NFL Predictions 2014: Week 13
Thursday, November 27 2014
Contributed by: norcalfella
The picks last week were a bit frustrating because I felt as if I had an opportunity to really make up for being so off in week 12, only to watch it slip away at the end. Of course I was pleased to go 12-3 straight up (112-63-1 overall) but it still hurt to lose the Cleveland-Atlanta game that I called for the Falcons 28-27 when they were a stupid coaching decision (clock management) away from winning 24-23. New Orleans not losing a third in a row at home is one of those picks I felt as if I had to make, and they choked. Even if in my gut I felt an 0-10 Oakland team had a chance against Kansas City, it was senseless to put my neck on the line for it.
Against the spread I won the week at 8-7 (91-85 overall) with some frustrating misses. Denver tried to cover, then let Miami score at the death. Tampa Bay was up 10 in Chicago, yet failed to cover 6, losing 21-13. Anyway, I managed to go 9-6 on the over/under (96-79-1 overall) making my mark versus Vegas +23. Now as teams fight for the playoffs it is time to get serious about the picks. Wacky results happen late in the season as teams with nothing to lose stun teams with everything to play for.
Chicago (5-6) @ Detroit (7-4): Has everyone forgotten about the Bears? It kind of feels that way. Two weeks ago they were 3-6 having lost three in a row, the previous two of which came while allowing 50-plus points in New England and Green Bay. Well, those are two Super Bowl contenders who have made a lot of teams look bad this season. After those defeats, they came home and beat Minnesota and Tampa Bay, two losing teams, by the same 21-13 margin. Are they back? Maybe not, but this is their chance to at least feel like they are and ruin Thanksgiving in Detroit. Remember what I just said about the Bears? The same kind of applies to the Lions who just hit the road and lost in Arizona and New England, scoring a total of 15 points in the process. All of those points came on field goals by the way. Are they struggling, or is it just the strong competition?
I think Detroit is going to be fine now that they are back home for a three game stretch. Remember the Bucs and Vikings? Well, those teams are coming up next, so these guys could be 10-4 in a heartbeat if they just stay the course and do not beat themselves with turnovers. One reason for concern is their utter lack of a running game (3.3, 80.8). Chicago has a stud back in Matt Forte, but they are only average on the ground (4.1, 100.5) and in this spot go up against the league's best run defense (3.1. 70.7) whereas the Bears are just decent stopping the run (4.2, 106.8). Mash those numbers up and it turns out pretty evenly actually. I am giving the visitors a real chance here. For all the hoopla surrounding the talent on the Lions in the passing game, they have produced just 13 scores through the air compared to 22 for the Bears who of course have plenty of talent as well. Jay Cutler directs and offense that completes 7% more of their passes as well, and has taken fewer sacks (27 to 33).
Now for the reason I do not see an upset here. Detroit has allowed fewer touchdown passes (14 to 25) so that statistic levels out. The dome crowd noise is going to be a huge factor. Chicago did win in their other trip to a dome, beating Atlanta 27-13. They can definitely get this done. Instead, I expect a choke thanks to a key turnover or sack because, well, it is Jay Cutler. Would a straight upset surprise me? No, and I fully expect them to surprise by keeping this close because I am crazy that way. It feels like an exciting triple header on Thanksgiving starting right here. Other than a trip to Lambeau Field, the Bears have scored 23-plus in all of their road games and now face an offense on a horrific run of failing to score touchdowns? Yeah, they can keep it close: Detroit 24, Chicago 20 (CHI +7/under 47)
Philadelphia (8-3) @ Dallas (8-3): Usually Turkey Day is good for some games that are well, turkeys. Not so much this year. Only one team has a losing record, and the Bears are 5-6. This one might not feature the participants of last year's NFC Championship Game like the nightcap, but it does pair up two teams battling for the NFC East title and very much alive for the top seed in the conference. Of course this game is equally important to both teams. It is vital for the Cowboys, though, because unlike the Eagles they already have a division loss (thanks Colt McCoy!) meaning the rematch in the City of Brotherly Love in two weeks would be an absolute must-win for them should they lose here. Typically the home teams protect their field, but in this case AT&T has been a little less than friendly for the guys with a star on their helmets thanks to so many visiting fans.
On the season Dallas is 3-3 at home, and two of those losses can be attributed to Tony Romo being out (Arizona) and out for a while (Washington) but teams have won with backup quarterbacks. Like, let's say Philadelphia who is now starting Mark Sanchez. The Eagles are 2-3 on the road, but all of their opponents save Houston (a 5-5 team against the rest of the league) currently stand 7-4 or better. Two of those games (San Francisco, Green Bay) they struggled, so like many teams consistency away from home is an issue. The run defenses are both barely above average and in terms of yards per carry Philadelphia (3.9) is a little better than Dallas (4.3). The Eagles can run it a little (4.0, 118.7) but the Cowboys can run it a lot (4.9, 150.1). At some point it feels like DeMarco Murray will tire though, whereas LeSean McCoy might be starting to rev it up.
As for pass defense, Philadelphia is third-worst in the league (266.3) and has given up the third-most touchdown passes (24). However, they allow a pretty low completion percentage (57.1%) and have the second-most sacks (38) in the league. One hit to Romo and the game changes. Pressuring Romo could lead to multiple turnovers as well as he tries to protect his back. Plus, Dallas has given up plenty of passing yards (247.8) and has just 18 sacks with a really high completion percentage allowed (66.7%) which plays into what Chip Kelly's offense wants to do. Sanchez really just needs to protect the ball and get it into the hands of his playmakers. I like their chances here quite a bit. The reason I am going home team has nothing to do with the fans or the quarterback. It is all about the offensive line and running game. I think the Cowboys can control the game with their backfield and keep a quick strike offense at bay. The rematch might be a different story: Dallas 28, Philadelphia 24 (DAL -3/under 54.5)
Seattle (7-4) @ San Francisco (7-4): When the schedule came out this was supposed to be an epic battle for the NFC West and possibly home field throughout the playoffs. Instead, Arizona has crashed the party with a two-game lead rendering the loser of this one likely relegated to at best a wild card spot. Defending champions like the Seahawks historically have trouble, well, defending their titles. I saw this coming. It is hard to maintain the edge, the fire to battle for a championship. Beyond that, the guys with the yellow hankies have come down on their defense and of course some personnel losses also hurt their cause. The 49ers have had a different set of issues, but might be coming together at the right time now that Aldon Smith is back in the fold.
One concern I have for San Francisco is their lack of home field advantage at Levi's Stadium. How many corporate fans are filling up those seats? In this particular game, how many people are going to eat their Thanksgiving Day meal, then show up in a food coma for the 5:30 p.m. local start? They are only 3-2 here and the largest margin of victory has been 5 points. I do like what the defense has been up to of late, allowing no more than 17 points in five of the past seven games. However, the offense topped 17 points just once in their last five games. First team to 17 wins? Well, Seattle has allowed 30, 28 and 24 in their road losses so perhaps there is some opportunity for Colin Kaepernick and this offense to wake up.
Of late the Seahawks have started to give up the run, since losing defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, so their ranking (3.5, 88.4) is not reflective of reality. San Francisco (4.0, 92.9) has absorbed the absence of their elite middle linebacker duo and contained the run quite well. Which offense is going to impose their will? Seattle (5.4, 169.6) seems like the obvious choice, but it comes down to how much scrambling quarterback Russell Wilson can do. San Francisco (4.0, 119.5) has been unable to bully teams via the run this season, even with the addition of rookie Carlos Hyde. I know Frank Gore wants to think he is still in his prime, but he is not. Stopping the pass is something both of these teams have done. Only the Chiefs allow fewer yards than this pairing. The 49ers have a big edge in interceptions (16 to 7) and more sacks (22 to 16) plus a far better completion percentage allowed (57.2% to 65.0%). I like their defense to rise up in this spot, but as with the NFC East battle, the result is going to be different in two weeks: San Francisco 16, Seattle 14 (SF -1/under 40)
Washington (3-8) @ Indianapolis (7-4): One week can change a lot. Thanks to a loss by the Texans, the Colts are now two up in the AFC South and in good shape to defend their division title. There will be no playoffs for the Redskins after three consecutive tough losses. First they blew a lead in Minnesota against a mediocre team with a rookie quarterback. Then they were whipped by 20 at home versus a terrible Tampa Bay team. Finally, last week they had a chance in San Francisco only to fall short 17-13. It was the final straw for first-year head coach Jay Gruden. He has benched starting quarterback Robert Griffin III. In a league with scoring on the rise, Washington has scored more than 20 points just three times all season, and their defense has given up 27-plus on six occasions. Of course, they have allowed 17 or fewer in their other five games, but are just 3-2 in those games.
The Colts have been in some high scoring games. Eight of their games have produced 55-plus total points. Five times their defense has held teams to no more than 17 points, but offense has been the reason for their success. No one has held them below 20 all year. I honestly do not know if the Redskins can reach 20 here, so their odds of a win have to be very low right off the bat. One opportunity for them is that Indianapolis has allowed some rushing (4.5, 119.9, 12 TD). Washington can contain the run (3.8, 100.7) and with Ahmad Bradshaw out they face an ordinary rushing offense (4.0, 110.7). Conversely, the Redskins with Alfred Morris are probably better than their stats (4.3, 112.0) show. They might even mix in some Roy Helu to move the chains. Of course, Andrew Luck and the best passing offense in the league trumps that. They are almost 60 yards per game better through the air, and face a team that has allowed 33 sacks. The dome environment helps the Colts on defense and dare I point out the Redskins have allowed 21 touchdown passes against just 4 interceptions? Good luck keeping up Colt McCoy. You will need it: Indianapolis 28, Washington 17 (IND -9/under 51.5)
Tennessee (2-9) @ Houston (5-6): It has been long enough that I think everyone has sort of forgotten these are the old Oilers coming back to town. The new team in Houston went to Tennessee and whipped the Titans 30-16 last month, building a 27-3 first half lead and cruising. Arian Foster was healthy in that one, rushing for 151 yards to pace the win. It might be Alfred Blue here, but he came on in relief the first time around and in this spot I think the team is fine either way. Certainly rookie Zach Mettenberger had way too much on his shoulders in the first meeting with only 12 running plays called to balance the offense. Of course, they were also held off the field. The Texans ran 80 plays to just 56 for the Titans. If there is any shot at an upset here that cannot be repeated.
I feel as if Tennessee has quit on their season for the most part with five straight losses. Six of their defeats this season have come by at least two touchdowns, and four of those were on the road. Rematches give a team an opportunity to correct their mistakes, and they get a team going back to a veteran quarterback who had been benched for poor play. Ryan Fitzpatrick is coming off a four-game stretch where he was sacked 15 times, including 5 in the first meeting. He is completing barely above 50-percent his past two times out, which again includes the outing against the Titans. Complicating matters, the Texans have lost three in a row here at home so this is no lock.
Well, maybe it is. Tennessee has the worst run defense (4.4, 145.4) in the league. Some of that is due to teams just piling on when the outcome has been decided, but they face an offense that can run the ball (4.3, 137.3) effectively. On the other side, Houston is ordinary against the run (4.0, 114.5) but go up against an offense without an attack on the ground (4.1, 88.8) to speak of. If the Titans have a chance it is up to their gunslinging rookie Mettenberger, but his offensive line has allowed 30 sacks and while J.J. Watt and company have only 22 this might be a spot for them to erupt. Yes, Houston has allowed a ton of passing yards (273.4). However, I expect them to build a lead as they did the first time around and come after the rookie. Tennessee has 31 sacks of their own, but on the road against a team with slim playoff hopes I see them fading. At best they keep it close in garbage time, and at worst they are blown completely out of the building. This is the middle ground: Houston 28, Tennessee 16 (HOU -6.5/over 41.5)
Cleveland (7-4) @ Buffalo (6-5): I feel for the Browns. They have waited so long to compete. Now here they are with a winning record late in the season only to know a loss here in hostile territory puts them in last place. The Bills come home on a short week having been forced to play a "home" game in Detroit last week due to a snowstorm. They blew out the Jets, gained a ton of momentum and now have their fans in full throat to cheer them on in their fight for a wild card berth. Realistically, Buffalo is finished because their December quartet of opponents includes visits to the two best teams in the AFC (Denver, New England) and home game against possibly the best team in the AFC (Green Bay). It is about avoiding losses for them and I find it hard to believe they can get by more than one of those teams. Ignorance is bliss though, and in this spot they are fired up.
Having Fred Jackson back is certainly big for Buffalo's running game (3.9, 97.5). Cleveland has plodded along on the ground (3.7, 117.5) but is second in rushing scores (14) so they can finish. Defensively the Browns are vulnerable (4.5, 135.9) and in a late season, cold weather game like this I believe that creates issues for them. Their running game faces a stiff front line (3.9, 98.4) with plenty of talent. Quarterback Brian Hoyer knows he needs to play better, but can he do it? Cleveland has the fourth-fewest completions per game (18.5) in the NFL and third-fewest passing scores (11). They do protect the quarterback (18 sacks) but that is hard to keep going against a defense leading the league in sacks (46). Veteran Kyle Orton has gone four straight games without a turnover and at home I give him a slight edge. He has an explosive weapon in rookie Sammy Watkins, who was quiet last week. Of course, Hoyer has Josh Gordon now, and that changes everything.
The pass defenses are both good. I look at this game and feel like turnovers are going to turn the tide. Orton is more likely to protect the ball. Hoyer is going to be under duress, and I continue to contend he is not the quarterback to lead this team where they ultimately want to go. He will not have time to get the ball down the field to Gordon, and because his running game is likely to get shut down I see them being in tough down and distance situations to help along the pass rush. Conversely, the Bills figure to pound the rock and play defense. They slug this one out, but it is close: Buffalo 23, Cleveland 20 (BUF -1/over 41)
San Diego (7-4) @ Baltimore (7-4): On the brink of December, this is the time of year when teams either make a move toward the playoffs or fall by the wayside. Right here we have ostensibly a playoff game because the loser is facing virtually zero margin for error down the stretch. Yes, either team could potentially run their four remaining games and make it at 11-5 but you get the idea. Both teams are alive in their competitive division races. The Ravens trail by a half-game, but are a loss away from being in last place. The Chargers are a game behind, but face the Broncos at home soon. Of course, they also face the Chiefs. Who else do they play? Oh, only the Patriots and 49ers, no big deal. There is a reason the Raiders are 1-10 and no it is not because they are terrible. The AFC West has been dealt a vicious schedule and unfortunately for the Bolts, theirs is back loaded.
In that sense, maybe Baltimore has less urgency here. They still have Jacksonville and Houston (road) sandwiched around Miami (road) and Cleveland. All of those are games they can win, and they could be favored in three. Coming home off a short week perhaps they are a little drained from winning in New Orleans on MNF. San Diego has to come across the country, and just survived a physical battle with St. Louis, outlasting them 27-24. Their quarterback Philip Rivers has a rib issue and I feel as if the team is ready to run out of gas. They had lost three in a row before beating a then-winless Raider team two weeks ago. Their record says they are in it, and I know this team has the guts to compete at this time of year, but with Rivers not at his best I do not see it happening.
Trust me, Terrell Suggs and the Ravens will come after the ailing quarterback. They have 29 sacks and it has helped their sagging pass defense (264.6) that has allowed a high completion percentage (65.7). The Chargers have better numbers against the pass (221.3) but only 18 sacks. When Joe Flacco has time to operate he can distribute the ball to his playmakers and do damage. Offensively, Baltimore does a better job protecting their signal-caller (15 sacks allowed, 22 for San Diego). Since the Ravens can stop the run (3.7, 88.3) and the Chargers are just average in that area (4.4, 108.8) I have to really favor the home team here. I look for Baltimore to really run the ball (4.6, 132.4) well in this spot while San Diego (3.3, 89.5) hoping for a boost from Ryan Mathews is too optimistic. The Chargers are iffy on the road at 2-3 while the Ravens are 4-1 at home with their only loss coming in week one. All of the wins have come by at least 14 points: Baltimore 27, San Diego 20 (BAL -4/over 45)
NY Giants (3-8) @ Jacksonville (1-10): Remember when Tom Coughlin used to coach these guys? Yeah, letting him go probably was a mistake. Right now he is enduring another "hot seat" period of time because his team is going to miss the playoffs again. It will be the third year in a row missing out. Prior to that, they won it all, but they have made the postseason just once in five seasons now so he is feeling the heat. Maybe this is a spot to turn things around because their next four opponents all have losing records. They have lost six straight games, but all of the teams they played are currently 7-4 or better. They are 3-0 against teams with losing records on the season, so a run is possible. The Jaguars have not only lost games this season, they have lost them by wide margins. Eight of their defeats have come by double digits and at home where they are 1-4 all of the losses are by 8-plus points.
Offense has been a big issue for Jacksonville behind their rookie quarterback Blake Bortles and not a lot of surrounding talent. Just twice have they scored more than 17 points and it is tough to be competitive without putting up more than that. Their defense has allowed 23-plus in four straight and eight times overall. If there is any chance for an upset, maybe they can take advantage of a New York defense that has allowed 27-plus in five of their past six games. Remember though, those were good teams. The running games are below average here. The Giants (3.6, 99.3) plod along, but it is a homecoming for Rashad Jennings. The Jaguars (4.2, 96.5) have Denard Robinson so big runs are in play. Both run defenses are in the bottom five. The Jaguars (4.4, 130.6) are actually better than the Giants (4.9, 142.6). This might be closer than people think.
Turnovers are key to winning games, and Jacksonville has only 5 interceptions which is crazy considering they have 33 sacks. New York has 13 picks and just 19 sacks. Both pass defenses are in the bottom 10, but I will favor the team with Eli Manning and peaking rookie Odell Beckham. The Jaguars have thrown 16 interceptions and taken 43 sacks. Even on the road I think the Giants can dial up their defense to take advantage and pull out this win. It would not shock me to see the result go the other way, but I pick the more likely result. Plus, I believe Coughlin is going to remind his team they now own the longest losing streak in the league: NY Giants 24, Jacksonville 17 (NYG -1/under 45)
Cincinnati (7-3-1) @ Tampa Bay (2-9): Outside of the embarrassing NFC South, there is no more disrespected division leader than the Bengals. Of course, the are just a half-game ahead of three teams in the AFC North so there is that. It will be hard for them to focus on a lesser opponent in a road game knowing they have three division opponents on the upcoming schedule, along with Denver. Divisions are won by beating losing teams though, just as they did last week in Houston. It was not a pretty victory, but the result works. Results have not come for the Bucs, especially at home where they stand 0-5. Four of those games they were within 10 points though, losing 20-14, 19-17, 19-13 (OT) and 27-17. Notice a pattern? The Bengals are 3-2 on the road and have won their last two. Fatigue has to be a factor here though in their third straight away from home. It is tough to sweep three, even if all the teams have losing records.
Even if teams have had their way with them on the scoreboard, the Bucs have held up against the run (4.0, 116.4). The same cannot be said for the Bengals (4.3, 129.6) who have allowed 12 rushing scores. If you can run, an upset is possible. Unfortunately, Tampa Bay has a hard time running (3.9, 84.0) because their backs are weak and the offensive line is bad. Cincinnati (4.2, 125.6) has Giovani Bernard healthy again to form a dynamic tandem with rookie Jeremy Hill. They are going to pound the ball and hope a bad team folds up. The pass defenses are both below average, but in terms of touchdown passes allowed and completion percentage Tampa Bay (21, 68.0%) is much worse than Cincinnati (11, 59.9%). They have a 24-14 edge in sacks and some of that has to do with Michael Johnson (3 sacks) switching jerseys in the offseason. The flip side is sacks allowed and the Bengals lead 32-13 there although they lose tackle Andre Smith. Mix it all up, and I see an ugly win for the visitors: Cincinnati 20, Tampa Bay 14 (CIN -3/under 44.5)
Oakland (1-10) @ St. Louis (4-7): How would you like to play a schedule of nine consecutive teams who are 7-4 or better? That is exactly what the Rams have just faced, managing three wins and two three-point losses during that brutal stretch. The Raiders can relate. They have faced eight teams who are at least 7-4 over their past nine. The exception? Miami, who is 6-5! Both teams have to feel like they are finally getting a team they can beat. For the record, four times Oakland lost by a single score during their murderous stretch and of course last week they finally got a win against Kansas City. As poor as their overall record is their true road games ended in losses by 5, 7, 10, 6 and 7 points. No blowouts. The Rams are now 2-3 at home, winning their past two against the teams who just went to the Super Bowl, so that is pretty impressive.
The most inept running game in the league (3.8, 73.5) got a boost when Oakland gave Latavius Murray some opportunities, but then he got a concussion and he will miss this one. Now it is up to Darren McFadden, once a dangerous player indoors, to beat an average run defense (4.4, 114.8) that has given up 10 rushing scores. St. Louis has rookie Tre Mason leading the way in their backfield now (4.0, 101.4) but they go up against a defense that can stop the run better than the total numbers indicate (3.8, 126.7). Veteran Shaun Hill gives the Rams more of a chance in the passing game (230.6) although he did choke away at least a shot for OT last week in San Diego. Plus, he is behind a line that has allowed 34 sacks. Rookie Derek Carr gets the ball out quickly and has taken just 13 sacks, but as a consequence rarely gets the ball downfield (216.2).
Defensively for the Rams Chris Long wants to return and help Robert Quinn rush the passer against his father's former franchise. They are allowing a ridiculous 69.9% of passes to be completed against them, the highest in the league, and have just 22 sacks. The Raiders are worst in the league with 12 sacks, which explains their ridiculous sack dance at the end of last week's win while the game was still in progress. The teams have a combined 12 interceptions on defense, so turnovers do not figure to be a huge factor. I think this is straight coaching, home field and experience winning. All of those go to the team in the dome, and I like them just a little more. Not too much though: St. Louis 23, Oakland 20 (OAK +7.5/over 42)
New Orleans (4-7) @ Pittsburgh (7-4): It appears the nightmare will not end in the NFC South. When the new schedule rotation was set up, no one really factored in a division being so superior to another and beating them into submission therefore setting up a scenario such as this. All of the teams in the AFC North are at least 7-4 whereas 4-7 leads the NFC South. It stands to reason this trend continues here because natural surface outdoors is absolutely kryptonite for Drew Brees and the Saints on offense in general. They tend to get stuck in neutral. Maybe this is one where they can reverse history if tight end Jimmy Graham gets physical and they run the ball, but this is looking like a tough spot for them. They have already lost in Cleveland, so the only other situation like this is their 28-10 win in Carolina against a team playing poorly. The Steelers are coming off a bye week having played their past two games on the road. They know the stakes, and stand 4-1 at Heinz Field.
Perception says Pittsburgh stops the run and while they are pretty good (4.3, 102.2) I think New Orleans has a chance to move the chains on the ground (4.6, 124.8) and they have 12 rushing scores on the year. Those numbers are unfortunately almost mirrored by their poor run defense (4.6, 123.8, 12 TD) and I have to believe Le'Veon Bell (4.3, 119.5) is ready to go after them. Obviously he is their man, and they have declared their intention to ride him for as much as he is worth now that LeGarrette Blount has been cut for clearly personal reasons rather than personnel reasons. We know the Saints want to throw the ball (317.4) and it is tough to get to Brees (18 sacks) but in these late season, cold outdoor games he is not the same guy. Yes, I know he played his college ball at Purdue thanks for the reminder. The Steelers are just one spot behind them in the passing rankings (301.4) and have a better TD/INT ratio (25/6 to 21/11) although Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked 30 times. Both pass defenses give up their fair share of yards, but ultimately I just feel the visitors have no defense. Their offense at its best cannot keep up. It is impossible for me to expect fewer than 30 points from Big Ben and Bell here, so they win: Pittsburgh 31, New Orleans 28 (NO +4.5/over 51)
Carolina (3-7-1) @ Minnesota (4-7): The Panthers last won a game on October 5. They are a half-game out of first place. Let that sink in. Hopefully their bye week was spent thanking their lucky starts and trying to figure out a way to steal a defense of their NFC South title. This is not a good football team by the way. They have lost five times by 18-plus points, three of those coming on the road. The Vikings have had four bad losses, by 11-plus points, but all of those were within the first six weeks and the one that came at home was against the Patriots in the wake of the Adrian Peterson suspension. In fact, they are playing decently on defense over the past six, allowing 19.7 points per game over that stretch. Carolina has given up 24-plus on seven occasions and never adjusted to the loss of Greg Hardy, and scored 14.8 over their last five games.
This could be a snoozer. The run defenses are equal on the stat sheet, and just below average. A backfield not too long ago considered loaded for Carolina is now having a tough time picking up yardage (3.7, 96.4) whereas losing "All Day" has not stopped Minnesota (4.6, 116.5) altogether. Obviously the respective offensive lines are the reason for this. It has been a rocky rookie season for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and the Vikings can barely pass the ball (212.4) with an NFL worst 9 touchdown passes and have taken 34 sacks. Cam Newton is hurt, which is nothing new, and he direct an average passing offense heavily reliant on rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and tight end Greg Olsen. Minnesota has the better pass defense in terms of yards per game allowed, but both are allowing opponents to complete over 67% of their passes. Pass efficiency and a ground game could key the home team here. I like their defense a little better in their temporary chilly outdoor environment: Minnesota 19, Carolina 17 (CAR +3/under 43)
Arizona (9-2) @ Atlanta (4-7): What would happen if the entire NFC South lost this weekend? Well, as odd as it sounds it would not be the first time an eventual division champion stood 4-8 assuming either the Saints or these Falcons wind up winning. Remember 2008? The Chargers won their final four to win the AFC West at 8-8. Commissioner Roger Goodell is pretty much praying for a similar run from any of these teams to avoid an ugly scenario like the slim chance a team at 5-11 wins this dumpster fire or unlikely scenario a 6-10 team slides in. At least there is a precedent for 7-9, so it would not sting as much. Anyway, how do they stave off a very good visiting team with the best record in the NFC? Truth is, they probably can. The Cards are only +45 in scoring differential. By comparison the 6-5 Dolphins are +66.
Generally I give Matt "Matty Ice" Ryan the benefit of the doubt here at the Georgia Dome. However, it is a fact they have failed to win here in over three months, when they looked like contenders on TNF blowing out Tampa Bay 56-14 in a game they led by 56 after three quarters. They have since lost to Chicago and last week to Cleveland thanks to poor clock management, along with a "home" loss to Detroit in London. My confidence in their home field advantage has wanted considerably. Arizona is 3-2 on the road, with losses to the defending conference champions Seattle and Denver. All three of their wins came by exactly 11 points over the Giants, Oakland and Dallas. Drew Stanton has taken just 8 sacks and has 151 pass attempts and has only 3 turnovers. He has yet to fumble, and his predecessor Carson Palmer had 4 total turnovers. It is so underrated how valuable a quarterback is who protects the football.
The Falcons have weapons in the passing game (284.5) and the Cardinals might be without Larry Fitzgerald. Defensively Atlanta has the worst pass defense in the league (284.1) with only 14 sacks although on the plus side only one team has allowed fewer touchdown passes than them (14). Arizona has trouble stopping the pass (254.6) even with Patrick Peterson at their disposal, and have only given up 15 touchdown strikes. The teams have combined for 27 interceptions so it is vital for the winning side to intercept the ball. Both sides should be able to move it through the air. Against the run the Cards can shut teams down (3.6, 84.5) whereas the Falcons have been worn down (4.1, 125.8) not to mention allowing a league high 15 rushing scores. If both teams are going to do one thing well, I favor the team with balance and that is the visitors. Do I like them a lot? No. I keep waiting for these NFC South teams to rise up in their domes. Until they do I would rather not pick them: Arizona 28, Atlanta 27 (ATL +2.5/over 44.5)
New England (9-2) @ Green Bay (8-3): Things have been going great for the Patriots of late. They have won seven straight, six of them by 15-plus points. Most of this streak is nothing new for them. Five wins came at home where they have been dominant, and one of the road wins was in Buffalo, a team Tom Brady owns. Now things get interesting as they hit the road for three out of their next four. They probably finish no worse than 12-4, but can we cool the championship talk? I have seen this movie play out many times since Spygate and it tends to have a similar ending. Back to talking about dominant home teams, the Packers are 5-0 here with the past four coming by 21-plus points. Aaron Rodgers is playing at a high level and obviously so is Brady. How does a combined 57 touchdowns against 10 interceptions strike you? Rodgers has been sacked more (23 to 16) and both are completing over 65% of their throws.
On paper, the pass defenses are pretty even across the board, and average. I expect the quarterbacks to have some success here. Both guys struggle when they get pressured. It is really just a matter of which defense is better at dialing up the heat. The rushing offenses are equally mediocre, and with prolific passers at their disposal neither team is reliant on their backfield. We all saw Jonas Gray run over the Colts, and then get benched because Bill Belichick is a child trapped in a hoodie. The Patriots can run, even with random players getting the call. The Packers can too, and it feels as if Eddie Lacy is just warming up as the temperature drops. Green Bay does a worse job stopping the run (4.5, 136.7) by a lot compared to New England (4.2, 108.2) who quietly has allowed the second-fewest rushing scores (5) in the league. This is feeling like a game where Rodgers will need to do more than Brady and I think he is up to it. Home field matters. Neither team is looking ahead and will be playing this like a playoff game because both want to be home when the real playoffs start. I think Brady gets hit hard, and his defense is unable to neutralize all the weapons Rodgers has: Green Bay 28, New England 27 (NE +4/under 59)
Denver (8-3) @ Kansas City (7-4): Arrowhead Stadium is going to be rocking for this rematch over three months in the making. The Broncos won the first meeting 24-17 in a game that quite frankly the Chiefs should have had. There were no turnovers on either side and in the end Kansas City had the ball on the two-yard line only to fall short. It might have helped had Jamaal Charles been at their disposal at that point, but he left the game early with an injury. Even without him they converted 11 of 16 third downs and held the ball for 36:14. Throwing out a 48-yard completion to Emmanuel Sanders, Peyton Manning had just 194 yards through the air. I see the rematch lining up for a reversal of fortunes. All Kansas City really has to do is repeat their effort and ride the crowd noise aiding their pass rush to disrupt Manning.
I know the common opinion is that the Chiefs are suddenly bad because they just lost to the winless Raiders on TNF. It was a sloppy game in the rain against a team with nothing to lose. They got caught. Eric Berry took a poor angle on a 90-yard touchdown run by Latavius Murray, and now sadly he is lost for the season due to a non-football illness he is battling. His presence at safety will be missed, but I assure you his teammates are going to rally for him in a game like this on SNF. They have had extra time to prepare and will be ready. After losing a game no one understands against Tennessee in the first week, the Chiefs have won four straight at home. The Broncos returned home last week and rallied past the Dolphins 39-36 on the heels of playing three straight on the road. They lost two of those road games and fatigue has to be a factor for them here. Last week's 39-36 result had to take a lot out of them. They are now 2-3 on the road.
On the stat sheet Denver has a great run defense (3.4, 75.5) but I think volume might be their undoing here. In other words I think Kansas City's rushing offense (4.7, 136.1) with a league leading 16 rushing scores will just keep coming at them. This time they have Charles, and Knile Davis is already familiar with this defense from the first meeting. The Broncos can run a little (4.0, 100.0) and C.J. Anderson seems to be their best option of the season thus far. The Chiefs have an odd run defense in that they give up tons of yards (5.0, 129.4) but last week allowed their first 2 rushing scores on the season. The passing offenses cannot be more different, obviously. Denver (324.6) leads the league with 34 TD passes while Kansas City (201.0) has yet to throw a touchdown pass to a wide receiver on their roster. Of course, the Chiefs have the top pass defense (198.9) with 31 sacks. The Broncos give up some yardage (240.5) but can also get the quarterback (28 sacks). This is a real pickle. I either have to go against this wild home field advantage or against Manning. Call me crazy: Kansas City 27, Denver 24 (KC +1.5/over 49.5)
Miami (6-5) @ NY Jets (2-9): ESPN really wants us to believe this is a trap game. Is Arnold Schwarzenegger going to make an appearance in the booth? If so, absolutely. If not, the Jets are in trouble. They are a team going nowhere and their only hope is this being a rivalry game on MNF. Conventional wisdom says they are going to put everything into this one. It will be their second game on Monday night in a row, but luckily for them the last one was not aired nationally. They were forced to play Buffalo in Detroit and got swamped 38-3. Now Geno Smith is their quarterback again and I am pretty sure that is a bad thing. The Dolphins definitely come in deflated and tired after traveling to Denver and blowing a double-digit lead in an exhausting 39-36 setback. For some reason these teams face off twice in December and the visitors need this one badly.
On the year Miami is 3-3 away from home, including a blowout over Oakland in London. New York is 2-4 at home including a big upset of Pittsburgh, but that was with Michael Vick at quarterback. I have major concerns for the home team against a stout pass defense (211.7) that is fourth in the league and has 31 sacks. They will come after Smith for 60 minutes. The Jets have a mediocre pass defense in terms of yardage (238.6) with a ridiculous 27 touchdown passes allowed against just 3 interceptions, both worst in the NFL. They do have 28 sacks and I never count out a Rex Ryan scheme, but with Muhammad Wilkerson out this is a totally different front. New York has the league's worst passing offense (191.1) and poses no threat through the air. Ryan Tannehill is an up and down player, but I like his chances in this spot. He knows the heat is on him and under the lights I believe he comes through.
The Jets stop the run (3.4, 86.2) but again Wilkerson is out and if they fall behind how long will they hold up? The Dolphins are just above average versus the run (4.1, 104.2) and most importantly have allowed just 5 rushing scores. If the home team is unable to score touchdowns on offense, do they stand a chance? I would say their only shot is with a trick play or score on special teams. Those are things you see out of a 2-9 team with a lame duck head coach, and the visitors know that coming in so they will be prepared for just about anything. Both rushing offenses are in the top 10. For New York (4.7, 136.5) it is all they have and all the credit goes to their offensive line because teams know the run is coming. Miami (4.7, 124.5) is getting all they can out of Lamar Miller and their offense has a shot to be balanced here. This is a pretty standard, boring result: Miami 23, NY Jets 17 (MIA -4/under 42.5)