NFL 2003-4 comes down the final stretch

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 20, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

Chicago 24, Washington 23. Rex Grossman played for Steve Spurrier at the University of Florida, and now wants a chance to beat the teacher. He led the Bears to a 13-10 win over Minnesota last week, which doesn’t mean nearly as much as it would have three months ago, and now he faces a defense that was decimated by Dallas last week. The Skins’ hit-and-miss-ness missed big time by accumulating just 161 yards. They’ll do better than that, but, per usual, probably not enough to win.

New Orleans 32, Jacksonville 16. With all the controversy surrounding Joe Horn and cell phones right now, people tend to forget that he and Aaron Brooks played perhaps their best game of the season last Sunday in the team’s 45-7 victory over the Giants. Brooks went 26-of-35 for 296 yards with a career-high five touchdowns and Horn caught nine passes for 133 yards and four touchdowns. Unfortunately, he just had to whip out that phone and call Mommy! What’s next, some guy starting a campfire behind the end zone and sending up smoke signals to his kids in the next state? Pulling out a walkie-talkie and tapping morse code? Yanking forth a megaphone and screaming, &uot;Hey, look at me, I just scored! Where’s the brass band?&uot; Anyway, I guess I’m supposed to Pick this game. Saints win, still don’t make playoffs.

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St. Louis 27, Cincinnati 20. Everyone thought that St. Louis would be at the top of their division this season, but who could have guessed that Cincinnati would be as well? The Bengals can clinch the AFC North with a win and a loss by Baltimore (ain’t gonna happen), while the Rams are playing for home field advantage. That, and the fact that a win today ties their franchise record for consecutive home victories, with 14, gives them the Pick.

Baltimore 35, Cleveland 7. A team that needs to win to make the playoffs loves to play weak teams, which is why the Ravens are in a great position today. Of course, it didn’t help them in last week’s humiliating loss to Oakland, but that might have just sped up their momentum – and three months ago, Jamal Lewis ran for an NFL record 295 yards against the Brown defense. Today, he may break the three-century mark.

Dallas 50, N.Y. Giants 9. See the above paragraph? Switch &uot;Ravens&uot; with &uot;Cowboys&uot; and the same definition applies here. The Giants have absolutely no incentive left to play hard this year; a rash of injuries has crippled them to six consecutive losses, and they know they’ll be restarting when Jim Fassell leaves at the end of the season. Bill Parcells isn’t known for his compassion, especially when the NFC East title might be still in his team’s sights (of course, Philly has to lose twice for that to occur).

Tennessee 42, Houston 18. Why does fate hate Steve McNair? Every week, something goes physically wrong with him, and just when it looks like he might get a rest, backup Billy Volek goes out for the season with a lacerated spleen! Fate had better reward McNair with a Super Bowl title for all this agony! Fortunately, the Houston defense won’t be able to break through to him today.

Carolina 35, Detroit 7. The Panthers are probably the league’s most overrated team; sure, they’re 9-5, but seven of those wins were by three points or less, and they barely beat Arizona last week, a game in which they were outgained 317-298 and needed a last-second field goal to wrap up the NFC Central title. This game is a chance for them to build some momentum and let injured stars like Stephen Davis heal, but don’t expect to see them a few weeks into the postseason.

Buffalo 10, Miami 9. On the other hand, the Bills are the league’s most underrated and unlucky team; of their eight losses, five have been determined by four points or fewer. The Dolphins haven’t won a December road game since 2000, and they won’t make the playoffs if Denver wins either of its last two games.

San Diego 7, Pittsburgh 6. Not worth another word.

Seattle 38, Arizona 10. The Seahawks are in a great position to keep their playoff hopes alive against a &uot;team&uot; like Arizona, but don’t expect to see them do anything if they get there. The team has gone 1-6 on the road this season (with their only win coming over the Cardinals), and they certainly won’t have home field advantage in the postseason.

Philadelphia 30, San Francisco 28. A win today gives the Eagles the NFC East and home field advantage in the playoffs, and they’re on the streak of a lifetime after winning nine straight, a franchise record that will be broken with a win today. The team has averaged 32 points in their last five games, including last week’s 34-27, 401-yard performance against Miami. The 49ers are good but not great, which has to be considered a huge disappointment for one of the league’s most well-known franchises.

Indianapolis 24, Denver 17. This game might be great, but we might see it again in the first round of the playoffs; the Colts can clinch the AFC South with a win, but they’ll still be ranked third in the AFC, and Denver is the front-runner for a wild card spot. If Peyton Manning can throw for at least 99 yards today (which is child’s play for a guy that threw for 290 last week against Atlanta), the Colts will have a 4,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard rusher (Edgerrin James) and a 1,000-yard receiver (Marvin Harrison) for the fourth time in five years. The Broncos might get the Pick if Clinton Portis weren’t hurt, but his bum leg could mean the difference between victory and defeat.

Green Bay 28, Oakland 13. Brett Favre absolutely fed it to San Diego last week with four touchdown passes in Green Bay’s come-from-behind 38-21 victory, and tomorrow he faces a squad with a subpar defense. But if he doesn’t come to play, there’s always Ahman Green, who carried for 75 yards and one touchdown, giving him 1,538 yards for the season. The Raiders got lucky against Minnesota, but the difference between them and the Pack is that if Green Bay loses, it’s never because they didn’t try.

Last week: 11-4

Overall: 115-81