Seven weeks have passed since the last NFL game. Or five days, according to the calendar. But I trust my own sense of timing over what some piece of paper says, and I know it's been seven weeks.
Incidentally, Christmas day lasted 223 hours. Weird.
Oakland @ Tampa Bay (-13). The NFL really messed up this week. I'm sure there are networks and rights and contracts and stuff, but why didn't we have an NFL game on Thursday night? And Friday afternoon? And Friday night? And all day Saturday? The Christmas season is long enough as it is, and all football fans had to subsist on were subpar exhibition games featuring the likes of TCU, Central Michigan and - shudder - Notre Dame. The networks can "flex" good games to primetime, why not move crappy games to Fridays? Nobody will watch Kansas City @ Cincinnati on Sunday, but it could have gotten a few million disinterested-but-at-least-still-watching viewers a couple days before. Seattle @ Arizona will garner no interest two days from now, but gambling alone would have propped up the ratings last night. PICK: Tampa Bay
Detroit @ Green Bay (-9 1/2). At least Matthew Stafford will have plenty of cash to buy winter clothes. And fully-automatic weaponry. PICK: Green Bay
Carolina (-3) @ New Orleans. Alright, here's my perfect scenario for Sunday. The Falcons finish off the Rams 42-0 with Michael Turner rushing for six touchdowns (fantasy championship game this weekend), the coaches meet at midfield, and the team congratulates each other on the impressive victory and the 11-win season. Before the Falcons leave the field, however, all screens switch to this game, where the Saints are leading by two scores with a minute left. The seconds tick away, and everybody remaining in the Dome gets to celebrate "the NFC South champion Atlanta Falcons" together. Is that too much to ask for a guy who didn't get a 52-inch 1080P flatscreen TV for Christmas? PICK: New Orleans
St. Louis @ Atlanta (-14). When I bought my season tickets, I remember looking at this game in particular and thinking, "Man, I'm not going to get anybody to go with me." If popular reason had prevailed, this game would be matchup of 4-win teams, and home team fans would secretly hope for a loss so we'd move up in the draft. Nope, didn't work out that way. Instead, we'll have at least six folks at our tailgate, and even in a blowout will stay to the bitter end - because, as I said, the NFC South and a bye week is perhaps on the line. This one is gonna be fun. PICK: Atlanta (yes, I picked Atlanta all 16 games, but it worked VERY well)
Chicago (-4) @ Houston. I'm thrilled about the apparent success of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, because it will likely give director David Fincher more freedom in the future. However, part of me is even happier because of Valkyrie's surprisingly good numbers. Tom Cruise may be a fruitbat off-screen, I have no idea, but the guy makes consistently great movies. In 20 years, he has made just two truly bad ones: Mission: Impossible 2 and Lions for Lambs (and the latter wasn't his fault at all). That's an absolutely amazing run, and I can't help but root for him. PICK: Houston
Kansas City @ Cincinnati (-3). A website called Silicon Alley Insider has dug up Newsweek's Christmas 1997 wish list. It really is amazing how far technology has come in 11 years. (My favorite is the $1,200 Motorola "cellular phone," complete with built-in answering machine). PICK: Kansas City
Dallas @ Philadelphia (-1 1/2). The Cowboys win, and they're in. Philadelphia is pretty much out, as they'd need a loss by Tampa Bay (unlikely) and then a loss by either Minnesota or Chicago. And the NFL did Dallas a huge favor by moving this to 4:15, so the Eagles will likely already know they're out of the postseason running by kickoff. Far be it for me to call shenanigans, but, well, fuck it - SHENANIGANS. PICK: Dallas
Jacksonville @ Baltimore (-12 1/2). PICK: Jacksonville
Tennessee (-3) @ Indianapolis. What could have been the biggest game of the AFC year ends up being Vince Young @ Jim Sorgi. Everything is wrapped up for both teams, so expect to see a gaggle of backups getting some time - and because Young has something to prove, it should put the Titans over the top. PICK: Tennessee
Cleveland @ Pittsburgh (-10 1/2). "I drive trucks, break arms, and arm wrestle. It's what I love to do, it's what I do best." Oh man, I should know better than to unwittingly type the title of a Sylvester Stallone film. Over the Top rules. PICK: Cleveland
Miami @ NY Jets (-2 1/2). "In a lifetime there is only love/
Reaching for the lonely one/
We are stronger when we are giving love/
When we put emotions on the line/
Know that we are the timeless ones/
Meet me halfway across the sky/
Out where the world belongs to only you and i/
Meet me halfway across the sky/
Make this a new beginning of another life."
Ok, the Kenny Loggins song from Over the Top is sort of terrible. PICK: Miami
New England (-6 1/2) @ Buffalo. Of course my focus Sunday is the Falcons winning the NFC South, but this game could provide a little cherry on top. To make the playoffs, the Patriots need a win here and a loss by either Baltimore or Miami. Imagining Bill Belichick sitting on a couch watching the first round of the playoffs, realizing the Jets essentially knocked them out with that overtime win, is a wonderful vision. PICK: New England
Seattle @ Arizona (-6). Upset alert. The Seahawks will send Mike Holmgren out with a road victory against the slumping Cardinals (who, incidentally, the Falcons will face should they not win the division. Sweet.). PICK: Seattle
4:30 p.m. update: I posted this a couple hours before Bill Simmons called this his "upset special." Just FYI.
Washington @ San Francisco (-3). Getting Bill Cowher is the only reason for Washington to fire Jim Zorn. And the 49ers could be nasty next year - they're just a few pieces away. PICK: San Francisco
Denver @ San Diego (-9). The classic scenario: Win or go home. I like the Chargers to win the game, but this spread is absurd. PICK: Denver
Last week: 6-9-1