Ed: Merry Christmas to all of our readers! Hope you all got nice presents last night or this morning. I certainly got a couple of gifts last week, including one from the Carolina Panthers whose 26-15 victory over the Washington Redskins made me look like a prophet. Well, a prophet who goes 5-2, anyway, and manages to push his season total to 64-43.
Jazz: Three wise men showed up at my door last week. Sadly, they were from an era well before the invention of proper football and they only managed to hand me four winners so my season record crept up to 65-42. Ed is breathing down my neck as we come down to the final two weeks of the regular season. Can I hang on to this slender lead?
Ed: Most of the action took place yesterday, but we do have three games on tap for Christmas Day and Monday Night Football, all of them with playoff implications, and two of which are big rivalries:
- Ravens at Steelers (4:30 pm ET, NFL Network) – One of these teams will go to the playoffs as the AFC North champ, and the other is likely to have an early vacation. Thanks to an earlier loss to Baltimore, Pittsburgh has to win today to be the champ, and a Baltimore loss will put them two games back with one left to play. The Steelers play tough at home and have a five-game winning streak; the Ravens are 2-4 on the road but have won five of their last seven. Steelers should eke out a close win, 24-21.
- Broncos at Chiefs (8:30 pm, NBC) – The defending champs face elimination from the playoffs with a loss today in Kansas City, while the Chiefs need a win to keep up with Oakland for the division title. The two defenses are nearly evenly matched, but the KC offense is operating a little better than Denver’s. That and home-field advantage will make the difference in a Chiefs’ 19-16 win.
- Lions at Cowboys (8:30 pm Monday, ESPN) – The Lions need a win in Dallas to make the playoffs, but the Cowboys have already wrapped up their division and home-field advantage through the playoffs. Will Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot let up, and/or will Jason Garrett start playing his second string to give his starters some rest? That would mean Tony Romo in the second half, which isn’t exactly a let-down. Detroit’s struggled on the road, and probably will in this game, too. Cowboys 31-23 over the Lions.
- Ravens at Steelers (4:30 pm ET, NFL Network) – The slugfest which always erupts between these two teams combined with the unpredictability of the Steelers this year (to put it kindly) really means that this one could go either way. I think the five points that Vegas is giving Pittsburgh is on the generous side to be honest, but if there’s been one constant factor for them it’s that Big Ben plays well at home and terrible on the road. I’m going to go with the home field advantage and take the Steelers in a low scoring match with a ton of penalties, 20-17.
- Broncos at Chiefs (8:30 pm, NBC) – This is the moment when the Broncos could suddenly charge out like they did last year and blaze a path to glory. Unfortunately, that was last year’s Broncos. I think they’ll put of a good fight, but Denver isn’t capturing lightning in the same bottle twice. The Chiefs will cover the spread here and scrape out another win 27-20.
- Lions at Cowboys (8:30 pm Monday, ESPN) – Really? I suppose it’s possible that the Cowboys could figure out a way to drop this game at home while they’re on the verge of locking up a top spot in the entire league for the post-season but I don’t see it happening. Cowboys run up their margin 24-13.