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The Thinking Man's Guide: NFL Week 13 Predictions

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The Thinking Man's Guide: NFL Week 13 Predictions
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Last week I practically said the Cleveland Browns were going to upset the Pittsburgh Steelers but still picked Pittsburgh in the end.

Of course, the Steelers turned the ball over eight times in a rather embarrassing defeat that should have never been that close (for Cleveland, that is).

Why is it so hard to trust our gut? It is just a harmless game pick with no real repercussions for getting it wrong (unless you share a bookie with Al Michaels). It is not like a decision that can change the scope of your franchise’s season and future, like the one Jim Harbaugh has to make.

Sometimes we overthink how a game will play out. Then sometimes, a quarterback throws a 1-yard pass on 4th-and-29, only to see his running back get the first down to prevent what otherwise would have been a loss.

Baltimore was the other team I put on upset alert last week, but still picked it in the end. I guess you can say things evened out in Week 12.

But more often, you just need to trust the first instinct you get from a matchup.

 

Saints at Falcons: Can New Orleans complete the sweep?

Atlanta’s only loss of the season came in New Orleans, which was predicted here in Week 10. Despite the 8-0 record of the Falcons and the 3-5 record the Saints had at the time, it was not considered that big of an upset given the division rivalry.

That is especially true when given the recent history. Drew Brees is 11-2 against the Falcons as a starter with the Saints, and 6-2 in head-to-head meetings with Matt Ryan.

These teams have both scored at least 20 points in seven of the last nine matchups, so you can expect a high-scoring affair. It was 31-27 in Week 10 after the Falcons had a rare failed-comeback attempt, coming up short in the red zone in the fourth quarter.

Ryan does have that gaudy, historic mark of 31-4 (.886) as a starter at home in the regular season. But that does include a pair of losses from the last two seasons to Brees and the Saints, who also won in the Georgia Dome in 2009 when Chris Redman started for an injured Ryan.

Division games make it easier to throw the records away. You can also nearly disregard the Thursday advantage, as all three home teams lost on Thanksgiving last week.

How significant was that? Home teams have not lost three straight games on Thursday since a stretch that extends back to the 2001-02 seasons. The home team is just 2-5 in the last seven Thursday games this season.

When these teams played in Week 10, the Falcons were missing Sean Weatherspoon, while the Saints were missing Darren Sproles. Both players are back now.

That still sounds like an advantage for the Saints, but the Falcons would be wise to turn more of their offense over to their imitation of Sproles. That would be Jacquizz Rodgers. In Week 10, Michael Turner had a pathetic 13 carries for 15 yards. Rodgers had three runs for 29 yards.

On Sunday in Tampa Bay, Turner had 13 carries for 17 yards. Rodgers had 10 carries for 49 yards. Mike Smith, channel your inner Harbaugh. The Turner era needs to be over and this distribution of carries needs to be flipped.

In a track-meet game, you can’t go with the slow guy unless he just needs a yard. No, that was not a dig at the overtime decision last year. Though, that play is just another example of Turner hurting the Falcons against New Orleans.

Atlanta is going to be a pass-first offense, but it could take advantage of the worst run defense in football if it gave Rodgers more touches.

Expecting the Falcons to have the right plan this time, they'll get this win, which would be another dagger into the coffin of the Saints (5-7 record with a loss). If the Falcons are to reach the next level, this is the kind of game they need to win.

You do not want the Saints coming back to haunt you in the postseason. Do what you can to eliminate them now.

Recall the 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars. They were 14-2, but lost both games to division rival Tennessee. As fate would have it, they met up with the Titans in the AFC Championship. Tennessee won again and went to the Super Bowl.

But that Tennessee team was a Wild Card-record 13-3 in the regular season. The Saints are a 5-6 team, far from the usual well-oiled machine.

It is time to put the Saints down, Atlanta.

 

Colts at Lions: No. 1 pick quarterbacks meet in potential shootout

If you just looked at the stats for the Detroit Lions and Indianapolis Colts, you would probably think the Lions were the 7-4 team, and the Colts were the 4-7 team.

But it is, in fact, the opposite. The Colts have had a season full of close wins and some blowout losses on the road. Thus, they have produced some bad numbers not indicative of a 7-4 team.

Despite Andrew Luck’s efforts, the Colts are almost -20 in team passer rating differential. More than that, the Colts are -43 in scoring differential (No. 23) and -14 in turnover differential (No. 30).

The 2012 Colts are only the seventh team since 1940 to have a turnover differential of at least -14 and still have a winning record through 11 games. Only the 1971 49ers (7-4 with -14 turnover differential) and 1983 Raiders (8-3 with -15 turnover differential) managed a better or equal record.

The Indianapolis defense has seven takeaways, which is the NFL record for the fewest takeaways through 11 games of a season.

That is good news for Matthew Stafford and the Detroit offense. They have gotten off to slow starts this season before exploding in the fourth quarter, though even that script has reversed itself lately with three straight close losses. Stafford was not at his best down the stretch against Minnesota, Green Bay and Houston.

Still, this first and likely rare meeting between No. 1 picks in Luck and Stafford has the potential to be a very entertaining game. The Lions are all but eliminated from the playoffs, but the Colts are playing for the postseason.

Indianapolis is 6-1 in games decided by 1-8 points, compared to 3-6 for Detroit.

The close wins help explain why Detroit is three games behind the Colts in overall record, despite having superior (but still bad) stats in scoring differential (-13) and turnover differential (-7).

In fact, it is downright historic for the Colts to be at 7-4 with these numbers.

The 2012 Indianapolis Colts are the 25th team since 1940 to start 7-4 or better without a positive scoring differential. The only teams with a better record were the 1987 San Diego Chargers (8-3, -8 scoring differential) and 1944 Washington Redskins (6-3-1, -11 scoring differential).

Here are the 10 worst scoring differentials for a team to start 7-4.

If you said the Colts are “the worst 7-4 team ever,” then you may have some good proof.

This is not good news if you are a Colts fan. Of the previous six teams who played a 16-game season, five of them finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs.

While I am not sure anyone can even remember the Raiders as a 7-4 team last year, there are teams here with John Elway and Dan Marino at quarterback. So it is not a lock for the Colts to do what they are expected to do.

Another blowout on the road, and there will be serious questions about this team. That makes this game even more important than it may seem.

 

Eagles at Cowboys: “Misery Bowl”

Something is not right with the NFL scheduling this season. For some reason the entire NFC East received national games in both Weeks 12 and 13.

After already suffering through a Philadelphia game on Monday night, we have to see the team who has quit again on Sunday night in Dallas. The NFL chose not to flex this game.

Even more bad news: The Eagles will play their Thursday night game in Week 15. Can’t wait for more from the “City of Brotherly Love and Blown Coverages.”

Yep, there is plenty of open real estate in Philadelphia these days.

Dallas (5-6) is so inconsistent, but the Eagles should provide the perfect opportunity to get that bad taste out of their mouths from Thanksgiving against Washington.

The Eagles are consistently terrible right now, especially on pass defense. Fired coordinator Juan Castillo was not the problem, and the Eagles have been carved up the last five weeks in historic fashion.

Last five games against Philadelphia’s defense: 94 of 125 (75.2 percent) for 1,216 yards, 9.73 YPA, 13 TD, 0 INT and a 140.0 passer rating.

Five consecutive opposing quarterbacks, including Tony Romo, have posted a passer rating of at least 122.1 against Philadelphia.

The late Jim Johnson was Andy Reid’s defensive coordinator for 177 games from 1999-2008. Quarterbacks had a rating of 122.0 or better (min. 15 attempts) just eight times against his defense. That is 4.52 percent of his games.

Todd Bowles is a perfect 5-for-5 at doing so, which is the worst start by a defensive coordinator in NFL history.

In fact, it’s the worst streak by any defense since 1960, as none has had a streak longer than three games. Six times this season the Eagles have allowed a quarterback to put up a rating of 122.0 or better, which ties the record since 1960.

Keep in mind the 2008 Detroit Lions hold the all-time record for worst defensive passer rating in a season (110.9). That team went 0-16.

Based on the increase in passing efficiency stats, it is safe to say these are the NFL records, and the Eagles have five games left to add on to them.

Now aren’t you glad we get to keep seeing them in prime time?

 

Hurry-up predictions

For the record, my season picks stand at 115-60-1 (.656).

49ers over Rams – Colin Kaepernick is the starter, though the 49ers can probably start third-stringer Scott Tolzien and get the win. But wait, these are the teams who played to an excruciating tie in Week 10 when Kaepernick first replaced Alex Smith. Hard to see the Rams duplicating that effort, and the experience was likely invaluable for the young quarterback. The 49ers looked very good in New Orleans last week, and I expect them to do it again in St. Louis, but getting the win this time. No more ties.

Jets over Cardinals – Mark “Arseface” Sanchez will not fumble after running into his lineman’s rear this week. The Jets are so up and down, but the Cardinals have been a steady 0-7 after starting the season 4-0. Ryan Lindley is not exactly Tom Brady.

Bills over Jaguars – Chad Henne has sparked some life into the Jacksonville offense, but my gut says Bills at home. No defense is rushed on more often than Jacksonville, so look for good doses of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. The Bills are 2-2 at home, and they were in the game late against both New England and Tennessee.

Panthers over Chiefs – It would be a final nail in the coffin for Ron Rivera to lose this game, but the Panthers should be able to outscore the worst offense in football. Kansas City has not exceeded 16 points in any of its last seven games. Cam Newton had a big game on Monday night against an awful Philadelphia defense, and he will be playing a Chiefs defense with a defensive passer rating of 101.4 on the season (22 TD, 7 INT).

Patriots over Dolphins – Since 2003, the Patriots are 39-6 (.867) in games 12-16 of the regular season, but four of those losses have come against Miami. However, this Miami team is so up and down when it comes to scoring. It had 10 points of offense against two horrible defenses (Tennessee and Buffalo), then exploded for 17 in the fourth quarter on Sunday against the Seahawks. Meanwhile, the Patriots are rolling right now on offense during this five-game winning streak, and it would be a considerable upset for them to not win this game. New England’s plus-24 turnover differential through 11 games is tied for the eighth highest since 1940.

Bears over Seahawks – Very important game for Seattle (6-5) and its playoff hopes, but the Bears are too good at home on defense. Seattle is 1-5 on the road, and while the games have all been close, it just has not found a way to finish, particularly on offense. The closest defense Russell Wilson has seen to Chicago is San Francisco, and the Seahawks scored six points that night. This one feels like a low-scoring win for the Bears.

Texans over Titans – Suddenly the Houston pass defense looks very suspect after three bad games in its last six outings. But the team is still 10-1, and Tennessee’s defense should offer very little resistance to what is still an elite Houston offense with 77 points the last two weeks. The few extra days of rest should help, as the Texans are in the middle of a three-game road trip. They cannot look ahead to New England though. The Titans can still put up a fight.

Packers over Vikings – Green Bay’s incredible streak of being within one score of its opponent (or better) late in games came to a crashing end in New York on Sunday night. Time to start a new streak, and the Minnesota Vikings are a good matchup to do so. Expect Aaron Rodgers to bounce back with a huge game at home.

Broncos over Buccaneers – You can expect Peyton Manning to get the Broncos back to lighting up the scoreboard this week after a season-low 17 points in Kansas City. The Buccaneers can score a lot too, but this will be a tough road game for them. Josh Freeman is 4-23 (.148) as a starter when the opponent scores more than 21 points. That porous pass defense for Greg Schiano’s defense is not going to fare well against Denver, who should make it seven straight wins.

Chargers over Bengals – What did I say about gut instinct? It would be very fitting of both teams for the Chargers to come away with the win. It is a West Coast trip for the Bengals. Philip Rivers is 2-1 against Cincinnati, though lost in 2010 (34-20). Carson Palmer played very well each time in those games, but now it’s Andy Dalton’s first game against San Diego. It’s a matter of the Chargers bouncing back from the unbelievable 4th-and-29 play by Ray Rice, because they have enough talent to take care of the Bengals at home. San Diego is just 1-6 in its last seven games. The Bengals look good with three straight wins, but they did that earlier this season before losing four straight.

Raiders over Browns – It was a big win for Cleveland last week, but for some reason I just like Oakland in this one. The Raiders have lost four straight, allowing at least 34 points each time, but Cleveland does not have the firepower to run away with it. Carson Palmer usually moves the offense each week, but it’s a matter of finishing in the red zone, not turning the ball over, and not falling behind big so quickly. Both teams are 3-8, so let’s just stop right here.

Ravens over Steelers – Are the Ravens the “worst 9-2 team ever,” as some suggest? Not likely, but even if they are, they are still a far better team than the Steelers without Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback. I think we already looked at how the Steelers had their chance in the AFC North with the home game against Baltimore, and that one was close. Joe Flacco plays much better at home. This one feels like more of a comfortable Baltimore win, even if the team did little to inspire much confidence in San Diego. You know Mike Tomlin will expect better performance than the eight-turnover mess in Cleveland, though the last time Pittsburgh played in Baltimore (Week 1 last year), it had seven turnovers. Ouch.

Giants over Redskins – If the Giants can bring the effort they had against the Packers, they can beat any team anywhere in this league. But they don’t always step up to the occasion. This will be a big one for the Redskins (5-6) in prime time, and they gave the Giants a good fight in New Jersey until Eli Manning’s bomb to Victor Cruz. Expecting a good game, maybe less offensive fireworks than many will hope for, but I will take the better team in the Giants to return last year’s favor and complete this sweep.

Robert Griffin III has the streak going with four touchdown passes the last two games, but as we have seen above, the Eagles will make anyone look like a Hall of Famer right now.

 

Scott Kacsmar writes for Cold, Hard Football Facts, NBC Sports, Colts Authority, and contributes data to Pro-Football-Reference.com and NFL Network. You can visit his blog for a complete writing archive, and can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.

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