John Canton: It's week 16 of the NFL season. As always I'm joined by Bret Clev and Mike Maloney to go over every game this week.
There's only two weeks left in the NFL season. In a lot of my write-ups you'll see that I'm talking about playoff scenarios a lot because I think a lot of teams can see the light at the end of the tunnel. For the ones seeking a first round playoff bye they're going to be more focused than usual this week so they have nothing to play for next week. For the bad teams out there I think a lot of them will play some young players more than you'd expect because they might as well see what they can get from them.
The schedule isn't as strong as last week, but there are some important games especially on Sunday night. Let's get to it.
Standings Straight Up After Week 15:
John 149-74-1 .671 (Last week 9-7)
Bret 145-78-1 .653 (10-6)
Mike 144-79-1 .649 (10-6)
All game times are Eastern.
Atlanta (12-2) at Detroit (4-10) 8:30 PM (SAT)
Bret: Who would have guessed 4 months ago that we'd be talking about Jim "Bringing toughness to Detroit" Schwartz losing his job. (I don't think he will. He signed an extension in the offseason), but boy this team seems on the verge of revolt and a national stage against an elite team is not a pretty thing.
Strategically, Detroit doesn't match up well against Atlanta either. Atlanta is weak against the run. Detroit can't run. Atlanta has myriad of passing options. Detroit has a dearth of talent in the secondary. This is going to be an ugly one. Atlanta 31 Detroit 14
Mike: Detroit seems like the perfect opponent to play coming off a huge home win for Atlanta who is looking to avoid a letdown. The Lions should be able to accommodate, losing six in a row and coming apart in the second half of games when it looks like they might be able to pull off a win (See games against Green Bay, Houston, Indianapolis, and Green Bay again). I'm still amazed that a team with the talent on defense that Detroit has (particularly their front 4) can be 4-10 and 24th in defensive DVOA.
It seems to me like this ends up as a pretty easy win for the Falcons. They still have something to play for (San Fran is only one loss behind them, and technically if Green Bay wins out and Atlanta loses out Green Bay beats them in the tiebreaker), Detroit looks like they might be giving up after getting shellacked by the Cardinals last week, and the Falcons' offense should have all kinds of success against this Lions' defense. I know this is only Jim Schwartz's fourth season as head coach, and you can't deny that the team has actually gained an identity and a toughness to it that it's been lacking for quite some time. To follow up a playoff year with a performance like this, I dunno, with the immaturity and lack of discipline that runs rampant on this roster, maybe the guy has to move on. Atlanta 28 Detroit 17
John: I think the Falcons will win this game in dominant fashion in order to give themselves next week off since they would have the first seed in the NFC all locked up. Last week's statement win over the Giants was a huge confidence booster for them since they lost to the Giants in the playoffs last year.
The Lions pass defense is too bad for them to prevent Matt Ryan from hitting Julio Jones, Roddy White and company down the field for big plays. I don't think being in a primetime game on Saturday night is going to matter. At this point in the year the better team is going to remain focused and lock up that first round bye. They'll score a lot of points while they do it too. Falcons 34-23
New Orleans (6-8) at Dallas (8-6) 1:00 PM
Bret: This is probably the hardest game of the morning to pick. I've kind of lost my handle on Dallas. I still think they're too rickety on the offensive line and too beat up in the defensive front 7 to be a good team, and yet here they are - poised for a shot at the playoffs. If the team that's showed up the last few weeks shows up again they should be able to beat this Saints team. I'm just not sure that's going to happen.
Dallas gives up a gaudy 7.2 yards per pass attempt, (and 11.5) per completion. From having watched them, it seems like their weakness in the secondary is the deep middle - which also plays well for the Saints.
Last year New Orleans won in Dallas 30-27. I think that's about right for this year as well. Although momentum could very easily make it a 3 point win for Dallas as well. New Orleans 30 Dallas 27
Mike: A couple of pretty inconsistent teams is what we have here. New Orleans came out like gangbusters last week and demolished Tampa last week, even though they had just lost their 8th game and were effectively eliminated from playoff contention. There probably is something to the fact that they are now operating under their interim head coach instead of the interim to the interim.
Obviously Dallas needs this game so that they can potentially duke it out with the Redskins next week for a playoff spot. It's just tough to know what you're going to get from this Cowboys team. On paper their offense looks like it should be one of the better offenses in the league, with Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, and Jason Witten. And yet often times they've looked pretty flat this year. So can they come out and take advantage of a weak Saints' defense? Or will they look more like the Bucs did last week and just come out totally flat?
I'm surprising myself a bit here and actually going with the Cowboys. Maybe it's partially because I'm rooting for a crazy finish to the NFC East race, but I do find myself having a little bit of faith in Dallas. Dallas 31 New Orleans 30
John: It feels like a high scoring game and if Dallas wants to make the playoffs (we assume they do) then this is a game they have to win, which would then set up a big showdown against the Redskins next week. If they're smart they'll run RB DeMarco Murray 20 times in this game because the Saints run defense is atrocious. Once the run becomes a factor they could throw the ball down field, which is one of the strengths of this offense. It's important that the defense comes up big because I think Drew Brees will be sharp. In the end, though, I take Tony Romo to lead his Cowboys to the victory and put them one step away from a playoff berth. I think there will be a lot of points too. Cowboys 34-26
Tennessee (5-9) at Green Bay (10-4) 1:00 PM
Bret: Doesn't it seem like Green Bay has played about 14 'ho-hum' games this year? Another easy opponent at home for them. As they continue to get healthy I expect the rhythm of their games to improve.
Tennessee has nothing above average in the secondary and no real pass rush to get to Rodgers. They'll be without Kendall Wright on offense as well, and Chris Johnson is no Adrian Peterson. Green Bay 27 Tennessee 16
Mike: The narrative this season from the media seems to be the focus on Aaron Rodgers and the fact that his numbers aren't as good as last year's. While it's a natural storyline to go with, the thing that I don't agree with is the choice to connect those stats with the overall success of the team. This idea that the Packers are somehow worse off than the 15-1 team from last season is something I actually don't agree with at all. Last year's team was deeply, deeply flawed. Despite their impressive record, the defense was truly terrible, generating very little pass rush, and never recovering in the secondary after Nick Collins went down with a career-ending neck injury. Despite the impressive numbers the offense put up, they were never a complete team, so their playoff loss, while disappointing, wasn't shocking.
This year we have a Packers team that may not have the same amazing aerial game as last season, but overall it's a more complete team and one that is probably better suited for a tough playoff game. A healthy Clay Matthews, a more productive BJ Raji, and a much improved secondary with Sam Shields returning to form, and contributions from MD Jennings and Casey Hayward has definitely made this a more competent and dangerous defense (Now 8th in defensive DVOA).
Offensively the team is still 5th in DVOA and 3rd in passing, but the real difference here is a recent development with the run game, and I think it actually came as a result of an injury to guard TJ Lang. Lang had been filling in at right tackle after Bryan Bulaga went down for the season. When Lang also went down, undrafted rookie Don Barclay filled in at right tackle, and his presence has actually given some real stability to the line from a run blocking standpoint. Make no mistake, this is still a pass first team, but they appear to actually be able to run the ball consistently now, which will make their passing offense more potent and the offense more capable as a whole.
So, stepping off my soap box now, I think Green Bay wins this game pretty easily. The team's starting to get healthy, and the Titans don't really have a ton to offer on offense right now save for the occasional take-it-to-the-house run by Chris Johnson. Green Bay 30 Tennessee 13
John: The Packers have won the NFC North again, but they can also get a first round bye if they win out and the Niners drop one of the last two games. A first round bye for a Green Bay team that has dealt with a lot of injuries would be wonderful for them. I think they'll win this game handily unlike a lot of their wins this year. They won a lot of blowout games last year. This year they let teams stay close before winning late. I expect a big game from QB Aaron Rodgers, who could definitely make a late charge in the MVP race. I just don't think the Titans can match up with them. Packers 34-13
Indianapolis (9-5) at Kansas City (2-12) 1:00 PM
Bret: The Colts are just ripe for a sneaky let down game. I'd love to pick Kansas City here - that's just the way the league works....but I've got no stats to back that up. The Colts are -49 in point differential - usually not good enough for the playoffs. That's not good. Kansas City is -172 (that's more than a 10 point loss every week!) That's much, much worse.
This might be a struggle for the Colts - they'll need to avoid costly turnovers from Luck (they'll be helped by Kansas City's worst in the league interception rate), and keep the ball on the ground and grind one out. I don't think they'll score a lot, I just don't see Quinn and company doing much at all.
I've heard reports of a snowstorm for this one - so that should be fun, but won't change the outcome. Indianapolis 17 Kansas City 13
Mike: I can see Indy winning their last two games and finishing 11-5, especially with news that head coach Chuck Pagano has been cleared to return to duty. There's nothing new in the "Kansas City is terrible" department, especially after getting shut out by the also terrible Raiders. I read the other day that the coach and GM are going to be out after this season, so congratulations to the "Save Our Chiefs" movement, although it's still going to take time because there just isn't much in the way of talent on this team. Indianapolis 24 Kansas City 9
John: I don't think the Colts are as good as their record, but you have to give them credit for being in a playoff position. If they win this game they're locked in as the five seed in the AFC and then they can use next week to rest some players. I have no confidence in the Chiefs winning another game this year. I don't think the Colts will blow them out, but they'll do enough to win as long as they don't turn it over too much. Colts 20-13
Buffalo (5-9) at Miami (6-8) 1:00 PM
Bret: Buffalo is absolutely maddening. They're a good team darn it! Quality players on both side of the ball - yet every week it's a letdown. You have to wonder if it's Gailey and Wannstedt that are the problem - because I don't see anything else really.
Miami is like the absolute epitome of league average right now. Probably a little above average on defense, little below average on offense. I like where they're going - and I see good things with Lamar Miller - expect him to be the #1 back after Bush departs this year.
I'm taking the consistent team in a tight one here. Miami 17 Buffalo 16
Mike: Not going to spend a ton of time on this game, it's between two teams that have shown some talent this season, but at the end of the day couldn't play that way consistently and are going to end up on the outside looking in at the postseason this year. I'll take Miami to win just because their defense is the best unit on the field and they're playing at home. Miami 17 Buffalo 13
John: The Dolphins defense is more consistent, so I like them to win this game. If you're a Bills fan I think the best thing that can happen this offseason is the firing of head coach Chan Gailey. Next year they should hire a coach that wants to run the ball because CJ Spiller is an asset that needs to be used better. For this game I like the Dolphins because when it comes down to it they'll make the key stops late in a game while the Bills have shown they're unable to do that. Dolphins 20-16
San Diego (5-9) at NY Jets (6-8) 1:00 PM
Bret: Norv Turner goes apartment shopping! It's the all-shame bowl! So many puns, so little time.
I like McElroy (at least more than Sanchez), and from what I've ready/heard he's a smart guy who won't make mistakes but has an average arm - so sort of the anti-Phil Rivers. I like a guy like that, especially at home.
The real issue in this game though is who in the heck is San Diego going to throw to? Floyd's out for the year, and Cromartie will be on Alexander all day. I don't like a hobbled Eddie Royal to do much in this one...leaving Ronnie Brown as the savior of the Chargers. Color me unimpressed. New York 21 San Diego 14
Mike: Sad that Norv couldn't rally the team to an 8-8 record, and they had to get demolished by the Panthers last week instead. You know what else is sad? This game. Both of these teams are just complete messes, and fittingly they're 24th and 25th in DVOA. San Diego's going to be looking for a new coach and GM after the season, and there will be some questions as to whether or not Philip Rivers and/or Antonio Gates has a future with the team, among others.
With the Jets it's hard to escape the attention they've been getting in the media. Mark Sanchez has been benched for Greg McElroy, Tim Tebow has been passed up in the depth chart and isn't happy about it, and there's been talk of Sanchez being traded in the offseason, which would essentially mean rebuilding for the Jets. The whole Tebow situation has been handled about as poorly as possible, and this is coming from a guy that thinks Tebow is no good. I'll be rooting for a train wreck in this game, no matter what happens. San Diego 13 New York Jets 10
John: Awful game. Two teams that will fire both GMs after the year and they should because if you look at the skill players on offense they are hurting big time. The Chargers will fire head coach Norv Turner, which is a couple of years too late. I'm not sure if Jets coach Rex Ryan will be axed too, but it's likely. I'll take the Chargers to win just because I think Phil Rivers is a more competent QB than Greg McElroy, who must be pretty bad since it took this long to play him over Mark Sanchez. I feel sorry for anybody watching this game that doesn't have Sunday Ticket or Redzone because it's going to be bad. Chargers 16-14
Washington (8-6) at Philadelphia (4-10) 1:00 PM
Bret: Just like the Colts/Chiefs. Hot team with a better record than their talent on the road...I'd love to pick the upset, but this version of the Eagles just isn't good enough to do it.
Philadelphia lacks the vertical game to take advantage of a slow Washington secondary (which has been improving as of late, up to 14th in DVOA), and really lacks the athleticism defensively to defend what Washington is doing.
Washington has also been great in the turnover department this year - leading the league with less than a turnover per game, and is 9th with 1.9 takeaways per game. Philadelphia is on the other side of that spectrum (31st in giveaways, 29th in takeaways).
Washington controls the clock, controls the ball, and puts Philadelphia to bed. (Though not in such convincing fashion as last time.) Washington 28 Philadelphia 20
Mike: Another game, another team in turmoil. Philly is terrible, Andy Reid won't be back next year, Michael Vick probably won't be back next year, Washington will win this game, RGIII is back, you know the drill. One of these teams is fighting for a playoff spot, the other team can't wait for the season to just come to an end. I'm not sure the Philly crowd will even care enough to be able to boo the Eagles. Washington 23 Philadelphia 14
John: The Redskins continue to roll. If they make the playoffs after going 3-6 then I think Mike Shanahan is the coach of the year this season. They're overcoming injuries and winning games with rookies playing key roles. That's hard to do in this league. During their five game win streak they've scored over 30 points in four of those games, so clearly they're doing something right.
As for the Eagles, the finish line is near. I wonder if head coach Andy Reid's focus is on finishing the season strong or if he cares more about where his next head coaching job is going to be. I'd guess San Diego for that one.
With Robert Griffin III likely back in action and the running skills of Alfred Morris I fully expect the Redskins to win this game. Five weeks ago they beat the Eagles 31-6. I think the Eagles will score a bit more this time, but the Redskins are clearly the better team here. Redskins 33-17
Cincinnati (8-6) at Pittsburgh (7-7) 1:00 PM
Bret: Cincinnati is quietly having a really nice second half of this year. In the last 3 games, they're better than Pittsburgh in almost every important defensive statistic. Most worrying for Pittsburgh is their red zone defense in that time frame (an awful 57% compared to Cincinnati's 25%).
Cincy has one of the top 2 or 3 pass rushes in the AFC right now. Cincy has a game changing WR and an offensive that has developed a nice balance and feel to it.
Pittsburgh is up and down and left and right and the QB hates the Offensive coordinator, and ask Baltimore how that works out for you. When you look at Pittsburgh's body of work this year, I just don't think they're very good - especially offensively. They really need someone to step up in the running game to make things work - and Dwyer hasn't done that.
I know it's crazy to pick the Bengals in Pittsburgh, but I just flat think they're the better team right now. Cincinnati 24 Pittsburgh 21
Mike: Now this is interesting. If Cincinnati wins this week, and the Ravens lose a very losable game to the Giants, then next week's Bengals/Ravens game is all of a sudden for the AFC North divisional title. Go figure. With Pittsburgh looking like a real shell of its former self, this is not outside the realm of possibility. While you have to give the Steelers the benefit of the doubt and assume they'll be a tough out come playoff time, this team just doesn't look like a dangerous team right now. They can't run the ball, they seem to struggle to move the ball at all with any consistency, and the defense is banged up and has trouble making stops. Cincinnati isn't going to wow anyone either, but they do have AJ Green and a serviceable running game, which is more than I can say for Pittsburgh. Cincinnati 20 Pittsburgh 17
John: Huge game. The Steelers were 6-3 when Ben Roethlisberger got hurt, they won one of the three games without him and then they've lost two games since he's returned. That 1-4 performance in the last five weeks has opened the door for this Bengals team that has won five of their last six games after starting 3-5. This league is all about streaks. These two teams are clearly examples of that.
When picking a game like this you can either ride the team with the momentum (Bengals) even though their last four wins were against hapless opponents like the Chiefs, Raiders, Chargers and Eagles. Or you can believe in the team that you think has more talent (Steelers), but is clearly having issues that can be attributed to injuries as well as losing their focus a bit.
I'm picking the Steelers because of the play of Ben Roethlisberger. He looked healthy last week in Dallas and I think they should have won that game. He's always played well against the Bengals, but what worries me is the Bengals have a great pass rush while the Steelers offensive line always seems to have issues. Still, I expect a veteran team like the Steelers to play well with their season on the line. It's simple for them. If they win this game and the home game against the Browns they're going to the playoffs. I think it's going to happen. Steelers 27-23
St. Louis (6-7-1) at Tampa Bay (6-8) 1:00 PM
Bret: Man, what is it about the Tampa Bay area that makes players quit on their coach? No way a team should be shut out by the Saints. That last game was just embarrassing and pretty much negates any positive vibes Tampa had going for them.
I don't have a lot to say about this game - St. Louis is good defensively, Tampa Bay is really awful. St. Louis is the better team. St. Louis 27 Tampa Bay 17
Mike: Quite the nose dive by Tampa, wouldn't you say? To go from probably playoff team to nothing in the span of a few weeks, and with such a complete and total beat down last week at the hand of the Saints, yikes. But the team lives or dies with how Josh Freeman plays, and lately it hasn't been all that good. Obviously I wouldn't expect a similar disastrous performance as last week, and I do love picking against the Rams on the road. Especially after their own disaster last week against the Vikings. I think the Bucs take a cue from the Vikes and give them a whole lot of Doug Martin after their inability to stop Adrian Peterson. Tampa Bay 24 St. Louis 17
John: Both teams had a lot of momentum early in the year. They could sniff the playoffs. I think what happened with both teams is their deficiencies prevented that from happening. With the Rams they just don't have good enough execution in the red zone. The Rams only have four rushing TDs on the year, which is depressing. Sam Bradford has played better and his 18 TDs with 11 INTs isn't a bad ratio. It needs to be better if they're going to be a playoff team, but he's been consistent and durable this year.
The book on the Bucs is pretty simple. Throw the ball against them. They're giving up 310.6 yards per game through the air and that's last in the NFL. Their pass rush is non-existent. I think the Rams know this and they'll throw the ball down the field with WR Danny Amendola having a big day. Since the Rams are playing at Seattle next week, this is probably their last win of the year. I'd be fine with a seven win season for my team. I think I'm okay with six wins too. Better than two like last year! Rams 24-21
Oakland (4-10) at Carolina (5-9) 1:00 PM
Bret: The game against the Chiefs was an obvious win for Oakland. This is an obvious loss. Their defense will simply have no answer for Cam Newton, who has been really, really impressive the last couple of weeks. Carolina's done a nice job saving Ron Rivera's job. Carolina 31 Oakland 24
Mike: I hope no one that's reading this has to watch this game. If you do, my condolences. Oakland won't be able to field goal its way to victory like they did against the Chiefs. Carolina's not too bad of a team, actually, when they have everything going for them. There's no reason for this to be close, Carolina looked really good last week, Oakland is a bad offensive and defensive team, they're the West Coast team coming east for an early game, Cam Newton > Carson Palmer, everything points to Carolina. Carolina 34 Oakland 13
John: Bad game. At least the Panthers are showing signs of life and Cam Newton is looking like a top ten QB again. The Raiders have a lot of issues especially as a road team where they're 1-5 with a lot of blowout losses. I think this game will be a blowout too. Panthers 30-14
New England (10-4) at Jacksonville (2-12) 1:00 PM
Bret: I actually think this one stays respectable...sort of. Jacksonville has a deep passing game - well Cecil Shorts has a deep passing game - that can get Jacksonville to 21 or 24. Unfortunately for Jacksonville, New England may hit 24 by the end of the 1st quarter.
On Shorts though - that dude is a legit star in the making. He has the same body shape and playing style as Mike Wallace, and I think he has the potential to be that good. See what you can do when you're not lazy Justin Blackmon! New England 45 Jacksonville 24
Mike: Nice gimme win for the Patriots late in the season. I haven't seen anything definitive yet one way or the other, but my fantasy team would surely appreciate it if Rob Gronkowski made it back for this game. But given the opponent I'd assume it's more likely he sits out and then gets a game in next week before the playoffs.
The Patriots still need to try and win this game, as they're holding out hope that the #2 seed is still available after losing to the Niners last week, but at the same time, it's not like you need to try that hard to beat the Jaguars. I could see Cecil Shorts having a big game against that Pats secondary, and the Jags still losing by double digits. New England 41 Jacksonville 17
John: The Patriots coming off a tough loss playing against an inferior opponent that has clearly given up? I feel sorry for you, Jaguars fans. I don't see the Patriots letting up in this game either. Patriots 48-10
Minnesota (8-6) at Houston (12-2) 1:00 PM
Bret: Ah. Football as it was meant to be...on the ground! I'll enjoy this game a heck of a lot. It's tough to pick against Peterson right now. The teams actually match up quite well statistically - both are good against the rush - both run the ball well.
The biggest difference between the two teams is the Andre Johnson factor (Minnesota's 5.5 yards/pass vs. Houston's 7.1) and more importantly, the turnover ratio. Houston is 2nd in the league while Minnesota is 20th.
I think that Minnesota knows what they've got going for them right now and will do everything they can to avoid those turnovers. I'm finally taking an upset. Minnesota 27 Houston 24
Mike: I'm not going to go so far as to say that Minnesota will win this game...but it is a bit of an interesting matchup. Don't get me wrong, Houston is definitely the better team. They're the more complete offense, the more complete defense, on paper this is a clear situation where Houston is superior. But Adrian Peterson is the best player on the field (Sorry JJ Watt). He's making good defenses look foolish. It's not outside the realm of possibility that Peterson will go off on the Texans.
And let's say the Vikings have some early success, we know that the Texans struggle a bit when they're in a come from behind position. It's not their strong point. And Minnesota's defense has been feisty this year. Not an elite Minnesota defense from a few years ago, but still a defense with an improved secondary and a tough defensive line of its own that's going to make you work for your yards. The Vikings also know that they need this game to have a real shot at the playoffs, so I expect them to really give Houston their all, while Houston might be a little flat knowing they just need at worst to win one of their last two to grab the #1 seed. I'm still going with Houston because of the talent differential, but I do think Minnesota makes it close and covers the 9.5 point spread. Houston 28 Minnesota 24
John: The Texans are in the same spot as the Falcons. If they win this game they clinch home field advantage throughout the playoffs. All they have to do is slow down this Minnesota Vikings rushing attack led by the incredible Adrian Peterson, who is having one of the most incredible NFL seasons ever. While I don't think anybody can stop Peterson and that he may be the only position player that is matchup proof, I think the Texans defense is very smart. They might give up a big play or two against Peterson, but I don't think the rest of the Vikings offense will be that successful. I just don't trust Vikings QB Christian Ponder against an excellent Texans defense.
What's impressed me about the Vikings is their defense. Coach Leslie Frazier is known as a defensive coach and he's done an amazing job with the group he has. However, I think the Texans know it's important for them to get home field for the playoffs and I think their focus will be very high for this game. If they can control the clock by running Arian Foster and find Andre Johnson down the field they should be able to put some points on the board.
The Texans are the better team and they'll prove it. I wouldn't mind seeing Adrian Peterson getting a 200 yard day, though, just so he can beat the record of Eric Dickerson. I'm a fan of the Rams and Dickerson was my favorite when I was a kid, but I want to see that 28 year old record broken. It would be amazing to witness that. Texans 27-17
Cleveland (5-9) at Denver (11-3) 4:05 PM
Bret: Denver is the most predictable team in the NFL right now. After a decade of being nervous because you don't know when Plummer/Orton/Tebow/Bubby Brister might blow a game like this, having Peyton Manning is refreshing.
I like Cleveland as a young team with a bright future - even Weeden - but not in this one.
How great has Elway been as the head of the front office for Denver? He's made 2 big moves in his 2 offseasons with the team. First drafting Von Miller over Marcell Dareus. Second, dumping Tebow for Manning. Not bad eh? Denver 28 Cleveland 14
Mike: I said that New England still had to play in hopes of getting the #2 seed only because technically it's true. But really, Denver's got that locked up, and having teams like this left on the schedule are the reason why. The Browns have nothing to offer on offense outside of Trent Richardson, and Denver is just so much more of a complete team. The only real question here is whether or not the Broncos can cover the spread. I say yes. Denver 31 Cleveland 13
John: Denver has to win these last two games in order to secure a first round bye. Since their last two games are at home against the Browns and Chiefs I'd expect that to happen. The Browns do play a physical style, so it's not like it will be an easy win. I just think the Browns are lacking in terms of offensive firepower. It will be tough for them to score enough to keep up with the high scoring Broncos. Look for Peyton Manning and company to win their 10th game in a row. Broncos 31-13
Chicago (8-6) at Arizona (5-9) 4:25 PM
Bret: Not a very impressive game. Chicago has worn down something awful the past month. They're not generating a pass rush and Tillman and Jennings have been brought down to earth - either by injury or sleepless nights from a baby. They're very beatable. But they're not Detroit. And Arizona will not be able to score offensively. Chicago 14 Arizona 6
Mike: Does anyone have any idea how this game is going to play out? Chicago can't get out of their own way these days, and while Arizona's offense is truly dreadful, their defense is still legit, and at home it seems to me like they could feast on the crappy Bears run game and Jay Cutler's mistakes. I think Chicago will win this game, but is it really surprising if Arizona were to make a couple of big defensive plays and somehow come away with a win?
I'd expect a pretty low scoring game (not much of a prediction since the O/U is 36.5). Chicago really couldn't move the ball at all against Green Bay last week, and their ground game has to be a major concern, and they really need to get Matt Forte more involved in the passing game than he was against the Packers (read: not at all). I'm not sure where their touchdowns are going to come from unless they get some big opportunities from their defense (Which, against Ryan Lindley or whomever they're going to throw out there at QB, is a definite possibilities). Same thing really goes for Arizona, although I'd probably feel a little better with Beanie Wells trying to punch in a touchdown than with Matt Forte (Yeah, I just said that). I'll go with Chicago in a closer-than-it-should-be win, but really, a Cardinals win would be pretty great. Chicago 20 Arizona 16
John: Congrats to the Cardinals for winning last week after losing nine in a row. That doesn't mean I'll pick them here. Even though the Bears are reeling right now (1-5 in their last six) they have more talent than the Cardinals even with all of their injuries. I think Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte will make enough plays to carry the offense in spite of the inconsistent play of Jay Cutler. Bears 17-14
NY Giants (8-6) at Baltimore (9-5) 4:25 PM
Bret: Both teams in desperate need of a win here. This one comes down to health for me - New York is getting healthy, Baltimore is not. At this point it's almost impossible to even list all the players who may be out for Baltimore. For a team that had flaws to begin with, that's tough to overcome.
Baltimore will run the ball well - doesn't matter if it's Wilson, Bradshaw, or both. Flacco will be under pressure all day and dig himself even deeper. A convincing win for New York. New York 33 Baltimore 21
Mike: Seems like what we've got here is two massively underperforming playoff teams that could and should be much better than they actually look. Still no one is buying the Giants' schtick of not being a good team, and yet, after getting shut out and flat out embarrassed by the Falcons last week, and their relatively poor play the second half of the season, you do have to think that they're just not looking terribly qualified to be anything special this year. Their passing game is woeful right now, and having Hakeem Nicks out/banged up all year and Domenik Hixon trying to replace Mario Manningham, really isn't helping things. Defensively it's more of the same with them, solid front line, poor secondary, which can hurt them at times.
Fortunately for them, they get to play another underachieving team in the Ravens. Baltimore doesn't have the offensive weapons that the Giants' might, but they do have Ray Rice, who is probably the best offensive guy on both teams. That being said, you watch their offense, and nothing about it really makes you feel that good. They aren't a great matchup for New York, who does not have a dominant run game and is more dependent on a successful pass game to put points up. I don't feel great about either of these teams, and could see this going either way, but my gut is telling me to go with the Ravens to hold off the Giants in a close one. Baltimore 23 New York Giants 21
John: What Giants team will show up: The one that scored 52 two weeks ago or the one that scored zero last week? They're one of the most inconsistent teams in the league. The Ravens are a team that's reeling with injuries destroying their defense and we don't know what we'll get from that offense from week to week. It's a huge game for both teams because whoever loses it could end up missing the playoffs.
I'm going with the Giants just because they're the masters of bouncing back after a loss. Their record after a loss this year is 4-1. I think they have the talent to make things difficult for the Ravens by running the ball and taking their shots deep to Victor Cruz when the situation presents itself. I think this will be a nice bounce back game for Eli Manning and company. I also think the Ravens will put up some points, but not enough for the win. Giants 27-24
San Francisco (10-3-1) at Seattle (9-5) 8:20 PM
Bret: The new Baltimore/Pittsburgh! Two incredibly fast, incredibly athletic defenses. This is going to be a fun game to watch and maybe (hopefully) a playoff preview.
On a neutral field, I'd give San Francisco a slight advantage - I think they have a more dynamic passing game and a better pass rush, but Seattle's home field advantage is just too much for anyone to overcome the way Seattle is playing right now.
The way to beat San Francisco seems to be pretty well known (much like New England), it's just hard to do. Control the ball, get an early lead, run between the tackles, make them throw vertical. It's pretty much exactly what Seattle was built to do. And I think that's partly by design. They know how to play the Niners.
Seattle is probably the most dangerous team in the NFC right now, and #6 Seattle at #3 San Francisco would be epic. Seattle 16 San Francisco 13
Mike: And once again we get a real winner of a Sunday night game. Seattle, a bit of a surprise at 9-5 and firmly entrenched in the playoffs (for now), hosting the Niners, who are trying to cling on to that #2 spot over Green Bay. Seattle has played really great at home, while San Francisco has looked like the class of the NFC all season, including an impressive win on the road against New England last week.
It seems to me like Seattle has a lot of momentum from the media and the fans, because the game is in Seattle and they just don't lose there (I've never totally bought into that idea since they really should have lost that Green Bay game [/bitter], which would make this whole concept a pretty weak talking point. Yes, they're really good at home, but they're not invincible).
For me, I can't help but have this feeling that San Francisco is going to come in and end up dominating and winning this game by double digits. I think the Niners are going to come out and score, and force Seattle to play from behind. And I just don't think they're going to be up for it. New England managed to do it last week, but that was Tom Brady, with one of the best offenses in the league. That's not how Seattle wins games, and for their sake, they had better hope it's the other way around and they get the opportunity to play with the lead.
I just don't feel like Seattle is going to be able to move the ball on the ground, through the air, and I think they're really going to have a hard time containing Colin Kaepernick. Personally I'd like to see Seattle get the win, it would help the Packers control that #2 seed, but I just can't shake this idea that the Niners win big. San Francisco 33 Seattle 20
John: This is definitely the game of the week. Even if the 49ers lose they can still win the NFC West with a win at home against the Cardinals, which should be easy for them. That's why last week's win was so important. If the Patriots came back to win that game then this game would have been for the division and I think the Niners are one of those teams that is much more comfortable playing at home. While I don't think they'll be a top two seed in the NFC (I think Falcons & Packers will be), they would be a scary team as the third seed.
I'm leaning towards the Seahawks because I like the way their offense is playing right now. I like the Niners offense too, but the Seahawks have a more consistent run game that is opening up the pass for them. With the Niners they really only have Michael Crabtree who they throw to and I think the Seahawks defense is smart enough to focus on him. When I watch the Seahawks they really spread it around more while also mixing in the running skills of QB Russell Wilson. I also have a feeling that Marshawn Lynch is going to have a good day running for the Seahawks. Did you see how the Patriots wore down the Niners defense and then Danny Woodhead of all people was breaking off good runs? I know part of that is because the Patriots spread the field, so the run was there, but the Niners did allow it to happen. The Seahawks have a great offensive line that will be able to open up some holes.
This will be a fun game to watch. Both teams play hard hitting and disciplined football. You don't see a lot of missed tackles when they play either. I've been so impressed by Niners QB Colin Kaepernick and I think he'll be able to deal with the loud Seattle crowd, but he might make some mistakes too. If you make mistakes against a defense like the Seahawks they're going to make you pay. I like the Seahawks to win a very close game. Seahawks 23-20
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 37-36-2 (3-2)
Bret 34-39-2 (3-2)
John 34-39-2 (4-1) - My best week of the season. Nearly a perfect performance except I believed in the Bills to cover. Nope.
1) Minnesota +9
Picked 'em to win, but definitely think they cover a touchdown.
2) Cincinnati +4
I think they're the better team, and they're getting more than a field goal.
3) Buffalo +4
Still think this one is a 50/50 toss up, getting more than a field goal is a huge plus.
4) Cleveland +14
14 is a pretty big line to cover. Denver's a good football team, but I'm not sure they're good enough to lay 14 on.
5) Kansas City +7.5
Be bold! (Or be extra bold and take KC straight up at +245!)
Washington -6 @ Philadelphia - Yay RGIII, boo Andy Reid!
San Francisco @ Seattle - Feel good about this one, unfortunately.
Cleveland @ Denver -13.5 - Maybe it's too big of a spread to be taking here, I just don't see how Denver wins by less than double digits.
St. Louis @ Tampa Bay -3 - I have a vendetta against the Rams after no showing last week.
Indianapolis @ Kansas City Under 41.5 - If Kansas City sticks to 10 points or fewer I think this'll be in good shape.
Atlanta -3.5 @ Detroit - I think the line is too low and Detroit has too many issues to keep it close.
Cleveland @ Denver -13 - The big number doesn't concern me.
Chicago @ Arizona +5.5 - Bears win, but Cards cover in an ugly game.
Oakland @ Carolina -9.5 - Feels like a blowout to me.
Cincinnati @ Pittsburgh OVER 42.5 - Slow start to the game and then offenses will come alive in second half.
That's all from us for this week. Follow us on Twitter:
You can also email John Canton at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or comments.