By Tony McClean
Updated: December 6, 2007
NEW YORK — 13 weeks down and four to go. As we settle down the home stretch, so far, only two teams have qualified for the playoffs — the AFC East champion Patriots and the Dallas Cowboys, who this week can win the NFC East with a win against Detroit or a Giants loss at Philly.
Of course, New England has something else going — an undefeated season. A win this week against Pittsburgh and the Patriots become one of only five teams in history to begin a season at 13-0 (1934 Bears, 1972 Dolphins, 1998 Broncos and 2005 Colts). Only the Dolphins and Broncos won the crown during their seasons.
There are several other interesting matchups with playoff implications on Sunday. One of the more intense games are the Titans hosting the Chargers; the Giants invading Philly; a playoff rematch between the Colts and Ravens at Baltimore; and the Cardinals meeting NFC West foe Seattle.
FACTOID OF THE WEEK
San Diego Chargers cornerback Antonio Cromartie currently leads the NFL with eight interceptions. Cromartie has registered three games with two or more interceptions. With another such performance, he will become the first player since 1981 (Everson Walls, Dallas) and the fifth since the Super Bowl era (1966) to record two or more interceptions in four games in a season. The previous three were: Kansas City’s Johnny Robinson (1966), Philadelphia’s Bill Bradley (1971), and Minnesota’s Paul Krause (1975).
Which running back has scored the most career rushing touchdowns in the month of December?
A. Emmitt Smith
B. Shaun Alexander
C. Marshall Faulk
D. Corey Dillon
(The answer comes at the end of the column).
LAST WEEK: 7-6 (104-69 overall)
We stayed away from a couple of games last week (Bills-Redskins and Jets-Dolphins), but considering all of last week’s ups and downs, we didn’t do too bad. We got burned badly by the Lions and Niners on the road, but we did get it right with the Bucs and Chargers on the road.
STEELERS at PATRIOTS
Even though they don’t play each other every year, the Pats and Steelers have played some memorable games. Just three years ago when the Pats were in the midst of a 21-game winning streak, the Steelers snapped it with a thumping of New England. The Pats would avenge the loss a few weeks later in the AFC Championship en route to their third Super Bowl crown in four seasons. Ironically en route to their first Super Bowl crown, the Pats won the AFC crown at Heinz Field. Plain and simple, the New England Patriots have played with fire the last two weeks. While I know they’re tough at home, but this Sunday their undefeated season goes up in flames.
CHARGERS at TITANS
The Chargers can clinch the AFC West for the third time in four years with a win against Tennessee coupled with a Denver loss to Kansas City. However, the Titans are coming off an impressive win against the Texans as defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth made his return from a hamstring injury. Tennessee is tied with Cleveland for the sixth playoff seed in the AFC, so every game, particularly those against conference opponents — which would be the first tiebreaker between the Titans and Browns — is critical. Despite a two-game lead in the West, the Bolts have been an up and down bunch. It will be a close one, but I’ll lean with the home team.
CARDINALS at SEAHAWKS
The Seahawks look to win their fifth straight and clinch their fourth straight NFC West title on Sunday when they host the Cardinals, who are trying to move closer to their first playoff berth in eight years. Seattle (8-4) reached the halfway point of the season with a .500 record, but has won four straight games to open up a two-game lead over Arizona. Despite a Cards win back in September, the ‘Hawks can clinch the West with a win this week by virtue of a better division record. Arizona has been good week/bad week for the past few months, which explains their record. It will also explain why they’ll lose this game.
COLTS at RAVENS
If you thought Baltimore fans were peeved Monday night after the loss to Team Tivo, just wait for Team Turncoat returns to Maryland. The last time these teams met the Horseheads stole a 15-6 playoff win back in January (yeah, the Ravens couldn’t score then either). While the Ravens were getting their hearts broken, Indy was taking the heart from the Jags in a hard fought home win. To be honest, I think Baltimore used up all their remaining emotions on Monday night. The Colts are getting healthier and right now, Ray and the boys are just getting in their way.
SAINTS at FALCONS
This week’s Monday night “extravaganza” returns to a likely half-empty Georgia Dome as the Saints meet the Dirty Birds. Ex-Raven QB Chris Redman becomes the third man to start under center for Atlanta Monday while New Orleans looks to bounce back from a bad home loss against division-leading Tampa Bay. The Falcons (3-9) come in having lost three straight for the third time this year, while New Orleans has won three straight against Atlanta, including a 22-16 victory back in October at the Superdome. It may not be enough to keep them in the race, but the Saints should win this one.
Packers over Raiders: Ol’ No. 4 celebrates his SI Sportsman Of The Year award in style.
Eagles over Giants: Just a hunch that Brian Westbrook will give Big Blue problems.
Cowboys over Lions: He probably won’t get it, but Wade Phillips should get some Coach of The Year love.
Bills over Dolphins: Right now, the ’72 Dolphins could beat the ’07 Dolphins — with or without pads.
Vikings over 49ers: A.D. versus the Niners’ D. Hide the women and children now.
Broncos over Chiefs: It may not be enough for Denver to get in the playoffs.
Browns over Jets: Last week was just a blip on the radar for Cleveland.
Jaguars over Panthers: Jacksonville bounces back with avengance.
Bucs over Texans: Tampa’s incredible run continues.
Bengals over Rams: This is for desperate gamblers and the half a dozen of folks at this game only.
A. The NFL’s all-time leading rusher, Emmitt Smith has scored 34 career touchdowns in the month of December. Faulk is second with 32, followed by Alexander with 31, and Dillon with 30.