The Pro Football Notebook

December 25, 2010 7:34 AM

Playing For Pride On Christmas Night

JasonGarrett.jpgThe NFL has one game going tonight, and it's not consequential, as Dallas travels to Arizona. So in the spirit of Christmas, that celebrates One who was born poor and in a manger, let's take today and run through the three games that feature that downtrodden of the NFL, far from the playoff conversation...

Dallas-Arizona: Any doubt that the Cardinals have completely mailed it in on this season were wiped out last week in Carolina when they managed to lose to the lowly Panthers. These last two games are just about John Skelton making his audition to be the quarterback next year. Dallas is playing hard for Jason Garrett and looking like a playoff-caliber team as the season comes to an end. However, the goal in Dallas is to be a Super Bowl-caliber team and that means getting much better play from the defense then they did last week when they nearly coughed up a 27-7 lead to Rex Grossman and Washington. The Cowboys can only lose this game tonight if they go out of their way to blow it, but I want to see if the oft-shaky secondary can have a true shutdown game on a night when DeMarcus Ware should wreak havoc with a rookie quarterback.

Detroit-Miami: Are the Lions finally showing their teeth? After a season of near-misses in which they beat the expectations of bettors, but not opponents on the field, Detroit has suddenly won two straight and potentially knocked both Green Bay and Tampa Bay out of the playoffs in the process. Miami has to deal with the problem of playing in a difficult environment--their home stadium. I've known their storyline was winning on the road and losing at home, but I was still shocked to see how stark the numbers are--they've only won one game at home all year, while going 6-1 on the road. This is their home finale, but I don't think things get any better. I like the Lions defensive front, I like the ability to make big plays to Calvin Johnson on offense and I think this is a team coming into its own and set to be a contender next season. Detroit wins its third straight.

Houston-Denver: This is a classic case of having to guess how motivated the superior team is. There's no question the Texans win this game on paper. Denver's defense does not match up to Houston's offense in any facet of the game, between the ability of the Texans to run the ball with Arian Foster, to Matt Schaub moving the ball around and targeting Andre Johnson down the field. Even with Mario Williams out at defensive end, Denver shouldn't be able to keep up. But...the Texans are in a complete free-fall, they know a coaching change is ahead and the Broncos are playing at home with Tim Tebow playing for his future NFL employment. Even though Denver also has a coaching change ahead of them, I think they're going to want this one a little more and motivation trumps talent in the parity-driven NFL.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary in the NFL, coverage of college basketball.  and bowl commentary in college football. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.

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