Every Friday, the National Football Post’s Matt Bowen picks every game on the NFL schedule.
Denver (8-4) at Indianapolis (12-0)
Current Line: Colts -7
I am hesitant to pick the Colts to win their 13th straight game because of Mike Nolan’s defense in Denver—especially the secondary. Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman have the cover skills to run with the Colts’ skill players and I can’t wait to see Champ line up on Indy’s Reggie Wayne—a matchup you love to see in a meaningful NFL December football game. But, can Denver really go into Indy, beat Peyton Manning and move the ball enough against a Colts defense that is playing at a high level right now? It is close, but the key player on Sunday is Joseph Addai, who is huge in the red zone for the Colts as they win yet again.
Colts 24 Broncos 19
NY Jets (6-6) at Tampa Bay (1-11)
Current Line: Jets -3
Even with Mark Sanchez on the bench, do we think that rookie QB Josh Freeman will have enough success to pull the upset at home? I don’t see it, and I expect the Jets to stick to what works for them right now—the running game of Thomas Jones, the short to intermediate passing game and a defense that will pressure and put the responsibility in the hands of its secondary. Sounds like a great game plan against a Bucs team that showed what could happen last week when a rookie QB has a down week. Take the Jets to stay alive in the wild-card race.
Jets 20 Bucs 9
Cincinnati (9-3) at Minnesota (10-2)
Current Line: Vikings -7
The Vikings got it handed to them out in the desert last week against Warner and the Cards, but by no means does that displace them as a Super Bowl favorite in the NFC. However, it does expose some issues that can be attacked. The question is: do the Bengals have enough to take advantage of these issues? For the Bengals to come out on top, QB Carson Palmer will have to challenge that Vikings secondary down the field—after they have established a running game with Cedric Benson. And, on defense, Mike Zimmer’s unit will have to attack the pocket and force Favre to deliver the ball early—exactly what the Cards did last week. Does it happen? No, I am taking Favre and the Vikings to bounce back and win in the Dome—with A.P. having a 100-yard day. Sorry, Ocho.
Vikings 21 Bengals 17
Buffalo (4-8) at Kansas City (3-9)
Current Line: Pick ‘Em
How do you pick this game? Two teams with glaring issues and two teams that have the ability to show up one week and then take a beating the next. I tend to lean towards the Bills because they can run the football better than Kansas City, and in the month of December, that is the key to winning a game in the second half. A combo of Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch do just enough to cover up the issues in QB Ryan Fitzpatrick’s game on the road at Arrowhead. Take the Bills in a game that lacks excitement and meaning besides one big play from Terrell Owens against a below average Kansas City secondary.
Bills 20 Chiefs 13
Green Bay (8-4) at Chicago (5-7)
Current Line: Packers -3
Green Bay is rolling—and it has to do with Dom Capers’ defense. Not a good sign if you are Ron Tuner, Jay Cutler and the Bears, who scraped together 17 points to beat a down Rams team last week at home. I expect much of the same from the Packers, as they force turnovers, stop the run and watch as Aaron Rodgers sits in the pocket with time to throw against a now-average Chicago defense. This rivalry is a year away before it becomes important again in the standings, but it is still high on my list to watch this weekend. I am taking the Pack as they again get big plays on defense to enjoy a comfortable win.
Packers 27 Bears 14
New Orleans (12-0) at Atlanta (6-6)
Current Line: Saints -10
Now we are seeing what happens to a talented team when it loses its franchise QB. The Falcons were hot in the wild-card talk weeks ago, but without Matt Ryan this team looked lifeless at home against the Eagles last week. In saying that, why should it change this week when hosting Drew Brees and the Saints? Call it an escape last week in Washington if you want for New Orleans, but the bottom line is that this team seems to always make big plays at crucial points of the ball game. This week, those plays come early for Brees and FS Darren Sharper as the Saints roll to 13-0…on their way to 16-0.
Saints 37 Falcons 13
Detroit (2-10) at Baltimore (6-6)
Current Line: Ravens -13 ½
The Ravens, who were once an offensive showcase earlier in the season, are now back to the Ravens that we know—a team that needs big plays on defense to set up scoring opportunities for QB Joe Flacco. I don’t expect that to change against a Lions team without QB Matthew Stafford, and I see the Ravens’ secondary getting a break from the officiating and making some plays on the football vs. Daunte Culpepper in Baltimore. Not a pretty game to watch, but none of these next four games will be for Ravens fans. They just have to win to get in the dance.
Ravens 17 Lions 9
Miami (6-6) at Jacksonville (7-5)
Current Line: Jags -2 ½
Do we really believe in the Jags as a playoff team—as they currently hold the final wild- card spot in the AFC? The schedule starts to pick up for the Jags on Sunday with Miami coming to town, and I see a game that is determined by QBs. Expect both Maurice Jones-Drew and Ricky Williams to produce, but which QB makes the big throws in the second half? In that regard, I like Chad Henne over David Garrard in the Dolphins’ win before a sparse home crowd in Jacksonville. This is the beginning of the end for the Jags in 2009.
Dolphins 23 Jags 17
Carolina (5-7) at New England (7-5)
Current Line: Patriots -13 ½
The issue with the Pats from my point of view is their defensive secondary. They have been exposed in the last two weeks and until they make the proper corrections in the back end, I can’t buy them as a serious contender. However, does Panthers QB Matt Moore really threaten New England this Sunday? Look for the Panthers to try and play a ball- control game and try to grind out yards on the ground, but it won’t be enough. Tom Brady rolls this weekend in Foxborough.
Patriots 28 Panthers 10
Seattle (5-7) at Houston (5-7)
Current Line: Texans -6
With my bet with the NFP’s Michael Lombardi all but over, the Texans host the Seahawks—who have strung together some wins—in a game with only mathematical meaning when it comes to the postseason. But, I still like the Texans over the Seahawks because Matt Schaub will have plenty of chances to take advantage of an average Seattle defense down the field. Andre Johnson plays big, and the Texans get their sixth win of the season.
Texans 23 Seahawks 14
St. Louis (1-11) at Tennessee (5-7)
Current Line: Titans -13
A good game to watch if you like to see franchise running backs in Steven Jackson of the Rams and Chris Johnson of the Titans. No playoff hype here for the Titans after the road loss to the Colts last week in Indy, but just another opportunity for Johnson to chase Eric Dickerson in the record books. This should be a game that the Titans handle easily and a game where Johnson and Vince Young both put up big numbers. Take the Titans in an easy win.
Titans 31 Rams 14
Washington (3-9) at Oakland (4-8)
Current Line: Redskins -1
I am on the Bruce Gradkowski train this week because the Raiders look like an efficient offense when he is under center. I expect Greg Blache’s defense for the ‘Skins to be prepared and to play at a high level on the road, but watching Gradkowski last week bring this team back on the road has me thinking Raiders in this one. ‘Skins QB Jason Campbell struggles against the Raiders defense and Gradkowski continues to push JaMarucs Russell out the door in Oakland.
Raiders 26 Redskins 17
San Diego (9-3) at Dallas (8-4)
Current Line: Cowboys -3
Why are the Chargers so quiet? They have won seven straight and have found a way to run the ball in the red zone with production. But, we still tend to overlook them on a national stage. That changes this week when they head to Dallas. Tony Romo was excellent last week in the loss to the Giants, but the special teams and the defense let this team down. Not good with the Bolts coming to town. Look for another big return to happen against the Cowboys and right now, Philip Rivers is as hot as Drew Brees when it comes to the QB position. I am taking the Chargers to win their eighth in a row.
Chargers 27 Cowboys 23
Philadelphia (8-4) at NY Giants (7-5)
Current Line: Giants -1
A huge NFC East game at the Meadowlands to cap off the Sunday action. Last week, the Giants were able to find a way to create explosive plays—something that had been missing in this offense since September. Can they do it again vs. the Eagles’ pressure scheme? I think they can, but don’t expect them to contain McNabb and the Eagles on offense. Too many weapons for Philly against a Giants secondary that will give up big plays and fold in the red zone. I am going with the Eagles as they take control of the NFC East.
Eagles 30 Giants 20
Monday Night Match Up
Arizona (8-4) at San Francisco (5-7)
Current Line: Cards -3 ½
The Niners physically whipped the Cardinals up front earlier in the season, but these are two different teams now in December. And, after last week’s performance against the Vikings, it is hard to pick against Arizona and Kurt Warner right now. Alex Smith is making a statement to the organization with his play of late, and I expect him to stay the starter in 2010. But for Monday night, he won’t be able to keep up with Warner, Fitzgerald and Boldin. Take the Cards—a team that looks like a tough matchup for anyone in the postseason.
Cards 24 Niners 13
Last week vs. the spread: 8-8
Overall vs. the spread: 59-52-3
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