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Thursday, December 18, 2008
Week 16 Pigskin Pick'em/Eliminator preview

By AJ Mass
ESPN.com

Week 15 was a microcosm of this whole season. We did fine with the straight-up picks, though not as well as we had been doing. Our luck against the spread amounted to nothing. The Bears and Falcons scored just one point too many, and the Seahawks registered just one point too few, so our record plummeted. Add to that how the Titans didn't even attempt a potential winning field goal and how the Steelers got "help from above" in the form of a booth review of a late touchdown, and we were scary bad.

So how will we correct this downward spiral? Why, we're taking a page from the George Costanza book of life. As Jerry Seinfeld told his best friend, "If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right." Following this advice led to George's getting a girlfriend, moving out of his parents' house and landing the job of his dreams. So, when it comes to the winners of each game, we're standing pat this week. But against the spread? Go with the opposite of what we say. Here's the complete Week 16 rundown, along with more sage advice from the legendary Jerry:

Tale of the tape
Week 15, Straight Up:9-7 (Overall: 138-85-1)
Week 15, Versus the Spread:4-12 (Overall: 103-121)

Thursday

Indianapolis at Jacksonville (+6½)

"Now they show you how detergents take out bloodstains, a pretty violent image there. I think if you've got a T-shirt with a bloodstain all over it, maybe laundry isn't your biggest problem." Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison didn't make this trip, so he'll be spared the sight of the expected carnage. The decimated Jaguars are merely playing things out and probably won't escape this game with the same unit they start with.

Prediction: Colts by 4

Saturday

Baltimore at Dallas (-4½)

"Dogs are the leaders of the planet. If you see two life forms, one of them's making a poop, the other one's carrying it for him, who would you assume is in charge?" Don't read anything into this. We're not making some sort of veiled reference to the Jason Witten/Terrell Owens soap opera. All we're saying is that sometimes a road dog is really the team that takes charge.

Prediction: Ravens by 3

Sunday

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Cincinnati at Cleveland (-3½)

"The big advantage of a book is it's very easy to rewind. Close it and you're right back at the beginning." It'll take only one more week after this game for these two teams to reset to a 0-0 record. We'll go with the home team in this one, though quite frankly, we probably won't tune in to watch the great Ken Dorsey-Ryan Fitzpatrick showdown.

Prediction: Browns by 11

New Orleans at Detroit (+6½)

"See, the thing of it is, there's a lot of ugly people out there walking around, but they don't know they're ugly because nobody actually tells them." Trust us on this one: The Detroit Lions are painfully aware of how ugly this season has been.

Prediction: Saints by 15

Pittsburgh at Tennessee (+1½)

"I was the best man at the wedding. If I'm the best man, why is she marrying him?" Pittsburgh may be wondering the same thing. All the talk has been about how amazing the Titans have played this season, and the Steelers are probably feeling a bit neglected. The thing is, the Titans may well be the best team after all and could walk away with home-field advantage to boot.

Prediction: Titans by 5

Miami at Kansas City (+3½)

"The Swiss have an interesting army. Five hundred years without a war. Pretty impressive. Also pretty lucky for them. Ever see that little Swiss Army knife they have to fight with? Not much of a weapon there." Looking at the Dolphins' "army," we don't see too many stellar weapons either, yet they have been more than impressive. Their turnaround mission from laughingstock to divisional champs continues.

Prediction: Dolphins by 8

San Francisco at St. Louis (+5½)

"Men don't care what's on TV. They only care what else is on TV." This is especially true with this snoozefest. We like Shaun Hill to have a statistically great day, but we'll probably be checking out the "Top Chef" marathon on Bravo instead. Just saying.

Prediction: Niners by 11

Arizona at New England (-7½)

"There's very little advice in men's magazines, because men don't think there's a lot they don't know." There is a lot the Arizona Cardinals do not know, even though they are headed to the playoffs. For one, they have no clue how to run the ball. Secondly, winning on the East Coast is also a big question mark. You have to go with the Pats in this one.

Prediction: Patriots by 4

San Diego at Tampa Bay (-3½)

"The idea behind the tuxedo is the woman's point of view that men are all the same; so we might as well dress them that way." Jeff Garcia, Brian Griese, Luke McCown: It doesn't matter one iota who quarterbacks this team, just as it makes no difference whether Warrick Dunn or Cadillac Williams handles the majority of the running duties. These interchangeable parts will find a way to win.

Prediction: Bucs by 3

Jets at Seattle (+4½)

"Sometimes the road less traveled is less traveled for a reason." The frequent-flier miles to the Pacific time zone have certainly added up for these Jets, and the previous three trips have all proved disastrous. So what makes us think this time will be any different? Fate. If anyone will knock these Jets out of playoff contention, it won't be Seneca Wallace. It will be Chad Pennington next week.

Prediction: Jets by 9

Houston at Oakland (+7½)

"You know you're getting old when you get that one candle on the cake. It's like, 'See if you can blow this out.'" Al Davis has handed the reins of this team over to yet another temporary caretaker, and the results thus far have been dreary business as usual. Houston will handle the Raiders, well, handily enough.

Prediction: Texans by 6

Buffalo at Denver (-6½)

"Why do people give each other flowers? To celebrate various important occasions, they're killing living creatures? Why restrict it to plants? 'Sweetheart, let's make up. Have this deceased squirrel.'" The Bills gave the Jets the gift of J.P. Losman last week. This week, he's on the scrap heap. Buffalo won't hand out any more presents. It'll be nothing but lumps of coal for Denver.

Prediction: Bills by 1

Philadelphia at Washington (+4½)

"You can measure distance by time. 'How far away is it?' 'Oh, about 20 minutes.' But it doesn't work the other way. 'When do you get off work?' 'Around three miles.'" How far away from respectability are the Redskins? Oh, about three light-years. How close are the Eagles to the playoffs? Around two weeks.

Prediction: Eagles by 6

Atlanta at Minnesota (-3½)

"That's the true spirit of Christmas; people being helped by people other than me." And speaking of those Eagles making the playoffs, all it will take is the Vikings' winning this one here to place destiny back in Philadelphia's hands. Just call him Santa Tarvaris.

Prediction: Vikings by 2

Carolina at Giants (-3½)

"Why do they call it a building? It looks like they're finished. Why isn't it a built?" The Giants looked to be fully built themselves until the whole Plaxico Burress mess derailed their train for a few weeks. But this team is not in a building mode; it's built. And with a healthy Brandon Jacobs, they'll lock up home-field advantage.

Prediction: Giants by 5

Monday

Green Bay at Chicago (-4½)

"What is a date really, but a job interview that lasts all night? The only difference is that in not many job interviews is there a chance you'll wind up naked." With a Chicago team that needs a victory and a Green Bay team with nothing to play for, expect Aaron Rodgers to feel naked out there, alone in the backfield as Brian Urlacher & Co. dress him down all night long.

Prediction: Bears by 2

Eliminator

The ESPN.com Eliminator requires that you make one and only one pick each week. If you win, you live to pick again. If you lose, it's all over. In Week 15, we once again got all five selections right, claiming all 15 available points for the week. Our overall rating rose all the way to 81.3 percent for the season.

But we don't mean to brag. More wisdom from Jerry Seinfeld tells us: "You know what I never get with the limo? The tinted windows. Is that so people don't see you? Yeah, what a better way not to have people notice you than taking a 30-foot Cadillac with a TV antenna and a uniformed driver. How discreet. Nobody cares who's in the limo. You see a limo go by, you know it's either some rich jerk or fifty prom kids with $1.75 each."

In other words, quit your bragging, and show me some picks for this week, Einstein. No problem. Color us a touch wary of the Saints. We think they'll win, but we have just enough doubt to keep them from the DEFCON 5 selection. Instead, we'll go with a San Francisco team looking to make Coach Singletary proud against a Rams squad that already knows Coach Haslett won't be around next season. Here's the full listing of our top picks for this week's Eliminator, in order of our confidence:

DEFCON 5: Niners
DEFCON 4: Saints
DEFCON 3: Dolphins
DEFCON 2: Eagles
DEFCON 1: Patriots

Hopefully, you'll be able to make better sense of this week's slate of games than I have. I'll leave with one more bit of advice from the man in the puffy shirt: "I will never understand why they cook on TV. I can't smell it. Can't eat it. Can't taste it. The end of the show they hold it up to the camera, 'Well, here it is. You can't have any. Thanks for watching. Goodbye.'" Good luck to all of you, and Bon Appétit!

AJ Mass is a fantasy football, baseball and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.