New Orleans at NY Giants
New Orleans lost at home to Washington last week as QB Brees has his worst game of the season. But with a Carolina loss, the Saints did clinch the NFC South and now have a chance to earn a first round bye this week in the Big Apple.
Not so fast my friend. The Giants still control their own destiny. A victory over the Saints and a win next week at Washington and New York will earn at least a Wild Card spot. The Giants are as explosive as the Saints on offense, probably have more talent on defense, are getting healthy, and are playing with a greater sense of urgency.
It's been a great season for the Saints but they could suffer a bit of a let down here after clinching their first division crown in quite a while. I would expect that let down to come on defense this week as opposed to the offense which failed to launch last week. New Orleans will want to have corrected some of their offensive problems. So after a spirited week of practice, I expect their offense to bounce-back this week and it’s the Saints defenses turn to suffer.
If the weather’s good, this could be a real shoot-out. The Giants are the more motivated team, so give me the G-men at home.
Philadelphia at Dallas
Dallas rebounded from their shocking home loss to New Orleans with a comeback win at Atlanta. The Cowboys are already in the Playoffs, and a win here clinches the NFC East Division title. Philly can win the crown with a win here and a victory next week against Atlanta.
The story of each squad in 2006 is the story of their quarterbacks. Dallas made the midseason switch at signal-caller when Drew Bledsoe got the hook and the team has responded better with Romo taking snaps than many expected. The Eagles’ own replacement at quarterback (Garcia) has enjoyed as much success as Romo in running the Philly offense. Philadelphia looked dead and buried at mid-season when QB McNabb went down with a knee injury, but the team has rallied behind its new signal caller and fought its way into playoff position.
But, as much as this game is the story of two unlikely quarterbacks, it may be the running game and the rushing defense that wins this match-up. There’s little doubt that Dallas will pound the football at the Eagles suspect rush defense this week. Philly will take the opposite course, spreading the Dallas defense out and using their runningbacks as receivers. Both tactics should work.
This should be a fun game to watch as it’s likely both offenses have what it takes to go up and down the field on the opposing defense. I expect both teams to pull out all the stops to win an exciting and high-scoring game. But, in the end, I still believe that teams that can run the ball and stop the run win more than their share of games. Give me the Cowboys to win a wild one.
Chicago at Detroit
The Bears have nothing to play for in this game. They have clinched their division and home field advantage through the conference playoffs. If the Bears were ever going to let-down, this would be the spot.
In the past, this would be the kind of game where you would expect an all-out effort from the Lions. You have the best team in their conference (Chicago) coming to your stadium to play Detroit’s final home game, the Bears are more than a four point favorite in a meaningless game, and the Lions are off an embarrassing road loss. You just can’t get a better spot than that.
Unfortunately, these are the Lions. This is a team starting their fourth-string runningback (Arlen Harris), their second and third-string offensive linemen, a 11th season quarterback who has thrown at least one interception in every game this season, and the team is struggling through a six-game losing streak. The offensive line situation is the worst. The Lions will be lining up a fifth-round rookie tackle (Jonathan Scott), an undrafted rookie guard (Frank Davis) and probably a guard plucked off their practice squad (Stephen Peterman). Yuck.
Only bad things can happen in this game. I don’t want Chicago, but I sure don’t want the Lions either. Give me the Lions to cover an ugly, low-scoring game.
Baltimore at Pittsburgh
A reoccurring theme this week is going against teams that have already won their division. Next in line are the Pittsburgh Steelers who play the Baltimore Ravens.
Baltimore clinched the AFC North title when Cincinnati lost at Indianapolis Monday night. The Steelers at 7-7 need a miracle to make the playoffs, but even if their playoff dreams are wishful thinking, the memories of the 27-0 beat-down handed out by Baltimore earlier this season should be enough to get Pittsburgh motivated. In that butt-kicking, the Ravens blitz Steelers QB Roethlisberger relentlessly, sacking him nine times and knocking him down on eight other pass attempts. Since that game, Roethlisberger has thrown four touchdown passes and only one interception.
Since that loss to Baltimore, Pittsburgh has been on a nice run, winning three in a row impressively and allowing just 13 points in doing so. The Ravens are a nice team, but hardly an offensive juggernaut. The Black Birds live off other teams’ mistakes. The Steelers have gone back to basics, running the football and playing defense and I expect that change in tactics will serve them well in this game as they will not want their quarterback taken down another nine times. Pittsburgh will try and make this a low-scoring, mistake-free game by running the football and controlled passes. I think they get it done this time. Give me the Steelers in a low-scoring game.