We’re down to the final two weeks, when the playoff situation should start to emerge. So far, it’s not emerging at all in the NFC, where only Seattle has a confirmed slot in post-season play, but so far doesn’t know what it is. It’s not much better in the AFC, either; Indianapolis is the only division winner so far in the entire NFL (with a 9-5 record!), and Denver and Kansas City have clinched unknown playoff spots. One team at .500 still has a shot at winning a division, the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East. It’s a crazy year.
Green Bay still has a shot at winning the NFC North, too, but they have to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lambeau today. And they have to do it with Matt Flynn again, because doctors won’t clear Aaron Rodgers for the game. The Steelers are struggling through another poor season, but they looked like champions last week in rolling over the AFC North division leaders Cincinatti Bengals. The Steelers are mathematically alive in the playoff hunt, but that’s just theoretical; their season ends next week. They may still have some fight in them, though, and their defense is going to make Flynn’s day very difficult. Look for a Pittsburgh upset, 30-24 (4:25 pm ET, CBS).
It’s been a while since I’ve done any picks (and Jazz has done a great job in my absence), but I did go 3-3 for Week 13 and moved my season record to 41-35-1. Let’s try to focus on games that will impact the playoff picture today:
- Vikings at Bengals (1 pm ET, Fox) – This game could decide whether Cincinatti gets into the playoffs at all, especially after their loss to Pittsburgh last week. The Bengals are unbeaten at home, though, and the closest thing the Vikes came to a win on the road was falling back into a tie with Green Bay after blowing a big lead. The big key: the Bengals run defense is 5th in the league. Bengals top the Vikes 27-17.
- Cowboys at Barrycaders (1 pm, Fox) – This game will be most notable for Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan committing political suicide by starting Kirk Cousins over RGIII, but if Jason Garrett and Tony Romo blow another 4th-quarter lead like they did last week against Green Bay, it’s going to be career suicide for them both. Dallas has lost two in a row and lost control of their division, but they could still win it if they run the table and the Eagles blow a couple of games. This time, I’d expect Dallas to come out on top, but Romo and Garrett will make the 4th quarter … interesting. 35-31 Cowboys.
- Saints at Panthers (1 pm, Fox) – How crazy is this season? Either of these two teams could end up with the #1 seed, or be forced into a wild-card slot. Actually, even with the 10-4 record, neither team has quite locked up a playoff spot, but they’re both likely going to be in the post-season. The Saints got to 10-4 largely on the basis of their home-field play, though, and the Panthers have won eight of their last nine — only losing to New Orleans on the road. The Panthers should hold serve at home, and may end up with the top spot, with a 33-27 win.
- Cardinals at Seahawks (4:05 pm, Fox) – Seattle has only clinched a playoff spot, but any San Francisco loss will clinch the division for them, and a first-round playoff bye. Arizona is third in the division but still very much in the playoff hunt at 9-5. If they run the table and the 49ers blow a game (unlikely in this week’s MNF contest), the Cardinals will be in great position for a wild card. Unfortunately, they’re not a great road team, and Seattle is both a great home team (6-0) and still playing for something. Seattle 35-24 over the Cardinals.
- Bears at Eagles (8:30 pm, NBC) – This might be the most pregnant of all the playoff-implicated games today. Both teams have to keep winning to clinch divisions, and both teams will have weak chances at wild-card spots if they don’t. Philly has a good offense and a terrible defense, while Chicago has a little more balance. Still, Philly is at home, and except for an embarrassing loss to Minnesota last week, on a bit of a roll lately. I’ll pick the Eagles at home to win it, 27-24, possibly in OT. Should be a great game.
- Falcons at 49ers (8:30 pm, MNF) – Both Seattle and Arizona would like to see San Francisco lose, but it’s not going to happen this week. They’re playing at home against the disappointing Atlanta Falcons, whose only road win was an OT game in Buffalo. The line has the 49ers up by 14, but let’s go a little beyond that and predict a 34-17 win for San Francisco that keeps pressure on both of their NFC West rivals and puts them in position for their showdown in Tempe against the Cardinals next week.
Meanwhile, here’s your feel-good NFL family story of the week:
A wife furious with her football-obsessed husband dropped a dime on a Staten Island gin mill — sparking a rare raid that shut down $600,000 in Super Bowl pools last week.
“How can the SLA allow a $1 million illegal football pool at Talk of the Town?” the angry spouse wrote the State Liquor Authority on Nov. 13.
“My husband spends all his money on these pools and not on our children.”
The SLA put a rush investigation on the anonymous complaint. Last Sunday night, two investigators barged into the neighborhood saloon’s annual Christmas party. They flashed badges and snapped photos of pool boards taped to the mirrored bar back, witnesses told The Post.
Maybe the bar should have insisted on getting notes from the wives ….