Atlanta Falcons vs Minnesota Vikings – Peterson versus Turner on two 9 and 5 clubs fighting for their playoff lives; does it get any better then that? In spite of losing defensive tackle Pat Williams for the remainder of the regular season and beyond this Vikings defense (particularly defending the run) is one of the very best in the National Football League. Look for the Falcons to try and exploit a major mismatch on the outside between king-sized receiver Roddy White against undersized but highly competitive Antoine Winfield.
The Vikings also hope to exploit a perceived mismatch of their own when Jared Allen goes head to head against rookie left tackle Sam Baker, a talented player who recently returned to the line up after missing time recovering from back surgery. Tarvaris Jackson who replaced an injured Gus Frerotte last week may well have played the best game of his career throwing four touchdown passes! The Vikings are a veteran club and will likely be a slight favorite at game time based primarily on their home field advantage. I went back and forth numerous times over numerous times in this one, but in the end I went with the club with the better defensive unit.
Vikings 24 – Falcons 17
Carolina Panthers vs New York Giants – The Giants offensive line gave up 10 sacks in the first twelve games of the season and 12 in the past two weeks including 8 last week versus the Cowboys! The offensive line should be back at full strength this week, but the Giants will be without inside run stopper Fred Robbins, safety Kenny Phillips and Reuben Droughns, the teams 5th string running back who dropped twenty pounds and quietly became at age thirty the clubs top special team player. The 11 and 3 Panthers have won 7 of the last 8 and with a win over the Giants would insure a home game advantage for the entire playoffs. Expect them to try and mimic the Cowboys defensive plan from last week (eight man fronts and an aggressive blitz package) against a Giants club that has lost two straight games.
I don't expect either offense to flourish in the cold December afternoon, but if the Giants can avoid giving up the big play, I like their chances in this one.
Giants 20 – Panthers 14
Philadelphia Eagles vs Washington Redskins – After their tie with the Bengals and humiliating loss the following week to the Ravens, I thought the season was over for the birds, but after three straight victories including one over division rivals on the road. They hit the road again this week and do battle against the fading Redskins with playoff implications in the line.
The Redskins offense went into the tank in losing to the lowly Rams in week six and has really struggled to get back in stride. With Clinton Portis less than 100% physically over the last month, the only bright spot offensively has been the play of Chris Cooley.
The Eagles will counter with QB Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, and receivers DeSean Jackson, Kevin Curtis and slot receiver Hank Baskett. If their thin offensive line can afford Donovan the necessary time, I see no reason why the Eagles can't move the football against an equally thin Redskins defensive front.
Eagles 24 – Redskins 13
New York Jets vs Seattle Seahawks – The Jets over the past two weeks have played poorly on both sides of the ball and realistically need to win out of they are to have any chance of qualifying for the post season. The Jets are 0 and 3 in game played out on the West Coast, but by the same token the disappointing Seahawks have won just one game at Quest Field in 2008 regular season. I look for this one to be a one sided affair, with the visiting squad emerging victorious.
Jets 41 – Seahawks 13
Houston Texans vs Oakland Raiders – The Texans started the season with four consecutive loses, won three straight, lost three more and are currently riding an impressive four game win streak. Their opponents this week, the Oakland Raiders, have yet to win two games in succession in a season where they have won just three games. Texans rookie running back has given the club some instant offense and is a threat to score from literally any place on the football field. When one adds wide out extraordinaire Andre Johnson, tight end Owen Daniels and a healthy Matt Schaub to the mix the Texans have a formidable offense that can put points on the board. I don't think the Raiders have the personnel defensively to counter this potent attack.
Texans 37 – Raiders 17
Buffalo Bills vs Denver Broncos– Losers of seven of the last eight, the Bills once promising season has turned into a total disaster. Last week's loss to the Jets was particularly hard to swallow, as anything that could go wrong, certainly did go wrong in the final two minutes and six seconds of the ball game. The Bills hope to have Jabari Greer back after missing the last four games with a knee injury. They'll need him as the Broncos passing game have some real threats on the outside. The emotional letdown from last week coupled with the Broncos home field advantage should be enough to insure victory over a club that just couldn't put it all together after a 4 and 0 start. It should be competitive, but look for the Broncos to some gather momentum in the final two games leading into the playoff round.
Broncos 28 – Bills 24
Green Bay Packers vs Chicago Bears – The Packers who were just unable to recover from last summers Brett Favre debacle, in week 16 find themselves in the role of spoilers against their long time rival, the Chicago Bears. The Packers totally dominated the Bears (37-3) in week 11 in Green Bay, but I would be very surprised if there is a repeat performance on Monday night. The Bears will have to do a far better job this time in containing the Packers running game (Ryan Grant and apply a great deal of pressure on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
On offense the Bears Kyle Orton is going to have to play with a lot more consistency then he has over the past three weeks and running back Matt Forte is going to have to do what he has done all season long; get the tough yards inside, catch the ball in the flat and help contribute to the Bears winning the all important time of possession battle. I like their chances in this critical battle.
Bears 21 – Packers 17