Winter is officially here, fantasy leagues are in their championship weeks, everyone is hustling to get those last-minute gifts, and our Jewish friends everywhere are planning out their annual Chinese-food-and-movies day. What else? Oh yeah, it's Christmas, and the NFL has a full Sunday's slate of games taking place this Saturday, Christmas Eve. And since this is the season of bonuses (hopefully all of my fellow office-dwellers out there were made happy in that regard), I'll be comparing each game to a certain facet of the Christmas holiday. Home teams in CAPS.
NY JETS (-3) over NY Giants - Opening the Presents
Since this is part of the first set of games for Saturday, and is clearly the most hyped, the quadrennial (yeah I looked that word up) New York meeting has the clearest counterpart of all: the presents. People have been looking forward to this game since the schedule unveiling, and just like with Christmas presents, it will leave people either extremely delighted or terribly disappointed. The winner of this game stays alive in the playoff hunt, and the loser will be all but done. At the end of the day (CAUTION: Antrel Rolle tweak ahead), the Jets play very well at home and should have the favorable balance of the crowd on their side, while the Giants are three Cowboys mistakes away from being on a 6-game losing streak. The real difference is that the Jets are capable of ratcheting up a good defensive performance when they wake up on the right side of the bed, while the Giants don't have the bodies or the cohesiveness on defense to be trusted.
NEW ENGLAND (-9.5) over Miami - Reading Christmas Cards
You say this one's a formality, right? Well, it is. That's why this game is equivalent to reading Christmas cards. To be courteous, you have to read the card before opening the gifts, but 90% of the time you just glance at the thing for 12 seconds until you can attack the wrapping paper. And while in many cases people spend a good deal of time and effort picking out just the right card and writing just the right thing inside, there's no two ways around the fact that it's still a mere card. Similarly, the Dolphins will put up a solid effort in Foxboro, but the outcome will still boil down to the fact that the Patriots are a significantly better team who does not stop scoring. Close early, lopsided late.
Arizona (+4) over CINCINNATI - Spending Time with Family
You know how not every part of the holidays is full of fun? That's this game. It will very likely not be pretty between the Cards and Bengals, much like how you typically just have to grin and bear it through Christmas family gatherings. And how do you get through what can be several agonizing hours, or even several agonizing days? By doing the prudent thing - you say "please" and "thank you," you offer help when needed, and you try your absolute best at the small talk. How do you get through this ugly game between surging Arizona and boring Cincinnati? By taking the points, of course!
San Diego (+2.5) over DETROIT - 24 Hours of A Christmas Story
Some things about the holidays are so nicely tried and true that I honestly hope they never change. One of them is the fact that A Christmas Story gets run on TV for 24 hours in a row. Another December rite is the strong late-season play of the San Diego Chargers, who are so sadly stricken with Norv Turner Syndrome for the first three months of the season. Now that Philip Rivers is no longer an interception machine, it's irresistible to take the Bolts plus points against a team that they are at least even with, if not better than. I still don't buy the Lions and don't see another miraculous comeback materializing on Saturday.
NEW ORLEANS (-6.5) over Atlanta (Monday Night) - The Mall on Dec. 26th
There are some places that are just horrifying to try to invade. The Superdome on the night of a primetime game is one of them. Another one is the mall on the day after Christmas. Yet neither the Falcons (because they're in the same division) nor the average American gentile (because they never learn their lesson) can avoid this fate year after year. Expect the scoreboard to be lit up on Monday night (ever so conveniently for this analogy, the night after Christmas), but in the end the Saints have the quick-strike ability that the Falcons have yet to master. With Drew Brees just 305 yards away from breaking Dan Marino's single-season passing yardage record of 5,084 (which he very nearly broke in 2008), a Saints victory by something like 34-24 sounds about right.
Last Week: 3-2-0