Professional football players only get sixteen chances a year to prove that they’re better than someone else. It’s really hard to sit, as a fan, and root for a loss, even if that loss would guarantee your team the #1 draft pick and the unencumbered rights to the fearsome Ndamukong Suh. It’s especially hard when you’re facing off against division rivals, the hated San Francisco 49ers.
The danger of winning, of course, is that the Lions could sneak past the Rams into the top spot, thanks to their weaker strength of schedule. The easy thing to do would be to root for the Lions to win against the Bears — but they are still mulling whether to start the corpse of Daunte Culpepper or Drew Stanton and his career 36.3 QB rating. Even if you believe the Bears can find their own way to lose games, it barely seems likely in this matchup.
But fear not! Jeff at RamsGab has figured out a formula of teams to root for this weekend that will turn the tide of the relative strength of schedule, and put the Rams on the clock for Suh, even if they manage a win against the Niners. Here’s my take on each matchup, after the break:
Bills over Colts – Helps Rams
Likelihood? Seemingly high. Vegas has the Bills as 8 point favorites. The Colts are fully expected to rest their starters, and as you may have heard, that didn’t go so well last week against the highly motivated Jets. The Bills have been perhaps the least consistent team in the NFL, though, so even when presented with a golden opportunity, they could easily screw it up.
As an aside, the fact that Jim Caldwell is still mentioned as a Coach of the Year candidate is laughable. The Colts’ run of success is entirely attributable to the coach on the field, Peyton Manning. Manning gave Caldwell a George Siefert situation: just don’t screw it up and we’ll handle our business. And in Caldwell’s only meaningful decision, he pulled Manning off the field. Only two things can justify that decision — a Super Bowl win, or a season-ending injury to Manning. You play for the one, and you pray against the other.
Browns over Jags – Double Bonus
The Jaguars are going without three starters — Torry Holt, TE Marcedes Lewis, and CB Rashean Mathis, though perhaps the most unsettling personnel issue is the disconnect between the offense and its most talented receiver, Mike Sims-Walker. He has only 10 catches in four games, three of which were losses, after being on pace for an 1,100 yard season at the halfway point. After getting blown out 35-7 by the Patriots, he tweeted:
The Browns are favored by a point, and have been on a tidy little roll lately thanks to the insanity of Joshua Cribbs, but the Jaguars are the physically stronger team. This could be a tough one.
Pats over Texans – Helps Rams
In any other universe, this is a gimme. But the Patriots have nothing to play for, and the Texans have everything, and in Vegas, Houston is a shocking 8-point favorite. No one outside the Belichick family knows whether he will play his starters, but when have you ever known (1) a Belichick team to lie down? or (2) something to go right for the Texans?
Vikings over Giants – Hurts Lions
Both these teams have not played well in December, but the Vikings can gain a much-needed bye week with the win. If you’re going to rest your guys, better to do it in Week 1 of the playoffs. I like the Vikings here.
Steelers over Dolphins – Hurts Lions
Both teams have playoff hopes, and both teams could be missing a key player as Troy Polamalu and Ricky Williams are both questionable. Recent trends give Pittsburgh the edge, as the Dolphins’ offense has been “as explosive as a soggy firecracker” with Ronnie Brown on injured reserve.
Ravens over Raiders – Hurts Lions
Vegas is making it hard for Ravens fans, listing them as 11.5-point favorites against the unpredictable Oakland Raiders, who have quietly become a potent running team while the football world has been focused on their significant quarterback drama. However, with the Ravens needing only a win to notch a second straight playoff berth, a win is not out of the question here.
Packers over Cardinals – Helps Rams
If this was a playoff game, and it very well could be next weekend, this could be the game of the year. These are two highly entertaining, high-octane offenses that are both peaking at the same time. However, by the time this one is played, a Vikings win would cinch a bye week and leave the Cardinals with nothing to play for. So rooting for Minnesota has double benefits in that the Packer’s aggressive secondary would get treated to an extended dose of Matt Leinert time, and likely a very simplified playbook as neither team will want to show its hand before a much more critical rematch.
SUNDAY NIGHT GAME
Bengals over Jets – Hurts Lions
The Jets have been benefitting from a series of lucky bounces, from the Colts playing possum last week to a series of fortunate events that have suddenly catapulted the Jets’ playoff hopes from a “pipe dream” to a “win and they’re in” proposition. The Bengals have nothing to play for but pride in this one, but pride could be a powerful factor as the entire team was snubbed from this year’s Pro Bowl, despite being the most impressive and unexpected turnaround story of the season. The Jets’ chances seem strong, and Vegas has them listed as ten point favorites, so if our hopes come down to this one game, all of St Louis will become unlikely fans of the Queen City.
Of course, if our hopes for drafting first are resting on the Bengals, that means we’ve done the improbable and finished strong with a win against San Francisco. I’m rooting for that most of all.