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Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Updated: December 3, 5:07 PM ET
Sunday Countdown online: Your weekly NFL guide

Weekly Picks

Mike Ditka Keyshawn Johnson Cris Carter Tom Jackson
  Ditka Johnson Carter Jackson
Green Bay @ Detroit Green Bay Green Bay Green Bay Green Bay
Oakland @ Dallas Dallas Dallas Dallas Dallas
NY Giants @ Denver NY Giants NY Giants NY Giants NY Giants
Tampa Bay @ Atlanta Atlanta Atlanta Atlanta Atlanta
Miami @ Buffalo Miami Miami Miami Miami
Cleveland @ Cincinnati Cincinnati Cincinnati Cincinnati Cincinnati
Seattle @ St. Louis St. Louis Seattle St. Louis Seattle
Carolina @ NY Jets Carolina Carolina NY Jets Carolina
Washington @ Philadelphia Philadelphia Philadelphia Philadelphia Philadelphia
Indianapolis @ Houston Indianapolis Houston Indianapolis Indianapolis
Kansas City @ San Diego San Diego San Diego San Diego San Diego
Jacksonville @ San Francisco San Francisco San Francisco Jacksonville Jacksonville
Chicago @ Minnesota Minnesota Minnesota Minnesota Minnesota
Arizona @ Tennessee Tennessee Tennessee Tennessee Tennessee
Pittsburgh @ Baltimore Baltimore Baltimore Baltimore Baltimore
New England @ New Orleans New Orleans New England New England New Orleans
Week 12 Record 12-4 11-5 11-5 12-4
Overall Record 114-62 120-56 120-56 123-53
Mike & Mike's Stone Cold Lead Pipe Locks | More picks: Experts picks | SportsNation: Pick Week 12

Countdown Confidential

by Rachel Nichols, Sal Paolantonio and Bob Holtzman

Cutler looking to overcome poor play: Foot injury? What foot injury?

Eli Manning is continuing to downplay any health issues this week, despite a fresh round of reports that a stress reaction has been causing him problems in the same right foot that was plagued by plantar fasciitis earlier this season. Manning acknowledges he's had to spend more time in the training room lately, but that's about it. On Wednesday, he said "the foot feels great, it really does. It feels better than it ever has been since I originally injured it."

Eli Manning

Andrew Mills/The Star-Ledger/US Presswire

Jay Cutler has struggled in his first season in Chicago, leading the league with 18 interceptions.

Manning insists he has no problems moving around the field, and in fact his numbers bear him out. Despite the Giants 6-5 record, Manning's is racking up his highest-ever completion percentage (60.5 percent) as a Giants quarterback. He's currently on pace for 26 touchdown passes, which would also be a career-high, and while his 10 interceptions already match the 10 he threw in 16 games last season, he's nowhere close to the 20 picks he threw in 2007, the year the Giants won the Super Bowl.

That's hardly to say that Manning's been perfect of late -- some of the mistakes he has been making have been particularly ill-timed and contributed to the Giants' current slide. Yet he doesn't think he -- nor his foot -- is the team's main problem.

"I thought in the Atlanta game I moved around well and threw the ball well," he said. "I didn't play as well in Denver as I wanted to. I thought the second half we played a lot better, got into a rhythm, moved the ball, and did some good things. We had some self-inflicted problems that kept us from scoring points, but I still feel good. I feel like I can go out there and perform at the level I want to play."

-- Rachel Nichols

Vick could make impact against former team: This is not the way Michael Vick wanted to come back to Atlanta -- as a back-up quarterback, relegated to occasional wildcat and red zone duties. By this time, he thought he'd be a starter, leading his new team out of the Georgia Dome tunnel, the returning, conquering hero.

Not to be. Not yet.

Still, his long climb back to respectability with the Eagles has given him a strong center of gravity in a football life that has floated precariously between pyrotechnic highlights and internet scorn.

So, he returns to the Georgia Dome on Sunday, knowing things could be much better, but they also could be much worse. Thus, his long-awaited return to Atlanta to play his former team, the Falcons, feels bittersweet.

"Mixed emotions right now -- excited and sad in so many ways," said Vick. "I've been thinking about all the great memories that I have. That's where I started my career. So, I think it's going to be mixed emotions when I get down there and a very emotional day for me. Hopefully it will be a standing ovation but I think it may be 50-50. I hurt a lot of people. I let a lot of people down. I've just got to expect the worst and hope for the best."

Considering the Eagles have invested about $2.1 million in him ($1.5 million salary and $500,000 in donations to animal rights groups), Vick's contributions, thus far, have been minimal: just 71 total yards in eight games: 65 yards rushing, with 34 of those yards coming on a quarterback draw against Chicago; and just six yards passing.

But his role could increase dramatically in front of his old home crowd on Sunday. The Eagles have only three healthy veteran wide receivers. So, don't be surprised if Vick lines up at wide out.

-- Sal Paolantonio

Ravens offense out of sync:Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward spent much of this week apologizing. First to head coach Mike Tomlin. Then to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

"He reached out to me and I told him I was just more hurt than anything," Roethlisberger said. "It's a dead issue now for us. We're moving on and getting past it."

Ward said before last Sunday's game in Baltimore that about half the locker room felt Roethlisberger should have tried to play despite post-concussion headaches. After apologizing to Roethisberger on Monday, Ward also expressed regret to the entire Steelers team in a locker room meeting on Wednesday.

"I'm proud of him that he stepped up in that way," safety Ryan Clark said. "But for us it really wasn't needed."

"I could really care less about it," center Justin Hartwig told me. "We're here and we play football and we're a team and we're unified. I don't think it's anything that was a distraction for us at all."

Roethlisberger suffered his fourth concussion in four years November 22 in Kansas City. He said on Thursday that he hadn't had a headache since last week and that he planned to start against the Raiders on Sunday.

-- Bob Holtzman

Week 13: Numbers Crunching

by Aaron Schatz,

Each week, Football Outsiders takes a look at every game with a mix of interesting numbers and in-depth statistical analysis. Football Outsiders stats explained here. (All times Eastern.)

Eagles at Falcons, 1 p.m.

Philadelphia's defense ranks third overall in DVOA, but just 25th in "late and close" situations (second half or overtime, score within a touchdown).

Atlanta goes shotgun on 31 percent of offensive snaps, not counting "Wildcat" style plays, but has only handed off to a running back four times -- less than two percent of all shotgun snaps. No offense in the NFL is as predictable out of the shotgun.

• More Eagles-Falcons: Intel Report

Titans at Colts, 1 p.m.

One reason the Colts' 11-0 record is even more incredible than you might think: Indianapolis has had terrible luck when it comes to aspects of special teams that they can't control. Opposing kickers average 69.1 yards per kickoff, tied for third in the NFL. Opposing field-goal kickers are 22-for-26, with one of the misses being a nearly-impossible 63-yarder by Jacksonville's Josh Scobee. Indianapolis opponents have hit 11 field goals over 40 yards, tied with Miami for the most in the league.

In plays we've charted so far this season, the Titans have given up 5.4 yards per carry in spread sets with just one running back, but only 2.3 yards per carry in standard running formations with two running backs. That's a bit of a problem against the Colts, because the Colts almost never use more than one running back

• More Titans-Colts: Intel Report

Cowboys at Giants, 4 p.m.

This game features two defenses that like to blitz and two quarterbacks that opposing defensive coordinators love to blitz against. Tony Romo has faced more than four pass rushers on 45 percent of charted passes, and Eli Manning on 43 percent of charted passes, ranking them 1-2 among full-time starting quarterbacks. The difference? Blitzing Romo doesn't seem to get you anywhere -- he averages between 6.2 and 6.5 yards per play no matter the number of pass rushers. However, the blitz really gets to Manning. He averages 8.1 yards per play against three or four pass rushers, but just 5.9 yards against five or more pass rushers, and this isn't a half-season fluke -- he had similar splits last year.

As for these defenses, the Cowboys send a big blitz of six or more on 16 percent of passes, while the Giants send a big blitz on 15 percent of passes. That ranks fourth and fifth in the NFL. The Cowboys are also high in percentage of five-man pass rushes, although the Giants don't send five as often. Both teams have allowed fewer yards per pass this year when blitzing.

• More Cowboys-Giants: Intel Report

More Week 13 previews from Football Outsiders

Fantasy Corner

by Matthew Berry
Kenny Britt
    Week 13 pickups

    Kenny Britt, WR, Titans (8 percent): Two important things happened for young Kenny Britt over the past three weeks. One, Justin Gage got hurt, opening up more playing time for Britt. And two, Vince Young became an actual NFL quarterback, with good throws and everything. Since Gage has been out, Britt has increased his number of receptions in three straight weeks, scored in each of his past two and caught the game winner against the Cardinals on Sunday to cap off a terrific seven for 128 and a score day. (That was the third thing.) When you look at Britt's playoff schedule (starting in Week 14) and see he gets St. Louis, Miami, San Diego and Seattle, you can't help but smile.

    Jason Avant, WR, Eagles (2 percent): I like Jeremy Maclin as well, but he's mentioned above. And look at what Avant has done in the past three weeks. He had eight for 156 at San Diego, a touchdown at Chicago and five for 94 against Washington. With DeSean Jackson now likely out and the Falcons' 27th-ranked pass defense on the docket Sunday, I really like Avant.

    Jason Campbell, QB, Redskins (19 percent): Before you accuse me of being a total Redskins homer (guilty, incidentally), you should check these numbers out: Since Sherm Lewis took over the play calling, Campbell has put up the following fantasy point totals: 15, 13, 12, 8, 19. That's 67 points in his past five games

    Complete Berry column

On This Week

Sunday, 11 a.m. ET

  • Tennessee hasn't lost since Jeff Fisher wore a Peyton Manning jersey. With the Titans and Colts facing off, Greg Garber details the jersey's story -- with the help of country music star Martina McBride.

  • Cowboys LB DeMarcus Ware and his wife Taniqua endured two stillbirths and a miscarriage before adopting a daughter earlier this year. E60's Michael Smith details Ware's emotional path towards fatherhood.

  • Vikings DE Jared Allen may lead the NFC in sacks, but his heart has always been on the other side of the ball. The Mayne Event forecasts a potential Favre/Allen QB controversy in Minnesota.

  • To tell or not to tell your team doctor how you really feel? What is the dilemma like for current players to disclose their injuries each week? The Countdown crew debates.

  • Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter team up on Sunday Headlines and report all the latest news from the stadiums, including "Who's In, Who's Out."

  • Follow all the happenings on Sunday Countdown on Twitter here.


Chat Wrap

with Chris Mortensen

Percy Harvin

Tillman (Raleigh): Hey Mort, are we witnessing a budding star in Percy Harvin? Do you think he can only get better or is he just overachieving because of Brett Favre's right arm?

Mort: If Harvin stays grounded in maturity, he's a star in the making, even when Favre is gone.

Ryan (San Diego): Why are the Chargers not considered a threat in the AFC? Everyone is talking about the Colts, but the Chargers own those guys

Mort: Lot of attention goes to an undefeated team but there's no question that the Chargers are very much a threat to beat the Colts or anybody else, for that matter. Not ruling them out at all.

Dennis Dixon

Chris (Ann Arbor, MI): Mort, do you think we'll see Dennis Dixon in some packages for the Steelers going forward? As productive as their offense has been, it's predictable and makes no adjustments when things aren't working. Harken back to the days when Kordell Stewart would play a few snaps each week. It's tough to prepare for.

Mort: I wouldn't be surprised. I thought he had some real good moments the other night and we have a tendency to forget this Dixon was a legit Heisman candidate at Oregon before he got hurt. Plus, getting him some snaps in games would help prepare him for those days when Big Ben falls.

Complete chat transcript 

T.J.'s Take

by Tom Jackson

Drew Brees
Saints, Pats provide elite matchup

Patriots at Saints: Monday night's game between the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints is that rare matchup that can be called the game of the year. It will affect seeding in both conferences, and it is a battle between two of the elite teams in the NFL.

For the Saints, a win would get them thinking about running the table to 16-0 and into history. For the Patriots, a win would convince many that they are the best team in the NFL right now.

Reggie Bush

Slowing down these potent offenses will be vital. The Saints' defense has been very aggressive in getting scores off of turnovers. However, the Patriots' defense has the bigger challenge because of how hard it is for visiting teams to win in the Superdome. There will be pressure to keep the Saints in check early so things don't snowball out of control.

One thing neither team can afford is bad special-teams play. Blocked kicks, bad snaps and blocks in the back all could be critical in this game. In any event, this is sure to be a game that will set the standard for the last third of the season and maybe even beyond.

Complete Week 12 coverage