Last week Peyton Manning put to rest some of the criticism about his play in cold weather, as he had another big game against the Titans with four Touchdowns, to bring his total to 45 on the season, five short of the record with just three games to go. With the way he has played that record can fall in any game. More important for the Broncos, is that they are still in line for home field in the AFC playoffs. The Chargers may be the toughest test in the last three weeks, but since coming to Denver they have done little to stop Manning and that will continue as the Broncos start the week off with a solid home win.
Two teams that have been an utter disappointment and have suffered a nightmarish lost season, meet in a meaningless December game. The Redskins have pulled the plug on Robert Griffin III and will start Kirk Cousins the rest of the season. The only thing left to wonder is will Coach Mike Shanahan actually finish those three games. No word yet on the status of Falcons Coach Mike Smith, but his head scratching in game moves have put the Falcons behind the eight ball. Cousins may be an upgrade, but he does not play defense and the Redskins defense has been the real culprit behind their poor season, as they have allowed at least 24 points in all but one game.
The Browns came up last week and delivered a strong Monday Night win as they turned the Cowboys defense into Swiss cheese to play themselves into a first place tie, while the Browns collapsed in Foxboro. Despite their win the Bears defense should plenty of the own holes as they allowed over 200 yards rushing. The Bears secondary has not been much better. Jason Campbell should get the start for the Browns and will be looking to harm their playoff hopes, with the way Josh Morgan has been playing; the Browns will have that chance as the Bears suffer the letdown.
Houston has had their problems, losing 11 straight games after starting 2-0 this has led to the removal of Coach Gary Kubiak in favor of Wade Phillips who ran the team while Kubiak recovered from a stroke. The Texans have never won in Indianapolis, and while the Colts have the AFC South locked up they have hardly looked like a first place team over the last month. This team needs a big game to get aback on track, and the Texans who have clearly quit on the season will provide that opportunity.
When the Jaguars started 0-8, losing the first eight games by ten points or more, people were wondering if they were going to go 0-16. However, the Jaguars despite their obvious short falls, the Jaguars have shown some pride winning four of their last five games. This week they get a chance to win again, as the Bills following their collapse in Toronto came out flat in Tampa. This is basically a tossup game, with both teams at 4-9, but I like the hot team at home over the struggling road team most every Sunday.
The Patriots have been asking for someone to beat them as they have fallen way behind in each of their last three games, only to have Tom Brady rescue the game from the fire. Earlier in the year the Patriots trailed the same Dolphins 17-3 at the half in Foxboro and came back in that game as well. However, a team cannot keep put themselves in a hole and expect to climb out every week; eventually the luck will run out. The Dolphins meanwhile have weathered the storm around the bullying scandal and are in the thick of the playoff race. The Pats have key injuries on defense and the loss of Rob Gronkowski will hurt their ability to comeback as this time the Dolphins lead early and stay in front of the Patriots at home.
This Christmas Santa Claus will have his sled full of Nick Foles jerseys when he visits Philadelphia, as the Eagles Quarterback has taken the Eagles into contention for the division title, with near flawless play in five straight wins. The play of Foles has even helped LaSean McCoy and the Eagles build the top rushing attack in the league. A win over the Vikings and the Eagles will assure themselves of a winning season. The Vikings meanwhile are another 2012 playoff team who have had a lost season, and with Adrian Peterson listed as doubtful with a sprained foot it is hard to see them scoring enough to cool off the red hot Eagles.
This Sunday the Seattle Seahawks will get a feel for Met Life Stadium in their final road game of the season. With their home dominance and 11-2 record they know that they could be back here for Super Bowl XLVIII on Ground Hog’s Day. Last week they suffered a loss in Candlestick Park, but had plenty of good signs as they were in the game the entire way. The Giants meanwhile, were eliminated with a lackluster loss in San Diego. With their continued struggles on offense the Seahawks defense cold make life hell on Eli all day as the Seahawks look to make a statement and plant a 12th man flag over the Meadowlands.
Coming off a big win over the Seahawks, the door has cracked open a little for the 49ers to be the best team in the NFC as they are getting healthy at the right time. The Buccaneers like Jaguars have been strong after a 0-8 start and have also won four of five as Quarterback Mike Glennon has shown a live arm. This could be a week they are vulnerable for a letdown, and will find themselves in a tough battle all day, before a Frank Gore score gives them the lead in the closing minutes of the game to keep on track in the chase for the postseason.
The winning streak had to end sometime for the Panthers, and last week in New Orleans it did. They Panthers will get another shot at the Saints next week at home, but first they must avoid a letdown against the Jets. Before last week’s 34 points against the Raiders the Jets were the lowest scoring team in the NFL as QB Geno Smith was on the verge of a benching. Smith played well last week, but the Panthers defense is much better than the Raiders and will take advantage of the Jets inconsistent rookie and shut out a team from the Meadowlands for the second time this season.
Last week the Chiefs got back on track after three straight losses by taking advantage of the unraveling Redskins in the snow. It won’t snow in Oakland, but the Chiefs have the chance to continue to fatten up on terrible teams by feasting on the Raiders, who even allowed 34 points to the Jets pitiful offense. Matt McGloin has done reasonably well for the Raiders, but the Raiders defense has been so bad, it has not been enough. The Chiefs defense may the best that McGloin has faced thus far and unless he can turn into Peyton Manning the Raiders will fall again.
Coming off a horrendous Monday Night loss, the Cowboys defense needs to regroup and get themselves back in shape for the final three games of the season, if the Cowboys are to make the playoffs. This week at home against the Packers they may be dodging a bullet as Aaron Rodgers likely remains unable to play with his broken collar bone. Had Rodgers been in there, it would have been hard to see if the Cowboys could have kept the Packers under 40. With Matt Flynn getting the start, the Cowboys defense should be able to avoid another embarrassing performance, as Tony Romo is the quarterback with the big game getting his team back on track.
After two big offense explosions led by Tavon Austin, the Rams have come back to earth with two losses out West. Returning home the Rams will have their work cut out for them as they face the Saints. The Saints find themselves in the sandwich game as the NFC South will be decided with two games in three weeks against the Panthers. The Saints have struggled on the road, but the Edward Jones Dome, like the Superdome has a fast track and should help Drew Brees and the Saints receivers put up enough points to get the win.
At 8-5 the Cardinals have played themselves into the middle of the NFC Playoffs race. However, the loss of Tyrann Mathieu could be a backbreaker with two tough games coming to finish the season. Defense has been the secret to the Cardinals success and the loss of one of their key corners will be too much to overcome. The Titans meanwhile have won just one game without QB Jake Locker, but gave the Broncos all they could handle last week before fading in the Mile High air during the second half. Back home this week I see the Titans getting a nice win for pride, as they still have a chance to avoid a losing season.
Last week the Steelers came within one toe on the out of bounds line from having one of the great wins all time as Antonio Brown had beaten all the Dolphins defenders down the field in the lateral game with no time on the clock and the Steelers down by six points. That loss also all but ended the Steelers playoff hopes. The Bengals have the division title and a playoff bye within reach as their offense has been playing well as of late. They have had their struggles on the road, but with the Steelers beaten up and eliminated I see them scoring a strong Sunday Night win to earn a season sweep of the Steelers.
By all accounts the Lions should be way ahead in the NFC North, but too many turnovers has kept them at 7-6 and has them in an extremely tight three way race that is within a half game. The Ravens meanwhile have been awful away from home, losing five of six games on the road as QB Joe Flacco has also had his trouble with turnovers. A Monday Night in Detroit should bring the best out in the Lions, whose offense has been strong and versatile with big games by RB Reggie Bush, WR Calvin Johnson and QB Matthew Stafford putting the Lions in position for their first division title in two decades.