By Doug Halberstadt
For many NFL teams, the 2014 season draws to a merciful close this week. For others, the excitement of the playoffs and a chance at a deep run into the postseason with a possible shot at the Super Bowl begins.
Two teams with their eyes focused on a championship ring are the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions. They’ll square off against one another Sunday night (Dec. 28) to take that first step. The winner will claim the NFC North division championship and a first-round bye. The losing team will have to take the much tougher wild card route through the postseason. They met one another in week three of the regular season, with the Lions coming out victorious 19-7 in the Motor City. Green Bay is a perfect 7-0 at Lambeau Field this season. I look for Aaron Rodgers to come out on fire and lead the Packers to their fourth consecutive division title and finish the season with win No. 8 in front of the Green Bay faithful.
The two other teams from the NFC North, the Chicago Bears and the Minnesota Vikings, end their woeful seasons against one another. The Bears won their first meeting 21-13 on Nov. 16 in Chicago. I look for Chicago to sweep the Vikings.
I’m going to ignore all of the playoff scenarios and seeding possibilities when making the rest of my picks for this week. I’m not using any of those factors as motivation for one team over another. I’m going strictly on which team I think is better and who I expect will get the win.
I’ve grouped 12 of my other 14 choices in threes. I’m taking Houston at home over the Jacksonville Jaguars. I like Kansas City over the Chargers at Arrowhead. The Miami Dolphins will finish their season with a win at home over the New York Jets.
Three more home teams I like are the Patriots over the Bills, the Giants over the Eagles and the Steelers over the Bengals.
My next three winners are all visitors. I’m taking the New Orleans Saints to beat the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay. The Colts should knock off the Titans in Nashville, and the Cowboys will pick up their 12th win of the season by beating the Redskins in Washington.
I’m going back to the home teams for my next three picks. I like the Falcons over the Panthers in Atlanta. The Ravens will pick up their 10th win of the year with a win at home over the Cleveland Browns. Like the Packers, the Denver Broncos are trying for a perfect 8-0 record at home this season. They’ll have to get by the Raiders to do so. Consider it done!
One of my final two picks of the year is the Seattle Seahawks over the St. Louis Rams. The Seahawks are the defending Super Bowl champions and are playing at home where they have a huge advantage known as the “12th Man,” the loudest fans in the NFL. Look for those fans to send the Seahawks roaring into the postseason.
The Arizona Cardinals and the San Francisco 49ers game is my last one of a 17-week NFL schedule. The game is in San Francisco. The Cardinals have won without most of their key starters all season long based on Head Coach Bruce Arians’ “next man up” philosophy. I like the way the Cardinals have bought into that philosophy and ignored all of the adversity that’s been thrown at them. I think they close out a very strange season with a win.
Last week, I was 9-6 with only the Monday night game remaining to be played at press time. I went with the Broncos over the Bengals in that one.
From the Dec. 24-30, 2014, issue