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Friday, November 24 2017

NFL Predictions 2012: Week 16

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Late season games are always the toughest to predict, sometimes even harder than early in the year. I took it on the chin going just 9-7 straight up (151-72-1 overall) and likely ending my dreams of setting a new single season high for total wins. My current best is 175 and while I would like to think I can go 25-7 to finish it’s not very realistic. I was 6-10 against the spread (122-95-7 overall) giving up some ground there, but I went 9-7 on the over/under (106-1114-3 overall) and still have hopes for a positive regular season final mark.

Atlanta (12-2) @ Detroit (4-10): When the schedule was made the NFL thought this would be a game between contending teams. Instead they get a team trying to secure the No. 1 seed throughout the NFC playoffs against a team that is finished. If the Falcons had taken care of business in Carolina two weeks ago their starters would already be resting, especially with a dangerous defensive line ready to take out their frustrations on Matt Ryan. They want to take care of business here rather than have to worry about what Tampa Bay might bring to the table next week.

 

As for the Lions, they just hit rock bottom by becoming the first team since September to lose to Arizona and it was a blowout (38-10). Even in a lost season they had lost just once by more than a single score and that was relatively close (34-24). I would expect them to come out with a little pride in this game, similar to their effort on Thanksgiving, a frustrating OT loss to Houston. However, their defense has given up as often happens with teams out of the chase. In their last six games, all losses, they have averaged 32 points allowed.

 

The next question is whether or not they can win a shootout. On offense Detroit has posted 24-plus points eight times this year and 31-plus four times although they lost three of those games. They have the best passing offense on paper in the league (316.0) but as Calvin Johnson marches towards the single-season yardage record they have just 19 touchdown passes. By comparison the Jaguars have 17. The interception (15) and sack totals (28) aren’t bad, but they are just short of 60% completions and there is the problem. Atlanta’s pass defense (234.9) has 16 interceptions against just 13 touchdowns and while the sack total (28) is just fair they figure to be comfortable with the dome environment and hassle Stafford.

 

The Falcons have started to work their way up the passing stats chart (300.1, 27 TD). Their interception (14) and sacks allowed (25) are comparable to the Lions who at times can get after the passer (30) but allow a lot of touchdown passes (21) against just 10 picks and have an average pass defense overall (227.4). This doesn’t feel like a blowout in the passing department, especially if the home crowd is into it and the home team doesn’t give up an early lead.

 

Atlanta can’t run the ball (3.7, 86.9, 10 TD) and it is going to cost them in the playoffs, especially if they blow home field advantage. Detroit has shuffled up their backfield but is still measurably better (4.2, 106.0, 15 TD) in the rushing department. On defense the Falcons are having trouble with the run (4.9, 127.0, 14 TD). The touchdown mark is the biggest concern. The four teams allowing more rushing scores are all likely heading home for the playoffs. Of course, the Lions aren’t much better in run defense (4.6, 119.4, 12 TD).

 

I feel like this could be a shootout. It sounds crazy after Atlanta just held the Giants without a score last week, but this is on the road and things change. They have given up 30, 23 and 31 points in their past three road games and will be facing a team with nothing to lose. Stafford is going to be trying to get Johnson into the record book so they will throw with reckless abandon. Maybe some of those wind up being picked off and maybe they result in long touchdowns. In the end I believe the Falcons do what they need to do but the Lions aren’t going to roll over here: Atlanta 28, Detroit 23 (ATL -3.5/over 50)

 

Minnesota (8-6) @ Houston (12-2): Like the Saturday night game, this one features a player going after a single-season record. Unlike that one, however, this one has two teams looking at the playoffs. The Texans are already in as the winners of the AFC North. They are in kind of a tough spot because two contenders (next week at Indianapolis) are left on the schedule fighting for their own place in the playoffs. I think they put all of their attention on this game knowing it will secure them the No. 1 seed over 11-3 Denver (beat them head-to-head) and 10-4 New England. A loss here keeps both of those teams in play because the Patiots own the tiebreaker by virtue of their 42-14 blowout win over them.

 

The Vikings come in hoping to stay alive for a wild card, and when I say stay alive I mean just that. Yes they are tied for the second spot at the moment, but they also have to deal with Chicago and the two teams who don’t win the NFC East in vying for that spot. Next week they go to Green Bay who might be locked into their playoff seeding, but hoping for them to be playing for nothing is iffy. They need to approach this game like their season is over if they lose because it likely will be.

 

There is also the matter of the aforementioned chase for history that Adrian Peterson is engaged in. Over his past 8 games he has churned out 1,313 yards rushing and at least 100 yards in all of those efforts. Obviously doubling that would give him more than 500 yards over the current single-season record (2,105 by Eric Dickerson) but in his first six weeks he only eclipsed the century mark once and just barely (102) while not mustering 90 yards in any of the other games. Ultimately that will cost him the record, but it illustrates how he is now truly back to full strength whereas early in the year he was not.

 

It’s not like they are overusing him either. He has averaged 20.6 carries per game although lately as he pushes for the record he does have 31 and 24 the past two weeks. Overall Minnesota is third in rushing (156.2, 12 TD) and Peterson hasn’t scored much (11 total). They have also pretty much won every game they had a shot at other than week 2 (23-20 at Indianapolis). Their other losses were by 12, 19, 10, 18 and 9 points. Half of their wins were by a single score, but of course that means they have four double-digit victories. The point is that I’m not sure this will be a close game. Houston can defend the run (4.1, 93.2, 3 TD) and they will take offense to him going after a record on their home field.

 

I’ll tell you who else is going to be mad – Arian Foster. The Texans can run the ball too (4.1, 142.5, 16 TD) and while the Vikings don’t have a bad rushing defense (4.0, 113.3, 10 TD) the rushing scores figure is a difference maker. Drives ending in touchdowns win games. Beyond that, the passing offense of Minnesota (180.5, 14 TD) is dead last in the NFL. Houston (256.6, 22 TD) still has Andre Johnson and tight end Owen Daniels with a competent quarterback in Matt Schaub, who they don’t let teams sack (20). Christian Ponder has gone down 30 times. Speaking of which, J.J. Watt is going after the single-season sacks record and the Texans have 36 as a team.

 

Pass defense for the Texans is soft in terms of yardage (235.0, 20 TD) but they allow a ridiculously low completion percentage (53.0). The Vikings (236.7, 21 TD) have only 9 interceptions on the year although they do have 31 sacks. Their completion percentage allowed (64.1) is high though. Schaub will have more time to throw and Ponder will be forced into poor decisions. Turnovers will go in favor of the home team here, as will sacks. I don’t know how a one-dimensional offense can compete in this spot. I rarely call for wipeouts, but this could be one. I think the Texans come out and take care of business rather comfortably, and while I hate to give away this much I’ll bank on a ticked off defense helping my cause: Houston 27, Minnesota 16 (HOU -7.5/under 45)

 

St. Louis (6-7-1) @ Tampa Bay (6-8): This is almost the “also-ran” bowl, but the Rams are still mathematically alive if everything falls in their favor including winning here then traveling a million miles (approximately) up to Seattle and winning there. In other words, both teams are just trying to finish surprisingly decent seasons strong. The Bucs have again swooned to a long losing streak after a promising start, just like last year, and last week’s 41-0 loss at New Orleans was probably the result of exhaustion from what they endured in the meat of their schedule playing so many high scoring games.

 

Both teams have to be a bit deflated at this point. St. Louis got run over by Adrian Peterson and realistically are not going to reach the playoffs or finish with a winning record. Jeff Fisher will try to convince them otherwise, but players know the odds. They gutted out a win at Buffalo to stay in the race, but for the most part they can’t score. In half of their games they failed to score more than 17 and in a few others put up 19, 20 and 22. This is not an offense built to put up points. Last week’s goose egg aside, Tampa Bay had been on an offensive roll scoring 21-plus in 10 straight.

 

Right off the bat it’s tough to go against those numbers, especially in a team’s home season finale. Rookie head coach Greg Schiano is under a microscope this week trying to get his team ready to rebound from their first loss this season by more than 8 points. Tampa Bay protects the passer (21 sacks) and scores throwing the ball (253.6, 25 TD) but completes a low percentage (54.9%) and that hurts the consistency of their offense. St. Louis will come after Josh Freeman (39 sacks) but they allow a high completion percentage (66.7%) although not many scores (14 TD) in what has been a good pass defense (225.8). It will be interesting to see how Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams match up against Janoris Jenkins and Cortland Finnegan.

 

The Rams have a scrappy passing offense (238.2, 19 TD) but can’t protect Sam Bradford (35 sacks). The Bucs don’t really sack the passer though (24) and have the league’s worst, by far, pass defense (311.6, 23 TD) and allow a crazy completion percentage (66.3). If Bradford is going to turn in a big game this is a spot for him to do it, and I believe he will. On the flip side I see the pass rush getting to Freeman who might be fading in terms of his career arc. If the corners hold up for those extra seconds he will find himself on his back if he doesn’t throw it away.

 

Running the ball has kept Tampa Bay’s offense (4.4, 118.9, 12 TD) moving the chains. St. Louis (4.2, 112.4, 4 TD) is improved, but they can’t punch it in when it matters which explains their low scoring totals. The Bucs have the league’s best run defense (3.5, 83.3, 11 TD) and it’s interesting because the way the NFL is these days teams are fine just passing if they can have success. In a sense it’s almost easier for them the way teams used to run when that worked. The Rams have an average run defense (4.2, 117.6, 17 TD) and can’t keep teams from scoring. Again, that’s what has cost them. They are 4-2-1 in close games and the Bucs are 3-6. I think this one could be close and I like Jeff Fisher’s savvy to win out although this one makes me very nervous. I just don’t think Tampa Bay’s line after losing a pair of stud guards can hold up against this defensive unit: St. Louis 21, Tampa Bay 20 (STL +3/under 44)

 

Washington (8-6) @ Philadelphia (4-10): It’s amazing to think that a team as talented as the Eagles has had their win total doubled by a team led by a rookie quarterback. Two rookie quarterbacks actually. In week 11 these teams met in what I probably called an elimination game between 3-6 squads at the time. Since the Redskins won that game 31-6 they have continued winning and the Eagles have won only one more game. It was a resounding win and Robert Griffin III needed one-third of the passes as fellow rookie Nick Foles to amass nearly as many yards (204-200). Griffin threw 4 touchdowns and Foles threw 2 interceptions. Meanwhile the ‘Skins won the rushing battle 169-80.

 

It’s obvious Philadelphia is firmly in the spoiler role here. Their head coach Andy Reid likely is gone either way. If they want to thank him for all he has done over the years maybe that is something and with a couple extra days rest coming off an ugly TNF effort the opportunity is there. However, I think they are just tired and not up for it. Washington has a shot at the NFC East title in their sights and the concern for them is looking past this game to next week’s visit from Dallas. Locked in a three-way tie I don’t see them lacking focus here.

 

That being said, this is a team that has gotten in a lot of high scoring battles on the road and outscored opponents 29-27 while going 4-3. Are their rivals up to pulling a surprise? I have my doubts because of Philly’s lack of offense. They had been on a bit of a roll scoring 22, 33 and 23 points prior to last week’s 34-13 loss. Overall at home they are being outscored on average 28-20. Still, if the points start to flow anything can happen. They need to tighten up the turnovers though. Getting LeSean McCoy back helps. Losing the turnover battle 3-0 again would lead to another rout, but I don’t see that happening here.

 

Foles has had some decent days passing the ball, but overall this passing offense is average (251.4, 16 TD) and Philly has absorbed 42 sacks. Washington has been a lot more efficient (240.6, 22 TD) with a high completion percentage (66.7) and fewer sacks (31) as they ride their running game. If there is an upset here it will be on the arm of Foles because the Redskins can’t stop the pass (285.3, 28 TD). The Eagles (219.5, 29 TD) have only 7 interceptions and two of those came in the first meeting. They need to repeat that performance to keep out of a shootout here.

 

Obviously Washington runs the ball, leading the NFL (5.1, 164.8, 17 TD) on the year. I don’t expect Griffin III to be active though, and that limits them. Philadelphia (4.6, 119.6, 9 TD) gets McCoy with flashes of rookie Bryce Brown if he can hold onto the ball. Their offense can be sneaky. On defense the Redskins can contain the run (4.2, 95.9, 10 TD) and the Eagles (4.1, 122.0, 9 TD) give up more yards because teams come at them more.

 

I don’t think this is another blowout. When teams know each other they try different things and usually that leads to a lower scoring game. In this case it might not keep the score down. I look for a cautious Griffin to be vulnerable. The Eagles want to pretend they are impacting this race. I don’t think they win, but I do see them keeping it tight: Washington 27, Philadelphia 23 (PHI +7/over 44.5)

 

New Orleans (6-8) @ Dallas (8-6): The season is a marathon, and the Saints probably wish it would last a few more miles. They went on a 5-1 run in the middle of the season, but two losing streaks were too much to overcome. Last week a 41-0 win over Tampa Bay proved they are very interested in trying to avoid a losing record. The Cowboys on the other hand weathered their 3-5 start by winning five of six to put themselves in position to win the NFC East. They are only 4-3 at home where often the roars for the visitors can make one wonder which team has the advantage.

 

This figures to be a game decided by the quarterbacks. Only Detroit has piled up more yards through the air than Dallas (311.3, 23 TD) or New Orleans (310.4, 36 TD). On defense, the Saints are second-worst in the league (287.0, 27 TD) though and the Cowboys (225.1, 19 TD) have 33 sacks with a pair of solid cornerbacks. I side with the home team. Running the ball has been a challenge for Dallas (3.5, 80.4, 8 TD) but DeMarco Murray is more of a multi-purpose threat anyway and he is healthy again. New Orleans (4.5, 99.9, 9 TD) could probably run more if they wanted to. On defense, stop me if you have heard this before, the Saints are second-worst (5.0, 146.3, 13 TD) while the Cowboys are decent (4.5, 115.2, 12 TD).

 

I understand Dallas is probably tired out having dealt with five straight tough, close games in a row, but only one of those games was on the road (Cincinnati) so at least they haven’t had to travel. It’s a mystery how New Orleans pitched a shutout last week although a 5-0 edge in turnovers helps. Their defense went from allowing 52 to 0 and I don’t know if that’s a record, but it’s probably close. I have to side with the team vying for a playoff berth. I know the Saints will show up for this game, but in a tight one they fall short: Dallas 31, New Orleans 24 (DAL -2.5/over 51.5)

 

Indianapolis (9-5) @ Kansas City (2-12): The Colts know exactly how the Chiefs feel. Well, not exactly. Last year when they kept losing there was a prize at the end – Andrew Luck. There isn’t a marquee quarterback in the 2013 NFL Draft and boy does this franchise need one. Instead they continue to struggle with former first-round pick (by Cleveland) Brady Quinn at the helm for lame duck head coach Romeo Crennel.

 

Scoring has been a huge problem for Kansas City. The lowest scoring team in the league, they have failed to reach double digits five times including four times in their past five outings. Throwing out their emotional 27-21 win over Carolina after the Javon Belcher tragedy, they have posted 22 points in four games since November 18. That’s pathetic. Their defense has shown up in spots, allowing 9, 16, 17 and 15 points with three of those efforts coming at home, but it hasn’t been nearly enough.

 

Indianapolis is a team of destiny and while they might not get anywhere in the playoffs it is still a great story. They are 8-1 in one-score games, losing only on a bomb dropped by Jacksonville’s Blaine Gabbert in the final minute. Their defense is spotty having allowed 33, 23 and 29 points over their past three games not to mention 41, 35 and 59 in games earlier this season, but against an offensively challenged opponent it shouldn’t be an issue.

 

The Colts have solid passing numbers (284.1, 20 TD) but high interception (18) and sack totals (37) that typically go along with rookie passers. The Chiefs (194.7, 8 TD) don’t have the yardage, but do have similar numbers in the latter categories (18, 35). Indy does not defend the pass well (241.6, 23 TD) and has just 8 interceptions. Kansas City does slightly better (215.6, 25 TD) and has only 7 picks. I’ll take Luck over Quinn with these numbers, especially with Dwayne Bowe out of the mix for the home team.

 

Somehow the Chiefs have run the ball great (4.6, 139.3, 8 TD) and the Colts have struggled in that area (3.9, 107.1, 10 TD). Defensively Kansas City gets mugged (4.6, 136.4, 9 TD) because they are always behind. Indianapolis has no excuse (4.8, 124.7, 12 TD). This is where I start to smell upset. In a home finale scenario guys tend to step up. This is it for the Chiefs and their head coach is likely to lose his job. Some of them will too if they mail in a game like this. I think they can run Jamaal Charles enough to stay close. It won’t be enough because Luck is going to do whatever it takes to win: Indianapolis 24, Kansas City 21 (KC +7/over 41.5)

 

New England (10-4) @ Jacksonville (2-12): Before I even start to break this down I can tell you the Pats are out for blood. They hate to lose and off a loss it makes them want to take out their aggression. Last week the defense let them down allowing 41 points to a basically unproven quarterback on their home field. I expect them to come out and play like they want everyone to know they are still the bully on the block. Seven of their wins have been by double digits this season and they know how to hang blowouts on teams. Four of those came on the road.

 

The Jaguars are 1-6 at home and have been outscored by an average score of 27-11 including five losses by double digits. This is the highest scoring offense visiting the second worst scoring offense, so yeah it’s a mismatch. New England comes in wanting to throw the ball first (306.6, 30 TD) and ask questions later. Jacksonville has improved their passing game (221.4, 17 TD) but has taken 42 sacks this year. The Patriots have major issues defending the pass (270.7, 26 TD) although they are better since Aqib Talib came along. The Jags aren’t that great (246.0, 19 TD) and have by far the fewest sacks (15) in the league. If Tom Brady isn’t pressured it’s over.

 

New England can run (4.2, 136.7, 23 TD) and they lead the league in scoring on the ground. They just need to find a hot rusher and avoid fumbles. Jacksonville (3.7, 82.4, 5 TD) is nothing without Maurice Jones-Drew. Making matters worse, the Jags have the worst run defense (4.3, 148.1, 18 TD) in the league. The Patriots are decent (4.0, 106.4, 10 TD) and in this spot will totally force this game to the arm of Chad Henne.

 

Under different circumstances, like the grind of midseason, I might call for a close result. At this point I expect the Jags to just roll over. Their offense can’t score (13 points over the past two weeks) and the defense faces a ticked off monster. Once the points start piling up I don’t see them putting up much resistance. It’s a wipeout and it could be worse than this: New England 31, Jacksonville 13 (NE -14/under 51)

 

Cincinnati (8-6) @ Pittsburgh (7-7): The Steelers are backed up against the wall. The playoffs start now for them after consecutive losses and dropping four of the past five. Meanwhile the Bengals have surged, winning five of six to pull within striking distance of actually winning the AFC North. As I have pointed out before, however, most of those wins were over losing teams.

 

In the first meeting, won by Pittsburgh 24-17, the numbers were staggering in favor of the victors. The Steelers won the total yards battle 431-185 and had 22 first downs to 11 for the Bengals. Andy Dalton had 105 yards passing and missed on half his throws. Pittsburgh only punted 3 times. Psychologically they have a huge edge here because of their history winning these meetings. The urgency is there for them and they want to atone for their last home game, an embarrassing 34-24 loss to struggling San Diego.

 

Pittsburgh needs to get more consistent passing the ball (261.3, 23 TD) and a lot of that has to do with Ben Roethlisberger’s relationship with offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Cincinnati (241.9, 27 TD) has no such issues, but they don’t protect their passer (38 sacks). The Bengals do attack other teams quarterbacks though (43 sacks) and have a decent pass defense (219.2, 15 TD). The Steelers lead the league in pass defense (180.6, 18 TD) but need to sack Andy Dalton and figure out a way to shut down A.J. Green without Ike Taylor. It’s going to be a challenge.

 

In the running game Cincinnati (4.3, 120.3, 11 TD) can move the chains while Pittsburgh (3.8, 96.5, 8 TD) has rotated backs and struggled to hold onto the football. Defensively the Steelers are top shelf though (3.7, 92.7, 9 TD) while Cincinnati is just solid (4.1, 101.0, 11 TD). This should be a defensive fistfight. They know each other’s tendencies. No one scores at Heinz Field, the San Diego game notwithstanding, and I just don’t see the Steelers going out like this. They win an ugly game that will leave both teams battered and bruised: Pittsburgh 20, Cincinnati 17 (CIN +3.5/under 42)

 

Buffalo (5-9) @ Miami (6-8): I actually think this game matters to both teams. There is a bit of a race for second place in the AFC East at stake. The Dolphins have a chance to finish .500 and the Bills want to avoid finishing in the cellar. In week 11 on TNF Buffalo won the first meeting 19-14, but it wasn’t pretty. Miami committed the game’s only turnovers (3) and lost the total yards battle 281-184 as both quarterbacks had trouble completing passes. The “Ryan Brothers” combined to go 31 of 55 for 329 yards. Each team had a touchdown on special teams or it would have been even lower scoring than it was.

 

I expect the rematch to be higher scoring because the defenses are worn out as the season draws to a close. It won’t be a passing show as both teams rank in the bottom 10. Miami (218.6, 11 TD) is technically better than Buffalo (211.8, 22 TD) but I’ll take the team with twice as many touchdown passes. They both protect the passer well with 28 sacks allowed each. On defense the Bills (225.4, 23 TD) allow too much scoring through the air while Miami (247.9, 15 TD) can’t get their hands on the ball (9 interceptions). Both pass rushes are solid so it will be interesting to see which quarterback is under fire.

 

Running the ball should be the difference. If a team can run the ball this late in the season they’ll do it and likely win. Miami (4.0, 112.4, 14 TD) has to live without Daniel Thomas and Buffalo (5.1, 139.6, 10 TD) is without Fred Jackson. Each team is left with their more dynamic threat, but lacks the player capable of wearing down an opposing defense. The Bills can’t stop the run (5.1, 144.1, 22 TD) and the Dolphins (3.9, 100.9, 8 TD) do a pretty good job. I think they handle business here and build momentum towards next season. If they can add a star wide receiver their outlook changes dramatically. I think the Bills keep it close coming off an embarrassing loss in Toronto: Miami 24, Buffalo 20 (BUF +4.5/over 41.5)

 

Oakland (4-10) @ Carolina (5-9): It’s usually a safe bet to count on the Raiders folding when they head east. In general they have really struggled on the road losing by 22, 31, 35 and 24 points in some of their worst efforts. The Panthers are playing like they are still in it after winning three of four. It’s almost as if people have forgotten how this team was sort of expected to make a run at the playoffs this season. They still have a shot at second place in the NFC South, so there’s that. Heck, the Raiders can still finish second in the AFC West for that matter. Maybe these teams will both come out firing, but I doubt it.

 

Carolina is improving in the passing game (249.8, 18 TD) while Oakland (285.1, 22 TD) just slings the ball around with reckless abandon. The Raiders can’t stop the pass (248.3, 25 TD) or rush the passer (21 sacks). The Panthers can control the pass a bit (217.7, 18 TD) and attack the quarterback (36 sacks) so they have the throwing advantage in my estimation.

 

They probably will win the rushing edge too. Carolina (4.3, 121.6, 15 TD) has a surging DeAngelo Williams running hard. Oakland (3.9, 89.9, 3 TD) counters with gimpy Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson against his former team. Defensively the Raiders are not stopping the run (4.5, 122.5, 17 TD) and the Panthers (4.4, 117.9, 11 TD) are just a little better. If McFadden was healthy I might give the visitors a better chance. Instead I think Cam Newton puts on a show. He is enjoying this late season success, even if it means nothing. They get this done: Carolina 27, Oakland 21 (OAK +9.5/over 46)

 

Tennessee (5-9) @ Green Bay (10-4): The Packers have every reason to stay focused here against a team with nothing on the line. They are vying for the bye week and hoping San Francisco stumbles in Seattle on SNF to put them in position to earn it next week. They are 8-1 since losing in Indianapolis when the Colts were emotionally charged up at the beginning of the Chuck Pagano situation. Their run has gone mostly unnoticed, but only one of the wins was by fewer than 7 points.

 

The Titans are traveling on a short week after beating the Jets 14-10 on MNF in an ugly game that snapped their three-game skid. They are in trouble here against a high scoring offense because they can’t throw the ball much (234.6, 16 TD) and the Packers can (259.0, 33 TD). It’s true that Aaron Rodgers is sacked a ton (45) but the Titans allow a high completion percentage (66.5) and aren’t great against the pass (240.6, 26 TD). The Packers allow a low completion percentage (55.7) and do an average job defending the pass (226.0, 20 TD) with 39 sacks and 16 interceptions to help their cause. I expect them to make Jake Locker’s life pretty miserable.

 

Running the ball hasn’t mattered much to Green Bay (4.0, 108.1, 5 TD) because they don’t need to in order to score. Tennessee (4.7, 109.2, 9 TD) gets some big runs and not much else. They long for Chris Johnson being “CJ2K”. The Titans give up a lot of rushing yards (4.2, 128.3, 12 TD) because they are always behind. The packers (4.5, 114.3, 11 TD) run a tighter ship. I don’t think this is much of a game. Green Bay knows what they have to do and will do it. Tennessee could care less about going into a cold stadium and trying to tackle anyone. Their effort level will be low. I don’t think the Packers blow them out because it’s not necessary: Green Bay 28, Tennessee 17 (TEN +13/over 44)

 

San Diego (5-9) @ NY Jets (6-8): Talk about two deflated teams. The Chargers followed up their resounding road win in Pittsburgh by losing 31-7 at home to Carolina. The Jets went on MNF in front of a national audience and saw their slim playoff hopes go up in smoke on a bad snap that Mark Sanchez fumbled for his fifth turnover on the night. Sanchez won’t turn it over in this game because he’s benched in favor of Greg McElroy. Their passing offense (196.1, 14 TD) has been horrific. San Diego’s Philip Rivers has struggled this year as well (235.0, 22 TD) and 43 sacks haven’t helped.

 

Defensively the Jets contain the pass (191.1, 17 TD) and the Chargers don’t (241.1, 26 TD) but the disparity in quarterback talent is going to offset the difference and then some. New York has started to run the ball a bit (3.9, 121.0, 10 TD) while San Diego (3.7, 93.1, 4 TD) has lost Ryan Mathews. That’s bad news for them because the Jets can’t stop the run (4.5, 138.7, 15 TD). The Chargers can (3.8, 97.0, 7 TD) and figure to put this game on McElroy’s arm.

 

I look for a defensive struggle on both sides and a game no one really wants to watch. Kickers and punters will be the stars of this show. Rivers should do just enough to pull out the win while McElroy is more apt to commit the key mistake. I don’t have much confidence in this pick though: San Diego 17, NY Jets 16 (SD +2.5/under 38.5)

 

Cleveland (5-9) @ Denver (11-3): Better days probably are ahead for the Browns while the time to win is now for the Broncos. Peyton Manning has taken a playoff team that made it on defense and turned them into a consistent scoring threat. Just once have they been limited to fewer than 21 points, a 17-9 win at Kansas City, and eleven times they have put up at least 25. The Browns have started to score a bit, posting 20-plus in five straight, but I don’t think they can make a serious run at winning this one on the road.

 

Denver’s passing game is in cruise control (286.9, 31 TD) with Manning at the helm. Cleveland can throw it some (234.4, 14 TD) but they are young all around on offense. The Broncos can create pressure on defense (42 sacks) and defend the pass (216.1, 24 TD) while allowing a low completion percentage (57.8). The Browns also rush the quarterback (36 sacks) but give up more yards (247.4, 21 TD) and a higher completion percentage (62.4). Manning is going to avoid the rush and find his target more. Rookie Brandon Weeden is going to melt here on the road and turn it over.

 

Running the ball has been an afterthought for Denver (3.8, 110.1, 9 TD) who has gotten a nice effort from Knowshon Moreno since Willis McGahee went down. Cleveland (3.9, 97.4, 12 TD) would have no running game at all if not for rookie Trent Richardson who is playing through multiple injuries. The Broncos can really stop the run (3.6, 91.0, 5 TD) and figure to make it tough for the visitors to score. The Browns are giving up some rushing yards (4.3, 120.6, 13 TD) and in this spot I’m not sure what their defense will muster up, especially when the offense keeps stalling.

 

Last week’s 38-21 thrashing at the hands of Washington’s other rookie quarterback Kirk Cousins was kind of alarming. Now Cleveland has to go on the road against a better team with a veteran quarterback and play defense at the tail end of a lost season? I’m not sure I can count on them to do that. This is a lot of points to give up, but the bubble of a three-game winning streak was burst in that loss. Denver is rolling and looking to secure their position in the playoffs. They have seven wins by 11-plus points so it’s not like they can’t wipe teams out. I just don’t see the visitors scoring enough to cover: Denver 27, Cleveland 10 (DEN -12/under 44.5)

 

Chicago (8-6) @ Arizona (5-9): I’m really intrigued by this matchup. The Bears are in a tailspin having lost five of their past six games. Four of those were by one score, but the losses have put them in serious danger of missing the playoffs as they hit the road for their final two games. The Cardinals just snapped a horrific nine-game slide by throttling Detroit 38-10 but can they repeat that effort against a contender?

 

It’s almost unbelievable to think that the better passing offense on paper belong to Arizona (208.0, 10 TD) and not Chicago (206.8, 19 TD) although let’s face it passing touchdowns are what really matters if the yardage is close. It’s still glaring. These teams have combined to allow an insane 93 sacks and 34 interceptions and that has hurt their bottom 6 passing offenses. Pass defense is another story, both are in the top 6. The Cardinals (199.3, 17 TD) have 22 interceptions and 36 sacks. The Bears (210.6, 16 TD) have 21 interceptions and 36 sacks. In a situation like this I have to favor the veteran Jay Cutler over rookie Ryan Lindley although not by too much. Cutler is likely to force throws and might have a pick-six or two.

 

Last week Beanie Wells went off and Arizona’s league worst rushing offense (3.5, 80.0, 10 TD) showed life. Chicago’s running game (4.2, 119.6, 9 TD) is all on Matt Forte now, but the Cardinals don’t do well against the run (4.4, 136.5, 10 TD). The Bears are average (4.4, 109.0, 6 TD). This should be a defensive struggle. Last week Arizona recovered from an embarrassing 58-0 loss in Seattle and won. Now they have the monkey off their back and might relax a bit. Chicago comes in desperate for a win. Their losses have been against good teams in close games. I think they squeeze this out: Chicago 20, Arizona 17 (AZ +7/over 36.5)

 

NY Giants (8-6) @ Baltimore (9-5): This was the Super Bowl not so long ago. Now both teams are trying to get back there, but last week was not a good way to show it for either side. The Giants lost 34-0 in Atlanta and the Ravens got whipped at home by Denver 34-17. New York is in the more desperate spot here because their offense has struggled on the road of late totaling just 29 points in their last three games. If they lose here they can expect to be traveling in the playoffs if they make it. Baltimore is already in, and it’s a good thing because they need to figure out their offense under new coordinator Jim Caldwell.

 

New York can throw the ball a bit (256.7, 20 TD) and protects Eli Manning (16 sacks). Baltimore is as good on paper (250.3, 20 TD) but doesn’t keep Joe Flacco safe (34 sacks). We know what the Giants can do rushing the passer (32 sacks) and the time is now for them to do it. Their pass defense (253.7, 23 TD) is weak overall, but those sacks and interceptions (20) bail them out. The Ravens (242.1, 13 TD) also have 32 sacks, but injuries have really put their defense in a tough spot.

 

Baltimore’s running game (4.2, 105.1, 14 TD) has to step up this week. New York (4.5, 115.0, 16 TD) might get Ahmad Bradshaw back, and otherwise needs big things from rookie David Wilson. Defensively the Ravens (4.1, 132.2, 14 TD) are shaky and the Giants (4.5, 123.7, 8 TD) are even worse. This could be a real battle and the points might start going up on the board barring turnovers and sacks. I’ll take the team in a tougher spot with the better quarterback: NY Giants 24, Baltimore 21 (NYG -1/under 47.5)

 

San Francisco (10-3-1) @ Seattle (9-5): It was awesome to watch what the 49ers did last week in New England, but this is an entirely different animal here. The Seahawks win by hook or by crook at home. They have also put up 108 points over the past two weeks. For a team that I once doubted could score they have really turned it around posting 21-plus points in their past seven games and average 30.2 per game at home. Let’s not forget that this is a battle between the teams tied for the league lead in fewest points allowed per game though (15.6).

 

In the first meeting it lived up to the defensive hype. San Francisco won 13-6 in a game featuring 564 total yards and just 23 completed passes between the teams. Somehow both Marshawn Lynch and Frank Gore ran for over 100 yards though. After Washington, these are the next best two running teams in the league with the 49ers (5.2, 162.9, 16 TD) slightly ahead of the Seahawks (4.8, 160.7, 14 TD). San Francisco has the better run defense (3.6, 91.1, 6 TD) than Seattle (4.5, 106.3, 8 TD) though. They will look to take advantage of this edge and control the ball.

 

Neither team does a lot passing the ball. The 49ers (216.1, 20 TD) are a little better than the Seahawks (200.9, 22 TD). Both are efficient though. They will find that hard this week because both pass defenses are in the top 5. San Francisco (201.9, 14 TD) and Seattle (197.6, 13 TD) each have 35 sacks. I don’t see how these teams are going to muster up a lot of offense here. They have young, mobile quarterbacks to avoid the pass rush, but lack star power on the outside. Michael Crabtree and Sidney Rice are not elite threats capable of overcoming stout defensive units.

 

I do worry about the travel with the 49ers coming back across the country then going up the coast. They are the better team and are going to stun most people who just assume the Seahawks can’t lose at home. Colin Kaepernick is unflappable at this point. Russell Wilson will do some things as well, but I’ll stick with Jim Harbaugh over Pete Carroll yet again: San Francisco 17, Seattle 13 (SF -1/under 39.5)

 

 

NFL Predictions 2012: Week 16 | 18 comments | Create New Account
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