CBS has the doubleheader this week and its early coverage is spread out mostly among three games, all pretty good, but none fantastic. Here’s the Week 14 TV breakdown…
New England-Washington (CBS)
The Patriots are locked in a three-way tie for homefield advantage in the AFC, along with Baltimore/Pittsburgh and Houston, and it’s imperative to at least finish second in that race and get a first-round bye in the playoffs. Washington’s 4-8, but has shown some life in recent weeks, with a win over Seattle and then a competitive loss last against the Jets, where the 34-19 final belies the fact the ‘Skins led with five minutes to go. Both teams are mediocre on defense, although with the Redskins that’s more likely because they get no help from their offense. Rex Grossman has got to be able to move the ball efficiently, targeting Santana Moss and Fred Davis and then get support from the running game, and mix in some screen passes to Roy Helu. That’s realistic. But Grossman also has to do without making mistakes. There’s no room for error against Tom Brady and Grossman is renowned for making plenty of errors. The Redskins are my team and I expect a good game again, but it’s a big leap of faith to think they’ll play the mistake-free game they need to win.
Kansas City-NY Jets (CBS)
Would you believe the 2011 Jets are more an offensive team than a defensive one? The D is average this year, while the offense has average 24 points a game, good for 8th in the NFL. KC’s offense ranks 29th in points scored and that’s even with Matt Cassell being in at quarterback. Tyler Palko’s in now, and while the Chiefs got a nice win in Chicago last week and are playing some very good defense overall, they just don’t score enough to beat anyone with an offense worth mentioning. Even with a New York defense not quite up to Rex Ryan standards, they’ll still get turnovers and then be able to manage the game with Shonn Greene running the ball. A win enables the Jets to keep pace with Cincinnati and Tennessee in the race for the last wild-card spot.
Speaking of Cincinnati, the Bengals have a tough matchup with Houston, who showed they could beat quality teams with third-string quarter T.J. Yates behind center. Last week’s 17-10 win over Atlanta was a great statement for the Texans’ stout defense and strong running game, and Yates was mistake-free. Now they have to do it on the road. Cincinnati’s defense is solid and can minimize the running game of Arian Foster and Ben Tate. This one’s likely to be another low-scoring game where which rookie quarterback, Yates or Andy Dalton, makes the mistakes. Dalton, as players might say, isn’t a rookie anymore, having started all year. He’ll have the crowd behind him and I like the Bengals to pull out a hard-fought 16-10 win. Houston still has a two-game lead on Tennessee in the AFC South, so there’s room to spare. Enough time for them to call Brett Favre and get him ready in time for the finale against the Titans and then the playoffs.
New Orleans-Tennessee (Fox)
This is the main Fox game this week with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman in Nashville, and the Titans are a team that is coming together down the stretch. Chris Johnson, after a lockout followed by a holdout, is fully in rhythm and rushed for 153 yards in a win at Buffalo last week. The Saints have plenty of rhythm themselves, having won back-to-back prime-time games against Detroit and the New York Giants. Drew Brees is making a late push to catch Aaron Rodgers for MVP and at 9-3, the Saints are trying to catch the 10-2 49ers for the #2 seed. Right now a New Orleans-Green Bay NFC title game looks like the real Super Bowl, but the Saints now have to prove they can beat a surging team on the road. The only way you can beat the Saints is if you can force Brees into a couple mistakes and I don’t think the Titans have the defensive playmakers to do that, nor do they have the offense that can put enough pressure on New Orleans to run up and down the field. The Saints keep rolling with a 31-20 win.
Other early games are…
Indianapolis-Baltimore: Indy had a competitive-looking 31-24 loss in New England last week and Dan Orlovsky threw for over 300 yards. But a closer look shows the Pats had a big lead and the game was never really in doubt, and Orlovsky piled up the numbers after the game was settled. And in either case, the Baltimore defense is not the New England defense. This one’s never in doubt.
Atlanta-Carolina: Atlanta missed a big opportunity with their loss at Houston last week and at 7-5 are in a fight with Chicago, Detroit and New York for two playoff spots. The Falcons still have a one-game lead on the crowd, but that could well end here, if they can’t get Michael Turner established on the ground. I like Cam Newton to have a big day and the Panthers to win their second straight NFC South game.
Minnesota–Detroit: Both quarterbacks threw the ball well in losing efforts last week, getting no help from the running game or defense. The Vikings are likely to find some ground support from Adrian Peterson, but I find it difficult to think that Christian Ponder will have another huge game as he goes in front of the Ford Field crowd. The absence of Ndamakong Suh keeps this one close, but the Lions still have too many weapons in the passing game and Minnesota’s secondary is beatable.
Philadelphia-Miami: The Dolphins are surging, while the Eagles are fading. Playing at home, the Fish are a no-brainer pick. The city of Philadelphia can focus in early on the Flyers, who are leading the Eastern Conference.
Tampa Bay-Jacksonville: The Jags, with Maurice Jones-Drew, have a consistent threat in the running game, but the Buccaneers have a bigger advantage in that they know who their coach is. Tampa finally gets a win.
Oakland-Green Bay (CBS)
Green Bay’s pursuit of perfection is the operative storyline here, but don’t overlook the fact that Packers do want to clinch the top seed in the NFC playoffs as soon as possible and need at least two more wins (or San Francisco losses or combination thereof) to make that happen. Oakland is tied with Denver atop the AFC West and this road trip is seen by many, the Notebook included, as the principal reason the Broncos are now the favorite. If Oakland is to steal the win nobody thinks they can get, it needs to start and end with Michael Bush pounding the ball inside against a vulnerable Packer run defense and opening up some options for Carson Palmer down the field. That’s not unrealistic, but it looks like Darren McFadden’s much-awaited return won’t happen this week, depriving the Raiders of another weapon in a game where they need all hands on deck. Defensively, Oakland has the defensive front and linebackers to stop Green Bay’s running game and to get the heat on Aaron Rodgers. But the Packer running game has often sputtered this year and the pass protection is weak enough to inspire Rodgers to take out some of that insurance he’s hawking in the latest State Farm commercials. None of it has caused Green Bay to lose a game yet, and the Raider secondary isn’t up to the task of breaking precedent. Rodgers leads a win where the points flow to similar to last week against the Giants, but it isn’t quite as hair-raising in the final five minutes.
A good chunk of the country will also get this matchup as their one Fox game of the day. The Bears are 6-6 and flailing desperately to get into the playoffs behind the arm of Caleb Hanie (note to Lovie Smith: Call Brett Favre. It would make for a lovely Christmas night in Lambeau Field, filled with peace on earth and goodwill towards men. Yeah right). Tim Tebow answered critics such as the Notebook, who said he couldn’t throw the ball, by producing over 200 yards of passing offense in Minnesota last week and winning a 32-29 shootout. Denver is still at their best when its defense, Willis McGahee and the running game and Tebow focused on just being mistake-free. If they do that again here, it will be enough to win, as the Bears are without Matt Forte and Hanie is as mistake-prone as Tebow is error-free.
Other late games are…
San Francisco-Arizona: The Cardinals are playing some improved football and at 5-7 are actually only a game out of the last playoff berth in the NFC, trailing New York, Chicago and Detroit and being tied with Seattle. Arizona beat Dallas last week and for as consistent as San Francisco has been and as tough as they are defensively, I find it hard to believe this team makes it through the entire stretch drive without one unexpected upset. It happens here in the desert, a big blow as Frisco tries to hold off New Orleans for the #2 seed and first-round bye.
Buffalo-San Diego: At the start of the season I drafted Philip Rivers and Ryan Fitzpatrick as my Fantasy quarterbacks. I’ve won one game all year. That’s as good an explanation as any as to why this game is meaningless.
NY Giants-Dallas (8:20 ET, NBC):
It’s New York’s last stand. They trail Dallas by one game in the NFC East, but this is the first of two head-to-head showdowns and the Giants realistically need a sweep. They’re also barely hanging on in the wild-card race. Offensively, both teams are about even when it comes to producing points, but Dallas has played better defensively. The biggest reason is that the Cowboys defend the run and that’s exactly what the Giants rely on to make their offense go. They got a decent performance last week from Brandon Jacobs and that helped enable Eli Manning to have a big day. But that was at home and against a Packer run defense that lags well behind the rest of their team. Dallas will be able to be the more balanced team, they’re playing the best coming in and they’re playing at home. I never want to underestimate Tony Romo’s ability to throw three interceptions at the wrong time, but I think he’ll save that for another day. Dallas puts a chokehold on the division in front of the national audience.