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Cheat Sheet: G-Men in familiar spot

Peter Schrager tells you if it's panic time for the Giants.
Peter Schrager tells you if it's panic time for the Giants.
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Peter Schrager

Peter Schrager is the Senior NFL Writer for FOXSports.com and the national sports correspondent for FOX News Channel's "FOX Report Weekend." He's the co-author of Victor Cruz's New York Times' best-selling memoir "Out of the Blue" and lives in New York. Feel free to e-mail him at peterschrager@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter.

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ACCORDING TO JIM

This could be a season of destiny for the Harbaugh-led 49ers. See who's in the playoffs, and when they play.

The Giants were shut out 34-0 in Atlanta last weekend.

Eli Manning threw an interception on New York’s first drive, the Falcons marched right down the field and scored a touchdown on theirs, and New York finished the game with eight offensive series ending like this: missed field goal, punt, interception, turnover on downs, turnover on downs, turnover on downs, punt, fumble.

It was Week 15, it was a huge game against a conference opponent on national television and New York gave its worst effort of the entire 2012 season.

Ask a Giants fan this week how they feel about New York’s position in the NFC playoff picture and they’ll tell you point blank:

“Pretty damn good.”

You see, this is the New York Giants' way. Or, at least it’s been their way under Tom Coughlin and with Eli Manning under center. New York’s made a habit of not only winning when no one else expects them to, but doing so in the most dramatic and unlikely of ways. This team isn't at its best when their backs are against the wall. They're at their best when their backs are 1,000 feet behind the wall that their backs are supposed to be up against.

Last Sunday’s loss was no surprise to the Giants faithful. Hell, it was expected. Rewind the calendar one year and go back to the 2011 campaign, a season the Giants finished with their second Super Bowl championship in five years. In Week 14 last season, the Giants came back from an 11-point fourth quarter deficit and beat the Dallas Cowboys on the road on national television. Exactly seven days later, they laid their biggest stinker of the season, falling 23-10 to the 4-9 Washington Redskins at home. “We were all looking around the locker room afterwards, wondering, ‘What just happened?’” Giants receiver Victor Cruz told me over the summer when we were working on his book, "Out of the Blue." "Rex Grossman and Jabar Gaffney just destroyed us. But we knew what we had to do. We just had to win the next six games. And guess what? We did.”

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New York finds itself in an awfully familiar spot this week. Coming off their worst loss of the season, they can still clinch a playoff berth with wins in their final two games. Like last season, when they took on the cross-town rival Jets in front of their home crowd, the Giants are going into a hostile environment and playing a team that has playoff positioning at stake. Also like last year, the Giants need to not only win this one, but the next one, too.

Would you bet against this team? Of course you wouldn't.

Consider this: The one time the Giants actually did finish the season with a top 2 seed in the NFC under Coughlin, they were promptly discarded out of the playoffs by Donovan McNabb and the Eagles in 2008’s Divisional Round.

This is how the Giants do it.

Even in 2007, Manning and Coughlin’s first successful ride on this annual late-season roller coaster, the Giants lost an awful Week 15 Sunday night game to Todd Collins and the Redskins at home, before going on the road and beating Buffalo 38-21 in a must-win game up at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Week 15? It’s just not the Giants’ thing. It never has been.

Week 16? Week 17? The playoffs? Super Bowls in which they’re listed as big underdogs in Vegas? This team, for whatever reason, is built for games like those.

Everyone always likes to say, “If the playoffs were to start this weekend …” and hypothesize about playoff matchups, home-field edges, and the various roads teams have to take to get to the Promised Land.

Well, guess what? The playoffs don’t start this weekend. They don’t start for another two weeks.

So, no, the Giants wouldn’t be in the postseason if it began on Dec. 23. But knowing their history, I’d be downright shocked if they weren’t in the postseason come Jan. 2.

Again, would you pick against them these next two weeks?

I sure wouldn't.

They lost 34-0 last weekend. If I'm a Giants fan, I'm feeling awfully good this week. Big Blue has the rest of the league right where they want it.

And now, on to the picks.

Week 15 Record: 11-5

WHO SETS THE CURVE?

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2012 Overall Record: 132-91-1

Week 16 Cheat Sheet Trivia Question: Peyton Manning became the fifth quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in a season with two different teams on Sunday. Who are the other four quarterbacks? (See answer below)

Saturday night

Atlanta at Detroit: Jim Schwartz signed a contract extension this offseason, but it’s hard not to imagine he’s feeling the pressure to win at least one of the Lions’ final two games against the Falcons and Bears. Detroit’s never going to have a season as bad as their winless 2008 campaign, but this one could be up there as a distant second. More than just NFC North champion preseason hype, there was Super Bowl chatter in Detroit last summer. The Lions have now lost six straight games, they became the first team in NFL history to lose three straight home games in which they winning with two minutes remaining, and they’re fresh off their worst effort of the season — a head-scratching 38-10 loss to the Cardinals, a team that entered the game as losers of nine straight. When Ryan Lindley’s throwing all over your defense littered with first-round picks and high-priced free agents, things aren’t going well. Schwartz is well-liked and relatively well-regarded in NFC circles, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s losing some sleep of late. Based on recent efforts, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Lions lay another egg on Saturday.

The Pick: Falcons 38, Lions 21

Sunday 1 p.m. ET

New Orleans at Dallas: I told you the Cowboys were going to the playoffs this summer. I stood behind that statement when they fell to 3-5 after the Sunday night loss in Atlanta. I sat alone in front of the Dallas bandwagon when RG3 embarrassed their defense on Thanksgiving. I’ve been riding the Cowboys through thick and thin, and now’s not the time to get off the train. Big wins over the Bengals and Steelers have put them in perfect position to win the NFC East. Drew Brees and New Orleans looked awfully good (and angry) in their 41-0 drubbing of the Buccaneers last week, but I’m giving Tony Romo — who’s been downright wonderful this entire season — the edge in this one.

The Pick: Cowboys 34, Saints 27

Tennessee at Green Bay: The Packers clinched their second straight NFC North title in Chicago last Sunday. They’re getting healthier, the defense is getting better, and it appears as though Jermichael Finley’s discovered his hands in some mystical Lost and Found box up in Green Bay. The Packers aren’t necessarily winning as prettily as they did in the 2011 regular season, but they could be the better postseason team this time around.

EYE CANDY

We're not just watching the field on Sunday. NFL cheerleaders provide the perfect sideshow.

The Pick: Packers 31, Titans 13

Indianapolis at Kansas City: The Chiefs were shut out by the Oakland Raiders last week. The Raiders! The same Raiders team that entered the game with the worst scoring defense in the entire league. It’s been an incredibly difficult season for this proud organization and its fan base. The season can’t end quickly enough for Kansas City.

The Pick: Colts 27, Chiefs 10

Buffalo at Miami: So much for that big, bad Buffalo Bills defensive line we were supposed to be so scared of this season, huh? Led by $100 million man Mario Williams, the Bills defense has now given up 48, 52, 45, 37, and 50 points in different losses this season. Miami’s offense isn’t exactly the ’99 Rams, but even they can score at will on this unit. Take the Dolphins.

The Pick: Dolphins 27, Bills 20

San Diego at New York Jets: So much for the whole “Win one fore Norv” thing I thought the Chargers were going to rally around. Sunday’s effort versus the Chargers was, well, effortless. The guy I feel for in all this? It’s not Turner, who my FOX Sports colleague Alex Marvez thinks got a raw deal this year with the talent he was given on the field. (Waahhhhh….) It’s Chargers linebacker Takeo Spikes. In 15 seasons, Spikes has never played on a playoff team. Sunday’s loss the Panthers made it official that he won’t be in a postseason game this season, either. Based on last Sunday’s performance, I can’t see San Diego traveling cross-country over a holiday weekend and coming into New York and winning this one. I’d be surprised if they even make it a fight. Expect a lot of turnovers, Turner and Phil Rivers grimaces, and a long flight home.

The Pick: Jets 27, Chargers 16

LET'S GET NUTS!

NFL fans are a special breed, and they bring their own brand of craziness on game day.

Washington at Philadelphia: In a season lost to injuries, blowout losses, and a host of fired assistants and front office personnel — the Eagles will naturally play an enormous role in deciding the NFC East division champion this season. With games against the Redskins this Sunday and the Giants in Week 17, Philly — somehow, some way — can not only play spoiler, but be the most important NFC East team in these final two weeks. Andy Reid’s troops gave a great effort in Tampa in Week 14, but failed to give much of an effort in Week 15 vs. Cincinnati. This may seem crazy, based on Washington’s current five-game winning streak, but I think the home crowd gets behind the young Eagles, the defense avenges their embarrassing early season loss in Washington, and Philly finds a way. Spoiler? Sure. For Redskins fans, they can also be the Grinch.

The Pick: Eagles 27, Redskins 23

Cincinnati at Pittsburgh: This one comes down to experience. The Steelers have been here, they’ve done this. Backs against the wall, must-win games — this is old hat for Ben Roethlisberger, James Harrison, and Troy Polamalu. Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and that incredible Bengals defensive line have played wonderfully this season, but you tend to need to lose games like this before you win them. This may be the final run for this aging Steelers team. I don’t think they’ll go out without a fight until the bitter end. Give me the longtime vets at home over the young guns traveling on Christmas weekend.

The Pick: Steelers 24, Bengals 19

St. Louis at Tampa Bay: For a while there, it was looking like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were going to be one of the true turnaround stories of 2012. It feels like ages ago, but at one point, this was a 6-5 team and had the playoffs well in their sights. Four straight losses, 6-8 on the year, and fresh off an embarrassing 41-0 loss in which assistant Bryan Cox got in a shoving match with Bucs linebacker Adam Hayward. The Bucs, once so promising, have completely gone off the rails. This will be viewed as the ultimate insult in league circles, but the Bucs looked like Raheem Morris’s team from a season ago last weekend. Take the Rams, a team with a new head coach that is actually getting better and better as the season goes on.

STAR POWER

Who needs Hollywood? If you want to see celebrities, just check out the stands at an NFL game.

The Pick: Rams 23, Buccaneers 14

Oakland at Carolina: How about the second half to the season that Cam Newton is having? With back to back wins and victories in three of their last games, the Panthers are playing like the team we thought we were going to see this year back when everyone was putting them in the playoffs conversation over the summer. Newton hasn’t thrown a single interception in the last five weeks, he’s altogether salvaged a season that was once being written off as a “Sophomore Slump” campaign with heady quarterback play, and he’s got the Panthers fans excited for 2013. Is it enough to save Ron Riviera’s job? We’ll see in two weeks.

The Pick: Panthers 34, Raiders 17

New England at Jacksonville: The last time the Patriots won a Super Bowl, it was played in Jacksonville. The last time the Jaguars played in the postseason, they fell to the Patriots in the Divisional Round. The last time I picked the Jaguars to win a game was forever ago. They’re not winning this one. The question, of course, isn’t whether Tom Brady will get the best of fellow Michigan alum Chad Henne — it’s by how much?

The Pick: Patriots 38, Jaguars 14

Minnesota at Houston: After his 212-yard day in Week 15, Adrian Peterson now has 1,812 yards on the ground this season, topping his previous career high of 1,760. He is just 293 yards away from Eric Dickerson’s record of 2,105. The way he’s run the past few weeks, it’s fair to assume that breaking the record is not just doable — it’s likely. But don’t underestimate this Houston Texans “Bulls on Parade” defense. They’ve still got the home-field through the playoffs at stake and they’ve got a lot of pride. After being embarrassed on national television by the Packers and Patriots this season, they’re going to want to prove their mettle against Peterson. I’m taking J.J. Watt and the rest of Wade Phillips’ unit over Peterson, the one-man show in purple.

POWER RANKINGS

Which teams are looking up in this week's NFL power rankings?

The Pick: Texans 30, Vikings 17

Sunday, 4 p.m. ET

Cleveland at Denver: Once upon a time, Cleveland at Denver was the biggest matchup in the AFC. Bernie Kosar, John Elway, Marty Schottenheimer, Dan Reeves … that time is not now. Peyton Manning’s locked in. There may be no stopping him from here on out.

The Pick: Broncos 31, Browns 20

Chicago at Arizona: Want to have a nightmare? Imagine putting the Cardinals’ quarterbacks behind the Bears’ offensive line. Lovie Smith’s gang has lost three straight games at the least opportune of times, but they’ll find a way to get one on Sunday. Jay Cutler’s playoff dreams won’t die in the desert on Sunday. I’m not sure how, but he’ll find a way to get at least a few passes off before being knocked down by Arizona’s punishing defensive line.

The Pick: Bears 24, Cardinals 20

New York Giants at Baltimore: Jim Caldwell’s first-ever game calling a team’s offensive plays didn’t exactly go as planned last week. Joe Flacco struggled mightily, Ray Rice didn’t get a single carry or reception on a third down play, and the offensive line had fits. Baltimore may have clinched a playoff berth on Sunday, but their second straight loss at home (after 15 straight wins) couldn’t have been much uglier. The Giants live for games like these. The Ravens? I’m still not convinced they even like playing in them.

PAIN TRAIN

Injuries are a part of football, but these players have been hit particularly hard.

The Pick: Giants 33, Ravens 24

Sunday night

San Francisco at Seattle: No, the Seahawks are not the same team that fell 13-6 to the 49ers in Week 6. But then again, nor are the 49ers. Colin Kaepernick showed the nation just how dynamic he could be in Week 15’s marvelous performance in New England, rookie LaMichael James scared the life out of opposing coaches with his efforts in the running and return games, and the team showed they can win big games on the road. Seattle will be nuts on Sunday, but I don’t think it will faze this team. Seattle’s a much better team now than they were in Week 7. But the 49ers are even better than them.

The Pick: 49ers 27, Seahawks 17

Oh, and by the way …

1. Anyone feeling crappy about the world we live in could do a lot worse than scrolling through this post from Buzzfeed — "26 Images that Restored our Faith in Humanity in 2012."

2. Pro Bowl voting ends this week and I’m having an incredibly tough time picking my four receivers from the NFC. Which four do you take out of this group:

Dez Bryant
Calvin Johnson
Vincent Jackson
Julio Jones
• Victor Cruz
Roddy White
Randall Cobb
Brandon Marshall
Marques Colston

NFL ON FOX
Michael Strahan
Jay Glazer
Jimmy Johnson
Curt Menefee
Mike Pereira
Troy Aikman
Tony Siragusa
Daryl Johnston
Rob Riggle

I think I’d go Bryant, Johnson, Cruz, and Marshall — but I couldn’t argue if you went with an entirely different four.

3. Loved this “SNL” clip from last Saturday night — “You’re a Rat Bastard, Charlie Brown.” Martin Short’s Larry David impersonation is eerily good.

4. I tweeted out last week that I’d rather have Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, Russell Wilson, Brock Osweiler, and Brandon Weeden over any of the quarterbacks in the 2013 NFL Draft class. I got crushed by West Virginia and USC fans, in support of their quarterbacks, Geno Smith and Matt Barkley. Interestingly enough, I don’t think Smith or Barkley are even the best pro quarterbacks in this class. I see flaws in both of their games. This won't be the commonly held belief heading into the Combine, but I think Mike Glennon, the big N.C. State kid, will be the first quarterback taken in April's draft.

5. If you’re feeling stressed this holiday season, put on some Enya and just let this live feed of the “Penguin Habitat” soothe you.

How many NFL columns give you links to a Penguin Habitat’s live feed? None! And that — and the amazing picks — are why you come back every week.

Thank you for that.

Have an awesome holiday weekend, friends.

Week 16 Cheat Sheet Trivia Answer: Those quarterbacks are Brett Favre, Warren Moon, Kurt Warner, and Drew Bledsoe.
 

Tagged: Falcons, Bills, Bears, Bengals, Browns, Cowboys, Broncos, Lions, Packers, Raiders, Rams, Dolphins, Vikings, Patriots, Saints, Giants, Jets, Eagles, 49ers, Seahawks, Buccaneers, Redskins, Panthers, Jaguars, Ravens, Cardinals, Steelers, Chargers, Texans, Peyton Manning, Drew Bledsoe, Drew Brees, Adrian Peterson, Bryant Johnson, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Vincent Jackson, Brandon Marshall, Victor Cruz, Cam Newton, A.J. Green, Ryan Tannehill, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Lindley

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