By Doug Halberstadt
Many NFL fans say it’s the games in December that matter the most. I’m not certain I totally agree with that, but there is no denying they do take on an added degree of importance as the regular season draws closer to an end.
For the Dallas Cowboys (8-4), tomorrow night’s game (Thursday, Dec. 4) in Chicago against the Bears (5-7) is hugely important. They’re trying to win a division title and a possible bye during the first round of the playoffs. Other than draft pick position and pride, I don’t know if any of the remaining Bears games carry any significance. The Cowboys have so much more riding on the line that they’ll win easily.
Much like Dallas, the Packers (9-3) are looking at a division championship and first-round bye. They will host the Atlanta Falcons (5-7) on Monday night (Dec. 7). Just like Dallas, the Packers will win this game easily.
Elsewhere in the NFC North, the Lions (8-4) are hoping the Packers drop a game or two sometime this month. If not, their best chance for the postseason lies in the wild-card race. Either way, they must keep winning. This week, they are at home against the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-10). That will get them to 9-4.
The Minnesota Vikings (5-7) are battling the Bears to stay out of the cellar in the division. This week, they play at home against the New York Jets (2-9 at press time). With the Bears dropping to 5-8 if they do lose to Dallas, the Vikings should come out of the Jets game with a 6-7 record and jump ahead of Chicago in the standings.
Cincinnati (8-3-1) has a home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5). The Bengals have won three in a row and five of their last six. I never know which Steelers team is going to show up. I like the Bengals’ consistency over the unpredictable Steelers.
Unlike the Steelers, the Oakland Raiders (1-11) are relatively predictable. This week, they are at home against their neighbors from across the bay, the San Francisco 49ers (7-5). I predict another loss for the Raiders.
The Indianapolis Colts (8-4) will face the Browns (7-5) in Cleveland. I look for Indy to heat things up in December, and they will get started by knocking off the Browns.
Waukesha, Wisconsin, native J.J. Watt is doing everything within his power to help his Texans (6-6) win games. When he’s not playing all-pro defense, he’s catching touchdown passes. The defensive lineman has three offensive touchdowns this season. The Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10) will be the next team charged with stopping Watt on both sides of the line. They won’t get it done. The Texans should get above the .500 mark with a road win.
The other game being played in Florida on Sunday has the Ravens (7-5) flying into Miami (6-5 at press time). I think the Ravens are the better team when the calendar flips over to December. I look for them to take an 8-5 record back to Baltimore.
The New Orleans Saints (5-7) are another team that has a tendency to pick up some steam this time of year. They definitely need it to stay in the playoff hunt. This week, they’re at home against the Carolina Panthers (3-8-1). I think the Panthers are out of steam. The Saints will get the win.
Unless you have a fantasy player from the New York Giants (3-9) or the Tennessee Titans (2-10), why would this game be important to anyone? I’ll go with the Giants, even though the Titans have home-field advantage.
The St. Louis Rams (5-7) will be in Washington, D.C., to take on the Redskins (3-9). The Redskins are like several other things in our nation’s capital, messed up. Until they can solve some of their key player personnel issues, I don’t see them winning anytime soon. I’m taking the Rams.
With a division title hanging in the balance, the Arizona Cardinals (9-3) need to bounce back from back-to-back losses and right the ship this week at home against the Kansas City Chiefs (7-5). This is one of those intriguing match-ups where I’m not confident either team is a clear-cut favorite. I think the Cardinals will treat it as a “must win” game and get back into the win column.
The Denver Broncos (9-3) are at home against the Buffalo Bills (7-5). This game does have a clear-cut favorite, and it’s Peyton Manning, Emmanuel Sanders, C.J. Anderson and the rest of the Broncos. They are a perfect 6-0 at home this year. The Bills won’t come into Denver and hand them their first loss at Mile High Stadium this year. The Broncos will stay atop their division and improve to 10-3.
The best game of the week is the Seattle Seahawks (8-4) at the Philadelphia Eagles (9-3). Neither team can afford a loss. This is one of those games that could come down to the final possession or even go into overtime. The weather could also become a factor in this game. This really is a coin flip game for me. Heads it is, the Eagles win.
The runner-up game of the week looks very similar to the Seahawks and Eagles game. The New England Patriots (9-3) visit the San Diego Chargers (8-4). This one doesn’t seem as difficult for me to decide. I can’t pick against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick when it comes to winning games in December. Put the Patriots down for the win.
Last week, I laid a big turkey egg. I was 7-8 with the outcome of the Monday night game still to be determined at press time. I took the Dolphins over the Jets.
Doug Halberstadt can be reached via e-mail at Dougster61@aol.com.
From the Dec. 3-9, 2014, issue