With two games to go in the season, the once-invincible Giants are losing their swagger as quickly as they gained it. A pair of listless efforts against divisional rivals Philadelphia and Dallas have let everyone back into the race and their stranglehold on the NFC is loosening.
All season long, the team managed to avoid distractions and injuries. Brandon Jacobs has missed the last two games and the running game has gone flat. Plaxico Burress's absence from the field has also caught up with the Giants as they don't have a playmaker in the red zone.
The once awesome offensive line has gotten nicked with injuries, a major reason for them surrendering eight sacks in a Sunday night loss to the Cowboys. Facing the Panthers and Vikings to finish the season, the Giants now must rediscover the magic that propelled them to their unlikely Super Bowl upset of the Patriots and an 11-1 start.
Maybe adversity is what the Giants need, though, and they'll use these last two weeks to their advantage in what is a tight race for home-field advantage.
Baltimore at Dallas
Line: Cowboys by 5.5
The Cowboys appear to be peaking at the right time, contrary to the Giants. Their defense has been exceptional against the run the past two weeks and Tony Romo finally had a decent game in a big spot with his two-TD effort against the GMen.
He won't play that well against the Ravens' rugged defense, but I think Dallas will limit the Ravens by stopping the run and forcing Joe Flacco, a 42 percent passer on the season, into a lot of 3rd-and-longs.
Cowboys 10, Ravens 6
Pittsburgh at Tennessee
Line: Steelers by 2
The Steelers are on top of their game in the most important stretch of the season, while the Titans are slowly being exposed as a pretty good team that took advantage of a woefully weak schedule.
In their loss to the Texans, they failed to run the ball effectively. Houston is one of the worst rushing defenses in football, so how do they fare against a team that's great against the run like Pittsburgh?
If they can't run the ball, Kerry Collins will get snowed in by the Steeler blitz, giving Pittsburgh great field position. They'll also have a much easier time running the ball against a Titans' D that's missing Albert Haynesworth.
Without the big man to anchor the defensive line, Willie and Mewelde will find holes against this defense, control the clock, and take over 1st in the AFC.
Steelers 20, Titans 13
Miami at Kansas City
Line: Dolphins by 3.5
The Fins are winning, but they haven't done so impressively. The Chiefs, meanwhile, have consistently beaten the spread but failed to win close games outright. Last week's meltdown against the Chargers is pretty much their season in a microcosm.
I'm sure they'd love to take out some of that aggression on the Dolphins and spoil their playoff hopes, which hang on winning the AFC East.
Chiefs 16, Dolphins 13
Arizona at New England
Line: Patriots by 8
Weather will play a huge factor in snowy Foxborough, where the Cardinals will be out of their element. A passing game won't work in these conditions, especially since the Cardinals will be throwing downfield into 18 mph winds with the snow hurting their traction.
Patriots 24, Cardinals 17
Cincinnati at Cleveland
Line: Browns by 3
The Bengals at least put up a respectable effort against the Redskins. The Browns have gotten worse with each passing week, they have a coach who knows he's cooked, and their offense is a disaster with a past-his-prime RB and a noodle-armed QB. Points will be at a premium, and it has nothing to do with defense.
Just really inept offense.
Bengals 7, Browns 5
San Francisco at St. Louis
Line: 49ers by 5
The 'Niners are playing hard and while their 5-9 record doesn't reflect it, they've been more professional and competitive in games and should continue that trend by winning in St. Louis, who is out of the playoff mix and looking to get a top five pick.
49ers 31, Rams 17
New Orleans at Detroit
Line: Saints by 7
These last two games are literally the most important games in the history of the Lions' franchise. They will determine whether or not this 0-14 ballclub can avert the indignity of becoming just the second team in NFL History to finish a season winless.
They came so close in the last two weeks, I think this week they finally get it done against a Saints team that would have been a playoff team if not for their anemic 1-6 road record.
Lions 29, Saints 28
San Diego at Tampa Bay
Line: Buccaneers by 3.5
Their comeback against the Chiefs not withstanding, this Chargers team has been awful and woefully unprepared all year on the road, so it's hard to imagine them winning against a great home team like Tampa, especially since Tampa needs every win to clinch that last playoff spot in the NFC.
Buccaneers 24, Chargers 17
Philadelphia at Washington
Line: Eagles by 4.5
The Redskins are cooked, speaking of which, their colossal meltdown against the Bengals followed by a distraught Jim Zorn denouncing his coaching abilities says it all. Perfect timing for the Eagles, who also need every win they can get to make it into the postseason.
Eagles 31, Redskins 13
Atlanta at Minnesota
Line: Vikings by 3.5
Without Pat Williams (alleged steroid user: KARMA! KARMA! KARMA!), the Falcons will be able to let "Burner" Turner loose. Of course, the Falcons are no great shakes against the run either, so AD will trample them so long as Childress feeds him the rock.
Who knows? Maybe he'll start to think his team can pass just because they lit up one of the worst secondaries in the world.
Falcons 21, Vikings 20
New York Jets at Seattle
Line: Jets by 3.5
The Jets are lucky to be 9-5. If not for Dick Jauron calling for a QB rollout with J.P. LostMan (who fumbled away the go-ahead TD) even though Marshawn Lynch was tearing up the Jets defense, they'd be on the brink of elimination.
The Jets are 0-3 on the West Coast, and that includes a loss to the Raiders. The Seahawks are playing decent football, despite their shoddy record.
By default, it's looking like the Pats could win the division without Tom Brady, and that's not saying much about the AFC East.
Seahawks 21, Jets 17
Houston at Oakland
Line: Texans by 7
This is the perfect game for a Texans offensive explosion. Steve Slaton will slash and gash the Raiders overpriced defensive line. Matt Schaub will control the action by completing pass after pass to one-man-wrecking-machine Andre Johnson.
And the Texans will clinch their second straight eight-win season by disposing of the pitiful Raiders, whom they've never lost to in the history of their franchise.
Texans 27, Raiders 13
Buffalo at Denver
Line: Broncos by 6.5
Denver's defense is anemic and Buffalo ran the ball incredibly well against the Jets. They should again capitalize against a team that should know by four o'clock if they've won the division and will probably mail it in until the postseason, entering the playoffs as an 8-8 division winner against the 12-4 Colts.
Bills 24, Broncos 17
Carolina at New York Giants
Line: Giants by 3.5
To answer my own question, I love the Panthers, they've done exactly what they've set out to do, winning their 11th game of the year. Yet, winning tomorrow night against the Giants puts them in the drivers seat in the NFC.
While the Giants have struggled the past two weeks, they get it done against Carolina, as they're able to crowd the line of scrimmage more against a team that lacks a good TE, forcing Delhomme to throw over the top against their stifling blitz and keeping eight guys in the box to ground the real Slash and Dash.
If Jacobs can play, it should prove to be a huge boost, as Wind and Fire look better with Earth back.
For the record, the 11-5 eventual NFC South champs will wrap up their division next week with a bonus win No. 12.
Giants 20, Panthers 17
Green Bay at Chicago
Line: Bears by 4
I haven't called one Packers game right since their obliteration of the Bears in Week 11, and it's because I severely underestimated how ridiculously soft their defense actually is.
Now that Orton is relatively healthy, the Bears will get retribution on the team that spanked them at Lambeau a month ago.
Bears 24, Packers 10
Week 15 vs spread 8-7-1
Week 15 Straight up 12-4
Season vs spread 123-101-3
Season Straight up 144-82-1
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