It's that time of year again – the time I have an imaginary conversation with a fat man in a red suit.
True, I talk to myself in the mirror all the time. But only at Christmas do I wear the red suit.
But seriously – it's time for everyone's favorite holiday tradition: the reading of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," as reimagined by yours truly every year, just for the sake of figuring out who's going to win on Sunday. Again, with apologies to Clement C. Moore.
A safe and happy holiday to you and yours. Here's hoping MattE Claus helps you to a few extra winning picks in your office pools.
Atlanta (12-2) at Detroit (4-10)
7:30 p.m. Saturday, ESPN. Falcons -3.5 (51)
'Twas the night before Christmas. I took a look back.
Detroit's promise in preseason went all out of whack!
Stafford's stocking is hung by the chimney; no one cares.
The Falcons win easy thanks to Ryan through the air.
MattE’s pick: Falcons 34, Lions 20.
COLTS (9-5) at Kansas City (2-12)
Noon Sunday. Colts -6.5 (41.5)
Andrew Luck was nestled all snug in his bed
While visions of playoffs danced in his head!
He has no need to worry; the Colts win and get in.
An upset loss to the Chiefs would for sure be a sin.
MattE’s pick: Colts 28, Chiefs 13.
Tennessee (5-9) at Green Bay (10-4)
Noon Sunday, CBS. Packers -12.5 (46)
Up at Lambeau, there wasn't much clatter.
The Packers are in, so this game hardly matters.
MattE’s pick: Packers 31, Titans 13.
Minnesota (8-6) at Houston (12-2)
Noon Sunday, Fox. Texans -7.5 (43.5)
A win for the Texans locks up No. 1.
But one question: How much can AP run?
Peterson seeks history away from the snow.
He'll get a little closer – garbage yards, dontcha know?
MattE’s pick: Texans 29, Vikings 17.
New Orleans (6-8) at Dallas (8-6)
Noon Sunday. Cowboys -3 (51.5)
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
Playoff hopes for the Cowboys after another wild year!
MattE’s pick: Cowboys 31, Saints 27
Cincinnati (8-6) at Pittsburgh (7-7)
Noon Sunday. Steelers -3.5 (43)
Bengals, AFC North champs? That would be sick.
It still is possible, and that influences this pick.
Cincy's been surging. The Steelers? Not the same.
It's not hard to imagine Pitt going down in flames.
MattE’s pick: Bengals 24, Steelers 20.
San Diego (5-9) at N.Y. Jets (6-8)
Noon Sunday. Jets -2.5 (40.5)
Norv Turner will be fired! Rex Ryan's Jets could use fixin'!
Both teams are broken and the playoffs, they're missin'!
The Jets won't salvage .500 with their backs to the wall.
Now all they can do is start thinking about next fall.
MattE’s pick: Chargers 24, Jets 16.
Washington (8-6) at Philadelphia (4-10)
Noon Sunday. Redskins -6.5 (44.5)
The Eagles are finished and left out to dry.
But no matter on Sunday, the 'Skins stay alive.
They'll go one better with a win – a big one, too.
Just how big? Big. Because the Eagles are poo.
MattE’s pick: Redskins 34, Eagles 10.
Buffalo (5-9) at Miami (6-8)
Noon Sunday. Dolphins -4.5 (41.5)
Then, in a twinkling, the Dolphins had a chance!
But boy is it slim for making the January dance.
Santa popped out the chimney with a whoopee cushion sound.
"The fish stay alive, though they're not playoff-bound."
MattE’s pick: Dolphins 27, Bills 13.
New England (10-4) at Jacksonville (2-12)
Noon Sunday. Patriots -14.5 (49)
Santa wore a Brady jersey; he loves No. 12.
I don't know about his helpers; he didn't bring the elves.
A bundle of picks he held close to his chest.
"Records, schmrecords," he said. "The Pats are the best!"
MattE’s pick: Patriots 41, Jaguars 13.
Oakland (4-10) at Carolina (5-9)
Noon Sunday. Panthers -8.5 (46)
His eyes, how they twinkled! And the dimples? Yup. Merry.
"Raiders stink on the road, and Cam Newton's good-scary!"
MattE’s pick: Panthers 27, Raiders 17.
St. Louis (6-7-1) at Tampa Bay (6-8)
Noon Sunday. Bucs -3 (44)
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow.
"Getting to .500 is a miracle for some teams, ya know!"
MattE’s pick: Bucs 26, Rams 16.
Cleveland (5-9) at Denver (11-3)
4:05 p.m. Sunday. Broncos -13 (44.5)
He lit up his pipe, then took it from his lips.
"Not in the house," I begged. "The Wife, dude! She'll flip!"
He rolled his eyes; he didn't care what was smelling.
"How far can Peyton go? There's really no telling!"
MattE’s pick: Broncos 44, Browns 10.
BEARS (8-6) at Arizona (5-9)
4:25 p.m. Sunday. Bears -5.5 (36.5)
He was chubby and plump, but right jolly? Not this elf.
"Santa, don't worry. I'm packin' a few pounds, myself!"
He winked his eye and pointed a finger to his head.
"The Bears may not make it, but this week they're not dead."
MattE’s pick: Bears 27, Cardinals 17.
N.Y. Giants (8-6) at Baltimore (9-5)
4:25 p.m. Sunday. Giants -2.5 (47.5)
He spoke of more games while doing his work.
"These teams have been tanking, makin' me look like a jerk!"
And pinching both fingers around his red nose,
He whispered, "Ravens stink, Giants win – everyone knows!"
MattE’s pick: Giants 29, Ravens 17.
San Francisco (10-3-1) at Seattle (9-5)
7:20 p.m. Sunday, NBC. 49ers -1 (39)
He sprung to his sleigh and gave Rudolph a pat.
"I suppose you probably want the night game, too, Matt?"
Then I heard him exclaim, 'ere he ripped up my roof:
"Seahawks stay hot and get in. This is the truth"
MattE’s pick: Seahawks 27, 49ers 23.
Last week: 11-5 straight up, 11-5 against the spread. Season: 140-83-1 (.628) straight up, 114-107-3 (.516) against the spread.
Matt Erickson is an award-winning journalist whose NFL picks have appeared in The Times for 10 seasons. He also covers mixed martial arts for The Times, USA Today and is the assistant editor of MMAjunkie.com.