Every Friday, the National Football Post’s Matt Bowen picks every game on the NFL schedule.
San Diego (11-3) at Tennessee (7-7)
Current Line: Titans -3
Can I really pick against San Diego after the Chargers won their ninth in a row last week? I have always liked their big-play ability, but as the season has progressed they are incorporating those big plays into the flow of their offense that is centered on the downhill power running game. Yes, I do think Chris Johnson is the best RB in the NFL, and he does have another hundred-yard performance, but Philip Rivers should finish second in the MVP voting to Peyton Manning for a reason — and he wins it in the fourth for the Bolts.
Chargers 24 Titans 23
Seattle (5-9) at Green Bay (9-5)
Current Line: Packers -14
If the Seahawks want to hang around in this game at Lambeau, they will have to try and work the middle of the field and complete the routes that work with Matt Hasselbeck: the Hi-Lo crossers, the slot options and the skinny post. But, after seeing this team last week, will that be enough? I expect Aaron Rodgers to have another big game against a secondary in Seattle that does not have the speed to match up with the weapons of the Packers — and this one could get ugly. A big spread that I like on Sunday.
Packers 31 Seahawks 13
Oakland (5-9) at Cleveland (3-11)
Current Line: Browns -3.5
JaMarcus Russell brought the Raiders back last week, but Charlie Frye gets the start again for Oakland this week against a Browns team that is coming off an explosive win over Kansas City thanks to RB Jerome Harrison and all-world kick returner Josh Cribbs. I don’t expect the Raiders to kick the ball to Cribbs and I can’t see Harrison running the ball like he did last week against a very underrated Oakland front seven. In saying that, I like Oakland and RB Michael Bush to win this game by playing fundamental football. Take the Raiders.
Raiders 13 Browns 10
Kansas City (3-11) at Cincinnati (9-5)
Current Line: Bengals -13 ½
I thought the Bengals looked like a playoff team last week. They went on the road and played San Diego down to the wire in QB Carson Palmer’s best day of the season. But, can they avoid playing down to the competition level of Kansas City? I think they do, and don’t be surprised to see a heavy dose of RB Cedric Benson after watching the Chiefs tape from last week. Two big plays from Chad Ochocinco and a 100 yard-plus performance from Benson. Take the Bengals to win and cover.
Bengals 28 Chiefs 13
Buffalo (5-9) at Atlanta (7-7)
Current Line: Falcons -9
The issue with taking the Bills is the quarterback play. Do they have a QB that can get the ball down the field to Lee Evans and Terrell Owens? It is a question we have asked all season and I think it continues down in Atlanta where the Falcons will most likely stick to the running game against a Buffalo defense that is very soft up front. Yes, Matt Ryan can exploit a Bills secondary without CB Terrence McGee, but this game is won up front. I am taking the Falcons.
Falcons 23 Bills 10
Houston (7-7) at Miami (7-7)
Current Line: Dolphins -3
My quest to see the Texans in the playoffs is nothing more than a daydream these days, and I don’t see how a Houston team that basically laid down on the road last week in a win over the talent-short Rams can go into Miami and beat what might be the most physical team in the NFL. The Dolphins will have to limit the big plays of WR Andre Johnson, but this game turns in the second half when Miami rides Ricky Williams in the downhill running game to move to 8-7. Take the Dolphins.
Dolphins 20 Texans 14
Carolina (6-8) at NY Giants (8-6)
Current Line: Giants -7
The Giants looked like the team we saw back in September against the ‘Skins in a Monday night rout, but playing the Panthers will be a much different story. The Carolina defense is getting after the QB, and that allows them to play coverage on third downs. But, to do that, they will have to play the run with their front seven against RBs Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw. I think they do, and I also expect Panthers QB Matt Moore to continue to get the football to WR Steve Smith, who can exploit a below average New York secondary. I am taking the Panthers in the upset.
Panthers 23 Giants 21
Tampa Bay (2-12) at New Orleans (13-1)
Current Line: Saints -14
Not the best time to roll into the Superdome to play the Saints. We all know that New Orleans played poorly in its loss to Dallas. The Saints struggled in pass protection and they didn’t tackle well on defense — two things that must be corrected before the postseason. I think that starts on Sunday with an offensive explosion against the Bucs, as Josh Freeman gets a taste of how tough it is to win in the Dome. Take the Saints — big.
Saints 34 Bucs 12
Jacksonville (7-7) at New England (9-5)
Current Line: Patriots -7 ½
Outside in December, who do you take: Brady or Garrard? I have been very vocal in not buying the Jags as a playoff team and it starts at QB, as I don’t see Garrard making enough plays to win games for this franchise. Yes, RB Maurice Jones-Drew can keep Jacksonville in every game, but when it comes to the fourth quarter on Sunday, I am taking Brady — who hits Moss for a big play. It won’t be pretty for New England, but they keep winning and get ready for January.
Patriots 23 Jags 17
Baltimore (8-6) at Pittsburgh (7-7)
Current Line: Steelers -2 ½
Is Pittsburgh back? After five straight losses, Ben Roethlisberger threw for 503 yards in what will be the best game of the season in a one-point win over the Packers last week. Now, can he produce big numbers against the Ravens? It went to OT the last time, and I expect more of the same this Sunday. But I am siding with the team that runs the ball better and is more sound on special teams — the Ravens. Baltimore is a playoff team, and I am not sold that the Steelers are. Ray Rice plays big in the Baltimore win.
Ravens 21 Steelers 17
Denver (8-6) at Philadelphia (10-4)
Current Line: Eagles -7
Brain Dawkins comes home on Sunday to Philly, and he is bringing a secondary that does have the ability to contain WR DeSean Jackson. But, the issue right now for the Broncos is the running game — on both sides of the ball. RB Knowshon Moreno has averaged under three yards per carry in his last two games and the Raiders put up over 200 yards on the Denver front seven in last week’s win. Add that to the fact that Philly is playing as well as anyone right now, and I am going with McNabb and the Eagles.
Eagles 27 Broncos 17
St. Louis (1-13) at Arizona (9-5)
Current Line: Cards -14
Are the Cardinals going to put a complete game together on the field this Sunday? Arizona’s last two games: an awful performance in a loss to the Niners and an average win over a Lions team that has two wins on the season. Now is the time for Arizona to protect the ball, use the running game and put the Rams away as the Cards prepare to play in the postseason. I like ‘Zona to win, and to win big — it is about time.
Cards 30 Rams 9
Detroit (2-12) at San Francisco (6-8)
Current Line: Niners -12 ½
Alex Smith is still playing to secure his job as the future of the Niners franchise, and the Lions are still trying to learn how to win. In a game like this, I am taking the Niners solely based on the fact that they can win ugly if they have to by running the ball with Frank Gore, playing sound in the kicking game and forcing enough turnovers against QB Drew Stanton to win this one. Take the Niners as they try to get to that .500 mark for the season.
Niners 20 Lions 10
New York Jets (7-7) at Indianapolis (14-0)
Current Line: Colts – 5
Does Peyton Manning play? A big question heading into Sunday in a game that means nothing for the Colts unless they are playing for 16-0. I still think it is too early to sit Manning with home field and a bye week coming up in the playoffs, but even if he does only play for a half, do you buy Mark Sanchez against the Colts defense? I don’t, and I expect Sanchez to turn the ball over multiple times against the Colts’ cover 2 looks. Take the Colts as they go to 15-0.
Colts 24 Jets 13
Dallas (9-5) at Washington (4-10)
Current Line: Cowboys -7
We should buy the Cowboys as a playoff team after they went into New Orleans last Saturday night and beat the Saints. Tony Romo is playing excellent football and the running game of Marion Barber and Felix Jones balances an offense that can put points on the board. I think the ‘Skins play tough because of the rivalry, but Dallas is too good to drop this one.
Cowboys 27 ‘Skins 16
Monday Night Matchup
Minnesota (11-3) at Chicago (5-9)
Current Line: Vikings -7
How do you put the Favre-Childress drama to bed? Win on Monday. But, to do that, the Vikings need to establish the ground game with Adrian Peterson, not only for Monday, but going into the postseason. A.P. hasn’t rushed for over 100 yards in the last five games and this team — including Favre — needs to incorporate that aspect of the offense this Monday night. Jay Cutler has one more chance to show a national audience that this season wasn’t a total waste, but it isn’t going to happen. Take the Vikings.
Vikings 26 Bears 17
Last week vs. the spread: 7-7-2
Overall vs. the spread: 74-67-2
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