Cincinnati Bengals vs Cleveland Browns – Given the current state of affairs of the Cleveland offense, unless the there is a complete breakdown defensively or on special teams, I don't see how this offense can literally score. In the real world, I believe my theory is more than plausible, but the Browns are playing their in-state rivals the Bengals, a club that is as unpredictable as next Thursday's weather. I went with the Bengals in game one (a 20 to 12 loss at home) and vowed I would not do it again, but these are not ordinary times in the Buckeye state. Ryan Fitzpatrick played his best game of the season last week versus the Redskins and I like his chances against a front that can't put pressure on the passer.
Bengals 17 – Browns 7
Arizona Cardinals vs New England Patriots – The good news is that the Cardinals are moving on the playoff round as NFC West divisional champions, but the bad news is that they were winners in the weakest division in the NFC, have lost three of the last four and have played particularly poor in games on the East Coast outdoors (0 and 5).
The Patriots who are in a must win and hope at least two of the other three clubs with identical records falter over the next two weeks. The banged up Pats, figure to mix it up defensively and put as much pressure as they can on the immobile Kurt Warner. In spite of the Cardinals potent offense, I believe they will struggle unless they are able to get their running game in high gear. Look for the Cardinals to head back West winless on their six attempts back East.
Patriots 34 – Cardinals 24
New Orleans Saints vs Detroit Lions – Well the time has finally come for the Lions to get into the win column against a Saints club that is going nowhere and has only notched one victory away from the Superdome. I've actually fell that the Lions have played fairly well over the past two weeks. Offensively with all cylinders firing, the Lions are a formidable opponent for a defensive unit that has proven to be vulnerable at time during the 2008 season. Look for Calvin Johnson and Kevin Smith and an inspired defense to be Monday morning's headlines.
Lions 24 – Saints 20
Pittsburgh Steelers vs Tennessee Titans – The Titans have really struggled down the stretch and without their two most talented interior defensive players (Haynesworth and Vanden Bosch) for the final two games of the season, this club could continue to falter. Although the Titans have qualified for a first round bye, this contest against the Steelers is of great importance as the winner will have a home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The key for the Titans in this one is their ability to run the football (a daunting task) and afford Kerry Collins the proper time to make plays down the field. It's going to take an outstanding effort on both sides of the football, but the there is no staff that I respect more than this Jeff Fisher led outfit.
Titans 23 – Steelers 20
Miami Dolphins vs Kansas City Chiefs – This one could be closer than most people might expect. In spite of their two and twelve season, the Chiefs, who have lost six games by less than a touchdown, have not quit and have played well over the past three games. The Dolphins over the second half of the season have been one of the leagues hottest teams winning seven of the last eight. They are also among the leagues best road teams winning four of six.
I was particularly surprised last summer when Chad Pennington, but that one key personnel move has changed the fortune of both of these two beleaguered, rebuilding franchises.
This league is all about getting to the quarterback and the simple facts is the Chiefs minus Jared Allen, have only nine sacks on the season (Joey Porter alone has 17 ½ through 14 games in the season). Look for Pennington to be the difference in this one as the Dolphins keep their playoff hopes alive.
Dolphins 21 – Chiefs 13
San Francisco 49ers vs St. Louis Rams – It's hard to believe that a club with a Steven Jackson, Marc Bulger, and aging stars like Orland Pace and Torry Holt, could possibly be as offensively bankrupt as the Rams have been over the past two seasons. But in the case of the Rams, it all comes down to the decisions made over the past half decade by the most incompetent front office in professional football. My heart goes out to Jim Haslett, his staff and in my opinion one of the best scouting staffs in football, the all deserve far better. Yes, due to a number of horrendous football decisions, what was once "The Greatest Show on Turf," is now a second rate carnival side show. The week, the old ringmaster (Mike Martz) comes to town; it should be a very happy homecoming.
49ers 33 – Saints 21
San Diego Chargers vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Last week the Chargers won for just the second time on the road last week in Kansas City, but wins over the Raiders and Chiefs will not come close to preparing the bolts for what lies ahead this Sunday afternoon in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers are coming off their second loss in as many weeks versus division opponents on the road and now find themselves finishing at home (6 and 0) in a must win situation against two clubs who have been eliminated and are playing for little more than pride.
The return of Jeff Garcia should improve their chances of getting back in the win column, but the Buccaneers need to find a way to contain Philip Rivers, quite possibly the most underrated quarterback in the professional ranks. On the season, he has averaged two TD passes a game and is on a pace to throw for 4000 yards on the season.
In spite of the Chargers seemingly more potent offense, I believe there is too much riding on this game for the Buccaneers to lose at home to a disappointing Charger club.
Buccaneers 21 – Chargers 13