- The Washington Times - Friday, November 13, 2009

POINT-COUNTERPOINT

Each Friday, columnist Dan Daly and Redskins beat writer Ryan O’Halloran debate an NFL issue. This week’s topic: Which teams that aren’t leading their division could have a strong second half and reach the playoffs?

Ryan O’Halloran: Miami is 3-5 and three games behind New England in the AFC East, but there’s something about a team constructed by Bill Parcells that makes me think the Dolphins will finish strong. Miami should be 5-1 in its next six games, setting up home games against Houston and Pittsburgh to grab a wild-card spot. In the NFC, I wouldn’t put a fork in the 5-4 Giants just yet. They still play Philadelphia and Dallas at home.

Dan Daly: I’m a big Parcells fan, too, but the Dolphins overachieved last year. Almost everything had to go right for them to win the division, and they went quietly in the first round of the playoffs to the Ravens. Do you really think they could go 5-1 in the next six weeks? They’ve got four road games - Carolina, Buffalo, Jacksonville and Tennessee - plus a home game against the Patriots. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them lose any of those. I keep waiting for the Texans to finally break through. They won three straight and almost made it four last weekend at Indianapolis. Not having their bye until this week - later than other contenders - might help. Matt Schaub is playing awfully well at quarterback, whereas Miami’s QB, Chad Henne, is just getting his first taste of the NFL. I like Houston’s chances better.

RO: The AFC is much more wide-open this year. The NFC - with Tampa Bay, St. Louis, Detroit, Washington and Seattle - just stinks. I’ll throw another AFC team out there: San Diego. The Chargers finally may have gotten their wake-up call last week when they won at the Giants in the last minute. Norv Turner has Philadelphia and then visits Denver, but then faces Kansas City, Cleveland, Tennessee and the Redskins in the final six weeks. Granted, Norv is famous for getting the least out of a team, but that’s how much I like Philip Rivers.

DD: To me, it’s either Houston or San Diego for that last playoff berth in the AFC - unless the Broncos totally implode. The Ravens also have a shot, of course, but it hurts that they have to play the Steelers and Bengals a total of four times. The Texans and Chargers are in easier divisions. In the NFC, the only other possible dark horse I can see is the Panthers. It’ll probably come back to haunt them that they let the Saints off the hook Sunday, but they’ve got three of their next four at home, and all of them are winnable. If they can pull that off, it might come down to their last two against the Giants and Saints. Will the Giants be out of it by then? Will the Saints mail in the finale because they have the top seed locked up? Things like that might come into play.

WEEKEND PICKS

REDSKINS THIS WEEK

BRONCOS (6-2) at REDSKINS (2-6)

Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV: Ch. 9

Line: Broncos by 3 1/2

Outlook: This is a bigger game for Denver than it is for the playing-out-the-string Redskins. The Broncos stormed to a 6-0 start but have been blown out by Baltimore and run over by Pittsburgh the past two weeks. Suddenly, the Chargers are only one game back of the AFC West lead. The Redskins finally will break 20 points but won’t end their losing streak.

The pick: Broncos 34-24

GAME OF THE WEEK

PATRIOTS (6-2) at COLTS (8-0)

Sunday, 8:15 p.m.

TV: Chs. 4, 11

Line: Colts by 3

Outlook: The best rivalry of this decade renews (and maybe will again in January), and both teams are humming along. Peyton Manning is on pace for more than 5,000 passing yards; both he and Tom Brady have 16 touchdowns. The Patriots will take advantage of the depleted Indianapolis secondary.

The pick: Patriots 35-30

UPSET WATCH

SEAHAWKS (3-5) at CARDINALS (5-3)

Sunday, 4:15 p.m.

Line: Cardinals by 8 1/2

Outlook: Seattle is terrible - its wins have come over St. Louis (1-7), Jacksonville (4-4) and Detroit (1-7). The Seahawks were blown out by Arizona at home 27-3 last month, but the Cardinals are the classic up-and-down team. Oct. 25: win at Giants. Nov. 1: lose to Carolina. Nov. 8: win at Chicago. The pattern continues, and the NFC West gets a little interesting.

The pick: Seahawks 27-24

INSIDE THE AFC

c The chances are remote, but through eight games Buffalo rookie safety Jairus Byrd is halfway to tying Dick “Night Train” Lane for most interceptions in a season (14 in 1952). More impressive is that Byrd’s seven interceptions have come in the past four games. He has two picks each of the past three games.

c Huge game in the AFC North as Cincinnati (6-2) travels to Pittsburgh (6-2). The Bengals would be in total control of the division if they break the Steelers’ 10-game home winning streak. “We’re in a good spot,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “But in no way are we satisfied or patting ourselves on the back.”

c Former Maryland receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey is experiencing a tough transition. He has only five catches for 74 yards this year for Oakland. “I haven’t made the plays I wanted to make, but I’ve definitely been solid just looking at my grades that come out of the game,” he said.

c Brady Quinn has been reinstalled as the Cleveland starter. He lost his job to Derek Anderson 2 1/2 games into the season. If Quinn plays 70 percent of the snaps, an incentive is activated that includes $10.9 million in future contract escalators. It’s unlikely he will meet that standard after playing only 30 percent of the snaps through eight games.

INSIDE THE NFC

c Only Green Bay can relate to the Redskins’ offensive line problems. The Packers can’t block anybody - opponents have a whopping 37 sacks. The result is a disappointing 4-4 record and a seemingly overwhelming deficit in the NFC North; Minnesota is 7-1 with two head-to-head victories. And now the Packers host Dallas, which rolls into Lambeau Field on a four-game winning streak. At some point, coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson have to be on the hot seat.

c Cincinnati running back Cedric Benson is creating buzz for comeback player of the year honors, but don’t overlook New Orleans defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove. He served a season-long suspension last year for involvement in drugs and alcohol. He has 24 tackles and three sacks and recovered two fumbles last week against Carolina.

c Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt and receiver Anquan Boldin have tried to defuse Boldin’s comments about being inactive last week. Boldin (ankle) said he was ready to play and said “no one was man enough” to inform him he was sitting out. “I said what I had to say, and I’m done with it,” he said Wednesday. “For me, it’s not even an issue.”

BY THE NUMBERS

5,090 Projected passing yards this season for Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. That would surpass Dan Marino (5,084 in 1984) for the most in NFL history.

THE 2,000-YARD CLUB

Keep an eye on Tennessee running back Chris Johnson. He leads the NFL with 959 rushing yards and could reach the cherished 2,000-yard mark if he stays healthy. The five backs to reach 2,000 yards:

Player, teamYearAttYdsAvgTD

Eric Dickerson, L.A. Rams19843792,1055.614

Jamal Lewis, Baltimore20033872,0665.314

Barry Sanders, Detroit19973352,0536.111

Terrell Davis, Denver19983922,0085.121

O.J. Simpson, Buffalo1973*3322,0036.012

* 14-game season


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