By Dan Durkin
(CBS) Happy Holidays, everyone! It’s Bears-Packers week, but there doesn’t look to be much holiday cheer coming from that game. Here’s my take on how the NFL’s Week 16 will shake out with my predictions, my juggernaut game of the week, and my “juggernot lame of the weak”:
(Home team all in CAPS)
Juggernaut Game of the Week
SAINTS 31, Falcons 24 – Monday Night 7:30 PM
Fans have to wait until Monday night for Week 16’s game of the week, when New Orleans hosts Atlanta in a battle of NFC South titans, well, really the Saints and Falcons. Not only does this game feature some serious offensive talent, it has some serious playoff ramifications as well. As it stands right now, both of these teams are in the playoffs, but only the Saints have clinched a spot. The Saints are also vying for a first-round bye, so there will be no resting players on either team. The Falcons will certainly be tuned into the Bears-Packers and 49ers-Seahawks games, as if the Packers and 49ers both win – which they will – the Falcons are in. Ideally, the Falcons will just take care of business on their own, but I just don’t see it happening. The Saints offense is a true juggernaut, led by a legitimate MVP-candidate in Drew Brees. Throw in some injury issues in the Falcons secondary and you’ll end up with Brees breaking Dan Marino’s single season passing yardage record.
Juggernot Lame of the Weak
TITANS 16, Jaguars 13 – Saturday Noon
While it’s yet to be determined if Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck’s calf injury will allow him to play this weekend, they’re playing the Jaguars, so does it really matter? If I’m Titans head coach Mike Munchak – who, ironically, I dressed up as on Halloween this year (not really) – I would give rookie Jake Locker the nod this weekend, primarily to rub it in the face of the Jaguars, who putter along with Blaine Gabbert. Gabbert has regressed in his rookie campaign, looking shell-shocked in the pocket, and incapable of completing any of the vertical routes necessary to be an effective quarterback in this league. The new coaching staff of the Jaguars should give serious consideration to drafting another quarterback – why Matt Barkley chose to go back to USC, I’ll never understand – in the first round of the draft. Perhaps, RG3 ends up in Jacksonville, giving them a backfield of Superman and Pocket Hercules? Either way, the Jaguars need a lot of help moving forward, but it won’t come quick enough, as they’ll drop this one to the Titans.
PACKERS 27, Bears 10 – Sunday Night 7:20 PM
Bears fans hope it will be a festivus for the rest-of-us in Lambeau, as they lock up with the Packers for the 184th installment of the NFL’s oldest rivalry. Four weeks ago, Josh McCown was coaching high school football, this week, he’s the Bears final lifeline in a lost season. No pressure, Josh, but all playoff hopes rest on your right shoulder. That was scary to type and particularly sad since it’s true. The Bears 2011 season has devolved from unexpected contenders to an utter failure. Four weeks ago, this game had the appearance of one in which the Bears could be the heros of the NFL and knock off the perfect Packers. Alas, the Chiefs knocked off the Packers last week, the Bears got Hanied for four weeks, and look as bad on offense as they did in the Terry Shea years. Plenty of blame to go around for the Bears debacle, but the crosshairs should first be pointed squarely at general manager Jerry Angelo. With one injury, Angelo’s house of cards collapsed and the paper-thin depth of this roster was exposed. Don’t kid yourself either; one injury on the defense and it would’ve been the same story. This team has no talent in the pipeline, and for that Angelo must be held accountable, he’s had 10 years to build this roster. The Packers will be eager to get the bad taste out of their mouth from last week’s loss in Kansas City. You’ll get yet a painful reminder of the talent gap between these two teams, as the Packers pound the Bears playoff hopes into a pulp.
Broncos, BILLS – Saturday Noon
AFC West-leader Denver heads east hoping to clinch their first playoff berth since 2005, with the lowly Buffalo Bills standing in their way. It finally happened. The divine intervention (that was never there to begin with) dried up. Tebow-time was tamed. It’s unfortunate that it took seven weeks for people to realize that the Broncos are a mediocre team in an awful division. The last seven weeks haven’t been so rosy for the Bills. Losers of seven straight, they’re going nowhere in a hurry, and provide further proof that early season success assures you nothing but media hyperbole about your greatness. The Bills won’t be able to block the Broncos front seven, they won’t be able to stop the Broncos running game, they’ll lose their eighth straight game, and the Broncos will earn the right to get waxed by the Steelers or Ravens in the first round of the AFC playoffs.
PATRIOTS 27, Dolphins 20 – Saturday Noon
Thank you, Tom Brady. Thank you for putting a temporary end to the madness and showing everyone what a real NFL quarterback looks like. The Patriots have quietly amassed 11 wins and are in position for the top-overall seed in the AFC. There’s no doubting this team’s ability to score points – they’re in the same class as Green Bay and New Orleans – I just can’t endorse them to win it all because of their leaky defense, in particular their secondary. Granted, they’ve suffered a significant amount of injuries this season, but I questioned the overall talent and certainly the depth of this unit from the beginning of the season. The Dolphins are playing inspired football on both sides of the ball. While he’s not a franchise quarterback, Matt Moore has certainly proven to be an effective starter – and an ideal back-up – in the NFL, and Reggie Bush is playing at the highest level of his career. The Dolphins have physical corners who will match-up well on the edge with New England receivers; however, their safety play has been an issue all season. With Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski looming, I foresee bad things for the Dolphins. When the Patriots put Gronkowski or Hernandez on the same side of the formation as Wes Welker, it’s impossible to double team both of them. That being said, look for Brady to pick apart the Dolphins this weekend as the Patriots notch their 12th win of the season.
BENGALS 21, Cardinals 20 – Saturday Noon
Since Week 1 of the season, I’ve criticized the Arizona Cardinals for the acquisition of quarterback Kevin Kolb. I credited them for being bold and acknowledging their need at the position, but pointed out that they gave up far too much to acquire him and subsequently grossly overpaid him. Now, it seems like the Cardinals have come around to my way of thinking, as a healthy Kevin Kolb has been benched for John Skelton. Ouch. Skelton has outperformed Kolb and has consistently been able to find ways to get the ball to all-world wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. The Bengals also found themselves in a quarterback quandary this off-season, yet chose to address the position in the second-round of the draft by selecting Andy Dalton. The Bengals also wisely never caved to the demands of Carson Palmer and won the staring contest, then proceeded to fleece the desperate Oakland Raiders in a trade. For those counting at home, that’s Bengals 2, Cardinals & Raiders 0. I like the Bengals to win on the scoreboard this weekend and keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
CHIEFS 17, Raiders 16 – Saturday Noon
Clinging onto slim playoff hopes, the Raiders head to Arrowhead to battle the Chiefs. Seeing Chiefs quarterback Kyle Orton take the tarnish of the Packers perfect season bid, made me wonder: Would the Raiders like a re-do on their Carson Palmer trade? I’ve mentioned it several times this year, when Jason Campbell went down with his collarbone injury, I was certain the Raiders would call the Broncos to find out the cost to acquire Orton. Undoubtedly, it would’ve taken less to acquire Orton – further evidenced by him being outright released by Denver – and the production would’ve been better. Alas, what’s done is done. The Raiders are in a free fall, losing three straight games and surrendering 108 points in the process. Fresh off his first win as a Chief, Orton will make his interim head coach Romeo Crennel proud again, as they put the final nail in the 2011 Oakland Raiders season, and in turn, send the Broncos to the playoffs.
JETS 24, Giants 20 – Saturday Noon
It will be a battle for New York football supremacy – and playoff berths – in New Jersey as the Giants “travel” to their home stadium for an “away” game against the Jets. Last week’s loss to the Redskins – and season sweep – was a perfect microcosm of the Giants’ consistently inconsistent season. A lot of the Giants problems can be traced to the injuries they’ve suffered in their defensive secondary. In a pass happy league, turnover in the secondary can be debilitating, as it leads to communication breakdowns in coverage. But just as frequently, the Giants have been beaten in man-to-man coverage, so the issues are systemic. The Giants have given up over 300 yards passing in three of their last four games, which means the Jets should have a lot of success through the air on Sunday. I like the J-E-T-S to give their fans bragging rights for the next year and solidify their AFC wild-card bid.
STEELERS 20, Rams 10 – Saturday Noon
The Rams visit the Steelers, in what turns out to be a Week 16 bye for Pittsburgh. The timing of this game is perfect for the Steelers, who need to rest quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s ankle. Roethlisberger is clearly still hobbled from the injury he suffered against the Browns and his inability to break the pocket and keep plays alive, was exploited by a stout 49ers defense. This weekend, the Rams and whatever it is that they do come to town. Advice you didn’t ask for Mike Tomlin: Start Charlie Batch. All he will have to do is hand the ball off to win this game, as the Rams haven’t stopped anyone on the ground this season.
REDSKINS 23, Vikings 17 – Saturday Noon
I was baffled this week after reading a quote from Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who suggested that the Saints went “overboard” and tried to re-injure his ankle. Um, Adrian, do I really need to remind you that you’re a running back in the NFL, who in essence, gets paid to have 30-35 car crashes every weekend? Guys are trying to tackle – and perhaps hurt you – every time you touch the ball. I know this season has been an absolute disaster for your team, but comments like this lead me to believe you’re realizing how much of a pounding you’re going to take for the foreseeable future. Luckily, you got a lot of new paper just before the season, but it comes at a steep price, and ankle twisting is an occupational hazard you willingly – and literally – signed up for. But, unfortunately, you’ll get no mercy from your opponents. This week, the Vikings and their sieve-like pass defense face Sexy Rexy’s Redskins. Seeing that Grossman has played very well since being re-inserted into the lineup, I like the Redskins to keep the Vikings Suck for Luck campaign alive and kicking.
PANTHERS 27, Bucs 13 – Saturday Noon
Hats off to the Panthers first year head coach Ron Rivera and his staff for the performance they’ve turned in this season. Clearly, there is cohesion between the coaches and front office about the vision of this franchise. No move was bolder than hitching their wagon to “risky” quarterback Cam Newton, and then seeking out pieces to flatten his learning curve – namely tight ends Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen – and maximize his talents in short order. Newton is a rare physical specimen with the size of a tight end, fleet feet of a wide receiver, and the arm strength of a top-flight quarterback. This week, the Panthers look for the season sweep against division foe Tampa, in hopes of relegating them to the NFC South basement for this season and beyond. The Bucs are a mess, and I wonder if Raheem Morris is fighting for his job? Surely, his coordinators can expect pink slips at the end of the season, but Morris may also find himself unemployed in a few weeks. I like the Panthers to notch their sixth win of the season in Charlotte.
RAVENS 28, Browns 6 – Saturday Noon
What is it with the Ravens? At times, this team looks like they’re ready to stake their claim as the AFC’s best, and other times they look listless. I have a hard time believing in any team that’s lost a game to the Jaguars this season. Enigmatic ways aside, they have been flawless at home this season and I don’t expect their first blemish to come at the hands of the Browns this weekend. The Browns simply do nothing well on the football field, and have some serious soul-searching to do this off-season. Admitting that Colt McCoy is not the franchise quarterback they envisioned would be a positive first step. Starting over at quarterback can’t be viewed as a setback, as there shouldn’t be lofty expectations for a team with such little talent across the board. I expect Ray Lewis to be amped up this weekend after his lackluster return to the lineup last week against the Chargers, and he and his crew will come very close to shutting out a brutally bad Browns team.
LIONS 34, Chargers 30 – Saturday 3:05 PM
It’s a win and you’re in situation for the Lions who square off against the Chargers. Be sure to activate all of your fantasy football players from these two teams, as it will be defense optional in Ford Field. Fresh off a thrilling late-game comeback win on the road against the Raiders, the Lions are riding high and in a position to make the playoffs for the first time since 1999. Speaking of the Raiders, how did they neglect to cover Calvin Johnson multiple times on the last drive of the game? Not only has he been dominant all season long, he dominated the Raiders secondary the entire game to that point, yet there he was sneaking over the top of the defense both on a 48-yard gainer and the game-winning touchdown. Simply inexcusable from a strategy and execution standpoint for Oakland. Winners of three straight, the Chargers are on fire, piling up 109 points in the process. This will be a very entertaining game, featuring a lot of flying pigskins, but in the end, the Lions defensive line will be the difference. The paper champion Lions will (somewhat) live up to the pre-season hype by making the playoffs.
COWBOYS 27, Eagles 23 – Saturday 3:15 PM
It’s hard to believe that at 5-8, the Eagles still have a chance to make the playoffs, let alone win the NFC East. However, the Giants could eliminate the Eagles from playoff contention if they beat the Jets, so there is a chance they could be eliminated from contention before this game kicks off. In this game, the Cowboys have a chance to squash the Eagles dim playoff hopes and win the NFC East. Tono Romo has been on fire over the past seven weeks, throwing 18 touchdowns, two interceptions, and posting a sparkling 118 quarterback rating. The Eagles have a strong secondary to match-up with the deadly Cowboy receivers, but this game will be won or lost at the line of scrimmage. If the Eagles defensive line is able to keep Romo in the pocket, they will have a chance on Sunday. However, I’ve liked the Cowboys to win this division all year long, and I see them being crowned NFC East Champions on Saturday.
49ers 20, SEAHAWKS 16 – Saturday 3:15 PM
The San Francisco 49ers defense has given up the same number of rushing touchdowns as Caleb Hanie wins, that’s right, a big old goose egg. They’ve also gone 36 games without allowing a 100-yard rusher. Complete dominance. This week, they head north on I-5 to Seattle Seahawk territory. Surely, Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch is aware of this stat and would like to buck the trend, but I don’t see it happening. While Tarvaris Jackson has played well the past few weeks, he still doesn’t make enough plays down the field to keep an eighth man out of the box. On the flipside, seeing how dominant the 49ers front-seven is on its own, and how banged up the Seahawks offensive line is, they may not need to drop an extra man into the box to stop Lynch. Since the 49ers are angling for a first-round bye, I anticipate them playing this game to win, which they will.
Season Record: 150-74