When it comes to NFL, expect the unexpected

The Associated PressDecember 18, 2012 

So you think you know the NFL?

Perhaps you can predict the future, tame the weather and forecast winning lottery numbers, too.

Those claiming to know what will happen in pro football need only look at what went on this wild weekend, which featured a half-dozen super matchups that didn’t turn out quite so super.

Nothing could be juicier than the defending champion New York Giants at Atlanta.

Oops: Falcons 34, Giants 0.

OK, then Denver at Baltimore. Delicious.

Sorry: Broncos 34, Ravens 17.

Houston, coming off an embarrassing Monday night rout at New England, against Indianapolis for AFC South supremacy.

Pffft: Texans, 29-17, to clinch the division.

For something even more absurd than the lack of competitiveness in those games, try this one: San Francisco 31, New England 3 in the third quarter.

And this: Patriots 31, 49ers 31 with 6:43 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Just when New England was on its way to matching the greatest regular-season comeback victory in NFL history, San Francisco turned around and won, 41-34.

“It’s a little bit crazy, a little bit surreal,” said 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who threw for a career-best four touchdowns in his fifth start since replacing Alex Smith.

A little bit? That’s the NFL this season.

If anyone thinks the weirdness has ended with two weeks remaining in the season, well, don’t count on it.

“The season’s not over,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said after his team that doesn’t lose at home in December (20 straight wins heading into the San Francisco game) or in the second half of the schedule (21 consecutive victories anywhere) lost. And committed four turnovers, nearly half the 10 it had given away previously this season. “There’s still a lot of football to play.”

Plenty of meaningful football. About the only thing predictable is that there will be lots of surprises in those remaining games, too.

Here’s what everyone can look forward to.

NFC

Atlanta (12-2) in the South and Green Bay (10-4) in the North are division winners, with the Falcons in position to get home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

San Francisco (10-3-1) will win the West with a victory at Seattle (9-5) on Sunday. But the Seahawks are 6-0 at home, have a dynamic defense to match the 49ers’ unit, and are oozing confidence thanks to a three-game winning streak and five victories in their past six outings.

The league moved that game to the prime-time telecast and NBC must be salivating after the Seahawks scored at least 50 points for the second consecutive week.

The East is in a three-team deadlock: New York, Washington and Dallas, all at 8-6. If either the Redskins or Cowboys win out, they’ll take the division. By the way, they will meet at Washington in the season finale.

Meanwhile, after three road losses in a row, the New York Giants need help from others to repeat in the division.

Very alive for the wild card are all three East teams, the runner-up in the West, plus Minnesota and Chicago, also 8-6. The Bears are skidding and banged-up, while the Vikings have a difficult schedule, but with the way Adrian Peterson is playing, counting them out would be foolhardy.

AFC

Houston (12-2) is in good shape to remain at home throughout; one more victory earns the South champion that advantage. However the Texans’ remaining foes, Minnesota and Indianapolis, are chasing wild-card slots. Denver (11-3) has won nine in a row and is a far superior team to the one that lost earlier this season to the Texans and Patriots. Peyton Manning has gotten more in tune with his teammates and the defense is fierce.

Plus, the West-winning Broncos finish with home games against weaklings Cleveland and Kansas City.

New England’s loss to the 49ers puts it in a precarious position for a club that looked like the league’s best before Sunday. If the Patriots beat Jacksonville and Miami, they will finish 12-4, but that might get only the third seed with no bye, plus possibly a trip to the Mile High City in the divisional round.

The North has Baltimore (9-5), which has lost three in a row, yet secured a playoff berth Sunday. The Ravens lead Cincinnati (8-6) by one game and finishes with the Bengals after meeting the Giants this weekend.

Cincinnati faces off Sunday at Pittsburgh (7-7). A loss pretty much eliminates the Steelers.

The Colts (9-5) should get the wild card after a win at Kansas City on Sunday.

Not that we’re predicting any such thing these days.

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