With less than 2 weeks left in the NFL regular season, some of the NFL’s better teams should still be extra hungry for a win this weekend.
1)The Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers are currently battling it out for home field advantage. The egg Dallas laid last week against the Eagles launched visions of a Lambeau Field NFC Championship game into the brains of cheese heads throughout the state of Wisconsin. The Cowboys own the head-to-head tiebreaker since they defeated the Packers a few weeks back, so they can secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs if they win out these next two weeks.
2)Some of the headlines erroneously stated that the Jacksonville Jaguars had clinched a playoff spot with last week’s win in Pittsburgh. Actually, there still exists an odd tiebreaker scenario that intertwines the playoff fates of the Jags’, Browns, and Titans. But before I give you a brain cramp trying to explain this nightmare scenario, let me tell you what everyone in the Jacksonville locker room already knows…..a win at home this weekend guarantees them a playoff spot and a chance to rest injured starters in week 17.
3)With a win Sunday against division rival Cincinnati, the Cleveland Browns will clinch their first playoff berth since 2002. If they lose this week, tiebreaker scenarios could place their postseason hopes in jeopardy.
A highly motivated team potent in most phases of the game should be able to defeat a lesser team by multiple scores given decent weather conditions. For instance, the Steelers put up 41 points Thursday on the Rams in pursuit of the AFC North crown. This conventional wisdom has produced lines of -13 for the Jaguars and -10.5 for the Cowboys, as the gambling public expects both favorites to duplicate what the Steelers accomplished in St. Louis. Let’s examine both matchups:
Raiders +13 at Jaguars
This game features a matchup of strength vs. weakness. The Raiders defense allows a staggering league worst 4.7 yards/rush attempt. Warren Sapp lost weight with hopes of a return to relevance as a quarterback sackmaster. When defensive lineman in the twilight of their careers lose mass, trying to regain quickness and agility lost to father time, they often lose their ability to stuff the run(see Michael Strahan). In this regard, Sapp is no different than most. To be fair, all the blame cannot be laid at Sapp’s feet, as the rest of the Raiders front seven looks much more comfortable in pass coverage than when they take on run blocking offensive lineman. Jacksonville averages 149 yards on the ground while the Raiders allow 143 yds/contest. The Jags will likely run the ball with eye popping statistical success against the Raiders. Not only do they have the physical edge, but they have the motivational edge as well. The Raiders have already been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. By the way, I might as well mention that Jacksonville has the better QB(not even close), the better passing attack, and the better defense in this matchup. I can foresee no likely scenario in which they win by less than a touchdown.
Cowboys -10.5 at Panthers
According to players from the Eagles locker room, the Cowboys made the mistake of taking them lightly in the week leading up to last Sunday’s contest at Texas Stadium. The ‘Boys won’t make that mistake again this week against Carolina. The Panthers have won each of their past two home games, and seem to be buoyed by a new youth movement on both sides of the ball. Dallas offensive play caller Jason Garrett will hopefully call more run plays this week in an attempt to keep the Panthers defense honest. Last week, Eagles coordinator Jim Johnson prepared his defense for Garrett’s pass happy tendencies and forced the cowboys into their worst offensive effort of the season. Even if Jason Garrett doesn’t learn from his pass-happy mistakes, more rushing plays than usual should be dialed up tonight to protect the injured thumb of Romo’s throwing hand. This injury could be a blessing in disguise, as Garrett and the rest of the Cowboys offense learn the value of a balanced offense.
Media darling QB Tony Romo won’t even talk to reporters as he prepares this week for Carolina. After a one point victory in Detroit, followed by a home loss to Philadelphia, I get the feeling that the Cowboys will do their best to reassert their NFC dominance this week against the Carolina Panthers. Against a talented Cowboys defense, the Panthers should have trouble keeping the game close if the scoring goes into the 20’s. Carolina ranks near the bottom of the NFL in several offensive categories.
Take the two game, 6 point teaser of Jaguars at -7 and the Cowboys at -4.5, and hope that these two teams realize what is at stake. That means no Jessica Simpson, Tony……and no alligator arms, Terrell!!!
Browns -2.5 at Bengals
This contest does not feature a matchup involving one clearly superior team. Both teams are all offense, and no defense. This undeniable truth is evidenced by a 51 to 45 point meeting of these two teams earlier this season. However, the Browns do run the football more effectively than the Bengals. They seem to have both the better run blocking unit and the better rusher in this matchup. Jamal Lewis has rushed for over 1000 yards. Meanwhile, Bengals RB Rudi Johnson has been hampered by injuries for most of the season. In fact, he will miss this contest with a strained hamstring. Backup Kenny Watson hasn’t filled the void, as the Bengals rank near the bottom of the league with 3.7 yds/rush. The reason why I am focusing so much on the ground games of two teams known for their aerial assaults can be linked to the weather. As many NFL viewers learned last week watching the likes of Tom Brady and Matt Hasselbeck fail to pass for multiple TD’s, 25 mph winds can dramatically slow down a passing attack. Some weather reports suggest similar winds with 38 degree temperature at gametime in Cincinnati. If the weather slows down the passing attack, Browns QB Derek Anderson should be able to hand off to Lewis. Bengals QB Carson Palmer doesn’t enjoy the same luxury.
Take the Browns -2.5, and hope that the Bengals fall behind early, leading to Chad Johnson finger pointing at his QB on the sidelines.