The season is over. Why hold back? This week's Lowdown features Nelson Muntz, Charles Dickens, Moe Howard, a Tom Brady Christmas album, a field guide to automobile horns and "Les Misérables" as you have never played it before. Plus: the 1981 Colts, the 1994 Lions, Ray Lewis and the 1996 Steelers, and the final (fingers crossed) appearance of Norv Turner in a game capsule. It all starts with the most important game of the week, one that could send the wrong message to two of the most self-important people in the league.

(All times Eastern; all Sunday games ranked by quality of matchup.)

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Cowboys at Redskins

8:20 p.m. Sunday, NBC
Line: Redskins by 3

The team that wins this game wins the NFC East, but also gets burdened with something dangerous: egomaniac validation.

A division title for the Cowboys will further solidify Jerry Jones' faith in Jerry Jones. The Cowboys have lacked many things over the last few seasons -- coaching autonomy, roster depth, an organizational vision with more depth and breadth than "Jerry Jones wants and Jerry Jones gets" -- but the one thing that is never in short supply is support for Jerry Jones, by Jerry Jones. The fact that Dez Bryant is playing outstanding football down the stretch only makes matters worse: Jones considers Bryant a pet project, so his turnaround further fuels Jones' belief in himself as Svengali Einstein Lombardi. This kind of ego-feedback loop almost always ends with Jones trading two high draft picks for a luxury player with bad knees/attitude/both whom Jones "personally scouted" (or saw highlights of on "SportsCenter").

A playoff berth for the Redskins will convince Dan Snyder that the future is now, destroying the decade of hard work it took to convince him that the future is actually tomorrow. When Snyder believes that the Redskins are a player or two away from the Super Bowl, he signs 10 of them, litters the roster with them, then watches with genuine surprise as his overpaid 30something mercenaries clash with coaches, go through the motions, or just age. If you love the scrappy 2012 Redskins, wait until you see the bloated, cap-busting, check-cashing 2013 team with Osi Umenyiora, Peyton Hillis (a Mike Shanahan favorite!), Dustin Keller and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on the roster. The least exciting thing about them will be their play.

This is all parade-raining: Redskins fans in particular should cherish the optimism of 2012, and both teams have done a fine job of climbing out of the holes they dug. But both teams still have hole-digging tendencies, and seat-of-the-pants decision-makers who don't sweat the small stuff. A win means a playoff berth (though the Redskins can squeeze in with a loss and a cavalcade of miracles). A loss means a reality check for a millionaire mogul who needs periodic hubris liposuction. Seen that way, this game is a win-win.

Prediction: Cowboys 31, Redskins 27

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Packers at Vikings

1 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: Packers by 3 ½

Packers problems: Randall Cobb drops at least one 31-yard pass for every 31-yard pass he catches, and kicker Mason Crosby is 19-for-31 on field goals, including an awful 1-for-8 clip from 50-plus yards.

The Vikings would kill to have Packers problems. You can hear them now, like the laid-off guy with three kids sitting across the dinner table from a cousin griping about the cost of hot tub installation at his summer home. "Aw, it's a shame that your multi-talented big play threat sometimes drops passes from your All-Pro quarterback. Do you know what our passing game looks like? We motion fourth-round pick Jarius Wright into the backfield. Then, when Adrian Peterson runs right, Christian Ponder tosses Wright a flair pass into the left flat. Sometimes, all 11 defenders chase Peterson and the play works, but all it takes is for one defender to read the play and Wright gets hit so hard that his body compresses like a tennis ball.

"And field goals? Our rookie kicker Blair Walsh is a whiz at 50-yard field goals (he is 9-for-9!), but here's the thing: We need every darn one of his 50-yard field goals, because if Peterson does not run for a 82-yard touchdown, our best drives stall at the 35-yard line. At least Crosby made all 46 of his extra points this year. Walsh made all 32 of his. Do that math."

Packers problems may be solving themselves. Jordy Nelson could return this week to take the pressure off Cobb and help the Packers clinch a first-round bye with a win. Crosby banked a 48-yard field goal off the right upright on Sunday and enjoyed seven extra-point opportunities to work the hitch out of his giddy-up. Meanwhile, Peterson grunted out just 86 rushing yards, sacrificing himself to a stacked Texans defense so the Ponder-Wright Princeton weave could set up lots of Walsh field goals.

Peterson gained more rushing yards in Sunday's "off day" than any Packers running back has gained all season. The Packers would kill to have some Vikings problems, too.

Prediction: Packers 28, Vikings 19

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Cardinals at 49ers

4:25 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: 49ers by 17 ½

After pummeling the 49ers on Sunday night, Seahawks defenders Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas accused Jim Harbaugh of honking his horn and waving at the Seahawks' team bus when leaving Candlestick Park after the 49ers' victory over the Seahawks in October.

Thomas referred to the inter-vehicular gesticulation as "antics" and claimed that Harbaugh "tries to be a professional in front of the camera," meaning that Thomas does not watch many Harbaugh press conferences. Sherman probably also said something inflammatory as well, but since he was snubbed from the Pro Bowl we might as well snub him from this game capsule as well. Harbaugh denied the allegations, claiming (believably) that he is usually at the stadium long after the visiting team has left. Thus, "Honkgate" was born.

There is a lot to unpack here -- Harbaugh's magnetism for this kind of controversy, the Seahawks' eagerness to play the "disrespected" card even before the best cornerback in the NFL got overlooked for the Pro Bowl, the very notion of Seahawks players peering down from the charter bus windows into passenger cars to discern who would dare honk a horn in post-game traffic -- but we refuse to do it, because this is the stupidest football story ever. In fact, if Bart Scott chimes in with an opinion, it will officially be the stupidest story ever, in all of human history.

The problem is that no one is asking the hard, meaningful questions in this controversy. What was the exact manner of Harbaugh's honk: its duration, pitch, timbre and volume? Different honks mean different things. Here are some examples:

Double Quickie: two staccato bursts in less than one second. This too-chirpy honk sounds like Neslon Muntz's "Ha-ha" from "The Simpsons," and should rightly be interpreted as an act of disrespect.

Double Standard: two medium length bursts. This is just a standard car-to-car salutation. "Hey, Seahawks, it's me: Jim Harbaugh! We just played a football game an hour ago, and now I am cutting you off in the parking lot! What are the odds?"

Single Blast: one long bleat, the Holland Tunnel "Howareya." This honk would indicate that the Seahawks couldn't figure out how to merge.

Shave-and-a-Haircut: another sign of disrespect, especially if Harbaugh included the "two bits."

Dixie: proof that Harbaugh drives the General Lee.

Without this information, we cannot interpret the honker's intentions, whether it was Harbaugh, Brandon Jacobs joyriding in Harbaugh's car, or some other imposter. If investigations reveal that the phantom honker also flashed his high beams, however, all criticism is justified.

Prediction: 49ers 30, Cardinals 10

* * *

Eagles at Giants

1 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: Giants by 9

The Michael Vick saga has become a rambling Victorian novel: "Vickolas Vickleby." Having risen to the heights of fame, fallen in with a pack of ne'er do wells, landed in prison, returned to the heights of fame, rescued his brother Marcus from various misadventures and seen his fortunes again change, we come to: Chapter the 47th: Regarding the sad fate of kindly Mr. Reid's workhouse, and Michael's last endeavors there. Vick starts Andy Reid's last game, against a Giants team with one last chance to return to glories past, and while it seems an unlikely coincidence that all three characters would meet again under these circumstances, Charles Dickens always got away with it.

The Giants cycled through their own list of purple Victorian storylines this season: pride before the fall, the lost virtues of a gentler time, an early season cough that had grown tubercular by late December. If they squeak into the playoffs, we should immediately consider them Super Bowl favorites who have finally reached maximum efficiency in their plan to look as unimpressive as possible in the regular season. More likely, though, the Giants have just failed to live up to their great expectations.

Prediction: Giants 24, Eagles 17

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Rams at Seahawks

4:25 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: Seahawks by 11 ½

Early in the season, the Seahawks were a very good fourth-quarter team. They caught a break with a blown call against the Packers, of course, but impressive fourth quarters resulted in wins against the Bears and Patriots even though the Seahawks looked very ordinary (particularly on offense) for the first 45 minutes of those games.

In the last three weeks of Hulk-smash, the Seahawks have become a great first-quarter team. They took double-digit leads against the 49ers, Bills and Cardinals by midway through the second quarter, then stuck each game under a heat lamp until serving time.

Great fourth-quarter teams inspire sportswriter poetry: the epic comebacks, the final drives, the clutch, swaggering swagger-clutching. The problems: A team that is only so-so for three quarters often does not get the chance to be heroic in that fourth quarter, and final-drive tightrope walks can fail if everything does not work perfectly (see the Seahawks' early losses to the Cardinals and Rams).

A great first-quarter team has a built-in margin for error: It can play for field goals or punt-and-pin while its opponent grows increasingly desperate, its playbook remains balanced and so on. Of course, great first-quarter teams don't create much drama and only inspire purple prose when they bust out three straight blowouts in the heat of the playoff chase.

Once a team is great in the first quarter and very good in the fourth quarter, we stop parsing things out and start calling them a great team. The middle quarters tend to take care of themselves.

Prediction: Seahawks 52 (why not?), Rams 16

* * *

Texans at Colts

1 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: Texans by 7 ½

Win or lose, the Colts are slotted with the fifth seeding in the playoffs. That's good news for Chuck Pagano, who gets to return to work under the closest thing to stress-free circumstances that the coach of a playoff team can wish for. But the Colts will not be resting starters in a game that is meaningless to them (the Texans are still on the bye week/home game treadmill). "We're too young to rest," Reggie Wayne said of his team full of rookies.

That's an "after Christmas" observation if I have ever heard one. "Say, guys, daddy is really tired from getting up at dawn to open presents, driving you to your cousins, listening to Uncle Carmine's political opinions for four hours, and being viciously hung over. Can't you just watch your new DVDs?" "Heck no, dad. Put batteries in our new Nerf ICBMs, assemble our new trampolines and help us beat the Javert-boss level of "Lego Les Misérables" for Xbox 360! We are too young to rest!"

When talking about the Colts, Wayne often sounds like a parent. Like a family of eager, energetic children, a locker room full of excited-puppy rookies, jumping at one more chance to prove themselves before the postseason, is a happy problem to have.

Prediction: Texans 27, Colts 21

* * *

Dolphins at Patriots

4:25 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: Patriots by 11

Tom Brady hurt his hand early in the Patriots' narrow win against the Jaguars, but he is OK. More accurately, the Cone of Silence has descended over Foxboro, so there is no news or discussion about Brady's hand, which may be fine or may have been amputated and replaced with the hand of Moe Howard. If Brady's mind orders "slant to Wes Welker" but his hand pokes Danny Woodhead in the eye, we know what happened.

OK, that last bit went off the rails a bit, but only because everything is status quo in Foxborough: a chance to clinch home-field advantage with a win and losses by the Texans and Broncos; minor, mysterious injuries; and over-the-top self-flagellation after a narrow win. "That was a bad 60 minutes of football," Brady said after the Jaguars game. "We got out-competed out there, out-fought. We were lucky to win … just a poor effort overall." Brady needs to record a holiday album titled "A Very Patriots Christmas: We're 11-4 Yet We Suck So Badly." It would save him time during late-season press conferences.

It is also business as usual for the Dolphins, who are a loss away from going 7-9 for the third time in four years, with a 6-10 mixed in for the wrong kind of variety. This 7-9 or 8-8 is different, because they have Ryan Tannehill (the fourth best rookie QB in the NFL!), but it is also the same. Twenty-three Dolphins are about to become free agents, including big names like Jake Long and Reggie Bush, and the team (which is in good cap shape) is already mumbling about re-signing players "at the right price." Just a few more years of 7-9, and the Dolphins will be ready to leap forward to 9-7.

Prediction: Patriots 27, Dolphins 14

* * *

Browns at Steelers

1 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: OFF (Storm?)

A snowstorm hammered Western Pennsylvania (and Eastern Ohio) midweek. In most years, the blizzard would be the perfect backdrop to an Icy Steel Curtain playoff warmup, with some poor patsy arriving in Pittsburgh just in time to be buried in a drift. But the Steelers are out of the playoffs, and just about every member of the organization can accept a sliver of the blame. "If you look at our years when we went 12-4 and went to Super Bowls, we didn't blow people out," Ryan Clark said after last Sunday's loss to the Bengals. "But, in these types of games, we find ways to make plays in the fourth quarter. That was the story all year. We find a way, defensively, offensively, or on special teams not to make a play."

The problem with all of those non-plays is that they defy quick fixes. The Steelers came up short in all three phases of the game, and in situational coaching, and they are an aging team at many positions. Snowstorms are great opportunities to slow down for a day or two, sit by the fire with a mug of coffee and take stock of the past and future. Meaningless end-of-season games against bad opponents can also be used that way.

Prediction: Steelers 16, Browns 7

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Ravens at Bengals

1 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: Bengals by 1

Ray Lewis has been activated for Sunday's game, but he won't play. If the Ravens beat the Bengals and the Patriots lose to the Dolphins, then the Ravens will just have to play the Bengals again in the first round of the playoffs. That is not quite counter-incentive to winning (facing the Colts, in Baltimore, may be a more appealing matchup for the Ravens, though it is close), but is a counter-incentive to having Lewis roaming about, snarling and risking additional injury.

In honor of all the quasi-relevant information presented above, we travel back in time to 1996, when Lewis first faced the Bengals. Jeff Blake was the Bengals' quarterback; Lewis recorded a half-sack against him in one game. Carl Pickens was the Bengals' star receiver, Garrison Hearst was their running back, and the Bengals swept the Ravens on the way to an 8-8 record. That was the best Bengals season in five years, and they would not reach .500 again for another six years. Lewis half-sacked, but Blake threw two touchdown passes, one to Pickens, in a 21-14 Bengals win.

Vinny Testaverde was the Ravens' quarterback, Bam Morris their running back. The team had just moved from Cleveland. The Ravens were (and this will make you feel ancient) an offense-first team, prone to 46-38 and 45-34 losses en route to a 4-12 record.

The top-grossing movie in 1996 was "Independence Day." The pop single of the year was "Macarena." Andy Dalton was 9 years old. Game previews appeared in things called "newspapers," which you willingly read. The only thing about a 1996 Bengals-Ravens game that would not feel unearthed from a time capsule is Ray Lewis.

Prediction: Ravens 22, Bengals 16

* * *

Bears at Lions

1 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: Bears by 3

Last week, Lowdown warned you about the Blame Deflection Crystal, a powerful talisman controlled by Bears coordinator Mike Tice that renders him immune from culpability. This week, Jay Cutler said that the Bears' offense needed more time and continuity to develop. "It's a difficult job where we had a lot of injuries on the offensive line, first year of the offense and you're expected to go out there and rip it up," Cutler said. "But it's just reality. It's the first year of the offense."

Oh, Jay, we hoped that your scowling impudence would grant you immunity from the Crystal's powers, but the very language you used proves that it has poisoned your mind. There were injuries. We need more time to gel, even though Tice was promoted from within specifically to ensure a smooth, quick transition. The job is hard, man. At least Cutler didn't blame himself; that would be some Voldemort-caliber magic.

The Lions' work ethic has become so bad that it infected the time stream: Lomas Brown admitted in a radio interview that he blew a block on purpose in 1994 so his quarterback, Scott Mitchell, would get injured. We knew Titus Young was lining up in the wrong place this year, but who knew that he was lining up in the TARDIS, traveling back to 1994, and planting ideas in offensive linemen's head.

Mitchell was a dumpy quarterback but a nice enough guy. There is only one quarterback in the NFL nowadays whose personality is so toxic that his own linemen would turn against him, and he has to be uncomfortable with this news story putting ideas in any teammate's heads this week. One quick stumble against Cliff Avril, and no more Smokin' Jay. We have played so poorly that no one would notice. And the injury would save The Master's Job, as it would be his excuse for missing the playoffs. Yes, great Crystal, what other secrets can you reveal?

Prediction: Lions 22, Bears 17

* * *

Panthers at Saints

1 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: Saints by 5

The Saints' defense is just 281 yards shy of breaking the league record for yards allowed, set by the Baltimore Colts in 1981. The Colts gave up an amazing 6,512 yards in a season marred by infighting among players and penny-pinching/drunken tantrums by owner Robert Irsay. (Irsay famously grabbed a headset and began barking orders during one game, and would reportedly stagger around the locker room after games, telling players they were fired. You can read more about the dark days of the Colts here.) The Saints will likely break the record thanks to a healthy assist from the bounty scandal, though interim coach Joe Vitt is not focused on the record and has told the team to start playing for next year's Super Bowl.

But Vitt himself adds to the unique connection between the '81 Colts and '12 Saints. Jersey Joe was a low-level assistant on Mike McCormack's staff in 1981. Vitt was also in St. Louis when the Rams coaching soap opera reached the point at which team officials screened phone calls to keep the hospitalized Mike Martz from phoning in suggestions. This is a "Murder, She Wrote"-level coincidence, and soon teams will start noticing that mayhem follows Jersey Joe from team to team.

Around here, we call that a joke. Unfortunately, in some circles it is actually being floated as a legal argument.

Prediction: Saints 34, Panthers 28

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Raiders at Chargers

4:25 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: OFF (Raiders QBs)

Carson Palmer has cracked ribs and a bruised lung, so Raiders coach Dennis Allen is trying to decide between Matt Leinart, Terrelle Pryor and some neo-Jetsian nightmarish compromise in which both are given an offensive role but receiver Rod Streater out-passes them on one wildcat play. Poor Carson Palmer. Poor Dennis Allen. And poor Terrelle Pryor, who got a resounding "meh" from his head coach on Monday. "He's still a work in progress," Allen said, adding that Pryor needs to work on "his footwork in the passing game, going through his reads, going through his progressions." So, what exactly has Pryor been working on during his two years on the bench?

This is the last time Norv Turner will ever be mentioned in an NFL game preview as a head coach, or at least it had better be the last time Turner will ever be mentioned in an NFL game preview as a head coach. However, it is probably not the last time we use the phrase "neo-Jetsian nightmarish compromise."

Prediction: Chargers 22, Raiders 6

* * *

Chiefs at Broncos

4:25 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: Broncos by 17

Five Kansas City Chiefs made the Pro Bowl. This may be evidence that Scott Pioli has hundreds of screen names and votes thousands of times. It may mean that voters got their Colquitt's mixed up: Broncos punter Britton Colquitt had a better year than Kansas City Pro Bowler Dustin Colquitt. (Dustin had many more punts inside the 20-yard line and did not kick in high atmosphere. Britton had a better gross and net, and his punts actually meant something.) It may mean that voters were casting about for a good linebacker with a zillion tackles on a terrible team to reward them for yeoman's work and decided that "Derrick Johnson" is easier to spell than "Paul Posluszny." It may just be an elaborate hoax on Richard Sherman, though no one let me in on it.

Most likely, though, it is just the NFL's final effort to destroy the Pro Bowl: If you were wondering if the players would rise to the occasion and play hard after last year's debacle, the prospect of a "Chiefs in Honolulu" television special should squelch your wonder.

Prediction: Broncos 27, Chiefs 14

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Buccaneers at Falcons

1 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: OFF (Starters may rest)

While the Falcons spray WD-40 on Luke McCown's shoulder in anticipation of a meaningless game, the Buccaneers must decide what to do about Josh Freeman, who threw eight interceptions in his first 14 games and eight more in his last two games. Freeman appears to be a kind of "mood barometer" who is oversensitive to his environment. When the Buccaneers are playing well, Freeman appears focused and determined, completing deep passes and making heads-up plays on the run. When the Buccaneers are grumbling and stumbling, Freeman plays like he was just stopping by the stadium on the way to a meeting with his financial planner. Many quarterbacks are only as good or as bad as the teams they play for, but Freeman manages to be 20 percent better than his team at their best but 30 percent worse than them at their worst.

However the Bucs decide to address this, one thing is clear: Under no circumstances should Freeman be allowed anywhere near the Jets organization.

Prediction: Buccaneers 24, Falcons 20 (assumes acts of McCown)

* * *

Jaguars at Titans

1 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: Titans by 4

Cecil Shorts is on injured reserve with a concussion. Chris Johnson plans to play on a sore ankle. So there go the two players you wanted to see, or who may have still had an impact on your late-ending fantasy playoffs. The Jaguars are battling the Chiefs for the first pick in the 2013 draft, but this game is otherwise both meaningless and totally uninteresting.

It is amazing just how few of these games there are on a typical NFL schedule. There are other meaningless games this week, but they involve stars like Drew Brees or Ben Roethlisberger trying to reach .500 as a matter of pride, or super-absorbency criticism sponges like the Jets or Chargers. This is a rare battle of teams going nowhere, with nothing tangible to show for their labors.

If the NFL expanded the playoffs to 14 or 16 teams, this game would still be irrelevant and uninteresting. In fact, it is mathematically impossible to expand the playoffs to the point where this game becomes relevant and interesting, because as the number of teams approaches that asymptote, the playoffs themselves become irrelevant and uninteresting. This mathematical theorem will now be named Gabbert's Law.

Prediction: Jaguars 24, Titans 20

* * *

Jets at Bills

1 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: Bills by 3 ½

Attempts to sling mud at Tim Tebow have failed. Silly Jets, if the last 16 weeks have taught you anything, it is that no one in your organization can throw straight.

Prediction: Bills 19, Jets 14