This has turned out to be the week of the Mikes, and it’s a study in contrasts.
In football parlance, as you probably know all too well, “Mike” means the middle linebacker, but some guys run a 3-4 scheme. To keep confusion to a minimum during this week’s NFL Week 15 roundup we’re instead talking about Coach Mikes.
Coaches Mike Shanahan and Mike Munchak are probably next up in the firing range. So many indications are that Shanahan wants out and is working his darnedest to make sure his owner, Daniel Snyder - apparently now everyone’s favorite little devil - doesn’t pull an Al Davis maneuver and stiff him out of the final year of his contract.
The ultimate result in Washington is inevitable so all the details of this divorce are just so much manufactured drama because it’s about money and pride.
The hard decision is going on in Nashville with a team ownership that dearly loves and respects Munchak, but are unfulfilled by his lack of success. After 30 years as a Hall of Fame player and now coach in the organization, it will be very hard on everyone for Munchak to leave.
Obviously his coaching plan fell victim to injury, but that goes with the territory and like any business this is a results-oriented decision. Personal feelings just make some things harder.
Then we have the celebration of Coach Mike Ditka, who so inspired all of Chicago during the nostalgic glow of “Ditka Night” at Soldier Field last Monday that their beloved Bears all but buried the frigid Dallas Cowboys into the artificial permafrost apparently installed just for the occasion. (After all, when was the last time an uninjured Tony Romo had a mere 100 passing yards in a game? We’re still looking.)
It was nice that Chicago could celebrate a night of greatness again, and have the product on the field match the feeling in the air once more.
49ers at Buccaneers - San Francisco is getting its “A-Team” back and, as George Peppard’s character used to say, “I love it when a plan comes together.” Well, at least Jim Harbaugh can say that now. Because they still trail Seattle and have only a game lead over Arizona for the wild card spot, this road trip requires their undivided attention.
While Tampa Bay is no longer playing among the dismal and dejected, it’s still hard to imagine a rookie quarterback having enough success against the very tough defense the 49ers are putting on the field at the moment.
Jets at Panthers - So many times professional football is about pride more than talent, and after their embarrassing performance at New Orleans last weekend, Carolina has a lot to make up for, especially to themselves. While New York can still be dangerous, they are far too self-destructive to beat a highly-motivated and talented team on the road.
Chiefs at Raiders - Kansas City may not have the talent to beat Denver, but they’re darn close. If not for their slip-up at home against San Diego, this pick would be a lock. They better stay focused, but that defense is not going to be vulnerable to the limited offensive weapons that Oakland has to use right now. Except for their trip to Denver, the Chiefs are successful on the road and nothing on paper here gives one pause to expect an alternate outcome, but only school children play football with paper.
Packers at Cowboys - Dallas still controls its playoff destiny and they are glad to be coming home now that the holidays are here. Too bad they can’t leave their defense on the road somewhere. With no ability to pressure the quarterback and precious little ability to cover anyone downfield, this could actually be the game where Matt Flynn resurrects his career as a backup.
It is very hard to justify picking a severely handicapped team like Green Bay when it’s playing on the road, but following their destruction in Chicago, Dallas has simply got to show some kind of gumption somewhere before anyone should think about picking them to do anything but lose.
Saints at Rams - New Orleans is definitely a different team away from the Superdome, but the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis is not far enough away.
Cardinals at Titans - Yes, Virginia, Santa has delivered a defense dressed in red as Arizona has won five of their last six. They still must travel into that cauldron of fire in Seattle, so a loss here would be devastating to any postseason chance they may yet have. That brings focus, and Tennessee just doesn’t have the offensive punch to blur their vision.
Bengals at Steelers - Cincinnati’s perennial bugaboo is just waiting for the guys in stripes to show up and ruin their night. A win all but ensures the Bengals will make the playoffs for a third straight year, something never before achieved in their 46 years as an NFL franchise.
Meanwhile in Pittsburgh, three straight years of first round playoff losses is considered a slump. (The concept of success can be relative.) Cincinnati’s defense can be stout as Hoover Dam, and then you no sooner turn around than somebody’s opened up the spillways. One minute their offense can play lights out but flip the switch the next.
They are loaded with talent and their injuries have been manageable, but the Bengals continue to lack the discipline and consistency to carry them to the next level. Every time this year they have gotten to where they can put their proverbial foot down, they pick it up. They have a habit of doing that whenever they go to Pittsburgh.
Ravens at Lions - Baltimore’s habit of sleepwalking early in games and then getting hot late (best exemplified by that strange game against the Vikings last week) will not work against a defense that pressures and pushes as well as Detroit. If the Lions can avoid their penchant for self-destruction, they should outpoint the Ravens at home.