Here we go then; it’s time for the NFL’s best to hit their stride as we reach the home stretch in the 2013/14 regular season.
Three weeks left for teams to book their places in the post season and three weeks where dreams could be shattered for this year.
The possible scenarios keep thinning out and the contenders are really stamping their tickets to the playoffs – see 11-1 Seattle’s awesome beatdown of the 9-3 Saints. It was just…scary.
There are 48 games remaining in the regular season, and at 120-72, I’d love to go 36-12 at worst, so let’s get stuck into week 14, beginning with the battle of the basement boys in the AFC South in Jacksonville.
Houston Texans 27-17 Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jags have won 3 out of their last 4 games now, and a 32 point performance against what looked a strong Cleveland Browns’ defense is a real positive. The 200+ yards given up to a single receiver? Not so much. Gary Kubiak’s return to Houston’s sideline provoked a real reaction as they ran the Patriots very close, and a repeat of that kind of effort should give the Texans a very good chance in Florida, even though the Jags are much improved recently. This could turn out to be a surprisingly decent game to watch between a 2-10 and 3-9 team, but I’ll take Houston with their leader back at the helm.
Indianapolis Colts 20-30 Cincinnati Bengals
I’ll come out on the record and say it: the Colts are the most hugely overrated team in the league, and their 8-4 record is more a result of Andrew Luck’s occasional brilliance in games and a Lady of the same name than actual good football. Their offense and defense are both ranked in the bottom third of the league, and on the road against a team with two top third ranked units, I’m expecting the Colts to slip to 8-5. The Bengals going on the road and beating the Chargers is a huge statement, and one I can see them building on. They still have a division to win, and with the tie breaker over the Patriots, possibly a #2 seeding in the AFC too.
Cleveland Browns 20-31 New England Patriots
That loss for the Browns last week told me one thing for sure: Brandon Weeden is not a QB NFL teams can win games with. I would be surprised if he had a job come next season. Josh Gordon however is a big time threat to any team: the first ever receiver to have back to back 200 yard games. The Pats’ leaky D will have to be careful here, but if the comeback against the Houston Texans’ strong defense is anything of an example, Tom Brady and the New England offense are back firing on nearly all cylinders. It’s not often you see the Patriots lose at home at this time of year, and with Gronk back in the groove, it should be tough for the Browns to change that.
Oakland Raiders 20-10 New York Jets
Where to start with the Jets!? I haven’t got enough time to describe all the offensive problems they’ve had, but Geno Smith, who has been named as the starter for this game, is just horrid at the moment. This quote from Chris Wesseling’s piece on NFL.com tells you a lot:
“How bad has it gotten for Smith? According to numbers compiled by Reuben Frank of CSN Philly, Nick Foles still would have a higher passer rating than Smith if he threw an interception on his next 50(!) pass attempts.”
The QB situation in Oakland hasn’t been great for years, but at least Matt McGloin looks solid in his throwing and his decision making. He will be tested against the Jets’ pressure-creating defense, but the Oakland D is good enough to shut down this Green mess, like it has been in most recent weeks.
Kansas City Chiefs 27-20 Washington Redskins
Washington managed to lose a game against the Giants last week where they had no right to. New York were absolutely awful for most of the contest but still managed to pull out a win, and it could be a case of the last straw for RGIII’s Redskins. No NFL team ‘gives up’ but I think they’re playing for high draft picks at this stage. The Chiefs on the other hand, despite being on the other end of another beating by Peyton’s Broncos last week, are still fighting for the AFC West title. They’re not guaranteed a wildcard spot either though, and if their defense keeps giving up huge yardage totals, they could still be vulnerable to a late usurping. Andy Reid will know that, so he will have his team firing on all cylinders to add to Washington’s misery. Expect a big day for Jamaal Charles in a road win.
Minnesota Vikings 13-30 Baltimore Ravens
The Vikings pulled off a great win against Chicago in OT last week, but the 200+ yards on the ground from Adrian Peterson is something that’s unlikely to happen in Baltimore this weekend. Whichever QB starts for Minnesota will also have a tough task on his hands, as this Ravens D is a good unit. They also are making the important plays on offense, something the win over huge rivals the Steelers was a perfect example of. Torrey Smith should have another 100 yard game here, and Ray Rice could have a rare good day by this season’s standards here, the Minnesota defense isn’t great to say the least. Baltimore need this as the battle for the #6 seed in the AFC is seriously close.
Atlanta Falcons 24-23 Green Bay Packers
As it still looks as if Aaron Rodgers isn’t ready to return for the Packers, I can’t pick them to win anything, even at home against a 3-9 team. Matt Flynn is the incumbent starter despite his awful performance last week in Detroit, and if his offensive line can’t keep the opposition off him for more than 2 seconds, he may have another bad day. A heavy dose of Eddie Lacy is what’s needed, but the Green Bay defense isn’t good enough to allow the offense to go old school with its game plan. Matt Ryan should connect for 250+ yards again, and with Roddy White looking sharp finally, the Falcons have a chance to end the season strongly. This will be close as Atlanta’s D isn’t all that either, but Matt Flynn is not a guy I’m willing to trust with the game.
Buffalo Bills 20-27 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Another sickeningly close defeat for Buffalo, this time at the hands of Atlanta, shuts down the Bills’ season, just as the running back tandem of CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson combine for 200 yards on the ground. The Buffalo fans must be sick and tired of seeing talented teams with a lot of potential finish among the also-rans come the end of the year. The loss makes this trip to Tampa a difficult one, even though the Bucs were put in their place by the Panthers last week. Tampa Bay’s rookie QB Mike Glennon will have learned a lot from that experience and I think he’s a quick learner and a serious arm talent who can bounce back very quickly with V-Jax manning the outside. The Bucs are decent against the run, and if they can keep CJ Spiller from breaking off some big plays, I think they can take this at home.
Miami Dolphins 23-20 Pittsburgh Steelers
This is one of the most important matchups of the weekend in terms of playoff hopes. The 6-6 Dolphins meet the 5-7 Steelers with their post season ambitions hanging by a thread, lose and they forfeit tiebreakers to both Baltimore and Pittsburgh. The Steelers though could be all but done after the loss to the Ravens on Thanksgiving, and they would have to win out to stand any chance of getting in. Normally you would say Miami would struggle coming to Pittsburgh, but they seem to be improving, especially on offense. The line is playing better and better, and with Mike Wallace coming back to play his old team, I wouldn’t be surprised if his good form continued. Lamar Miller is important here: if he can rush for 80 yards, the Phins have a shot. The Dolphins’ pass rush could cause Big Ben a lot of problems too, and is the main reason why I’m going for a massive road win.
Detroit Lions 34-30 Philadelphia Eagles
Yes I know the Eagles keep winning, but there is something that worries me about them that I just can’t put my finger on. Their defense allows 400+ yards per game, but their offense also gains 400+ yards per game, something that is good enough to beat many teams: not the Detroit Lions. They will destroy you on the ground and in the air and it wouldn’t surprise me if they racked up over 500 yards worth of offense. It’s what they do with those yards that count. Last week they weren’t as wasteful as they have been recently with fumbles and interceptions in the redzone, and were rewarded with 40 points. They’re on the road this time, so I’ll give them a few less points, but it should be too many for Nick Foles, Chip Kelly and the Eagles to do anything about: the Lions are within reach of the NFC North title.
Tennessee Titans 17-34 Denver Broncos
OK, yes the Titans have a decent defense, and yes they have some weapons on offense, but are you really expecting me to do anything other than pick Denver at home? This is in the process of being the best ever season for a QB, and Peyton Manning isn’t anywhere near finished yet: they’re averaging 450+ yards per game. That’s the middle ground. The Titans just don’t have the tools to compete with that.
St Louis Rams 23-27 Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals’ loss against Philadelphia last week was a huge party pooper for Arizona, and watching the Niners beat their opponents this week would have been even more galling for them. Carson Palmer’s good form deserted him and the defense was exposed by a fast, diverse offense. The Rams don’t have that kind of offense, but they do have weapons capable of hurting the Cards, while the St Louis D has a lot of potential, but is up and down. Arizona should put up a better performance here at home with their slim playoff hopes hanging by a thread, so I’ll take the home team to go to 8-5.
Seattle Seahawks 20-16 San Francisco 49’ers
How good were Seattle in beating the Saints!? No, wait, in destroying the previously 9-2 New Orleans Saints? That was a serious statement and if you didn’t know already, the Seahawks’ Superbowl ambitions are for real. San Francisco’s win over St Louis seemed pretty routine, but they will be pleased to see Michael Crabtree back on the field at WR to help Colin Kaepernick. This will be another big, bruising encounter between these two juggernauts, and with Seattle going into this on a huge high, their confidence and conviction could well be the difference. Look for Marshawn Lynch to carry another heavy load in San Fran, but as he always does, he will convert it into important yardage and even more important touchdowns when Seattle gets into the redzone.
New York Giants 25-24 San Diego Chargers
It was a battle in last week’s matchup for the Chargers; one in which they were outdone by the Bengals, and it’s hard to forsee exactly what effect it may have on Philip Rivers and his Chargers considering it has pretty much destroyed their shot at the playoffs. The Giants are somehow still in with a shot of winning the NFC East, despite first half performances like last week’s in Washington. If they play that badly again, the Chargers should take them apart of they’re in the right frame of mind, but the Giants showed their potential in the second half last week, and they should push San Diego close. The Chargers’ pass D is poor and that plays to the strengths of Big Blue and Eli Manning, and so does the pressure that Justin Tuck and co. can put on the banged up San Diego offensive line, so it may not be a popular pick, but I’m going with a road win and a big upset that keeps the Giants in with a shot of the playoffs.
Carolina Panthers 20-24 New Orleans Saints
Who wins this, has a huge chance of taking the NFC South. They play each other again in week 16, but this will be massive mentally. Both teams are sat at 9-3 and are coming off vastly different results. The Panthers hammered the resurgent Bucs last week, dominating them on both sides of the ball and in every area of the game: it was a performance that showed the Panthers were ready to compete at the very top level. The Saints were basically humiliated in Seattle, but they’re not the first team and they won’t be the last: I expect a bouncing back at home in the hostile atmosphere of the Superdome. This is going to be different from the 62 and 72 point epics these two treated us to last year, much more defensively strong and with one hell of a lot more on the line. I’ll take the experience and home advantage of Drew Brees and New Orleans here, they’ll be furious after last week.
Dallas Cowboys 27-30 Chicago Bears
Two teams with good-looking offenses and pretty awful-looking defenses, so if there’s any game to pick on the Over coupon, it’s this one. So that means it’ll be 13-10 right. This game will be all about who makes the least mistakes because both sides are evenly matched, and despite their loss in Minnesota last week, the Bears seem to make less mistakes, on offense especially. They’ll play through RB Matt Forte and make big plays with WR’s Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall. But it could be the opportunistic Chicago defense who could make the play that makes the difference between these two in a game that could turn out to be one of this season’s classics of MNF.