Friday Morning Tight End - Week 16

I'm hoping that this week's FMTE column gets finished and posted before whatever Mayan in charge of pulling the plug on the world-as-we-know-it wakes up in Mexico or wherever they are hanging now and gets down to business. People are laughing about the prophecy, but it really does put all those 'if the season were to end today' forecasts into a different perspective, doesn't it? In the interests of enjoying what was possibly my last day on earth, I was reading some of the actual prophecies, and I believe that the one referring to the Great Green Warrior giving way to the True Son Of God was a sure sign that the Jest we’re actually agents of the apocalypse. Where Greg McElroy fits into that ancient plan is just about as far beyond me as where he fits into this week's. And it seems to me the Greeks beat the Mayans to predicting the debacle of the Jest season, or have you not read Pedipus Rex?

Honestly though, followers of the Mayans are now saying that it's not about the end of the world, really, it's only the Mayan calendar reaching its end point, after which it will start over, like getting a new life in a video game, and the new calendar will feature the Eagles cheerleaders, which will surely speed up the heat death of the universe, but won't grind the world's computers to a halt, like Y2K. Oh, you mean it didn't? Tell you what, though, I bet if the world really DOES end today, all those Mayans will suddenly forget the calendar excuses and turn around and say 'I told you so'. Seriously, if we all aren't here for Sunday night's game, it means Roger Goodell failed to flex the end of existence into NBC'sprime time schedule, to ensure Bob Costas got to explain, in 37 seconds before throwing to a commercial for trucks, what 10,000 years of civilisation disappearing in a flash actually meant. And if the world ends will Goodell fine Jerod Mayo for making the calendar in the first place? And my first words Sunday will be 'we're still here'.

MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL'S WHO NEEDS COLLEGE FOOTBALL? ON SATURDAY:

Atlanta (12-2) at Detroit (4-10): This game matches arguably the most disciplined team in the NFL against arguably the least disciplined, and you don't need me to tell you which is which. The Lions have to rank as one of the season's major disappointments, and Jim Schwartz has gone from a figure of some sympathy to the kind of figure regarded by pointing an index finger at one's ear and turning it in circles. Otherwise known as the Lions' version of the Wonderlic test. Atlanta ought to be able to control the rest of the Lion offense, give Calvin Johnson his moments, and still score enough against a Lions' D missing Nick Fairley to win on the road. Pick: Falcons

Sunday

New Jersey Giants (8-6) at Baltimore (9-5): The Giants teeter on the verge of elimination like a clown on a unicycle crossing a tightrope in Circus Rexicus. But they can clinch a playoff spot if they win, as long as the Bears, Vikings, Skins, and Cowboys all lose. Meanwhile the Ravens' have installed Jim Caldwell's 'mambo snake' offense, which puts a swaying H-back in motion to try to get your defensive backs to fall asleep, hoping they can hit Ray Rice with a swing pass and turn it into a game-winner. The Giants are likely to be without Justin Tuck this week, and his flexibility may be the most crucial part of their pass rush. The Giants (+69) actually have the best points differential in their division (Dallas has actually been outscored by 11 points, the Skins are +31), and are in many ways the team the Ravens wanted to be at the start of this season. Whether they can be the Giants of their Super Bowl years or the ones in between will be determined in large part by this game. Pick: Giants

Oakland (4-10) at Carolina (5-9): The Raiders' D held the Chiefs to 8 yards rushing, 7 first downs (none in the first half) and less than twenty minutes of possession, and won by five drop goals to nil, one of those being a 57 yarder by the Polish Cannon that Romeo Crennel could have made five yards longer simply by accepting a penalty in the last few seconds on the first half. This is not a promising outlook against a Panther team that seems to have finally realised they might be able to win if they run a pro-style offense rather than trying to out-Baylor the Skins. Pick: Panthers

New Orleans (6-8) at Dallas (8-6): Palindromic Bowl! It'd be Sean Payton Bowl except we all know what went on there. Well, all of us except the Comish, if you read Tags' report. There's a very funny line in it about the 'otherwise praiseworthy' history of the Saints' franchise, which overlooks years of futility and mismanagement, and the recent serious desire to move out of New Orleans which only a hurricane overcame. It is a shame the Rams eschewed the opportunity to become London's team, because the opportunity for Joe Vitt to do Bounty chocolate commercials would be too good to miss. Anway, the Cowboys need two wins and a Giants' loss so a win at home would set up a monster show-down at historic Fedex Field next week. They're a better team with DeMarco Murray, obviously, but they do have a tendency to play like they're waiting for something big to happen and too often it's the other team that makes that something big happen. With the season on the line, I suspect they will not allow the Saints to control the game from the front the way the Bucs did last week. Pick: Cowboys

Washington (8-6) at Philadelphia (4-10): In a perfect world, the Eagles would be the ultimate spoilers, with a defensive game-plan that would stymie Robert Griffin (who is more than likely to play) and an offense primed to take advantage of the Skins' propensity to place DeAngelo Hall on the field in crucial situations. Andy Reid could pull something out from under his jacket besides his colour-coded play chart, and this will be his final home game as Eagles' coach. Philadelphia fans are notorious for not appreciating their heroes until long after they're gone; Reid is no Buddy Ryan, but a loss is likely to set the Philly boo-birds into full voice. Pick: Skins

Tennessee (5-9) at Green Bay (10-4): The Packers are the equivalent of a WWI flying ace whose biplane is held together by chewing gum, with one machine gun not firing, the tail rudder on a jerry-rigged string to the cockpit, and a series of wingmen who inevitably get killed on their first sortie at the front. In that context, Mike Munchak and the Titans are like Anzac troops thrown into the front lines by the British for another futile charge at the massed machine gun nests at Gallipoli. The airplane at least still flies. Pick: Pack

San Diego (5-9) at Newark Airport Jets (6-8): Speaking of erratically flying airplanes, the Jest have benched Mark Sanchez and will again start Greg McElroy at quarterback. I suspect they are afraid Tim Tebow might have a good game, or maybe the idea of beefing him up into a punt protecting tight end has rendered him incapable of throwing the ball. At any rate, Tony Sparano said this week that the Tebow experiment wasn't a failure. This reminds me that the most interesting (and safest) bet on this game might be an over-under on the number of coaches, GMs, and quarterbacks from these two teams who won't be with them next year. How do you figure this game? The last time the Chargers went on the road they beat the Steelers, then went home and laid down for the Panthers. Meanwhile the Jets held the Titans to 14 and lost. Pick: No one. Seriously. I mean, if you wanted to re-enact Apocalypto you could cast Sanchez as a conquistador and Bart Scott as a Mayan. Oh, yeah, pick: Chargers

Minnesota (8-6) at Houston (12-2): Running Back Bowl. Adrian versus Arian sounds like Rocky X, where his wife fights a neo-nazi in a ring specially constructed at an old folks home in Florida. I also suspect Ben Tate might see more time for the Texans, but you never know. Peterson has gone all Barry Sanders lately: at one point last week he unleashed five straight carries for negative yards, then gained eight, then went for an 80 yard TD. The problem for the Vikes, of course, is that they have few other weapons, barely enough to keep a defense honest, and the Texans miss Brian Cushing and Brooks Reed more in pass rush and coverage than in run-stopping. Meanwhile the Texans' offense forces you to account for Andre Johnson, at least. The key, as ever with Houston, is grabbing a lead: it's tough to play catch-up on the ground. But the Vikes have few other options. Pick: Texans

New England (10-4) at Jacksonville (2-12): The Pats split their two tests against the upper echelon at home, and now take on the suburban London Jags on the road. This is a game they will be expected to win. Pick: Pats

Indianapolis (9-5) at Kansas City (2-12): The Colts are 9-5 but have been outscored 358-309 so far this season. The bad news is they gave up 165 yards rushing to the Texans last week, but as noted above, the good news is the Chiefs managed only 8 yards (Jamaal Charles 9 carries for 10 yards) against the Raiders. Plus the Colts are driven by the inspirational coaching in the wake of Chuck Pagano's cancer, while the Chiefs were at their best with Romeo and Brady Quinn coping with the Jovan Belcher tragedy. They kept the team focussed, and now they have reverted to normality, which means they probably are looking for jobs, houses, and lives elsewhere. Pick: Colts

Buffalo (5-9) at Miami (6-8): Playing in Buffalo, Toronto, and Miami means the Bills have played in three different countries in the past three weeks. The Dolphins actually are still alive in the playoffs—but they need Cinn to lose to both Pitt and Balt (possible), the Steelers to then roll over for the Browns (possible, but not likely) and the Jets to lose one more game (now that the Mayan calendar has reset I'm not so sure). Anyway, Ryan Tannehill is Ryan Fitzpatrick without a Harvard degree but with more accuracy and, even as a rookie, a better handle on the offense. Before last week's game Chan Gailey had to be corrected of his misapprehension that the Bills had been eliminated from the playoff chase, but the team went out there and proved him right anyway. They're unlikely to do much different this week. Pick: Dolphins

Cincinnati (8-6) at Pittsburgh (7-7): The Bengals control their own destiny, as they say, and can win the AFC North with wins over the Steelers and next week at home over the Ravens. It seems like all season we've been waiting for the Superman comeback from the Bengals, but they tease it more than Bruno Sammartino in a no-time-limit match, but this one, on the road, is a big ask for them. Meanwhile, the Steelers need to find some kind of way to cover AJ Green, or hope he repeats the drop-fest he had against Dallas, in the only one of their last six games the Bengals have lost. They are weak at corner, the whole Rashard Mendenhall situation is the kind of dissent you don't normally expect from the Steelers, and they've lacked any explosive pass-rush this year; James Harrison seems to be more of a coverage guy, and if they had corners they could trust I would look for Troy Polamalu to pass-rush more. But they don't. Jonathan Dwyer had a big game against the Bengals on SNF back in October, but it took four games for him to match the rushing total of that one, and Geno Atkins is still a nightmare mismatch up front. This is a match up two fine defensive coordinators, Mike Zimmer and Dick LeBeau, and I wonder if LeBeau may just have a few tricks to pull from his sleeve? Pick: Steelers

St. Louis (6-7-1) at Tampa Bay (6-8): There seems to be some dissatisfaction in Tampa over the 'rah rah stuff', the effect of college coaching on pro athletes, which has proven to have the nuclear half-life of last week's fish. That's what happens after four straight losses knock you out of the playoff picture. The Rams had no answer for AP last week, but even more so for the Everson Griffin pick six; Doug Martin is coming off his worst game as a pro (9 carries, 16 yards) which was due as much to chasing the Saints' lead as anything else. Greg Schiano announced this week that Martin would see no reduction in workload, which I assumed to mean 'normal' workload, not nine carry workload, but he seems to be saying the rookie wall is preferable to LaGarrette Blount. Pick: Bucs

Cleveland (5-9) at Denver (11-3): I keep saying the Broncos were a playoff team last season, not quite despite Tim Tebow, but not really because of Tim Tebow—and adding Peyton and getting another year to work out their defense has made them formidable, especially at home. The Browns' recent resurgence was impressive, but also fuelled by playing the Chiefs, Raiders, and Benless Steelers. Pick: Broncos

Chicago (8-6) at Arizona (5-9): Before you get all excited about the Crads laying 38 points on the Lions, please note that Ryan Lindley passed 21 times for 104 yards, they got 14 points on pick sixes and they had TD drives of five and two yards, and a third that was a one-play, 31 yard run by Beanie Welles (half his day's rushing but only a third of his scores). The Bears' defense seems to miss Urlacher the way the Ravens miss Ray Lewis, as much as director as star, and their offense seems to miss blocks the way Sadie Frost missed emotions while participating (it would be hard to call it 'acting') in movies. These teams are actually very similar, except that Jay Cutler can still complete passes downfield before getting creamed by the opposition. The Crads beat the Lions in Phoenix last week, but a double-dose of the North may be too much. Pick: Bears

SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL LIVE ON CHANNEL FOUR:

San Francisco (10-3-1) at Seattle (9-5): Pete Carroll apologised for running a fake punt when leading Buffalo by 47 points. He said he wasn't running up the score, but he did think the Seahawks were still in the running for the Rose or Fiesta Bowls. Although I try to analyse these games, in fact, over analyse them, I often get overpowered by the feeling that Pete Carroll is due some karmic comeback, especially if karma is feeling hard done by with everyone believing in this Mayan apocalypse business anyway. On the other hand, SF's three losses were all on the road (Green Bay, Minnesota, St Louis) and Seattle is unbeaten at home, always a tough place to play. Kaepernick vs Wilson is a battle of mobile quarterbacks, Gore vs Lynch a battle of top runners, Irvin vs the Smith Bros a battle of sackers, and the best one of all might be Earl Thomas and Kim Chancellor vs Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner in a battle of exceptionally hard-hitting safeties. This is a game I am looking forward to doing, and that I hate picking. Pick: Niners

LAST WEEK: 12-4 SEASON: 145-73-1