GAME OF THE WEEK
Philadelphia at Dallas
--The time: 8:30 p.m., EST
--The line: Eagles by 6-1/2
--The story: Even if Tony Romo
were healthy the Cowboys would be in trouble. Reason: History. They can't close out a season, and you can look it up.
They had a chance to win the NFC East the last day (actually, night) of the past two seasons, and they failed. And they had a chance to make the playoffs the last game of 2008 and got torched 44-6 in Philadelphia. Romo played in all those games and committed six turnovers, including five in the past two season finales.
But Romo is out, and backup Kyle Orton
is in, which means running back DeMarco Murray
finally gets a slew of carries. Too bad Dallas didn't think of that in the second half of its loss to Green Bay. Turning to Murray in the absence of Romo makes sense except for this: Philadelphia held nine of its last 11 opponents to under 100 yards, which means Orton will have to make plays sooner or later.
It's hard to imagine many scenarios where Dallas prevails, even though the Cowboys are home where they scored 20 or more points in every game. Philadelphia is hot, Dallas is not, the Cowboys' defense stinks, linebacker Sean Lee is out and so is Romo. Put it all together, and you have history waiting to happen again.
--Something to consider: The Eagles scored 85 second-half points in their last three games, most in the NFL. Green Bay is second with 63.
THREE OTHERS WORTH CHECKING OUT
Baltimore @ Cincinnati
--The time: 1 p.m, EST
--The line: Bengals by 6
--The story: The Ravens haven't missed the playoffs since John Harbaugh took over in 2008, but they're dangerously close now. To make it a lot of things must happen, and let us count the ways.
First of all, they'd have to beat Cincinnati, and while that can happen it doesn't usually happen in Cincinnati. The Bengals haven't lost there this season. Second, Miami must lose to the Jets or San Diego must lose to Kansas City, and neither is likely to happen. Third, the Ravens will have to get Joe Flacco and the offense untracked, mostly because the Bengals scored 40 or more points in their last four home dates. While that may not happen again, it is worth pointing out that Baltimore just hemorrhaged 41 to New England ... at home.
Bottom line: The Ravens are in trouble. Of course, that's where they excelled in the past. But that was then, and this is now, and now the Ravens seem to be missing that extra gear to put them over the top.
--Something to consider: Baltimore won 10 of its last 13 season finales and is 4-1 in season enders under John Harbaugh.
Green Bay @ Chicago
--The time: 4:25 p.m., EST
--The line: Bears by 3
--The story: Aaron Rodgers
is starting, and that's not good news for Green Bay; it's great. The Packers were 2-4-1 without him but stayed in the division race because neither Detroit nor Chicago had a closer. Over the past seven games the two are a combined 5-9, and that tells you something about the division.
Something like it's wide open for Green Bay.
But it's not just Rodgers who makes Green Bay the favorite here. It's Chicago's Jay Cutler, too. Since coming over to the Bears in 2008, he's 1-7 (including the playoffs) vs. Green Bay, with eight touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Throw in the league's worst rushing defense, a 54-11 beatdown last week in Philadelphia, Rodgers' return and the possible comeback of Randall Cobb, and you can see why not having Clay Matthews shouldn't be a big deal for Green Bay.
--Something to consider: The Packers won nine of their last 10 season finales and 17 of their past 19. They also won their last six season enders against the Bears.
San Francisco @ Arizona
--The time: 4:25 p.m., EST
--The line: Even
--The story: Arizona is still alive for the playoffs, but the Cards would have to win here and have New Orleans lose at home to Tampa Bay to make it ... and that's not likely to happen. Nevertheless, there's a chance ... and a pretty good one ... Arizona can uphold its end of the deal, largely because the Cards are playing their best football of the year. They're 7-1 over the last eight games, won their last four at home and just did something nobody the past two years has -- beat the Seahawks in Seattle.
San Francisco, meanwhile, operates on a short week and probably operates without much Frank Gore here. No, he's not hurt. It's just that the Cards haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher at home. That means it's up to Colin Kaepernick
to do what Cam Newton and Oliver Luck could not, which is to overcome the Cardinals at home. Kaepernick is 2-0 against them, but both those losses were at Candlestick. He and the 49ers will find this a difficult venue ... and opponent ... to solve.
--Something to consider: San Francisco is 12-1 under Harbaugh when scoring on its opening drive.
CRUMMY GAME OF THE WEEK
Washington @ N.Y. Giants
--The time: 1 p.m., EST
--The line: Giants by 3-1/2
--The story: It's hard to imagine many teams worse than the Giants, but Washington is one of them. The Redskins haven't won since Nov. 3, lost eight of their last nine (including the past seven) and dropped a 24-17 decision to Big Blue earlier this month. Their owner is under fire. Their nickname is under fire. Their quarterback is under fire. And their coach is out the door.
This game is so bad it means more to St. Louis than it does to either of these two. The Giants will finish third in the NFC East, and Washington has dead last clinched. But the Redskins could wind up with the first pick of next year's draft ... which would help if it were theirs. It's not. It belongs to the Rams, thanks to the RG3 deal.
Talk about a lost season.
--Something to consider: The Giants' Hakeem Nicks not only hasn't scored this season; he hasn't score in his last 17 games. He has just one Red Zone catch this season a career-low 13 receptions on third downs and 20 receptions overall in his last seven games. Nicks is expected to be an unrestricted free agent next year.
FIVE GUYS IT"S GOOD TO BE
--1. Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan. He's 5-0 at home vs. Carolina, with a rating of 107.6.
--2. Baltimore running back Ray Rice. He has seven rushing TDs in his last six starts vs. Cincinnati. The Ravens are 14-4 when Rice runs for 100 or more yards.
--3. New England quarterback Tom Brady. He's 21-2 vs. Buffalo, with 53 touchdowns, 18 interceptions, a 100 passer rating and seven 300-yard performances.
--4. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He's 16-1 vs. Cleveland, including 8-0 at home. In his last six he has 14 touchdowns, 2 interceptions and 103.4 rating.
--5. New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees. He won his last four vs. Tampa Bay, with a 104 passer rating.
BELIEVE IT ... OR DON'T
--1. Eli Manning
is the only NFC East quarterback to start and end the season.
--2. The Eagles have at least one takeaway in 11 straight games, their best performance since an 11-game run (including the playoffs) in 2006.
--3. Bruce Arians joins Norm Barry as the only rookie coaches in Cardinals' history to produce 10 or more wins in a season. Barry did it in 1925.
--4. Detroit lost 14 of its last 15 games in the Metrodome and is 7-23 there since the stadium opened.
--5. Green Bay won four of its last five games at Soldier Field and held the Bears to 20 or fewer points in six straight games there.
--6. Jim Harbaugh is the first coach in San Francisco history to lead the 49ers to the playoffs in three consecutive seasons.
--7. The last Cleveland quarterback to win a game in Pittsburgh was Tim Couch. It happened in 2003.
--8. The 49ers are the only team in the NFL that has not allowed a 100-yard rusher.
--9. The New York Jets
have been outscored 135-46 in their last four road games -- all of them losses -- and quarterback Geno Smith has one touchdown, eight interceptions and 14 sacks in those games.
--10. Baltimore's Joe Flacco already has thrown a career-best 564 passes. Only five quarterbacks have more, an indication of how often the Ravens are forced to play from behind and of how poor the team's rushing attack has been.
TEN NUMBERS THAT MAY MEAN SOMETHING
--0 -- Green Bay penalties the last time it played Chicago
--2-7 -- Jeff Fisher vs. Seattle
--7 -- Darnell Dockett career sacks vs. San Francisco, his most vs. an opponent
--9 -- Games involving Baltimore decided by three or fewer points
--19-5 -- Arizona at home in December since moving to University of Phoenix Stadium in 2006
--19 -- San Francisco rushes of 20 more yards, best in the NFL
--27.6 -- Average number of points for Arizona at home
--37 -- Yards LeSean McCoy needs to break Wilbert Montgomery's single-season team rushing record
--56 -- Sacks by Buffalo, most in the NFL
--76.8 -- Philip Rivers' completion percentage 92-- Philadelphia plays of 20 or more yards, tops in the NFL
-- Clark Judge, a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange, has covered pro football since 1982 and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee.
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