NFL Picks Week 16: Betting Predictions for Every Football Game

Barbara BrunoContributor IIDecember 21, 2011

NFL Picks Week 16: Betting Predictions for Every Football Game

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    Picks Record Through Week 15:

    Straight Up:  153-70 (69 percent correct)

    Against the Spread:  129-94 (58 percent correct) 

    Over/Under:  114-109 (51 percent correct)

    Two weeks left in the 2011 NFL season! Games on Thursday and Saturday this week, folks. All day Saturday. So, wrap those gifts and clear the decks for a Christmas Eve day filled with football.

    Apologies for not having a double-digit ATS week. The moral of the story is not to have anything happen to you requiring painkillers when you are trying to pick football games.

    Well, I’m back and drug-free, so let’s finish this season on a high note!

    On a non-football matter—is it just me, or does that ad where the woman ends up on top of a rock spire freak anyone else out? I swear, I get vertigo on my couch. I saw the thing five times before I could focus enough to figure out what they were selling!  See? Drugs.

    Back to football…

Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts: Thursday Night Football

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    Straight Up: Houston

    Against the Spread: Indianapolis +6.5

    Over/Under: Under 40

    In case you have seen no sports TV and heard no sports radio—Peyton Manning is officially not going to play or practice this season. According to NFL.com, “Manning put on pads last week for the first time this season while he recovers from his September neck surgery, and (Bill) Polian said the team determined the quarterback wasn't ready to come back after observing his throwing session.”

    Is it just me, or is that an exceptionally cold way of putting it? It really feels like they are marginalizing the future HOFer.

    Either Manning is truly never going to play again—which we know is possible—or Bill Polian has the required ego size to go down in history as the GM who pushed Peyton out of Indy.

    Well, Bill, if you go there—you’d better be right.

    It’s also interesting that the Colts front office waited until after the team finally got a win. Transparent and facile, but interesting.

    I’m an optimist; I want to believe that I’ll see No. 18 on the field again. I want Polian to trade draft picks with someone who has about the 10th pick and get a whole bunch of defenders, O-linemen and a FB. Then pick up Matt Barkley farther down and proceed to another Super Bowl.

    I would also keep Dan Orlovsky as the backup QB for a year or two. At least the guy can score with the Colts' Manning-centric offense. A little, anyway.

    This team was constructed for the big play, something that they haven’t seen much of in 2011. But Sunday, Indy got one on offense (RB Donald Brown’s 80-yard TD) and one on defense (CB Jacob Lacey’s pick-six).

    The defense turned the corner Sunday and sealed this game by intercepting the Titans in the end zone. They also shut down Tennessee’s running game.

    But here’s the stat that will give you pause: Indy totaled 205 rushing yards. I checked, because I didn’t believe it either.

    The Colts’ chances of two straight home wins depend in large part upon the status of Houston WR Andre Johnson’s hamstring. Right now, the WR is doubtful.

    T.J. Yates may have mounted a mini-rally last weekend and thrown for 212 yards, but he also threw two INTs and no touchdown passes.

    Houston can win this game if they remember to focus—something they did not do at all last Sunday.

    The Indy defense stood up and showed the world that they had had enough of losing last weekend. They will be coming after Yates with Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis blazing.

    The key will be whether or not the Indy D can stop Arian Foster. In case you don’t follow the Colts—rushing defense is not exactly a strong suit. To put it mildly.

    But if there is an impaired Houston deep passing threat, then the safeties can help with the run.

    If Foster has 95 yards in the second quarter, things will not be looking good for the home team.

Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots: Early Saturday Football with the NFL

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    Straight Up: New England

    Against the Spread: New England -9.5

    Over/Under: Over 49 (The Pats have scored 35.3 points per game over the past month!)

    Unless New England has a big letdown, they should win and cover.

    Tom Brady played absolutely “lights out” football against a good Broncos defense last Sunday. The Tebow hype obviously &^#$ed him off and he came out swinging.

    QB sneak TD? You know that was his idea.

    Tom Terrific finished the day 23-of-34 for 320 yards and the two TDs. Zero interceptions. Brady joins Brett Favre as the only QBs with over 35 TDs in two consecutive years.

    Do teams not have someone watching the network feed? I saw Brady over there on the bench chatting it up with TE Aaron Hernandez before kickoff.

    I thought to myself, “Oh, so they think Denver is going to target Rob Gronkowski, and the Pats are going to feature Hernandez.” Hello.

    TE Hernandez finished with a career high 129 yards and a TD. Which of course opened up Gronkowski—and everyone else. Even Chad Ochocinco scored.

    And young WR Tiquan Underwood even caught a couple. (Third year out of Rutgers, Underwood came over from the Jags and seems to be the third WR these days.)

    More importantly, the Pats got a mini-rushing attack going with Stevan Ridley. I always forget about him when I think of NE runners. I guess Denver made the same mistake.

    The Patriots defense had its usual struggles early, giving up 167 rushing yards in the first quarter. But they rallied to force the turnovers that won the game.

    Note to Reggie Bush: two hands on the ball.

    Same note to Miami return men since the Pats special teams ace, Matthew Slater, is frightening indeed.

    Reggie Bush wanted to be “the man.” He wanted to be the every-down back.

    He got his wish and Sunday he got his first 200-yard game. It’s too bad that it took offensive coordinator Brian Daboll (who did not get fired) so long to put it together.

    QB Matt Moore came back from concussion and played pretty well. He threw two TDs, one of which was a beautiful 65-yarder to Brandon Marshall. Ah, if only this had all happened in Week 3.

    Just to show you that passing percentage isn’t everything, Moore only completed 10-of-20, but he made them count.

    The partly cloudy and in-the-40s weather forecast is a big break for Miami and might keep the game a bit closer.

    Welcome back to the NFL, Vontae Davis. The mercurial Miami CB snagged two INTs. If this guy could stay out of trouble and stay on the field, he’d be a star.

    And we must give due credit to Miami kicker, Dan Carpenter, who has been their rock in troubled waters this year.

    I’m glad that the Dolphins left Sunday feeling all proud of themselves, because their chances of winning in Gillette Stadium are, well, small.

    For in-depth analysis of this and other home favorite games, see my teams guaranteed to win and cover.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers

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    Straight Up: Carolina

    Against the Spread: Carolina -7.5

    Over/Under: Under 47.5 (It’s supposed to rain.)

    If ever there were a tale of two teams exhibiting “the best of times…(and) the worst of times,” it’s the Buccaneers and the Panthers.

    They have almost identical records, neither will be visiting the postseason outside of their living rooms and yet the mood is completely different in these two cities.

    Last week, Deion Sanders accused some Tampa Bay players of quitting on their team. I’m sure that some did, but not QB Josh Freeman, RB LeGarrette Blount or RB Kregg Lumpkin.

    Lumpkin is a third-year unknown who caught five balls for 50 yards in the loss to Dallas. That may not sound like much, but if you’re Blount and would like a play or two off in a game or a Bucs fan looking for good news to carry into 2012—it's big. Hooray, Lumpkin!

    This offense needs all the help that it can get. At halftime on Saturday, the Bucs had run 17 offensive plays for a total of 55 yards. Ugh.

    Defensively, Tampa Bay gave up 108 yards to Felix Jones alone. Not to mention the 53 rushing yards contributed by Sammy Morris, signed off the couch after DeMarco Murray broke his ankle.

    That is not encouraging, but it’s also not surprising with a defensive line cobbled together from rejects, misfits and fill-ins.

    Meanwhile, you would think that the Panthers had clinched a playoff berth by the atmosphere in Charlotte. Ah, the difference a franchise QB makes.

    Cam Newton may not be winning many games yet, but in an entertainment business, he is stupendously entertaining.

    And that can be an offensive weapon all by itself. Richie Brockel, the virtually anonymous TE who scored on the Panthers’ trick misdirection play, said after the game, "The defense is so keyed up on him and worried about him making the play, they sometimes forget about other things and their assignments." That’s for sure.

    Newton looked like Steve Young against the Titans last week. The rookie passer completed 13-of-23 for 149 yards passing, two TDs and 55 yards rushing. These are, by the way, his worst passing numbers of 2011.

    More importantly, Newton is limiting mistakes and increasing his efficiency. The Panthers converted 9-of-14 third down attempts on Sunday.

    Between Newton, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, the running game is in excellent hands in Carolina. Plus, Jonathan Stewart is covertly developing his receiving ability. Ray Rice, look out.

    Ron Rivera admitted after the game that he stayed out of the offensive side of things, giving credit to his offensive coaches for the successful trick play. Well, that’s refreshingly honest.

    Besides, Rivera has had his hands full with the walking wounded that has comprised the Panthers’ D this year. And his work is starting to show results.

    His unit gave up a bunch of yards last week, but they came away with three turnovers and the win.

    After mishandling their place-kicking situation from last February until December, the Panthers hired PK Adi Kunalic and have stated that the two kickers “will continue to compete.” Kunalic is an undrafted rookie who was at camp with the team. But they didn’t fire Olindo Mare.

    Well, I’ll bet that’s been pleasant in the locker room.  

St. Louis Rams at Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Straight Up: Pittsburgh

    Against the Spread: Pittsburgh -14.5

    Over/Under: Under 37.5 (This is a great pick since I think the Steelers will start Charlie Batch and the Rams have put up less than nine points per game in almost a month.)

    Will Ben Roethlisberger play? I hope not. Will Sam Bradford play? I hope not. Maybe they can form their own little high-ankle sprain support group.

    If Charlie Batch, Hines Ward and the running game can’t beat the Rams, they don’t deserve another playoff run.

    Not to “dis” the St. Louis defense, which is actually coming along, but how many points do you need to score when the entire Rams offense is Steven Jackson plus about five passes from Kellen Clemens to Brandon Lloyd? Seriously.

    Roethlisberger is contending that he did not take a painkilling injection prior to the (delayed) kickoff on Monday Night Football. Well, maybe he should have. No. 7 certainly doesn’t need any further proof of his tough-guy status.

    We all know that Ben’s greatest talent is his ability to move around prior to releasing increasingly accurate passes. I’ve never seen anyone get more play-extending mileage out of a 20-foot square box of turf in my life.

    Well, that box was about three square feet in Week 15. And that explains the INTs, the sacks and the loss.

    I am a Mike Tomlin fan, but they blew it on this call—keeping Roethlisberger in the game far too long. Way past potential effectiveness and way past acceptable risk for further injury.

    Yes, we know you were trying to take advantage of Baltimore’s loss on Sunday. Well, let’s not throw away the playoffs on a maybe.

    If you want to work on something that will help you in the playoffs, how about the O-line? Ben got no protection and Rashard Mendenhall didn’t get much help in terms of running lanes either. No offense to replacement center Doug Legursky, but Maurkice Pouncey's injury cost them the Super Bowl last year.

    And Ben was healthy(ish) then!

    The Rams are thanking heaven that they will probably face Charlie Batch in this game. The result? This loss will be slightly less embarrassing.

    The Rams pulled Kellen Clemens out of the retirement ashes on the theory that he is a better quarterback than third-string Tom Brandstater. If you say so.

    If the St. Louis defense plays as well as they did last week, this could be a competitive ballgame against a Steelers offense that is almost as one-man dependent as the Colts.

    Clemens will complete a few to Brandon Lloyd. DB Ike Taylor will probably come down with at least one Clemens pass for Pittsburgh.

    Steven Jackson will run for over 100 yards. Again. I hope he likes Hawaii—the Pro Bowl is the best part of this poor guy’s career.

Minnesota Vikings at Washington Redskins

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    Straight Up: Washington

    Against the Spread: Washington -6.5

    Over/Under: Over 44

    At one point last Sunday, Minnesota linebacker E.J. Henderson was pass-defending in the end zone. Against Drew Brees.

    He was in this position because the entire Vikings secondary is either injured, suspended or having a very bad year.

    While that is probably going to make ‘Skins QB Rex Grossman look good, it is devastating for Minnesota as they limp towards the offseason.

    It’s hard enough to be a rookie QB in the NFL without losing the O-line and your HOF running back. Not to mention only having one NFL-caliber WR. Who also has to double as a return man.

    I think Ponder is holding up incredibly well, all things considered.

    There are only about three functioning Minnesota defenders: the aforementioned Henderson, pass-rusher Jared Allen and whoever else is healthy on any given week.

    I bet Allen still gets to Rex at least once on Sunday. And, just because no one thinks that they can, that Vikings’ secondary might rise up and bite “Bad Rex” if he gets careless.

    I hope he doesn’t, because it’s great to see my Redskins rally and attempt a strong finish to the season. 

    I have to give Grossman credit. He is making Santana Moss, Donte Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney look like the “fun bunch” of old. And we know that they aren’t. Of course, the favor goes both ways.

    At least Washington found a legit running back in rookie Roy Helu. Up until the last two weeks, he’s been the lone bright spot. He has a mystery leg injury and alternate runner Ryan Torain also has an “undisclosed” health issue, but I think Helu will go.

    He got 23 carries last week. He only garnered 53 yards, but Kyle Shanahan’s commitment to rushing attempts was part of Grossman’s passing success.

    At last! An offensive strategy that makes some sense.

    The defense is a proud group with a good coach in Jim Bates. Free safety O.J. Atogwe (real first name Oshiomogho, so we will continue to call him O.J.) showed some signs of hopefully good things to come after his arrival from the Rams.  

    Equally fortuitous, DeAngelo Hall remembered that he is a talented interceptor of the football. Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan should upset NFC East passers for a decade and LB London Fletcher should go to the Pro Bowl on heart alone.

    After two straight weeks with end zone interceptions, I decided to learn a bit more about cornerback Josh Wilson. He has been around for five years. He went to Maryland. This is his first year in Washington—hopefully not his last.

    It looks as if Mr. Wilson was chased out of Seattle when Pete Carroll arrived, even though he had great years in ’08 and ’09. Then he had a down season with Baltimore before becoming a Redskin, where his career seems back on track. Cool.

    The Redskins should win and cover. Unless they forget everything they have learned in the last month. Which, heaven knows, is possible.

    (If we lose for the rest of the season can we fire both Shanahans? Please? It would almost be worth it.)

Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens

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    Straight Up: Baltimore

    Against the Spread: Baltimore -13.5

    Over/Under: Under 38.5

    The weather won’t be a factor as Baltimore will be cloudy and in the 40s on Saturday. The fans are the big winners there. Let’s hope that they are supportive.

    I would not want to be playing the Baltimore Ravens this weekend after their national embarrassment Sunday night. It seems unjust to serve up the poor Cleveland Browns to an angry purple flock. Yikes.

    Where to even start? How about with the fans? All of you suddenly calling for Ray Lewis to retire, just stop it. Maybe he should. And Maybe Seneca Wallace should be starting for Cleveland. But can we at least try not to be hyper-emotional, irrational over-reactionary nutcases, here? Honestly. It was one game.

    However, the Ravens defense should be ashamed of themselves.

    Granted that they were completely out-schemed by the unique offensive mind of Norv Turner. Granted that Philip Rivers is a Pro Bowl QB who finally had his receivers back and that the mix ‘n match San Diego O-line stood tall.

    We can all see getting flat-out beaten, but that the entire team was still somewhere over Iowa because they certainly hadn’t arrived in California is inexcusable.

    Even Terrell Suggs, who was almost the token defensive player on my “impossible to bring down” team, looked more fizzle than sizzle.

    These are completely grown men (except for rookie DB Jimmy Smith, who was picked on mercilessly all night) and they will absolutely pull it together against the Browns.

    Baltimore’s defense only hit Rivers twice all night and gave up 270 passing yards and 145 rushing yards. Well, yes, that sort of showing usually results in a loss, unless you have Peyton Manning scoring 33 points for your offense.

    Which they most decidedly did not. I’ve been a Flacco fan since he got the starting gig, but he surely did not make it easy on Sunday night. The passing offense looked positively dreadful against a resurgent Bolts D.

    I was actually shocked to see that Flacco’s numbers weren’t that bad: 201 yards, 23-of-34, 6.6 yards per attempt and two TDs.

    Yeah, but those two INTs were killers, not to mention that Flacco hardly completed a single pass over that six-yard average. The offense didn’t even look anemic; they looked completely inept.

    The key to the problem was the Chargers’ complete dominance of Ray Rice, who only managed 57 yards —and 22 of those were on one good run. That about sums up the night.

    The good news is that the Ravens are facing the Browns—and the Ravens are at home.

    Backup Browns QB Seneca Wallace was able to “throw receivers open" in a way that starter Colt McCoy has not managed to do. I couldn’t tell if it was the Cardinals secondary that allowed this suspect WRing corps to separate for the first time all year—or if Wallace was the difference.

    A lot of that will be answered this week versus a very annoyed Baltimore secondary. I’m sure that Wallace and coach Pat Shurmur will go after rookie DB Jimmy Smith, who had a miserable evening facing Philip Rivers.

    Well, no offense to the confident Mr. Wallace—but you are not No. 17. And Greg Little has potential, but he is yet to be Vincent Jackson.

    Of even more concern to Cleveland fans are the 313 passing yards that John Skelton put up against the Browns D. We all know that Arizona WR Larry Fitzgerald is the ultimate offensive weapon, but Skelton looked positively Marino-esque. (Well, not really, but you know what I mean.)

Arizona Cardinals at Cincinnati Bengals

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    Straight Up: Cincinnati 

    Against the Spread: Cincinnati -4.5

    Over/Under: Over 40.5

    Arizona won their third overtime game of the season on Sunday. As usual, they came from behind, winning off the leg of super-reliable Jay Feely. I wonder how many times each season Tom Coughlin kicks himself for letting Feely get out of the Big Apple?

    I know it’s all about the money, but this coming offseason, the Cardinals need to think very seriously about making John Skelton the starting QB. He is the quarterback with energy. Nothing personal against Kevin Kolb—but the man looks somnambulant.

    Skelton went 28-of-36 for 313 yards and a touchdown. He did have an INT, but he looks a whole lot more like a professional QB than Kolb.

    He looked very professional indeed, leading a 65-yard drive in 90 seconds for a TD just before the half.

    An important key to this contest is the health of TE Todd Heap. Baltimore traded Heap to the Cards because he is a huge talent...at the end of his career who can’t stay healthy. He played last week and promptly recorded 69 passing yards. His presence would be a significant advantage to the Arizona offense.

    The O-line might want to work a bit harder on protecting the QB. You have already lost your starter twice this season to injury. The QB roster is getting thin.

    Defensively, Arizona didn’t let Cleveland power-rusher Peyton Hillis take over the game, but he did total over 90 yards. They should expect more of the same from Cincy’s Cedric Benson.

    The Bengals have a very respectable (and physical) defense.

    Cincinnati might want to let discretion be the better part of valor when it comes to whether or not to kick the ball to Cards’ rookie phenom, Patrick Peterson. My advice: don’t!

    They should, however, throw the ball to rookie WR A.J. Green, who will be playing despite a sprained shoulder. I can see QB Andy Dalton smiling from here. Or maybe that’s his hair.

    We didn’t learn anything new about Cincinnati last week. Here are confirmed facts about the 2011 Bengals:

    1)   They look fantastic—against teams with losing records.

    2)   Cedric Benson is an excellent and strong back who is good for 75-120 yards per game. But he cannot power it into the end zone up the middle.

    3)   Second runner Bernard Scott apparently can. Let’s remember this.

    4)   Andy Dalton’s deep balls still need work, but he is going to be a wonderful franchise NFL QB.

    5)   A.J. Green is going to be the next big thing at WR in the NFL.

    6)   The defense is quietly having an excellent year.

    If the defense can hold strong in the second quarter when Arizona’s O usually gets going, the Bengals should win and cover.

Denver Broncos at Buffalo Bills

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    Straight Up: Denver

    Against the Spread: Denver -2.5

    Over/Under: Over 41.5

    Tim Tebow has a prodigious will to win. But he got out-willed by Tom Brady last week. I doubt it will happen two weeks in a row.

    Tebow ran for two scores and had some excellent passes. Despite the outcome against the Pats, No. 15 is improving markedly as a passer. Good for him.

    Once again, he threw zero interceptions, but he took a 28-yard sack in the fourth that ended the Broncos' comeback hopes.

    How is RB Willis McGahee? Well, he is probable. Lance Ball played well on the whole in relief of McGahee, but that fumble was a killer. But McGahee is the steady engine keeping the offense humming.

    Did you see Jim Kelly out there on the sidelines trying to buck up Ryan Fitzpatrick? I’m not sure what to think—is he coaching now? Should he be, perhaps? Hmmm.

    I don’t blame all three of Fitzpatrick’s INTs on him; two were the result of late game desperation. But his general play since signing his big new contract shows him to be a better Harvard business mind than NFL QB.

    Once again, RB C.J.Spiller was—fine. However, to be fair, they only gave him the ball 12 times. Maybe the offensive coaches feel the same way I do.

    Speaking of coaching, rumors abound that assistant coach Dave Wannstedt was more involved in running the Bills’ D on Sunday than titular defensive coordinator George Edwards. Well, I wouldn’t be surprised. Wannstedt was the Dallas defensive coordinator in the glory years and has subsequently been a head coach at both the pro and college levels.

    Buffalo’s Chan Gailey denied the rumor, but we might want to check it out if things get ugly by Lake Erie.

    The defense will need to pay attention Sunday against Tim Tebow and his army of Denver runners.

Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs

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    Straight Up: Kansas City

    Against the Spread: Kansas City +1.5

    Over/Under: Under 42.5

    Can we stop with how terrible Carson Palmer is? He didn’t give up almost 400 passing yards and four TDs. Play-callers only gave the ball to his (backup) running back 18 times. He isn’t the one (or two or three) cornerback(s) who couldn’t match Calvin Johnson’s 10-foot vertical leap. (Yes, I’m exaggerating. A bit.)

    Carson Palmer got his team in position for the game-winning FG. He contributed 367 passing yards while completing 32-of-40 attempts. He threw zero INTs and had a QB rating of 113.2. Can we stop?

    It’s about time that Hue Jackson came up with a permanent no-Darren McFadden game plan. The oft-injured RB was lost to injury for most of the season—again.

    I hate to be mean, but Al Davis is dead. Get rid of No. 40. Yes, he’s amazingly talented. He just only plays three games a year for his huge rookie contract. Sigh.

    Despite the above shot, I can’t be too critical of the Raiders’ passing D. Johnson isn’t nicknamed “Megatron” because he is a normal human.

    And the Silver and Black defense did hold Detroit to 48 rushing yards. The Raiders came out on the losing end of a great game. Period.

    But they can’t be hanging their heads going into Arrowhead to face the flying-high Chiefs, who probably think that they are invincible after beating the Champion Packers.

    Romeo Crennel has honestly and publicly admitted that he wants the head-coaching job in KC. Well, he submitted quite a resume on Sunday.

    Even more than the win, Crennel’s players endorsed him with every play and every smile and every Gatorade bath. They clearly believe in their former defensive coordinator.

    Crennel built an extremely effective defense in just a couple of years here in Kansas City. They completely controlled the game from start to finish on Sunday.

    Have we all voted for Tamba Hali for the Pro Bowl? Hali has twelve sacks in consecutive seasons. And he has become one of those players that QBs are always trying to keep in their peripheral vision.

    To be fair, it absolutely helped Romeo’s chances of a win that QB Kyle Orton was able to make his first start as a Chief. The under-rated signal-caller completed 23-of-31 for 299 yards. And Crennel’s focus on the run game did the rest.

    Both Jackie Battle and Thomas Jones had the kind of productive days on the ground that I had been expecting all season. Result? Green Bay is no longer undefeated and the Chiefs are on a roll.

New York Giants at New York Jets

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    Straight Up: Giants

    Against the Spread: Giants +2.5

    Over/Under: Over 45.5

    Perhaps we need to take the Giants WRs aside and explain the “receiving” part of their job description. It got so bad that Eli Manning started completing passes to the Redskins DBs.

    See, that’s not where you want to go when you’re fighting for a playoff spot.

    And once again, Big Blue’s D-line decided it was a marshmallow game against the ‘Skins.

    As Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that working for you?” Not well, now that the Giants are behind Dallas in the division race and way down the chart when it comes to wild-card qualification. Winning now would be a good thing.

    Playing as if you were awake would be a good start, Giants.

    And how about the replay specialists trying not to encourage Tom Coughlin in a meaningless challenge? Ugh.

    Eli Manning was having a career year up until last Sunday, so he should bounce back. We’ll see who is healthy enough to be out there blocking for him, since no small part of Big Blue’s offensive woes has been the O-line injuries.

    The defense has the ability to make Mark Sanchez’s day very long and painful. I just have no idea whether or not they will decide to show up and play.

    This is the key matchup. For the past two years, the Jets have had the best O-line in the league. This year, not so much.

    The Jets are in the same position in the AFC East. New England is going to win the division and now Gang Green has to battle Cincy, San Diego and about five other teams for a wild card behind either Baltimore or Pittsburgh.

    Santonio Holmes fumbled twice and committed a conscious 15-yard penalty. Plus missing a bunch of catches.

    Shonn Greene went back to his mediocre ways with only 73 yards and the O-line gave up four sacks.

    The defense let Philly RB LeSean McCoy put up 102 yards and three TDs. And Michael Vick got his first rushing touchdown of the season.

    Not to mention the fact that, with three exceptions, every single time I clicked to this game, the Eagles had the ball on offense. Not good.

    So, why are we still blaming Sanchez for everything? Not that he was perfect, but please.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans

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    Straight Up: Tennessee

    Against the Spread: Tennessee -7.5

    Over/Under: Under 40  (Rain is predicted.)

    Against all odds, Jaguars star Maurice Jones-Drew still managed 112 yards rushing last Thursday night. When every Falcon defender knew he was going to get the ball. And that, Jags fans, was the highlight of the night.

    Okay, there was that garbage-time TD pass to someone named Chastin West. I am so sick of everyone criticizing Colt McCoy and Blaine Gabbert. I don’t know if they have what it takes to be NFL passers—and neither do you.

    Neither of them has a single varsity-level WR and you know it. MJD is the second-leading WR, for Pete’s sake.

    I must also give due recognition to the JAX special teams. Zach Potter blocked an Atlanta punt and ran it in for six. That’s two weeks in a row that the Jags have scored in the third phase of the game. Good for them.

    The Jags defense started the year as a formidable group, but injuries have reduced them to a shadow squad with a few outstanding plays per game—most of which are made by LB Paul Posluszny (Pro Bowl votes please).

    Indy’s D was able to completely bottle up Tennessee’s running game in Week 15. We’ll see if the wounded Jags can rally against a frustrated Chris Johnson this week.

    The Titans offense struggled in all phases and Matt Hasselbeck was pulled after two INTs. Since backup rookie Jake Locker led a fourth-quarter scoring drive, I wonder who we will see under center Saturday. The franchise says it will be Hasselbeck. Okay.

    The best offensive news in Tennessee was the ability of WR Nate Washington to play—and play well—after his back injury last week.

    The worst is that Chris Johnson has a sprained ankle. He is expected to play. We’ll see how well. 

San Diego Chargers at Detroit Lions: Christmas Eve Football with the NFL

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    Straight Up: San Diego

    Against the Spread: San Diego +2.5

    Over/Under: Over 52 

    The Lions should win at home, but momentum and player maturity favor the Chargers. Keep your wallet in your pocket.

    I have to detour one second here on the Norv Turner issue. Mike Ditka once said that yelling at the young, doe-eyed Jim Harbaugh back in the 80’s was like yelling at Bambi.

    I have the same feeling when I criticize Turner. By every possible account over the last 25 years, Norv is a helluva great guy. I have never heard a bad word about him as a human.

    And I hate it when people say nice guys can’t win. That’s why I was so thrilled when Tony Dungy won the Super Bowl.

    And, yes, due respect for his downright brilliant game plan Sunday night in crushing the heretofore-dominating Ravens defense. However…

    Here’s a heart-warming story: In September, Turner realized that he was going to have to part ways with WR Laurent Robinson. 

    The San Diego coach did a very nice thing. He called his old buddy Jason Garrett (current Cowboy coach and former backup QB when Turner was the Cowboys’ offensive coordinator) and gave Garrett the tip to grab Robinson off waivers.

    A happy ending for all ensued—Robinson got a job, Garrett and Tony Romo got a WR who is tailor-made for their system.

    I’ve really gone both ways with how I feel about this. On the one hand, that was a very decent thing to do. I hope as a person I would do the same. After all, you are in the AFC West, the Cowboys are in the NFC East. What are the chances that you’ll meet in the Super Bowl where Robinson could hurt you?

    On the other hand, isn’t this the perfect example of Norv Turner’s lack of killer instinct? Isn’t every other team your enemy? Why would you give them a weapon like this? You see where I’m going, right?

    Can we please just fire both Norv Turner and A.J. Smith and start over?

    Now that I have that out of my system, let’s applaud the Chargers for a major nationally televised victory. There really aren’t enough superlatives to describe what a complete beatdown they gave the Ravens.

    San Diego dominated in every phase of the game and looked like Super Bowl contenders. What the….?

    Rivers completed 75 percent of his passes and all but 60 passing yards were on plays gaining more than 10 yards. Now that the two WRing Vincents (Brown and Jackson) are back on the field, Philip is over 70 percent in completions over those 10 yards for the last three games.

    Runners Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert were both effective, combining for 130 yards and three TDs. I’ve been a Mathews critic, but I finally saw the burst that must have made A.J. Smith draft the kid.

    Special mention to a Chargers’ offensive line that has been musical blockers all year. They rallied for excellent protection and run-blocking, which is all you can possibly ask.

    The defense made Joe Flacco look like the junior varsity QB and stopped Ray Rice dead in his tracks except for one 22-yard scamper. Even Anquan Boldin was neutralized.

    Unfortunately, LB Travis LaBoy hurt his knee and is questionable. That would be truly unfortunate, since the Chargers linebacking corps has been hit hard by injuries already in 2011.

    I still worry about Nick Novak as a kicker, but you can’t have everything.

    Given the alarming lack of discipline on the Lions as a team, I am concerned that they might have a letdown after their scintillating comeback win over Oakland last week.

    Let’s not forget that two players created that win: QB Matthew Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson. Together they racked up 214 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner at 39 seconds left on the clock.

    No, of course it’s not that simple. Ndamukong Suh was back terrorizing the middle of the field and blocking the potentially fatal field-goal attempt. The “other” Detroit WR, Nate Burleson, caught 81 yards worth of footballs and scored too.

    But it was Johnson’s inevitable breakout game that put them over the top.

    I think that the Chargers defense will try to not allow Johnson to make it two in a row.

    San Diego safety Eric Weddle is one of the best, but the Ravens’ passing attack is high-school level when compared with the Lions.

    Rookie Bolts CB Marcus Gilchrist may very well be targeted by Stafford as he tries to cover either Burleson or Johnson. I’d make an appropriately snotty remark except that Mr. Gilchrist has 28 tackles and two INTs. And he’s only played in 12 games. Not bad, kid. I’m guessing he’ll be assigned Burleson.

    Quentin Jammer will get the marquis (or nightmare, depending upon your point of view) job of covering Calvin Johnson. Insert snotty remark of your choice addressing his chances.

Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys

13 of 16

    Straight Up: Philadelphia

    Against the Spread: Philadelphia +2.5 

    Over/Under: Over 50.5

    Welcome back to the NFL, new Cowboy Sammy Morris! Morris’ energy reminded me of Cleveland backup RB Chris Ogbannaya. Let’s see some more guys who remember that it’s a privilege to play in the National Football League.

    Thank you for your commitment and enthusiasm, Sammy. Here’s some trivia: Sammy Morris played, in his salad days, with Jason Garrett at the end of his career. Small football world.

    Dallas took care of business by squashing the forlorn Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Saturday night. It remained a decisive win, even though they did all of their scoring in the first three quarters and gave Bucs fans entirely too much hope there at the end by allowing Tampa Bay to rally and score 15 points.

    Tony Romo played like a superstar. If he would just stop over-thinking things, he’d be fine. I was happy to hear him say in the postgame show that he had come to the conclusion that if he just tried to do his own job without trying to compensate for the entire team that he had more success.

    On Saturday night, Romo completed 23-of-30 for 249 yards and three passing TDs. Oh, and he ran for a score, too. Yes, Tony—stop thinking!

    The defense held TB to 190 total yards. Ouch. Let’s see how they do against a Philly team with Michael Vick at the helm again. 

    Michael Vick had an average Vick-type day on Sunday: Run all over the place and frustrate everyone, score with your legs, complete a decent number of passes.

    But it was LeSean McCoy who continued to rule this offense. He recorded another three touchdowns, and the Jets’ very decent defense could not stop him. He also ran for 102 yards—all on 18 carries. That’s remarkable.

    I’d tell Andy Reid to give him the ball more, but a) Andy doesn’t listen to me; and b) Andy apparently breaks out in hives if he runs the ball too often.

    One last offensive note: TE Brent Celek should be saying Aloha in January. He had yet another productive day of dominating the middle of the football field with 156 yards and a touchdown on only five receptions.

    Defensively, if the Eagles fire Juan Castillo they deserve to fail. This defense has become positively ferocious.

    Juqua Parker scored off a fumble, Asante Samuel had an INT with a 19-yard return, Mike Patterson caused a Sanchez fumble and Jason Babin recorded three sacks. Babin is now three sacks short of Reggie White’s Eagle record. (Of course Reggie did it in 12 games.)

    I just wanted to know where the heck Philly found Safety Kurt Coleman. When I looked him up, I got a few surprises:

    1)   They found him at Ohio State—just two years ago!

    2)   He is only 5’11” and less than 200 pounds.

    3)   He has 55 solo tackles, a forced fumble and four interceptions—this season!

    Good for all concerned for drafting and coaching this impressive young player.

    I cannot believe that the once-powerful NFC East has disintegrated to the point where the Redskins are spoilers, Dallas in enigmatic, Big Blue has meltdowns—and the Eagles are suddenly mathematically alive for the playoffs.

    The world’s gone mad, I tell you.

San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks

14 of 16

    Straight Up: Seattle

    Against the Spread: Seattle +2.5 

    Over/Under: Under 38 (“a few showers”—Read my mind.) 

    Don’t be deceived, this could be an excellent game and it’s not a guaranteed Niner win.

    San Francisco put on a good offensive performance against the Steelers D. Particular praise to rookie FB Bruce Miller (Frank Gore’s new best friend) and punter Andy Lee.

    Lee averaged over 49 yards per punt and placed four inside the Steelers’ 20-yard line. Four. In one game.

    Defensively, a star was born on national TV in rookie pass-rusher Aldon Smith. Bay Area fans already knew about this young man, but he is now a football household name.

    I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, but Ben really couldn’t move and the Pittsburgh O-line stinks. So let’s not call Smith the new Reggie White just yet.

    Credit to the Niners coaching staff for an all-around tremendous game plan. Jim Harbaugh and O-coord. Greg Roman managed a balanced attack and the O-line managed their best protection of the year.

    Harbaugh is the best thing that has happened to Alex Smith since draft day. Smith still missed a few balls that he really should have thrown better, but he is by far the closest thing to a professional QB yet in his career.

    Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s squad looked like, well—like the Steelers. Even with Ben’s limitations tilting the odds heavily in San Fran’s favor, it was a creative plan that showcased Fangio's considerable cupboard-full of young defenders.

    Speaking of coaching, much as I hate to admit it, Pete Carroll’s group has their team improving visibly week to week.

    I have never thought that Tarvaris Jackson had “the right stuff” to start at QB. Well, the kid’s getting better. In the last few weeks, Jackson has gone 53-of-79 for three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Not bad.

    Golden Tate is taking advantage of both Mike Williams’ injury and Marshawn Lynch’s constant rushing threat to emerge as a legit NFL WR.

    But, of course, Lynch is the engine on this train. On Sunday, Marshawn recorded a 10th game this season with a rushing touchdown. That’s something the league hasn’t seen since LaDanian Tomlinson in 2006.

    Defensively, if the ‘Hawks secondary continues to play this well (Brandon Browner snagged another pick six), GMs around the NFL are going to start looking for bigger DBs.

    The linebackers also know how to tackle. And, evidently, the linemen know how to catch and return INTs for touchdowns. 332 pound Red Bryant rumbled (probably literally) 20 yards for a Seattle score on Sunday. 

    I’m counting on a 49er letdown after beating the big, bad Steelers.

Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers: Christmas Night Football with the NFL

15 of 16

    Straight Up: Green Bay

    Against the Spread: Green Bay -13.5

    Over/Under: There is no line yet, probably due to the uncertainty at Chicago QB, but I will go for under 45.

    I’m sorry to say this, but unless Jay Cutler’s thumb undergoes a miraculous healing, Green Bay will start another winning streak.

    That’s a bit simplistic since the Bears defense will try to take advantage of both Green Bay’s offensive line injuries and their somewhat suspect running game.

    Offensively, Bears RB Marion Barber has one more week to try and win one for his team. After mistakes against the Broncos and a poor showing against the Seahawks, it’s time for Barber to rally. 

    Barber played so poorly last week that I made a note during the day, “Did Barber play today?” Not good.

    The running backs will have to be the offense since we know that backup QB Caleb Hanie can’t do it and the Bears’ best WR just underwent vertebrae surgery. (Happy to say that all reports indicate Johnny Knox will make a full recovery and they expect him to even play football again. But not this week.)

    Is anyone left to play WR for the Bears? Knox is hurt and Sam Hurd is soon to be in jail. And, no, Roy Williams no longer counts as a professional WR.

    Lovie Smith will probably start Josh McCown at QB instead of Hanie this week. If he does, it may help the Bears simply by virtue of the small amount of time that the Packers would have to prepare for a different QB.

    But, again, there is that Chicago WR problem.

    Green Bay’s excellent DBs should seal the deal for the Bears’ passing game.

    But if Barber can roll over the Pack’s weak running defense, this could be closer than people think. He will be aided by emerging rusher Khalil Bell, who scored his first TD last week.

    Despite the absence of offensive tackles and WR Greg Jennings, I cannot imagine Green Bay losing this game. The weather will help Green Bay’s passing attack since it is expected to be in the 20s, but clear.

    Chicago is giving up a little over 20 points per game recently and scoring…less than ten. Ouch.

    For an in-depth breakdown see my article on home teams guaranteed to win and cover.

Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints: Monday Night Football

16 of 16

    Straight Up: New Orleans 

    Against the Spread: New Orleans -6.5 (do not go higher)

    Over/Under: Under 53 (I’m counting on the resurgent Saints’ D)

    Best Game of the Week!

    And it even matters as the Saints strive for the No. 2 seed in the NFC. San Francisco kept the heat on by beating the Steelers on Monday night. (For those of us who believe in fairies, we even hope that the Packers will lose their last two and New Orleans won’t have to go to Green Bay in the playoffs. Hey, we can dream!)

    The Falcons are right at the top of wild-card contention.

    Atlanta has pulled their act together and are finally playing up to their potential. So, it is possible for them to win this game.

    Matt Ryan finally had a typical “Matty Ice” game last Thursday: 24-of-32 for 224 yards and three TDs.

    Not coincidentally, the Falcons rushing attack returned from the missing and Michael Turner contributed 61 yards, Jason Snelling 22 yards (and 26 receiving), Jacquizz Rodgers 10 yards. It was a RB party!

    Actually, the guest of honor was WR Roddy White, who put up 135 receiving yards and two TDs. Rookie Julio Jones looked healthy as he ran practically the length of the field for an early TD and then managed a much better catch percentage than he has the last two games.

    The Atlanta defense looked positively stellar in Week 15, but it was the Jaguars offense, so let’s not get too excited.

    All of that is terrific, but the Dirty Birds are facing Drew Brees and the Saints—in the Super Dome. If they aren’t frightened, they should be.

    Brees just completed his 11th game with over 300 passing yards. It’s a NFL record. He threw his 400th completed pass of the year. His QB rating was 149.2. Who knew it went that high?

    He is one of six QBs in history to have over 400 passing yards with five TDs and zero interceptions in one game. He has thrown a TD pass in 41 straight games.

    The only fly in the Saints ointment on Sunday was a slow start that included two fumbles and not the best rushing game that they should have, given their stable of running backs. The team did finish with 161 yards on the ground, but they should run it better earlier.

    The defense is in the news this week after Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson accused DB Jabari Green of deliberately trying to twist the RBs injured ankle in a pileup.

    I hope not. I wouldn’t be surprised, though. Coordinator Gregg Williams has a nasty reputation, although up until the past couple of weeks, I had not seen too much nastiness out of this year's defense.

    Did I mention that the Saints are undefeated at home in 2011?

    Don't forget the Home Faves.

    Happy Holidays and Happy Football!