Every Friday, the National Football Post’s Matt Bowen picks every game on the NFL schedule.
Denver (7-4) at Kansas City (3-8)
Current Line: Broncos -4 ½
It is interesting to see what one week can do. The Broncos, losers of four straight, beat up the Giants on Thanksgiving night and find themselves leading the wild-card race in the AFC. The Chiefs, fresh off an upset over the Steelers, are pounded by the Chargers. This week? I expect the Broncos to focus on that Kansas City secondary and for Kyle Orton to have a big day throwing the ball in the middle of the field against a secondary that doesn’t tackle well and gives up too many big plays. The Broncos continue to march towards the playoffs with a light schedule down the stretch. Take Denver over K.C.
Broncos 27 Chiefs 13
Oakland (3-8) at Pittsburgh (6-5)
Current Line: Steelers -14
The Steelers are now facing must-win situations for the remainder of the regular season schedule, and they host a Raiders team that I have grown to like with Bruce Gradkowski under center. However, with Roethlisberger back under center, the Steelers will get it done on Sunday—despite giving up a big return to the Raiders that exposes the Pittsburgh special teams units once again. Look for the Raiders to bring pressure after they go into halftime down a FG, but Big Ben makes enough plays to push the Steelers to a comfortable lead in the fourth quarter. Take Pittsburgh at home.
Steelers 23 Raiders 10
Houston (5-6) at Jacksonville (6-5)
Current Line: Pick ‘Em
Can the Texans win a game in the fourth quarter over a divisional opponent? That is the question heading into Jacksonville for a Texans team that needs to win out to get in. The Jags were brought back down to earth last week because of the lack of touches we saw from RB Maurice Jones-Drew, and if the Texans want to get to the six-win mark they will have to do the same—by building a lead early in the first half and forcing QB David Garrard to beat them in the fourth quarter. Garrard isn’t Peyton Manning so I am taking the Texans on the road, who hold off the Jags just enough to get it done.
Texans 31 Jags 23
Tennessee (5-6) at Indianapolis (11-0)
Current Line: Colts -7
This is the game for the Titans. We have all followed the reemergence of Vince Young, Jeff Fisher and Chris Johnson during this five-game win streak, but going to Indy is the deciding factor for the Titans as a playoff team. They are tough to game plan for, they are unconventional, and V.Y. showed us last week how talented he can be. In saying that, I still like the Colts because of Peyton Manning’s ability to exploit a Tennessee secondary that hasn’t sold me yet. Manning plays big, as does V.Y., but outscoring Indy at home isn’t going to happen.
Colts 30 Titans 21
Philadelphia (7-4) at Atlanta (6-5)
Current Line: Eagles -5 ½
A big game in terms of the NFC wild-card race suddenly looks like a game the Eagles should easily win, as Falcons QB Matt Ryan is expected to sit. Even with Ryan, do the Falcons have the players in their defensive back seven to compete with the Eagles down the field? Look for Philly to pressure Chris Redman into two turnovers early, and for McNabb to hit some deep balls early to give Philly a lead that carries them to 8-4. It is tough to make a playoff run without your franchise QB, and that is exactly what the Falcons are faced with. Take the Eagles on the road.
Eagles 23 Falcons 14
Detroit (2-9) at Cincinnati (8-3)
Current Line: Bengals -13
Donald Driver of the Packers put enough big plays on tape for the Bengals last week, and I expect Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco to test the deep ball outside of the numbers against a Lions secondary that has been abused all season long. Mike Zimmer’s Bengals defense is nasty, so look for Matthew Stafford to have another learning experience on the road in a game that could get out of hand by the third quarter. Take the Bengals—big.
Bengals 34 Lions 13
New Orleans (11-0) at Washington (3-8)
Current Line: Saints –9 ½
It is hard not to pick the Saints to win and cover after what we saw them do to Tom Brady and the Patriots on Monday night at the Superdome, but they will face a defense under Greg Blache in Washington that can get pressure on the quarterback and can force some turnovers. But, to beat the Saints, you have to score points, and I don’t see Jason Campbell and the banged-up ‘Skins doing enough on offense to stay in this game. Take the Saints as they roll to 12-0.
Saints 33 Redskins 17
Tampa Bay (1-10) at Carolina (4-7)
Current Line: Panthers -6
The Panthers have made the switch at the quarterback position, as Jake Delhomme is now going to watch from the sidelines. But, is Matt Moore the answer when it comes to getting the ball down the field to Steve Smith, who has the ability to abuse the Bucs secondary? In Moore’s first game, I do expect the Panthers to see what he can do, so look for some early throws down the field. But Carolina still wins games by running the football and causing turnovers in their Tampa 2 scheme. They get it done on Sunday against Josh Freeman and the Bucs in that exact fashion.
Panthers 17 Bucs 10
St. Louis (1-10) at Chicago (4-7)
Current Line: Bears –8 ½
The city of Chicago needs a win, and the Rams present the perfect opportunity for the Bears to get in the win column after a tough week in the headlines. But, can they stop Steven Jackson on defense? Look for the Rams to attack the Bears front seven in the run game and try to make a play on special teams to hang in this ball game—until Jay Cuter puts it away in the second half by hooking up with Devin Hester. Two TD passes from Cutler lets the Bears salvage a win over a Rams team that is still rebuilding on the fly.
Bears 23 Rams 10
San Diego (8-3) at Cleveland (1-10)
Current Line: Chargers –13
Brady Quinn and the Cleveland offense exploded against the Lions two weeks ago, but that game was sandwiched in between two dreadful performances from this club—and I don’t see it changing against San Diego. The Bolts are scoring points and have found a way to run the ball in the red zone. Expect the same in Cleveland as LT goes over the 100-yard mark and the Chargers continue their winning streak.
Chargers 31 Browns 9
San Francisco (5-6) at Seattle (4-7)
Current Line: Pick ‘Em
The Niners looked like a playoff team last week because they got solid production out of QB Alex Smith and were able to limit the touches of Maurice Jones-Drew of the Jags. But, does Smith continue to play solid football on the road? I think he does, as Vernon Davis has another Pro Bowl day for the Niners, who continue to play tough football down the stretch for Mike Singletary. Are they out of it? Not with another win this week.
Niners 20 Seahawks 14
New England (7-4) at Miami (5-6)
Current Line: Pats -3 ½
It is always tough to pick divisional games, because the game planning doesn’t seem to come into play. It is more about players, just as we saw in the first meeting between Miami and New England where Randy Moss was able to exploit some one-on-one matchups in the passing game. Ricky Williams will be able to move the sticks for Miami against an average Pats defense, but Wes Welker and Moss are once again the difference in another AFC East win for Belichick and the Patriots.
Patriots 20 Dolphins 17
Dallas (8-3) at NY Giants (6-5)
Current Line: Cowboys -2 ½
If the Giants want to stay in the playoff discussion, this is a game they must have against a divisional opponent. But, this is a different Giants team than the one that beat the Cowboys early in the year. They are struggling to score points, they are average in the secondary and they have found out that Steve Smith isn’t a viable No.1 option. That is why I am taking Tony Romo and the Cowboys to win at the Meadowlands. Miles Austin has two big plays as the Cowboys stay atop the NFC East.
Cowboys 27 Giants 17
Minnesota (10-1) at Arizona (7-4)
Current Line: Vikings –3 ½
The issue for any team matching up against the Vikings is game planning a way to beat them up front. They are physical on both sides of the ball and Brett Favre is having an MVP season as a result of the protection he gets in the pocket. Even with Kurt Warner back for the Cards, do they have the ability to block DE Jared Allen? On the flip side, the Vikings secondary does not match up with the Cards offensive weapons, and I expect Warner to have a big night in primetime. A possible shootout in the desert? More than likely, and I am going with ‘Zona in a game like that. Take the Cards in an upset.
Cardinals 31 Vikings 27
Monday Night Matchup
Baltimore (6-5) at Green Bay (7-4)
Current Line: Packers -3 ½
In a game that is crucial to the playoff hopes of both teams, I want to look at players who could have an impact. For the Ravens, it is Ray Rice, and for the Packers it is Charles Woodson. Both players provide matchup problems and big-play ability on Monday night, but it comes down to which player can carry his team. In my mind, it is Woodson, who is playing at a higher level than any defender in the league right now. A late turnover—forced by Woodson—gives the Packers a short field to work with in a game that comes down to a fourth-quarter FG. Take the Pack to pull out a close one between two defenses playing playoff-style football.
Packers 17 Ravens 16
Last week vs. the spread: 9-7
Overall vs. the spread: 51-44-3
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