Last week, I won the battle. But Rosenthal may win the . . . next battle.
Actually, he also will win the war.
Down by seven games entering Week 16, I closed the gap by two. His record was 7-9 and I was 9-7. Overall, he’s 156-84. I’m 151-89.
This week, with a five-game bulge, Rosenthal and I disagree on only three games. So he’ll win by at least two.
Unless we count the playoffs.
I’ll leave that one up to Rosenthal. And if he values his job as much as I think he does, I know what he’ll choose to do.
Dolphins at Patriots
Florio’s take: The Dolphins will play hard if they want to save coach Tony Sparano’s job. The Patriots will play hard if they want to save themselves from a butt-chewing by coach Bill Belichick. With equal motivation, we’ll opt for the superior talent.
Florio’s pick: Patriots 31, Dolphins 17.
Rosenthal’s take: We first got a good look at Matt Cassel in 2006, when Bill Belichick rested Tom Brady for most of a meaningless Week 17 game against Nick Saban’s Dolphins. That was the only time in his tenure Belichick truly sat Brady for most of a game. Look for the Patriots to play Brady enough this time to get a win.
Rosenthal’s pick: Patriots 27, Dolphins 20.
Buccaneers at Saints
Florio’s take: Even if they ultimately have to take the long road to the Super Bowl, the Saints have the drive and the skill to make a run at “Two Dat.” With the top seed available if the Falcons stumble to the Panthers, the Saints will leave no doubt against a Bucs team that will be a lot harder to beat next year.
Florio’s pick: Saints 28, Buccaneers 20.
Rosenthal’s take: The Bucs still haven’t beaten a winning team all year and the Saints still have hopes for a bye week when this game starts. I’m a little worried that they’ll see Atlanta leading 28-3 at halftime against Carolina and put Drew Brees on the bench, but not worried enough to pick the Bucs.
Rosenthal’s pick: Saints 31, Bucs 27.
Panthers at Falcons
Florio’s take: The Falcons may not be able to blow out the league’s good teams. But they can blow out the bad ones. Especially with home-field advantage hanging in the balance.
Florio’s pick: Falcons 41, Panthers.
Rosenthal’s take: Sorry Bears and Saints fans. Those of you hoping for a miracle from the Panthers Sunday haven’t watched enough Jimmy Clausen games. Forget rallying for John Fox or the magic of a division rivalry. Clausen has no answers for a competent defense, much less one as motivated as the Falcons.
Rosenthal’s pick: Falcons 31, Panthers 10.
Vikings at Lions
Florio’s take: The Vikings caught the Eagles flat-footed. The Lions are building momentum toward 2011, and the Vikings will get the best the Lions have. Right now, the Lions’ best is a little better than the Vikings’. In the battle for the basement in the black-and-blue division, the purple could be completing their slide from top to bottom.
Florio’s pick: Lions 24, Vikings 21.
Rosenthal’s take: Joe Webb provided hope, but I can’t shake the memory of Minnesota mailing in their two previous games. Detroit cares more about finishing third in the division, which should be enough in this battle of who could care less.
Rosenthal’s pick: Lions 23, Vikings 20.
Raiders at Chiefs
Florio’s take: Anyone who thinks this game is meaningless doesn’t understand the depth of the rivalry between the franchises. The Chiefs need to maintain momentum, and they’d love to atone for close loss in Oakland from earlier in the year. The Raiders are on their way, but they’re not yet ready to win at Arrowhead.
Florio’s pick: Chiefs 20, Raiders 13.
Rosenthal’s take: By losing last week, the Chargers ruined the suspense of a potentially classic Raiders-Chiefs game. Kansas City coach Todd Haley says he’ll play his starters and that’s what I’ll go on. If Dominic Rhodes can run down Oakland’s throats, Jamaal Charles should have a lot fun. Oakland’s undefeated division run stops here.
Rosenthal’s pick: Chiefs 27, Raiders 21
Bills at Jets
Florio’s take: For the Bills, the season finale is their Super Bowl. For the Jets, the Super Bowl is their White Whale. (Insert Rex Ryan non-foot fetish joke here.) Win or lose Sunday, the Jets are in the playoffs, most likely headed to Kansas City in the wild-card round. I’ll take the upset, though I’m not sure it’s really an upset if quarterback Mark Sanchez doesn’t play the entire game.
Florio’s pick: Bills 27, Jets 21.
Rosenthal’s take: This was a game a lot of Jets fans feared a few weeks ago. Now it means absolutely nothing. Despite last week’s debacle in Buffalo, the Bills should give the Jets a hard time even if Gang Green goes all out. I suspect there will be a Mark Brunell sighting far too early and a lot of empty seats by the fourth quarter.
Rosenthal’s pick: Bills 24, Jets 17.
Bengals at Ravens
Florio’s take: The Bengals are a better team without Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens on the field. They’re not good enough to sweep the Ravens for the second straight year, especially with the Ravens still having a shot at winning the AFC North.
Florio’s pick: Ravens 27, Bengals 17.
Rosenthal’s take: The Bengals are peaking at the wrong time. The last two weeks were a reminder they should have been so much better. The Ravens are peaking at the right time; their win over the Saints was the most complete victory all year and they backed it up last week in Cleveland. This game will be closer than anticipated, but Marvin Lewis’ squad should find a way to lose for old time’s sake.
Rosenthal’s pick: Ravens 27, Bengals 21.
Steelers at Browns
Florio’s take: Last year, the Browns beat the Steelers in Cleveland. This year, the Steelers need the victory to nail down the No. 2 seed in the AFC. If the Steelers can’t win with that kind of incentive, they’ve got no business being in the playoffs at all.
Florio’s pick: Steelers 28, Browns 13.
Rosenthal’s take: This matchup should scare the Steelers. The Browns are capable of beating anyone and still play hard for Eric Mangini. Translation: Take the points, but don’t take a struggling rookie quarterback against one of the best defenses in football.
Rosenthal’s pick: Steelers 19, Browns 16.
Jaguars at Texans
Florio’s take: The Jags won’t have quarterback David Garrard and they may not have running back Maurice Jones-Drew. The Texans may not have coach Gary Kubiak, if they finish with a loss on Sunday. The edge goes to the home team with the healthy quarterback and running back.
Florio’s pick: Texans 30, Jaguars 24.
Rosenthal’s take: It would be just like the Texans to play great in Week 17, just to remind their fans what could have been and support owner Bob McNair’s faith in Gary Kubiak. I was going to pick Houston when David Garrard and Maurice Jones-Drew were playing for Jacksonville. I’m definitely taking the Texans with Trent Edwards handing off to Rashad Jennings.
Rosenthal’s pick: Texans 34, Jaguars 23.
Cowboys at Eagles
Florio’s take: The Eagles were flat on Tuesday night with Mike Vick. With Mike Vick expected to miss Sunday’s game against the Cowboys, the NFC East champs likely won’t be any sharper. Jason Garrett makes a strong closing argument in an effort to make Jerry Jones mad as something less than hell.
Florio’s pick: Cowboys 23, Eagles 14.
Rosenthal’s take: The Wade Phillips Cowboys returned last week. Dallas lost a game because of turnovers, bone-headed decisions, and untimely defensive mistakes. Michael Vick may be sitting this one out, but Jon Kitna may as well. I’ll take Kevin Kolb over Stephen McGee.
Rosenthal’s pick: Eagles 23, Cowboys 20.
Giants at Redskins
Florio’s take: Even with a win, the Giants likely won’t be in the playoffs, for a second straight year. And it will mean that they haven’t won a single postseason game since Super Bowl XLII. And it could wash coach Tom Coughlin right out of town. If the players want him to stay, they’ll play hard against the Redskins. Even if a win may in the end mean nothing.
Florio’s pick: Giants 35, Redskins 20.
Rosenthal’s take: In 2006, Tom Coughlin led a slumping team into Washington in a similar Week 17 scenario. Tiki Barber ran wild and they snuck into the playoffs, setting up a date with the Eagles. Perhaps lighting can strike twice because this is a game the Giants should dominate up front on both sides of the ball.
Rosenthal’s pick: Giants 31, Redskins 17.
Chargers at Broncos
Florio’s take: Chargers owner Dean Spanos already has declared that coach Norv Turner and G.M. A.J. Smith are safe. So good luck getting a team which recently had high hopes and now has no hope to go all out to beat the Broncos, who hope to finish a nightmarish season on the highest possible note.
Florio’s pick: Broncos 27, Chargers 20.
Rosenthal’s take: Tim Tebow is converting believers, even in Vegas. The Broncos are only slight underdogs despite playing a much more talented team. Tebow can’t play defense and I just don’t trust this Broncos group to hold Philip Rivers under 35 points.
Rosenthal’s pick: Chargers 38, Broncos 28.
Cardinals at 49ers
Florio’s take: The Cardinals finished their season on a high note with a Christmas Night win over the Cowboys. The Niners hope to do the same on Sunday against the Cards. Despite their inability to win more than five of 15 games, the Niners have the ability to get one more before embarking on dramatic organizational changes.
Florio’s pick: 49ers 24, Cardinals 17.
Rosenthal’s take: If you choose to not watch one game this Sunday, this is it. It says a lot about the Cardinals that the 49ers are somehow favored by seven despite all their issues. It’s also depressing that folks in Arizona have started wondering if John Skelton could be a long-term solution at quarterback. (Let’s see him complete more than 50% of his passes first.)
Rosenthal’s pick: 49ers 16, Cardinals 13.
Bears at Packers
Florio’s take: The Bears are playing for nothing, the Packers are playing for everything. Even though the Bears say they’ll try to win, the Packers right now are the better team even if the Bears had their backs against the wall.
Florio’s pick: Packers 37, Bears 21.
Rosenthal’s take: With a week off guaranteed and no injuries, the Bears don’t have a huge reason to sit their guys. Just imagine how sweet it would be for the Bears (and bitter for the Packers) if Lovie Smith knocked out his biggest rivals despite not needing to. That’s why Chicago will try to beat Green Bay for four quarters, but come up just short.
Rosenthal’s pick: Packers 24, Bears 20.
Titans at Colts
Florio’s take: Several years ago, the Colts laid down for the Titans, so that Tennessee could make it to the playoffs. Whether or not it’s intended, look for Jeff Fisher to return the favor in what likely will be the last game of his 16-year tenure with the team.
Florio’s pick: Colts 31, Titans 19.
Rosenthal’s take: The Colts suddenly found a running game in Oakland, which should scare the hell out of the rest of the AFC. They are still short a receiver and a running back, but this is a proud conference champion that has figured out how to cover up their defensive injuries. The Titans don’t have the depth or speed to hang around in Indianapolis.
Rosenthal’s pick: Colts 34, Titans 21.
Rams at Seahawks
Florio’s take: When the Seahawks announced that Charlie Whitehurst would get the start at quarterback, this one became a no-brainer. Which likely means that Whitehurst will be benched and Matt Hasselbeck will pull a Willis Reed and the Seahawks will become the first 7-9 division champion in NFL history.
Florio’s pick: Seahawks 24, Rams 20.
Rosenthal’s take: The Seahawks are quarterback slumpbusters. Alex Smith had a career day against them. Josh Freeman was struggling until he threw five touchdowns against Seattle. As bad as Seattle’s offense looks – and they are one of the worst in the league – the defense is the bigger disappointment. There’s more talent there and it’s Pete Carroll’s side of the ball. The 12th man can only do so much.
Rosenthal’s pick: Rams 27, Seahawks 20.