Chargers (4-5) at Bears (6-3)
Sunday, 4:15 p.m.
Line: Bears by 3.5 .
Lovie Smith does not get the credit he deserves. His coaching staff is filled with temperamental geniuses who have impulse control issues. The offense is loaded with divas: when Roy Williams comes across as normal, you know you are dealing with some Timothy Leary-level team chemistry. On paper, Smith’s blitzed-up take on the stodgy Cover-2 defense, built around the talents of 30-something linebackers, looks about as dangerous as a Toyota Celica with mag wheels. This is a team that strives to beat opponents with punt returns, for heaven’s sake. Yet Smith has coaxed winning records out of this collection of disparate parts and quarrelsome personalities four times in the last six years, and he currently has a team that was universally overlooked in the preseason in the thick of the wild-card race.
Norv Turner has also mixed playoff runs with .500 seasons during his Chargers tenure, but he has done so under much more favorable conditions: his division is much softer, he has an indisputable franchise quarterback and he does not have to hold the reins on assistants like Mike Martz. Turner needs everything to break right to win, and this year nothing has. The Chargers’ offensive line has been torn apart by injuries, with Marcus McNeill (neck) and Louis Vasquez (foot) unlikely to play Sunday and the All-Pro Kris Dielman (concussion) out for the year. Philip Rivers’ mysterious slump is not so mysterious when his blockers are Brandyn Dombrowski and Scott Mruczkowski and his receivers include castoffs like Patrick Crayton. Turner cannot win when his quarterback is throwing interceptions, whereas Smith is only now learning what it is like to win otherwise: that is as clear a contrast as you need between these two teams. Pick: Bears.
Eagles (3-6) at Giants (6-3)
Sunday, 8:20 p.m.
Line: Giants by 4 .5.
Andy Reid’s Traveling Cautionary Tale Tent Revival has arrived in town, and we are celebrating with a trivia quiz! Match the following Eagles Dream Teamers – a.) Nnamdi Asomugha, b.) Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, c.) Steve Smith, d.) Ronnie Brown, e.) Vince Young, f.) Jason Babin – with their unique accomplishments this season:
1.) I chase receivers with the enthusiasm of a teenager walking to the principal’s office after a food fight. 2.) My quarterback rating of 0.0 is lower than the punter’s, and I may be starting on Sunday! 3.) I line up offsides when not inexplicably covering Cardinals receivers not named Larry Fitzgerald. 4.) I am among the league leaders with nine penalties this season. 5.) I crumple untouched after catches in the open field as if the yellow television first-down line is real and made of plutonium. 6.) I throw the ball straight into the air while being tackled at the goal line.
There is also an essay: Explain how Andy Reid can simultaneously justify a 42-16 pass-run ratio when Michael Vick (questionable) has broken ribs and grow testy when his reasoning is questioned.
The answers: 1-b, 2-e, 3-a, 4-f, 5-c, 6-d. If you need reasons why Giants General Manager Jerry Reese did not dive headfirst into the free-agent pool this off-season, here are six of them. The Reid essay has no right answer.
Standard warning: the Eagles, like poorly-constructed playground equipment, can still be dangerous. Pick: Giants.
Buccaneers (4-5) at Packers (9-0)
Sunday, 1 p.m.
Line: Packers by 14.
Like a flabby Hope Diamond, Albert Haynesworth is a fascinating, oversized trinket that brings nothing but misery to anyone foolish enough to acquire him. The Buccaneers signed Haynesworth and immediately inserted him into their defensive line; the results were 185 yards rushing allowed and a 37-9 loss. The Patriots, meanwhile, improved as soon as they rid themselves of Haynesworth. That is not scientific proof that Haynesworth is cursed, but perhaps he should be placed in the Smithsonian until there are further studies.
Aaron Rodgers has thrown just 18 incomplete passes in the last three games. One of those passes was a spike to stop the clock, three were throws out of bounds and four were dropped by open receivers. Count the drops as completions and take away the spike, and Rodgers’ completion percentage in the last three weeks is 84.7 percent. Some football stat-heads will tell you that completion percentage is a meaningless metric. That is true about 84.7 percent of the time. Pick: Packers.
Titans (5-4) at Falcons (5-4)
Sunday, 4:15 p.m.
Line: Falcons by 6.