OK, everybody. Time to get serious. No jokes this week. Week 14 is one of major events, big division showdowns. We've got Cowboys-Eagles, Colts-Titans, Bengals-Ravens and Dolphins-Patriots, all games between the top two teams in their divisions and all going a long way to sort out the playoff picture. We even have Broncos-Chiefs, another 1 vs. 2, though the Broncos are four games behind. They're still in the wild-card hunt, though, so no jokes.
There will be no gratuitous references to Britney Spears' shorts, Paris Hilton's sex video, Rally's hamburgers, Beyoncé Knowles' booty dance or Jennifer Lopez's anything.
Except those. And no jokes.
In Week 13 I whiffed on both Thanksgiving Day games, but then recovered nicely to go 10-4 on Sunday and Monday, including Jacksonville's Monday night win over Tampa Bay, a return to the win column for my What the Heck Pick after I'd missed three straight. By the way, in the continuing discussion of whether playing at home every Thanksgiving is an advantage for the Lions and Cowboys, reader David C. Stokes suggests looking not just at those teams' Thanksgiving record -- they're both a little more likely to lose that game than a normal home game, but I think the opposition is stiffer on average -- but at the next game, when they've had nine days to prepare. I'll do that soon.
But not now, because it's time to get serious. In fact, this week's business is so serious that there will be no What the Heck Pick. On this weekend of games more important than life itself, it just wouldn't do to shrug my editorial shoulders at any game, no matter how meaningless.
So, shrugging at nothing, we march grimly, in slow motion, breathing great billows of steam and with John Facenda's voice setting the scene, into Week 14, with winners capitalized as always:
Dallas (8-4) at PHILADELPHIA (9-3): Since the Cowboys won the first meeting of the year, they can take the NFC East lead by winning, but this is a game between two teams going in opposite directions. The Eagles have won seven straight, though they haven't beaten any powerhouses in that stretch. But then, except for the Eagles, the Cowboys didn't beat any powerhouses in their five-game win streak starting in Week 2, and since then they're 3-3, and they've been drilled in those three losses. Count on Bill Parcells to have the Cowboys ready after their three-touchdown loss to the Dolphins Thanksgiving Day, but the Eagles will take control of the division.
INDIANAPOLIS (9-3) at Tennessee (9-3): It's that time of year again. Everyone repeat after me: "If the injured Steve McNair plays ... Oh, heck, he always plays!" Betting against the Titans in December can lead to the eating of a lot of ramen noodles if real money is at stake, but that loss to the Jets last week has me thinking the current crop of injuries may actually be swamping the heretofore unsinkable Steve McNair. The Colts steamrolled the Titans indoors in September, but I don't think that means much by now. Still, I'll take a flyer on the Colts taking it down to the wire and, unlike last week against the Pats, winning.
Cincinnati (7-5) at BALTIMORE (7-5): I hate to keep picking against the Bengals, especially because they keep winning when I do, but in this battle for first place in the AFC North I think the Ravens' defense will slow construction on that Jon Kitna statue they're building in Cincinnati.
SEATTLE (8-4) at Minnesota (7-5): If only the season were seven weeks long. The Seahawks were 5-1 and the Vikings 6-0, and they looked like Super Bowl contenders. Now, they're both struggling to make the playoffs, and unless the Seahawks can win on the road, where they've lost four straight, and where three of their last four games will be played, they aren't going to make it. The Vikings might make it by default because of their lousy division. People talk a lot about how weak the AFC North is, with the 7-5 Bengals and Ravens battling to win it, but that division's stronger than this one. They should just declare no champion this year, the way the Pulitzer Prizes do when no one's worthy.
Oakland (3-9) at PITTSBURGH (4-8): Wow, another great game between two AFC leviathans. What a week! Hey, wait a minute here ...
Tampa Bay (5-7) at NEW ORLEANS (6-6): I don't know who's going to win this thing. The typing classes have spent the week typing, "The Saints had the Bucs' number even before the Bucs collapsed." But so what? I'm picking the Saints because I'm tired of picking the Bucs. Did they walk back to their corner saying "No más" last week or what?
WASHINGTON (4-8) at N.Y. Giants (4-8): After last-week's loss to Buffalo, Giants owner Wellington Mara said, "We need to improve the product, and how we go about that is something we will discuss." Translation: Jim Fassel, pack your bags.
Houston (5-7) at JACKSONVILLE (3-9): This is the rematch of that game in Houston where the Texans went for it on fourth and goal on the last play of the game, losing by three. David Carr scored on a keeper and went nuts, remember? That was really cool. The Jags are ripe for a letdown after beating Tampa Bay on national TV, but I think they'll get the win over a banged-up Carr and the Texans.
San Diego (2-10) at DETROIT (4-8): Are the Chargers done with Drew Brees? Why else would they keep playing Doug Flutie? It's not like they're going to save their season. As bad as they are on the road -- and they are historically bad -- the Lions are a pretty good team (4-2) at home. They must know where the smoke and mirrors are at Ford Field.
Chicago (5-7) at GREEN BAY (6-6): I had forgotten this, but this column's readers thought in the preseason that the Packers were vastly overrated and would stumble. Nice going, readers. Except they still might win the NFC North because the Vikings are folding like George Jetson's bed. And by the way, the Bears have won four of their last six. Except Denver, the opposition has been weak in their wins, but still. Before that run I thought the Bears, then 1-5 with their only win over the horrid Raiders, were as bad as anyone. I think the Packers will keep their illusions alive with a win.
Miami (8-4) at NEW ENGLAND (10-2): This is the big late-afternoon game, the Dolphins trying to stay alive in the AFC East race and the Patriots hoping to clinch the division and catch the Chiefs in the home-field-advantage race. The Pats are just crazy hot. They've won eight straight, and they're undefeated at home, where they play three of their last four games. Still, I can't help thinking that now that some of their injured players are regaining their health, they're coming down from their peak. I have no reason to think that. I just do. On the other hand, it's December, it's Massachusetts, it's cold, and these are the Dolphins.
KANSAS CITY (11-1) at Denver (7-5): I don't get why the Broncos are favored in this game, but as of Thursday afternoon they were, by two to three points. I'll take that bet. The Broncos trail Miami by a game for the last wild-card spot. They'd better be rooting for the Pats.
Arizona (3-9) at SAN FRANCISCO (5-7): "Know it?" the piano player says. "I wrote it!" Oh, sorry. I said no jokes.
N.Y. JETS (5-7) at Buffalo (5-7): Whatever.
Carolina (8-4) at ATLANTA (2-10): This would have been my What the Heck Pick of the week if this weren't such a serious week, but you know what? I'm going to go ahead and take the Falcons anyway. And not with a shrug. To review for those of you with lives: The WTH is not equivalent to "upset of the week" in columns by other, better typists. Rather, it is me picking a team I actually think is going to lose as a winner because, what the heck (), why not? I think the Panthers are fading a bit -- they've lost two in a row and four of seven -- and the Falcons, who have been losing close ones to decent or better teams in the last month, are going to get a huge boost, a huge one, from the return of Michael Vick.
ST. LOUIS (9-3) at Cleveland (4-8): You have to give the league office some credit for scheduling this one on a Monday night. The Browns were a 9-7 playoff squeaker-inner last year and the Rams were 7-9. The suits must have figured the Browns would continue to trend upward (in suitspeak) and the Rams would get back to winning. Half right. I don't really get how they're doing it other than by playing lousy opponents, but the Rams are winning. Last week they were winning by four touchdowns at home against the Vikings with half a quarter to play. Wouldn't that have been a good time to get Kurt Warner a few in-anger snaps, just to see what he's got these days, just in case? Just asking.
Season record: 115-77
Last week: 10-6
What the Heck Picks: 6-7 (bye this week)
How many NFL quarterbacks it would take to change a light bulb, if there weren't a joke moratorium this week: 1
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