By Doug Halberstadt
At this point in the NFL season, it seems as if almost every game has some sort of playoff implications. The Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions are still vying for the division or, perhaps, a wild-card berth.
Chicago and Green Bay have road games this week, and Detroit plays at home on Monday night (Dec. 16). The Bears will be in Cleveland to take on the Browns. I’m predicting Jay Cutler will make his return to the starting quarterback position in this game and lead the Bears to a win.
The Packers have to go to Dallas to face the Cowboys. I don’t think Aaron Rodgers will be released from the Green Bay medical staff in time to be back for this game, so I’m going with Dallas at home.
The Lions welcome Baltimore to Ford Field. This will be a must-win situation for Detroit. I think that, combined with playing at home, will work in their favor and get them the win.
The Thursday night (Dec. 12) game features San Diego at Denver. Last week, Peyton Manning racked up 51 points against the Titans. The Broncos are almost unstoppable at Mile High Stadium. I don’t see them scoring quite that many against the Chargers, but I do think they’ll add another win to their total.
The Washington Redskins are in complete shambles. Rumors are swirling about their head coach, Mike Shanahan, losing his job as early as sometime this week. They were accused of surrendering during last week’s blowout loss (45-10) to the Chiefs. This week, they are on the road to face another team with a ton of troubles this season, the Atlanta Falcons. Despite their troubles, the Falcons at least have stability at the coaching position, and their starting quarterback hasn’t been benched this season. I’m taking Atlanta.
The Cardinals leave the warmth of the Arizona desert and head to Tennessee. The Titans got shellacked by Denver last week. Arizona is coming off a win over the Rams. I look for the Cardinals to prevail and pick up a road win.
Despite losing last week, the Indianapolis Colts secured a playoff spot. This week, they’re at home against the team with the worst record in the league, the Houston Texans (2-11). I think the Colts will pick up the win and hand the Texans their 12th loss in a row.
I think the Saints have bounced back sufficiently from the rough loss they suffered at the hands of the Seahawks a couple of weeks ago. This week, they’re in St. Louis. That equates to bad news for the Rams. The Saints are another team that will come away with a road win this week.
I look for a pretty high-scoring game when New England makes their way to Miami this week. The Patriots will be without the services of tight end Rob Gronkowski because of a knee injury suffered in last week’s game. I think that’ll force Tom Brady to target his wide receivers a little more and that should transfer to more points. I’ll take the Patriots by at least 10.
The Philadelphia Eagles will be trying to hold on to their slim lead in the NFC East when they visit the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings are out of the playoff picture and may be without superstar running back Adrian Peterson after he left last week’s game with a foot injury. It’s a must-win for the Eagles, and they will win.
Seattle has the best record in the NFC (11-2) and has clinched the NFC West title. This week, they’re in New York against the Giants. I don’t think they’ll pull their foot off the gas. I look for them to keep on rolling and knock off the Giants.
OK, I stand corrected — this game has nothing to do with the playoffs. Both teams are 4-9 and will be watching the playoffs on television. I’m referring to Buffalo at Jacksonville. The Jaguars have won three in a row, and the Bills are going in the opposite direction — they’ve lost their last two. I’ll go with the Jags to make it four straight wins.
San Francisco is coming off a huge win over the Seahawks. They’re still battling for a wild-card berth. This week, they’re in Tampa Bay. The 49ers are also looking for their fourth win in a row. I think they’ll do it.
The Carolina Panthers are back at home this week against the Jets. After winning eight straight, the Panthers lost to the Saints in New Orleans last week. I look for them to get back in the win column this week and send the Jets back to New York with their eighth loss of the year.
Kansas City is 10-3 and trailing Denver (11-2) by a full game in the AFC West. This week, the Chiefs are in Oakland. Kansas City defeated Oakland 24-7 back in October. I think they’ll pick up their second win over them this week. I wouldn’t be surprised if the margin of victory is even bigger.
Cincinnati is 9-4 and leads the AFC North. They play division rival Pittsburgh (5-8) in Heinz Field. The Steelers have dropped their last two and are out of the playoffs. The Bengals have won three in a row. They beat the Steelers in week two this year 20-10. I think the Bengals are positioned to win the division and sweep Pittsburgh this season.
Last week, I was 12-3 with only the Monday game to be determined at press time. My brain picked the Cowboys over the Bears in that game. I sincerely wouldn’t mind ending up 12-4 for the week.
From the Dec. 11-17, 2013, issue