What's happened to the madcap NFL? Where's all the end-of-season intrigue? With three games left, seven of the eight division leaders have at least a two-game cushion, and there are no ties for wild-card spots.
It's all so dang orderly.
And Week 15 promises little help on the excitement scale, but plenty on the Alpometer, with a heaping helping of pooches on the schedule. There are exactly two games being contested between winning teams.
The better of those, record-wise, is the Jacksonville Jaguars at the Pittsburgh Steelers. They're both 9-4 and would have to stumble pretty badly over the last three weeks to miss the playoffs. This game figures to go a long way toward establishing the No. 3 team in the AFC, after New England and Indianapolis, each of which has beaten one of these teams in the last two weeks.
That is, if the charging San Diego Chargers aren't the No. 3 team. The Chargers host the smoking husk of the Detroit Lions this week.
The other game between winners is the 7-6 Buffalo Bills at the 8-5 Cleveland Browns in a bone-fide AFC wild-card sort-em-out between two bona-fide up-and-comers. Otherwise it's a whole bunch of Green Bay (11-2) at St. Louis (3-10). That sort of thing. There are only three games being contested between losing teams.
Let's face it. We're all sitting around waiting to see if the Patriots will lose a game or the Miami Dolphins will win one. The '72 Dolphins have their champagne on ice in case the former happens. The '76 Buccaneers have some Tab cooling in case of the latter.
Here, in honor of Thursday's Winter Festival of Drug-Enforcement Press Conferences, is a drug-free rundown of Week 15, with winners in caps and the picks of my kids, 4-year-old game-picker Buster and 2-year-old coin-flipper Daisy, who are willing to submit to drug tests at any time, included.
Tell you one thing they won't find if they test those kids: Speed.
CINCINNATI (5-8) at San Francisco (3-10)
The nation once again fumes at not being able to see this game because it's on NFL Network. Or not.
Kids: Cincinnati (8-point favorite)
Sunday early games
Buffalo (7-6) at CLEVELAND (8-5)
Game of the week, in the snow and wind and muck. These teams, both young and headed in the right direction, are both 6-2 over their last eight games, with three of those four losses coming against New England, Pittsburgh and Jacksonville. The other is Cleveland's goofy loss at Arizona two weeks ago.
That one out of their system, I'll take the Browns to all but nail down a playoff spot with a win in this one, but these two neighbors could spend the next few years in the high-rent district of the AFC. A frozen playoff rivalry between these two over the next half-dozen years or so would suit this column just fine.
Jacksonville (9-4) at PITTSBURGH (9-4)
Other game of the week, also in the snow and wind and even more muck. Yeah. The Steelers' defense should prevail in a slippery bruiser. A slippery bruiser? That would be tequila and Bailey's. Try it. I just made it up. Let me know how it is. I'm sticking doggedly to my theory that the Steelers are part of an AFC "big three" with New England and Indy. I know it's really a big New England and then everybody else. It's just the liquor talking. I've been drinking since breakfast.
Atlanta (3-10) at TAMPA BAY (8-5)
At long last, the post-Petrino era begins.
Kids: Tampa Bay (12.5-point favorite)
SEATTLE (9-4) at Carolina (5-8)
Seahawks cruising, Panthers done.
Kids: Seattle (7-point favorite)
GREEN BAY (11-2) at St. Louis (3-10)
Packers cruising, Rams done.
Kids: Green Bay (9.5-point favorite)
TENNESSEE (7-6) at Kansas City (4-9)
The Chiefs have lost six in a row, including a 41-7 rout at Denver last week. The Titans probably need to win out to make the playoffs. They won't, but they should win this one.
Kids: Kansas City
BALTIMORE (4-9) at Miami (0-13)
The Ravens almost beat the undefeated Patriots, and it says here they're going to almost lose to the winless Dolphins. Spooky.
N.Y. JETS (3-10) at New England (13-0)
What the Heck Pick of the week.
Kids: New England (24.5-point favorite)
Arizona (6-7) at NEW ORLEANS (6-7)
Know who I stole that speed joke from? Jimmie Walker! Dyn-O-mite! He was talking about drug-testing postal workers.
Kids: New Orleans
Sunday late games
INDIANAPOLIS (11-2) at Oakland (4-9)
Good news for the Raiders: The Michael Vick era could be as close as 20 games away.
Kids: Indianapolis (10.5-point favorite)
PHILADELPHIA (5-8) at Dallas (12-1)
Cowboys cruising, Eagles done, and whoops! Random stumble for the Cowboys. Nothing to worry about.
Kids: Dallas (10-point favorite)
Detroit (6-7) at SAN DIEGO (8-5)
By record, the Lions are as close to the Chargers as three of the league's second-place teams are to their division leaders, but you couldn't find two teams going faster in opposite directions.
Kids: San Diego (9.5-point favorite)
Sunday night game
Washington (6-7) at N.Y. GIANTS (9-4)
The Giants lost their first two games, and since then they're 9-2, with their only losses to the conference-leading Cowboys and the red-hot Vikings. Their pass rush should tee off on backup Todd Collins, make it 10 out of 12 and clinch a playoff spot.
Daisy: New York
Monday night game
Chicago (5-8) at MINNESOTA (7-6)
Last week, Adrian Peterson -- the one who plays for the Vikings, not the one who plays for the Bears -- rushed for three yards on 14 carries at San Francisco. In Week 6, Peterson -- the Vikings one -- ran for 224 yards on 20 carries at Chicago. Prediction: Monday night will look more like Week 6 than like Week 14 for Peterson. The one in purple.
Kids: Minnesota (9.5-point favorite)
Season record: 126-82
So far this week: 1-0
Last week: 10-6
What the Heck Picks: 2-11
Drug tests passed by this column, lifetime: 0
Previous column: The Mitchell Report
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