Peek at Week: One for the Birds


(Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Eagles)

SUNDAY’S HALL-OF-FAME GAME

Seattle @ Philadelphia, 4:25 p.m. (EST)

The line: Eagles by 1

The story: The Eagles are the best team in the NFC East, and the Seahawks are the best team … OK, they might be the best team in the NFC West. They’re the defending Super Bowl champions, we know that. We also know they’re getting hot at the right time of the season. If there’s one place Seattle is vulnerable, it’s not wide receiver; it’s the road, where they’re 4-2 … except they won their last three, including a resounding defeat of San Francisco last week. Marshawn Lynch may not talk much, but he’s running over, around and through opposing defenses … and that’s how Seattle likes it. It’s how Philadelphia likes it, too, and LeSean McCoy is beginning to recover after a disappointing first-half of the season. Moreover, he averages 103.1 yards rushing per start over his last eight games at home. Philadelphia’s hope is to get McCoy started, take the ball out of Mark Sanchez’s hands and beat Seattle by playing keep-away – much as San Diego did earlier in the year. One difference: The Chargers have Phillip Rivers; the Eagles have … OK, let’s not go there.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: The Eagles won their last 10 regular-season games at home.

FOUR OTHERS SUITABLE FOR HALL-OF-FRAMING

Baltimore @ Miami, 1 p.m. (EST)

The line: Dolphins by 2-1/2

The story: My guess is the second AFC wild card comes out of this game, with Miami in an enviable position. Three of their last four games are home, including two vs. cold-weather teams, Minnesota and Buffalo. Much better to have them here than there. But that’s not all. Baltimore just lost defensive tackle Haloti Ngata for four games to a league suspension, and that might mean adios, muchachos. The Ravens need this one to stay in their division race, but I don’t see them … or anyone else, for that matter – catching Cincinnati. What they must do here is what the Jets did Monday night, which is gash the Dolphins with the run. And nobody is better equipped than Justin Forsett, who just happens to rank second in the AFC in yards rushing, first in the NFL in yards per carry (5.6) and is working on a three-game streak of 100 or more yards on the ground. One big difference between Baltimore and the Jets: The Ravens don’t have the league’s Venus de Milo, Geno Smith. Nope, Joe Flacco is 3-0 vs. Miami and can beat these guys with his arm, which makes it tougher for the Dolphins to stop the run here than it did against the Jets when Gang Green shredded them for 277 yards.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: Ryan Tannehill has completed a franchise-record 70 percent of his passes in each of his last five games.

Indianapolis @ Cleveland, 1 p.m. (EST)

The line: Colts by 3-1/2

The story: Remember what Capt. John Miller told James Francis Ryan at the end of “Saving Private Ryan?” He told him to “earn this.” Well, time to pass it on to Brian Hoyer. Somehow, he was given another chance to start because, as coach Mike Pettine said, he gives the Browns “the best chance to win.” OK, then, earn this. The Colts not only are going to the playoffs, but they have one of the best young quarterbacks anywhere. That means this could be a shootout, and good luck, Cleveland. You must beat Andrew Luck with a quarterback who’s 1-2 over his last three starts and who, in that time, barely completed 50 percent of his passes, with one touchdown and six interceptions. Hoyer’s been in a funk, and he better snap out of it. Otherwise, you’re going to have to give the people what they want. Johnny Football? Come on down.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: Adam Vinatieri is the only kicker not to miss a field goal this year.

Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati, 1 p.m.(EST)

The line: Bengals by 3

The story: Pittsburgh is beyond frustrating. One week the Steelers maul Indianapolis. The next they lose to the New York Freakin’ Jets. I’m about to give up on these guys … along with everyone else outside the 412 area code … but this is their last best chance to prove they belong. Knock off Cincinnati, and, believe it or not, they and everyone else in the AFC North are back in the race. One problem: The game’s in Cincinnati, and the Bengals lose there almost as often as they win a playoff game. They’re 13-1-1- over the last 15 starts at home, and that’s trouble for a Steelers’ team that lost two of its last three starts – to opponents that are a combined 7-17. In the meantime, Cincinnati won its last three – all on the road – and five of its last six. The Bengals have the momentum … and the location … the Steelers do not. I don’t care what Ben Roethlisberger’s right hand looks like. The Steelers are going to need a lot of help to win this one.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: Roethlisberger is 8-2 on the road vs. Cincinnati.

New England @ San Diego, 8:30 p.m.(EST)

The line: Patriots by 3-1/2

The story: Someone in San Diego this week asked me how the Chargers could be a three-and-a-half point underdog when they’re at home and when it’s December, where Philip Rivers is 30-6,  including 29-3 in the last four games of the season. Well, let me answer in two words: Tom. Brady. If there’s anyone better down the stretch than Rivers it’s the quarterback he’s facing. Brady is 45-7 in December, and since 2003 he’s lost two straight times only four times (the Patriots are 36-4). Still, this is a potential trap for New England, and coach Bill Belichick knows it. That’s why he had the team in San Diego all week. It wasn’t for the weather. It was for the body clocks, with Sunday’s game pivotal to New England’s drive for home-field advantage. If the Pats win here, they should be home for the playoffs. They have Miami, the Jets and Buffalo left, with Miami and Buffalo in Foxboro. The road is steeper for San Diego, which embarks on a Bataan Death March, with the Patriots, Broncos, 49ers and Chiefs left. The edge here goes to New England for numbers of reasons, but most of all because it has Tom Brady and the Chargers do not. If San Diego can’t pressure or sack him … and the Bolts have six sacks in the past seven games … they’re toast. Simple as that.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: Since 2009, the Patriots and Chargers are tied with the best record (17-3) over the final four games of the regular season.

… AND ONE THAT’S NOT

N.Y. Giants @ Tennessee, 1 p.m. (EST)

The line: Even

The story: There’s a reason there’s no favorite here: Both teams stink. The Giants rank 31st in run defense; the Titans rank last. The Giants have three wins; the Titans have two. The Giants lost their last seven; the Titans lost their last six. I think you see where this is going. Nowhere. The vultures have been circling the Giants for weeks, and Tennessee’s CEO this week promised a drastic roster makeover for 2015. Who cares who wins this one? I want to the over/under on the Nielsen ratings. Where’s “Heidi” when you need her?

Hall-of-Fame worthy: Rashad Jennings aims for his fourth straight game vs. Tennessee with at least 100 scrimmage yards or a touchdown.

UPSET OF THE WEEK

Ron Borges. San Diego (+3-1/2) over New England. Tom Brady will come in angry after losing to Green Bay, but a week in the sun and a more desperate Chargers team at home make me lean to the Bolts. Power Blue Jersey Day bad omen, but I’ll take playoff desperation over jersey jinx.

Clark Judge. Baltimore (+2-1/2) over Miami. The loss of Haloti Nagata hurts. But last time I checked Justin Forsett was still in the lineup vs. a team that couldn’t stop the run vs. the Jets.

Rick Gosselin. San Diego (+3-1/2) over New England. Philip Rivers doesn’t lose in December.

LOCK OF THE WEEK

San Francisco (-8) over Oakland. I don’t care how bad Colin Kaepernick’s play or interviews are. The 49ers win this because … well, because Oakland stinks. There’s no other way to put it. One win? You gotta be kidding. Watch these guys for a couple of series, and you’ll understand. With all the speculation swirling around San Francisco’s coach, I’m surprised this hasn’t been labeled the Jim Harbaugh Bowl. Speculation has him going to Oakland, but puh-leeze. I can’t see the Yorks doing business with the Raiders, even if it is to sentence Harbaugh to four years in the Black Hole. Nope, this is about one struggling team getting well … if only for a week … against one dreadful one.

FIVE GUYS WHO COULD MAKE SUNDAY’S WALL-OF-FAME

1. Philadelphia LB Connor Barwin. He has 10.5 sacks in his last four games at home.

2. Minnesota RB Matt Asiata. He has 10 touchdowns in his last seven games at home.

3. New Orleans QB Drew Brees. He has a 129.8 passer rating in his last three starts vs. Carolina at home. He has at least four touchdown passes, 300 yards and a 100 passer rating in each of all three.

4. St. Louis DE Robert Quinn. He has nine sacks and four forced fumbles in his last seven games.

5. Green Bay LB Clay Matthews. He has four sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble returned for a touchdown in his last five Monday Night TV games.

HALL OF NOTES-WORTHY

1. Houston’s Andre Johnson needs only eight catches to reach 1,000 for his career. When he does it he will join Jerry Rice, Marvin Harrison, Hines Ward and Reggie Wayne as the only wide receivers to reach 1,000 with one franchise.

2. With a victory Sunday, Seattle’s Russell Wilson ties Dan Marino and Matt Ryan with the most victories (33) in his first three years as a quarterback.

3. Over the past five seasons, New England (21-4) has the best record in December (which also includes regular-season games in January), with San Diego (19-6) second.

4. Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown has at least five catches for 50 yards in 28 straight games, a league record.

5. John Harbaugh is 4-0 vs. Miami.

6. Aaron Rodgers has 360 straight completions and 31 touchdowns without an interception in his last 10 games at home.

7. Baltimore kicker Justin Tucker has hit 59 of his last 60 field-goal attempts under 55 yards.

8. Dating back to the second half of 2011, Seattle has lost 15 games by an average of 4.8 points per contest.

9. Seattle has a streak of 58 straight games (61, including the playoffs) where it either has led or been within one score in the fourth quarter.

10. Since Week 6, Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy has 745 rushing yards in seven games – the second best total in the league. Only Dallas’ DeMarco Murray has more.

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