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Sunday, November 27, 2005 

Quick Slants - Week 12

With the Terrell Owens mess finally settled for this year, it's time to re-focus on the playoff races. Dallas's loss to Denver on Thanksgiving complicated the NFC picture while putting Denver in the driver's seat for the 2 seed in the AFC. Ready for a second helping of football?

New England (6-4) at Kansas City (6-4)

Back-to-back wins for the Patriots for the first time this season have given the defending champs hope for a return to the playoffs. The Chiefs have also been a trick-or-treat team this season, as they defeated the Raiders in unbelievable fashion, then suffered a letdown against the Bills, then crushed the hapless Texans last week. This is a great matchup for the Chiefs, who can attack the Patriots with Larry Johnson and also through the air. The Patriots run defense has been improving, holding Miami and New Orleans to well under 100 yards, but those teams are a combined 5-15 for a reason. New England is the only team with an above .500 record who has allowed more points than they have scored, and they've surrendered the second-most yards in the league. The only edge the Patriots may have is in the deep passing game, as the Chiefs leading receiver is TE Tony Gonzalez, but the weak New England secondary has allowed Gus Frerotte to throw for 300 yards, so that still scares me. Also, the Chiefs are the more desperate team, as a loss would drop them 3 games behind Denver and force them to shoot for the wild-card.

Chicago (7-3) at Tampa Bay (7-3)

Two of the league's best defenses meet in this matchup of divisional leaders. Tampa Bay won a wild game in Atlanta last week despite being outgained 293-118 through the air and 150-140 on the ground. Chicago's offense is no where near as proficient as Atlanta's but they share one common trait - they are the only teams in the NFL with more rushing yards than passing yards. But Kyle Orton isn't Michael Vick, which gives Tampa an edge in this game at home.

NY Giants (7-3) at Seattle (8-2)

The Giants should send Billy Cundiff a thank you card. Cundiff's missed 34 yard field goal helped cost the Cowboys their game on Thursday, which gives the Giants a chance to stay in first place even with a loss against the Seahawks. Seattle has gained more yards than any team in football (3892 - 1595,2297) though their schedule has helped with five games so far against some of the worst defenses in the league (Arizona, St. Louis, San Francisco). Shawn Alexander is having an MVP-caliber season, with 19 touchdowns and a comfortable 113 yard lead over Edgerrin James for the rushing title. Even Matt Hasselbeck is having a good year, entering this game as the third-rated QB in the NFC. But I still like the Giants in this one. Seattle has a four game lead in the NFC West, and can even clinch a playoff spot if Houston upsets St. Louis (the expression "slim and none" applies here). The Giants have been very effective against the run this year even though their overall defensive numbers do not look great. Plus, even though Eli Manning has been inconsistent this year, I'm not completely sold on Hasselbeck.

Monday Night
Pittsburgh (7-3) at Indianapolis (10-0)

The storyline for this game is simple: the Colts are trying to stay undefeated while the Steelers are trying to right the ship. Ben Roethlisberger returns after a three game abscence in which Pittsburgh struggled to defeat Green Bay and Cleveland before losing to Baltimore in overtime. With games against Cincinnati and Chicago the next 2 weeks, Pittsburgh could find themselves at 8-5 in a hurry, though the remainder of their schedule is full of cupcakes (Minnesota, Cleveland, Detroit).

For the Colts, they are driving towards history, with this game being one of many roadblocks in a stretch of games that includes playoff contenders San Diego and Seattle. I don't think they'll go 16-0, if for no other reason than if they wrap up the number 1 seed early (the lead is 2 in the loss column and Denver's schedule isn't easy either), they may rest some players. Indianapolis is playing so well that overconfidence is the only way they can lose this game. Pittsburgh has a quality defense, but their offense is not even comparable to the Colts in terms of consistency or firepower.

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