Cowboys (5-9) at Cardinals (4-10)Saturday, 7:30 p.m.Line: Cowboys by 61/2
You can imagine what the schedule makers were thinking when they slapped a bow on this game and dropped it onto the Christmas prime-time television schedule back in the spring. ”What a gift for fans: the mighty, beloved Cowboys, who will no doubt be 11-3, facing the scrappy Cardinals, who will probably be around 8-6 and scoring 42 points per game. Surely Tony Romo will throw for four touchdowns, and we can cut away to luxury-box images of his lovely girlfriend, Candice Crawford, cheering him on in a fetching Santa hat. Heck, Kurt Warner will probably come out of retirement to save the Cardinals by October. All of America will watch!”
Crawford did receive an engagement ring from Romo this week, the only ring anyone involved with the Cowboys is likely to see for a while. Whenever the ”Romo love interest” angle overshadows the game, you know the Cowboys are in trouble (or, not coincidentally, that it is December), though at least they are bad in a watchable way. The Cardinals are stuck with rookie quarterback John Skelton, whom announcers sometimes compare to Ben Roethlisberger, because both quarterbacks are tall and there is almost nothing else to say about the Cardinals.
If this game becomes too tedious, sift through the obscure cable channels and check out the ”Renovation Realities” marathon on DIY, which may include an episode on renovating the entire N.F.C. West. Pick: Cowboys
Jets (10-4) at Bears (10-4)Sunday, 1 p.m.Line: Bears by 1
Mark Sanchez needed an M.R.I. on his sore shoulder this week. Sanchez’s status is questionable, but the way the Bears season has gone, it’s shocking that the M.R.I. machine did not crash through the floor, dragging Sanchez down three stories and right onto the head of Mark Brunell, who stopped by for a checkup.
The Bears have faced many quarterbacks of the caliber of Jimmy Clausen, Tyler Thigpen, Drew Stanton and Joe Webb this season; if a third stringer or converted wide receiver is making his first start of the year, chances are he is facing the Bears. Give the Bears credit for making the most of these opportunities, but they have truly benefited from facing inferior, injured, or unprepared opponents. The average Bears drive starts at the 34, giving them the best field position in the N.F.L. and making life easy for their sacks-and-bombs offense. Returners Devin Hester and Danieal Manning deserve some credit for the great field position, but lots of the three-and-outs by opponents’ waiver-wire quarterbacks also had something to do with it.
The Jets have had their share of fortunate bounces and unlikely victories as well, making this game a Karma Bowl: one team’s cosmic parking meter is about to expire. That team will be the Bears, who have gotten as far as Hester touchdowns, 30-yard field goal drives, and sudden snowstorms can take them. Pick: Jets
Giants (9-5) at Packers (8-6)Sunday, 4:15 p.m.Line: Packers by 3
Here is how this game unfolds:
With the Giants leading, 27-21, midway through the fourth quarter, the reserve tackle William Beatty fields a short kickoff and runs 60 yards in 23 seconds for a touchdown, holding the football like a French bicyclist balancing a baguette all the way to the end zone. After a Packers field goal, Tom Coughlin fails to notice that Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, Sterling Sharpe and James Lofton have suspiciously joined the Packers kick coverage team, and after retrieving an onside kick, the Packers drive for a touchdown.
The Giants get the ball back with 1:10 to play, yet somehow manage to engineer a drive that adds 10 seconds to the clock. The Packers drive to the 20-yard line, where Aaron Rodgers, taking a cue from the backup Matt Flynn, morphs into Hal Holbrook and starts reading from the ”Autobiography of Mark Twain” instead of calling a play. Time expires, the Giants win, and stunned reporters head for the interview room, only to discover that a confused Eli Manning delivered his postgame news conference on Saturday. Pick: Giants.
Chargers (8-6) at Bengals (3-11)Sunday, 4:05 p.m.Line: Chargers by 71/2