By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) With five games remaining, playoff pretenders are starting to drop out and contenders are battling for position. Two bitter rivals meet in Baltimore, and a potential playoff matchup in Chicago headline Week 13 action. Here’s my take on how the games will play out.
(Home team in all CAPS)
BEARS 17, Seahawks 16 – Noon
This game could be foreshadowing the NFC Wild Card round, as if the season were to end today, this would be the matchup. Two of the league’s best defenses will be on display, so yards and points will be hard to come by. As great as Russell Wilson has been over the past few weeks, the last time the Seahawks played a defense as good as the Bears on the road (the 49ers in Week 7), they were held to six points. Being 1-5 on the road isn’t a fluke, it’s a trend. The Bears will struggle to move the ball also, but I like them at home.
PACKERS 31, Vikings 20 – Noon
Both of these teams had regrettable offensive performances last week, being held to a touchdown apiece. The Vikings lack of production had more to do with a curious game plan, the Packers were just physically abused by the Giants. There’s real concern about the Packers offensive line, a unit that’s given up the second most sacks this season. It’s rare to see Aaron Rodgers rattled, but the constant duress he was under sped up his timing and derailed the Packers offense. I like the Packers to rebound at home against the mediocre at best Vikings.
49ers 23, RAMS 17 – Noon
Poor Alex Smith. For half a season, he led the 49ers to first place and the second seed in the NFC, yet a concussion – against the Rams – has landed him on the bench. The NFL is a cutthroat league, so kudos to Colin Kaepernick for making the most of his opportunity. Just three weeks ago, these teams played to the first tie since 2008. The 49ers – who are rolling right now – should be anxious to put one on the Rams this weekend.
JETS 23, Cardinals 13 – Noon
People actually cheer for these teams. Those poor souls. It’s hard to find two offenses more inept than these two on the field at the same time. The Jets can’t get out of their own way – it’s true, just watch here – on offense, and the Cardinals offensive line makes the Bears line look competent. As much as I like to poke fun at him, I have to give Rex Ryan credit for not caving to any pressure to start Tim Tebow. This week, shockingly, the Jets won’t be the worst offense on the field and will grind out a win.
Panthers 24, CHIEFS 13 – Noon
Which one of the Chiefs touchdowns over the past two weeks has been your favorite? You have zero to pick from. I still have no idea how the Chiefs beat the Saints, in New Orleans nonetheless. The only thing the Chiefs have to look forward to is getting the first pick in the draft. Then, their fans can gnash their teeth about the awful pick Scott Pioli will make. Carolina is looking to put together their first winning streak of the season. The Chiefs are surprisingly strong against the pass, so I expect the Panthers to deploy a run-heavy game plan, en route to victory.
LIONS 27, Indianapolis 24 – Noon
Two former top-overall picks – Andrew Luck and Matthew Stafford – face off in Detroit. If you asked general managers who they’d take right now, Luck would be the unanimous choice. He’s lived up to the hype and exceeded expectations for a rookie, and let’s be honest, nobody expected the Colts to be a Wild Card contender. Poised, accurate, great feet, the ability to slide as he feels pressure in the pocket, Luck has it all. All that said, the Colts record is an indictment of the AFC. I like the Lions to pick on a porous Colts secondary in a potential shootout.
BILLS 27, Jaguars 23 – Noon
If awful football is your guilty, gluttonous pleasure, this game is a sticky bun of suckage. Hate to say I told you so, Jaguars fans – all nine of you – but Blaine Gabbert is a bust. The recent run of marginal offensive competence directed by Chad Henne is the final burden of proof needed. This game features two head coaches whose true pinnacle is an offensive coordinator, and there’s a strong chance both of them are fired. Give me the Bills in a lesser of two evils – more appropriately bad – situation.
Patriots 34, DOLPHINS 20 – Noon
Huge AFC East matchup in Miami, where it will take more than a sprinkler malfunction to slow down the Patriots juggernaut offense. Over their past four games, the Patriots are averaging 48 points. No, that’s not a typo. The Dolphins struggle to defend the pass, so if rookie Russell Wilson completed 16 straight passes against the Dolphins, Tom Brady is about to light them up like a Christmas tree.
Texans 27, TITANS 20 – Noon
Remember when the Texans defense could actually stop somebody? I bet Wade Phillips does as well. After keeping the Bears out of the end zone three weeks ago, the Texans have surrendered 983 yards and eight touchdowns, six of which have come through the air. Yes, missing Johnathan Joseph hurts their pass defense, but not that much. They aren’t pressuring the quarterback, and are giving up huge chunks of passing yardage. This weekend, they have a different challenge in Titans running back Chris Johnson. I expect the Texans to have a better performance, as they improve to 11-1.
BRONCOS 28, Bucs 23 – 3:05 PM
Very intriguing game in Denver, as the pesky Bucs battle the Broncos. Every week, the Bucs give teams everything they want and more, so the Broncos – who looked flat last week against the Chiefs – better be ready for a fight. The Broncos are jockeying for home-field advantage in the playoffs, so I expect the Broncos offense to bounce back in big fashion, as Peyton Manning lights up a suspect Bucs secondary.
RAVENS 20, Steelers 13 – 3:25 PM
I think the Steelers just fumbled again. Eight turnovers against the Browns? Really? Ironically, this isn’t the first time the Steelers turned the ball over eight times in a game against the Browns. They also did it in 1989 when they were pasted 51-0. Through the first nine games of the year, the Steelers turned the ball over nine times. In their past two games, they’ve turned it over 11 times. That’s losing football. Yes, this is a fierce rivalry, but it’s not 2003 Charlie Batch, and the Ravens don’t lose at home.
Browns 20, RAIDERS 17 – 3:25 PM
Just when you thought the Jets-Cardinals game was the worst game on the docket, this game comes along. The Browns were able to turn eight Steelers turnovers into a mere 20 points. Perhaps nine would’ve been their magic number for offensive success? Unless you’re sitting in the “black hole” in Oakland, you won’t be fortunate to view this battle for a top-five pick in April as it’s been blacked out. The Browns aren’t as bad as their record shows and they’ll be victorious on Sunday.
Bengals 30, CHARGERS 24 – 3:25 PM
Wow, I poked fun last week at Norv Turner’s job status, but now I feel bad about it. Actually, no, I don’t feel bad at all. Much like the time Bart Simpson pinpointed the second Ralph Wiggum’s heart tore in half, you can do it with Turner’s reaction to Ray Rice’s 4th-and-29 conversion (which he didn’t get by the way). Ouch, man. This week, Andy Dalton and the Bengals get their chance to hammer in a coffin nail. We’ll see what type of pride the Chargers have as a team, but I presume last week sucked the remaining life out of this group.
COWBOYS 24, Eagles 16 – 7:30 PM
It’s the 2012 underachiever bowl. Every year, I marvel at the talent on these two rosters, project grandiose achievements, only to be duped. Shame on me for being a dope. It’s simply illogical, and frankly unacceptable for both of these team to be under .500 given the talent at their disposal. Much like the Bills-Jaguars game, this game features two coaches who may be on the way out. Andy Reid certainly is, Jason Garrett should be, but probably won’t be. The Eagles are beat up on offense, and can’t stop anyone on defense. Thus, I like the Cowboys in Big D.
Giants 27, REDSKINS 23 – Monday Night 7:40 PM
Robert Griffin III is on fire right now, unfortunately, so is the Giants defensive line. Griffin has thrown eight touchdown passes over the past two weeks, leading the ‘Skins to back-to-back wins. The Giants defensive line completely dismantled the Packers protection last week, rattling Aaron Rodgers to several rushed, inaccurate throws. I’ve maintained all season that the Giants are the best team in football, and I think people are starting to finally come around to that notion. The Giants are hitting their stride at the right time, as they’re known to do.
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.