NFL Predictions 2014: Week 14
Thursday, December 04 2014
Contributed by: norcalfella
Well that was a disappointment. I kind of figured how my week would go when I only got one winner out of three Thanksgiving Day games. The 49ers, I figured, were in a good spot to make a stand at home against the Seahawks. The Cowboys, as it turned out, had more of a quarterback edge in reputation compared to reality, but beyond that I believed their offensive line was so much better as well. Those were two awful misses. However, I had some frustrating results go the opposite way, to say the least.
The Ravens were up 33-27 in a game I called for them to win 27-20 only to choke away the game on a drive where the Chargers went right down the field, costing me straight up and against the spread. The Giants choked away a 21-3 lead against the Jaguars, then kicked a field goal to go ahead 24-22 in a game I called 24-17. They gave up a field goal in the final minute to lose, again costing me twice. The Bengals won 14-13 in a game I called 20-14, and I guess I should have known to just take the points with the Bucs as a home underdog so that was a bummer. When is the last time Drew Brees threw 5 touchdown passes outdoors in a cold weather city? At least I took the points in that one. I have only myself to blame going on a limb with the Chiefs over the Broncos. As soon as I submitted that one I felt a lump in my stomach. The week ended with a tough loss against the spread when Mike Wallace dropped a sure TD pass, costing the Dolphins four points in a game they won 16-13 and failed to cover as I said they would by a margin of 23-17.
After the carnage, I was a disgusting 9-7 straight up (121-70-1 overall) and painful 6-10 against the spread (97-95 overall) where I am definitely slumping. However, I can still pick over/under with the best of them as I went 11-5 (107-84-1 overall) meaning in total I am +25 against Vegas. Focused as I ever I head towards the home stretch with confidence. Or at least that is what I am telling myself.
Dallas (8-4) @ Chicago (5-7): I have some questions. Are the Cowboys really cursed to finish 8-8 again? Are the Bears really still in the playoff hunt? If either answer was yes I would be inclined to think hard about an upset here. However, I do not base football predictions on potential curses, even if it seems like Dallas, once 6-1, might in fact be heading towards another collapse. Chicago has had their chances to be in the hunt and failed. It is over for them. Now it is all about pride and whether or not they really care about Marc Trestman's future. Both teams are on the same rest after getting whipped on Thanksgiving. My big thing here is that the Cowboys appear to be fading on defense. In three of their past four games they have allowed 28-plus points. The offense has put up 30-plus points on six occasions this season and their dominant offensive line helping them to long drives has helped cover up for the defense.
Here is the other thing. The Bears are at least feeling good about their chances at home having won their past two games here. Sure, the opposition was poor (Minnesota, Tampa Bay) but in the NFL every team is capable. On a cold night in the Windy City, both teams will at least start with the run. Dallas (4.8, 145.3) has decided to run DeMarco Murray until he falls over. So far, so good. Chicago (4.0, 93.2) is not built to maul teams on the ground with the equally talented Matt Forte who does a lot of his damage out of the backfield. They might try it here because the Cowboys (4.5, 119.6) have given up some chunks of yards and 12 rushing scores. The Bears (4.2, 105.5) have been better, but are without linebacker Lance Briggs. Any way I cut this up, the visitors are going to win on the ground and that is a big edge.
It feels like Tony Romo leads the more prolific passing game, but when you break it down his targets behind Dez Bryant are lacking. No doubt tight end Jason Witten is a threat over the course of his career. This year he is outside the top 10 in yardage and has a pedestrian 10,7 yards per catch. Second receiver Terrance Williams has just 30 receptions. On the other hand, as good as Jay Cutler's wide receiver duo and tight end have been, that group and Forte account for pretty much all they do through the air. It is hard to put stress on a defense without multiple options. We will see what happens here, but I think the home team will have some success getting the ball down the field. The last time I expected a team to work over an opponent that has allowed 27 touchdown passes, the Jets showed up to play on MNF. I do not expect a lot of defense here. The quarterbacks are going to sling it and with a couple finished drives the points should flow. I have to take the team with something at stake: Dallas 28, Chicago 24 (DAL -3.5/over 50.5)
Baltimore (7-5) @ Miami (7-5): There is a month of football left, but this definitely has a playoff feel to it. After choking away a lead against the Chargers last week, the Ravens have put themselves in a tough spot when it comes to the AFC North and are now in the mix with a bunch of teams for the wild card. One of those teams is the Dolphins, who rallied to beat the hated Jets 16-13 on MNF and have a trip to New England on deck. From their perspective, a loss here could put them on 7-7 in a hurry. In other words, neither team has a margin for error left. I have to give the edge to Miami off the top because they are at home. They have just spent five of the past seven on the road. The two exceptions produced wins by a combined 59-9 score. The road has not been too harsh to Baltimore. They are 3-3, but the key factor is allowing 27-plus points in three of those games. Their defense loses its swagger outside of their stadium.
Obviously, run defense is going to be a focus for the Dolphins (4.3, 118.6) after getting run over in the first half on national television less than a week ago. Here comes a team with a powerful rushing attack (4.6, 131.8) that has 14 scores on the ground. If Justin Forsett continues to perform like an elite back here, the home team is in trouble. The Ravens can stop the run (3.6, 86.3) and they face a team that has produced on the ground (4.6, 120.3). The team that imposes their will is probably going to win this one. Through the air these teams have been similarly productive ranking just below average in the league. Miami is completing a higher percentage of passes, but Baltimore has taken far fewer sacks (15 to 28). Can Ryan Tannehill deliver a signature performance here? He has a chance because Baltimore's pass defense is atrocious, second-worst in the league, and has faded since Jimmy Smith went out. Miami is second-best in the league. Both teams can rush the passer, combining for 64 sacks. I feel like this is the kind of game a more experienced team led by a quarterback with a Super Bowl ring has a better chance to win. However, I am throwing it out the window after Haloti Ngata's suspension. Instead of picking the Ravens 24-23 this is my new pick: Miami 24, Baltimore 20 (MIA -3/under 46)
Pittsburgh (7-5) @ Cincinnati (8-3-1): It is so odd to see the Bengals in charge of the AFC North by a game and a half. The way they have been blown out in their three losses it feels like they are going to fold at any moment. However, they just gutted out three straight wins on the road, the past two of which were pretty ugly. All they do is win. The truth of the matter is that their defense runs the show. In a stretch of six games where they allowed 24-plus points during the meat of their schedule the team went 2-3-1. In their other six games they have allowed a grand total of 69 points and of course are 6-0. If their defense is on, they win. If not, it is a coin flip. That is how I see them now, and they have plenty of work to do down the stretch, including a rematch with the Steelers at Heinz Field.
Speaking of defense, Pittsburgh's is kind of a mess. They just let Drew Brees throw 5 touchdown passes against them and for all his success typically he struggles outdoors in cold weather. Just once all year have they held a team below 19 points scored, and that was against a Jacksonville team without a clue on offense. The reason this team is still in it is because their offense has put up 27-plus seven times, with last week's 35-32 loss to the Saints being their first setback with that kind of output. Up front they just lost Brett Keisel. Maybe someone else can put on a fake beard and harness his power. They need it because the run defense (4.4, 105.6) is not what fans of this franchise are used to over the past 40 years. On the flip side, Cincinnati is having trouble stopping the run (4.2, 125.1) and has allowed 13 rushing touchdowns. Paging Le'Veon Bell.
The Steelers can run (4.3, 118.1) but the key is finishing drives with touchdowns, of which they have just 5 on the ground. The Bengals (4.2, 124.5) do not have that problem. They have run it in 14 times for scores. It sure seems like both teams will have a great chance to run the ball effectively here. Touchdowns versus field goals could be a key for the home team. When it comes to stopping the pass, both units are average in terms of yards per game allowed but with one big difference. Pittsburgh has given up more than twice as many touchdowns (24 to 8). Cincinnati has fewer sacks (15 to 21) and those totals coupled with success running the ball make it seem like the quarterbacks will have clean uniforms by night's end. The Bengals allow the fifth lowest completion percentage (59.4%) for what that is worth. Of course, offensively there is a big disparity. Pittsburgh ranks second in the league throwing the rock (312.5) but 12 of Ben Roethlisberger's 27 TD passes came in a back-to-back outburst. Cincinnati (226.4) has struggled in part because they were without A.J. Green for weeks. They do a better job protecting their quarterback (15 sacks allowed) as Big Ben has gone down 31 times. Mix it all up and I like the elite passer over the guy who repeatedly fails to win big games: Pittsburgh 27, Cincinnati 24 (PIT +3.5/over 47)
Indianapolis (8-4) @ Cleveland (7-5): The recipe has been pretty simple for the Colts this season. Against teams who are not currently lead their division, they are almost perfect at 7-1. If you can consistently beat the average to decent teams, the playoffs are in your future more often than not. Yes, they are 1-3 against the best opponents to date, but let them worry about that when the playoff tournament begins. The Browns hope they can make the dance. They are sticking with Brian Hoyer, which is might be the wrong decision. I see the logic because they feel as if their running game and defense coupled with sound play at quarterback will add up to the wins required to make the playoffs. However, I would roll the dice with Johnny Manziel who can get the football to Josh Gordon like he did at Texas A&M with Mike Evans coupled with scrambles for chunks of yardage. I say give the kid a chance.
The reason Manziel is in the conversation right now is because Brian Hoyer and this offense were awful last week in Buffalo. Now at running back there are reports Terance West could be a healthy scratch, Isaiah Crowell is banged up and of course Ben Tate has already been cut. If only they had a stud top-5 pick at the position they could ride. Like say, Trent Richardson? Oops, but luckily they dumped him off on the Colts, who have discovered he is pretty much trash. Their only saving grace, having lost Ahmad Bradshaw, is that Dan "Boom" Herron has some game. He is coming home in a sense having played at Ohio State. I expect him to ball out here relatively speaking. Jumping to the aerial attack, it is an understatement to say the Colts have an edge. They are 34-11 ahead in touchdown passes thanks to Andrew Luck. Even if Joe Haden can lock down one receiver, possibly T.Y. Hilton, he can spread the ball around at will. The Browns have the better pass defense including 17 interceptions, and can attack with Josh Gordon but the visitors have 34 sacks.
Neither run defense is stout, but Cleveland (4.4, 132.5) has been abused more than Indianapolis (4.5, 107.8) per game although the Colts have allowed 12 rushing scores. The rushing offenses are the definition of average, and while Indianapolis has the superior average per rush (4.1 to 3.6) Cleveland has more rushing touchdowns (15 to 8). No big deal because we know the visitors can score a ton. When a team goes on the road for three out of four and then comes home I either think they are regenerated or worn out. In this case, how good is this team in the Dawg Pound? They did put it on the Steelers 31-10 and upset the Saints, but beyond that this is not a playoff-caliber team from what we have seen. Plus, of late they are not scoring a lot. In their last seven games they have scored 22-26 points four times (all wins) and 6, 10 and 7 points three times (all losses). No one has contained Indy's offense this season as they have posted 20-plus points every week. and 33-plus six times. Quite frankly, they outscore them: Indianapolis 27, Cleveland 20 (IND -3/under 51)
Houston (6-6) @ Jacksonville (2-10): Very little has gone right for the Jaguars this season, and even when they win as they did last week in a sense they lose because it put them out of position for the first overall pick. Speaking of which, the Texans just had that slot and wound up taking Jadeveon Clowney who spent this season proving his pre-draft doubters correct. He barely played and is officially shut down. Perhaps in the long term he forms a dynamic pass-rushing duo with J.J. Watt, but in a season where the team is still in playoff contention they sure could have used another impact player. As it is, they still have a shot at a wild card or maybe even the AFC South title. Think about this. They play these 10-loss Jags twice, so with a sweep of those games and a win over the now-Ngata less Ravens all they would need for a 10-6 campaign is an upset at Indianapolis. Too much to ask? Eh, who can tell?
Consistency is the key to making a playoff run, but actually the Texans only have won consecutive games once, so for them to keep the Jaguars from doing it once they would need to do it again because they won last week. Ryan Fitzpatrick came off the bench and threw 6 touchdown passes. Jacksonville is 2-4 at home, and three of those losses were by at 14-plus points. Houston is 3-3 on the road, with win in their last two trips. Their running game (4.1, 134.1) makes them viable away from home and Arian Foster is healthy at the moment, and they are up against a defense that has given up some yardage on the ground (4.3, 129.4) including 13 touchdowns. The Texans are an average run defense (4.0, 111.9) and they are trying to stop an ordinary rushing attack (4.3, 98.3). If Houston can win the rushing battle something like 130-105 I sure like their chances here.
Rookie Blake Bortles needs more help. Quarterbacks on this team have been sacked 50 times and 60 is not out of the question after this game is done. Jacksonville actually passes for more yardage, which is not saying much as both teams are in the bottom 10. Houston has allowed just 21 sacks though, and thrown fewer interceptions (10 to 16). The respective pass defenses are also in the bottom 10 with a combined 42 touchdown passes allowed, but again Houston has more interceptions (15 to 10) and with their veteran signal-caller the odds are with them to win the turnover battle. With J.J. Watt you would figure the Jags would have fewer sacks in this matchup, but you would be wrong they have the edge 37 to 25. Again, I favor the vet to stay out of trouble, especially since he has a running game. Off a win I think the Jags relax a little, especially since their opponent has more to play for than the Giants did last week: Houston 27, Jacksonville 20 (HOU -4/over 41)
NY Giants (3-9) @ Tennessee (2-10): The Giants are coming off losing to another 10-loss team in their visit to Jacksonville, so it seems to me they will have more fight in them this week to avoid joining that club themselves. The fact of the matter is that they are poor on the road having gone 1-5 with four losses by double digits. After two road losses in a row by 19-plus points the Titans come home trying to stop a six-game slide. Speaking of fight, if this team has any in them it could get on a roll considering the Jets and Jaguars are next up on the schedule. They are down one wide receiver, Justin Hunter, and probably will be without Kendall Wright so rookie Zach Mettenberger is going to be up against it here. Neither team has passed the ball very well, but Eli Manning has thrown his interceptions in bunches and has Odell Beckham Jr. The pass defenses are very comparable, just below average. I like the side with a hot player and veteran quarterback over the gunslinger trying to make do without two of his better options.
These are the worst two rush defenses in the league on paper. New York (4.9, 140.6) is technically above Tennessee (4.2, 141.5) but the average per rush difference is signifcant. Both teams have allowed 13 rushing scores. Which offense is better equipped to take advantage? The Giants (3.6, 100.7) again are better overall, but the Titans (4.0, 88.3) are better per carry. There is also the matter of Rashad Jennings being in the lineup or not. It could easily be the difference. Rookie Andre Williams is a plodder for the G-Men. His fellow rookie Bishop Sankey is not lighting the world on fire. Usually I would like the established quarterback, but Eli is on a fading team. Mettenberger is ready to deliver a win and if his team can run the ball a little I like his chances: Tennessee 28, NY Giants 27 (TEN +1.5/over 45)
Carolina (3-8-1) @ New Orleans (5-7): I have been waiting for the Saints to turn the corner and start playing like a playoff team. Last week's 35-32 win in Pittsburgh might have been a marker. It was outdoors of course, and if they can repeat that in Chicago and Tampa Bay against two teams already out of the race, and beat Atlanta at home suddenly all the talk of a 6-10 NFC South champ would be a distant memory. We might be looking at them going 9-7 and counting on their offense to spring a road upset. Stranger things have happened. The biggest issue with this team is of course their defense having allowed 23-plus ten times. They are in it because their offense has scored that much or more nine times. Speaking of in it, the Panthers technically are. However, can we be realistic for a minute? They just lost 31-13 in Minnesota to a rookie quarterback leading a team going nowhere. This team is done.
The Panthers were 2-0 at one point and thumped Detroit 24-7. Since then their defense has allowed 28-plus points seven times. In the past six weeks their offense has averaged a pathetic 14.5 points per game. They were also swamped 28-10 by the Saints in the first meeting, mustering only 231 total yards. The outcome was never in doubt. I see no reason to expect anything different here. Carolina struggles to run the ball (3.8, 103.2) and loses DeAngelo Williams here. New Orleans has found their rushing attack (4.7, 126.3) as Mark Ingram continues to pile up yardage. The run defenses are both below average, but I definitely like the home team to get the better of the action. Obviously the passing edge is going to be huge in this one. Cam Newton is leading an offense completing just 59.5%, the eighth-worst mark in the league. Drew Brees is first in the league at 70.3% and has taken half the sacks (19 to 37). I bring this up because while the Saints have the softer pass defense, their unit allows 61.8% while the Panthers are at 67.9%. If Brees completes a high percentage of throws and can run the ball there is no daylight for an upset here. It is not close either: New Orleans 34, Carolina 19 (NO -8.5/over 48)
Tampa Bay (2-10) @ Detroit (8-4): The Lions faced some adversity on Thanksgiving, falling behind the Bears 14-3. Instead of fading, they flipped a switch and went on a 34-3 run to blow them out. Now after getting extra rest for the final stretch run they are positioned well for a wild card push. They are now 5-1 at home, but the issue for me is their stagnant offense. Anyone can put up points on the Bears. Lucky for them, the Bucs struggle to score as well. In six of their last seven games they have failed to score more than 17 points. However, they are allowing just 18.3 points over the past six weeks. Could this be a defensive struggle with a possible upset? I think so. Tampa Bay is playing their fourth road game in six weeks so fatigue might be a factor for them against a team playing on extra rest.
The Lions lead the league in rushing defense (3.1, 65.9) and face the fourth-worst rushing offense (3.8, 83.3). Detroit's rushing offense is actually worse (3.3, 81.7) which kind of explains their scoring problems. They face an ordinary run defense (4.0, 116.0) here, but can they take advantage? The numbers tell me both teams will be able to throw the ball a little here. Matthew Stafford has a healthier Calvin Johnson every week from here on out. Josh McCown has rookie Mike Evans peaking. This is probably going to be a closer game than people expect. Lovie Smith knows this division and while he lost to Minnesota (19-13 OT) and Chicago (21-13) already, both games were close. I expect a fairly similar result here: Detroit 24, Tampa Bay 17 (TB +10.5/under 42)
St. Louis (5-7) @ Washington (3-9): Any conversation about this matchup has to start with the Robert Griffin III trade. The Rams traded down, got picks they turned in players who will suit up here. The Redskins moved up for their franchise quarterback, who has been benched in favor of third-stringer Colt McCoy. Which team do you think won that trade? Washington probably has a better chance to win right now with McCoy. They lost the past two weeks on the road against two winning teams (San Francisco, Indianapolis) but at home, even if fans are abandoning them, they are 2-3. The Rams are 2-4 on the road and crazy as it might sound have their sights set on a miracle run to a wild card. It feels like by hook or by crook teams coached by Jeff Fisher have a way to sniff .500 one way or another. They certainly have the coaching edge here over a team led by Jay Gruden, who now has a report coming out saying he will be fired at season's end so the team can keep Griffin. The opposite is another possibility. Either way, this team is in turmoil per usual.
The rushing defenses are both decent, as are the rushing offenses. It could wind up being a wash on the ground. I like Alfred Morris a little more than rookie Tre Mason. The Redskins have issues getting their hands on the football with just 5 interceptions yet have allowed 26 touchdown passes. Both teams have 28 sacks, but with Chris Long healthy I favor the Rams in that area. Their defensive line is ridiculously talented. St. Louis does allow a very high completion percentage (68.8%) which plays into McCoy's strength. Ultimately, defense and coaching probably determine the outcome here. Home field and pride only go so far. When the outcome is on the line, since neither team has anything close to an elite quarterback or defense I will side with the visitors in a close one: St. Louis 20, Washington 17 (STL -1/under 44.5)
NY Jets (2-10) @ Minnesota (5-7): Traveling after a short week is a tough draw, especially for New York who put everything on the line to beat the rival Dolphins only to watch their lead slip away on MNF. They are 0-5 on the road this season, having allowed 24-plus points in all of those games. I have no idea how the Vikings have won this many games, but before thumping Carolina 31-13 last week they were competitive against Green Bay on this field. They are 3-3 in their temporary home and now as the temperature drops we will find out how much of an advantage it is for them. The Jets of course are used to cold weather, but their players might not be so interested in taking hits in this environment.
We know New York can stop the run (3.5. 85.2) and while Minnesota has run the ball well so far (4.5, 114.5) they have to go without Jerick McKinnon here. Matt Asiata is two yards and a pile of dust. If the Jets ground and pound again (4.8, 148.2) like they did on MNF I can see them competing against a Vikings team that has allowed some yardage on the ground (4.4, 123.8). Should they be up for the fight, I can see them winning on the ground 130-100 or better. Are they up for it though? We have two of the three worst passing offenses in the league here. Rookie Teddy Bridgewater and second-year pro Geno Smith square off and the best thing I can say about Bridgewater is that he still has hope on his side. Smith was completely sheltered last week, showing just how little confidence the team has in him. If anything, Percy Harvin will be inspired to play against his former team and could provide a spark. Combined the teams have 22 passing touchdowns against 26 interceptions with 75 sacks allowed. Both defenses can rush the passer with a combined 65 sacks, but have allowed a high completion percentage. Flip a coin. Who is up for it? I think the Vikings are: Minnesota 23, NY Jets 17 (MIN -4.5/under 41)
Buffalo (7-5) @ Denver (9-3): The Bills have played their way into the playoff picture, but the schedule probably will not allow them to stay in the mix. They smoked the Jets and Browns by a combined 64-13, but things get serious now. Whatever was wrong with the Broncos when they were stunned in St. Louis three weeks ago, they got straightened out beating the Dolphins and Chiefs. I feel as if they are ready for the push now. Home field in the playoffs is vital and there is no margin for error if they want to pick up a game on the Patriots who own the tiebreaker on them. That being said, their focus is on the game in front of them.
It is an interesting matchup when it comes to pass defense. The Bills are fifth (216.1) and only the Chiefs have allowed fewer touchdown passes than they have (14). They also lead the league with 48 sacks. The key to beating Peyton Manning is rushing him. The Broncos are tenth (229.7) and have 34 sacks, but have allowed 24 touchdown passes. Of course, offensively Denver has twice as many scores through the air (36 to 18) and half the sacks allowed (13 to 28). Kyle Orton is going to have a difficult time keeping up. Buffalo is seventh in rushing defense (3.9, 96.3) but Denver is second (3.4, 72.7). The Broncos are starting to run the ball now (4.1, 109.5) whereas the Bills (3.8, 98.2) are stuck in neutral. Balance always wins. Home field is huge here. I know Buffalo has a tough defense and could rise up, but I do not see this playing out that way: Denver 31, Buffalo 17 (DEN -9/under 48.5)
Kansas City (7-5) @ Arizona (9-3): It sure seems like the sky is falling for the Cardinals right now, but the two losses came on the road in tough environments (Seattle, Atlanta). They have scored only 35 points total the past three weeks, and that is cause for concern, but last week's 29-18 loss broke a string of seven straight games not allowing more than 20 points. Their defense can tighten up here and lead the way. The Chiefs are very limited on offense, having scored more than 24 just once in the past eight games. They are 3-3 on the road, but Arizona is 6-0 in this building. I think this is going to be a tough one for them. Kansas City is all about running the ball (4.6, 129.1) with 16 touchdowns on the ground. Jamaal Charles is nicked up so that is a factor. On the flip side Andre Ellington is out for an already abysmal running team (3.1, 74.8). Arizona can stuff the run (3.7, 89.3) and will need to do so here. Kansas City has been awful against the run (4.9, 136.4) but can Marion Grice ramble on them?
The Chiefs have no passing game (197.0) and Patrick Peterson will lock down any outside threat. I see them providing plenty of support to stop the run and making life difficult on Alex Smith. The Cardinals are an average passing team and of course Drew Stanton is limited. Plus, he goes up against the best pass defense (196.8) on paper. However, with Eric Berry out things change, and they have just 4 interceptions on the season. Arizona has 16 so while they have given up a lot more yardage (263.3) it matters little with the personnel on the field here. I see a straight up defensive war. Kansas City has fewer offensive options. They are all Charles. Arizona has multiple wide receiving options at their disposal and can strike deep. I see them muscling this one out: Arizona 19, Kansas City 17 (AZ +1.5/under 41.5)
San Francisco (7-5) @ Oakland (1-11): The weather outside is not exactly frightful, but it has been wet in the Bay Area. I bring this up because I realized something rather interesting about the 49ers. The last time they scored more than 22 points in a game not played in a dome, it was September. Not to sound like a certain teenage girl on Twitter, but maybe Greg Roman does need to go. Colin Kaepernick's gig is up. He terrorized the league when he came on the scene in 2012. Then the opposition adjusted, and continues to adjust. End of story. He has plenty of weapons, and if anything the offensive line is weaker than it used to be. However, it is no excuse. Elite quarterbacks overcome these things. Tom Brady lost an All-Pro guard five minutes before this season started. He is going fine. The first thing I can establish here is that points will be at a premium. The Raiders, who have been in garbage time a lot this season, have scored more than 17 points just three times. Last week's 52-0 debacle in St. Louis was obviously the low point. It was almost to be expected after they finally got a win, and had to play without the key player in that upset, running back Latavius Murray, who will be on the field here.
Murray as a major boost to the league's worst rushing offense (3.7, 72.5). On the other side, San Francisco was supposed to be a lot better than this running the ball (4.0, 114.8) but the line has not been up to the task, notably right tackle Jonathan Martin. Oakland can actually contain the run a little (4.0, 130.5) it is just by volume they get hurt because teams are always ahead of them. The 49ers for all their personnel changes on defense can hold the run (4.1, 98.3). Offensively, the Raiders are only about 14 yards per game behind their cross-bay rivals, but a lot of their yards come when the game has been decided. More importantly, their rookie Derek Carr gets rid of the ball and avoids sacks. Now that Aldon Smith is back, the 49ers have a better pass rush so while both teams are in the top 10 for pass defense, again that is deceiving. San Francisco has a 16-5 edge in interceptions after dumping their two corners onto Oakland in free agency, and upgrading the position. In terms of completion percentage allowed, their number is 57.8% while the Raiders are at 65.3%. So while points will be hard to come by, I do not see an upset brewing. Nor do I see a blowout: San Francisco 23, Oakland 13 (SF -7/under 41.5)
Seattle (8-4) @ Philadelphia (9-3): Are the Seahawks back? Consecutive 19-3 wins over their division rivals would indicate they are. This is the defense we were accustomed to seeing last year, but of course facing Drew Stanton and Colin Kaepernick helped them quite a bit. Now they get Mark Sanchez who is playing like he is back at USC. The Eagles have scored 31-plus in four of their past fives games so something has to give. Both teams got big Thanksgiving Day wins on the road, so the extra rest is a wash. Seattle can stuff the run (3.5, 86.3) but Philadelphia is solid there as well (3.9, 107.7). Thanks to their mobile quarterback, the Seahawks are leading the league in rushing by a mile (5.3, 168.6). The Eagles can run too (4.2, 130.2) but throwing these numbers in the mixer the visitors are going to win the ground battle by close to 30 yards. In order to compete they might need to win by more than that though.
Through the air there is a big disparity. Philadelphia is fifth (297.3) despite switching quarterbacks midseason and has taken only 18 sacks. Seattle is fourth-worst (206.9) and Wilson has gone down 31 times. The large edge is the other direction on defense where the Seahawks are third (199.4) and the Eagles seventh-worst (258.6) while allowing 24 touchdown passes. Playing it by the numbers, Philadelphia would have the edge by fewer than 20 yards, meaning this game comes down to the intangibles. One great equalizer is sacks where Philly leads big 42 to 20, and they also allow opposing quarterbacks to complete just 57.% of their throws thanks to the pressure. If the Eagles can shut down the Cowboys, another good running team, I find it highly probable they can repeat the performance here at home. The extra time off allows them to refocus, and perhaps not look forward to next week's vital rematch with their rivals. Ultimately though, I do not trust Sanchez to protect the ball against this defense, so that is where they fail: Seattle 24, Philadelphia 23 (SEA +2/under 49)
New England (9-3) @ San Diego (8-4): One thing I know about the Patriots is not to bet against them following a loss. They are not in the position often, but thus far this year they won 30-7 and 43-17 after setbacks. There is a fatigue factor with this being the third road game in four weeks and traveling across the country. At 3-3 on the road, they do seem vulnerable. The Chargers are 5-1 at home having just come back from a trip to Baltimore where they scored a dramatic 34-33 win. It was a critical victory because although they are in the thick of the playoff hunt at the moment, their December schedule is unforgiving. Next week they host Denver before traveling to San Francisco and Kansas City. San Diego always seems to rise up against strong competition late in the year, but this might be a tough task to start the run.
Last week New England lost in Green Bay 26-21, and their offense finally faltered relatively speaking after a long run of putting up crooked numbers. They might need to pull Jonas Gray out of the doghouse here because their average rushing offense (4.0, 110.9) needs to get into playoff form. San Diego has struggled to run all year (3.4, 87.3) and even with Ryan Mathews in the mix they are one-dimensional on offense. The rushing defenses are dead even and slightly above average, but with the backfield options for the Patriots I like their chances here. On the stat sheet the passing offenses are comparable. New England has more touchdown passes (29 to 25) and fewer interceptions (6 to 10). San Diego's pass defense is almost 30 yards per game better, but both teams have allowed 20 touchdown throws. The Patriots have twice as many interceptions (12 to 6). Overall, this is a tough game to predict. I thought Philip Rivers was hurt last week and he played great. Maybe this week he falters under the SNF lights: New England 26, San Diego 24 (SD +4/under 52/5)
Green Bay (9-3) @ Atlanta (5-7): The big winner is MNF who gets to promote this one as a battle of division leaders. In that respect, maybe the Falcons have a shot. They did just beat another 9-win division leader (Arizona) here last week, but going from facing Drew Stanton to taking on Aaron Rodgers is quite a shock to the system. Either way, they are 3-2 in this building now where in the Matt Ryan era they have dominated. Rodgers is awesome indoors, but the team has lost their past two trips to domes, losing a combined 63-30 in Detroit and New Orleans. Anything is possible, especially in primetime. Well, maybe not. The Falcons have the worst pass defense (284.9) in the league and like with most elite quarterbacks the way to beat Rodgers is through pressure. They have only 14 sacks. On paper Atlanta actually has more passing yardage, but Green Bay has a 32 to 21 advantage in passing touchdowns and fewer interceptions (4 to 11). Their pass defense can hold up just fine, for what it is worth.
Both rushing offenses are in the bottom half of the league, as are the rushing defenses. I would be shocked to see this game not being decided by the quarterbacks. Ryan has Julio Jones and that can be a huge factor. Rodgers has multiple options, and home field in the playoffs to think about. Even in a game they are not desperate to win, there is urgency. Eddie Lacy is rounding into the form most expected of him early in the season, whereas Steven Jackson has been experiencing one last gasp of decent play at clearly the end of his career. Just a little bit of rushing support is all Rodgers really needs to get the jump here. I expect the Packers will at least stay level in the turnover battle, which wrecked them in their last trip to a dome. Nothing to see here, but an exciting game through three quarters at least: Green Bay 31, Atlanta 21 (ATL +13.5/under 56)