The NFL's 13th regular-season game likely will be unlucky indeed for a handful of teams with playoff aspirations. The bubble clubs are anxiously eyeing the standings, and their games will take on an air of desperation.
Consider Indianapolis. The Colts are 6-6 and a game behind Jacksonville in the AFC, plus they already have a loss to the Jaguars this season. Sort of makes Thursday night's game against Tennessee a must-win for Indy, doesn't it?
Indianapolis at Tennessee (plus-3). We've already set up the story line here. The problem for the Colts is that the guy they've needed to rally the troops in the face of a wave of injuries, Peyton Manning, has been struggling through one of the worst stretches of his career with 11 interceptions in the last three games. However, the Titans have lost five in a row and haven't scored more than 17 points in their last four.
St. Louis at New Orleans (minus-9). The Rams, at 6-6, are tied with Seattle for first in the worse-than-mediocre NFC West. However, with the exception of a loss to very-good Atlanta and an inexplicable hiccup against Detroit, St. Louis has played everyone close, which is why they're 9-3 against the spread.
The Saints (9-3) have been steadily improving but recently they've been adhering to the old NFL mantra: Just win and move on. In other words, they're winning but not covering.
Eagles at Dallas (plus-31/2). Actually, it's a good thing that the Eagles are playing the 4-8 Cowboys four games into the Jason Garrett era. A month ago, the New York Giants underestimated Dallas in Garrett's first game as head coach and got thumped. At least the Birds know what these guys are capable of. The biggest personnel issue is Dallas receiver Dez Bryant is out for the season with a broken ankle suffered last week. Meanwhile, the Eagles' defense is getting healthier. There's the question of whether the Eagles can win and keep the score outside a field goal. But there is also the little matter of payback for last year's back-to-back embarrassments when the 'Boys hammered the Birds at the end of the regular season and in the playoffs.
Baltimore at Houston (plus-3). The Ravens (8-4) are smarting from giving away a game Sunday night to their bitter rival, Pittsburgh, and slipping a game behind the Steelers in the AFC North standings. Now, Baltimore needs every win to have an outside shot at the division title. The Texans (5-7) need to run the table and have the planets line up perfectly in the AFC South, where Jacksonville leads at 7-5. Not to be overlooked when handicapping this Monday night game is that the Ravens have some prime-time players who seem to perform well under the bright lights. They're 4-1 against the spread in their last five Monday nighters.
Miami at N.Y. Jets (minus-51/2). After the Jets had their hip pads handed to them by the Patriots on Monday, New York coach Rex Ryan probably has not been a jolly old elf this week. Look out, Dolphins.
Oakland at Jacksonville (minus-41/2). Pick: Raiders. Cincinnati at Pittsburgh (minus-9). Pick: Bengals. New England at Chicago (plus-3). Pick: Patriots. Cleveland at Buffalo (minus-11/2). Pick: Browns. Green Bay at Detroit (plus-61/2). Pick: Lions. Atlanta at Carolina (plus-7). Pick: Falcons.
Kansas City at San Diego (minus-7). Pick: Chargers. Seattle at San Francisco (minus-41/2). Pick: Seahawks. N.Y. Giants at Minnesota (off), uncertainty at QB for the Vikings.
Denver at Arizona (off), uncertainty at QB for the Cardinals.
Tampa Bay at Washington (plus-2). The Redskins have lost four of their last five and are struggling on offense. The Buccaneers are what the Redskins had hoped to be, with a decent rushing game, an efficient if unspectacular passing attack led by QB Josh Freeman, and a solid defense. Washington, at 5-7, is out of it and trying to figure out what to do with an aging roster. Tampa Bay, 7-5, still has hope for a wild-card spot, but the Bucs have to win at least three of their remaining four to have any chance to make the playoffs. One problem for Tampa Bay is that it's coming off tough back-to-back losses against Baltimore and Atlanta. Plus, the Bucs have to do some shuffling along the offensive line, partly because of injury . But what team isn't beat up at this point in the season? Cold weather should not be a factor. The forecast is for temperatures in the upper 40s, and motivation is with Tampa Bay.
Pick: Buccaneers. - Bill Ordine