The conundrum in making game predictions for the NFL's Week 16 is that all of those normally reliable home underdog picks did not reward this football prognosticator in Week 15. The Bears, Bills and Ravens all failed to cover, much less win. Meanwhile, the Arizona Cardinals defense decided to stop shoving each other long enough to destroy the Detroit Lions. Thanks, guys.
NFL Note of the Week: Adrian Peterson simply must be the NFL's MVP. Tom Brady is frighteningly effective no matter what other ten players share his field and Peyton Manning will always have a special place in the heart of every true fan. However, No. 28 is the Minnesota Vikings offense and his clock-eating ways buoy their defense as well. AP alone has accounted for 41.13% of all offensive yards produced by the Vikings this season*. There is no surer yardstick for NFL greatness than the "they know it" factor. Even when everyone including your maiden aunt's pet poodle knows that Peterson is going to get the ball, no one can stop him.
Quote of the Week: "They don't think a little fat man can jump, but I can definitely get up." Mike Tolbert to espn.com. Not that Mr. Tolbert truly qualifies as "little."
Saturday Night Football
Atlanta Falcons at Detroit Lions. Forget his age, forget that he's a tight end--Tony Gonzalez is "simply the best." Just when experts and defenses alike were focusing on sophomore WR Julio Jones, it was Gonzalez early with the "snatch-it-out-of-the-air" score. Matt Ryan had three TD throws on the day. He completed 23-of-28 passes with an average of 9.5 yards per attempt. It doesn't get much better. The trio of running backs rolled up 116 yards and helped to hammer out a nine-minute fourth-quarter drive that drove in the proverbial coffin nail.
The Falcons defense put on the type of ruthless performance usually associated with AFC powerhouses, including several fourth-down squelches of Eli Manning. The Manning brothers are going to put out a contract on Asante Samuel. The veteran DB haunted Peyton with critical interceptions when he played for the Patriots and this Sunday it was Eli's turn.
The Lions score was mystifying to channel-surfers on Sunday because every time the screen changed to the Lions/Cards game, Detroit had the ball. However, every time Detroit had the ball--the Arizona defense came up with a game-changing play. The Lions turned it over four times. How can Matthew Stafford throw three interceptions, two of which were in position to be returned for scores? This is not the way a 5,000-yard passer should play. Don't they have a QB coach? The Cardinals turned four turnovers into touchdowns. The Lions had been the second-ranked offense in the National Football League coming into Week 15.
Due credit should be given to Calvin Johnson, who is the only NFL player to ever have two 1,600-yard receiving seasons and also recorded his seventh consecutive 100-yard game. If No. 81 can manage 92 yards in each of the last two weeks of 2012, he will break Mr. Jerry Rice's single-season yardage record.
Can the Lions stop the bleeding at home against a Falcons team that is marshaling its forces for a post-season run? Probably not. Prediction: Falcons by three because it's still a dome.
Sunday Early Games
New Orleans Saints at Dallas Cowboys. Drew Brees threw four touchdown passes. Yawn. Yes, he had been in a bit of a slump (for him), but he would have inflicted more damage on the Bucs if the team hadn't chosen to run the ball (and the clock) in the last quarter. All Saints rushers totaled 149 yards against what had been the NFL's best run D.
The only surprising statistic in the Saints Week 14 rout was the goose egg next to the Buccaneers name on the scoreboard. The Saints defense celebrated an amelioration of the Bounty-Gate punishments with four interceptions and a forced fumble. Even more impressive, they held rookie rusher extraordinaire Doug Martin to 16 total yards.
The Dallas Cowboys finally won a close game featuring many reserves players, including six defensive starters. In a seesaw special, both Dallas and Pittsburgh passed for 17 first downs. CB Brandon Carr gave fans an early holiday gift with his game-sealing INT, proving (at least for December) that he was worth the hefty price tag when coming on board from the Chiefs. The former KC DB credited his knowledge of former Chiefs head coach Todd Haley's offense with giving him the jump on the play: "Those are the plays you dream about in the backyard." (via espn.com)
Speaking of worth the money, Dan Bailey kicked his second consecutive game-winner in overtime. The PK is at 93.7% accuracy.
The offense looked much more like a functioning group in Week 15 and Tony Romo had one of his "good" days, going 30-of-42 for 328 yards, two TDs and more than eight yards per pass. When the guy is hot, he's hot. At 4.1 yards per rush, the running game was sufficient from two less-than-full-strength RBs.
Prediction: New Orleans by three.
Tennessee Titans at Green Bay Packers. Watching Packers passing highlights frequently leads one to think, "It really shouldn't look that easy." They achieved 20 first downs, 391 yards and 21 points against the Bears third-ranked D. WR James Jones caught three TDs. The only area of concern in the scoring department is PK Mason Crosby, who remains tread-milled in a subpar season.
The Packers defense welcomed back Clay Matthews (two sacks) and kept Chicago from converting a single third down. Chicago's Matt Forte gained only 3.5 yards per carry. Rookie Packers DB Casey Hayward notched his sixth interception. They'll probably keep him. Overall, the Charles Woodson-less secondary has done well recently against deep passing attacks+.
Summing up the current state of the Tennessee Titans is equally brief: they're a mess. About all that Tennessee has is the deep passing attack, so WRs Kenny Britt and Nate Washington will come down with a few. However, unless RB Chris Johnson can break free two weeks in a row, there shouldn't be too many surprises here. The newly-crowned NFC North Champions should cruise through this one--provided they don't go onto "cruise control."
Prediction: Packers by 14.
Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City. Like the New York Giants, Indianapolis fell victim to a good team that had been recently embarrassed. The Houston Texans regrouped and laid claim to the AFC South title, assuring themselves of a second playoff berth. A defense absolutely smashed by Tom Brady held Andrew Luck to seven total passing first downs and 148 aerial yards. J.J. Watt took it all out on Luck with three sacks. Record alert: Watt now has 19 1/2 QB dumps, three shy of Michael Strahan's record.
Not to diminish Mr. Watt's studliness, but the Colts are playing with backups at both center and right tackle--something that could hurt them as they fight for a wild card slot. Even so, RB Vick Ballard continued his journey to NFL relevance with 105 rushing yards and WR T.Y. Hilton joined him in the ascendant column with another 78 yards and a score.
The Colts defense held Houston to a FG five times on Sunday. What they could not do was stop Arian Foster. That may bring a spark of hope to Kansas City Chiefs fans given the excellent rusher they have in Jamaal Charles. The Chiefs RBs are averaging 116 yards per game over the last three weeks, but the entire offense has mustered less than 12 points each week.
Neither team has a truly reliable passer, but at least Luck's rating is 75.5 and he's averaged seven yards per attempt to Brady Quinn's 64.7 rating and 5.8 yards per pass. Of course, Quinn has no one left to whom he can throw the ball with Dwayne Bowe on I-R and Jonathan Baldwin possibly out sick. Heads up to the Colts D--cover TE Tony Moeaki.
With the outcome resting on rushing success, the fact that the Chiefs' D is giving away almost 175 ground yards every Sunday should favor the Colts, as will Andrew Luck's perfect ability to channel QB amnesia and rally.
Fun stat: The Colts are 7-2 Against the Spread in their last nine games.
Prediction: Colts by three.
Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins. At least the Bills will be warm. After a thoroughly embarrassing season that will probably signal the end of Chan Gailey's tenure as the head coach, the team needs to be taking stock for the future. The only current ray of light has been provided by C.J. Spiller. Spiller has taken quite a while to warm up to being a professional ball-carrier, but one can cautiously assert that he has arrived. In Week 15 he reached his first 1,000-yard season--in only 154 carries. It's easy to pick on QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, but he finished Sunday with 215 passing yards and is completing 62% of his passes on the year, with 22 touchdowns. WR Stevie Johnson is doing his part (115 yards and a score on Sunday). For what is probably a combination of reasons, the Bills have ended up being merely a collection of players and not a team.
The Dolphins may not be going to the post season, but they are a team. If Reggie Bush (21 carries for 104 yards) can stay healthy, Miami could be at the beginning of a decent five-year run under new head coach Joe Philbin.
One should not dismiss Ryan Tannehill's impressive 20-of-28 with almost eight yards per completion afternoon as merely a function of facing the bedraggled Jaguars. Jacksonville isn't a top-ranked D (23rd versus the pass before Week 15), but they aren't positively dreadful either.
The 'Fins defense is quietly in the top ten and is particularly efficient against the run. The key to this game will be C.J. Spiller versus that defense.
And how about Miami PK Dan Carpenter? Give that man some kicker love; he's booting at 81% with ten from beyond the 40-yard line.
Prediction: Dolphins by six.
San Diego Chargers at New York Jets. New Jets starter Greg McElroy has a QB rating of 118.5. Wow! He completed 5-of-7 passes for 29 yards, one TD and zero interceptions. Call out The New York Post. Unless WR Jeremy Kerley suddenly morphs into Randy Moss, that Week 13 showing may be the high point of McElroy's career. Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell had something going for a couple of weeks until Tony Sparano decided last Monday to put it all on Mark Sanchez and only rarely used Powell. It makes one wonder if there was a plan to make Sanchez look as bad as possible as an excuse to bench him, overlook Tim Tebow and start the smart, under-sized kid.
This game should be billed as the "Dysfunction Bowl." San Diego is helmed by some "dead men walking." How, exactly does one lose at home to Carolina and beat Pittsburgh on the road in back-to-back weeks? Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates had better have a mind-meld since Ryan Mathews is out of action again. Yeah, A.J. Smith--how does getting rid of LaDanian Tomlinson, Darren Sproles, Vincent Jackson and Mike Tolbert look now? Tolbert scored twice against his old team Sunday.
It's a shame that the offense is so completely inept, because the Jets defense has suddenly regained legitimacy, allowing only 10 points per weekend over the past month. They have given up a mere 117 passing yards over the past three games and just under 124 rushing yards. The Chargers have no running game and, though Rivers undoubtedly will fare better than the Tennessee, Arizona and Jacksonville QBs (who wouldn't?), he doesn't have many weapons.
Prediction: Jets by three.
Washington at Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles have been playing recently only as an audition for next year, but this week they might get the chance to bury the playoff hopes of their division rival. They will need to avoid handing the ball to the Washington defense. Philly went into last Thursday night with 30 turnovers and promptly added five more, including a punt that was technically blocked by a member of their own team.
The primary "auditionee," rookie QB Nick Foles, has a fighting chance of ending up with a job in 2013. He has shown tremendous poise this year and a good sense of when to move out of pocket without being what anyone would really call "mobile." RB Bryce Brown will land on someone's team if he can get a handle on those fumbling tendencies, though he will share carries this week with newly-healthy LeSean McCoy. In Week 15, someone named Dallas Reynolds played center. He's a former UFA from Brigham Young, who worked his way up from the practice squad and has apparently been starting for 12 games. Okay. LT King Dunlap has been playing through injury--and not playing all that well. Backup Demetress Bell isn't a much better option these days.
In spite of a simply dreadful 2012, the Eagles defense has some bright spots. LB Demeco Ryans is really, really fast and will be focused on Washington rookie rusher Alfred Morris. Tune in to also watch him play the "Clay Matthews" role against RGIII. In fact, the front seven finally resembled a professional defense against Cincinnati. Someone named Cole Anderson is playing in the secondary. Who? On a star-studded squad, Mr. Anderson arrived in the lineup from the Vikings practice squad. Deemed too small for the pro game, Mr. Anderson was stupendous on special teams last season before tearing his ACL. Well, he's back.
Washington's second rookie QB, Kirk Cousins, showed some toughness in his first professional start in relief of RGIII. After a difficult first few series, he led the team to a decisive win against a truly decent Browns squad. No one except his teammates expected Cousins to throw for 26-of-37, 329 yards (8.2 per attempt) and two scores. Coincidentally, he joins RGIII in owning the rookie-best 104 QB rating. After years of franchise quarterback drought in the nation's capital, dare one hope that now there are two? Or one and a half?
The thin and veteran Washington defense allowed Cleveland's new fleet of WRs to gain 11.6 yards per catch, but stiffened in the red zone. With McCoy's return to the backfield for Philly, they'll have to get those sore bodies in gear. Lost in the QB fireworks, PK Kai Forbath is one field goal away from tying an NFL rookie kicking record.
Prediction: Washington by a touchdown.
Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers. Cincinnati needs to work on their kick coverage. Eagles return men were entirely too successful in Week 15. The best thing on their special teams just might be Adam Jones. No, I'm not kidding. As for offense, the WRing corps was infected with a damaging case of the drops. They occasionally looked a bit gun-shy about incoming tackles. That's not going to work against the Steelers.
Defensively, for once a Bengals character risk has paid off: LB Vontaze Burfict dropped like a boulder last spring after his Combine debacle terrified NFL GMs. Starting at WLB for seven games, he is second on the team in tackles. Well the team was due a success.
One of the notes I took on Thursday night read: "The O-line is OMG bad." That about sums it up. Fullback Chris Pressley's knee injury may put him on the sidelines until next season, so we'll see what kind of blocking is available to Andy Dalton and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The former Patriots RB is Cincy's best weapon (106 yards last week) except for when star WR A.J. Green isn't double-covered.
Pittsburgh has fallen into the "desperate team" category after losing four of its last five games. Ben Roethlisberger is criticizing Todd Haley's play-calling. The slow pace of last week's game in the fourth quarter won't improve that relationship, but the real issues are the running game and the offensive line. Maurkice Pouncey must be one heck of an athlete. He has played both guard and center this season. Rookie O-lineman David DeCastro has returned to the rotation and shows some promise. However, Roethlisberger was sacked four times and, on 17 carries, the rushers gained 69 yards and the offense only held the ball for 27 minutes. Did I mention the two fumbles by WR Antonio Brown?
Defensively, the fact that safeties Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark accounted for 15 of a total 57 tackles shows where the work was being done against the Cowboys. CB Ike Taylor is sorely missed and the deep secondary may be in trouble versus Cincy star WR A.J. Green. The team is under tremendous pressure to "turn it around"--and quickly.
Prediction: Steelers by two.
St. Louis Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Sam Bradford may suddenly have three NFL-caliber wide receivers. Brandon Quick came down with a legitimate circus catch in the first half on Sunday. The third-year signal-caller has climbed to just over 250 passing yards per game during the last three contests.
Unfortunately for the Bucs, Josh Freeman had one of those Sunday's that cost general managers their jobs. The former first-round pick teased fans with a hot second-season in 2010 featuring 25 TDs to only six INTs. Last year was a minor disaster with 16 scores and 22 picks. 2012 has had weeks where he looked like an explosive playmaker, but last Sunday was simply horrendous. If this young man can't start putting together more consistent strings of games, the Bucs will be eyeing QBs in April.
Defensively, the Tampa Bay secondary's passing strength has been challenged all year, but the normally stout run D fell apart against, of all people, New Orleans' Mike Ingram. That could be a problem going into a game against Rams bulldozer Steven Jackson.
Prediction: Rams by three.
Oakland Raiders at Carolina Panthers. It would be one of those completely improbable "Any Given Sunday" moments if the Raiders were able to win this game. Due credit must be awarded an Oakland defense allowing less than 16 points per game. However, when the offense is only scoring 15 points per game--you see the problem. Even with Darren McFadden in the lineup, the Silver and Black posted 199 yards on the ground with 43 carries. That's 4.62 per carry, which might qualify as "ground and pound," but won't win a game with only 182 passing yards and no one at any offensive position getting into an end zone.
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera and Cleveland's Pat Shurmur should be given a break. In very difficult circumstances, both men have helped their teams to steadily improve throughout the year. Isn't that good coaching?
Cam Newton is charging towards the 2012 finish line in fine form, finishing against the San Diego defense with 231 passing yards, averaging seven yards per toss and two TDs. The defense may be the walking wounded, but they took it to the Chargers last Sunday.
Prediction: Panthers by ten.
New England Patriots at Jacksonville Jaguars. Unfair just doesn't seem to cover this matchup. Tom Brady proved once again that he is both an awesome quarterback and one who can't perform when being resolutely pummeled. Of course, it is unlikely that the Jaguars can pummel him even irresolutely. Rookie Miami QB Ryan Tannehill faced the Jags last week and ended the day with a QB rating of 123.2. Can you imagine what an extremely annoyed Tom Brady will do? Perhaps this game telecast should come with a parental warning.
Offensively, Jacksonville ran 57 plays last week and managed 13 first downs, one of which was the result of a penalty. The only purpose Sunday's game will serve is to let owner Shahid Kahn see whether or not his coach can motivate and whether his players have pride in their professionalism. Beyond that, it will simply be a miserable three hours.
Prediction: Patriots by 15.
Minnesota Vikings at Houston Texans. An 82-yard scoring run helped lift Adrian Peterson to 1,812 rushing yards for the season. End of commentary on the Vikings offense.
Defensively, there's something brewing in Minnesota. In Week 14 rookie safety Harrison Smith took a Jay Cutler pass to the house and last week, lineman Everson Griffen stole one from Sam Bradford and ran it in for six. He ran it remarkably quickly, too, for a defensive lineman.
Houston has a few issues going into the playoffs. Five times in Week 15, drives stalled and the team had to settle for three. That's not going to make Texans fans feel terribly confident about their once high-scoring offense. Indeed, without PK Shayne Graham and a special teams score, the game might have ended differently. Andre Johnson hasn't been the standard-bearer for WRing dominance for a couple of seasons, but proved again this week that he hasn't lost his touch--and crossed 11,000 career receiving yards. Matt Schaub rebounded with a 23-of-31 afternoon averaging more than eight yards per pass and throwing for a score to Johnson. However, this team will only go as far as rusher Arian Foster can take them. The formerly overlooked RB just capped his fourth season with more than 1.200 yards. Has anyone noticed that he's the only one of the star rushers with a big new contract who has had a successful season? Why is he not Plans A and B for this team?
J.J. Watt added a forced fumble to three sacks and reinstated himself as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. However, this team allowed Colts rushers to gain 178 yards. That will translate to an ugly afternoon against AP.
The Texans are favored by up to nine points. However, in the past three weeks the Vikings offense has scored 1.4 more points than the Texans and the defense has given up almost four fewer points.
Prediction: Texans by seven.
Sunday Late Games
Cleveland Browns at Denver Broncos. Do not be fooled by Trent Richardson's season rushing stats (897 yards with 3.5 per carry), his total yards from scrimmage are over 1,200 and he has 11 scores. Last weekend, No. 33 dragged a scrum of so many players into the end zone that he was completely obscured in the process. He may not have Adrian Peterson's speed, but he has the same superhuman strength. Someone should study their body mass--it has to be twice the density of the normal man. Richardson had 11 carries for a pedestrian-sounding 28 yards--and two touchdowns. He's like a compact Jerome Bettis. QB Brandon Weeden's outing was solid, except for the two INTs that ultimately kept the Browns from being able to give the Dawg Pound a fourth straight victory.
The Cleveland defensive game plan was clearly designed to stop Washington rookie rushing phenom Alfred Morris. They did hold him to 87 yards on 27 carries. Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron was obviously as surprised by backup QB Kirk Cousins' playmaker ability as most fans. Were it not for ongoing solid play by the Cleveland secondary, Cousins would have completed passes to more than the eight teammates he did find.
Of no surprise whatsoever is the fact that Peyton Manning is leading the NFL's fifth-ranked offense with more than 387 aerial yards and almost 30 points per weekend. Same old Sheriff. The only new wrinkle is the presence of an actual running game with Knowshon Moreno: another young man who has vaulted (or perhaps one should say "hurdled") out of the under-performing doghouse to give his team solid offensive balance.
Defensively, pundits are raving about the Broncos. They are fourth in the NFL and are giving up less than 20 points on a Sunday, but there is something just slightly unreliable about them that keeps fans on the edge of their seat wondering if Champ Bailey will give up that big play or the rush-happy LBs will over-commit. If this unit can play up to their numbers, Denver will make a run deep into January. John Fox' teams occasionally lose focus against perceived weaker opponents, but (at least on offense) players let their attention wander at their peril.
Prediction: Broncos by six.
Chicago Bears at Arizona Cardinals. Rookie mistakes aside, WR Alshon Jeffery just might become the complementary receiver that Jay Cutler needs opposite Brandon Marshall. However, with only two games left and the Bears in complete free-fall, that tandem may not emerge until 2013. Chicago started this season 7-1 with Jay Cutler on his way to the Pro Bowl. The past month has been one long mudslide, culminating in losing the NFC North to Green Bay last week with a pitiful 190-total yard offensive performance.
The defense allowed Green Bay Packers runners to gain 113 yards and Aaron Rodgers went 23-of-36 for 291 yards (8.1 per attempt) and three scores. Five Packers caught balls. If Da' Bears D cannot do better in the desert, it's time for some folks to retire.
Without being unnecessarily mean, PK Olindo Mare is no Robbie Gould; the loss of their sure-fire kicking leg could be the death knell for Chicago's 2012.
At the other end of the pigskin spectrum, Arizona finally had one of those miserable-team rallies that always pop up in an NFL season.
Cardinals fans would prefer to believe that they can double-down on Week 15's victory. The way that the Bears are imploding, anything is possible. However, "likely" is another issue.
RB Beanie Wells scored three touchdowns, but two of them were on a short field, so let's not get carried away. QB Ryan Lindley and company put up a grand total of 196 yards, but the defense handed them the game. Given the undisciplined play of the Bears and the complete lack of pass protection, the Cards D has a shot this week too.
Prediction: Bears by three.
New York Giants at Baltimore Ravens. If you really want to clean your house--invite your mother to visit. Apparently, if you really want to rally your defense--welcome Peyton Manning to the stadium. Without Ray Lewis, Lardarius Webb or Bernard Pollard and with an injured Terrell Suggs, the Purple Birds still made the Denver Broncos O-line look like a bunch of under-conditioned doughboys. Until Manning got ahold of them at halftime. Not sure what was said, but pass protection held up in the second half, no matter what the Ravens did. As Phil Simms once said, "Never underestimate the motivational power of fear."
Joe Flacco and the offense had a better outing with a new offensive coordinator and a new play-calling system than expected. Except that nothing went their way. Honorable mention here to Flacco for his surprising speed--he almost chased down cornerback Chris Harris on a long interception run. He didn't give up, either. Too bad he didn't catch him.
Unfortunately for Baltimore fans, the team fell apart completely after the half. With this type of seismic offensive coaching shift, it's difficult to imagine that the team can right the ship and make a playoff run.
Of course, the same could be said about the chastened Giants, who suffered the worst shutout loss by a Super Bowl champion in NFL history. Don't tell Tom Coughlin; his head will explode. The defense gave up 394 yards and 34 points to Atlanta.
Offensively, Big Blue managed only ten first downs on 47 total plays versus Atlanta, possessing the ball for a mere 21 minutes. The stats do not improve from there. The G-men were on the receiving end of some very Dirty Bird anger and completely laid down for the experience. This week they will measure themselves against a group of Purple Birds that welcome back Big Bird Ray Lewis.
Prediction: Giants by two. Someone has to snap out of it, here!
Sunday Night Football
San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks. Putting up their second blowout win in as many weeks, Seattle officially arrived in the "contender" column. Suddenly, this MNF game is a playoff-predicting monster.
The Bills made one less first down than the Seahawks, executed ten more plays and held the ball for three more minutes. And they came up with 133 fewer offensive yards and 33 fewer points. The three turnovers didn't help. The oft-used term "opportunistic defense" certainly applies to the Emerald City boys.
Russell Wilson seems drawn to the goal line by an irresistible force, scoring three times on the ground and once through the air. Even Pro-Bowl-level rushing star Marshawn Lynch only realized one TD for his 113-yard effort.
The joyride may be over next Sunday when Wilson's high-flying 'Hawks hit the gold rush. Despite inexplicably "laying off" against Tom Brady and almost giving away the game, San Francisco is rapidly turning into a defense for the ages. Opponents are all completing under 60% of their passes and rushing for a frustrating 3.6 yards per carry.
Until defensive coordinator Vic Fangio apparently failed to remember anything at all about Tom Brady, this D had the Patriots high-scoring machine on the ropes. Fangio gave 49ers fans near apoplexy by deciding (against all empirical knowledge on this subject) that rushing three and playing zone would do just fine against No. 12. Russell Wilson is no Brady (who is?), but he's slippery and elusive and talented. Whatever pass-rushing scheme the coaches devise should look far different from Monday night's effective first-quarter brute force attack.
Of the many eagerly anticipated matchups for Week 16, Marshawn Lynch versus Patrick Willis promises to be a showdown of grass-churning proportions. Then there's Frank Gore (and game-saver LaMichael James) running into an inconsistent Seattle rushing D.
Colin Kaepernick's battle with the Seahawks DBs will be the final deciding factor. CB Richard Sherman expects to be on the field. If the powerful corner suddenly joins his teammate Brandon Browner on the bench (or out of the building), Kaepernick, Randy Moss and Michael Crabtree will have a much easier evening. That would be a shame; watching Moss try his patented push-off against someone that size would be worth the price of admission.
Kaepernick has thus far shown himself worthy of his coach's faith: at 8.37 yards per pass and 379 rushing yards for 17 first downs and a total of 12 TDs, the young man seems to have the "it" factor and stood up pretty well to prime time--though Vince Wilfork seemed to give him a case of the "snap drops." Well, that's understandable.
Perplexing development: So, Pete Carroll was so incensed at Jim Harbaugh for "running up the score" in a Stanford/USC game that it sparked a lasting feud--but his pro team just won their last two contests by a total of 91 points. Hmmmm.
Prediction: Seattle by one.
*Statistics courtesy of nfl.com, espn.com, Showtime's Inside the NFL, NBC Sunday Night Football, ESPN's NFL Live and usatoday.com.
+Injury updates from cbssports.com