Let the Bowls (soon) begin!

LET THE BOWLS (SOON) BEGIN!

AS TODAY'S JIM SEZ TAKES A SNEAK PEEK AT ALL 35 COLLEGE FOOTBALL BOWL GAMES PLUS THERE'S NFL WEEK 14 KEY PREVIEWS TOO!

No time to waste - we've got 35 College Football Bowl Games to examine plus a slew of NFL Week 14 tilts too and so let's get it rollin' right here with a reminder that we'll uncover this year's Heisman Trophy Winner in tomorrow's edition of Jim Sez. Now, here's a real quick-hitter look at this year's Bowl Bonanza ...

SATURDAY, DEC. 17

    NEW MEXICO BOWL - at Albuquerque, NM
    TEMPLE (8-4) vs. WYOMING (8-4) - 2 p.m. ET, ESPN
    The bowl season gets kicked off in Lobo-land with an underrated Wyoming Cowboys club coming in here near full-TD underdogs. Note that Cowboys' freshman slinger Brent Smith sported an 18-to-8 TD-to-INT ratio this year and about the only thing that knocked this guy off course was some foul-weather games in November while Temple RB Bernard Pierce (1,381 yards rushing and 25 ground scores) says he's healthy for this clash after assorted shoulder woes.

    IDAHO POTATO BOWL - at Boise, ID
    OHIO (9-4) vs. UTAH STATE (7-5) - 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
    Pass the chips, mate. This "Potato Bowl" on the blue turf may be tough on your eyeballs for TV viewers but how about tuning in for Utah State RB Robert Turbin (1,416 yards rushing and a rollicking 19 TDs) who may be the country's best back you haven't heard about this year. Meanwhile, this already ranks as a could-have-been-type season for the U-State Aggies who lost four games by a TD or less including that gut-wrenching 42-38 loss at 23 ½-point fav Auburn ... remember?

    NEW ORLEANS BOWL - at New Orleans, LA
    UL-LAFAYETTE (8-4) vs. SAN DIEGO STATE (8-4) - 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
    Here's what you need to know: The Sun Belt Conference was a whole lot better than you think this year and it's possible that UL-Lafayette, Florida International and champ Arkansas State could win their bowl games. Note that Ragin' Cajuns QB Blaine Gautier (2,488 yards passing with 20 TDs and 5 INTs) helped his team "cash" eight times in a dozen board tries while SDSU Aztecs did play five bowl-bound teams and so don't be quick to pooh-pooh their current schedule.

TUESDAY, DEC. 20

    BEEF 'O' BRADY'S BOWL - at St. Petersburg, FL
    FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL (8-4) vs. MARSHALL (6-6) - 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
    The FIU Golden Panthers might be the most athletic non-BCS team in the land this year - yes, we haven't forgotten about Boise State, Houston and TCU! - and here keep one eye peeled on wide-out T.Y. Hilton who caught a team-best 64 balls for 7 TDs. Note that Florida International did beat Big East tri-champ Louisville - at Louisville! - and this defense can be stingy as FIU yielded 18 points or less in each of its final four regular-season games.

WEDNESDAY, DEC. 21

    POINSETTIA BOWL - at San Diego, CA
    LOUISIANA TECH (8-4) vs. TCU (10-2) - 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
    Only game on this "dance card" and will be curious to see if "snubbed" TCU Horned Frogs go wild here after they failed to climb inside the top 16 of final regular-season BCS Standings (yet another stupid BCS-related gizmo designed to keep the likes of TCU on the outside looking in). We do know gutty/gritty QB Casey Pachall (24 TDs and 6 INTs) can chuck it from morning, noon to night but don't sleep on these Techsters who were snazzy 7-0 spreadwise in pick 'em or plus-points games this year. Good job, Bulldogs boss Sonny Dykes!

THURSDAY, DEC. 22

    LAS VEGAS BOWL - at Las Vegas, NV
    ARIZONA STATE (6-6) vs. BOISE STATE (11-1) - 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
    Now that Boise State boss-man Chris Petersen's declared his absolute hatred of the BCS system - we hear you, brother! - let's see if his uber-talented Broncos can hand this Pac-12 team a major beating (the Las Vegas oddsmakers have Boise State favored by 14 points and that's currently the biggest spread on the whole bowl board along with Oklahoma being an identical 14-point fav versus Iowa in the Insight Bowl). Note Arizona State enters this clash on a four-game spread losing streak.

SATURDAY, DEC. 24

    HAWAII BOWL - at Honolulu, HI
    NEVADA (7-5) vs. SOUTHERN MISS (11-2) - 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
    If you happen to be wrapping last-minute Christmas gifts, than this tilt from the 50th state will keep you company but will Southern Miss boss Larry Fedora be on the premises? He's headed to North Carolina but first the Golden Birdies would like to follow up that epic win against Houston with another "W" here and fully expect QB Austin Davis (28 TDs) to finish his college career with a blaze of glory. Hey, Nevada has covered only one game since mid-October and the Wolf Pack's failed to cover their last four consecutive bowl outings.

MONDAY, DEC. 26

    INDEPENDENCE BOWL - at Shreveport, LA
    MISSOURI (7-5) vs. NORTH CAROLINA (7-5) - 5 p.m. ET, espn2
    So, UNC's interim boss Everett Withers wasn't given much of a shot to land this position on a permanent basis - and so now who knows how hard the Tar Heels try here? No doubt frosh RB Giovani Bernard (1,222 yards rushing and 13 TDs) is a beast but Mizzou defense showed some major strong points this season and how about holding Texas to just five points back on Nov. 12th. Nice!

TUESDAY, DEC. 27

    LITTLE CAESARS BOWL - at Detroit, MI
    WESTERN MICHIGAN (7-5) vs. PURDUE (6-6) - 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
    Mark down this game as one of those gotta-have-it-type tilts for the Mid-American Conference: Western Michigan's veteran coach Bill Cubit has a high-octane offense that actually scored 68 points in a season finale win against Akron and WR Jordan White (127 receptions for 1,646 yards and 16 TDs) is looking at this game as a "coming-out party". Meanwhile, Purdue switches off QBs Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve (15 TDs but 11 combined INTs) more than a teenage girl changes outfits - good luck reading coach Danny Hope's moods here!

    BELK BOWL - at Charlotte, NC
    LOUISVILLE (7-5) at N.C. STATE (7-5) - 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
    Safe to say that N.C. State's come-from-way-behind 56-41 win against Maryland that clinched a bowl berth back on Nov. 26th was one of the top two or three amazing games this year (it was 41-14 Terps before State came alive) but now can QB Mike Glennon (28 TDs and 11 INTs) stay hot here against 'Ville crew that held seven foes to 20 points or less this season? Hey, State has to catch all of these passes as we've seen the Pack drop plenty of well-thrown Glennon missiles this season!

WEDNESDAY, DEC. 28

    MILITARY BOWL - at Washington, D.C.
    TOLEDO (8-4) vs. AIR FORCE (7-5) - 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
    No doubt the player-to-watch here is Toledo's do-everything WR Eric Page who snagged 112 receptions and 10 TDs this season plus he'll double as a kick returner too when the Rockets need a little jump-start. Look for Air Force to try and jam Page at the line of scrimmage here and so that may well mean QB Terrance Owens (15 TDs and 3 INTs) will have to look elsewhere for his big aerial plays. Note Air Force scored 35-or-more points in half its games this year thanks in large part to leading rusher RB Asher Clark (1,096 yards rushing and averaging 7.3 yards a pop).

    HOLIDAY BOWL - at San Diego, CA
    TEXAS (7-5) vs. CALIFORNIA (7-5) - 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
    All things considered this ain't a bad consolation prize for either of these five-loss squads and heaven knows whether Texas boss Mack Brown can fix this quarterback situation that's been broke all year - did you realize the 'Horns have thrown 14 TDs and 15 INTs this 2011 season? Expect both David Ash (3 TDs and 8 INTs) and Case McCoy (7 TDs and 4 INTs) to share snaps here but we say hand it to a healthy RB Malcolm Brown and get out of his way!

THURSDAY, DEC. 29

    CHAMPS SPORTS BOWL - at Orlando, FL
    FLORIDA STATE (8-4) vs. NOTRE DAME (8-4) - 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
    No doubt there will be plenty of turn-back-the-clock moments before we even get to kickoff here as the all-sports-network folks go down memory lane with some great FSU-ND games from yesteryear but the here-and-now says the Fighting Irish can save its season with a "W" but coach Brian Kelly's club must make hay in the red zone where mistakes prevailed this year (see early-season painful losses to South Florida and Michigan). On the flip side, the Seminoles believe quarterback EJ Manuel (16 TDs and 8 INTs) will spread the wealth and note the 'Noles have five different pass-catchers with 25-or-more receptions this year.

    ALAMO BOWL - at San Antonio, TX
    WASHINGTON (7-5) vs. BAYLOR (9-3) - 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
    We'll see soon enough if this is "Heisman Trophy-winning" QB Robert Griffin III leading the Baylor Bears onto the field for this clash inside the Alamodome. Griffin - whose gaudy numbers this year include 3,998 yards passing with 36 TDs and 6 INTs to go along with 644 rushing yards with 9 TDs - will be the center-of-attention guy here but don't sleep on Washington RB Chris Polk (1,341 yards rushing with 11 TDs) who has been a game-wrecker a few times this year for Steve Sarkisian's frisky Dawgs.

FRIDAY, DEC. 30

    ARMED FORCES BOWL - at Dallas, TX
    BYU (9-3) vs. TULSA (8-4) - 12 p.m. ET, ESPN
    It only seems as if the BYU Cougars accepted this bowl bid back in September but the reality is Bronco Mendenhall's guys have been major cash cows for the past month-plus (see current six-game spread winning streak) but to net this win/cover here than PK Justin Sorensen must be aces and he was wobbly all year long (see 14-of-24 FGs and just a 5-of-11 success rate from beyond 40 yards out).

    PINSTRIPE BOWL - at Bronx, NY
    RUTGERS (8-4) vs. IOWA STATE (6-6) - 3:20 p.m. ET, ESPN
    Betcha won't catch A-Rod or Derek Jeter freezing along the sidelines here! The Yankee Stadium venue for this now two-year-old bowl game is fun stuff but only way the "home team" from Rutgers has fun here is if WR Mohamed Sanu (109 receptions for 1,144 yards) plucks a couple of scoring grabs here against an Iowa State squad that really had the most to do with making this an all-SEC championship game affair (see stunning 37-31 two-OT win against Oklahoma State back on Nov. 18th).

    MUSIC CITY BOWL - at Nashville, TN
    MISS STATE (6-6) vs. WAKE FOREST (6-6) - 6:40 p.m. ET, ESPN
    Let's see if M-State boss Dan Mullen isn't named the next head coach at Penn State - it could have a real bearing on how the Bulldogs prepare for this bowl bash. Meanwhile, count us among the folks truly disappointed in MSU's 2011 campaign as the coaching staff didn't always "trust" QB Chris Relf (9 TDs and 7 INTs) while RB Vick Ballard had a very quiet 1,009-yard rushing season, didn't he?

    INSIGHT BOWL - at Tempe, AZ
    IOWA (7-5) vs. OKLAHOMA (9-3) - 10 p.m. ET, ESPN
    May we remind you that the Oklahoma Sooners began this season as the numero uno team in the Associated Press Top 25 poll and here they are playing a pre-New Year's Day bowl game ... not good! Okay, so anyone can lose as 29-point favorites, right (see Texas Tech 41, Oklahoma 38) and anyone could get roasted 44-10 in their rivalry game (see Okie State's demolition of the Sooners) - when does head coach Bob Stoops finally shoulder some of the blame? Last year Oklahoma took out a two-loss season on hapless UConn 48-20 in the Fiesta Bowl and a same script may be in store here should QB Landry Jones (28 TDs and 14 INTs) heat up.

SATURDAY, DEC. 31

    MEINKE CAR CARE TEXAS BOWL - at Houston, TX
    TEXAS A&M (6-6) vs. NORTHWESTERN (6-6) - 12 p.m. ET, ESPN
    This is what the holiday bowls are all about, Charlie Brown! Two .500 teams bucking heads in a pre-noon (local time) game and heaven help the A&M Aggies should they blow yet another second-half lead here. The soon-to-be SEC team axed clueless head coach Mike Sherman following that Turkey night loss to Texas and now we'll see what this coaching staff comes up with to slow down Northwestern WR Jeremy Ebert who nabbed a far-and-away team-best 71 catches with 11 TDs. Note that Northwestern's last two bowl games have been a 38-35 overtime loss to Auburn in 2009 and a 45-38 loss to Texas Tech last year ... is it time to "go over" anyone?

    SUN BOWL - at El Paso, TX
    UTAH (7-5) vs. GEORGIA TECH (8-4) - 2 p.m. ET, CBS
    Hey, Utah didn't fare so well in Year One of the Pac-12 (see 4-5 mark in conference play) but Kyle Whittingham's guys did sweep their non-league foes (wins against Montana State, BYU and Pittsburgh) and so this venture outside the league could be fun stuff. Note that the Utes do have 36 days to prep for Tech's triple-option attack while Utah's counting on RB John White IV (1,404 rushing yards and 14 TDs) to tote the holiday mail here.

    FIGHT HUNGER BOWL - at San Francisco, CA
    UCLA (6-7) vs. ILLINOIS (6-6) - 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
    Tickets still available! Don't ask us why UCLA was allowed in here with sub-.500 mark (yes, we know the Bruins won the Pac-12 South but so what!) while Illini first team since Pop Warner days to start a year 6-and-oh SU and then finish 6-6. No wonder "The Zooker" - that's head coach Ron Zook - was kicked to the curb following 27-7 loss at Minnesota on Thanksgiving weekend.

    LIBERTY BOWL - at Memphis, TN
    CINCINNATI (9-3) vs. VANDERBILT (6-6) - 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
    Hats off to first-year Vandy coach James Franklin who showed those Maryland folks a thing or two (the ACC school didn't let him follow Ralph Fridgen and that was a big mistake!) as his '11 Commodores covered 9-of-12 games and nearly beat the likes of Georgia and Arkansas. Now, this "home-field-type" advantage the SEC guys enjoy here could be key but Vandy would be wise to stick it in the belly of RB Zac Stacy (1,136 yards rushing with 13 TDs) some 25-to-30 times and than hope for some field-flipping runs.

    CHICK FIL-A BOWL - at Atlanta, GA
    VIRGINIA (8-4) vs. AUBURN (7-5) - 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
    One year after "War Eagle" copped college football's championship game (see Auburn 22, Oregon 19) this SEC gang is relegated to a New Year's Eve party inside the Georgia Dome and you do have to wonder how much does this game really mean to Gene Chizik's club? Note that Virginia is shooting for its first 9-win season since 2007 but Cavs' QB Michael Rocco (11 TDs and 11 INTs) must stay smart in red-zone situations ... or else!

MONDAY, JAN. 2, 2012

    TICKET CITY BOWL - at Dallas, TX
    PENN STATE (9-3) vs. HOUSTON (12-1) - 12 p.m. ET, ESPNU
    This season can't end soon enough for the Penn State Nittany Lions - the off-the-field stuff's been a nightmare and take note that the Big 10 team has scored just 41 points in its last four regular-season games. Scoring's no problem for the UH Cougars who exceeded 45 points on a whopping nine different occasions but why such a pop-gun attack in that Conference USA title tilt against Southern Miss? Quarterback Case Keenum (5,009 yards passing with 45 TDs and 5 INTs this year) should have been given a Heisman Trophy invite - says us!

    OUTBACK BOWL - at Tampa, FL
    MICHIGAN STATE (10-3) vs. GEORGIA (10-3) - 1 p.m. ET, ABC
    Both "Sparty" and the Dawgs were conference championship game losers back on Dec. 3rd but sure liked the fight Michigan State showed in that wild 42-39 loss-but-cover versus Wisconsin as opposed to Georgia's 42-10 loss to LSU - hey, Mark Richt's crew dropped more first-half passes than we could count and you wonder if SEC guys already feel as if their season was a success just by making it to that league championship game. Note that M-State is 9-4 versus the vig this year and QB Kirk Cousins (24 TDs and 7 INTs) might have been one of the top five senior slingers in the land!

    CAPITAL ONE BOWL - at Orlando, FL
    NEBRASKA (9-3) vs. SOUTH CAROLINA (10-2) - 1 p.m. ET, ESPN
    Good thing that SC Gamecocks head coach Steve Spurrier isn't a travel agent - he told folks following regular-season-ending 34-13 win against Clemson that he thought his guys would be playing New Year's Eve in Atlanta ... wrong! Now, ole ball coach hopes everything his club does here is A-OK and keep in mind QB Connor Shaw (483 yards rushing with 7 TDs) may be a bigger threat as a runner than he is a passer (see 1,218 yards passing with 12 TDs and 6 INTs).

    GATOR BOWL - at Jacksonville, FL
    OHIO STATE (6-6) vs. FLORIDA (6-6) - 1 p.m. ET, espn2
    Maybe the bowl organizers thought it cute to put Urban Meyer's new team (although he won't be coaching here) against his old team in this matinee tilt but our big question is why are a pair of .500 teams bucking heads in a Jan. 2 bowl game? Name recognition is one thing but the O-State Buckeyes finished regular-season play on a three-game SU losing streak while the not-so-mighty Florida Gators actually started off the year 4-0 ATS (against the spread) and then lost eight consecutive spread verdicts ... really!

    ROSE BOWL - at Pasadena, CA
    WISCONSIN (11-2) vs. OREGON (11-2) - 5 p.m. ET, ESPN
    It's an old-fashioned "Granddaddy of Them All" tilt with the Big 10 champs duking it out with the Pac-12 title-holders and the real question is will it take 40-or-more points to win this slugfest? Oregon enters this duel having scored 49, 49 and 53 points in three of its final four games and QB Darron Thomas (30 TD passes and 3 TD runs) remains the most overlooked superstar in the land ... agree? On the flip side, the Wisky Badgers scored in excess of 40 points on nine different occasions this year and stat-sheet stuffer RB Montee Ball (32 TD runs and 1,759 yards rushing) is a handful behind this all-Wisconsin native O-line. Note that Wisconsin's covered five of its last seven bowls tilts and now taking more than a handful of points here ... hmmm.

    FIESTA BOWL - at Glendale, AZ
    STANFORD (11-1) vs. OKLAHOMA STATE (11-1) - 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
    Maybe the Okie State Cowboys are not the biggest fans of the BCS system - but than who is outside the state of Alabama? - but at least head coach Mike Gundy didn't go bananas when his Big 12 team was denied a national title shot - good for him! His 'Boys are a field-goal-or-so betting favorite for this clash against ace slinger QB Andrew Luck (3,170 yards passing with 35 TDs and 9 INTs) but slowing down Luck and Company here may mean prolonged offensive drives with a nice run/pass balance and so expect to see lots of up-the-gut runs by RB Joseph Randle (1,193 yards rushing and 23 TDs) who could well be the not-so-silent assassin here in this desert duel.

TUESDAY, JAN. 3

    SUGAR BOWL - at New Orleans, LA
    MICHIGAN (10-2) vs. VIRGINIA TECH (11-2) - 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
    Maybe the maize-and-blue are back as Michigan's born-again season - starring QB Denard Robinson (2,056 yards passing and 1,163 yards rushing with a combined 34 TDs) and first-year head coach Brady Hoke - was magical but now ornery Virginia Tech stands in the way after getting trampled by Clemson in the ACC Championship Game and let's not forget that the Hokies were roasted 40-12 in last year's Orange Bowl (versus Stanford). Might V-Tech be listed among our "Best Bets" come the merry bowl season? Stay tuned!

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 4

    ORANGE BOWL - at Miami, FL
    WEST VIRGINIA (9-3) vs. CLEMSON (10-3) - 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
    Will the real Clemson Tigers please stand up?
    The ACC champs started the year 8-and-oh while entertaining BCS Championship hopes but than lost three-of-four before blasting Virginia Tech 38-10 in the conference championship game - and now Dabo Swinney's club is banking on freshman WR/KR Sammy Watkins (a team-high 77 receptions worth 1,153 yards and 11 TDs) to make the big play here against WVU bunch that has scored 30-or-more points in eight games this year. Did you know that the Mountaineers are playing in their tenth bowl game in as many years?

FRIDAY, JAN. 6

    COTTON BOWL - at Arlington, TX
    KANSAS STATE (10-2) vs. ARKANSAS (10-2) - 8 p.m. ET, Fox
    When we rank this year's College Football Coach of the Year candidates the names of Kansas State's Bill Snyder and Arkansas' Bobby Petrino must be placed somewhere in the top three (but behind LSU's Les Miles, of course!) and here a K-State squad that covered 7-of-8 games when in the underdog role this season will look to place plenty of defensive heat on Hog QB Tyler Wilson (3,422 yards passing with 22 TDs and 6 INTs) who should be one of the favorites to win next year's Heisman Trophy providing he stays put for his senior season.

SATURDAY, JAN. 7

    COMPASS BOWL - at Birmingham, AL
    SMU (7-5) vs. PITTSBURGH (6-6) - 1 p.m. ET, ESPN
    In case you forgot, the Pitt Panthers finished off regular-season play on a five-game spread winning streak and first-year boss Todd Graham now wants veteran slinger Tino Sunseri (2,433 yards passing but 10 INTs to go along with 10 TDs) to take fewer sacks and spot up more downfield targets - let's see how successful he will be here against a SMU team that staggers into post-season play on a six-game ATS losing skid.

SUNDAY, JAN. 8

    GO DADDY.COM BOWL - at Mobile, AL
    ARKANSAS STATE (10-2) vs. NORTHERN ILLINOIS (10-3) - 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
    Not sure if racing star Danica Patrick will be here for the coin toss (see sponsor, folks!) but this one should be high-scoring dandy with current totals price at 62 points ... isn't that too low? Arkansas State will be without head coach Hugh Freeze who left to take over the coaching position at Ole Miss and so we'll see how much that affects this tilt with A-State looking towards QB Ryan Aplin (3,235 yards passing and 18 TDs to go along with 605 yards rushing) who is ready/willing/able to shine against a middling Northern Illinois defense (yes, the Huskies allowed 60 points a in a win this year!)

MONDAY, JAN. 9

    BCS CHAMPIONSHIP GAME - at New Orleans, LA
    ALABAMA (11-1) vs. LSU (13-0) - 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
    "The Rematch" is here and let's see which Heisman Trophy finalist - Alabama RB Trent Richardson or LSU defensive back Tyrann Mathieu - puts a bigger personal stamp on this clash inside the Superdome. One aspect to this SEC/BCS Championship Game showdown that will get plenty of play is how LSU punter Brad Wing constantly puts opposing teams in dreadful field position - dare say he's the best college punter we've seen in 25 years and his field-position boots could make 'Bama have to go 80-plus yards to score here!

And now hear this ...

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers will win big-time in NFL Week 14 action with all of Sunday's key action and don't forget all the College Football Bowl Games that begin Dec. 17th while we wrap up the regular season with Saturday's Army-Navy showdown from Landover plus all the NCAA Basketball too. Go ahead and make sure you get all the Football and Basketball winners at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 or else go online right here online. The calling/check-in times are after 10 a.m. ET on Saturday & Sunday and anytime after 1 p.m. ET for the weeknight games.

NFL WEEK 14 - MORE GAME PREVIEWS

KANSAS CITY (5-7) at NY JETS (7-5) - 1 p.m. ET, CBS
Following their heart-breaking 17-13 loss in Denver back on Nov. 17th, the J-E-T-S proclaimed they needed to "run the table" in order to secure a playoff berth ... well, two down and four to go! Rex Ryan's club rode a fabulous fourth quarter in beating Washington 34-19 last Sunday and now the QB Mark Sanchez-to-WR Santonio Holmes combo must thrive against a banged-up KayCee secondary. P.S., the Chiefs have scored only two TDs in their last four games and one of them was last week's Hail Mary play in Chicago ... ugh!

MINNESOTA (2-10) at DETROIT (7-5) - 1 p.m. ET, Fox
The $64,000 question in/around the Motor City is can these Lions behave themselves after the glut of silly/stupid penalties have bogged 'em down in recent weeks If head coach Jim Schwartz - who is no picture of serenity, mind you! - cannot get a grip on his guys here than 7-point pup Minnesota could be trouble with Vikes' QB Christian Ponder (1,522 yards passing and 9 TDs) clearly is getting better all the time.

ATLANTA (7-5) at CAROLINA (4-8) - 1 p.m. ET, Fox
The Falcons already have lost two more regular-season games than they did a year ago en route to nailing down the NFC's #1 playoff berth and one reason for the fall-off is QB Matt Ryan has not been terribly consistent (19 TDs but 12 INTs) and no question the Falcs must make hay when they get into the red zone here and so gut feeling says TE Tony Gonzalez (66 receptions and 7 TDs this season) must be a stat-sheet stuffer.

NEW YORK GIANTS (6-6) at DALLAS (7-5) - 8:25 p.m. ET, NBC
Nothing like being on a four-game losing streak and still having a shot at landing up in first place by day's end ... and that's the case with the Giants who play archrival Dallas twice in this final month of games but was last week's "moral victory" against the perfect Packers the right tonic for Tom Coughlin's club? Meanwhile, know this about the 'Boys: They better get rookie RB DeMarco Murray in gear here. The kid was held to a mere 38 yards rushing in last Sunday's overtime loss at Arizona after he had averaged nearly 109 yards rushing per outing during the team's recent four-game winning streak. They play it again on New Year's Day ... whoopee!

NOTE: Get our final Heisman Trophy Report plus the Army-Navy preview in tomorrow's edition of Jim Sez!

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