By Doug Halberstadt
Jay Cutler made his return as the Bears’ starting quarterback last Sunday, Dec. 15. Despite throwing two interceptions, he did lead the team to a victory over the Cleveland Browns. Things should be a bit more difficult for Chicago this week. The Bears won’t have the luxury of committing multiple turnovers and still garnering a win against a much better Philadelphia Eagles team on their home turf. Provided the Bears can avoid turnovers and stupid mistakes, I think they can beat the Eagles.
I’m also looking for each of the other three NFC North teams to win as well. The Packers have a home game against the Steelers and should have Aaron Rodgers back calling the plays and throwing touchdowns.
The Lions are in another must-win situation as they try to keep their playoff hopes alive. This week, they have a home game against the disappointing New York Giants. Last week, the Giants were shut out by the Seattle Seahawks. They won’t go scoreless again this week, but they won’t outscore the Lions.
Even though they won’t be playing in the postseason, the Minnesota Vikings flexed their offensive muscle last week by putting up 48 points on the Eagles. They did that without the services of All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson. This week, they’ll look to make it two in a row and knock off the Bengals in Cincinnati. That should be a bit more realistic with Peterson expected to be back in the lineup.
The Miami Dolphins have won three in a row and four of their last five games. This week, they leave the warmth of Florida and head north to the wintery conditions of Buffalo. The Bills are only 3-4 at home. I don’t think they’ll be able to capitalize on their home-field advantage, and I look for the Dolphins to make it four in a row.
Two of the better teams in the AFC will face one another in Kansas City this week. The Colts are visiting the Chiefs. Both teams should make the postseason, and this will be a good test for both of them. I’ll take the Chiefs at home.
The St. Louis Rams surprised a lot of football fans last week when they upset the playoff-bound New Orleans Saints. This week, they host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs are 1-5 on the road this season. They’ll fall to 1-6 when they lose to the Rams.
Another team that is 1-5 on the road this season is the Cleveland Browns. They’re traveling to New York this week to face the Jets. The Jets are 5-2 at home and shouldn’t have any trouble sending the Browns back home with another road loss.
Dallas and Washington both suffered fourth-quarter losses last week. They face one another in Washington this week. The Cowboys will be going for the sweep this year. They beat the Redskins 31-16 back in October. Cowboy fans should get their brooms ready: Dallas will win.
The game of the week is an NFC South match-up between the New Orleans Saints and the Carolina Panthers. Both teams have identical 10-4 records. The Saints are 4-0 in the division and Carolina is 3-1. These two teams played a couple of weeks ago (Dec. 8) in the Super Dome. The Saints manhandled the Panthers in that one, 31-13. I don’t think it’ll be as lopsided this time when they play in Charlotte, N.C. I’m taking the Saints in a much closer game.
The yen to that yang is the game between the Tennessee Titans and the Jacksonville Jaguars. This is my insignificant game of the week. Neither team will make the playoffs, nor can either team achieve a winning record, regardless of the outcome of the remainder of their games. I’ll take Jacksonville, simply because they’re the home team.
The mismatch game of the week is the Denver Broncos (11-3) against the Houston Texans (2-12). This should be a lock for the home-team Broncos. Houston has lost 12 straight, and there is nothing that indicates they’ll beat Denver on the road. It’ll be 13 losses in a row for Houston.
The road to the NFC title will go through Seattle this year. The Seahawks are 12-2 and haven’t lost a home game all year (6-0). This week, their victim will be the Arizona Cardinals. They will be going for the season sweep. When the two teams met in October, the Seahawks won 34-22. I look for more of the same in Seattle this week.
San Diego is at home against Oakland. This is a pride game for both teams — they won’t be around during the playoffs. Oakland beat the Chargers (27-17) in Oakland back in October. I look for San Diego to even the score and beat the Raiders.
The Baltimore Ravens and the New England Patriots are no strangers to postseason games in recent years. After winning the Super Bowl last year, it looks as if the Ravens won’t be in the playoffs this year. Their match-up against the Patriots this week will be most likely be as close as they’ll come. That should be incentive enough for the Ravens. I’m taking them at home.
Monday night’s game pits the Falcons against the 49ers in San Francisco. The 49ers have the current longest winning streak in the league with four straight. The 49ers are battling for a Wild Card berth, and the Falcons will be their next victims.
After two straight weeks with a 12-4 record, last week wasn’t so good. I was 8-7 with only the Monday night game undecided at press time. I took Detroit over Baltimore in that one.
Doug Halberstadt can be reached via e-mail at Dougster61@aol.com.
From the Dec. 18-24, 2013, issue