Unprecedented Number of Meaningful Games This Week: Here we are in week 15 and there are only a handful of golf vacations disguised as NFL road trips. Although the 5-8 teams may technically be alive in the playoff hunt, for all practical purposes your team needs to be at least 6-7 to have a shot at the postseason. Of the sixteen games on the schedule, six are between teams with winning records and another involves a team with a winning record against one at .500, a record for this late in the season. I've broken the games into three groups:
Indianapolis Colts (9-4) at Houston Texans (11-2): The Colts have won their last three and the Texans are coming off an embarrassing loss to the Patriots on Monday night. On Colin Cowherd's "The Herd" on ESPN Radio, Teddy Bruschi indicated that Houston will be out to show the Colts' rookie QB Andrew Luck what he can expect in this division match-up for the next several years. Good teams can play bad games and I look for Houston to rebound from the New England game. These two teams will play again in Indianapolis to end the season. A Colts' win Sunday and the division is still in play. A Texan win and they clinch.
Denver Broncos (10-3) at Baltimore Ravens (9-4): Peyton Manning has led the Broncos to the longest current winning streak in the league at eight games. The Ravens are coming off two disappointing losses, the latest in overtime against Washington, after which they fired their offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron. Sounds like problems for Baltimore and I tend to agree. Denver's rolling and it will take quite an effort from a banged up Raven defense to slow down the train.
New York Giants (8-5) at Atlanta Falcons (11-2): The inconsistent Giants will be trying to hold off Dallas and Washington in the NFC East, while the Falcons have an opportunity to wrap up home field in the NFC. Atlanta is coming off a woeful effort against the Panthers, while the Giants dusted the Saints. Most experts, and I tend to agree with them, maintain that teams gaining momentum at this time of year are better prepared to advance deep into the playoffs. We'll see what these two teams have for the stretch run.
Green Bay Packers (9-4) at Chicago Bears (8-5): It's all about Cutler. If the Bears' QB can play at close to 100%, I think the Bears can give the Pack a game and help their playoff chances. If not, forget about it. The Bears' defense is beaten up and not playing nearly to the level of recent years. A Bears' loss would likely drop them into a tie with as many as three other teams for the second wild card spot. A win and they tie the Packers atop the NFC North. Of course, even with Cutler, who doesn't play defense, they still need to contend with Aaron Rodgers. It's nice to see the oldest rivalry in the NFL mean something this late in the season.
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6) at Dallas Cowboys (7-6): This is essentially an elimination game for these teams. Whoever loses this one can probably begin preparing for next year, although that may be more the case for Dallas than for the Steelers. depending on the outcome of other games. The Steelers looked terrible last week at home against the Chargers, while the Cowboys stole a game they should have lost at the Bengals. I expect Dallas to have a tough time with what should be a fired up Steelers squad.
San Francisco Forty-Niners (9-3-1) at New England Patriots (10-3): The Niners will be trying to do what the Houston Texans failed to do last week. It is virtually impossible to go into Foxboro in December and win a game. The Pats are 23-1 in the last decade when playing at home in December. And some of those teams weren't playing nearly as well as this one is. New England seems to have tightened up their secondary and even without Rob Gronkowski, Brady is just on fire. I don't see the Niners having enough on offense to outscore the Patriots in this one.
Cincinnati Bengals (7-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (4-9): The Bengals are playing for a playoff spot and the Eagles are playing for...well, they're just playing. Andy Reid appears to be toast, Michael Vick appears to be history...well, you get the picture. Yet, this is the NFL and these guys can still play football, as evidenced by the Eagles'comeback win last week against the Bucs, a team that was still in the playoff hunt. These guys are playing for next year and their futures, so don't count the Eagles out, especially playing at home.
Washington Redskins (7-6) at Cleveland Browns (5-8): It's a miracle RGIII even has a career left after the knee injury he sustained Sunday. He's practicing and is expected to play, but 'Skins fans, me included, had to be encouraged by the clutch play of another rookie QB, Kirk Cousins, who completed the comeback for Washington against Baltimore. The Redskins don't control their own destiny yet, but they hold a number of tiebreakers over the rest of the playoff contenders if Seattle or Chicago stumble, which is not outside the realm of possibility. The Browns are in spoiler role, with the organization in transition and most likely looking at a new coaching staff next season.
Minnesota Vikings (7-6) at St. Louis Rams (6-6-1): This is probably another elimination game. The loser of this one has very little chance of advancing to the playoffs, especially given their tiebreaker positions. Even with a win, they will both need considerable assistance to get there.
Seattle Seahawks (8-5) at Buffalo Bills (5-8): The Seahawks control their own destiny in the race for the lat wild card spot and are, believe it or not, still in the hunt for the NFC West title. Can they overcome the cross country trip and beat a team that they should have little trouble with? If not, a Redskins win puts them in control of their own destiny, due to tiebreakers.
New York Jets (6-7) at Tennessee Titans (4-9): It's unfortunate that our Monday Night Football match-up presents two sub-.500 teams this late in the season. But with all of the drama surrounding the Jets and the fact that they're still in the playoff hunt adds a little more intrigue to the game.
I might as well waste time writing about the non-existent NHL season instead of spending the effort to comment on the remaining five games. Interestingly, they are all in warm weather cities, if you include Oakland in that category. Miami, New Orleans, San Diego, Arizona and Oakland all are hosts. The visitors might as well bring their golf clubs and make a weekend of it, because win or lose, playoff berths won't be decided by the outcome of any of the games.