By Steve Keating
‘Tebow Time’ runs out this week when the Broncos host the Patriots but the Lineman’s time has come. We’ve been close to a perfect week a few occasions this season but with time ticking down Week 15 looks like a promising bet.
Record: 43-41. Last week 4-2; Pick of the Week: 12-2
PICK OF THE WEEK
Cincinnati Bengals (7-6) at St. Louis Rams (2-11) (Line Bengals minus-6.5)
Remember when the Bengals were purring along with a 6-2 mark and there was chatter of a new pecking order in the AFC North.
Well, not so fast
. The Steelers and Ravens are back on top and Cincinnati is facing a must win date with the Rams on Sunday after dropping four of their last five.
But two of the Cincy losses were to the Steelers, one to the division leading Ravens and a heart-breaking one-point loss to the AFC leading Texans last Sunday. St. Louis will not present the same challenge.
Despite the swoon, the Bengals still have a very good shot at the playoffs while the Rams only shot is the number one draft pick.
The Bengals will not have a better chance to get their post-season bid back on track going up against the sad sack Rams, who are coming off a Monday Night beat down by the Seattle Seahawks.
Rams quarterback Sam Bradford saw action against Seattle but was clearly not over his ankle injury
and may not get the start.
That would leave newcomer Kellen Clemens at the controls of the NFL’s lowest scoring offence averaging just 11.8 points per game.
Running back Stephen Jackson remains the Rams big weapon but will find the yards hard to come by against a very tough seventh ranked Cincinnati defence.
Bengals running back Cedric Benson may be hobbled with an injured foot but is likely to have a much more productive day going against a St. Louis defence that is ranked dead last against the run.
Cincinnati rookie quarterback Andy Dalton has thrown a touchdown in 10 straight games.
Bengals scratch out a win, take Cincy and give up the 6.5.
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Seattle Seahawks (6-7) at Chicago Bears (7-6) (Line Bears minus-3.5)
It’s corny, I know, but the reason I like Chicago here is, that when you back a bear into a corner you are asking for trouble.
These Bears have lost some of their bite without quarterback Jay Cutler and all-purpose back Matt Forte but the Chicago defence is as mean and ornery as any in the league.
After three straight losses, the Bears playoff hopes hinge on this game and I expect them to be exceptionally tough in their den taking on a Seattle team that his making the trip east on short week.
Caleb Hanie gets his fourth start under centre for the injured Cutler and must generate enough offence to give his defence a lead to protect. Running back Marion Barber must hold onto the ball and avoid the bonehead mistakes that cost Chicago a victory in Denver last Sunday.
The Seahawks have produced some of their best performances of the season down the stretch winning four of their last five, including wins over Baltimore and Philadelphia.
Marshawn Lynch is a beast and has been perhaps the NFL’s dominate running back the last two months rushing for over 100-yards in five of last six weeks.
Chicago will need a couple of big plays from kick returner Devin Hester and some points off the foot of field goal kicker Robbie Gould, who is six-for-six from 50-yards out this season but make no mistake, the Bears post-season hopes rest with a defence led by sack machine Julius Peppers and menacing linebacker Brian Urlacher.
Take Da Bears and give up the 3.5.
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Dallas Cowboys (7-6) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-9) (Line Cowboys minus-6.5)
The Bucs are out to save coach Raheem Morris’s job, The Cowboys are out to save their season after gut-churning losses to Arizona and the Giants.
While times are tough in the Big D, they are worse in Tampa Bay. How bad? How about being blown out 41-14 by woeful Florida rivals the Jacksonville Jaguars last week extending their losing skid to seven games.
Tony Romo has never beaten the Bucs and the Cowboys QB has been playing well but once again Dallas is labouring through a dreadful December.
Romo was on target tossing four touchdowns last week against the Giants only to have the defence squander a 12-point lead with less than four minutes to play.
I expect to see Romo put up big numbers again this week with tight end Jason Witten and wide outs Dez Bryant and Mile Austin presenting plenty of problems for a leaky Bucs defence that is the league’s second worse giving up an average of 28.5 points a game.
Dallas will be without impressive rookie running back DeMarco Murray but Felix Jones looks back in good form coming off the bench to rush for over 100 yards.
Dallas breaks out of December doldrums with big win. Morris walks the plank.
Take the Cowboys and give up the 6.5.
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New Orleans Saints (10-3) at Minnesota Vikings (2-11) (Line Saints minus-6.5)
The Saints are starting to look like the Super Bowl team many expected and march into the Metrodome on mission.
With their Thursday night win the Falcons have kept the heat on the Saints, who have clinched a playoff spot but have their sights set on another NFC South division crown and the possibility of a first round bye.
In other words, the Saints should be plenty motivated, something they have not always been this season (see a 31-21 loss to the winless Rams).
Few teams have looked more dangerous the last month than the Saints, particularly on offence with Drew Brees at the controls of the NFL’s top ranked attack averaging 447.8 yards a game.
Brees has tossed for a league best 4,368-yards and 32 touchdowns (only Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers have thrown more) and will add to those numbers going against a porous Vikings 26th ranked pass defence that is yielding nearly 250-yards a game and given up a league high 26 touchdowns through the air.
Vikings defensive end Jared Allen leads the NFL in sacks but will not be able to provide enough pressure consistently to keep Brees from finding favourite targets Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas.
After missing three games with an injured ankle, the return of running back Adrian Peterson will provide a jolt for a Viking offense that has sputtered under rookie quarterback Christian Ponder, who was pulled in favour of backup Joe Webb during last week’s loss to the Lions.
The Metrodome has not been a happy hunting ground for the Saints, who have just two wins in 13 visits to Minny and not returned home with a victory since 1993.
But the Saints have five straight wins while the Vikings have five straight losses and counting.
Take the Saints and give up the 6.5.
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New York Jets (8-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-8) (Line Jets plus 2.5)
This one almost seems like a Christmas gift. Or a typo. When I first saw this I thought it was a decent wager taking the Jets and giving up 2.5.
Ok, the Eagles are at home, have Michael Vick back under centre and beat the Miami Dolphins last week to snap a two game losing skid and have never lost to the Jets (8-0).
But this is also an under-achieving team with a mopping star running back, a fragile quarterback and an erratic defence going up against a Jets team that is flying high on the wings of a three game winning streak.
Buffalo, Washington, and Kansas City may not exactly be the cream of the NFL but Rex Ryan’s boys, unlike the Eagles, have delivered when they had to remain in the AFC wildcard chase.
The Jets offence and their quarterback Mark Sanchez remain an enigma.
They rank near the top of league in scoring (6th) averaging 25.2 points per game but near the bottom (25th) in total offence averaging 311-yards per game.
Sanchez has produced some of his best work during the Jets three-game surge and New Yorkers have been red hot in the red zone scoring 12 touchdowns in 12 chances.
The Eagles have also been a mystery. Packed with talent and dubbed the Dream Team before the start of the season the Eagles have not come close to living up to expectations.
LeSean McCoy is the NFL’s second leading rusher and leads the league in rushing touchdowns with 14.
DeSean Jackson is a threat every time he touches the ball but has spent more time pouting this season than catching balls.
The Eagles lead the league in turnovers and their fans, among the most demanding and surly in the NFL, are not happy about a 1-5 home record.
Take the Jets and the 2.5 points.
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New England Patriots (10-3) at Denver Broncos (8-5) (Line Patriots minus-6.5)
I like Tim Tebow, I really do but “Tebow Time” runs out this week.
Tebow has provided a compelling story line with his dramatic fourth quarter comebacks, carrying
the Broncos on his broad shoulders into playoff contention.
But I’ve seem quarterbacks with better completions percentages in the Lingerie Football League and this week Tebow’s short-comings are surely to be exposed when he goes mano-a-mano against one of the very best gun slingers in the business, Tom Brady.
It is sure to be an intriguing matchup but one I cannot see Tebow or the Broncos winning.
Denver, riding the momentum from a six game winning run, is solid defensively but few teams have been able to slow down Brady and his record breaking tight end Rob Gronkowski, who leads the league in touchdown catches with 15 and Wes Welker, who is tops in receptions with 100 and receiving yards with 1,339.
The Patriots will come out throwing looking for the early knockout punch and there is no chance Tebow and the Broncos will be able to keep pace.
The New England secondary gives up more yards through the air than any other team but should be able to defend against Tebow, who completed just three passes for 15-yards in the first three-quarters of Denver’s win over the Bears last week.
This one has the makings of a Mile High Massacre. Clock strikes midnight on “Tebow Time”.
Take the Patriots and give up the 6.5.