NFL Weekly Predictions: Week 15

Note: the quotes in this article are fictional.

San Francisco @ Seattle

The Seahawks suffered a double whammy last Sunday. Not only did they lose 27-21 to the Cardinals, but Shaun Alexander's reign as the NFL scoring record holder came to an end. LaDainian Tomlinson scored his 29th touchdown to break Alexander's mark of 28 set last year.

"The ink had barely dried on my name in the record book," says Alexander. "I'm not going to lie; I was pulling for LaDainian — to pull a hamstring. But seriously, it couldn't have happened to a better guy. L.T.'s so nice, guys don't even want to tackle him. But I have to comment on Marty Schottenheimer's statement that Tomlinson is 'the finest running back ever to wear an NFL uniform.' What, Marty? Are there better running backs than L.T. out there? They've just never wore an NFL uniform?"

Even though the Seahawks lost, it doesn't mean much as far as the division goes. They still have a three-game lead in the West, which in years past, also meant the season was three weeks old. A win and they clinch the division. But times have changed. The Seahawks have lost to both the 49ers and Cardinals this year, two teams that seem to be on the rise. In San Francisco, optimism is high that the 49ers can pull out a second upset of the Seahawks, and challenge for the division next year.

"I'll tell you what else is high," says Mike Nolan. "That nasally whine that Bryant Gumbel calls a voice. Everyone may not have NFL Network and be able to see the game, but all canines in the Seattle area should be able to hear the call."

Nothing comes easy in the West anymore, but Seattle is still the class of the division. Matt Hasselbeck throws for 245 yards and two touchdowns, and the running of Frank Gore keeps the 49ers in it.

Seattle wins, 23-17.

Dallas @ Atlanta

After their 42-17 shellacking at the hands of the Saints, Dallas tumbled down everyone's power rankings, and were forced to go back to the figurative drawing board.

"I know we're still Michael Irvin's No. 1 team," says Parcells, "but we've got to get back to basics, such as actually listening to my 'what it takes to win' speech. Apparently, Terrell Owens wasn't the only one not listening. Anyway, it all starts in the locker room. There will be no more of that rap music ... that stuff is garbage, although I'm quite impressed by the body of work from the Young family, Jeezy, Dro, Buck, and Hot Rod, as well as their Asian relative, Yung Joc. The Lil's aren't bad either. Anyway, from now on, I'm the deejay and there's one song that will be playing on a loop, 'When the Saints Go Marching in (to the Endzone).' With one exception, though: Drew Bledsoe can continue to enjoy his Yanni and Elton John CDs. Of course, I accept some of the blame for the loss, as well. Nowhere in our game plan did it say anything about a fullback named Mike Karney. I should have known something was up when Sean Payton didn't hand in his game plan on Thursday, like he did when he was one of my assistants."

The Falcons overcame a slow start and beat theBuccaneers in Tampa 17-6. Down 6-0 at the start of the second half, but Demorrio Williams' 57-yard fumble return put the Falcons up for good.

"That had to be 'Demorrio-alizing' to the Bucs," says a chuckling Jim Mora. "Yeah, I know. That's a terrible play on words, so I won't do that any 'Mora.' Okay, that's enough. It's time to get serious. There has been discussion about using Michael Vick as a running back. It's possible. Of course, who will we fool by that? Whether Mike lines up as a QB or RB, he's going to run. Now, I'm thinking of lining up as Bill Parcell's former quarterback's coach and hoping it works out as well as it did for the Saints."

Dallas hasn't lost two in a row all year; Atlanta hasn't won three straight all year. I'll stick with the trends.

Cowboys win, 31-21.

Cleveland @ Baltimore

The Ravens obviously benefitted from the 10-day break since their loss in Cincinnati, overpowering the Chiefs 20-10 to become the first team to win at Arrowhead Stadium in December since 1995. The Ravens forced four turnovers and sacked Trent Green five times, and kept Larry Johnson out of the end zone.

"Sure, five days seems like a lot of days away from football," says Brian Billick, "but for the tired old legs of some of the old geezers that play for me, it was just the ticket. Heck, I've given Jim Fassel eight weeks off and look what's happened — we're 7-1. Jim must have really been tired."

The Browns rushed for only 18 yards in a 27-7 loss at Pittsburgh last Thursday, which was 205 yards less than they gave up to Willie Parker on the ground. The Browns will have to establish a running game to keep some of the pressure off of quarterback Derek Anderson.

"Man, I feel the same way about the running game as LeBron James fells about the dunk contest," says Kellen Winslow II. "It's bourgeois. We need to pass the ball. All the time. To me. Because I'm a soldier."

The Browns have no success against the No. 2-rated rush defense and are forced to pass. That's when the Ravens bring the heavies on the pass rush. The Ravens collect four turnovers, which they convert into 16 points.

Baltimore wins, 24-7.

Detroit @ Green Bay

Brett Favre threw for 293 yards and two touchdowns as the Packers whipped the 49ers, 30-19. He hit Ruvell Martin in the first quarter for a score, and found Donald Driver for a 68-yard touchdown in the third. Favre now has 413 career touchdown passes, leaving him seven short of Dan Marino's record of 420.

"You've seen my habit of lifting Donald Driver after scores," says Favre. "This Sunday, when I throw a touchdown to Donald, we'll call it the 'Lambeau Lift,' and I'll even throw in an airplane spin. Shoot, I might even toss Donald into the end zone stands and let him body surf to the top. In any case, Marino, I'm coming for you. No one can stop me. Not the Lions, not the Bears, not even Tonya Harding and her team of dimwitted goons."

The Lions lost 30-20 to the Vikings thanks to six turnovers and a running game that took two yards back for every yard forward it moved. As a team, Detroit managed only minus three yards against the Vikings' No. 1-ranked rushing defense. And former Lion Artose Pinner had 125 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. So, Rod Marinelli, can your running game get any worse?

"That would be a 'negative,'" replies Marinelli.

Isn't it funny how former Lions get a lot better once they find another team?

"That's an affirmative."

Is Matt Millen the worst general manager ever?

"Affirmative. 10-4. Aye. Yes. Indeed."

Hey, but you've got to give him this: the man knows how to get high draft picks.

Detroit hasn't won on the road all year. And they suck. And why would you blow a perfectly good No. 1 pick on a win in Green Bay? Favre throws for two scores, one to Driver, who is then gorilla-pressed by the excitable Packer QB.

Green Bay wins, 26-17.

Houston @ New England

Tom Brady endured possibly the worst day of his career in the Patriots' 21-0 shutout loss in Miami. The three-time Super Bowl champions fumbled twice, was sacked four times, and passed for only 78 yards.

"The Dolphins seem to have my number," says Brady, "as well as my voice on audio. Here's what's incredibly ironic: I never thought I would see the day when the 'Patriot' Act would allow an opposing team to surreptitiously obtain audio of my voice and use it against me on the field. Damn you, George Bush and Nick Saban. But last Sunday wasn't the worst day of my career. There was the time I attended an all-fleece fashion show with Coach Belichick."

The Texans lost 26-20 to Houston native Vince Young and the Titans on Young's 39-yard run in overtime, a run in which the Tennessee rookie covered forty yards in 2.3 seconds and seemed to briefly levitate midway through the run. Not really, but to hear Sean Salisbury talk about it, you'd think so. It was a spectacular scamper, and such is the power of the growing legend of 'Vini Vidi Vince.'"

"Young is an incredible athlete," says David Carr, who actually completed passes in both halves in the Tennessee game. "But neither he, not Brady, has what I have — an NFL record. I am co-holder of the record for most consecutive completions in a game. That record will be broken someday, but I doubt the new record holder will be able to say he went one half of a game without completing a pass."

Just to be safe, Brady goes to a silent snap count, while Carr, after several incompletions, becomes the first football player to be taunted by "airball" chants. Corey Dillon rushes for 78 yards and a score, and Brady gets back in the groove, with 234 yards passing and a score.

Patriots win, 24-20.

Jacksonville @ Tennessee

The Titans completed the season sweep of the Texans as Vince Young raced 39 yards for a score in overtime to win in his hometown of Houston. Young and the Titans celebrated as the Reliant Stadium crowd looked on in stunned silence, while those in the Houston front office asked themselves, again, "Why didn't we draft this guy?" The Texans passed on Young as well as Reggie Bush to take defensive end Mario Williams.

"Look, Mario had two tackles on Sunday," says Young. "I had none. And, I only had one game-winning touchdown run. And, Reggie Bush only had one 61-yard touchdown catch. The Texans need not worry; I think they'll have ample opportunity in the future to make the best No. 1 pick."

Jacksonville rushed for 375 yards in the 44-17 blowout of the Colts that gave them new life in the race for the AFC South. The Jags are only two games behind the reeling Colts.

"We're 1-0 in games in which we rush for 375 or more yards," says Jack Del Rio. "But more importantly, we're 2-0 when I wear a suit. And 2-0 in games in which I wear a suit and the opposition's quarterback is a Manning. If I ever need to attend a funeral immediately after a game, I'm good to go."

After watching the Titans take a 13-10 half-time lead, the casually-dressed Del Rio slips into a phone booth on his way out for the second half. He emerges like a Chris Moneymaker flush, well-suited, and inspires the Jags to a comeback 24-16 win.

Miami @ Buffalo

The Bills and Dolphins shook up the AFC East last Sunday with convincing wins over the division's top two teams, New York and New England. The Bills grounded the Jets, 31-13, while the Dolphins shut out the Patriots, 21-0. The last team to shut out the Patriots was the 1972 Dolphins, on their way to a perfect 17-0 record.

"I guess we won't be getting congratulations from those guys," says Jason Taylor. "They're awfully protective when it comes to their records. I guess that explains the threatening phone calls from Nick Buoniconti. "

Buffalo used the big play (three scoring plays of 57 yards or more) to beat the error-prone Jets and tighten the race in the East. One of those was a 77-yard J.P. Losman to Lee Evans bomb. The Bills, along with the Dolphins, are 6-7 and only one game behind the Jets for second in the division.

"When Lee gets open," says Losman, "he really gets open. Wide open. Kind of like Britney Spears in her latest paparazzi photo. She's a quarterback and wide receiver's dream: no coverage."

Days before the game, the Dolphins obtain audio of Losman from a shady pawn broker. Unfortunately for Miami, the audio is nothing but Losman belting out Goo Goo Doll tunes in the shower, horribly off-tune. Good for a laugh, but useless to the defense. Losman gets the last laugh as he drives the Bills down the field in the fourth quarter to set up Rian Lindell's game-winning field goal.

Buffalo wins, 17-14.

N.Y. Jets @ Minnesota

Minnesota held Detroit to minus three yards rushing in a 30-20 defeat of the Lions, the Vikings' second win in their last seven games. However, their 6-7 record places them in the hunt for a wildcard spot in the playoffs.

"Anything's possible," says Brad Johnson. "The NFC wildcard race is as diluted as cheap vodka, but I bet any member of the Cincinnati Bengals would drink that stuff. But as long as our 'Pepto Bismol' defense can continue to stop the run, we like our chances. We're doubly motivated to make in to the playoffs, and the Super Bowl. No, not because Fred Smoot has promised us a cruise on the S.S. Lewd and Lascivious. But because Minneapolis native Prince is scheduled to perform at half-time of the Super Bowl. Hopefully, the Purple One will play something from Controversy. And maybe Janet Jackson will show up, although I doubt Prince could even reach high enough to expose her breast."

The Jets' 31-13 loss to the Bills dropped them below the Jaguars and Bengals in the wildcard standings. Chad Pennington threw two interceptions, one of which was returned 58 yards for a touchdown.

"Chad was giving the ball away faster than tickets to the premier of We Are Marshall," says Jets head coach Eric "The Ice" Mangini. "I hear Randy Moss makes a cameo as a extremely talented, painfully lazy wide receiver. Now that's acting."

The Jets are successful when their running game is working. But it may be time for the Jets to go pass-heavy, and the Vikings can be thrown on; their pass defense is ranked 27th in the NFL. Pennington connects with Laveranues Coles early for a score, and the Jets pressure Brad Johnson into two turnovers.

New York wins, 20-14.

Pittsburgh @ Carolina

After last Sunday's 27-13 loss to the Giants, the Panthers were left with a lot of questions. What has been the downfall of the Panthers this year? Quarterback play? Lack of a running game? Inconsistent play in the defensive backfield? Ladylike behavior by Carolina cheerleaders in a Tampa bar bathroom stall?

"All of the above?" replies John Fox. "That incident involving our cheerleaders fueled our playoff run last year. But, like our players, we're just not getting the same kind of performance from our cheerleaders as we did last year. By golly, the last time they were in Tampa, two of them were caught scrapbooking in a craft store break room. Actually, though, quarterback play has been the most glaring issue. Allen Iverson was the 'The Answer' in Philly, but in Charlotte, Chris Weinke is 'The Wrong Answer.'"

The Steelers have won four of their last five to improve to 6-7, which mathematically keeps them alive in the playoff hunt. Last Thursday, Willie Parker rushed for a franchise record 231 yards as the Steelers beat the Browns, 27-7.

"Not bad for a guy that didn't even start in college at North Carolina," says Parker. "That right there should have been grounds enough to have John Bunting fired. Heck, I'm probably not even eligible to play in the UNC aumni game."

Although they have identical 6-7 records, the Panthers have more to play for, but only because they are in the NFC. The Steelers, however, still have a shot at the postseason, but can get a fair amount of satisfaction in the role of spoiler. Including the Panthers' game, Pittsburgh closes with three games against certain playoff contenders (Baltimore and Cincinnati are the others). Weinke gets another start, and the Steelers linebacking corps blitz him unmercifully. Willie Parker rushes for 134 yards and a touchdown, and the Steelers win, 27-20.

Tampa Bay @ Chicago

Devin Hester's two touchdowns, a 94-yard punt return and a 96-yard kickoff return, sparked the Bears to a 42-27 win over St. Louis last Monday night, which clinched a first-round playoff bye. He now has six return touchdowns on the season, an NFL record.

"Hey, nobody could be happier for Devin," says Lovie Smith, "except for Rex Grossman. Talk about taking the pressure off of the quarterback. But seriously, Rex made some pretty good throws, to the right team this time. I think he got his passer rating above freezing."

The Bucs doubled their offensive production from Week 13, piling up six points in their 17-6 loss to the Falcons. At 3-10, the Bucs are out of the playoff hunt, but on the plus side, they have clinched byes for all four rounds of the playoffs. This is the third time in four seasons they have missed the postseason. Gruden deflected rumors that his job could be in jeopardy.

"I'm not going anywhere," says Gruden, with a sneer on his face that would strike fear in one's spleen. "They can't take this job from me. If they do, they'll have to pry my cold, dead fingers from around it, those damn, dirty Glazers."

To open the game, the Bucs try an on-side kick, not in an attempt to recover it, but just to avoid kicking to Hester. But seven laterals later, Hester catches the ball five yards deep in his end zone, and takes a knee. The Bears take over on the twenty, and score easily three plays later against the bewildered Tampa defense.

Chicago wins, 24-9.

Washington @ New Orleans

Despite out-gaining the Eagles in total yards 415 to 263 and dominating time of possession 37:46 to 22:14, the Redskins lost 21-19 mainly due to penalties and turnovers. The loss officially eliminated the Redskins from the playoffs.

"I can understand a few false starts," says Joe Gibbs, "but when a crew member forgets to tighten a lug nut, well, that's just inexcusable. There were just too many caution flags out there today, and the field lacked grip. I know Daniel Snyder wants to make a crew chief change, but doggone it, I'm going to see this thing through to the checkered flag. Whether we come home like Jimmie Johnson or Dick Trickle, I'll be there at the finish."

New Orleans is now the darling of the NFC after their 42-17 beatdown of the Cowboys. Drew Brees threw for five touchdowns, including a 61-yard strike on a screen pass to Reggie Bush, and Sean Payton out-coached his former boss, Bill Parcells.

"I meant 'no offense' when we took a knee with three minutes left," says Payton. "The last thing I want to do is make my mentor angry. I want to make sure I get a 'yes' when I ask him to join my staff next year. And I also want to appeal to everyone to keep Drew Brees in mind when MVP voting comes around. He's got a shot at Dan Marino's record of 5,084 yards, and if keeps throwing five-yard passes to Reggie Bush that become 75-yard touchdowns, he'll get it. That record is 22-years-old. LaDainian Tomlinson broke a one year-old record. Whoopty-do."

Brees carves up the Redskins' secondary for 298 yards and three touchdowns.

New Orleans wins, 30-16.

Denver @ Arizona

Since making the switch from Jake Plummer to Jay Cutler at quarterback two weeks ago, the Broncos are 0-2 and their hopes as a wildcard playoff team are perilous, at best. Cutler did show vast improvement over his first start in Week 13's loss to the Seahawks, although he has shown a tendency to fumble when hit. He has five fumbles in two games.

"Different day, same 'J,'" sighs Mike Shanahan. "Haven't they made a movie about two, goofy mistake-prone guys? Wasn't it called 'Plum and Plummer.' Seriously, though, have you checked out Plummer and Cutler's pictures on Frightening."

Arizona beat the Seahawks for their fourth win of the year. They have beaten each NFC West rival once, and if not for a midseason, seven-game losing streak, the Cards could be 11-2. But they're not.

"We're making progress," says Matt Leinart. "Edgerrin James has rushed for over 100 yards in two-straight games, and I'm building chemistry with my receiving corps. I'll hook up with a chick the minute I meet her, but I like to build relationships with my receivers. You've got to take it slow and not rush things. Take them out to dinner. Listen to them. You know, the crazy stuff that women want you to do in a relationship. But who has time for that?"

The Arizona secondary may be just what Cutler needs to get his first win as a starter. Arizona is 30th is pass defense, and after last week's emotional win over the Seahawks, the hangover's got to be coming.

Denver wins, 27-22.

Philadelphia @ N.Y. Giants

Who's an NFC East teams' favorite opponent? Why, the Carolina Panthers, of course. All four NFC East teams have a win over the Panthers. The Giants snapped a four-game losing streak with their 27-13 win at Carolina; two weeks earlier, the Eagles ended a two-game losing streak with a 27-24 over the Panthers.

"It's been quite awhile since I could say I outplayed an opposing quarterback," says Eli Manning. "Sure, Chris Weinke threw for 423 yards, but I threw for three touchdowns. Wow. To throw for 423 yards and lose handily. I wonder what that feels like? It must be a lot like throwing for 313 yards and losing to the Jaguars 44-17."

The Eagles have won two in a row to place themselves back in contention for the playoffs. Jeff Garcia has rejuvenated his career, and the Eagles, with a toughness not seen in Philly since Terrell Owens miraculously recovered from a broken ankle in time for the Super Bowl.

"Dang, you just ruined the mood," says Garcia. "Can anyone mention my name without following with T.O.'s name?"

The outcome of this game goes a long way in determining who's in the playoffs and who's out. The winner is sitting pretty, while the loser falls back into a pool of about four or five other teams vying for the last spot. I'll take the G-Men in a close one. Tiki Barber rushes for 116 yards and a one-yard touchdown run, an early Christmas gift from Brandon Jacobs.

New York wins, 27-24.

St. Louis @ Oakland

What is this? The Escape From L.A. Bowl? Both the Rams and Raiders used to call Los Angeles home, but thanks to Snake Plissken, they were both able to dump L.A. for their current homes.

"Snake Pillsken? I think I grew up with that guy in West Virginia," says Randy Moss. "Long, greasy, hair. Wore an eye patch. That guy would have made a great Raider, unlike me."

Moss injured his ankle last Sunday against the Bengals, which gave Ronald Curry a chance to play. Curry responded with eight catches for 99 yards and a touchdown.

"Another case of misuse of a football player at the University of North Carolina," says Curry. "Those clowns had me playing quarterback. I'm clearly a receiver. I think Willie Parker and myself should file suit against UNC on the grounds of 'heinous dereliction of coaching,' and 'mental cruelty.' And speaking of bad personnel judgment, how about Eddie Van Halen's decision to dump bassist Michael Anthony and hire Van Halen's son, Wolfgang? The No. 1 rule in rock and roll is 'never fire the bassist who plays a bass guitar shaped like a bottle of Jack Daniels.' You just don't do it. Although the name 'Wolfgang Van Halen' is pretty cool. The name alone gets him hired for any job. I bet he'd make a great offensive coordinator."

Moss is probably out for Sunday's game, which may be the best thing that could happen to the Raiders right now. What they need now is veteran leadership. Moss is a veteran, but he's got the leadership skills of the first lemming off a cliff. In any case, the Raiders are looking for inspiration, and if that comes from the guy dressed as Darth Vader in the north end zone, then so be it. It's an inspired effort by the Raiders in the Black Hole, whose denizens even shower the Rams with light applause, which is more than they heard from their own fans last Monday in St. Louis. Aaron Brooks throws two touchdown passes, and the Oakland defense picks off Marc Bulger twice.

Raiders win, 21-17.

Kansas City @ San Diego

San Diego's 48-20 win over the Broncos marked a day of coronation for the Chargers; they clinched the AFC West title, and LaDainian Tomlinson scored three touchdowns to break Shaun Alexander's record of 28.

"If you want to crown their butts, then crown them!" Dennis Green must have angrily said.

With Indy's loss to Jacksonville, San Diego also took the outright lead in the race for home field throughout the playoffs.

"Obviously, home-field advantage is very important to us," says Marty Schottenheimer. "We know every team in the AFC fears a trip to Qualcomm Stadium for a playoff game in 75 degree weather on plush, natural grass. We'll even provide those fans that spray water for our opponents."

Almost forgotten in Tomlinson's magical year is the play of Larry Johnson, who leads the NFL in rushing.

"I'd say we're pretty much even," says Johnson. "L.T.'s got me by 14 touchdowns, but I've got him by five whole yards rushing. Don't forget me in your MVP votes."

L.T. and L.J. rush to a draw, with over 100 yards and a touchdown apiece, but 220 yards passing from Philip Rivers leads the Chargers to a 26-20 win.

Cincinnati @ Indianapolis

The Colts' defense reached a new level of futility in Jacksonville last week. Already prone to giving up 100 yards rushing per game, Indy's defense nearly surrendered that on the Jaguars' first drive. Fred Taylor's 76-yard run was followed by Maurice Jones-Drew's 20-yard touchdown score. One drive: 96 rushing yards. One game: 375 yards rushing yards.

"Hey, I always try to look on the positive side of things," says Tony Dungy. "Yeah, 375 yards given up on the ground sounds pretty bad. But when you put it this way, 'Jacksonville didn't even rush for a quarter mile against us,' it doesn't sound so bad. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go outside and hide behind a tree and coach some nerd through a first date. Guys, always remember, never try to kiss a girl while you're wearing a football helmet. Ladies, always remember, if you're dating a guy who wears a football helmet on a first date, he's probably a Manning."

The Bengals won their fourth-straight, beating the Raiders 27-10 behind Rudi Johnson's two touchdown runs and Carson Palmer's two TD passes. Positives are aplenty in Cincy, although Bengals legal troubles continue to try Marvin Lewis' patience. The latest perpetrator is cornerback Deltha O'Neal, who was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated.

"Sure, I'm frustrated," says Lewis, enjoying a sternly worded holiday greeting card from Commissioner Roger Goodell, "but it's Christmas, the season of giving. And in that spirit, I'll forgive Deltha and all of the other boneheads on this team who have been arrested this year. But this does give me a great gift idea for all those clowns: a police scanner in Bengals' orange and black, signed by all of the arresting officers."

Last year, the Colts won a shootout in Cincinnati, 45-37. If the Colts give up 44 like they did last week, let's just hope they score in the 38 to 49 range. I doubt the Colts will give up 375 yards on the ground again (275 is likely), but 375 through the air is a possibility. Indy and Cincy combine for 850 yards total offense, and Carson Palmer's touchdown pass to Chad Johnson late in the fourth gives the Bengals a 37-34 win.

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