From 1-15 to home for the playoffs

Published 9:14 pm Saturday, January 3, 2009

Baltimore (11-5) at Miami (11-5) – 1 p.m.

Chad Pennington was named Comeback Player of the Year in the NFL on Wednesday and in almost any other year, Joe Flacco would be the league’s Rookie of the Year.

For Pennington’s success to continue into one more week, Miami’s running game will have to do better than it did when these two teams met in October. The Ravens, who do this to everyone and that’s why they’re in the postseason, held the Dolphins to 71 rushing yards. The Ravens are the only team since week three, and the Dolphins are 11-3 since week three, to stop Miami’s running game.

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Is Miami’s season lucky? In the NFL, it’s a short walk to get from luck to parity to improvement. Luck, of course there’s the quarterback everyone thought was washed up, but there’s Miami’s schedule as the Dolphins played the AFC West and NFC West.

Parity, 18 Dolphin starters have played every game. Miami’s starters might not be enough against a full Patriot team or a full Denver team, but take a couple players out, and Miami’s suddenly as good or better.

Improvement, there are plenty of ways to illustrate that, so I guess this is the biggest reason and all credit to rookie coach Tony Sparano. Here’s maybe the most obvious, Miami set an NFL record low with 13 turnovers this season.

Perhaps it’s mostly the usual gamesmanship, but Matt Stover, Ed Reed, Samari Rolle, Michael Clayton, Derrick Mason, Todd Heap and Ray Rice are all questionable on the Ravens’ injury report.

Line – Ravens by 3.5

My pick – Dolphins 17-14

Philadelphia (9-6-1) at Minnesota (10-6) – 4:30 p.m.

Of course Donovan McNabb is always the hot topic, but Minnesota’s Tavaris Jackson is the key to this game one way or the other.

The Vikings started 0-2 and bench Jackson. Gus Frerotte salvaged the season, getting the Vikings to a 7-5 record before going down with an injury. Jackson came back and has kept the Vikings going, winning in three of his four games down the stretch.

The chess matchup is Jackson’s composure and decision-making against the Eagles’ blitzing defense.

No matter who’s Minnesota’s quarterback, handing off to Adrian Peterson is always a smart play. Peterson’s averaging 110.0 yards per game, which is best in the NFL.

After being benched after the tie with Cincinnati, McNabb has thrown nine touchdowns and one interception. Brian Westbrook, as always, is questionable with knee and ankle injuries.

Line – Eagles by 3

My pick – Eagles 28-16