By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) Here’s my take on how the NFL’s Week 13 will shake out with my predictions, my juggernaut games of the week, and my “juggernot lames of the weak”:
(Home team in all CAPS)
Juggernaut Games of the Week
STEELERS 24, Bengals 20 – Noon
For the second time in three weeks, the Bengals play a team they’re chasing in the AFC North on the road — this time they head to Pittsburgh to battle the Steelers. Andy Dalton is becoming the cardiac kid quarterback, again rallying his team from a 10-point deficit to victory last week in a 23-20 win over in-state rival Cleveland. I’ve maintained all year, that wide receiver A.J. Green should win Offensive Rookie of the Year, but the NFL is a quarterback-driven league, so odds are it will go to his trigger-man. Either way, Cincinnati is on the brink of something very special, as they have a deadly quarterback-receiver combination in Dalton to Green. On the other sideline, the Steelers were unimpressive in their 13-9 victory last week in Kansas City. While their defense was able to generate four turnovers (all from Tyler Palko), their offense was stymied by the Chiefs defense, held to 13 points and 290 yards. The Steelers have dropped both games to the Ravens this season, so this is a huge game for them. While the odds are good that both of these teams will make the playoffs, I like the Steelers to keep pace with the Ravens and notch their ninth win of the season, in a close, hard-hitting contest.
Packers 38, GIANTS 27 – 3:15 PM
Remember, four years ago when the Giants took another undefeated team (the 15-0 Patriots) to the wire, only to come up short in a 38-35 nail-biter? Yeah, well that won’t happen this Sunday, at least not the nail -biting part. Granted, the 2007 Giants got the sweetest revenge of all, defeating the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, but that won’t be happening next February either. The Giants were completely dismantled by the Saints this past Monday night, surrendering a staggering 577 yards and 49 points. Seeing how the Packers have had their way with every defense they’ve faced this season, it’s tough to expect anything different on Sunday. While they may not pile up 577 yards and 49 points, the Packers will hand the Giants their fourth straight loss and dampen their post-season aspirations.
Juggernot Lames of the Weak
Panthers 24, BUCCANEERS 23 – Noon
It’ll be a battle for the NFC South basement when the Panthers and Bucs square off in Tampa, loser wins. I’ll let my broken record skip one more time and say that Josh Freeman is incredibly overrated and has regressed in his career development. Freeman either isn’t trusted by his coaches, has been playing hurt all season, or simply isn’t capable of throwing anything other than zero routes (a.k.a smoke routes, think Steve Smith in the 2005 playoffs against the Bears), screens, and intermediate routes. No vertical routes at all, not even an obligatory deep ball you see teams throw to try and show a defense that they have that play in their playbook. As Homer Simpson would say: “bo-ring.” Luckily for the Bucs, running back Legarrette Blount is running like a man possessed and is the only thing worth watching and game-planning for. On the other side of the ball, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton has hit a rough patch in his rookie season, with only one touchdown and five interceptions over his last three games. Speaking of Steve Smith, he’s on the verge of 10,000 career receiving yards, which is a tremendous accomplishment. I like Smith to surpass the 10K mark this weekend as the Panthers earn their first back-to-back wins since the end of the 2009 season.
Chargers 27, JAGUARS 10 – Monday Night 7:30 PM
Why is this game on Monday Night Football? While we’re at it, why have the Jaguars hosted two Monday night games this season? Personally, I love to see a big F-A-I-L for the four-letter network, but why did this game have any appeal at all to producers? I digress. It’s a case of dead coaches walking in Jacksonville. One coach was fired before this game (Jack Del Rio), the other (Norv Turner) certainly seems to be on his way out in San Diego. If the decision to fire Turner wasn’t already made, it’s been made now. The Chargers completely collapsed last week against the Tebow-led Broncos in a 16-13 overtime loss, and find themselves in the middle of their longest losing streak (six games) in 10 years. Considering their overall talent and the division they play in, there’s simply no excuse for the Chargers to be a 4-7 football team. Luckily for them, they play the lowly Jaguars this weekend and will earn their fifth win of the season. Other than running back Maurice Jones-Drew, the only new bright spot for the Jaguars is the recent sale of the team to Illinois business man Shahid Khan. Best of luck with that investment, Mr. Khan, as you’ve inherited one of the least-talented rosters in the NFL, and your “franchise” quarterback is awful.
BEARS 24, Chiefs 13 – Noon
Bears fans seem to feel a victory this weekend against the Chiefs is fait accompli. I tend to agree, but I do have some reservations (no bad Chiefs pun intended) about this Sunday’s game, specifically because of how well the Chiefs defense is playing. I am assuming Mike Martz has fully recovered from his removal-of-cranium-from-rectum surgery, and will have a more sensible game plan this week for Caleb Hanie. However, Chiefs defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel has had success this year shutting down one-dimensional offenses, so look for the Chiefs to stack the box to limit Matt Forte and force Caleb Hanie to beat them. Can Hanie do that? Yet to be proven, but I think Hanie will have a better showing at home this weekend. Once again, I expect the Bears defense to dominate an awful Chiefs offense, that has a whopping one touchdown in their last four games, that’s one touchdown in their last 45 possessions for those counting at home (48 if you go back five games), and 15 of 16 quarters without a 6-pointer. Until I see Tyler Palko under center, I’m not believing it. Even if Kyle Orton only knows ten plays in the Chiefs playbook, it’s criminal to start Palko over Orton. But maybe Chiefs head coach Todd Haley is that stubborn. If so, it’ll be great for the Bears.
Jets 21, REDSKINS 17 – Noon
The Jets seek their second win in franchise history against the Redskins this weekend in Landover. I’m not sure if I’ve seen a more unimpressive four touchdown quarterbacking performance than the one turned in by the Jets’ Mark Sanchez last week. Sanchez completed a putrid 48% of his passes for a 5-yard average, but he did put it in the end zone four times. The NFL doesn’t award style points, so the end result is all that matters. The Jets are on the outside looking in at the AFC Playoff picture and need a win to stay in. Good Rex showed up in Seattle last week, maybe it was the coffee? Whatever it was, Grossman turned in his best performance of the year, snapping a six-game skid for the Redskins. Redskins fans also got a glimpse into the future, as rookie runner Roy Helu churned out his first 100-plus yard rushing performance and notched his first NFL touchdown on a nifty quick toss where he hurdled a Seattle defender en route to paydirt. While I’m not sold on the Jets, I do know they’re better than the Redskins, and they’ll prove that on Sunday.
Titans 23, BILLS 20 – Noon
Two playoff hopefuls clash in Buffalo, as the Titans visit the Bills. Season-ending injuries to Matt Schaub and subsequently the charmin-soft Matt Leinart, have made it T.J. Yates time in Houston. The quarterback situation in Houston has become so grim that Jake Delhomme is now on an active NFL roster. What does Houston’s quarterback mess have to do with this game? It’s opened the door for the Titans. Quickly, who is the top-rated red zone passer in the NFL? Nope. Wrong. Wrong again. It’s Matt Hasselbeck. With Hasselbeck making sound decisions in the red zone and Chris Johnson regaining old form, the Titans have a realistic shot. Remember that Bills 5-2 start? I barely remember it either. Considering their division, the Bills need to win out to keep their slim playoff chances alive. Sorry, Bills fans, not happening.
Raiders 20, DOLPHINS 17 – Noon
After watching the Bears-Raiders game last Sunday, I didn’t learn anything new about the Radiers. I already knew they had a stout front seven on defense, stellar special teams, and a statue at quarterback. While they’re clearly the best team in an awful AFC West, I’m not impressed. The Bears completely shut down their running game, and save for some mind-numbing play calls and quarterback play, the Bears still almost pulled out a win. This week, the Raiders travel to Miami to play a plucky Dolphins team. Tony Sporano is hanging on by a thread and coaching for his job, which he may have already lost. Juding by the effort of his team over the past month or so, his players do like playing for him, but that probably isn’t enough to save his job. Dolphins wide receiver Brandon Marshall directed his own version of “Driving Mr. Crazy” earlier this month. Marshall was detained in Fort Lauderdale for skipping out on a $142 cab fare. Apparently, there were some words lost in translation here due to the cab driver’s “thick” accent, but in any language or country, no cab ride is free. Marshall hasn’t let any off-the-field issues impact his production, as he seems to be rejuvinated with Matt Moore at the helm. I’m typically leery of picking teams that make a cross-country trip for a noon kickoff, but alas, I like the Raiders to win a low-scoring, sloppy affair.
Falcons 27, TEXANS 17 – Noon
Winners of five of their last six contests, the Falcons are playing their best football at the right time. Matt Ryan turned in a very solid effort last weekend, re-kindling his productive relationship with wide receiver Roddy White. Over the past two weeks, the two have hooked up 17 times for 267 yards and a touchdown. The Falcons are 20-0 in games where Matt Ryan posts a quarterback rating over 100, but that will be put to test this weekend against a stingy Texans defense. As is the case with many coaches, Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has shown he’s more effective in a coordinator role, opposed to a head coach. Phillips has performed a miracle in Houston without the benefit of any off-season workouts. In one season, the Texans have gone from the 30th ranked defense in the NFL to No. 1, so a tip of the ten-gallon Cowboy hat to Phillips. Seeing that T.J. Yates is taking over in Houston, there will be even greater pressure on Phillips defense and running back Arion Foster to carry the load. While I expect this to be a very competitive game, I can’t get behind a fifth-round rookie making his first NFL start, so I like the Falcons to get an even stronger grip on the No. 5 seed in the NFC.
Broncos 20, VIKINGS 13 – Noon
Lost in the shuffle of this Tim Tebow silliness is the stellar play of the Broncos defense. Obviously, rookie linebacker Von Miller has locked up Defensive Rookie of the Year, but the time has come to give him serious consideration for Defensive Player of the Year. Miller has been simply brilliant this season, logging 10.5 sacks, seven tackles for a loss, and two forced fumbles. Urkel glasses or not, this dude can flat out play, and yes, he did just do that. I’ve picked against the Broncos for the past few weeks and lost. This week I’m picking them to win in hopes that they lose. Seeing that they’re playing against a putrid Vikings team without the services of Adrian Peterson, my thinking is most likely wishful. Touchdown Jesus will purify himself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka and lead the Broncos to another victory.
PATRIOTS 41, Colts 10 – Noon
Yes, finally, Orlovsky vs. Brady! Wait, who? Orlovsky? Isn’t he the dude who “led” the Lions to 0-16? No wonder this game was flexed out of the Sunday night slot. Look out NFL, the Colts scored their first (and only) offensive touchdown in November last Sunday! That’s not a lie. Better get LifeCall for Colts and head coach Jim Caldwell, as the mighty Colts have fallen and can’t get up. Caldwell is living on borrowed time. Firing defensive coordinator Larry Coyer this week is a diversionary tactic and the timing is terrible. Why fire your defensive coordinator the week your team travels to play the NFL’s second highest scoring offense? Puzzling to say the least. These teams do have one thing in common, the Colts give up points at the same rate the Patriots score them. This game will be over by the end of the first quarter.
Ravens 24, BROWNS 13 – 3:05 PM
It’s the AFC North penthouse-outhouse matchup as the division-leading Ravens visit Cleveland to drop a steamer on the Browns. Wait, what? Granted, the Ravens have made a habit of playing down to the level of their competition, so the possibility of a let-down does exist here, but I just don’t see it happening. Primarily because the Ravens defense is dominant, and the Browns play no run defense. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has never lost to the Browns in his career, but that was before he grew that hideous fu manchu (by cracky!) he was sporting on Thanksgiving. On the other hand, Colt McCoy has never won a game against an AFC North opponent, and that won’t change after this weekend.
Cowboys 27, CARDINALS 16 – 3:15 PM
The Cowboys are winning ugly and have climbed to the top of the NFC East standings. This week, the Cowboys head to Arizona for a desert storm battle against the Cardinals. The Cowboys are seeking their first five-game winning streak since the 2007 season. Granted, they haven’t played a single team with a winning record during their current win streak, but you play the teams on the schedule and don’t ask any questions. For some odd reason, the Cardinals have had the Cowboys number of late, but I think their run of Cowboy dominance comes to an end this weekend. I like the Cowboys stout run defense to put the clamps on Beanie Wells and force an awful John Skelton to beat them, which he won’t. Just how bad has Skelton been? In his past two starts, he has no touchdowns, five interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 19.3. Not good enough.
49ERS 24, Rams 13 – 3:15 PM
Yet another penthouse-outhouse match-up, this time it’s the NFC West’s turn, as the Rams head west for a beat down in the San Francisco bay. It’s cork-popping time in San Francisco, as they will earn their first NFC West title since 2002, when they drub a terrible St. Louis team. Kudos to Jim Harbaugh, who will win Coach of the Year in his pioneer campaign, but I do have a bone to pick with something he says. After games, Harbaugh asks his team: “Who’s got it better than us?”, to which they reply: “Nobody!” While that may be true in the NFC West, I think the Cowboys and Ravens have this year, and certainly in the playoffs the Packers and Saints will. I know it’s locker room bravado, just playing the contrarian role I relish.
SAINTS 38, Lions 27 – 7:20 PM
I’m completely puzzled by the Ndamukong Suh-spension situation. If what I’ve read is true, Suh was encouraged by both the NFLPA and Commissioner Roger Goodell to appeal his two-game suspension. The NFLPA I understand, but Goodell? The only logical explanation for this would be Goodell wanting to put the new appeals process to test, otherwise, this is really difficult to understand. Sadly, I find this story line more interesting than the game itself, which features the paper champion Lions against a legitimate contender in New Orleans. The Lions kept it interesting for a while against the Packers, but after the tryptophan wore off, the Packers reminded everyone why they’re the best team in football and put away the wannabe-winner Lions. I’ve said it since the beginning of the season, Drew Brees has elevated his game to another level, improving his command of the offense, his deft footwork in the pocket to find throwing lanes, and increased the velocity on his fastball. I expect the Saints to stomp the Lions (on the scoreboard) in the Super Dome.
Dan Durkin joined The Score’s columnist community after finishing runner-up in the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he was a member of the men’s football team (despite his best efforts to join the women’s team). Dan is a longtime Scorehead, known as Dan in Wicker Park – even though he no longer resides in Wicker Park – who will be sharing NFL analysis and opinions. You can follow Dan on Twitter @djdurkin. To read more of Dan’s blogs click here.