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Monday, October 16 2017

NFL Predictions 2014: Week 15

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I continue to make myself crazy hoping for that one big week to turn my season into a winner. Last week was almost what I needed. Straight up I went 12-4 (133-74-1 overall) and that was okay except it can always be better. I made the mistake of switching my Baltimore/Miami pick because Haloti Ngata was out, and the Dolphins did pretty much everything they could to lose that game. Everyone was on New Orleans over Carolina, so I have no regrets about that. Had Oakland not been so dreadful against St. Louis the previous week I might have considered going on a limb with them, but virtually everyone was on the 49ers. I definitely wish I had the Tennessee pick back because the Giants are the type of team that has pride and wins garbage games, plus the wide receiver situation coupled with their dreadful rushing attack should have been a tell for me. 

Against the spread I held my own at 8-8 (105-103 overall) with the aforementioned losses, plus some tough beats. Indianapolis gave Cleveland 14 points and failed to cover. Denver decided to treat their game with Buffalo like a practice and as a result let them pull a back door cover. San Diego I should have known would let me down against New England, and the same goes for hoping Tampa Bay getting a bunch of points in Detroit mattered. Anyway, I was 11-5 on the over/under (118-89-1) so I now stand +31 versus Vegas. At least I have that going for me heading into the very difficult weeks to read games. 

Arizona (10-3) @ St. Louis (6-7): The Rams do not look like a last place team at the moment. They have pitched consecutive shutouts, albeit against teams with losing records, and remain mathematically alive for a wild card berth. The Cardinals are hoping for a division title, but in theory could drop out of the playoffs altogether. It all comes down to their rematches with the rest of the NFC West. The first meeting with St. Louis was bittersweet. They won the game 31-14 to move to 8-1 on the season, but lost quarterback Carson Palmer for the season with a knee injury. Both teams will have new quarterbacks in this one as now veteran Shaun Hill has taken over for Austin Davis who threw 2 interceptions the first time around and was sacked 6 times in the desert. Andre Ellington, who might be healthy enough to start, ran 18 times for 23 yards and it is not easy to be so inept over so many opportunities.

The change of venue and momentum has made the second meeting a totally different deal. Mix in primetime and the political situation in Ferguson, Missouri and I find it hard to pick against St. Louis here. The dome is going to be rocking and I think it will affect Stanton. He is only completing 54.5% of his passes and has 6 turnovers the past four games. After a 3-1 start on the road, Arizona has last their last two and their defense is definitely less vicious outside of their stadium. Offensively, they have put up 52 points total in four games since the first meeting, and that is troubling. On the flip side, the Rams have scored 22, 24, 52 and 24 since being held down in that game. Since getting swamped in the opener they have been putting up points in the dome and while skunking the Raiders might not wow anyone, their previous home game was a 22-7 result over Peyton Manning and the Broncos. I like their chances.

Defensively, both teams can stop the run so we are set up for a low scoring game I believe because the Rams are below average running the ball and the Cardinals are awful. They just got 100 yards out of a seventh-round pick last week, but that was against a struggling run defense of Kansas City at home. This is a different situation. Rookie Tre Mason gets a second look at this defense and I think he is in a better spot to succeed here, relatively speaking. The defenses have combined for 66 sacks and 29 interceptions. They both allow a high completion percentage, especially St. Louis, so if the passers can stay upright and make good decisions they should be able to move the chains. Obviously I expect it to be easier for Hill with the crowd noise getting to Stanton. The key for the Rams is protecting him because their quarterbacks have gone down 39 times compared to 21 for the Cardinals. Forget about most of this. I love the fact that Bruce Arians is a gambler who will throw deep, but in this spot it is not going to work out for him. Jeff Fisher has his team on a roll and they are going to steal this one for the national TV audience: St. Louis 24, Arizona 17 (STL -3/under 41.5) 

Oakland (2-11) @ Kansas City (7-6): A month ago things were going very well for the Chiefs. They had won five in a row and stood 7-3 after beating defending champion Seattle, poised to make a serious push for the AFC West title. Then came a trip to the Black Hole on TNF against the 0-10 Raiders. Everyone knows what happened next, and now Kansas City needs to hurdle two teams if they want a spot as a wild card. Oakland is feeling pretty free and loose having just earned another win last week, wrecking the playoff plans of another rival with a 24-13 smacking of San Francisco. The key hurdle for them and rookie quarterback Derek Carr is finding a win on the road, where they stand 0-6. In those losses, just once have they scored more than 14 points but the debacle in St. Louis two weeks ago was their only blowout loss.

Not too much can be taken from the first meeting. It was a soggy field, and the pivotal play was Latavius Murray catching safety Eric Berry leaning the wrong way for a 90-yard touchdown run. Murray left the game early with a concussion, and his presence over a full game certainly helps the visitors here. His counterpart, Jamaal Charles, is an elite threat and will be more effective against a defense minus the services of linebacker Sio Moore. Most people know Moore for his ridiculous celebration while the game was still in progress, but he is pretty good. Forget the numbers here. This is rivalry, revenge and playoff aspiration all rolled into one. From a practical standpoint I have a hard time with the upset call because Oakland has a limited offense. Tight end Mychal Rivera is emerging along with Murray, and Carr is finding the open man. However, in this building with a raucous crowd I like Kansas City's pass rush to do what they should have done in the first go around. They are 4-2 at home and it has definitely been a mixed bag, but I expect them to put it together here against a team ready to let down: Kansas City 24, Oakland 16 (OAK +11/under 42.5)

Jacksonville (2-11) @ Baltimore (8-5): After taking a step back in the playoff chase with a last-minute home loss to San Diego, the Ravens took a step forward with a big win at Miami. The concern here is losing focus against a lesser opponent with nothing to play for. I like their chances because their offense has been really consistent. Eight times in a row and eleven times overall they have scored 21-plus points. The struggling Jaguars have topped 17 points only three times, and just one of those was on the road in a game they lost 33-23 at Cincinnati. Offensive spark plug Denard Robinson is done for the season now as well. On defense, aside from a three game stretch allowing a total of 42 points in the middle of the season, they have given up 23-plus points every time out. These numbers do not add up.

Running the ball, Baltimore (4.7, 135.7) has been great and somehow Justin Forsett is performing at an elite level for the first time in his career. Maybe Toby Gerhart wakes up because Jacksonville brought him in this year to get their running game going (4.2, 96.4) and it did not happen. There is no reason to expect it here against this defense (3.7, 84.5) whereas the Jags (4.2, 132.5) have the kind of numbers you tend to see from a team with a lot of losses. If the Ravens are looking at something like a 135-90 yardage advantage on the ground there is no chance at an upset here. Jacksonville has absorbed 54 quarterback sacks this season and thrown 17 interceptions, both worst in the NFL. I know Baltimore's pass defense is awful (267.2) but they can rush the passer (37 sacks) and I do not see rookie Blake Bortles doing too much in this game until his team falls behind by double digits. The Jags have 38 sacks, but facing an offense with a balanced attack is a different deal. Bortles is going to be playing from behind and might do some damage after the outcome is decided to delight the four people who started him in their fantasy league. That is about it: Baltimore 31, Jacksonville 19 (JAX +14/over 44.5)

Pittsburgh (8-5) @ Atlanta (5-8): Are the Steelers for real again? It is so hard to know because they are 1-2 against the NFC South, a division unable to beat anyone this season. Still, it is hard to overlook last week's rousing 42-21 win over Cincinnati that drew them within a half-game of the AFC North lead. They have now scored 27-plus points in six of their past seven games, but only one team this season (Jacksonville) has failed to score 19 points on them. If you like points, this should produce plenty. The Falcons are still division leaders, but are on a short week with their best player nicked up. In last week's 43-37 loss at Green Bay top receiver Julio Jones injured his hip and is not available, so that hurts. Three teams have come to the Georgia dome and scored 26-plus points, so their home field advantage is longer as big of a deal.

The glaring factor here is pass defense. Atlanta is dreadful (287.8) with a league-worst 15 sacks. Pittsburgh is not great (248.5) either and has yielded 26 touchdown passes. Both of these passers have an opportunity to take advantage, as they each lead top-5 passing offenses with a combined 55 touchdown passes. If Jones is out, Ben Roethlisberger has a huge edge because he has a deeper group of receiving threats. Either way, Le'Veon Bell is emerging as the league's best running back and should help the visitors win on the ground as well. I see a battle here. The Falcons are in this. They could care less if they are 5-8 or 8-5. It is a three game season for them to win a division title. I like their chances to compete here, but with Jones in doubt and considering Big Ben and Bell going up against this defense I have to side with the visitors: Pittsburgh 34, Atlanta 27 (PIT -1.5/over 51) 

Houston (7-6) @ Indianapolis (9-4): Crazy as this sounds, the team that six months ago picked first overall can make a serious play for the AFC South title with a win here. Even with a loss, things can break right for the Texans to follow last year's Chiefs and qualify for a wild card a season after having the top choice. Ironically, the guy they took, Jadaveon Clowney, has missed most of the year and some even think his career is in jeopardy. Fortunately for them, they have MVP candidate J.J. Watt at defensive end and sometimes tight end. Come to think of it, this game could help determine the race because quarterback Andrew Luck is definitely in contention as well. The first time around, two months ago, it looked like a wipeout when Indianapolis went up 24-0 at the end of the first quarter. Houston went on a 21-3 run to make things very interesting and eventually lost 33-28. The Colts controlled the clock (36:49) and wound up running 82 plays to just 52 for the Texans. In that respect, they dominated more than the final score would indicate and did so on the road.

T.Y. Hilton broke loose for 223 yards receiving in that game, and while I expect the defense to pay close attention to him we saw last week in Cleveland that even with the (arguably) best cornerback in the game (Joe Haden) on him that it might not matter. Hilton's game winner helped Indianapolis into a position where a win here clinches the division, and they are 12-0 at home against Houston since the joined the NFL as an expansion team. They are 5-2 here this season, with the losses at the hands of New England and Philadelphia, two very good teams. Houston has won three straight on the road and now stands at 4-3, but two of those foes (Jacksonville, Tennessee) are sitting on 2-11 records. It is a pretty simple deal here. The Texans need to run (4.1, 136.8) with Arian Foster. The Colts have Dan "Boom Herron trying to revive their barely existent running game (4.1, 110.5). The run defenses are both average, but in terms of yards per carry Houston is better (3.9 to 4.4) and they allow fewer touchdown runs (6 to 13).

There is little chance of the Colts trying to run anyone out of the building, but inside the 20 the Texans can definitely do a better job of cashing in touchdowns because of their rushing threat. Ryan Fitzpatrick is in charge of their passing game for the duration, and they are over 100 yards inferior to the group Luck leads. The pass defenses are both below average, but which side do you think is going to stand out in the dome? Indianapolis has been having turnover issues and problems starting slow. I expect them to address both of those here, maybe not to the extent where they again go up 24-0 but definitely win the turnover battle and maintain control of this game. Fitzpatrick is a journeyman trying to keep up with a guy at the top of his game, in his building. I do not see it working out for the bearded one: Indianapolis 30, Houston 20 (IND -6.5/over 49) 

Cincinnati (8-4-1) @ Cleveland (7-6): Last week the Bengals had a chance to prove they were a deserving leader of the AFC North. Instead, they were thumped 42-21 at home by the Steelers who helped keep the division a four-team race. Perhaps it was the fatigue of playing three straight road games, but their defense gave up more in one game than they had in those wins combined (36). Maybe the road is a good thing for them, even if it is still in Ohio. They are 4-2 away from home this season. The Browns are 4-3 at home coming off last week's crushing 25-24 loss to Indianapolis wherein their defense gave them 14 points and played their hearts out. Now the fans finally get a glimpse at rookie Johnny Manziel in the home finale. It is two weeks too late as far as I am concerned. He should have been learning the past two weeks and ready for a run. Now he has to get up to speed immediately.

Funny how just a handful of weeks can change the perspective. Cleveland went to 6-3 by crushing Cincinnati 24-3 on TNF, but has gone sideways since. In that one three running backs combined for 38 carries totaling 169 yards and all three of them had a touchdown. It allowed Brian Hoyer to throw just 23 passes and protect the football for an easy win. If this team wants to take the next step, they need a quarterback who can go for it. Johnny Football might be that guy. Of course the goal would be to protect him with the running game. These rushing defenses are almost identical on the stat sheet and I mean down the line nearly the same, ranking in the bottom 8 of the league. The one big difference is Cincinnati allowing 15 touchdowns, compared to 9 for Cleveland. On the flip side, I think the Bengals have a better1-2 punch in the backfield with Hill and Bernard compared to Crowell and West. It shows in the rushing average per carry (4.1 to 3.6). However, Manziel scrambling will skew the numbers this week.

The passing games are pretty inconsistent on both sides. Combined they have 27 touchdown passes and 25 interceptions. Andy Dalton wilts in big games. It is a problem. The defenses have combined for 31 picks and neither allows opposing quarterbacks to complete 60% of their throws. Joe Haden owns A.J. Green, and Josh Gordon is ready to explode after a couple quiet weeks. I see the Browns in good shape here. They are at home and feeling loose with their free spirit rookie quarterback at the helm. Their offense was pathetic last week. It is going to turn around here. They only allowed 11 first downs in the first meeting and while I do not expect another dominating performance like that they will win this one: Cleveland 23, Cincinnati 20 (CLE +2/under 44.5) 

Miamii (7-6) @ New England (10-3): If the Dolphins could bottle up their second half from the first meeting and bring it here I am sure they would. Down 20-10 they outscored the Patriots 23-0 and scored a huge win in the opening week. Months later they are traveling to a stadium where no one ever wins with their slim playoff hopes on the line. New England can clinch the AFC East here and has to be thinking about the top seed as well. They are going to be focused. Plus, Tom Brady is not going to throw 56 times in the rematch. He has LeGarrette Blount now and the offense figures to be more balanced. It is interesting because the rushing defenses have combined to allow only 13 scores in 26 games. Miami runs for 4.6 yards per carry and that cannot be ignored.

The teams are both in the bottom 10 when it comes to interceptions thrown, and both complete about two-thirds of their passes. The Dolphins have the better pass defense, but Brady in this stadium is unbelievable. If they could pressure him, they might have a chance. At this point, their ship has sailed. Had they won last week against Baltimore I might give them a shot here. Instead, I think that avenging an earlier loss is all the motivation these guys need to lay a whipping on their longtime rivals: New England 31, Miami 14 (NE -7.5/under 49) 

Tampa Bay (2-11) @ Carolina (4-8-1): The more things change, the more they stay the same. This is actually the same quarterback matchup we saw back in week 1 when the Panthers grabbed a 20-14 road win over the Bucs. Cam Newton was not ready to start the season so Derek Anderson stepped in and had a very good day. He will be called on again here after Newton's car accident. On the other side, Josh McCown has recovered his starting status after Mike Glennon failed to impress in extended work. One thing I expect to change in the rematch is Tampa Bay running the ball more than 17 times. Carolina's run defense (4.4, 114.9) has allowed 13 scores this season and if Doug Martin is going to have an impact this would be a good time for him to return to form. The Bucs have allowed 12 touchdowns and Jonathan Stewart is on a bit of a roll, so both teams have a shot to run and take pressure off their shaky veteran quarterbacks, but the home team is far more equipped to take advantage.

The passing offenses are both average and the teams have combined to allow a lot of sacks (76). Neither team is completing 60% of their throws on the season and that kind of inefficiency explains all the losing. Defensively they have combined to allow 48 touchdown passes and both teams let opposing passers complete better than two out of three throws. I see this possibly being a higher scoring affair than the first meeting for sure. Most of that scoring figures to come from the Panthers who have to be confident on the heels of their 41-10 win at New Orleans, and will rally for their fallen quarterback. The Bucs should be mailing this one in. They have nothing to play for and while both their wins have come on the road I have no confidence in their offense to do anything. The defense has been good enough lately to keep this respectable, but nothing more: Carolina 27, Tampa Bay 13 (CAR -3/under 42)

Washington (3-10) @ NY Giants (4-9): This is the definition of playing out the string on both sides. The Giants just snapped a seven game losing streak with a rousing 36-7 win in Tennessee and to me sent a message that they are going to play the final month as if it mattered. The Redskins have lost five in a row since current starter Colt McCoy came off the bench to help them to a 20-17 OT win in Dallas. They close the season with three rematches against NFC East foes, starting here against a team that disposed of them 45-14 the first time around. Kirk Cousins started that one for Washington and threw 4 interceptions. His counterpart Eli Manning threw for 4 scores and ran for another while passing for an even 300 yards. It was a resounding win all the way around.

The Redskins have the second fewest interceptions (5) on the season, a figure tripled by the Giants (15). They have given up the third most touchdown passes (28) in the league. Offensively they have allowed 46 sacks. When I look at this I see no chance McCoy can match productivity with Manning. On the other hand, the Giants have struggled against the run (4.9, 135.3) and it stands to reason Alfred Morris could go off. He never really got the chance in the first meeting. I think this is going to be closer than most people think, but last week showed to me that Tom Coughlin has his team in the right mindset at the tail end of a losing season. Jay Gruden is at the helm of a complete circus, so it is hard to back his side in this spot: NY Giants 21, Washington 17 (WAS +7/under 47)

Green Bay (10-3) @ Buffalo (7-6): It is kind of ironic. In order to secure home field advantage in the playoffs, you have to win on the road. The Packers are 7-0 at home, but just 3-3 on the road. On the plus side, they have won three of their last four away from Lambeau Field and the cold weather here will not bother them. The Bills are still in the mix even after last week's loss in Denver, but they are only 3-3 on their home field (4-3 including a game played in Detroit). They have turned in some notable wins, beating the Lions, Dolphins and Browns, but with Kyle Orton at quarterback it is tough to take them too seriously, especially when Aaron Rodgers is on the other side.

A 35/4 touchdown-to-interception ratio is ridiculous, and that is where Rodgers is right now. The MVP is pretty much his to lose at this point. He does go up against a defense with a league best 48 sacks and pressure is the way to beat him. Plus, his defense looked awful down the stretch on MNF and they are traveling on a short week. This is a spot where they could easily falter. I know they would love to lean on their running game here, but Eddie Lacy is nicked up. His backup James Starks is a local product so if he needs to step in I think he will do so at a high level. Defensively the Bills can stop the run more effectively, but their group of running backs might not be up to the task of exploiting a a shaky defense. Overall, I see this as a tight game. I think the home team will throw the kitchen sink at the visitors, knowing their season is on the line. In the end, I know Rodgers is capable of pulling out the win because that is what he does: Green Bay 24, Buffalo 21 (BUF +6/under 50.5) 

Minnesota (6-7) @ Detroit (9-4): All things considered, the Vikings have done pretty well this season playing in a temporary home without their franchise star. Two straight wins with outputs of 30-plus points have them feeling like spoilers in this spot, but since opening the season in week 1 with a win at St. Louis they have won just once on the road and that was OT in Tampa Bay against a really bad team. Speaking of their win over the Rams, by a 34-6 margin, after that they have not scored 20 points in any road game but on the season only one team (Green Bay) has scored more than 21 against them on the road. I think this is very interesting. The Lions have won consecutive home games by 34-17 margins which is important because prior to these wins the last time their offense scored over 24 points was in the first game of the year, a 35-14 win over the Giants. Have they found their groove?

The first meeting was definitely a defensive war with the teams combining for just 467 total yards in a 17-3 win by Detroit. The Vikings had 3 turnovers and the Lions had none, which was the difference for sure. Combined the teams were just 4-for-27 converting on third down. It was ugly. In the rematch Jerick McKinnon will be out, and that limits the rushing ability of the visitors against the league's stingiest run defense. Minnesota is the tenth-worst run defense, but Detroit has the third-worst run offense so it offsets. I am feeling like this could be another defensive minded game. The teams have combined to allow 79 sacks, and defensively have combined for 73. Matthew Stafford has the home field advantage and dome crowd on his side, and rookie Teddy Bridgewater gets his first start on the road in a dome. He came on in relief as the team won in New Orleans, but this is his show now. I like the Lions because I feel as though they have broken through, but it will not be easy: Detroit 24, Minnesota 20 (MIN +8/over 41) 

NY Jets (2-11) @ Tennessee (2-11): Is it fair to call this the Marcus Mariota Bowl? A day after the Oregon quarterback won the Heisman, two teams in need of a franchise quarterback face off with the winner moving down the draft order. The Jets appear to be the team more in need. Geno Smith is not developing, having lost his job to Michael Vick in this his second season and recovering it simply to figure out if he can play or not prior to the 2015 draft. In the current rookie contract structure they can easily take another shot and relegate their second-round pick to backup status. The Titans have their former first-round choice Jake Locker starting here because their rookie late rounder Zach Mettenberger is hurt. Locker is effectively showcasing his skills for teams he might sign with next year because his contract is up. Have they seen enough from Mettenberger to consider him their starter going forward? I wonder.

Either way, the first thing I have to look at here is the motivation of both teams. Tennessee was smashed by the other New York franchise, the Giants, 36-7 here last week. They fell behind 17-0 in the first quarter and were thoroughly dominated by a team with a losing record, mustering only 12 first downs and 207 total yards while getting shut out offensively and suffering 8 sacks. Some of those were absorbed by Locker who came off the bench following Mettenberger's injury. It is easy to look back and see how this happened considering their two starting offensive tackles, Michael Oher and Taylor Lewan, are out. Even good offensive lines struggle with losses like that. Can New York take advantage? The past two weeks they have been closing in on a victory, losing 16-13 after blowing a lead against Miami, and forcing OT before falling in Minnesota 30-24.

This looks like a great spot for the Jets to continue their old "ground and pound" offense by running the ball against the worst overall run defense (4.3, 141.5). Chris Ivory and ex-Titan CHris Johnson each had 16 carries last week and I expect more of the same here. Meanwhile, even with out Muhammad Wilkerson, the Jets have maintained a good run defense (3.5, 87.4) and they will be facing a bad rushing offense (4.1, 86.2) which is not going to do much without their top two tackles. New York is the second best rushing team (4.7, 149.7) in the league and lame duck head coach Rex Ryan could care less about future draft position. He wants to win this game and can do it by running the ball. Johnson will be more than willing to turn back the clock on the field he once called home. Both teams have allowed 41 sacks and fail to complete 60% of their throws. Tennessee is without their top two wide receivers so Locker's best shot is to scramble. If he had weapons he might expose a defense that has allowed 29 touchdowns through the air. I think the home team is going to rebound after an embarrassment, but the logic does not add up to them winning in my mind: NY Jets 27, Tennessee 20 (NYJ +2/over 41.5) 

Denver (10-3) @ San Diego (8-5): This is a huge game for both teams. The Broncos are poised to win the AFC West here and will then turn their focus in the final two weeks to improving their playoff seeding. The Chargers are certainly not giving up on the division race and feel like they can pull within a game by winning this one. Their backup plan is the wild card of course. Either way, the schedule puts them on the road in Kansas City and San Francisco, two 7-6 teams currently fighting for their own playoff lives. Last week's 23-14 loss here to New England put them in a much more difficult spot, but they can still get to 10 wins and earn a spot in the tournament. Denver had a tough 24-17 win over Buffalo, but it was telling to me. Peyton Manning lost his 51-game touchdown pass streak, which proved to me they are interested in winning a title and focusing on the running game. C.J. Anderson mostly plodded along for a low average, but had 3 scores. His opposite number, Ryan Mathews, is hurt again and leaves Philip Rivers without much support.

Even in a passing league, teams have to run to win which is why San Diego is in trouble here. They struggle to run big time (3.3, 84.7) and figure to have issues against the league's second best run defense (3.5, 72.8) here. Offensively Denver (4.1, 111.3) has improved with Anderson getting the rock, and if Ronnie Hillman returns for the playoffs they should be in pretty good shape. Here they figure to be in good shape against an average run defense (4.2, 108.4). Giving Manning balance is asking for trouble. He was deadly the first time around, a 35-21 win. Rivers matched his 3 touchdown passes, but was sacked twice and threw two interceptions. He had no rushing support to speak of. I have no reason to believe the rematch will be any different. In terms of pass defense, Denver has double the interceptions (14 to 7) and sacks (38 to 19) on the season. Rivers figures to be under more duress, and that is the key here: Denver 26, San Diego 23 (SD +5/under 51) 

San Francisco (7-6) @ Seattle (9-4): The schedule makers probably felt like they were doing a good thing by setting these teams up to play each other twice late in the season, with just a week in between. It has not worked out well for the 49ers. First they lost the first meeting at home, falling for the first time in their stadium to Pete Carroll. It was an embarrassing 19-3 loss on Thanksgiving night with a national TV audience watching. Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman ate turkey legs on the 49er logo at midfield after the game. How much worse does it get? Well, losing to local rival Oakland who entered the game 1-11 was pretty low. At this point their manhood is in question. Can they rise up here on the road and save their season? Head coach Jim Harbaugh has one foot out the door. This is a spot where they either band together as brothers and deliver a huge effort, or fall completely on their face to complete their recent collapse. Which do you think is more likely?

The first time around, it was more than the 3-0 turnover edge that made Seattle dominant. They won the yardage battle 379 to 164. In terms of yards per play, they outdid them 6.3 to 3.2. If San Francisco wants to compete in the rematch, it has to start with winning the turnover battle. Colin Kaepernick threw a pick on his first pass last week in the Black Hole, lofting a ball he had no business throwing down the field. He clearly lacks maturity, but at least this week resembled the loose guy he was before the league adjusted to his style and crushed everything he does. Wilson is more poised and of course here has the insane home crowd on his side. Maybe Colin can figure out a way to wear his headphones on the field in the place of his helmet. Would that help? Seriously, the numbers here mean very little. This is about emotion and passion. The Seahawks hate the 49ers. They are in a fight to secure home field in the playoffs again, so this game matters to them a lot. Desperation did nothing for San Francisco last week, so why should it matter here? I know they can line up and compete with their defense, but I think they wear out and collapse: Seattle 27, San Francisco 16 (SEA -7.5/over 38)

Dallas (9-4) @ Philadelphia (9-4): Another Thanksgiving Day rematch of division rivals, and this one has a national audience again on SNF. Unlike the other game, the home field switch might have the opposite impact. The Cowboys are 6-0 on the road this season. The only time they failed to score 30 points outside of their stadium was the first road game this year, a 26-10 win at Tennessee. I am more concerned about their defense, which almost let Chicago climb back before they closed out a 41-28 win. It did get them a couple extra days to prepare for this one since that game was on TNF. They need it because corrections are needed to overturn a 33-10 loss to these guys. In that first meeting, the Eagles only punted 3 times, won the turnover battle 3-1 and finished ahead in total yards 464 to 267. They did not get DeMarco Murray going. In fact he had 73 rushing yards and for perspective LeSean McCoy's backup finished with 49. That is how much the visitors dominated that one. Mark Sanchez was efficient, and while everyone seems to think he is garbage after one poor performance against as swarming Seattle defense I think he is fine here. 

Speaking of last week, it was the first home loss of the season for Philadelphia. They were shut down in a 24-14 loss and it marked the only time they have been contained offensively on their field. They whipped the Giants 27-0, and the other five home games they have scored 34-plus points. This is looking to me like a high scoring affair, more like what the first game should have been. Dallas has to adjust their offense and be more productive. They have too much talent and their offensive line is too good not to figure out what went wrong for them and correct it. When I look at this game it is one of those situations where I can almost throw out logic. Yes, I am scared to death of the Cowboys on defense because I just watched Jay Cutler carve them up in the fourth quarter. However, it was a situation where they were worn out. This time, Dallas is going to protect their defense by sticking to the run and keeping them off the field. Sanchez is fine if he is not counted on to lead a comeback or win a close game. Here, I think the visitors pull out a somewhat shocking turnaround: Dallas 31, Philadelphia 28 (DAL +3.5/over 54) 

New Orleans (5-8) @ Chicago (5-8): The MNF audience gets a stinker in terms of the win-loss records here, but this game matters because the Saints are in a fight for the NFC South division. Beyond that, we could be in for a high scoring affair. Both teams are a train wreck on defense, ranking in the bottom 3 for points allowed and the bottom 4 for yards allowed per game. Most of that is coming through the air where each team gives up 265 yards a contest. Chicago has yielded more touchdown passes (30 to 22) but has more interceptions (11 to 8) and sacks (30 to 24) so there is that. We know Jay Cutler and Drew Brees can throw the ball around. Cutler is without Brandon Marshall though, and his team is playing merely for pride here. Plus, there is some conflict internally and talk of possibly cutting ties with their signal-caller. Things are shaky for Drew Brees and his group as well in the wake of a wide receiver being unceremoniously cut. In their situation, however, I think they rally and play well to drive towards the playoffs. 

In the blustery December conditions in the Windy City both teams will want to run the ball a little here and help out their quarterbacks even if they do not need it against these soft pass defenses. In terms of defending the run, New Orleans is bad (4.8, 133.5) and while Chicago is better (4.3, 112.3) they are without Lance Briggs now. Even if the Bears have an elite rusher in Matt Forte the numbers are not there for them (3.9, 88.7) this season. The Saints have plugged in a lot of different guys and they do have the production (4.7, 123.7). Mark Ingram could get going here and help them dominate this one. I think pride kicks in for the home team, especially coming off a primetime loss. They do not want to show that poorly, meaning the first three quarters on TNF falling behind big, and will keep this one close: New Orleans 28, Chicago 24 (NO -2.5/under 54.5)

 

 

NFL Predictions 2014: Week 15 | 16 comments | Create New Account
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