Revived Bengals shouldn't take Bills lightly

STEVE COAD -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 12:43 PM ET

Buffalo (4-10) at Cincinnati (11-3)

The line: Bengals by 3 1/2

The skinny: Tomorrow, 1 p.m. Football life is good again in Cinci. The Bungles of brutal seasons past have morphed into the playoff-bound Bengals, a first since 1990. Actually, this campaign's heroics will snap an even more dreadful run: 14 straight losing seasons. Bengals' merchandise has been flying off the shelves like a Carson Palmer pass since they clinched the AFC North division title by pounding the toothless Lions 41-17 Sunday. According to a Miami-based market research outfit, sales of Cinci tiger stripes have nearly quadrupled compared to the same period a year ago. As many feared they would, the Bills are living to regret the ditching of Drew Bledsoe -- now a Dallas Cowboy -- in favour of so-so quarterback prospect J. P. Losman. Even though the Bengals have every reason to go easy this week, they wouldn't dare lose at home to a team like the Bills. Would they?

Cody's call: Bengals 27-23

Detroit (4-10) vs. New Orleans (3-11)

The line: Saints by 3

The skinny: Tomorrow, 1 p.m. at San Antonio, Texas. Joey Harrington is getting another chance with the Detroit Lions. The third overall pick (Oregon) in the 2002 entry draft, Harrington was thought to be the answer to the Lions' struggles at quarterback. Harrington has shown he can make all the passes -- those requiring touch as well as the long ones -- but he's also proved he can't make them consistently. That's a significant drawback, big enough to cost him his starter's job when Jeff Garcia recovered from leg and ankle injuries in late October. In 10 games this season, Harrington is averaging around 160 passing yards a game with nine touchdown passes and 11 interceptions. In 53 career starts for Detroit, Harrington has launched 57 TD tosses and misfired 61 interceptions. Ugly numbers. The Lions need a thorough shakeup.

Cody's call: Lions 17-14

Tennessee (4-10) at Miami (7-7)

The line: Dolphins by 5 1/2

The skinny: Tomorrow, 1 p.m. The Dolphins have won four straight, tying them with the Bengals for the longest current winning run in the AFC. Five of the young Titans' losses have been by eight points or less. Tennessee's Kyle Vanden Bosch and Miami's Jason Taylor are defensive ends on a mission. Vanden Bosch is tied for second in the NFL with 12 1/2 sacks. With three sacks in last Sunday's 28-24 grounding of the Jets, Taylor has 11 on the season. Dolphins wideout Chris Chambers is just eight receiving yards shy of 1,000 this season.

Cody's call: Dolphins 20-13

New York Giants (10-4) at Washington (8-6)

The line: Redskins by 3

The skinny: Tomorrow, 1 p.m. The Giants are a win away from locking up the NFC East for the first time since 2000. If the Redskins are to have a chance of winning, they'll have to shut down Giants' red-hot running back Tiki Barber. Working behind a patchwork line against Kansas City last Sunday, Barber rambled for a Giants-record 220 yards on 29 carries and scored two TDs. Earlier this season vs. the Redskins -- a 36-0 Giants' win on Oct. 30 -- Barber ran for 206 yards, his career best till Sunday. Still, Washington's seventh-ranked D (12th vs. the run), has allowed just three touchdowns in its last three games and surrenders just 15.9 first downs per game, third in the loop.

Cody's call: Giants 23-21

Dallas (8-6) at Carolina (10-4)

The line: Cowboys by 5 1/2

The skinny: Tomorrow, 1 p.m. Don't blame the Panthers for relishing this matchup. With lots undetermined in the NFC South, Carolina's No.3-ranked defence -- fourth against the run, 11th vs. the pass -- will tackle Dallas's struggling offence. The Cowboys have lost three of their last four, never leading in the losses. Defences have found a way to exploit Dallas's offensive line, sacking Drew Bledsoe 15 times in the last three games. The Panthers have held nine straight opponents to less than 300 yards and are allowing just 16 points a game.

Cody's call: Panthers 24-17

Jacksonville (10-4) at Houston (2-12)

The line: Jaguars by 6

The skinny: Tomorrow, 1 p.m. Jacksonville, winners of six of its last seven, needs one more victory to make the playoffs for the first time since 1999. Jags wide receiver Jimmy Smith needs 94 receiving yards for 1,000 on the season. However, Houston's disastrous D has a history of minimizing Smith. In six career meetings, the Texans have allowed him to surpass 100 receiving yards just once. Houston QB David Carr has been sacked an NFL-high 68 times this season. Ouch!

Cody's call: Jaguars 28-10

San Francisco (2-12) at St. Louis (5-9)

The line: Rams by 9 1/2

The skinny: Tomorrow, 1 p.m. It's way too early to call San Fran rookie QB Alex Smith a bust -- especially considering the team he's on. Clearly, though, the first player taken in this year's entry draft is struggling. In five starts, Smith has failed to throw a single TD pass while tossing five interceptions. He's completed just 46.7 per cent of his passes for a mere 585 yards. He may catch a break Sunday, going up against the Rams' 30th-ranked defence. Even worse, the 49ers are ranked 32nd (uh, last).

Cody's call: Rams 27-17

San Diego (9-5) at Kansas City (8-6)

The line: Chiefs by 1

The skinny: Tomorrow, 1 p.m. The Chiefs have won 17 consecutive home games in December dating back to 1997, Associated Press football writer Paul Montella points out. That's bad news for the Chargers, who need to win their last two (plus get help) if they're to make the playoffs. San Diego toppled the Chiefs at home Oct. 30, an eight-point game dominated by Antonio Gates, who snagged 10 passes for 145 yards and three touchdowns. K.C. is next-to-last in pass D, giving up an average of 243 yards a game. Chiefs' bruising running back Larry Johnson goes at a defence that hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 16 games and is ranked No. 1.

Cody's call: Chiefs 27-24

Atlanta (8-6) at Tampa Bay (9-5)

The line: Bucs by 3

The skinny: Tomorrow, 1 p.m. The Bucs can catch a playoff berth, but the scenario is extremely convoluted and not that interesting. The Falcons, Tampa's Bay's NFC South rival, need a victory just to stay in the mix. Only one of Atlanta's eight victories has come against a team with a winning record (Minnesota). The Bucs are No. 2 in overall defence -- fifth against the run, eighth against the pass -- and they'll need it to slow Atlanta's top-ranked running game. Tampa allows just 92.1 rushing yards a game -- 3.4 yards a carry.

Cody's call: Bucs 21-14

Pittsburgh (9-5) at Cleveland (5-9)

The line: Steelers by 7

The skinny: Tomorrow, 1 p.m. The Steelers have won in Cleveland each of the last four seasons. By beating the Browns this week and Detroit on New Year's Day, the Steelers will finish 11-5. Only one team with an 11-5 record -- the Denver Broncos in 1985 -- has missed the playoffs since the NFL went to a 16-game season in 1978. There's a mathematical chance on it happening this year -- but, please, don't ask me to explain how. The Browns will have rookie Charlie Frye at quarterback again. In getting his first win as an NFL starter last week -- 9-7 over Oakland -- Frye threw for 198 yards.

Cody's call: Steelers 27-7

Philadelphia (6-8) at Arizona (4-10)

The line: Cardinals by 1

The skinny: Tomorrow, 4:05 p.m. Both teams have been in a season-long funk when it comes to running the ball. The Cardinals are full value for their bottom-of-the-pile run ranking -- No. 32. As a team, Arizona still needs 66 rushing yards to hit 1,000 on the season. The Cards have yet to run for 100 yards in a game this season, and are averaging a league-low 3.1 yards a carry. They have but one rushing TD all season. The Eagles are not built for the ground either. Their 26th-ranked running attack is averaging just 92.4 yards a game. Josh McCown is starting at QB for the Cards in place of the injured Kurt Warner (knee).

Cody's call: Eagles 21-17

Indianapolis (13-1) at Seattle (12-2)

The line: Off

The skinny: Tomorrow, 4:15 p.m. The death early yesterday of James Dungy, the 18-year-old son of Colts head coach Tony Dungy, renders this game meaningless and inconsequential. Dungy has left the Colts in Seattle to be with his family in Florida, and team president Bill Polian says assistant head coach Jim Caldwell will guide the club against the Seahawks. Going undefeated is no longer a concern for the Colts, their 26-17 loss to the Chargers Sunday ruining that. Still, the AFC South champion Colts have clinched home-field advantage through the playoffs. The Seahawks are flying high, too, having clinched the NFC West division and a first-round playoff bye. So the game that a week ago seemed monumental might be little more than a glorified scrimmage. All said and done, perhaps the Colts will dig deep for Dungy.

Cody's call: Colts 27-25

Oakland (4-10) at Denver (11-3)

The line: Broncos by 13

The skinny: Tomorrow, 4:15 p.m. Best case, this is a tough assignment for the Raiders. Now, with LaMont Jordan doubtful -- his chances of playing are about 25 per cent -- with a toe injury, taming the Broncos will be a nearly impossible task for Oakland. Jordan is the Raiders' rushing leader with 1,025 yards and nine touchdowns, and also tops the team with 70 catches for 563 yards and two TDs. If Jordan plays, how effective will he be? Denver's run D, No. 2 in the league, allows just 84.6 yards a game.

Cody's call: Broncos 38-14

Chicago (10-4) at Green Bay (3-11)

The line: Off

The skinny: Sunday, 5 p.m. The Minnesota Vikings hate both the Bears and Packers with equal ferocity but, at this point in time, they need Green Bay to pull an upset. Chicago can clinch the NFC North with a win or a tie. Should the Pack actually pull off said upset (Ha!), the Bears will still claim the crown if the Vikes lose to or tie the Baltimore Ravens Sunday night. Meanwhile, Brett Favre will make his 240th consecutive start at quarterback for the Packers, despite a miserable performance in No. 239, a 48-3 blasting by the light-scoring Ravens. With the injury bug biting the Packers, Favre has been robbed of his weapons. And he's made it worse by making poor decisions and tossing easy interceptions. He's already tied a career high of 24 interceptions, matching the two dozen he tossed in 1993.

Cody's call: Bears 28-20

Minnesota (8-6) at Baltimore (5-9)

The line: Vikings by 1

The skinny: Sunday, 8:30 p.m. The Vikings could face Chicago for the NFC North title if, and it's a big one, they beat Baltimore and the Packers pull a huge upset on the Bears earlier in the day. The Ravens' defence is crawling its way back toward the top of the NFL. They're currently ranked sixth overall. In last week's 18-3 loss to the Steelers, the Vikings finished with just 185 total yards -- 25 in the second half -- and collected only three points on four trips into the red zone.

Cody's call: Vikings 24-21

New England (9-5) at New York Jets (3-11)

The line: Off

The skinny: Monday, 9 p.m. The Patriots have won the last five meetings against the Jets, and eight of the last nine, but the New Yorkers have taken the last four between the teams on Monday night. Sounds crazy but it's true. New England has won 17 of its last 18 games after Dec. 1 and 14 of its last 15 divisional games. And after their rocky 4-4 start to the season, the Brady Bunch has won five of its last six to secure the AFC East title. Brady has thrown for a career-high 3,888 yards.

Cody's call: Patriots 28-20

Season record

Straight up

Last week: 12-4; overall: 156-68

Spread

Last week: 10-4; overall: 112-87


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