On Monday night, we saw the Patriots take the Texans to the woodshed in embarrassing fashion. The Texans still lead the conference by one game, but a slip over the final three weeks in one of their two games to Indianapolis and things could change drastically. The Patriots are primed to grab the #1 seed since their toughest game comes this Sunday at home as almost a touchdown favorite against San Francisco. Their next two games are against much weaker opponents and they generally play their best football in December. Even if New England doesn't grab homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, how great can Houston feel about themselves if the Patriots come to town for the AFC Championship Game? Shots have been fired.
Houston better recover quickly or they might not get a bye or even win their division. Two of their last three games are against Indianapolis. While the Texans should dispose of the Colts this weekend, an Indianapolis win this weekend makes things mighty interesting in the division. You can't root against #Chuckstrong. Just like that, the Texans could go from having the biggest dicks in the AFC to a Wild Card team. Denver has their hands full this weekend with a road game at Baltimore, but they'll win their final two home games. Houston's fortunate enough to hold the tiebreaker against Denver based on their early-season win against them, so they'll just need some combination of wins or Denver losses that equal two in order to lock in that bye.
Baltimore is reeling after losing two in a row, but the firing of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron should turn things around. Of all the division leaders in the AFC, they have the toughest remaining schedule with games against Denver, the N.Y. Giants, and Cincinnati. Fortunately for them, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati have to play each other as well as one other tough opponent. There's a chance Baltimore could blow the division, but they'll likely hold on for a Wild Card Round home game.
Indianapolis would need to self-destruct to not get to 10 wins, which should be enough to lock in one of the Wild Card spots. The second spot is completely up for grabs. A lot will be decided when Cincinnati travels to Pittsburgh next week. The loser of that game can probably start booking their tee times for the offseason. Since both teams have a tough remaining schedule, the possibility exists that they each only win one of their next three games. Sadly, that would mean the circus otherwise known as the N.Y. Jets would have a chance to make the playoffs. The Jets have three winnable games down the stretch and three victories could sadly put them into the postseason. I'm not sure if that's good or bad for playoff entertainment at this point...
Survivor Pick of the Week:
OAKLAND over Kansas City
These are the weeks in which survivor pools are won. Upon first glance there really aren't any obvious selections this week given how late it is in the season. If you have the ability to still choose New England (vs. San Francisco) or Houston (vs. Indianapolis) in their home games, then more power to you. Otherwise you might feel like you're up shit's creek without a paddle.
There are a couple other games that stood out for me this week. San Diego might be feeling motivated after it was announced that their coach and GM are going to be fired at the end of the season. A lot of players probably feel like they're playing for jobs. Carolina might come into town feeling a little too good after a win over Atlanta last week, which gives San Diego a favorable chance to beat them. (That's if you can stomach a Norv Turner team as your pick. He's still there for another three games. That's three games too many for me.)
Many people will look to Detroit this week. They head into Arizona with a 4-9 record, but the Cardinals haven't won a game since Week 4. With Kevin Kolb being put on IR, the Cardinals have turned back to Ryan Lindley at quarterback. He came back in last week for John Skelton, but neither quarterback showed anything in a 58-0 embarrassment against Seattle. There will be many people picking Detroit to cover the 6.5 points, let alone to win the game, but I continue to believe that you should only pick home teams. I've learned my lesson with this too many times before.
Instead, I'm looking at Oakland to topple Kansas City this weekend. The Raiders have had a few extra days to prepare and get healthy since they played last Thursday night. Kansas City's only win since Week 3 was when they were extraordinarily motivated following the death of Jovan Belcher and his girlfriend. Oakland's main defensive weakness is their secondary and the Chiefs certainly aren't the team to expose that, especially with Dwayne Bowe out with a rib injury. The Raiders haven't faced a team this bad at home in some time, so they should feel the urge to go after the win. The one thing that worries me is Jamaal Charles. He can run like hell and Oakland is giving up 131.2 yards a game on the ground.
Thursday Night Pick:
Cincinnati -3.5 over PHILADELPHIA
Eagles' fans saw a glimmer of hope for the future last week when Nick Foles was able to lead the team back from an 11-point fourth quarter deficit and grab the victory on a touchdown pass with no time remaining. While it was nice and all, it’s worth pointing out that he did that against the worst-ranked passing defense in the league. Cincinnati's ranked 10th and Foles has a short week to prepare for it. The Bengals also leads the league in sacks, so we'll find out how much better this Philadelphia offensive line is actually playing. I suspect the results won't be too favorable.
Cincinnati can't be looking ahead tonight against Philadelphia because winning their next two games would likely bring them back to the playoffs. The Steelers loom on the schedule, but they need to take care of business tonight. I'm not completely sure Marvin Lewis is a good enough coach to get that point across, but Andy Dalton seems to have a good head on his shoulders. He'll be able to (red) rifle his team into pole position for next week's showdown in Pittsburgh.
Last Week: 10-6