Saturday, December 16, 2006

Key Games Highlight NFL Slate

As the season winds down to the final weeks, every game, every snap, takes on greater meaning and significance.

Week 15 features plenty of big games with huge playoff implications as the NFL prepares for its all-important second season.

In the NFC, Dallas travels to Atlanta and Philadelphia takes a hop, skip and a jump over to New Jersey to take on the Giants. Both games have playoff scenarios attached to them and a loss could send any of them home for the postseason.

Chicago can clinch home field with a victory over Tampa Bay and Carolina must fend off a surging Steeler team in order to keep its playoff hopes alive.

In the AFC, the suddenly hapless Colts, who looked to have home field wrapped up four weeks ago, must fight just to earn a playoff bye against a red hot Bengals squad. An Indy loss and a San Diego win over Denver would practically give home field to the Chargers.

Interesting stuff all-around, no mater how you slice it.

There are plenty of excellent games on tap for any football connoisseur, so set back, grab your chips and dip, get your fantasy football sheets out and enjoy the games.

Here's the Corners predictions for week 15 in the NFL:

Dallas at Atlanta (Saturday night)
The Cowboys played horrible last week and the Falcons are hurting at running back, which means more Michael Vick rushing the ball. That's good and he'll most likely break Bobby Douglas' rushing record by a QB, but there's the problem, he's supposed to be a quarterback. Winner: Cowboys.

Tampa Bay at Chicago
The Bears (11-2) have taken advantage of playing at Soldier Field this season, going 5-1 at home after a 7-1 mark in 2005. Chicago leads the NFC in both offensive and defensive scoring at home, averaging 31.3 points while allowing only 14.7 points per game. The Bears have held all but one of their opponents to 13 points or less at Soldier Field this season, while the Buccaneers (3-10) have not scored a touchdown in their last 11 quarters. Winner: Bears.

Pittsburgh at Carolina
The Steelers have won four of five and the Panthers have lost three straight. It appears that Pittsburgh should win, but appearances are deceiving. It's going to be tough to win in Carolina without Hines Ward, Troy Polamalu and Cedrick Wilson. Winner: Panthers.

Miami at Buffalo
The Dolphins, who have won five of their last six games, recorded their first shutout in six seasons with a 21-0 home victory over division-leading New England last Sunday. It was the 10th time this season that Miami has held an opponent to 20 points or fewer. Buffalo has won four of the last five meetings in this series and six of the last nine matchups at Ralph Wilson Stadium, but the offense is ranked 30th in the league and Miami should feast on that. Winner: Dolphins.

Jacksonville at Tennessee
Jacksonville rushed for a franchise-best 375 yards in a stunning 44-17 rout of AFC South-leading Indianapolis last week. The Jaguars, in second place and two games behind the Colts in the division, are holding down the sixth and final playoff spot in the conference. Tennessee has lost the past three meetings to Jacksonville and the previous two home matchups, but the Titans are one of the hottest teams in the AFC. They're looking to win five in a row for the first time since 2003. Winner: Jaguars.

Cleveland at Baltimore
The Ravens lead the division by two games over Cincinnati, and if they win and the Bengals lose at Indianapolis on Monday night, will be division champions for the second time in team history. Baltimore also won the division in 2003, the last time it made the playoffs. Regardless, if Baltimore beats Cleveland its in the playoffs. Winner: Ravens.

Washington at New Orleans
If the Saints, coming off an impressive thrashing of Dallas, win against the Redskins, they clinch the NFC South title. Washington is 1-5 on the road this season. The Saints have won their past two games against the Redskins, but are 1-5 in the last six meetings in New Orleans. Winner: Saints.

Houston at New England
The Patriots are coming off a shutout loss to the Dolphins last week, but can still clinch the division with a victory on Sunday and a Jets loss or tie. Houston has lost 17 consecutive road games. Winner: Patriots.

NY Jets at Minnesota
The Jets have won five of seven in their playoff push and look to continue that against the Vikings. Minnesota's top-ranked rush defense has taken care of business this season, holding opponents to 703 yards (54.1 per game). The Vikings set a franchise record by holding the Lions to minus-3 rushing yards last week, which was also the fewest allowed by a team since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. The Jets have won five straight against Minnesota and boast a 6-1 overall mark in the series, but the teams haven't met since Oct. 20, 2002. Winner: Jets.

Detroit at Green Bay
A rejuvenated Brett Favre looks to lead the Packers to their 15th straight home win over the Lions on Sunday. Favre has never lost to Detroit (2-11) at home since being traded to Green Bay (5-8) before the 1992 season. More bad new for Detroit: The Lions are 0-6 on the road this season. Winner: Packers.

Denver at Arizona
Denver (7-6) is trying to avoid dropping a fifth straight game for the first time since the 1990 season. The good news for the Broncos is they have never lost in seven meetings (6-0-1) with the Cardinals, though the teams have not met since 2002. Arizona (4-9), meanwhile, enters this matchup having won two straight and three of four since an eight-game losing streak. Winner: Broncos.

St. Louis at Oakland
The Rams (5-8) jumped out to a 4-1 start to the season, but have dropped seven of their past eight games, including a 42-27 defeat to Chicago on Monday night. The Raiders have lost six in a row and haven't lost seven straight since 1987. Oakland has won seven of the 10 meetings between these teams, which were once located in Los Angeles but left after the 1994 season. Winner: Rams.

Philadelphia at NY Giants
The Giants (7-6) snapped a four-game losing streak Sunday, beating Carolina 27-13. Philadelphia (7-6), meanwhile, held off Washington 21-19 to leave it tied with New York for second place in the East, a game behind Dallas, which lost to New Orleans. What all this means is this is a crucial game for both teams in the NFC East. The Giants won the first meeting in overtime at Philly. Jeff Garcia is 2-1 since taking over for injured Donovan McNabb at quarterback. Winner: Eagles.

Kansas City at San Diego (Sunday night)
LaDainian Tomlinson has his touchdown record and the San Diego Chargers have the AFC West title. Tomlinson will try to break another NFL record while helping the Chargers hurt a division rival's playoff hopes. He has scored 174 points this season - two behind Paul Hornung's NFL record set with Green Bay in 1960. With the way Tomlinson has been getting into the end zone, that record seems likely to fall soon. Tomlinson has scored at least two touchdowns in seven consecutive games, matching John Riggins' record set with Washington in 1983. He has rushed for 954 yards and scored 21 times in that span, all victories for San Diego. What's this mean for KC? Problems. Winner: Chargers.

Cincinnati at Indianapolis (Monday night)
Two teams going in opposite directions heading into the playoffs. The Bengals have won four straight, while the Colts have dropped three of four after a 9-0 start. Cincy has not won five straight since 1988 - the year the Bengals made it to the Super Bowl. The Colts allowed 375 yards rushing, tied for second-most in the NFL since the 1970 merger, in a 44-17 home loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars last Sunday. Rudi Johnson could have a big night. Winner: Bengals.

The Corner Lowdown
Last week: 8-7
Overall: 120-67

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