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Teams like Packers recover late in season

December 20, 2012
By STEVE BROWNLEE - Journal Sports Writer ( , The Mining Journal

Taking a look back to early in the season, seven of the eight divisions in the NFL have a team that has made a huge leap forward or backward since September.

For the most part, it was pretenders that have fallen by the wayside and teams expected to do well that finally have recovered.

Comparing Week 4, which ended on Oct. 1, to now, here are the big movers:

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NFC - Philadelphia in the East and Arizona in the West have tumbled from first place alone to last place alone.

On the flip side, Green Bay in the North has moved from third place to clinching the division last weekend, while New Orleans went from its awful 0-4 start to second place in the South, though it won't be enough to get in the playoffs.

AFC - New England in the East and Denver in the West have made the biggest moves up after 2-2 starts. The Patriots went from a three-way tie for first to now having a four-game lead, while the Broncos were in second place, but have amassed a gigantic six-game cushion.

In the South, Indianapolis hasn't moved out of second place, but went from 1-2 to all but guaranteeing itself a wild-card playoff spot at 9-5.

Since all the teams in the North have been pretty stagnant, I'll have to borrow another West team, San Diego, to represent the fourth mover as the Chargers went from first place to losers of eight of their last 10 games.

With all this in mind, maybe I can have two good weeks in a row of picks:

Saturday, 8:30 p.m.

Atlanta at Detroit - Watch for vast improvement by the Lions after their debacle in Arizona, meaning they'll play like they did for the previous month: take an early lead, stay close into the fourth quarter, then find some unique way to lose. Falcons, 34-28.

Sunday, 1 p.m.

Tennessee at Green Bay - A letdown here would be a major blow to Green Bay, still looking for at least a first-round playoff bye. Packers, 31-17.

Oakland at Carolina - I haven't given much love to Carolina with its recent surge, but that's about to stop. Panthers, 29-17.

New Orleans at Dallas - Something tells me that the first-place pressure is going to act like a mixed martial arts chokehold on the Cowboys, especially at home. Saints, 24-17.

Minnesota at Houston - Somebody will eventually figure out how to stop the Vikings' Adrian Peterson, so it might as well be the best of the AFC, record-wise at least. Texans, 24-20.

New England at Jacksonville - As long as the Patriots are within three touchdowns at halftime, they have enough to pour it on in the second half. Patriots, 40-23.

Indianapolis at Kansas City - If I was working with the point spread, I'd probably take the Chiefs. I'm not, so Colts, 24-20.

Buffalo at Miami - Just like the Dolphins froze in Buffalo, the Bills will melt in Miami. Dolphins, 17-13.

Washington at Philadelphia - A team with even a little motivation should be able to dominate the rudderless Eagles. Redskins, 27-12.

Cincinnati at Pittsburgh - A big rivalry game, plus Pittsburgh needs this just to stay alive for the playoffs. Steelers, 20-16.

St. Louis at Tampa Bay - If it ain't the 49ers, the Rams don't seem to have the heart to play well. Buccaneers, 19-13.

San Diego at N.Y. Jets - This game got demoted from Sunday night, though it ought to be competitive with equal amounts of ineptitude on both sides. Chargers, 13-12.

Sunday, 4 p.m.

N.Y. Giants at Baltimore - A rematch of the 2000 Super Bowl might be too far back for any of these players to remember. But with Eli Manning at quarterback for New York, let's just call this "Revenge of the Nerds." Giants, 34-30.

Cleveland at Denver - When he enters Mile High Stadium, won't Peyton Manning look fitting wearing a toga and a leafy crown like a Roman emperor? Just don't forget to change for the game, because those togas are hard to run in. Broncos, 31-10.

Chicago at Arizona - The Cardinals' big win over Detroit last Sunday doesn't convince me. Bears, 27-17.

Sunday, 8:20 p.m.

San Francisco at Seattle - Flex scheduling working to a T, as the country gets to see two quality division rivals.

San Fran and Seattle are mirror images of each other, with nearly identical points for and against, the top two defenses in the NFC and two of the top three rushing offenses in the conference. Since the 49ers won in their first meeting, Seahawks, 20-16.

Last week - 12-4, 75 percent. Season - 140-83-1, 63 percent.

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



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