Note: The quotes in this article are fictional.
Indianapolis @ Tennessee (+3)
Peyton Manning threw four interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns, in last week's 38-35 overtime loss to the Cowboys. Manning has thrown 11 interceptions in the Colts last three games, all losses, and at 6-6, trail the Jaguars by a game in the AFC South race.
"Frankly, I'm stunned," Manning said, "that we were ever 6-3. It seems I'm regressing. I'm playing like a rookie, or a sixth-year Eli Manning. I've thrown four interceptions in the last two games that have been returned for touchdowns. I've been known to ???read' a defense; lately, I've shown a penchant to ???feed' a defense.
Maybe our lack of a defense, or a running game, or a go-to tight end, or a complimentary wide receiver to Reggie Wayne is the reason for my troubles. Maybe I'm trying to do too much. As my good friend Ben Roethlisberger knows, ???forcing it' usually leads to trouble."
While the Colts have lost three in a row, the Titans have dropped five straight, and questions abound as to Jeff Fisher's future as head coach.
"Rumors of my demise," said Jeff Fisher, "are as premature as those of Manning's. Like my offense, I'm not going anywhere. As for Manning, his lackluster play is obviously a transparent ploy to lower his market value, thus allowing the Colts to justifiably offer him less for an extension and spend more on things desperately needed, like a durable running back, or a bionic arm for Bob Sanders. That's just a testament to the unselfishness of Manning. I would never consider excluding Peyton from a meeting. Peyton has no regrets about saying to consumers, ???Cut that meat!' I have no qualms about saying to Vince Young, ???Cut that meeting.'"
One team will rebound; one will fall further into the spiraling depths of despair. It's hard to imagine the Colts falling below .500; then again, it's hard to imagine that Eli could possibly be considered the better Manning. If the Colts are to make the playoffs, they'll do so astride the back of Peyton.
Manning throws for 345 yards and three scores, and the Colts survive a big day from Chris Johnson.
Indianapolis wins 27-22.
Cleveland @ Buffalo (-1)
Peyton Hillis is sure to get a workout when the Browns make the short trip across Lake Erie to face the Bills, who sport the NFL's worst rushing defense, giving up an average of 171 yards on the ground per game.
"They're calling it the ???Lake-Effect Snow Bowl,'" said Eric Mangini said. "You know, Hillis is a lot like snow--he's white, and they had enough of him in Denver. And speaking of ???heavy snow,' Hillis is a lot like ???Wite-out,' in that he's well-equipped to erase mistakes made by Jake Delhomme."
The Bills are 2-10 after taking a 38-14 pounding in Minnesota, done in by five turnovers and 210 yards rushing by the Vikings. Buffalo can expect a steady dose of Hillis in snowy and windy conditions that are not conducive to a passing game.
"What's less conducive to a passing game than December Buffalo weather?" said Bills defensive back Jarius Byrd. "Jake Delhomme.
Maybe the Browns have a definitive edge in the running game, but we have a bigger advantage with our own personal conduit to the heavens in wide receiver Steve Johnson. When Steve enters the room, you can't help but notice the aura surrounding him, nor can you help exclaiming ???Tweet Jesus! It's Steve Johnson!'"
Hillis rushes for 122 hard-earned yards, and Josh Cribbs returns a punt for a score. Johnson posts eight catches for 101 yards, and scores on an 11-yard pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick, then faces Mecca and bows five times.
Cleveland wins 23-19.
Atlanta @ Carolina (+7)
The 10-2 Falcons face the Panthers for the first of two games in four weeks against Carolina in Atlanta's quest to win the NFC South and secure home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. The Falcons completed the season sweep of the Bucs, winning 28-24 in Tampa last week.
"We've won our share of close games," Mike Smith said, "and it's taking a toll on me. My white hairs now have white hairs. Why, just the other day, I was accosted by Emmitt Smith, Keith Hernandez, and Walt Frazier in the ???Just For Men' van. Emmitt said to me, ???Your dome is chrome, Mike Smiff.' I politely declined their offer of a toothbrush and black shoe polish.
Now, we've got Matt Ryan to thank for much of our late-game success. They call him ???Matty Ice,' which is also a local mixed drink favorite, consisting of water on the rocks. Sounds rather boring, right? Well, the water in Matt's veins may be ice cold, but the liquidity of his marketing potential is lukewarm."
Carolina jumped out to a 14-0 lead in Seattle last week, but collapsed in the second half, eventually falling 31-14. The Panthers are now 1-11, and are facing a highly-motivated Falcons team.
"Seeding is indeed important," John Fox said. "I should know, because shortly after the season ends for us, I will be ???sup-planted' as head coach. But the No. 1 seed is of no concern to us; we're all about the No. 32 seed. We're ???bottom feeders,' as well as ???bottom seeders.' So, Sunday's game is a case of ???I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine.' An Atlanta victory does us both good."
Matt Ryan throws for 246 yards and two touchdowns, and Michael Turner punches in a short TD run to seal the victory.
Atlanta wins 27-21.
NY Giants @ Minnesota (+1 ??)
Brett Favre was knocked out early in last Sunday's 38-14 win over the Bills, succumbing to a shoulder sprain when the Bills' Arthur Moats flattened him on his first pass attempt. Tarvaris Jackson replaced Favre and faired well, but Leslie Frazier said if Favre can play, he will start against the Giants.
"I fully expect Favre to play," Frazier said. "He's become the poster boy for Viking resiliency. In fact, he texted me a picture of his sprained shoulder, with the caption ???Hung Like A Norse.' Unlike previous texts, this wasn't a picture of a dangling and useless appendage. One doesn't amass a remarkable 297-game consecutive starts streak, and an NFL investigation, without the ability to stick it out."
With a gimpy Favre expected the start, the Giants aggressive defensive front should come after the aging veteran with abandon. The G-Men sacked Donovan McNabb four times last week as the Giants built an early lead and unleashed their two-headed rushing attack.
"I believe Favre is listed on the injury report as ???Yes,'" Tom Coughlin said. "His pain management skills and second to none. I hear they've named a pain killer after him. It's called the ???Vike-O-Din,' and it's quite effective at numbing pain, although it usually returns around August.
It would seem reasonable for us to pressure Favre with our front four relentlessly and hurry him into making mistakes. We've got a different plan of action. Why bother pressuring Favre? If we give him unlimited time in the pocket, it will work in our favor. History has shown that the longer Favre has to think about something, the more likely it is he'll make the wrong decision."
Last week, Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs proved that they are the key to the Giants late-season push. If Bradshaw can hold on to the ball, and Jacobs to his helmet, Eli Manning's job becomes easier.
The Giants rush gets to Favre early, forcing a turnover that Bradshaw turns into a 5-yard touchdown run. Favre hangs in against the onslaught, and throws two touchdowns. In the end, Lawrence Tynes' 37-yard field goal wins it for the G-Men.
New York wins 31-28.
Cincinnati @ Pittsburgh (-9)
The Steelers wrested the AFC North division lead from the Ravens, edging Baltimore 13-10 at M&T Bank Stadium on Ben Roethlisberger's late touchdown pass to J.R. Redmond. Roethlisberger, already playing on a sprained foot, suffered a broken nose on the Steelers first series.
"Steelers-Ravens affairs are always physical," Roethlisberger said. "And this one was no different. There were broken noses, hard hits, concussions, injuries, penalties, and fines. Then the game started. The NFL will surely be reviewing the videotape, and if they can keep their eyes off of James Harrison, they'll likely see a number of illegal hits. It's a shame James has to dial back his physical play just so he can afford to pay his bills. He has to tip-toe the delicate balance between his ???appetite for destruction' and his bank account's ???appetite for deduction."
The Bengals have lost nine in a row to fall to 2-10 on the year. Last week, a late penalty doomed Cincy in a 34-30 home loss to the Saints.
"We should have known the Saints were bluffing," said Chad Ochocinco. "What kind of team would go for it on fourth and 2 from their opponents' 7-yard line, down three points, with only seconds remaining, and risk losing the game as opposed to taking your chances in overtime? We would, that's who."
Cincinnati is the NFL's version of "lost and found;" they lose because they inevitably find ways to. Sunday is no different. With the Bengals down three and driving, Carson Palmer hits Terrell Owens on an medium-range crossing route. Owens then collides with Chad Ochocinco and fumbles, as Palmer cries "T. Oh No!" Lawrence Timmons recovers, and the Steelers run out the clock.
Pittsburgh wins 29-24.
Oakland @ Jacksonville (-5)
After bullying the Titans 17-6 in Nashville, the Jaguars took over sole possession of first place in the AFC South when the Cowboys beat the Colts 38-35. Maurice Jones-Drew rushed for 186 yards to lead the Jags, who face the Colts in Indianapolis in week 15.
"This should be a classic matchup," said Jack Del Rio. "The 7-5 Jags, who rushed for 186 yards last week, against the 6-6 Raiders, who amassed 251 on the ground. The running will be ???north-south,' but the win-loss records appear to go ???east-west.'"
Like the Jaguars, the Raiders ran their week 13 opponent into the ground. Oakland rushed for 251 yards on a whopping 52 carries in their 28-13 win over the Chargers in San Diego.
"And that was against the NFL's top-rated defense," Tom Cable said. "We're not impressed by stats here in Oakland, which would likely explain my tenure as head coach. Al Davis is not by any means easy to please, but he knows what he wants in a head coach. You have to be malleable, win an occasional game, punch a pencil-necked assistant coach from time to time, and resemble The Thing of the Fantastic Four."
Jacksonville wins 26-24.
Green Bay @ Detroit (+7)
The Packers ran past the 49ers 34-16 last Sunday, improving to 8-4 and remaining one game behind the Bears in the NFC North race. Aaron Rodgers passed for 298 yards and three touchdowns, and will look to do the same against a Lions defense which has shown susceptibility to the pass.
"Unlike most teams," Rodgers said, "we pass to set up the run. And we like setting up the run. Like a certain former Packer quarterback in a situation with the NFC title hanging in the balance, I'd rather throw than run."
Detroit will look for their first division win and an end to a five-game losing streak that has left them with a 2-10 record.
"We've were cursed again by a bad call against the Bears," said Jim Schwartz. "If it's not the NFL rule book stealing a touchdown from Calvin Johnson, it's an antsy official calling a personal foul on Ndamukong Suh for legally shoving Jay Cutler to the ground. Cutler's a ???push-y.' I'm amazed by the official's call. The NFL wants to clean up unnecessary roughness, but the one time a player forgoes a tackle for a two-handed tag, he's penalized, and fined $15,000. And the NFL's officiating supervisors will just brush it off, saying it was a ???judgment call.' Here's my judgment call: Foot Locker employees could call a better game than NFL officials."
Rodgers throws for 316 yards and three touchdowns, and is penalized for a helmet-to-helmet hit in the third quarter when he celebrates a touchdown with Greg Jennings.
Green Bay wins 35-24.
Tampa Bay @ Washington (+2)
The Bucs lost a tough 28-24 decision to the Falcons, losing a 10-point fourth quarter lead and a chance to cut Atlanta's lead in the NFC South to one game. As it is now, Tampa is 7-5 and will likely have to scramble to pull out a wildcard playoff berth.
"I guess I'll have to concede," said Raheem Morris, "that the Falcons are the class of the NFC. They've beaten us twice, and as the saying goes, ???To be the best, you've got to beat the best.' And they did.
Like us, the Redskins are in dire need of a win. I imagine the intensity of a Buccaneers Vs. Redskins game will match that of an Aliens Vs. Predators showdown."
Albert Haynesworth continues to be a distraction for the Redskins. He was inactive for last Sunday's game against the Giants, despite declaring himself ready after missing Friday's practice with an illness. In Haynesworth's absence, the Giants rushed for 197 yards and four touchdowns in their 31-7 win. On Tuesday, Haynesworth was suspended without pay for the Redskins remaining four games.
"Albert hasn't exactly accepted my way of doing things," Mike Shanahan said. "In fact, he's been defiant. I expect a ???commitment to excellence;' Albert's given me nothing but a ???commitment to insolence.' And a lot of his teammates are irritated. Like an out-of-shape and overweight Haynesworth, they're ???fed up.'
But I can't let this dampen my holiday spirit. If Albert's of no use to us on the field, we'll wrap him in swaddling clothing, surround him with adoring wise men and farm animals, and re-enact an early-season conditioning requirement. We'll call it ???A Weigh In A Manger.'"
What's all this talk in Washington about the lack of jobs? There's an opening in the Redskins' defensive line right now. Applicants should hurry, because it will soon be filled by LeGarrett Blount.
Buccaneers win 23-16.
St. Louis @ New Orleans (-9)
The Saints remained hot on the tails of the Falcons with a tough 34-30 win in Cincinnati. New Orleans is 9-3, one game behind Atlanta, and beginning with the Rams, faces three likely playoff teams, with the Ravens and Falcons to follow.
"It was with a bit of trickery," Sean Payton said, "that we beat the Bengals. We baited them into a neutral zone infraction on 4th and 2 when it was obvious we weren't going to snap the ball. If there's one thing to be said about the 2-10 Bengals, it's that they ???bite.' We were welcomed to ???The Jungle,' where we've got fun and games."
The Rams remained tied for the NFC West lead with a 19-6 over the Cardinals. It will be a tough road to the division crown, with the AFC West-leading Chiefs visiting St. Louis in week 15, and a visit to Seattle on the slate for week 17.
"We're focusing solely on the Saints," said Sam Bradford. "A game in New Orleans is never an easy proposition, and this game reminds of renowned Cherokee tribal elder ???Big Easy.' He called his spacious, three bedroom teepee the ???Superdome,' and defended it like a warrior. We expect the same from the Saints."
New Orleans wins 30-24.
Seattle @ San Francisco (-4 ??)
The 4-8 49ers face a do-or-die situation this Sunday against the Seahawks who, along with the Rams, lead the NFC West with a 6-6 record. With a loss, San Fran would fall three games back, with three games remaining, which would effectively end their playoff chances, which realistically ended approximately two months ago.
"The Seahawks are the ???class of the NFC West,'" Mike Singletary, "a term that is clearly an oxymoron, much like ???All-Pro 49er quarterback,' or ???Mike Singletary, 2011 head coach.'"
The Seahawks finally got a big game from Marshawn Lynch, whom Seattle acquired from Buffalo in a trade on October 10th. Lynch rushed for 83 yards and three touchdowns in Seattle's 31-14 win over Carolina, and he'll likely remain their centerpiece as they battle for the NFC West crown.
"I'm sure Marshawn was happy to leave Buffalo to join a division contender," said Pete Carroll. "He's the ???Beast From The Least From The East.' And he's difficult to tackle. Prosecutors of O.J. Simpson have commented that like the ???Juice,' Marshawn is a load to ???bring down.'"
In NFC West divisional games, you might as well flip a coin to determine a winner. So here's a quarter, flip it, and call someone who cares.
San Francisco wins 27-20.
New England @ Chicago (+3)
The 9-3 Bears face their sternest test of the year when Tom Brady and the Patiots invade Soldier Field, intent on extending their dominance beyond the reaches of the AFC. New England crushed the Jets 45-3 on Monday night, and now faces a Bears team intent on proving its worth as a Super Bowl contender.
"That makes it official," said Brady. "We are the clearly the best team in the AFC. We've got wins over the Ravens, Steelers, and Jets by a combined score of 107-49. And those three teams are supposed to have the league's best defenses? I ???can't stop' thinking about that.
Hey, I hear Jay Cutler had a fling with Kristin Cavallari. Obviously, the D-list dating pool is finding matches. Jay Cutler is to Tom Brady as Kristin Cavallari is to Giselle Bundchen. Make that a word analogy problem on the Wonderlic test and even Vince Young could get it right. I'm a Super Bowl-winning quarterback married to the world's most beautiful supermodel. I know snap counts as well as I do thread counts. And I know a poser when I see one. The Bears are not in our same conference; more importantly, they're not in the same league."
Cutler and the Bears have faced criticism all year, and a win on Sunday would certainly silence the critics.
"If we beat the Patriots," Cutler said, "you can expect an updated version of ???The Super Bowl Shuffle.' And expect Jim McMahon to remain the greatest football-playing white rapper of all time."
Brady again executes the Patriot short passing game to perfection, utilizing the dumps, the dumps, the lovely Brady dumps, to Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, and the rest of the gang. The Pats survive a fast start from the Bears, but quickly escape a 6-0 hole. Brady throws for 256 yards and three touchdowns.
New England wins 27-22.
Miami @ NY Jets (-6)
The Jets must quickly regroup from Monday's humiliating 45-3 loss in New England, a defeat so incapacitating, it could derail the Jets entire season, unless Rex Ryan acts quickly to recharge the team's confidence.
"In times like this," said Rex Ryan, "one needs guidance, and I found it in the words of my father, coaching legend Buddy Ryan. Then I went out and punched my offensive coordinator and my defensive coordinator.
Trust me, there was no laughing on the Jets sideline. But there was plenty in the Gillette Stadium stands. I applaud the Patriots, for respectfully running up the score on us. Bill Belichick is the master of preparation, and the Patriots were well-prepared. After such a debilitating loss, it's obvious we need to work on our preparation, for a wildcard playoff game on the road."
The 6-6 Dolphins are four games behind the AFC East-leading Patriots, and while a playoff berth is out of the question, a winning record is not. After the Jets game, the ???Fins host the Bills and Lions, followed by a week 17 game at New England.
"We could conceivably finish 10-6 and not make the playoffs," Tony Sparano said. "And we could conceivably finish 6-10 and not make the playoffs. So, conceivably, we're not going to make the playoffs."
Jets win 28-19.
Denver @ Arizona (+3 ??)
The Cardinals fell to 3-9 after a 19-6 home loss to the Rams, Arizona's seventh consecutive loss. Derek Anderson was pulled in the fourth quarter after taking several hard hits, and going 7 or 20 for 93 yards and one interception.
"Obviously," said Ken Whisenhunt, "it's not the first time Anderson's been knocked silly. Derek giggles like a schoolgirl, and plays like one, as well.
With Anderson and Max Hall both questionable for Sunday's game, we may have to start rookie John Skelton, whose inexperience has earned him the nickname ???Green' Skelton, which is no laughing matter, although it would be were John related to legendary comedian Red Skelton."
After Denver's 10-6 loss in Kansas City dropped them to 3-9, Josh McDaniels was fired on Monday and was replaced on an interim basis by running backs coach Eric Studesville.
"Eric will do a good job," said a departing McDaniels. "The ???Stude' abides. I'd like to think I was just ahead of my time as coaching abilities. Someday, the Broncos organization will look back on my firing with regret, just as they are now looking back on my hiring with regret. I think Grammy Award-winning producer/rapper Timbaland said it best when he sang, ???This club can't even handle me right now.'"
Skelton throws three interceptions and loses a fumble, leading a frustrated Darnell Dockett to scribble "Helton Skelton" in eye black on the Cardinals locker room wall.
Denver wins 27-24.
Kansas City @ San Diego (-7)
The Chargers lost their first game in December since 2005, falling 28-13 to the Raiders at Quallcomm Stadium, suffering a loss that severely handicaps their playoff hopes. Now 6-6, the Chargers must beat the 8-4 Chiefs to stay in the division hunt; a loss would leave them three games out of first with three games to play.
"So, the bubble has been burst," said Norv Turner. "We can lose in December, which likely means we still can't win in February. Now, I find it interesting that Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers have all but handed the NFL MVP award to Tom Brady.
Kansas City whipped the Chargers 21-7 to open the season, a win which heralded the Chiefs as a real contender in the AFC West. Another win would likely sew up a division title.
"We've got an opportunity to do something special," said Todd Haley. "And that's beat a division rival and get their coach fired for the second consecutive week. Jeff Fisher will thank us one day in the upcoming season when he's offered the Denver or San Diego job."
Chargers win 26-21.
Philadelphia @ Dallas (+3)
The Eagles are tied with the Giants for first in the NFC East in a battle that likely won't be decided until the regular season's final week. Both the Eagles and Giants face pivotal road contests in advance of their huge showdown in the New Meadowlands in week 15.
"It amazes me that the NFC East has come down to a two-team race," Andy Reid said, "when at the year's start, it looked like a wide open division. I guess the great ???Dandy' Don Meredith's catchphrase of ???Turn out the lights, the parity's over' enjoys a little more profundity."
The Cowboys can easily lay claim to the title of the NFL's best 4-8 team. That's because the 49ers are the only other 4-8 team in the NFL, and the Cowboys are better than the 49ers. At least on paper.
"We've got three wins under Jason Garrett," said Miles Austin, "and four wins under .500."
Philadelphia wins 33-27.
Baltimore @ Houston (+3)
The Ravens are certainly seething after blowing a fourth-quarter lead last week against the Steelers, falling 13-10 after Joe Flacco's fumble led to Pittsburgh's go-ahead score. Baltimore lost its first home game of the year, and fell to 8-4 on the season.
"They say defense wins championships," Derrick Mason. "I'm not sure that saying is always true, but I hope it is, because our offense damn sure won't win one."
The Texans may be 5-7, but in the AFC South, that's "not bad" because the division as a whole is "not good."
"To win," said Gary Kubiak, "we'll have to be balanced on offense and show discipline on defense and play well on special teams and execute in all other phases of the game and only the can we expect to win."
That's called a "run-on" sentence, so Kubiak inadvertently just invited the Ravens to do so.
Ray Rice rushes for 115 yards and catches 8 passes for 85 yards, and scores two touchdowns. Baltimore wins 31-24.