Contenders gearing up for post season play

With two weeks left in the NFL regular season, it’s time for the playoff teams to step to the forefront.

Teams who are seriously thinking about a date in New Orleans and the Super Bowl will begin polishing their acts as the season winds down.

This week’s schedule features a number of games which pit the haves against the have-nots, but before we take a look at what’s on tap, let’s review last week’s record.

A 5-3 week brought the season record to 110-43 (71 percent). With that bit of house-cleaning out of the way, let’s take a look at this week’s games.

Baltimore at Tampa Bay: The Ravens are still smarting after the spanking they received at home at the hands of the Steelers two weeks ago, while Tampa Bay is just plain smarting from the smacking they took at the hands of the Bears. Neither team will be in a good mood, but the Ravens are playing for a Wild Card spot, while the Bucs are simply playing out the string. Expect another defensive dominated game when these two tangle. Neither team has much of an offense and both quarterbacks are turnover prone, so don’t be surprised if a defensive score decides the outcome of this one. My pick, Baltimore 16, Tampa Bay 10

Indianapolis at St. Louis: While they’ll be playing it close to the vest in Tampa, the ball will be flying all over the field when the Colts and Rams hook up in St. Louis. These are two of the top offenses in the league with two of the best quarterbacks, so this one should be a treat to watch. Indianapolis ended its five-game losing streak by putting 41 points on Atlanta two weeks ago, but don’t expect Peyton Manning and Co. to have that sort of scoring success against a very good Rams defense. The Rams can play a little offenses of their own with Kurt Warner at the helm of perhaps the league’s most dangerous and versatile offense. Expect a big day from Warner and tailback Marshall Faulk as the Rams rev up their engine for the playoffs against a very suspect Indy defense. The calculator will be working overtime adding up all the yards and points that will be scored in this one. My pick, St. Louis 41, Indianapolis 32

New York Giants at Philadelphia: The Giants kept their faint playoff hopes alive with a win over Arizona two weeks ago that saw the New York faithful boo quarterback Kerry Collins throughout the game for his ineffective performance. Collins did rally the troops for a last second victory, but he’ll have to perform at a much higher level this week when the Giants visit the surging Eagles. Philadelphia all but locked up the NEC East title (which the Giants won a year ago) with their 20-6 win over the Redskins two weeks ago and you can be sure Donovan McNabb and the boys would like nothing more than to eliminate their rivals from Gotham City this Sunday. Look for McNabb to go to the air early to soften up the Giants strong pass rush. He may even go deep on the first play to set the tone for this one. The key, though, will be the Eagles defense, which should apply plenty of pressure on Collins and force a handful of turnovers and sacks. My pick, Philadelphia 23, NY Giants 13

Minnesota at Green Bay: The Packers will have revenge on their minds when the Vikings come calling at Lambeau Field this weekend. The Packers know they need to take care of business after dropping a 26-20 decision to the Titans two weeks ago. That loss allowed Chicago to take over first place in the NEC Central, although the Packers should still be in good position to land a playoff spot. These two teams have played some classic games over the years and with Minnesota wide receiver Randy Moss finally stepping up his game, the Packers can’t take anything for granted this week. Moss should see plenty of double teams from the Packers, which might allow Cris Carter to have a big day. Look for GB’s Brett Favre to attack the weak Minnesota secondary from the out start as the Packers outscore the Vikes in this one. My pick, Green Bay 34, Minnesota 31

San Francisco at Dallas: The 49ers proved they can play a little defense when they shutout the Dolphins two weeks ago and this week they take on a Dallas team that looked horrible on offense two weeks ago in a 29-3 loss to Seattle. The 49ers should have little trouble in this one, especially considering the fact that they are also closing in on the playoffs. Look for the 49ers to run Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow at the worn down Dallas front seven, which will give quarterback Jeff Garcia time to set up the passing game. Terrell Owens has been quiet the last few games, so look for him to breakout against a Dallas team that he scored twice against a year ago.

Dallas will try to get Emmitt Smith untracked, but that might be asking a lot against the 49ers speedy front seven. This one could get ugly if Quincy Carter plays like he did against the Seahawks. My pick, San Francisco 30, Dallas 14

Washington at New Orleans: New Orleans is another team that needs every win it can get if it hopes to return to the playoffs and with a Washington team that is virtually eliminated from the playoffs coming to town, this might be just what the doctor ordered. New Orleans quarterback Aaron Brooks loves to throw deep and expect him to go after the ‘Skins’ shaky pass coverage. Should he have success early, Saints running back Ricky Williams could have a big day. The Washington offense will have its hands full against one of the league’s best defenses and with fumble-prone Tony Banks at quarterback, the Saints have to be licking their chops in anticipation of scooping up one of Banks’ mistakes and heading goal ward. My pick, New Orleans 27, Washington 16

Cleveland at Tennessee: The Browns won’t have to dodge beer bottles this weekend since they will be playing at Tennessee (nice fans, Cleveland! !!), but they will have to dodge quarterback Steve McNair and the Titans’ new found aerial circus. It used to be that the Titans beat you with a power running game, but with Eddie George ailing all season, McNair has been called on to carry the team with his strong right arm and he’s done an admirable job. Tennessee knows it must win out and get help from others to return to the playoffs, so expect them to come out blazing against a Browns team that is wearing down. This might even be a good time for George to get his first 100 yard rushing game of the season. My pick, Tennessee 26, Cleveland 12

Oakland at Denver: Two teams heading in opposite directions hook up in the Mile High City on Sunday. The Raiders have already won the AFC West title, so now they are working on home field advantage throughout the playoffs. They will take on a Denver team that has been decimated with injuries and add to the fact that head coach Mike Shanahan might be interested in the Notre Dame job and you have the perfect recipe for a blow out by the Raiders. The one thing that might prevent that is the fact that this is one of the most heated rivalries in the NFL. These two teams hate one another, there’s no other way to put it. Look for the Broncos to put forth their best effort, but in the end, the passing of Rich Gannon will be the difference as the Raiders lock up another win. My pick, Oakland 33, Denver 27