NFL picks

STEVE COAD -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 3:41 PM ET

Denver (12-3) at San Diego (9-6)

The line: Chargers by 9

The skinny: Tomorrow, 4:30 p.m. The Broncos have clinched the AFC West title and a first-round playoff bye. Meanwhile, the Chargers may finish with 10 wins, but their season will still be viewed as a bust. Thought to be as good as last year's 12-4 squad, this year's Chargers wimped out in December, sandwiching losses to Miami and division rival Kansas City -- a game San Diego knew it had to win to stay alive in the playoff hunt -- around an impressive victory over previously undefeated Indianapolis. The Broncos, sure to be tough in the postseason, plan to rest their wounded and semi-wounded starters, including running back Mike Anderson. For the Chargers, it might be a good time to save a little face.

Cody's call: Chargers 27-20

New York Giants (10-5) at Oakland (4-11)

The line: Giants by 8

The skinny: Tomorrow, 8:30 p.m. The Giants are going to the playoffs, but have yet to lock up the NFC East. That's because they're getting considerable heat from the Cowboys and Redskins, who share second place just a game back. Still, the New Yorkers, they of the balanced offence and unbalanced, in-your-face defence, need only to beat or tie the wretched Raiders to win the crown. They can't slip or get silly, though, because both Dallas and the 'Skins have relatively easy regular-season finales (St. Louis and Philly respectively) and, like the Giants, they need to win.

Cody's call: Giants 30-17

Cincinnati (11-4) at Kansas City (9-6)

The line: Off

The skinny: Sunday, 1 p.m. Despite being buffaloed by the Bills last Sunday, the Bengals have clinched the AFC North. The Chiefs, just to make the post-season, need to knock off the Bengals, have San Diego lose or tie Denver tomorrow, then have Pittsburgh fall to Detroit Sunday. The Chiefs have won 18 straight December home games. Cinci, in the playoffs for the first time since 1990, clearly expects to be competitive for years to come. The Bengals yesterday signed superstar quarterback Carson Palmer to a contract extension through 2014. In only his second season as a starter, Palmer has broken the franchise mark for touchdowns and made the Pro Bowl. The Bengals are the only team in the NFL to return all 11 offensive starters this season.

Cody's call: Chiefs 27-24

Arizona (5-10) at Indianapolis (13-2)

The line: Colts by 6 1/2

The skinny: Sunday, 1 p.m. Head coach Tony Dungy rejoined the Colts yesterday, a week after his son James, 18, died of an apparent suicide. Dungy is expected to be on the sideline (but probably not working) Sunday when Indy mops up its regular season against Arizona, which has a pass attack, but little else. The Colts have lost two straight, but it matters not as they've already clinched the AFC South title and home-field advantage through the playoffs. Still, no team wants to hit the playoffs riding a three-game losing streak. And losses to San Diego and Seattle are one thing. Bowing to the Cardinals would be a prickly pill to swallow.

Cody's call: Colts 31-17

Buffalo (5-10) at New York Jets (3-12)

The line: Off

The skinny: Sunday, 1 p.m. The teams have split their last 10 meetings, the Jets outscoring the Bills 225-200. Kelly Holcomb, a 10-year NFLer in his first season in Buffalo, is expected to be the Bills' starting quarterback. Rumour has it that if the players had a say, Holcomb would be the man. Most of the Bills think he's earned the right to challenge J. P. Losman for the starting job next year. Holcomb's completion percentage of 68.4 is on pace to snap Jim Kelly's single-season team record of 64.1 per cent. The Jets have a lot of problems, but taking penalties isn't one of them. Under Herm Edwards (since 2001), the Jets have drawn an NFL-low 393 flags.

Cody's call: Bills 23-20

Carolina (10-5) at Atlanta (8-7)

The line: Panthers by 4

The skinny: Sunday, 1 p.m. To make the playoffs (and possibly clinch the NFC South), the Panthers must win in the Georgia Dome, where they're 1-9. The last time Carolina won on the Falcons' home turf was in 1997 -- by an improbable margin of 9-6. This might be a good time to catch the Falcons, who, after a 6-2 start, have lost five of their last seven. Panthers QB Jake Delhomme has been fairly quiet in putting together an outstanding year. Throwing for 3,258 yards and 22 touchdowns, Delhomme is headed to his first Pro Bowl. The Falcons will be missing two key defenders: corner DeAngelo Hall (shoulder) and defensive end Brady Smith (toe).

Cody's call: Panthers 27-21

Detroit (5-10) at Pittsburgh (10-5)

The line: Steelers by 14

The skinny: Sunday, 1 p.m. Win and they're in -- that's Pittsburgh's steely postseason scenario. Actually, a K.C. loss or tie (vs. San Diego) would get them there, too. In last week's 41-zip chomping of the Brownies, Pittsburgh running back Willie Parker gained 130 yards on 17 carries, giving him 1,067 on the season and making him the first Steeler not named Jerome Bettis to go over 1,000 yards since 1992. The Lions are 25th against the run. Pittsburgh's third-ranked D has surrendered just one meaningless TD and 12 points in its last three games.

Cody's call: Steelers 28-10

Seattle (13-2) at Green Bay (3-12)

The line: Packers by 3

The skinny: Sunday, 1 p.m. My, how things have changed. Less than a year ago -- Jan. 4, 2004, actually -- the Packers defeated the Seahawks 33-27 in overtime in an NFC wild-card game. This year's Seahawks have won 11 straight and rule the conference. However, their starting secondary is sporting an ugly shade of black and blue. Kelly Herndon, Andre Dyson, Ken Hamlin and Marcus Trufant are all injured, never a good thing when the opposing quarterback is Brett Favre. Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck, the NFC's No.1-rated passer (98.1), hasn't been intercepted in his last 177 tosses on the road.

Cody's call: Seahawks 27-23

Miami (8-7) at New England (10-5)

The line: Patriots by 4 1/2

The skinny: Sunday, 1 p.m. It's generally agreed by those who follow the NFL that the Patriots are the last team anyone wants to face these days. Bitten horribly by the injury bug early in the campaign -- especially on defence -- the defending Super Bowl champs have won four straight. The Pats are December demons, winning 18 of their last 19 after Dec. 1. While Pats QB Tom Brady is 6-3 lifetime versus Miami, the Dolphins' D has given him fits at times. In October 2004, Brady passed for a career-low 76 yards against Miami -- yet the Patriots prevailed 24-10.

Cody's call: Patriots 31-21

Baltimore (6-9) at Cleveland (5-10)

The line: Ravens by 3

The skinny: Sunday, 1 p.m. By tossing three touchdown passes in each of the Ravens' last two games (wins over the Packers and Vikings), Kyle Boller has shown he can be an effective NFL quarterback. Finally healthy after an injury-plagued start to the campaign, Boller needs to continue selling himself (in a favourable light) to Ravens head coach Brian Billick. Along with his six TD tosses, Boller's numbers include completing 43 of 61 attempts for 542 yards and one interception. The Browns pass D is no slouch, either, standing sixth in the league.

Cody's call: Ravens 21-17

New Orleans (3-12) at Tampa Bay (10-5)

The line: Bucs by 14

The skinny: Sunday, 1 p.m. A tie gets the Bucs into the postseason. The Saints have won the last three meetings in Tampa Bay. But, of course, this has been a hellish year for Katrina-battered New Orleans. The Saints, with a minus-21 turnover differential, have won only once in their last 11 games. Having "home" games in New Jersey, San Antonio and Baton Rouge, La., hasn't helped. Watch for Carnell (Cadillac) Williams to drive the Bucs' attack. He's the lone NFL rookie to run for more than 1,000 yards this season.

Cody's call: Bucs 21-14

Houston (2-13) at San Francisco (3-12)

The line: Texans by 1

The skinny: Sunday, 4:05 p.m. The good news for the Texans is they control the No. 1 pick -- Southern Cal running back Reggie Bush, no doubt -- in April's entry draft. And they have their uncanny inclination to fall apart in the second half of games to thank for it, Associated Press football writer Paul Montella points out. The Texans have led five times at the break, only to lose four of them. And they've been outscored 139-45 in the fourth quarter.

Cody's call: 49ers 12-7

Tennessee (4-11) at Jacksonville (11-4)

The line: Jaguars by 3 1/2

The skinny: Sunday, 4:05 p.m. The Jags have won seven of their last eight games and have clinched an AFC wild-card spot. David Garrard, subbing for the injured Byron Leftwich (ankle), is 3-1 as Jacksonville's starting QB and has not thrown an interception in his last 117 passes. Leftwich is listed as questionable, meaning he's 50-50 to play Sunday. The Titans' run D has allowed four straight 100-yard rushers. If the Jags choose to play running back Fred Taylor with nothing at stake, he could be the fifth straight guy to puncture Tennessee for 100 rushing yards.

Cody's call: Jaguars 24-17

Chicago (11-4) at Minnesota (8-7)

The line: Vikings by 3 1/2

The skinny: Sunday, 4:15 p.m. Talk about a growl. This year's Bears, who have clinched the NFC North and a first-round playoff bye, have held opponents to 168 points (11-plus points a game). In fact, they're on pace to beat the team-record of 187 points surrendered by the 1986 Bears. The 168 points is the fewest allowed in the NFL this season. Heck, the Colts are way back in second at 234. Da Bears are 1-8 in their last nine indoors. Lately, the Vikings have struggled to run the ball and convert third-downs (six of their last 21).

Cody's call: Bears 17-13

Washington (9-6) at Philadelphia (6-9)

The line: Off

The skinny: Sunday, 4:15 p.m. With the win, the Redskins are off to the NFC playoffs. While the Redskins haven't decided who they'll play at QB -- Mark Brunell or Patrick Ramsey -- the Eagles should expect to run into Clinton Portis ad nauseum. Portis has gained at least 100 yards the last four weeks and has piled up 1,404 yards on the season, third in the NFL. Philly surrenders 3.7 yards a carry, seventh in the league. That's a bit deceiving, however, because the Eagles are 28th in overall defence and 20th vs. the run.

Cody's call: Redskins 24-10

St. Louis (5-10) at Dallas (9-6)

The line: Cowboys by 12 1/2

The skinny: Sunday, 8:30 p.m. The Cowboys can still make the playoffs. Of course, their first step is beating the Rams. Then they need either the Panthers or the Redskins to lose, so nothing is a lock. The Cowboys made a good move this week -- bringing back place-kicker Shaun Suisham, a Wallaceburg native who was two-for-two in field goals during a midseason stint in Dallas. Given the Cowboys penchant for close games, Suisham could play an important role for them -- and soon.

Cody's call: Cowboys 24-21

Season record

Straight up

Last week: 9-7; overall: 165-75

Spread

Last week: 8-5; overall: 120-92

NFL PLAYOFF BREAKDOWN

With eight of the NFL's 12 playoff berths secured, six teams head into the final regular season weekend battling to claim the remaining slots. A rundown:

In with first-round byes

Indianapolis and Denver in the AFC, Seattle and Chicago in the NFC

In as AFC division champs

Cincinnati, New England

NFC division titles up for grabs

East, South

In with wild-card berths

Jacksonville in the AFC, New York Giants in the NFC, though they can wrap up NFC East title with a win

In with a win

Pittsburgh in the AFC, Washington, Carolina and Tampa Bay in the NFC

Need help to get in

Kansas City in the AFC, Dallas in the NFC


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