Thursday, December 13, 2012

NFL Weekly Predictions: Week 15

By Jeffrey Boswell

Note: The quotes in this article are fictional.

Cincinnati @ Philadelphia (+3½)

It's Thursday night in Philadelphia, and there's a new hero in town by the name of Nick Foles. Foles rallied the Eagles to a 23-21 come-from-behind win over the Buccaneers last week with 381 yards passing and 2 TDs, including the game-winner with 48 seconds left.

"Ironically," Foles said, "I've made everyone forget Michael Vick because Michael Vick can't remember Michael Vick.

"Our team owner, Jeffrey Lurie, is very proud of how seamlessly transition to a new quarterback has gone. He's hoping the transition to a new coach goes just as well."

The Bengals are still in the wildcard race, but their 20-19 loss to the Cowboys last week damaged their prospects. Cincinnati is 7-6, tied with Pittsburgh for second in the AFC North.

"We're expecting big things from A.J. Green," Marvin Lewis said. "A.J. is a superstar receiver, but he doesn't have a catchy nickname, or a mother who brings him Chunky Soup on the sideline, or a Twitter account he won't stay away from. What he does have is one name, and talent."

Cincinnati wins, 27-26.

NY Giants @ Atlanta (-1)

The Panthers whipped the Falcons 30-20 in Charlotte, further clouding Atlanta's viability as a Super Bowl threat. On Sunday in the Georgia Dome, the Falcons host the Giants, who whipped Atlanta 24-2 in last year's playoffs.

"Last year's 24-2 playoff defeat was a 'low point' for this team," Matt Ryan said. "But that was then; this is now. It's fight or flight for the Falcons. It's 'flap' or 'flop.' It's outlast or 'out first.' It's time to decide whether we have the heart to be champions. It's time to take a stance — let's just hope it's not a 'two-point' stance."

Eli Manning threw 4 touchdown passes and the Giants overwhelmed the Saints 52-27 last week. New York is 8-5, one game ahead of the Redskins and Cowboys in the NFC East.

"It looks like the road to the NFC championship will go through Atlanta," Manning said. "The 'road' isn't the only thing that will 'go through' Atlanta. The Falcons have issues, all pointing to an early playoff departure. Much like Interstate 85, the Falcons have numerous 'exit signs.' These Falcons are special birds — they land face-first instead of feet-first."

The Falcons find inspiration in one huge advantage they hold in Sunday's contest. No, it's not the fact that they are playing at home. It's that it's not a playoff game.

Ryan throws for 3 touchdowns, and the Falcons defend their turf with a 34-31 win.

Minnesota @ St. Louis (+3)

Adrian Peterson rumbled for 154 yards and 2 touchdowns as the Vikings knocked off the Bears 21-7. Minnesota is 7-6 in the NFC North and battling for a playoff position.

"Adrian is unstoppable," Leslie Frazier said. "He has 1,600 rushing yards on the year, and he's set his sights on 2,000. 2,000 yards is a lofty goal for some, like Christian Ponder, but not for Adrian.

"As you may have heard, Chris Kluwe is in the news again. Of course, it's not for his punting. Last week, he wore a Post-it note advocating Ray Guy for the Hall of Fame. It's a controversial subject, but I support 'Guy' rights, as well."

The Rams beat the Bills in Buffalo 15-12 last Sunday, winning on Sam Bradford's touchdown pass to Brandon Gibson with 48 second left. The Rams are 6-6-1 in the NFC West.

"Our first task is to stop Peterson," Jeff Fisher said. "We just have to fill the gaps and hope for the best, which also describes our free agency philosophy."

The Rams load up the box to stop Peterson; Ponder sees something he likes over near the sidelines. It's not man-coverage; it's his fiancée and sideline reporter Samantha Steele, who, as her movie star name would suggest, does it all on camera. Distracted or not, Ponder finds the same results — 2 interceptions, and fewer yards passing than Peterson posts rushing.

Sadly for Ponder, the Rams drop the hammer on Peterson, when Fred Williamson falls from the sky, and hold Peterson to 96 yards.

St. Louis wins, 21-16.

Jacksonville @ Miami (-5)

Chad Henne makes his return to Miami as the 5-8 Dolphins host the 2-11 Jaguars. Henne signed with the Jaguars this summer after four seasons in Miami.

"I took my talents from South Beach," Henne said. "I called it 'a decision.' Of course, it didn't make half the news that Lebron James did. But what can I say? I'm certainly not a king, but I did assume the throne vacated by Blaine Gabbert. He had very few loyal subjects."

"Our head coach Mike Mularkey was admitted to the hospital on Monday. I think he was sick of losing. Unlike the Jaguars, he's better now."

The Dolphins lost 27-13 to the 49ers, Miami's fifth loss in their last six games. Miami is 5-8 in the AFC East.

"There are three NFL teams in Florida," Joe Philbin said. "Two of them will be in Miami on Sunday. That statement may also apply to the number of fans that show up at Sun Life Stadium. We've tried everything to attract fans to our home games. Everything, that is, except entertaining football. Scalping is legal in Miami, just not practical."

Miami wins, 27-18.

Green Bay @ Chicago (+2½)

The Bears dropped a crucial 21-14 loss in Minnesota last week that set back their hopes for the NFC North crown. With a win over the Packers, however, Chicago would forge a tie with the Packers in the division with three games remaining.

"Jay Cutler has a sore neck," Lovie Smith said, "but he intends to play. He's having trouble turning his head. Without him, our offense has trouble turning heads.

"Cutler's not our only injury concern. Robbie Gould is out for the season after injuring his left calf. That's too bad for our offense, because Robbie was the only Bear that could consistently find the end zone."

The Packers could clinch the division title with a win in Chicago. Last week, the Pack beat the Lions, 27-20, led by a rushing attach that accounted for 140 yards and 2 touchdowns.

"Now when I saw there's a running game in Green Bay," Mike McCarthy said, "I won't be referring to the visiting team's.

"I can't understate the importance of a running game. Often, it sets up third-and-long situations, and Aaron Rodgers is lethal in those situations. But he can't carry this team on his back. We've ridden him far too long. That's why Aaron suggested I try the 'Dismount Double Check.'"

Green Bay wins, 24-16.

Washington @ Cleveland (+5)

Despite losing Robert Griffin III to injury late in the game, the Redskins pulled out an overtime 31-28 win over the Ravens to keep their playoff hopes alive. Washington is 7-6, one game behind the Giants in the NFC East.

"That was a scary injury," Mike Shanahan said. "I saw my life flash before my eyes. In other words, I saw nothing but John Elway.

"But Robert just has a sprained knee. In the event he can't play, Kirk Cousins will start. If that's the case, then 'Cousin's It.'"

The Browns whipped the Chiefs 30-7 last week in Cleveland to improve to 5-8 on the season. They'll try to derail the Redskins' playoff push when Shanahan leads Washington into the Dawg Pound.

"It's important Trent Richardson has a solid game," Pat Shurmur said. "This game is likely to be decided on the ground, or in the 'Trent-ches.' They call Trent the 'Dawg Pounder.' They call Washington's Alfred Morris the 'Hog Pounder.'"

Cleveland wins, 27-22.

Denver @ Baltimore (+2½)

Peyton Manning leads the 10-3 Broncos into Baltimore, where Ray Lewis and the Ravens await. The outcome could very well determine seeding in the AFC playoffs.

"The Ravens defense is not what it used to be," Manning said, "but they still can make an impact. Heck, what other defense in the league can get an offensive coordinator fired? I look forward to lining up and seeing Ray Lewis staring back at me. When Ray stares at you hard enough, it's like he's looking right through you. On the contrary, with just a cursory glance, I can see through the Ravens' defense."

"I've met the Ravens twice in my playoff career, and twice I've sent them home. We could possibly see them again in the playoffs. I'm not sure which quarterback is more likely to knock the Ravens out of the playoffs this year — me, or Joe Flacco."

The Ravens lost 31-28 in overtime at Washington, missing a chance to build a three-game lead in the AFC North over the Steelers and Bengals, who both lost. On Monday, John Harbaugh fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.

"Flacco likes to call his own plays," John Harbaugh said. "And he likes to call his own shots. Cameron's firing was a perfect example of that. Sometimes, elite quarterbacks deserve special treatment. In Joe's case, though, we made an exception."

Denver wins, 31-27.

Indianapolis @ Houston (-8)

The Colts and Texans hookup in the first of two meetings in three weeks. At 9-4, the Colts are in line for a wild card playoff spot, while Houston is motivated to lockup home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

"We're looking forward to two games against the Texans," Andrew Luck said. "We call that a 'Texas Two-Step.' In New England, they call the Houston defense the 'Texas Two-Steps (Behind a Receiver)."

"No one would have thought our record would be 9-4. Just as no one thought my touchdown-to-interception ratio would be 18-18. I lead the NFL in interceptions. That means my balls have been in more hands than any other quarterbacks."

The Texans were blasted 42-14 on Monday night in Foxboro as Tom Brady threw for 296 yards and 4 touchdowns. The loss dropped the Texans to 11-2, one game better than the Patriots and Broncos in the AFC standings.

"Our two losses have come in nationally televised night games," Gary Kubiak said, "by a combined score of 84-38. The only thing with more 'exposure' is our defense."

The Texans rebound with a vengeance, sacking Luck four times and forcing 3 Colts turnovers. Arian Foster rushes for 2 scores, and this time, the Texans do the bullying.

Houston wins, 38-20.

Tampa Bay @ New Orleans (-4½)

The Saints lost a shootout in MetLife Stadium, falling 52-27 to the Giants and the hot hand of Eli Manning. New Orleans is 5-8, one game ahead of the 4-9 Panthers, who occupy the NFC South cellar.

"The Giants piled up only 394 yards of total offense," Drew Brees said. "You could say our defense was 'below average.' Sean Payton unknowingly summed up our season back in March when he said, 'Start planning for next year.'

"I hear the NFL is considering doing away with kickoffs. No one is more perplexed by that than former Saints' coach Jim Mora, Sr. 'Kickoffs?! Kickoffs?! You're asking me about kickoffs?! Kickoffs?! Kickoffs?!"

The Buccaneers lost in heartbreaking fashion last week, falling 23-21 when Nick Foles found Jeremy Maclin for a touchdown on the game's final play. Now 6-7, Tampa will likely need to win their remaining three games and hope for help to make the playoffs.

"I'll say what the Glazer brothers said after firing Raheem Morris," Greg Schiano said. "'Good help is hard to find.'

"Paul Tagliabue overturned the suspensions of four current and former Saints involved in the bounty scandal. He 'mutinied' the bounties. I'm sure Roger Goodell is miffed. That's why Buccaneers' headquarters will fly the 'Jolly Roger' upside-down, or 'overturned,' if you will, and at half-mast."

The Saints celebrate their bounty victory with a free 8"x10" Roger Goodell photograph giveaway to the first 65,000 fans through the turnstyles. The "Head Shot" promotion is a huge success, and spurs the Saints to an exhilarating 41-35 win over the Bucs.

Detroit @ Arizona (+3)

The Cardinals were mauled by the Seahawks 58-0 last week, suffering the franchise's worst defeat in history. On Sunday, Calvin Johnson and the Lions' high-powered offense visits Glendale Stadium.

"Once again," Ken Whisenhunt said, "I have to choose a starter for Sunday's game. But it gets a little tougher with Ndamukong Suh coming to town. Now, not only do I have to select a starter, I have to convince one, as well.

"After the 'Malice In The Phallus' on Thanksgiving Day, there's a number of new 'Suh-phemisms' we could use to describe a kick in the balls. There's ''Kong in the Schlong,' 'Cleat to the Meat,' and my favorite, 'The Foot-Ball Move.'

The Lions fell to 4-9 after last week's 27-20 loss to Green Bay. Detroit is last in the NFC North and facing elimination in the playoff race.

"I expect the Cardinals to try their best to shut down Calvin Johnson," Jim Schwartz said. "Good luck to them. There's only one way the Cardinals could shut down Megatron, and that's if he played for them.

"I hear Vince Young texted Larry Fitzgerald and told him he could help the Card's quarterback situation. Larry responded that Vince could be useful in one way: showing Arizona quarterbacks how to disappear."

Prior to kickoff, Suh and Darnell Dockett meet on the field, where Suh asks Dockett to name two words that rhyme with "bit," besides "spit" and "quit." Dockett replies "I give up." Larry Fitzgerald's father hears this, and says, "I knew it!"

Johnson grabs 9 passes for 131 yards and a touchdown and the Lions win. 27-17.

After the game, Fitzgerald makes a bold decision, to stow away on the Lions' bus as it leaves Glendale. Alas, Fitzgerald is held up in a press conference and misses his ride, and the Cardinal superstar comes to the sad realization that in Arizona, he can't even "catch" a bus.

Carolina @ San Diego (-3)

The Chargers played their best game of the year in a 34-24 win over the Steelers in Pittsburgh, San Diego's first regular-season win in Pittsburgh. The win tempered the news from earlier in the week that Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith will be fired at year's end.

"If that's the case," Philip Rivers said, "then what I've been saying for weeks holds even more truth — this season can't end soon enough."

The Panthers pounded the Falcons 30-20, handing Atlanta only its second loss of the year. The win avenged an earlier loss to the Falcons, and Sunday's game will mark Panthers' head coach Ron Rivera's return to San Diego.

"Cam Newton had his best game of the year," Rivera said. "It was about time. It seems he traded in the super man cape for his big boy panties."

San Diego wins. 30-24.

Seattle @ Buffalo (+3)

The Seahawks forced 8 turnovers in last week's 58-0 dismantling of NFC West division rival Arizona. Marshawn Lynch rushed for 128 yards and 3 scores as Seattle posted the team's biggest shutout victory.

"The schedule says the Cardinals 'made a stop' in Seattle," Lynch said. "Otherwise, there's no other evidence that they did. The only thing the Cardinals lacked in the game was a safe word.

"Winning in such fashion was a great way to celebrate the state of Washington's legalization of marijuana. What better way to kick off bowl season?"

The Bills fell to 5-8 after last week's 15-12 loss to the visiting Rams. They'll face one of the NFL's toughest defenses when the Seahawks and Bills face off in Toronto.

"To my knowledge," Chan Gailey said, "the Bills' defense has never given up 58 points in a game, not even a Super Bowl. But crazier things have happened. Our 27th-ranked defense is as porous as the Canadian border."

Seattle wins, 30-13.

Pittsburgh @ Dallas (-1)

The banged-up Steelers invade Cowboys Stadium in dire need of a win. Pittsburgh lost 34-24 to the Chargers last week in Ben Roethlisberger's return from injury.

"I was embarrassed to be a Steeler," Roethlisberger said. "It's not the first time someone was embarrassed that I was Steeler, but it's the first time that I was."

The Cowboys won in Cincinnati 20-19 on Dan Bailey's 40-yard field goal as time expired. Now 7-6, Dallas is tied for second in the NFC East with Washington, one game behind the Giants.

"While Jerry Jones is pointing fingers," Tony Romo said, "Dez Bryant is breaking them. Interestingly enough, when Jerry's in the locker room, he sticks out like a sore thumb. I suggest he uses his finger for more useful enterprises, like ordering his liquor, or counting Super Bowls he's won in the last 15 years."

Pittsburgh bounces back with a 31-27 win.

Kansas City @ Oakland (-3)

The Raiders host the 2-11 Chiefs in a game that will decide little more than position in next year's NFL draft. The Chiefs lost 30-7 in Cleveland last week and have yet to defeat an AFC West division opponent.

"That's called a 'Rome-0-for,'" Romeo Crenel said.

The Raiders lost to Peyton Manning and the Broncos 26-13 last Thursday night and dropped to 3-10.

"Carson Palmer is no Peyton Manning," Dennis Allen said. "Of course, he's no Brady Quinn. Palmer was supposed to be the player we would build around. Not so. Considering what we gave up to get Palmer, it seems he is, indeed, a 'building block.'

"The fans of Raider Nation deserve more, and they've made it known. No longer does Darth Vader roam the stands; he's been replaced by 'Dearth Vader.'"

Oakland wins, 24-19.

San Francisco @ New England (-4)

After dominating the Texans 42-14 last week, the Patriots host the NFC West-leading 49ers on Sunday night in Gillette Stadium.

"There are holes the size of Texas," Tom Brady said, "and there are holes the size of Texans. The Houston defense has both.

"If they're the AFC's best team, then the Jets not only have a shot of making the playoffs, they have a shot at winning a game."

San Francisco spanked the visiting Dolphins 27-13 last week, as Colin Kaepernick, in his third start, threw for 185 yards and rushed for 53 and a touchdown. Kaepernick will start again for the 49ers on Sunday night.

"It's hard for me to feel sorry for Alex Smith," Kaepernick said. "Why? Because he's got the third-best quarterback rating in the league. Who's No. 1? Brady, of course. As you may have heard, Brady and his wife welcomed a baby girl last week. There were no complications. It seems Brady's not the only one with a flawless delivery."

New England wins, 27-24.

NY Jets @ Tennessee (-1)

The Jets nipped the Jaguars 17-10 last week to run their record to 6-7, good for second in the AFC East. Amazingly, the Jets are still in the playoff hunt, with an outside chance at the AFC's No. 6 seed.

"I know I've lost a lot of weight," Rex Ryan said, "but who would have thought I could fit in Mark Sanchez's hip pocket?

"It will be a struggled to be the AFC's No. 6 seed. I imagine the struggle to be the AFC's No. 3 seed will be even greater."

The Titans blew a 20-7 halftime lead at Indianapolis before crumbling in the latter stages and losing, 27-23. Jake Locker was again erratic, throwing two costly interceptions as Tennessee fell to 4-9.

"Locker's play has been unacceptable," Mike Munchak said. "And no one's more upset about it than Chris Johnson. He used to be the Titans' most dangerous player."

Tennessee wins, 26-21.

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