We’re into the December stretch drive in the NFL and here’s a look at how the TV slate for Week 13 shakes out on Sunday..
Cincinnati-Pittsburgh (1 PM ET, CBS)
The Bengals are one game back of the Steelers and Ravens in the AFC North and one game ahead of the Jets and Broncos for the last playoff spot, so this game decides what Cincinnati is playing for the rest of the way. Pittsburgh is one of four teams tied atop the entire AFC at 8-3 (along with Baltimore, New England and Houston), but they looked awful offensively on Sunday night in Kansas City. You still have to lean Pittsburgh’s way here. It’s a lot to ask of rookie Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton to come in here and win and even though I expect the Bengal defense to take away the running game and make this a good one, the Steelers and Big Ben make enough plays to scrape out a win.
Denver-Minnesota (1 PM ET, Fox)
It’s a sign of how much Tebow-Mania, pro and con, is sweeping the NFL that Fox would choose to show this game, rather than Atlanta-Houston, to most of the country. Denver’s formula has been simple—run the ball, play tough defense and let Tebow pull it out at the end with his first few good plays of the entire game. One thing that has to be said for the quarterback though, is that he doesn’t turn the ball over and as long as being on the road in the Metrodome doesn’t bother him, that will be enough here. Denver can’t pull away from the Vikings, but the running game and defense can deliver another win here.
Atlanta-Houston: The Texans have to try and survive the rest of the way with makeshift work at quarterback, from third-stringer T.J. Yates to newly signed Kellen Clemens. With the return of Andre Johnson at wideout this should have been when they made their move and this would have been a great game. The Falcons are nicked up themselves, with Michael Turner and Julio Jones listed as questionable, but questionable in the NFL usually means you play, and it won’t take many points to beat the Texans this week.
Oakland-Miami: The Dolphins have found their rhythm and are looking like a playoff team, even if the 3-8 record says they took too long to get started. Oakland is playing well and has good offensive balance. A good game comes down to the end, but Miami with homefield advantage and a long prep week after Thanksgiving, pulls it out. A Raider loss coupled with a Bronco win turns the AFC West into a dead heat.
NY Jets-Washington: The Redskin offense has come to life, with 47 points the last two weeks. It’s less about Rex Grossman replacing John Beck and more about Santana Moss and Fred Davis being back in the lineup. a
Carolina-Tampa Bay: The Panthers are right behind the Dolphins in the area of quality 3-8 teams. The Buccaneers are 4-7 and playing worse than that. Cam Newton continues Carolina’s growth with a road win in the NFC South.
Indianapolis-New England: Seriously?
Kansas City-Chicago: I like this one as an upset spot. The Kansas City defense stepped it up with a great game against Pittsburgh on Sunday night and now facing a Cutler-less Bears offense that doesn’t have great options at receiver to begin with, I look for KC to stack the box, stop Forte on the ground and make this another ugly low-scoring game like Sunday night. Tyler Palko improved from his first to second start, and even modest improvement here steals the road upset for the Chiefs.
Tennessee-Buffalo: Chris Johnson got back into the flow running the ball against Tampa Bay with 190 yards and even though the Bills came up with a credible loss against the Jets, the home team is still looking too dysfunctional right now and the Titans win a close one to keep the heat on Houston in the AFC South.
Green Bay-NY Giants (4:15 PM ET, Fox)
The folks in Green Bay see this as the last real hurdle to going 16-0, with the remaining tough games (Oakland, Chicago, Detroit) all being at home. Joe Buck and Troy Aikman are on hand for this one and the big thing the Giants have going for them is to create a lot of problems with their defensive front four against a mediocre Packer offensive line. Detroit had that same advantage on Thanksgiving and they did slow Aaron Rodgers’ offense to a manageable pace. The problem is that the Green Bay defense seems to be rounding into championship form themselves and Eli Manning can’t make mistakes, lest ballhawking corners Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson turn those mistakes into points. Without a steady running game and good pass protection, Green Bay isn’t a sure thing, but they just have so many playmakers in the passing game and on defense that I can’t go against them anymore.
Baltimore-Cleveland: Baltimore has the much better team and a long week to get ready after Thanksgiving, but they also have a tendency to play to the level of their competition. Cleveland gave Cincinnati a spirited run last week and will do the same here. Baltimore wins, but it’s closer than the 6.5 pointspread.
Dallas-Arizona: The Cowboys are on a roll and even allowing for their tendency to slip up at unexpected times, it would take a lot of Tony Romo mistakes to turn this one into a game. Beanie Wells can cause problems for the ‘Boys on the ground, but there’s not enough airpower in Arizona.
St. Louis-San Francisco: The 49ers are rested, on a 10-day week, hungry after a loss to Baltimore , at home and facing a bad team. Enough said.
Detroit-New Orleans (8:20 ET, NBC)
If the Lions are going to win this game Matthew Stafford will have to play his best game of the year. The only way to beat New Orleans at home is if Drew Brees tosses a couple up for grabs and he’s not going to do that unless you can force him into a scoring race and take away the running game with Mark Ingram. Detroit’s chances of doing the latter have decreased severely with the suspension of Ndamakong Suh in the middle, and that also eliminates any pressure up the gut. It’s more likely that it’s Stafford whose forced into miscues and even if Brees doesn’t repeat his Monday Night dominance, it’s more than enough to keep the Saints atop the NFC South.