Note: The quotes in this article are fictional.
Note: the quotes in this article are fictional.
Pittsburgh @ Cleveland (+9)
After a stunning loss to the Raiders in Pittsburgh, the Steelers have lost four in a row and now stand at 6-6, and their hopes for a wild card berth rest on dangerous footing. With seven teams in the wildcard mix, Pittsburgh will likely need to win out to have even a chance at securing a berth, and the chase begins Thursday in the Dawg Pound.
"If that's the Steelers idea of 'unleashing hell,'" says Eric Mangini, "then I'm feeling a lot less uneasy about my eventual time in the afterlife. Besides, if there's one thing I can do for the fans of Cleveland, it's to fulfill their most popular request, and that's for me to 'go to hell.'"
"No one is quite sure what's wrong with the Steelers. Oh, there's plenty of theories. Maybe it's the lack of a breakaway threat in the running game. Maybe it's the absence of Troy Polamalu, probably the only player whose impact when he's not playing exceeds that when he is playing. Here's a theory no one has posed: maybe the Steelers just aren't that good."
"The Polamalu explanation seems most logical. With Polamalu in, the defense is great. When he's out, they're mediocre. It's a defensive case of 'hair today, gone tomorrow."
Ben Roethlisberger knows, as the unofficial leader of the Steelers, it's up to him to rally the troops and turn the season around.
"That's right," says Roethlisberger. "Unofficial leader. Just as the Beastie Boys' Check Your Head is the unofficial soundtrack to the second half of our season. "
"Now, most people would agree that it's time for a private team meeting," says Roethlisberger, "and assuming I can get doctor's clearance, I'm going to request one. I have no doubt that my teammates will listen to me. The question is, will they believe me? We've got to turn things around immediately. A loss to the Browns would be devastating. They are the enemy. And with teammates like these, who needs more enemies?"
"I understand Hines Ward has a hamstring injury that may keep him out of Thursday's game. Isn't that an interesting development? I could be the better man and not say a word. Or I could put the 'critic' in 'hypocritical' and ask for a doctor's note."
Pittsburgh wins, 19-9.
New Orleans @ Atlanta (+9??)
The Saints remained undefeated thanks to a 33-30 overtime win in Washington, an escape worthy of Harry Houdini. Washington's Shaun Suisham missed a 23-yard field goal that would have iced the game for the 'Skins. The Saints capitalized, and won on Garrett Hartley's field goal in overtime.
"The so-called 'football gods' were certainly looking down upon us," says Drew Brees. "I guess that's a kind way of saying Daniel Snyder was watching the Redskins from his luxury box. Usually, a 'gimme' is strictly used as a golf term, either to indicate a short putt, or, in the case of Tiger Woods, it's what he says when he sees a woman. But 'gimme' can apply to football, as well, because Washington certainly gave us that one. It's not often you see an interception, a fumble recovery, and a touchdown in a span of seconds, unless you're watching a Jake Delhomme highlight reel."
The absences of Matt Ryan and Michael Turner to injuries have left the Falcons without their two main offensive weapons. Ryan practiced Wednesday and may start on Sunday.
"Things were certainly looking good after week five," says Mike Smith. "We were 4-1 and riding a wave of momentum. That was our 'Falcon Crest.' After that, things have gone downhill. Injuries have been the major issue to various body parts. Michael turned his ankle, Matt sprained his toe, and my mouth popped off when DeAngelo Hall invaded my space. Michael and Matt's injuries have lingered, but Roger Goodell made sure my mouth healed in a hurry."
New Orleans wins, 31-13.
Denver @ Indianapolis (-7??)
The Colts, winners of 12 straight this year and 21 regular-season games, host the Broncos, who have won two in a row after four straight losses dimmed the luster of a 6-0 start. So, barring a tie, and a quick explanation of NFL rules to Donovan McNabb, one team's streak will come to an end.
"Our 21-game streak compared to Denver's two-game streak?" says Peyton Manning. "That's like comparing apples to 'orange.' The truth is, I love playing Denver, the Broncos as well as John. For me, joining the 'Mile-High Club,' as for most people, consists of 'ins and outs.' Mine just happens to be learning the 'in and outs' of a new playbook while listening to 'Rocky Mountain High' on my headphones, while cruising 30,000 feet above the mortals below me."
"Historically, the Broncos have not fared well in Indianapolis. I recall two wildcard blowouts in 2004 and 2005. So you can expect those horses from Denver to be saying 'whoa is me!'"
The Broncos rushed for 245 yards last week against the Chiefs, and that running attack will have to be successful to limit Peyton Manning's opportunities.
"Manning is a clever devil," says McDaniels, "but if it's 'horseplay' he wants, it's 'horseplay' he'll get. Despite those two big losses, and despite the logo on the Indy helmets, there's no way they're a 'shoe-in' for victory. I've got a game plan guaranteed to beat the Colts, and if my team carries it out correctly, we'll win. If they don't, I will give them a cursing out that would make a sailor turn a dangerous shade of 'Shanahan.'"
Can the Broncos pull off the upset? Scoring touchdowns in the red zone will be imperative. In the end, though, the Colts' "bend but don't break" defense will snap back, and Indy will overcome a third-quarter deficit. It's the Indy "Losing But Don't Lose" offense.
Colts win, 30-26.
Seattle @ Houston (-6)
For a team many considered would contend for a wild card, if not a division title, Houston's 5-7 record has been nothing short of a disappointment. The Texans are last in the division, and their 1-5 division record is also the worst in the AFC South.
"On the bright side," says Gary Kubiak, "at least there's no reason to be looking over our shoulders. I wish I could say the same for me. When I ask for a vote of confidence, chairman Robert McNair always tells me 'You're good ... as gone.' Of course, I'm like all the other coaches on the hot seat - I hear the Mike Shanahan rumors. However, I'm at a disadvantage to the others; I've already got Shanahan's son Kyle on my staff. That son of a ****."
Despite a sore throwing shoulder, Matt Hasselbeck plans to play for the Seahawks. Hasselbeck has endured an injury-riddled season, with the pain of broken ribs suffered earlier in the season a lingering concern.
"Jim Mora's in a similar situation to that of Kubiak," says Matt Hasselbeck. "When Jim asks for his own vote of confidence, everyone wants to 'abstain.' I tell Jim, if you really need an answer, ask Travis Henry. He never abstains."
Seattle wins, 24-21.
Carolina @ New England (-13)
The Patriots troubles on the road continued last week with a 22-21 loss in Miami, and now the Patriots hold only a slim one-game lead over the Dolphins and Jets in the AFC East. New England will try to rebound against the Panthers in a rematch of Super Bowl 38, a 32-29 Patriots win that took place at the height of their dynasty.
"'Dynasty' is a word we try not to use around here anymore," says Tom Brady. "Much like the words 'go for it on 4th-and-2,' 'Bridget Moynahan,' or 'David Tyree.'"
"As for our 1-5 road record, it's by far the worst road record of any division leader. Some, like the Colts and Saints, two teams we've lost to on the road, are both 6-0 on the road. That makes them 'Road Warriors,' while we're nothing more than 'Road Worriers.'"
"As a team, we have to realize that just because we're the Patriots, we won't just be handed a Super Bowl trophy. Now, Charles Woodson may tell you that we were handed a 2002 divisional playoff win because we were the Patriots. But that's open to interpretation and subjectivity, just like the 'tuck rule.' If you ask me, though, I'll tell you the honest truth about the 'tuck rule,' that it's nothing more than transvestite origami."
Despite the loss, that Super Bowl marked the high point for the Carolina franchise. But this season has been one defined by a series of low points, including a dismal year from Jake Delhomme, who seemed destined for greatness after his Super Bowl performance.
"Jake put us on the map," says John Fox. "But this season, he's been given entirely too much latitude. I predict that next year, you'll need a map just to find Jake and myself."
The Pats win, 30-13, but they won't clinch the AFC East on Sunday. They'll wait until Week 16, a more festive time, when the Patriot "Missile" Toe is hung in the locker room, and the celebration can include a bevy of unsuspecting female reporters.
Buffalo @ Kansas City (-1)
East and West meet as the Bills and Chiefs, both last in their respective divisions, face-off in chilly Arrowhead Stadium. While the Chiefs are in the first year of Todd Haley's regime, the Bills and owner Ralph Wilson are preparing for what is sure to be wholesale changes in the offseason.
"We started with the firing of Dick Jauron," says Wilson. "But that in itself wasn't enough. We also had to delete his image from the team photo. I'm not sure where that image is now, but chances are it's occupying space shared with Scott Norwood. Let us speak of them never again."
Kansas City is 3-9 after a 44-13 thrashing at the hands of the Broncos last week at Arrowhead, the Chiefs' worst defeat of the year.
"Despite rumors," says Todd Haley, "the Chiefs did not invoke the 'slaughter rule' in that game, although they did say 'Uncle Sam.' Now, Jauron's 'disappearance' was strange, but it's not that uncommon for things like that to happen. As you saw in last Sunday's game, I made Matt Cassel disappear when I benched him."
Terrell Owens catches 7 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown. Buffalo wins, 23-17.
Detroit @ Baltimore (-13)
After a penalty-filled 27-14 loss in Green Bay on Monday night, the Ravens are 6-6 and now join the Steelers, Jets, and Dolphins in the scrap heap of .500 teams still eyeing the playoffs. With upcoming home games with the Lions and Bears in succession, Ray Lewis knows wins in those two games are imperative if the Ravens are to make a playoff push in the final two weeks.
"I'm not one to point fingers," says Lewis, "so I'll just name names. Joe Flacco can't throw interceptions, particularly in the end zone, and our defensive backs, who luckily won't be named because they are 'no-name' defenders, can't commit that many interference penalties. I haven't seen that much 'interference' since the Feds came asking questions back in 2000. Normally, I see 'yellow' like that when a wide receiver ducks a big hit on a crossing pattern."
"And speaking of 'false accusations,' the allegations by a woman that Terrell Suggs assaulted and poured bleach on her are absolutely false. I know Terrell likes white women, but not that much."
The Lions are 2-10, which is two wins better than they were at this time last year. So, as is usually the case for the Lions, talk in December is not of 'playoffs', but of the NFL draft in April, in which Detroit will again have a prime pick.
"Hey, don't rain on our parade," says Jim Schwartz. "That's one time when we can proudly say 'we're number one.' We're making progress - we don't even have the overall number one pick."
Can the Ravens defensive backs keep their hands off Calvin Johnson? Let's hope so. Otherwise, half this game may be run under caution.
Baltimore wins, 31-14.
Cincinnati @ Minnesota (-6??)
In their 30-17 win over the Vikings, the Cardinals did two things to derail the Minnesota offense, and that's take away the running game, and forcing Brett Favre into turnovers. It's a plan the 9-3 Bengals are likely to follow when they travel to Minnesota for a game of which the outcome will likely have far-reaching seeding implications.
"It seems that the police aren't the only ones slowing down the Vikings," says Favre. "Adrian Peterson and Bernard Berrian were both busted for speeding. But being around so many 'speed freaks' makes me feel just like I'm back in my home state of Mississippi. As for Adrian, it's no wonder that kid is so strong. He's carrying around a lot of weight. Not only does he have a 'lead foot,' he's got 'hands of stone', as well."
"But it's December in Minnesota, the time of year when the danger of 'exposure' increases.' And we were exposed last Sunday night in Arizona."
The Bengals, like the Chargers, are 9-3, and the number two AFC seed will likely go to one of those two teams. The Bengals have already won this year in Green Bay, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore, so they are confident they can do the same in Minnesota.
"We like our chances under the dome," says Chad Ochocinco. "And I've got a great touchdown celebration planned. After I score, I'll tear off my jersey to reveal a Packers jersey. I'll take that one off to reveal a Jets jersey. Then, I'll remove that to reveal a Vikings jersey. Then I'll give Brad Childress a big hug. Of course, I'll recap it all on my Twitter account."
"You know, with the addition of Larry Johnson, posting tweets has reached a new level. My good-natured tweeting, coupled with Larry's politically incorrect tweets, has led to the coining of our new nickname, 'Tweetle Dee and Tweetle Dumb."
The fun-loving Ochocinco has run afoul of the NFL for last week's "sombrero and poncho" outfit, for which he was fined $30,000. He's busted again shortly before Sunday's kickoff, this time for paying the fine in pesos.
Ochocinco catches a touchdown pass as the Bengals get a Shayne Graham field goal in overtime to win, 27-24.
NY Jets @ Tampa Bay (+3??)
Last Thursday's win over Buffalo, coupled win New England's loss to Miami last Sunday, breathed new life into the Jets' playoff aspirations. New York is 6-6 and trails the Patriots by one game, with Sunday's visit to 1-11 Tampa a must-win on their remaining schedule.
"And we'll need a healthy Mark Sanchez to even have a chance," say Rex Ryan. "And that means he'll have to display proper sliding techniques. Mark's shown that as far as intellect is concerned, he's very rarely classified as 'head first.' You may have heard that Sanchez is only the second Jets rookie to throw for 2,000 yards in a season, the other being Joe Namath. But the comparisons don't end there. We're simply asking of mark the same thing Joe Willie asked of Suzy Kolber - 'Gimme some leg.'"
Tampa's Josh Freeman threw five interceptions last week in Carolina as the Bucs dropped to 1-11 after a 16-6 loss. Freeman and his receivers will face Darrelle Revis, arguably the NFL's best cornerback, who has dominated some of the league's best receivers.
"I'm smart enough not to throw Revis' way," says Freeman, "and I'm wise enough to know when to slide. Sanchez is obviously a big fan of Van Halen, because despite his coach's pleas, he still ends up as a 'Diver Down.'"
With Sanchez sitting, Kellen Clemens starts, and New York rushes for 185 yards on the ground on their way to a 24-13 win. Even on the bench, Sanchez health is a concern. With the game in hand, he dives head first into a hot dog on the sideline, spraining his tonsils.
St. Louis @ Tennessee (-13)
Chris Johnson and Steven Jackson, the AFC and NFC rushing leaders, respectively, meet when the Rams travel to LP Field to challenge the 5-7 Titans, who are still fighting for their playoff lives. The bruising Jackson leads the NFC with 1,232 yards, while the speedy Johnson heads the AFC list with 1,509.
"Hey, somebody tell LenDale White that 'Smash and Dash' are back in Tennessee," says Jeff Fisher. "Personally, I liked LenDale with the love handles. Heck, I agree with Bud Adams and his most recent display of 'two fingers' - LenDale needs to put the 'two fingers' of tequila back in his diet."
"Now, we obviously won't go 10-6, as Johnson predicted after our 0-6 start. I guess it's safe for people to finally say what they thought when Chris said that - 'Balder-Dash.'"
Johnson out-gains Jackson 165 to 111 and the Titans win, 30-10.
Miami @ Jacksonville (-3)
While the 7-5 Jaguars are seeking a wild card playoff berth, the 6-6 Dolphins are in a tight battle for the AFC East division title. Miami trails the Patriots by a game, but their 4-2 division record is best in the East. In both cases, a loss would be painfully detrimental to the causes of the Jags and 'Fins.
"In the NFL," says Tony Sparano, "it's never easy winning in a hostile environment. That's why we like our chances at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, where the empty seats outnumber the full ones, and are often louder."
Jack Del Rio has the Jaguars in solid position for a playoff berth with four games remaining. Right now, Jacksonville would be the sixth seed, and with games remaining against the Colts and Patriots, the Jags have their work cut out for them.
"As they say in the business," says Del Rio, "we control our own destiny. That's just like saying 'You've got no one to blame but yourself if you don't make the playoffs. So let the blame game begin."
"As for attendance, Florida governor Charlie Crist thinks drafting hometown boy Tim Tebow could be the boost to ticket sales this franchise sorely needs. I can't argue with that, and if Tebow is available, we might just take him. I liken Tebow to a good golfer - if he's still there in the fourth round, he might just be a keeper. Four!"
Miami wins, 27-21.
Green Bay @ Chicago (+3)
In Chicago, the Bears snapped a four-game skid with a 17-9 win over the one-win Rams, a victory about as impressive as Jay Cutler's updated resume. Chicago is mathematically still alive in the playoff race, but with their next three games against teams well within the playoff mix, the Bears' are probably better suited in the role as spoiler.
"Hey, I love role-playing," says Cutler. "Sometimes, I fantasize that I'm an NFL quarterback, as do my teammates. But I can't fault anyone for questioning my faults. I just have to learn to correct them, this time without Ed Hochuli's help. That becomes even more imperative in this time of the year. No, it's got nothing to do with making the playoffs. It's my trouble with interceptions, as my teammates are concerned it may become an even more troubling issue in this 'season of sharing.'"
The Packers sport the league's number one-ranked defense, and Dom Caper's switch to a 3-4 defense is now paying full dividends. The Packers are 8-4 and look solid for a wild card berth.
"All we have to do is take care of our business," says Charles Woodson, "while the Cowboys, Eagles, and Giants beat themselves up in the NFC East. What we really want is a rematch with Brett Favre and the Vikings. If that happens and we win, revenge will be sweet. If not, the Vikes will have the sweep, and Favre can say he 'retired the side.'"
Green Bay wins, 23-16.
Washington @ Oakland (+1)
The Redskins and Raiders experienced both ends of the emotional spectrum last Sunday, as Oakland was ecstatic following a 27-24 upset of the Steelers in Pittsburgh, while Washington was downtrodden after seeing a sure win over the undefeated Saints turn in to a 33-30 overtime loss.
"Wow, the timing of our victory couldn't have been better," says Al Davis. "Just weeks after some well-intentioned fans wasted their hard-earned money to post a message on a billboard asking me to hire a general manager, we go out and get our biggest win of the year. That's a clear sign that nothing needs changing here. So, not only was this a 'moral' victory,' it was a 'more-Al' victory, as well. I'll relinquish control of this franchise when they pry my cold, dead fingers from it. Barring natural causes, that won't happen. So it's true what most people say: it will take an act of God to get me out of here."
Shaun Suisham's missed 23-yard field goal cost the Redskins the game, and on Tuesday, it cost Suisham his job. Suisham was cut, and the Redskins signed UFL kicker Graham Gano.
"We're going to Oakland to take back what's rightfully ours," says Jim Zorn. "At least that's what Daniel Snyder says. He's unscrupulously and unwisely spent so much money, he thinks he can recover it in the 'Black Hole.'"
When the teams of Davis and Snyder collide, there's no telling what will happen. But one thing's for sure - Davis and Snyder are reading from the same owner's manual.
Washington wins, 22-15.
San Diego @ Dallas (-3)
Is the Dallas December collapse imminent? After a 5-1 November record put them on top of the NFC East, the Cowboys ushered in December with a 31-24 loss to the Giants, and now face the hot Chargers, followed by the undefeated Saints in Week 15. Is this the beginning of the end for Dallas?
"If the previous month was a 'November to Remember,'" says Wade Phillips, "then this month could be a 'December to Dis-member,' because we always seem to lose our manhood. Let's hope we find it before Mark Sanchez does, otherwise we all could be in for an embarrassing situation."
"As for Flozell Adams, he's obviously got anger issues. He was fined $50,000 for shoving Justin Tuck in the back. Earlier this year, he was fined for tripping Tuck. Unlike Flozell, I hate to kick a man when he's down, but he's got to display some control."
The Chargers have won seven in a row, and unlike the Cowboys, have a history of flourishing in the month of December. Norv Turner has the San Diego offense clicking, and a revitalized LaDainian Tomlinson is contributing. Last week, Tomlinson passed Jim Brown for eighth on the NFL's all-time rushing yards list.
"Dallas' December trouble is no surprise," says Norv Turner. "Even the Farmer's Almanac calls for four weeks of failure. Wade Phillips wants respect? With that haircut? Anyway, L.T. is hot, and after passing Brown, I believe he's ready to take that next step. How about L.T. starring alongside WWE superstar John Cena and Yaphet Kotto II in The Running Man 2?"
Dallas wins, 30-24.
Philadelphia @ NY Giants (-1)
The Giants' big win over the Cowboys last week put them back in the division hunt; a win in Sunday night's game at Giants Stadium versus the Eagles could give them a share of the NFC East lead. The G-Men finally showed the attitude that was a key ingredient to their 5-0 start this season,
"Attitude? Is that what it was?" says Tom Coughlin. "Because it sure wasn't defense. We'll need better effort if we plan on making the playoffs. We've got the sixth-ranked defense in the NFL, but statistics don't interest me. Jay-Z may be in an 'Empire State of Mind," but I'm in an "Empirical State of Mind."
The Eagles are 8-4 and, with apologies to Michael Vick, right in the thick of a dogfight for the NFC East division crown. Philly will welcome the return of DeSean Jackson, who missed last week's game against the Falcons. Jackson gives Philly big-play capabilities at wide receiver,
"Jackson is our best offensive weapon," says Donovan McNabb. "And Vick, as he proved in Atlanta, is becoming more a part of this offense. He took two 'to the house,' which is quite an accomplishment after spending two 'in the big house.' Michael's had to sit long enough; now it's his time to speak."
Philadelphia wins, 31-27.
Arizona @ San Francisco (+6)
The 5-7 49ers trail the Cardinals by three games in the NFC West, so Monday night's game in a last-ditch effort to maintain hope for the playoffs. A win, and San Fran is back to within two games; a loss, and the Cardinals coast to the division title.
"Hey, this is San Francisco," says Mike Singletary. "We understand the magnitude of this game. And speaking of the Richter scale, we'll need our yards per rush average to be more than a mild tremor in order to compete with Arizona. We know the Cardinals are hot. To beat them, we have to be extremely physical, and take a 'seek and destroy' attitude. In other words, we'll have to be 'dirty' and 'harry.'"
The Cardinals served notice that they will be a playoff team to be reckoned with after whipping the NFC North-leading Vikings 30-17 last week. Anquan Boldin also served notice, that he'll be filthy rich when free agency signings commence. Boldin was unstoppable against Minnesota, with 7 catches for 98 yards and 2 touchdowns.
"I've often been praised for my 'pocket presence,'" says Kurt Warner. "But that's nothing compared to what Anquan will face this offseason. He's going to have so much money thrown at him even he won't be able to catch it all. If he's smart, like me, he play one team against another and blackmail one into upping its price. Then give 10 percent of the difference to the almighty Lord."
Warner throws for 265 yards and 3 scores, and the Cardinals erase a 10-point early deficit to win, 24-17.