NFL Predictions 2014: Week 11

Thursday, November 13 2014

Contributed by: norcalfella

It was another painful, mediocre week for me. All year I have been struggling to pick winners at the level I am accustomed to. I went 9-4 (93-53-1 overall) with misses on a couple significant upsets, Cleveland drubbing Cincinnati and New York (Jets) stunning Pittsburgh. I was most bothered by calling New Orleans 28-24 over San Francisco, and watching a 27-24 result the other way around. I need some of those to start going my way. Against the spread I was at least positive at 7-6 (80-67 overall) but was burned trying to play the odds taking two double-digit underdogs (Titans, Raiders) to cover the points. I went 7-6 on the over/under (81-65-1 overall) and now stand +29 against Las Vegas. This week I need to hone in with laser focus to make up some ground. 

 

Buffalo (5-4) @ Miami (5-4): Last week the Dolphins played just their second close game of the season, both of them resulting in losses. The other seven contests have been decided by at least 13 points, including their trip to Buffalo which was a 29-10 loss. The Bills also lost a tight one last week, 17-13 to Kansas City, so now both teams have quite a bit of urgency on a short week trying to keep their playoff hopes alive. The run defenses are both in the top 10, and neither team has an elite rusher so this one should come down to quarterback play. Miami has the better running game (4.6, 127.6) but just lost left tackle Branden Albert and quarterback Ryan Tannehill is banged up. Tannehill has contributed a lot of yardage on the ground this season.

The passing offenses are both below average, so this has the feel to me of a low scoring game. Both passing defenses are in the top 7 with a combined 62 sacks. On the season, Buffalo has scored more than 23 points just twice and allowed more just once. Miami has been in slightly higher scoring contests and I get the feeling 24 points is going to be enough here. It hurts to lose Albert, so I am nervous about this pick. The Bills might swarm Tannehill. Kyle Orton has done a good job protecting the football, but likewise he needs to avoid sacks or the visitors are going to be in trouble. Flip a coin here. I like the home coaching staff: Miami 23, Buffalo 20 (BUF +5.5/over 42) 

Houston (4-5) @ Cleveland (6-3): There is a quarterback switch here, but it is not the one that would get fans in a frenzy. Ryan Mallett takes over for the Texans who are coming off their bye week and quite frankly set up in decent position for a playoff push if the offense is up to the task. Arian Foster is ailing, however, and that is huge. Their defense has the game's best player in J.J. Watt, but they have allowed 30-plus points four times including three of the past four outings. They are not in a good position here on the road against a team coming off a big TNF win that vaulted them into first place in the AFC North. The Browns last won a division title in 1989 when they claimed the AFC Central. Brian Hoyer directs an offense that is not flashy, but has failed to score 21-plus points just once. The defense is starting to come on now, holding four of their past five opponents to no more than 17 points.

Pass defense has been a big issue for Houston (273.8, 18 TD). Cleveland is biding their time waiting for Josh Gordon's return, but their passing offense is getting by with protecting the football (4 interceptions) and Hoyer (13 sacks). The Texans have the fifth-worst pass offense in the league and we will see what Mallett can do about it. They would prefer to ride their running game (4.4, 137.0) which is something the Browns struggle with (3.5, 117.8) since losing center Alex Mack. The run defenses are both in the bottom 12, but Cleveland is worse (4.7, 134.2). I am starting to feel like the visitors can come in here, run the ball and compete assuming Foster is healthy. If it is up to Alfred Blue, the upset is far less likely: Cleveland 21, Houston 17 (CLE -3/under 42.5) 

Minnesota (4-5) @ Chicago (3-6): To put this game in perspective for these NFC North combatants, the Packers are currently 6-3 and are currently outside of playoff position based on the current standings. In other words, both teams are probably already done as far as a wild card spot is concerned. Being a few games behind with seven to go is not a spot either team appears ready to dig their way out of. For the Vikings, they might have some hope if it appeared the league would reinstate running back Adrian Peterson and/or the team would go ahead and play him if he was made available. It does not appear like it will happen, so they are stuck with growing pains that come with a rookie quarterback, and a slumping "star" wide receiver in Patterson. For the Bears, I need too much space to get into all of their issues. Primarily, they are not getting top production out of their talented skill position players, and it continues to center around quarterback Jay Cutler.

Home field barely plays into this outcome because Chicago is awful here, losing all three in the new Soldier Field and twice getting run by double digits. The road has been arguable worse for them, however, notably the past two games getting outscored a combined 106-37 and those games were not as close as the final scores might indicate. Minnesota is not technically a dome team this year, so playing in the elements figures to be less of an issue for them. They had two dome road games I have thrown out, then they were trashed in Green Bay which happens. In their most recent road efforts they lost close in Buffalo and won an OT game in Tampa Bay. Neither of those games produced 20 points from either side, which is something to think about here.

On the season, Minnesota is tenth in rushing (4.5, 119.3) even without Peterson. Chicago is ninth worst (4.1, 97.2) even with Matt Forte at their disposal. The respective run defenses are virtually identical and almost right at the league average, so the edge would appear to be going to the visitors running the ball and I give that extra weight as the weather starts to turn. Balance is not the thing for the Vikings with their rookie slinger Teddy Bridgewater directing the fourth-least productive passing game (218.7). Aaron Rodgers threw 6 touchdown passes against this defense in the first half last week. This offense has 6 the entire season, or to put that in perspective 18 halves of football. They have thrown 11 interceptions and taken 30 sacks, not great numbers there either. So while Chicago is similar in those areas (10, 24) they throw for almost 50 more yards per game and have triple the touchdown throws, which is obviously with guys like Marshall, Jeffrey and Bennett running pass patterns. The Vikings are fourth against the pass, and have 30 sacks. The Bears are fifth-worst against the pass. This is a tough call, harder than I expected. Off the bye week I want to call for the upset, but I feel like enough is enough for Da Bears who have not played a team with a losing record in a month: Chicago 24, Minnesota 20 (CHI -2.5/under 47.5) 

Philadelphia (7-2) @ Green Bay (6-3): The late Al Davis coined the phrase "Just win baby!". It sort of describes what is going on this season for the Eagles. Three of their wins have come by a single score, and two of those were against teams with losing records (Rams, Redskins). They were not that impressive against the Texans a couple weeks ago either, yet here they stand with the second-best record in the NFL. The two games they lost were by a combined 9 points, and both came on the road. Their lack of style points contribute heavily to the perception of them in this matchup. The Packers are a second-place team at the moment, and not in wild card position at the moment. All three of their losses were by 12-plus points and two of them were by three touchdowns. Sure, they have four wins by 21-plus points and that is what fans remember. Just twice have they been involved in games decided by one score this season and I have to wonder if they are due for such a game, and if they can triumph over a team used to being in close contests.

These teams throw it around the yard and are both in the top 10. The Eagles have thrown for more yards, but forget that. The Packers have pulled Rodgers when they could have piled up yardage, something Chip Kelly would never do. I prefer the team with a 25/4 TD-to-INT ratio over the one with the 17/12. Philly does have fewer sacks (12 to 20) and their defense has produced more (32 to 22) so trying to break down the pass rush it would be a 3-2 edge for the visitors. Not huge, but an edge. The TD/INT thing goes in favor of Green Bay though, and they have home field here, which helps. Running the ball is the key for the visitors because the Packers (4.6, 142.6) are getting bowled over this year. LeSean McCoy might actually show up for his fantasy owners in this one. Conversely, I expect an average effort from the home side. Overall, the better quarterback is clearly Rodgers over "backup" Mark Sanchez and I put that in quotes because he might be the best option on their roster. This is enough for me to call it by a decent margin, but I would not lay a dollar on it: Green Bay 31, Philadelphia 21 (GB -3.5/under 55.5) 

Seattle (6-3) @ Kansas City (6-3): These teams definitely set out on rocky paths early in the season. The Chiefs were 0-2 and 2-3, while the Seahawks were 3-3. It does not take a genius to figure out both are now on winning streaks. Seattle struggled a bit knocking off Carolina and Oakland, but might have regained some swagger destroying the Giants last week. Kansas City scratched out close wins over winning teams (San Diego, Buffalo) sandwiched around comfortable victories over losing teams (St. Louis, Jets). They have the home edge here, and it would appear to be huge. I am not totally convinced. The visitors could use the whole "our stadium broke your noise record!" thing as motivation. They also know how to play in loud stadiums, like their own.

Running the ball is a good way to seize control of a hostile environment, and the Seahawks lead the NFL thanks in part to quarterback Russell Wilson's 500 yards. He is fifteenth in the NFL by the way. The Chiefs have the fifth-best running game and do their damage with actual running backs although Alex Smith (187 yards) can move when he needs to. Defensively, Kansas City gives up big chunks of yardage (4.7, 115.6) but has yet to allow a rushing score. No other team in the league can boast that. Seattle can shut down the run (3.2, 79.8) anywhere on the field though, and that is a problem for the home team. The passing offense stats for these teams are almost identical, and the Jets are the only team in the league with fewer yards per game. One key edge for the Chiefs is a better completion percentage, but they have taken more sacks (25-18).

Do you know what the top pass defense in the league is? Not the Legion of Boom, they are eighth and have a ridiculous (for them) sack total of 13. Kansas City (205.3) is first, and they have 28 sacks. Can Seattle kick field goals and win this game? Neither team really has a receiving threat to speak of honestly. Plays are going to be made by the quarterbacks finding open targets and running plays putting them in position to move the chains. I know Kansas City can ball out and win this game. They showed how in that huge MNF blowout of the Patriots. However, I feel like even if this is a non-divisional game for Seattle, somehow they are going to be fired up and get this done: Seattle 19, Kansas City 17 (SEA +2/under 43) 

Atlanta (3-6) @ Carolina (3-6-1): In a normal season, this would be an absolute elimination game in the playoff race because a seventh loss would realistically end any hopes of a berth in the dance. However, this year in the upside down NFC North anything is possible. The Saints lead at 4-5 and now face three straight AFC North foes. No telling how those games will go. Obviously the winner of this tilt has an edge and becomes the primary challenger. The Falcons are dreadful outdoors on natural surface. I thought it would bite them last week in Tampa Bay, but they muscled out a 27-17 win over the Bucs who turned back to veteran Josh McCown at quarterback. It was good for them to get a victory, but can we cool the jets a bit? They took down a 1-win team, and it came off a bye week.

Speaking of which, the Panthers have a bye on deck which puts their focus squarely on this game and allows tired players (hi there banged up Cam Newton!) to power through this one because rest is coming. I get it, they were smoked in Philadelphia who had just turned to Mark Sanchez at quarterback. The defense is a mess, and giving up points in bunches. All it takes is 60 minutes of effort to get a victory. Last week was the only good performance on the road this year for the Falcons. I am not convinced they are turning anything around based on one result. These are both bottom 10 defenses. Carolina is giving up 4.6 yards per carry, compared to 4.0 for Atlanta. On offense? Yep, both are also in the bottom 10 and the average per carry edge in the same (4.2 to 3.6) again in favor of the visitors. This is interesting. If you throw the numbers in a blender, what if we knew the Falcons could get 4.4 a pop while the Panthers get 3.8? That's a clear advantage.

Thanks in part to last week's barrage, Carolina has allowed 31 sacks (Atlanta, 18) and their passing offense is inferior overall. I will take the team with Julio Jones by the way, if push comes to shove. Defensively, there is a major weakness with the Falcons allowing a league high 280.3 yards per game through the air and registering just 11 sacks. If they are unable to disrupt Newton, or hit him, things get interesting. The Panthers are the tenth-worst pass defense, but have 21 sacks and the home field advantage. I might kick myself for this one, and in a way I already am because I blew it last week as well. However, I believe in home field here: Carolina 26, Atlanta 24 (ATL +3/over 46.5) 

Cincinnati (5-3-1) @ New Orleans (4-5): Are the Bengals serious about benching quarterback Andy Dalton? I get it, he was epically awful on TNF against the Browns with the team's point total matching his interception total. Do they really think Jason Campbell is going to save the day? This is something they should have seen coming. A team losing both coordinators was bound to struggle, and a 3-0 start against bad teams masked their deficiencies. Now, with defensive stud Geno Atkins playing like a guy coming back from injury, and wide receiver A.J. Green still not quite himself, it has only made the situation worse. Giovani Bernard is a huge element to their offense in the backfield and is missed. They did not replace the pass rush when free agent Michael Johnson left. The list goes on. In short, this team is ready to continue crumbling and I expect the fall to continue here, not turn around.

The Saints lost a game they should have won against the 49ers, and blew a chance to really take hold of the NFC South. They are mad, and ready to take it out on someone. Cincinnati is awful against the run (4.5, 145.3) and while you might think aerial show when you think New Orleans, their run game (4.7, 130.2) is great. Mark Ingram has been on fire the past three outings, and should continue to flame. If they run for more than 150 yards I would not be surprised a bit. The Bengals will be closer to 100. The pass defenses are just below average for both teams, but if a team is unable to rush Drew Brees forget it and that is case here against a team with just 13 sacks.  I see no way the home team does not build a lead and turn this into an avalanche. In their past two road games Cincy has been outscored 70-17 and this is the first of three straight on the road. At least the next two foes (Houston, Tampa Bay) are less talented: New Orleans 35, Cincinnati 19 (NO -6.5/over 49)

Tampa Bay (1-8) @ Washington (3-6): It is too early in the season for completely meaningless games like this one. Both teams are totally out of any sort of playoff consideration. Even in the ridiculous NFC South, the Bucs have no chance at three down with seven to go. As for the Redskins, they are four back in the NFC East and three behind for the second wild card. Forget it. Who still cares about their season and has some pride left? Typically the road team struggles to get motivated for a game like this, but Tampa Bay has actually competed well since being blown out in Atlanta early in the year so even at 0-5 I would not write them off yet. Washington is off a bye week and has Robert Griffin III a little healthier. They just played three out of four on the road and should be up for this one. 

The run defenses are both average, but offensively the edge is clearly with the Redskins, especially with Alfred Morris and Roy Helu Jr. at their disposal. Tampa Bay is poor at running the ball and has no stud to take over a game like this, which puts quarterback Josh McCown in a bad spot. Pass defense? The Bucs have the second-worst unit (277.1) and have allowed more TD passes (19) than they have sacks (14). The Redskins give up scores as well (18) but they can get the quarterback more effectively (23). Of course, they also have just 3 interceptions. There is always a chance the game's only turnovers come from the home team and something unexpected happens. I doubt it. For me this feels like a rout. Two weeks to prepare for a team just waiting to fold up tent on the road is enough reason for me to call it this way: Washington 27, Tampa Bay 14 (WAS -6/under 46) 

Denver (7-2) @ St. Louis (3-6): Jeff Fisher thought he was done with Peyton Manning. He has seen enough of him from his days coaching the Titans against the Colts. Both men have moved on to new teams, but the experience is a huge factor here. A change at quarterback to veteran Shaun Hill signals that the Rams believe they can compete this season. Okay, probably not. Fisher just wants to make sure he still has a job. There is a reason he lasted 100 years in Tennessee. Either way, Hill probably gives them a better chance to win games down the stretch even if it does not help their long term situation at the position. The Broncos could care less. They bring in a high powered offense and attacking defense. I like their chances. Plus, this is a bad spot for the home team after three physical games in a row on the road. They have to be worn out. 

Seven times St. Louis has allowed 26-plus points this season, and that is a problem here. Six times they have failed to score 20. They did beat Seattle here, and gave Dallas some problems. Denver has scored 31-plus six times and only three teams have put up more than 21 on them. These numbers do not bode well for the home team. Plus, Manning knows how to play in a dome, so the home field is not as big of a deal. He also packs the league's top run defense (3.2, 67.0) against a team that is not great running the ball. St. Louis has trouble stopping the run (4.3, 124.2) and while Denver is down a couple backs, Manning knows when to audible to a running play and stick it to an opposing defense. The disparity in sacks allowed is pretty alarming here, in favor of the visitors (30-9). Some people believe the Rams can rush with four here and get this done. Probably not. For me, this feels like a wipeout, which means a weird play or two keeps it a little close: Denver 28, St. Louis 20 (STL +10.5/under 51.5)

San Francisco (5-4) @ NY Giants (3-6): If the 49ers are going to make any sort of move, it has to continue here in what amounts to a trap game. Under head coach Jim Harbaugh, travel east has been a point of strength, but his "opposite number" Tom Coughlin has been to a few rodeos. The Giants are definitely stumbling with four consecutive losses, allowing 78 points in the past two alone. At some point a beaten up team says "enough is enough" and comes up with 60 minutes of strong football. It might happen here, or it might be next week against the rival Cowboys. San Francisco comes in with a bit of relief stealing a win in New Orleans last week to halt a two-game skid. There is nothing on the horizon to distract them, next week they host Washington, so their focus is squarely on this game. 

Obviously run defense is the elephant in the room here. New York is the league's worst (5.0, 144.7) and just got run over in Seattle by Marshawn "Beast Mode" Lynch. Now they have to stop a two-headed monster in Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde. It seems crazy that San Francisco has five rushing scores all season, but I expect that number to go up after this one. The 49ers are fifth in pass defense (215.2) and get their pass rusher Aldon Smith back from suspension here to help on third downs. They lose safety Jimmie Ward, and still have two backup middle linebackers, so we will see how it washes out. Protecting Colin Kaepernick has been an issue (31 sacks) but should not be here because I expect them to run the ball from start to finish. I expect this to be an old school, low scoring game. The Giants are going to do their best at home and keep it close. Eli Manning has Odell Beckham to create some offense and running back Rashad Jennings is going to help the running game in his return: San Francisco 23, NY Giants 20 (NYG +4.5/under 45) 

Oakland (0-9) @ San Diego (5-4): I am going to say it now. The Raiders will not go 0-16. If anything, they might beat a team led by Brock Osweiler on the last day of the season if the Broncos have locked up their playoff position. This is not going to be their day, though. The Chargers were in a tussle the last time these teams hooked up and with six minutes to play trailed 28-21 in the Black Hole. Obviously they rallied for the 31-28 win. Ryan Mathews did not play in that one, and is expected to return here. Oakland had their starter corners and injuries have hurt their back line. Philip Rivers will find it much easier to do damage this time around. Plus, this is the first time a team has faced rookie quarterback Derek Carr with game tape of him against their team. He is going to be in trouble, and I say this with a high degree of certainty. His guard Gabe Jackson being out is another blow to the team's chances at their first win in a calendar year. 

Sacks are unlikely to be a factor in the outcome here. Oakland has just 8 on the season, and while their rookie linebacker Khalil Mack can stop the run he is not helpful in that area. San Diego has only 15 and goes up against a team that has allowed just 10. I expect this to be a straight up game, meaning both teams play as well as they can and talent simply wins out. The Raiders have no running game to speak of with league lows in yards per game (62.1) and touchdowns (2). Carr is not going to win a game until he gets support in that area, and with Jackson out forget it. Last time they played the Chargers got their fifth straight win and have not won since. This time they start another winning streak because injured players are coming back and the schedule is lining up for them: San Diego 28, Oakland 17 (SD -8/over 44) 

Detroit (7-2) @ Arizona (8-1): Neither team made the playoffs last year, but both are leading their respective division into the second half of the season. Still, the hype is pretty low on this game. Some of it has to do with quarterback Carson Palmer being lost for the season. Backup Drew Stanton is an ex-Lion, which is a neat angle, but he does not move the needle. Matthew Stafford, on the other hand, has Calvin Johnson a game into his comeback. Patrick Peterson locking up with Megatron is the one thing people are talking about when it comes to this game. It is almost like everyone has forgotten about the teams battling for No. 1 playoff seed position. 

Another big factor here is two of the top three run defenses in the league on display, and since they are going up against two of the bottom four run defenses I think you know what to expect here. I hate to say things like "well Stanton is in so the Cards have no chance!" because they beat the 49ers with him. However, in a game with the running games stalled, it is hard to expect a different outcome. Yes, Arizona has possibly the top corner in the game and 14 interceptions as a team. They also have the third worst pass defense on the stat sheet (274.2) and only 14 sacks. If you think it is because they are so great against the run, well, Detroit is third against the pass (212.1) and they have 26 sacks. Suh is a force to be reckoned with, in any building. For me, this call is easy. I know the desert is a tough place to play, but I like this spot for the visitors. The Lions keep finding ways to win and while three cold weather games left on the slate will wreck their division title hopes, they get this one: Detroit 20, Arizona 19 (DET +3/under 43) 

New England (7-2) @ Indianapolis (6-3): When the older, elite quarterbacks in the AFC start to retire in a couple years it will be tough for anyone to beat Andrew Luck's Colts. This is going to be a quarterback driven league for a while and he has zero young competition to speak of. For now, Tom Brady is as fired up for this game as he would be to visit his bitter rival Peyton Manning when he used to lead this team. In fact, he has the taste of beating Manning fresh on his mind since it happened before they took last week off. If anything, the bye week cost them some momentum although it did give Bill Belichick time to devise a defense to take away T.Y. Hilton. There are really no other star players to target with the ball, but a lot of average threats. Yes, I know Reggie Wayne is a great player. Right now he is at the end of his career. 

Last week was also a bye week for Indianapolis, who got themselves straight after an ugly loss in Pittsburgh by winning over the Giants in New York (well, technically New Jersey) 40-24. Putting this quarterback pairing in perspective, the teams have combined for 49 TD passes. Brady has only 3 interceptions. The Colts have the worse pass defense, and have to figure out a way to stop tight end Rob Gronkowski. Wide receiver Brandon LaFell has also found a place in the offense. I favor Indianapolis when it comes to running the ball, and home field is an edge for them as well. It is really hard to go against Brady in any situation, much less primetime. However, this is a spot I expect Luck to benefit from a conservative game plan controlling the clock and quite frankly scoring a touchdown when it counts, whereas his defense forces field goals: Indianapolis 28, New England 24 (IND -2.5/under 58.5) 

Tennessee (2-7) @ Pittsburgh (6-4): It can be hard to know what to expect from the Steelers this season, as evidenced by last week's loss at the Jets who had not won since week 1. They have already been bitten by an awful team at home as well, giving the Bucs their only win of the season right here in week 4. Their defense is softening and injuries are not helping. At the very least I can count on how difficult defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau makes life on rookie quarterbacks. I also know former Titans head coach Mike Munchak is now with the Steelers coaching their offensive line. These are big advantages for a team already with more talent, home field and something to play for this season. 

Somehow Tennessee has held it together on defense of late, holding three of their past four opponents to no more than 21 points. Pittsburgh is kind of mad this week though after Ben Roethlisberger's two game reign of terror (12 TD passes) came to an unceremonious halt last week. They have a massive edge in passing offense, and it helps their cause to miss tight end Delanie Walker. The pass defenses are both average, and while the Steelers are missing parts I like their backups to step up under the MNF lights. Teams are running over the Titans overall (4.2, 136.6) because they keep falling behind. Pittsburgh (4.4, 107.5) actually gives up more yards per carry and, I repeat, is missing parts on defense. Nothing is impossible in this league, but I deal in more probable if that makes sense. I see a big win for the home team here. Primetime routs are a trend this year: Pittsburgh 30, Tennessee 14 (PIT -4/under 47) 

 

 

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