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2009 NFL Season – Week 14 Preview by Lloyd Vance

The San Diego Chargers (TE Antonio Gates pictured) are one of many NFL teams making their push toward the playoffs in Week 14

I am calling Week 14 of the 2009 NFL season, “Do or Die Week”, as several “on the bubble” teams can either join the push toward the playoffs or start planning for their off-season this week.  Though the NFL is still full of the “Have’s” (10 teams with 8 wins or more including the league’s two undefeated teams – Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints both 12-0) and the “Have Nots” (8 teams with 4 or less wins, who are now basically spoilers). 

There are still a multidude of teams (14 teams) currently in the league’s parity-laden middle (records ranging from 7-5 to 5-7) who are still are playoff dreaming, even if some are by a thread.  “It’s that time of the year, the last quarter,” said Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid – just received a 3-year extension.  “If you’re still in the hunt, things get a little faster, guys play a little faster and so on.  That’s the nature of the game.  That’s where we’re at”.  Overall, 26 teams are still mathematically in playoff contention, so let the race for the NFL’s 10 remaining playoff berths continue – Saints and Colts already have claim two of the league’s 12 coveted spots. 

The most important thing in the month of December around the NFL is to keep winning.  Teams that are strong contenders for the playoffs need to keep putting up wins to “Get In”, On-the-bubble teams need to keep winning to survive and the teams already having clinched playoff spots want to stay “Hot” entering the postseason.  “We always look to play our best football in December,” said San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who leads the NFL in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns in December since 2000.  “That’s when we want to be at our best.  We focus more in December because we know what’s coming up.”  Tomlinson and his Chargers probably know better than any team in the NFL right now the value of winning in the year’s last month.  Dating back to a 24-21 win at Buffalo on December 3, 2006, the San Diego Chargers have won an NFL-record 15 consecutive games in December.  Prior to the Chargers’ current streak, the record was held by the Dallas Cowboys, who won 13 consecutive December games during a run that spanned from 1968 to 1972.  Tomlinson added, “We seem to finish strong.  We’ve talked about it and really made it one of our mottos.  I think that has a lot to do with our mindsets in December.  We want to play our best football in December going into January”.

Even with the Chargers (9-3) current 8-game winning streak, they still are not at the top of the NFL’s food chain due to the success of the undefeated Saints and Colts, who are reaching new heights in NFL history together.  The two unblemished teams are the first two 12-0 teams in league history to have that record within the same season.  This week, the Colts take on the Denver Broncos in key AFC playoff matchup and several streaks will be on the line for Indy.  The Colts of course will be attempting to extend their 12-0 start plus they will be trying to break a tie with the 2006-08 New England Patriots for the longest streak in NFL history (21 games).  This season the Colts have been resilent to say the least and so far they have overcome a fourth-quarter deficit six times in 2009.  With one more 4th quarter comeback by MVP candidate QB Peyton Manning and the rest of the Colts, Indy will become the first team since the AFL-NFL merger (1970) with seven fourth-quarter comeback wins in one season.  

The Saints — lead the NFL with 440 points scored with an average of 36.6 ppg — also are etching their names on some records too.  With four games to play, they need to score 60 points to join the NFL’s elite 500-points in one season club – 1998 Minnesota Vikings (556) , 1999 St. Louis Rams (526), 2000 St. Louis Rams (540), 2001 St. Louis Rams (503) and 2007 New England Patriots (NFL Record 582 points scored).  However as good as both undefeated teams have been, they better watch their step this week as only five teams have made it to 13-0 in NFL History – 1972 Dolphins, 2007 New England Patriots, 2005 Indianapolis Colts, 1998 Denver Broncos, and 1934 Chicago Bears.  Even with having such outstanding records to this point, nothing is guaranteed for the Saints or Colts as the five 13-0 teams have had varying end of season success.  Only the 1972 Dolphins and 1998 Broncos ended up their 13-0 season starts with an NFL title. 

I think a lot of fans and media are hoping that both the Saints and Colts can ride into Miami, Florida for Super Bowl XLIV with perfect 18-0 records.  But if I have learned anything from my years covering the NFL it is that nothing is predictable about the world’s most popular league.  Since 1990, only 17 of 36 number one seeds in the playoffs have made it to the Super Bowl with only 8 of those teams winning it all.  The last time two No. 1 seeds faced-off was in 1993 for Super Bowl XXVIII with Buffalo vs. Dallas.  There was an interesting factoid from last week that further showed nothing is guaranteed in the NFL.  By virtue of the Saints clinching the NFC South last week, 2009 marks the seventh consecutive season that at least one team has gone from last place to first place in its division from one year to the next — longest streak in NFL history.  Of the 32 teams to go from “worst-to-first” in NFL annals, 15 of them have done so in this decade (2000-2009).  

So right now with 63 regular season games left to be played, I don’t think  anyone has an  idea of who is going to represent the AFC and NFC in the Super Bowl.  It could be the Chargers vs. Saints, Colts vs. Giants, Broncos vs. Eagles, Bengals vs. Cardinals, Colts vs. Vikings, Chargers vs. Cardinals or any of a number of combinations.  But teams right now need to take one game at a time and focus on “successful”  team tenants — Strong Quarterback Play (i.e. Taking Care of the Football), Good Attacking Defense that produces turnovers, a Balanced Offensive Attack based first in the Run, Sound Special Teams Play, Limiting Penalties/Turnovers, and just plain “Want-to” — in looking to qualify for the playoffs.  

This week’s Thursday Night Football game between the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers also showed the unpredictable nature of the NFL — BTW:  I cannot stand games on Thursdays as too often the short week lends to sloppy boring games.  The Steelers came into the game having lost 4 straight games, but surely the 2008 Super Bowl Champs would beat up on the 1-win Cleveland Browns (defense ranked 32nd overall going into Week 14).  The Steelers had won 12 straight against the Browns, so Thursday Night should have been P-Burgh’s re-entry into the playoff dance.  But hold-up, Wait a minute…as no one told the Browns that they were not supposed to show-up.  On a bitterly cold night (temperatures in the teens with a 20 mph wind that produced subzero wind chills), where you wouldn’t blame Eric Mangini’s team for quitting, the Browns dug deep for a tough 13-6 win that sent the defending champs to their 6th straight loss — longest losing streak in six years. 

The Browns (2-11) sacked Steelers’ QB Ben Roethlisberger eight times on their way to beating their hated rival in Cleveland for the first time since 2000.  The man of the hour for the Browns was Wildcat QB/WR/KR Josh Cribbs, who rushed for 87 yards out of the wildcat formation, had 104 return yards and caught one pass for 9 yards. Cribbs never let the cold get him down as he badly wanted to beat the Steelers (6-7) for the first time in his career.  The former Kent State dual threat quarterback picked up probably the game’s biggest first down on a tough 14-yard run in the fourth quarter when the Browns were winding the clock.  Of the win and the Steelers’ long ride back to Pittsburgh Cribbs said, “They’re going to hear that bus’ engine all the way back”.  The Steelers are now pretty much on the outside looking in on the playoffs and you can point directly to their 3 recent upset losses to the Chiefs, Raiders, and Browns — a combined record of 9-28 – as a reason you can never pencil-in wins in the NFL.

Some key games that will either make or break a team’s playoff hopes include:

Philadelphia Eagles at NY Giants –   In a highly anticipated NFC East black-and-blue game, the Eagles will travel up the turnpike to face the rejuvenated NY Giants on NBC Sunday Night Football.  Here in NFC East country this is the number one game on everyone’s mind. The Giants are looking for payback for the Eagles knocking them out of 2008 playoffs in a disappointing home loss.“This will be a big game,” said New York head coach Tom Coughlin this week.  “It’s a division game, against the Eagles, at this time of year.  December is such a critical time for all the teams in our league.”  The Eagles (8-4 and on a 3-game winning streak) are currently tied with the Dallas Cowboys atop the division, but with thoughts of the Cowboys going in the tank again in December, both the Birds and Giants want to capitalize.  To me, this game is for the NFC East title even though 3 more games will need to be played after this one.  Expect a tough physical games as it should be cold and windy in the Meadowlands at game time.   The biggest key of the game will be the quarterbacks as Eagles QB Donovan McNabb (has won 10 of past 14 starts vs. NYG including the playoffs) and Giants QB Eli Manning (passing numbers: 225-379, 2925 yards, 20 TDs, and 11 INTs) have faced off many times and usually the team that wins is the one with the passer who has made bigger plays.  In the Eagles November win over Giants, McNabb hit explosive player WR DeSean Jackson for a 54-yard touchdown and the game was never the same.  Watch for turnovers as the Eagles are (+12) in turnover ratio (3rd in the NFL) while the Giants have a rating of (-1).  On defense, the Eagles will look for CB Asante Samuel (7 INTs this season) to make a big play and conversely the Giants need to get pressure from their front four led by DE Justin Tuck (G-Men have won 11 in row when he has 1+ sacks).  One of two Eagles streaks will prevail in this game, Philadelphia has thrived in December with a record of 12-3 since 2006.  But the Birds are also (1-7) on Sunday Night Football. 

New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons  — With their season on the line, the Falcons maybe facing “Mission Impossible” when the high-flying undefeated New Orleans Saints come to town for a huge NFC South game.  The Saints quite possibly could be the best team in the NFL, but they will need to be on their guard as Atlanta still has some fight left.  The key will be whether the Falcons get back their injured offensive weapons QB Matt Ryan (turf tow) and RB Michael Turner (ankle).  Last week, the Eagles had no problems with the depleted Falcons.  However the Saints are undefeated and the Falcons would like nothing more than to stop their streak and inch back into the NFC wildcard race.  Watch for Saints QB Drew Brees and his track team of pass catchers (Meachem, Henderson, Colston, Moore, Bush, Shockey, and others) to light up the NFL’s 29th rated pass defense.  Plain and simple if struggling back-up QB Chris Redman starts for the Falcons, this game will be a “laugher” for the Saints who are looking to wrap up a 1st round playoff bye  with a win.

Denver Broncos at  Indianapolis Colts —  It is time for the Broncos to show if they are truly a playoff contender as they travel to Indy to face the undefeated Colts.  I love this match-up, because it has a playoff feel to it.  Both teams are making their playoff push and the Broncos (8-4 and have won 2 in a row) want to show they can play with the “Big Boys” in the AFC.  The Colts have so many streaks on the line, but they better be careful as the Broncos still have a good chance of winning the AFC West or claiming one of the AFC’s wildcards.  The match-up I will be most interested in is the battle of two future hall of famers, Colts QB Peyton Manning’s offense versus Broncos safety Brian Dawkins’ defense (NFL’s 2nd ranked pass defense).  Watch for the Broncos to continue running the football with their two-headed monster (rookie Knowshon Moreno and veteran Correll Buckhalter – ran for 199 yards last week) as QB Kyle Orton  (torn ligaments in ankle) is banged-up.

San Diego Chargers at Dallas Cowboys – Simple and plain, the Dallas Cowboys season is on the line.  The Cowboys are sick of everyone talking about a December Swoon (5-9 since QB Tony Romo) so now it is time for them to turn-up the heat in Jerry Jones billion-dollar playground.  Unfortunately for the Cowboys they are playing the red-hot Chargers, who are on an 8-game winning streak and are 15-0 in December going back to 2006.  The key will be whether Romo (392-yard passing last week) and WR Miles Austin can hook-up for some big plays against the Chargers stingy defense led by LB Shawne Merriman.  Also watch for Chargers Pro Bowl QB Philip Rivers throwing the ball against the Cowboys’ 20th ranked defense.  A final storyline to this game is that Romo has been enlisted to hold for struggling kicker Nick Foulk – remember the last time “butterfingers” held for kicks causing Dallas to lose 21-20 to the Seattle Seahawks in a 2006 Wildcard Game.

Other games of interest

Miami Dolphins at  Jacksonville — In a “Battle for Florida” special, the Jaguars will host the Dolphins and it should be a good one as both teams are making their playoff push.  The Dolphins have shelved the “Wildcat” for QB Chad Henne throwing the ball and the Jags will be looking for a big game from Maurice Jones-Drew aka “Pocket Hercules”.

Carolina Panthers at New England Patriots — With the Dolphins and Jets getting dangerously close, the Patriots will need to find their playoff pedigree when they host the Carolina Panthers this week.  The Patriots have lost 3 games in a row and they desperately want to find their swagger back to stay in the lead in the AFC East.  The key will be the Patriots defense stopping the run and getting pressure on Panthers QB Matt Moore (Pats only have 20 sacks this year).  Maybe new daddy Patriots QB Tom Brady and his favorite targets (WR’s Wes Welker and Randy Moss) can get back on track in the bad weather of New England.  Watch for corners Leigh Bodden (Patriots) and Chris Gamble (Panthers) making big plays in this game.

Cincinnati Bengals at Minnesota Vikings – In a true test that will show the NFL where the Bengals stand in the league’s pecking order, Cincy will hit the road to Metrodome to face the angry Vikings.  Hard to believe, but could this improbable pairing of two soon-to-be divison winners be a preview to Super Bowl XLIV in Miami.  I love the match-up of RB’s Bengals Cedric Benson and the Vikings Adrian Peterson in this game.  Benson is rejuvenated and looks like the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year and Peterson is a workhorse.  Both pass defenses should be tested on the Metrodome’s fast track, so expect the Bengals Chad Ochocinco (What will he do next?) and Vikings WR’s (Percy Harvin, Benard Berrian, and Sidney Rice) to have huge games.  Also watch for the play of Vikings veteran QB Brett Favre, who finally had a bit of a hiccup last week (2 INTs in a loss).  

I also wanted to remind fans to vote for their favorite players as balloting for the 2010 Pro Bowl will conclude soon http://www.nfl.com/probowl/ballot

Week 14 Games

Thursday, December 10

Browns (2-11) over Steelers (6-7), 13-6

Sunday, December 13

New Orleans (12-0) at Atlanta (6-6), 1:00 PM (FOX)

Green Bay (8-4) at Chicago (5-7), 1:00 PM (FOX)  

St. Louis (1-11) at Tennessee (5-7), 1:00 PM (FOX)  

Denver (8-4) at Indianapolis (12-0), 1:00 PM (CBS)  

Buffalo (4-8) at Kansas City (3-9), 1:00 PM (CBS) 

NY Jets (6-6) at Tampa Bay (1-11), 1:00 PM (CBS)  

Miami (6-6) at Jacksonville (7-5), 1:00 PM (CBS)  

Detroit (2-10) at Baltimore (6-6), 1:00 PM (FOX)

Seattle (5-7) at Houston (5-7), 1:00 PM (FOX)  

Cincinnati (9-3) at Minnesota (10-2), 1:00 PM (CBS) 

Carolina (5-7) at New England (7-5), 1:00 PM (FOX)

Washington (3-9) at Oakland (4-8) 4:05 PM (FOX) 

San Diego (9-3) at Dallas (8-4), 4:15 PM (CBS)  

Philadelphia (8-4) at NY Giants (7-5), 8:20 PM (NBC)

Monday, December 14

Arizona (8-4) at San Francisco (5-7), 8:30 PM (ESPN)

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

2009 NFL Season – Week 14 Rankings by Lloyd Vance

December 10, 2009 1 comment

 

It is time for the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers (backup QB Dennis Dixon pictured) to rise from .500 into the playoff picture or get out of the way

With the third quarter of the 2009 NFL Season completed there is not much time left for teams to either join the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts in the playoffs or step aside.  I love this time of the year as desperation is in the air for everyone in the NFL with jobs and playoff berths both on the line in equal numbers.  After 13 weeks of NFL play, there are still the “Have’s” (10 teams with 8 wins or more including the league’s two undefeated teams — Colts and Saints both 12-0) and the “Have Nots” (8 teams with 4 or less wins, who are now basically spoilers).  But a good portion of the league (14 teams) are still caught in the parity-laden middle with records ranging from 7-5 to 5-7 including former 2008 playoff teams – NY Giants (7-5), Pittsburgh Steelers (6-6), Baltimore Ravens (6-6), Atlanta Falcons (6-6), Tennessee Titans (5-7), and Carolina Panthers (5-7).  So with only four games remaining for teams there is little time left for the “Contenders” and “Pretenders” to sort themselves out — 10 playoff berths remaining.

In looking at the current NFL standings here’s the breakdown: The “Elite” – Saints (12-0), Colts (12-0), Vikings (10-2), Bengals (9-3), Chargers (9-3), and Cardinals (8-4); “Strong Playoff Contenders” — Broncos (8-4), Eagles (8-4), Packers (8-4), Cowboys (8-4), Patriots (7-5), Giants (7-5), and Jaguars (7-5); “Middle of the Road” teams that will soon be either in or out (8 losses or more) of the playoff hunt — Jets (6-6), Ravens (6-6), Steelers (6-6), Falcons (6-6), Dolphins (6-6), Texans (5-7), Titans (5-7), Panthers (5-7), Bears (5-7), Seahawks (5-7) and Niners (5-7); and lastly the “Ugly” (See you at the 2010 NFL Draft) – Bills (4-8), Raiders (4-8), Redskins (3-9), Chiefs (3-9), Lions (2-10), Browns (1-11), Rams (1-11), and Buccaneers (1-11)

Now on to the rankings for this week.

1.  Colts (12-0) – In a dominating win over the upstart Tennessee Titans, Jim Caldwell’s team pulled a hat trick.  The Colts tied the Patriots (2006-2007) NFL record for consecutive regular season wins (21), won their 12th game for an NFL record 7 seasons in a row, and claimed the AFC South Crown.  You have to wonder if Caldwell will follow in Tony Dungy’s footsteps by resting players rather than go for an undefeated season.  Look for all the Colts to play this week including QB Peyton Manning as potential playoff foe, the Denver Broncos, come to Indy.

2.  Saints (12-0) – Somebody up there likes the Saints as the Washington Redskins were one shanked field goal by now-departed kicker Shaun Suisham from winning in regulation.  However the Saints led by WR Robert Meachem took advantage of Redskins’ mistakes on their way to a thrilling overtime win.  The Saints undefeated express heads south to face the very injured Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome.

3.  Chargers (9-3) – Led by RB LaDainian Tomlinson, who ran into the NFL record books, the Chargers won their 8th straight game, this time over the tougher than expected 1-win Cleveland Browns.  Very quietly QB Philip Rivers is having a MVP type season and the Chargers are strong playoff contenders again (15-0 in December since 2005).  In a “respect” game, the Chargers will travel to Dallas in hopes of continuing the Cowboys’ December swoon.

4.  Vikings (10-2) – Sunday Night Football was not so magical for Vikings QB Brett Favre (2 INTs) and his crew as the Arizona Cardinals sprinted past Minnesota.  In a great match-up of two potential division winners, the Vikings will host the Cincinnati Bengals who are primed to claim the AFC North crown.

5.  Bengals (9-3) — Marvin Lewis’ team gladly feasted on the haphazard Detroit Lions in a game where Chad Ochocinco’s sideline antics were more entertaining than the game.  In a true test that will show the NFL where the Bengals stand in the league’s pecking order, Cincy will hit the road to Metrodome to face the angry Vikings.

6.  Cardinals (8-4) – With veteran QB Kurt Warner back under center, the Cards offensive firepower was hitting on all cylinders as they rolled over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday Night Football.  In a game that will definitely settle the NFC West, the Cardinals will travel to the Bay on Monday Night to face the inconsistent Niners, who are trying to keep their flickering playoff hopes alive.

7.  Eagles (8-4) – The Birds are making their usual December playoff push (3 consecutive wins) despite not having RB Brian Westbrook.  The Eagles had no problems hammering the beat-up Atlanta Falcons in QB Michael Vick’s triumphant return to the Georgia Dome.  In a highly anticipated NFC East black-and-blue game, the Eagles will travel up the turnpike to face the rejuvenated NY Giants on NBC Sunday Night Football.

8. Cowboys (8-4) – You hate to bring it up, but something about the end of the season brings out the worst in the Cowboys.  In a December Swoon Special, bonehead LT Flozell Adams woke-up the sleeping NY Giants in a tough NFC East divisional loss.  The Cowboys’ on the hot seat trio of head coach Wade Phillips, QB Tony Romo, and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett better turn desperation into a win when the surging San Diego Chargers come to town.

9. Packers (8-4) – The penalty flags were flying everywhere at Lambeau Field on Monday Night Football, but the Packers gladly accepted an easier than expect win over the reeling Baltimore Ravens.  The Packers and their highly rated defense cannot rest on their laurels when they travel to Chi-town to face bitter longtime rival, the Chicago Bears.

10.  Broncos (8-4) – In a true laugher, the Broncos led by their new one-two running back tandem thumped the lowly KC Chiefs.  It is time for the Broncos to show if they are truly a playoff contender as they travel to Indy to face the undefeated Colts.

11.  Patriots (7-5) – What the “bleep” is going on with the Patriots (lost two consecutive games for the first time since 2006) as the Miami Dolphins threw ball all over the place in a big AFC East win.  With the Dolphins and Jets getting dangerously close, the Patriots will need to find their playoff pedigree when they host the Carolina Panthers this week.

12.  Jaguars (7-5) – In a physical win that may propel them to a wildcard berth, the Jaguars dug deep for a tough win over desperate division rival, the Houston Texans.  In a “Battle for Florida” special, the Jaguars will host the Dolphins and it should be a good one as both teams are making their playoff push.

13. Giants (7-5) – The G-Men rebounded from being the Denver Broncos’ Thanksgiving turkey by protecting their home turf in a tough win over the Dallas Cowboys.  For the second week in a row, the Meadowlands will be the place to be in the NFC East as the rebounding G-Men host the hard-charging Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday Night Football.

14.  Dolphins (6-6) – The ‘Phins decided that going to the air was the best way to beat the Patriots and they were right as QB Chad Henne had a career game in a big AFC East win that kept Miami’s playoff hopes alive.  In a huge game with AFC playoff implications, the Dolphins will travel north to face the tough Jaguars.

15.  Ravens (6-6) – I am sure that Baltimore is still complaining about the officiating in their Monday Night massacre at the hands of the Packers, but where was QB Joe Flacco in the loss.  With basically their season on the line, the Ravens must thump the pathetic two-win Detroit Lions who come to the Charm City this week.

16. Steelers (6-6) – In a game that really showed a ton of cracks in the former Super Bowl Champion’s  armor, the Oakland Raiders continually got off the mat in a huge road win over the Steelers.  On NFL Network Thursday Night Football, it is no excuses time for the Steelers as they dearly need a win over the lagging Cleveland Browns to get back on track.

17. Jets (6-6) – The J-E-T-S continued their inconsistent ways, this time winning over the scrappy Buffalo Bills on Thursday Night football.  With some extra rest this week, everyone is expecting another “W” as the Jets head south to face the young Tampa Bay Bucs.

18.  Falcons (6-6) – Mike Smith’s team is so injured, it looks like the end of the Falcons playoffs hopes is near.  The Philadelphia Eagles took advantage of the Falcons’ depleted roster to cruise to an easy win.  With their season on the line, the Falcons maybe facing “Mission Impossible” when the high-flying undefeated New Orleans Saints come to town for a huge NFC South game.

19. Titans (5-7) – You knew after five straight wins, V.Y and the Titans had a loss coming their way and the undefeated Colts were very glad to put it on them.  After a brief derailment, the Tennessee .500 express should be back on track as the Titans play host to the struggling St. Louis Rams.

20.  Texans (5-7) – How come every year seems to turn-up 8-8 or worse for the Texans?  The Jaguars won a tough AFC South playoff type game and unfortunately for the reeling Texans, injured QB Matt Schaub was on the sidelines once again.  With their season on the line, it may be time for backup QB Rex Grossman to come to the rescue when the desperate Texans host the Seattle Seahawks in a 5-7 team special.

21.  Seahawks (5-7) – The Hawks made it two wins in a row as they pulled off a narrow victory over the Niners.  Veteran QB Matt Hasselbeck hopes to continue the Seahawks tiny resurgence as Seattle travels to Houston, TX play the desperate Texans in a game that will virtually end one team’s season.

22.  49ers (5-7) – Mike Singlegtary’s team showed once again that they are probably a year away from contending as the Seahawks pulled a minor upset to stay even with the Niners.  San Francisco’s season will be on the line as they host the NFC West division leading Arizona Cardinals on Monday Night Football.

23.  Panthers (5-7) – With head coach John Fox’s future hanging in the balance, the Panthers led by backup QB Matt Moore saved their coach for another week by disposing of the struggling Tampa Bay Bucs.  The Panthers better figure out a way to add some passing to their vaunted running attack when they travel to New England to face a Patriots defense that has allowed a ton of big passing plays.

24.  Bears (5-7) – It wasn’t a masterpiece, but the Bears kept their waning playoff hopes alive by beating the 1-win St. Louis Rams.  It is time for Bears QB Jay Cutler to earn his huge contract and trade promise by stepping up this Sunday when Chicago hosts the wildcard leading Green Bay Packers in a traditional Midwest black-and-blue game.

25.  Bills (4-8) – Not even interim head coach Perry Fewell and scrappy QB Ryan Fitzpatrick could pull the Bills past the NY Jets, who made it a point to shutdown receiver Terrell Owens (see Pro Bowl CB Darrelle Revis) in a big AFC East win on Thursday Night Football.  In Week 14’s “Toilet Bowl”, the Bills will be playing for pride this week when they travel to KC to face the finishing-out-the-string Chiefs.

26.  Raiders (4-8) – What a game for Pittsburgh homeboy and Raiders QB Bruce Gradkowski.  The gritty former Bucs starter willed the Raiders to a tough road win over the Steelers after there were several opportunities for Oakland to quit.  In a game of two of the NFL’s biggest spoilers, the Raiders will attempt to equal their highest season win total in the last 7 years (5 games in ’04 and ’08) when they host the Redskins.

27.  Redskins (3-9) – The ‘Skins deserved a win for their never-say-die effort against the undefeated Saints, but kicker Shaun Suisham –since cut – was their undoing in a tough overtime loss.  With their season basically over an only a matter of time before beleaguered head coach Jim Zorn can hit the unemployment line, the Redskins will travel across the country for a showdown against the tougher than their record Raiders.

28.  Chiefs (3-9) – The Broncos ran up and down the field on the reeling Chiefs and it looks like some big changes to head coach Todd Haley’s team and staff are coming this off-season.  The Chiefs will host the Bills in this week’s Toilet Bowl, but I will be interested in seeing who gets more receiving yards KC’s Chris Chambers or the Bills’ Terrell Owens.

29.  Lions (2-10) – Detroit showed some fight in a loss to the Bengals, but with the losses mounting everyone needs to remember that this team set an NFL-low of going 0-16 in 2008.  Playing without injured starter Matthew Stafford, the Lions led by retread quarterback Daunte Culpepper will hope to spoil the host Baltimore Ravens playoff plans.

30.  Browns (1-11) – Too bad Browns quarterback Brady Quinn waited until the end of the season to look competent as the hapless Dawgs didn’t have enough for the surging San Diego Chargers.  On NFL Network Thursday Night Football, the Browns will hope to end their futility against the hated Pittsburgh Steelers (have lost 12 games in a row to P-Burgh) plus push Big Ben and the rest of the Steelers from the playoff picture.

31.  Rams (1-11) – Another ugly loss for the rebuilding Rams as the Bears found a way to not lose.  Strike-up the band as the Tennessee Titans fresh off a tough loss to the Colts will be looking to barbeque the struggling young Rams.

32.  Buccaneers (1-11) – The Carolina Panthers badly needed a win and the lowly Bucs were more than happy to provide them one.  In a game that could prove to be an upset special, the Bucs will host the inconsistent NY Jets, who will have QB Kellen Clemens under center.

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)