This week, the Steelers face big challenges — and not just from the San Francisco 49ers, who are playing high-level NFL football this season and are running away with their division at 10-3, the same record as the Steelers. James Harrison has to sit this game out, thanks to a one-game suspension for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Browns quarterback Colt McCoy, who should have come out of the game last week. Even worse, Ben Roethlisberger has been called “questionable” for tomorrow night’s game thanks to a high-ankle sprain, even after being able to do some practicing this week. If he plays, he won’t have the ability to scramble and make plays open up, and if he doesn’t, Charlie Batch is dependable but not dynamic. Still, the line on this game is even, strangely enough, so I’ll predict a Steelers win that will have to rely on a lights-out defense scoring more than once and shutting down the 49er offense all night. Steelers 17, Frisco 9.
Last week, I went 6-0 again, my third straight perfecto, and I’m now at 60-25. What about this week?
- Saints at Vikings — The Vikes ended up getting stiffed by the the officials on a screwy last play, when they missed an obvious face-mask violation by Detroit, which nearly lost a home game that they should have easily won. The Vikings are at home this week, but they won’t catch the Saints napping. This should be a walkover for the Saints, 31-13.
- Patriots at Broncos — Hey, I think Tim Tebow is having an amazing run, and is a standup young man of faith, and I think the string of improbable victories has been one the most cheery stories of the season. That recipe, though, really only works against teams that can’t put up a lot of points, which is not at all how I’d describe Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Perhaps Tebow can take solace in this Jeff Pojanowski essay at Patheos when the Pats do what they do most weeks and put the game out of reach, even for Tebow. Patriots 27-10 over the Broncos, even if I’ll be rooting for this to go the other way.
- Packers at Chiefs — Green Bay takes its unbeaten record on the road this week, but only to Kansas City, which has only gone 2-4 at home and just had their head coach fired. This one shouldn’t be close as the Pack improves to 14-0 with a 35-20 win, and another 4th-quarter sideline stint for Aaron Rodgers.
- Redskins at Giants — It seems like every week these teams play big rivals, doesn’t it? The G-men should be able to handle Washington, but I’d guess it will be a closer game than some might think, 27-24.
- Ravens at Chargers — San Diego doesn’t have a prayer of getting into the postseason, and Baltimore has to win out to prevent the Steelers from taking the division. The Ravens are only 3-3 on the road, and the Chargers are playing their final home game of the season. After losing six in a row mid-season, five to teams with winning records, the Bolts have won two blowouts in a row against teams with losing records. Will that be enough? I’ll pick the Chargers to win an upset in their final home game, 24-17, in no small part because I’ll be rooting against the Ravens anyway.