By Dan Durkin
(CBS) I often wonder: what does “parity’ really mean in the NFL? To me, parity means your team is in the growing blob of mediocrity. Heading into Week 16, all but two 2011 division winners remain on top, and the streak of five new playoff teams looks like it’s coming to a halt. Huge games in Seattle and Baltimore, and Adrian Peterson steps closer to history. Here’s my take on how this weekend’s action will shake out.
Falcons 27, LIONS 23 – Saturday 7:30
With a win on Saturday night, the Falcons can clinch home-field advantage. If that comes to pass, which I believe it will, that home-field advantage will last all of one game. Despite their thrashing if the Giants last week, I still have doubts about the Falcons – they can’t run the ball in short yardage, and don’t rush the quarterback – but they’re certainly better than the awful Lions.
PACKERS 34, Titans 20 – Noon
The Packers weren’t at their best last Sunday in Chicago, but Aaron Rodgers was money when it counted, leading the Packers to their second straight NFC North championship. Fans shouldn’t forget the Packers should have one more win right now than they do – the replacement ref “Fail Mary” game in Seattle – so they have a legitimate gripe if they end up as the No. 3 seed. With the terrible Titans visiting Titletown, the Pack moves one step closer to the No. 2 seed.
PANTHERS 23, Raiders 16 – Noon
The Panthers are on the verge of their first three-game winning streak since the end of the 2009 season. Is it too little, too late to save Ron Rivera’s job? The Raiders couldn’t cross the goal line against the lowly Chiefs at home, instead settling for five field goals in a 15-0 shutout. It’s often unwise to take a team making a coast-to-coast trip for a Noon kickoff, but it’s never wise to take the Raiders in 2012. I like Cam to carve up the Raiders awful secondary.
DOLPHINS 20, Bills 17 – Noon
It’s the AFC East toilet bowl. Mathematically, the Dolphins are still in the hunt for a Wild Card berth. I’ll be the first to admit that I underestimated the Dolphins, for myriad reasons. Rookie coach, rookie quarterback, no receivers (they should be ashamed of themselves for the Brandon Marshall trade), and a questionable defense, but they’ve pulled it together six times this season. They’ll make it lucky number seven this weekend against one of the most disappointing teams of 2012, the Buffalo Bills.
STEELERS 27, Bengals 24 – Noon
Huge game in Pittsburgh, with serious AFC Wild Card implications. As it stands, the Bengals are the 6th seed, and the Steelers are the 7th. Having beaten the Bengals once already this season, a clean sweep would give the Steelers the tiebreaker should both teams end up with identical records. The Bengals have been a very streaky team, with only two wins against teams with winning records, coincidentally, both from the NFC East (Giants, Redskins). The Bengals haven’t won in Pittsburgh since 2009, and they won’t break that streak on Sunday.
Patriots 37, JAGUARS 13 – Noon
Last Sunday’s game against the 49ers was one of the most intriguing games I’ve seen in quite some time. It went from a 49ers blowout, to an epic Patriots comeback, to an inopportune special teams and defensive collapse by the Patriots. After storming back to tie the game, the Pats gave up the lead in two plays. After a tough loss like that, there’s no better soft cushion landing in the NFL than a match-up against the Jaguars. This game is already over.
Colts 27, CHIEFS 13 – Noon
The over/under win total for the Indianapolis Colts this season was 5 (5.5 on some boards). It’s hard to believe they will double that number this Sunday in Kansas City. I still maintain their record is more of an indictment of how poor the AFC is once you get past the Patriots, Broncos, and Texans, but in a bottom-line business, well played, Colts. A rookie quarterback, a rookie head coach (I sense a 2012 theme here), an unfortunate in-season diagnosis, the Colts have literally gone against the odds all season long, and will keep it rolling.
COWBOYS 31, New Orleans 24 – Noon
The Cowboys might make the playoffs? Maybe the Mayans were right about the end of the world. The Cowboys recent 5-1 surge has made it simple, if they win out, they’re in the playoffs. The Saints? Not so much. 2012 has been a completely forgettable year for New Orleans, who can only play the spoiler role on Sunday. As shaky as the Cowboys secondary has been the past few weeks, it won’t be enough. I like the Cowboys to punch holes in the porous Saints defense en route to victory.
Redskins 27, EAGLES 17 – Noon
When Kirk Cousins won his first NFL start last week in Cleveland, he and fellow rookie signal caller Robert Griffin III became the first rookie duo to achieve that since John Elway and Gary Kubiak did it in Denver in 1983. Maybe the Redskins knew what they were doing when they took Cousins in the draft? I’ve said it all year, RGIII’s play style lends itself to too many hits outside of the pocket, which will take its toll on the longevity of his career. In the meantime, he’s back in the saddle and will lead his team to victory against the laughably bad Eagles.
Rams 23, BUCS 20 – Noon
It appears that Tampa Bay rookie head coach Greg Schiano’s “no nonsense” approach has worn thin on the Bucs over the course of the season. Just four weeks ago, the Bucs were in playoff contention, but have since dropped four straight. Most recently, they were thoroughly dismantled and embarrassed by the Saints. I am bullish on the Rams prospects over the next few seasons, and know Jeff Fisher will have his team ready to finish strong. I like the Rams on the road.
Chargers 20, JETS 13 – Noon
Please never forget: the Jets traded a first and second-round pick, plus three players to trade up to select Mark Sanchez (5th overall in ’09). Yes, that really happened. You want to know something even more funny? They traded fourth and sixth-round picks this past offseason for Tim Tebow. Mike Tannenbaum sure can scout quarterback talent, can’t he? Wow. Now they’re shopping both of them, and have handed the keys to Greg McElroy? Pure comedy. Only if the media would’ve given the Jets more attention prior to the season. Oh, the game, right, going against my coast-to-coast rule and taking the Chargers on the road.
TEXANS 27, Vikings 20 – Noon
Despite opposing defense stuffing the box, knowing the quarterback is no threat to do anything, Adrian Peterson continues to treat the NFL like a game of Tecmo Bowl. A little over a year ago, Peterson tore both his ACL and MCL. When he lines up on Sunday, he will be 294 yards shy of breaking the all-time NFL rushing record. I, like most NFL fans, will be cheering him on to break the record. Truly remarkable. The Texans were a tough defense at some point, but have struggled lately. They’ll win the game, and make Peterson’s quest more challenging, but why doubt him now?
Giants, 24, RAVENS 23 – 3:25 PM
Two shaky teams meet up in Baltimore, as the Ravens host the Giants. The Ravens are clinging onto the top spot in the AFC North, while the Giants are on life support. It’s pretty simple for the Giants, win out and you’re in the playoffs. They will lose tiebreakers with both the Cowboys and Redskins. Every year, I call Joe Flacco just good enough to break your heart. I think that Flacco shows up this Sunday, as the Giants offense rebounds and takes care of business on the road in a very physical game.
BRONCOS 34, Browns 17 – 3:05 PM
Denver’s three losses this season have come at the hands of the current No. 1 seed in both conferences (Texans, Falcons), and arguably the best team in football (Patriots). So, kudos, Peter King, for your prescient pick of the Broncos in the Super Bowl, which is looking genius, and very realistic right now. Peyton Manning seems to be a lock for Comeback Player of the Year, as he’s led his team to nine straight wins. He’ll make it an even 10 this weekend against the Browns.
Bears 20, CARDINALS 16 – 3:25 PM
Kudos to Brandon Marshall for both showing restraint at the postgame podium, and saying what tortured Bears fans have endured for years, the offense has failed this team. Not just this season, but the entire tenure of Lovie Smith. Barring a miraculous finish, the Bears will rank below No. 23 in total offense for the 8th time in 9 years under Lovie Smith. That’s an atrocious (and indicting) stat. The Cardinals defense has some legitimate playmakers on it, but their offense is shockingly worse than the Bears. The Bears will keep their slim playoff hopes alive with an uninspiring road win.
SEAHAWKS 23, 49ers 20 – 7:30 PM
Game of the week in Seattle, as the 49ers and Seahawks play for the NFC West crown. Don’t forget again, without the Fail Mary call, this game wouldn’t be for the division title. Nonetheless, what’s done is done. The 49ers looked Super Bowl worthy for a half, only to collapse, and then come up with a few plays when they needed it. There’s no disputing the switch to Kaepernick was the right call by Jim Harbaugh. Like Hansel from Zoolander, the Seahawks are so hot right now, winning their last two games by a combined 108-17. Seattle is a difficult place to play, Marshawn Lynch is rolling, and Russell Wilson is balling. Give me the Seahawks at home.
(Season record: 145-78-1)