Remains of the Season
"Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna' get (F. Gump)"
Winston Groom's simple sage could've been talking about NFL 2012. Expect the unexpected. That's the title on this season's marquee.
Given that state, gauging the remaining match-ups might seem a pointless endeavor, as in, the winners are anybody's guess. But as unpredictable as 2012 has been I'd still thrill to find the likes of Eagles & Jaguars (as opposed to Patriots & Packers) on my team's 4-game slate.
In ranking the remainder I exclude sub-.500 clubs, though Seattle slipped into the PS at 7-9 in 2010 (a format foible the NFL has ignored) and proceeded to bump the defending champion Saints. Get that ticket punched and anything can happen.
Favorable: Broncos, Seahawks, Steelers, Redskins, Buccaneers, Bengals
Sweet & Sour: Saints, Texans, Colts, 49ers, Packers, Patriots, Dolphins, Cowboys, Giants
Yikes: Lions, Vikings, Ravens, Falcons, Bears
And if you're a playoff aspirant, don't forget what the butler and the pretty housekeeper taught us in that British flick from a few years back (Remains of the Day): when opportunity knocks, you better answer 'cause it may not knock again.
Playoff Teams You Wanta' See
Denver Broncos: Ridin' a mile high again, but this time around with a healthy Peyton Manning.
Patriots vs Giants III?: Reincarnation of the 70s Cowboys / Steelers Super rivalry.
Seattle Seahawks: Rookies Wagner (MLB) & Wilson (QB) display abilities usually found only in seasoned pros, making themselves key cogs in the Hawks' drive to contend.
Washington Redskins: Like Michael, Tim & Cam, Rob Griffin disdains pocket-presence (642 yds) but very few players today (healthy Percy Harvin or pre-'12 Devin Hester) electrify the field quite like DC's fledgling QB-RB.
Indianapolis Colts: Not exactly Tebowmania but there's an effort afoot in Indy that goes beyond Xs & Os, compelling this team to play with gusto and pull rabbits outta' the hat.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 1st-yr. guru Gregg Schiano got off on the wrong foot in play-calling a sucker-punch on one of NFL's class-acts (Eli) but has clearly nudged TB into relevancy.
Atlanta Falcons: The egg & bottle-tossing types excluded, the rest of Atlanta, players & coaches of this long frustrated organization deserve a shot at the title and now have a team capable of taking good aim. Throwback helmets a nice touch.
Minnesota Vikings: These guys never really did have it in 2012 but it'd be a holiday treat just to watch Adrian Peterson & Chad Greenway (OLB) ply their trades in the PS.
Cherry Picks Week 14
Baltimore Ravens (9-3) @ Washington Redskins (6-6) (12-9 / CBS 1:00)
Beltway battle in new hot-bed of sporting fare (Orioles / Nats). Ravens falter vs Ben-less Pitt and media freaks. D-cline is real in crab-cake country but it's lackluster offense that vexes: poor 1st-dwn ratio & TOP. No time for doubters as Flacco's confidence is key. DC seeks mandate after big home win vs NYG but they'd met before. Washington needs it, but Baltimore wants it more (See; slate) and decipher RG3 riddle. This ain't college. Ravens win.
Chicago Bears (8-4) @ Minnesota Vikings (6-6) (Fox 1:00)
Wk-12 meet exposed Vikes as pretenders (10-28), then winner proves toothless vs Seattle (L17-23). NFC North looking sad. Urlacher exit (ham) may be bad omen, while G3-LT unplugs electric Harvin. Bears' Forte only fair last four (2.9) but Cutler solid and protected in comeback (2TD / 1S). Ponder regressing w/out top-target Percy (62) while Peterson and defense carry the load. Though former Bear knows D, Coach Frazier's scoring scheme punchless but Allen & purple people put pressure (29S) and forge a win.
Dallas Cowboys (6-6) @ Cincinnati Bengals (7-5) (Fox 1:00)
Nobody's topic of conversation, Boys 3-1 last four. Ugly losses (SEA / CHI) were in early campaign. Tony proves critics right when forcing the issue (16-15) but, excepting Wk-13, gets little help in under-used run-game. Bengals are streakers and now run with glee (4-0). Balance on both ends impresses and Dalton's ratio (24-13) shows matriculatory skill. Should be a dandy as both clubs rising and motivated to show PS-mettle but Bengals more polished and press (39S) the win at home.
Houston Texans (11-1) @ New England Patriots (9-3) (12-10 / ESPN 8:30)
Favorites enter marquee match-up on win-a-thons (6), both losing last in Wk-6 (GB / SEA). But quality trumps quantity. Who ya' beat matters and these guys have feasted on nolo-contenders & pretenders. Now test time and both bucking for dean's list with fine team-ranks but fair (HOU) to poor (NE-29) pass-D. Tom gets edge in stats & resume but Matt's shown 4Q-mettle in '12. Both run (Arian / Steve), gun, guard (15 / 19S) and Texans bring it (36S). Pats' C. Jones (6S) ankled but Mayo (118T) covers and New England wins nigh pick'em.
Note: Life can turn on a dime. Those directly affected by tragedy try to find a grounding, the rest of us move on because life moves on. The speed & manner by which that happens in sport has been fodder for debate since '63 (JFK) and was no different this weekend. Sympathy goes out to family & friends of victim Kas Perkins and murderer-suicide Jovan Belcher in Kansas City on Saturday, and then also to those near to basketball coach Rick Majerus who died in Los Angeles later that same day after losing his battle with heart disease.
NFL Hunch Line