Here we are in the home stretch, a time when every game either means something or it doesn’t. All of which helps me not one damned bit. Here’s what not to expect.
Kansas City (-3) at Washington
The Chiefs need desperately to get off the schneid and get their feet back under them as the regular season moved into the home stretch. The Racists need desperately to get this season over with and get out of the way. (Or maybe it’s just that I need desperately for the Racists to do that.) It’ll all happen just as everyone needs it to. Kansas City by 14.
Minnesota (+6.5) at Baltimore
The Ravens are in the hunt (and, for the moment, on the inside track in the race for the final AFC wild card spot). They’ll remain their for one more week before starting the three-game skid that will leave them on the outside looking in come December 30. Baltimore by nine.
Cleveland (+10) at New England
The Patriots have scored a total of 10 first half points in their last three games. They should have 10 on the board by midway through the first quarter of this one. On defense, the Patriots should come out of this game looking like they’ve solved their inability to stop the run and rediscovered the takeaway (even though the former, at least, will be an illusion). New England by no less than (and possibly rather more than) 17.
Atlanta (+3) at Green Bay
The How The Mighty Have Fallen Bowl. Three months ago, this game looked like it could potentially decide the NFC one seed. And here we are, with the Falcons just trying to get through the rest of the season and the Packers holding on to the futile hope that they’ll be able to keep their post-season hopes alive long enough to get their star QB back on the field. For whatever little it’s worth (and it’s very little indeed; they’re going nowhere), Green Bay wins the game. It’s a push with the points.
Oakland (+3) at NY Jets
Both of these teams are done. But the Jets, only because they’re the Jets, apparently don’t know it yet. This game won’t do anything to change that. New Jersey stumbles to a one-point win.
Indianapolis (+6.5) at Cincinnati
The Colts very simply cannot afford to lose this game. These two teams come into this matchup at 8-4. After this, the Bengals are winning at least two of their last three, while the Colts are winning exactly two of their last three. That means a loss would effectively lock the Colts into the four seed (barring some kind of precipitous drop by the Bengals or Patriots) and a first-round matchup against the Chiefs. The Colts don’t want to catch the Chiefs on wild card weekend. (You’ll see why two weeks from now when Indianapolis visits Kansas City.) Trouble is, the Colts have very little chance of winning this game. In fact, I can see exactly one way for Indy to get the upset here: They need to come out ahead in the turnover battle by at least +2. That’s a possibility when you’re facing Andy Dalton, whose 16 picks are the fourth most in the NFL this season. But it’s a hell of a tough thing to have to tie your hopes to. And I strongly suspect it won’t be nearly enough. Bengals by four.
Miami (+3.5) at Pittsburgh
In which the Steelers commence the seemingly unlikely four-game winning streak that will net them the AFC six seed and the right to play exactly one extra game in January. Pittsburgh by four.
Tennessee (+12) at Denver
“See,” Peyton Manning fans will say after this one is over. “Peyton can so play well in cold weather.” And the rest of the top AFC teams will tremble, knowing that the great Manning can indeed play well enough in the latter part of the season to help his team get past struggling competition. Never mind the pair of picks he threw on the way. Those don’t matter. Denver by 10.
St. Louis (+5) at Arizona
In the end, 9-7 isn’t going to quite get it done for the Cardinals. And unless the Seahawks have the one seed completely sewn up by week 16 and choose to open the door for Arizona as a result, 9-7 is where the Cards are headed. But Arizona’s an improving team and they’re going to fight all the way to the finish. That should be enough to get them a win today, though I wouldn’t give more than three.
NY Giants (+3.5) at San Diego
When the Giants return to the visitors locker room following the game, they’ll find a banner reading, “Forget you, too, Eli. Enjoy your off-season.” San Diego by a touchdown.
Seattle (+2.5) at San Francisco
The Seahawks were a better team than the defending NFC champions back in week two, and they’re still a better team now. But a short week, a desperate opponent, and the difficulty of beating a good division rival on the road will conspire to neutralize Seattle’s quality advantage, if only just. San Francisco by a point.
Carolina (+3) at New Orleans
Six days ago, the Saints were playing for home field advantage throughout the playoffs. New Orleans lost any hope of that early on. Now, one has to wonder whether the Saints can hold off the Pass Interferences, who are challenging for the NFC South crown. Recent evidence suggests they cannot. Carolina by a field goal.
Dallas (+1) at Chicago
I don’t believe in either of these teams. Well, that’s not true. I believe that each of these teams has a good shot to qualify for the playoffs as the winner of a weak division, only to be bounced in the wild card round by Carolina, New Orleans or San Francisco. These are both wholly mediocre squads, and I’m going with the one playing at home. Bears by a field goal.