Thursday, December 3, 2009

NFL 2009: Week 13: Football in Toronto and the Playoff Hunt Turns Red Hot

The playoff run is on in full force as week 13 begins. Aside from a few select stories, the focus is on the division leaders attempting to hold their position and fight for home field advantage and the battle of which teams will succeed in securing the two wild card berths. Clearly, three teams stand out as exemplary performers for 2009. Indianapolis in the AFC and New Orleans in the NFC have perfect records. Right behind them in the NFC, is the Brett Favre led, Minnesota Vikings. The remaining first place teams show three or four losses with their fortunes governed by how close the nearest competitor in their division is playing.

Tonight’s game is significant in that the Buffalo Bills are playing as the home team in Toronto’s Rodgers Center (aka Skydome). While the growth of American sports has retreated tremendously from Canada and some of its treasured NHL teams have ventured south, Toronto is the one city that is perfect for all major sports including the NFL. The NFL has long maintained a non-compete stance with the CFL as shown by waiting until after the Gray Cup was awarded to the CFL champs, but if there were a serious bid to place an NFL franchise in Toronto, the money involved alone could make it impossible to resist. Meanwhile, was it not for the steadfast loyalty of 91 year old owner, Ralph Wilson, Buffalo could have lost their franchise already? Buffalo is one of the smallest markets in the league with an obsolete stadium. Anyone seeing Mr. Wilson’s induction speech into the Football Hall of Fame would appreciate, this man is one of the titans of pro football and still is in charge of his affairs. Soon he will be gone, then what of the Buffalo franchise. A modern stadium in Buffalo with corporate suites does not appear on the horizon especially given Buffalo’s limited draw. The richer, big market draw of Los Angeles, Toronto, or perhaps even San Antonio could make it impossible for the next owner to stay put. While the drama will appear to be between the only NFL team that plays in New York, the Bills against one of the two teams associated with New York, New York who is about to play in a billion dollar stadium in New Jersey next year, the Jets, the real drama is behind the scenes as the game will serve as a showcase what Toronto offers a potential NFL franchise.

This week’s action:
New York Jets (-3 ½) versus Bills @ Toronto
While the Bills have shown some spunk against weak teams, the Jets have too many ways to beat them.

New Orleans (-9 ½) at Washington
New Orleans wins. No sense further bashing our other Mid-Atlantic team.

Philadelphia (-5 ½) at Atlanta
Philadelphia should cover this game but they can be so inconsistent. Atlanta seems to be fading as the injuries and inexperience take their toll.

Tampa Bay at Carolina (-6)
Were Tampa Bay not so darned awful, Carolina could appear a possible loser in this game. The Panthers almost seem to invent ways to lose (as do several other teams) but they’re strong enough to beat a team that seems to have trouble just showing up.

St. Louis at Chicago (-8 ½)
Speaking of a team that can invent ways to lose, Jay Cutler and the Bears seem to be good at it. St. Louis is just too weak with Kyle Boller at QB to have a chance.

Detroit at Cincinnati (-13)
Only if Cincinnati is too full of themselves, which can happen, could they lose to the Lions who are two games better than last year so far.

Tennessee at Indianapolis (-7)
Indy should win with no trouble but this could be a trap game. There’s some kind of magic working for the Titans who could do no right for their first their first six games, then have won five straight.

Houston at Jacksonville (pick ‘em)
The odds makers can’t pick a winner here and we’re on shaky grounds too. Jacksonville is in the second wild card slot. Houston still covets a playoff berth with many teams to overcome and have not yet shown capable of closing the deal. We give Jacksonville the edge.

Denver (-4.5) at Kansas City
Denver has taken a hard fall back to reality but are far better equipped than their division rival in KC.

Oakland at Pittsburgh (-14 ½)
Surely, Pittsburgh, regardless of who plays, should look healthy in a hurry against Oakland. The Steelers need to earn their spot in the playoffs. They’re not there now. The Steelers always show up to play.

San Diego (-13) at Cleveland
Why should San Diego have to waist the jet fuel to travel to Cleveland for this one? Cleveland mailed it in weeks ago. Coach Man-genius has proven a total flop in an organization that simply cannot put effective leadership in place as the product on the field deteriorates more and more.

Minnesota (-3 ½) at Arizona
Arizona shows they are a good not great team but they probably fade fast against the highly motivated Vikings.

Dallas (-2 ½) at New York Giants
It’s December, what’s Dallas’s recent history in December. The Giants have not been good lacking the receivers to support Eli Manning. Dallas seems better this year but it is money time where they have failed miserably in the Tony Roma era. We’ll pick the Giants to pull the upset at home.

San Francisco at Seattle (-1)
San Francisco just seems to have a little more hustle and determination. What a tough call.

New England (-3 ½) at Miami
New England can take nothing for granted against Miami, a team that can sneak up and bite them if they’re not careful.

Baltimore at Green Bay (-3 ½)
Hometown pick favors the Ravens who can go after Aaron Rodgers, rattle his cage, and pick up the win in the chilly Lambeau Field expecting a daytime high of 40 but it won’t be that warm at game time Monday night.

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