The Lineman’s NFL picks
Big shout out to all those who came through with Christmas gift picks last week, especially the G-Man, Fine Tooner and the Bark with big wins.
But here we are in the final week of the season and the Lineman is going it alone.
At this time of year the Lineman leans towards teams that are still playing for something but then again as the Philadelphia Eagles demonstrated going down to the Vikings on Tuesday, there are no sure things this wacky NFL season.
Record: 49-47. Last week: 3-3. Pick of the Week: 8-8.
PICK OF THE WEEK:
Pittsburgh Steelers (11-4) at Cleveland Browns (5-10) (Line Steelers minus-5.5): The Steelers are playing for a first round bye, the AFC North crown and the second seed, which would guarantee them a second round home playoff date.
The Browns are playing to save coach Eric Mangini’s job. Ummmm, it seems the Steelers have a little more incentive this week.
While the Steelers are likely to be without their Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu again, the Pittsburgh defense is still something to fear leading the league in scoring defense (14.9 points per game) and tops against the run (64.1 yards per game).
The Pittsburgh D is likely to make it a long afternoon for rookie quarterback Colt McCoy and a Browns offence that is averaging just 17.5 ppg.
The Steelers offence broke out of their funk last week demolishing the toothless Panthers but it was not a polished effort from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who will be looking for a playoff tune-up against the Browns.
Pittsburgh has won 13 of last 14 meetings and the Browns are on a three game slide, including losses to Buffalo and Cincinnati.
This is a huge rivalry game and Browns fan will tell you they hate the Steelers more than anyone – except maybe LeBron James.
But playing for a bye trumps playing for pride.
Take the Steelers and give up the 5.5.
Carolina Panthers (2-13) at Atlanta Falcons (12-3) (Line Falcons minus-14.5): The Falcons are playing for the top seed and home field advantage through the NFC playoffs while the Panthers have already clinched the top pick in the NFL draft.
After losing to the New Orleans Saints last week, the Falcons get one final shot at locking up the number one seed and it is not likely the Dirty Birds will let this one slip through their fingers.
The Falcons will send an NFL best seven players to the Pro Bowls, including QB Matt Ryan, running back Michael Turner and wide receiver Rowdy Roddy White, who leads the NFL with 109 catches.
The Georgia Dome has been a fortress for the Falcons. With Ryan calling plays Atlanta had won 15 straight at home until last week’s loss to the Saints.
The Panthers offence is the worst in the league sitting last in scoring (12.4 ppg) and total yards (256.3 ypg).
The Falcons will come out flying and I expect them to pile up a huge lead and then coast across the finish line.
Giving up more than two touchdowns might seem like a gamble but Panthers have no offensive weapons capable of taking a serious bit out of an Atlanta lead.
Dirty Birds clean up.
Take the Falcons and give up the 14.5.
Chicago Bears (11-4) at Green Bay Packers (9-6) (Line Packers minus-6.5): The Packers were headed for the playoff scrap heap a few weeks ago when QB Aaron Rodgers went down with a concussion.
But Rodgers was back calling plays last week throwing four touchdowns in a must win over the New York Giants and now this week the Packers are right back in the playoff picture.
In fact, the Packers are in control of their own destiny: a victory at Lambeau Field and they clinch a wild card.
The Bears would love to bury their NFC North rivals post-season bid but otherwise have little incentive having secured the division title and a first round bye.
The game will feature two of the NFL’s stingiest defenses, the Bears led by Pro Bowlers defensive end Julius Peppers, linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs while the Packers counter with sack machine Clay Matthews, cornerback Charles Woodson and safety Nick Collins.
The Bears have one of the league’s top road records (6-1) and have had some success in Green Bay but it will be a playoff atmosphere at Lambeau Field and expect the Packers to rise to the occasion.
Green Bay packing for the post-season.
Take the Packers give up the 6.5.
New York Giants (9-6) at Washington Redskins (6-9) (Line Giants minus-3.5): Who can forget the Giants fourth quarter meltdown to the Eagles two weeks ago. Certainly the Giants have had a hard time forgetting that nightmare.
The shaken G-Men have not been themselves since their breakdown, following up the humiliating flop to Philly with an embarrassing 45-17 loss to the Packers that has left their post-season hopes on life support.
But as slim as Giants playoff hopes are (they must win and hope the Bears beat the Packers) they are better than the Redskins, who have none.
Giants QB Eli Manning has thrown league high 24 interceptions but will get a chance to redeem himself against a Redskins defense that ranks dead last in total defense surrendering an average of 393.5 ypg.
Manning will test a Redskins secondary anchored by Pro Bowl cornerback DeAngelo Hall but is more likely to rely on the power running of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw.
The Giants have won the last five meetings and eight of the last nine.
This one won’t be pretty. Time for the Giants to Man up.
Take the Giants and give up the 3.5.
Tennessee Titans (6-9) at Indianapolis Colts (9-6) (Line Colts minus-9.5): The resurgent Colts have reeled off three big wins and with one more over the tumbling Titans will lock up the AFC South crown and a ninth straight trip to the post-season.
Colts QB Peyton Manning has recovered for a mid-season interception crisis and is once again in full command of NFL’s top passing (290.1 ypg).
The Titans are in a tailspin losing seven of their last eight and the game could mark the end of Jeff Fisher’s run in Nashville as the NFL’s longest-tenured coach.
Indy may well be the end of the road for Fisher but the Colts motor on.
Take the Colts and give up the 9.5.
Miami Dolphins (7-8) at New England Patriots (13-2) (Line Patriots minus-3.5): This is a game with a flashing warning sign screaming at me, ” STAY AWAY, STAY AWAY”.
But for my last pick of the regular season I am going to break one of my 10 Commandments, “Thou shall not pick a meaningless game”.
The Patriots have locked up a first round bye and home field advantage through the playoffs. The Dolphins season ends on Sunday win or lose and a trip from sunny South Beach to frosty Foxborough cannot be on the top of anyone’s Christmas wish list.
Pats coach Bill Belichick rarely throws in the towel so most of the starters, including Pro Bowl QB Tom Brady, will see action.
The Patriots lead the NFL in scoring and Brady, who has thrown a record 319 pass attempts without an interception, is favoured to league MVP honours.
Miami has been one of the NFL’s best road teams going 6-1 but New England has been virtually unbeatable at home and I don’t expect them to let any team just walk in and leave with a victory.
Take New England and give up the 3.5.
PHOTO: Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger passes the ball against the Carolina Panthers in the second quarter of their NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania December 23, 2010. REUTERS/Jason Cohn