And so it was that on this Christmas Day the New Orleans Saints would be visited but the Ghost of Playoffs Past. Yes, the very team that has haunted them two of the last four postseasons will creep into their home once again. But in this year of our lord, 20 and 20, ‘tis the Vikings that are on the verge of playoff elimination. Early in the autumn, the Minnesotans dug themselves a hole large enough to cause even the stingiest of undertakers to doff his cap in appreciation. Determined to avoid their subterranean fate, however, the Vikings valiantly climbed back into playoff contention only to see their hopes all but dashed last week by a family of occasionally hibernating Bears. The query now is whether Minnesota’s dreary prospects will lead them to stumble back into their abyss, or if the specter of their recent history with the Saints will apparate in the SuperDome and send New Orleans tumbling down the NFC standings.
Tampa Bay at Detroit
The Lions fired their special teams coach on Sunday after he apparently went rogue and called a fake punt that ended up failing short of gaining a first down. I get that their needs to be a chain of command, and that these sort of decisions should be made by the head coach; but I also know that the Lions were 4-9 at the time, so why the hell shouldn’t they start running some fake punts? Better yet, why are they even lining up to punt in the first place? Maybe this special teams coach was just an analytics head who lived by the ideology that no one should ever punt. That would be a weird position for a special teams coach to take since it would negate a large part of his job, but who knows? He could also just be a badass who thumbs his nose at authority and then flips it off with the same hand. Flips off authority that is, not his own nose. But he’d probably do that too, because he just don’t give an eff. Lions, you’ve made a huge mistake, this guy should’ve been promoted to head coach, not fired. Of course, I don’t know his resume, or his name, but I stand by what I said.
San Francisco at Arizona
These teams played in Week 1, and uh yeah, it’s safe to say that a lot has changed. In the NFL that is, not for me. I’ve only left my couch 8 times since then. That’s especially shocking when you consider there have been 9 fires in my apartment in that same timespan. Some of those were my fault, but some were just bad luck. The same can be said about the 49ers lack of success in their NFC title defense. They really didn’t have a fair shot with all the crucial injuries they’ve suffered, but they still had a mostly healthy roster when they lost to these Cardinals in the opener. Now they’re stuck in Arizona with their own county having told them to get lost. It’s really been an unimaginable few months for the Niners, and that’s coming from a guy who’s recently been through 9 apartment fires. But hey, if they’re anything like me ... well they’ll probably just sit there and hope the fire goes out soon. Luckily for them it will be extinguished one way or another in two weeks.
Miami at Las Vegas
With the Raiders all but mathematically eliminated from playoff contention their role is now mainly that of spoiler. And I could see them being successful at it too. This season they have wins over the Saints, Chiefs, and Browns, so they’ve proven they can get the better of quality teams. That could be bad news for the Dolphins. Sure Miami's been playing well for a few months now, having won 8 out of 10, but as we all know, when someone is hot Vegas has a way of evening things out. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Raiders win this game and hear Jon Gruden say to Brian Flores afterward, “Sorry, the house always wins.” To which Flores would hopefully say, “But you guys have lost 7 times this season.” That would likely stump Gruden and leave him so embarrassed that he’d challenge Flores to a double or nothing game right then and there. It would be a confusing proposition from someone who’d just won, but we all know Gruden is crazy like a fox. Of course Flores would accept and the Dolphins would win easily because all of the Raiders players would be rightfully pissed at their coach. Gruden would try to smooth things over after the game by saying, “Can ya blame me? I always bet on silver and black.” The press and his players would all agree to forgive him since it was such a good line.
Atlanta at Kansas City
Something strange is happening with the Chiefs. I think we’d all agree that they’re the best team in the league and seem borderline unbeatable at this point. But if you look at the scores of their games, they don’t seem so unimpeachable. They’ve won their last six games by 2, 4, 3, 6, 6, and 3, not covering the spread in any of them. Sure some of those were backdoor covers by the other team, but KC has found themselves having to hold on late in almost all of these games. So if you’re basing it strictly on spread, the Chiefs aren’t living up to expectations. Yet they’re 13-1, two game better than the nearest competitor, and are unquestionably the favorite to win the Super Bowl. Maybe that means the problem isn’t with KC, but with our expectations. Perhaps we need to stop asking for the world, and instead ask for a friend. Ok, maybe that wasn’t the most coherent through line, but do you guys think the Chiefs would be friends with me?
Cleveland at New York Jets
This is an important game for the Jets, not because they desperately need to lose in an attempt to regain the #1 pick in the 2021 draft (they do), but because they could learn a lot from the Browns. Cleveland was like the Jets not so long ago, the laughing stock of the league. But now, just three years later the Browns are (probably) bound for the playoffs. So chin up Jets, when you looks across the field at the other sideline this Sunday you can take heart in knowing that in just three short years that could be you. Well probably not you, because most of the current players in New York won’t be on the team next season, let alone in 2023. But hey, chin up again Jets, because you probably won’t have to be a Jet next season! That being said, if the Jets don’t want you, who would? Ok, you can go ahead and put your chin down guys, I’m sorry I brought it up in the first place.
Indianapolis at Pittsburgh
This week Juju Smith-Schuster declared that he will no longer dance on opposing teams’ logos before games. It’s a very noble sacrifice for Juju to make; truly what being a teammate is all about. Hold it, they have a home game this week and then finish with a game in Cleveland, where there is no midfield logo. They do have a colored stripe, so I suppose Juju could do some sort of line dance, but there’s not much space there. This is what I call pretend penance. It’s pretty easy to give up something you wouldn’t have been able to do anyway. Watch, I’ll do it right now: I hereby declare that I will no longer do backflips for fear that I may kick someone in the face during my rotation. See it sounds like I’m being magnanimous, but I’m really not surrendering anything. The Steelers as a whole have spent the last few weeks surrendering their positioning in the AFC standings. Last week I so (back?)flippantly theorized that Pittsburgh might lose four of their last five games, assuming they’d beat the Bengals. I’d like to apologize to the people of Cincinnati for my slight. After losing to the Bengals it's now possible the Steelers will lose all of their last five after starting 11-0. If that happens no one will be dancing anywhere in Pittsburgh. Finally Jon Lithgow will get his wish.
Chicago at Jacksonville
Oh boy, it’s the Nick Foles revenge game! And by that I mean both teams want revenge on Nick Foles. I know passion plays are normally reserved for Easter, but we may see the Bears and Jags flog Foles repeatedly for his crimes against their franchises. I don’t think Foles is actually to blame for the respective fates of these teams, but he certainly hasn’t helped. The Bears' offense finally has some life again now that Mitchell Trubisky is back at quarterback, even if it may be too late for their playoff hopes. And Jacksonville surely didn’t get what they paid for from Foles. Nick likely still has his believers though, seeing as how he has performed miracles in the past. I mean, did you see Super Bowl LII? But now it appears his time is done. Fortunately for him it just means his career is over and not worse. He’s merely been vilified, not crucified. But hey, who knows, maybe he'll sign on to be Tampa's backup next year and after Arians gets his hands on him Nick Foles will be Bruce-ified.
New York Giants at Baltimore
Did you realize that these two squadrons met 20 years ago in Super Bowl 35? Maybe not, since it was one of the most forgettable championship games in recent history. But perhaps you recall that the Ravens were a dropped TD away from joining the Giants in Super Bowl 46 just over ten years later. No? Ok. Well what if I told you that there’s still a chance these two could play in Super Bowl 55 at the end of this very season! Perhaps they’re cosmically linked, like Haley’s Comet and the Earth. Except we don’t have to wait 76 years to see these two clash, we get it (kind of) every 10 years. Or at least maybe ... Look it’s a weak premise, but what do you want from me? The Ravens seem to be playing well again, and the Giants were just handled by a Browns team that Baltimore beat the week before. So it looks like we’re in for a Ravens win here. But we’ll see what happens in the rematch come Super Bowl Sunday. Yes I’m serious! It’s almost inevitable in a certain sense, if you look at it the right way.
Cincinnati at Houston
The Bengals have lost 8 of 10 but their two wins came over the Titans and Steelers. Those teams have only lost 7 combined games on the season, and two of them are to the 3-10-1 Bengals. How is that possible? Are people sleeping on Cincy? Well, no. They’ve been beaten on a regular basis. For God’s sake they’re 0-3-1 against the NFC East. So maybe the answer is just that the Bengals catch teams off guard. Can they do so this week against Houston? Probably not. The Texans should have their guard up at all times at 4-10. Like a jilted lover, or a beaten dog, or a team that loses a whole bunch. Though, with a loss Houston can jump the Bengals to #3 in the 2021 draft ... Whoops, the Texans’ first round pick belongs to the Dolphins. So there’s really no incentive for them to lose. Ok then, to recap: guard up, no reason to lose. Sounds like a bad combo for the Bengals.
Carolina at Washington
current starting quarterback Dwayne Haskins made some waves this week
when photos surfaced of him at a strip club without a mask. I think it’s
correct to chastise anyone for going maskless, especially indoors, but
this instance is especially confounding. Wouldn’t a strip club be the
most convenient place to wear a mask, especially for a (sort of) famous
athlete? Think about it, it’s Sunday night, you just lost, you’re trying
to cheer yourself up a bit by visiting a topless joint, but you don’t
necessarily want to be recognized or catch/spread the disease that’s
ravaging the country. Put on a mask! It’s the perfect solution. Yet
Haskins chose to forego it, and if his play on the field hadn’t
convinced the Washington Football Team that he wasn’t their leader for
the future, this certainly should have. But he is still the
starter for the time being, and these Washington games do still matter.
They’re one up in the NFC East, but if they fall back into a tie with
the Giants they’re out of luck due to the head to head tiebreaker.
Hopefully for Washington’s sake that strip club Haskins patronized was
well-sanitized, otherwise a resulting outbreak could derail their dream
season. And by “dream season” I mean one of those really confusing
dreams where you wake up and think, “We made the playoffs, but we didn’t
win a lot of games. Plus there were no fans there ...”
Denver at Los Angeles Chargers
Hold on to your hats folks, it’s a battle for last place in the AFC West! Only the loser will be the winner. Both teams are 5-9 with young quarterbacks, but I wouldn’t say they’re in exactly the same place. The Chargers have one of the brightest prospects in the NFL in Justin Herbert, while the Broncos are rolling with Drew Lock for the time being. It’s like two siblings bringing their fiancées home for Christmas, but one of them is a doctor and the other one is a doctor ... er of photos. Like they mess with photos of celebs to make for better clickbait. It’s actually really satisfying work because they get to be artistic in a way. Hey, do you mind if they put more booze in this egg nog? Anyway, I have more confidence in LA.
Philadelphia at Dallas
The Cowboys have won their last two games to stay sort of alive in the NFC East, the same division that the Eagles are now last in. These teams have each won the division championship twice over the last four seasons, but bringing that up now is like when a retired boxer works a casino and everybody still calls them “Champ.” Sure we all say it to acknowledge what once was, but really it just makes everyone involved sad. If Washington loses to Carolina and the Giants fall to the Ravens (two not very unlikely results) the Eagles can actually control their own fate. But who are we kidding? Philly controlled their own fate starting in Week 1, and look what they’ve done. They’ve bengaled it all up. Sorry, they’ve bungled it all up. Sure their new quarterback makes them better, but that’s like putting lipstick on a pig ... it almost makes me want to eat it more. I guess that means I think the Eagles will win.
Los Angeles Rams at Seattle
I’ve done some big picture prognosticating and come to the conclusion that these teams will likely meet again in two weeks in the Wild Card round regardless of who wins this game. The only difference will be where the game is played. If the Seahawks win they’ll host and vice versa. I won’t bore you with the details of how I figured that out ... What’s that? You want to hear them? Oh. Well sure, I’d be glad to lay it out for you. Firstly, the Bucs would of course need to uh ... And then the Cardinals would also ... But don’t forget about the Spiders; if they win out ... (The Spiders? Isn’t that an old baseball team? Come on, get it together!) Alright look, ill admit, I didn’t memorize the exact permutation, so you’re just going to have to trust me on this one. Have I ever steered you wrong in the past? Hey, what are you doing? Don’t go back and look at my record on the season! Oh and I suppose you’re perfect?!? Leave me alone! Get out of my room! I hate you! I hate you!
After a tough loss, and another lackluster performance in Week 15, Cam Newton said "I have a lot of football left in me.” This makes me worried that he ate a football at some point and it still has not been completely extracted. That makes more sense than him thinking he can keep being a starter in the NFL, because clearly that’s no longer the case. What I’m most concerned about is the laces. Sure, the pigskin probably isn’t healthy to eat, but if you think about it most people have probably ingested pig skin here or there in the past. Those laces though, those are trouble. And if I had to bet, that’s what’s still left in Cam Newton. So please, if you can this holiday season, join me in donating to Cam Newton’s football extraction fund. Just search “LacesOut” on Venmo. Cam and I thank you in advance.
After watching them play throughout the season I’d posit that on the right day the Bills could beat anybody. That theory will really be put to the test this week since Buffalo has to compete on a heretofore unplayed upon date: Saturday. I don’t imagine it will be a problem since they’re going up against the Broncos, but what if the Bills all adhere to the famed Barstool sports maxim and believe Saturday to be “for the boys.” They’re not going to want to work on a Saturday when they could be off crushin’ crispy bevs and telling women they suck. Alright, I’ll admit I don’t know a ton about Barstool, but I think that’s pretty much the gist, right? It’s possible this could be a trap game for Buffalo after their big win over Pittsburgh and ahead of two divisional games to close out the season, but I just don’t have enough confidence in Drew Lock to pick the Broncos. After all, does this look like a guy who wants to work on a Saturday either?
Carolina at Green Bay
After the Saints’ surprising Week 14 loss to the Eagles, the Packers are currently in possession of the NFC’s #1 seed. But for some reason, I’m just not buying it. I mean, yes I understand how standings work and that they hold a tiebreaker over New Orleans, so from a purely factual standpoint I do believe that they’re the top team in the conference. But I don’t know that they’re the favorite in the NFC. That being said though, I’m not sure who else would be. Perhaps this season’s conference represents a true Marxian ideal, and no one team is better than any other. However, that doesn’t make sense either, because Green Bay is definitely better than Carolina, their Week 15 opponent. Let’s just put this way: this year’s NFC playoffs will be wide open! Except now that I think about the playoffs will be played in 2021, so they’re not really this year’s. This year’s were already played in January, and seeing as how they’re already completed I would consider them anything but wide open. Hmm, I don’t think we’ve accomplished anything here, and I’m not sure who to blame. Probably you, but that’s not important, let’s just move on.
Tampa Bay at Atlanta
With yet another close loss last Sunday the Falcons have fallen to 4-9, but with a +6 score differential. This just goes to show how inept they are at winning. They’re good enough to get close, but can only rarely get over the hump and actually prevent their victory from falling into the ravenous jaws of defeat. The Bucs have fared better so far, but something about them bothers me, and I think I’ve figured it out: they’re assembled like a 2014 fantasy team. Tom Brady! Gronk! Antonio Brown! LeSean McCoy! And it’s true those name are impressive ... if we’re talking about their 2014 versions. And sure, some of them are still fairly effective, but they’re definitely not the same. Brown is a flex at best, and McCoy really isn’t rosterable. Also, Brady’s going to have start connecting on more deep passes, because the NFL isn’t a PPR league, and Gronk and AB aren’t going to help you win in the playoffs unless they get more yards. And to be clear, I’m talking about the fantasy playoffs, which are happening right now. The reality Bucs are a decent team, but I don’t know if they’ll be able to win a championship, unless the Packers or some team forgets to check their rosters before a 10am kickoff.
San Francisco at Dallas
This is the rare all NFC match-up that is airing on CBS. With that being said, why do I still get the idea that Troy Aikman will somehow end up calling this game? Yes, he works for Fox as their lead analyst, which means this game is not only on the wrong network, but it also falls well below the threshold of what would warrant a game be called by a #1 announce crew. I understand all of that, but I just won’t be stunned if I tune in on Sunday and see Troy Aikman in the AT&T Stadium press box. “Look, it’s an important game for both teams.” No Troy. “The 49ers are only two games out of the last wild card spot in the NFC, and the Cowboys are still hanging around in the East.” No Troy. “Ya know anytime you get these two franchises together it’s bound to be fun.” Stop it Troy. “Hey f*ck you! I’ll call whatever game I want! I was winning Super Bowls while you were still pissing the bed!” Not sure what you’re talking about, I was 7 when you won your first, which is way to old to still be wetting the bed ... I told you that in confidence Troy! Why did you this to me? I hate you! I hate you! “Like I was saying, I think we have intriguing match-up on our hands here.”
Detroit at Tennessee
Its a classic clash! The age old rivalry renewed! Who could forget their 16-15 contest in 2016? Or the 44-41 epic from 2012. Actually that game sounds really entertaining. I was doing a whole bit about the limited history between these teams and how the match-up isn’t very intriguing, but now I just want to checkout that 2012 game. Whoa, get this, in the fourth quarter alone there were 46 total points, the Titans scored 3 touchdowns of over 70 yards, and the Lions scored two TDs in the final minute to force overtime. And after all that the Titans won with a field goal and fourth down stop in the red zone. If this game is anywhere close to that we’re in for a real treat. I assume the Titans will win, but they’ve also finished each of the last 4 seasons at 9-7. Why is that relevant to this game? They’re 9-4 right now. Were they really cursed by a witch years ago and doomed to live out their existence slightly above mediocrity? Perhaps beating the Lions is the only way to break that hex. After all, they last played in 2016, when this 9-7 rut began. Will have our answer one way or another come Sunday. If it's a loss for Tennessee, they might as well forfeit their last two games since we all know how they'll go anyway.
Houston at Indianapolis
I’ve picked the Texans two weeks in a row, and have rued the days. I mean it’s really tarnished my reputation. Perhaps I was fooled by their Thanksgiving performance and figured they could perform like that on a regular basis. Like a small child assuming he’s going to have a turkey feast every Thursday from now on. Sorry junior, it’s back to tuna casserole next week, and bologna sandwiches the week after that. I didn’t mention it earlier, but the kid in question is from the 50s. And hey, speaking of repetition (which I sort of was), this is the second time in three weeks that these teams have met. In fact, in Weeks 10 and 12 the Colts went through the same scenario with the Titans. In that instance Indy won the first on the road but lost the second at home. Are they about to endure the exact same fate? I doubt it. Like I said before, the Texans seem to have lost it since Thanksgiving. Just like I did with my belt! No seriously, I lost my belt on Thanksgiving. After eating I made a big show of taking it off and swinging it around my head. I lost my grip and it flew off of the roller coaster into the bushes below. I doubt I’ll ever see it again.
New England at Miami
The Dolphins can officially eliminate the Patriots from playoff contention with a win over New England here. Seeing Belichick out of the playoffs is like seeing the big man on campus after high school when he doesn’t have much going for him. You want to be able to relish the moment and laugh in his face, but really it’s just kind of sad. I mean, this was all he had. Where does he go from here? My guess is you’ll go back home for the holidays next year and find him working at the local Subway. He’s already got an in with them, so it’s a natural fit. And I don’t mean that as a slam on working at Subway, I think most of us will end up working there eventually. Soon the only companies in the country will be Amazon, Subway, and The Rock, so we won't have much of a choice.
Chicago at Minnesota
Vikings kicker Dan Bailey missed three field goals and an extra point last week in the team’s 26-14 loss in Tampa. In fact, he didn’t even make a kick of any kind, meaning he ended the day 0-4. Oh doctor ... can you please help Dan Bailey? It’s likely that he’ll need to talk to someone after that. The good news for Bailey is that he’s still on the roster as of now. Though that may not be such good news depending on how his teammates are treating him. But if I were Bailey I’d counter any frosty temperaments by saying something like, “Hey screw you butthole! Even if I made all my kicks we still would’ve lost. Haha! Not my faaauulllttt!” That would likely smooth things over. The team as a whole can improve their mood by getting a win over the Bears this week, because if they don’t they’re likely done for in the NFC playoff race. The same goes for Chicago, who also enters this game at 6-7. In the grand scheme of things, maybe the best thing for Bailey would be if the Vikings lose out and miss the postseason by 2 or 3 games, that way his atrocious game against the Bucs won't be as big of a deal. In fact, he should probably miss as many crucial kicks as he can over the next few weeks to ensure that happens. Hmm, actually that might leave him in a worse spot than he is now. You’re on your own Dan, good luck!
Seattle at Washington
You want to talk about triple Ps (possible playoff previews)? No? Well too bad, because we’ve got one on our hands here. In fact, if the playoffs started today (can’t rule anything out this season) this would be a first round match-up. And I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised considering it would be their fourth postseason meeting in the last 16 seasons. That might not sound like a ton, but consider that it would only be Washington’s fifth trip to the playoffs in that span, and the number becomes a bit more remarkable. In each encounter the Seahawks have ended Washington’s season. But hey, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, after all, the game this Sunday is still pivotal for both. Also, Washington has beaten Seattle in seven of the eight regular season games the two have played this century. Does any of what’s been said so far have any bearing on how these current teams play this Sunday? Maybe not. But I pray to god it does, because otherwise I’ve just wasted the last 90 minutes of my life. It took you 90 minutes to write that? YES! I tried to warn you last week, don’t ask me about my process!
Jacksonville at Baltimore
Last week brought an end to the Jaguars impressive streak of close losses as they were blown out by the Titans. Meanwhile, the Ravens won in Cleveland to stay right in the thick of things in the AFC playoff picture. On the surface it looks like these teams are trending in opposite directions. But you know what they say, looks can be deceiving! Yes, they do say that. In this case, however, the looks are not deceiving, and in my opinion Baltimore will win. But you know what they say, opinions are like assholes, everybody’s got one and you better not forget to wipe when you’re done with them. That’s true, but in this space, this asshole’s opinion is the only one that matters, and I’m gonna leave it unwiped baby! Uh oh, my opinion just ruined its pants. But look at it, it doesn’t even care. It’s like, what do I need pants for? I’m an opinion. Hell yeah! Although, now some of the other opinions are making faces like it’s starting to smell. Aw man, my opinion’s so embarrassed it’s turning red now; well red and brown, so more of a sepia tone. Let’s stop staring at it, we’re not helping.
New York Jets at Los Angeles Rams
After taking a close look at the Jets last week I feel comfortable in saying that they’re not super interested in winning. I imagine that when that Raiders game ended the way it did they more or less thought, well that was the best we had to offer, looks like it’s 0-16 for us! Considering that the loss to the Raiders was one of only three games so far this season in which they’ve even ended up within one score of their opponent, I wouldn’t blame them if that’s how they felt. The real drama of this game will be whether or not Aaron Donald will play long enough to set the single game sack record. The mark is 7 right now, and has been since 1990, so it won’t be easy, but rules and bones were meant to be broken. Unfortunately for Sam Darnold both elements of that saying may be in play this Sunday.
Philadelphia at Arizona
After their surprising upset win over the Saints last week, the Eagles finally have life again. On a related note, their new quarterback actually appears to have a pulse, which is more than can be said for Carson Wentz. Philly has so much money tied up in Wentz that I suppose it made sense for them to hold out hope that he would turn it around this season. But after seeing the offense’s drastic improvement with Jalen Hurts at the helm, the prudent move would be to let the rookie finish the year off. And after all, as we find ourselves in the holiday spirit, isn’t this the time to stop worrying about our financial burdens and just do the right thing? Congrats Doug Pederson, you saved Christmas! But seriously, once the new year rolls around you should figure out what the hell is wrong with Carson Wentz, because he might ruin like the next three Christmases for you if you can’t get this straight.
Kansas City at New Orleans
For weeks many have circled this on the calendar as a potential Super Bowl preview. After which their spouse said to them, “Why do you keep doing this to my calendar? This is why I got you your own, so you could circle all the dates you wanted. Look at this mess. Just on this page alone you’ve made three large, red circles for NFL games and one for the McRib. You know where I think you should put the next red circle? Your nose, because you’re a fucking clown. If there wasn’t a pandemic raging outside I’d tell you to leave. I’m pretty close to saying it anyway, but I don’t want you going to stay with your mother and getting her sick, which we all know would happen because you’ve somehow had COVID 3 times already. ‘I can’t smell all the wonderful smells of our beautiful city through my mask.’ God, shut up!” However, after the Saints loss last week they no longer have control of the NFC’s #1 seed, and a loss here would set them back even further. Asking Taysom Hill to keep up with Patrick Mahomes is not a situation New Orleans wants to find itself in, so the Saints D will have to corral the Chiefs offense. That’s a tall order, which makes me believe KC will get the win and make New Orleans’ path to the Super Bowl that much more difficult. So don’t go penciling this rematch in on your calendar for February just yet. Seriously, stay away from that calendar.
Interesting takes as always Cris. Maybe we could get you a hat made out of those silica packets.
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati
The Steelers’ facade has begun to crumble. Where once stood a dominant 11-0 juggernaut now sits an 11-2 pile of rubble. Ok, so maybe consecutive losses aren’t the end of the world for Pittsburgh, but there’s a very real possibility that they could end the season at 12-4 after winning their first 11 games. They close the season against the Colts and Browns, and if they don’t improve their current play I don’t know that I’d pick them to win either of those. You’ll notice that I didn’t say the Steelers could possibly finish 11-5, and that’s because they’re facing the Bengals this Monday. Cincy has scored 10 points per game over their last five, so I’m guessing they wouldn’t take offense to my assumption of their upcoming loss. But, of course, lately they haven’t taken offense to anything. I mean 10 points per game, come on!
Last week the Chargers played the Falcons in what should have been the most ridiculous game of the season. Instead it ended 20-17, the most common final score in NFL history. What a letdown. Like ascending a big lift hill on a roller coaster only to get to the top, have the track flatten out, and go directly back into the loading station. C’mon Chargers, I’m here for those radical drops! Gimme some thrills, some spills, and yes, maybe even a few chills. I’m a grown man, I can handle it! Perhaps I should look to the Raiders for my comical incompetence fix. After all, they’re a Jets blitz away from a 4 game losing streak in which they’ve surrendered 150 points. And again, one of those four teams was the Jets. See Chargers, this is the kind of thrill ride I’m talking about; not some 20-17 kiddie train. So let’s all take our motion sickness meds, safely store out hats and glasses, and strap in for a truly unpredictable game of football. And if you let me down again Chargers I’m going to stand outside the entrance to your queue and tell everybody not to go on you. And they’ll be able to tell just by looking at me that I know what I’m talking about.
It’s nice that Mitchell Trubisky is back as the Bears’ starting quarterback, because now we get that direct comparison between him and DeShaun Watson that all Chicago fans love so much. In case you’re not familiar with their relation to each other, the Bears unnecessarily traded up in the 2017 draft to take Trubisky at #2. Eight picks later Patrick Mahomes was taken by the Chiefs, and two picks after that DeShaun Watson was selected by the Texans. But really it’s not fair for Chicago fans to complain about missing out on a quarterback after all the greats they’ve had at that position over the years. Your Rex Grossmans, Jim Millers, and Kyle Ortons. It’s like, hey Bears, save some for the rest of us! Graciously, Chicago does seem to be saving some playoff room for the rest of the NFC, having now lost six in a row to fall to 9th place in the conference. Technically the Bears are still only a game out of the playoffs, but it feels like there’s little hope of them righting the ship now. Kind of like how Trubisky and Watson were technically drafted in close proximity, but the two players now seem worlds apart.
Dallas at Cincinnati
Andy Dalton returns to face his former team. All of his Bengals career I waited for him to paint black stripes into his orange hair, yet he never did it, callously depriving us of the one action that could make him exciting. However, maybe this is the perfect time for that dye job. Think about it: he goes out there, throws four picks and rips off his helmet to reveal his true stripes. That’s right, he was a double agent! Dalton’s still a true Bengal! The only problem is that Cincy was just as happy to lose their remaining games to improve their 2021 draft pick, so they’re not very grateful. If anything, they’re kind of pissed off. And his fellow Cowboys teammates certainly aren’t happy with him when he inevitably tries to trot back to the Dallas sideline with his (also striped) tail between his legs. So now Andy Dalton is a man without a home, cast adrift all so that he could look extremely cool (though they despised the act, both teams, and everyone watching, totally agree on how great of a visual it was). Was it worth it? Absolutely. And I say that as someone who is not Andy Dalton.
Kansas City at Miami
The Dolphins are presented with perhaps the steepest increase in competition imaginable, coming off wins over the Jets and Bengals only to run right into the Chiefs. It reminds me of a wrestler mowing through glorified jobbers in a Royal Rumble only for a main-eventer to walk through the curtain (best example is probably Austin and Hitman in ‘97). Don’t get me wrong, the Dolphins have been getting a solid push lately and they’re consistently fun to watch, but do they have what it takes to dump KC over the top rope? I doubt it. Then again, I’m not sure under what scenario I would pick against the Chiefs at this point. Maybe if it was clear that the crowd had gotten tired of them and the company wanted to shake up the title picture. But I don’t think that’s happened yet. Though there are no crowds, so it’s hard to tell.
Arizona at New York Giants
The Cardinals are at .500 now and if not for a couple of unlikely finishes, including a Hail Mary, they could easily be on a 6 game losing streak. Instead, they find themselves merely on the outside of the NFC playoff picture due to tiebreakers. Meanwhile, it appears the Giants are now in a two team race with Washington for the NFC East title. After a monumental Week 13, it’s no longer inconceivable that the division champ will make it to 8-8, which is probably good news for the NFL, but a real bummer for those of us that like silliness. Hopefully if they do end up at .500, they’ll at least lay some banana peels or marbles out on the field for their playoff game to allow for some madcap thrills and spills. I would imagine that Cards QB Kyler Murray will gladly do without any additional hazards on the field this week seeing as how he’s appeared a bit skittish since getting his shoulder banged up last month. His limited play makes it difficult to confidently pick the Cardinals, which I guess means that I’m also skittish. My word, we are one in the same. I now have no choice but to say Murray will win this game, for if I don’t what am I saying about myself?
Minnesota at Tampa Bay
The Buccaneers were among the final two teams in the league to have their bye last week, and I wonder what Tom Brady did with his time off. I’m guessing that he spent the entirety of it in a hyperbaric chamber, hooked up to an IV that supplied him with the nutrients necessary to keep his body and skin thriving. He emerged from the room in a cloud of vapor, fully nude and somewhat addled from what was a truly reckless amount of time to have spent in his h-chamber. In this mental fog he believed he had been unconscious for much longer than he really had and asked the first person he saw what year it was. Unfortunately for Brady, the first person he saw was local prankster Richie Mitchell who decided to seize the opportunity presented to him and have some fun with the clearly confused, and yes still nude, Super Bowl MVP. When Brady heard that it was the year 2065 and that football had ceased to exist he turned to the camera and said, “Well then, time for some ice cream ... hold the avocados.” Brady and Mitchell shared a good laugh before heading to the supermarket and purchasing a few pints of Ben & Jerry’s. They sat on the curb and pawed the ice cream into their mouths with their bare hands before going their separate ways. Eventually Brady returned to his house, still nude, and Giselle informed him that he’d been fooled. It’s a strange tale to be sure, but here’s the strangest part: Richie Mitchell’s a 65 year old man. Weird that he’d still go by Richie, right? You’d think he’d have switched to Richard when he became an adult. Though, if we know anything about Richie Mitchell by now, it’s that he never became an adult.
Denver at Carolina
Remember like 20 years ago when these teams played in the Super Bowl? Oh wait, that was 5 years ago! How many players are even left on these teams from that game? Checking now ... 3! And one of them is Von Miller, who is out for the season. So don’t expect this game to bear any resemblance to Super Bowl 50. And that’s a good thing, because SB50 was a bit of a snoozer. Though, if I’m honest, I don’t actually expect this game to be much more exciting. Especially since the winner won’t be the Super Bowl champion, they’ll be 5-8.
Tennessee at Jacksonville
The Jaguars have been very consistent lately. Just look at these last five losses: 27-25, 24-20, 27-3 (ok, forget that one), 27-25, and 27-24. As a prognosticator, I gotta appreciate a team whose final scores are almost always identical. And how much did the Titans beat Jacksonville by in their first match-up back in Week 2 you ask? Three points. This is just too easy! Is there even anything more to say? I don’t want to go on a jag, the score will tighten and eventually Jacksonville will lose. It’s as simple as that. Though that wasn’t very simple. It took me 10 minutes to figure out how to write that sentence, which is about 3 minutes longer than my normal pace. Just promise me you’re not going to go through this post, count the sentences, and do the math. I don’t want you to know how long this takes me; you’ll be disgusted.
Indianapolis at Las Vegas
We’re dealing with some major playoff implications here folks. The Raiders are scratching and clawing to remain afloat in the AFC wild card race, while the Colts have one of those wild cards in their back pocket, but could also find themselves as AFC South champs when all is said and done. “Maybe there’s a way we can both get what we want.” Philips Rivers will say to Derek Carr with a sly grin. “You let us win, we’ll go ahead and get first place in the AFC South, and then you won’t have to worry about us taking up one of those wild card spots. One less team to deal with!” Derek Carr will return that sly grin and nod his approval. After some thinking though, Carr will realize that losing this game won’t help their chances at all, even if Indy does win the South it just means that the Titans will be relegated to a wild card contender. What’s more, Vegas would fall to 7-6 and wind up in much worse shape. “No deal!” Carr will shout defiantly to Rivers. The only problem is it’s now the postgame handshakes and the Colts have already won. It took Carr 3+ hours to figure out the ruse.
New York Jets at Seattle
Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was (rightfully) fired by the Jets after calling an all out blitz at midfield with his team up 4 and :10 remaining against the Raiders in Week 13. It’s almost unthinkable that a coach would make that call in that situation. And that’s why I think it didn’t happen. I’m certain that that blitz was a directive from the front office. They saw the #1 pick in the 2021 draft slipping through their fingers so they took a drastic measure to ensure that it didn’t happen. The logistics are a bit tricky, but I’ll bet that team owner Woody Johnson hacked into the coaches’ comm line and called that blitz down to the defense while doing a very crude Gregg Williams impression. Middle linebacker Neville Hewitt wouldn’t have believed it, but when Johnson told him to “kill Derek Carr’s fucking head” he was sold. I mean who else but Gregg Williams would say something like that? Either way, Williams is gone now, and we’ll see if the Jets’ defense improves as a result. Even if they do though, Johnson will be ready to sabotage it all. Be sure that he’s been working on his Frank Bush impression all week.
Green Bay at Detroit
Last week was a big one for Lions coaches. First of all, Darrell Bevel got his first win ever as a head coach in a thrilling win over the Bears. Of course, Bevel is acting in an interim capacity, replacing Matt Patricia who (and here's the second of all) we found out had a burner account on Twitter, only for it to later be revealed to be a fake. Of course, we’ve seen burner accounts from athletes and coaches in the past, so the whole concept is no longer that outrageous, and this one was more than believable since no legitimate Lions fan would ever go out of his way to defend Matt Patricia. It's insult to injury for Patricia, he gets fired one day and then the next everyone's laughing at him for not even creating a twitter account to defend himself. Godspeed coach Patricia, I’ll always remember you as I saw you last; on Thanksgiving, wearing 2020’s largest sweatshirt.
New Orleans at Philadelphia
The Saints are just chugging away toward another 13-3 season, which would be their third in a row. When you throw in their 11-5 campaign the year before that, it’s been quite a run for New Orleans. Strangely though, their record over the first two weeks of the last four seasons combined is 3-5. In the remainder of those regular seasons they’ve gone 44-8. But then their playoff record over that span is 2-3. They’re like a freight train; take a while to get going, but they really move once they do; then they furiously crash before reaching their final destination. Hmm, is that not how freight trains work? I’ll be honest, I don’t know much about the shipping industry. But I do know that anything less than a Super Bowl run will be a failure for New Orleans. Speaking of failures, the Eagles are next on the schedule for the Saints. Carson Wentz has finally been benched, but at this point it may be too late to win the NFC East. That sentence alone should tell you that Philly’s season has gone so far off the rails you’d think it was a freight train.
Atlanta at Los Angeles Chargers
I had been waiting all year for this mess. The two most ridiculous teams in the league going at it in a cyclone of calamity. How many double digit leads would be blown? Would either team be able to get out of their own way long enough to actually win the game or would it inevitably end in a dumbfounding tie? But after the Chargers’ 45-0 loss to the Patriots last week I’m not too sure how fun it will actually be. Are the Chargers even capable of building a lead before blowing it? The real excitement of this game will be seeing whether or not Fox has updated their Justin Herbert cartoon to reflect his new haircut. The Chargers haven’t had a game broadcast by Fox since November 8th, ten days before Herbert got his infamous hair cut. Normally the Fox illustrations make these players look like superheroes, but I’m not sure how they could possibly manage that with Herbert and his current do. If anything he’ll probably look like Hank Hill. Which would make sense, because Fox can just pull that straight from their library.
Washington at San Francisco
After upsetting the undefeated Steelers on Monday, Washington has proven that they can beat anybody, as long as the team in question looks bored as hell. I’m not saying that Pittsburgh wasn’t trying, but they certainly looked lackadaisical. And it was likely their opponent who caused that blasé attitude. After all, Washington isn’t the most exciting team to watch, so perhaps they’re not the most exciting team to play either. And that’s exactly the key to what may be their playoff run: become so boring that no team gives you their best effort because they’re not enthused at the prospect of playing you. It’s a pretty ingenious gambit if you ask me. Like fighting someone in MMA by laying down on the mat and playing dead. Should I even punch this guy? That would be kind of messed up. Do I put him in a chokehold? It seems like he’s already asleep. This goes on for the bulk of three rounds until the last :10 seconds when they suddenly sweep your leg out and win the fight on the scorecards. There’s really no way you can beat them. Well other than just walking up and kicking them in the face repeatedly. But c’mon it’s just Washington, that would be mean. Oh no, my leg!
Pittsburgh at Buffalo
The Steelers are undefeated no more after a stunning loss to the Washington Football Team. Can they right the ship against the AFC East leading Bills? Only one man has the answer. His name is Cris Collinsworth, and we're going to hear from him right now.
Hey, you're undefeated in my book CriColl. Hang in there buddy.
Baltimore at Cleveland
Ravens wide receiver Dez Bryant was found to have tested positive for COVID shorty before kickoff of Baltimore’s game on Tuesday. He was pulled from the field, and the NFL said no other high-risk contacts were identified. Many fans aren’t buying this, believing that it’s merely the league pushing their schedule through come hell or high water. But those crying foul likely didn’t see Dez Bryant doing his pregame warm-ups in a full olde tyme scuba suit. He was originally doing it as a goof just to make his teammates laugh, but it turned out to be quite the effective safety measure. When his test came back positive they just sent him off the field in the suit. In fact, he was told not to take it off until he got home. He had to wear that thing in an Uber. Bryant’s travails are just the latest in a series of struggles for the Ravens this season. When Baltimore blew out Cleveland 38-6 in Week 1 it seemed like we had a good grasp on how things would go for both of these teams. The Ravens looked dominant again, and the Browns had confirmed that they were still the Browns. Now though, as we enter the rematch, Cleveland is 9-3 and two games ahead of Baltimore in the wild card standings. Anyone who’s even mildly familiar with the Browns is just waiting for the other shoe to drop and snuff out Cleveland’s playoff hopes. This would be the game where it starts. But if the Browns can get a win here there may be no denying them their first trip to the postseason in 18 years. Imagine that, there’s a kid in Cleveland legally smoking a cigarette right now who doesn’t even know what the playoffs are. But that has nothing to do with the Browns’ drought, he’s just too cool to care about sports. Didn’t I mention the cigarette?