SNOW. That is all.
Yeah OK, it was a bit crazy in Philadelphia, but this is the NFL – played rain or shine (not hurricanes or tornadoes though) and personally, I think it distinguishes the game from any other. Only the toughest and most dedicated play this sport at the highest level, and week 14 showed that, with teams fighting to the very last for valuable victories in freezing conditions in Baltimore, New England and Green Bay.
There were more additions to the weekly season ending injuries list: Rob Gronkowski’s name highlights, with Tyrann Mathieu and Robert Griffin (due to injury to Mike Shanahan’s competitiveness sense) also high up on the list.
At 130-78 after a 10-6 week, the 50 point gap has been breached, let’s see if we can hit the 60 pointer next in week 15. So let’s start in Denver, where the 63 yard FG barrier was broken last week by Matt Prater, who pinged one from 64. Nice work.
San Diego Chargers 24-38 Denver Broncos
Apparently Peyton Manning can’t play in the cold – 50 points later in the cold Mile High night against one of the best pass defenses in the league, and that little myth seems to have disappeared. In which case, it’s looking like slim pickings here for the Chargers, even though they kept themselves in the hunt for a wildcard by beating the Giants last week. They will score some points on Denver, but they can’t stop that offense from scoring more. It seems that the only thing standing in the way of the Broncos and an appearance in the Super Bowl is the injury curse, and Denver fans will be hoping Wes Welker’s concussion isn’t too bad.
Washington Redskins 20-27 Atlanta Falcons
Both of these teams are out of the race for the post-season, yet this has the potential to be a hugely entertaining game. If RGIII is held out of the rest of the season, I don’t think there will be a drop off with Kirk Cousins in at QB, and this Redskins’ offense has the potential to score points against the Atlanta D. The Falcons’ O is looking one hell of a lot better with Roddy White back in it though, and with the uncertainty and confusion that seems to be rife in Washington right now, I’ll take the home team to carry on their improvement.
San Francisco 49’ers 27-13 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
What a fantastic win for the Niners last week, edging past the Seahawks to get one over on their rivals. Michael Crabtree being back in the fold seems to have given San Francisco a massive lift, right throughout the roster, and their performance last Sunday showed a rejuvenated team, full of drive and desire. Rookie Eric Reid is blossoming into one of the best safeties in the league and is a real success story for the Niners’ scouting department. Tampa have been quietly playing pretty well recently, and at 4-9, things are a lot better than they looked at the beginning of November. In Mike Glennon, they could have found a franchise QB, but he will face a serious test here.
Seattle Seahawks 31-10 New York Giants
Isn’t it just the way, after they dispose of the Saints in a brilliant fashion, the Seahawks go to their closest rivals and lose in a tight one. The world of the NFL is one that doesn’t make much sense at times, but I have faith that Pete Carroll’s team will go and put one on the Giants in their own back yard this week. Big Blue’s slow starts have been appalling over the past few weeks and if they make mistakes like they have been doing here, the game will be over by the half. Seattle will be very keen to wrap up their division and I can’t see too many problems for them here.
Philadelphia Eagles 38-20 Minnesota Vikings
The crazy snow in Philly last week took away from the fact that the Eagles’ win over Detroit is a real statement for this team. LeSean McCoy ran wild, and that will serve as a warning for any team in this league: if you let Philly run on you, they will take you apart. The Vikings’ D is not a great unit, and if Adrian Peterson can’t go come Sunday evening, there’s only one conclusion here in the dome.
New England Patriots 26-27 Miami Dolphins
This has become an intriguing matchup. Sans Gronk, the Pats are not as good a football team: this is a cast iron fact. They will have to once again devise other ways to win, something Bill Belichick always seems to be able to do, perfectly illustrated in their miracle/robbery win over the Browns last Sunday. New England has no right to win that game, but somehow it happened. The Dolphins were spared a loss by a foot out of bounds, some sideline karma if you like in Pittsburgh, but they will be full of confidence after seeing how easily the Browns dominated the Patriots for a half at least. This Miami defense is not one to take for granted, and will sack Tom Brady at least 3 times, but the biggest question is whether their secondary can match the level of their front seven. The key is the Patriots’ running game – 150 yards on the ground will take time off the clock and give the defense the rest they will need to take care of Mike Wallace and co. But I can smell a little upset here – New England haven’t been playing great recently and have pinched a few wins from the jaws of defeat, and stretches like that don’t last too long – the defense has had its spine ripped out by injury, and the Dolphins are improving in the hunt for a wild card.
Buffalo Bills 23-26 Jacksonville Jaguars
I haven’t picked the Jags all season on the principle that they are terrible, but maybe I need to reassess Jacksonville after their fourth win in five? You wouldn’t have forseen these teams both on 4-9 a month ago that’s for sure. With both teams out of the playoff picture, I would expect the fairly high-scoring nature of the games between these two to continue, especially with the two defenses being quite low ranked. I’ll go with the team that has showed the most improvement recently, and if MJD continues to run well, I can see the Jags picking up yet another win here.
Houston Texans 17-27 Indianapolis Colts
The simple equation is this: you lose to the Jags = you’re a football team that is struggling. While the Colts aren’t all they’re hyped up to be, they should be good enough to take this one and keep their playoff ambitions well on track. After firing coach Kubiak, the Texans are already looking to how they can clear out for next season. It’s a big few games for Matt Schaub and Case Keenum.
Chicago Bears 20-23 Cleveland Browns
Hmmm, I’m swaying one way and another for this one. The Bears were excellent in their crushing of the Cowboys, but going to Cleveland and facing this defense is a whole new task. The Browns were incredibly unlucky not to shock the Pats on the road last week, and if they play to that level again, they have a big chance of pulling the upset here at home. Josh Gordon is playing like a man possessed, and with 600 yards combined over the past three games, the Bears will have to play some better defense to have a chance of stopping him. Jay Cutler could be back for the Bears, but with the way Josh McCown has been playing, it may not be the best idea to make the switch. I think this will be very close indeed, and I’ve just got one of those nagging feelings that Chicago will be on the end of another devastating setback late in the season.
Kansas City Chiefs 34-10 Oakland Raiders
In conceding 37 points to the previously offensively anaemic Jets, it seems clear to me that the Raiders are finished in terms of being properly competitive in games. Rotating QB’s in a game is normally a big giveaway. The Chiefs are most certainly not done, and they will be playing hard to secure the best possible position in the playoffs. It may not be a blowout, but it should be a comfortable win for Andy Reid’s men after their defense got back on track in a big way last week.
New York Jets 6-30 Carolina Panthers
Ah, the old-fashioned D-fight is about to ensue here, with two top defensive units facing off in Charlotte. The difference between the two teams is their capability to break a stalemate through explosive players and plays. Carolina has Cam Newton, a running game and a deep threat. The Jets have…yeah. So that tells you the story of this one: the Panthers need to keep pace with the Saints, and they do a good, dominant job of it here.
Green Bay Packers 27-34 Dallas Cowboys
Aaron Rodgers doesn’t look any closer to playing this week, so the Packers’ formula will be the same: run the ball and hope Matt Flynn has a good day, because the defense, while doing ok on turnover ratio, isn’t helping out. Speaking of defenses that aren’t pulling their weight, the Cowboys’ D looks a mess, but with the call for more risks to be taken, we could see a little more production against a porous O-line for Green Bay. I think that while the Pack’s defense is marginally better, their offense struggles in comparison to Dallas’ without Aaron Rodgers at the helm. The Cowboys will be looking to bounce back from a comprehensive defeat in Chicago, something they can do at home.
Arizona Cardinals 23-20 Tennessee Titans
Tennessee’s fast start against Denver masked quite a few issues: issues that were horrifically exposed in the second half at Mile High. Taking a 50 point pounding is not something that happens to fundamentally sound teams, so there are big concerns for Mike Munchak and his staff, not mentioning that their jobs are on a very thin slab of ice right now. The Cards won’t give up on the playoffs just yet, and the more they play, the more their defense looks legitimate. The loss of rookie safety Tyrann Mathieu for the year will hurt a lot, but the relentless pressure they can force on opposing QB’s is still impressive, and will help out a depleted secondary. On paper, there are a lot of things that are similar with these two, and it is difficult to pick a clear winner, but I have a feeling that with Larry Fitzgerald back in Pro-Bowl form, the Cardinals could have enough to grind out a tough road win.
New Orleans Saints 31-17 St Louis Rams
Drew Brees and the Saints really showed their character last week in hammering the Panthers after a demoralising loss in Seattle, and that isn’t an easy thing to do. Against a team like the Rams who can come out and look a totally different team every week, they will have to be careful, prioritising stopping the run and watching out for new wrinkles that Tavon Austin can be involved with. St Louis shouldn’t be a pushover, but there is still a lot to like about this New Orleans team, and they still have a division to win.
Cincinnati Bengals 30-20 Pittsburgh Steelers
After Antonio Brown’s late hero to zero moment against Miami, the Steelers are basically done, and it will be interesting to see how a locker room with murmurings of discontent from their star QB holds up between now and the offseason. It has the potential to be one of those defining moments for a franchise where they totally look for a new direction, no matter the disruption it may cause. The Bengals however, have no such worries. They’re a team on the up, and one in with a huge shot of a first week bye in the post season. They’ll be at 100% for this divisional rivalry, something I’m not sure the Steelers will be. This Pittsburgh team allowed Miami to score 30+ points for the first time this season: not a good sign when AJ Green and Giovani Bernard are coming to town.
Baltimore Ravens 20-34 Detroit Lions
The scale of this game is undoubtedly huge: two teams sat at 7-6 looking to stamp their passes into the playoffs. A loss could prove catastrophic to either, so it could be a rollercoaster ride under the roof in Detroit. There are two things that are making me sway here: Joe Flacco on the road – the guy has so often been a liability away from Baltimore, and the way the Lions were beaten in the snow last week. They will be kicking themselves after letting LeSean McCoy run in straight lines for over 200 yards – that was a game they could and should have won. I don’t expect the Ravens to rush for anywhere near that total this week, and if Flacco is as careless with the football as he often is on the road, this Lions offense needs little opportunity to rack up yardage and points. Yes the Ravens’ D is improving at a rate of knots, but when you have to deal with Calvin Johnson without the help of the elements, your stats are going to decline somewhat. If both the Bears and Packers lose, the Lions will see this as a golden opportunity, and I think they’re ready to step up and claim the NFC North.