John Canton: It's week 15 of the NFL season. As always I'm joined by Bret Clev and Mike Maloney to go over every game this week.
Some quick thoughts on the final Thursday game of the season:
Cincinnati 34 Philadelphia 13: The game was even in the first half with the Bengals jumping out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, the Philly defense holding on in the second quarter and then their offense coming back to give them the 13-10 lead at the half. In the second half we saw the Eagles turn the ball over the way they've done all year as they finished the game with five turnovers (an interception and four lost fumbles). It was not a pretty sight to see them implode the way they did. The Bengals didn't blow them away with a strong passing attack (Andy Dalton had only 127 passing yards) although the run game did well with 157 yards on the ground. This game was more about the Eagles mistakes and the Bengals capitalizing on them. Now the Bengals are 8-6, a half game up on the Steelers heading into their big game against eachother next week.
There are six or seven awesome games on the schedule this week depending on what teams you like. There are a lot of playoff implications. It's going to be tough to pick some of these games, but that's the great thing about the NFL. You just never know what might happen.
Standings Straight Up After Week 14:
John 140-67-1 .676 (Last week 13-3)
Bret 135-72-1 .652 (9-7)
Mike 134-73-1 .647 (8-8)
It's been an awesome season for all three of us. I know there was some luck in my 13 wins last week because it seemed like I was able to get the win on nearly every close game.
We all picked the Bengals on Thursday and we all got that right.
All game times are Eastern.
NY Giants (8-5) at Atlanta (11-2) 1:00 PM
Bret: Great game to kick off the slate. And a hard one to predict at that. The time for Atlanta to coast along is over, and that game in Carolina should have served as a wakeup call for this Falcons team that has sort of been sleeping walking the last few months. They need this win - maybe not for a place in the standings but for confidence going into the playoffs - where it seems destined for them to play the Giants once again.
In the playoffs, I like Giants (that's a smart bet no matter who they're playing), but in December I'm going to take Atlanta to take care of business.
Both teams are beat up, and New York could be without Prince Amukamora or Kenny Phillips in the secondary. Even though it's looking like Roddy White might not play, without those two Atlanta should still be able to throw the ball successfully with the weapons at their disposal.
The Falcons can be gashed by big plays in the run, but I don't trust David Wilson yet, and it's looking more and more like Bradshaw won't play.
There are a lot of question marks in this game - and those could change the outcome - but with the information I have right now, I'll take the Falcons. Atlanta 31 New York 30
Mike: Really good game with Atlanta having something to prove (that they're not a total joke as a #1 seed) and New York trying to fend off the rest of the division in order to make the playoffs. I feel like the Giants are the sexy pick here, but they've been pretty inconsistent on the road the last two months, so I think that inconsistency continues and they slip up here against the Falcons. Will make for an interesting last couple of games at Baltimore and at home for Philly. Who knows, though. It's the Giants. When you think they're going to zig, they zag. Don't bet on this game. Atlanta 27 New York Giants 24
John: I'm very torn on this game. On the one hand, I leaned towards the Falcons early in the week because they're one of those teams I always want to pick at home. However, the Falcons are a team that doesn't have a lot of depth on offense and when I see that star WR Roddy White is a game time decision due to a knee injury that worries me. The Falcons offense has struggles during stretches when other WR Julio Jones has been banged up. Obviously they've overcome injuries to sit atop the NFC with only two losses, but I think there is reason to worry with them. What about the Falcons run game? It has been poor. A team like the Giants can find ways to slow down the passing attack. Without an effective run game, the Falcons are definitely beatable.
When I think about the Giants, I am worried about a letdown after a 52-27 win against the Saints last week because that's just what they do. They win in dominant fashion one game and then they have a stinker the next game. What I like about them right now is not only the inclusion of explosive RB David Wilson in the run game, but also the fact that WR Hakeem Nicks looks healthy again.
The Falcons defense is better than most people think. When you look at that team you immediately think of the offensive firepower, but the defense has been playing sound football because defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is one of the best defensive coaches in the game. It will be important for them to create turnovers and give the offense a short field because if they do that they can win this game.
For this game I'm leaning towards the Giants. If they meet in the playoffs I may pick the Falcons to win, but I think the injury to White is significant whether he plays or not. If he plays how effective can he be? Aside from RB Ahmad Bradshaw being hurt with the knee injury (on Friday it was confirmed that he's out), the Giants come into this game relatively healthy and I think they'll be very focused for this game. Hopefully they aren't going to pull one of their letdown games because I'm picking them to win an exciting game. Giants 34-27
Minnesota (7-6) at St. Louis (6-6-1) 1:00 PM
Bret: Fact: This game is more important than the New York/Atlanta game...and just as difficult to call.
First, I'm dismissing any sort of home field advantage for the Rams. That dome hasn't rocked in years. So really this comes down to which team is better. St. Louis has been a tough team for me to figure out all year. When I watch their game film I don't see anything that makes me go "wow! these guys!", but yet here they are at .500. I guess that's a testament to how good they are in the front 7 defensively and on the offensive line - the two hardest places to see on the broadcasts.
In this game, I just don't think St. Louis is going to be able to score enough to win. Peterson is going to put Minnesota in position to score 14 to 21 points every week. It doesn't matter who he's playing against. The question is can the St. Louis offense do the same? St. Louis is 28th in the league in red zone scoring - and I don't think they'll be able to do enough to get 20 points. I'll take All Day Adrian to win this one on his own. Minnesota 20 St. Louis 16
Mike: St. Louis has been largely successful against the run, only giving 100-yard games to Stevan Ridley and Marshawn Lynch this year. But the Patriots also have this Tom Brady guy to draw attention away from the run game, and Seattle actually lost that game to St. Louis because Russell Wilson threw three interceptions. Not that Christian Ponder knows anything about having bad games and ruining anything good his stud running back might do during a game.
I think St. Louis will largely keep Adrian Peterson in check. I know that he is absolutely ridiculous, and he very well could break 100 yards, but I think he's going to have to get a ton of carries to get there. And despite all of that I think the Vikings are going to need Christian Ponder to come through to find a way to win. That means I think they're going to lose. The Rams have had some struggles against mobile quarterbacks (RGIII, Colin Kaepernick). Christian Ponder is capable of running, but he's not a mobile quarterback. I think this offense plays right into the Rams' strengths, and I expect a similar game to what we saw at home against Seattle back in week 4. St. Louis 16 Minnesota 13
John: The Rams defense is really impressing me. In over 20 years of being a Rams fan, I can't remember a time when the defense was significantly better than the offense. That's the case with the current structure of the team. The defense completely shut down the Bills last week in a 15-12 win at Buffalo. The key for the defense has been the play of the defensive line, which is led by ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn while rookie DT Michael Brockers has really emerged in the second half of the year as a run stuffer. They play about seven guys on the defensive line and they rotate them all the time to stay fresh. Due to the pressure caused by the front four, they can play tight coverage on the outside and the linebackers are put in positions to make plays, which they've done all year. I love how my team is being built.
I don't think there's any team in the NFL that can "stop" Adrian Peterson. Now that the Vikings aren't shy about giving him the ball 20+ times per game even when they're losing you know that he's going to make a difference in the game. The key is slowing him down and preventing those runs over 50 yards for touchdowns. I think the Rams defense is disciplined
On the other side of the ball, the Rams should do well. It sounds like Danny Amendola is going to play, but even when he's been out Sam Bradford has shown he can win games late even without his best receiver. The comeback drive in Buffalo last week was awesome. The offensive line has improved and because of that protection Bradford's throws have been really accurate. Along with Bradford, RB Steven Jackson has been a monster and is playing on every down nearly all game long because of the timeshare he was in earlier in the year. He's fresh. That’s bad news for the Vikings. Peterson may get a TD or two, but I think the Rams will show up big in their last home game of the season. I like my Rams to win their fourth straight game. Rams 23-17
Jacksonville (2-11) at Miami (5-8) 1:00 PM
Bret: Upset alert! Cecil Shorts matters to the Chad Henne Jacksonville Jaguars. It looks like he's back this week - and Miami is pretty awful against vertical passing games. I think the Jacksonville offense shows up this week and puts up some serious yards.
Miami has really gone bland offensively themselves. Reggie Bush seems like he never recovered after he messed up his knee and Ryan Tannehill has just got way too conservative the last few weeks. Jacksonville 28 Miami 16
Mike: Time for that big I-95 rivalry! Okay, I had to look that one up. The Jags are back in tank mode after accidentally beating the Titans a couple weeks ago. I read that Cecil Shorts is probably going to play, but if I were them I'd probably hold him out this week for "precautionary reasons" to lessen the possibility of them pulling out a win. I assume any damage this game will cause to TV coverage will just be localized to the Eastern Florida region, so at least its effects will be minimal. And who knows, maybe it will get blacked out in both markets and then no one has to be subjected to it! Miami 20 Jacksonville 10
John: Bad game. On one of my fantasy teams where I pick up a different defense every week I went with the Dolphins this week. The Jags have shown the ability to throw the ball in recent weeks and they might have success at it in this game, but I think the Dolphins are the better team. The Jags can't run the ball, the Dolphins know that and will do everything they can to force Chad Henne (a former Dolphin) into mistakes. Defensive touchdowns by the Dolphins would be welcome, of course. Dolphins 27-14
Green Bay (9-4) at Chicago (8-5) 1:00 PM
Bret: Chicago is in real danger of missing out on the playoffs at this point. I think their defense should be a tale of caution of just how unimportant October is to the entirety of the season. They're now without several key players, and the guys left on the field are playing considerably worse.
Green Bay hasn't exactly wowed be the last few weeks - though I admit to a certain level of bias from having Rodgers stall out my fantasy team! - but they seem like they've started to take the Giants 'just do enough to win' path rather than the Patriots 'Finish him Scorpion' style for 2012. I can respect that.
The short and long of it is I think Green Bay is the better team right now. We'll probably see a few more points than we did last time - banged up defenses on both side - but I expect the outcome to be the same. Green Bay 27 Chicago 21
Mike: Oh, I'm excited for this one. Lots of trash talking going on this time around, too. Brandon Marshall talks about how much he dislikes the Packers. Greg Jennings laughs it off. Jermichael Finley talks about how slow Brian Urlacher is. Lance Briggs calls him an idiot. Bring it on! Some big injuries for both teams. Charles Woodson was hoping to be back for the game but he won't be. Jordy Nelson most likely will miss another game. The good news for the Packers is that Clay Matthews is expected to be back, although he probably won't be at 100%. The Bears will be missing Urlacher, and potentially Tim Jennings and Shea McClellin on the defensive side of the ball. They also lost Robbie Gould for the season, although usually the winter weather and Soldier Field don't lead to many field goal attempts anyways so that loss might have a minimal effect.
I'm going with the Packers here, and I'm actually doing so because of the run game. I don't know what the plan is for guard TJ Lang, but I don't think I would hate it if they put him back at guard and left rookie free agent Don Barclay at right tackle. He has looked really good in run blocking, and pass blocking I'm not sure the team is any worse off than they would be with Lang there. They've had really good success the last two weeks running the ball. And on the flip side, the Bears have been demolished on the ground the last three weeks by Adrian Peterson twice and Marshawn Lynch (Really the whole defense was embarrassed in that game). I'm expecting this trend to continue and for the Packers to get the win despite a lackluster game through the air. Green Bay 23 Chicago 17
John: I'm all about the Packers in this game. The Bears are falling apart. Injuries are decimating them especially on defense and the offense has been very inconsistent in losing four of their last five games. Right now they're in a playoff spot, but if they drop this game they could be tied with other teams rising up in the NFC.
You know who the Bears need to have a big game? Matt Forte. He's only had two 100 yard rushing games this season. I know they throw to him a lot too, but he hasn't been a factor all year long. He got paid the big bucks. It's time to step up for your team when they need you the most. Against a Packers defense that is vulnerable against the run, the Bears should feed Forte early on and then if the Packers turn their focus to him that's when Cutler can beat them with some deep strikes. I don't have faith in the Bears giving it to Forte more, so I'll pick the Packers.
Why the Packers? Because of Aaron Rodgers. It was amazing to see last week that the Packers beat the Lions largely because of their run game. It showed how much Rodgers has grown as a quarterback. Teams are going to put nickel and dime coverage on the field on first down, so Rodgers is going to audible to a run and beat you that way. They don't even have above average running backs. They just call a smart game every week. I think the Packers will win this game, crush the Titans at home next week and then win at Minnesota to finish the season off with a first round bye. Packers 27-20
Washington (7-6) at Cleveland (5-8) 1:00 PM
Bret: Ah. Feels good to have a Cleveland/Washington game that matters again. The last time that happened I think we were watching Bernie Kosar take on Doug Williams.
Cleveland continues to form into the shape of a decent football team, and when I watch their offense I get the feeling they have speed - which is something I haven't been able to say in a long time. But Washington has taken that leap into the next level the last 4 weeks, and I don't think Cleveland has.
I think this is a close, fun, game, but Washington is just more mature right now. Washington 28 Cleveland 27
Mike: I have a lot more faith in Robert Griffin to come back late in this game if they're down than I do in the Cleveland Browns to come back late in this game if they're down. The Browns have a nice winning streak going, but it was against a Charlie Batch-led Steelers team, and the Raiders and Chiefs. The Skins won't blow them out or anything, but they should get the win. Washington 24 Cleveland 17
John: I'm leaning towards the Browns as a home upset. Believe me when I tell you I'm all aboard the Robert Griffin III bandwagon, but I'm not sure about him this week. The Browns defense is sneaky good. Of course they started 0-5 and got crushed in a lot of those games, but since then they're 5-3 and it's largely because of the defense. They bring teams down to their level. With that in mind, will RG3 have a great game against a defense that is tough, doesn't miss tackles and has improved a lot this year? I'm not sure.
The key for the Browns offense will be Trent Richardson. I think he'll be very motivated in this game because he was the top RB in the draft and now people are saying maybe Redskins rookie RB Alfred Morris is better than him. If you look at the yards Morris is ahead, but I think Richardson is the better player. That extra motivation could propel him to a big game in a cold weather game built for a running game. As long as the Browns don't turn it over too much they should be able to hold on for the victory thanks to running the football and a strong defensive front. Browns 24-20
Denver (10-3) at Baltimore (9-4) 1:00 PM
Bret: What a tough game to pick. I think we all know exactly what the Broncos are right now, but no one has any clue what's going to happen with this Ravens team. I was way down on them the last few weeks - but firing offensive coordinator Cam Cameron could actually be a big boost for their offense - or it could make things even worse. If Jim Caldwell comes in and starts pounding the rock with Ray Rice then the Broncos (and the AFC) could be in for trouble, but if this was a win for Joe Flacco and they're going to put more responsibility on his shoulders - it's a win for Denver. I have a distinct feeling we're going to see the latter.
We've been hearing about the dynamic, deep ball, offense we're going to see in Baltimore for years now - and even if it's just for a week, I expect Caldwell to stick to trying that....which is a mistake against Denver. The defense is susceptible to the run game - especially between the tackles - but pretty stout against a vertical passing game. Bailey will likely take on Boldin and completely take him out of the game, while leaving Torrey Smith to be covered by the gangly, quick, Tony Carter. Both are matchups I like for Denver.
Offensively, Denver is going to do what they do. I really don't see that changing against any team this year. They have the way they play, and they're going to be successful at that. The way to beat them is to A) limit their possessions and B) create turnovers. It's going to take a lot of B for Baltimore to do that.
I wanted to pick Baltimore at home in this one - honestly, I did - but unless Ray Rice gets the lion's share of the offense that he deserves, I don't see it happening. Denver 28 Baltimore 24
Mike: The NFL really did a terrible job not flexing any of these great games to the late afternoon (Which is, as a result, a complete crapfest). Baltimore is Denver's one last true test this season, and if they win here they've got a pretty decent chance at that #2 seed (Dependent on how the Niners/Patriots games goes).
I'm not exactly alone in thinking this, but I don't have a ton of faith in the Ravens, who have lost two in a row and probably should be three considering the debacle that was the San Diego game that allowed them to come back and win. Denver is rolling right now, Knowshon Moreno has totally picked up the slack in the run game and he should be in for a big game. Denver 31 Baltimore 24
John: It's a tough game to pick between two playoff teams fighting for position. Of course Denver is the hotter team with eight straight wins and in seven of those games they've scored 26 points or more. Can the Ravens slow them down? I don't think so. I think the Ravens could match up well with them in the playoffs if their defense was totally healthy, but with star OLB Terrell Suggs banged up and MLB Ray Lewis still out their front seven isn't as effective as it used to be. Of course they have S Ed Reed back there, but I don't think he's going to be able to trick Broncos QB Peyton Manning into anything because he's seen it all many times.
The interesting thing about this game is the Ravens fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Former Colts head coach Jim Caldwell takes over and I wonder if that means they're going to feature Ray Rice even more. If so, that would benefit the Ravens because he's their best player. Against the Broncos you need to establish the rush because if you rely on the pass they are going to get after you with Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. The secondary is really good too.
I think there are too many question marks with the Ravens. They have that impressive 9-4 record, but I think they could have dropped a few games too. The Broncos are way more consistent. Plus, it's hard for me to go against Peyton Manning with the way he's playing. With Denver's next two games being home tilts against the Browns and Chiefs you know they're hyped about this as their last big matchup before the playoffs. They'll be ready. Broncos 34-23
Indianapolis (9-4) at Houston (11-2) 1:00 PM
Bret: I think a lot of people are going to be disappointed with Indianapolis in the time remaining in the 2012 NFL season. They're a team that works hard, and has earned all their wins - but they are still a young team with very little depth and a QB who throws too many bad interceptions. We should all enjoy what they've done getting to 9 wins and (likely) in the playoffs, but expecting them to beat a truly elite team like Houston seems like just too much.
As for Houston - my opinion of them changed very little off that game on Monday night. Those types of things happen. In fact, here are some late season exploits from a few other teams over the past few years:
2011- New York Giants lost to New Orleans 24-49 in week 12.
2010 - Green Bay scored a whopping 3 points in a 3-7 loss to Detroit in week 14.
2009 - New Orleans lost their last 3 games.
2008 - Pittsburgh lost 14-31 at home to the Titans in week 16.
2007 - New York Giants 17-41 loss at home to the Vikings in week 12.
2006 - Indianapolis Colts lost 17-44 to the Jaguars in week 14.
All eventual Super Bowl champions. All had embarrassing moments late in the season. Houston 34 Indianapolis 24
Mike: Okay, it's cute that Indianapolis is technically in control of their own destiny and can win the division if they win out. But the reality of the situation is that to win out they have to beat Houston twice. And Houston, despite last week's game, is still a really good team and one of the top three teams in the conference. As I've said before, Indy is a nice story this year, but they are not an elite team and are probably not anything more than fodder for whomever they might face in the first round of the playoffs.
The Colts don't have a ton of weapons on offense, and they will not be able to take advantage of Houston's shortcomings the way that New England was able to. I think Houston wins this comfortably. Houston 35 Indianapolis 20
John: I think the Texans will kick their ass. I don't think last week's destruction in New England is going to hurt Houston as much as some people may think. It could be a wakeup call. We know they're talented, they have depth all over the place and the chances are very good that their defensive front seven are going to wreak havoc on the young Colts offense. It's the first time Andrew Luck will play against them and I think that unfamiliarity could lead to some mistakes out of the impressive rookie. A team like Houston capitalizes on those mistakes and coverts them into touchdowns. I think they'll jump out to the early lead, let the defense carry them and win this game in a manner that sends a message to the entire NFL that says this team is a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
I'm sensing a big game from Arian Foster here. The Texans offensive line should be able to control the game and that will lead to a lot of success for the Texans star running back. As long as the Texans take care of the ball I think they'll win this game without too much stress. Texans 34-17
Tampa Bay (6-7) at New Orleans (5-8) 1:00 PM
Bret: Over. Over. Over. Take the over. I don't care what it is. Take that over. These are the two worst pass defenses against the league going up against two very good passing games - with pretty much nothing on the line. F' it. Bombs away! New Orleans 45 Tampa Bay 42
Mike: Another game I have no clue on. The Bucs are now coming off of three straight losses, including an awful loss to the Eagles last week that probably knocked them out of the playoffs. New Orleans has also lost three in a row and Drew Brees has put up abysmal numbers the last two weeks. So how does a game play out when neither team has any kind of momentum whatsoever? Both teams have poor secondaries, and I would expect this to be a pretty high scoring game.
You would think Drew Brees could have a bounce back game going against Tampa's secondary, and Doug Martin should be in store for a big game for the Bucs. I'm going with Tampa ever so slightly here because I think they're still the better team and their loss last week was incredibly fluky. Tampa Bay 34 New Orleans 32
John: I like the Bucs to win this game that doesn't have playoff consideration. I know the Bucs could technically get in if they win out and get a lot of help, but that's very unlikely. Their three straight losses have knocked them down a peg after winning four games in a row. That's the definition of an inconsistent team. I think the Saints are also reeling after losing three in a row, though. Something is wrong with that offense. It's not just the defense. The offense has been very inconsistent and that includes QB Drew Brees. Maybe he'll go nuts in this game and show everybody how great he is. I think he might. That doesn't mean their defense will do enough to win the game for them.
This is one of those games where if you are in the fantasy football playoffs and you have any offensive player on either team you should start them because the defenses are so bad that there will be a lot of points scored. Buccaneers 37-34
Detroit (4-9) at Arizona (4-9) 4:05 PM
Bret: Bombs a....no, that doesn't quite fit here...what does? Ha! Ha! (Nelson style) and I'm laughing at both teams. The contrarian in me wants to pick Arizona - because no team can really be that bad right? And regression to the mean might be enough to beat an imploding Detroit team that I'm sure just wants to get this season over with...but man, I think they might be that bad. Especially with Ryan Lindley back under center...or at least under the homeless guy the Cardinals picked up to play center. This poor team is so messed up. (I could be talking about both teams) But at least Detroit has talent on the offensive side of the ball.
Arizona has enough defensively to hold Detroit in check - but I'm not even sure if I'd give a crap if I were the Cardinals defense at this point. Detroit 17 Arizona 7 (Special teams or defensive TD)
Mike: And now for something a lot less interesting. Really the only aspect of this game that is remotely interesting is how Arizona will follow up their 58 point shellacking last week and how close their offense can come to matching the ineptitude we saw in Seattle. Secretly I'm rooting for a Cardinals upset because that would be hilarious. Detroit 20 Arizona 17
John: I can't see myself flipping to this game very often on Sunday afternoon. I think one of the biggest mysteries of the 2012 season will be not only how did the Cardinals beat the Patriots, but how did they even win four games? This looks like one of the worst offenses in the history of the NFL. That's saying something! Their pass defense is pretty good, so it will be interesting to see if CB Patrick Peterson (their best defensive player) can slow down the amazing WR Calvin Johnson or not. Other than that there's not much excitement about this game. Lions 24-10
Carolina (4-9) at San Diego (5-8) 4:05 PM
Bret: Carolina has quietly put together a nice couple of games the last few weeks - maybe enough to save Rivera's job. San Diego did their best impression of a football team last week as well.
The match ups work out well for San Diego - they're pretty stout defensively against the run. This will be an ugly game, but I think San Diego - hilariously - might string together enough wins here at the end to save Norv Turner. (Panthers, Jets, Raiders) San Diego 27 Carolina 21
Mike: In this late game that I don't care about at all, I will be rooting for San Diego, because I want them to finish .500 and then debate if their late season 4-game winning streak is enough to keep Norv around (sadly it won't be, but at least it will allow the conversation to take place). That being said, I think Carolina pulls off the upset. Carolina 17 San Diego 16
John: Another bad game. I don't see the Chargers trying hard to save the job of their coach. His contract is up and he's going to get fired. The Panthers have really showed me a lot on offense - wait a second scratch that. Cam Newton has really showed me a lot by having four impressive games in a row. This is the guy we expected to see all year. I think the lack of weapons around him has hurt him, so it'll be up to management to surround him with better talent next year. For this game I'll go Panthers because I think the Chargers have checked out despite their win last week. Panthers 24-20
Seattle (8-5) at Buffalo (5-8) (in Toronto) 4:05 PM
Bret: If this game were in Buffalo, I might be tempted, but it's not. I think we'll see another Russell Wilson 4th quarter comeback against this Buffalo team who seems to be doing everything they possibly can to stay mediocre.
Not having Sydney Rice will hurt Seattle - if he plays I like their chances a lot more - but between Lynch and Baldwin and Tate I think Seattle has enough to pull out another one of those classic ugly AFC/NFC no-one-is-watching games. Seattle 22 Buffalo 19 (Or another score equally as weird.)
Mike: I'm still sticking with betting against Seattle on the road, and I'm also betting on a bit of a letdown game considering how perfectly everything went for them last week. At the very least Buffalo should be able to keep this one close if they can't win it outright, they've only lost one home game all year by more than three points, and that was in a game against the Patriots that was actually tied going into the fourth quarter. Buffalo 20 Seattle 17
John: It's pretty simple, Buffalo. What you need to do to win is run the ball. Since they played the Rams last week I watched them more than usual and I sat there wondering why they don't run CJ Spiller more. Now that Fred Jackson is out for the year, Spiller will get more carries. Look at his numbers. He's got 944 yards rushing on the year with only 144 carries. That means his yards per carry is 6.6! He gets 6.6 yards per carry yet he only got more than 15 carries one time this season! Ridiculous. That's why coaches get fired, though. If you don't use your best players you deserve to lose your job.
I think the Bills will use Spiller more because they have to, but I don't think they'll win. I like the Seahawks largely because of their defense that is dominant against the run and pass. Obviously they're better at home (6-0 home, 2-5 road), but they've won four of their last five and the offense is playing a lot better during that stretch. The Bills are too inconsistent for me to get behind them. They'll probably lose a close game because that's what they do, but I like Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch to make enough plays to carry their team to victory. It also wouldn't shock me to see the defense force two or three turnovers as well.
By the way, I live about two hours from Toronto where this game is taking place. The Bills are not that popular in this area. People around here like a lot of different teams like the Steelers, Packers or Cowboys because of their history. The Bills do this one game in Toronto because they get paid $10 million up front before the game even begins and then they make even more money at the gate although some rich dude had to buy 10,000 tickets in the last couple weeks in order for it to sell out. Bills football. So exciting. Not really. Seahawks 26-24
Pittsburgh (7-6) at Dallas (7-6) 4:25 PM
Bret: Pittsburgh stops the run. Period. Which means Dallas is going to have to throw the ball to win this one, and I don't trust a shaky offensive line and a 9 fingered Dez Bryant to pull the offense through when they're going to be so dependent on that.
Pittsburgh will continue to be very bland offensively - and I don't think Roethlisberger will be back at full health yet, so I don't expect them to be firing on all cylinders either, but I think they'll do enough to get it done here. Really, I think whichever team wins the turnover battle wins this game. But, without being able to predict that, I'll take Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh 17 Dallas 14
Mike: See, now this is a fun game. Two rabid fan bases being strung along by teams that are probably headed to either massive disappointment in Week 1 or in the first round of the playoffs. Both teams are on the outside looking in at the moment, and it would surprise me if either was hanging in there right at the end and then in excruciating fashion ended up just missing out. Pittsburgh somehow got clowned last week by a rudder-less Chargers team, and Dallas pulled a win over the Bengals out of nowhere. It seems that no matter what happens, there's bound to be some kind of trainwreck finish by one of the two teams. I'll go with Dallas since they're at home, but all bets are off. Dallas 23 Pittsburgh 20
John: I think Ben Roethlisberger should have sat out last week because he didn't look like his normal self. This week I think he'll be better prepared for the game. If Dallas wants to get in the playoffs they need this win. For the Steelers, they'd be able to get in even if they lose this game, but that's only if they win against the Bengals next week. There's a lot riding on this game, which is should make it fun to watch. I'm going with the Steelers. Close game. Steelers 23-17
Kansas City (2-11) at Oakland (3-10) 4:25 PM
Bret: Kansas City can't throw. Oakland can't stop anyone from throwing. It's the soft noodlie object versus the pourous and slow force! As an AFC West fan, I'm embarassed by proxy.
This is absolutely the type of game where Carson Palmer shines. 400 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs. Oakland wins the game. Oakland 24 Kansas City 13
Mike: Brutal game. Who am I supposed to pick? I just like betting against both of these teams without question week after week! I suppose Jamaal Charles is the best player on the field, and I really do love picking against Carson Palmer, so I'm going to lean towards the Chefs in this one. Kansas City 21 Oakland 17
John: Somebody has to win since I'm not picking a tie. I said many weeks ago I won't pick the Chiefs again this year and I stand by that. Oakland, I know you suck, but maybe your offense can score enough to win this game. That's enough for me. Raiders 27-17
San Francisco (9-3-1) at New England (10-3) 8:20 PM
Bret: Like Ender at battle school, New England just keeps getting tried. Oh, you just beat the best defense in the AFC? Here. Try a tougher one. I like San Francisco, and I think they're the best team in the NFC, but going into Foxboro and winning in December just doesn't really happen. I came into this pick with no idea who I'd pick...let's look at the numbers.
New England offense vs. San Francisco defense
Points per game - New England is first in the NFL. San Francisco is 1st in the NFL.
Yards per game - New England is first. San Francisco 2nd.
Yards per play - New England is ninth. San Francisco 1st.
3rd down conversion - New England is first. San Francisco is 1st.
Red Zone scoring - New England is third. San Francisco is 21st.
There's some meat we can bite into! So San Francisco is clearly the best defense in the NFL right now, and New England is clearly the best offense in the universe this decade. But where it really is going to matter is the red zone. San Francisco has trouble keeping teams out - I'd guess that has to do with their inability to rush the passer due to the threat of a running game. However, they may be able to stick with their pass rushers in this one due to New England's propensity to pass.
Along those lines, it's become pretty clear the best way to beat New England is to get in the backfield and rough up Brady - the 9ers are built to do just that - so they may cause the New England passing game fits all night.
It's tough to talk about San Francisco offensively vs. New England's defense because it's so dependent on how the game is going. If San Francisco is in control - or at least in the game - they can be successful against the average New England defense, but San Francisco's achilles heel is their inability to come back from a big deficit. Which New England has shown they can do easily.
Eish. What a game.
I'll take New England at home, but I wouldn't bet a penny on it. It's also interesting that it wouldn't shock me (or really change my opinion on anything) if New England won by 28 - if they get going, you're not stopping them no matter who you are. Also, if Kaepernick does manage to go up to New England and pull out a close win - whooo boy, let the legend begin! New England 28 San Francisco 20
Mike: Hopefully this will be more competitive than the New England/Houston game from last week. I certainly expect it to be. Houston's defense has been a little suspect the last month or so, and really everything was going the Pats way in that game. The Niners' defense should be a little more disruptive, and I think we can plan for a lower scoring game. Both teams are trying to hang on to their #2 spot and that important bye week (That doesn't seem to matter anymore in the NFL playoffs, but I digress).
I didn't think that New England was going to be able to win both of these games, and I still think that's the case. Their offense should come back down to earth this week, and San Francisco's offense should be able to grind out enough against a defense that's 14th in DVOA. I'm still leery about the fact that they're sticking with Colin Kaepernick over Alex Smith, and I think it could come back to bite them in a big game like this, but for now things seem to be progressing well enough. San Francisco 26 New England 24
John: I think Bret's write-up on this game is pretty awesome and I agree with so many of his points. My take is the Patriots are the best team in the NFL and they're not going to let somebody come into their stadium to beat them. The Niners are very good defensively, but their offense does have issues at times where drives stall because of the lack of weapons they have in the passing game. Guys like Randy Moss and Vernon Davis are not scaring anybody. Michael Crabtree is the go to receiver, but he's not elite and I would be shocked to see a Bill Belichick defense allow him to have a big game.
For my pick I go with the Patriots largely because of how well Tom Brady is playing. This may be his best year ever and a big reason for that is because of how good their running game is. By being able to run the ball, their play action pass game is absolutely destroying teams and I think even a smart defense like the Niners is going to have trouble dealing with them. Maybe if they were in the same conference they could find a way to slow the offense down a bit, but as a team that only plays the Patriots once every four years I think the Niners will have trouble.
What the Niners need to do is establish their pass game early. The Pats run defense is very stout. Will the Niners surprise them and have Colin Kaepernick try some deep throws down field? They should. I bet they'd catch the Pats defense off guard. If you're the Niners you have to be aggressive on offense because you're not going to win 17-13. The Pats will score.
I'm excited about this game. I doubt I'm going to place a wager, but I think the Pats will win and hopefully it's closer unlike last week's game was against the Texans. Patriots 27-20
NY Jets (6-7) at Tennessee (4-9) 8:30 PM (MON)
Bret: The Jets win in Tennessee, vs. San Diego, and @ Buffalo. Pittsburgh loses in Dallas, Cincinnati beats Pittsburgh next week. Cincinnati loses to the Ravens in week 17, the Jets are in the playoffs. It's disgusting because it's possible. New York 20 Tennessee 14
Mike: Is anyone not rooting for the Jets at this point? I know I want to see them finish 9-7 and somehow make the playoffs, because that would be hi-larious. Sadly it won't happen because they'll slip up somewhere among these three winnable games they have left, but one can hope, right? Tennessee can't seem to get out of its own way these days, and with Chris Johnson slowing down last week against a bad Colts run defense, I'm picking the Jets' defense to make the difference. Not that I'll be watching this game. New York Jets 17 Tennessee 13
John: I really want all of the ridiculous "Jets might make the playoffs" talk to be over because if they were a playoff type team they wouldn't be as inconsistent as they are. I think the smart thing for the Titans to do would be to give the ball to Chris Johnson over 25 times and hope he can bust a few runs for them because their offense is a lot better when getting those big runs that set up their passing attack. I don't even know what to say about the Jets. They've probably overachieved this year. I don't see them ending the year strong. Titans 23-16
The Degenerates Dungeon
This is where we give you some picks for our best bets of the week. Note that lines moves from the time we write this (Friday AM) to the time the games kickoff. We keep track of the odds and we'll use that to write down our records too.
Records so far:
Mike 34-34-2 (2-2-1)
Bret 31-37-2 (1-4)
John 30-38-2 (3-2)
1. Tampa Bay/New Orleans over 80. (Ok, the real number is 53.5)
2. Arizona under 19 - The Cardinals haven't scored over 19 points since September
3. Minnesota +1 - Just take the straight up value
4. Oakland -3
5. San Francisco + 5 - I don't really mean +5. The public is going to bet New England like mad on Sunday and push that line closer to 7. Wait for Sunday afternoon and fade the public. For the contest, I'll take my chances with 5.
Seattle @ Buffalo +5 - I feel good about this one. Always go against Seattle on the road.
Denver -3 @ Baltimore - The Ravens just fired their offensive coordinator. They're a division leader. Right before Week 15. Really?
Minnesota @ St. Louis -1 - Just for you Johnny.
Jacksonville @ Miami Under 37.5 - I like to bet against bad offenses.
Carolina @ San Diego Under 44.5 - Speaking of which...
Carolina +3 @ San Diego - I like betting on Cam Newton when he plays this well.
Kansas City @ Oakland -3 - This is against the Chiefs more than it is for the Raiders.
Seattle @ Buffalo +5.5 - Seattle wins, but it will be close.
Green Bay -3 @ Chicago - Faith in Rodgers and that offense.
NY Jets @ Tennessee UNDER 41 - Just a feeling.
That's all from us for this week. Follow us on Twitter:
You can also email John Canton at email@example.com with any questions or comments.