Week 12 had everything you could ever ask for in a slate of games. There were bouts spread across three different days of the week, thrilling late-game finishes in Atlanta, Buffalo and Denver and an NFL bully finally getting his comeuppance in Houston. There were big individual performances from Tom Brady, Dwayne Bowe and Peyton Hillis, and gutsy road wins from the Vikings, Chargers and Saints.
Week 13? Expect more of the same, including two of the best games of the season on Sunday and Monday nights. Thankfully, neither matchup involves teams in the NFC West.
Let’s dig into the picks.
Week 12 Record: 9-7
Overall 2010 Record: 100-77
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
Washington at New York Giants: All the talk this week in New York has been about Justin Tuck’s inspired halftime speech last week, something teammate Barry Cofield characterized as a “halftime speech for the ages.” I had no idea Tuck, a fine player and one of the game’s great ambassadors, had a piece of Al Pacino’s Tony D’Amato character from “Any Given Sunday” in him. Yes, I’ll put that “ Peace By Inches” (NSFW) speech over anything Vince Lombardi, Knute Rockne or coach Eric Taylor (“Friday Night Lights”, Season 4, the East Dillon years, thank you very much) ever delivered in a locker room. The Giants, the superior team, won’t need any fiery pep talks in this one.
The Pick: Giants 28, Redskins 17
Jaguars at Titans: Is it any coincidence that Chuck Cecil, notoriously known as both the most hated and most feared defensive back of the 1990s, is all-time rabble-rouser Cortland Finnegan’s defensive coordinator in Tennessee? Finnegan told TitansInsider.com earlier this season he desired to be known as the league’s dirtiest player. Chris Johnson actually owes Finnegan a pat on the back. If it weren’t for the cornerback’s fisticuffs with Andre Johnson, the media would be focusing on Johnson’s career-low, 5-yard rushing day against one of the worst defenses in the league. Jacksonville lost a heartbreaker in New Jersey on Sunday but shouldn’t fade away like it did last December. The Jaguars will get the best of Tennessee in this pivotal division bout.
The Pick: Jaguars 23, Titans 19
Bears at Lions: Is it time to start mentioning Jay Cutler’s name in the NFL MVP conversation yet? Perhaps. In Sunday’s win over Philadelphia, the media’s longtime rag doll notched a 146.2 passer rating, the highest of his five-year NFL career, in a performance that included four touchdown passes, 247 yards, and no interceptions. Though they’re never mentioned in the same breath as some of the league’s other division leaders, the Bears are 8-3 and in sole possession of first place in the NFC North. Mike Martz deserves props, too, though. During the Bears’ current four-game winning streak, Chicago has run the ball 31, 37, 40 and 28 times. During back-to-back home losses in October, the Bears ran a total of 30 times. A balanced offense, a sturdy defense, a calm quarterback and a wise offensive coordinator — what’s not to like about the 2010 Bears?
The Pick: Bears 31, Lions 17
Buffalo at Minnesota: The Bills became the first team since 1997 to lose three overtime games in the same season with their 16-13 OT defeat Sunday. Stevie Johnson’s Bills logo-inspired haircut, Twitter account and five drops garnered the bulk of the media’s attention, but it was the suddenly rejuvenated defense that opened my eyes. Buffalo nose tackle Kyle Williams — I foolishly said he wasn’t an NFL starter and not suited for a 3-4 defense during draft time — recorded 10 tackles, two sacks and drew four holding penalties on the Steelers in the loss. Want an upset special for Sunday? Take the Bills, who, despite being 2-9, are playing some pretty darn good football of late.
The Pick: Bills 34, Vikings 20
Denver at Kansas City: Only three weeks after “Handshake-gate” between Todd Haley and Josh McDaniels and just a few days after Spygate II involving a now-former assistant on McDaniels’ staff, the Chiefs face the Broncos fresh off two dominant wins over NFC West opponents. Though Arian Foster and Peyton Hillis will likely secure the two starting AFC Pro Bowl running back spots, Jamaal Charles is worth considering for one of the backup positions. In his past 15 games (the last four of the 2009 season and 11 this season), Charles has carried the ball 255 times for 1,679 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s the fastest Chief to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. K.C. is 5-0 at home this year and sizzling on both sides of the ball. I can’t pick against the Chiefs in Arrowhead this weekend.
The Pick: Chiefs 31, Broncos 17
49ers at Packers: One of the greatest games ever played — the ’98 wild-card matchup between Steve Young, Terrell Owens, Jerry Rice and the Niners against Brett Favre’s two-time defending NFC champion Packers — involved these two franchises. Expect FOX to break out the ol’ archived footage from that one, including Young’s winning touchdown pass to T.O. and a weeping Owens on the sideline after (finally) holding onto a pass. Packers fans might be the ones weeping after this one, though, as I see Troy Smith and the Niners pulling the rare road upset at Lambeau on six days of rest. Who had Smith, Brian Westbrook and Anthony Dixon leading the Niners to a division title? Anyone? Hello? I can see it happening. The complete and utter lack of a Packers rushing offense is going to haunt Green Bay in December and January.
The Pick: 49ers 24, Packers 20
New Orleans at Cincinnati: A year ago at this time, the Bengals were 8-3 and in the driver’s seat of the AFC North. Twelve months later, they’re arguably the league’s worst team and certainly its most underachieving. Do they stand a chance vs. the red-hot Saints? No, they do not. It doesn’t get any easier, though, for the Bungles. After this game against the defending champions, Cincy travels to Pittsburgh and has tough home games against Cleveland and San Diego before the season finale at Baltimore. Hmmm, maybe it’s time to start thinking about Andrew Luck dressed in Bengals orange and black?
The Pick: Saints 34, Bengals 17
Cleveland at Miami: After an embarrassing nationally televised 39-yard rushing effort in a home shutout loss against the Bears — the worst of the Tony Sparano era — the Dolphins ran the ball 49 times for 186 yards in a win at Oakland on Sunday. The Dolphins are like a cockroach — just when you think they’re dead and gone, they re-emerge in the AFC playoff chase. They’re oddly 5-1 on the road and 1-4 at home this season. Look for that home record to improve to 2-4 on Sunday with a typical hard-fought victory won on the ground.
Oakland at San Diego: As much as I love the 2010 Raiders and have worn a dazzling array of white satin jumpsuits to Manhattan sports bars on Sundays this season, I can’t see anyone beating the Super Chargers the way San Diego is playing right now. Sunday night’s undressing of the Colts in Indianapolis — a place where Indy had lost only twice in the past 2-1/2 years — was one of those statement games that force you to take a step back and say, “Umm ... wow.” The Raiders’ 33-17 loss to Miami? Yeah, that caused me to do the exact opposite. I’ll never jump off this bandwagon, Raiders fans, but man, it’s hard in good conscience to say they’re still winning the AFC West this season.
The Pick: Chargers 34, Raiders 17
Atlanta at Tampa Bay: The only fight that was perhaps more venomous than Johnson vs. Finnegan on Sunday was Tampa Bay cornerback Aqib Talib’s verbal war with a member of Carl Cheffers’ officiating crew after a questionable pass interference call on teammate Myron Lewis. Talib reportedly used an expletive to describe the call, to which the unidentified member of the crew responded, "You play like a (expletive).” Talib then responded by telling the official, "I'll (hit) you in your (expletive) mouth." Just another Sunday in the NFL, folks! The Baby Bucs showed me a lot in their gritty effort up in Baltimore, but Matt Ryan is beyond locked-in right now. He’s a robot at this point. I think he finds a way on the road in this one.
The Pick: Falcons 32, Buccaneers 24
Dallas at Indianapolis: With an eighth consecutive 12-win season now no longer possible, the Colts can just focus on making the playoffs. "Ironically, we're still tied for first place in our division," coach Jim Caldwell said earlier this week. "We still control our own destiny. (Jacksonville) still owns the tiebreaker on us at this point. But, nevertheless, we still have an opportunity to reach our No. 1 goal. That's the thing that we try to focus in on. What we're looking at is the next game. We haven't been eliminated from anything at this point in time.” Indy’s only going to get healthier, and several key players are returning in the coming weeks. Peyton Manning won’t lose three straight games, especially two in a row at home.
The Pick: Colts 33, Cowboys 20
St. Louis at Arizona: A week after nearly squandering a 33-13 fourth-quarter lead in Denver, the Rams should notch their second road win of the season, over lowly Arizona. Sam Bradford continued last week what should make for an Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign, notching the first 300-yard game of his career and tossing three touchdowns in the win at Denver. The Cardinals? They’re a really bad football team. Would they have been this bad with Matt Leinart — a guy who had been in the system for four years — under center in 2010? In hindsight, the Whisenhunt-Leinart situation is a bit like the girl who rejects the longtime best friend when he finally makes his move so she could go on a bunch of blind dates with strangers instead. And those strangers chuckle on the sideline during embarrassing nationally televised blowout losses at home.
The Pick: Rams 30, Cardinals 13
Carolina at Seattle: All you need to know about the NFC West in 2010 can be summed up by the fact the Seahawks have lost four of their past five games by an average of 24 points, sit a game below .500 at 5-6 — and are still tied for the NFC West lead with St. Louis. They should get another win Sunday, considering the Panthers — the youngest team in the league — haven’t won a road game all season.
The Pick: Seahawks 20, Panthers 14
Pittsburgh at Baltimore: The Steelers seem to be having more trouble with penalties than they are with their opponents this season. With 107 more penalty yards piled onto the team-record 163 from the previous week, the yellow flags nearly cost Pittsburgh the game up in Buffalo on Sunday. The AFC North could be won this weekend. I like Baltimore, 5-0 at home on the year, to notch the 'W' and sweep the Steelers for the first time in the Harbaugh-Flacco era and for the first time since the 2006 season. The Pittsburgh offensive line is beyond banged up, and I like the Ravens to “protect this house” (said in Ray Lewis voice) under the lights.
The Pick: Ravens 24, Steelers 20
New York Jets at New England: All things seem to come full circle in the NFL, even with the scheduling gods. A week after America was “treated” to a difficult-to-watch Cardinals-49ers snoozefest, we get arguably the biggest game of the season up to now with the Jets traveling to Foxborough. Both teams are coming off uncanny 12-day rests (they both played on Thanksgiving), so look for two very prepared teams, using every trick in their bags. That means Brad Smith reverse plays, Danny Woodhead shovel passes and the occasional fake punt or halfback option. In the end, give me the Patriots at home in an absolute slugfest.
The Pick: Patriots 26, Jets 17
Cheat Sheet Trivia Question of the Week: Norv Turner notched his 100th career coaching victory, including the playoffs, on Sunday night. Who are the five other current NFL head coaches with 100 or more career wins?
Reader email of the Week:
It’s been a few years since Peyton Manning hosted “Saturday Night Live”. No lie, he plain killed it. Tom Brady wasn’t bad a few years back, either. Which NFL players or coaches would you want to see host the show?
First off, let’s give this season of SNL a little love. Two new additions to the cast — Jay Pharoah and Vanessa Bayer — have been downright incredible. If you missed Bayer’s impression of Miley Cyrus a few weeks back, go find it online. Fantastic stuff. Here are my top five picks for guys involved with the league that I’d like to see host SNL. No. 1 is a no-brainer, and I’m almost shocked they haven’t had him on yet. And note that Chad Ochocinco is nowhere to be found.
5. Darnell Dockett, DT, Arizona Cardinals: Dockett’s not a household name, but he’s my favorite player to follow on Twitter. Downright hilarious stuff out of the Cardinals’ defensive team captain. An example? Here’s Dockett’s Tweet from last Friday: “I'm Black every Friday!”
4. Warren Sapp, NFL Network/Showtime: In his third year on “Inside the NFL”, Sapp has progressed from good to great to arguably the very best among former players who dissect the game. His jokes at the expense of Phil Simms and Cris Collinsworth are weekly delights.
3. Ray Lewis, LB, Baltimore Ravens: Lewis is still the best sound bite in sports. His “Old Spice” ads are bizarre but show his softer/humorous side. Put him in wigs, dress him as a woman, make him do a Tom Brady impression — it’d be great.
2. Brett Favre, QB, Minnesota Vikings: You could fill an entire show of Favre doing jokes about himself. Have a sense of humor, Brett! Dress Bobby Moynihan as a cell phone, have him go on a blind date with Favre, and we’ve got the skit of the year.
1. Rex Ryan, Coach, New York Jets: As I said ... no brainer.
Cheat Sheet Trivia Answer of the Week: Bill Belichick (172), Mike Shanahan (159), Jeff Fisher (146), Tom Coughlin (138), and Andy Reid (125) are the five other active head coaches with 100 or more career wins.