First down: Denver at Cincinnati
11 a.m., TV • Ch. 2
The skinny • Both teams' quarterbacks garnered a fair share of that big ol' bright media spotlight in the days leading up to this game, but the reasons why are about as instructive as you could ask for in illustrating the Broncos' and Bengals' differing trajectories. The buzz surrounding Peyton Manning centered around whether he is the current favorite to win the MVP, which would be the fifth of his career. The hubbub surrounding Andy Dalton was because coach Marvin Lewis suggested the normally docile Red Rocket needed to display more leadership qualities, specifically by being "a little bit of a [jerk]." Good call, Marv. His teammates won't see right through that when he works himself into a faux fury on the sideline and unleashes his inner Ginger Spice: "Listen up, you … um … a-holes! If we don't step it up, I'm gonna get really, really ticked off!" I feel more inspired already.
The line • Broncos by 4.
The pick • Broncos. Either you're a leader or you're not. Manning has thrown for 300-plus yards and three touchdowns in each of his last four games.
Second down: Arizona at Green Bay
11 a.m., Ch. 13
The skinny • Jan. 10, 2010 a date which will live in infa … Eh, that's a bit much for a football game. Also, it's been done before. Nice going, though, Mr. Roosevelt; you sure knew how to turn a phrase. Anyway … that day is sure to be foremost on the cheeseheads of Packers fans, considering it was the last time these teams met, and the result Cardinals 51, Packers 45, in the first round of the playoffs remains as reesty as a 10-pound block of Limburger. Still, I would humbly submit there is precious little chance of a sequel, even if GB has done its part by maintaining a high-octane offense and a largely craptastic defense. 'Tis the House of Falling Cards that has failed to maintain the status quo: Arizona's defense is far improved from that day, while neither John Skelton nor Kevin Kolb bears even a passing resemblance to Kurt Warner for even the most myopic, delusional fan.
The line • Packers by 10 1/2.
The pick • Packers. Actually, I'm not sure Aaron Rodgers has much to fear (except perhaps fear itself). This Cardinals defense did just get worked over by Alex Smith, after all.
Third down: Pittsburgh at N.Y. Giants
2:25 p.m., TV • Ch. 2
The skinny • I'll concede I was wrong about the Steelers' defense last week. I figured they were so old and busted that RG3 could treat them as the hurdles in his own personal track meet. Lesson learned. Which is not to say that I don't fully expect Eli Manning to pick them apart with ease this week. "Hey, wait a minute," you say, "what happened to that 'lesson learned?' " Well, I'll tell you. The lesson was not that the Steelers aren't old and busted. It's that they're still capable of figuring out how to exploit a young quarterback who, for all his natural talent, is fairly limited for now in his ability to consistently get the ball down the field. Last time I checked, the only limitation Manning has had recently was a lack of power in Hoboken in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
The line • Giants by 3.
The pick • Giants. Not that the Steelers have any real alternative, but I just don't see how flying into town the day of the game is going to be real good for a team as old and busted as them.
Fourth down: Dallas at Atlanta
6:20 p.m., TV • Ch. 5
The skinny • Country-turned-pop starlet Taylor Swift's chart-topping tune "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" may not go down as one of the best songs, like, ever, but the line in which she reveals her exasperation with her ex telling her he still loves her "I mean, this is exhausting," the serial dater spits out with an acid tongue is hilarious. It also reminds me of the football world's love/hate relationship with the Cowboys' Tony Romo. Last week's loss to the Giants is a perfect microcosm: Keeping them in the game with his 437 passing yards, taking them out of it with his five turnovers. So, you're all done with him now, right? Unless he can beat the Falcons. Then, you always believed in him again. Ugh. This IS exasperating.
The line • Falcons by 4.
The pick • Falcons. Matt Ryan has had plenty of big-moment flops too, but they all come AFTER he's made it to the playoffs.
… and eight to go
Baltimore at Cleveland, 11 a.m. • Old Browns vs. new Browns. With that many Browns involved, it should be epic.
Buffalo at Houston, 11 a.m. • Surely Mario Williams will have his revenge on the team that didn't think 31/2 sacks this year were worth $100M.
Miami at Indianapolis, 11 a.m. • Fins are saying Tannehill is the best rookie QB. Predictable, but they may change their minds after this game.
Detroit at Jacksonville, 11 a.m. • Surely Mike Thomas would have his revenge for being traded from the Jags to the Lions if only anyone knew who Mike Thomas was.
Chicago at Tennessee, 11 a.m. • The Bears don't win pretty, but I'm fairly sure all of Chicago is OK with not having "Bears" and "pretty" closely linked.
Carolina at Washington, 11 a.m. • Do you think that when they exchange post-game pleasantries, RG3 will ask the Panthers' QB, "Hey, didn't you used to be Cam Newton?"
Tampa Bay at Oakland, 2:05 p.m. • Perhaps if the Raiders trade their coach to the Bucs again both teams can make it back to the Super Bowl.
Minnesota at Seattle, 2:05 p.m. • Christian Ponder vs. Russell Wilson really gets the blood boiling, eh?
Byes • N.Y. Jets, St. Louis, New England, San Francisco