It's Week 15, and that means Saturday is the new Thursday, which you'll remember is the new Monday. Monday night is the new Sunday night and vice versa, in case you haven't been following along all year.
For the last three weeks of the season the NFL plays one game a week on Saturday night, part of the NFL Network package that also includes five Thursday night games. The NFL is battling Time Warner cable over carriage fees, which isn't very interesting unless you care about where the business is going in the coming years or you want to watch the game and you have Time Warner cable.
NFL rules put all games on broadcast TV in the home market as long as non-sellout blackout rules don't apply, but the NFL defines the Cowboys' home market as Dallas. Cowboys fans define it, conservatively, as Texas.
So, you're a Falcons fan in San Antonio? Congratulations on your iconoclasm. Good luck at the bar.
We have no such problems in these parts. The insight-free ruminations of this column are freely available to all, as long as you're willing to pay. Or watch an ad. Or wash my car.
Pull up a chair, stare at a blank screen if necessary and enjoy Week 15. Winners in caps, the picks of the coin-flippinest 3-year-old west of the Mississippi included as usual, by popular demand.
DALLAS (8-5) at Atlanta (7-6): Falcons running backs Warrick Dunn and Jerious Norwood are both questionable after getting hurt last week, and even if they play they won't be at full speed. And what are the Falcons without their running game? Just wait and see. Oh, wait. You probably can't. If Michael Vick can make like Drew Brees and light up the Cowboys defense, the Falcons will win big and stay alive in the playoff hunt. Then again, if Michael Vick could make like Drew Brees, the Falcons would be 10-3.
Buster's pick: Atlanta (coin)
Sunday early games
WASHINGTON (4-9) at New Orleans (9-4): Trap game! Trap! Trap! Trap! The Saints routed the Cowboys in a huge national TV game in Dallas Sunday night, they're in -- OK, near -- the Big Apple and the Giants circus next week. This week they get Washington, which can't get out of its own way. Trap! I'm picking it.
Buster's pick: New Orleans (9.5-point favorite)
Tampa Bay (3-10) at CHICAGO (11-2): This is a little trappy too, so I'll skip it as the What the Heck Pick on the grounds that I have to believe the WTH has virtually no chance to win. But I do think the Bears will be fine.
Buster's pick: Chicago (13.5-point favorite)
PITTSBURGH (6-7) at Carolina (6-7): The Panthers have lost three straight, the Steelers are hot and Jake Delhomme's thumb is still hurting. Of course Carolina will win, but I'll play it safe.
Buster's pick: Pittsburgh (coin)
MIAMI (6-7) at Buffalo (6-7): This is one of the most intriguing games between 6-7 teams in years. At least, not counting all those games between 6-7 NFC teams still in contention for home-field advantage. The Dolphins defense should be the difference.
Buster's pick: Miami (coin)
N.Y. JETS (7-6) at Minnesota (6-7): OK. My imagination, right? Every team isn't 7-6 or 6-7. Right? The Vikings are more like a 4-9 team that's benefited from an easy schedule. The only time they beat a good team that wasn't in a slump was their Oct. 22 win over Seattle, but that was the game in which Matt Hasselbeck got hurt, and the Vikes only took over after that. Since then Minnesota's gone 2-5, with wins over the Cardinals and, last week, the Lions.
The good news for the Vikings is that the Jets don't quite qualify as a good team not in a slump, coming off that shellacking by the Bills, and the Vikings run defense should give the Jets a problem, that problem being the need for Chad Pennington to win the game with his arm. The good news for the Jets is the Vikings will find a way to lose all the same.
Buster's pick: Minnesota (coin)
Jacksonville (8-5) at TENNESSEE (6-7): Here's my big prediction for this game. Ready? The Jaguars are not going to rush for 375 yards against the Titans, the way they did against the Colts. Here's another one, just as a throw-in: The Titans won't rush for 375 either. Beyond that, I'm at a loss, but I'll take the Titans to stay hot and the Jags to stay inscrutable.
Buster's pick: Tennessee (coin)
Houston (4-9) at NEW ENGLAND (9-4): The Patriots looked horrible in Miami last week -- certainly not the first nor last New England tour group to look horrible in Miami in December. They're back home this week and they get to play a team that, were it not for the inscrutable Jags, would be 2-11. The Pats benched their quarterback in the fourth quarter last week, but don't give up on the kid just yet. I think he might just amount to a little something.
Buster's pick: New England (11.5-point favorite)
Detroit (2-11) at GREEN BAY (5-8): See St. Louis at Oakland, below.
Buster's pick: Detroit (coin)
CLEVELAND (4-9) at Baltimore (10-3): What the Heck Pick of the week.
Buster's pick: Baltimore (11.5-point favorite)
Sunday late games
DENVER (7-6) at Arizona (4-9): Jay Cutler gets his first win and the future arrives for Denver. A pair of streaks will end and people will stop asking Cardinals coach Dennis Green why things are going well all of a sudden.
Buster's pick: Denver (coin)
Philadelphia (7-6) at N.Y. GIANTS (7-6): Remember how the Giants had a huge fourth-quarter lead but blew the game against the Titans? Well, remember even farther back to when the Eagles had a huge fourth-quarter lead and blew the game against the Giants? Yeah, seems like a long time ago. It was. They've both staggered to this point, and this game will go a long way in deciding the fate of each. The Eagles almost blew another huge lead against Washington last week. I'm just not buying 'em.
Buster's pick: New York (coin)
ST. LOUIS (5-8) at Oakland (2-11): Sometimes when a recipe calls for leeks I just use green onions. I know they're different, but they look the same, and leeks are a pain to get the dirt out of. What? Are you still reading? I figured everybody'd skip this paragraph.
Buster's pick: Oakland (coin)
Sunday night game
Kansas City (7-6) at SAN DIEGO (11-2): This looks like a nice game at first glance and maybe it will be, but while the Chiefs gave the tough Ravens a decent game last week, they really punted their season by losing to the Browns two weeks ago. The Chargers are Cadillackin' the AFC West, but they still have to play for home-field advantage. They have a one-game lead over Indy and Baltimore and they'd lose a tie-breaker to the Ravens. They don't want to go either place because it's cold in Baltimore and, for all their struggles, the Colts are undefeated at home, and the Chargers can be beaten deep. An easing up by the Chargers is the only way the Chiefs win this one, and the Chargers shouldn't ease up. Or choke. It's not the playoffs yet.
Buster's pick: San Diego (8.5-point favorite)
Monday night game
CINCINNATI (8-5) at Indianapolis (10-3): With Brandon Stokely and Dallas Clark hurt and the Bengals as the opponent, the Colts don't even have their usual advantage of the better offense. The Bengals seem to have recovered from their midseason slump, winning their last four, two of them over the Saints and Ravens. I'm not really going for this business of the Bengals being a good defensive team now, but they're better at it than the Colts.
Buster's pick: Cincinnati (coin)
Record so far this week: 0-1
Season record: 116-93
Last week: 10-6
What the Heck Picks: 2-11
Day that's the new Tuesday: Tuesday. You just don't mess with some things
Previous column: Wild spending good for business?
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