WEEK 14; BELTWAY BOWL EDITION
First off, apologies for my absence last week, I was preparing to be a rock star (by playing fifa and watching yet another glorious Norwich City FC victory). Last week's news from Kansas was shocking, but it was good to see how Kansas dealt with it, and were rewarded with a win. Now we have another tragedy coming out of Dallas, as it appears Jerry Brown has been killed by a drink-driving team-mate. These are shocking events but football often heals wounds, though it will never bring back the fallen.
TV; SKY SPORTS, 6PM:
BALTIMORE RAVENS (9-3) @ WASHINGTON REDSKINS (6-6)
Usually this local-rivalry is played out with little significance, but then, not much is the same about the Redskins' this season. These two teams also had very different weekends; Baltimore are coming off a crushing last second loss to (the Charlie Batch led, no less) Pittsburgh Steelers putting them back to 9-3 along with the much more in form New England and Denver. Washington however executed perhaps their best performance of the season so far, practically shutting out their division rivals, The New York Giants. It's a massive match for both teams for different reasons; Baltimore will make the play-offs, they only need one win this season to do that, but losing the number 2 seed by way of division rivals AT HOME is simply not good enough (Baltimore hadn't lost at home in over 2 years, and never to a non-Ben Roethlisberger led team during his era) and the schedule ain't getting any easier. Next week's game against Denver was already BIG, but now its positively HUGE they're on the same record (and with Denver winning on thursday, even more so). After that, Baltimore close the season against the Giants and at the Bengals, so if Baltimore are going to get any sort of form going into the play-offs, it needs to begin today. Baltimore are a strange old-club too, no one at any point has tipped Baltimore for the Super-bowl despite being 2nd nearly all season; they win but don't look as convincing as Houston, New England or Denver. Baltimore have moments of greatness and madness equally, but what's most important is that they get the ball to the man pictured above. Teams still can't work out Ray Rice, and if making 4-and-29 isn't enough for him to get the ball on every single play, I don't know what is. All that's keeping me going right now is that Joe Flacco usually turns up around play-off time, but he needs to make himself known, starting today.
Meanwhile, in Washington, play-off aspirations have surged after a win that only puts them a game behind New York (NFL's equivalent to a six-pointer). For them to get in however, they need to win the division, and therefore, need to win every game left on the schedule. The Skins' have a much more forgiving schedule after today (@Cleveland, @Philly, Dallas) but they have to win today (or pray the Saints - pun intended - do them a favour) for any of that to matter. I think Baltimore will have been watching that Monday Night game very closely, playing both in the next two weeks, and should, should have the experience to just about see them through. But my, it will be close. (BAL by 3)
SKY SPORTS, 9:25PM;
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (5-7) @ NEW YORK GIANTS (7-5)
The Saints' aren't quite dead yet, but they sure took one hell of a beating ten days ago in Atlanta. They'll have had plenty of time to recover from that, but it's safe to say with all the other 6-6 teams in the NFC right now, New Orleans are on the ropes. A loss here would almost certainly end a strange season for them; dogged in pre-season controversy, going 0-5, and then suddenly remembering they are still the Saints, winning the next 5 of 6. Who knows what their chances are today though, because the Giants are so god-damn infuriatingly inconsistent, who knows how they will play. In the Giants' defence, December is generally when they turn on the heat, and after a frankly embarrassing loss to an altogether inferior division rival last week, today is big, particularly as their schedule doesn't get much easier (@Atlanta, who may have wrapped up the NFC by then, @Baltimore, and Philly at home). Last week Atlanta proved Brees' offence can be stuffed, and at times the Giants have looked like the best team in the league, but it's entirely up to them; no one can be complacent against the Saints. (NY by 7)
SUNDAY/MONDAY, 1:20AM, CHANNEL 4:
DETROIT LIONS (4-8) @ GREEN BAY PACKERS (8-4)
Didn't these guys play like, last week? Anyway, the Lions are done right? They keep nearly winning games, but then not winning games, it's kinda boring now. Whereas the Packers keep winning games and making their division look like it's not actually the footballing powerhouse everyone thought it was a few weeks ago when all four of them were at or above .500 half way through. (GB by 7)
MONDAY/TUESDAY, 1:30am, BBC RED BUTTON
HOUSTON TEXANS (11-1) @ NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (9-3)
I'm pretty certain the BBC paid for the rights for Monday night football just for this game alone (though last weeks was pretty entertaining too). Easily the game of the weekend, this is the one many are predicting as AFC Championship preview. Well, lots of people said that about when Houston played Chicago for the Superbowl, or Chicago against San Francisco for the NFC, and look at what's happened to those teams since then. Credit to Houston though, they've been phenomenal this year, they just better pray they don't end up against Green Bay at the big one (which is looking increasingly likely). New England however have just looked like New England. Every year they walk their pitiful division, they spend money to make sure Brady's got plenty of options, and the rest writes itself. Houston has been praised for its defence this year, but they've also been in their fair share of shoot-outs this year (including one at home to... Jacksonville?! wait what?) so this could very easily be another one of those. It's certainly got all the makings of the classic, with a lot of implications; If Houston win, they pretty much wrap up the AFC and New England fall off Baltimore and Denver's pace (who would then fight it out for the number 2 spot a week later), but if New England win, suddenly there's a lot of pressure on everyone; Houston would suddenly only be a game ahead of the pack (and are playing a hungry Indianapolis next week) AND the battle for the number 2 seed would go right down to the wire. (HOU by 3)
Atlanta (11-1) @ Carolina (3-9) - Better luck next year, Cam! (ATL by 7)
Tennessee (4-8) @ Indianapolis (8-4) - Better LUCK next YEAR, CY2K - geddit?! (IND by 7)
St. Louis (5-6-1) @ Buffalo (5-7) - Probably another tie.
San Diego (4-8) @ Pittsburgh (7-5) - Witness as San Diego go on another of their December hot streaks and make the playoffs at 8-8, displacing Pittsburgh in the process, giving Norv another year. (PIT by 7)
Philadelphia (3-9) @ Tampa Bay (6-6) - Bit mean making Philly play the rest of their games isn't it? Can't we just let them go home and start firing already? (TB by 7)
New York (5-7) @ Jacksonville (2-10) - The Jets are somehow still alive in the wild card race, watch as TEBOW MANIA distracts them and Chad Henne sneaks in the game's only touchdown. (JAX by 3)
Kansas City (2-10) @ Cleveland (4-8) - Emotional win for Kansas last week, but now they have to travel to a team showing some vague signs of football. (CLE by 4-5)
Dallas (6-6) @ Cincinnati (7-5) - Rare that I want Dallas to win, but it would take the pressure of Baltimore... nah, I can't bring myself to it, we'll do it ourselves. (CIN by 4-5)
Chicago (8-4) @ Minnesota (6-6) - What happened to these two? For a while there they were threatening to shut Green Bay out, now their struggling for survival. Chicago should have enough, but as long as Minnie have A.P, they have a chance. (Chi by 3)
Miami (5-7) @ San Francisco (8-3-1) - Poor Miami, for a second there they looked like they weren't going to just hand New England the division like every year, but then they lost some silly games and got exposed. Kaepernick will have no problem here. (SF by 3)
Arizona (4-8) @ Seattle (7-5) - Are Arizona really not going to win another game? Is going 4-0 and then losing 12 in a row some sort of record? Seattle are real and LOUD. (SEA by 7)
So that's it, ARE WE EXCITED?