There are two games of the week in Week 16. There’s an AFC version, Pittsburgh at Tennessee, and an NFC version, Carolina at the New York Giants. In both, the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage through the Conference Championship Games could be at stake. That’s good stuff.
But first we’re going to have a game of the Saturday. The Baltimore Ravens will visit the Dallas Cowboys in a game that would be the game of the week in a lot of weeks. Aside from the playoff implications — both teams are possibly better than their 9-5 records and must keep winning to make the postseason — this will more than likely be the last game at crusty old Texas Stadium, which is more than 35 years old!
Yes, it was a different game when the Cowboys — then clad in white, silver and blue — moved in. The forward pass had only been introduced about 60 years earlier, and today’s high-tech Field Turf surfaces weren’t even dreamed about. They played on good old fashioned AstroTurf back then.
In honor of the demise of grand old Texas Stadium and as a tribute to that earlier era in American history when it first opened, I’m dressed in period costume as I write this. I’m wearing jeans and a T-shirt. Twenty-three skidoo!
Here are the Week 16 picks, and I’m going with a few crazy upsets in a desperate attempt to make up a little ground in the Panel o’ Experts standings. As usual, the picks of Buster, the game-pickinest 5-year-old in space, and Daisy, the coin-flippinest 3-year-old west of the New York Jets, are included.
Baltimore (9-5) at DALLAS (9-5)
I remain a non-believer even after that smackdown of the Giants last week. The Giants are limping, after all. But I’m not picking against the Cowboys in their emotional last home game. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a bigger pile of stuff you can find on the Texas plains than that postgame love-fest between Terrell Owens and his pals Jason Whitten and Tony Romo last week, but I also don’t think much of the whole T.O. unrest story, 2008 version. So it’s a wash.
Sunday early games
PITTSBURGH (11-3) at Tennessee (12-2)
The AFC game of the week. The Titans can clinch home-field throughout the playoffs with a win. The Steelers can clinch a first-round bye. These teams could easily meet again on the same field in a month for the AFC title.
Or, the Titans could be on their way to an early exit. The Steelers are playing very good football, and Tennessee is in deep trouble without its best player, defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. Pittsburgh’s running and passing games both got a lot better when he and end Kyle Vanden Bosch got hurt.
The Steelers would be the top seed in the AFC with a win in this one and another in a very winnable game at home against the Browns next week. The Titans are still plenty good and they’ll make this a game, but it says here the Steelers will own home field in the playoffs.
SAN FRANCISCO (5-9) at St. Louis (2-12)
From the sublime to …
Kids: St. Louis
Cincinnati (2-11-1) at CLEVELAND (4-10)
… Ohio, I guess.
New Orleans (7-7) at DETROIT (0-14)
What the Heck Pick™ of the week. The Lions can become the first 0-15 team in NFL history. Of course, being the Lions, they’ll probably blow that chance by winning. This is the last WTH™ Pick of the year. In the past I’ve always randomly taken a week off so the WTH™ record would be 16 games, like a regular team. It dawned on me after last year — like, the 63rd year of the What the Heck™ Pick — that I should give it the week off in Week 17, when most of the games are meaningless and wacky.
Kids: New Orleans (7-point favorite)
Miami (9-5) at KANSAS CITY (2-12)
The Chiefs are probably as good as you can be when you’re 2-12. They lost a pair of games by a combined score of 68-10 surrounding their Week 6 bye, but since Week 8, they’ve been awfully competitive for a team that’s gone 1-7. They were within a score in five of the seven losses. They lost a pair of heartbreakers to the Chargers and were a goal-line stand from sending the Broncos to overtime.
The Dolphins were even worse than 2-12 last year. They were 0-13 and then 1-13 on the way to a 1-15 record. Now they’re in the midst of one of the most remarkable turnaround seasons in NFL history. But they’re still the Dolphins. The forecast says it’s going to be 13 degrees Fahrenheit Sunday in Kansas City.
Buster: Kansas City
Arizona (8-6) at NEW ENGLAND (9-5)
The Cardinals have a fighting chance to be an 8-8 playoff team. They’d have to lose at home to the Seahawks next week, but anything can happen in a meaningless Week 17 tilt. The Cardinals finished 8-8 last year too but this year would be remembered as the big turnaround because they went to the playoffs. At 8-8, maybe.
Kids: New England (8-point favorite)
San Diego (6-8) at TAMPA BAY (9-5)
Three thousand miles from home, playing a team that’s been struggling but is still in the hunt for the playoffs and figures to get quarterback Jeff Garcia back. This wouldn’t be the time to bet on a Norv Turner team.
Kids: Tampa Bay
Sunday late games
Buffalo (6-8) at DENVER (8-6)
The Broncos figure to wheeze into the AFC West championship.
Kids: Denver (7-point favorite)
HOUSTON (7-7) at Oakland (3-11)
Mario Williams is going to the Pro Bowl. Reggie Bush is out for the season again. The Texans were right. You take the lineman.
Kids: Houston (7.5-point favorite)
N.Y. Jets (9-5) at SEATTLE (3-11)
Can you tell me how a 9-5 team has managed to lose to the Raiders, 49ers and Chargers — combined record: 14-28? By going 9-2 in their other games, is the answer. Some questions are easy just to keep the scores up. The point here, and I’m not sure there is one, is that the Jets are terrible when they have to spend a lot of time on a jet. They’ve traveled west of Nashville three times this season and they’ve gone 0-3 against teams that are 9-26 when they aren’t playing the Jets or each other
I’m taking the Seahawks in something very much like a What the Heck™ Pick, only I kinda think they’re really going to win, and anyway the Lions have a corner on the WTH™ market. But I mean there’s no reason to think the Seahawks, who are terrible, though they did beat the terrible Rams last week, can win. But the Jets can certainly lose.
Kids: New York
Philadelphia (8-5-1) at WASHINGTON (7-7)
Two teams going in opposite directions. Of course I’ll take the team that’s going downhill.
ATLANTA (9-5) at Minnesota (9-5)
The Tarvaris Jackson era is back on in Minnesota. He’s played well lately with Gus Frerotte out. As long as Adrian Peterson, on his way to a rushing title, keeps running, Jackson doesn’t have to do a whole lot more than hand off to him. But the Vikings will miss nose tackle Pat Williams, who dodged a drug suspension only to go down with a broken scapula, as the Falcons bring their own strong running game, led by Michael Turner, second to Peterson in rushing yardage, to town.
Sunday night game
CAROLINA (11-3) at N.Y. Giants (11-3)
The NFC game of the week. The Giants appear to be running their 2007 season in reverse, roaring early, stumbling late. The Panthers look a little like the ’07 Giants too, in the right order. They didn’t look like much early, and now they do.
The Giants have been hurt by injuries. Tackle Kareem McKenzie and running back Brandon Jacobs both might play Sunday night, but neither will be at full speed. New York’s been struggling lately without Jacobs. The Panthers can be run on, but not by just anybody.
Carolina’s own running game should allow them to control the game and keep Eli Manning from pulling off the kind of late-season, late-game heroics that made the 2007 Giants the 2007 Giants.
Buster: New York
Monday night game
Green Bay (5-9) at CHICAGO (8-6)
The Packers are playing out the string. The Bears can still win the NFC North if they beat the Packers and the Texans while the Vikings lose to the Falcons and the Giants. Could happen. The better team is also the motivated team and the home team. So, OK, they’re going to lose, right? Like an idiot, I’ll say no.
Buster: Green Bay
Season record: 132-92-1
So far this week: 1-0
Last week: 8-8
What the Heck™ Picks: 2-13
Pairs of socks this column has that are older than Texas Stadium 2