Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Classic Weekend in the NFL

This week's schedule has renewals of the Colts–Patriots and Cowboys–Packers rivalries, and a divisional showdown between the Bengals and Steelers. And the Chiefs and the Raiders will meet in a rivalry that is half a century old.

For NFL fans, it should be a classic weekend.

It might not be exactly a throwback to old days. Dallas' game at Green Bay won't be another "Ice Bowl." Kansas City's game at Oakland won't have playoff implications. But it seems to have all the ingredients for an entertaining weekend.

  • Chicago (4–4) at San Francisco (3–5) — If the 49ers are going to make a run for the playoffs, this is the time to start it. I don't know if they will be able to overtake the Cardinals, but San Francisco needs to end its four–game losing streak and restore some confidence. I think the 49ers will do that this week.
  • Atlanta (5–3) at Carolina (3–5) — Atlanta is favored by 1½ points. I think the Falcons will win, but it might not be by much more than that.

  • Tampa Bay (1–7) at Miami (3–5) — The Dolphins are favored by 10 points. I think that's all you really need to know — except that Tampa Bay isn't going to have a two–game winning streak when the weekend is over.

  • Detroit (1–7) at Minnesota (7–1) — There are a few mismatches on this week's schedule, and this looks like one of them. If the Vikings don't win big, I will be very surprised.

  • Cincinnati (6–2) at Pittsburgh (6–2) — The Steelers are favored by a touchdown. Their defense is looking more like the defense that carried them to the Super Bowl last year, and I expect this to be a low–scoring contest, but I think the margin will be closer than seven points. I'll go with the home team, in part because I just can't see the Bengals seizing control of the division nearly two weeks before Thanksgiving.

  • Buffalo (3–5) at Tennessee (2–6) — In spite of the offseason acquisition of Terrell Owens, the Bills haven't really established themselves as a passing team. They rank 30th in the NFL. Too bad for Buffalo because the Titans have the worst pass defense in the NFL. I'm going to pick Buffalo. No special reason. But if the Bills' investment in Owens is going to reap any dividends, this is the time for it.

  • Denver (6–2) at Washington (2–6) — Washington's only wins so far this season have come against the St. Louis Rams and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In September, the Redskins became the first team to lose to Detroit since 2007. And, so far, they're the only team to lose to Kansas City this season. I think Denver ought to be favored by more than 3½ points. I'm all but certain that the Broncos will win by 10 points or more.

  • New Orleans (8–0) at St. Louis (1–7) — This looks like a huge mismatch. The Rams may be the home team, but I don't think they will be able to keep up with the Saints.

  • Jacksonville (4–4) at New York Jets (4–4) — The Jets are favored by a touchdown. I think they might win by more than that.

  • Kansas City (1–7) at Oakland (2–6) — Over the years, this has been one of the NFL's most bitter rivalries. Overall, the Chiefs lead, 53–46–2 (which includes a 2–1 edge in the postseason), but the visiting team has won the last six meetings, including Oakland's 13–10 triumph at Kansas City a couple of months ago. Will the visiting team win again this Sunday? I'm going to say no, but, really, does it matter to anyone other than Chiefs and Raiders fans?

  • Seattle (3–5) at Arizona (5–3) — Arizona is favored by 8½ points. I still don't think the Cardinals will return to the Super Bowl, but I'm beginning to think they might repeat as division champs. I'll go with Arizona.

  • Dallas (6–2) at Green Bay (4–4) — When these teams played for the NFL title in 1967, the game was known as the "Ice Bowl." It's still something of a rivalry, more than 40 years later. The weather won't be that severe this Sunday, although it will be about 30 degrees cooler than the Cowboys have been accustomed to here in Dallas. I'll pick the home team, simply because the Packers are more desperate for a win right now.

  • Philadelphia (5–3) at San Diego (5–3) — This is a crucial game for both teams. They both trail their divisions' leaders by a single game. I'll give the Chargers a narrow edge.

  • New England (6–2) at Indianapolis (8–0) — Brady vs. Manning in what may turn out to be a playoff preview. In a league that is filled with long–standing, traditional rivalries, this is one of the newer ones, and ESPN's Jeffri Chadiha ranks it fourth behind such storied rivalries as the Cowboys–Redskins, Raiders–Steelers and Cowboys–49ers. The Colts have won the last three meetings, and they haven't lost at home to the Patriots since 2003, although it has been four years since one of their games was decided by more than a single score. It might be another close one, but I'll take the Patriots to win this time. Why? Call it a hunch.
  • Baltimore (4–4) at Cleveland (1–7) — Even though the Browns are the home team, I just can't pick them to beat the Ravens. Baltimore remains in contention for the playoffs. Cleveland can start thinking about the offseason.
Last week: 8–5.

Season: 91–38.

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