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Sunday, December 11, 2005 

Quick Slants - Week 14

It may be 2 weeks until Christmas, but today is a great day for those lucky folks with DirecTV. With four weeks left, 21 teams are still mathematically alive for the playoffs, and 16 of those clubs are above .500 with a realistic shot at the postseason. So there are plenty of meaningful games this afternoon, while the two night games are not exactly exciting.

Sunday
Chicago (9-3) at Pittsburgh (7-5)

Pittsburgh is in the midst of a 3 game losing streak (Baltimore, Indy, Cincinnati) and it won't get any easier today against the league's best defense. The Steelers offense came alive last week against a mediocre (at best) Bengals defense, but I have no confidence in them against the Bears. While Chicago has had the benefit of a weak schedule, the combined records of the teams the Bears have defeated (43-65, .398) is a little better than the Steelers (31-53, .369). However, I still think the Steelers will win this game, since they are far more desperate - a loss could drop them 2 games behind in the wild card chace (and 3 in the division), while the Bears have a 2 game cushion over the Vikings for first place in the NFC North.

Indianapolis (12-0) at Jacksonville (9-3)

The Colts need a win to end the suspense - not for a perfect season, but for the division title and homefield advantage. When these teams meet in Week 2, Indy trailed 3-0 midway through the fourth quarter, but ended up winning 10-3 on the strength of 128 yards rushing by Edgerrin James. Who knew that would be the Colts closest call this season? But with Byron Leftwich on the shelf, I have a hard time believing that David Garrard is going to lead the Jaguars to an upset. The Colts are unlikely to go undefeated since they will (and should) rest players down the stretch, but they'll improve to 13-0 today.

Tampa Bay (8-4) at Carolina (9-3)

When these teams met back in Week 9, Tampa Bay turned the ball over 4 times, including 2 Chris Simms interceptions, and lost 34-14 at home. Tampa Bay was narrowly outgained by Carolina 287-270, but had more first downs (18-15) and won the time of possession battle (31:23). Now the Bucs travel to Carolina to try to claim a share of first place in the NFC South. The Bucs were unimpressive last week, defeating the Saints 10-3, while the Panthers pulled away in the fourth quarter of their 24-6 win over the Falcons. It's time for Chris Simms to show he can beat a team with a quality defense on the road.

Kansas City (8-4) at Dallas (7-5)

If the season ended right now, both of these teams would be tied for the last playoff spot in their respective conferences. Coincidentally, these 2 teams hosted Denver the last two weeks, with Dallas blowing their chance on Thanksgiving while Kansas City won a hard-fought game last Sunday. That said, Dallas's defense is better than Denver's, which will give them an edge in this game.

Monday Night
New Orleans (3-9) at Atlanta (7-5)

The only reason this game is interesting is because it is Atlanta's last shot at the playoffs. They must win this game, which will allow them to gain ground in the playoff race since Tampa or Carolina will lose their game.

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