by Robert Ferringo - 12/22/2005
I just wanted to take a second to wish all of you a happy, fun, safe, bizarre, victory-laden holiday season over the next 10 days. And with that, here's a thumbnail sketch of some intriguing games taking place in Week 16:
New York at Washington (-3), 1 p.m. on Saturday
For the second straight week, Washington finds itself locked in a classic NFC East rivalry game with huge playoff implications. The Redskins are clinging to the final NFC slot while New York is trying to lock up the division title and secure a pair of January home games.
The Giants hammered the Redskins 36-0 back in Week 8 in the Meadowlands, but were crushed 31-7 last December in the nation's capital. New York's struggles on the road (9-13 since 2003) have been well documented, and I think they still have a lot to prove. Their patchwork offensive line was outstanding last week, but I believe they'll be overwhelmed by a rabid Redskins defense.
Washington is currently in control of their playoff destiny. They've won three of their last four and can earn their first winning season since 1999 with a victory. The Redskins have only allowed three touchdowns in their last three games, and are 8-2 ATS in their last 10 games before facing the Eagles (they go to Philly in Week 17).
Atlanta at Tampa Bay (-3), 1 p.m. on Saturday
Since their Sunday night thrashing at the hands of Chicago, the mood around Atlanta has been melancholy and shell-shocked. Falcons owner Arthur Blank issued a statement in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday saying that he will consider this season a success even if the team doesn't make the playoffs. That seemed like waving the white flag to me, and is something that could've waited until after the season. Instead it's almost like Blank has given the team the OK to pack it in.
Tampa Bay is coming off an equally embarrassing loss in New England last weekend. However, they still have the inside track to a playoff slot and will have a rowdy home crowd backing them. The key match up here is the Bucs' third-ranked rushing defense (3.4-yard average) versus Atlanta's top-ranked rushing offense. Tampa Bay is 12-2-1 ATS recently when they win straight up against a divisional opponent.
Dallas at Carolina (-5), 1 p.m. on Saturday
If the desperate team usually wins in the NFL, the Cowboys could take this one in a cakewalk. Dallas has dropped three of its last four games and its playoff hopes are on life support. Unfortunately for the Boys, Carolina still has a shot at the NFC's No. 2 seed and is looking to salt away the South title.
I expect a huge day out of the Carolina defense on Saturday. The Panthers possess the league's third-rated unit; yet saw only one member (Julius Peppers) selected to the Pro Bowl. Watch for their overlooked front seven to ravage a very vulnerable Dallas offensive line. Carolina is a sultry 16-5-1 ATS in its last 22 contests.
Drew Bledsoe was also snubbed when it came to a Pro Bowl bid. His play has tailed as of late (5.8 yards per attempt over the last five games) but his numbers still blow away those of Ron Mexico. In the Cowboys' eight wins Bledsoe has a quarterback rating of 107. In their six losses his rating is just 61. Dallas has won the last four regular season meetings between these two clubs by seven points or less.
Indianapolis at Seattle (-10), 4:15 on Saturday
On the surface this looks like a thrilling match up of the NFL's top two teams. However, with the specter of Jim Sorgi and Dominic Rhodes leading the way for Indianapolis, this one could be the equivalent of a preseason dud.
Seattle is a double-digit favorite merely because it still has something to play for. A victory will seal home-field advantage in the NFC, and would mark a new franchise record for wins in a season. But don't expect a total gimme game. I think Indy will come out firing in the first half, but if Seattle can withstand the initial burst they should be able to pacify Indy as the game wears on.
Tony Dungy is 24-7 on the road with the Colts. He has stated that he won't limit his playbook and that the starters will play "as long as they need to." I don't imagine that will be longer than the first half for Manning, Edge, and Harrison. However, don't be surprised if they do bring their A-game for that first half.
Without further ado, here is my Week 16 Power Rankings:
1) Indianapolis (13-1) - Peyton Manning is quickly becoming the NFL equivalent of A-Rod. When his team is up, he's superhuman. When they need him in the clutch, he's subhuman.
2) Denver (11-3) - The Broncos have won four of their last five against Oakland, and Mike Shanahan is 16-5 against his former team. Yet, the Raiders have been victorious in two of their last three trips to Mile High.
3) Seattle (12-2) - As of right now, Seattle has the lowest strength of schedule in the league with an opponents winning percentage of just .398.
4) Cincinnati (11-3) - Buffalo has beaten Cincy seven straight times dating back to 1988. The Bengals have yet to turn the ball over more times in a game than their opponent.
5) Pittsburgh (9-5) - The word is that Ben can't throw the ball with any control over 20 yards, not 40 yards as was reported in the mainstream media. Ben was 3-0 against Charlie Frye when the two squared off in college.
6) Chicago (10-4) - I'm very happy that Mike Brown got the Pro Bowl nod. He's been one of the best and most underrated safeties in the league for several years.
7) New England (9-5) - New England has won its last 20 games when the temperature was less than 40 degrees. Also, they're 20-1 since 1993 when the kickoff temperature is 34 degrees or below.
8) Carolina (10-4) - The Panthers have scored 111 points in the fourth quarter this season, the third most in the league.
9) New York Giants (10-4) - The Giants, along with the Colts and Panthers, are the only teams with 10 wins against the spread this season.
10) Jacksonville (10-4) - In the four games before Byron Leftwich was injured the Jags were averaging 26 points per game. In the four since he's been gone it's dipped to 18 per game.
11) San Diego (9-5) - The Chargers have the league's fourth-toughest schedule (opp. win percentage of .531). They haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 16 games - the league's longest active streak - but face Larry Johnson and his string of seven straight 100+ games.
12) Tampa Bay (9-5) - How huge is that Week 10 two-point conversion to beat Washington right now? Jon Gruden had Joey Galloway simulating Mike Vick this week in practice.
13) Washington (8-6) - Not good times when you're running a story about starting the Oldest Lineman in NFL History (43-year-old Ray Brown), while your opponent is running a story about sending two defensive linemen to the Pro Bowl.
14) Dallas (8-6) - Early reports are that Marco Rivera will not play this weekend against Carolina. Also, middle linebacker Michael Barrow - signed to replace Dat Nguyen - was placed on IR with a torn quad.
15) Kansas City (8-6) - Over the last decade, Kansas City has outscored San Diego by an average of 29-14 at Arrowhead. However, nine of the last 10 overall meetings between these two teams have been decided by 10 points or less.
16) Atlanta (8-6) - The loss of defensive end Brady Smith has crippled this team's front seven. Smith's playmaking ability kept the double teams of Patrick Kearney, who's been a no-show for about four weeks.
17) Minnesota (8-6) - The Vikings began this week as 1.5-point favorites, but by Wednesday the line had already swung to them as 2.5-point dogs. If they win out, they could still win the NFC North title.
18) Miami (7-7) - The Dolphins are looking for five wins in a row for the first time since 1999. The team they beat in '99 for their fifth win? The Titans. Expect to see Sage Rosenfels. Gus Frerotte hasn't practiced because of a sore finger.
19) Cleveland (5-9) - Five of the Browns' losses have been by seven points or less. Cleveland is No. 1 in the AFC in red zone defense (45.2 percent end in TD's).
20) Philadelphia (6-8) - The Eagles have the fourth-lowest payroll in the NFL. Don't feel too bad for how this season has gone because they're going to come back even stronger next year.
21) St. Louis (5-9) - Interim coach Joe Vitt called his offensive line "soft" earlier this week during a tantrum to the press. I expect the line to respond, if only because they're facing a far inferior opponent.
22) Oakland (4-10) - I'm sure that LaMont Jordan is real upset that he isn't playing this week. The Raiders are 27th in the league in time of possession (28:35).
24) Baltimore (5-9) - The Ravens have won five of six at home. In his last three starts against the NFC, Kyle Boller has posted a quarterback rating of 117.2.
26) Tennessee (4-10) - The Titans are just 2-7 against the spread in their last nine games on the road.
23) Buffalo (4-10) - Last week I said that the fans would be storming the field at Saturday's game. Well, police made 22 arrests, and the stadium security manager said that he saw more fans "falling, fighting, and puking" than he ever had.
25) Green Bay (3-11) - This rivalry game against Chicago is the Packers' Super Bowl, so I expect an all-out assault. They've won 13 of 14 December divisional games, including nine in a row at home.
27) Arizona (4-10) - It had to be tough for Pro Bowl voters to select Larry Fitzgerald over Anquan Boldin, seeing that both are in the top five in the league in both receptions and yards.
28) New Orleans (3-11) - New Orleans is 29-5 under Jim Haslett when they enter halftime with the lead. Do you think he broke out that stat when he went to the owner and demanded a five-year extension?
29) Detroit (4-10) - I bet the guy printing the "Fire Millen!" T-shirts is having a merry Christmas.
30) New York Jets (3-11) - No beer at the stadium? I know the Jets play like a college team, but do they have to start adopting their rules as well?
31) San Francisco (2-12) - Alex Smith versus Ryan Fitzpatrick. And they're charging money to see it.
32) Houston (2-12) - It's amazing how players can execute when they know that their job, and their family's livelihood, is on the line. Houston actually swept Jacksonville last year and with an upset could actually play a key role in the 2005 season.
Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out his Insider Page here.