By Dan Durkin-.
(CBS) It’s officially crunch time in the NFL, and Week 15 is chock-full of crucial games with playoff implications. Four current playoff teams in the NFC square off and there’s a potential Super Bowl preview in Foxboro. Here’s my take on how this weekend’s action will shake out.
Packers 27, BEARS 20 – Noon
The NFC North title could be decided on Sunday at Soldier Field, as the Bears and Packers crank it up for the 186th time. Remember when the Bears were 7-1? Seems like it was years ago. The Bears recent slide coincides with the tougher portion of their schedule, and begs the question, is Lovie Smith a coach who can take the Bears to the promised land? Both teams are dealing with reshuffled offensive lines and injuries, so this game will come down to depth and coaching. The Packers are simply a better organization and will be the 2012 NFC North Champions (just as I predicted).
Giants 26, FALCONS 23 – Noon
NFC pretender Atlanta hosts NFC contender New York. The last time these two teams met was in the playoffs, when the Giants defense blanked the Falcons offense, 24-2. (If you’re tempted to tell me 2 points means the Giants defense didn’t shut out the Falcons offense, kindly soak your keyboard in water for a few minutes). I’ve been consistent about these teams all season, calling the Giants the best team in football, and the Falcons gaudy record a misnomer. The Giants defensive line will dominate the line of scrimmage and hand the Falcons their second straight loss.
SAINTS 31, Bucs 23 – Noon
So, Paul Tagliabue vacated all suspensions and fines levied against the Saints players, yay?! As much as we’d all like this story to go away, Jonathan Vilma’s defamation lawsuit against Roger Goodell will keep it going. Oh yes, about the game. Both of these teams are in a tailspin, losing three straight games apiece. Drew Brees has been awful the past two weeks, but the Bucs have the worst pass defense in the league. It’ll be bombs away for Brees and company, as they put an end to the Bucs (false) playoff hopes.
RAMS 20, Vikings 17 – Noon
Adrian Peterson’s campaign for Comeback Player of the Year and MVP got another nice boost last week in his dominant performance against the Bears. Peterson has a goal of 2,000 for the season, so that means he must average 134 yards per game for the rest of the season, which is completely doable. My favorite stat of the season is Peterson averages more yards per carry (6) than his awful quarterback (Christian Ponder) averages per passing attempt (5.98). Winners of three straight, the Rams are rolling right now, and will notch another home victory.
Redskins 20, BROWNS 17 – Noon
I write it every week, the flash plays that Robert Griffin III makes with his legs come at a price, as he takes far too many unnecessary hits outside of the pocket. The Redskins dodged a major bullet when the MRI on Griffin’s right knee came back negative, but the point remains that his play style must be harnessed. Here are nine words I never anticipated writing this season: the Browns are on a three-game winning streak. In a battle of first-round rookie quarterbacks, I’m giving the nod to whichever Redskins rookie lines up.
DOLPHINS 17, Jaguars 16 – Noon
It’s the 2012 Florida Toilet Bowl, loser gets flushed from the league. Only if we were that fortunate. Earlier this year, I likened Shad Khan’s purchase of the Jaguars to Homer Simpson’s reaction when he saw the Denver Broncos on his front yard (a far cry from his dream of owning the Cowboys), but there has to be some truth to it. It’s hopeless in Jacksonville. They’re completely devoid of talent, have a lame duck general manager, their “franchise” quarterback is a major bust, and have a soured (and sidelined) superstar. Dolphins win a snoozer.
Broncos 31, RAVENS 27 – Noon
On paper, this game looks like a potential AFC Championship preview between two contenders, but in reality it isn’t at all. Much like the Falcons-Giants game, the home team is a pretender. The Ravens front office chose not to extend quarterback Joe Flacco’s contract prior to this season, and it’s looking like a wise, calculated move. There’s a parallel between Flacco and his team, they both think highly of themselves without justification. Will Flacco prove doubters wrong and rally down the stretch? Doubtful. I’ll take the real AFC contenders led by a real quarterback.
TEXANS 24, Colts 20 – Noon
Someone should tell the Texans they had a game scheduled last Monday night in Foxboro. Talk about men versus boys, wow, the Patriots showed everyone who the real class of the AFC – and potentially the league – is, in a 42-14 pasting of the Texans. Something is inherently broken with the Texans defense, particularly their secondary, as teams throw the ball at will against them. Andrew Luck has been stellar this season, but his offensive line is a mess. I like the Texans to rebound at home and move a step closer to an AFC South title.
CHARGERS 21, Panthers 20 – 3:05 PM
Ron Rivera’s troops pay a visit to his previous stomping ground, as the Panthers travel west to battle the Chargers. Norv Turner is a dead man walking, but you have to wonder, is Rivera also? The Panthers have slumped this season, much of which lies at the (fleet) feet of quarterback Cam Newton. Last week, Newton reminded people of what made him so special in his rookie season, but as a whole, his sophomore campaign has been maddeningly inconsistent. Even with a lame duck coach, I like the Chargers at home by the narrowest of margins.
Seahawks 24, BILLS 17 – 3:05 PM
The Seahawks have won four of their last five games, and have moved up to the fifth seed in the NFC. Rookie Rusell Wilson wasn’t as sharp in last week’s “game” against the Cardinals, but the defense and running game picked up the slack, piling up 38 first-half points. This weekend in Buffalo, they’ll meet a slightly more competent Bills team. Chan Gailey’s days have to be numbered. The Bills haven’t beaten a team with a winning record all season, and that trend won’t change on Sunday.
Lions 31, CARDINALS 20 – 3:05 PM
I think the Seahawks just scored on the Cardinals again. 58 points? Really? Simply inexcusable in the NFL. Even when the Cardinals were 4-0 – and local media members whose last names rhymes with “Bombay” called them the best team in the league – I was telling people not to believe the hype, and this team would be at best .500 by season’s end. I severely overestimated that win total. The Cardinals are in utter disarray, giving up 30 points a game over the past five weeks. The Lions should make it six straight this weekend.
Steelers 24, COWBOYS 23 – 3:25 PM
While it won’t be a flashback to the late 70’s Super Bowl matchups, Sunday’s Steelers-Cowboys game should be a good one. Both of these teams are alive in the playoff run, and this Sunday’s game could be a tipping point for both of them. The Steelers have battled injuries all season long, yet sit as the sixth seed in the AFC. The Cowboys have underachieved – per usual – and an injury to Dez Bryant is the last thing they can afford down the stretch. The Steelers will make the Cowboys one-dimensional en route to a huge road win.
RAIDERS 23, Chiefs 17 – 3:25 PM
Remember when this rivalry actually meant something? I barely do as well. These teams are a combined 5-21 this season. Essentially, this game boils down to draft position and not much else. The Raiders last win actually came against the Chiefs in Arrowhead back in Week 8, but it’s been all downhill ever since. Since death isn’t an option, I’m taking the Raiders at home, in what will amount to three hours of sheer misery.
PATRIOTS 31, 49ers 23 – 7:30 PM
It’s a potential Super Bowl preview in Foxboro as the Patriots battle the 49ers. The Patriots are playing better than any team in the league right now, and could make a huge statement on Sunday night. The 49ers are the best defense the Patriots have seen, even so, the Patriots will move the ball and score points. If the Patriots are able to build an early lead – like they did last week against the Texans – the 49ers don’t have a chance. The 49ers will recycle their opening day Packers gameplan, but it won’t be enough to take down Tom Brady.
Jets 20, Titans 17 – 7:40 PM Monday Night
Yet another dog of a Monday night matchup, this time it’s the Titans and Jets. When and why did anyone ever think this matchup was compelling enough for a national audience? For shame. After getting stuffed on Thanksgiving by the Patriots, the Jets have reeled off two straight wins and 24 total points against the cringe worthy Cardinals and juggernaut Jaguars. I’m taking the Jets in a lesser of two evils scenario.
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.