Tied after 13 weeks and down by three games after 14, I decided that it was time to start swinging for a knockout in the Florio-Rosenthal head-to-head picks contest.
And I likely have been knocked out.
A poor 7-9 showing now has placed me seven games behind Rosenthal, who went 11-5 last week. For the year, he’s 149-75 and I’m 142-82.
Panthers at Steelers
Florio’s take: The Steelers defense isn’t good with safety Troy Polamalu injured. The Panthers aren’t good, period. The Steelers need a win to stay on course for the AFC North crown. The Panthers need a loss to stay on course for the first pick in the draft. For one Thursday night in December, there will be hardly any complaints that Time Warner doesn’t carry NFL Network.
Florio’s pick: Steelers 17, Panthers 6.
Rosenthal’s take: Jimmy Clausen helped the Panthers win last week in an effort to avoid the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft. Unfortunately, that act of self-preservation won’t be enough because the Bengals also won. The Panthers have road games in Pittsburgh and Atlanta to close the season, so we may as well start the Clausen-Andrew Luck camp battle talk now.
Rosenthal’s pick: Steelers 31, Panthers 10.
Cowboys at Cardinals
Florio’s take: The Cowboys consistently generate ratings points. Perhaps their biggest test ever will come on Christmas Night, when folks will be required to seek out NFLN to watch the ‘Boys beat up on the Cardinals in a meaningless game. The only reason to watch the game could be that it’s one of the last chances to root for or against the Cowboys in a long, long time.
Florio’s pick: Cowboys 33, Cardinals 14.
Rosenthal’s take: In theory, football on Christmas should be awesome. Last year’s Chargers-Titans game was over before halftime. Cardinals-Cowboys was over when Arizona announced John Skelton was going to start at quarterback. Rich, Deion, Marshall, and Mariucci deserve combat pay for working this game on a holiday. (And the rest of us deserve a mute button with Millen and Theismann on the call.)
Rosenthal’s pick: Cowboys 27, Cardinals 17.
Lions at Dolphins
Florio’s take: The Dolphins have won one home game all year. The Lions have won one road game in three years. Though the Lions won’t be easily knocked out, the Dolphins had better deliver, or Tony Sparano could be hitting the road, permanently.
Florio’s pick: Dolphins 24, Lions 10.
Rosenthal’s take: I was proud of picking the Lions to end their long road losing streak last week. Then I realized I predicted they’d end their road losing streak about four times this year. Look for the Lions to start another streak with injuries aplenty at quarterback. Even though the Dolphins never win at home, their defense is the best unit in this game.
Rosenthal’s pick: Dolphins 19, Lions 14.
Ravens at Browns
Florio’s take: After playing five road postseason games in two years, the Ravens have a realistic shot at a bye week and at least one home game in January. The Browns are playing only for pride — and for coach Eric Mangini’s job.
Florio’s pick: Ravens 20, Browns 16.
Rosenthal’s take: The Browns suddenly got soft the last two weeks, giving up 380 rushing yards to the Bills and Bengals, just as Peyton Hillis started slumping. Meanwhile, Ray Rice is coming off his best game of the season. This is a dangerous spot for Baltimore, but Rice will be the difference.
Rosenthal’s pick: Ravens 23, Browns 20.
Patriots at Bills
Florio’s take: The Patriots received a timely wake-up call against the Packers, and that’s bad news for the Bills, who shrugged off losses long enough to start winning. This week, with the Pats having the top seed in the AFC playoff field in reach and with coach Bill Belichick’s shoe up their rears after nearly losing at home, it will take a Herculean effort for the Bills to knock off New England.
Florio’s pick: Patriots 31, Bills 13.
Rosenthal’s take: Bill Belichick called Fred Jackson one of the best running backs in the league. Jackson is certainly one of the league’s most underrated players, and he’s part of an offense that has solid pieces to build upon. The Bills defense, while improving, has a long way to go before it can keep up with Tom Brady hunting for a playoff bye.
Rosenthal’s pick: Patriots 37, Bills 29.
Redskins at Jaguars
Florio’s take: The Jags remain in the hunt for a playoff berth. The Redskins remain in the hunt for a long-term answer at quarterback. Advantage, Jacksonville. (And, in turn, advantage Washington.)
Florio’s pick: Jaguars 27, Redskins 20.
Rosenthal’s take: Before crowning Rex Grossman, consider that he turned the ball over three times last week. The Redskins didn’t wake up until they were down 20 points in the second half against an immature Cowboys team. Grossman played like he always does: Just well enough to get you beat. The Jaguars will avoid a let-down.
Rosenthal’s pick: Jaguars 30, Redskins 24.
Jets at Bears
Florio’s take: Though the Bears have won the NFC North, they need to keep winning in order to lock up a bye. The Jets need to keep winning in order to make the playoffs. New York got lucky in Pittsburgh, since safety Troy Polamalu was injured. Their luck runs out in Chicago.
Florio’s pick: Bears 20, Jets 17.
Rosenthal’s take: The latest Jets drama could inspire Rex Ryan’s players to rally around him. Someone (“The Media”) messed with their coach’s family and they will want to respond. Or maybe football is just about which players are better and all this psychobabble is a distraction because X’s and O’s are too confusing. I’ll take the Jets, even though this game really means more to the Bears.
Rosenthal’s pick: Jets 20, Bears 16.
Titans at Chiefs
Florio’s take: The Chiefs need to win their last two games to hold off the Chargers. Both games will be played at home. Unless Matt Cassel’s other appendix goes bad, the Chiefs should be fine.
Florio’s pick: Chiefs 24, Titans 14.
Rosenthal’s take: In a topsy-turvy season, the Chiefs are refreshingly predictable. They win at home, and they lose on the road against halfway decent teams. Now they only need to win two more home games to make the playoffs. Calling the Titans “halfway decent” at this stage would be charitable.
Rosenthal’s pick: Chiefs 24, Titans 14.
49ers at Rams
Florio’s take: Somehow, the 5-9 49ers still have a not-so-unrealistic shot at winning the NFC West crown. To do so, however, they’ve first got to beat the Rams in St. Louis. Though the smell of success seems to be causing the Rams to gag, they should be able to finally knock out San Fran, which then will allow the Rams to focus on Seattle.
Florio’s pick: Rams 21, 49ers 17.
Rosenthal’s take: This game will quietly decide the NFC West champion. I have no faith that the Seahawks will win another game, and the 49ers close with the Cardinals next week. It sounds gross, but the 49ers are playing the best ball in the division. (5-4 since their slow start.) Sam Bradford is finally starting to look like a rookie, with no touchdowns and five interceptions in his last 3 starts.
Rosenthal’s pick: 49ers 22, Rams 17.
Colts at Raiders
Florio’s take: It’s easy to assume that the Colts are back, after winning two in a row and pulling even with the Jaguars. But with Austin Collie out and with Reggie Wayne neutralized by Nnamdi Asomugha and the Colts sporting a fairly weak rushing attack, the silver and black could put a perpetual look of frustration back on Peyton Manning’s face.
Florio’s pick: Raiders 24, Colts 23.
Rosenthal’s take: The Colts rush defense is coming off their most impressive defensive effort of the year. They will have to be even better this week. This is the key game for the Colts if they want to win the AFC South. (The Colts should be able to take care of Tennessee next week.) Indy’s small, battered defense will wear down against Darren McFadden and Michael Bush.
Rosenthal’s pick: Raiders 26, Colts 24.
Chargers at Bengals
Florio’s take: Coach Marvin Lewis finally has admitted that receiver Chad Ochocinco gets “mopey” when things don’t go well. He’ll be moping plenty on Sunday. (And the rest of us would have been moping if the game hadn’t been flexed out of prime time.)
Florio’s pick: Chargers 34, Bengals 17.
Rosenthal’s take: The Bengals are pretty good for a 3-11 team. Let’s not get carried away, though: They should be 5-9. The defense has been the biggest disappointment. Two great cornerbacks don’t help much when the safeties and extra corners are terrible. That weakness will really show up against a deep Chargers receiver group.
Rosenthal’s pick: Chargers 34, Bengals 21.
Texans at Broncos
Florio’s take: Tim Tebow gets a crack at a weak defense. But the gap between the Houston offense and the Denver defense is too big for Tebow to overcome.
Florio’s pick: Texans 27, Broncos 20.
Rosenthal’s take: With apologies to the Redskins, this is a battle of the two worst defenses in football. The Broncos were insanely conservative with Tim Tebow last week, calling 33 runs to 16 passes in a losing effort. He’ll have throw more this week because the Broncos defense is going to give up 35+ points again.
Rosenthal’s pick: Texans 38, Broncos 34.
Giants at Packers
Florio’s take: Though it’s not quite a playoff game, the outcome will be the same for the loser. The Giants hope to recover from an epic loss, and the Packers hope to salvage a season that has been slipping through their fingers. Sure, the Giants won the last time these two met in a real playoff game at Lambeau Field. This time around, it’s hard not to take the home team, especially with Aaron Rodgers back.
Florio’s pick: Packers 27, Giants 24.
Rosenthal’s take: It doesn’t get any better than this in Week 16. Both teams have the talent to make a Super Bowl run, but the loser will likely watch the playoffs from home. I’m confident the Giants will respond to last week’s collapse and their front four is going to give Green Bay’s line problems. With that said, Green Bay’s underrated defense can force Eli Manning into mistakes. I’ll take the better quarterback, playing at home, in a nail-biter.
Rosenthal’s pick: Packers 30, Giants 27.
Seahawks at Buccaneers
Florio’s take: The Seahawks are very much alive for a postseason berth; the Bucs’ chances are fading but still plausible. Though Tampa blew their chance to gain ground on the Giants and Packers with an overtime loss to the Lions, look for the Bucs to get it together and to put a serious dent in Seattle’s playoff hopes.
Florio’s pick: Bucs 31, Seahawks 13.
Rosenthal’s take: These are two teams playing their worst at the wrong time. For the Seahawks, it’s a lack of talent except on special teams. They have a 4-8 roster that has overachieved. For the Bucs, their youth and injuries have exposed their depth. You can only win so many close games against sub-par competition. Well, actually you can win one more.
Rosenthal’s pick: Bucs 21, Seahawks 17.
Vikings at Eagles
Florio’s take: Will Brett Favre play? Will he not play? Will it matter? The key question is the last question, and the answer to the last question is no.
Florio’s pick: Eagles 28, Vikings 13.
Rosenthal’s take: The Vikings are getting a surprising pass for mailing it in the last two weeks. A team with this much talent shouldn’t lose by a combined score of 61-17 in two games, no matter who is at quarterback. The way Michael Vick is playing, that could be the score Sunday night.
Rosenthal’s pick: Eagles 42, Vikings 17.
Saints at Falcons
Florio’s take: The supposed NFC South showdown becomes moot if the Falcons can beat the Panthers at home on January 2. And if the Falcons can’t beat the Panthers at home on January 2, the Falcons have no business winning the NFC South. Still, look for the Saints to try to prove to themselves and the Falcons and everyone else that the defending champs still have the chops to play with the best teams in the league.
Florio’s pick: Saints 24, Falcons 21.
Rosenthal’s take: This is an underrated rivalry even in down years. Atlanta should win the division regardless of what happens Monday, but they’d love to clinch homefield a week earlier. The Saints would love to avoid heading into their season finale needing a win to get in the playoffs. Don’t be surprised if these teams meet again in the playoffs. That one will be the rubber match after the Saints get a signature win in the Georgia Dome.
Rosenthal’s pick: Saints 28, Falcons 27.