This weekend’s slate of NFL games features five matchups that could happen again in the next few weeks when the playoffs start. That’s the beauty of this NFL season. Crazy stuff is happening and we are all about to benefit from it.
Obviously, these teams are all jockeying for playoff position, trying to get a first round bye as well as a home game or two. The home stand is huge for any team, but it’s interesting to point out that five of the last seven Super Bowl champions have not had a first round bye. It all goes back to the old argument over whether or not you want to keep playing and use your momentum or take a week to rest up and heal. I’m a momentum guy, myself, but both sides have valid points.
Here’s our breakdown of the five key matchups this weekend, in no particular order.
GREEN BAY (-3) at CHICAGO
Personally, I expected more from the Packers at this point. I did not expect them to be 9-4 coming into this “King of the NFC North” matchup against Chicago. The Bears, having started off as a surprisingly intimidating team in the beginning of the season, have pulled the ol’ fade routine the last few weeks. Yes, they are banged up and their starting quarterback has the mental toughness of a bowl of runny bread pudding, but they still need to find a way to play tough against their biggest rival. If Chicago loses this game, they drop to 8-7 and two games behind the Packers. The Packers learned how to run the ball last week, racking up 140 rushing yards. If they continue to do that the Bears are in serious trouble. Jay Cutler also has a neck injury and a sprained MCL, which will certainly factor into it.
PREDICTION: Packers 24, Bears 17
INDIANAPOLIS at HOUSTON (-9)
Raise your hand if you thought Indianapolis would be in the thick of the playoff race. No hands, I see. Andrew Luck really is as good as we thought he was and has propelled a 1-15 team from last year to a 9-4 record. The Houston Texans are sitting at 11-2 and are coming off an absolute drubbing by New England last week. A lot of fans are saying that Houston isn’t as tough as their record would indicate but I disagree. New England came out ready to pounce and I think Houston let them, knowing that they would probably see them again in a few weeks, quite possibly with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. They didn’t show their hand at all and played static, run-of-the-mill football. Houston is a better team than a 42-14 score would indicate. Yes, it was in New England and you can all go back to slobbering on Tom Brady, but Houston is better than that score. New England is going to look at that game tape and see absolutely nothing, whereas Houston will see it all. Back to this game, however, Luck has 18 touchdowns on the year but also 18 interceptions. Houston’s defense, ready to make a statement, will eat that 50/50 alive and the offense shouldn’t have a problem against the Colts.
PREDICTION: Houston 34, Indianapolis 20
DENVER (-2.5) at BALTIMORE
What’s more surprising here? The fact that the Broncos are 10-3 or the fact that Baltimore isn’t looking like the Super Bowl team we thought they were earlier in the season? Peyton Manning’s neck has (so far) held up and he’s finally getting into rhythm with his receiving corp. Demaryius Thomas is becoming the beast that he can be and the Denver defense actually looks better than their Baltimore counterparts. Baltimore, on the other hand, is pretty beaten up but they get their centerpiece Ray Lewis this weekend which will give them an emotional boost. They are also a game behind Denver in the standings and would win the tiebreaker if they win this game. Denver only has Cleveland and Kansas City remaining on the schedule after this game, so a two game (which would technically be three) lead on Baltimore would help their playoff push. It should be noted that Denver hasn’t ever won in Baltimore, but that all changes this weekend.
PREDICTION: Denver 28, Baltimore 13
NEW YORK GIANTS at ATLANTA (-1.5)
This is a really interesting matchup. The Giants are doing their usual “hey, remember us?” end of the season thing, and the Falcons are doing their best to give everyone a reason to write them off despite their 11-2 record. The difference, however, is that the Giants are a lone game up on both the Cowboys and the Redskins, while the Falcons are simply coasting into the top seed and the first round bye. In order to win this one, the Falcons need to run the ball…a lot. They won’t be able to do that effectively which will force them to pass. Guess who has an amazing pass rush? That’s right, it’s the Giants. Eli will be good enough to keep the Falcons off the field. I see a couple of big plays for the Falcons materializing but it won’t be enough against a well-balanced Giants squad that has two division rivals trying to mount them from behind.
PREDICTION: New York 31, Atlanta 27
SAN FRANCISCO at NEW ENGLAND (-5)
This is, seemingly, the game of the week. It’s the only game in this list that could be a potential Super Bowl preview. Do you know what kind of historical advantage the winner of a regular season meeting between two Super Bowl teams has in the Super Bowl itself? The regular season winner triumphs a whopping 51% of the time. We have that going for us if this really is a Super Bowl preview (which it isn’t). New England is at home in December, which means they have the upper hand. I’m fairly certain the Patriots have won 437 straight December home games so that means a lot. They’re also chasing Houston for the top seed in the conference, and are only a game back and own the tiebreaker. The Niners, on the other hand, are humming after the mid-season switch to Kaepernick at quarterback. That guy is a playmaker but will his inexperience factor in against a seasoned New England team? Doubtful. He has one interception. The Niners are also giving up a whopping 14.2 points per game on defense. This is your upset special.
PREDICTION: San Francisco 28, New England 24