply haven't been the same since winning consecutive games in Dallas and Philadelphia, going 3-5 and covering the spread just once. Meanwhile, the Ravens have won six of the last seven, the lone defeat being to the Giants, and have done so with defense, running and timely passing, which they'll continue to display against Washington.
Ravens 28, Redskins 10
Tampa Bay at Carolina
Line: Panthers by 3
A pivotal week ends with my biggest sleeper being put to the test. Can the Cardiac Cats win this all-important divisional showdown with the Bucs and reclaim prominence in the NFC South, or will they fall into a possible second place tie with the Falcons and slug it out to the finish line? All signs point to the Panthers and their physical rushing attack to man up against the Bucs' competitive but undersized defensive front and get the job done! A record of 11-5 and the division title are in their sights!
Panthers 24, Buccaneers 20
Week 13 vs Spread 9-7
Week 13 Straight up 11-5
Season vs Spread 107-86-2
Season Straight up 123-71-1
(Chalk up Raiders and Chargers as a loss, I was going to take Oakland to cover, which they obviously didn't. Don't distrust me based on that information though...)
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