Tebow Gets The Brady Test

     Tom Brady vs. Tim Tebow-mania. The Patriots against the Broncos in Denver. Stop the madness and let the game begin.

     The Patriots have been dreadful on defense, even using offensive players in their secondary. The Broncos are playing with great confidence behind their celebrity quarterback.

     Normally I wouldn’t expect a team like Denver to keep up with New England’s offense. But this isn’t a normal year. For all the talk about how coach Bill Belichick is going to devise a plan to confuse and stop Tebow cold, I say: The Patriots haven’t been able to stop or even slow anyone this season. What makes me believe they can stop Tebow and the Broncos. Again, I like Denver to win. By at least one point.

***

     The Eagles (5-8) found new life by easily handling the Dolphins last week, but the Jets (8-5) will prove to be a tougher test today. Philadelphia is finally getting healthy. Having Michael Vick at quarterback makes all the difference. New York has won three in a row, but against lesser opponents. I can just see the Jets heading into next week’s showdown with the Giants facing a win-or-go-home situation. Take the Eagles.

     The Chargers (6-7) and Philip Rivers are at their best again, making another late-season run for the playoffs. The Ravens (10-3) are fast becoming the AFC favorites to reach the Super Bowl, and they’re still trying to keep pace with the Steelers. It’s a very good Sunday night matchup in San Diego. I’ll take the Ravens, the best team in the conference right now.

     The Bears (7-6) are still hoping to get quarterback Jay Cutler and running back Matt Forte back soon. The question is: Will it still matter? The Bears’ playoff hopes are fading fast as the offense struggles without their two star performers. The Seahawks (6-7) believe they are still in the playoff hunt despite their 2-6 start and have won four of their last five. Go with Seattle as Chicago continues to sputter.

     The Giants (7-6) have control of their own destiny. The Redskins (4-9), Jets and Cowboys stand in the way. Earlier this week Antrel Rolle said the Giants could beat Washington 99 out of 100 times. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be close. Take the Giants to win a close one. 

     The Lions (8-5) get Ndamukong Suh back after a two-game suspension. The Raiders (7-6) would like to forget their last two games, in which they were outscored 80-30 by Miami and Green Bay. I like Detroit.

     The Saints (10-3) have been a little better than average on the road this season, so they really want to secure at least one home game in the playoffs. Today they’re in Minnesota, where the turf is the way they like it: fast. The Vikings (2-11) will probably get Adrian Peterson back, but it won’t be enough. Take New Orleans.

     The Packers (13-0) can clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a victory today against the offensively-challenged Chiefs (5-8). Kansas City will have a new head coach, Romeo Crennel, on the sideline and a new starting quarterback, Kyle Orton, behind center. No matter. I like Green Bay to move one more game closer to perfection.

     Injured quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is expected to return to the Titans’ lineup. Tennessee (7-6) needs to win its final three games to have a shot at the playoffs, and they don’t get any easier than this. I do believe the Colts (0-13) will win a game this season, but not today. Take Tennessee.

     The Texans have already wrapped up their first division title, but they’re also one of four 10-3 teams competing for two first-round byes. The Panthers (4-9) blew a 23-7 halftime lead against the Falcons last week. Go with Houston to make it eight straight victories.

     After an 0-7 start, it only took one serious misstep for Miami (4-9) to fire Tony Sparano. That happened in last week’s 26-10 loss to Philadelphia. Now it’s Todd Bowles’ job until Bill Cowher, Jeff Fisher or another big name takes over next season. The Bills are in the midst of a six-game losing streak, in which they’re averaging 12.8 points per game. I’ll take the Dolphins to make Bowles a winner in his debut.

     The Bengals(7-6) lost a heartbreaker last week to the Texans, but the Rams (2-11) are not the Texans. Cincinnati needs this game to keep its playoff hopes alive. St. Louis is counting down the days to the end of the season. There’s already talk about coach Steve Spagnuolo winding up with either the Giants or Eagles as defensive coordinator. Take the Bengals.

     The Cardinals (6-7) are still a longshot for the playoffs, but they’ve won three in a row and get the Browns (4-9) today without their quarterback, Colt McCoy – out with a concussion. Arizona’s Kevin Kolb is also expected to sit with a concussion, but QB John Skelton has proven to be a capable backup. Go with the Cardinals.

***

     No blowing a fourth-quarter lead this week. Tony Romo threw three  touchdowns and rushed for another score, all in the first half, as the Cowboys (8-6) routed the Bucs, 31-15, last night in Tampa Bay.

     Running back Felix Jones went over the 100-yard mark for the second straight week in place of the injured DeMarco Murray.

     “I think it showed our character, our resolve, what we’re made of,” Dallas linebacker Keith Brooking told the Associated Press. “It was obviously doom and gloom around Valley Ranch for the past couple of weeks – kind of the world was caving in on us. But we just kept fighting and kept plugging away, and we still control our own destiny.”

     It didn’t hurt that the Buccaneers were their opponent. Tampa Bay (4-10) lost its eighth consecutive game and was beaten by halftime, despite its two feel-good scores in the third quarter.

***

     Terrific start to the college football bowl season. Two of the first three games weren’t decided until the final seconds:

New Orleans Bowl

     Louisiana-Lafayette’s Brett Baer hit a 50-yard field goal as time expired to lift the Ragin’ Cajuns (9-4) to a 32-30 victory over San Diego State.

     The Aztecs (8-5) had taken the lead with 35 seconds remaining when Ryan Lindley connected with Colin Lockett on a 12-yard touchdown.

     Baer’s winning kick came after he had missed two extra points earlier in the contest. He originally lined up for a 55-yard attempt, but San Diego State was flagged for encroachment while trying to draw the Ragin’ Cajuns offsides.

     Blaine Gautier was 24 of 40 for 470 yards and three touchdowns to lead Louisiana-Lafayette to its first Division I bowl victory. Javone Lawson caught nine passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns, while Ladarius Green added five receptions for 121 yards and a score.

     Lindley completed 28 of 49 passes for 413 yards and three touchdowns. Lockett caught six passes, three of them for scores.

Idaho Potato Bowl

     Ohio (10-4) drove 61 yards over the final two minutes to post a last-second 24-23 victory over Utah State. Quarterback Tyler Tettleton scored the game-winner on a one-yard run. He threw for 220 yards and two other scores on the day. It was the first bowl victory for the Bobcats. Utah State (7-6) gained 345 yards on the ground behind Michael Smith and Robert Turbin, but it wasn’t enough. Smith rushed for 157 yards and two touchdowns while Turbin added 101 yards.

New Mexico Bowl

     Bernard Pierce ran for two touchdowns and Chris Coyer threw for 169 yards and one score as Temple trounced Wyoming, 37-17. This one was over early as the Owls (9-4) jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first half. It was the first bowl victory in 32 years for Temple, the second overall. Wyoming concluded its season 8-5.

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