NFL Predictions 2019: Week 14

Well I’m conflicted. First and foremost I like to pick winners. My goal is always to get 170 every season and it’s hard to get two-thirds of the game right. Before this past week I was on pace to get there. Late season is always perilous and I had a sense the unlucky thirteenth week might be difficult. My fears were realized and I went 8-8 (125-66-1 overall). One of those misses was a chance I could have taken (Texans over Patriots) and others are ones I shouldn’t have taken (Cards over Rams, Browns over Steelers) while some were downright wild (Dolphins over Eagles, Bengals over Jets). Mix in a couple 50/50 games I missed (Bills/Cowboys, Titans/Colts) and now I need to be really good the rest of the way. On the plus side I was 9-7 against the spread (99-90-3 overall) and with a 10-6 mark on the over/under (95-95-2 overall) pulled even for the season in that category. The +6 week against Vegas leaves me +9 overall. Now it just keeps getting harder and harder.

Dallas (6-6) @ Chicago (6-6): Life isn’t fair. The sooner people learn this, the easier life gets. The Cowboys are a .500 team with a month to play and have a clear path to the playoffs. The Bears have the same record and will need to, ahem, claw their way just to have a chance. Why? Well, because divisions exist and it’s dumb. The NFC East is a total dumpster fire and Dallas has taken advantage. Their home loss on Thanksgiving to a soft Buffalo team that has used their own soft schedule to rise to 9-3 exposed them yet again. But here they are still in first place thanks to the Eagles dumping a game in Miami, who was regarded as so poor everyone thought they were tanking. Chicago is like the forgotten team in the NFC North. They are still mathematically alive, but it’s improbable for them to overtake both the 9-3 Packers and 8-4 Vikings who play each other in week 16. They get a game at Minnesota to close the season, however, so if they can win out all they need is for Green Bay to help them in that penultimate game of the season for them to potentially steal that second wild card spot. Of course they also need to overtake the Rams who currently hold the conference record tiebreaker on them with one fewer loss. Got all that? Any way you cut it, this is their playoff game. If they lose this game, it’s over. Both teams are on normal rest it’s not a true short week because both played on turkey day and that’s as it should be so good on the NFL getting this right. Their two close wins over losing teams (Lions, Giants) have given them life. The defense hasn’t allowed more than 20 points since a 22-14 loss a month ago and that was the highest point total allowed by them in the last six games. In cold weather I don’t expect much different here. Dallas lost a 13-9 decision in rainy New England two weeks ago, and is built for this so I don’t think the elements will derail them. I almost think they play better sometimes on the road compared to their cavernous circus of a stadium where thousands of visitor fans always show up. They lead the NFL in passing, but does it matter if Prescott throws for 355 yards when they score 15 points as they did last week? Chicago is over 100 yards per game behind them and has taken twice as many sacks (33-16) but we’ll see how the elements impact the game. Both pass defenses are just inside the top 10, but have relatively low interception counts especially the Cowboys (4). The Bears have 8, but trail in sacks (28-32). Turnover margin is vital in a close game in poor weather. Dallas has a huge edge in rushing offense (127-79) per game and double the scores (12-6) with a lot more per carry (4.6-3.4). This tends to matter a lot more in December. Both teams care and have something at stake so the effort will be there. Chicago’s defense against the run has an edge, but it’s not as wide as the offensive disparity. I do expect them to play as if their season depends on it because it does. It wouldn’t shock me to see them win, but Trubisky is more prone to choking than Prescott and that’s the difference as I see it: Dallas 20, Chicago 19 (CHI +3/under 43)

Carolina (5-7) @ Atlanta (3-9): In spots this season both of these teams have played really well. In a long stretch the Falcons have played awful, and the Panthers have also laid some eggs. Atlanta notably won the first meeting 29-3 as part of their sudden show of power a couple weeks ago. Carolina had just dropped to 5-4 with still aspirations of a wild card until that meeting that is now part of their current four game losing streak. No shame in losses at Green Bay and New Orleans who are resting atop their respective divisions, but last week’s home loss to Washington? Worse yet, they were ahead 14-0 late in the first quarter over a 2-9 team with no reason to fight. Over the next 45 minutes of game play they were outscored 29-0. 29-0! By a team starting inept rookie Haskins at quarterback!? The kid was sacked 5 times and completed only 13 passes, yet his three backs were allowed to rush 26 times for 242 yards by a defense that had something to lose. It’s a terrible look. The Falcons couldn’t run on these guys in the first meeting, and I mean really couldn’t. They had 26 carries for 54 yards (2.1 average) but Ryan threw for 311 and his opposite number tossed 4 picks while taking 5 sacks. This is why stats can be deceiving. Atlanta played decent last week, battling back to close at the end of a 26-18 home loss to the Saints. It’s hard to win when losing the turnover battle 3-0. They are on extra rest and stay at home. It feels like they want to win a little more and I know I’m trying to interpret emotion, an impossible thing to do. Also, they have not won a home game since week 2. I’m sure they want to change that. Neither team protects the quarterback, with the Panthers allowing more sacks (45-40). Both have double digits in interceptions, again favoring the Falcons (11-13). Carolina has a huge edge in sacks on defense (45-18) with more picks (13-8) and fewer TD passes allowed (14-23). Their defense has played better overall on the season, but this is a single game situation at the end of a long campaign. The Falcons not being able to run, with their third-worst in the league attack, didn’t matter the first time and probably won’t again. The Panthers have powered to 4.9 yards per attempt and 16 scores so the potential is there for them. Their own defense has been carved up for 5.3 yards a pop and allowed 22 scores. Atlanta has a decent run defense and should hold up fine here. I think these teams exchange scores. Losing teams often play either really high or really low scoring games. It’s a dome so I expect the former. Let it fly and I think the team with Ryan and Julio does more than the CMC Allen Factory. After I completed this, breaking news was Rivera has been fired. I’m keeping the result the same: Atlanta 34, Carolina 26 (ATL -1/over 47)

Indianapolis (6-6) @ Tampa Bay (5-7): The Colts have held it together extremely well in the wake of Luck’s retirement. It wasn’t a Green/Warner situation ending in confetti, but they exceeded all expectations no matter how this season closes out. However, the last two losses against teams now leading them in the AFC South have put their backs firmly against the wall in the playoff hunt. Realistically they are last in a four-team battle for the second wild card counting Pittsburgh as the first in that quartet. Any loss is very damaging at this point and their 1-4 slide since the calendar turned to November will be hard to overturn. Even though the Bucs are only a game worse in record, they are long since toast for the playoffs. However, they have won three of four and are playing much better currently. Teams like to play spoiler, and I always feel as if home December games the players want to reward their fans with effort. Maybe that’s crazy and I know in theory players always try, except in reality they don’t. This offense has been held below 23 points just once in the last 10 games and it’s really just a matter of Winston not throwing it away. Tampa Bay has 20 interceptions and has taken 40 sacks. Indianapolis has thrown for roughly 80 fewer yards per game, but have half the picks (10) and only 24 sacks allowed. The Bucs have given up 27 passing scores and rank second-worst in yards allowed, but do have 33 sacks. The Colts are about 55 yards per game better and have 32 sacks yet allow passers to complete 68.9% of their throws. It’s not an unfair battle and in good weather the ball should fly. Indy has a power running game that has churned out 139 yards a game and 10 scores. Tampa Bay is below average, but has 13 touchdowns on the ground. The Bucs are allowing only 76 yards a game rushing and 3.4 per carry, but their shaky pass defense accounts for a lot of that inflated ranking. The Colts are ninth in run defense, but give up 4.4 yards per carry. I think this is a very even matchup. If Winston controls the ball, they are going to win. Momentum is on their side. Arians wants to beat his former team and his guys will care about that. I think they spoil the playoff run with a dramatic final drive: Tampa Bay 26, Indianapolis 24 (IND +3.5/under 50.5)

Miami (3-9) @ NY Jets (4-8): Want to hear something funny? These teams are both 3-2 in their last five games, the same record over that span as the Patriots who were once seen as invincible this season. It’s quite comical, as if the fact these two bottom dwellers went 5-3 against the NFC East this season. They are now a combined 2-13 against the rest of the AFC, discounting the result of their first meeting, won 26-18 by the Dolphins. The Jets just lost to the previously 0-11 Bengals, making them the first team in history to lose against winless teams with that many losses on their ledger in the same season because Miami was 0-7 at that time. What I’m trying to say is both teams are awful, they have managed some wins because other teams are also awful, or by flukes or whatever. New York’s prized free agent Bell had 14 touches for 67 yards against a team spiraling towards 0-16. Any momentum from three straight wins scoring exactly 34 points in each game went up in smoke. Miami spoiled a playoff push with a rousing explosion of scoring during a 37-31 win over Philly. They were down two touchdowns and closed on a 23-3 run. It’s harder to do that on the road, especially when the temps dip to near freezing. Fitzpatrick doesn’t care he’s played everyone but the moon and for just about every team in the league. Each team has been able to down a contender, and it feels as if neither is overly concerned about tanking for a better spot in the draft at this point, which of course should never be a factor yet somehow is. Maybe it should though, considering the Raiders could have taken Bosa instead of Ferrell if not for a win over Arizona. Think they might wish they could pair that guy with Mad Maxx? These teams have combined to allow 95 sacks and thrown 29 interceptions in 24 games, or a season and a half. Those are bad numbers. New York’s defense has a 27-16 edge in sacks and has allowed far fewer TD passes (19-29). These are the two worst running teams in the league, both scantly over 3 yards per carry and with a combined 135.4 yards per game which would land them a mere seventh in the league for purposes of illustrating how futile they are. Run defense is what should decide this and I’m sure I thought that the first time. Miami is second-worst at 143.5 yards per game and the hosts lead the league (75.2). The Jets allow 2.9 yards per carry, almost two fewer than the Dolphins (4.7). I mean that should be the difference right? It’s cold and I’m not sure the visitors really want this too badly. It’s a revenge game, divisional matchups are usually a split and I really can’t say with any confidence how this goes: NY Jets 24, Miami 19 (MIA +7.5/under 46)

San Francisco (10-2) @ New Orleans (10-2): It seems like the 49ers have been playing huge games since Halloween. They pretty much have. First was the OT heavyweight loss to Seattle to take them off the ranks of the undefeated. Two weeks later they humbled North leading Green Bay 37-8 and last week lost at the gun in Baltimore who is favored to win it all at the moment. Recovering from that physical contest on the road only to travel again against the current number one seed in the NFC is a lot to ask of them. Making matters worse, the Saints get extra rest having played on Thanksgiving a short plane ride away in Atlanta. Tired bodies matter a lot in December, and extra time to game plan is huge. They just swept through their division the last three weeks and while it wasn’t a dominant run it did get the division title out of the way with a month to play. Their only significant wins on the season were early, over Houston in the opener and at Seattle in week 3. Are they ready for this? Because they have played 8 in a row against teams that currently have a losing record. Four of those wins came by one possession, and another of course was a loss. So yes, as Parcells used to say you are what your record says you are but all 10-2 records are not created equal. New Orleans is the better passing offense, but only by 24 yards per game and the rest of the stats are about even. Their factor is having Thomas who is by far the best receiver on the field in this one. San Francisco leads the NFL in pass defense and is a smidge over 100 yards better in that area although their lead in interceptions is just one (11-10) and edge in sacks (45-40) isn’t much. They’ve allowed fewer TD passes for sure (12-19) yet only 1.8% fewer passes to be completed so that’s negligible. The 49ers are almost 41 yards per game better in rushing offense with a wide scoring edge (16-7), but a tick below per carry (4.4 to 4.5) and on paper everyone would take the backfield personnel for the Saints for sheer talent. New Orleans is third in run defense at just over 28 yards per game better than San Francisco and has allowed a couple more scores (8-6) but much less per carry (4.1 to 4.7). If the teams can ramble for over four yards a pop it will keep the chains moving and I see some scoring here. Then it becomes Jimmy G and Brees converting on third down and not turning it over. These teams can generate sacks and crowd noise obviously favors the hosts in that area. It’s a much different type of game than the 49ers played last week outside in the cold. They absolutely can compete in this environment and in my eyes are probably the better team at this moment. The best team doesn’t always win because other factors enter in. I prefer the 49ers outdoors where they can plant their spikes and be more physical, as opposed to a quick Saints team getting their playmakers in space on the dome turf. Plus, there’s that Brees guy: New Orleans 28, San Francisco 26 (SF +3/over 44.5)

Detroit (3-8-1) @ Minnesota (8-4): The Vikings come home on a short week after a disappointing, but not catastrophic loss in Seattle. It makes their path to the NFC North title more complicated because they no longer control their own destiny. They are also just a game ahead of the Rams for the second wild card and can’t afford any slips. The good news is they stand 5-0 at home and are 6-0 against teams currently with losing records including a 42-30 win at these Lions in October. Both quarterbacks were north of 330 yards passing with 4 touchdowns apiece in that one. Cousins had 9.9 yards per attempt, threw no interceptions and didn’t take a sack. He’s the definition of steady, a regular season wonder of sorts. They are 2-3 in one possession games and that’s troubling along with their failures against quality opponents. Wins over currently 6-6 teams (Oakland, Dallas) stand as their biggest triumphs thus far. Detroit is oddly competitive without Stafford and has lost only once by more than 8 points, that being their first meeting with the Vikes. They come here on extra rest after Blough had a great debut in a loss to Chicago in which they blew a 17-7 first half lead. Although the announcer’s booth heaped praise on him, he completed only 58% of his throws and the team got only a pair of field goals in the final three quarters. Now he’s on film and in hostile territory. It’s different. Passing offense on the stat sheet favors the Lions, but that factors in stats mostly not with Blough who I presume starts again. He did protect the ball until a desperation interception at the end and Cousins treats the ball like he loses a million dollars per turnover in his contract. The Vikings are below average in pass defense, but the visitors have allowed more TD passes (25-21) and have half the picks (5-11) plus fewer sacks (24-33). Minnesota is over 30 yards per game better in rushing offense with a huge edge in scores (15-4). Detroit’s defense allows about 13 yards more per game, widening the edge in that area. I think this is a wipeout, and that’s hard to do when as I mentioned the Lions haven’t lost by big margins. It’s even harder to beat down a team a second time because they adjust. In this case, it happens: Minnesota 30, Detroit 19 (DET +14/over 42.5)

Denver (4-8) @ Houston (8-4): This was actually a close game last year and while a lot changes from season to season the Texans won 19-17 and I think could be in for a similar fight here. They are coming off a huge SNF win over New England, a week after a big takedown of Indy to take control of the AFC South. Next week is another very important game at Tennessee who now stands as their biggest threat in the division because the Titans can overtake them by winning out which includes the rematch in week 17. It’s only natural for them to exhale and think this is a lock. The Broncos want to spoil the party if they can. A few weeks ago they almost did just that in Minnesota only to blow a 20-0 halftime lead. The defense keeps them in games and while Lock’s rookie debut resulted in just 134 yards passing (4.8 per attempt) they got the win. Houston’s passing offense is a lot better, with way more TD passes (24-11) but the same number of interceptions (8) and sacks allowed (36) interestingly enough. Denver’s pass defense is a lot better, with a similar edge in TD passes allowed (14-25). The INT/sack numbers are almost identical again. I think it’s a close matchup. The Texans are about 20 yards per game better running the ball, with a better average rush (4.8 to 4.2). Defensively the teams allow about the same per game, but the Broncos are better on average per carry (4.1 to 4.6) so again it seems fairly even. A rookie quarterback on the road is not a great situation, especially his first start. I don’t think this defense is dominant by any stretch and so it’s possible the visitors keep it close for a while. Eventually the roof caves in and the better team prevails comfortably: Houston 24, Denver 13 (HOU -7.5/under 42.5)

Baltimore (10-2) @ Buffalo (9-3): It’s hard to fathom the Ravens won this one last September 47-3. The Bills were a different team then, as illustrated by Peterman splitting the game with Allen on that occasion. Shady McCoy was still their rusher then and on the other side Kenneth Dixon was the leading rusher although Lamar Jackson had 7 carries for 39 yards while serving as Flacco’s backup. Buffalo might look different in key areas, but they have a lot of the same personnel and remember that humiliation. They rose up on Thanksgiving to deliver a win at Dallas when people said, probably rightfully so, they were not as good as their record indicates. This is definitely another level up against the current Super Bowl favorites. They have the home field, but it’s just cold and Baltimore knows the cold. Their last game was a physical affair over the 49ers in a preview of the big game, maybe. Fatigue does not favor them because the hosts played indoors, didn’t have as much of a battle and also rested a couple extra days. I’m not sure the advantages are enough, so we’ll see. Buffalo is now 1-1 against teams who currently have a winning record. Baltimore is 6-1 in such games, so there’s that. The passing offense stats are mostly comparable as the teams have below average attacks, but the Ravens have more TD passes (26-17) and the flashier quarterback of course. The Bills are third in pass defense and comfortably better per game in yards allowed (195.8 to 228.5) and they have more sacks (37-26) but the TD/INT ratio for them (9/8) is similar to the visitors (10/11). I don’t expect too much difference through the air. These are both top 5 rushing teams with mobile quarterbacks, but to compare them in that manner is obviously unfair. Baltimore has almost 70 more yards per game, more touchdowns (18-12) and a yard more per carry (5.6 to 4.6). Jackson wouldn’t exactly lose a foot race to Allen either. The running defenses are comparable and decent in yards allowed, but both give up 4.5 yards per carry. That’s a concern if either team is able to control the line of scrimmage for any sustained period of time. Cold weather, smash mouth football is coming. Baltimore just went through this and is battle tested, but tired. It’s a short trip at least. I think they are still clearly the better team and while I fear Buffalo pulling out all the stops here and roughing up Jackson, I’m taking them. I won’t be surprised if Jackson exits this game so I wouldn’t bet a nickel on this outcome: Baltimore 22, Buffalo 19 (BUF +7/under 43.5)

Cincinnati (1-11) @ Cleveland (5-7): When the Bengals went back to Dalton at quarterback last week it felt like a move to avoid 0-16 and it worked. They handled the Jets, who had won three straight, comfortably 22-6 and while it wasn’t an offensive explosion it was a point shy of their season high. Clearly he gives them the better chance to win and maybe they ‘ve seen what they care to see out of Finley so leaving him in to finish the season could make sense. It’s evident they want the first pick and will take a quarterback, possibly the LSU kid to pair with their new head coach assuming he does survive this dreadful campaign. I assume he does. It’s a rivalry game that will be replayed in the finale. A lot of times these teams connect for entertaining contests even if nothing is (seemingly) ever at stake. The Browns lost the rematch with Pittsburgh last week despite facing a team with a skeleton crew on offense. It was a difficult blow to their dreams of a dramatic push for a wild card. Any dreams now would have to include a win over Baltimore and while they did wipe them out 40-25 the first time I’m not sure a sweep is in order the way the Ravens are playing now. It won’t be too cold, relatively speaking, for what that’s worth although the Ohio teams are both used to the chill. Statistically the passing offenses are both just below average. So much for Mayfield’s MVP potential this year right? Cleveland has thrown more picks (14-10) but has taken fewer sacks (32-41) and neither team completes 60% of their passes. In today’s NFL that’s pathetic. Cincinnati has a comfortably worse pass defense, with fewer sacks (20-35) and interceptions (5-11) while allowing more touchdown passes (20-16) and 34 more yards per game. Still, the passing should be fairly even in this one if Dalton plays. The Browns are tenth in rushing offense and the Bengals are fourth-worst, a wide difference across the stat sheet. Cincinnati is dead last in run defense, but only allowing a little more per carry (4.8 to 4.7) and 33.6 more yards a game. The hosts should be able to control this game and get it done on the ground. It’s really one of those games where they need to not screw it up. I think the visitors are relieved to finally have won and can relax now. It’s not a huge rivalry situation as the teams are currently comprised, certainly not like the hosts dealt with last week. I know they might be out of the hunt, but I think Mayfield plays well and they do what they should do. Kitchens will be fired this week if they don’t: Cleveland 27, Cincinnati 17 (CLE -7.5/over 41.5)

Washington (3-9) @ Green Bay (9-3): This is another result from early last year that now seems utterly implausible. The Redskins beat them 31-17 in September? How? Oh, right. Alex Smith started. He won’t go to the HOF, but he certainly wins games and while it was a mistake to take him over Rodgers it’s not like he was a disastrous player. His newest replacement has yet to show much although he did win again last week and this time managed not to be taking a selfie with a fan while his teammates were in action. Now he’s tasked with playing in hostile territory, below freezing temps and against a team with a lot on the line. It’s not a good scenario for Haskins. This isn’t Carolina. The 29 points scored were a season high for them, but not something I expect them to repeat. The Packers dusted off the Giants 31-13 last week, removing the stink of a blowout loss at the 49ers the previous outing. Their remaining slate is rematches against all their NFC North foes, with the vital one coming in the middle at Minnesota on MNF for ostensibly all the marbles. Conceivably they can battle for a bye week so every game is crucial for them down the stretch. Rodgers said they had to win at San Francisco now or later, and despite the loss they can still rally to improve their positioning. Washington is dead last in passing offense and has taken 40 sacks. Haskins has never faced a venue like this in his life. Green Bay is just above average and has thrown only 2 interceptions all season. The Packers allow about 25 more yards through the air, but interceptions are almost even and the Redskins have more sacks (36-28). If they can get to Rodgers maybe they have hope. Both rushing offenses are below average and almost even in stats. The big difference is that Washington has a better per carry average (4.6 to 4.1) and Green Bay has more touchdowns by far (13-5). Callahan had them running last week, which is no surprise and if this is Peterson’s final season he wants every yard for his legacy. Both run defenses allow plenty of yards ranking near the bottom, and actually the Redskins allow fewer per rush (4.2 to 4.7). I think the visitors can compete here if they are so inclined. At the very least their running game can keep them alive into the second half. At some point it matters having a massive disparity in talent and experience at quarterback, so I do expect the hosts to win easily in the end: Green Bay 27, Washington 13 (GB -12/under 42)

LA Chargers (4-8) @ Jacksonville (4-8): The players are under contract so this game has to be played. There are only four games in the late window and fans in these two markets will be the only ones watching this game I’m sure. The Chargers are way too talented to have this record. There are 10 teams in the AFC slotted to miss the playoffs. Only one of them, Tennessee at 7-5, has a significant positive scoring differential at +42. Indianapolis at 6-6 is +4 and these Chargers are right there at +3. The other 7 are -26 or worse including the Jaguars at -72. It’s a little surreal to think they beat the Packers 26-11 a month ago and they are a crisp 2-8 in one score games after the Broncos completed the season sweep against them last week. Rivers is a dead man walking as their quarterback and I suppose it’s fitting since a rookie unseated Eli and Big Ben is injured. Winning matters at that position and that’s why despite his stats matching his 2004 draft class mates he will struggle to earn a yellow jacket. Minshew is starting over Foles and that’s news on the other side. They have lost four in a row by an average of 20.5 points. It’s too late to save the season, so it makes sense to let them see what he can do for the final quarter of the campaign. Next week in Oakland and the finale against Indianapolis give them a chance to see him against teams who have something to play for, assuming the Colts don’t fade. It’s a passing league and both teams do fine in that area when it comes to yardage, but each have only 17 TD passes and that’s the second lowest total for teams in the top half of the passing yardage stat sheet. The defenses are also ranked well, and the touchdowns allowed are comparable to the offenses with Los Angeles having given up one more (17-16). Jacksonville has more sacks (38-25) and their defense holds quarterbacks to a lower completion percentage (63.0-69.9). The rookie can fire away at home and his defense can get after the veteran on the other side. The Jaguars are average in rushing offense, but have a good per carry mark (4.6) while the Chargers are near the bottom and manage just 89.1 yards a game. Jacksonville is near the bottom in run defense (5.1, 136.6) with 17 TD runs allowed so if the visitors are up for it this is their chance to do some damage. Los Angeles is ordinary in run defense and I think this sets up for them to get rolled honestly. Their season is over and they are on the road against a team whose season is also over. Why are they excited about this game? Minshew will be fired up and I like his team’s chances to have a balanced offense and protect their quarterback more: Jacksonville 22, LA Chargers 20 (LAC +3.5/under 44.5)

Pittsburgh (7-5) @ Arizona (3-8-1): I underestimate the Steelers last week, and greatly overestimated the Cardinals. Arizona had a chance to play spoiler at home where they have at times stood tall. The Rams decimated them 34-7. It was their fifth straight loss and they have allowed 28-plus points in all of those games. The offense scored 25-plus in the middle three of those losses, which is why I thought they could compete. Now they go up against a tough defense that can expose their rookie gimmick quarterback and that’s trouble. Coach of the year is a tough thing because teams have better records than Pittsburgh, but are you kidding me with this team? They have been wrecked with injuries on offense to the point where they are unrecognizable at the skill positions compared to 2018 at this time. Somehow they have a winning record with a path to the playoffs in the final quarter of the season. During a 6-1 roll their defense has allowed more than 17 points just twice. The team has won while scoring 17 and 16 points during that stretch. Murray versus Hodges is an epic rookie quarterback battle. The first pick, a Heisman winner, against a player who wasn’t drafted despite setting the FCS career record for passing yards (14,584) is interesting isn’t it? Pittsburgh is the fourth-worst passing offense in the league, but has taken only 19 sacks and while their interception total isn’t stellar (13) it’s also not terrible. Arizona is a handful of slots better and about 17 yards per game, but has fewer TD passes (14-15) so that’s not ideal and neither is 42 sacks allowed. The interception total (6) is a bright spot. On defense the Cardinals are dead last and it’s not close as they give up about 26 more yards than the next closest team, with 31 TD passes allowed against just 6 interceptions. Duck is licking his lips. Wait do ducks have lips? Well, whatever he’s excited. The Steelers are seventh in pass defense and have 15 interceptions plus 43 sacks. Their defense is going to be ready. Pittsburgh has a poor rushing offense, picking up only 3.7 yards per carry and 90.8 a game. Arizona is average in yards per game, but picks up 4.9 a carry and has 11 rushing scores thanks to their electric quarterback. The Steelers have a competent run defense, comfortably better than the Cardinals. It’s not going to be an easy game. I think the hosts will wake up after last week and play better. The visitors are on a mission. I see that fight debacle as a spark for them: Pittsburgh 21, Arizona 17 (PIT +0/under 45.5)

Tennessee (7-5) @ Oakland (6-6): There are three teams below the line chasing the second wild card currently held by Pittsburgh at 7-5 and these are two of them. It’s a playoff game really. The Raiders are under a lot more pressure because they are a game behind and due to tiebreakers if they lost this game it wouldn’t even matter if they win out there is little chance for them to make it. The Titans have a lot at stake as well of course, but they are on the road and wouldn’t be damaged mortally so to speak by a loss. Being in the South even if they lose they control their own destiny to win the division because they have two dates with Houston left. Oakland seems like they have played their entire season away from the Black Hole. The last two weeks have seen them outscored 74-12 looking nothing like a contender. Now they finally get a break in the travel department with a pair of home games followed by a short flight to SoCal (Chargers) then finish up in Denver where maybe it’s too cold for Carr but at least it isn’t far. All of those teams are currently 4-8, so if they win this game it’s not unrealistic to expect them to finish 10-6. That doesn’t lock up the wild card, but it gives them a chance. They are a different team at home where they stand 5-1 with the only loss coming to the Chiefs. All of those wins came by a single possession, but they find a way. Tennessee has rung up two convincing wins while their opponent here was getting blown out. Their wins came by a combined 73-37 over division foes that they pushed down the standings. It’s hard for them not to look ahead to next week where as previously alluded to they host the Texans. It could be for the division lead. A game with the Saints at home is after that, so while this team looks to be in great position after a 5-1 roll of late the schedule is daunting to say the least. Tennessee’s passing offense overall has been bad, and they have taken 49 sacks in total. However, their interception total is low (6). Oakland has a similarly low number (8) but their top shelf line has given up just 18 sacks. Still, without a top wide receiver (thanks Antonio Brown!) they have managed only 17 TD passes. If the clown wasn’t a head case there is little doubt the team would be 7-5 or even 8-4 but that’s ancient history. Both pass defenses have struggled and allow about 260 yards per game. The Raiders have given up way more TD passes (27-18) and the Titans have more sacks (33-27). Tannehill has given the visitors life this season. He’s playing with house money and feels no pressure. Carr is happy the forecast is over 40 degrees and needs to play better. Both teams have top 10 rushing offenses led by a former Crimson Tide back. Whoever imposes their will is going to win this game. Henry is hard to bring down and Jacobs is playing hurt. The rush defenses are tenth and eleventh, almost identical across the stat sheet. It comes down to will, scheme and turnovers. This is an impossible game to call. I’ve seen a lot of teams come to this stadium and physically dominate. The Raiders are hurting in the secondary and it has affected their ability to defend overall. They are up against the wall though, and making their last stand. My gut tells me they can rise for their home fans in their penultimate showing in the East Bay. Emotions do matter and it’s close enough to call it that way: Oakland 24, Tennessee 21 (OAK +3/under 48)

Kansas City (8-4) @ New England (10-2): Some of the shine has come off the AFC Championship game rematch that a lot of people thought it was a foregone conclusion before the season would be repeated this season. It still could, but Baltimore has vaulted into the position of favorites after beating the champs and then last week taking down the 49ers who at the time were 10-1 atop the NFC. The Patriots are now 2-2 since Halloween after a loss in Houston and have produced an average of 18 points during that stretch. That’s not likely to work against these Chiefs who just posted 40, matching their season high from the season opener. Only one team has held them below 24 points and six times they have gone 30-plus. The defense isn’t great, but has held five teams to under 20 points. Slips have put them in position to miss out on a bye week although a win here at least gives them a fighting chance with three non-winning teams left on the schedule. New England would be put in position to lose control of their destiny in the AFC East if they lose this game, a rare time for them to lose consecutive games in the Hoodie/TB12 era. Their passing offense is ranked eighth, but is clearly flat. Their touchdown total (19) is low enough to make me question their choice to let Gordon go. Kansas City is third and their 24/2 touchdown-to-interception ratio is stellar. On defense the Patriots saw their season total in TD passes allowed double to 8 when Watson lit them up last week. They still have 20 interceptions, but didn’t force a turnover and that’s why they lost. The Chiefs are ordinary in pass defense, but do have 12 interceptions and 34 sacks to help their cause. New England has struggled to run the ball and while they rank ahead of Kansas City the average per carry (3.5 to 4.2) tells a story. Both teams are in double digits for rushing scores at least. The Chiefs are awful against the run overall, third-worst with 141.3 yards per game allowed and 5.1 a carry. The Patriots are fifth (4.4, 94.5) and have given up far fewer scores (5-12). It’s a classic scenario where everyone doubts the champs. They return home and thrive on that setup. Yes, Mahomes can light them up and has shown that twice last season. Yes, Brady is struggling mightily. Belichick is going to dial up this defense and find a way: New England 23, Kansas City 21 (KC +4/under 50.5)

Seattle (10-2) @ LA Rams (7-5): I thought the Rams were dead. The defending NFC Champs are third in their own division, but routed Arizona in the desert to maintain life for the second wild card. It’s a gauntlet three-week stretch and they are a game behind the Vikings but at least this SNF game has meaning on both sides. The Seahawks are in control for the NFC West title even if this game gets away from them. Their MNF win over Minnesota helped their division rivals and they face two losing teams next before the huge finale against San Francisco with presumably the division and potentially top seed at stake. As gaudy as their record is this season, it’s important to note they have won only a single game by more than 8 points, that being a 27-10 victory in Arizona. Wilson going 9-1 is all the more reason to consider him for MVP. They won the first meeting 30-29 a lifetime ago. Goff threw for 395 yards, but completed only 59% while his counterpart needed just 17 completions to reach 268 yards with 4 touchdowns. Carson had a solid rushing effort while Gurley was quiet. These are two top 10 passing offenses in yardage, but quite different in the stats that matter. Los Angeles being fifth hardly matters when they have 13 TD passes against 13 interceptions. Seattle is tenth and has 26/4 in those categories plus they complete 5% more of their throws. On the downside they have allowed a lot more sacks (35-19). The Seahawks are struggling in pass defense at fourth-worst, but have 11 interceptions. The Rams are tenth and have 38 sacks, but just 8 picks. Seattle’s rushing offense is third and Wilson’s mobility bolsters that ranking. Los Angeles is #25 and shy of 4 yards per carry (3.8) and the century mark per game (94.2) although they do have 14 scores. The Rams are just above average in run defense while the Seahawks are eighth, but the hosts allow nearly a yard less per carry (3.8 to 4.6). This game should be close. It’s desperation time for the home team that’s clear. It’s easy to do it against a rookie quarterback leading a reeling team. I don’t think they can stand up here versus a championship caliber coach and quarterback. Pete Carroll is right at home here in the stadium he coached in and loves this atmosphere. They are loose and will be ready. I don’t see them choking this away: Seattle 24, LA Rams 20 (SEA +0/under 47.5)

NY Giants (2-10) @ Philadelphia (5-7): Eli Manning is back! It’s a great story for him to be starting this game on MNF in what amounts to a farewell outing of sorts against a division rival. Even if his side is resorted to a spoiler role at least he gets his chance to show out one more time. New York was dumped last week in Green Bay, their eighth loss in a row and fourth during that span by 18-plus points. The Eagles have now lost three straight, and the last one was of the embarrassing sort in Miami who is awful. The NFC East is historically bad, however, so they are still alive and for the record so is Washington despite a 3-9 record. This is a great rivalry and should be fun to watch if we can just ignore the fact that the teams enter with a combined 7-12 mark, 5-9 outside this division. The passing offenses are actually even, which is pretty amazing considering Wentz is supposed to be a franchise player. Both are below average. The defenses are also below average against the pass with the Eagles better in sacks (34-26) and allow about 17 fewer yards per game plus a better completion percentage against (61.8% to 67.4%). The Giants are worse in rushing offense despite having the elite back, but actually gain more per carry (4.4 to 4.3). On defense Philly is fourth, 17 spots ahead yet is a tick below per rush (4.0 to 3.9) and barely ahead in rushing scores allowed (11-13). I mean this could be a close game honestly. New York has nothing to lose and probably wants to play well for Eli who won this franchise a couple championships. That stuff matters to players and coaches. Being a spoiler under the primetime lights in a thing. It’s not enough on the road in this one I don’t think: Philadelphia 24, NY Giants 17 (NYG +9.5/under 46.5)

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