Last Week: 9-7, pushing the season forecast to 117-75 if my math is correct. I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas filled with good food, good family, and good football. Thursday Game Carolina (32) at Pittsburgh (8): Thursday night games are typically a dilemma of ?Do I watch? or not. With all the holiday festivities going on, I encourage everyone to pass on this one. Finish your shopping, wrap those gifts, bake some cookies, send out Xmas cards online, do pretty much anything except waste your time watching this yawner of a game. The Steelers get to rest Troy Polamalu without consequence, though the Panthers will have some success running the ball. Pittsburgh 24, Carolina 10. Christmas Tidings: Dallas (18) at Arizona (30): I?m appreciative of the NFL for giving us a football game on Christmas, but Dallas at Arizona isn?t exactly must-see football. Now that Dallas finally put Tony Romo on IR, there is no suspense here. Jon Kitna vs. John Skelton is your QB matchup, and that greatly simplifies the prediction process here. Dallas has a viable NFL quarterback, Arizona does not. Cowboys 30, Cardinals 15. Sunday: New York Jets (9) at Chicago (4): I?m really looking forward to seeing how The Sanchize handles the strong Bears defense in what could be very nasty weather. He?s had some issues with linebackers dropping into coverage, and with the way the Chicago front four is playing lately, Sanchez will be under more pressure than he is most of the time. Inclement conditions continue to be a problem for the SoCal kid, even with a nice game last week. It?s pretty much all on Sanchez, because the rest of the game sure looks like a push. I think the Jets will win the running battle, but the Bears will win the special teams and field position battle. If Sanchez can control the turnovers and hit on a couple of big plays--which I do think Jay Cutler will be able to do here against the Jets defense--then New York is in good shape to pull off the road win. But in the snow and cold, I still don?t trust The Sanchize until proven otherwise. Chicago is also hungry for a marquee win against a starting quarterback. One of the flukiest stats of the year has to be Chicago and opposing QBs; the Bears are 6-0 against replacement/backup QBs, and that doesn?t count Monday night over Joe Webb or the opener against the Lions, games where starters didn?t make halftime. In case you?re wondering, 40-year old Mark Brunell backs up Sanchez?Chicago 21, New York 17. New York Giants at Green Bay: Getting Aaron Rodgers back is a welcome sight for Cheesehead eyes. Even though Matt Flynn was largely impressive in relief, Rodgers opens up the downfield playbook and inspires confidence in the troops. Even with Rodgers back though, I think this one belongs to the Giants. A team coming off a devastating loss like what New York had last weekend can react one of two ways. They can either wallow in defeatist self-pity, or they can pull together and fight to make sure it never happens again. This Giants team is going to fight. Don?t forget they had earned that huge lead they pissed away, and they can do the same sorts of things against Green Bay that built them that lead over Philly. Eli Manning can find the holes in coverage, and I think another week will really help Hakeem Nicks regain more explosiveness down the field. But the #1 advantage in this game is the Giants defensive front against the Packers offensive line. New York has dispatched several QBs to the sidelines already this season, and quite frankly I?m more than a little concerned about Aaron Rodgers? well-being against this dynamic rush. Is it really worth the risk of a career-ending 3rd concussion? Packers fans hungry for the playoffs might think so right now, but when Rodgers gets carted off and might never return a la Al Toon or Merrill Hoge (both had three concussions in one season and never returned), their tune will change. Giants 27, Packers 21. San Francisco at St. Louis: The 5-9 San Francisco 49ers are in great shape to win the NFC West if they win here. That the preceding statement is not a fabrication is about all you need to know about this strange NFL season. Mercifully, I doubt the Niners make it. The Rams have been one of the few consistent teams all year; they win games they are supposed to win. St. Louis is favored here thanks to Steven Jackson and a defensive front that quietly does a very solid job. They also have a huge coaching advantage. Niners players were openly wondering if Mike Singletary was aware of the concept of creating an actual game plan, while Steve Spagnuolo continues to craft play calls to his team?s strengths and what they have confidence in for the Rams. That coaching edge is the biggest reason to take the Rams here, but I also think this game is a great illustration of the ?intangibles? involved with a #1 overall quarterback. Alex Smith and Sam Bradford are physically and athletically quite similar. But where Smith has never earned the confidence of his coaches or teammates despite repeated efforts, Bradford assumed complete control and trust from Day One. Guys just want to play hard for him and follow him to battle, while Smith has never engendered that kind of loyalty or support. It?s not the arm, it?s not the legs, it?s not the words--it?s all about the aura. Like dogs, NFL players can sense the alpha male that can make their pack the best pack. Bradford has that aura, and it will show in a St. Louis 27-17 win. Indianapolis at Oakland: This strikes me as one of those games where the world is going to pick the Colts almost mindlessly. That strikes me as a mistake. I?m feeling the Raiders in this one. No, I?m not drunk, though I did drop $80 at Specs (a great wine/liquor store chain here in Houston) this week. I think Oakland matches up quite nicely with the Colts. Darren McFadden is a huge problem for Indy?s defense, but so is Jacoby Ford, and the Raiders do a good job getting him the ball on reverses and quick screens, letting him get into open space and fly. Matt Shaughnessy and the Raiders defense are very underrated at pressuring the QB and disrupting timing on passing routes. I?m not sold that Donald Brown and the Colts running game will find success like they did last week, and Oakland?s speedy secondary is a whole lot better when they don?t have to worry about the run. The field itself favors the Raiders too; it?s been wet in Northern California and the temp should be in the 50s, not exactly Colts weather or conditions. Raiders pull the stunner, 30-27. Minnesota at Philadelphia: Based on what we saw Monday night, it?s pretty safe to say that a.) Brett Favre is done, and b.) Joe Webb will not be his successor as QB of the Vikings once the season is over. Just thinking out loud here, but erstwhile Eagles starter Kevin Kolb sure has to look mighty attractive to the Vikings this offseason. It?s kind of sad that our last memory of Brett Favre will be him looking dazed and beaten in the frozen tundra of Minnesota. I wonder just how badly he tarnished his legacy by playing too long. In four of his final six seasons, Favre was not even an average starter, although in the other two he was largely fantastic. I wonder how many people see him as a stat-padding INT machine that couldn?t get enough attention to satisfy his own childish ego. I hate that I even have to ask that. It reminds me of some other greats that overplayed their usefulness. I remember Dave Winfield unable to catch up to an 86 MPH fastball at the end as much as I remember his incredible arm or great power in his prime. I remember Franco Harris running into his own blockers over and over again in Seattle as much as I remember his Pittsburgh glory days. I remember Patrick Ewing physically unable to do anything except foul or travel in his last five years as much as I recall his Knicks and Georgetown heydays. I hope that someday I will remember Favre as the boyish gunslinger that got Green Bay to Super Bowls, but I doubt I will ever be able to wash away the stain of the coda to his career. Philly 34, Minnesota 12. New England at Buffalo: One of the popular parlor games for fans of teams that are out of it by now is to play the ?who should we draft? game. As someone who derives income from the draft process, I encourage more of this. Bills fans have already been peppering my inbox and populating message boards with their ideas for their team, and what I like is that they seem to really have a realistic view of their team. And they almost unanimously agree that the Buffalo Bills do not need a quarterback. I agree wholeheartedly. Ryan Fitzpatrick has grown into a very respectable starting QB this season, taking control of a ragtag offense and making the Bills a lot more competitive than just about anyone expected. Trust me, the Patriots know this. Even though they?ve basically locked up the #1 seed in the AFC already, do not expect them to take this game lightly. Buffalo scares up another spirited effort but ultimately lacks the defensive horses to take down Brady & Co. Bills fans--for Christmas you really want DaQuan Bowers! New England 33, Buffalo 25. Baltimore at Cleveland: As you might know, I am a proud Cleveland native and the product of a heavy Browns family. Back home most people still view the Ravens with intense vitriolic loathing, even though Art Modell hasn?t owned the team for years and even Matt Stover (the last Brown Raven) has moved on. It?s a shame more people in Cleveland can?t appreciate the Ravens, because they are the type of team that Northeast Ohio should love. They are physical, they are powerful, they are smart, and they have a great owner and a legendary Browns icon in Ozzie Newsome as their long-time, highly successful GM. Baltimore hates the Steelers, Cleveland hates the Steelers. The Ravens play the style of football that the good folks in Massillon, Mentor, and Medina all know and love. It really is unfortunate how this situation came to be. No matter. The Dawg Pound will be in full bark mode, and I suspect the Browns will throw them some bones early to keep them frothing at the mouth. Then Joe Flacco will hit Derrick Mason for a couple of 3rd down conversions that keep a long, disheartening drive chugging from the 3rd quarter into the 4th, culminating in a short TD throw to Ed Dickson that pushes the deficit from one score to two. The Browns answer with a field goal but nothing more, and Baltimore wins 19-13. Seattle at Tampa Bay: Both these teams still entertain fleeting playoff hopes, believe it or not. Seattle actually has a more credible opportunity, but they don?t have Josh Freeman as their quarterback. Freeman continues to impress with his poise, his size, and his ability to lead in Tampa, whereas the Seahawks are watching Matt Hasselbeck prove more every week that they badly need a new quarterback moving forward. I know the Bucs feel slighted by the refs from their loss a week ago, and they are the type of team that will harness that negative energy and take it out on the visitors from Seattle. That early-season Seahawks win in Chicago is looking more and more absurd all the time. Tampa 20, Seattle 13. San Diego at Cincinnati: Cincy broke their 10-game bender last week, though the victory cost them TO?s services for the rest of the season. Believe it or not they will actually miss him, particularly against a Chargers defense that is absolutely dominant right now. There is no way that Carson Palmer will beat this defense, not with his propensity for staring down his target and not feeling the backside rush. It certainly won?t happen without TO keeping the safeties honest. Chargers 31, Bengals 17. Tennessee at Kansas City: I know the Titans play in Nashville, but this game makes me hungry for some barbecue from the locales. Memphis vs. Kansas City in a barbecue battle is something I definitely want a piece of. I?m actually a bigger fan of the sauce-less Carolina style on ground-up pork, but sometimes I want that smoky molasses-based sauce on thick cuts of meat, or some tangy sweetness with a hint of honey hanging off a giant rib. It?s been my experience that Memphis style goes better with iced tea, but KC mixes best with cold beer. And it also goes great with heavily salted peanuts in the shell?which I happen to have in the pantry. Kansas City it is! Chiefs 28, Titans 14. Detroit at Miami: My beloved Lions have won two in a row, including their first road win since October of 2007. They get to stay in Florida after beating the Bucs and take on the sluggish Dolphins, the lowest scoring team in the AFC. The Dolphins are 1-6 at home and have some serious questions about their quarterback. Surely Santa can give the long-suffering Lions fans a Christmas treat and a 3-game winning streak, right? Your stockings might be hung just right, Detroit. Shaun Hill appears to be back as the starting QB, which means better accuracy and more poised presence in the pocket. That?s huge because Miami?s defense is very good at generating pressure and forcing mistakes. Drew Stanton brings more excitement, but his scampers don?t pose the threat that Hill brings with the ability to hit Nate Burleson on those 15-yard comebacks or Brandon Pettigrew on a cross-field checkdown that Stanton simply cannot do, certainly not with a badly separated left shoulder that will inhibit his balance and form. The problem I see for the Lions is in stopping the Miami offense. Versatile running attacks have been a problem, as have receivers like Davone Bess who can create after the catch. Cameron Wake and his AFC-leading sacks are a problem too. I think the Lions can and probably should win, but I?m still not confident they will win. My fingers are crossed anyways?Miami 23, Detroit 20. Houston at Denver: The great debate rages on as to whether Tim Tebow can make an effective NFL quarterback. He was decent in his starting debut a week ago, not asked to do much but able to make a handful of big plays and keep the Broncos within shouting distance of the Raiders for most of the game. Now he gets the Texans, owners of one of the five worst pass defenses in NFL history. If Tebow can?t light up this pail of gasoline, the outlook for his future dims. The odds are pretty strong that Tebow will be able to strike early; Houston has a first-half point differential of -82 in its last 7 games. But the Texans are masters at playing from behind, and I don?t think Denver?s defense is good enough to hold back the surge like pretty much every other team has done to them lately. Houston wins thanks to a furious rally, 33-27. Washington at Jacksonville: The Jaguars should send a thank you gift to the schedule makers for keeping their fledgling playoff hopes very much alive. It?s a true gift that they draw the dysfunctional Redskins here, a week after blowing their golden opportunity against the Colts. How else can a team that ranks dead last in turnover margin and dead last in defensive efficiency still be a huge favorite here, and will be next week against the hapless Texans too? The Redskins have no run defense and a quarterback prone to maddening turnovers at the most inopportune times, plus half the team is seemingly at war with Coach Shanahan for benching McNabb for Rex Grossman. The winter of their discontent is the season of giving the Jaguars more playoff hope. Jacksonville 27, Washington 17. Monday Nighter New Orleans (6) at Atlanta (2): There have been a lot of discussions in the Risdon household lately about want versus need. My 5-year old son Layne is having issues learning the distinction between the two. He thinks he needs a remote controlled helicopter, and a race track for his 142 (he counts them every day) Hot Wheels, and a popcorn buggy, and a bike, and a pool in our back yard, and a little brother. When my wife and I tell him that he only wants these things (and he really doesn?t want a little brother!), we think he gets it but just doesn?t want to accept it. In rare moments of prescience, Layne will cop to admitting that he doesn?t really need much, just love and happiness, and that happens to suffice as a wonderful Christmas present from him to us. This game is about need vs. want. Atlanta surely wants to win, but they don?t need to win. Next week brings lowly Carolina, and just one victory clinches the #1 seed. Coach Smith is going to say all the right things about giving 100% and trying to keep the train rolling towards the playoffs, but that initiative and imperative will fade once the Saints jump out to a 14-3 lead, or Michael Turner tweaks a hammy, or Kroy Biermann mangles a finger. The Saints need to win here in order to lock up the #5 seed, which means a trip to the NFC West champ in the first round instead of facing either Chicago or Philly in the opening round. That?s some pretty powerful incentive to leave everything on the Georgia Dome turf. I also happen to believe that Atlanta?s impressive home streak is due to end. They don?t want it to end, but it?s one of those cases where it might need to end now in order to have more success going forward. New Orleans 28, Atlanta 20.