nFL Predictions 2014: Week 16

Wednesday, December 17 2014

Contributed by: norcalfella

I finally had a week I can be happy about. It certainly did not start that way when I had too much confidence in the St. Louis defense against an opponent with something to play for in Arizona. There is no shame in missing Buffalo's upset of Green Bay although the pass rush is how to beat Aaron Rodgers so I could have gotten that one. My only other miss was Johnny Manziel falling flat on his face in Cleveland's loss to Cincinnati. In all I finished 13-3 straight up (146-77-1 overall) and I will take that and run heading into two of the hardest weeks of the season to pick winners. Against the spread I had one tough beat because Washington was robbed of what looked like a touchdown based on a rule that took forever to explain, which means it's a joke. Even with that I finished 10-6 (115-109 overall). I went flat against the spread at 8-8 (126-97-1 overall) with a frustrating loss when Oakland put up a garbage TD in the final seconds. I am now +35 against Las Vegas.

 

Tennessee (2-11) @ Jacksonville (2-11): Phil Simms actually said on the TNF broadcast last week he was looking forward to this matchup. The camera was not on the booth because I have to imagine Phil Nantz was laughing his butt off with his microphone on mute. It would have been two rookie quarterbacks going head-to-head had Zach Mettenberger stayed healthy. Jake Locker had a chance to audition for a job next year, but the incredibly fragile signal-caller got hurt yet again. It is fitting that days before Christmas we will see Charlie Whitehurst who has a beard that makes him look like Jesus. If God watches the NFL is He going to help the Titans score the win here in primetime?

For me this is really about the Jaguars. They are hosting a rare primetime affair and will want to show well I would think. Their quarterback, rookie Blake Bortles, is ailing with a bad ankle and is going to gut it out. Looking at their season, they started 0-4 with a quartet of blowout losses by 17-plus points before getting respectable. Losing the first matchup with Tennessee left them 0-6, but it was close at 16-14. Ironically, Whitehurst also started that game. Bortles threw for 336 yards, but his side had the game's only 2 turnovers to ultimately cost them. They had a 27-14 edge in first downs after all, and I see them in pretty good position to take the rematch. Their home record is now 2-5 with four convincing losses. The Titans are 1-6 on the road, with the one being their still puzzling victory at Kansas City back in the first week of the season. The past two weeks have seen them taken down by both New York teams at home and scoring a total of 18 points.

Neither team can run the ball, but neither team can stop the run in terms of yards per game. As it breaks down both sides figure to average a little north of 4 yards per carry. Toby Gerhart might finally show something and his opposite number Bishop Sankey is likewise in decent position to make noise. However, the Titans are without their two best wide receivers and using a reserve quarterback. Their offense is not threatening. Both teams can mount a rush, combining for 72 sacks with Jacksonville having absorbed way more sacks (62 to 42). Tennessee has a 12-5 advantage in interceptions and the teams have thrown a combined 34 picks so the quarterbacks need to protect the ball here and avoid the rush. I think the home team comes out a little more fired up, builds a lead and drives it to the finish: Jacksonville 27, Tennessee 17 (JAX -3/over 40.5) 

San Diego (8-6) @ San Francisco (7-7): Where do I even start with this one? The 49ers have completely unraveled on and off the field. They moved out of the city, into a palatial stadium sponsored by a company that makes pants. No, not Dockers like head coach Jim Harbaugh wears. More on him later. Their record in this new state-of-the-art building? It is 3-3 and the wins have come by 5, 5 and 4 points. Sure, five of six games here have been decided by a single score, but excitement for the home fans who actually care about the game is not exactly what they were looking for in their quest to finally win a sixth Super Bowl ring. Their home field advantage is nil. Their head coach has one foot out the door as rumors swirl about him going to Michigan or possibly down the freeway to Oakland so he can coach the rival Raiders. If this was not enough of a distraction, Ray McDonald had another off-field incident and was cut. Sensational rookie linebacker Chris Borland, a rare bright spot, will miss the end of the season due to injury. Did I miss anything?

It should be noted that quarterback Colin Kaepernick is playing in the first meaningless regular season game of his career. I am very interested to see how he plays. If he is not balling out when it matters, how will he do when nothing is on the line? Couple that with both his running backs, Frank Gore and rookie Carlos Hyde, iffy with injuries and he could be in for a long night. His opposite number Philip Rivers is also banged up, but that guy is a player. No one questions his toughness or desire to win. He loses second-year receiver Keenan Allen to injury and he would have surely done some damage in his return to the Bay Area after playing college at Cal. Plus, his main running back Ryan Mathews is missing in action. Injuries are always a factor at this point in the season. It is just a matter of which team has more guys left. San Francisco's defense is just about out of linebackers. Tight end Antonio Gates is going to find room to operate I would think. Their defensive front is depleted and if Rivers is not pressured he is deadly.

At their best the 49ers are a running team (4.1, 115.4) but the numbers this year are ordinary and their backfield is a mess. The Chargers do not run much (3.3, 82.6) and it has been fine for them to this point. It seems like when they need to, they will when the games matter this much. How much does San Francisco want to stop them (4.0, 101.1) with McDonald and Borland out and nothing on the line? San Diego's run defense (4.1, 108.6) has everything to play for, especially since they hit the field before Sunday's action possibly works against them. I feel as though the running games are actually pretty even here. The pass defenses are both in the top 10 with each having allowed 23 passing scores. The 49ers have the edge in interceptions (17 to 7) and sacks (32 to 20). Offensively, the Chargers are a lot better throwing the ball, even with Allen out, and give up a lot fewer sacks (28 to 49). I just feel like they come in here and rough up a team that is physically and emotionally spent. There is no fight left in them. In the meantime, this is a short flight for the visitors who came back from Miami on November 2 and have travelled just once (Baltimore) since. They are less worn out to boot: San Diego 20, San Francisco 16 (SD +2.5/under 41.5) 

Philadelphia (9-5) @ Washington (3-11): The NFC is going to send a team with a pretty good record home early, there is little question about that. The Eagles would like to not be that team. They are coming off two losses against a couple teams fighting for playoff spots (Seattle, Dallas) on their home field. Now they hit the road here and next week (Giants) to play teams who are out of the hunt. Their task is to realize that in the NFL you have to show up every week as if you are playing a contender or you will get punched in the face. It might not be so hard here against the Redskins because they simply have to watch the tape of their 37-34 win in week 3 to know this team can give them fits. Washington had 511 total yards in that one, led by a different quarterback (Kirk Cousins) and held the ball 34:48 to keep Philadelphia's quick strike offense off the field. Nick Foles started that one so we get a totally different quarterback matchup here.

Interestingly, both signal-callers were chosen by teams who traded up in the draft to select them. Mark Sanchez was part of a deal where the Jets gave up some players to help move up, and eventually the team gave up on him. Robert Griffin III cost his franchise a ton of assets, as illustrated by the Rams recently sending out a half dozen captains who were acquired by them to give up the draft slot he was taken in. Both these guys have pride and want to ball out here on national TV for this Saturday event. At this point they are fighting for their future as starters in this league. I like what Philly does on the road this season, scoring plenty of points other than a trip to San Francisco where offensively they were shut out. Speaking of shut out, Washington was whipped 24-0 by St. Louis on their home field dropping them to 2-4 here. They have lost six in a row since Colt McCoy sparked them to a 20-17 win in Dallas on MNF. Scoring has been a huge issue for them, and in this matchup they have to put up some points to have a chance.

Fantasy football players delight in the porous pass defenses here. The teams have combined to allow 61 touchdown passes against only 15 interceptions. However, here is the key difference. Washington allows a really high completion percentage (65.7%) compared to Philadelphia (58.4%) and has fewer sacks (33 to 47) while giving up more than twice as many (53 to 25). The visitors are going to get after Griffin whereas Sanchez should be able to get the ball into the hands of his playmakers, including Darren Sproles and LeSean McCoy out of the backfield. I do not see either team really dominating on the ground. The teams will get their yards and move the chains a bit. This does not figure to be a rout, but I like the Eagles to take care of their business. Chip Kelly probably wishes the College Football Playoff was around when he was coaching Oregon, and in the NFL now he surely wants another shot at the tournament. They need this win and will secure it: Philadelphia 31, Washington 17 (PHI -7.5/under 51) 

Minnesota (6-8) @ Miami (7-7): I had to look up if the Dolphins had life in the playoff chase and they do, but it would take nearly a perfect storm for them to make it. Their head coach Joe Philbin is one of many guys on the hot seat and he certainly wants his team to finish strong. The Vikings appear to have their man in Mike Zimmer. With a rookie quarterback seeing extended time he has six wins and three of their losses were by a combined 6 points. Do you think perhaps with Adrian Peterson in the fold they might have won those games? We could be looking at a 9-5 team had their star not been suspended for the season. I would call him a coach of the year candidate personally. They are only 2-5 on the road, but did win their previous trip to Florida beating the Bucs 19-13 in OT. Two convincing losses have put Miami on the brink of elimination and they are just 3-3 here at home. I think this is a fight.

The run defenses are equally vulnerable, and the rushing offenses are equally average. The key stat for me is yards per carry and I think both teams can get to the 4.3 to 4.5 range. On the stat sheet Miami is not that much better than Minnesota throwing the ball although some garbage yards factor in there. The passing defenses are in the top 6 and on paper pretty even. In reality, Ryan Tannehill has failed to win clutch games against good teams. All of the team's losses are against teams currently with a winning record. They are 4-0 against teams with a losing record. I know they are facing a 7-7 team, but the Vikings are 0-6 against teams with a winning record. For me, that is the critical difference here. I think this game is very close though: Miami 24, Minnesota 21 (MIN +7/over 42) 

Green Bay (10-4) @ Tampa Bay (2-12): Scoring is an important part of winning and the Bucs have a serious issue getting past 17 points. They have done it just three times on the season, winning two of the times they did. All of those came on the road interestingly enough. Now they draw a Packers team with a frustrated, high powered offense. The four lowest scoring outputs for this team are 16, 7, 23 and last week 13. All of those games resulted in losses, and all were on the road. Can the home team hold this offense down? It is kind of hard to know. Tampa Bay has spent four of the past five weeks on the road. In their lone game here during that stretch they lost 14-13 to Cincinnati, and that offense is nowhere close to what they will face in this one. Honestly, they have faced a pretty soft group of offenses all season long and could be in for a rude awakening here.

Running the ball is the easiest way to win on the road late in the season against a team within nothing on the line. Green Bay (4.5, 117.4) has the personnel to do it here, but they face a competent run defense (3.9, 116.3) so I do not expect them to just roll them. The Packers are soft against the run (4.3, 128.0) and with Doug Martin possibly awake the Bucs might be able to get the chains moving and keep Aaron Rodgers on the sidelines for a stretch. Obviously there is a huge difference when it comes to throwing the ball. Tampa Bay allows the highest completion percentage (68.3%) in the league. If Rodgers can get the ball to his targets, this game could be a rout. Given how mad they are coming off a loss in Buffalo, I see them showing up here in much better weather conditions and freed from a vicious pass rush from the Bills, ready to tear it up. Lovie Smith is already 0-3 against the NFC North, where he used to coach. Make it 0-4 and it is not close: Green Bay 30, Tampa Bay 14 (GB -10/under 50.5)

Detroit (10-4) @ Chicago (5-9): A month ago these teams met on Thanksgiving. At that point, the Bears were 5-6 and led 14-3 into the second quarter. Is it fair to say that is the point in their season when everything fell apart? They were outscored 31-3 the rest of the way and have not won since, falling to a losing season and benching their franchise quarterback Jay Cutler. The Lions are sticking with their signal-caller Matthew Stafford who threw for 390 yards in the first meeting. A key factor to explain why they were able to overcome the early deficit and come back is rushing first downs allowed. Chicago had zero. Sure, it is a passing league driven by quarterbacks. However, if a team is totally unable to run there are going to be problems on offense overall. Detroit has the league's best run defense (3.1, 63.8) which means it is all on new starting quarterback Jimmy Clausen, who was 1-9 while with Carolina in 2010. He also has to go it without Brandon Marshall, and last week Cutler had issues.

On the other side Detroit has a terrible rushing offense (3.4, 83.8) but they are going up against an ordinary run defense and overall these guys have been trashed on that side of the ball with a lot of their best players in street clothes. It is hard to imagine Clausen not getting sacked a few times in this one to kill some drives, and he is up against a defense with the second-most interceptions (19) in the league. Chicago has allowed the most passing touchdowns (33) and Calvin Johnson went off in the first meeting. That one was in a dome and if there is anything that will keep this game close it is the outdoor weather conditions. Because the Lions are weak running the ball they tend to struggle in spots like this. In a recent trip to New England they were swamped 34-9. The key for them this season has been beating bad teams. They are 8-1 against teams with losing records, and the aforementioned loss to the Pats is the only time in their past six games they have allowed more than 17 points. Earlier in the year the Bears allowed 50-plus in consecutive games and have given up 106 over the past three weeks. It is hard to see them getting straight in this spot, especially on a short week with a lame duck head coach: Detroit 27, Chicago 13 (DET -4.5/under 47.5)

Atlanta (5-9) @ New Orleans (6-8): It would have been fitting for this to be the season finale, but this is effectively the NFC South championship game. If the Saints win, they will have a magic number of 1 over the Panthers which they could take care of with a win at the Bucs next week. If the Falcons win, they can wrap things up by beating the Panthers at home in the finale. It has been a few months since these teams met in the season opener and the result was surprising. New Orleans entered the season as a contender for the NFC title and built a 20-7 lead. They wound up trailing 31-27 before punching in a touchdown to take the lead with 1:20 to go. Then Matt Bryant took over, kicking a 51-yarder at the gun to force OT and a 52-yarder for the win. The game produced over 1,000 total yards and 58 first downs. Both teams basically averaged five yards per rush, but honestly we can just about throw that game out the window it was so long ago.

Home field is a big deal here in what amounts to a playoff atmosphere in the dome. The Saints are on a short week coming off a road game, but they have to feel good after dumping Chicago 31-15. It wiped the taste of a devastating 41-10 loss here to Carolina the previous week. I find it hard to imagine them coming out and playing so poorly at home in consecutive outings, but good grief I have said that before. They have lost four straight here and stand 3-4 in their building. The defense had allowed 27-plus in five in a row before last week. Atlanta is 2-5 on the road with their wins coming in Carolina and Tampa Bay so they are looking to sweep their division away from home. If they pull this off, even with a losing overall record they deserve the South title.

I feel like the Saints can run the ball here (4.6, 120.8) against a team with a decent run defense (4.1, 117.4) overall, but one that has allowed the most rushing touchdowns in the NFL (19). The Falcons face an awful run defense (4.9, 132.9) that has given up 15 scores, but they have not run the ball well this season overall (4.1, 96.7). Throwing the numbers in a blender I think we could see a repeat of the first game in terms of teams being able to run, but neither is going to be dominant. Honestly, this game is about the quarterbacks in a matchup of two teams in the top 4 for passing offense with a combined 58 touchdown passes. Who can stop it? Atlanta is the worst pass defense in the league (292.5) by 20 yards per game, but Drew Brees fantasy owners beware they have allowed just 18 touchdown passes. They also have the fewest sacks (16) in the league and on the road in a dome do not figure to put Brees under duress. New Orleans has a weak pass defense (257.1) but have a better pass rush (31 sacks) and the crowd on their side. I think they come out and show the kind of team they could have been all season, masking the terrible defense with a high powered offense. No mistakes this time and no blown leads: New Orleans 31, Atlanta 24 (NO -6/under 56)

New England (11-3) @ NY Jets (3-11): If you immediately think this is going to be a walkover, you know nothing about this rivalry. Two months ago these Jets were 1-5 trying to beat the hated Patriots in their stadium where they seemingly never lose. If not for a failed two-point conversion the game would have gone to OT and they lined up for a long field goal to win the game at the gun which wound up being blocked. Sure, they lost 27-25 but they had 100 more total yards and held the ball for 40:54. That is impressive. For the most part, New York has been a tough out at home even though they are just 2-5. Three of their losses were by 8, 7,  and 3 points. New England is 4-3 on the road, but will be playing this one all out knowing they are fighting for this to be their last road game of the season.

Very quietly, the Pats are tenth in the league against the run (4.1, 103.5) and only one team has allowed fewer rushing touchdowns than they have (5). The Jets are fourth versus the run (3.5, 87.5) and have allowed 7. In cold weather late in the season teams want to run, but it could be tough here for both sides. New York is the best pure rushing team in the league (4.7, 147.1) trailing only Seattle, so they can impose their will as illustrated in the first meeting. New England keeps changing running backs and they run just enough to keep the defense honest (3.9, 109.0). These teams do not like each other, so effort on the part of the home team is not a question in my mind. Even if Rex Ryan is about to get fired, his team is likely to show up for him here. The pass defenses are pretty equal on paper, but the exception is touchdown-to-interception ratio. New York (29/5) is worse than New England (22/15) and when you consider the offensive side the Pats (33/8) are at an even bigger advantage over the Jets (12/14). For me this is not as close as the first game because of what is on the line. Bill Belichick is going to be focused on getting his side in position for a playoff run: New England 26, NY Jets 12 (NE -10/under 48)

Kansas City (8-6) @ Pittsburgh (9-5): The Chiefs are on the outside looking in at the playoff picture, and this is their chance to break through to the other side. Three straight losses seemed to put them out of the hunt, but a win over the Raiders last week has kept their hopes alive. The Steelers have certainly endured a roller coaster season having lost three times to teams with a losing record, including a pair with double digit losses (Bucs, Jets). Three straight road wins have helped them get in position to win the AFC North with two more victories. They are 4-2 at home, and both of those losses came in upsets against NFC South foes (Bucs, Saints). The Chiefs are a solid 3-4 on the road having won in Miami, Buffalo and San Diego - three teams with a 7-7 record or better. They can compete here.

Potential MVP Le'Veon Bell leads a solid Pittsburgh running game (4.4, 118.2) against a defense that has struggled to stop the run (4.9, 132.6) but has allowed just 2 rushing scores and those came in one outing in Oakland. Kansas City can run the ball even better (4.7, 126.3) with Jamaal Charles at their disposal, even if he is nicked up. He goes up against a decent run defense (4.5, 103.6) assuming he is physically up to the task. The huge disparity here is passing offense. The Steelers are second in the NFL (318.6) and the Chiefs are third-worst (211.0) while still having zero touchdown passes thrown to a wide receiver. That is hard to fathom, and now their top threat at the position Dwayne Bowe is battling the flu. True, Kansas City has the second-best pass defense (199.2) but they have only 4 interceptions and are now without safety Eric Berry on the back end. Pittsburgh struggles to defend the pass (252.9) and has allowed 28 touchdown passes, but do the visitors have the ability to take advantage? I do think field goals play a big role in this outcome because the Chiefs will tighten up in the red zone. Their offense is not up to the task of helping them spring the upset: Pittsburgh 22, Kansas City 16 (PIT -2.5/under 48) 

Cleveland (7-7) @ Carolina (5-8-1): Johnny Football take two, this time on the road. Manziel had an epic fail in his first start, a 30-0 loss to a Bengals team the previous starter Brian Hoyer had helped the Browns beat 24-3 earlier in the season. Now the polarizing rookie goes up against a quarterback who knows all about what he is going through. Cam Newton was once a highly touted rookie and has certainly seen his ups and downs since. Now his struggle is physical after a car accident and he figures to play here with the team's season on the line. Technically Cleveland is still in the wild card hunt as well, but realistically they are out. For them this is just about finding out what Manziel can do and they hope it is more than what everyone saw last week. The team is 3-3 on the road, but obviously none of that came with the rookie signal-caller. The defense has allowed 23-plus in five straight and needs to come up huge here if they are going to have a chance.

The Panthers are 3-4 at home and in their last four have failed to reach 20 points scored. This could be a defensive struggle. Both defenses have a hard time stopping the run, more so for Cleveland (4.5. 137.6). The rushing offenses are average, but the Browns run for just 3.6 per carry. In other words I like Carolina to have the edge on the ground, which is huge considering the respective quarterback situations. Cleveland does have 20 interceptions and can change the game with a turnover. If you wonder why Hoyer was benched, it might be leading an offense with the lowest touchdown pass total (11) in the NFL. When I add all of this up, I think even with a bad back Newton can hand the ball off to Jonathan Stewart and grind this one out while protecting the football. Manziel is going to play better here, but not enough to get the win: Carolina 20, Cleveland 14 (CAR -3.5/under 44)

Baltimore (9-5) @ Houston (7-7): Heading into the draft, there was one quarterback the Texans probably felt they could not touch. It was Derek Carr, whose brother David had been the franchise's first ever selection back in 2004 and wound up being a bust. Ironically, as the season has played out they probably would be in better shape with him at the helm assuming he stayed healthy. As it is, they have lost so many quarterbacks they had to bring back Case Keenum to start this game with their slim playoff hopes on the line. They draw a Ravens team capable of getting it done on the road, standing at 4-3 including the past two in New Orleans and Miami, two teams fighting for the playoffs. Their defense has really shown up against lesser offenses and I expect that to be the case here.

It stands to reason that Houston will try to run (4.0, 136.8) with Arian Foster, but Baltimore also has a top-five rushing attack (4.6, 132.6) of their own with journeyman Justin Forsett having a Pro Bowl season. Both teams can contain the run. The Ravens (3.7, 84.3) are third in rushing defense and the Texans (3.9, 109.1) hold down opposing teams to a low per carry average. If I had no idea who the quarterbacks were I would say it comes down to those two guys here. Keenum is a wild card. He has nothing to lose, but the team sure does. Is he going to come in here firing as he tries to prove he is more than a practice squad player in this league? WIth other guys leading this offense they are bottom 5 in passing offense. It helps to have Andre Johnson available and I am sure he has an eye on DeAndre Hopkins getting deep. The team has allowed just 23 sacks and I wonder if that holds here. Baltimore has a decent passing game, sort of dependent on old man Steve Smith Sr. and they have allowed just 16 sacks good for second-fewest in the league. Can they keep J.J. Watt off Joe Flacco? The pass defenses are both in the bottom 8, but the Ravens have the sacks edge (45 to 31) so with respect to Watt they will find a way around him more often than note: Baltimore 24, Houston 20 (HOU +6/over 40)

NY Giants (5-9) @ St. Louis (6-8): The Giants are at their best when the competition is below .500. They now stand 4-1 against losing teams, with the loss being a big lead they let get away in Jacksonville. The Rams are 3-1 against losers, and if you look at these teams it is kind of easy to see why they have struggled. It comes down to beating good teams and they have not been able to do it. A combined 2-13 mark against winners (each team is 1-1 versus 7-7 foes) will keep you out of the playoffs. It has been three weeks since St. Louis allowed a touchdown, so they are realizing the fruits of their labor building an outstanding defense. Unfortunately, their quarterback is journeyman Shaun Hill at the moment. The bright spot for New York is dominant rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham. It will be exciting to see him in the dome against this defense. I believe he is going to get his yards and probably get a touchdown.

Run defense is a problem for the Giants (4.9, 135.1) and while the Rams are not a great rushing team I can see rookie Tre Mason gouging them once or twice here. Meanwhile New York does not run the ball well (3.6, 99.9) and they go up against a better run defense. The visitors have a better pass rush, and should be able to generate sacks although in a dome it is harder to get off the line. Eli Manning figures to have his own problems staying upright, but he faces a defense that has given up a very high completion percentage (67.5%) so he figures to get the ball out. I could see New York coming in here and playing well, but for what? They have won the past two games and against a vicious defense I find it hard to see them really getting the leg up early that they need to finish a victory here. Once St. Louis builds a lead I think they can run more and more to stay ahead: St. Louis 19, NY Giants 15 (NYG +7/under 45)

Buffalo (8-6) @ Oakland (2-12): The Raiders have shown a lot of progress this season. Their problem is a brutal schedule that included only two teams with a losing record. They lost both of those games, the opener at the Jets and a blowout at the Rams who are now a decent 6-8. The Bills are 4-0 against teams with a losing record, with two of those coming on the road (Bears, Jets) but this is the vital game for them and their hopes for a wild card berth. Their issue has to be focus coming across the country to face a rookie quarterback after just shutting down Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers to the tune of a combined 0 touchdown passes and 4 interceptions. They did it by rushing them of course and now lead the league with 49 sacks. Derek Carr gets the ball out quickly, for better or for worse with the latter being drive-killing incompletions on third down.

Both pass defenses are in the top 8, but the Raiders have generated only 19 sacks, third-fewest in the NFL. The Bills have 19 interceptions, second-most, while the Raiders have just 7 which is the fifth-fewest. These are key stats. Kyle Orton is a savvy veteran quarterback and should be able to keep the turnover margin in his team's favor. Oakland has worked out some wide receivers this week and has had trouble keeping the same group on the field for Carr to operate with. It is going to be hard for him in this spot against Mario Williams and a ferocious front line coming at him. The rushing offenses are both in the bottom 10, but the Raiders are dead last (3.7, 73.8) with a league low 4 rushing touchdowns. Two of those came against the Chiefs who have not allowed any other team to score on them running the ball. Neither run defense stands out in a positive or negative way. C.J. Spiller figures to be available, but how much does that matter really? Latavius Murray was great on one big run in primetime, but is he going to take over this game? No, and while the Raiders are going to put up a fight here I do not see them scoring another home win over a team trying to find a spot in the playoffs: Buffalo 20, Oakland 16 (OAK +7/under 40.5) 

Indianapolis (10-4) @ Dallas (10-4): Next week the Cowboys will try to complete a perfect season on the road, but here they are hoping to avoid a losing record at home where they now stand 3-4. It looks like they will get DeMarco Murray suited up to at least give it a go with a broken hand. They just scored a  huge win in Philadelphia, but if the Eagles win their game and Detroit wins earlier in the day their fate will be out of their hands if they lose this game. The Colts are not under this type of pressure. Their division title is wrapped up and to a certain extent their main concern is keeping the key players healthy for the playoffs. A bye week is not a realistic option for them, and it is possible T.Y. Hilton sits this game out. I am not saying they are going to sit Andrew Luck or anything, but the intensity on their part is going to be much less than an opponent that desperately needs this win.

The pass defenses are both vulnerable and we know these teams can throw. My main concern for Indianapolis is the step up in competition. They have spent a month playing bad teams for the most part. They slid by Houston 17-10 last week even though the Texans lost their quarterback during the game. Even with a sweep of the Texans they are 2-4 against teams with a winning record. The Cowboys are only 3-2 against winners and have a win over their in-state rival mixed in there as well, which kind of goes to show how these teams have piled up the wins. Their schedules are fairly soft. Can Dallas keep up their potent rushing attack with the Murray situation? Indianapolis has had backfield issues all season so we kind of know they can run just a little here and that is about all to expect. The run defenses are about even, so I guess it all comes down to the quarterbacks as usual. Is Tony Romo ready to take this team on his achy back into the playoffs? Does Luck really need this game? I really have no idea. Home team is a weird thing because they have lost all their games here. For some reason I have to pick them by a whisper: Dallas 27, Indianapolis 26 (IND +3.5/under 56)

Seattle (10-4) @ Arizona (11-3): The Cardinals are getting by as best they can at this point, despite having the NFL's best record. They have lost most of their offense from the first meeting with the Seahawks, a 19-3 loss in the PNW where they mustered a mere 204 total yards. The backfield of Drew Stanton and Andre Ellington are out. Stanton potentially could back up Ryan Lindley, but either way the defending Super Bowl champs are ready to pounce. Arizona has to rely on their home field here, having spent three of the past four weeks on the road they figure to get a boost in the desert where no team has scored more than 20 points on them and they stand 7-0. The Seahawks are a palatable 4-3 on the road, but this is their third road game in four weeks. Plus, they just played two physical games with the 49ers sandwiched around a game with the Eagles. Fatigue could factor in for them as they have needed to pick up the pace a bit to secure their spot in the playoffs.

These are two nasty rushing defenses, but Seattle has averaged exactly twice the rushing yards per game than Arizona has. Plus, Ellington is out. The Seahawks have the second-worst passing offense in the NFL, something that is overlooked because they succeed through defense and the running game. This week perhaps they do some work against the fourth-worst pass defense. The Cardinals do have 18 interceptions and will need to generate turnovers and sacks if they want to keep their team in it. I believe the home team is going to rally knowing everyone has to step it up with Lindley stepping in at quarterback. It will be a street fight, but the champs win: Seattle 16, Arizona 9 (AZ +9/under 37.5) 

Denver (11-3) @ Cincinnati (9-4-1): The pressure is on the Bengals here. They are likely to watch the rival Steelers and Ravens win on Sunday, making this a game they must have. The Broncos are just looking at seeding, a bye week and perhaps home field throughout the playoffs. It would be nice for them to get this one, but not vital. Still, Peyton Manning under the lights on MNF wants to win. Denver is 4-3 on the road having just knocked off division foes San Diego and Kansas City. Their defense is picking up the pace, allowing 43 points total in the past three weeks. Cincinnati sure needs the extra day of rest having spent four of the past five weeks on the road. They won all the road games, and lost at home to the Steelers 42-21. Their previous home game also resulted in a loss, 24-3 to Cleveland on TNF. They were 4-0-1 on this field prior to that, but perhaps the magic is lost.

I believe Denver is starting to round into Super Bowl form because of what they do running the ball and stopping the run. They are second in run defense (3.4, 71.6) while their rushing offense (4.0, 111.3) is not that impressive on paper they are sticking with it more late in the year, especially in the red zone. Cincinnati is a solid running team and rookie Jeremy Hill has started to peak, but their run defense is shaky. All around, it should be fairly even on the ground. Through the air, forget it. The Broncos have a 37 to 16 edge in passing touchdowns. Andy Dalton seems incapable of winning big games. Neither team gives up sacks with the combined total of 34, but Denver has a 38 to 18 edge in generating sacks. Cincinnati has allowed a league low 14 passing touchdowns, so Manning fantasy owners beware. The Broncos are a lot more battle tested, having gone 8-2 thus far against winning teams compared to 3-3 for the Bengals. I am not on board with taking Dalton over Manning in this spot. I do think it is close because the home team will run whether or not they are successful just to keep him off the field: Denver 21, Cincinnati 20 (CIN +3.5/under 49) 

 

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