Week 15 Cheat Sheet

Week 14 saw a Brandon Marshall record-breaking performance, yet

another eye-opening day out of Chris Johnson, and Day One of the

Keith Null era in St. Louis. New Orleans and Indy each improved to

13-0, Randy Moss and the Giants’ defense took days off, and the

Jets and Dolphins won big road games in Florida. What’s in

store for Week 15?

Let’s dig in to this week’s Cheat Sheet:

Thursday night

Indianapolis at Jacksonville: The Colts have now

won an NFL-record 22 straight regular-season games. Last season,

had San Diego not A) been given the home field despite winning four

fewer games than Indy last year, or B) won the overtime coin toss

in that playoff game, we could very well be looking at a 13-0 Indy

team riding a 25-game win streak and looking to defend a second

Super Bowl crown in three years. But that’s neither here nor

there. No reason to look at the past; just the future. And that

future? Well, it’s 14-0.

The Pick:

Colts 27, Jaguars 16

Saturday night

New Orleans at Dallas: Sean Payton was an

assistant in Dallas under Bill Parcells from 2003-05. Think Dallas

fans would take him as an offensive coordinator this year? Perhaps.

At 35.8 points per game, New Orleans scores more than any other

team in the NFL. Dallas, meanwhile, continues to struggle in

December. Ah, December. What’d the Counting Crows sing?

“It’s been a long December?” Hell yes, it has.

And yes, that was indeed a Counting Crows reference. Dallas is 5-10

in games played during the calendar year’s 12th month since

2007. The ‘Boys’ December woes continue for another

week. Almost makes you feel bad for Mr. Jones. (Another Counting

Crows reference … I’m sorry.)

The Pick:

Saints 42, Cowboys 31

Sunday 1 p.m. ET games

Chicago at Baltimore: Jay Cutler has 3,023 yards

and is just the fifth Bears quarterback to reach the 3,000-yard

mark in a season. He also happens to lead the league in

interceptions with 22, and has been one of the greatest

disappointments of the season. Baltimore, meanwhile, still has a

playoff pulse. Look for another big day out of Ray Rice, another

big day out of Billy Cundiff and another maddening day of mayhem

for Jay Cutler in Charm City.

The Pick:

Ravens 26, Bears 13

New England at Buffalo: Gimme Fewell, Gimme Fire!

Another win for the Bills last week in a surprisingly exciting game

out in Kansas City. New England’s win over Carolina,

meanwhile, was anything but inspiring. Randy Moss gave up, the

offense sputtered and the Pats escaped a near home loss to a guy

named Matt Moore. If there was some sort of economic model or

scientific PowerPoint chart to show these two teams right now,

Buffalo would be peaking and New England would be sinking.

Let’s make things interesting in the AFC East. Give me the

up-and-coming Bills in an upset at home.

The Pick:

Bills 30, Patriots 24

Arizona at Detroit: With a win, Arizona clinches

the NFC West and back-to-back division titles for the first time

since 1974-75. Kurt Warner has 97 TD passes with Arizona and needs

just three more to join Fran Tarkenton (Vikings and Giants) as the

only two players in NFL history with 100+ TD passes with two

different teams (102 with St. Louis). Warner should get those three

in the first half on Sunday.

The Pick:

Cardinals 42, Lions 17

Cleveland at Kansas City: Eric Mangini is 2-0

against the Chiefs all-time. Yes, Eric Mangini has a winning record

against a team. Amazing, I know. Say what you want about the state

of Cleveland Browns football, the team put together an impressive

performance last Thursday night vs. the defending champs. Mike

Furrey was playing receiver and defense, undrafted free agent Chris

Jennings scored his first touchdown, and some guy named Evan Moore

made you ask, “Kellen Who?” I loved what I saw out of

the Browns last week. I loved them so much, I think they’ll

lose by only three touchdowns this weekend at Arrowhead.

The Pick: Chiefs 38, Browns 17

Atlanta at New York Jets: Ask any longtime fan of

Gang Green, and they’ll tell you — these are the exact

types of games the Jets lose. Just when you start looking ahead to

Indianapolis and the prospect of an AFC East division title or a

wild-card berth, the Jets lose a game at home to a team

that’s already all but eliminated from the playoff race.

Whether it’s Chris Redman or Matt Ryan, I think Atlanta finds

a way on the road on Sunday.

The Pick:

Falcons 23, Jets 9

San Francisco at Philadelphia: This Eagles offense

is downright scary. The most horrifying part? Brent Celek, Jeremy

Maclin, LeSean McCoy, and DeSean Jackson — Philly’s top

four playmakers — are all under 24. I liked what I saw out of

San Fran’s young foursome —

Smith-Gore-Crabtree-Davis  but just can’t see Philly

losing this one at the Linc.

The Pick:

Eagles 24, 49ers 16

Houston at St. Louis: The Keith Null Era has begun

in St. Louis! Hide the women and children. The 2009 sixth-round

draft pick out of mighty West Texas A&M threw five

interceptions in his first career start and the Rams lost 47-7.

Null’s college position coach? None other than Ryan Leaf.

Would it be OK for the Rams to have multiple first-round picks next

April? Like seven or eight. They need them. Houston wins easily.

The Pick:

Texans 34, Rams 13

Miami at Tennessee: Forget all the Chris Johnson

stats for a moment. Ricky Williams needs just 25 rushing yards to

set the NFL record for longest span between 1,000-yard seasons. The

last time Ricky broke the 1,000-yard rushing mark was 2003. As for

Mr. Johnson, well, he’s pretty good, huh? The second-year

back out of East Carolina needs 72 rushing yards to surpass Hall of

Famer Earl Campbell (1,697 in ’79) for second-most rushing

yards in a season in Oilers/Titans franchise history. Johnson also

leads the NFL with a franchise-record 2,017 scrimmage yards (1,626

rush, 391 rec.). This one should be a dandy in the Music City. In

one of the games of the year, give me the home squad on a Rod

Bironas overtime field goal.

The Pick:

Titans 33, Dolphins 30

Sunday 4 p.m. ET games

Oakland at Denver: Before we just give this one to

the Broncos, let’s take a second to acknowledge that the

Raiders are 18-5 vs. the Broncos in December. OK, who am I kidding?

The Raiders team that took the field last week vs. the Redskins

couldn’t beat a high school JV squad. Kyle Orton appears to

be the real deal. The former Bears gunslinger is 4-1 at home this

year for Denver. But the real strength of the 2009 Broncos is the

defense. Ranked third in the league and made up of a motley crew of

big-name veterans (Brian Dawkins, D.J. Williams and Champ Bailey)

and unsung heroes (Darrell Reid, Elvis Dumervil, Marcus Thomas,

Andre Goodman), they could end up giving a conference favorite fits

in January.

The Pick:

Broncos 23, Raiders 10

Cincinnati at San Diego: The last time these two

teams played, San Diego scored 42 second-half points to beat Cincy

49-41 in 2006. It was one of the wildest games of the decade.

Don’t expect that many points in this one; the defenses are

just too good. With a first-round bye potentially in the balance,

look for the red-hot Chargers to get the job done in their

building. Want a good stat? Philip Rivers is 16-0 all-time as a

starter in December. Make it 17-0 and notch the ‘Bolts down

for a week off in early January.

The Pick:

Chargers 24, Bengals 20

Green Bay at Pittsburgh: There was a moment last

Thursday night, probably sometime between a Josh Cribbs 20-yard run

and one of the eight times Ben Roethlisberger was sacked by a

Browns player who wasn’t close to being on an NFL roster last

season, where I received a text message from my Steelers fan friend

that read: “NFL Draft … Who are some of the offensive

linemen I should be researching?” I gave him the names

— Russell Okung, Trent Williams, Mike Iupati, and Mike

Johnson. Yep, it’s gotten to that point. The fans of the

defending champions are Googling Mike Iupati, a guard from Idaho.

Even on the road, I can’t see red-hot Green Bay losing to the

squad I’ve been watching over the past four weeks in

Pittsburgh.

The Pick: Packers 31, Steelers 21

Tampa Bay at Seattle: If you had a quarterback on

your roster who was 1-0 and another who was 0-12, would you not

start the former? If your team was 1-0 when they practiced just

four days a week and 0-12 when they practiced five, would you not

cut back the practice schedule? Of course you would. So why are the

Buccaneers — 0-12 in that hideous pewter and 1-0 in those

beautiful Creamsicle uniforms — still wearing those ugly

new-age silverish costumes? Bring back the Creamsicles, Tampa!

Bring back the Creamsicles! Until then, you’ll continue to

lose. Even to the Seahawks.

The Pick: Seahawks 31, Buccaneers 17

Sunday night

Minnesota at Carolina: Back in August I would have

circled this as one of the top games of the year. Now? It’s a

good night to catch up on “The Simpsons,” perhaps read a book or

maybe do a little online holiday shopping. Carolina’s done

for the year. Depending on what New Orleans does on Saturday night,

Minnesota may be looking to take the foot off the pedal a bit, too.

Brett Favre needs three touchdown passes to have 30+ TD passes in a

season for the ninth time. No other quarterback’s done that.

He also wears Wranglers, has a lot of fun when he plays football,

and loves the darn game.

The Pick: Vikings 27, Panthers 20

Monday night

New York Giants at Washington: Courtesy of Dan

Steinberg at the

Washington Post, I present you Clinton Portis on Tiger

Woods: “I say don’t get married, if it’s not out of your system.

I’m not married. You know, I would love to be able to say, I’m a

perfect guy, yeah, baby, yeah. I’m not. You know, I may have

temptations. If I find the temptation worth fulfilling, I’m gonna

fulfill my temptation. If that ends up getting me in trouble at

times, you know, I’ll deal with it then. But right now I’m not

married, and I’m 28 years old, and I’m gonna enjoy my life … If

he could keep that a secret and ain’t nobody came out and told [on

him], hey, congratulate him. You know, most of the time there’s one

or two, and you can’t keep that a secret. So if he can balance 14

and keep it a secret, congrats.” I’m not surprised a guy named

Clinton would get Tiger’s back. Thank you! I’ll be here all week.

The Pick: Redskins 27, Giants 23

Reader E-Mail of the Week

Peter,

With Thomas Jones now well over 1,000 yards for the fifth

year in a row, I’ve got to throw the idea out there —

is he an NFL Hall of Famer?

Phineas, New York City

Phineas,

First off, I love your name. A “Separate Peace”

reference, I assume? That’s my favorite John Knowles book. It

also happens to be the only John Knowles book I’ve read. I

also love your question. My first instinct is to chuckle heartily

and immediately dismiss the idea, but the more I look at the

numbers, the more I’m intrigued by the sound of “Thomas

Jones, NFL Hall of Famer.”

I look at the Hall of Fame in terms of generations. Based on

the numbers and previous inductees, you’ve got to think 5-6

running backs per decade will be elected to the Hall. Marshall

Faulk, Emmitt Smith and LaDainian Tomlinson are already locks for

the 2000s.

Other recent retirees in the NFL’s top 12 all-time

rushing list include Curtis Martin and Jerome Bettis. I think both

have a very strong chance of ending up in Canton. Behind them?

It’s guys like Edgerrin James, Shaun Alexander, Fred Taylor,

Warrick Dunn, Jamal Lewis, Tiki Barber and Eddie George.

You can make the argument for guys like Clinton Portis and

Steven Jackson, but I think both will probably fall short in the

end. Priest Holmes? Eh, probably not. Brian Westbrook? Probably

not.

Behind all of those guys is Thomas Jones. With a Super Bowl

appearance and several big games on his resume, Jones has some

legitimate Hall of Fame talking points. But the first five years of

his career — spent in relative anonymity in Arizona and Tampa

Bay — will ultimately keep Jones out of the Hall. It’s

amazing how the age of 30 — something that’s been

viewed as a glass ceiling of sorts for NFL running backs (see

George and Alexander) — has been no such hindrance on

Jones’s career. It’s as if the guy gets better as he

gets older.

That said, I just don’t see him ever wearing a yellow

jacket on a podium in Canton. A Pro Bowl in the year 2013? The way

this guy’s playing, I wouldn’t rule that out.