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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 10:08 AM

Let's just call it the whatever-can-happen-will-happen NFL:

After all, did anyone out there in/around the nation's capital really believe the Washington Redskins - now 8-6 and quite capable of winning the NFC East - were even gonna get back into the post-season conversation following that ugly 3-6 SU (straight-up) start that had head coach Mike Shanahan even sending up his own personal "white flag"?

And what to make of the likes of the Chicago Bears who were once-upon-a-time 7-1 and now are gagging badly at 8-6?

And let's not forget the sagging Baltimore Ravens who appeared a be a pretty good bet to get to their first Super Bowl since 2000 after that sizzling 9-2 SU start? Don't look now but the playoff-bound Ravens are riding a three-game losing streak while heading into Sunday's home game against the equally floundering New York Giants - and Baltimore might just wind up the AFC's #6 playoff seed if they ain't too careful here!

In a year in which NFL Betting Favorites are now - get this - only 97-116-9 against the odds (a sour .455 winning rate for chalk-eaters) with a pair of pick 'em games tossed into the mix, the unexpected does seem to happen more often than not in this league where they play for pay (see defending Super Bowl champions losing 34-0 last weekend in Atlanta to mark the worst shutout loss since 1980 by a sitting champ) and so should anyone out there in pigskin-land be surprised if someone comes out of the wild card round games and wins it all in New Orleans on the night of February 3, 2013?

Don't all raise your hands at once!

Okay, so there's only two regular-season weekends remaining in the NFL and we'll size up a handful-plus key games on tap this weekend in our inimitable Jim Sez quick-hitter style. Enjoy!
  
On Saturday, it's ...

ATLANTA (12-2) at DETROIT (4-10) - 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Falcons - fresh off that aforementioned resounding beat-down of the NY Giants - can wrap up the NFC's #1 playoff seed with all the trimmings with a win here in Motown and we'll see if the Atlanta defense can force the turnover-prone Lions (see three QB Matthew Stafford INTs and a lost fumble in last week's 38-10 loss in Arizona) to cough it up here. Note that Atlanta QB Matt Ryan - who aired three scoring strikes against the G-men - could be an under-the-radar MVP choice for those folks not leaning in the general direction of Minnesota RB Adrian Peterson or Denver QB Peyton Manning.

On Sunday, it's ...

CINCINNATI (8-6) at PITTSBURGH (7-7) - 1 p.m. ET, CBS
It's hard to believe that the Steelers stagger into this Week 16 tilt having lost five of their last six games - now that's very un-Mike Tomlin-like, wouldn't you say? -- but when you throw INTs in OT (see Ben Roethlisberger's ugly throw snared by Dallas' Brandon Carr last weekend in Arlington) and you cough up the ball on fumble returns (Antonio Brown's wearing goat horns in Pittsburgh these days) you put yourself in vulnerable positions and now Pittsburgh's in desperate need of a clean sweep of archrival Cincy just to get back to the playoffs for the seventh time in nine years.

NEW ORLEANS (6-8) at DALLAS (8-6) 1 p.m. ET, Fox
Here's a strange-but-true fact about the here-and-now Cowboys - 11 of their 14 games this year have been decided by 7 points or less and note that Dallas is a tasty 7-4 ATS in those close calls. No doubt that Dallas QB Tony Romo (341 yards passing with two TDs and 0 INTs against Pittsburgh last weekend - can't play a whole lot better than that but the real key here is can the Cowboys ground game crank out something better than 87 yards rushing (see RB DeMarco Murray's 14 carries for 81 yards last Sunday)? We say they'll have to in order to put away the going-nowhere Saints.

WASHINGTON (8-6) at PHILADELPHIA (4-10) - 1 p.m. ET, Fox
No doubt everyone will be waiting with baited breath to see if Robert Griffin III will get the green light to play here after sitting out last weekend's come-from-behind 38-21 win in Cleveland - okay, so everyone knows by now that "RG3" wasn't happy with the coaching staff decision to deactivate him in favor of fellow rookie Kirk Cousins but who could argue with the results? - but while Griffin's availability remains the central story line don't sleep on the fact that rookie RB Alfred Morris (1,322 yards rushing and averaging a haughty 4.7 yards-per-carry) is considered by many in-the-know folks to be the real key here. Be aware the only time the 'Skins laid road points this year they lost 31-28 at 3 ½-point pup St. Louis way back in Week 2.

MINNESOTA (8-6) at HOUSTON (12-2) - 1 p.m. ET, Fox
One thing to keep in mind with these Texans is they do own the all-important tiebreaker against Denver by virtue of the 31-25 win back in a Week 3 game in the Mile High City and so if Houston and the Broncos end up tied for the best mark in the AFC, the #1 seed will go to the Space City gang ... got it? Still, no reason for Houston to take its foot off the pedal now and remember the Texans have beaten five of their seven visiting foes by twin-figure margins this year at Reliant Stadium - maybe a Minnesota pass rush that collected four sacks in last Sunday's 36-22 win in St. Louis will have Texans slinger Matt Schaub (261 yards passing with one TD last week) back on his heels a bit but everyone wants to know if Vikings RB Peterson will get a buck-and-a-half (or more) rushing yards here in his hot pursuit of Eric Dickerson's NFL record single-season record of 2,105 rushing yards.
    
NEW YORK GIANTS (8-6) at BALTIMORE (9-5) - 4:25 p.m. ET, Fox
Maybe the defending champs think they can just flick the switch and turn it on when they'd like - but coming off that 34-point loss inside the Georgia Dome last week you get the sense that something is really wrong with this NFC East club and no doubt head coach Tom Coughlin didn't exactly help matters last week by going for it twice on fourth-and-short ... and failing to convert on both occasions. If the Giants really believe rookie RB David Wilson is "the answer" than he'll have to do better than 55 yards rushing!

On Sunday Night, it's ...

SAN FRANCISCO (10-3-1) at SEATTLE (9-5) - 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC
You know what we've all been thinking: The 49ers' home 24-all tie against St. Louis way back in Week 10 play was gonna come home to roost sooner or later and now you see what we mean providing Jim Harbaugh's gang can do no better than a split in these final two regular-season tilts (yes, the Niners host lowly Arizona in Week 17 action) as SF could get nudged out of the #2 NFC playoff seed if Green Bay (10-4) wins its final two games against Tennessee and than at Minnesota. If San Fran - a 13-6 winner against Seattle back in Week 7 - is gonna put the KO blow to the Seahawks here, than a defense that was really gassed in the second half of that 41-34 win in New England the other night better get a second wind and so pass rush specialist Aldon Smith (just 3 ½ sacks away from Michael Strahan's single-season sack record) better plan on getting in the grill of red-hot Seahawks rookie QB Russell Wilson (21 TDs and 9 INTs this year) ... or else!

    
Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers will light it up with the NFL Week 16 card that begins on Saturday night with Side/Totals Winners on the Atlanta Falcons at the Detroit Lions plus get all the NBA and NCAA Basketball Winners each and every day too - and make sure to climb aboard right now with America's #1 Handicapper to cash in big with all the College Football Bowl Games that just began last weekend as Jim Hurley cashed big with both Nevada (+8 ½) over Arizona and Utah State (- 10) over Toledo!

Next up on the jam-packed bowl agenda: It's Thursday Night's Poinsettia Bowl between San Diego State vs. BYU (see preview below) and that's followed by Friday Night's Beef O'Brady Bowl between Central Florida vs. Ball State and than on Saturday it's an afternoon twin-bill with the New Orleans Bowl at 12 noon ET (that's UL-Lafayette vs. East Carolina) and the Las Vegas Bowl (that's Boise State vs. Washington). Hey, there's still 33 remaining Bowl Games and so cash with 'em now and don't get caught out in the cold! Check in with us on Game Days either right here online or at our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 for all the winners and note the check-in times are after 1 p.m. ET for weeknight action and after 10 a.m. ET on Saturdays and Sundays.

THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL REPORT - THURSDAY'S POINSETTIA BOWL PREVIEW

POINSETTIA BOWL - Qualcomm Stadium - San Diego, CA
BYU (7-5) vs. SAN DIEGO STATE (9-3) - 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

Hello, old friend! The BYU Cougars and the San Diego State Aztecs go way back - in fact, this showdown marks the 36th time these one-time Mountain West Conference or Western Athletic Conference rivals will battle it out on the gridiron and note BYU - a 3 ½-point betting fav at last glance -- owns a commanding 27-7-1 advantage in this series.

Now, San Diego State hopes to turn the tables here in a veritable home game (the Aztecs won 6-of-7 games in their own backyard this season) with the nation's 16th-ranked rushing attack starring RB Adam Muema (1,355 yards rushing and 16 ground scores) while BYU claims it has not made up its mind who will start under center: Veteran lefty Riley Nelson (2,011 yards passing but with just 13 TDs and 12 INTs) or James Lark who threw for 384 yards and six TDs in a 50-14 romp over lowly New Mexico State back on November 24th.

One real key here: The Aztecs must contain BYU wide-out Cody Hoffman who has 16 catches and 6 TDs in the Cougars' two most recent bowl games.

Spread Notes - The BYU Coogs have split their dozen regular-season pointspread verdicts this year but did you know that the Provo gang is a nifty 4-2-1 ATS (against the spread) in bowl tilts the past seven years and that includes spread wins the last three in a row (versus Oregon State, UTEP and Tulsa). On the flip side, San Diego State's a rock-solid 8-4 versus the vig overall this season and that includes spread "W's" against Washington, Nevada, Boise State and Air Force (all bowl teams this year). Note the last time BYU and San Diego State squared off was back in the 2010 season and 4 ½-point road fav San Diego State lost 24-21 at BYU.

NOTE: Get all the NCAA Football Bowl Previews this week and next week right here in Jim Sez -- and watch for our NFL Week 16 coverage plus goodies from the NCAA Basketball world and the NBA too!

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