First things first: Heres wishing all of you a safe and happy holiday season. This is a wonderful time of year to be with family and friends, so be sure to spend as much time as possible with your loved ones.
Now, lets get down to the business at hand.
In addition to sharing time with the family, opening gifts and enjoying plenty of good food, the Christmas weekend also brings with it a plethora of NFL games from Christmas Eve to the day after Christmas. NFL fans should find plenty of games to view while they are digesting their turkey or roast, and the one played between the Colts and Seahawks in Seattle could be a preview of Super Bowl 40, set for February in Detroit. It could also be the day the Colts quest for an undefeated season comes to an end.
But before we look at this weekends games, lets review last weeks record. A strong 7-1 week brought the season record to 88-52 (62 percent).
Now, lets take a look at this weekends schedule.
Jacksonville at Houston: Consultant Dan Reeves will get his first look of the Texans in their home surroundings with the playoff-bound Jaguars come calling on Christmas Eve. Owner Bob McNair dropped a bombshell on General Manager Charlie Casserly and head coach Dom Capers when he announced Reeves hiring to serve as a consultant on Dec. 12. There have to be some nervous folks in the front office wondering about their futures and dont be surprised if Casserly is the odd man out once the season is over. Reeves health concerns will probably preclude him from coaching again, but hes a solid football man and could help in the front office. Expect a strong effort from the Texans on Sunday as they perform in front of who could be their new boss in a few short weeks. The Jags know they need to win out to host a first-round playoff game, so look for them to give Houston a steady dose of a now-healthy Fred Taylor and Gregg Jones in this one. My pick, Jacksonville 23, Houston 21
San Diego at Kansas City: This one is a battle for survival between these two AFC West rivals. The winner keeps their Wild Card hopes alive, while the loser is virtually eliminated from the playoff hunt. The Chargers suffered an inexcusable loss to the lowly Dolphins at home two weeks ago as running back LaDanian Tomlinson never got the chance to get untracked. That makes two straight sub par games for the games best running back. The Chiefs, on the other hand, suffered a tough loss at Dallas in a game they controlled for most of the afternoon. This one should be a high-scoring affair as both teams can score via the ground or the air. Look for the Chiefs to pound Larry Johnson at the stout SD defense, while the Chargers will look to get Tomlinson untracked to open up the Drew Brees and the passing game. Remember, the Chiefs have won 17 straight home games in December, and like a buddy of mine once told me, never bet on a streak to end. My pick, Kansas City 38, San Diego 36
Atlanta at Tampa Bay: Isnt it funny how things always seem to work out for the NFL schedule makers? Another late-season game with playoff implications pits the Falcons against the first-place Bucs in a key NFC South match up. The Falcons know they must run the table to even have a shot at a Wild Card spot, let alone the division title, while the surprising Bucs can take control of the division race with a win over Michael Vick and Co. at home. Vick looked sharp in his teams 36-17 win over the Saints two weeks ago, but he suffered bruised ribs on a late hit late in that game. He should be OK, but if he cant go, thats bad news for Falcon fans. Tampa Bay is rolling again because rookie running back Cadillac Williams has found his second wind and is churning out the yards like he did earlier in the season when he rushed for more than 100 yards in his first four games. Look for plenty of Williams in this one as the Bucs get the job done and all but eliminate Atlanta from the playoff hunt. My pick, Tampa Bay 26, Atlanta 21
Minnesota at Baltimore: Talk about your reclamation projects! The Vikings were left for dead midway through the season and head coach Mike Tice was all but fired in Minneapolis, but six straight wins have put the Vikes back in not only the Wild Card race, but the race for the NFC North title. Dont expect them to let up this weekend against a Baltimore team that is a shadow of its former dominant self. Quarterback Brad Johnson has the Minnesota offense humming, while the defense is making playoffs and forcing turnovers. Thats bad news for a Ravens offense that is plain pathetic. Running back Jamal Lewis has apparently shut it down for the season, while quarterback Kyle Boller has yet to grasp the game at the NFL level four years in. My pick, Minnesota 32, Baltimore 16
Chicago at Green Bay: One of the NFLs fiercest and oldest rivalries renews in Green Bay this holiday weekend and look for the Packers to give the Bears all they can handle. Its been a long season for Green Bay and quarterback Brett Favre, but they would like nothing more than to spoil the Bears holiday weekend and make their quest for the NFC North title just a little bit more difficult. A loss here and the Bears would face a must-win situation at Minnesota the following weekend. Interesting. Look for the Pack to run Samkon Gado at the stout Bears defense to try to soften it up. If Green Bay has success running early, look for Favre to hit some key passes later in the game. The Bears defense is great, but its offense is not. Rookie quarterback Kyle Orton is not getting the job done and it is becoming do-or-die time for the Bears, so dont be surprised if Rex Grossman takes over if Orton continues to struggle. Something tells me Favre has one big game left in him this year, and it just might come this weekend against the Bears. My pick, Green Bay 20, Chicago 17
New York Giants at Washington: A huge battle in the NFC East as the first-place Giants take on a Redskins team that knows it must win out to have a chance at the playoffs. Playing this one at home is a big plus for the Redskins because New York quarterback Eli Manning has struggled on the road and this week, he will face one of the top defenses in the league. Look for the Skins to bring a lot of pressure from the outset to force Manning into making mistakes and turning over the football. Dont be surprised if the Giants turn to running back Tiki Barber early and often to take pressure off of Manning and to soften up the Washington defense. The Redskins will also pound their running back Clinton Portis, at the Giants as well in an attempt to make this a field position game. I think Washingtons defense will force Manning into a key turnover or two late in the game to pull out the win and keep their playoff hopes alive. My pick, Washington 24, New York 20
Dallas at Carolina: A key NFC tilt with playoff implications galore pits the Cowboys against the Panthers, with the winner probably assuring itself of a Wild Card slot with one game to go. The Cowboys ended their three-game losing streak two weeks ago with a thrilling 31-28 win at home against the Chiefs and this week they will take on a Carolina team that has given them fits over the last few years, especially in the playoffs. Dallas must have success running the football in this one, so look for head coach Bill Parcells to once again to split time with Julius Jones and Marion Barber III. Both played well in the KC game and the fresh legs paid off down the stretch. But the key for the Cowboys will be quarterback Drew Bledsoes ability to make plays in the passing game. He looked sharp against the Chiefs, so maybe hes regained the form he had earlier in the year when the Dallas offense was clicking. When the Panthers have the ball, look for them to give DeShon Foster plenty of carries and then attack the Pokes deep with speedy wide receiver Steve Smith. This could turn into a high-scoring game, so turnovers could decide the winner. My pick, Dallas 33, Carolina 31
Indianapolis at Seattle: From a playoff perspective, this game means little to either team. Both have wrapped up home field advantage in their respective conferences, but this game could be a preview of Super Bowl 40, so pride will be at stake. Theres also the matter of an undefeated season for the Colts, so expect head coach Tony Dungy to play his regulars a lot in this one until it is decided one way or the other. This will be a good test for the Indy defense as it goes up against a versatile Seattle offense that has one of the games top runners in Shaun Alexander (who is also going after Priest Holmes single-season touchdown record) and a competent passing game led by quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. The Colts have a pretty fair runner themselves in Edgrin James, and a great quarterback in Peyton Manning. This should be a fun game to watch with plenty of offensive fireworks. Like my buddy said, dont bet on a streak to end, which means the Colts ring up win No. 15 on Christmas Eve. My pick, Indianapolis 38, Seattle 29