Eric Walden's Four Downs: So many changes, surprises, sacks in Week 15
Denver at Baltimore
11 a.m., TV • Ch. 2
The skinny • Kinda seems counterintuitive that in a game featuring the likes of Peyton Manning, DeMaryius Thomas, Von Miller, Champ Bailey, Ray Rice, Torrey Smith, Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata, all eyes will be on new Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell. Was Baltimore's inconsistent offense the main culprit in its two-game losing streak? Yes. Was old coordinator Cam Cameron vastly underutilizing Pro Bowl running back Rice? It's true. Still, isn't a late-season handing of the reins to a guy who's never been a play-caller in the NFL a bit curious? Indeed. And am I using "curious" as a euphemism for "crazy"? You know me so well.
The line • Broncos by 3.
The pick • Broncos. Could the Ravens' end the Broncos' eight-game win streak? They could. Will having a newbie OC hurt their chances? All signs point to yes.
Green Bay at Chicago
11 a.m., TV • Ch. 13
The skinny • Quite a bit has changed since the teams' Week 2 meeting won by the Packers. Chicago's once-prolific offense has become anti-lific, the impenetrable defense has become somewhat more penetrable, and with four losses in five games, the Bears' seemingly insurmountable division lead has indeed become mountable. (Get your minds out of the gutter, heathen!) As for the Packers, not as much is different: The nonexistent run game is not suddenly existent, an offensive line that has been largely overwhelmed has not become merely whelmed, and a roster depleted by injuries is not now pleted. What HAS changed on the Frozen Tundra, however, is the results. In winning eight of their last nine, the Pack would do well to carry on.
The line • Packers by 3.
The pick • Packers. Wins over their top rivals in Weeks 2 and 15? I suppose it's all the same after all.
Pittsburgh at Dallas
2:25 p.m., TV • Ch. 2
The skinny • I'm as surprised as anyone that a pair of 7-6 teams whose combined points scored are exactly equal to their combined points allowed are still relevant. Next I suppose you'll tell me that a PBS drama about the goings-on at a World War I-era English manor will make for a popular television series. What's that? Downton Abbey? Really? You're sure? Well, then â¦ I suppose Pittsburgh and Dallas still being playoff contenders despite their rash of major injuries to top players, extended bouts of inconsistency, and more than their fair share of off-field issues is perhaps not as strange as heretofore assumed. Good show, all. Good show!
The line • Steelers by 11/2.
The pick • Cowboys. Dallas has its own foibles, to be sure, but I just can't talk myself into a Pittsburgh team whose last two losses are to the Browns and Chargers.
San Francisco at New England
6:20 p.m., TV • Ch. 5
The skinny • It's one of those classic offense-vs.-defense matchups that everyone seems to find so intriguing. The Patriots lead the NFL in points scored by far, with 472 (36.3 per game). Conversely, the 49ers are tops in fewest points allowed, with 184 (14.2 ppg). The teams rank first and second, respectively, in the NFL in point differential. Honestly, though, that's not what interests me this time. You can forget all the junk about wanting to see a competitive game, seeing how the matchups play out, blah, blah, blah. I want to see Aldon Smith sack Tom Brady and his stupid face. About 38 times. Fingers crossed.
The line • Patriots by 5.
The pick • Patriots. Smith may well sack Brady, even a couple times, but that doesn't change my suspicion that the former's team is not as good as the latter's.