by Robert Ferringo - 12/02/2005
December is upon us and that means that the Real Season is here. The official postseason doesn't start until Jan. 8, but as far as I'm concerned the playoffs begin this weekend. There are currently eight teams in each conference vying for only six positions. These last five weeks have a focus on divisional matchups, and here are four critical ones that highlight Week 13:
Cincinnati at Pittsburgh (-3), Sunday at 1 p.m.
I think that without a doubt this is the biggest game of the weekend. Cincinnati has another chance to beat a quality team and prove that they're capable of more than a one-and-done run in the playoffs. For Pittsburgh, the stakes are much higher. A loss here could be a crippling blow to their playoff hopes.
The Steelers are definitely the more desperate team in this game. They're tied with Kansas City and San Diego for the final wild card spot, but a win vaults them back into first place. Pittsburgh manhandled the Bengals 27-14 on Oct. 23. Bill Cowher is 20-7 against Cincy in his career, and Pittsburgh has won six of the last seven meetings in this series.
A win would give the Bengals a stranglehold on first place in the AFC North. Their offense has been rowdy for the past two weeks. If they're going to win in the Steel City, I believe they're going to have to put up a lot of points early (facilitated by turnovers) and hope they can turn it into a track meet. There's no way they can grind one out against a more physical Pitt team. The temperature is supposed to be a balmy 36 degrees at Heinz Field at kickoff.
Atlanta at Carolina (-3), Sunday at 1 p.m.
Very interesting matchup for control of what I believe is the best division in football. Carolina returns home after two grueling games at Chicago and Buffalo. Atlanta, after two awful performances, resurfaced as a force with their Thanksgiving Thrashing of Detroit.
There's an odd dynamic at work in the NFC South regarding Michael Vick. Tampa Bay absolutely owns Vick, but he completely dominates the Panthers. Vick is 5-0 versus Carolina in his career, and Atlanta has won the last three meetings between these organizations. Atlanta is 4-1 SU on the road this season.
Carolina has been an outstanding 4-1 SU and ATS in its last five games. Two of the last three games between these clubs have gone to overtime. Atlanta is 6-3 on the Over in its last nine games, and Carolina has hit three consecutive Unders by an average of 16 points. This game has gone under six of the last eight times.
Dallas at New York Giants (-3), 1 p.m.
The Giants have a large advantage by having this matchup of division co-leaders take place in the Meadowlands. Eli Manning has won six of his last seven games in front of the home crowd, including a 28-24 victory over the Cowboys to end 2004.
The Giants have lost two of their last three, but have beaten the Cowboys in two of the last three meetings. The one loss was a 16-13 overtime game that took place in Big D in October. Eli is second in the NFL with six fourth-quarter TD passes, and the Giants are second in the league with 95 fourth quarter points.
Like New York, Dallas is coming off a crushing overtime loss in Week 12. The good news for the Boys is that since they played on Thanksgiving they had a few extra days of rest and preparation for this one. The Cowboys secondary has improved dramatically since the beginning of the year. They'll need to have their A-game against Eli.
Denver at Kansas City (+1.5), 4:15 p.m.
Thus far, these teams have been quite profitable. Denver is 8-2-1 ATS and Kansas City is 7-4 ATS. Also, six of the last eight games between these two have gone over.
Denver has won three of the last four games in this series. However, the Chiefs demolished the Broncos 45-17 last December at Arrowhead. Kansas City knows that a win here would pull them within one game of Denver for first place in the West. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, Carlos Hall, Sammy Knight and Ryan Sims are all listed as questionable.
Without further ado, here's my Week 13 Power Rankings:
1) Indianapolis (11-0) - I didn't give the Colts their just due in this week's Ferringo Report. This team is physical enough to win a title. That, and they are ridiculously fast. I think they're unbeatable on turf.
2) Denver (9-2) - The Broncos have only turned the ball over 11 times in 11 games. Their +14 turnover differential is second only to Cincinnati.
3) Seattle (9-2) - Shaun Alexander is 12-for-12 on 3rd-and-1 runs, and 17 of his 41 red zone carries have gone for touchdowns.
4) Chicago (8-3) - Big time trap game for the Bears this weekend. They have a seven-game win streak, it's a rivalry game, their facing a team that's beaten them in Chicago 11 straight years, and Brett Favre is involved. It has trouble written all over it.
5) Carolina (8-3) - John Fox is just 1-5 in his career against the Falcons.
6) Jacksonville (7-3) - The Jaguars' average drive starts at their own 34. That's second-best in the league.
7) Cincinnati (8-3) - The ATS loser in the first game of the Pitt/Cincy series is 15-3 ATS in the second. The Bengals lost 27-13 back in Week 7.
8) Pittsburgh (7-4) - The Steelers are 30th both offensively (30 percent) and defensively (42.5 percent) when it comes to third down efficiency.
9) Dallas (7-4) - The Cowboys are 6-3 ATS after a loss, and 5-1 ATS after playing the Broncos. However, they're just 5-5 ATS against their division.
10) Atlanta (7-4) - This is the forgotten team in the NFC. The Falcons are still very strong, and their 47 percent third-down conversion rate is second in the NFL.
11) San Diego (7-4) - They've won four straight against Oakland, but haven't won five straight against them since 1962.
12) New York Giants (7-4) - Ironically, special teams have been a tremendous boost for the Giants all season. Football Outsiders has them ranked second in the NFL.
13) Tampa Bay (7-4) - A big assist to their second-ranked defense has to go to punter Josh Bidwell. He's leading the league with a 46.6-yard average.
14) Kansas City (7-4) - The Chiefs are in the top seven in every major rushing category. Larry Johnson is third in the NFL with a 5.1 yards-per-carry average.
15) New England (6-5) - Both Corey Dillon and Kevin Faulk were practicing this week. It remains to be seen if either will be activated for their game this Sunday.
16) Washington (5-6) - The Redskins have won their last four times in St. Louis. The most recent win came in 2000.
17) Philadelphia (5-6) - The Eagles are 24-17 in December/January regular-season games since 1995, and are 18-8 in those situations under Andy Reid.
18) Minnesota (6-5) - The Vikings are 11-1 against Detroit since 1999. They've swept the season series in each of the last three years.
19) St. Louis (5-6) - The Ryan Fitzpatrick story has been a good one, but he'll get a taste of a real NFL defense when the Redskins roll in this weekend.
20) Oakland (4-7) - The one constant in the NFL: the Raiders lead the league in penalties (193 in 11 games).
21) Buffalo (4-7) - Willis McGahee, the self-proclaimed "best back in the NFL" has been held under 100 yards in four of the last five games.
22) Detroit (4-7) - It's not as if no one has pointed a finger at Joey Harrington over the last four years. But by going public like he did, Dre Bly became a traitor.
23) Baltimore (3-8) - The Ravens are averaging just 1.05 points per drive, 31st in the league. And that was after the out-of-nowhere 29-point eruption.
24) Miami (4-7) - I'm fairly impressed with how the Dolphins responded to the controversy surrounding their coach this week. If they can score a quarterback and two offensive linemen, this crew could be in the mix next season.
25) Cleveland (4-7) - The Browns are 12th in yards per play (5.3), but just 28th in scoring (15.4).
26) Arizona (3-8) - The Cardinals have allowed points in 20 consecutive quarters. That's the longest streak since Buffalo gave up points in 22 straight quarters in 2002.
27) New Orleans (3-8) - One thing that Aaron Brooks has been consistent at doing is beating the Bucs. He's 4-2 against them over the past three years.
28) Green Bay (2-9) - They've turned the ball over 27 times, and have a -11 differential. That's why they have nine losses.
29) New York Jets (2-9) - So, the Mets picked up Delgado and Wagner. How long until Opening Day again?
30) Tennessee (3-8) - The Titans are just 2-6 ATS on the road in their last eight games.
31) San Francisco (2-9) - Let's put this in perspective: 54 percent of the 49ers drives end in punts, while only 31 percent of Indianapolis' drives end that way.
32) Houston (1-10) - I've recently caught a few episodes of Nip/Tuck. The jury's still out. But I do know that it's as twisted and sociopathic a show ever I've seen. Houston? Yeah, they still suck.
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The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Doc's football picks service.