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Sunday, December 05, 2004 

Games of the Day

The NFC Wild Card "race" continues to devolve. Now there are 13 teams within a game of a playoff spot, with the Rams and Giants tied for the last spot at 5-6. Other than the 49ers (and possibly the Redskins at 3-8) everyone else is still in it.

Early Games

Tennessee at Indianapolis has lost most of its luster. When these teams met in Week 2, who knew that it would be symbolic for both teams? Tennessee took a 17-10 lead midway through the third quarter, then gave up 21 unanswered points to lose 31-17. Last week, the Titans did it again; after leading 21-10 at halftime in Houston, the Texans scored 21 unanswered points to win 31-21. The story for this game is whether Peyton Manning can keep his hot streak going. He's thrown for 4 or more TD's in 5 straight games as he pursues Dan Marino's record. Manning's 24 TDs in 5 weeks sounds like a record to me, but I have not had time to do the leg work to find out. By comparison, Marino's best stretch was 4 TD's a week over the last 4 weeks of the 1984 season (18 TD's over the last 5). Manning has 5 games to throw 8 TDs but has a tough schedule down the stretch as I noted last week.

Late Games

The best game of the day should be Denver at San Diego. The Chargers are leading the West behind the inspired play of Drew Brees, who has made Phillip Rivers an afterthought. Baltimore should beat Cincinnati today, so Denver needs a win to take over first place (a win today will sweep the season series with San Diego) or the Broncos risk falling a game behind in the race for the last playoff spot. It will be interesting to see if the Chargers can control the Broncos running game again. In Week 3, Denver ran the ball for just 37 yards.

Green Bay at Philadelphia would be a classic, except that the Eagles have already clinched a playoff spot. However, they still need to stay ahead of Atlanta to ensure home field (which could be huge against the Falcons). The Packers are tied with the Vikings at 7-4 atop the NFC North, and have the edge due to their 34-31 win at Lambeau 3 weeks ago. Brett Favre tore apart the Rams Monday night, but the Eagles have a much tougher defense that has allowed almost half as many points (Eagles 164, Rams 299).

Also, I'm sure the Kansas City/Oakland game will be great, but who cares?

Prime Time

ESPN must have loved Byron Leftwich coming back last week against the Vikings. Now he should be ready to take on the Steelers tonight with no rust to shake off. Pittsburgh's mid-season vacation (Cleveland, Cincinnati, Washington) is over, but with wins against New England and Philadelphia they have nothing to prove. Plus they have the benefit of a 3 game cushion in their division. But they'll probably have to win out in order to get home field away from the Patriots. Jacksonville is the more desperate team, but I don't know if they can score enough against the Steelers defense. A loss today by the Jags could put them two games out of the wild card and three behind the Colts, so this game should be fun to watch.

As for Dallas at Seattle Monday night, it's time for the Seahawks to explode on offense, and the porous Cowboy defense may be just what the doctor ordered. Seattle will know if St. Louis has taken care of business against San Francisco, and the last thing Seattle wants is to fall into a first place tie at 6-6. But since this is the NFC, they'll probably still have a share of the Wild Card!

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