Here is how The Examiner breaks down this week in the NFL.
WEEK 14 STORY LINES
1. The Baltimore Ravens claim the officials acted unprofessionally in Monday’s loss to the New England Patriots, including engaging in verbal battles with them and tilting the game toward the league’s only unbeaten team. The NFL has been looking into Baltimore’s claims, including Samari Rolle’s accusation that he was called “boy” by head linesman Phil McKinnely. Another unusual player-official interaction was Ravens linebacker Bart Scott throwing a referee’s flag into the crowd after he was flagged for one 15-yard penalty following New England scoring the decisive touchdown in the final minute. Do the Ravens have a leg to stand on, or are they just another team finding fault with officiating in a losing effort?
2. Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre was named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year. Favre has helped his team become one of the NFC’s elite once again. The last few years were rough on Favre, with the Hall of Fame-bound quarterback gaining as much attention for throwing wild interceptions as for leading touchdown drives. Many thought his career was over or that he might limp through his final (though we’ve heard that onebefore) season. His comeback into the elite ranks of NFL QBs is nothing short of phenomenal..
3. With three-quarters of the season in the books, the stretch run is here. And a quick perusal of the NFL standings shows that of the 32 teams vying for 12 playoff spots, you can realistically eliminate only two teams — the New York Jets (3-9) and Miami Dolphins (0-12). All the other teams have some sort of mathematical chance of at least a wild-card spot if not a division title (the Jets do, too, but they would need the three 7-5 AFC teams to lose out while New York would have to win its final four just to create a four-way tie for two spots — and no one else could finish above .500 that already isn’t there).
GAME OF THE WEEK
The Cardinals can deal a serious blow toward the Seahawks’ hopes of locking up the NFC West and improve their own chances at fighting for the title and a playoff spot. The Seahawks hold a two-game lead with the steady play of Matt Hasselbeck leading the way. The Cardinals have ridden the career renaissance of quarterback Kurt Warner in one of their few successful seasons.
— Matt Palmer
WEEK 14 PICKS
DOLPHINS AT BILLS Do you really think the Dolphins are going to mess up their imperfect season? Bills 22, Dolphins 17
BUCCANEERS AT TEXANS The Buccaneers are definitely a fraud, but a playoff-bound fraud. Buccaneers 16, Texans 13
COWBOYS AT LIONS The free-fall continues for the Lions — 10 wins is looking more and more like a long shot. Cowboys 34, Lions 17
CARDINALS AT SEAHAWKS Cards are finally who we thought they were and the NFC West is very interesting. Cardinals 23, Seahawks 21
STEELERS AT PATRIOTS The referees just threw a pre-emptive flag on the Steelers for daring to play the Patriots. Patriots 27, Steelers 21
BROWNS AT JETS The term “must-win” applies to this game for the Browns. Fortunately, they’re playing the Jets. Browns 23, Jets 13
COLTS AT RAVENS The Ravens can’t buy a break these days. On the bright side, they play Miami next week. Colts 20, Ravens 9
— Matt Palmer
PLAYER TO WATCH
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb has been out for two weeks, but returned to practice Wednesday, declaring that he was ready to play. Coach Andy Reid has an interesting quandary because A.J. Feeley has played decently in McNabb’s absence. If the Eagles want to trade McNabb, these next few weeks could be the appropriate showcase for potential suitors.