Note: the quotes in this article are fictional.
Oakland @ San Diego (-10½)
With a 4-8 record and a three-game deficit to the AFC West-leading Broncos, the Chargers are a team in turmoil. San Diego's AFC title game appearance last year was supposed to be an indication that the Bolts were serious Super Bowl contenders, but shoddy defense and an underperforming running game have victimized the Chargers.
"We've lost twice as many games as we've won," says Norv Turner. "That didn't seem to be that big of an issue when we were 1-2, now did it? Ah, how I long for the good old days ... of September. I'm guessing general manager A.J. Smith's bass-ackwards view of head coaching performance may keep me around. He fired Marty Schottenheimer after a 14-2 record. By that rationale, with a 4-8 record, I should be signing a contract extension pretty soon. From what I hear, though, the fans still 'like' me. In fact, my 'likeness' is very high right now. By that, I mean my 'likeness' is hanging from the left goal post, as it burns in effigy."
Any momentum the Raiders built after their 31-10 win in Denver was lost in their 20-13 home loss to the Chiefs. The Raiders killed themselves with two lost fumbles, and quarterback JaMarcus Russell regressed after a nearly flawless performance against the Broncos.
"We've been plagued by inconsistency," says Tom Cable, sure to be the next victim of Al Davis' reign of 'fire.' "Inconsistency has negatively affected this franchise from the bottom up, from Russell's inconsistent decision-making to Al Davis' inconsistent breathing, heart rate, and deluded belief that this team can return to glory under his watch."
With time running out on their season, the Chargers have to win out to have any chance of winning the West. That's not likely to happen, and fans and front office executives alike will be calling for coaching 'Turn'-over. It's funny how many people are now expressing their fondness for 'Marty-Ball,' an expression which sounds eerily similar to what Smith would have to do to convince Schottenheimer to return: "fondle Marty's balls."
Is it legally permissible for a 4-8 team to be a 10½-point favorite? It must be, and if he were alive today, Jimmy The Greek would be all over the Raiders for this game, because, you know, that son of a gun was bred to gamble. Chargers win, 24-22.
Atlanta @ New Orleans (-3½)
After a big 22-16 win at San Diego that improved their record to 8-4, the Falcons now head to New Orleans, where the 6-6 Saints await. Rookie sensation Matt Ryan threw for 207 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Chargers, and is the leading candidate for NFL Rookie of the Year.
"Matt's calm, cool, and collected under pressure," says Mike Smith. "That's why they call him 'Matty Ice.' Of course, he's been known to answer to the name 'Vince Paraguay,' usually when he's seeking treatment for STD's in local health clinics."
While Drew Brees chases Dan Marino and an NFL MVP award, the Falcons are chasing a playoff spot. Ryan, Michael Turner, and Roddy White are too much for the Saints to handle. Atlanta wins, 31-23.
Cleveland @ Tennessee (-14)
What do you call a "Thanksgiving Day Massacre?" LenDale White eating a turkey? Or the Titans' 47-10 destruction of the winless Lions? Either would be correct. White and running mate Chris Johnson torched the Lions for 231 yards rushing and 4 touchdowns.
"I think losing to the Jets was the best thing that could have happened to us," says Jeff Fisher. "It took the pressure of maintaining an undefeated season away from us, and, more importantly, it stopped those harassing phone calls from Garo Yepremian, Jim Kiick, Mercury Morris, and other rotary phone-dialing members of the 1972 Dolphins."
"As for the speedy Johnson and the rotund White, whom we like to call the 'Speed Bump,' we absolutely have to have their contributions if we're going to maintain our status as the AFC's top team."
Sources in Cleveland have indicated that head coach Romeo Crenel needs a "miracle" finish to keep his job. The Browns are 4-8 after a 10-6 loss to the Colts, and will be without quarterback Derek Anderson, who tore his MCL, for the rest of the year. Brady Quinn was declared lost for the year last week after suffering a broken finger.
"Hey, I witnessed a miracle last Sunday," says Crenel. "Braylon Edwards caught two passes. And here's another miracle: Ken Dorsey is our starting quarterback."
Tennessee has had nine days off since their Thanksgiving win. The Browns haven't been "on" since handing the Giants their lone defeat. The outcome of the game is not in question. The only thing left to determine is who has the biggest head? Albert Haynesworth or Shaun Rogers?Tennessee wins, 27-6. And it's Rogers.
Houston @ Green Bay (-4½)
If the Packers are to mount a charge to the NFC North title, they'll have to start by addressing their rush defense. In last week's 35-31 home loss to the Panthers, Green Bay surrendered 130 yards on the ground, including five one-yard rush touchdowns, four by DeAngelo Williams and one by Jake Delhomme.
"Any time you give up a rushing score to Delhomme," says Mike McCarthy, "you know you have problems. Offensively, I have no complaints. Aaron Rodgers has been carrying this team. I have no regrets of letting Brett Favre go. It seems, though, that Favre took his rocket arm, his enthusiasm, his veteran leadership, and our defense when he left. Rodgers shows all the traits that Favre is famous for, like a strong arm and impressive toughness. However, Rodgers brings something to this team that Favre did not - Aaron is the Packers' hardest hitter."
The Texans are 5-7, fresh from a 30-17 Monday night win over the Jaguars. With the playoffs a highly unlikely result, Houston can work on building for next year, with a nucleus of solid players intact, including Andre Johnson, Steve Slaton, and Mario Williams.
"If the Packers are planning on running another quarterback out of town," says Gary Kubiak, "I'd be interested in landing him here."
It's December, and the Packers are undefeated so far this year in that month. And we all know what December at Lambeau Field entails - cold weather and a playing surface electronically regulated so as not to harden in the arctic Wisconsin winter. That's what I call "tradition."
Aaron Rogers throws for 3 touchdowns, and the Packers defense forces three Matt Schaub turnovers. Green Bay wins, 26-15.
Philadelphia @ NY Giants (-9)
The Giants are running away with the NFC East division crown, and are well on their way to locking up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The G-Men easily handled the Redskins 23-7 to improve to 11-1 and look to remain perfect in division games with a win over the Eagles.
"Thanks to Plaxico Burress," says Eli Manning, "you now have to be more specific when using the term 'G-Men.' Do you mean 'Giants football players' or the 'agents investigating Plaxico's self-inflicted gunshot wound?' Plax has gone from being my favorite target to being his own favorite target. In any case, Plaxico will have problems on his hands, and is facing criminal charges in addition to a four-game suspension. But those are the least of his problems. His real problem is being referred to from this point forward as the 'Barney Fife' of the NFL. Unfortunately, Plaxico doesn't live in Mayberry, so his punishment will be a little more severe that just being locked up for a night to 'sleep it off.'"
"Plaxico has a long and arduous journey ahead of him. It's ironic that he's now begging someone else to 'just shoot me.' But I'll be there for Plaxico, supporting him along the way, especially in the courtroom, where I'll be leading the 'defense' chants throughout the proceedings. When not there in person, I'll be watching it all on ESPN's new, 24-hour station devoted entirely to boneheaded professional athletes, called 'ESPN-Carcerated.'"
The Eagles were impressive in a 48-20 win over the Cardinals, but their ugly tie in Week 12 to the Bengals likely cost them a chance at the playoffs.
"Hey, Plaxico Burress simply made a mistake," says Donovan McNabb. "And I know all about 'accidental discharges.' Sure, I may not have been aware that games could end in a tie, but I've known for some time now that games can end with me vomiting on the field. One of these days, I'm going to use that ability to my advantage. Maybe this Sunday is the time to start. Yeah, the Giants are the big, bad wolf of the East, but how will they react when I threaten to 'huff and puff and blow chunks?'"
I'm sure they'll call your bluff (and huff and puff), Donovan.
With a win, New York clinches the NFC East. A loss, and they don't. A tie, and McNabb's got some explaining to do. New York wins, 26-20.
Minnesota @ Detroit (+9)
Detroit's 47-10 Thanksgiving Day loss to Tennessee left little, if anything, to be happy about, although "Black Thursday" was a nice lead-in for Detroit-area shoppers anxious to spend on "Black Friday." The Lions have four more chances to claim a victory, starting with Sunday's contest against the Vikings, who lead the NFC North.
"Despite the lopsided loss," says Rod Marinelli, "we found out a lot about ourselves. That being that in addition to Sunday's, we can lose convincingly on Thursday's as well."
The Vikes hold a one-game lead in the North over the Bears, with the Packers two games behind. A brutal three-game stretch awaits following the Detroit game, as Minnesota will face Arizona, Atlanta, and the Giants.
"I'd like to say we control our own destiny," says Brad Childress. "But that's not the case. Our destiny is as much tied to the office of the commissioner as it is to our performance down the stretch. We've anxiously awaited word from Roger Goodell about the fate of Kevin and Pat Williams, who may be suspended for using a banned substance. I guess we'll get one of two answers. Either 'ur-ine' or 'ur-out.' Well, word just came down that they've been suspended for four games, a result which can only be described as 'leaving us pissed.'"
Is this the break that the Lions needed to pull out a victory? The Williams' suspensions are a bigger blow to the Vikings that 2005's "sex boat" scandal, and that's saying something, as big blows go. If ever there was a time to run the ball on the Vikings, this is it. Daunte Culpepper could use a shortened play book; it looks like he's got the words to War and Peace written on his wrist bands. Detroit pulls the upset and wins, 27-24.
Jacksonville @ Chicago (-6½)
The Bears fell to second place in the NFC North, dropping a 34-14 decision to the Vikings in the Metrodome. Chicago has now lost its last two division games by a combined score of 71-17, but in the unpredictable North, they are still very much in the playoff hunt.
"Hey, we can talk about our defensive inadequacies," says Brian Urlacher, "which are very much real. Or, we can talk about my fathering inadequacies, which are very much overblown and over-reported. You've probably heard that the mother of my son complained that I dressed him in pink pull-ups and painted his toenails. What's the big deal? If he wants to be a ''Maiden of the Midway,' then so be it. It's ridiculous. It doesn't make him any less of a boy. Besides, it will prepare him well for his future as a Bears' defender."
After Monday's 30-17 loss in Houston, Jacksonville is 4-8 and in last place in the AFC South. Although the Jags' downfall started earlier in the season, it seems to have reached the boiling point with the loss to the Bengals, followed by Del Rio's disciplinary stance against Mike Peterson. So, if you could go back, Jack, would you do it again?
"I totally resent questions asked in the form of lyrics to Steely Dan songs," says Del Rio. "You'd be surprised how often that happens, though. Ironically, I've banned all Steely Dan's from the locker room. Not the band, mind you, but the sexual tools. Anyway, I guess if I had it to do over, I would have held me temper a little better. For a while there, it wasn't 'Jacksonville;' it was 'Jack's enraged.' But it's too late, to turn back now. I believe, I believe, I believe I've lost this team. Personally, I'm ready for this season to end, so we all can do what I told Mike Peterson to do a month ago: 'go home.'"
Bears win, 27-16.
Cincinnati @ Indianapolis (-14)
The Colts are riding a five-game winning streak, and will be gunning for a sweep of AFC North teams when they host the 1-10-1 Bengals, who were thrashed 34-3 by the Ravens last week. Indianapolis is battling for a wildcard spot, and can't afford to slip against a clearly inferior opponent.
"Who dey, who dey, who dey think's gonna not beat them Bengals?" says Peyton Manning.
"I guess you could say we 'willed' ourselves to the win against the Browns, which is what you say when you want to sugar-coat a 10-6 win over a 4-7 team. Much of the blame falls on me. I only threw for 125 yards, with 2 interceptions and no touchdowns. Those are dismal quarterbacking stats. Luckily, I'm on television so often hawking product that my Nielsen ratings more than make up for my pathetic quarterback rating. Raise your hand if you're sick of hearing 'If sports are shot on a Sony, shouldn't you watch it on one?'"
The Bengals' problems are numerous, but surprisingly, one of those problems has not been off-the-field behavior. Just as they have been off the field, Cincinnati players have been even more compliant on the field.
"We've gotten a bum rap this year," says Chad Ocho Cinco. "Say what you will about this team's criminal history, but I'm proud of the fact that all of the thugs on this team have sense enough to discharge their weapons outside of their pants."
Indianapolis wins, 31-21.
New England @ Seattle (+4½)
In the losers' bracket of the Dallas/Seattle/New England/Pittsburgh four-team tournament, the Patriots make the long trip to Seattle to face the 2-10 Seahawks. New England was soundly beaten 33-10 last week by the Steelers, as Matt Cassel suffered through a four-turnover day.
"Matt's play certainly gave me a weak-in-the-knees feeling," says Bill Belichick. "Which I'm sure is something Mike Holmgren can relate to. Matt Hasselbeck has been battling a nagging knee problem all year. While not as serious as Tom Brady's season-ending knee injury, it's been the catalyst for Seattle's downfall. Between the two, Brady and Hasselbeck have seen a number of knee specialists. Now, if Cassel turns the ball over four times again, I'll be scheduling him a visit with a team of knee specialists, known mostly for their work on behalf of Tonya Harding."
It's a long plane ride from Foxborough to Seattle, especially with the pains of a 33-10 thrashing from the Steelers still being felt. But this is a must-win game for the Patriots, who have to keep pace with the rest of the AFC East. And the Pats won't lose a must-win game to a 2-10 team.
"Besides," says Randy Moss, "I only get 'jet-lagged' when I slip a copy of Jet magazine inside my play book and doze off during a receivers meeting."
"I'd like to address the belief that I tend to shy away when teams defend me physically. I don't want to get 'pigeon-holed' as a receiver who's afraid of physical contact. When you try to 'pigeon-hole' a 'corn-rowed' receiver, that's awfully close to being 'corn-holed.' And I really don't like the sound of that."
New England wins, 24-17.
NY Jets @ San Francisco (+3½)
The Jets' short run as AFC darling came crashing down last Sunday, as New York turned the ball over five times in a 34-17 loss to Denver. After emotional wins over New England and Tennessee the previous two weeks, Brett Favre and the Jets must rebound to protect their one-game lead in the AFC East race over the Patriots and Dolphins.
"We're obviously not as good as we thought we were," says Favre. "But if you want to crown us, you can still crown our ****. We know we blew our chance to take a two-game lead in the division, but we just didn't come to play. But seriously, the Jets in the Super Bowl is not that tough a sell. What's a tough sell? The Broncos in the Super Bowl, or Plaxico Burress leading a gun safety class, or Tom Cruise as an eye patch-wearing German."
While Favre is comfortable in his Wranglers, 49ers head coach, the beady-eyed and bespectacled Mike Singletary, is equally as comfortable out of his Wranglers. Singletary has the 49ers playing tough and gritty football, and is making his case to remain San Fran's head coach.
"What I've tried to do here is create an atmosphere of determination and bravery," says Singletary. "I try to motivate these cats in ways they'll appreciate. For example, just the other day, in my best Dirty Harry impression, I said to the guys, 'Do you feel plucky? Well do ya', punks?' In this league, it's 10% perspiration, 85% motivation, and a 5% lawyer's retainer fee."
The Jets bounce back with a solid game. Favre throws for a score, and the New York defense forces 3 turnovers. Jets win, 19-13.
Kansas City @ Denver (-9½)
The Chiefs went to Oakland last week and handed the Raiders a 20-13 loss, as Kansas City quarterback Tyler Thigpen engineered a 91-yard, fourth-quarter scoring drive that culminated with a Larry Johnson touchdown run. It was only the Chiefs' second win of the year, and an emotional one for Herman Edwards, who always seems to teeter on that fine line between a coach on his way out and a coach given one more year to turn things around.
"Just when I thought I was out," says Edwards, "they pull me back in. What could be stranger than me quoting an Al Pacino line from The Godfather III? I'll tell you what. Al Pacino saying 'You play to win the game. Hoo hah!'"
"I just hope I'm around next year. This team is young, has shown lots of potential, and we should have a nice pick in April's draft. Hopefully, we'll select a young stud who'll become a superstar, and we'll look back on his drafting as a 'hot Chief injection.'"
"As for Thigpen, he was very impressive on the game-winning drive. I wouldn't say he reminded me of Joe Montana, but I did see a little bit of Joe Mantegna in him. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think Mantegna still has more game-winning, fourth-quarter drives than Thigpen. That's such a useless statistic. I played defensive back, and even I've got a game-winning, fourth-quarter drive to my name."
The Broncos are riding high, with a seemingly safe three-game lead in the AFC West over the Chargers. The Chiefs beat the Broncos 33-19 in Week 4, ending Denver's three-game winning streak to start the season.
"This team will only go as far as Jay Cutler takes them," says Mike Shanahan. "You know me. I'll hop on a quarterback and ride like my life, and coaching legacy, depended on it."
Broncos win, 27-23.
Miami @ Buffalo (-1)
The Dolphins and Bills meet in Toronto's Rogers Centre in the NFL's first regular-season game in Canada, and it will be a homecoming of sorts for Miami's Ricky Williams, who played with the Argonauts in 2006 while under suspension from the NFL for substance abuse violations.
"'Substance abuse' is such a misleading term," says Williams. "I much too concerned about the plight of substances to even consider abusing them. I've devoted too much of my life to them. In fact, you could say I 'lived and breathed' them. Mostly breathed, though."
"As for Toronto, I have nothing but fond memories of that place. It's a perfect place for an NFL player to detox. Hey, they don't call it 'Canada Dry' for nothing."
Buffalo is the home team for Sunday's game, and it's a possibility that the Bills will call Toronto home in the near future, as the NFL looks to expand globally.
"A Buffalo football game indoors in Toronto?" says Lee Evans. "A Buffalo hockey game outdoors in Buffalo? It's all very confusing. But not as confusing as it will be for Donovan McNabb when he finds out there's a former Toronto hockey player name 'Tie' Domi."
Miami wins, 27-22.
St. Louis @ Arizona (-13½)
Arizona returns to the confines of University of Phoenix Stadium after a 48-20 loss at Philadelphia on Thanksgiving night. In four trips to the East Coast this season, the Cardinals are 0-4, and have been outscored 155-95.
"There's no place like home," says Kurt Warner. "There's a lot to be said for sleeping in your own bed, Matt Leinart's predatory sexual proclivity notwithstanding. I bet Matt wishes he could trade places with me. And I with him."
"Honestly, I can't explain why we're so terrible on the East Coast. They say home-field advantage is worth three points. Then I guess we give up three points for every time zone we cross. God forbid the NFL ever schedules us a game in England."
The Rams are 2-10 after last week's 16-12 loss to the Dolphins. St. Louis has now gone two games without a touchdown.
"We really haven't given the home fans much to see at home this year," says Jim Haslett, "unless you count a middle finger from Richie Incognito. I can't blame our fans for booing us, or pulling the wool over their eyes. We're trying our best to bring home a win, which should appease those 'bleating heart' fans who've tolerated us this year."
Warner throws for 328 yards and 4 scores, and Arizona wins, 31-21.
Dallas @ Pittsburgh (-3)
The Cowboys have won three straight games to break back into the playoff picture. Dallas' 34-9 Thanksgiving win over the Seahawks improved their record to 8-4. Right now, the Panthers and Falcons hold the two wildcard positions, but the Cowboys are surging at the right time behind the play of Tony Romo and an attacking defense.
"As for the playoffs," says Romo, "we're on the outside looking in, which is exactly what you can say about Jason Witten when he tags along on a romantic Mexican getaway with me and my main squeeze Jessica Simpson. But we'll be totally prepared for the Steelers and their blitz-happy defense. MRI's on Marion Barber's toe and DeMarcus Ware's knee were negative, and Pacman Jones hasn't tested positive for anything as of yet. Pacman knows he's down to his last chance, and he's on his own. No more security detail provided by Jerry Jones. Now, we did have a stripper pole installed in the locker room to get Pacman through the tough times. And we've also asked Pacman to shadow former Cowboy Michael Irvin and steer clear of trouble by seeing what Irvin does, then doing the exact opposite."
Romo will have to deal with a Steelers defense that last week sacked Matt Cassel five time and forced four Cassel turnovers. Dallas tackles Flozell Adams and Marc Colombo will have their hands full with Steelers linebackers LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison.
"That ringing in Cassel's ear," says Harrison. "That's what you get from listening to too much 'death metal,' which is what we call this version of the Pittsburgh defense. We plan on pressuring Romo and breaking his rhythm, if not with sacks then by making sure his follow through lands on a helmet. This in turn should take Terrell Owens out of the game. T.O.'s gone one whole game without 200 yards receiving. One more, and he's likely to snap and start that whining about 'not being involved in the offense.' Hey, T.O., if you want to become more involved in the Dallas offense, buy the team and become the owner."
Steelers win, 27-20.
Washington @ Baltimore (-4½)
The Ravens have battled back from an early-season three-game losing streak to win two straight and post an 8-4 record, good enough to put them in the playoffs if the regular season ended today. The Ravens have outscored their last two opponents, the Eagles and Bengals, by a combined score of 70-10. After the Redskins visit M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens host the Steelers in a huge AFC North showdown.
"This defense is ferocious," says Ray Lewis, "when it's not being exposed by a good offense. Defense is always a constant in Baltimore. Whether it's me lighting up a running back or Ed Reed returning an interception from underneath the goal posts, we'll rock you like a Hurricane. But, despite what you hear, there are other non-Miami players on this team, including our rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, whom I believe went to some community college in Delaware. I'm not sure if that's a state or a city, but it sure produced a fine quarterback. Joe's started 12 games this year, which is a streak that would make Steve McNair and Kyle Boller envious."
With another Hurricane, Washington running back Clinton Portis, likely out for the game, the Redskins will be even more dependent on quarterback Jason Campbell. If Campbell can find an early connection with another Hurricane, Santana Moss, and give the Redskins an early lead, Washington has a chance. Playing from behind, Washington will fall right into the clutches of the Ravens' attacking defense. Baltimore will post a defensive score along the way in this one. Ravens win, 26-12.
Tampa Bay @ Carolina (-3)
In a game that could very well decide the NFC South title, the 9-3 Bucs visit the 9-3 Panthers in Bank of America Stadium, where Carolina is undefeated this year. Tampa dominated Carolina 27-3 in Week 6, and the Panthers will use that defeat as motivation.
"They really took us out to the woodshed for a sound beating last time," says Steve Smith, who, in addition to 'hands of stone', has 'fingers of glue.' "And, as you know, the Tampa 'woodshed' is much like a Tampa sports bar bathroom stall- it's a dark, confined area where someone takes a 'licking.'"
"I've got to give credit to Jake Delhomme for having the guts to throw that last pass in Green Bay. Jake thrives when he puts the ball where only I can catch it. It may take a while, but Jake and I will eventually hook up, if not on the field, then in an amateurishly-produced Bojangles chicken commercial."
In Tampa, rumors are swirling that defensive guru Monte Kiffin will leave the Bucs to take a position with his son Lane, who recently accepted the head coaching position at the University of Tennessee.
"Hey, Monte's no fan of the spotlight," says Jon Gruden. "If he wants to go to Tennessee and supervise a dominating defense while a younger, less experienced head coach basks in the subsequent glory, then that's his prerogative. He's already well-experienced doing that here in Tampa."
"As for me, I'm happy right here where I am. Jeff Garcia has proven himself once again that he's a warrior, and together, Garcia and I form the 'Tough/S.O.B.' player/coach combination."
The revenge factor will be large for the Panthers, as will a liquored-up Monday night home crowd. Carolina will be motivated to win and take the lead in the South, so, in true Panther fashion, they can blow it a week or two later. Carolina wins, 22-14.