This is why you gotta love parity.
Eventually, it'll help even the most downtrodden of franchises if they choose to make intelligent football decisions, which the Arizona Cardinals have finally done.
For the first time since 1948, the Cardinals will be hosting a playoff game and the stadium will be rocking. They've done so with Kurt Warner playing like the touchdown machine of old, with two of the most exciting receivers in the game, and with one of the most promising young coaches in the game.
The Cardinals are an inspiration (are you listening, Bengals and Lions fans) that no matter how bad you blow, if you draft talented players and wait for your division to deteriorate, you always have a shot as long as you play competitively. If you think those games the Cardinals played at the end of last season "didn't matter" when they were fighting to finish the year at .500, you don't know much about football.
Who are next year's Arizona Cardinals? Look at the teams finishing the year strong and you'll start figuring out clues.
(Nobody won anything off the Bears-Saints game, except Vegas of course)
Green Bay at Jacksonville
Line: Packers by 2
Both teams have pretty much quit on their season. Neither plays great defense, although the Packers at least have a somewhat effective offense. As for Jacksonville, as bad as the Packers' defense is, when I start seeing Jacksonville make a commitment to running the football, I'll begin to take them seriously. Packers 24, Jaguars 21
Detroit at Indianapolis
Line: Colts by 17
One thing I don't get is if you're the government, why try and bail out Ford and GM knowing the money won't make it past the desk of the President and CEO? That's like the NFL trying to bail out the Lions, which we know isn't happening. Maybe the NFL knows something the government doesn't. If we pump money into you and remain incompetent, it's your own damn fault! Ford cars and trucks and Lions season tickets must be affordable for the common man--nobody will buy a crappy, unaffordable product! Colts 31, Lions 17
Washington at Cincinnati
Line: Redskins by 7
Good thing the Redskins get a "bye week" to sort out their offense. Clinton Portis is an integral part of the Redskins' offense, so he must be involved early and often for the Skins to be successful.
On a side note, what's higher, Ryan Fitzpatrick's Harvard GPA or his NFL QB rating? Redskins 27, Bengals 7
Tampa Bay at Atlanta
Line: Falcons by 3
Tampa's lack of size was exposed against Carolina as the Panthers routinely pushed them back at the line of scrimmage. It doesn't get easier in the Dirty South, as the Falcons are competing for that last playoff spot. If Tampa's DT's aren't healthy, Burner Turner should bowl over them and add to his league-leading TD total of 14.
As for Tampa's offense, I have no idea how a team with a weak-armed QB and slow receivers scores as much as they do. While Tampa is decent at running the ball, they'll have a tougher time doing so against eight-man fronts, as the Falcons will be daring Garcia to throw deep.
NFC South home teams are 10-0 in the division this year; expect that trend to continue. Falcons 23, Buccaneers 17
San Francisco at Miami
Line: Dolphins by 6.5
The Dolphins win and they win ugly--that's been their MO all year, so expect nothing different this week.
The 49ers should give Miami good competition; ever since Shaun Hill took over the starting job, the Niners have had a competent passing game. Hill doesn't take sacks or throw interceptions, two things Martz wonderboy JT O'Sullivan was doing routinely as the Niners' QB. As a result, SF looks respectable on offense.
The way San Francisco has played in the second half of the season, it'd be an injustice not to give Mike Singletary a full-time coaching gig. Dolphins 20, 49ers 17
Seattle at St. Louis
Line: Seahawks by 2.5
It's another RF-MO (resistable force-moveable object) matchup. The Rams' defense has been a sieve all year, allowing all comers to improve their stats, fantasy value and offenses in general. Even an offense as anemic as Seattle's has treated their D like the "Welcome" Doormat that they are, as their running game had its only real success of the season in a Week 3 victory.
If I waste another cliche on this topic, then I probably have way too much time on my hands. Seahawks 17, Rams 10
Buffalo at New York Jets
Line: Jets by 7.5
The story for the Jets is the same as it's always been: they have to run the football to win games.
New York had the formula down pat when they exploded to an 8-3 start, but back-to-back losses have put them back into a first place tie with the Pats and Dolphins. They still hold the tiebreaker edge and essentially control their own destiny; playing a Bills team that's banged up on defense with JP "Lost, Man" at QB couldn't be better timing.
The Jets should get back on track as long as they remember the bread and butter that got them to 8-3: running the football and stopping the run. Jets 27, Bills 17
San Diego at Kansas City
Line: Chargers by 6
Amazingly, the Chargers still have a bleak chance at winning the division despite the massive amounts of talent Norv Turner has squandered.
I don't know if LaDanian Tomlinson is finished, but he's looking more and more like Emmitt Smith post-1996, where he gets two yards behind a crater-sized hole and falls down to avoid further damage to his body. This has put more pressure on the Chargers' passing attack--this team wasn't really built to beat teams that way. Chargers 28, Chiefs 25
Tennessee at Houston
Line: Titans by 3
Could the Texans be next year's Arizona Cardinals?
Houston's biggest problem all year was at QB, but Matt Schaub answered that with a strong performance in his comeback at Green Bay, throwing for over 400 yards. The Texans are clicking on all cylinders, with Steve Slaton playing out of his mind in the past few weeks and Andre Johnson making his mark as the NFL's best receiver. Johnson is a one-man wrecking machine--running over defensive backs and drawing double coverage on almost every possession, making Kevin Walter and Owen Daniels viable weapons in the passing game.
If Houston continues to play at a high intensity level, there's no reason to think they can't upset even the mighty Titans, who are 12-1 but have also feasted on a weak schedule to hit that mark. Texans 27, Titans 24
Pittsburgh at Baltimore
Line: Ravens by 2.5
Points will be at a premium in this slobber-knocking divisional showdown.
What it comes down to, ultimately, is quarterbacking. Both running games will be neutralized, so each passer will be asked to carry a bigger burden against a fierce, blitzing defense. That's where I trust Ben Roethlisberger more. Joe Flacco has played incredibly well as a rookie, exceeding many peoples' expectations, but he'll be humbled once more by the Pittsburgh defense.
I could see "Joe-Flac" actually outpassing Big Ben in this game, but Roethlisberger should win by making more big plays in the fourth quarter, where he has the most experience. Steelers 16, Ravens 13
Denver at Carolina
Line: Panthers by 7.5
The fearsome Panthers are on the prowl once again.
The "Cardiac Cats" racked up more yards rushing in one game than the Lions and Bengals have on the season combined, proving they're a superior feline breed. As for the Broncos, they can score a lot of points--this we know--but can they stop anyone? If Carolina can get 300 yards rushing against Tampa, is it unrealistic to think this future 11-5, Division-winning team can't get about 600 against that soft-ass D? Panthers 42, Broncos 30
Minnesota at Arizona
Line: Cardinals by 3
Arizona's strengths exploit the Vikings' weaknesses. They're a terrific passing team and the Vikings are in the bottom 10 in pass defense. Their strength is stopping the run, while they rarely have to rely on the running game with all the talented receivers they have.
Meanwhile, I know Adrian "AD" Peterson will be up and running, but can you really trust Minnesota in a close road game starting Tavaris Jackson? Cardinals 24, Vikings 20
New England at Oakland
Line: Patriots by 7
SportsCenter did a Top 10 last night, the Top 10 Heisman Trophy winners of all-time. Interestingly, three of them are ex-Raiders, so maybe this is what Oakland needs to pursue in the draft. Unfortunately, it looks like all of this year's candidates are QB's and Oakland just invested half the team payroll in super-bust JaMarcus Russell. So much for that theory. Patriots 24, Raiders 3
New York Giants at Dallas
Line: Cowboys by 3
Last Sunday's effort was the Giants' sloppiest of the season. Yet, despite being so badly outplayed by the Eagles, they could have very easily won the game had they just caught Eli Manning's passes.
Dallas looked like a team that was starting to mature as they held Pittsburgh in check for three and a half quarters, building a 13-3 lead. After the Steelers came back and tied things up at 13, however, Tony Romo froze up in the clutch, throwing a pick-six that put Pittsburgh ahead, and later missing his favorite target, Jason Witten, by about 30 feet on 4th and 10.
The problem isn't just Romo--it's the whole team. When the stakes are down and their backs are against the wall, the Cowboys haven't shown the character and resiliency to fight back. Until we see that attribute, I have no problem picking Big Blue to dash the playoff hopes of this one-time Super Bowl contender. Giants 31, Cowboys 24
Cleveland at Philadelphia
Line: Eagles by 14
This will be the Browns' 4th nationally televised game of the year; yet, they've oddly looked like a competent team on Monday Night Football. They beat the defending-champion Giants and won a close game in frigid Buffalo, and with the Eagles coming off their biggest win of the season, maybe they'll come out a little flat against a team they expect to blow out by three touchdowns. Eagles 16, Browns 6
Week 14 vs Spread: 8-8
Week 14 Straight up: 9-7
Season vs Spread: 115-94-2
Season Straight up: 132-78-1