Sunday, December 24, 2006

NFL Week 16 preview

Finally something to divert attention from my horrendous bowl record.

Now at least I can focus my energy on being wrong about professional football.

The penultimate week of the season is upon us and of course with so much still up for grabs, playoff wise, there are quite a few match ups that mean a lot as far as positioning goes.

Last night the NFL Net broadcast another quality Game That Nobody Could Watch as the Chiefs drubbed the hapless Raiders 20-9. The win kept Kansas City (8-7) alive for a wild card and virtually locked up the Number 1 draft pick for the horrid Raiders (2-13.) Larry Johnson (31 carries, 137 yards) was a man amongst boys for the Chiefs, which needed the win desperately to stay alive after dropping 3 consecutive games.

On to the meaningful contests for the week.

New England (10-4) @ Jax'ville (8-6)
Both teams need this game for playoff purposes- if the Pats win it seals its 4th straight AFC East division crown, while the Jags need the win to remain alive for a wild card in the crowded AFC race.

Both squads are also suffering from costly injuries that will affect the game. For Jacksonville RB Fred Taylor's notoriously balky hamstrings will prevent him from suiting up.

There was a period of time that it seemed like the former Gator star's hammys were indeed made of actual string, but this year he had remained healthy for the first time in a while and was having one of his best seasons of his career (224 rushes, 1,120 yards, 4 TDs.)

Rising rookie runner Maurice Jones-Drew will take Taylor's place and make his first NFL start, which with the way that kid's been running (268 yards last 2 games) shouldn't be much of a dropoff.

For the Pats starting NT Vince Wilfork, the teams' best run defender, will miss his 2nd straight game due to a sprained ankle; last week was the first game Wilfork had missed in his 3- year career. Losing him will pose a big problem going up against the run-dominated Jags, but at least Jacksonville's options will be limited due to Taylor's injury.

This game is a rematch of last year's AFC Wild Card game which New England won 28-3. There's nothing the Jags would love more than to squelch the Pats' quest for that 4th straight division title while strengthening its own postseason hopes.

New England could still win the division if the Jets lose on Christmas Day to the Fins, but the Pats aren't a squad that likes to back into anything. It will be tough to stop Drew without Wilfork, but safety Rodney Harrison could make his return after missing 6 games with a broken shoulder blade, which would give the depleted D a much-needed lift.

The Jags may run the ball but David Garrard won't have much time to throw it. New England need to play mistake-free ball as it did in last weeks' 40-7 pasting of the Texans in order to come away with a win. It's not going to be easy but I think the more experienced Pats will pull it out.

At least I hope so- the game is actually on TV here so I can watch it from the comfort of my couch and don't have to watch the heinous Bucs/ Browns tilt. Whew.
MY PICK: Pats 24, Jags 17

Cincy (8-6) @ Denver (8-6)
Another quality match up that's just dripping with playoff implications. Thanks to the Bengals' tank job in Indy on Monday Night it now finds itself in the 'need to win' category, along with the befuddling Broncos.

Denver had been reeling with two straight losses following the insertion of rookie QB Jay Cutler into the starting position. But Cutler came of age last week in the Broncos 37-20 victory over Arizona. Most impressive was his touchdown bomb to Anquan Boldin that travelled more than 60 yards in the air and dropped into the receivers' arms like a feather.

Needless to say at 8-6 both teams have to win this game to keep playoff hopes alive. Win and it still has a shot at getting in; lose and it's time to start making those January vacation plans. It's going to be tough for the Bengals to go into hostile & snowbound Mile High Stadium and come out with a win, but the Cincy offense should give the Broncos fits, too.

This one should be a doozy.
MY PICK: Cincy 24-21

New Orleans (9-5) @ NY Giants (7-7)
It's desperation time in Jersey for the Giants if it has any chance of making it to the postseason dance. Thanks to a skid that has seen it lose 5 of the last 6 games New York must win this game at the blustery Meadowlands if it wants to remain alive.

The Saints still need victories to stay in the hunt for a first round bye. Last weeks' crushing loss to Washington really hurt the Saints' chances, so this is almost a must-win game for New Orleans if it hopes to host a game in the rejuvenated Superdome.

New York's defense could get a big boost with the possible return of All Pro DE Michael Strahan. The team will need all the help it can get against the explosive New Orleans offense.

This game will be a test of who wants it more. New Orleans is the better team, talent-wise, but the G-Men are at the point of no return, and we all know how dangerous a wounded animal can be.

Especially a wild Shockey.
MY PICK: Giants 27-24

Tennessee (7-7) @ Buffalo (7-7)
Talk about your de-facto playoff game. This is the classic tourney-style late season game: win and hope to advance, lose and go home.

Both teams' playoff chances are slim, but with absolutely no margin for error this game should resemble a steel cage match played in a frigid ice box.

Buffalo has been a major surprise as QB JP Losman has found his groove and carried the Bills to 5 wins in its last 7 games.

Meanwhile the Titans are the talk of the league with Vince Young continuing his streak of carrying his team to victory like he did in college; Tennessee has rattled off 5 consecutive wins, a few of the of the spectacular variety, all of them with VY leading the way.

My guess is that travelling to hostile Buffalo and bringing the burden of keeping that streak alive will prove to be too much for the growing Titans.

And if VY does find a way to win this one, well let the legend begin.
MY PICK: Bills 19, Titans 17

Carolina (6-8) @ Atlanta (7-7)
If Mike Vick and his Dirty Birds can't pull this one off against the free-falling Panthers and QB Chris 1-17 Weinke then it could be sayonara for the former franchise QB and his ignoramus coach, Jim Moron, Jr.

The Falcons should get back on the winning track after losing 5 of its last 7. Carolina fell out of the race when starting QB Jake the Caretaker Delhomme went out with a thumb injury 2 weeks ago.

Now all that's left for Carolina is Meshawn's whining.
MY PICK: Falcons 31, Panthers 12

Indy (11-3) @ Houston (4-10)
The Mannings need a victory if it hopes to get either a first round bye or home field advantage.

Houston is f***ed- no playoffs, no change at screwing up the Number 1 draft pick again.
MY PICK: Mannings 44-13

Baltimore (11-3) @ Pittsburgh (7-7)
The resurgent Steelers miraculously have a shot at defending its title after ripping off 5 wins in the last 6 games. How has this happened?

Starting QB A-Ben-dicitis Roethlisberger has gone back to being a Caretaker QB, throwing for about 150 yards a game and minimizing his turnovers while handing off to fast Willie Parker.
The Ravens have wrapped up the AFC North but still need wins for home field/bye purposes, but with QB Steve McNair injured (hand) and the berth already wrapped up it looks like the arch rival Steelers could prevail in this one.
MY PICK: Steelers 17, Ravens 14

San Diego (12-2) @ Seattle (8-6)
The Chargers are rolling with 8 straight victories and LaDanian Tomlinson rushing his way to the league MVP.

Seattle is backtracking after losing must-win games against the Cards and Niners that has left the defending NFC champs in the unenviable position of having to win out in hopes of repeating its run of last year.

The Bolts might rest some players, but my guess is that Marty lets LT run wild early to add to his TD record. But if the game gets sloppy or out of reach look for the Chargers lay off the gas and the 'Hawks to stay alive.
MY PICK: Seattle 26-23

Washington (5-9) @ St. Louis (6-8)
MY PICK: Rams 28- 24

Arizona (4-10) @ San Fran (6-8)
Why II?
MY PICK: Niners 30-17

Chicago (12-2) @ Detroit (2-12)
Mirror images (12-2 2-12.)
MY PICK: Bears 31-6

Tampa Bay (3-11) @ Cleveland (4-10)
Thank you Santa, for the early Christmas present of not having to be subjected to watching this horror show on the Eve of the holiday.

If new starting QB Tim Rattay can't get a win here against Browns backup Derrek Who? Anderson word is Chucky will put his brother Jay, head coach of the Arena League's Orlando Predators and former AFL starting QB, behind center.
MY PICK: Yucs 17, Browns 11

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