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Armchair QB: Be thankful your team still has a heartbeat

Even Lions have playoff life on Thanksgiving

November 21, 2012
By Steve Brownlee - Journal Sports Writer ( , The Mining Journal

If you're a fan of any team in the NFC North, you can find something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Specifically, thankful for hope. None of the teams are buried so far in the hole that a hot finish couldn't really boost their playoff position.

Chicago and Green Bay are first-round-bye contenders, while Minnesota is tied for the wild card. All those teams control their own destinies.

The Packers and Bears share the third-best record in the NFC at 7-3. Moving into the No. 1 spot is a realistic possibility for both as neither 9-1 Atlanta nor 7-2-1 San Francisco plays in a dominant way consistently.

Even us fans of last-place Detroit can hold out hope. While winning the North is probably too much to ask, the Lions at 4-6 are still only two games out of the last wild-card spot with a half-dozen left to go.

And each team standing between the Lions and that spot are either an underdog or in a game that's almost too close to call this weekend.

Three teams - Green Bay, Minnesota and Tampa Bay - play division leaders in the NFC, while Seattle makes the longest trip in the league to Miami, and Dallas hosts wild-card contender Washington.

The 16-game marathon has turned into a six-game sprint. Look at last year's New York Giants. They were the hottest team in the league entering the playoffs, and got through a gauntlet of "better" teams to win it all.

So give me a Lions, Cowboys or Vikings team on a six-game winning streak, and I'll pick them to beat the No. 1-ranked team if the top seed hits January floundering around trying to get its mojo back.

My only caveat? Any team now in desperation mode wouldn't be there if it was actually good. Flipping a switch and expecting something different works a lot better for light bulbs than it does football teams.

So pass the turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce and bring on Thanksgiving:

Thursday, 12:30 p.m.

Houston at Detroit - I wouldn't trust the 9-1 Texans if the playoffs started right now, with just two good games in their last five, so I was ready to pick Detroit with its winning history on Thanksgiving.

Then it occurred to me that Houston has two things to short-circuit a fourth-quarter Lions comeback - a strong running game and a solid defense. So I switched to Houston.

After that, I did a little research and found that Jacksonville's Chad Henne looked like a Pro Bowl quarterback against the Texans' pass defense last weekend. So I'll flip-flop again and take the Lions, 29-27.

Thursday, 4:25 p.m.

Washington at Dallas - Philly and Carolina are probably bad examples of teams with do-it-all QBs, but Dallas has beaten each of them the past five weeks. Not confidently, but Cowboys, 22-21.

Thursday, 8:20 p.m.

New England at N.Y. Jets - I don't see the Jets putting together back-to-back good games, even though beating New England in and of itself makes the season a success. Patriots, 24-13.

Sunday, 1 p.m.

Minnesota at Chicago - When the Vikings' defense begins reminding you of San Francisco's, call me. In the meantime, Bears, 27-17.

Oakland at Cincinnati - Carson Palmer comes back to play where he said he'd never play again. Whatever the Cincinnati version of the Raiders' Black Hole looks like, this should be it. Bengals, 28-16.

Pittsburgh at Cleveland - Even if Pittsburgh has to resort to third-string QB Charlie Batch, he'll be better than any first-stringer the Browns trot out. Steelers, 17-7.

Buffalo at Indianapolis - Indy QB Andrew Luck should've learned a lot watching Tom Brady last weekend. Now he'll put it to use. Colts, 34-20.

Tennessee at Jacksonville - Jacksonville sometimes plays well enough to look good losing. That's their best hope. Titans, 19-10.

Denver at Kansas City - Peyton Manning vs. Matt Cassel or someone worse. Broncos, 37-14.

Seattle at Miami - Lately, the Dolphins play better on the road, so I'll discount the longest trip in the NFL. Seahawks, 24-17.

Atlanta at Tampa Bay - No time to start a losing streak in Atlanta. Falcons, 28-20.

Sunday, 4 p.m.

Baltimore at San Diego - Stretch drive for Baltimore to get in and San Diego to get out of the playoffs. Ravens, 26-19.

St. Louis at Arizona - Two teams turning into the duds we expected. Cardinals, 17-13.

San Francisco at New Orleans - A day of reckoning in New Orleans. 49ers, 28-19.

Sunday, 8:20 p.m.

Green Bay at N.Y. Giants - I don't buy that the bye will help the Giants kiss their blues bye-bye. Packers, 31-24.

Monday, 8:30 p.m.

Carolina at Philadelphia - How bad are these teams? ESPN's worst ratings for this game will be in North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Panthers, 22-16.

Last week - 11-3, 79 percent. Season - 102-57-1, 64 percent.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.



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