You hear persistent chatter about "must-win" scenarios each Sunday, but until Week 13 or yonder rolls around, all that blabber is usually much ado about nothing.
Well, guess what? Week 13 is upon us. Several clubs are fighting for their playoff pulse. It's also now or never for the Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions, Miami Dolphins and a few other clubs. Even the Monday nighter has high stakes, as the New York Giants are trying to put some distance between themselves and the Dallas Cowboys, while not allowing the Washington Redskins to climb within a game of the NFC East lead.
As for the picks, well, this space went 12-4 last week. But that's not what people care about, apparently...
Well, yes. Actually five in four weeks. It's starting to get weird around here. Some guy at 7-Eleven asked me what scratch game he should pick. People are looking at my McDonald's cups for free fries. I think I saw tarot cards under my chair on the set of "NFL Fantasy Live." I feel naked.
Anyway, below is how I see this weekend's games playing out. As always, the dropbox for your related football thoughts is @Harrison_NFL. Let's get to it ...
Elliot Harrison went 12-4 on his predictions for Week 12, giving him a 90-37-1 record since taking over this space in Week 4. How will he fare in Week 13? His picks are below, with home teams listed second:
The Jacksonville Jaguars' new-look offense should find plenty of plays to be made downfield on a Dave Wannstedt defense that's struggled all year long. While much of the sports radio talk in Buffalo has centered around the offensive* play calling -- *double entendre intended -- the Bills penchant for giving up big plays has been well-documented. But much of that has come in the run game. Jacksonville is hurting in that area without Maurice Jones-Drew and Jalen Parmele. Meanwhile, look for Ryan Fitzpatrick to take some shots on a Jags back four that's allowed the fifth-most yards in the league. #JACvsBUF
One of the best games of Week 13 will go down at Soldier Field on Sunday afternoon, and recent history suggests it could go either way. These two teams have played four times in the last three seasons, with each club winning two. Give the edge to the Chicago Bears, who showed some signs of life with Jay Cutler back in the fold last week. While the Bears aren't dominating anything outside of the injury report, the Seattle Seahawks already travelled 3,000 miles to lose in Miami, where they had a hard time getting Marshawn Lynch going (46 yards). If they struggle in that department versus the Bears' front seven, Russell Wilson will not win it on his own. #SEAvsCHI
Can Andrew Luck play better on the road this week than he has most of the season? That's the question here, as well as how the Indianapolis Colts' offensive line can handle the Detroit Lions' front four. The Houston Texans did a decent job of providing Matt Schaub with time to throw on Thanksgiving, but there's no comparing the Colts' front five with the Texans' unit. Not to mention, Vick Ballard doesn't present the same threat as Arian Foster does. If Matt Stafford can play conservatively -- i.e., not throw some of the picks that have severely hurt his team this season -- Detroit should persevere at home. #INDvsDET
The Minnesota Vikings' season is slipping away, and unfortunately, they draw a club that is primed to rebound from a miserable showing last Sunday night. The Vikes' secondary must play its best football of the season. Why? Because the Green Bay Packers finally have Greg Jennings back in the fold, further strengthening an already scary receiving corps of Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones. Green Bay has been firing on half cylinders due to injury. Nonetheless, the wideout group is ready to go and facing a Vikings secondary that's allowed opposing quarterbacks a 92.6 passer rating (24th in the NFL). The defense as a whole can't get off the field, either, with Minnesota suffering through the most 10-play drives by opponents in the NFL. A highly ticked-off Aaron Rodgers is not a remedy here. #MINvsGB
The Carolina Panthers finally pulled out a one-score game Monday night in Philadelphia. The Kansas City Chiefs have only been involved in four such games all season, and that's counting last week when they lost by eight. This should be a close contest, as Arrowhead is never an easy place to play late in the season, and the Panthers' offense is shaky. Steve Smith has not been able to get into the end zone, while the 40 million dollar backfield hasn't been worth 40 cents. The Panthers have problems sustaining long drives, but that shouldn't prevent them from winning. Here's the key: Despite being 3-8, Carolina's turnover differential is 0. K.C.'s? Minus-21. This is the kind of game where mistakes will call the shots. #CARvsKC
The New England Patriots bring their talents to South Beach. Well, not really. Just an up-tempo offense. The Miami Dolphins have to do their best to limit New England's possessions, so as not to give Tom Brady extra drives to flirt with the red zone. Run the football, and run it well, Miami. The added benefit of pounding the rock will be a reduced propensity to turn the ball over, something the Colts and Jets did too often versus a New England team adept at producing takeaways (32, most in the AFC). Miami has been inconsistent on the ground, averaging only 90 yards per game and 3.7 yards per carry in their six losses. #NEvsMIA
And you thought Kathy Bates' hot tub scene in About Schmidt was gnarly ... The Arizona Cardinals come in riding the ugliest streak in pro football, a seven-game slide that backends what once was a promising 4-0 start. The New York Jets were out of their Thanksgiving game midway through the second quarter. Two 4-7 teams, one of whom has to win. Let's all pray this sucker doesn't go five quarters like Ravens-Chargers last week. The key in this contest is how much time the Cardinals' offensive line gives its quarterback (whoever that may be). The Jets likely will bottle up Larry Fitzgerald and make Andre Roberts and Beanie Wells beat them. I fully anticipate Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell to get at least 30 carries between them. In their four wins, the Jets have averaged 32.3 rushing attempts. #AZvsNYJ
The San Francisco 49ers will force Sam Bradford to win the game in the fourth quarter. That won't happen. Danny Amendola, Bradford's best weapon, has been limited, while the running game is hit or miss. Colin Kaepernick might not be spectacular, but he'll be good enough, throwing for 161 yards and a touchdown while adding another 53 and a score on the ground. The St. Louis Rams' pass rush has accounted for 18 sacks in five games at home. But Jeff Fisher's troops can't just pin their ears back and go after the quarterback with reckless abandon; the Rams must spy the speedy Kaepernick, who can kill teams with his legs. The Niners will close the deal late with a David Akers field goal. #SFvsSTL
The Houston Texans take another game on the road and move a step closer to home-field advantage. Wade Phillips' defense has not been as menacing in recent weeks, there's no question about that. Does that mean Jake Locker will go off? No. This defense destroyed the Tennessee Titans' offense ( and Locker) in September. For the season, the Titans' second-year quarterback has been mediocre. The run defense? Not solid. Arian Foster should gash a defense allowing 129.8 rush yards per game. #HOUvsTEN
Knowshon Moreno, or No-shon Moreno, the Denver Broncos win at home. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' secondary has allowed receivers to run around like kids at a public swimming pool. The worst pass defense in the league faces the NFL's MVP through 12 weeks -- on his home turf, no less. Offensively, Vincent Jackson faces Champ Bailey and a team he's never fared well against. The Bucs must get Doug Martin going early to have a chance. #TBvsDEN
If Ben Roethlisberger can't go, Charlie Batch has to show some ability, any ability, to get the ball vertical on the Baltimore Ravens, or it will be another "L" for his Pittsburgh Steelers. Jonathan Dwyer will get the start, but neither he nor his mates in the Steelers' committee backfield will have a chance to exploit what's been an ineffective run defense. Love him or hate him, Joe Flacco has been lights-out at home. Hopefully someone on the Steelers will be able to tackle Ray Rice on fourth-and-long, should the game come to that. #couldn'tresistbaggingonthe Chargers #PITvsBAL
Sebastian Janikowski misses from 58 yards out with no time left to seal the Oakland Raiders' fate. The kick would be from 53, but another dumb Raider penalty pushes the game-tying attempt back further. Oakland has cut down on penalties under Dennis Allen, but don't worry, the defense has picked up the slack by completely stinking up the joint. That group will have its hands full with Trent Richardson, who has averaged over 100 yards per game over the last four contests. The Cleveland Browns get their second win in a row. Get excited. #CLEvsOAK
Yes, I'm predicting a safety. Give the Cincinnati Bengals a two-pointer when Carlos Dunlap sacks Philip Rivers ... 2-0, the San Diego Chargers will be trailing early. As well as Mike Zimmer's defense is playing, the offense is averaging 31 points per game and 32:08 time of possession over Cincinnati's last three outings. San Diego's defense has performed admirably, thus Cincy only gets 25. #CINvsSD
It's tough to predict 24 points from the
Philadelphia Eagles' offense, but if you
saw the Dallas Cowboys' defense on Thanksgiving, you smell what I'm stepping in here ...
On the other side of the ball, Tony Romo's arm might fall off. In the last two games, he has attempted 112 passes for 754 yards. I anticipate the Cowboys to scale that back, but here's some nuggets you might enjoy: Since Todd Bowles took over as DC in Philly, the Eagles have allowed five straight quarterbacks to compile a passer rating of 120 or above (tying an NFL record), while not picking off a pass in five straight games (first time since 1976 for that franchise). #PHIvsDAL
I anticipate a low-scoring first half, but in the back 30 minutes, both offenses will figure it out. (Basically, that both secondaries are exploitable.) Shockingly, Eli Manning has had lackluster career numbers versus the Washington Redskins. Try these on for size: 16 games, 13 TD to 15 INT, and a 73.0 passer rating. That said, the New York Giants' offense looked great versus Green Bay, and Tony Romo just put a 441-spot on the 'Skins last Thursday. Giants win. #NYGvsWAS