Yes, there are still five games remaining in the NFL’s regular season, but it’s a good time for you to determine which teams already are giving up on this year and focusing on finding out what young players they have for 2013 and going forward.
Specifically, I am talking about the Philadelphia Eagles. They dropped their seventh game in a row on Monday night and quite obviously have mailed it in on coach Andy Reid. The players know he won’t be back, so why bother giving 100-percent effort? With that said, don’t expect to see either Michael Vick or LeSean McCoy the rest of this year off their concussions – really, what’s the point? The team should and will see what it has in Nick Foles and Bryce Brown (he was a stud Monday, now if he can just hang on to the ball) at those positions. DeSean Jackson already has been put on season-ending IR. And defensive end Jason Babin, he of the 18 sacks a year ago, was waived. So it would be wise to take any team playing the Eagles the rest of this year. The Detroit Lions, New York Jets and San Diego Chargers – all expected to contend for the postseason this year -- also will fall into this category with losses on Sunday.
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It’s also important to monitor possible situations where players are held out due to injury only to save said player for a more important game. This time I stay in Pennsylvania and look toward Pittsburgh. Do the Steelers really want to risk Ben Roethlisberger’s season this Sunday in Baltimore? The AFC North title is highly unlikely even with a win, so the Steelers might be smart to give Big Ben another week off. Then Pittsburgh closes with three of four at home and could run the table to assure a wild-card spot, and Roethlisberger presumably would be healthy for all four.
Last week my top choice was the Cincinnati Bengals, and they routed Oakland, which is possibly the worst defensive team in the NFL in many years. I also really liked the Colts, and they took care of business against Buffalo. I warned you against taking Houston in Detroit on Thanksgiving, and, if not for a brain fart from Lions coach Jim Schwartz, the Lions quite likely win that game. Also warned against the battered Steelers in Cleveland and they were upset.
On to Week 13, with presumed favorites listed first.
Dallas vs. Philadelphia: Why didn’t NBC use its flex-scheduling option to dump this game out of prime-time? Oh, right, it’s Dallas. As noted above, the Eagles are totally done. Did you know the Phillies have won more recently than the Eagles? The Cowboys also had a few extra days to prepare after getting slapped around at home by Washington on Thanksgiving. Not that they will need it.
Green Bay vs. Minnesota: The Packers are going to play rather POed after totally getting pushed around last Sunday night at the Giants. Green Bay has owned the NFC North, winning nine straight in the division, and Aaron Rodgers has especially owned the Vikings.
Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh: The Ravens have the NFL’s longest home winning streak at 15 in a row, although the last team to win there was Pittsburgh. But if you saw that turnover-fest by the Charlie Batch-led Steelers last week, you know there’s almost no way this team will score an offensive touchdown on Sunday. So the Ravens are a safe bet as long as Roethlisberger doesn’t play.
San Francisco at St. Louis: The Niners look like the class of the NFL right now, all due respect to Houston, New England and Atlanta. The Rams looked good at home early in the year but now have dropped three straight there, all by double digits. Wouldn’t it be great if the teams tied again?! No team has ever tied twice in a season in the modern era.
New England at Miami: Tom Brady has been unreal of late, with 14 touchdowns and no picks in his past five games, all Patriots wins. That offense is completely humming right now, even without Rob Gronkowski. Brady does have a history of struggling in Miami, and the Fins have been good there other than a Week 10 stinker vs. Tennessee. Thus, I would think the Dolphins cover, but I can’t see them winning.
Houston at Tennessee: Holy Trap Game Batman! It’s not so much that the Titans are playing a little better of late, but the Texans will have all eyes on next Monday night’s game at New England. Houston already owns the head-to-head tiebreaker with Baltimore, so should the Texans beat the Pats, the AFC’s top seed is theirs.
Atlanta vs. New Orleans (Thursday): The Falcons will want some payback for their lone loss of the season, but it’s pretty much a must-win for 5-6 New Orleans to have realistic wild-card hopes. Plus, Atlanta continues to play very close games, and it will bite the Falcons again at some point.
Chicago vs. Seattle: Yes, I know the Seahawks are a totally different team on the road. But the Bears were completely beaten up in last week’s win over Minnesota, with six starters going down with one thing or another. The biggest loss was likely guard Lance Louis, who is done for the year. He was the best player on a bad offensive line. I remember what that Seattle defensive line did to Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers earlier this year, so I worry for Jay Cutler’s health.
Detroit vs. Indianapolis: I honestly don’t know which Lions team shows up. They played well on Thanksgiving but may have spent themselves in a last-ditch playoff effort. Or maybe the Lions gear up for one last push. I think they win as Indy has been blown out on the road three times this year, but wouldn’t risk my pick on it.
Denver vs. Tampa Bay: Is Peyton Manning coming back to earth and perhaps losing the MVP to Tom Brady? Manning is still terrific, but his rating has gone down five straight games. He does have five TDs the past two games but also two picks and a completion percentage under 60. The Broncos can clinch the AFC West on Sunday, but that’s going to happen whether they win or not. The Bucs are much more desperate and could pull the upset.
Cincinnati at San Diego: Very impressed with the surge of the Bengals, but no way will I take them in San Diego. The Bolts might have one last good effort in them at home to save Norv Turner’s job, although that ship has sailed. I still can’t believe San Diego allowed a fourth-and-29 conversion late in last week’s loss on a simple dump-off pass to Ray Rice. That pretty much symbolized the Chargers under Turner.
NY Giants at Washington (Monday): I love how the media jumps on the Giants bandwagon with one win, albeit an impressive one over Green Bay. It’s a New York thing, clearly. How about the fact the G-Men are the last team to lose to the Eagles? I have no idea who wins here, but I’m not certainly betting against Robert Griffin III as he is rolling again after hitting a mini-rookie wall.
Buffalo vs. Jacksonville: Must I really explain? The Jags should tank the rest of the season and try for the No. 1 overall pick, but they suddenly look somewhat decent on offense with Chad Henne. Not good news for former first-round pick Blaine Gabbert.
NY Jets vs. Arizona: Two coaches on the hot seat and perhaps the two worst quarterback situations in the NFL. Mark Sanchez vs. Ryan Lindley? Yuck. Look for 40 incompletions and four interceptions between them.
Carolina at Kansas City: No doubt the Panthers are the better team, but it’s a short week and they have given no indication they can win two straight. This is likely K.C.’s best chance to not go winless at home in 2012 (one game vs. Indy remaining). The real question is whether Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles asks Newton for his autograph after the game as he did Peyton Manning.
Oakland vs. Cleveland: All you need to know here is that the Raiders are a slight favorite. The Raiders!? They have given up 169 points in losing four straight games. Remember when these were two of the marquee AFC franchises?
Go in order of my “good” choices above, although all of those have likely been used. My best bet outside of that – obviously not including Houston, which I know has been used – would be the Lions.
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