It's one thing nowadays to deny climate-change, but the NFL actually denies climate. Those looking forward to a Super Bowl on a February evening in the Jersey marshes ought to consider the snowy conditions of last weekend, and more to the point, the big freeze in Chicago on Monday night. I love football in bad conditions; the scenes in Philadelphia brought out all my old-school pleasure in the game, and my boredom at football played five-on-five on a hard-court indoors, where you have a track meet that ends in a jump ball downfield on every play. But every year I wonder who thinks it's a good idea to play games that kick off at 8:30 at night in places like Foxborough or Chicago.
I understand that money talks, and prime time prices mean prime time games, but there aren't that many reasons why night games up north couldn't be played early in the season, leaving the wintry months to teams more southern, or in domes. Please note that on Thanksgiving Dallas played in the afternoon, while Baltimore hosted Pittsburgh at night. The Cowboys this week went to Chicago, where it was eight degrees fahrenheit, with a wind-chill of minus nine. I can just hear some marketing guy saying, 'but everyone remembers the Ice Bowl!'
Next time you see the NFL move another step closer to outlawing kickoffs altogether, consider Quentin Demps, Jeremy Ross, and Jacoby Jones, who all returned kicks for crucial touchdowns (well, Demps' wasn't crucial, and it came against the Redskins who appear to think all kick returns have been banned, or at least they've been banned from covering them. Ross (who also had a punt return TD) and Jones (who's return came on a short, pooched, kickoff) both had classic snow-bowl returns, basically running in straight lines while everyone else slipped and slided every time they leaned one way or the other. They were perfect conditions for Touchdown Toby Gerhart and little-used Chris Polk to break big runs, and note Shady McCoy's two TDs, where he basically ran point to point. Same with Cordarelle Patterson's 79 yard TD which was one yard catch and 78 run.
But remember too that the Pats' won by recovering an expected on-side kick. The NFL was proposing that onsides kicks would be allowed in the final two minutes of a half, but of course only about ten per cent of such kicks are successful, whereas unexpected onsides kicks (think the Saints in their Super Bowl win over the Colts) are roughly 50/50 bets.
Where was Mike Tomlin when I really needed him? I finished last week going 15-1 with my picks. If the quick-footed coach of the Steelers could have just got slightly into Antonio Brown's way before Brown's left foot came down on the sideline, ruining the Steelers' miracle finish against Miami, I would have completed my first-ever perfect picking week since I started doing this back in 2005.
THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: San Diego (6-7) at Denver (11-2): Why not play the Denver end of the series in week 10 and play in San Diego now? Anyway, the Chargers' D was made to look competent by the Giants, which was Eli's way of discovering why he didn't like San Diego in the first place. Peyton never said any such thing. Wes Welker's out after suffering two concussions in as many weeks, and I smell the scent of a trap game here, but at home at mile high, Pick (made Thursday): Broncos
Friday Mourning Tight End: Oh to have the courage of one's convictions (not in the Bam Morris sense). This was the Chargers' ultimate revenge on the whole Manning family, after Archie dissed the city and team when they drafted Eli. Now they've beaten Mannings back to back and must be disappointed they don't play the Saints next week. It's also notable that Peyton is 0-2 against Pagano Bros this season, but 11-1 against the rest of the league. I wasn't surprised the Chargers' offense put up points, but I was amazed at the way they took the Broncos' wideouts out of the game (if Andre Caldwell's gonna beat you, so be it) while proving that old adage: you pass to take the lead and run to protect it. 38:49 of possession, reminding us that keeping Peyton off the field is the best way of containing the Broncos. With Oakland at home next week, the Chargers could go into their final week matchup with Kansas City in the midst of a playoff fight. Isn't this just what they used to do under Norv? I can't stand it!
SUNDAY, THE DAY PRO FOOTBALL WAS MEANT TO BE PLAYED:
Washington (3-10) at Atlanta (3-10): Mike Shanahan is like one of those spindly spined Republican congressmen willing to shut the country down in order to prove their point and keep the even more insane Tea Party (in this case, Dan Snyder) off their back. Or get a payoff. The good news for Mike is that Atlanta's defense can't really stop anyone, so Kirk Cousins gets the start in the best possible circumstances, apart from being on the road. Pick: Falcons
Chicago (7-6) at Cleveland (4-9): Jay Cutler will start for the Bears, which doesn't seem to have been a real dilemma for Marc Trestman. Cutler's got more talent, though Josh McCown seems to stick within the parameters of the offense more consistently, and last week, with a little help from Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey, he cut the Cowboys up. The Browns were up 19-3 over New England with just 1:30 left in the third quarter, scored another TD, and still lost. Jason Campbell has been playing well for them, but there's no controversy in Cleveland. The Bears' D remains a struggle, but pick: Bears
Houston (2-11) at Indianapolis (8-5): Part of the Colts' malaise is reversion to the norm (they played a weak schedule last season) and part is injury (Wayne and Dwayne in particular) but they didn't get much out of their draft, their O line is shaky, and Robert Mathis is the only guy they have who can rush the passer. Picking up Da'Rick Rodgers was a good move; he's raw, had off-field problems, but doesn't suffer from Hey-Bey disease. Of course with the Texans reeling, I'm not sure Wade Phillips is the guy to rally them round whatever the Houston equivalent of the Alamo is, but he's not the guy to decide between Matt Schaub and Case Keenum, who's still due his first NFL win. Um, Rob Johnson! They're like a vanilla version of Washington: if Mike Shanahan has looked and sounded like Richard Nixon this week, Wade Phillips is more like Gerry Ford, 'hey look, I'm in the big seat, now what do I have to do to stay there'. It makes me continue to wish the Oilers were still in Houston and we'd been spared both the Texans and the Titans. The Colts have clinched their division, which means they might not respond to a team Wade has fired up beyond recognition. Wade? Pick: Colts
Buffalo (4-9) at YOUR Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9): The Bills shuffle across Florida after losing to the Bucs to face another team on a winning run after a horrendous start to the season. EJ Manuel might be forgiven thinking this is like returning to the ACC, while Buffalo fans might be forgiven for thinking their team is like their grandparents who bought a shiny new all-weather all-terrain vehicle back in October and then drove it down to Florida in December where it never snows. Pick: Jags
LIVE ON SKY SPORTS 2: New England (10-3) at Miami (7-6): If New England can win out this season, they'd have top seed in the AFC, thanks to their amazing comeback OT take the wind win over Denver. But that is a major 'if' given they're on the road this week and in Baltimore next week. Without someone like Gronk who can stretch a defense and demand attention, the Pats have to dink and dunk their way downfield without making a mistake, and they've made too many of them. The Dolphins could take a big step towards the playoffs with a win; in fact, they and the Ravens could see the Pats as their stepping stone. I doubt New England can let themselves fall behind again and expect to catch up, and someone sure enough better be able to tackle Charles Clay, although on a non-snow surface he may revert back to being a mere mortal, or maybe Gronkesque, as Peter King might opine. Pick: Dolphins
Philadelphia (7-6) at Minnesota (3-8-1): The Eagles are on the kind of roll that turns snowballs into snowmen, but snowmen melt in domes. You'd think the fast track would help Chip Kelly more than Leslie Frazier, right Les? Les? Who's starting at QB for the Vikes? Josh Freeman? Joe Kapp? Pick: Eagles
Seattle (11-2) at New Jersey Giants (5-8): The Seahawks, unbeatable at home, picked up their second road loss of the season (and had a squeaker in Carolina as well) while the Giants have skulked back from a miserable trip to San Diego. Russell Wilson was just drafted in baseball's Rule 5 Draft, by the Texas Rangers. If he's caught out with his team's cornerbacks during drug test week, he's now got a fallback position. Pick: Seahawks
New Orleans (10-3) at St Louis (5-8): The Rams have had the Saints' number in recent years, and New Orleans is 3-3 on the road. Watch the fun as Jeff Fisher's corners grab onto Sean Payton's wideouts and hang on for dear life, then scream every time a ref throws a flag (which won't be very often in today's NFL). Pick: Saints
San Francisco (9-4) at Tampa (4-9): Palindromic records! Michael Crabtree is nursing another injury, which would be a big loss. He not only balances the Niner attack but he seems to be Colin Kapernick's preferred option. Pick: Niners
Arizona (8-5) at Tennessee (5-8): Palindromic records! The Cards would probably be in the playoffs if they played in any other division except the NFC South, but realistically they're now only in the race for the second wild card spot except they have to finish their season at Seattle and against the Niners. No one's quite picked up the trope about Bruce Arians being a pretty good head coach yet. Pick: Cards
Newark Airport Jets (6-7) at Carolina (9-4): The Jest are like that pesky friend you don't really ever want to see but can't avoid and every now and again does something that makes you warm to him and then always does something else that reminds you of why you didn't want to see him in the first place. Rex Ryan will have watched what the Saints did to the Panthers, but, for example, Geno Smith is no Drew Brees. Pick: Panthers
Kansas City (10-3) at Oakland (4-9): The Chiefs got back to winning ways against Washington in the last RG3 game of the Shanahan era, and now face the prospect of TP1 alternating with Matt McGloin. OK. Pick: Chiefs
LIVE ON SKY SPORTS 2: Green Bay (6-6-1) at Dallas (7-6): Remember the Ice Bowl! The Cowboys are mediocre, a paradigm of inconsistency rather than a comment on Tony Romo and calendars. The Packers will likely be forced to play Matt Flynn, and much as it hurts to think of them not being able to stay in the race until Aaron Rodgers comes back, if DeMarco Murray runs like he did last week, even Tony Romo's inability to cover opposing receivers in December won't be enough to hand the Pack a win. Pick: Cowboys
SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL LIVE ON CHANNEL 4: Cincinnati (9-4) at Pittsburgh (5-8): The Steelers are out of the race, but could help the Ravens stay in it, while the Bengals might look at the Patriots' sked and think there is an opening there for second seed. Antonio Brown apart, the Steelers really should have sealed up that game against Miami last week. Everybody's talking about a Todd Haley/Big Ben disconnect (here's a question: what would a Todd Haley connect actually entail?) but the real problem for the Steelers is a D that is no longer explosive, and the key to that is watching Troy Polamalu guess wrong or arrive late in that monster back role he's playing. I wonder if sitting him back there as a more classic safety might be more productive. The Bengal offense was sharp last week at home against Indy, but they are 2-4 on the road this season. This is just the kind of game the Steelers are stubborn enough to win. But pick: Bengals
MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL LIVE ON EUROSPORT: Baltimore (7-6) at Detroit (7-6): If this game goes according to plan, the Ravens will get a pass interception or fumble recovery TD, a kickoff or punt return TD, four Justin Tucker field goals, and then lose to the Lions when Calvin Johnson beats Matt Elam to a jump ball in the end zone. If this happens, the Lions have the Giants and Vikings in the last two weeks, and though they have proven they can lose to anyone, they'd be sitting pretty for the division title. Pick: Lions
LAST WEEK 15-1 SEASON: 138-69-1