Saturday, December 16, 2006

NFL Week 15 Preview

I know what most of you are thinking: why the hell is he doing his NFL preview on Saturday afternoon?

I have 2 reasons, one more important than the other:

1.) There is a game tonight (DAL/ATL)

2.) The Bay News 9 X-Mas party is also tonight

The former means I would have to do a post about that game today anyway, and the latter means I will be in NO condition do any writing, thinking, or talking tomorrow before the games start at 1:00.

Bay News 9 is the local 24-hour cable news channel my wife works for, and they know how to throw a lavish shindig. Butter-soft prime rib, non-stop drink..., err, dancing and seeing my # 1 fan Jen Holloway in a backless evening gown always makes for a fantastic night..

Then after the party we hit the after party in sports anchor Chris O'Connell's hotel room upstairs, which oftentimes is better than the work gala.

Like 2 years ago when a petite brunette quietly walked in, was mobbed by a throng of drunken revelers, then beat a hasty retreat before she was consumed by the star-crazed mob.

Who was the tiny starlet? None other than perennial Daytime Emmy bridesmaid Susan Lucci (yes she is that pretty, and little, in real life.)

So with that kind of a night (and morning after)ahead of me I figured I'd better get a jump start on the Week 15 preview. You know, before the effects of 10 Tangueray & tonics set in.

Tonight @ 8PM, NFL Network:

Dallas (8-5) @ Atlanta (7-6)
Both teams enter the first Saturday game on the NFL Net with some issues dragging behind them. Dallas and QB Tony Romo were finally knocked off their perch by a hungry Saints team last Sunday night and the Falcons have been bogged down by a controversy involving its coach this week.

Jim Mora Jr. evidently got his lack of oratory control from his dad because he let loose with a foolish stream of consciousness regarding the head coaching position at his alma mater, the University of Washington, on a radio show Thursday. When host Hugh Millen jokingly pitched for the former Husky to someday take the helm at the school, Mora replied with an unlikely response: "...if (Ty Willingham) ever decides to move on, and get in the NFL, or, you know, go back to Notre Dame or whatever ... if that job's open, you'll find me at the friggin' head of the line, with my résumé in hand, ready to take that job."

Oh really, Jim? What if your team is in the middle of a playoff race (as it is right now)? "I don't care if we're in the middle of a playoff run, I'm packing my stuff and coming back to Seattle." Nice. Way to support your current team, Jimbo.

Everybody in the league already despises this guy; each week there are numerous references to what a lousy coach he is, how he has too strong a personality and players don't like him, and then he goes and does something like this. Even though he issued an apology and said he was joking, the fact that he did this mere days before his teams biggest game of the season, a game that will decide the Falcons playoff fate, is classless, idiotic, and selfish.

For that reason alone I'm picking the Falcons to tank it tonight in hopes of getting Mora canned, then it can start over with a real hot young candidate next year.
MY PICK: Cowboys 35, Falcons 24


Tampa Bay (3-10) @ Chicago (11-2)
Another week another problem for the "never take the easy road" Bears. After having doused all the talk about horrible quarterback play and a turnover-prone offense with its thrilling 42-27 victory over St. Louis on Monday, night now it is faced with a more serious issue.

Nose tackle Tank Johnson was involved in not one but two disturbing incidents in the past 3 days. Thursday morning police raided the suburban Chicago home of the 25-year old former Washington standout and found 6 guns Johnson had no license to own as well as a stash of maryjane.

Johnson wasn't home but later was arrested and charged with misdemeanor possession of a firearm without a license. His friend and bodyguard, William Posey, who lives at the residence, was arrested for possession of a controlled substance. Johnson later issued an apology to his teammates and was suspended for the game against the Yucs.

But things took an even uglier, more bizarre turn last night: Posey was shot and killed while at at an upscale nightclub early this morning with Johnson. It's not clear if a brawl inside the club and the subsequent shooting involved Johnson or Posey, but the fact that he was at a club in the wee hours two days after the last incident and his friend & protector was killed is both shocking and tragically ironic.

Will this confluence of unfortunate events, coupled with the loss of massive T Tommie Harris for the season, conspire to allow the Bucs to sneak out of the Windy City with a victory?

Haaaaaahaaaahaaaahhaaaaaahaaaaaa (okay, stop laughing Walleye!)

I would have to say no to that one, just because the Bears could beat the hapless Yucs with half a defense and Devin Hester alone. The electric rookie Hester had twice as many kickoff returns for a touchdown last week (2) as the Bucs have had in the entire history of the franchise. Throw in the fact that Bucs record when the temp is under 40 degrees is 2-22, the wind could force some of Bruce Gradkowski's weak passes to actually go behind him, and the miserable Buc offense hasn't scored a touchdown in 11 quarters, and all signs point to a Chicago victory.
MY PICK: Bears 24, Bucs 6

Houston (4-9) @ New England (9-4)
Believe it or not this is a big game for the Pats. Plagued by a lackluster offense (shutout last week for the first time since 2003), myriad turnovers (11 in the past 3 games) and an tendency to play down to its opponents (see the 28-21 squeaker over Detroit 2 weeks ago)all add up to a
must-win-to-right-the-ship situation.

The performance in Miami last Sunday was downright embarrassing for many reasons. Tom Brady had another terrible outing in South Florida (12-25, 78 yards), which has now been the site of 4 of his worst days as a Patriot passer. The offense as a whole amassed only 12 first downs and 189 total yards, both season lows, while losing three fumbles and committing 9 penalties. Very un-Patriot like.

It has become painfully obvious that the Pats and Brady are missing the deep threat receiver that was lost when Deion Branch took his Super Bowl MVP abilities to the Pacific Northwest. Doug The Predator Gabriel was released this week, and Reche Caldwell and Co. just aren't explosive enough to let Brady work his down field magic.

With Lawrence Maroney banged up and Corey Dillon getting older by the minute the running game has not been able to balance out the lack of a passing attack. Hopefully that will all change against a team that is 26th in the league in pass defense and 20th against the run.

New England has a chance to wrap up its 4th straight AFC East crown with a win & Jets loss. Let's hope the opportunity doesn't slip through its hands.
MY PICK: Pats 26, Texans 13

Quick hits for the remaining games- I gotta go get ready for the bash:

Miami (6-7) @ Buffalo (6-7)
Two AFC East foes meet in chilly Buffalo in a battle for 3rd place in the division. Bills QB JP Losman has developed into a fearless, gutsy leader of the team and he and WR Lee Evans are turning out to be a formidable combo. Look for a letdown for the 'Fins after the win over the Pats.
MY PICK: Bills 21, Fins 17

NY Jets (7-6) @ Minny (6-7)
The Jets got smacked down by the Bills last week at the Meadowlands which hurt its chances of catching the Pats for the East lead; lose this game and the division goes to New England. The Vikes bounced back from the stink bomb it laid at Chicago, but a win over Detroit isn't very impressive.
MY PICK: J-E-T-S 27, Vikes 19

Detroit (2-11) @ Green Bay (5-8)
Wow this game should really suck.
MY PICK: Packers 28, Lions 6

Jax'ville (8-5) @ Tennessee (6-7)
The Jags looked mighty impressive in rolling up 300+ yards on the ground against the Mannings last week. The Titans and Vince Young have also looked impressive in reeling off 3 straight thrilling come-from-behind victories. What gives in this one? Jacksonville is too helter skelter, while VY is riding high.
MY PICK: Titans 23, Jags 20

Cleveland (4-9) @ Baltimore (10-3)
The Ravens can wrap up the AFC North with a win and Bengal loss Monday night in Indy. Think RayLew, Air McNair & Co. will be hungry to rip apart the team from its former home? I do too.
MY PICK: Ravens 26, Browns 9

Washington (4-9) @ New Orleans (9-4)
The Skins have shown improvement under the direction of QB Jason Campbell but the Saints proved to everyone that it is a force to reckoned with after its pummelling of the Cowboys.
MY PICK: Saints 31, Skins 20

Pittsburgh (6-7) @ Carolina (6-7)
The difference between the AFC & NFC? Despite identical records the Steelers are out of the playoff race but the Panthers are in the hunt for a wild card. Chris Weinke (1-16 career) should start again for the Panthers, but the Steelers are still without Palumalu & Hines Ward, so I think the former 'Nole gets off the schneid.
MY PICK: Panthers 17, Steelers 14

Denver (7-6) @ Arizona (4-9)
Jay Cutler vs, Matt Leinart? Promising rookie thrown into the fire of a playoff race by a bonkers coach vs. disgruntled #10 pick proving to the league that he is a leader of a franchise on the rise? And Denver's favored?
MY PICK: Cards 21, Broncos 20

Philly (7-6) @ NY Giants (7-6)
Ah, nothing like a good old-fashioned NFC East hate-fest between two teams scrapping for a wild card top get the juices flowing. Philly has been rejuvenated under castoff QB Jeff Garcia, while Brother of Peyton & the G-Men are slipping into oblivion thanks to a slide that has seen it lose 4 of 5. Who wants it more? Better yet, which team has the better leadership at the quarterback position-the one with the former Terrell Owens whipping boy or the one with the former #1 pick?
The Garcia magic stops here.
MY PICK: Giants 23-20

St. Louis (5-8) @ Oakland (2-11)
MY PICK: Rams 17 Raiders 12

I will do a preview of the Sunday & Monday night contests tomorrow evening. I should be recovered enough to formulate an opinion by then.

And a sentence.


Friday, December 15, 2006

Crank up the Hanukka Song!

Happy Hanukkah to all of my Jewish family, friends and readers.

The 8-day Festival of Lights begins at sundown this evening, so put that Adam Sandler classic on the CD player, fry up some potato latkes and let the dreidel roll.

The celebration of the Jewish faith can be summed up by the classic line from John Goodman's character Walter in The Big Lebowski: " 3000 years of beautiful tradition, from Jesus to Sandy Koufax."
Mazel Tov.

Since there is no adequate segue from that to the NFL I'm just going to say the Seahawks monumental 24-14 choke job at home against the 49ers last night is the kind of loss that drop- kicks a team right out of the playoff picture.

It was bad enough Seattle (8-5) gagged against the lowly Cardinals the week prior, but to let a sub-.500 team that had lost 3 in a row come into your crib and steal a win with 21 points in the 4th quarter is just unacceptable.

The lousy weather that had been forecast didn't materialize and for the first half neither did San Fran's offense for three quarters. But despite racking up yardage and first downs Seattle only led 7-3 going into the 4th. That's when QB Alex Smith and the Niners offense came to life. The quarterback threw for 2 TDs, one to Vernon Davis and one to Frank Gore, and then bootlegged for an easy 18-yard score to ice the game with two minutes left.

Gore gashed the Hawks again after setting a franchise record in the first meeting, also won by San Fran. Although he didn't tally 212 this time he did rush for 144 on 29 manly carries, while Shaun Alexander was a no show with just 73 yards on 23 touches.

By losing its second straight division game Seattle blew its shot at a first round bye. Not only that, should it lose its final two (likely vs. San Diego, unlike vs. the Bucs on New Years Eve) and San Fran wins its final two (vs.ARI, @DEN) the tie atop the division would go to the Niners due to the season sweep of Seattle.

Super Bowl Hangover Theory, anyone?


Matsuzaka Mania Grips Hub

I'll repeat the opening from my aborted post from yesterday:

J.D. who?

Matsuzaka fever is so rampant in Beantown and beyond that it seems like months ago, not a week, that the Nation was up in arms over the $70 mil thrown at "brittle & ambivalent" outfielder J.D. Drew.

Now word is spreading that the Sox took Drew, a Scott Boras client like Daisuke, and gave him a boatload of money just to ensure them securing the Japanese star. And although most people (myself included) don't believe that to be true, it's almost as if it would be okay with the fans if it were.

Yes the Red Sox and its fans are in a state of euphoria not seen around the Fens since that magical October of 2004. In the last 2 weeks Boston has upgraded its already potent lineup by adding two quality offensive players (Drew & Julio Lugo) and not subtracting one (Manny), plus they put Matsuzaka in what is probably the best starting staff in baseball.

People are griping about the money thrown Matsuzaka's way (over $103 mil with posting fee), and certainly injury-prone Drew and error-prone Lugo were overpaid. But in a market where Gil Mediocre Meche ($55 mil) is still making more than Daisuke and Carlos Lee, who's only had over 100+ RBIs in a season twice, banked a $100 million, who can say which deal is more excessive than the other? Only time will tell on that front.

Meanwhile as Matsuzaka is being given the royal treatment by the Sox brass, media and fans. Here are some highlights from his wild first day in the city that will now be his home away from home for the next 6 seasons (pix courtesy of the Boston Globe):

Sharp-dressed man

Johnny who?

How do you say 'Green Monster' in Japanese?

" I hear the B's have sucked for over a decade?"
Dice-K's first ever pitch off the Fenway mound...

...blew the man who signs his checks away!

Just a few scenes from what was a whirlwind day for the 26-year old right hander. He was flown by private jet to Boston, took his psychical, met with the media while donning his jersey, toured Fenway and threw off the mound for the first time, then attended the B's game that night. Whew!

A terrific start to what will hopefully be a great career in Boston. The deal and day culminates nearly a full month of hard work and a lot of time spent by Theo and his henchmen to land one of the best pitchers available on the market. It is obvious that Matsuzaka wanted to be in Boston as badly as the Sox wanted him here and that is why the deal got done, Borass be damned.

Now the pieces are in place for a run at another championship starting next year. With one of the best offenses and best pitching staffs (don't worry, they'll get a closer) in baseball, the future is now for the team.

So is it irony or foreshadowing that on the day Boston consummated one of the biggest deals in its history the symbol of the worst trade in history, Mr. Jeff Bagwell, announced his retirement from baseball?

I prefer to think it is a turning of the page.

Welcome to Boston, Dice-K. Or do you prefer D-Mat?
Whatever you want, because right now the world is yours.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Thursday Night lineup: What's on Tap

Now that I have regained my composure, and the use of my computer after a day of malfunctions, I can get back to blogging to my hearts desire.

So what is going on that I could post about?

Hmmm, let's see...

-Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt passes away at 74
The longtime owner of the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs Lamar Hunt passed away today from prostate cancer.

Hunt is widely recognized as one of the key pioneers in the history of the pro game that has become the national pastime over the past decade. He helped form the American Football League, which eventually merged with the NFL to form a powerful sports conglomerate.

His Chiefs played in the first AFL-NFL championship game in 1967, which was known as the World Championship, and three years later Kansas City went on to win it all. The game that was won had been rechristened The Super Bowl, a name Hunt thought up while watching his children play.

R.I.P. to one of the founding fathers of the NFL that we know and love today.

- San Fran (5-8) @ Seattle (8-5) 8PM NFL Network
In the latest installment of the Game of the Week that Nobody Can Watch the one-time surprising but suddenly sliding 49ers travel to blustery (rain & 40-60mph winds predicted) Seattle for a date with the Seahawks.

The last time these two teams hooked up in Week 11 San Fran running back Frank You Can't Call Me Al Gore, the NFC's leading rusher, gashed the 'Hawks defense for a franchise record 212 yards on 24 carries in a 20-14 Niner victory. Seattle has also allowed 115 yards to Tatum Bell and 115 to Edge James since then, so it needs to shore up that weakness.

The Seahawks played that contest without starting quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who missed the game due to the sprained knee ligament that forced him to miss 4 games. Backup Seneca Wallace threw 3 crucial INTs, two by Walt Harris, and the Hawks were in a state of flux.

But since then the 49ers have lost 3 in a row to put a damper on its surprising season and Seattle had won 2 straight since the return of Hasselbeck & Shaun Alexander before mailing it in last week at Arizona.

With a playoff berth and the NFC West title on the line with a win tonight, you can bet Seattle won't be caught napping in this one. It just better just hope it can stop Mr. Gore or the 'Hawks will be facing a real inconvenient truth before the playoffs start.
MY PICK: Seahawks 27, Niners 13

-NBC Comedy Block a must-watch tonight
After a one-hour ...Earl last week and no Office we get a flip-flop tonight; Earl takes a break and we get a one-hour holiday Office instead. Yippee!

Following the Office ep, which involves a holiday party (or two) and Michael getting dumped and finding a new (Asian) girlfriend, there are new installments of Scrubs and 30 Rock.
The lineup has yet to find its groove according to the ratings, as the shows continue to get clubbed by Ugly Betty, CSI, Grey's Anatomy and Survivor: Wherever, but each has still got its own core audience of 8-10 million viewers that are rewaded with consistently amusing and often hilarious episodes.

Although Earl has lost a bit of its initial idiosyncratic charm from the debut season it is still a quirky and bawdy mix of Bundy-esque humor. Example: Crabman to Joy last week, re: Joy acting un Joy-like due to her new medication- "I'm Ying and you're Yang; Ying's nice, Yang's a bitch."

(By the way, Crabman and Randy are reason alone to watch the show now. Crabman is better known to TV viewers as the Rubber Band Man from the Staples ads a few years ago, and Ethan Suplee kills it every week as Earl's intelligence-challenged brother.)

The Office
is still the best comedy on TV, although some of the touchier subjects played upon this season have pushed the show towards the uncomfortable barrier. I mean its okay to take on racism & homophobia on one of the Law & Orders, but not so much in a prime time comedy. It still garned a Best Comedy Golden Globe nom, as well as a Best Actor nom for Steve Carell.

Scrubs & 30 Rock bring this block together. I am still getting used to the Scrubs humor; it's like a cross between Boston Legal and Arrested Development. 30 Rock has the benefit of familiarity; seeing Alec Baldwin in prime SNL skit form for a full half hour, plus the unpredictable Tracy Morgan and awesome Tina Fey makes this feel like a long, but in a good way. Baldwin's Jack Donagy is one of TVs classic bosses, and his treatment of underling Fey is priceless. The portrayal has earned him a well-deserved Golden Globe nom.

By next season this 2 hour block should have a larger audience, especially when they clean up at the Globes.


Matsuzaka signs for 6 years, $52 mil

Welcome to America. Do the computers over in Japan suck as bad as they do here?

I had a whole elaborate post written about Boston's signing of Japanese phenom Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Then my computer crashed and I lost it all.

I know, I usually do frequently save my posts during writing, but this time I got caught napping.

Following that turn of events, in order to squelch the desire to rip my monitor out and throw it across the room, I went to do some work to take my mind off this unfortunate event.

Instead of doing the post all over again, which was very clever and started with the phrase "J.D. who?" in reference to Dice-K's colossal contract taking Drew's frailties & huge contract off the minds of RSN, I am just going to move on.

Matsuzaka is a member of the Red Sox.


I'll elaborate later when my blood pressure goes back down.
(f-ing computers!)


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Situation getting dicey with Matsuzaka

In a development that has surprised absolutely no one the negotiations between the Red Sox and uberagent Scott Borass regarding the services of Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka are coming down to the final hours.

The deadline for a deal is midnight Thursday but it has been widely reported that the Sox would like to get the deal done Wednesday so that 'Dice-K' (god I hate that cheesy nickname) could be flown to Beantown and take his physical before the deadline passed.

But with myriad stories floating around now about the likelihood of the deal getting done figuring out which way this thing is gonna go down is like trying to pick a presidential candidate based on the debates.

Either the two sides are so far apart due to Boras' insistence on an exorbitant contract that it is clear the 26-year-old phenom will head back to his Seibu team...

...or there is no way the Sox, MLB, the country of Japan, and its proud prodigal son won't allow this deal to go through. I prefer to subscribe to this belief.

But it all depends on who you trust in this political spin-zone style courtship.

Here's the skinny. The Sox paid that astronomical fee ($51.1 million) just to be able to negotiate with the hard throwing right hander, who has a variety of pitches that make hitters look silly but has never thrown a ball in a major league game. Boston feels that the posting fee should be factored into the total salary, even though Matsuzaka's Japanese team, the Seibu Lions, will receive that entire sum if he signs. Factor in what they would have paid him about $8-10 mil per year for 3 or 4 years, and you're talking about a total investment in the neighborhood of $80-100 million bucks, American.

Not bad for a kid who has never stepped foot in an MLB stadium.

But Borass, aka Drew Rosenhaus without the oily hair & expensive suits, is a man who believes in getting every penny for his client, and in turn his own coffers. He looks at the situation like the posting fee has nothing to do with Matsuzaka's value because all that money goes to his team, not him. Therefore he is in need of a contract that is commensurate of his value as a front-line major league starter.

He's talking 6 years at about $16 million per as a starting point.

That would mean in order to sign this kid, who could turn out to be the next Pedro Martinez, or the next Hideki Irabu, Boston would have to shell out in excess of $150 million dollars.

Now I'm all for guys getting theirs, especially when its the owners footing the bill cause the fans will buy all the Red Sox shit no matter who's on the team, but when you're seriously asking a storied franchise to shell out that kind of dough for a guy they've barely ever met never mind who hasn't pitched for a major league club is absolutely insane.

I think this is all a bunch of preening and posturing by Boras. Boston seems determined to sign this kid, going to the extreme measure of flying Theo & Luccinino out to LA on John Henry's private jet in order to make a second offer to Team Matsuzaka, this despite not receiving a counter proposal on their first offer.

They vow to have him on their team next year, and he wants to play in the major leagues.

Something tells me Dice-K is going to have the last word on this situation, and hopefully it will be

"I want to pitch for the Boston Red Sox. Boras got to hell!"


NFL Week 14 Wrap Up

Week 14 will go down in NFL history as record-setting for a few of its players.

It will also go down as a tone-setter for Playoffs 2006 as some teams established dominance (San Diego, Baltimore, Chicago, New Orleans), and some were left with more questions than answers (Indy, New England, Dallas, Denver.)

Another team clinched a division title & playoff berth (Chargers) while one has already booked a first round bye (Bears.)

As usual it was an an eventful weekend in the No Freakin Logic league. Let's try to make some sense of it:

MNF: Hester's two kick return TDs spark Bears to 42-27 win over Rams

This is the usual view opponents get of rookie phenom Devin Hester

All it took for Chicago to get healthy was a dose of St. Louis' porous run defense and a couple of dashes from a dazzling rookie return man.

Devin Hester set the all-time record for kicks returned for touchdowns by a rookie with his 5th & 6th of the season and although the defense got shredded for 433 total yards, Rex Grossman played well enough to help the Bears earn a first round bye in the playoffs.

But the story of the game was Hester, the speedy 2nd rounder from 'Da U'. He had only returned six kickoffs all season, doing all his damage on punts and one memorable record-tying 108 yard missed field goal return, but he broke the game open twice with kick returns of 94 & 96 yards, both immediately following Rams scores.

The first one came early in the second quarter. St. Louis had just marched 99 yards and scored on a 1-yard catch by Torry Holt, who faked Hester out along the way, for the first points of the game. But barely seconds after the Rams botched the extra point Hester took the kick and raced 94 yards untouched for the answering score.

The teams then traded scores for a while until Chicago opened it up to 35-13 on the strength of Grossman's cautious passing (13-20, 200yds, 2TDs, no INTS!) and Thomas Jones' running (he had 58 of his 76 yards & a TD in the 3rd) early in the 4th quarter. But when the Rams showed some fight, scoring on a 6-yard pass from Marc Bulger to Holt to cut the lead to a manageable 35-20, Hester ripped their hearts out again with his 2nd return.

The bottom line is the Bears got what they needed- a big win and decent game from Grossman to silence the critics and keep the heat off the quarterback position. Now Chicago can sit back and relax, knowing it will be a while before it has to play another important game.
After all, the Yucs come to the Windy City next week.


LT runs to TD record and basically locks up the MVP
-Chargers running back and soon-to-be league MVP LaDanian Tomlinson set the record for touchdowns in a season with his 29th on Sunday against the Broncos. The previous record was set by Shaun Alexander last season, and the time before that it was Priest Holmes who owned the mark of 27 in 2003.

But the scary thing about this one is that with 3 games left LT could be the first person to set the new record by more than 1 TD since John Riggins bested the previous number by 2 in 1983.

That's if he gets one more touchdown. I mean he's only averaging nearly 3 per game in the past 7 games.

-Indy's Harrison joins elite club
Lost in the bedlam of the Mannings getting their asses kicked all over the Jacksonville Landings on Sunday was the fact that Peyton Manning's steady BFF Marvin Harrison became just the 4th player in NFL history with at least 1000 career receptions.

The soft-spoken wideout had 6 catches for 101 yards but it was his 5th catch early in the 4th quarter of what would be a 44-17 blowout that put Harrison in the company of Jerry Rice, Chris Carter and Tim Brown.

The question is, will Harrison end up like Rice & Brown, with a Super Bowl ring, or will he be like Carter, one of the true great pass catchers of our generation never to have won it all?
I pick the latter. You know 'cause he plays on the Regular Season Wonders and all.

-Chris Weinke does in one game what Delhomme couldn't do in 60
Carolina Panthers backup quarterback Chris Weinke, the former FSU Heisman Trophy winner who hadn't played in an NFL game in 4 years, threw for a Panther record 423 yards in Carolina's loss to the Giants on Sunday.

And therein lies the problem with the underachieving Panthers: they have a 'caretaker QB', in the mold of Ben Roethlisberger for the Steelers last year and Trent Dilfer for the Ravens in 2000. A caretaker is a guy who can lead a team all the way, as long as he doesn't try to do too much and keeps his mistakes to a minimum.

When Delhomme guided the Panthers to the Bowl in 2003 that's exactly what he was- a caretaker. Now I'm not saying Weinke, who fell to 1-16 as a starter and threw 3 picks that cost Carolina the game against the Giants, is the answer.
But someone who can throw the ball down the field might help the pitiful Panther offense.

Tie: Sean Payton's onsides kick/Schottenheimer's "fumblerooski"

Nobody expected the New Orleans Saints to take a 35-17 lead against the streaking Cowboys at Texas Stadium on Sunday Night Football in front of a national television audience.

But what happened next caught every single person not affiliated with the Saints by surprise, most curiously coach Sean Payton's silver-haired mentor Bill Parcells. Payton called for an on sides kick, completely blindsiding the clueless Cowboys and causing the Tuna to melt on the sideline.

New Orleans went on to score 1:30 later on Drew Brees' 5th TD pass of the night, and the play resonated with fans of both teams the rest of the game. My summation: BRILLIANT!

But old stodgy coach Marty Schottenheimer also pulled a doozie of a call in the Chargers' impressive win over the Broncos.
Leading 7-0 late in the first quarter the Bolts used a play rarely seen outside of the NCAA. As QB Phillip Rivers took the snap, he and Tomlinson took off to the right as running an option play but Rivers faked a hand off to his receiver coming around him like they were running a reverse.

As everyone who wasn't following Rivers & Tomlinson reversed direction to go after the receiver fullback Lorenzo Neal quickly scampered into the end zone and celebrated. Why was the burly blocking back so happy? Because unbeknown st to everyone except the Chargers Rivers had handed the ball to Neal through his legs as he was coming up to block and everyone continued with the ruse so well that it completely caught everyone off guard, including the CBS cameras.

Once again, a brilliant call; it's so nice to see coaches throw out the tired old playbook and attempt to breathe some life back into the No Fun League.
Like I said yesterday this week was reality check time for many contenders & pretenders.

So with just 3 games left in the regular season, instead of going with the 5 best teams in each conference this week I am going to break down the playoff picture in each conference.

Division Leaders:

North: Baltimore (10-3) The Ravens own a two game edge on the second place Bengals and should wrap up the division in the next 2 weeks- Baltimore takes on Cleveland & Pittsburgh while Cincy must travel to Indy & Denver. 'Nuff said.

South: Indy (10-3) Losses in 3 of the last 4 games and an inability to stop the run has taken the aura of invincibility away from the Regular Season Wonders, making the date with the Bengals a must win in order to maintain its two game lead over the Jags and keep hopes alive for a first-round bye.

East: New England (9-4) The Pats missed a golden opportunity ot wrap up the division when it got burned worse than a snowbird in Miami. Luckily the Jets lost so the lead stayed at two games, but New England could wrap it up next week when the Texans come to town.

West: San Diego (11-2) Wrapped up the division on Sunday and now can kick back and let KC and Denver fight over a wild card. The Chargers now appear to be locked onto a first-round bye, riding a 7-game winning streak and a record-setting MVP candidate.

Wild Cards: Cincy (8-5); Jacksonville (8-5); KC (7-6); Denver (7-6); Jets (7-6)
You would need Einstein, Stephen Hawking & Carl Sagan to figure out which 2 teams will advance to the postseason.

Jacksonville probably has the toughest road (@TEN, NE, @KC) while the Jets have the easiest (@MIN, @MIA, OAK). But with so many crazy things going on each week those two teams could end up winning the division as well.

Check back in a week, maybe it'll be a little clearer.


Division Leaders:

North: Chicago (11-2) This is the worst 11-2 team I've ever seen. Take away a killer special teams unit and Brian Urlacher and this team is no better than the 6 or 7 wild card hopefuls in the league; plus it won't play another meaningful game for a month, so that won't help.

South: New Orleans (9-4) Proved it is the real deal with dominating destruction of Tony Romo & his merry band of Cowboys. By polishing off Washington this Sunday it should wrap up the division.

East: Dallas (8-5) Still a question mark even after recent hot stretch. Love him (like the rest of America) or can't take any more of him (like me), Romo is still an unproven commodity come playoff time, which can't leave Tuna feeling too confident.

West: Seattle (8-5) Had a small setback at Arizona (classic trap game as I called it) but with two of its remaining three games against San Fran & Tampa Bay it will still sew up the West handily.

Wild Cards: NY Giants (7-6); Philly (7-6); Atlanta (7-6) Carolina (6-7); Minny (6-7)
See AFC WC. Some of these teams could end up winning the division so it's still too close to call.

But if I had to guess I would say Philly is out due to its brutal remaining schedule (@NYG, @DAL, ATL) and Carolina will be cooked, too, after season ending trips to Atlanta and New Orleans.

That points to the G-Men & Dirty Birds claiming the slots, but Minny has a pretty weak sched left (NYJ, @GB, STL), so it wouldn't even shock me to see the Vikes there when all is said & done.

It's turning into a three team race for the # pick in the draft, and I'm proud to say that the Yucs are hanging right in there.

Granted Detroit & Oakland are two extremely formidable foes, but with Chucky calling the plays and allowing Gradkowski to execute them, as well as a tough 3 games left, I say Tampa Bay has a great shot to come out on top in this one.

-Oakland (2-11) The Silver & Black have long ago forgotten how to attack. 'Just Win Baby' has been replaced with "just win and I'll give you my baby" by the dirty denizens of the Black Hole.
Do the Raiders have a chance to win again? Home dates against St. Louis & KC and then a roadie at the Jets tell me no.

-Detroit (2-11) As long as Matt Millen is still the head honcho in D-Town there will be no chance of the Lions repeating the Tigers' miraculous turnaround.
Dates at Green Bay, home vs. Chicago and at Dallas could ensure a tie for the top spot. Man it's gonna be tough for the Yucs to crack this club.

-Tampa Bay (3-10) The only satisfaction the Yucs have is that there is no way it wins again this year. It has two frigid weather games next (@ CHI, @CLE), and its record is a sparkling 2-22 under 40 degrees, and a New Years Eve tilt with the Seahawks.

Now fans must sit back and hope & pray that those other 2 losers somehow pulls off a miracle.

And hope & pray that Chucky isn't the one who is drawing the name come April.


Monday, December 11, 2006

Monday Night Football: Desperate in St. Louis

Chicago Bears (10-2) @ St. Louis Rams (5-7)
8:30 PM ESPN

The Bears have already clinched the NFC North division but must play tonight like a team that is fighting for its playoff life

The Rams are 5-7 and must play tonight like they are not fighting amongst themselves in order to keep its slim hopes of a wild card berth alive.

What do you get when two desperate teams go at it on Monday Night Football? Hopefully a compelling game between two teams that have been painful to watch as of late.

The Bears story is well documented. Raced out to a 7-0 record on the strength of a phenomenal defense, great special teams play and a hot young quarterback, Rex Grossman.

Then dropped 2 of the past 4 and seen said QB slip into obscurity by committing 18 turnovers in his past 7 games, leading to a near revolution to put backup Brian Griese in before a Super Bowl season goes down the drain.

Meanwhile Rams QB Mark Bulger ripped teammates he says didn't care enough after last weeks embarrassing home loss to Arizona. Will these players rally around their quarterback who senses a season slipping away? Or will they tune him out and give the kind of lackluster performance that gets coaches fired and fans irate?

Chicago coach Lovie Smith says he will pull Grossman in the turnover monster rears his ugly head again. But will that make Gross-man play better, or might the pressure force him into an even worse performance than anyone thought possible?

My guess is the St. Louis comes out strong, with RB Stephen Jackson challenging the tough Bears D, which has allowed 137 YPG the past 4 games and is greatly weakened due to the loss of massive DT Tommie Harris.

Bulger will be connecting with the one player he never has to worry about giving his all, WR Torry Holt, and the Bears fall apart as Grossman throws 3 picks, fumbles twice, and at one point hands the ball to the St. Louis defense and says "here you go, an early Christmas present."
MY PICK: St. Louis 19, Chicago 13


Monday Morning Kick Returns

Since I did my "morning" post last week at about 1:00PM I'm getting a good head start on this weeks'.

In keeping with the ESPN naming craze (aka "Separation Saturday", "Championship Week") I decided that Week 14 would be called Reality Check Sunday.

I know it's not quite as catchy as ESPN, but hey I don't have a 50 person marketing department to come up with this shit.

But it truly was reality check time for many teams heading into the final 4 weeks of the regular season. This is the time of year that separates the (G)men from the (Cow)boys, and wins and losses now are an accurate measure of where your team is headed in January.

As usual the week was filled with incredible comebacks, mind-boggling losses and record-setting feats. Lets take a look back at Reality Check Sunday, Week 14 in the NFL.

San Diego 48, Denver 20 MY PICK: Chargers 27-13

Record setting MVP-to-be LaDanian Tomlinson is carrying San Diego to the playoffs

REALITY: If there was any doubt about which team is the best in the NFL those doubts were put to rest yesterday. And if there was any doubt which player is the league's MVP, that doubt was squelched also.

The Chargers (11-2) stomped on the punchless Broncos (7-6) and in doing so LaDanian Tomlinson (28 carries, 103yds, 3TDs) set a new NFL record for touchdowns scored in a single season with 29.

LT broke the mark just minutes after tying the old record, set last year by Shaun Alexander. San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman knocked the ball out of Jay Cutler's hand and recovered the fumble at the Denver 7-yard line. One play later Tomlinson made three defenders look silly and scampered to the record.

Tomlinson's numbers are phenomenal (1,856 tot yards, 29 TDs) but the Bolts also have TE Antonio Gates (7recs, 104 yds, 2TDs) and QB Phillip Rivers, who is making it easier for San Diegans to forget the loss of Drew Brees, fueling this awesome offense.

Not only do the Chargers have the record holder, it also holds the title of Team to Beat in the NFL this year.

CHECK: Denver can kiss the playoffs goodbye since Shanahan's Jay Cutler Experiment has failed miserably. Although the rook played decently (17-30, 188 yds, 2TDs) the stretch drive is no time for a contender to throw a rookie into the fray.

Jacksonville 44, Mannings 17 MY PICK: Indy 27-21
REALITY: Indy isn't even living up to its moniker of Regular Season Wonders any more. Its inability to stop the run allowed the Jags to gain an eye-popping 375 yards on the ground and in doing so buried the notion that the Mannings (10-3) are the best team in the NFL.

Indy has now lost 3 of 4 after galloping to a 9-0 start, and the rush defense is the worst in the league. Not exactly a formula for post season success. The Jags (8-5) dynamic duo of Fred Taylor (9 carries, 104 yds, TD) & rookie Maurice Jones-Drew (15 carries, 166 yds & 3 tot TDs) ran roughshod over, around & through Indy's hapless, helpless defense.

Drew, perhaps still energized by his UCLA Bruins' win over USC, also added a 93-yard kick return for a score and gained 303 all-purpose yards on the day.

How bad was it for Indy? Drew & Taylor were both over 100 yards by halftime, and seldom-used sophomore Alvin Pearman gained 71 on the day. Meanwhile Indy rushed for a measly 34 yards. "Paging Joseph Addai (11 carries, 22yards.) Mr Addai please pick up the white courtesy phone in the lobby."

CHECK: Jacksonville probably sealed a playoff spot with the dominating win, and if it can run the ball like that, well let's just say the Mannings don't want to meet up with the Jags again.

Indy is in big trouble come January if it doesn't solve its run-stopping woes, which it claimed to have addressed in practice this week; it's unbelievable that a Super Bowl contender could allow the 2nd most rushing yards in the league since 1970 and go all the way.

New Orleans 42, Cowboys 17 MY PICK: Boys 31-28

A pupil/mentor handshake truly in the Mangini/Belichick mold

REALITY: The Saints aren't just a feel-good novelty act- they can flat out play ball. I would have to say that it is the best team in the NFC right now, and anyone would be hard pressed to argue with that after the beatdown it laid on Tuna & the Gang last night.

Drew Brees continued his MVP-caliber campaign with a dominating performance (26-38, 384yds, 5TDs) and Reggie Bush logged 6 more receptions for 125 yards including a 61-yard score as the Saints (9-5) marched into Big D and really laid its claim as America's Team 2006.

Best part about the game? The former student, New Orleans wundercoach Sean Payton laying the wood to mentor Bill Parcells. Payton called for a gutsy reverse on 4th & 1 late in the 1st quarter that led to the tying (7-7) touchdown and then really kicked dirt in the bully's face late in the 3rd.

Leading 35-17 after just getting a momentum-killing replay reversal score from FB Mike Karney, Payton called for the on sides kick; the Saints recovered and a minute & a half later Brees hit Devery Henderson for a 42-yard soul-crusher that had Tuna looking like someone urinated in his Gatorade.

CHECK: The bloom finally came off the Romo (16-33, 249yds, 1TD, 2 INTs) and Parcells almost looked happy about it. With T.O.D. (3 recs, 56yds, TD) unhappy because Terry Glenn (8recs, 150yds) is the top receiver and the defense getting gashed for 536 yards, the 'Boys (8-5)obviously have a lot of work to do to become a true playoff force.

New Orleans proved to the whole country that it is a force to be reckoned with. Brees leads the way, and with a bevy of offensive weapons to choose from, the Saints are coming to a playoff game near you.

Miami 20, New England 0, zip, zilch, nada MY PICK: Pats 23-12

It's not often you see Brady on the bench late in a blowout loss

REALITY: The Pats have problems. Big problems. Many fans like myself have been trying to ignore that fact as the team stumbled to mistake-wrought wins over the Bears and Lions. But when you witness a performance like this (which, thankfully I did not, as my son was sick and I didn't go to the local sports bar) the reality hits that this team is talented but deeply flawed.

How bad was it? Tom Terrific turned into Tom the Terrible (12-25, 78 yards) in what has become his personal house of horrors; he's just 2-4 in Miami in his career, and his 4 lowest passing games have been vs. the Fish. And the injury bug continued to bite the team hard. Already playing without leading rusher Lawrence Maroney (back), top receiver TE Ben Watson and T Vince Wilfork both left with "leg injuries" in the third.

New England also allowed 4 sacks, committed 9 penalties for 71 yards, compiled a mere 189 yards of offense and turned the ball over three more times, bringing its total to 11 giveaways in the last 3 games. It's actually amazing that their record is 2-1 in that span.

Luckily for New England (9-4) the Jets also lost, so although it could've cliched the division title with a win it didn't affect the 2 game cushion it enjoys in the AFC East. But to New England's disadvantage is the suddenly tough December schedule- the last 3 games are at home vs. the pesky Texans, at Jacksonville (yikes) and at rejuvenated Tennessee. Meanwhile the Jets face Minny, Miami and Oakland.

Advantage New York.

CHECK: New England better get some of the injured players back soon, get its act together, and shore up the weaknesses or Hot Stove baseball will be the only sports talk in the Commonwealth in January.

Atlanta 17, Yucs 6 MY PICK: Atlanta 17-13
REALITY: The Falcons are still struggling and although I predict it will make the playoffs it probably won't get it all together in time to make a difference once there. And the Bucs really are one of if not the worst team in the NFL.

Tampa Bay gave Mike Vick and his Dirty Birds fits for most of the day. In fact after running roughshod over the Bucs earlier this season, amassing 300+ yards on the ground, the unit held Atlanta to just 139 on the ground in this one. Vick was limited to only 5 yards rushing after torching TB for 127 in the first meeting.

Things got so bad that Chucky did what he swore all week he wouldn't do- he pulled Gradkowski for Tim Rattay late in the game, basically conceding that the offense is going nowhere with the flawed rookie at the helm. It was the same old story for the Yucs- dropped balls, poorly thrown passes, a turnover by Gradkowski that broke the game open, the disappearance of Alstott after a big run, a fumble by Caddy... yadda, yadda, yadda.

Gradkowski (13-24, 131 yds) has shown promise but at times looks completely overwhelmed. Many in the Bay area say that Gruden just heaped too much on his plate, and on top of the fact that the kid has no touch whatsoever on the deep ball makes for a very shaky QB. It speaks volumes that Rattay, who hadn't played in almost 2 years, came in and calmly marched the team down the field and had nearly as many completions (9-13) and yards (83) as The Rocket in a fraction of the time.

So what does Psycho Chucky do? Name Gradkowski the starter for next week's slaughter at Chicago.

CHECK: The Falcons (8-5) got a win that kept it alive in the race, while the Yucs (3-10) got the loss that kept it alive in the race for the #1 pick. Good times for all.

Baltimore 20, KC 10 MY PICK: Chiefs 17-16
REALITY: The Ravens proved that despite a semi-slump they are the real deal as far as Bowl contenders go. The Chiefs appear to have as much substance as Kate Moss, losing its December home game in nearly a decade one week after gagging against the Browns.

Baltimore stifled the high-powered KC offense and although LJ got his (120 yards) the Chiefs were held to 269 total yards and the Ravens forced 3 turnovers. Steve McNair (21-27, 283yds, TD) was solid again, and it was his 87-yard catch & run TD to Mark Clayton in the 3rd quarter that opened up a close 6-0 game.

CHECK: The Ravens (10-3) maintained a 2-game lead over Cincy in the AFC North and re-established its defensive dominance. The Chiefs plunged into a 3-way tie for the 2nd Wild Card. I picked the Chiefs two weeks ago, which explains the swoon. With a date in San Diego looming over them this week this could be yet another one of my predictions that is sure to be wrong.

NY Giants 27, Carolina 13 MY PICK: Giants 24-14
REALITY: The Giants have playoff life. The Panthers don't. New York got the win it needed to stay afloat in the WC race but it won't be an easy ride if this game is any indication.

The battered Giants defense allowed 423 yards passing to Heisman-winning QB Chris Weinke, who is now 1-16 as a starting QB after his first appearance since his rookie season (kidding, but close.) But Tiki ran for 112 yards, Eli threw 3 touchdowns, and the G-Men (7-6) stomped on the season of the disappointing Panthers (6-7.)

CHECK: The Giants share the wild card lead with Philly & Atlanta and take on the Eagles next week in the Meadowlands. That game could decide it because New Orleans comes to New York the following week and the Giants don't want that to be a must-win game.

Philly 22, Washington 21 MY PICK: Skins 20-17
REALITY: Jeff Garcia is leading this Philly team to an unlikely playoff run.

CHECK: Although home fans have booed him the wily vet has thrown 8 touchdowns to zero interceptions in his 3 starts and it will be one of the stories of the year when he lands the eagles in the playoffs.

Other Games:

Buffalo 31, NYJ 13 MY PICK: Jets 15-10
REALITY: Buffalo has played very well this season, and the J-E-T-S are a Charlie Manson team- HELTER SKELTER!

CHECK: New York can still make the plaoffs but lost a golden chance to put pressure on the Pats.

Cincy 27, Oakland 10 MY PICK: Bengals 37-11
REALITY: Cincy has righted its season with this 3-game winning streak.

CHECK: With Carson Palmer leading the trio of TJ, Chad, and Rudi plus the improved defense, the Bengals are finally playing up to the preseason predictions. And this despite another player arrested this week.

Tennessee 26, Houston 20 (OT) MY PICK: Titans 30-17
Vince Young returned home and burned the team that spurned him with a game-winning 39-yard touchdown run. How's that taste Houston?
Green Bay 30, San Fran 19 MY PICK: 49ers 26-21
Every cheese dog has its day
Minny 30, Detroit 20 MY PICK: Detroit 19-16
Reason # 4,567 why I don't gamble
Arizona 27, Seattle 21 MY PICK: Cards 26-23
This is called quitting while you're ahead!


Sunday, December 10, 2006

NFL Week 14 Preview

Just 4 more games left and still plenty to be decided in this season.

Although the division leaders are all sitting pretty comfy right now, behind them there are dogfights going on for 2 wild card spots up for grabs in each conference.

The NFL MVPs, both offensive and defensive, are still there for the taking, although if LaDanian Tomlinson stays healthy and breaks the all-time single-season touchdown mark you can wrap that trophy up for him and put it under his tree.

The Rookies of the Year still need someone to step forward and claim them as well. Marques
Colston is no longer a lock now that teammate Reggie Bush is finally living up to his pre-season hype.

And the most important race of all will be decided in these next 4 games: who will earn the right to take Brady Quinn with the #1 pick in next year's draft? Another tight race with no less than 8 teams in the running (DET, TB, ARI, OAK, CLE, WASH, HOU, GB).

Everyone else- they all have a shot at the playoffs in the No Freakin Logic League.

So let's look at what's in store for Week 1 of the 2006 season's 4th quarter, in order of importance: (note: the Steelers already knocked off the Brownies on the NFL Networks's Game of the Week that Nobody Watches Thursday on Night.)

-New Orleans (8-4) @ Dallas (8-4) Sunday Night Football 8PM NBC
Al & John get the game of the week and they didn't even need to "flex" NBC's muscles to do it. You couldn't ask for a better game to cap off the day with- the former America's Team faces the new America's Team, battling to clinch their divisions while proving to the rest of the league that it can knock off a fellow playoff opponent.

We know the deal with Romo, the hottest thing in the country next to Nintendo Wii, and he is riding high on a wave of confidence as the Boys are 5-1 with him at the helm. But the Saints got a pretty decent slinger themselves, and Drew Brees is making a case for league MVP himself.

With Reggie Bush heating up and T.O.D. spouting off again (he claims he didn't listen to a Tuna pep talk because he was thinking about his 33rd birthday extravaganza; grow up, will ya dude?) it should be a hot time in Big D tonight. But the Saints are going to miss DT Hollis Thomas, who was suspended for steroids taken in his asthma medication.
MY PICK: Cowboys 31, Saints 28

-Denver (7-5) @ San Diego (10-2)
A few weeks ago this one was shaping up as the game of the season in AFC West. Denver was cruising along with a 5-1 record and San Diego was just starting what has become a 6 game winning streak.

But something happened along the way- to the Broncos. That something was called Jake Plummer Sucks! And by the time Shanahan the offensive genius figured it out the defensively superior Broncos were in the midst of a stretch where it lost 4 out of 6 games, including a soul-crusher versus the Chargers at Invesco in Week 11.

Now Shanahan has taken on the label 'Desperate in Denver' after he turned the reins of his once-division leading team into the hands of Jay Cutler, the promising rookie from Vandy. In Cutler's first start last week he got a rude indoctrination to the league by the Seahawks, and that was at home. It's only gonna get worse in Quallcomm.

LT might not put up astounding numbers against Denver's stingy rushing defense, but it shouldn't matter for the locked & loaded Chargers. Shawne Merriman is back and it is gonna be "lights out" for the Broncos playoff hopes after this one.
MY PICK: Chargers 27, Broncos 13

-New England (9-3) @ Miami (5-7)
The game doesn't mean much as far as the playoffs for Miami after it lost to Jacksonville last week, but this blood feud between the South Florida mammals and the Northeastern freedom fighters is always a heated affair.

Remember the Monday Nighter two years ago, when Tom terrific threw that terrifically awful pass from his backside that led to the Fins scoring the winning touchdown in a 29-28 thriller?

Yeah, unfortunately I do too. The Pats were 12-1 heading into that game and Brady was having an MVP season. Suddenly the wheels fell off and Tommy Boy had one of his worst days as a pro, throwing 4 interceptions on the night.

Or how 'bout last January's memorable game in Foxborough? The Dolphins ended the season with a 6 game winning streak after its 28-26 victory, but the Pats rested their starters for the Wild Card game the following week and Doug Flutie made the NFL's first drop-kick extra point in 64 years. Crazy stuff.

Today should be a little more calm- I hope. Both teams will have key running backs out of the game: Lawrence Maroney will not play for New England due to a back injury, and Ronnie Brown is still nursing his surgically repaired right hand. Corey Dillon (3 TDs last week) and Sammie Morris will take the majority of the carries.

That means the quarterbacks will have to shoulder a heavy load today. Shouldn't be a problem for Brady; the Hooded Genius has him throwing 40 times a game anyway. But forcing Joey Harrington to produce against the Pats defense, as banged up as it is, could prove fatal for the fish (remember Squish the Fish?!)

But if the Pats play down to the competition, and start turning the ball over left & right again the Fins could jump up an bite 'em.
MY PICK: Pats 23, Fins 12

-Baltimore (9-3) @ Kansas City (7-5)
The Ravens need this game because after losing to Cincy last week it owns a slim 2 game advantage over the Bengals in the AFC North. A loss here coupled with a (likely) win by Cincy over Oakland and that margin is shaved to a mere 1 game for the once rolling Ravens.

The Chiefs need this game because it got lazy last week in Cleveland and blew a 14-point 4th- quarter lead against a Browns team that was playing a quarterback nobody had even heard of (Derek Anderson?)

Now it is in the thick of the fight for a wild card race with at least 4 other teams, and it can't afford to drop this one with a date next week in San Diego looming.

So when two desperate teams like this get together who would I chose to win? Just remember my little knowledge nugget: The Chiefs don't lose at Arrowhead in December (18 straight since 1996.)
MY PICK: Chiefs 17, Ravens 16

-Indy (10-2) @ Jax'ville (7-5)
The Mannings are in a mini-slump. After racing out to a 9-0 record it has lost 2 of its last 3, and not looked good at all in doing so. The main problem,as it has been all year, is the rush defense; Tennessee rolled up 219 yards on the Dungy-led defense in last week's shocking loss to the Titans, and the Cowboys put up 117 on the ground 2 weeks before that in Dallas' win that knocked Indy from the ranks of the unbeaten.

Jacksonville is an enigma- it either puts up quality wins or suffers devastating losses. Just when everyone was about to write them off last week it upended the streaking Dolphins. The Jags need this game for a playoff position, and it usually plays Indy tough, but I find it hard to believe that Manning will allow his team to lose 2 in a row
MY PICK: Mannings 27, Jags 21

-NY Giants (6-6) @ Carolina (6-6)
This game is a de-facto playoff contest. The four 6-6 teams and even the 5-7 clubs in the NFC have a shot at a wild card spot, but cannot afford any losses down the stretch.

Therefore this meeting of 2 sliding (Giants have lost 4 straight, Carolina has lost 2 in a row & 4 of 6) Super Bowl contenders is for all the marbles. The winner remains alive for another week, the loser can start the "what could have been" portion of the 2006 season.

To make matters worse Carolina will be without starting QB Jake Delhomme, who is out with a bruised thumb. Former FSU standout and 2000 Heisman trophy winner Chris Weinke will make his first start in 4 years; he is 1-15 as an NFL starter in his career. Yikes.

Good time for the G-Men to get back on track after a string of devastating losses and in-house backstabbing. Because if it loses this one, well I shudder to think about the aftermath in the Big Apple.
MY PICK: Giants 24, Panthers 14

-Buffalo (5-7) @ NY Jets (7-5)
Crazy as it sounds this one actually means something to both teams. Buffalo has played much better than expected, as 5 of its 7 losses have been by 8 points or less. And the Manginis have performed well under their young first-year head coach, including destroying Green Bay last week in Lambeau 38-10.

But the Jets need this game to keep pace in the WC and the Bills are basically out of it. Would Buffalo love to knock the J-E-T-S out of the race? Sure.

But it ain't gonna happen.
MY PICK: Jets 15, Bills 10
-Oakland (2-10) @ Cincy (7-5)
Oakland sucks.
Cincy's hot.
MY PICK: Bengals 37, Raiders 11

-Philly (6-6) @ Washington (4-8)
Don't look now but the Jeff Garcia-led Eagles are back in the playoff hunt. Despite losing starter Donovan McNabb for the season to a torn ACL, and Pro Bowl backup Garcia being booed during wins, the Eagles have clawed its way back into contention.

But the Skins have been playing well, albeit losing, since Jason Campbell took the reins from Mark Brunell 3 weeks ago and would love nothing more than to smack the postseason snot out of its NFC East enemy.

I like Campbell to get his first win against the arch rivals today.
MY PICK: Skins 20, Eagles 17

-Atlanta (7-5) @ The Yucs (3-9)
The speedy Bucs defense used to own Mike "the Trick" Vick because he could never do all the things he liked to do against that quick unit.

Well the unit is no longer as quick, but for some reason it seems to always play well against the Atlanta offensive schemes.

Does that mean I'm predicting a Tampa bay upset? Hell no, I'm not crazy. The Yucs defense should play the Dirty Birds tough, but it's doubtful the offense will have enough to get it done.
MY PICK: Falcons 17, Bucs 13

-Seattle (8-4) @ Arizona (3-9)
The Cards are playing with confidence after upsetting the Rams on the road last week.

Seattle is regaining its NFC Champion form with the return of its two superstars.

But this game has "trap" written all over it, and the 'Hawks could fall right into it.
MY PICK: Cards 26, Seahawks 23

-Tennessee (5-7) @ Houston (4-8)
The Titans are rolling on the strength of 2 come-from-behind wins against the Manning brothers. Vince Young returns to his hometown and rubs it in the Texans' faces for not selecting him in the draft.
MY PICK: Titans 30, Texans 17

Green Bay (4-8) @ San Fran (5-7)

San Fran is actually pretty good.
Green bay is actually very bad.
MY PICK: 49ers 26, Packers 21

-Minny (5-7) @ Detroit (2-10)

Oh boy is this one exciting or what? Minny starter Brad Johnson threw 4 interceptions last week and lost to a Bears team that had 34 yards passing going up against the laughingstock of the league (sorry, Tampa bay). Yawn. Wake me when it's over.
MY PICK: Detroit 19-16