Unlike the charade that will envelop college football this weekend, it is sheer wins and losses that will determine the NFL playoff field during the next four weeks.
There will be no 12-person committee sitting behind closed doors to determine who is worthy of championship contention. All division winners (even the NFC South) and two wild cards from each conference get in. Style points and who teams played will not matter.
Never mind the bowl games everyone not named the University of Michigan gets to play in, the NFL in December is where games really matter.
It is time to separate the contenders from pretenders.
Week 13 record: 9-7
Season record: 103-87-1
Dallas Cowboys (8-4) -3.5 at Chicago Bears (5-7)
Late-season Dallas swoons have become a holiday season tradition, and judging by their play on Thanksgiving the Cowboys appear to be right on schedule. On paper this is a game Dallas should win, but it will end up being far from easy. Tony Romo vs. Jay Cutler, someone must win!
ATS pick: Bears
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) +3 at Cincinnati Bengals (8-3-1)
Marvin Lewis is the Bo Pelini of the NFL, his team is always 8-4 or 9-3, but do the Bengals ever merit championship contention? Cincinnati appears on course with another first-round home playoff game against the Chargers, and Lewis’s job will be riding on it. Meanwhile the Steelers continue to play up and down to their competition, meaning they bring their A game, along with their fans to the Queen City.
ATS pick: Steelers
Indianapolis Colts (8-4) -3.5 at Cleveland Browns (7-5)
Brian Hoyer has been the starting pitcher this year and has lead the Browns to this point, but his ceiling is limited. For the Browns to make a true playoff push, that is a job for Johnny Manziel and it’s why he got drafted. He should be the straw that stirs Cleveland’s drink this month.
ATS pick: Colts
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-10) +10 at Detroit Lions (8-4)
There will be a column in the very near future on MSF where the writer will ask how the hell did Lovie Smith get another head coaching gig anyway. At least the Bucs don’t have to worry about imploding this week – look for Matthew Stafford to have another field day.
ATS pick: Lions
New York Giants (3-9) PICK at Tennessee Titans (2-10)
I thank the Lord each and every day that I do not live in New York City to be subjected to Giants and Jets telecasts every single Sunday.
ATS pick: Giants
Baltimore Ravens (7-5) +3 at Miami Dolphins (7-5)
After dropping a playoff-type game San Diego this past Sunday, the Ravens get another possible elimination game this week. Whoever CBS assigns to this game will no doubt tell us about Joe Flacco and Ryan Tannehill being among the elite quarterbacks in the game. Pure propaganda.
ATS pick: Ravens
New York Jets (2-10) +6 at Minnesota Vikings (5-7)
All things considered, the Vikings have been halfway respectable. Meanwhile Jets fans continue to wish for Rex Ryan to just take that University of Nebraska job and leave town now.
ATS pick: Vikings
Carolina Panthers (3-8-1) +9.5 at New Orleans Saints (5-7)
Ron Rivera has gone from Coach of the Year to the hot seat in less than 12 months. That said, the oddsmakers have the Saints laying a few too many points this week.
ATS pick: Panthers
St. Louis Rams (5-7) -3 at Washington (3-9)
The Rams won’t be going anywhere after the regular season, except possibly Los Angeles. But they will finish the year on a roll and I look for them to record another rout in Dan Snyder’s palace.
ATS pick: Rams
Houston Texans (6-6) -5.5 at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10)
Ryan Fitzpatrick throws for 6 TD’s and the team is at 6-6, there is something truly Satanic about that. The Texans stay in the playoff race for another week by beating up on another AFC South cupcake.
ATS pick: Texans
Buffalo Bills (7-5) +10 at Denver Broncos (9-3)
The long awaited return of Kyle Orton to Denver. Hopefully Phil Simms gets the TV assignment so he can talk about how Orton remains amongst the league’s elite quarterbacks. I know that will thrill the Broncos fan base.
ATS pick: Bills
Kansas City Chiefs (7-5) +1 at Arizona Cardinals (9-3)
Injuries have finally caught up to Arizona, and the Cardinals could very well finish 9-7 and wind up completely out of the playoffs. That said, the Chiefs have not been much better the last two weeks…but Alex Smith remains an elite quarterback. Cris Collinsworth said so.
ATS pick: Chiefs
San Francisco 49ers (7-5) -8 at Oakland Raiders (1-11)
Is Ric Flair still on the bandwagon? The Niners remain in disarray amidst reports of the impending departure of Jim Harbaugh, but otherwise nothing that a quick trip to the East Bay will not solve for a weekend. There may be more action in the stands than on the field at the Coliseum.
ATS pick: 49ers
Seattle Seahawks (8-4) +1 at Philadephia Eagles (9-3)
The Seahawks peak as the Pacific Northwest weather gets beyond gloomy and it rains every single day. They remain my pick to repeat as Super Bowl champions, even if they have to win in Green Bay come January to get there.
ATS pick: Seahawks
New England Patriots (9-3) -3.5 at San Diego Chargers (8-4)
With all due respect to the job HC Mike McCoy has done, the Chargers remain the Nebraska Cornhuskers of the West, 8-4 but ultimately not going anywhere. Do you really think Belichick and Brady are going to lose two weeks in a row?
ATS pick: Patriots
Atlanta Falcons (5-7) +12 at Green Bay Packers (9-3)
In what Mike Tirico is hyping as a battle of division leaders, Matty Ice turns frozen solid on a December night in northeast Wisconsin. And that Aaron Rodgers guy is a decent game manager – I’m sure ESPN will show statistical proof that he is slightly better than Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco, Ryan Tannehill, Alex Smith and Kyle Orton!
ATS pick: Packers