Look for underdogs to push several playoff contenders to the limit.
Last week’s 10-6 record was acceptable, especially considering I started the weekend 0-2 after Denver and Cincinnati lost the Thursday and Saturday night specials respectively. Seattle and Dallas showed little to make me believe they would be highly competitive against the AFC Champion in the Super Bowl, be it New England or Indianapolis. The New York Giants continue to stupefy by their poor second half of the season play, and the Ravens proved just how far they have declined in one year by becoming Miami’s first victim of the season.
It is unfortunate so many teams failed to live up to the pre-season forecast because it has left fans with what looks on paper to be a dull Week 16 schedule. Only one matchup with both teams still fighting for a playoff spot does not a great penultimate weekend of the regular season make. Nevertheless, there is a bright side. Some of these matchups are destined to produce unexpected results, meaning several potential playoff teams will have to bring their “A” game.
Here are my views on some of the Week 15 action.
* New England … it was another struggle, but they overcame the elements and substandard play to move one step closer to history … they no longer, however, look invincible.
* Jacksonville … this team showed it cannot be taken lightly in the playoffs, even if they have to travel to a cold weather city and play outdoors in January.
* Miami … congratulations to the Dolphins and their fans. while there are a couple teams I would not mind seeing go winless, Miami is not one … the on-field reaction to the victory shows just how much pride professional players take in winning.
* Chicago … the Bears completed their slide from the penthouse to the outhouse with a pathetic offensive performance against the Vikings … Chicago’s defense certainly came to play and did almost everything in their power to set up the offense … 1-14 on third down is certainly not going to win many games.
* Seattle … I was skeptical of the Seahawks’ capabilities earlier this season … then they went on an impressive five-game winning streak and looked like a team with a good a chance as any to win the NFC title … then they traveled out to Carolina and justified my skepticism by losing to the decimated Panthers.
* Atlanta ... I recognize this team has been on a roller coaster that more times than not was heading down a steep track … but I expected a whole lot more for interim head coach Emmitt Thomas.
* Baltimore … I expected this team to have enough pride to avoid falling to the Dolphins … the coaching staff earned its share of the blame … you deserved to lose after going for the tying field goal to send the game into overtime with the ball at the half-yard line … in a meaningless game … with the self-proclaimed greatest running back in the game!
* Detroit … the Lions earned the dubious distinction of giving up more than 50 points in two regular season games … it is shocking to see how this team went down after their strong start.
Dallas (12-2) at Carolina (6-8) (Saturday Night). The humbled Cowboys meet the Panthers in another prime time matchup I would suspect the league office and the NFL Network would like to have switched -- if it were not for all the hoopla that surrounds the Cowboys. I warned that Dallas could be headed for a loss if they thought their swagger was sufficient to defeat the Eagles. Granted, Tony Romo’s thumb injury played a major role in the loss, but the team was outplayed in all facets of the game. Romo is expected to start, but if the thumb continues giving him trouble this team could be headed for another fall against another team looking to take them down a notch. This could be much closer than Dallas would like but they should hold on for the win. Dallas 24 – Carolina 17.
Philadelphia (6-8) at New Orleans (7-7). The Eagles head to the Emerald City to take on the Saints with a chance to deal a severe blow to New Orleans’ playoff hopes. While the Eagles did not play well enough week in and week out to play in the postseason they are a dangerous team. The Saints secured the second of the four consecutive wins they need to hold out hope for the playoffs, and must keep their offense in overdrive because their defense will not win this game for them. It is difficult for teams to win consecutive road games against playoff-caliber teams and while it should be close and exiting, I believe it is too much to expect the Eagles to duplicate last week’s performance. New Orleans 28 – Philadelphia 20.
New York Giants (9-5) at Buffalo (7-7). The G-men take their sorry looking game upstate to take on the hard playing Bills. While New York lost another home game to a division rival and continued its annual second half of the season swoon, the Bills were pretty much done in by the weather at Cleveland. Buffalo overcome significant obstacles this season and I believe they believe the G-men are beatable. So do I. Buffalo 20 – New York 13.
Green Bay (12-2) at Chicago (5-9). The Packers square off against the long-time division rival Bears with renewed hope for securing home field advantage throughout the playoffs thanks to the Cowboys’ loss. As a result, they cannot afford to begin resting players. Chicago certainly has the incentive to knock off the Packers, but they will have to score multiple touchdowns on defense and special teams to do so. They have the players to pull it off but I do not expect the breaks to fall their way. Green Bay 23 – Chicago 13.
Cleveland (9-5) at Cincinnati (5-9). The Browns meet their in state and division rival Bengals in their second “Battle of Ohio.” Few would have expected to see these teams enter this game with their respective records. The Browns continue doing what they must to win. They better beware, however, because this has the makings of another “trap” game following their big win over Buffalo. The Bengals showed just how far they have sunk with their feeble performance at San Francisco. While they will be pumped to have a chance to knock off a probable playoff team, the Browns just seem to have what it takes to secure their ticket for the postseason. It will not be easy but I like the Browns. Cleveland 20 – Cincinnati 17.
Kansas City (4-10) at Detroit (6-8). The Chiefs and Lions face each other in one of the weekend’s least interesting matchups. Both teams come in riding six-game losing streaks but I have to believe the Lions have a little more talent and a lot more desire to walk off win the win. Detroit 28 – Kansas City 13.
Houston (7-7) at Indianapolis (12-2). The Texans meet the Colts with a chance to ensure they will not finish with a losing record. Personally, I think Houston is sending a notice to the rest of the league that they will be a force to reckon with next year. The Colts have clinched the second seed in the AFC playoffs, so they certainly do not have much incentive to play for, but head coach Tony Dungy still plans on playing the starters well into the contest if necessary. I believe it will be closer than many anticipate but the Colts will not let Houston leave town with the victory. Indianapolis 27 – Houston 20.
Oakland (4-10) at Jacksonville (10-4). The Raiders travel cross-country to face the formidable Jaguars who look like they are ready to take on all comers in the playoffs. As I have said before, I like what I am seeing this year with Jacksonville and I would suspect running back Fred Taylor will run a little harder fueled by his Pro Bowl snub. It is shameless he was not selected. Jacksonville 38 – Oakland 16.
Tampa Bay (9-5) at San Francisco (4-10). The Buccaneers head cross-country to the Bay Area to take on the 49’ers with the NFC South wrapped up and little incentive to win. They know they are going to host a Wild Card game next month. It is possible they will rest some of the walking wounded but they should still have enough to handle the lowly 49’ers. Tampa Bay 23 – San Francisco 13.
Atlanta (3-11) at Arizona (6-8). The Falcons head to the desert to face an Arizona team that once again finds itself on the outside looking in come playoff time. To say I was disappointed in Atlanta’s performance last week at Tampa Bay would be an understatement. I was shocked this team was not ready to play just to show they did not need former head coach Bobby Petrino around. Arizona once again can look back on a season of missed opportunities and terrible loses. Three weeks ago they held playoff destiny in their hands; two consecutive loses later that are no longer in the hunt. Maybe next year. Arizona 30 – Atlanta 12.
Baltimore (4-10) at Seattle (9-5). The Ravens get to travel cross-country to face the Seahawks, which should give them plenty of time to ponder how they could go from 13-3 one season to double digit loses the next. This team is not as bad as its record but they did not gel this year and questionable play calling should have cost head coach Brian Billick his job. The Seahawks should be able to get back on track after last week’s fiasco in Carolina, but with the NFC West locked up they certainly will not have the same drive to perform at the level they would if still fighting for a higher seed. I do not see how the Ravens can get up for this game after last week’s loss and I do not see how the Seahawks will make it any easier for them. Seattle 24 – Baltimore 13.
New York Jets (3-11) at Tennessee (8-6). The Jets meet the Titans with Tennessee holding out hope that Cleveland will stumble, keeping the playoff door open. The Titans kept their hopes alive at Kansas City, but they still need to win and they still need help. Tennessee 23 – New York 17.
Miami (1-13) at New England (14-0). The Dolphins hope to make it two consecutive wins when they face the Patriots. Much of the drama surrounding this game dissolved with Miami’s win, but the Dolphins traditionally play New England close, especially when they meet for the second time. In fact, Miami is the last team to beat the Patriots in the regular season when they shut them out last December. The Patriots will be ready to continue their quest for perfection and will not allow this Miami team to repeat the performance of the 1985 Dolphins against the then 12-0 invincible-looking Bears. New England 42 – Miami 14.
Washington (7-7) at Minnesota (8-6). In what is the weekend’s surprise matchup, the still playoff contending Redskins head to the Twin Cities to take on the Vikings. Washington has recovered nicely from the turmoil surrounding the Sean Taylor tragedy to win back-to-back games, but now must hit the road for the second consecutive week in need of a win. The Vikings were brought back down to earth with a sub par performance against the Bears last Monday, but a win is a win and they can move oh so close to the playoffs with the victory. This should be a hard-hitting physical contest probably decided by which team runs the ball better. All rushing statistics point to the Vikings. Minnesota 20 – Washington 17.
Denver (6-8) at San Diego (9-5). The disappointing Broncos face the Chargers in a pretty meaningless Christmas Eve contest. San Diego already clobbered Denver this season on the Broncos’ home turf, in a game that had the usually loyal Denver fans heading to the exits before the third quarter ended. I wonder how ugly it will be this time. San Diego 38 – Denver 14.
I want to wish all of you a Happy Holiday season. May you enjoy family, friends, and traditions this Christmas, and as always, keep the brave men and women of the armed forces in your thoughts and prayers.
2007 Fearless Forecaster Record
Week 15: 10-6