The Jags are hot ladies and gentlemen. Say what you want about their competition, but they have won three straight games and four out of their last five. Do we need further proof that Jacksonville isn’t the worst team in football? I know I don’t. The Jaguars sprinted out to a 14-0 lead in this game due to their offensive success and Houston’s undisciplined play. The Texans had ten first half penalties for over 100 yards and were simply playing poorly through the first three and a half quarters. Then, enter Matt Schaub. Coming off the bench cold, Schaub relieved Case Keenum of his duties (Keenum was able to throw one touchdown and a pick in his time on the field). The score was 24-10 when Matt came off of the bench, and he was able to bring his team close with a nice touchdown drive as well as an eleven play drive that ended in a field goal. However, after those two drives, he returned to form and fell apart down the stretch. The Texans took the ball into the red zone late in the fourth quarter, down 24-20. A touchdown would have put them in the lead, however they could not convert a fourth down situation and the ball went back to the Jags. Then, if that wasn’t enough, Houston took over again with 2:21 left in the game (at their own 22 yard line). So they had one more chance to go and win the game. With this kind of opportunity, Schaub threw the game-ending interception thus leaving another sour taste in the mouths of all of the Texan fans. Right now, these guys may as well gear up for the first overall pick next year. I think they should use their final three games to decide which quarterbacks they want to keep as a backup for the 2014 season, because it is almost certain that they will be taking a signal-caller with their first round pick. The Jaguars have to feel pretty good. Even if they lose their final three games, the team would be finishing with a better record than many people would have thought they could have achieved at the beginning of this season, 4-12. You have to like the direction that these Jags are going in; I think Gus Bradley is the right guy for the job.
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.
On the sixth of December, the Denver Broncos double up the Oakland Raiders in the Black Hole. This loss is a bit of a shame seeing as how Dennis Allen’s father recently passed away. He was able to tough it out and show up with his team.
This game started off fast for the Broncos. It quickly became the Peyton Manning show as he lead his troops right down the field for the opening score. The Raiders quickly went three and out and Denver then added another three points. So, very quickly the game became 10-0. Late in the first quarter, Carson Palmer hooked up with his rookie WR out of Temple, Rod Streater, for a big one. However, on the very next play he was picked in the red zone. The Broncos would later go on to add another field goal and bump the lead to 13-0. To this point, the Raiders had done a good job bending, but not breaking. They would allow Manning to drive his team right down the field but then would sack him in the red zone, thus stalling their drive. This kept Oakland in the game temporarily and they were able to capitalize on the strength of a receiving touchdown from Darren McFadden. The game went into halftime 13-7… so the Raiders still had a chance.
The Raiders wasted a 30+ yard pickup from McFadden on the opening drive of the second half when they punted. The Broncos would tack on another field goal to hoist the lead up to 16-7. Then, disaster struck for the Silver and Black. Von Miller came around the edge and forced a Carson Palmer fumble at the three yard line. Denver would recover and promptly score two plays later on a Knowshon Moreno 1 yard touchdown run. At this point the game could basically be considered over. It was 23-7 (later it would become 26-7). However, Palmer did hit Darrius Heyward-Bey for a 56 yard touchdown. They would fail on the two point conversion and the score would hold for the rest of the game at 26-13.
All and all, this was not one of the best performances out of John Fox’s team. They were settling for field goals instead of touchdowns, and Peyton Manning was off at times (of course he was also very precise during others). The Broncos played well enough to beat half of the teams in the NFL, but if they put fourth this same effort in the playoffs, they would have gotten squashed. Manny Ramirez was beat badly a couple of times in this game; Chris Kuper was greatly missed by Manning at the end of the night. Kalif Barnes was overpowered by Von Miller. It is confusing as to why the Raiders did not send more help his way, because he was getting harassed by the running defensive MVP. Denver will play the Ravens in Baltimore next week. If they hope to win, they will need to make sure that they can score touchdowns instead of field goals. If they cannot do this, then they will end up losing that game.
Denver Broncos @ Oakland Raiders
There may not be any team hotter than the Denver Broncos at this point. They are currently riding the longest winning-streak in the league and are playing well on both sides of the ball. While John Fox and company seem to have gotten their act together, the Raiders look like they are falling apart. Although they are not committing as many penalties as past teams have, Oakland is really struggling to keep up with some teams. They have been unable to get a running game going and are quite a few steps behind on defense (seemingly) every week. The team has to rely on 32 year old Carson Palmer to shoulder the load week in and out, and he is just not the type of quarterback who can do that. Fully expect the Broncos to dominate in this one. Their defense plays some of the best coverage in the entire NFL and they are quite stingy when it comes to the run. Palmer may not even get his regular “garbage-time” stats in this one if Denver keeps applying pressure with their front four and are holding down base in the secondary. Oh yeah, and they also have #18 to help them out, in case a solid defensive effort won’t get the job done.
Denver 37, Oakland 12
St Louis Rams @ Buffalo Bills
Nobody expected the Rams to play the 49ers like they have this season (going 1-0-1 against them). Come to think of it, they are still loss-less (if that’s a word) within their division. However, this game is going to be played on the road outside of the division. It is actually outside the conference as a matter of a fact. In those games this year, the Rams are an unimpressive 0-3 and are being outscored 89-34. Jeff Fisher has his team playing at a much higher level than in the previous handful of years, but they are not battle-tested for colder weather in December quite yet. Also, the Bills played one of their best games last Sunday against Jacksonville. Granted, it is Jacksonville, but they could have squared off with more than half of the teams in the league and won with their performance. They were running the ball quite well and have developed quite the one-two punch with Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. The Bills will try and pound the rock for a majority of this game and will grind out a victory over this very hard-nosed St Louis team.
Buffalo 20, St Louis 16
Atlanta Falcons @ Carolina Panthers
This game is very exciting because Gus Johnson and Charles Davis will be on the call. For NFL fans, this will be the first game this dynamic duo will commentate. With Gus, every big play seems like it can be a play of the year. His enthusiasm is something that is unprecedented by any other announcer, and how fitting this assignment will be, seeing as how this game could turn out to be a shootout. Matt Ryan has not been playing his best ball as of late, and narrow wins over inferior teams have been the result. On the other hand, Cam Newton has been playing very well. He has not turned the ball over since Week 11 and the offense has looked good in the process. If he is on his game, expect Carolina to leap out to a pretty big first half lead, say 24-10? Unfortunately once the second half hits, Matt Ryan will come out and bring his team back, much like he had to do in the Week 4 match-up between these two. The Panthers’ defense is slowly on the decline. They will not be able to slow down the Falcons in the second half. Ryan should throw 3+ scores and lead his team to a nice comeback victory in Charlotte.
Atlanta 34, Carolina 30
Dallas Cowboys @ Cincinnati Bengals
Every season the Cowboys seem to find themselves in contention for a playoff spot. They fight, and fight, and fight, but when December comes they simply fall apart. Perhaps this will be the year that they can finally turn everything around. Meanwhile, the Bengals are on the rise again. Last week’s victory over San Diego propels them to a decent 7-5 record. Their playoff hopes were dealt a serious blow when the Steelers emerged victorious against Baltimore. Now that they have Big Ben back, Cincinnati will most likely have to win out in order to make life a little easier on themselves. With this type of desperation, the Bengals should come out highly motivated in front of their home crowd. There is no doubt that the Cowboys will want to scale back on the amount of throws they have Tony Romo making, thus they should attempt to get a running game going. Well, these Cardiac Cats have proven that they are not always easy to run against; therefore the Cowboys’ plan of action will be thwarted. Romo will probably make a critical mistake late in this game that will ultimately cost their team a big win. Let the December slump live on as the Bengals take down Dallas in Cincy.
Cincinnati 28, Dallas 22
Kansas City Chiefs @ Cleveland Browns
Unless you are a die-hard Chiefs/Browns fan, then most people probably do not care about this game. However, there are a few storylines that are going on during this game. For instance, the whole Jovan Belcher situation still looms largely over this team. They got a big win at home over Carolina last week but are still in shambles over the whole occurrence. Another win will help quell the sickness that this city is feeling. The Browns are climbing their way back into relevance with the rookie duo of Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson and a solid defense. If they want to prove that their stock is indeed moving upward, they will need to win against a 2-10 squad. Plus, Romeo Crennel will be making his return to Cleveland for the first time as the head coach of another team. His version of the Brady Quinn train will not be able to get the job done in the dog pound. Trent Richardson will gash Kansas City’s defense and Brandon Weeden will not have to worry about winning a game with his arm like he did last week. Cleveland should stand victorious at the end of the day.
Cleveland 17, Kansas City 13
Tennessee Titans @ Indianapolis Colts
It took a late comeback on behalf of the Indianapolis Colts the last time these two teams met. This time around, no such thing will be needed. The Titans have been very un-impressive over the last few weeks. Jake Locker is struggling to keep the ball out of the other team’s hands and Chris Johnson has been a no-show. Their defense is not playing horribly, but they are not playing very good either. Just last week they let a guy named Lestar Jean burn them for a 54-yard touchdown… Absolutely no one ever saw that one coming. Luck is very aggressive with his down-field throws and should pick up a couple of big plays in a nice win over the Titans. Just as a side-note, the Colts are easily headed for the playoffs. If they can’t win this type of a game then they may be in trouble come January.
Indianapolis 27, Tennessee 11 (why not?)
New York Jets @ Jacksonville Jaguars
It is difficult to pick the Jets to win two weeks in a row. They have not done such a thing in exactly one year. Their offense played horribly last week. Luckily for them they were playing the only other offense that may be worse in the Arizona Cardinals. If there is any other team that may be able to compete with the Jets in terms of playing some ugly football this year, it may be the Jaguars. They have looked pitiful at times this season and have been unable to move the ball on offense; until Chad Henne took over. Last week was not pretty for him, but they were playing in Buffalo against a desperate Bills team (in a driving rain storm. He could have a bounce-back game against the Jets here. It probably doesn’t matter who Gang Green starts at quarterback, they are probably going to look bad. Despite all of this, they will somehow win this game. There may be no reasonable explanation as to why, other than the fact that something funky is bound to happen. Maybe if Tim Tebow gets some more playing time (provided that he is healthy), the Jets can win; that may be the best bet at a “reason”. Anyways, New York should find a way to win back to back games for the first time this year.
New York 13, Jacksonville 10
Chicago Bears @ Minnesota Vikings
The Bears have to be a little rattled after allowing the Seahawks to drive right down the field in overtime against them, costing them their ninth victory. Now they have fallen back into a deadlock with Green Bay who found a little bit of a running game against these Vikings. For Chicago, a loss here would all but spoil any odds they had at winning the NFC North (unless they can edge Green Bay themselves next week). Nevertheless, they will want to keep pace with the Pack by winning this game. It is harder to outduel the Vikings in Minnesota though. If they can jump out to a lead, the dome should be rocking and it will quickly become a hard place to play. If the Vikings do gain a lead, it is very unlikely that they will lose it. Their pass-rush should give the Bears a massive migraine and Jay Cutler may be begging for mercy if his o-line does not hold up. Adrian Peterson will help shut the door with another stellar performance. Yes, this pick is based on the idea that the Vikings will be able to gain a lead and hold it throughout. It will not be an upset by any means, but it will be a shot to the gut of Chicago.
Minnesota 22, Chicago 17
San Diego Chargers @ Pittsburgh Steelers
As mentioned before, the Steelers will get Ben Roethlisberger back for this game. His return could not have come at a better time for a team that is slowly gaining a head of steam with their surprising win over Baltimore. The Chargers seem like they are in every game, but they always find some way to flub it up in the end. There is good news for them though: they will not have to worry about making a big mistake with the game on the line this week. Why? Because the Steelers should have this game put away by the end of the second quarter. Their defense is coming off of another solid performance against the Ravens (in Baltimore). They should be able to build off of that by dominating the Lightning Bolts here. Philip Rivers will probably make another couple of turnovers since he will have to be throwing the ball a lot during a comeback effort. The Steelers lone loss at home this year came when Big Ben was out. Don’t expect another one to come in Week 14.
Pittsburgh 28, San Diego 6
Philadelphia Eagles @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
With Andy Reid naming Nick Foles the full-time starter for the rest of this season, the Eagles have every reason to believe that Michael Vick will not be donning the green and silver in 2013. Thus, this will be another preview of what is to come for Philly in the near-future. This team has been running the ball well as of late, and they have been relying on it to keep them in games. Considering the fact that Foles is still a rookie, this is a pretty good idea. However, the Buccaneers are a team that swallows running-backs behind the line of scrimmage with regularity. The Eagles like to create lanes that lead their rusher to the outside of the field. This requires some lateral running… which will play right into the hands of Tampa Bay. Philadelphia should expect little to no success running the ball (even if LeSean McCoy is good to go for game day). Andy Reid is not an idiot though; he will probably work with Foles a little bit more this week with the anticipation that he will have to be throwing the ball a lot if the Eagles are to have a shot. Tampa Bay did not play all that badly last week against Denver, and should find themselves victorious in this game. All six of their losses have come against good quarterback(ed) teams (both Mannings, Romo, RGIII, Brees, and Matt Ryan). Nick Foles doesn’t exactly fit this bill. Philly’s defense is scary too, what with all of their busted coverages. Josh Freeman loves to get the ball down the field in a hurry as well. Vincent Jackson should have a monster game as the Bucs get back on the ball down in Tampa.
Tampa Bay 31, Philadelphia 20
Baltimore Ravens @ Washington Redskins
Both of these clubs are coming out of games against their division rivals. One was victorious and the other lost. Nobody would guess that it was the Redskins who were winners as the Ravens became losers. This is how the chips have fallen, and this becomes a pretty big game for each team because of it. The Redskins absolutely need to win this game while the Ravens want to win it. A Baltimore loss coupled with a Pittsburgh win will make this division even tighter. Things do not get easier for the Ravens either since they have a dates with the Broncos and the Giants coming up. A win here will be much desired by John Harbaugh. Is it out of line to call this an upset pick? RGIII is playing like a veteran and the Redskins offense is quickly becoming the most exciting to watch in all of football. Also, the Ravens may be without Terrell Suggs this week with a torn bicep. The running game offered up by the ‘Skins will be nearly unstoppable in this game. Add to that the fact that the Ravens are playing on the road and this one becomes even harder for Baltimore to win. Joe Flacco may struggle yet again away from home.
Washington 35, Baltimore 21
Miami Dolphins @ San Francisco 49ers
The Dolphins have to be heart-broken after losing to the Patriots last week. They probably played one of their best games this season and still lost. That is about as gut-wrenching as it gets. While that game was going on, the 49ers found themselves in another tough battle with the Rams. They would later go on to lose that game as well. Each team has a solid defense along with the offerings of a good young quarterback. In this situation though, the Niners should impress the nation once again. It is incredibly difficult for an east coast team to make the trek across the country into the bay area to take on the 49ers defense. Miami will probably be a step too slow in a loss against Colin Kaepernick, who should get back on the 8-ball against a so-so Miami pass defense.
San Francisco 23, Miami 3
New Orleans Saints @ New York Giants
If the Saints aren’t already out of playoff contention, a loss in this game would make it official. It is entirely possible that they will come into the Meadowlands very lethargic after losing badly on the road to Atlanta last Thursday night. If this is indeed the case, then the entire nation will be raving about how the Giants are the “most impressive team in the NFL”. That is what happened following their impressive win over Green Bay. Speaking of which, let’s refer back to that game in order to help make this pick. If a team possesses a great quarterback, it will not matter if they do not have the offensive line to protect them. The Giants got after Aaron Rodgers in that game and beat him up quite a bit. Last week the Falcons did a number on Drew Brees after causing him to throw five interceptions and holding him without a touchdown for the first time since 2009. These horrific stats were because of the constant pressure that Brees had in his face. This provides solid evidence that when a team cannot protect their quarterback, they will have major issues. This trend should continue against the G-Men, who will be seeking another win after being blasted by the Redskins. Drew will throw a touchdown, but it will be the Giants who ultimately win because they will be getting consistent pressure on the Saint’s QB.
New York 28, New Orleans 20
Arizona Cardinals @ Seattle Seahawks
Let’s make this one short and sweet: the Seahawks are perfect at home this year. They have a great defense along with a great young quarterback. The Cardinals have a horrible offense and do not have a quarterback… There is nothing that points to them winning this game. They did beat Seattle back in Week 1, but that was during Russell Wilson’s first start in the NFL and the Seahawks were on the road (where they are nowhere near as effective). This time around, Arizona has no chance. Sorry Cards fans, this final score will not be pretty.
Seattle 17, Arizona 0
Detroit Lions @ Green Bay Packers
The Packers own Detroit in Lambeau. This has been said countless times and will continue to be said until the Lions can beat them in Green Bay. This is something they have not accomplished for almost a quarter of a century (21 years)! With the way the Lions are playing right now, it is not very likely that they will win this year either. To be fair, it is not like Detroit is losing badly. They are just coughing up games late that they should be able to put away. Look no further than the past two weeks. They were winning by double digits against the Texans and the Colts at home and managed to lose both times on the final play of the game. Talk about heart-breaking. These days, the Packers don’t seem to be rolling up teams at home anymore. They have not had an overly dominant performance in the frozen tundra since they spanked the Bears 23-10 back in September. A big win over the Lions would provide a boost of confidence for them as they gear up for a big division showdown against the Bears next week. Don’t think that the Lions will have nothing to play for… they would like nothing more than to screw up the Pack’s division champion goals on their own field. Both teams should be playing with quite a lot of motivation. Green Bay will make it 22 in a row over Detroit in Lambeau during what could quite possibly be the season’s first snow game (oh the excitement!).
Green Bay 41, Detroit 31
Houston Texans @ New England Patriots
Both of these teams have their eye on a first round BYE for the playoffs (after each come into this game having already clinched a playoff spot). It is very unlikely that these will be the #1 and #2 seeds in the American Football Conference, therefore, the winner of this game may be guaranteed that spot (while the loser could slip to #3 or #4). It is not a stretch to say that the winner of this game will pretty much earn themselves the #1 seed. With their loss to Pittsburgh, the Ravens will probably not be making a first round BYE run, so they will be ruled out for now. If the Patriots win, they will have tie-breakers over the Broncos (after beating them in Week 5) and these Texans. However, if the Texans win, the Pats will slip to 9-4 and the Texans will jump to 12-1 (which will guarantee them a first round BYE in the very least). There is probably no need to get this technical about it; all the viewers should know is that the winner will probably end up earing the #1 seed in the AFC. On this day, it should be the Patriots. The weather may end up not cooperating for this game and the Texans have already played in the rain this season and they were not very impressive on offense. Since that game, the Texans defense has been torched a couple of times through the air. They were able to settle down last week vs. Tennessee, but Jake Locker and Tom Brady are polar opposites. Brady should give the Texans’ defense some fits in Gillette on Monday. Do not be surprised if the Pats run away with this game either. Unless the Texans’ offense plays perfectly, New England will win at home in December (what else is new?).
New England 34, Houston 24
Check back after the conclusion of each of these games for a breakdown/thought or two.