It's week 14 in the NFL season, which means only four weeks left until the season. December's here, the cold weather games start happening more often and teams are looking for momentum going into the playoffs. I find that picking games at this time of the year gets a bit easier because there are more stats and trends that we can look at. We know what teams are really good at home, what teams have a bad defense in certain areas, what teams are strong passing or rushing and things of that nature. Early in the year teams are still finding their way. Now we kind of know who they are. The NFL is still wildly unpredictable, but at this point in the year it's a bit easier to figure things out.
Before we get to this week's games, here are some thoughts on the Thursday game.
Jacksonville 27 - Houston 20: I went with the Texans in this game. I'm not sure why I did since they lost ten straight going in while the Jags had won three of four. This morning (Friday) they fired their head coach Gary Kubiak. I guess I'm one of those people still wondering how the Texans have become the worst team in the league. Kudos to the Jags for playing hard and winning three straight. They are not laying down to end this season. They're playing hard for coach Gus Bradley, who has led them to a 4-1 record since their bye. Too bad they lost their first eight games.
Last week straight up: 12-4. Season: 122-69-1 (.639)
I apologize for writing less about the games this week. I'm in a rush, but I'll do my best to explain my choices. All game times are in the Eastern time zone.
Minnesota (3-8-1) at Baltimore (6-6) 1:00 pm
The Ravens are 5-1 at home and 1-5 on the road. That makes this an easy pick for. The other thing that makes it easy is that the Vikings have a lot of issues all over the place, except at RB with that Adrian Peterson guy. Too bad he can't throw and play defense too. Ravens 27-13
Atlanta (3-9) at Green Bay (5-6-1) 1:00 pm
Who to go with here? The Falcons have won just one of their last six games while the Packers haven't won a game in their last five. Aaron Rodgers has been officially ruled out, so picking the Pack is a bit risky considering their awful backup QBs, which currently means Matt Flynn starting. I'm still going with the Packers just because I think they can run the ball, control the clock and find a way to get the win. Packers 24-17
Kansas City (9-3) at Washington (3-9) 1:00 pm
The Redskins have lost four straight while the Chiefs have lost three straight after starting 9-0. Obviously the Chiefs are the better team that have gone down the wrong path for a few weeks. Playing a bad Washington team that has struggled in several areas all year long should allow the Chiefs to bounce back thanks to their defense. Chiefs 23-13
Buffalo (4-8) at Tampa Bay (3-9) 1:00 pm
The Bucs were on a roll with three straight wins before getting stomped by the Panthers. Lucky for them, the Bills defense isn't nearly at the level of the Panthers. I think Bucs rookie QB Mike Glennon is more comfortable at home and the Bucs young defense should be able to handle that Bills rushing attack enough to get the win. Buccaneers 24-17
Miami (6-6) at Pittsburgh (5-7) 1:00 pm
I'm going Dolphins here. I've had the most trouble picking Steelers games this year. Every time I start to believe in them they lose. That Dolphins pass defense is one of the best in the league and the Steelers like to throw it a lot, so if Miami is able to slow them down I think they can win. Of course this is the AFC where there are really only a couple of consistent teams, so trying to figure it all out is difficult. Look for former Steeler WR Mike Wallace to have a big day against his old team. His chemistry with Ryan Tannehill is growing. Dolphins 23-20
Detroit (7-5) at Philadelphia (7-5) 1:00 pm
It's a good game with two playoff caliber teams. It's hard not to like both offenses, especially the Eagles with QB Nick Foles throwing 19 TDs with zero picks on the season. The Eagles seemed to have figured out their issues with home games as they've got two wins in a row and I think they'll be ready for this big game on Sunday. The Lions are vulnerable against the pass, so I expect the Eagles to throw on them all game long. On the other side of the ball, I feel like the Lions should have success too because I think that Lions offense will succeed with Calvin Johnson making big plays down the field. It's a game that has shootout potential. Eagles 34-27
Indianapolis (8-4) at Cincinnati (8-4) 1:00 pm
Right now they're in position as the 3/4 seeds in the AFC. I'm leaning towards the Bengals because they're 8th against the run and pass on the defensive side of the ball while the Colts are struggling offensively ever since Reggie Wayne tore his ACL. Andrew Luck is doing his best, but they just don't have enough weapons. I think the Bengals defense will dominate the game. Indy should still be able to win a weak AFC South and get that home playoff game. I just think the Bengals are a more complete team right now. Bengals 27-13
Cleveland (4-8) at New England (9-3) 1:00 pm
The Pats are offense is back to looking really good, but they're giving up a lot of points every week (over 30 in their last three wins). Lucky for them, Browns have QB issues and can't run the ball. I've been very impressed by WR Josh Gordon's last couple of games and he's a breakout star this season, but he needs more help. With Tom Brady looking like his normal self thanks to Rob Gronkowski making a difference at TE, I expect a comfortable Patriots win. Patriots 37-20
Oakland (4-8) at N.Y. Jets (5-7) 1:00 pm
This should be awful. The Jets have scored 3 points in each of their last two games yet they're favored by 2.5 points going into this one? That's odd. It's also a testament to how bad the Raiders are. Since I have to pick one I'll go Raiders because after last week I don't feel confident ever picking the Jets again. Raiders 14-13
Tennessee (5-7) at Denver (10-2) 4:05 pm
This is one of the easier picks of the week since Broncos at home are very tough to beat and the Titans are an inconsistent team that just doesn't have the firepower to keep up with that Broncos offense. I think Denver's going to be a tough out because they showed last week that if you take other weapons away, Peyton Manning is comfortable throwing to Eric Decker for four TD passes. Since they don't play a team with a winning record the rest of the way (vs. Chargers, @ Texans & @ Raiders), I would expect the Broncos to lock up the #1 seed in the AFC too. Broncos 41-23
Seattle (11-1) at San Francisco (8-4) 4:25 pm
It's a huge game obviously. The Seahawks are first in the NFC and will remain that way even with a loss because whoever wins Saints/Panthers will be a game behind them. It's unlikely that the Niners will catch the Seahawks for the NFC West division lead, but it's a huge statement game for them. Way back in week two the Seahawks crushed them 29-3 in Seattle. The Niners are healthier than they were then thanks to the return of star WR Michael Crabtree and the defense has played really well the last couple of weeks too. I feel like the Niners defense will have a big game or at least they'll do enough to get the win.
The key player in the game will be Niners QB Colin Kaepernick. He needs to make plays with his feet when his guys aren't open because the Seahawks will make you work for everything. I'll take the Niners to win this revenge game, but I expect the Seahawks to win their final three and finish the year as the top seed in the NFC. Niners 23-17
N.Y. Giants (5-7) at San Diego (5-7) 4:25 pm
I don't think either of them are making the playoffs, but the Chargers are only a game back because of how poor the AFC is. The Giants defense looks like it has improved. However, I'm not sure they have played that many great offenses of late either. I like what Phil Rivers is doing in San Diego despite last week's loss against the Bengals where they played poorly, so I'll go with them at home. Chargers 27-23
St. Louis (5-7) at Arizona (7-5) 4:25 pm
Upset time. It was revealed on Friday that QB Carson Palmer is a game time decision due to an elbow injury. Even if he does play, I wonder how effective he'll be against that ferocious Rams pass rush that could put him on his back a few times. Since the Cardinals aren't very good at running the ball (24th in the league) I think their offense is going to struggle. Offensively the Rams have offensive issues of their own too. It should be a low scoring game. I'll take my team to win the road upset. Rams 20-14
Carolina (9-3) at New Orleans (9-3) 8:30 pm
Saints at home. I rarely go against that because they're 6-0 in the Superdome. With that said, they got their asses kicked in Seattle last week and the Panthers are a physical team that plays similarly to the Seahawks. That's bad for the Saints. That home field really matters, though. There's more of a comfort level there. I expect the offense to be sharp all game long. It won't be easy, though. The Panthers are 6th against the pass and 2nd against the run, so they are tough to score on.
My concern with the Panthers is I'm not that sure about their offense sometimes. They're 9th in the league at running the ball, but just 27th against the pass. If they fall behind early can they make the big plays needed to come back? I'm not sure. Of course with a defense like theirs and eight wins in a row I'm very reluctant to pick against them. The most points they've given up in that eight game win streak was 20 by the Patriots. I think the Saints will top that just barely. This should be a fun game to watch. I'll take the home team barely. Saints 23-20
Dallas (7-5) at Chicago (6-6) 8:40 pm (MON)
It's a huge game for two teams fighting for divisional titles that may have a hard time getting in without winning their division. I'm going Cowboys because I think they should be able to run the ball well against that awful Bears defense. Of course now that it's December you never know if Tony Romo is going to play well or if he's going to throw some costly INTs. It's hard to know really. I know the Bears offense is pretty good too, so both teams should be able to put some points on the board. Something to note is that it's expected to be really cold on Monday. I think that favors the Cowboys run game as long as DeMarco Murray can continue his hot streak. I'll take the Cowboys by a touchdown. Cowboys 27-20
That's all for me this week. Enjoy the games and good luck to you.