Here we are once again. The end of the calendar year and the end of the NFL regular season: 16 games times 32 teams in 17 weeks. Now it gets really interesting.
While no team is ever invincible, the upper echelon of each conference - Seattle and Denver - lost at home late in the season to lesser division rivals, which could be a very bad omen.
December football is about being healthy and getting hot. January football is all about staying that way. In today’s NFL, championships are not necessarily about sustained excellence as they are about good timing.
Let’s hope all this parity makes us smarter because last week’s 7-9 showing was evidence to the contrary. (Season prediction total now at 147-92 for a .615.) Obviously, someone here could use all the extra smarts available at the last minute from Amazon. Get your three digit security codes ready!
Panthers at Falcons - Atlanta is just about healthy now and will be tough at home, while another farewell fandango for Tony Gonzalez just makes it all the harder to pick the visitors. Carolina has been saving up all year for a postseason trip and now is not the time to screw up the travel arrangements.
Being on the road, the Panthers should execute their ball control offense, eschew the big play impulse by Big Cam, and save their rugged defense’s time on the field so they can get as many three-and-outs as possible. Keep the crowd quiet and the margin never less than two scores.
But watch out for bites on the rear from the special teams. Those always hurt the most because you’re never looking in the right place.
Ravens at Bengals - Baltimore has their considerable pride and Cincinnati has its spotless home record. It’s crazy to pick against a hot streak like that unless there is a very good reason, and the Ravens just don’t give us one right now as their offense is neither explosive nor reliable.
The Bengals have not only been impressive at home all year long, they’ve been downright awesome at times. Here’s to letting the good times roll once more, but we’re all about to see just how mature Andy Dalton has become because Baltimore is sure to make him prove himself.
Jaguars at Colts - Indy wins on talent alone. That, and being at home. Jacksonville’s resurrection from the abyss is hopefu, but let’s not get the bends by rushing to the surface too soon.
Jets at Dolphins - Rex Ryan is telling his team not to expect him back next year, which may actually motivate them to play well in the vain attempt not to have to follow him out the door. Either way, a thorough housecleaning is in order.
In Miami, the mess from the Icognito Meltdown has been scrubbed and even polished, which is pretty amazing given the lack of top-tier talent on the roster. Coach Philbin has got them believing they are better than the 9-7 team they are sure to be once this game is over. Their season may not be over yet, but even if it is, they leave in a much loftier spot than where they started.
Lions at Vikings - Word is Detroit season ticket holders (yes, apparently there are some) received playoff tickets in the mail this week. And some people thought Matt Millen was a problem. No team deserves a loss more this week than the Lions, so let’s all hope they get one. Serves them right.
After this contest, Minnesota says so long and good riddance to the Metrodome, one of the worst contraptions ever devised for the enjoyment of any athletic event. For the next two years, the Vikings will return to their roots and play football outdoors, albeit at a college venue, until their new covered stadium is ready. Bud Grant still knows better, but some choices are no choice at all really.
Redskins at Giants - Wow! When was the last time this game mattered so little? Take the obvious choice of the home team; but really, the NFC Least is mucking out the stall with this one.
Browns at Steelers - When Pittsburgh still has something to play for they just don’t give Cleveland much of a chance. It’s sort of been that way for 40 years now and that’s not the Steelers’ fault.
Texans at Titans - Seldom do unexpected disasters take so long to play out, but that is Houston’s season in a nutshell: one long, agonizingly slow, gloomy drama. Sort of like a bad Bette Davis movie.
Unlike Hollywood divas of the past, the football team in Nashville actually has some life left in it. Except for Kenny Britt, they have never quit. However the NFL is a very unforgiving stage for the marginally talented, so a record of 7-9 is about right for them. In some years that was playoff worthy, but nostalgia doesn’t play football.