Last Week: 8-8, clearly thrown off by the bizarre experience of getting a Christmas tree wearing shorts and flip flops. We're not in Michigan or Ohio anymore! Thursday Game: San Francisco (19) at San Diego (10): Alex Smith got the win a week ago in his return to the Niners helm, but it was the inspired blocking in front of him and strong running by Brian Westbrook that made the difference. My suspicion is that the Chargers soaked all that in and will be ready to make Alex Smith beat them. The odds on that happening are about the same as Keith Olbermann and Glenn Beck co-hosting the Oscars. Chargers cruise in front of a rare full house, 37-17. Sunday?s Best: Philadelphia (4) at New York Giants (5): This one tops my marquee viewing on what should be an exceptional Sunday slate of games. One of the biggest reasons for that is that I haven?t the foggiest on who will win. I could make compelling arguments in either direction, but nothing really stands out so much that the other team can?t counter-point it back to even. It?s at this point that I look to the outside world for help. Philly already beat New York once this week when Cliff Lee spurned the Yankees to go back to the Phillies for significantly less money. The Flyers sit in first place ahead of both New York teams, having won 4 in a row including a defeat of the mighty Penguins. Even the Sixers carry some momentum for Philly, having won 3 in a row for the first time all season and five of their last 6. They?re not up to par with the Knicks, but they?re surprisingly a better home team and have a win in Madison Square Garden in their favor to boot. My RealGM colleague Andrew Perna is normally a New Yawker with his sports, but he is a die-hard Eagles fan despite living in Giants territory. That?s a plethora of check marks for the City of Brotherly Love in the existential sporting world. Who am I to argue with all that circumstantial and completely irrelevant evidence? Eagles 29, Giants 28. New Orleans (3) at Baltimore (8): Three reasons I really like the Saints here, even on the road: 1. Houston ravaged the Baltimore defense when they went up-tempo in the second half. That?s how New Orleans plays the entire game. Baltimore doesn?t have the defensive depth or secondary acumen to hang. 2. Joe Flacco continues to wear that detached, bewildered look during crunch time against good teams. I don?t trust him to have the testicular fortitude to win the game if they need him to win the game. 3. The Saints have regained the confidence and aura of a champion that carried them to the Super Bowl title a year ago. Getting Reggie Bush back helps, but it?s their defense that has raised the level of play even though the 30+ points every week since Halloween get all the attention. New Orleans 30, Baltimore 24. Green Bay (11) at New England (1): I?m very interested to see how this injury-ravaged Packers team responds from their punchless effort in Detroit. Those that blame Matt Flynn for the loss ignore the fact that Aaron Rodgers had a QB rating in the low 40s before he left with a concussion. His return is questionable. The outcome of this game is not, even if Rodgers plays. The primary reason is the lack of a credible or viable running threat from Green Bay. It?s not just the long-ago loss of Ryan Grant either; this offensive line is one of the worst run blocking units in recent memory, particularly up the gut. Far too often the opposing defensive lines get easy penetration and push the point of contact backwards. The runners get little room to operate and no chance to build momentum. When you pair that with the lack of speed from Brandon Jackson and James Starks, it?s a death knell that makes their offense one dimensional. And nobody feasts upon one dimensionality that Bill Belichick. And on the occasions when the potent Green Bay passing game strikes, it still cannot compare to the incredible groove Tom Brady is in right now. His performance in the gusty snowstorm a week ago in Chicago is one of the five greatest QB performances I?ve ever seen. Consider that during warm-ups the punters from both teams could aim for one sideline and watch the ball blow across the field to the other side, and that the anemometer recorded gusts in the 50s during the game. It didn?t bother him one bit; he just took the shorter routes and put a little extra on the ball to get it to the longer routes. It could be windy in New England this weekend as well, and I?ll take Brady in the inclement weather over Green Bay?s more vertically-oriented passing game, even if Rodgers is back at full speed. Patriots 27, Packers 21. New York Jets (12) at Pittsburgh (6): Just what The Sanchize needs to rebuild his plummeting confidence--a nasty Steelers defense firing on all cylinders. Aside from all the fairly obvious reasons (home field, James Harrison & Troy Polamalu, Big Ben in the clutch), here?s another reason why I like the Steelers more than the average bear: the red zone. The Jets? offense continues to bomb in the red zone, with just one TD in their last 13 red zone trips. Pittsburgh actually ranks worse on the season (28th, the Jets are 26th), but the Pittsburgh defense ranks 5th--including 2nd over the last month. The Jets defense ranks 27th and that?s after a good performance a week ago. What does that mean? It means that to score on the Steelers, you need to hit big plays. I do not trust Mark Sanchez to hit Braylon Edwards or Santonio Holmes reliably, and the ability of those two to catch the ball is iffy at best. I think the Jets special teams can have a big impact, and that?s the one decided advantage pointing New York?s way. But to rely on special teams to win a game is a dicey proposition, just ask Browns fans about 2008-09. Steelers 20, Jets 12. Jacksonville (9) at Indianapolis (15): This is the de facto AFC South title game, and even though the game is in Indy there is little reason to favor the home team. The Colts run defense stinks, and the Jaguars have run for at least 200 yards in each of their last three games. Mo Jones-Drew has gone over 100 in each of his last 6 games. Jacksonville has confidence against the Colts, having beaten them earlier this year and generally faring better against Indy than any other team over the last few seasons. The Jacksonville defense front has picked up their play recently, with rookie Austen Lane coming on strong, whereas the Colts offensive line is an ongoing death spiral of weakness and ineptitude. So why are so many people, the bookies included, so bullish on the Colts? Indy is 5 point favorites at home for no appreciable reason other than people apparently still very strongly believe in the mystique of Peyton Manning. That mystique is no mistake, even with his well-chronicled relative struggles this season. I think we see the Colts exude the heart of a champion and somehow overcome all the disadvantages. Sorry for the clich? there--too much Sudafed. Anyways, I like the Colts to win on a late field goal, 31-28?for no apparent reason. Sunday Drive: Kansas City (13) at St. Louis (17): The battle of Missouri essentially comes down to Matt Cassel?s health. Brodie Croyle was simply dreadful at quarterback a week ago, and the lack of confidence his fellow Chiefs had in him was palpable. The Rams are good enough to win at home even if Cassel plays, but I?m not sure they are ready to do that just yet. I like what Sam Bradford has done with so little at the wideout position, but I don?t think he can overcome an early deficit against a talented KC secondary with the likes of Danny Amendola and Donnie Avery as his primary weapons. I think we?re going to see a strong rebound from Kansas City that focuses on running the ball and shortening the game. As of press time (Thursday 9AM CST) Cassel is still doubtful and has yet to don pads, so that leads me to take the Rams 20-17. If Cassel plays, all bets are off. Atlanta (2) at Seattle (23): If you are lucky enough to own Michael Turner in fantasy football, this is the week where he wins you a playoff game. The Seahawks have really struggled to stop the run lately with all their losses on the defensive front, most notably Red Bryant. Turner is white-hot, having over 650 yards and 10 TDs in his last 7 games, and he?s astonishingly healthy for a feature back this late in the year. It?s also a good week to have the Atlanta defense in your fantasy playoffs. Seattle?s wide receivers are decimated with injury, and Matt Hasselbeck has been more erratic and blind to linebackers dropping in coverage than normal. I continue to be impressed with the young Falcons safety tandem, and I like them to have a strong performance here. Falcons 26, Seahawks 10. Houston (18) at Tennessee (27): The Texans are in the midst of one of the most heart-wrenching seasons of any pro sports team in recent memory. They have trailed by at least 10 points in each of their last 5 games, only to come back and take a 4th quarter lead in four of those games. They have lost every single one of them. They have lost four games in a row in the final minute or overtime, including the Monday night game at home to Baltimore after rallying from 21 down to force overtime on a last-second TD and 2pt conversion. I think that loss took a huge toll on the psyche. Heading into that game, the Texans still firmly and honestly believed they could win out and sneak their way into the playoffs. Those hopes are dashed now, and the exasperation and resigned sense of another long winter wondering what might--or should--have been is visible on their sleeves now. They might very well surprise me, but I also like the revenge angle for the Titans, who are still not happy about the shutout in the first meeting. I don?t rightly know how they?ll pull it off, but I think the Titans are overdue for a strong performance. Tennessee 27, Houston 24. Sunday Bloody Sunday: Washington (25) at Dallas (21): Here?s a tale of two teams heading in opposite directions, thanks in no small part to the players? attitudes towards their respective coaches. Dallas is playing very well to try and save Jason Garrett?s job, while it appears several Redskins are trying to play their way out of Washington and serving under Mike Shanahan. I won?t publicly point fingers, but if you watch the game, you?ll probably have little trouble figuring it out. The Skins utter ineptitude on defense remains one of the most disappointing surprises of 2010, and it isn?t going to get any better in Dallas with nothing to play for. Cowboys 33, Redskins 17. Buffalo (28) at Miami (14): All the Jets fans are going berserk over their offensive ineptitude, but here?s a lonely voice that will give credit to the Dolphins defense. Cameron Wake & Co. played a very strong game, using all sorts of creative rushes and playing nicely off the solid coverage behind them. I like that defense to have another strong outing against a Buffalo team that struggled mightily against the Browns similar defense a week ago. Dolphins 24, Bills 10. Cleveland (20) at Cincinnati (31): All signs indicate that Colt McCoy will return to quarterback the Browns. His up-in-the-air status makes this one of those ?waffle? games. If McCoy plays, Cleveland rolls to a fairly easy (for them) victory over the hapless Bengals. But if Jake Delhomme starts, even a team that has quite obviously quit on itself like Cincy has a fighting chance. This forecast assumes McCoy will play, giving the Browns a 26-17 win in the battle of I-71. But if he doesn?t play, the clouds say the Bengals win. -- A quick note here about the passing of Bob Feller. The Cleveland Indians legend died at age 92 on Wednesday. I originally wrote a lengthy piece here on my meeting Mr. Feller, but I thought the better of it. No sense disparaging the deceased in this charitable holiday season of giving and happiness. So I?ll just say that sometimes it?s better to just not know the athletes we so revere and leave it at that. Rest in peace Rapid Robert, perhaps the best professional athlete Cleveland has known this side of Jim Brown. May your legacy be that of a patriotic fireballer that was able to get the Indians their last World Series title. Detroit (26) at Tampa Bay (16): All of Tampa?s injuries make this game a lot more intriguing than you would think for a Lions road game with Detroit starting its third-string QB. Detroit just beat Green Bay with an overwhelming dominance by the defensive front four, and the Bucs are without their two best offensive linemen. The Lions still have Calvin Johnson, perhaps the most dynamic wideout in the game today, and Tampa will sorely miss Aqib Talib to cover him. Still, it?s Detroit on the road with a third-string QB. The oddsmakers clearly share that bemused sentiment, installing the Bucs as 6 point favorites. That number has moved to as low as 4.5 on some books, which means the money is pouring in on Detroit. Think about that statement for a second with the circumstances of this game, and then run the other way. I actually think Detroit is going to win this game outright, but I?m picking the Bucs 23-17. Arizona (29) at Carolina (32): This one is for the draftniks and die-hards only. It seems like you could say that every week about Arizona, but what gives this special interest for the draftnik crowd is that the Cardinals have installed John Skelton as the starting QB for the remainder of the season. If he performs well (read: better than Derek Anderson), Arizona can forego spending their top 6 pick on a quarterback. The big rookie from Fordham flashed decent potential a week ago, smartly targeting Larry Fitzgerald more frequently. The stats weren?t great (15-for-37) but he avoided the mindless errors that make up the Derek Anderson Experience. But the big reason why I like the Cardinals here is the revival of their defense. They hounded and pounded a pretty solid Denver offense into a miserable performance. Now they draw Jimmy Clausen and the Panthers, who rank near the bottom of almost every offensive stat you can think of. The Cardinals have a nasty tendency to not show up, but even their ?B? game should be good enough here. Cardinals 20, Panthers 10. Denver (30) at Oakland (24): Denver?s offense has left the building, which means they stand little chance considering their wretched defense. Oakland should run all over, around, and through the Denver D. Earlier in the season I would have trusted Kyle Orton and the Denver offense to hold serve, but since they?ve gotten better at running the ball they?ve gotten worse at scoring. It is strange minutiae like that which makes coaches?, not to mention analysts?, heads spin. Raiders 28, Broncos 12. Monday Nighter: Chicago (7) at Minnesota (22): The Metrodome malfunction means this game will be played outdoors, at night, at the University of Minnesota?s stadium. The average temperature at 9 PM in Minneapolis for December 20? Try 18 degrees. The early forecast for this one is considerably colder, as the predicted high for the day is 10. That means game time will be in the single digits with the typical 10-15 MPH relentless breeze that will put the wind chill around -10. Honestly, who is really going to sit through a game that means nothing to the home team in that kind of weather? Will the shirtless chest-painters with the horned helmets and faux braids really bring their typical level of enthusiasm? Will anyone really want to freeze to see Joe Webb backed up by Patrick Ramsey? For the ignorant (not an insult), those two represent the Minnesota depth chart at quarterback for this game. Chicago needs a strong showing in bad weather, and the team and coaches are acutely aware of that. I think they come out inspired and roll to a 24-10 road win that all but wraps up the NFC North for the Chicago Bears. Going Bowling! New Mexico Bowl: UTEP 39, BYU 30 Humanitarian Bowl: Fresno State 20, Northern Illinois 17 New Orleans Bowl, a.k.a. the only one of these played before Xmas that I really care about: Ohio University Bobcats 24, Troy 20, giving the Bobcats their first bowl victory! Beef O?Brady?s Bowl: Southern Miss 26, Louisville 24 MAACO Bowl, which is worth your attention next Wednesday: Boise State 40, Utah 27