Two weeks until the playoffs!

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 23, 2002

Houston 27, Washington 7. If the Redskins want a small silver lining to emerge from the stormcloud that has been the 2002 season, they have a shot: three sacks today makes Houston’s David Carr the most-sacked quarterback in NFL history. But the Texans get the Pick because I’m still mad at the Redskins for ruining my Thanksgiving by choking against Dallas.

Atlanta 50, Detroit 6. The Falcons played like canaries in last week’s loss to Seattle, a team they should have destroyed. Michael Vick and Warrick Dunn were contained by the Seahawks defense, which shouldn’t happen today if the two play halfway to their potential. With Mike McMahon (Who?) leading the Detroit offense, Atlanta should win big. They need a victory and to hope that the New York Giants fall at Indianapolis to get a playoff spot.

Chicago 24, Carolina 16. The NFC North is one of the most pathetic divisions in NFL history, as three of its teams have more than nine losses. Chicago is perhaps the league’s biggest disappointment, going from first in 2001 to almost worst this time around. But they have some momentum after beating the New York Jets last week, so the Panthers probably won’t win.

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New Orleans 35, Cincinnati 20. A win today puts New Orleans in the playoffs for the second time in three seasons, but if they lose today, they don’t deserve to be there. After choking against Minnesota last week (as Miami did on Saturday), the Saints have a chance to help Cincinnati complete the worst season in Bengal history (they’re currently 1-13). New Orleans gets the Pick, but, sadly, it won’t be an upset if &uot;Sin&uot;sinnati takes it home.

Green Bay 20, Buffalo 19. Brett Favre has never lost when the temperature is below 34 degrees, and the December winds and snow will be good to him today. It’s not that Buffalo is a tropical paradise, but Drew Bledsoe doesn’t have Favre’s experience in dodging snowball and hypothermia at Lambeau Field. If the Bills are going to win, Travis Henry (with 1,312 yards and 13 touchdowns this season) will need to find a way through a Packer defense that’s 26th in the league against the run.

Indianapolis 30, New York Giants 28. This one might be fun. Both teams are in playoff contention, and are chock-full of momentum. With Miami’s loss to Minnesota on Saturday, a win today puts the Colts in the playoffs. But the Giants are hot after massacring Dallas last week, though they need a LOT of help to reach the postseason. Indy gets the Pick because of Marvin Harrison and Peyton Manning, but anything can happen.

Tennessee 20, Jacksonville 17. On Oct. 13, a 1-4 Titans team scored a 23-14 win over Jacksonville. Since then, Tenn-essee has roared to wins in eight of their last nine games, including their last three. A win today and loss by Indianapolis gives the Titans their second AFC South title in three years. On the other hand, Jacksonville could be losing Mark Brunell, Fred Taylor and coach Tom Coughlin after the season, so its too late to get anything going.

Kansas City 35, San Diego 23. Kansas City is clinging to playoff hopes with a 7-7 record, which would have been 8-6 had not Reche Caldwell not caught a touchdown pass with 14 seconds remaining to life the Chargers to a 35-34 victory over the Chiefs on Oct. 13. The Chiefs should win today, but they won’t go far in the playoffs if Priest Holmes’ hip doesn’t heal quickly.

St. Louis 34, Seattle 20. Marshall Faulk rushed for 183 yards and three touchdowns in a win over Seattle earlier this year. Today, Marc Bulger (who’s sparking rumors that Kurt Warner could be on his way out of Missouri in the off-season) gets his chance to torment a Seahawk defense that’s ranked 30th in the league overall, and 29th against the pass. Faulk needs 103 yards for his sixth-straight 1000-yard season, so he might get the ball a time or three.

Cleveland 17, Baltimore 16. This game might be fun, but it could be rendered meaningless tomorrow night. A loss today eliminates either team from the playoffs, but so does a win by Pittsburgh on Monday. Tim Couch and Jeff Blake are both coming off big wins, but the Browns have worked harder to be here than the Ravens.

Oakland 34, Denver 10. A 34-10 Nov. 11 loss to Oakland started the Broncos on a four-game losing streak that they still haven’t recovered from. A win today and loss by San Diego gives Oakland the AFC West, so don’t be surprised if Rich Gannon becomes the first quarterback in league history to record 11 300-yard games.

New England 30, New York Jets 10. Bill Belichick’s defensive genius showed in Week Two, when the Jets had just 32 yards rushing and 168 passing in a 44-7 New England victory. Pure luck alone won’t do it for New York today either. The Patriots lost their stride in a loss to Tennessee last week, but they should take this one handily.

Tampa Bay 21, Pittsburgh 13. This game will be a war for pride. The Steelers dominated the Bucs in a 17-10 win last season (which was MUCH more decisive than the final score shows), and both teams are playing for division titles. But Tampa Bay get the Pick because of their defense; the Bucs have yielded a league-low 179 points, or an average of 12.8 per game, while the Steelers have allowed 307 points, an average of 22 per game.