NFL Predictions 2014: Week 12

Wednesday, November 19 2014

Contributed by: norcalfella

I guess I should know better than to complain about mediocrity, because last week I was rewarded with an abysmal record. It is hard to recall a spot this late in the season when I had a straight up week as bad as the 7-7 (100-60-1 overall) I just turned in and that was not the worst of it. I gave back massive gains against the spread with a 3-11 showing (83-78 overall) and even struggled on the over/under at 6-8 (87-73-1 overall). The disaster left me +19 against Vegas. Believe me when I tell you weeks like this do not happen often. Experts from across the web were 97% in agreement on three teams winning (Saints, Redskins, Broncos) and quite frankly all of them were defeated handily. How often does this happen? Two other teams (Chargers, Steelers) barely escaped and were picked by that high a percentage as well. Odd, I would say. The wise guys never lose. I move on.

 

Kansas City (7-3) @ Oakland (0-10): Rivalry games in primetime are usually fun. Mix in the possibility of rain in the Bay Area and this one could be a surprise. The Chiefs have already come to the Bay Area earlier this season and it was the last time they lost a game, 22-17 to San Francisco. Since their 0-2 start it was the only occasion their defense allowed more than 20 points. On the other side of the coin, the Raiders have scored more than 17 points juts twice. Plus, in three of their four defenses of the Black Hole they have lost by 11-plus. However, four of the five times Kansas City hit the road their games have all been one-score affairs. Typically division rivals tend to play close games. This year TNF has produced a ton of blowouts. I have no idea what is going to happen!

Okay, I think I actually do. The Chiefs can really run the ball (4.8, 141.2) with a league-leading 16 rushing scores. The Raiders are unable to run at all (3.4, 63.0) and have just two touchdowns on the ground. Now, the funny part about this is that statistically both defenses allow about the same amount of rushing yards per game, ranking in the bottom 8 of the league. However, Oakland has given up 9 scores, and Kansas City has allowed none. But, the Raiders allow a full yard fewer per rush (3.8 to 4.8). I conclude that, with an elite rusher the visitors are going to get their yards and stick to the run. The home team will try out Latavius Murray and have a chance to spring the upset. The passing offenses are actually both in the bottom 6. The visitors pack a pass rush and a really good offensive line. It is enough to slug this out in an ugly game. The Raiders might have had a chance with a full deck of cornerbacks: Kansas City 20, Oakland 10 (KC -6/under 43.5) 

Cleveland (6-4) @ Atlanta (4-6): I really thought the Falcons were done when they lost in London. Sure, the two teams they have beaten since are bad, but both wins came outdoors on natural grass which has been an awful situation for them. Now they come back home with renewed hope for the season. Do you think they care about winning the NFC South with a losing record? No chance. All that matters is having a shot at the playoffs, and they do. The Browns are spotty. They just laid another egg, losing 23-7 at home to Houston. Now they have their only trip to a dome this season and I wonder how they might react. I was quite surprised when they went to Cincinnati and won 24-3, but their defense was touched up for 30, 28 and 24 points in the balance of their road games.

It was been over a month since Atlanta played in their building, an uninspiring 27-13 loss to Chicago. Of course, the other two games here they beat New Orleans and smoked Tampa Bay. Their home field advantage with Matt Ryan is immense, it is hard to ignore. I like Cleveland's pass defense in general, but against these weapons in this building it will be tough on them. Of course, the Falcons are dead last in pass defense and now have to deal with Josh Gordon in his return to the field. How is that going to go? Steven Jackson is no spring chicken, but he has been steady and goes up against a bad run defense (4.6, 142.1). Plus, he has to be inspired by finally having a shot at the playoffs. The visitors just cut Ben Tate from their backfield ensemble and should be able to run a little. Better quarterback and home field works for me, so while I surely believe the Browns can get this done I am backing Matty Ice in a thriller: Atlanta 28, Cleveland 27 (CLE +3.5/over 46.5) 

Tennessee (2-8) @ Philadelphia (7-3): Losses come in many forms, and I think it is fair to say both teams are coming off tough ones for different reasons. The Titans played at home on MNF, a rare primetime showing for them. They were up 24-13 over the Steelers and let it slip away, getting run over by Le'Veon Bell. Their season is completely in the toilet now, and they have nothing to play for. It is hard to imagine them getting up for this game on the road. The Eagles are a little beaten up as well, having been hammered 53-20 at Green Bay, giving up touchdowns in various forms. It was an embarrassing loss to be sure, but they are still tied atop the NFC East with much to play for and of course, back at home where they have posted 27-plus points in every contest.

The big thing working against Philadelphia here is looking forward to next week in Dallas where the division lead is on the line. I think they are going to be focused to beat down a lesser opponent. Only one team is allowing more rushing yards than Tennessee (4.4, 145.3) and while Philadelphia has not run the ball that well they do have LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles suited up. The Titans are not going to do a bunch on the ground. We could see some aerial fireworks here with the teams combining for 37 touchdown passes allowed, but they have also combined for 62 sacks to the quarterbacks could be in trouble. Mark Sanchez is the veteran with the better weapons. Zach Mettenberger is the reckless rookie trying to find his way. I do not think this game is that close, although a "back door cover" is possible: Philadelphia 34, Tennessee 20 (PHI -11/over 48) 

Detroit (7-3) @ New England (8-2): Everyone is blathering over how great the Patriots are again and some of it is deserved. It is hard to score 136 points in a three-game stretch, and it becomes less important that they have given up 20-plus in five straight. Winning cures all, and since getting blown out in primetime to fall 2-2 they have been knocking everyone around. The Lions are only a game back in the standings, yet go about their business in a much different way. People think of this offense as explosive and the defense soft. However, since winning 35-14 in their opener Detroit has neither scored nor allowed more than 24 points in any game this season. I would expect that streak to end here, but anything is possible.

Going on the road is tough for the Lions. They have been stifled twice on offense already, scoring 7 in Carolina and last week 6 in Arizona. The Pats do not lose at home, to anyone. It might be harder for them against a team outside of their conference, but it was sure easy when they dusted Chicago 51-23. I look at Detroit's defense and immediately point to their top-ranked run defense. Jonas Gray just ran over the Colts for 199 yards. This week it will have to be a different path to success. Of course, the Lions are awful running the ball and in poor weather teams usually have to lean on the run to keep the chains moving. Ultimately, Tom Brady leads an offense that finishes drives. Matthew Stafford is without some of his weapons and is less protected by his offensive line. It does not add up to an upset for me, more like a low scoring dud: New England 24, Detroit 16 (NE -3.5/under 48.5) 

Green Bay (7-3) @ Minnesota (4-6): There is little chance the rematch is going to be a replay of the first meeting. Christian Ponder was the starting quarterback for the Vikings in that one. He was sacked 6 times and threw 2 interceptions. Aaron Rodgers took advantage, helping the Packers go up 42-0 after three quarters before giving way to Matt Flynn at the end of the 42-10 game. As dominant as their performance was, it is hard to rout a team twice in the same season. Yes, I know Green Bay did it to the Bears, but it is not the way it usually works. Minnesota does come in a little deflated having lost in Chicago last week and realistically lost any dream of a wild card run. They also officially lost Adrian Peterson for the season, resorting to claiming Ben Tate off waivers from Cleveland.

Even if rookie Teddy Bridgewater is an improvement at quarterback, the Vikings are facing a passing offense that is light years better than theirs. They are the only team without double digit passing scores (7) and to put it in perspective Rodgers threw 6 in a half of football earlier this season. He has 4 interceptions, the Vikings have 12. Defensively, both teams can pick the ball off and sack the quarterback. Unfortunately for Minnesota, this is not in a dome. Well, the way Rodgers plays indoors most often maybe that is okay after all. Either way, if an upset is brewing it will be because the Vikings run the ball on a defense that can give it up. It has been a spotty home campaign in their temporary home for Minnesota at 2-2. Green Bay is 2-3 on the road. This feels like a spot for a weird outcome. Maybe not a straight up shocker, but a bizarre result given the way these teams are playing: Green Bay 27, Minnesota 20 (MIN +10/under 49.5) 

Jacksonville (1-9) @ Indianapolis (6-4): Up above I just got done saying how hard it is to blow the same team out twice in one season. Well, the Colts destroyed the Jaguars 44-17 the first time around, piling up 529 total yards in the process and doing so on the road. It was a battle of 0-2 teams and at the time Indianapolis was not looking quite so much like a team ready to get back into the playoffs. Two months later, the team is looking shaky again having lost two of their last three games. However, Jacksonville has already lost by double digits seven times. They are back from London and a little fresh off the bye week, so that helps. Indy just lost their best running back Ahmad Bradshaw and half their tight end tandem in Dwayne Allen. Andrew Luck is a stud, but he has fewer options now.

I could see Denard Robinson breaking loose here on the turf for some big plays to keep the visitors alive. The pass defenses are both soft, but seriously now, rookie Blake Bortles in a dome on the road with limited receiving options is a tough sell trying to match scores with Luck while avoiding sacks and turnovers. There is always the risk of a wacky result when division teams hook up. However, out of six times the Jags have played outside of their stadium, six times they allowed 31-plus points. There is no reason to expect anything different here. They have topped 17 just twice overall, once on the road in Cincinnati when the Bengals were struggling badly. When the Colts are at home and not playing great scoring teams (Eagles, Pats) they have allowed 10.0 points per game. I smell a sound win, if not a rout: Indianapolis 31, Jacksonville 14 (IND -13.5/under 50.5) 

Cincinnati (6-3-1) @ Houston (5-5): Kind of suddenly, the Texans are in it. They have four games left in a soft AFC South division, including a trip to the only good team (Indianapolis) and if they can score an upset there a playoff berth could be in the cards. The other games are against Jacksonville and Baltimore, both at home. If they play as they did last week in Cleveland, a 23-7 win, anything is possible. It seems like I keep wanting to bury the Bengals only to watch them rise out of the grave with a vengeance. Their three losses are all by at least three touchdowns, but they also have three wins by at least two touchdowns as well. Yes, it has been an uneven season for them. I was surprised by their road showing last week, wiping out New Orleans 27-10. It was a vital win to start a three game road trip.

The Texans are only 2-2 at home, but have been competitive in losses to the Colts and Eagles. Their defense finally showed up last week as well and that is a good look for a team hoping to make a move. On the season, however, their pass defense (278.1, 19 TD) is second worst in the league. Now that A.J. Green is completely back in the fold and Giovani Bernard is expected to return to the backfield, the Bengals could do some damage here. Lack of a pass rush has been a major issue for Cincinnati and if they want to rattle new starter Ryan Mallett this has to change. Run defense has been another concern for the Bengals (4.4, 136.2, 12 TD) and Houston has shown even without Arian Foster they can run the ball (4.3, 144.6). I think this game is a wash. Either team could run over the other one. Mistakes could spoil the whole deal. I look for Andy Dalton back in the state of Texas to play within himself and get it done while Mallett is forced into some errors: Cincinnati 24, Houston 21 (CIN +2/over 43.5)

NY Jets (2-8) vs. Buffalo (5-5): This game will be moved to Detroit due to weather, so I have to think about the result differently. If the Bills were going to make a run, it really had to start last week. Instead they were swamped 22-9 in Miami on TNF. Now they are buried like their cars in the driveway under a pile of snow. At best there are probably only three wins left on the schedule and 8-8 will not cut it for a wild card berth. The Jets had a full bye week to revel in their upset of Pittsburgh. If you think they are sunk just because they lost to these guys 43-23 the first time around, consider the Bills beat the Dolphins by nearly as much (29-10) earlier this season only to have it get reversed on them. This time the home field circumstance is different, and given the snow storm it could be a big factor.

Last time around it was not as lopsided as the score might have indicated. New York lost the turnover battle 6-0 and only allowed 280 total yards. It was a 24-17 lead at halftime for Buffalo until all hell broke loose in the second half. The rematch might be the same result achieved in a different way. The Jets are 0-4 on the road, but in fairness have played four teams who are currently 6-4 or better.  Of course, the Bills are 2-3 at home having faced four teams with a winning mark and losing three of those games. If weather is a big factor this could get interesting. Both are top 10 defense stopping the run. New York has the more effective running game, and is much healthier in the backfield as well. They also have a pass defense that has given up 25 touchdowns against 3 interceptions. Buffalo's pass rush has generated 39 sacks. Actually both of these grizzled veteran quarterbacks could be in for a long day getting roughed up. I would not be shocked to see a backup enter the game on one side or the other. In a fight like this, I just call it close. Beyond that, flip a coin. The dome helps Sammy Watkins on the deep ball and Michael Vick extending his NFL record for rushing yards by a quarterback: Buffalo 20, NY Jets 17 (NYJ +4.5/under 40.5)

Tampa Bay (2-8) @ Chicago (4-6): This is not as easy a call as it might seem on the surface. The Bucs are actually 2-3 on the road and the Bears are just 1-3 at home, finally winning one last week against the Vikings. It was definitely a victory of relief, especially after trailing 10-0 heading to the second quarter. Either way, the set up here is interesting. Of course, weather is going to be a huge factor. Tampa Bay is not used to this cold weather, so they are at a huge disadvantage. Lovie Smith is facing his former team, so he is going to pull out all the stops. See how confusing it is?

Neither rushing defense or offense jumps off the stat sheet. I would rather go with the home team and Matt Forte for sure. The pass defenses are both in the bottom 8 and have allowed a combined 44 pass scores. The pass offenses have totals 41 touchdowns through the air, so we could be in for a treat here. Josh McCown of course started some games for the Bears last year and that only adds spice to the recipe. He has his new big set of wide receivers in rookie Mike Evans and the slumping Vincent Jackson. Jay Cutler of course has Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall. I say get your popcorn ready. This should be fun. I see points going on the board. As usual, the home team is the call because of the better running back in this case though: Chicago 31, Tampa Bay 27 (TB +6/over 46) 

Arizona (9-1) @ Seattle (6-4): The saying "you have to beat the champs to be the champs" certainly applies here. The Cardinals have, well, flown to a three-game lead in the NFC West that absolutely no one saw coming, leaving the two teams that battled for a spot in the Super Bowl behind. Well, thus far at least. Now, things get really tough for them. Four of the final six come on the road, two of them in domes against decent teams (4-6 Falcons, 4-6 Rams). They play the Seahawks twice, and close at the 49ers. To me, 3-3 would be a tremendous finish for a team with Drew Stanton starting at quarterback. Going 2-4 is certainly a possibility although on sheer momentum that is probably their floor. At any rate, the division race might be over, but it might not if Seattle powers up and wins out. 

Late in the season, running the ball starts to become a bigger factor with the weather turning. Here we have two of the top 7 run defenses in the league. They combine to allow a whisper over 171 yards rushing per game. How much pop do the rushing offenses have? Glad I asked myself. The Seahawks lead the league by 21 yards per game (174.2). I point out the margin because their quarterback is good for 57.1 so even without his yardage they would be barely outside the top 10. Arizona (3.1, 79.8) is due to have their offense wrecked by their inability to run, and this looks to me like a spot for it to happen. The Seahawks lose something with center Max Unger out, but they can still run the ball here on their home turf. 

When it comes to stopping the pass, Seattle can do that (215.3) but their defense has lost a step because of low interception (6) and sack (13) totals. Against a guy like Stanton we could see them looking like the 2013 version here. The Cardinals have 15 interceptions and that is a big reason they are 9-1. Unfortunately they give up big yards (263.2) and Russell Wilson will find a way to exploit the open space given to receiving options. We know the visitors are going to take their deep shots down the field, but in these conditions I do not see it working out. Plus, they won the last time they came here and I expect the home team to have the loss on their minds here with a big win. They want everyone to know they are still the champs: Seattle 27, Arizona 10 (SEA -6/under 42.5) 

St. Louis (4-6) @ San Diego (6-4): The Rams have been feisty for a couple seasons now. They are  really just a quarterback and a couple key players away from being a serious contender. Fresh off swamping Denver 22-7 there is zero chance the Chargers are going to overlook them here. Their previous trip to California produced a nice 13-10 win at San Francisco, so they have shown an ability to get it done on the road. However, their offense has really struggled away from home, just once posting more than 19 points. The defense has been touched up for 31-plus three times on the road as well, so we will see what we get from them here. San Diego got straight in a way beating Oakland last week, stopping a three-game skid. They are 4-1 at home with three outputs of 30-plus points, and three teams held to no more than 14 points. I like their odds to show well here. 

Pass defense can be a weird stat. The Chargers are sixth (221.5) but have the sixth-fewest sacks (17) and third-fewest interceptions (4). They need to pressure veteran Shaun Hill and force him to turn it over. Without Chris Long, the Rams struggle to register sacks (19) and they give up a crazy completion percentage (68.6%). Philip Rivers is deadly if he can complete passes and stay upright. The rushing offenses and defenses are unspectacular. St. Louis has turned to rookie Tre Mason and he is running hard. San Diego has Ryan Mathews back and that helps their cause assuming he can stay healthy throughout this game. I look for a close game here. The coaching staffs are sound. Hill is going to take a couple sacks and turn the ball over, which for me is really the difference in the outcome: San Diego 24, St. Louis 16 (SD -4.5/under 46) 

Miami (6-4) @ Denver (7-3): It feels like the Dolphins are treading water most of the time, pardon the pun. They got to 5-3 and had to be considered contenders at the midway point of the season, but promptly lost a game they could have won in Detroit. Securing a TNF win last week over Buffalo has definitely kept them in contention, but clearly they need to follow it up here on the road against a very good team who is having their own issues. The Broncos do not travel well at 2-3, beating a couple of bad teams (Jets, Raiders). At home they are 5-0 and all of the victims currently sport records of 6-4 or better, including the Cardinals who have not lost to anyone else all season. In other words, this is a different deal. Throw last week out the window. 

Quietly, Miami has the eight-best run defense (3.8, 94.5) but Denver is second (3.3, 73.4). Somehow the Dolphins are sixth in rushing offense (4.7, 127.3) thanks in part to their mobile quarterback, but it hurts them a lot if Lamar Miller is unable to go. Rookie Damien Williams is not ready to pass protect and against a ferocious rush this presents problems on offense. The Broncos do not run the ball very well, and have health issues in their backfield as well, but with Peyton Manning it is less of a problem. Of course, they also have concerns in the passing game with wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders expected to play and tight end Julius Thomas uncertain. I think they can overcome the losses, especially if rookie Cody Latimer steps up after being invisible most of the year. On the road Miami is 3-2 including a win in London, but this is the best foe they have faced and toughest environment. They run into an angry team that gets straight. I expect the line to play very well for Peyton here: Denver 28, Miami 17 (DEN -7/under 50)

Washington (3-7) @ San Francisco (6-4): These franchise are both in a bit of disarray, but certainly to a different level. The 49ers have survived injury, suspension and disgruntled player issues, not to mention the status of their head coach for the foreseeable future. Guys have stepped into open spots and thrived, and now Aldon Smith is back so while their spot in the playoffs is far from assured it appears the worst of their issues are behind them. From here on out the only time they will get on a plane is to visit Seattle, so that helps. The Redskins are another story. Their new head coach does not know how to handle their embattled quarterback. The team is now 1-4 on the road, with the lone win directed by the current backup signal-caller Colt McCoy who won in Dallas. On the plus side the 49ers are only 2-2 in their new stadium, having lost to a couple other teams who have losing records (Bears, Rams). 

We know San Francisco has a defense, and they defend the run well (3.9, 88.6) but Washington is not far behind (4.0, 104.2) on the stat sheet. On offense the perception is the same. The 49ers can run (4.2, 124.8) but again the Redskins can run a little too (4.2, 109.6) and have 10 rushing scores, double the total of their opponent here. Because they fall behind so much, Washington has rolled up solid passing numbers (290.0). For having mobile quarterbacks, the teams have combined to allow 60 sacks. I expect there to be some drives lost on quarterbacks hitting the deck in this game. One huge edge here is defensive interceptions. San Francisco has 16, and Washington has 3. If you wonder why these teams have the record they do, this is why. Turnovers determine outcomes much of the time. I do not feel like there is a home field advantage yet at Levi's Stadium, but against a team reeling off a blowout home loss that has to travel a long distance I see an easy win assuming they do not look ahead to Thanksgiving against Seattle: San Francisco 27, Washington 13 (SF -7.5/under 45.5) 

Dallas (7-3) @ NY Giants (3-7): Even if the Giants are out of the hunt, this is still a potentially fun game for SNF between longtime rivals. The Cowboys come back from London with a week of rest under their belt and conceivably a healthier Tony Romo at quarterback. I have no idea what condition he will be in by the end of this late November game in New Jersey. The first meeting at AT&T was close, with Dallas winning 31-21 and only closing it out at the very end with a clinching field goal. They did not have to worry about running back Rashad Jennings in that one. He is back from injury here and after warming up last week should be ready to roll for an offense in desperate need of help. 

Last week New York lost their fifth in a row, but showed much stronger than the previous four in losing 16-10 to San Francisco. The defense had allowed 27-plus in their other losses, and with an offense that turned it over 5 times they really held their own. This offense presents a lot more problems for them though. There is no worse run defense in the league than the Giants (4.9, 145.0) so it is hard to imagine a team with DeMarco Murray running behind a strong offensive line not walking to a win here. The Cowboys can give up the run (4.4, 109.0) a little and I certainly expect the home team to play a little ball control if they can. Of course, Dallas will try that too. They have the best pure (read: not helped by quarterback yardage) running game in the league (4.9, 153.2). Neither pass rush has been that good and the teams are decent at protecting their passers. It really boils down to effort. Will New York be in the mood to play spoiler here, controlling the run and protecting the football? I think they can, but it is not enough: Dallas 27, NY Giants 23 (DAL -2.5/over 47)

Baltimore (6-4) @ New Orleans (4-6): What a mess these two divisions have become. A blade of grass separates first from last place in the AFC North. The NFC South is led by a team with a losing record, and is so bad that a team with a 2-8 mark technically is still in the hunt. All of this adds up to this being a crucial game for both teams on MNF. Baltimore, along with their division mates, has been responsible for the demise of the NFC South. They are 3-0 and looking for a sweep, but stand just 2-3 on the road. The bye week has given them extra time to prepare for this unique challenge in a dome where historically teams struggle to come out with a win. However, the Saints have lost here each of the past two weeks, 27-24 to San Francisco and 27-10 to Cincinnati. They are reeling, but perhaps the primetime lights will work again the way they did last month in a 44-23 win over Green Bay. I tend to think that will be the case. 

The Ravens showed pretty well in their earlier visit to a dome, losing 20-13 at Indianapolis. They can contain the run, but in a dome I never put as much weight in that. The rushing offenses are both pretty good. Mark Ingram and Justin Forsett have both been hot. Drew Brees lost rookie Brandin Cooks who has been a spark on offense, but Kenny Stills is going to get more snaps and do his best to catch deep balls for a dominant passing attack. The pass defenses are both below average. I feel as if Steve Smith has started to run out of gas. Joe Flacco is always capable of a huge game and continues to play with a chip on his shoulder two seasons after winning a ring. Still, Brees at home under the lights with pressure mounting is too much. I do not see this division being won by the Falcons or Panthers, and that factors into this pick: New Orleans 31, Baltimore 27 (NO -3/over 49.5)

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