Look for most “must win” teams to do just that.
Last week’s 11-5 forecast was a welcome return to the double-digit correct column after not clearing the “Mendoza Line” in Week 12. That includes giving myself an incorrect in the Tampa Bay–New Orleans matchup. I forecast a Tampa Bay win if quarterback Jeff Garcia played deep into the game but a loss if he sat. He sat, but third string quarterback Luke McCown looked like an all-pro in propelling the Bucs to a late come from behind win.
Ironically, the forecast could have been significantly worse, but I benefited from several breaks that bit me in Week 12 and saw several teams pull out late wins. Arizona barely held on for the win when the referees and official booth replay gurus decided Cleveland tight end Kellen Winslow was not forced out of bounds when he made a spectacular catch in the end zone on the last play of the game. If the booth had reversed the call, the Browns would have headed home with the win.
The New York Giants, under the sinking admiralship of quarterback Eli Manning, appeared headed to another frustrating loss before the often-maligned signal caller suddenly turned into his brother and led the G-men to a late come-from-behind win at Chicago.
Lastly, there is New England. Baltimore completely out played, out muscled, and for the most part out executed the Patriots in their Monday night matchup, but somehow quarterback Tom Brady pulled out another late game drive to keep their record unblemished. The last quarter of that game produced some of best theater we have seen on the gridiron this year, with big plays, big turnovers, big penalties, big hits, big trash-talk, big breaks, big coaching blunders, big decisions, big 4th down plays, big momentum swings, and one big late game catch that looked oh so close to being incomplete. Winning teams always tend to have more breaks go their way than losing teams, and the Patriots certainly benefited immensely from that fact.
Here are some of my other thoughts after last week’s action.
* New England … they look more and more beatable and will have to be ready to take the best shot their remaining opponents can deliver … but … they are still perfect.
* Indianapolis … still battered and bruised, the Colts have had to endure several weeks of questions as to whether or not they were still the best team in their division … they proved they are.
* Minnesota … where did this suddenly powerful looking juggernaut come from … I have had this team written off all season and all of the sudden they look like a formidable playoff foe that few teams would want to meet in the postseason. They can run and defend the ball exceptionally well, always a plus at this time of the season and in the playoffs. Their overall defensive play has risen several levels and the play of young quarterback Tarvaris Jackson the last few weeks is nothing short of suburb. Please Vikings, for your fans sake, do not blow the good thing your have going now.
* Oakland … two consecutive divisional wins after 17 consecutive loses must feel good … and rookie No. 1 draft pick quarterback JaMarcus Russell finally saw his first action of the season.
* Carolina … congratulations for finally securing that elusive first home win of the season.
* Chicago … football is a 60-minute game … you looked pretty good for 45 against the Giants … too bad you still had 15 to go … I wonder what the odds are that there is a new quarterback in Chicago next season.
* Denver … I believe it was just a couple weeks ago that one of your players claimed you were the team to beat in the AFC West … two losses later to teams you should definitely have defeated has left you one loss away from the AFC cellar and pretty much left you on the outside looking in concerning the playoffs.
* Jacksonville ... this was your week to prove you were ready to overtake Indianapolis and you failed … you will never rise to elite status as long as you continue to come up short against the Colts.
* Miami … what was that against the Jets … are you resigned to a “perfect” winless season?
* Kansas City … 1-6 at Arrowhead … I feel bad for your devoted fans, some of the best in the league.
* Baltimore … I know you played your guts out, and I know you believe you did not deserve to end up on the short end against New England, but you need to maintain your composure on the field and quit trying to cast blame on your miserable season on other causes such as the referees and the league office. I do not believe they were responsible for turnovers in New England’s territory, blatant penalties that kept New England drives alive, and an unfortunate time out that if not called would have appeared to secure the win.
* The NFL Rules Committee … you guys should be working overtime in the off-season because there has to be some significant changes to several rules … while I would be hard-pressed to prove a bad call or confusing ruling directly resulted in a loss for a team, but the ebb and flow of games have been adversely affected more than any year I can recall, and I believe certainly helped contributed to several outcomes.
Miami (0-12) at Buffalo (6-6). The sorry Dolphins take their winless streak on the road to upstate New York and I would suspect their fans could not be happier. Their performance last week against a beatable New York team was almost unforgivable. I fail to understand why this team was not sky high for the contest, in which they were actually favored. The Bills meanwhile had the unenviable position of having to travel to Washington to take on the Redskins three days after Sean Taylor was laid to rest. This was a “lose lose” situation for the Bills: A Redskins win would have at least somewhat softened the blow of Taylor’s death. I see no way the Dolphins are any more ready to play this week than last, and this is a “must” win for the Bills. Buffalo 23 – Miami 13.
Dallas (11-1) at Detroit (6-6). The Cowboys should be eager to play following their 10-day break after defeating Green Bay. They should be singing “yippee kiii yeaaa” to be facing the Lions who have hit the skids hard after starting 6-2. The Lions have been manhandled by Green Bay and Minnesota the last two weeks and show little evidence they are ready or capable of stopping their four-game slide. Ten wins this season is completely unattainable and eight wins may be out of reach. Dallas 38 – Detroit 17.
Carolina (5-7) at Jacksonville (8-4). The Panthers finally put what would appear to be a cap on their season by finally winning their first home game. With Seattle and Dallas still on the home schedule, another one is unlikely. They are definitely unfortunate to be traveling to Jacksonville this week. I would expect the Jaguars will take their frustration over last week’s loss at Indianapolis out on the Panthers and it will not be pretty. Jacksonville 35 – Carolina 18.
Oakland (4-8) at Green Bay (10-2). The Raiders take their two-game winning streak on the road to face the rested Packers. Oakland will see that streak come to a screeching halt. The Packers are one of several teams that can clinch the division title this weekend, and they should have little trouble doing so against the Raiders. The gritty, gutsy, tough Brett Favre, bruised elbow and dislocated shoulder be damned, is still scheduled to start. Having to pull Favre in the Dallas game due to injury may have been a blessing in disguise for Green Bay. Back-up Aaron Rodgers played exceptionally well, certainly much better than I would have suspected. This had to give the Green Bay faithful some relief for the team’s prospects in the post-Favre era. Rodgers may even get a chance for more playing time this week, albeit in a mop-up role. Green Bay 28 – Oakland 18.
St. Louis (3-9) at Cincinnati (4-8). Two high-octane teams that had playoff hopes at the beginning of the year square off in this pretty meaningless contest. Both teams have certainly elevated their level of play over the past few weeks but it is too little too late. Either team could emerge with the victory, but I am going to go with the home team, playing outdoors in December, against a Dome team. At least it should be exciting and high scoring. Cincinnati 35 – St. Louis 28.
San Diego (7-5) at Tennessee (7-5). In one of the few “games of the week,” the Chargers and Titans meet up with both teams looking to solidify their playoff position with the win. The Chargers, however, have just about sewed up the AFC West title and its automatic berth while the Titans are fighting for their playoff life against several teams. The Chargers are the better talented team, are playing the better football right now, and appear to have overcome some of the problems that plagued them earlier this season. They have, however, only one win against a team with a winning record. It will be a struggle to make it two but I believe they are executing much better than the Titans right now. San Diego 24 – Tennessee 14.
Tampa Bay (8-4) at Houston (5-7). The Buccaneers can secure the NFC South with a win and I would certainly expect them to do just that against the Texans. Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden pulled a rabbit out of the hat by tapping McCown for the start. This kid looked absolute super! His pocket poise was unbelievable for the limited tested signal caller, his play action pass fakes had me fooled on more than one occasion, and he displayed leadership skills that simply blew me away. Despite all the injuries Tampa Bay has suffered this year, they have to be feeling good about their position as the regular season winds down. Houston has shown this year that they are a few players short of having the kind of backups you need to win when the regulars go down. Most of their losses, including last week, have come with either or both quarterback Matt Schaub and wide receiver Andre Johnson out with injury. If they both play, the Texans will be competitive and could even pull off the upset. I believe the Bucs want to clinch that playoff spot now. Tampa Bay 21 – Houston 17.
New York Giants (8-4) at Philadelphia (5-7). While some of the aura is off what looked like a “monster” matchup at this time of the season, this is still a critical matchup for both teams but a “must” win for the Eagles. The Giants were able to overcome Manning’s inept play for most of the game in Chicago to steal home with the win, but they need to pick up their play if they hope to retain the fourth seed in the NFC playoffs. The Eagles would love nothing better than to knock off their hated division rival, and quarterback Donovan McNabb returns after going out with an injury in Week 11. This should be a “snot knocker” that either team will be happy – and perhaps lucky – to win. My head says Philadelphia while my heart says New York. This time I am going with my head. Philadelphia 20 – New York 16.
Arizona (6-6) at Seattle (8-4). The Cardinals take on their division rival with a great chance to solidify their postseason position. Unfortunately for Arizona, they are facing a Seattle team that is hot and playing its best football of the year. The Cardinals are where they belong this year, fighting for the playoffs, but they are not at the level needed to win this road game at one of the league’s toughest venues for visiting teams. The Seahawks will continue their impressive play. Seattle 28 – Arizona 17.
Minnesota (6-6) at San Francisco (3-9). The surging Vikings head to the West Coast to take on a team that has little going for it right now. This is the type of matchup the Vikings have traditionally failed to show up for, and as a long time fan I can only hope they do not continue that tradition. They are one of the most entertaining teams to watch right now, pulling off big plays in all facets of the game. To say I am worried would be an understatement but I have to go with the sizzling Vikes. Minnesota 24 – San Francisco 14.
Cleveland (7-5) at New York Jets (3-9). The Browns finally saw their luck run out against Arizona last week, but I am not 100 percent sure Winslow would not have come down in the end zone had he not be engaged with Arizona defenders. I would advise the Browns wash out the bad taste of the loss and remain focused on the task at hand. This is a definite “trap” game that could have a damaging and demoralizing affect on their playoff drive. The Jets obviously proved they were not going to be the victim in Miami’s first win of the season by manhandling the Dolphins. They will be looking to ride that momentum and knock of a playoff contender. I know two of the Jets’ three wins have come against Miami but I still see them as an extremely dangerous team for the Browns. It may require another come-from-behind win but the Browns have the talent to come through. Cleveland 20 – New York 17.
Kansas City (4-8) at Denver (5-7). Two of the AFC’s most disappointing teams square off in the Mile High City. The Chiefs limp in on a five-game losing streak, which included a home loss to the Broncos. Denver limps in on a two-game losing streak of its own, including an ugly loss at Oakland. The Broncos beat the Chiefs in Week 10 and I see little that would suggest Kansas City will get revenge. Denver 27 – Kansas City 16.
Pittsburgh (9-3) at New England (12-0). The big game of the weekend has the formidable Steelers taking on the undefeated Patriots. It clearly looks like the pressure of staying that way is beginning to take tits toll on the Patriots and this veteran team is starting to show its age as the season wears on. This week will be no easier as they take on one of the league’s most physical teams that happens to be the No. 1 ranked defense in the league, that loves to pound the ball, and that loves to play outdoors in December. There is little doubt that this appears to be the best chance remaining this season for the Patriots to lose (Giants’ fans may disagree and will have a chance to shut my mouth in Week 17), and there would be little surprise if Pittsburgh was the team to do it. I have just not warmed to Pittsburgh this year, and with ugly road losses at Arizona, Denver, and to the Jets makes me question their ability to win this big road game. I do not expect a blow out but I do not expect it to be as entering as last week’s New England-Baltimore matchup. New England 27 – Pittsburgh 20.
Indianapolis (10-2) at Baltimore (4-8). This also looked like a “monster” matchup when the schedule came out but the luster has been worn off by Baltimore’s disappointing season. The Ravens laid it all on the line against the Patriots and will be hard pressed to rejuvenate that intensity against the Colts. The game is at home and the Colts are only a notch below the Patriots so they certainly will have the incentive. I just do not see how they will be able to compete and stay with Indianapolis for 60 minutes. The Colts showed they are still the second best team in the league with their hard fought victory against division rival Jacksonville, and would probably put any questions to rest about the winner of this game early if they had all their weapons. They do not and the Ravens will give it their all. Indianapolis 28 – Baltimore 14.
New Orleans (5-7) at Atlanta (3-9). Another game that looked like a sure winner is now a matchup of two teams probably playing out the season. The Saints had a chance to stay in the thick of the NFC playoff picture with a win against Tampa Bay, but a botched exchange on a late trick play turned into a “gift” turnover that led to Tampa’s winning score, while at the same time placing the Saints’ postseason hopes in severe jeopardy. Atlanta would love to put the final nail in the Saints disappointing season and certainly have a chance. This is a “must” win for New Orleans, however, to keep that flicker of hope alive for the playoffs, which should be motivation enough to walk out of the Georgia Dome with the win. New Orleans 28 – Atlanta 20.
2007 Fearless Forecaster Record
Week 13: 11-5