With just two weeks remaining in the 2010 regular season, there are several questions still left to be answered.
Only four of the 12 postseason berths have been locked up, the first pick in April’s Draft is still very much up for grabs, and the race for NFL MVP has been narrowed down to three quarterbacks — Tom Brady, Matt Ryan and Michael Vick.
Last week, a team scored 28 points in the fourth quarter and erased a 21-point deficit with less than eight minutes to go to grab hold of a division lead, a seven-win squad lost its sixth home game of the season, and some guys named Webb, Skelton and Whitehurst saw significant time at quarterback.
What’s in store for Week 16? Let’s dig into the Cheat Sheet.
Week 15 Record: 8-8
2010 Overall Record: 128-98
Dallas at Arizona: Am I the only one who immediately thinks of Rod Tidwell and his agent Jerry Maguire anytime the Cowboys play at Arizona under the lights? Well, I don’t think John Skelton’s anybody’s “ambassador of quan,” and I don’t see a dramatic Cardinals win, here. But all the blame for last Sunday’s loss to the Panthers can’t be pinned on Arizona’s rookie quarterback. The defense is terrible and the receiving corps — the one that was supposed to be OK without Anquan Boldin — has been miserable. The Cardinals wideouts, who lead the league in percentage of passes dropped, have dropped six in their past two games. The Cowboys take this one with ease. And hey, NFL Network, a good Cuba Gooding Jr. clip wouldn’t hurt.
The Pick: Cowboys 37, Cardinals 17
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET:
New England at Buffalo: Tom Brady’s more than likely your 2010 MVP and Bill Belichick might just be your 2010 NFL Coach of the Year, but Buffalo coach Chan Gailey and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick may have earned themselves the security of another year on the job with Buffalo’s inspired play of late. The Bills have now won two straight games, with surprising efforts from young contributors on both sides of the ball. The Patriots should win Sunday, but as has been the case with trips to Buffalo all season, it won’t be a walk in the park.
The Pick: Patriots 27, Bills 20
Baltimore at Cleveland: The Browns won their final four games of the 2009 season, simultaneously saving Eric Mangini’s job and playing spoiler around the league. The last four games of the 2010 season might not shape up as nicely, though, as the Browns have already lost back-to-back games to a 2-10 Bills squad and a 2-11 Bengals team, and now face mighty Baltimore and Pittsburgh to close out the year. Running back Peyton Hillis was stopped on third and goal from the 1-yard line for the second time in two weeks last Sunday. With an AFC North title now a real possibility, I can’t see the Ravens D letting Hillis run wild in this one. Expect another big day out of Ray Rice and a Ravens victory.
The Pick: Ravens 23, Browns 13
New York Jets at Chicago: I’ll be the first to eat crow on this one. After Week 14’s disastrous loss to the Dolphins, I was quick to proclaim the Jets “D-O-N-E, Done, Done, Done.” Naturally, they went out and silenced the critics, didn’t have any strength and conditioning coaches trip opposing players, and won their first game in Pittsburgh in franchise history on Sunday. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer — skewered by the New York media all season long — showed ingenuity and trust in his young quarterback, while the defense made key stops down the stretch. Can the Jets win another road test against a division leader? If Braylon Edwards is actually catching balls, I don’t see why not. The Bears won in impressive fashion Monday night, but on just six days rest after playing on a surface that was compared to a frozen parking lot, I can see the Jets escaping with a win at Soldier Field. As for the Rex and Michelle Ryan foot-fetish stuff, it doesn’t bother me at all. But I watched the videos, and have to admit — I am a little confused. Her feet are nothing special! Hey, to each his own.
The Pick: Jets 24, Bears 16
Washington at Jacksonville: Donovan who? The Rex Grossman era has begun in D.C., ladies and gentlemen! The same man who quarterbacked the Chicago Bears to their only Super Bowl in the past 24 years led Redskins touchdown drives of 71, 78 and 56 yards in a near miracle comeback win Sunday in Dallas. The former Gator can go back to northern Florida and beat the Jags this weekend. Jacksonville’s playoff-contention-eliminating loss in Indy was a devastating one, but nothing new for Jags fans. This is the fourth time in the past seven years that their team had control of their playoff destiny but lost in big spots. They were 8-6 in 2004 and lost to Houston, 8-5 in 2006 and lost their last three games, and 7-5 last year and lost their last four.
The Pick: Redskins 31, Jaguars 20
San Francisco at St. Louis: Who doesn’t wait all week for these NFC West battles? In what might be the worst division the NFL’s ever seen, there’s a real possibility a 7-9 team hosts a first-round playoff game against an 11-game winner in 2010. The Rams host the 49ers on Sunday and visit Seattle on the final Sunday of the season. Two wins and the Rams win the division title, no matter what Seattle does this week against Tampa Bay. Sam Bradford, only the third rookie in NFL history to pass for 3,000 yards (Peyton Manning and Matt Ryan were the others), should bounce back from Sunday’s loss to the Chiefs with a win over a fellow former Heisman winner. The season of Troy/Alex/Troy/Alex/Troy/Alex Smith at quarterback is almost over. Savor it while you can.
The Pick: Rams 24, 49ers 16
Tennessee at Kansas City: Though everyone’s once again all hot on the Chargers, the AFC West-leading Chiefs control their own destiny, are 6-0 at home and have two home games left on their schedule. An unknown player who’s making a huge difference in KC this year? Defensive end Wallace Gilberry — who?! — an undrafted player out of Alabama who had the first three-sack game of his NFL career against St. Louis last weekend. Gilberry has seven sacks on the season and is a legitimate pass rushing force for Romeo Crennel’s D. Kerry Collins looked like the Kerry Collins of old (the good one, not the bad one) last Sunday vs. Houston, but the Chiefs should handle their business at home. They’ve done it all year, and they’ll do it again.
The Pick: Chiefs 20, Titans 13
Detroit at Miami: There was a resounding mix of boos and “Let’s Go, Heat” chants rocking Sun Life Stadium after last Sunday’s embarrassing season-ending 17-14 loss to Buffalo. This will be a year to forget for Dolphins fans. In a season where Chad Henne was supposed to mature into the first true franchise quarterback since Dan Marino, where the defense featured the NFL’s sack leader in Cameron Wake, and where there were some incredible wins on the road in Oakland and New York, Miami is 1-6 at home and has been eliminated from the playoff hunt. With Sunday’s loss, the Dolphins became just the 11th team in NFL history to win six or more road games and fail to reach the playoffs. Detroit, meanwhile, won its first road game since October 2007 in Tampa Bay last week. The Lions can win in the state of Florida; the Dolphins clearly cannot. Give me Stanton, Suh, and Schwartz — the three S’s — and red-hot Detroit at Sun Life in this one.
The Pick: Lions 26, Dolphins 16
4 p.m. ET games:
San Diego at Cincinnati: Was last Thursday’s two-touchdown performance from Vincent Jackson a little too late for the Super Chargers? San Diego needs help from either the Titans or Raiders, and needs to win out the rest of the way, to even have a shot at a postseason berth. They’ll have to do so on the road, too — a place that hasn’t exactly been friendly for the ‘Bolts. The Chargers lost their first four road games of the season at Kansas City, Seattle, Oakland and St. Louis. San Diego needs to win at Cincinnati on Sunday and at Denver next weekend. I think they get the first half taken care of over the suddenly rejuvenated Bengals defense.
The Pick: Chargers 23, Bengals 13
Indianapolis at Oakland: The 98 points the Raiders put on the Broncos this season are the most ever for one team in two meetings against a single opponent in the same season. Unfortunately for the Black Hole faithful, the Colts aren’t the Broncos and Peyton Manning isn’t a rookie quarterback with a questionable arm making his first career start under center. Colts middle linebacker Gary Brackett told reporters this week, "We have been in playoff mode. We lose (any of the final four games) and we are home (for the postseason). Every week is a playoff week for us." Focused, experienced and still smarting from the recent losing skid that nearly cost them a ninth straight playoff bid, the Colts are going to be very tough to beat from here on out.
The Pick: Colts 34, Raiders 22
Houston at Denver: Gary Kubiak returns to his old stomping grounds of Denver, but not the way he probably wanted to when he took the Houston head coaching job a few years back. Kubiak’s days have to be numbered in Houston, and after Brian Cushing and Antonio Smith’s on-field slap fight in Sunday’s loss to Tennessee, some are surprised he’s even still employed this week. The entire Kubiak era can be summed up with the way the Texans came out and played vs. the Ravens and Titans the past two weeks — flat out of the gates, flashes of brilliance for a few minutes in the middle, and failure in the end. Look for Tim Tebow — in front of a raucous home crowd — to get his first career win over the lifeless Texans on Sunday.
The Pick: Broncos 27, Texans 20
Seattle at Tampa Bay: As hard as it may be to believe, the Seahawks would return to the playoffs for the first time since 2007 by winning their final two games. They are 4-2 in the division, and the Rams (6-8) can finish no better than 3-3 in the NFC West, meaning that, with a win versus the Rams on Jan. 2, the Seahawks currently own the first tiebreaker. Gross, I know, but it gets crazier. Not only would the NFC West champion Seahawks get into the playoffs with two wins, but they’d be hosting a first-round contest at Qwest Field. From there — who knows? Tampa Bay lost a tough one to Detroit last weekend and is all sorts of banged up, but I’m taking the Baby Bucs to knock off the ‘Hawks, who are just 2-5 on the road this season.
The Pick: Buccaneers 17, Seahawks12
New York Giants at Green Bay: New York radio personality Mike Francesca kicked off his Monday show by saying, "If you coached or played in that game, I’m not sure how you drive home. I think you just go stare at a wall for a while.” Punter Matt Dodge, the goat of the loss, apparently had a holiday party with his family after the game. I’m sure that was a cheerful environment. Seven days after the Giants became the first team in NFL history to lose a game in regulation after leading by 21 points with less than eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, New York is suddenly in a must-win situation up at Lambeau. The last time the Giants faced such a dilemma, Brett Favre was under center for the Pack, Lawrence Tynes made a miracle kick in overtime, and New York was Super Bowl bound. I’m not sure how and I’m not sure why, but I think Big Blue finds a way in overtime Sunday. And that’s with Matt Dodge still on the roster.
The Pick: Giants 27, Packers 24 (OT)
Minnesota at Philadelphia: Lost in the joy surrounding Sunday’s Eagles comeback in New York was the season-ending knee injury to star rookie safety Nate Allen. The Eagles already lost Stewart Bradley the week before and have been thin at just about every defensive position over the past few weeks. But not even the injury bug could prevent Philly from a dominant win in this one vs. the defeated Vikings. The Eagles should lock up a division title Sunday night. Most importantly, though, will be ensuring that no other key players go on the IR before the postseason. If the Eagles stay healthy and stay focused, they could be very hard to beat come January.
The Pick: Eagles 34, Vikings 7
New Orleans at Atlanta: The Falcons are 19-3 at the Georgia Dome under head coach Mike Smith, and Matt Ryan is 19-1 in the building as a starter. With a division championship, a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs at the finish line, I can’t see the Falcons falling short vs. the hated Saints on Monday night. A playoff berth would ensure Tony Gonzalez — a future Hall of Famer — yet another shot at winning his first career postseason game. Amazingly, in 12 years in the league, Gonzo’s never notched a playoff W. As for the Saints, a loss Monday night isn’t the end of the world. With a win at home over Tampa Bay in Week 17, they’ll ensure themselves at least a wild-card berth, too.
The Pick: Falcons 31, Saints 20
Cheat Sheet Trivia Question of the Week: Atlanta wide receiver Roddy White caught seven passes to go over 100 receptions for the season last Sunday. In doing so, he became the first player since 1995 to catch 100 balls for the Falcons. Who was the last Atlanta player to catch 100 balls, and who was his quarterback?
Reader E-mail of the Week:
I’m a college senior in my last semester and I’m about to take the last final exam of my life. It feels amazing saying that, but I can’t focus on anything other than my fantasy football team and the Kunis-Portman “scene” in “Black Swan.” I’m procrastinating, man. Help me procrastinate some more. If you were a wrestler or major league baseball player, what would be the song you came out to? I think mine would be “Right Now” by Van Halen or the theme from “Perfect Strangers.” Yours? I see you more as a Glenn Frey “You Belong to the City” guy.
Davin, Rochester, New York
You’d be wrong with both those guesses, though I am a sucker for a good Glenn Frey song. And for as much as I love the thought of Balki Bartokomous greeting a wide-eyed Larry Appleton for the first time in that opening, I can’t imagine the “Perfect Strangers” theme song getting a stadium crowd pumped up. Here are my top five “Intro” songs:
1. “Lay Low” by Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg: I do a weekly spot on Rob Long’s radio show on FOX 1370 AM in Baltimore, and Phil, the producer, always drops this beat for me. If I’m choosing one song to go to battle with, Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg are coming with me in that foxhole.
2.“Flashing Lights” by Kanye West, featuring Dwele: One of the greatest beats of the past 20 years and that can’t be questioned. This song is a good three years old and it still gets me nodding my head every time I hear it. And if you’re anti-Kanye for the Taylor Swift stuff, it’s time to get over it. That young lady owes him a giant thank you for making her a household name last year.
3.“In the Meantime” by Spacehog: Awesome intro sequence, with a great buildup. I picture DeAngelo Hall having this song in his head every time he makes a mediocre play, dramatically falls to his knees, and points to the sky like he’s climbed Everest.
4.“Marquee Moon” by Television: The four hipsters in Brooklyn who read this column just got excited. Oh yes, a little “Marquee Moon”, the 1977 hit from New York punk group Television. Awesome drum intro and a lot more musically respected than any of the Hall and Oates songs I was considering.