The land of football has never been clearer than it is right now as we dip our toes into some Week 14 action. We now know the Seahawks are definitely for real, and a force to be reckoned with that the entire NFC will have to contend with this January. They are the only team in the league to have a playoff spot locked up. The Broncos are close, and can get in to the tournament with a win at home this week. Green Bay and the New York Jets have taken a nosedive while the Eagles and Ravens have risen from the ashes. There were a lot of wild performances from Week 13, and this upcoming week promises to provide many more memories. The best games of the week include some potential playoff previews when the Bengals host the Colts, the Lions travel to Philadelphia to play the Eagles, the 49ers taking on the Seahawks in San Fran, and the Panthers test their might down in the SuperDome against a (likely) frustrated Saints team. Meanwhile, it will be do or die for the Dolphins and Steelers as those two squads square off in the Steel City. Also, an important game will be played on Monday night as the Cowboys and Bears look to fight their way through the weeds to chill at the top of their respective divisions. Indeed there will be some great storylines to pay attention to this weekend, and I can’t wait to see how the games play out. For now, all we can do is speculate. These are my Week 14 picks! (I went 12-4 with my selections a week ago).
Thursday, December 5th, 8:25 e.t.
Houston Texans (2-9) @ Jacksonville Jaguars (3-8)
If I didn’t know any better, I’d say this was going to be an awful football game. It is being played on a Thursday night, which typically hinders the performance of the teams involved. Plus, it pits two teams with a combined record of 5-17. The first time these two hooked horns (just two weeks ago), we saw a 13-6 final going in the favor of the Jaguars. This time around, it is fair to predict another ugly football game. However, I am going to go into this one with an open mind and a positive attitude. It is a divisional game; anything can happen. Hence, I am predicting a shootout (I’m up for a little fun). Ben Tate gashed the Patriots for three touchdowns last week. The Jacksonville run defense has been two degrees south of terrible this season, so we could see the man hammer it in the end zone another couple of times here. Tom Brady carved the Houston defense up a week ago, so there is a chance that Chad Henne could do the same. Although, I wouldn’t bet on it. We all know the Patriots had to cheat to pick apart that Houston “D”. Okay, Antonio Smith backed down from that accusation, but I think it’d be funny to see what he’d have to say if the Texans were swept by the Jaguars this year. For giggles, I’m taking Jacksonville at home. I promised you guys I’d take the Jags at some point this year, and I really missed the boat over the last few weeks. I may be jumping aboard too late, but hey, there is always room for a little parody in this league. The Jaguars will win by scoring a defensive and a special teams touchdown, I’m calling it now. Who needs offense these days?
Jacksonville 24, Houston 22
Sunday, December 8th, 1:00 e.t.
Oakland Raiders (4-8) @ New York Jets (5-7)
This match-up would have been much cooler had it taken place back in like Week 9, but seeing as how it is Week 14 I look at this one like spoiled milk. However, for you culinary fans out there, you can add a little bit of vinegar to spoiled milk and send it through a cheesecloth to create cottage cheese. Much like the expired milk, I see that something can be made from this game. For starters, it will be important to both squads as they evaluate their starting quarterbacks. Geno Smith has been on a Tim Tebow-esq run as of late, minus the miraculous wins. All noodle-armed jokes aside, he will need to play well down the stretch to prove to his coaches that he can be a starter at this level in the game. The same can be said about Terrelle Pryor, who we may see again before the season expires. However, as far as I know, it is going to be Matt McGloin going for Oakland here. McGloin looked solid against the Cowboys last Thanksgiving but this week he will be tested. The Jest have the #1 ranked run defense in the league this season, so he probably won’t have the luxury of spinning around and handing the ball off to Darren McFadden and Rashad Jennings. So we shall see how much money this rookie can make throwing the ball. Dee Milliner will have his hands full in this one because I fully expect McGloin to target him early and often in this one, working opposite of Antonio Cromartie. That said, I just don’t know if the Raiders will be able to maintain a happy balance of run and precision passing in this game. Even though he has looked terrible over the past month, I am predicting a solid outing from Geno Smith. If worse comes to worse, he can always feed Chris Ivory and Bilial Powell. I’m going to take the Jets at home here.
New York 24, Oakland 13
Buffalo Bills (4-8) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-9)
The Bills lost a heart-breaker in Canada last Sunday to the Falcons in overtime. Elsewhere, the Buccaneers got diced up by the Panthers 27-6. And now the all important question: what will happen down in the Bay when these two get together coming off of frustrating losses? If I were to bet money on this one, I would hedge towards the Bucs because of the way they had been playing prior to hitting the speed bump that was the Carolina defense. Tampa had a three-game winning streak heading into last week before they were mauled on the road. However, they still have a two-game winning streak going at Raymond James Stadium, that has to count for something right? E.J. Manuel will be returning to the state where he played his college ball, but I am going to guess that he has a rough go of it on Sunday. Say what you want about the way Greg Schiano coaches, he does have his team playing some physical football. With C.J. Spiller a little banged up with an ankle injury, I’d look for Tampa Bay to crowd the box and blitz Manuel… a lot. As of right now Darrelle Revis is listed as questionable for this game, but whether or not he plays is irrelevant. I like what I’ve seen out of Mike Glennon this year and I think he has a big day. Vincent Jackson could tear up that Buffalo secondary that has been had by the likes of A.J. Green, Antonio Brown, Roddy White, and Julian Edelman. Yes, the Bills have struggled with guarding against the opposing team’s #1 receiver, so I think Glennon should have a ball throwing it down the field to V-Jax. Give me Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay 29, Buffalo 16
Kansas City Chiefs (9-3) @ Washington Redskins (3-9)
The Chiefs have looked pretty bad defending the pass over the past few weeks. Luckily for them they are going to be taking on a team that has looked bad throwing the ball over the past few weeks. That is why I am going to take Kansas City to win on the road here. To be frank, I am not a fan of what I have seen from Washington this year. They really need to stick with the no-huddle offense for a majority of this game for them to have a chance. If not, I don’t see Alfred Morris and RGIII running roughshod on the KC “D”. For the Chiefs, my main concern would have to be their pass rush, or lack thereof. If they are able to get a surge on defense in this one, Robert Griffin III doesn’t stand a chance. Likewise, if they do not get a pass rush we could be in for another Sunday shootout. I say this because it appears as if Andy Reid has taken the training wheels off of the Chiefs offense and they are actually looking like a competent bunch. Save a few drops and an early interception in the end zone, Kansas City played a strong game last week against a pretty porous Denver defense. Since Washington’s defense isn’t any better, it makes my job as a prognosticator that much easier. I can see Jamaal Charles lighting the ‘Skins up in space and galloping into the secondary on a regular basis. Plus, I am going to have to see a lot more from the Redskins on offense, particularly with RGIII’s right arm before I pick them against a team with a great record. I like Andy Reid to win in his return to FedEx Field, a stadium that he has become very familiar with through his days as the Eagles’ head coach.
Kansas City 28, Washington 20
Cleveland Browns (4-8) @ New England Patriots (9-3)
Back in 2010 when these two teams last faced off, Peyton Hillis was on the Browns and he ran wild against a New England Patriot team that would go on to close out that season 14-2. The final score of that game? Try 34-14 Browns. Can the same colossal upset happen this weekend in Foxboro? Well, the first thing I want to know is who is starting for the Brownies. Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden have recently been concussed and former Patriot, Brian Hoyer, is on the PUP list. Therefore, nobody is positive who will be under center this Sunday as the quarterback situation in Cleveland has been a mess this year. Well, that is consistent with the last couple of decades anyways (ba-dum-tsss). The only thing that the Browns have going for them right now is Josh Gordon. He has 29 catches for 623 and four touchdowns over the past three weeks. The man is on fire. We shall see if New England’s ultimate cover corner Aquib Talib is a fire extinguisher in New England this Sunday. In other news, Tom Brady continued to roll last week as he threw for nearly 400 yards and a couple of touchdowns against the Texans. Brady has made great use of the returning Rob Gronkowski over the past few weeks as well as a healthy Shane Vereen out of the backfield. This guy will be the X-Factor on Sunday. If Cleveland can limit New England’s success on third downs, they have a shot. But ultimately I see the Pats getting back to their strength: the quick passing game. This will help neutralize any pass rush that the Browns hope to send at #12, and it will allow them to nickel and dime the heck out of Ray Horton’s defense.
New England 34, Cleveland 17
Miami Dolphins (6-6) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (5-7)
After Mike Tomlin’s shenanigans on Thanksgiving, it’s got me thinking about that time the Dolphins played the Jets back in 2010 where a New York trainer stuck out his foot and tripped a Miami player. Good times. Perhaps they should put a picket fence along the perimeter, separating the playing field from the sidelines. Hey, it could cut down on the amount of replays we would have to sit through in a game. That’s right, we are going straight up Arena Football baby! Now that I got that out of my system, here is some real analysis. This is actually a very important game for each team, especially for the Steelers. A loss would all but eliminate them from playoff contention as I strongly believe that the winner of the #6 seed in the AFC will have to be a 9-7 (or better) team. So what will happen when the Pittsburgh Steelers throw all of their marbles on the table? Also, what will happen when Mike Wallace makes his return to the Steel City? To both questions, I think I have the answer. For the former question, I can see Dick LeBeau coming at Ryan Tannehill with numerous exotic blitzes, forcing him to make a quick and decisive read, something he has struggled to do at times this season. For the latter, I suggest Mike Wallace take notes on how Antonio Brown is faring without him in town. Brown leads the NFL in receptions (with 85). Ben Roethlisberger will look to get him the ball out on the edge and down the field. The Dolphins caught a break last week taking on Geno Smith, but I don’t think their defense will hold up so well against Big Ben. I will take the Steelers in a game they simply have to have.
Pittsburgh 20, Miami 17
Atlanta Falcons (3-9) @ Green Bay Packers (5-6-1)
We have reached a fork in the road with this game. If Aaron Rodgers does end up starting, I would have to pick the Pack to win at home in temperatures that promise to be well below freezing. But because Mike McCarthy has played the roll of the riddler over the past week, I have to assume that it will be Matt Flynn starting for Green Bay in this game. If that is indeed the case, you can put me down for the Falcons. I like what Atlanta did last week against Buffalo. Matt Ryan played interception-free football and was able to reintroduce the world to Roddy White. Plus, they finally found some semblance of a running game, an aspect that has been lacking from this Falcon offense since Week 1. Please Dirk Koetter, put Antone Smith in the game this weekend! The kid is a beast. I’m calling for a three-back system in Atlanta. A productive backfield will allow Matt Ryan to utilize play action a bit more. Throwing it deep against this Green Bay secondary is like striking a gold mine this year; there is money to be made. That said, I will take Matty Ice to stay frosty at Lambeau this weekend ONLY IF Aaron Rodgers remains sidelined. But I’m lazy, I don’t feel like adjusting this section of the article a bit late if it is decided that Rodgers can play, so I am banking on him sitting it out. I’m taking the Falcons.
Atlanta 24, Green Bay 10
Detroit Lions (7-5) @ Philadelphia Eagles (7-5)
This is one of the more intriguing games in the league this week. It pits the #2 offense in the league against the #3 offense in the league. There are a couple of things you can almost guarantee will happen in this game: both offenses will put up over 400 yards (Detroit has been able to do this in six of their twelve games this year while the Eagles have done it in nine of their twelve). Calvin Johnson will have over 100 receiving yards in this one (simply because he is Calvin Johnson), and Nick Foles will likely post a quarterback rating over 100 (he has done this in five of his six starts this season). With all three of these events likely taking place in this contest, it is tough to decide who has the edge. Philly has been playing the better football over the past month, but Foles has to digress at some point, right? Additionally, the Lions can get you in two different ways: Matt Stafford’s right arm and the legs of Reggie Bush/Joique Bell. To me, the offense that has the most production in this one will win the game and given the players that Detroit comes to town with, I’d say they have the better skill-position players. It is hard to pick against the Eagles given the way they have been playing in all three phases of the game (did you know Donnie Jones has been named the NFC’s special teams player of the week in each of his past two games?), but I am going to do it. I’ll take the Lions on the road, although I really could see this one going either way.
Detroit 27, Philadelphia 24
Indianapolis Colts (8-4) @ Cincinnati Bengals (8-4)
Why do I feel like taking the Colts here? Something tells me that they are going to play well on the road in Cincinnati, but I really don’t have evidence to back this up. Therefore, I will play it safe and take Cincy. I have used my detective skills to induce that the Jets win-loss pattern has transferred over to Indianapolis. They have gone win-loss-win-loss over their past four games. So, it can be easy to say that they are due to lose this week. Also, the Bengals still have not lost at home this season. In the Queen City, it may be tough for Andrew Luck to get anything going at quarterback. I also don’t anticipate him getting much help from his ground game (what else is new?). Cincinnati is eighth in the league at defending the run, and the Colts don’t really pose much of a threat running the ball at them in this game. I think the Bengals are a better team than many people realize and although I have a funky feeling about this game, I am taking the cardiac cats.
Cincinnati 30, Indianapolis 17
Minnesota Vikings (3-8-1) @ Baltimore Ravens (6-6)
Adrian Peterson flicked his boss mode switch (since Marshawn Lynch pretty much trademarked Beast Mode) last week as he ran for 211 yards against the Bears and overtook LeSean McCoy as the leading rusher in the NFL. Now he will be tried by a pretty stout Ravens’ defense in Baltimore. These guys come into this game well rested off of their 22-20 win over Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving, so I would say they have the edge in that category. On that note, the Vikings have to be anything but rested. They played nearly ten quarters of football over the past two weeks, so that may have an effect on this game. If not, I’m still getting behind the Ravens for this one. They are 6-6 and right in the thick of things in the AFC. A win would really strengthen their chances at that #6 seed, and playing the Vikings defense could serve as nitrous for this this offense that has been hit or miss all year long. I like Joe Flacco to throw the bomb down field and take advantage of a pretty weak Minnesota secondary. In the meantime, A.P. will run for a buck twenty-five with a touchdown. However, the Matt Cassel experiment will not come to fruition on this day, and I see him throwing for less than 200 yards in this one. You can’t live off of Adrian Peterson on the road against a solid defense. For that reason, I am going Baltimore here.
Baltimore 31, Minnesota 13
Sunday, December 8th, 4:05 e.t.
Tennessee Titans (5-7) @ Denver Broncos (10-2)
Do you believe in magic? I don’t, and that is why I’m not taking the Titans to win in Denver this weekend (this is not a pun on Ryan Fitzpatrick, I promise). However, there are yards to be had against the Broncos if he is willing to take them. Denver has given up better than 400 yards in each of its last two games. So they can be found vulnerable if Fitzpatrick wants to hit his open men. If he feels like playing frisky on Sunday, he will likely end up getting picked off a couple of times and his team will be blown out. I don’t see this happening. I think he plays well, and I am going to say this now: the Titans will jump out to a big lead, like 21-3. However, Peyton Manning will be able to lead his team back and the Broncos will take the ship over. I like, no love, Denver at home in this one.
Denver 38, Tennessee 28
Sunday, December 8th, 4:25 e.t.
Seattle Seahawks (11-1) @ San Francisco 49ers (8-4)
The Seahawks are like the inlaws in the NFL; they are kind of annoying, people don’t want to recognize that they are there, but they continue to remind us all that they are in the building. They put the rest of the league on notice by spanking the Saints at home last Monday night, 34-7. Now they take their show on the road to San Francisco for a Week 2 rematch, another game in which the ‘Hawks brought their horsewhip (remember the final of 29-3?). The 49ers are finally getting healthier on offense, and it showed last week in their dominant win at home over the Ram. That defense can still shut it down in the bay, so I am not expecting Russell Wilson to light them up again. In my world where all I do is make predictions and then reflect upon them afterwards, I am going to look ahead and predict that the Seahawks are going to finish the year 14-2. For some reason 15-1 doesn’t tickle my fancy. That said, I have to pick them to lose at some point, so here it is; they drop this one to the 49ers. Seattle did look good in defending the pass last week, but it is only a matter of time before their industrial sized band aid falls off. It might happen this week. Richard Sherman can’t cover everybody (although he’d tell you he can). I like Colin Kaepernick to find some success throwing the ball opposite of the Stanford grad. Additionally, Frank Gore should fare much better in the trenches than the combination of Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram did. Also, Kap can run the ball as well, something the Seahawks leave themselves open to over the course of a game (if you go back and look at the game tape). I’ve got San Fran in the upset.
San Francisco 19, Seattle 11
St. Louis Rams (5-7) @ Arizona Cardinals (7-5)
The Cardinals lost a tough one to Philadelphia on the road last week, and because of it Bruce Arians was not too happy. Who wants to bet that he is going to use the Rams as his team’s punching bag this week? Unless you are the Seahawks, you don’t go down to Arizona and steal a victory from these Cards. Outside of that 34-22 loss to their divisional rivals, the Cardinals have not given up more than 24 points at home. They also have not scored any less than 22 points in any home game this year. Patrick Peterson is an animal, by the way. He had a great game last week in coverage and this week he draws the less challenging duo of Kellen Clemens and Tavon Austin… take a stab at who wins that battle. The last time these two teams faced off (all the way back in Week 1), Jared Cook creamed the Cards in the middle of the field. At that time, Daryl Washington was serving a four-game suspension. This time around, he will be in the middle of the field tohelp shut down the Cookie Monster. That will be the difference in the game, aside from venue. As per usual, I select the Cardinals to win at home (you gotta love my originality).
Arizona 26, St. Louis 19
New York Giants (5-7) @ San Diego Chargers (5-7)
This game pits two teams whose playoff hopes dangle by a thread this season. The Giants are just barely alive in the NFC East this year, as they are behind by two games to both the Eagles and Cowboys. The Chargers are a country mile behind the competition in the AFC West, therefore their lone hopes for January football rests on their ability to snake their way into the #6 seed (barring the Chiefs losing out, in which case the #5 seed is still up for grabs). Just think, Eli Manning and Philip Rivers will be playing their former teams in this game (remember that wild 2004 draft?). This season, I like how Rivers has played. He has been pretty judicious with the football this season (throwing only nine picks against 23 touchdowns). Meanwhile, Eli Manning has earned himself the nickname of the “generous pigskin donor”, he has tossed 18 picks and only 15 touchdowns. In this game, each secondary will be tested and the winning team will be the one that can hold up against the deep pass for the longest. I want to take the Giants to win this one, but I am going to roll with the Chargers. Eli Manning has never beaten Philip Rivers in his career and we will say that that streak continues this Sunday. Ladarius Green is quietly piecing himself together a nice season at tight end for San Diego, as is Danny Woodhead. These guys will be the keystones in an offense that is dependent on clock control and moderating the tempo. The best way for New York to break the Chargers of this strategy is to run the ball, and although they have been doing this well lately, that is the biggest bug-a-boo for the G-Men this season.
San Diego 31, New York 23
Sunday, December 8th, 8:30 e.t.
Carolina Panthers (9-3) @ New Orleans Saints (9-3)
Before I get into this game, I would like to bring up the last time two 9-3 teams in the NFC South faced off. It was Week 14 of the 2008 season when the 9-3 Buccaneers took on the 9-3 Panthers. Carolina won that game 38-23 and went on to finish the season 12-4. The Buccaneers would not win another game that season, fall to 9-7 and miss the playoffs. So, keeping the history in mind, I think that these two teams will do their best to make sure they win this game to avoid the same fate. Of course, I don’t see either of these teams losing out from this point forward, I’m just saying that it has happened before. Anyways, the last time these two teams played, the Panthers won 44-38 down in New Orleans. I don’t see this game turning into a shootout of those proportions, but I can see each team putting up some points. Carolina is the hottest team in the league; they come into this game having won their past eight games. The Saints will come into this one feeling like a boyfriend who just got their butts kicked by their girl’s ex. They were beaten badly and embarrassed in the Great Northwest last week and are desperately looking to get back on the eight ball this week. I say they do it, playing at home against the Panthers. As much as I love Carolina’s defense, I can see Drew Brees having a field day in this one. Simply put, the Panthers are going to be sticking their heads in a beehive for this one. They are playing the Saints at the wrong time. Because of the pressure they have been able to mount on opposing quarterbacks, the secondary of Carolina has not really been exposed yet this week. However, I think it will get chewed apart by a Sean Peyton coordinated “O” this week. In short, I don’t see the Saints losing two straight prime time games. They take the cake down in New Orleans on Sunday night.
New Orleans 33, Carolina 27
Monday, December 9th, 8:40 e.t.
Dallas Cowboys (7-5) @ Chicago Bears (6-6)
It is December, and we all know what that means! Time to start picking against the Cowboys. Alright, that isn’t really what is going on here. I actually think that Dallas has a chance to get on quite a bit of a roll this month. Tony Romo is in the midst of one of his better seasons and his offensive line has slowly gotten better game by game this year. Also, DeMarco Murray is heating up. He found his way in the end zone three separate times last week against the Raiders, who actually have a solid run defense. Now Dallas will see what kind of money they can make against the Chicago Bears defense this week. To put it simply, the Bears have been terrible against the run this year. If Bill Callahan doesn’t run the ball at least 20 times in this game, I will be surprised. Now, if I were Chicago’s defensive coordinator, Mel Tucker, I would blitz a lot in this game. The Raiders came after Tony Romo last week and had some success in doing so. Also, the Bears have had next to no luck dropping back in zone coverage this year, so it is time to turn up the heat. If they can pressure Romo, they could walk away with this one well in hand. If they let Romo sit in the rocking chair and scan the field, they are in some trouble. So to me, the answer on defense is pretty obvious. If worse comes to worse the offense can always lean on the dynamic duo of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Whether Jay Cutler plays in this game or Josh McCown gets the start is irrelevant. Either one of them is going to have two big receivers to heave the ball down field to. And let’s not forget Matt Forte; he is a game-changer out of the backfield. I like the Bears to win at home here, and not because they are facing Dallas in December. I think they can force a turnover or two and use the takeaway(s) to separate themselves from the ‘Boys.
Chicago 38, Dallas 27
Week 14 Bonus Predictions-
Upset of the Week: Detroit over Philadelphia
Sure Bet of the Week: Call me insane but New Orleans over Carolina
Rookie of the Week: Keenan Allen
Offensive Player of the Week: Drew Brees
Defensive Player of the Week: Aldon Smith
Best Overall Offense: Denver Broncos
Best Overall Defense: Cincinnati Bengals
Once again, here are my picks. For the follow-up to all of this weekend’s action, you know where you can read analysis and thoughts about all sixteen of the games. Hopefully you enjoy the games and folks, get excited! The playoffs are upon us and we are hitting the final quarter of the 2013 season! From here on out, the postseason will be the main focus for many teams as we get some of the most competitive football games of the season from this point on. It should be a blast.