Schrager's Week 13 Cheat Sheet: Flying (NFC) South for the winter
Teams from the NFC South have faced teams from the AFC North twelve times this season, and have won just once.
With a combined record of 1-10-1, the division that was represented by two different teams in the playoffs has just one victory over its AFC scheduling companions this season. Oddly enough, that win came from the 2-9 Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the road in Pittsburgh, serving as the Steelers' only loss at home this year.
The two divisions are so vastly different that it's still mathematically possible for a 5-11 team to win the NFC South and for an 11-5 AFC North team to miss the playoffs altogether.
Atlanta hasn't won a single game against a non-NFC South opponent and is currently in first place in the division standings. Tampa Bay, meanwhile, is just one game behind the Jaguars and Raiders in the race for the first pick in April's draft. Yet they're also just two games out of first place in the NFC South. All four NFC South teams face non-NFC South opponents this weekend, meaning they can all lose once again and the current order of the standings would not be affected. Atlanta could be 4-8 and in first place. Come Monday morning, that's not only possible, but likely.
The last team to finish under .500 and make the playoffs were the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks in 2010. They beat the NFC South champion Saints in a playoff game played at home that season. Since the 2002 division realignment, no team with six wins or fewer has ever made the NFL playoffs.
Looking at the schedules the rest of the way out (they're not easy), we could be watching dubious history be made this season.
WEEK 13 CHEAT SHEET TRIVIA QUESTION OF THE WEEK
Matt Forte is one of two players in NFL history to record 800 rushing yards and 40 catches in each of his first seven NFL seasons. Who is the other player?
THROWBACK JERSEY OF THE WEEK
Each week, we give you a throwback jersey you should probably purchase. I just mentioned the 1994 Cowboys' "Double Star" jerseys. With the NFL 75th Anniversary patch on the chest, it's one of my favorite duds ever worn. Here's Michael Irvin's.
Now, on to my picks:
Week 12 Record: 9-6
Chicago at Detroit
The Pick: Lions 27, Bears 19
The Result: Lions 34, Bears 17 (Win)
Philadelphia at Dallas
The Pick: Cowboys 31, Eagles 30
The Result: Eagles 33, Cowboys 10 (Loss)
Seattle at San Francisco
The Pick: 49ers 24, Seahawks 16
The Result: Seahawks 19, 49ers 3 (Loss)
Washington at Indianapolis: Seeing things now in 2014, it's crazy to think that Robert Griffin III or Andrew Luck was still a debate worth having after their first NFL seasons. Now RG3 is on the bench, Luck is on pace to lead his team to its third straight playoff appearance, and the Redskins could be thinking quarterback come April's Draft.
The Pick: Colts 27, Redskins 16
Tennessee at Houston: Ryan Mallett's done for the season, leaving the Texans' 2014 fate in the hands of Ryan Fitzpatrick, a 10-year veteran, Thad Lewis, a street free agent who was just brought on, and raw Tom Savage. The Titans' 2014 campaign is all but over, but it'd make their season if they could knock their rivals off on Sunday. Regardless of how Fitzpatrick plays, I don't see J.J. Watt and that defense letting it happen.
The Pick: Texans 23, Titans 16
Cleveland at Buffalo: Find me a Bills or Browns fan who wouldn't have answered "Where do I sign?" if I told them back in April that the two teams would be playing in a game with huge playoff implications for both teams in Week 13. The numbers are astounding, really: Buffalo hasn't been to the playoffs since the 1999 season, when Rob Johnson and Doug Flutie were the quarterbacks and the Music City Miracle did them in. The Browns, of course, have not won a playoff game since 1995. Both squads are in the hunt. I like the Bills, back at the Ralph, riding high on the emotion of a big win in Detroit and a home crowd that will be downright craving something to bring them out of their houses and together again.
The Pick: Bills 23, Browns 16
San Diego at Baltimore: After the game in New Orleans on Monday night — the Saints' first primetime loss in 14 contests — I asked Joe Flacco if he had any comfort in the building because he's won there before in Super Bowl XLVII. In classic Flacco fashion, he smiled, shrugged, and told me that they were in different locker rooms this time around — so, you know, it wasn't really all that similar. I am an unabashed Flacco supporter, I know. I think he was at his best on Monday. Calm, patient and in control. This Ravens season has some eerie similarities to the one two years ago. No one is talking about them, some strange midseason losses, and a bit of under-the-radar catching fire at the right time. After the performance I watched in person on Monday, I'm not picking against them at home this weekend. Not to the Chargers, and maybe, not to anyone.
The Pick: Ravens 30, Chargers 20
New York Giants at Jacksonville: Hey, did you happen to see Odell Beckham Jr.'s catch on Sunday? That's me being a sarcastic wiseguy. Yes, the grab was awesome, but with the amount of coverage it got (in a Giants loss) this week, I'm surprised they didn't get a comment from Jennifer Lawrence or Kate Middleton on it. I think the ball had dinner at Lavo Monday night, hung with the Kardashians on Tuesday and punched a photographer outside the 40/40 club on Wednesday. Nice grab, yes, but as any Giants fan would tell you: They'd rather have the win. The Jaguars have struggled this year, but I think this is their second win. My guy to watch? Another rookie wide receiver. I think Marqise Lee, who showed some flashes last week, will have a big day.
The Pick: Jaguars 27, Giants 20
Cincinnati at Tampa Bay: My second upset special of the week. Tampa Bay hasn't lost to Cincinnati in 25 years. If the Bucs can keep their six-game winning streak over Cincy going beyond Sunday, they will have their first seven-game winning streak against any opponent in franchise history. Hey, it's an upset pick. It could be way off, but I'm feeling good about this one.
The Pick: Buccaneers 24, Bengals 20
Oakland at St. Louis: I'm still chuckling at Sio Moore and Khalil Mack's celebration from last Thursday night. Play of the year. You can have your Odell Beckham Jr. — I loved that one. Some folks say the Raiders should be better than 1-10. I'm not so sure about that. I do know that the Rams should be better than 4-7.
The Pick: St. Louis 28, Oakland 6
New Orleans at Pittsburgh: The Saints started an undrafted player out of Jacksonville State, Pierre Warren, at free safety last week. Not only had Warren not taken an NFL snap before Monday's game, he was with the Vikings practice squad for most of the season. In short, this isn't your father's Drew Brees/Sean Payton Saints. And you know what? They're still my pick to represent the division in the playoffs. Even with a loss in Pittsburgh on Sunday.
The Pick: Steelers 34, Saints 23
Carolina at Minnesota: "I don't believe he's a starter in the NFL," former NFL quarterback Tim Hasselbeck said on ESPN Radio this week. "I believe that Teddy Bridgewater — and this isn't meant to be a shot on him, I was a backup quarterback — I think he's a good backup quarterback. I think he'd have a nice long career as a backup." I respect Hasselbeck's opinion (Tim does the work), but I think Bridgewater's better than that. Bridgewater's always going to have his doubters for some very obvious reasons. He's not built like most traditional drop-back quarterbacks, he's not an incredibly vocal young man and he's not someone who jumps off on tape. But oh, he's 21-years old. Carolina's defense got a very much needed bye week, but I'm not sure that offense will travel too well to the frigid St. Paul weather. I'll go with Bridgewater, career backup or not.
The Pick: Vikings 21, Panthers 17
Arizona at Atlanta: I'm not jumping off the Cardinals bandwagon just yet. Vegas isn't too high on them, but that's fine. I'm not really a big Las Vegas guy, anyway. You can have your Tiesto and all-night dance parties. I'll ride with the Arizona Cardinals.
The Pick: Cardinals 22, Falcons 16
New England at Green Bay: Here's your game of the year. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this week will be the first matchup at Lambeau Field in Week 13 (or earlier) that features two teams with eight-plus wins since the Packers played the Bears on Dec. 9, 2001. Adding an odd quirk to this one: Sunday will mark the first matchup between Packers QB Aaron Rodgers and Patriots QB Tom Brady as starters. If I'm filling out my MVP ballot this week, Brady's No. 1 and Rodgers is a close second. They are both in the top five in the NFL in passing touchdowns, touchdown percentage, interception percentage and touchdown/interception ratio this season. So who wins? If the game was in Foxboro, I might have a different take, but I just can't see Green Bay losing at home this weekend. Consider this: The Packers have outscored their opponents 128-9 in the first halves of the past four home games. They won't blow the Patriots out right from the get-go, but I think this locomotive isn't being stopped at Lambeau this year.
The Pick: Packers 37, Patriots 32
Denver at Kansas City: I've had the pleasure of interviewing Eric Berry over a dozen times and you won't find a more pleasant young man. News that he has been placed on the season-ending non-football illness list after doctors found what team officials believe is lymphoma, a form of cancer, is devastating. I speak for everyone in the NFL sports-writing community when I wish him all the best in his courageous fight. Winning in Kansas City is tough enough, but doing so on Sunday night? I don't see it. In the rare "Lose to the Raiders one week; beat the Broncos the next" swing, I've got Alex Smith and Kansas City finally beating Peyton Manning and the Broncos.
The Pick: Chiefs 32, Broncos 26
Miami Dolphins at New York Jets: How Percy Harvin, completely healthy, can just get one reception for 2 yards last week is mind-boggling. Miami's playing too well of late to lose this one. Expect the boo birds to be out en masse if things don't go well early for Rex's boys. I have a feeling it won't.
The Pick: Dolphins 33, Jets 14
READER EMAIL OF THE WEEK
Happy Thanksgiving. What's your favorite part of the holiday season, besides the copious amount of endless food and football, of course?
First and foremost, I'm not a big turkey guy. In fact, I think Big Turkey is one of the more dubious lobbying groups in our country. If we just came together and all agreed that pizza on Thanksgiving would make everyone so much happier, well ... that's for another time. As for Thanksgiving, I always got a kick out of the holiday during my college years. That first Wednesday night back in the hometown meant a mini high-school reunion of sorts at a local bar or restaurant. Everyone shows up, one by one, and it's like a TV show. The little guy who was bullied arrives in a T-shirt with giant fraternity letters and stories of 50 new friends. The guy who was the bully in high school shows up and he's oddly wearing the same clothes he did a year ago and still hanging out at the high school parties. The girl everyone had a crush on now has pink hair, only listens to Neko Case, and reads Sartre. That was always fun. But for me, it's all about family, friends, football, and food. Pizza, not turkey.
WEEK 13 NFL CHEAT SHEET TRIVIA ANSWER
In addition to Matt Forte, LaDainian Tomlinson is the only other player in NFL history to record 800 rushing yards and 40 catches in his first seven seasons.