Jeff Boswell's Blog

Note: the quotes in this article are fictional.

Indianapolis @ Jacksonville (+6½)

After their 31-21 win over the Lions, the Colts are 10-4 and currently hold the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoff race. A win in Jacksonville on Thursday would be huge for Indy; it would keep them ahead of the several five-loss teams vying for a playoff spot, and it would avenge a Week 3 loss to the Jaguars in Indianapolis.

"While our reign as AFC South champions has ended," says Peyton Manning, "we'd like to keep our streak of playoff appearances intact. And really, who needs a first-round bye to win the Super Bowl? Certainly not the Manning brothers. And speaking of my brother, Eli, where's all that talk I heard earlier in the year that Eli was the better quarterback? That was just a bunch of 'knee jerks reacting.'"

"Anyway, my knee is fine. The two surgeries slowed me down earlier this year, but all is well now. I've got one more hole in my leg than Plaxico Burress, and I'm still on the playing field. As you've heard me say many times this year, 'If it's shot with a Sony, shouldn't you watch it on a Sony?' In Plaxico's case, 'if it's shot with a Glock, you can't even watch from the sidelines.'"

The Jaguars have been eliminated from playoff contention, but that hasn't diminished their desire to throw a wrench into the Colts' playoff plans. Jacksonville just ended a four-game losing streak with a 20-16 win over Green Bay, and Jack Del Rio was pleased to see some life out of his players.

"I'm not sure if what I saw was 'life' from my players," says Del Rio, "or simply 'less quit' than the Packers. In any case, I challenged my players - you're either with me, or you're against me. That emptied out the locker room faster than the time John Henderson forgot to take his Beano. But I've eased my ways since the Mike Peterson incident. The only things banned from the locker room now are rebels, anarchists, mutineers, Jerry Porter's contract, and Matt Jones' credit cards."

The Colts have something to play for on Thursday, and Tony Dungy never has problems with motivation, nor is there ever internal strife in the Indy locker room. That's probably due to the glory of his righteousness. Colts win, 23-19.

Baltimore @ Dallas (-5)

You have to admire the resilience of this year's Dallas Cowboys. With a new controversy emerging almost daily, the Cowboys have brushed aside the bickering to remain in the playoff hunt. Right now, Dallas has the No. 5 seed, and they control their own destiny; by winning their last two games, Dallas would remain in the #5 slot.

"Let's see," says Tony Romo. "We've got an owner who questioned our toughest player's toughness, a coach who in his winter parka looks like he may float away at any moment, and a wide receiver whose mouth is open even more than he claims himself to be open. Now that's open! But I can't fault Terrell Owens for being jealous of my relationship with Jason Witten. Heck, Jessica Simpson is jealous of our relationship."

"But for all his whining, bitching, moaning, crying, complaining, and other various forms of qualities you normally abhor in a teammate, T.O.'s contributions are imperative to the success of this team. He's a big-play receiver, not to mention one of the best quotes in the league. How can you not love a guy who calls Emmitt Smith and Keyshawn Johnson 'dumb and dumber?' But let's give Emmitt credit. He's made the Monday Night Football pre-game show the highest rated show in the 'viewers who like to play drinking games' demographic. You absolutely cannot get wasted if you drink every time Emmitt mispronounces a word or name."

The Ravens dropped another heartbreaking loss to the Steelers, again losing a second-half lead as the Steelers took the AFC North division crown. Despite the loss, Baltimore is still in line for a playoff bid; they currently hold the #6 seed.

"When I looked into our locker room after the Steeler game," says John Harbaugh, "I saw guys in tears. In other words, there was 'indisputable visual evidence' that our guys were upset. And, if I'm not mistaken, I think that was the only instance of 'indisputable visual evidence' that occurred in M&T Bank Stadium last Sunday."

"I've tried to be very diplomatic with my comments about the officiating on the Steelers touchdown play. It's a very touchy situation. I don't want to be fined for critical comments about the officiating, but most of all, I don't want my comments to end up as fodder in a Coors Light commercial. Brian Billick may not mind his sideline histrionics being lampooned to sell beer, but I do. And that's a fact, Jack."

When you talk about the Ravens, you have to start with their defense. They always bring the pressure. And so does the Baltimore offense, which pressures the Baltimore defense to win games for them. Three field goals won't cut it against the Cowboys. Dallas wins, 22-13.

Cincinnati @ Cleveland (-2)

Nothing says "meaningless December football" like a Ryan Fitzpatrick versus Ken Dorsey matchup in the Dawg Pound with nothing on the line save for bragging rights to the state of Ohio. Two teams that began the season with potential have fallen into the scrap heap of teams more concerned with offseason personnel changes than winning games. The Browns, 10-6 last year, were supposed to contend in the AFC North, while many expected the talent in the Bengals skill positions to place them, at the very least, in the playoff hunt.

"It's been tough to watch it all unfold," says injured quarterback Carson Palmer, "and be helpless to do anything about it. We haven't delivered the goods this year, on the field or off. It's an understatement to say we haven't met our expectations. I mean, come on, there hasn't been one Bengal arrested all year. Not a single DWI arrest, gun violation, or possession charge. That's an amazing tidbit, made even more amazing by the fact that Chris Henry was on the team. It's sad. The most talked about 'joint' on this team has been my elbow. There's been more talk of 'quarterbacks' than 'quarterbags.'"

In Cleveland, Romeo Crenel's job security is in question as the rumors of Bill Cowher and Marty Schottenheimer arriving in Cleveland float in the air like a fluttery Ken Dorsey pass. The Browns were stomped 30-10 on Monday night by the Eagles, as Dorsey was sacked twice and threw two interceptions.

"Look, I've got no problem with the Cowher and Schottenheimer coming to Cleveland," says Crenel. "Heck, I'll even include them in the open tryouts for quarterback next year. But seriously, this team has some difficult decisions to make. The toughest among those would have to be choosing this team's most valuable player? Joshua Cribbs or Phil Dawson?"

Bengals win, 23-20.

Arizona @ New England (-9)

What better way to celebrate a division crown and first-round home playoff game than to lose your next home game, badly, at that. That's exactly what the Cardinals did. After clinching the division and a home-field game in Week 14, Arizona was trucked by the Vikings in an uninspired 35-14 beating. Now, at 8-6, the Cards could very well wrap up their season at 8-8.

"I guess you could say we were 'flat and happy,'" says Kurt Warner, "which also describes my feelings about breast augmentation. I'm sure Matt Leinart feels otherwise. Speaking of Matt, has there been a Leinart spotting lately? Outside of a hot tub?"

"And if we can't get motivated for a home game, how will we get up for a game in Foxboro, where the playing conditions in December are as harsh and unforgiving as a 'tuck rule' interpretation in a snowy, 2002 AFC divisional playoff game? The last time I met the Patriots when they were in a must win situation, they stymied me in Super Bowl XXXVI, indoors, on turf. Just imagine what they'll do to me on natural grass, outdoors, in the New England chill. Everybody knows that in December football, Cold Miser always trumps Heat Miser."

The Patriots left Oakland with a 49-26 win and their playoff hopes intact. Matt Cassel threw for 4 touchdowns, two to Randy Moss, as New England whipped the Raiders in Moss' first game in Oakland since being traded in 2006.

"Four touchdowns," says Randy Moss. "That's awesome. It was definitely a jaw-dropping performance from Matt. And that led to a pants-dropping performance by me, with 2 touchdowns. I'm not stupid, though. I know better than to even simulate a mooning anywhere near the end zone seats in the Black Hole, where pants are optional, and wedgies are mandatory."

"And speaking of simulated moonings, I see that Joe Buck has entered the ranks of paid endorsers. He's pitching Enterprise Rent-A-Cars in commercials that Peyton Manning wouldn't even think of doing. The commercials are not remotely entertaining, much like Buck's commentary. But it's good to see Buck come out of the booth. I'm just wondering when he's gonna come out of that other room."

Will the Cardinals even show up on Sunday? Their playoff seeding is practically set, and they haven't exactly packed their "A" game in four previous trips to the East Coast. So, I doubt even Paul Revere would notice that the Cardinals have shown up in town.

The Pats strike with a balanced offensive attack, rushing for 195 yards and recording 210 through the air. New England wins, 27-20.

San Francisco @ St. Louis (+5½)

St. Louis lost at home 23-20 to the Seahawks last week, but did an official use the Jumbotron in the Edward Jones Dome to call a momentum-changing offensive interference call on Rams receiver Torry Holt?

"He sure did," says Holt. "It's stunning that an official would tarnish the integrity of the game by using a giant video screen to make a call. It's even more stunning that someone would intentionally watch a Rams' replay. I was taken aback by the boldness and brashness of the official, especially when he taunted me by pointing to the giant screen and saying 'Do you see what I see? Way up in the sky, little lamb.'"

The 49ers' chances at an 8-8 season ended with last week's 14-9 loss in Miami, but rest assured, Mike Singletary will have his squad motivated come Sunday against their division rival. Singletary has instilled a warrior-like mentality among his players, which is a direct reflection of his playing style as a hard-hitting linebacker for the Bears.

"I ask nothing of my players that I wouldn't ask of myself," says Singletary. "But I would highly discourage them from ever recording a silly rap song, because you'd think that people would have had enough of silly rap songs. But I look around and see it isn't so."

"Anyway, my goal is to return this team to the glory the 49ers franchise enjoyed in its heyday. I want this team's accomplishments to someday rival those of the great 49er teams of the 1980s and early-'90s. I want players like Shaun Hill, Patrick Willis, and Vernon Davis to be comfortable chatting with Jerry Rice, or shaking hands with Joe Montana, or giving Ronnie Lott a 'high 4½.'"

San Francisco wins, 27-17.

Pittsburgh @ Tennessee (-1)

In what could very well be a preview of the AFC championship game (assuming the Titans regain the form that renders them capable of winning a playoff game), the Steelers head to Nashville to face the Titans, who suddenly don't seem like the fearsome team that stormed to a 10-0 record this year. Tennessee fell 13-12 last week in Houston as a sputtering offense and an uncharacteristically forgiving pass defense led to only their second loss. Compounding those issues, defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and defensive end Kyle Vander Bosch are out until the playoffs with injuries.

"Hey, I'm gonna take a page from Mike Tomlin's book," says Jeff Fisher, "and refuse to admit I made a mistake even when it's painfully apparent I did make a mistake. Sure, I should have had Rob Bironas kick the field goal for the win, but I didn't, and I feel bad. Trust me, after that decision backfired, I wanted to run away and hide under a rock. But what do you know? Vince Young was already there."

Pittsburgh can clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win and Tennessee, as well as complete a tough three-game gauntlet that started in Week 14 with a win over Dallas. The Steelers overcame hated division rival Baltimore last week, holding the Ravens to three field goals and only 202 total yards.

"I think that our last three wins have made us not only favorites in the AFC," says Mike Tomlin, "but favorites in the Super Bowl, as well. I think we've separated ourselves from the everyday, run-of-the-mill teams out there calling themselves 'contenders.' If you're referee Walt Coleman, I guess you could say we've broke 'plain.'"

Even with Haynesworth and Vanden Bosch, the Titans would be hard-pressed to beat the rolling Steelers. The Pittsburgh defense is healthy, meaning the speedy Chris Johnson and the rumbling LenDale White, Tennessee's duo known as 'Dine and Dash' in some circles and 'Fasting and Eating' in others, likely won't see much running room. You want to make a smart decision, Jeff Fisher? Concede home-field advantage throughout the playoffs to the Steelers, and submit a bogus injury report listing several other starters. Get healthy for the playoffs, and start scouting your likely second-round opponent. Pittsburgh wins, 20-9.

New Orleans @ Detroit (+6½)

While the 7-7 Saints chase incredibly long playoff odds, the 0-14 Lions are chasing something, as well. Unlike the Saints, though, the Lions care not to catch the 1976 Buccaneers, the only NFL team to finish a season without a win. Although they have technically equaled the Bucs' loss total, Tampa Bay did it in a 14-game season back in 1976.

"Dad gummit, then!" says Rod Marinelli. "We can't win for losing! I guess that's stating the obvious. But we'd love to win one for the home crowd. Especially since it's easier to win at Ford Field now than it would be to pull out a victory in the frosty climes of Lambeau Field, where I'm pretty sure 0-15 teams have never won a game."

"Anyway, this city deserves a winner. Think about it. You've got the Pistons, Tigers, and Red Wings losing at least 16 games every year. If we can cut our losses to 15, this city would have something to be proud of."

The Saints have lost two of three since Week 12's 51-29 destruction of the Packers. In that game, Sean Payton elected to go for two after a touchdown while the Saints held a 22-point lead.

"The only thing I regret is not converting," says a cocky Payton. "Anyway, as the Lions chase history, tickets to their final home game have become a hot commodity. I haven't seen a ticket frenzy like this since the 'Showtime' Lakers came to town to face the 'Bad Boys' of Detroit back in the 1980s. Let's face it, though. This ain't 'Showtime.' Now, it is close to being the Showtime network, and I believe the top-rated show is Rod Marinelli's coaches show, called 'The L-Word.'"

The Lions' faithful do show up for Detroit's final home game, and they show their unconditional support by joining together for a spirited singing of "O-16 Come All Ye Faithful." Some sarcastically cheer with shouts of "Rah, humbug!" Then, in a final act of defiance, Lions' fans pelt the Saints Reggie Bush with their shoes. New Orleans wins, 30-21.

San Diego @ Tampa Bay (-3)

With a stirring comeback from an 18-point deficit, the Chargers beat the Chiefs in Kansas City to keep alive their slim, but improving, hopes for the AFC West division title. A San Diego win in Tampa, coupled with a Denver loss to the Bills, would set up a final-week showdown pitting the 7-8 Chargers against the 8-7 Broncos.

"We can't allow ourselves to look ahead," says Norv Turner, "unless you're talking about next year. But I'm proud of this team for sticking together and fighting until the end. I think it says a lot about a team when they continue to work hard, even with a record of 6-8. It's not often a 6-8 team is still mathematically alive in the playoffs, so our players are going to make the most of this opportunity, as will I. Is there a better way to justify keeping the head coaching job than boasting how you've led a 6-8 team to the brink of the playoffs, even though said team was an early-season Super Bowl favorite? I think not. For all of those naysayers who think I should be fired, I've got two words for you: go Bills!"

Tampa has lost two in a row, but still holds the sixth-seed in the NFC playoff standings. Earlier this week, it was confirmed that defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin is leaving at year's end to join his son Lane's staff at the University of Tennessee.

"That's two Kiffins lost to the University of Tennessee this year," says Jon Gruden. "I'm kind of stunned that Monte's leaving now, but in fairness, like a true gentleman, he did give me two weeks notice. It will be tough to replace a man of Monte's caliber and defensive experience. Once thing's for sure - his replacement won't be coming from San Diego."

"When our season ends, I'm sure we'll have a big going-away party for Monte. I see no reason why we shouldn't have it on the big pirate ship in our end zone. NFL boat parties are always fun, and imagine the look on Monte's face when out of one of those giant cakes pops his special surprise. I'm talking about Warren Sapp, of course."

Tampa wins, 24-17.

Miami @ Kansas City (+4)

If Miami wins in Kansas City and the Jets win in Seattle, Week 17's contest between Miami and New York in the Meadowlands will be for the AFC East crown. The Dolphins have won three in a row to position themselves in the center of the East race, and while it's impossible not to look towards that Week 17 matchup, it could be disastrous to overlook the Chiefs in Arrowhead, where the Chiefs are always tough in December.

"Hey, I've got no reservations about playing the Chiefs in Arrowhead," says Ricky Williams. "Where there's Chiefs, there's peace pipes. And I'm guessing there will also be 'smoke signals,' which is what I used to call phone calls to my dealer. But those halcyon days of youth are behind me, as are the days of waking up by a campfire on a beach in Tahiti and wondering how I got from that opium den in Shanghai to Tahiti in the first place, in two hours!"

"It's all part of life's great journey, as is the Dolphins' road from 1-15 last year to a possible AFC East title this year. The only difference is that I'll remember this leg of the journey."

In Kansas City, general manager Carl Peterson resigned in the wake of the Chiefs' 2-12 record, which included last week's stunning 22-21 loss to the Chargers in which the Chiefs blew a 21-3 lead. Chairman of the Board Clark Hunt said the future of head coach Herman Edwards would be determined at a later time.

"Herman's job is safe for now," says Hunt. "There's only one scenario I see in which Herman won't finish the year, and that's if he miraculously acquires the ability to 'take a hint.'"

Will the chilly temperatures forecast for Sunday at Arrowhead hinder the effectiveness of the warm-weather Dolphins? Probably not. Miami's power running game and short, efficient passing attack is built for below-freezing weather. Heck, it gives Ricky Williams a warm feeling of good times past when he can see his breath. Miami wins, 23-9.

Buffalo @ Denver (-7)

Is it possible for an official not to reverse a call on a Jay Cutler fumble? It seems to be a league-wide conspiracy amongst officiating crews that every Cutler fumble should be reversed and called incomplete. Last week in Charlotte, a Cutler fumble was reversed under the ambiguous definition of the "tuck rule," even though the ball clearly traveled backwards when Cutler released it. Now, I'm no expert on the tuck rule, but should the tuck rule even apply in that situation? How can a pass be declared incomplete when it travels backwards?

"Hey, I'm no fool," says Mike Shanahan. "You think a red challenge flag is all I carry in my back pocket? I've got referees back there, too. If you want a clarification of the 'tuck rule,' then good luck finding it. The 'tuck rule' can't be clarified, simplified, or quantified; it can only be deified. It's taken on a mystical-like quality; the more people try to explain it, the less sense it makes, and the more its legend grows. Show me a 'tuck rule' expert and I'll show you someone who can legitimately talk out his ****."

In an instance of mysterious play-calling last week against the Jets, the Bills called for a J.P. Losman roll-out when a running play seemed the wiser option. After all, Buffalo held a 27-24 lead with the two-minute warning approaching, and the Bills had been successful running the ball. Losman fumbled, and the Jets Shaun Ellis picked it up and returned it for the game-winning score.

"That defeat is on my shoulders," says Dick Jauron. "I overruled my offensive coordinator on that call. I'd say it was the most unwise football decision by the Bills organization since the front office signed me to a contract extension earlier this year. But I can't dwell on that anymore. We have the Broncos in Denver to worry about. I going to go up there and coach like it's my last game."

Bills win, 22-21.

NY Jets @ Seattle (+3)

Brett Favre and the Jets head to Seattle with the hopes of keeping their playoff aspirations alive. A miracle finish last week gave the Jets an unlikely 31-27 win over Buffalo, as Shaun Ellis' 11-yard return of a J.P. Losman fumble late in the fourth quarter gave New York the victory.

"Wow!" says Favre. "Ellis sure did leave the stadium buzzing. No, seriously, he was high as a kite when he left here. And I was feeling no pain myself."

"But I'm excited to play in Mike Holmgren's last game in Seattle. We made sweet music together when we both were in Green Bay, and we won a lot of games. Most of all, though, I'm excited to travel to Seattle because I believe our flight path from LaGuardia goes directly over Green Bay. It's not that I need another reason to look down upon Green Bay, but I'll take it anyway."

"I don't expect Mike and the Seahawks to make it easy for us. They're professionals, and come on, what professionals just lay down and give something away?"

For the opening coin toss, injured Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is rolled out to midfield in a wheelchair. Hasselbeck calls tails and wins the toss, then excitedly announces that 'we'll defer to the second half and we're going to win the game!" Then, Favre's first pass is intercepted by Marcus Trufant and returned for a touchdown. Seattle wins, 20-17.

Houston @ Oakland (+7)

With an upset 13-12 win over division rival Tennessee last Sunday, the Texans have won four in a row, evening their record at 7-7. Wide receiver Andre Johnson recorded 207 receiving yards and a touchdown against the Titans' tough pass defense, and leads the NFL in receptions and receiving yardage.

"We're peaking at the right time," says Johnson. "Unfortunately, we bottomed out much too early for a four-game winning streak this late in the season to matter. But we've embraced the role of spoilers, which is a role we'll have to temporarily relinquish in Oakland, because the only thing to 'spoil' in Oakland is the warm glass of milk beside Al Davis' sleeping quarters. No, the milk's not there for Al to drink; it's supposedly there to ward off rival mummies. Yeah, it sounds crazy. But that's what you get when you accept advice from a two-bit, faux-gypsy, county fair, carnival fortune teller as gospel. I think that's where Al also gets his team management advice from."

There isn't much the Houston "Spoilers" can deny the Raiders, although denying the Raiders the chance to improve to 4-11 would really get me excited. Who will the Texans kick harder? Themselves, for their 3-7 start, or Oakland? Houston wins, 26-22.

Atlanta @ Minnesota (-3)

At 9-5, with a one-game lead over the Bears, the Vikings are in the driver's seat for the division crown and a first-round home-field playoff game. And with two home games remaining, one against the Giants, who will have nothing to play for after Sunday's game against Carolina, Minnesota's playoff chances look very bright.

"Hey, there's a lot to be said about home-field advantage," says Brad Childress, who, despite being afflicted with male pattern baldness, seems to be having a lot of "good hire" days lately. "And, there's even more to be said for home-court advantage. That's what you get when a Minnesota judge extends the injunction of Pat and Kevin Williams' suspensions. I think Pat and Kevin have learned that only one thing beats a good diuretic, and that's a good lawyer."

While Roger Goodell has been making a list and checking it more than twice, the 9-5 Falcons have been checking the playoff tie-breaking procedures. Right now, Atlanta is out of the playoff loop, trailing the Cowboys and Bucs in the wild card race.

"Nothing comes easily in Minnesota," says Mike Smith, "except controversy. If it's not a 'sex boat' controversy, it's a drug scandal. If it's not a drug scandal, it's a courtroom drama. If it's not a courtroom drama, it's a near-naked Visanthe Shiancoe frolicking in the Vikings locker room. So, as you can see, 'controversy' in Minnesota is like the hired guns on a Lake Minnetonka carnal cruise - sandwiched between naked Vikings."

Meanwhile, tickets to the "Visanthe Shiancoe Toga Party on Lake Minnetonka" are sold out.

Vikings defensive tackle Pat Williams is out for 2-6 weeks with a fractured shoulder. That may give Michael Turner a little room to run, but probably not much. For Atlanta to win, Matt Ryan will have to do it through the air, and he's capable. Atlanta wins, 27-23.

Philadelphia @ Washington (+5)

With their 30-10 win over the Browns on Monday night, Philadelphia remained on the cusp of the playoff picture. To qualify, the Eagles need to win their remaining two games, and need either an Atlanta or Tampa Bay loss.

"I don't want to even imagine the implications of an Atlanta or Tampa game ending in a tie," says Donovan McNabb. "I'm sure our playoff possibility will come down to a tie-breaker. Luckily, I've been studying up on NFL playoff tie-breaking procedures, and believe it or not, the 12th tie-breaker is 'quarterback's knowledge of whether or not regular-season games can end in a tie.' If it comes to that, we're screwed."

While the Redskins are still technically alive in the playoff hunt, their recent performance on the field has not reflected that. Washington has lost three in a row.

"Hey, just like Redskins Pro Bowl voters," says Jim Zorn, "we've 'packed it in.'"

Washington wins, 23-21.

Carolina @ NY Giants (-3)

In the NFC's battle for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, the streaking Panthers head to the Meadowlands to face the Giants, who have lost two straight. New York's troubles began with Plaxico Burress' inadvertent shooting, and with the passing game devoid of its most dynamic weapon, the G-Men have sputtered on offense, and failed to score a touchdown in last week's 20-8 loss to the Cowboys.

"Sure, we miss Plaxico," says Eli Manning, "but it's no reason to go ballistic. The foundation of this offense is still solid. Everyone, including our offensive linemen, as well as Plaxico's gun, is guilty of a false start every now and then. We all must learn from our mistakes. That goes for Plaxico, as well. Personally, I'd want to forget the time I nearly blew off the family jewels, but not Plaxico. He's going to wear his bullet wound like a badge of honor. And, in true thug fashion, he's having the words 'Slug Life' tattooed across his abdomen."

The Panthers are hitting on all cylinders, with their running game clicking and Steve Smith showing why he is arguably the most dynamic wide receiver in the game. In three weeks, Carolina has gone from a team unsure of its playoff future to a team on the verge of clinching home-field advantage.

"I think we've provided the blueprint for a successful year," says Jake Delhomme. "What's the secret? I'll tell you. Go ahead and get your 'loose cannon' incident out of the way early in the year. Steve Smith made his mistake by punching Ken Lucas at the beginning of the year. I think Ken would be the first to tell you that he'd sacrifice his face if the only other option for Steve to take out his frustration was shooting himself in the leg. Unlike the Giants, we can't do without our Steve Smith."

"We realize the magnitude of this game. If we win, we're 'number one without a bullet."

Smith catches eight passes for 95 yards and a touchdown, and John Kasay kicks the game-winner in the fourth quarter. Carolina wins, 22-20.

Green Bay @ Chicago (-4)

The 8-6 Bears are hot on the tails of the 9-5 Vikings in the NFC North race, and by game-time, they'll know whether the Vikings won on Sunday. Either way, Monday night's game is a must-win for the Bears.

"We'll have to go out there and play Chicago Bears football," says Lovie Smith, "and hope that doesn't keep us from winning. We are desperate for a spot in the playoffs. The only way to get it is to play your way into it. Unlike Illinois Senatorial seats, playoff spots can't be bought for six figures. Not that Governor Rod Blagojevich hasn't tried to sell it to me. He's also tried to pawn off on me a collection of pictures involving President-elect Barrack Obama in compromising positions. Despite its tasty title, 'The Obama Sutra,' I've politely declined."

The Packers are officially out of the playoff race, and now, all that's left is the crying, and the identification of a scapegoat. Green Bay players spent much of last Sunday's 20-16 loss in Jacksonville trying their best to locate that scapegoat, with a lot of finger-pointing, arguing, and accusations.

"The players aren't to blame for our failures," says Mike McCarthy. "If you want to blame someone, don't look at them. If you want to cast stones, you need to look firmly, squarely, and directly in the direction of Brett Favre. Hindsight is 20/20, which in this case means than 20 out of 20 Packers fans would love to witness the sight of Ted Thompson and I getting our hinds kicked. It's not that Aaron Rodgers hasn't played well. It's that Favre never would have allowed this team to quit. His departure has had 'Favre'-reaching implications, and if you believe in miracles, it's not too 'Favre'-fetched to think that Brett will return to Green Bay."

Matt Forte rushes for 115 yards and a touchdown, and the Bears keep their North title hopes alive with a 30-23 win.


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