The Holiday season is upon us and the schedule is really picking up. I'm not just talking about the NFL schedule, but your own holiday schedule as well. Finals season is in gear for the college kids out there. Office holiday party season is in play for those of us in the working world. (Just remember not to completely embarrass yourself out there on the dance floor.) There's also the random holiday events like ugly sweater parties, bar crawls, or Santacon. (Those in New York City should check out the 12 Bars of Christmas charity bar crawl this weekend.) Good luck finding free time over the next month. It's seriously at a premium.
There are now four weeks left in the NFL season and wins are at premium as well. You can't look back at your team's schedule and wish they would've won this game or that game because you need to focus on the games ahead. There's a fierce fight for ahead for the final nine playoff spots. Suddenly the 49ers don't look so assured of the NFC West. Suddenly the Redskins look like they could grab the division. Suddenly the Bengals have won four straight and look poised to steal a wild card spot away from the Steelers. Only time will tell. Get that popcorn ready.
Survivor of the Week:
SEATTLE over Arizona
As times get tough in survivor pools, were still waiting for the final shot that ends these things. If you were insistent on going with San Francisco over St. Louis last week, you learned the hard way that you shouldn't go with road teams in Survivor. Sure, it's an easier lesson to swallow than say...impregnating a one-night stand because you were too stubborn to wrap it up, but it could've been avoided. You'll definitely remember to stay away from road teams next year.
There are two choices this week. Tampa Bay finds itself facing a defunct Eagles bunch at home this week and seem the likeliest of survivor picks. The Buccaneers weren't looked upon well enough to be an early-season selection, but their offensive outburst and strong defense against the run have them looking a lot more desirable. Both aspects match up well when dealing with Philadelphia, but is it possible the Bucs peaked too soon? The Eagles have lost by less than a touchdown in back-to-back games. Despite the talk of a terrible offensive line, Nick Foles has only been sacked twice in each of the team's last two games when worse was expected.
Instead I'm looking to grab the Seahawks this week. They're a 10.5-point favorite this week, 5-0 at home and also flew under the radar for the beginning of the season. They get a juicy match-up against a Cardinals team that hasn't won since Week 4. I hate to break it to Cardinals fans, but I don't think you guys are winning a game any time soon.
Locks of the Week:
CLEVELAND -5.5 over Kansas City
Don't look now, but the Browns have won two games in a row. They've been playing competitive football all year, but they've been snagging wins recently. The quality of opponent hasn't been great, but their defense is playing at an elite level right now. Kansas City will be emotionally spent after gearing up for last week's game and dealing with funerals and memorial services all week. They're also bringing Brady Quinn on the road, which is never something you want to back.
PITTSBURGH -7.5 over San Diego
The Chargers' offensive line was already in shambles, but things got worse when they lost three offensive linemen to injury in last week's game. That's not something you'll enjoy when you're about to face a team nicknamed "Blitz-burgh." Ben Roethlisberger looks poised to return for the Steelers, which should mean the days of their offensive irrelevance are over.
NEW ENGLAND -4.5 over Houston
The Patriots are ready to put a hurting on Houston and show that the road to the Super Bowl goes through them. Even if the Patriots have to go to Houston for the AFC Championship game, they want the Texans to have a sense of doubt. Houston's pass defense is under fire with Jonathan Joseph questionable to return from a hamstring injury. He should ask Jordy Nelson what happens when you rush back from one of those.
Trap Game of the Week:
SAN FRANCISCO -10.5 over Miami
Interesting note about Miami: they've only lost two games by double-digits this year. The first was Ryan Tannehill's NFL debut and the second was a home game against the Titans where everything went wrong. That normally would be enough to have me take the Dolphins here, but the loss of Jake Long for the season will severely impact their offensive line. The 49ers sport one of the best pass rushes in the country, so losing your star left tackle, who protects your quarterback's blind side, is not something you want to deal with.
Rest of the Picks:
Denver -10.5 over OAKLAND
The Broncos keep rolling along and this week should be no different. Denver will grab their eight win in a row despite Darren McFadden finally coming back for Oakland. Before facing Cleveland last week, Oakland had played four straight games against teams with top 10 offenses and they lost by and the closest margin of defeat was 10 points.
CAROLINA +3.5 over Atlanta
You'll remember that the Panthers should have beaten the Falcons earlier in the season if they actually had the stones to unleash one of the best short-yardage runners, Cam Newton, on a fourth-and-one situation late in the game. Instead they punted and Atlanta came down the field with ease to kick the game-winning field goal. Atlanta continues to win games despite secondary metrics show they're actually very average. This is a trap game for them after beating the Saints last week and having the Giants ahead next week.
MINNESOTA +3.5 over Chicago
The Bears are known as a great run defense, but they're actually not that good. They've allowed over 100 yards rushing in their last five games. Enter Adrian Peterson, the league's leading rusher. Despite the loss of Percy Harvin for the season, Minnesota's defensive line and Peterson should keep them in this game.
Baltimore +0.5 over WASHINGTON
Like the Falcons, the Ravens were continuing to win despite not looking that great, but that came to a grinding halt last week. Is it a sign of things to come or was it a blip on the radar? Can the awesomeness of RG3 overcome all of Washington's issues? I've been bagging Baltimore on the road all year, so it's hard to take them here, but I still think Washington isn't as good as they've looked in recent weeks.
Philadelphia +7.5 over TAMPA BAY
As mentioned above, Philadelphia might have the ability to stick in this game. It helps that the situation in Tampa is getting a little warm as they've now lost two in a row.
Dallas +3.5 over CINCINNATI
This is what the Cowboys do. They start off slowly, lull you into thinking they're making a comeback, and then crash at year's end. Right now we're in the comeback phase.
Tennessee +5.5 over INDIANAPOLIS
It was hard for the Titans to show off what their new offensive coordinator is bringing to the table against an elite Texans' defense, but it should come to fruition against Indianapolis with an extra week of game-planning.
N.Y. Jets over -2.5 over Jacksonville
In bars outside of New York, will this game even be shown? The Jets had to go back to Mark Sanchez or else they'd be admitting they made a mistake in signing him to a contract extension in the offseason. The real question here is how much Tim Tebow will play given that it's his homecoming. Call me a fool, but I still think the Jets are destined to make a run despite how bad they looked last week. If Sanchez plays even 50 percent better than he did last week, the Jets are good enough defensively to win this game.
BUFFALO -3.5 over St. Louis
The Bills are another team on the rise having won two of their last three games. Mario Williams finally started earning his paycheck and now has 9.5 sacks for the season. The Rams are a young team who will experience a letdown after last week's overtime victory against San Francisco.
New Orleans +6.5 over N.Y. GIANTS
The Giants really like to make things hard on themselves. If they win two of the next three games (they face Atlanta and Baltimore after New Orleans), they'll make the playoffs. It's a doable proposition, but their defense has been too questionable this year to lay this many points against a good offense.
Arizona +10.5 over SEATTLE
I love Seattle at home, but double digits are a hard pill to swallow with a team that's somewhat limited offensively. It helps that John Skelton's playing. As bad as he is, he's capable of executing a touchdown drive, which is something Ryan Lindley proved he couldn't do.
Detroit +6.5 over GREEN BAY
Green Bay has won six of its last seven games, but they haven't been blowing anyone out in recent weeks. Their biggest win was against Arizona, who we know barely qualifies as an NFL squad in recent weeks. Expect a high-scoring affair at Lambeau Field with the Lions having enough firepower to stay in the mix.
Last Week: 7-9