As autumn gives way to winter, the NFL enters the stretch run of the season with only four weeks remaining on the schedule.
With the mercury in your thermometers beginning to slip, the NFL is sure to bring the heat starting this week with some tense divisional matchups.
The Ravens and Steelers renew their AFC North rivalry in a pivotal divisional game between two of the fiercest and nastiest defenses in the league.
The NFL’s hottest team, the Atlanta Falcons, take their show on the road against NFC South foes, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The main event takes place on Monday Night Football as the trash-talking Jets bring their swagger to New England in a decisive AFC East showdown. These three divisional games dominate the schedule through this weekend with each game carrying playoff implications.
If last weekend’s brawl between Andre Johnson and Cortland Finnegan is any indication as to what is to come in the final weeks of the season, contenders are in for the fight for their playoff lives.
Percentages taken from fan voting on LI Press Picks Football Pool. Picks indicated in bold.
Houston (5-6) 5% picked @ Philadelphia (7-4) 95% picked
The Thursday night matchup isn’t particularly kind to an Eagles squad hurting in the secondary with CBs Asante Samuel listed as questionable. Bears QB Jay Cutler shredded the Eagles pass defense for four scores; and without a healthy Samuel to cover Houston stud WR Andre Johnson, the Eagles will be tested through the air. The difference maker? Michael Vick to DeSean Jackson. The Texans’ porous defense has allowed 38 completions for 20 yards or more, allowing the dynamic duo of Vick and Jackson to get back on track following the Eagles’ loss to the Bears.
New Orleans (8-3) 97% picked @ Cincinnati (2-9) 3% picked
After losing eight straight contests, how does Marvin Lewis still have a job in Cincinnati? The Saints enter Cincy with a modest four-game winning streak, as they appear to be hitting their stride at the right time.
Chicago (8-3) 88% picked @ Detroit (2-9) 12% picked
This Lions team is certainly playing better football but is having difficulty finishing off games. In their last two matchups, the Lions were outscored 63-16 in the second half. The Bears are coming off a season-defining victory against the Eagles and should take care of business against an inferior Lions team.
San Francisco (4-7) 3% picked @ Green Bay (7-4) 97% picked
The Niners go from defending against the league’s worst passing attack in Arizona to visiting Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau this weekend. San Francisco is winless in five previous meetings with the Packers.
Jacksonville (6-5) 73% picked @ Tennessee (5-6) 27% picked
The Titans are coming off an uninspired effort that saw them get blanked by a rancid Texans’ defense. The Jags are eager to rebound against a Tennessee team that thrashed Jacksonville on Monday Night Football, 30-3 in week 6. If backup QB Kerry Collins is unable to go on Sunday, third-string QB Rusty Smith could get the start for the Titans.
Denver (3-8) 5% picked @ Kansas City (7-4) 95% picked
The Broncos are allowing 141.6 yards rushing a game, and the Chiefs are featuring the best running attack in the league with 174.3 yards on the ground per game. The Chiefs are undefeated at home, and look to continue the trend against the Broncos this week.
Cleveland (4-7) 25% picked @ Miami (6-5) 75% picked
The Dolphins are just 1-4 at home this year, and host the resurgent Browns and their power-running back, Peyton Hillis. With instability at the QB position for both teams, I give the Dolphins the edge, with WR Brandon Marshall expected to rejoin Miami following his hamstring injury.
Buffalo (2-9) 18% picked @ Minnesota (4-7) 82% picked
The Steelers escaped Buffalo by the tip of Bills WR Steve Johnson’s fingers as the wideout dropped a potential game-winning pass in OT. After dogging the Bills for much of the season as the go-to team for the Survivor Pick of the Week, I’m picking them to upend the Vikings under new interim coach, Leslie Frazier.
Washington (5-6) 7% picked @ NY Giants (7-4) 93% picked
Even after the Vikings lost Adrian Peterson to injury during last week, the Redskins allowed a juicy 137 yards on the ground. Expect the Giants to exploit the holes of the Washington defense as the G-Men come into the game averaging 138 yards a game on the turf.
Oakland (5-6) 6% picked @ San Diego (6-5) 94% picked
Over the past five seasons, the Chargers are 33-5 from November to the end of the season, which includes a 14-0 record in December and January. The Raiders have cooled off considerably after being outscored by 48 points in their last two contests.
Carolina (1-10) 4% picked @ Seattle (5-6) 96% picked
As poorly as the Seahawks performed last week at home against the Chiefs, the Panthers have been equally as poor the entire season. The Panthers are winless on the road and feature the league’s worst passing attack with only 157.8 yards of offense through the air per game.
St. Louis (5-6) 89% picked @ Arizona (3-8) 11% picked
The Cardinals are losers of their last six games, and come into this matchup with the 30th ranked passing defense and 31st ranked defense against the run. The Rams, at 5-6, are leading the thin pack of teams in the NFC West, and need to win this game to stay even with the Seahawks atop the division.
Dallas (3-8) 15% picked @ Indianapolis (6-5) 85% picked
The Colts have some serious issues concerning their pass protection, defense and lack of any sustainable running game. As long as Peyton Manning is spending his Sunday afternoons in Indy, it’s hard to pick against number 18. Even with an unusual 6-5 record for the Colts, they are still tied atop the division with the Jaguars in the weakened AFC South.
Atlanta (9-2) 81% picked @ Tampa Bay (7-4) 19% picked
The Falcons, with their balanced attack on defense, are on track to lock up the NFC’s best record, which would secure home-field advantage during the playoffs. How important is this to the Falcons? QB Matt Ryan is 18-1 at home as a starter.
NY Jets (9-2) 28% picked @ New England (9-2) 72% picked
Two of the best teams in the NFL lock up in what could be the marquee game of the year in the NFL. The Jets haven’t swept the Patriots in their regular season meetings since 2000, and to do so, they must defeat the Pats on the road on Monday Night Football. The Jets are undefeated on the road, and the Pats are undefeated at home. Something has to give in this clash of AFC titans. I take Brady at home under the bright lights at Foxboro in a very tight, heated contest.
Pittsburgh (8-3) 40% picked @ Baltimore (8-3) 60% picked
In what could be the most physical game of the week between two of the NFL’s greatest rivals, the Ravens have the slight edge at home as Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger will be playing with a sprained right foot.