Week 14 means the NFL season is winding down. There are only four games left to solidify playoff seeding, earn a wild-card spot or tank for a better draft pick.
Last week, some outcomes shocked NFL fans everywhere. Whether it was Charlie Batch leading the Pittsburgh Steelers to a road win in Baltimore or St. Louis beating the San Francisco 49ers, we were all reminded that there's nothing certain in the game of football.
Game of the week in Week 14 has to be the Monday Night Football matchup between the New England Patriots and the Houston Texans. The Patriots' high-powered offense against J.J. Watt and the Texans' staunch D is sure to make for a fantastic game.
Other highlights include: Green Bay hosting Detroit on Sunday night, Drew Brees and Eli Manning facing off as each suddenly has a lot to play for, and Cam Newton trying to take down the mighty Atlanta Falcons.
So, who did our experts pick to win these games and the rest? Click forward to see.
Our B/R Panel of Experts
Note: All betting odds are for informational purposes only and courtesy of Statfox.com. Although spreads are provided, all picks are straight up.
The consensus picks fared well in Week 13, finishing 10-6. Big misses were Baltimore, which lost to Pittsburgh, and San Francisco, which was upset by St. Louis. Both were unanimous picks.
Our team also failed to trust Seattle's Russell Wilson and Indianapolis' Andrew Luck on the road and picked Chicago and Detroit to beat the rookies. Kansas City's upset win over Carolina and Washington's win over the New York Giants brought our mark even lower.
High marks of the week go to Matt Miller and Erik Frenz, who went 13-3. Aaron Nagler was a close second at 12-4. Andrea Hangst and Knox Bardeen are still leaders in the clubhouse, but Frenz's great week has pulled him to within a game of the lead.
B/R Consensus: Broncos (Unanimous)
Vegas: Broncos (-10.5)
Thursday Night Football has done some crazy things this season (especially to road teams), but the Raiders are trending quickly downward while the Broncos are flying a mile high. I expect this game to be closer than it looks on paper, but still a solid Broncos win.
The Broncos are one of the NFL's best teams at the moment. Their passing attack will be too much for Oakland's overmatched cornerbacks. With no pass rush, the Raiders won't have any chance of slowing down Peyton Manning.
The Broncos have a stout defense that is able to get after the quarterback and a passing game featuring a future Hall of Famer. What they don't have is a running game. This is the perfect game to get that on track.
The only thing that could save the Raiders from total and complete annihilation is the short week. Thursday Night Football has not been conducive to sharp football and could impact Manning or his receivers enough to keep the score reasonable. But don't bet on it.
Raiders coach Dennis Allen will basically miss the entire week to be with his ill father, so the Raiders will also be short-handed with Greg Knapp and Jason Tarver free to operate without supervision. The Broncos could also rest banged-up players in preparation for a Week 15 showdown with the Baltimore Ravens that could have playoff implications.
UPDATE: Tuesday, December 4 at 2:45 p.m. ET
Grady Allen, Dennis Allen's father, passed away on Tuesday (via ESPN.com). Dennis Allen plans to coach the Raiders on Thursday.
---End of Update---
B/R Consensus: Rams (6-5)
Vegas: Bills (-3)
The Bills and Rams have shown new life in recent weeks. Both are fighting for relevance heading into 2013, and in this matchup, I'll take the team with the better defense. Look for the Rams to force enough negative plays to negate the Bills' rushing attack.
Coming off a tough win in overtime, the Rams could be expected to look sluggish, but they match up well against the Buffalo Bills. Sam Bradford should have time to work if offensive tackle Rodger Saffold can put together another strong performance, and the Rams' defense should roll.
The Rams play much better at home, and Ralph Wilson Stadium in December is about as tough of a road game as any team can face. C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson need to have big games to limit Ryan Fitzpatrick's passing attempts against a stingy Rams secondary.
I'm one of the few who still believes that St. Louis at 5-6-1 has an outside shot at making the playoffs. The Rams are currently the No. 10 seed in the NFC playoff race. But with wins over the Bills, Vikings, Buccaneers and Seahawks, they could punch a ticket to the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
The odds of a six-game winning streak to close out the season are slim. However, I could easily see the Rams winning three straight after Steven Jackson runs through the Bills' front seven in Week 14.
Also Picking the Bills: Hangst, Gagnon, Bardeen.
B/R Consensus: Bengals (9-2)
Vegas: Bengals (-3)
While the Cowboys have been winning lately, it's important to look at who they're beating (Philadelphia and Cleveland) and how convincingly (not as much as they should be). The Bengals are the (much) better team on paper and have been cruising toward the playoffs. Look for Andy Dalton and company to put up a bunch of points and force the Cowboys into a ton of mistakes.
The Cowboys are hot, but the Bengals are hotter. A.J. Green will torch the Dallas secondary. And with BenJarvus Green-Ellis running better, the Bengals' offense will find the balance needed to knock off Dallas.
After a slow start, Andy Dalton is playing like the up-and-coming quarterback we thought he was in 2011. The Cowboys have finally found some rhythm on offense, but the Bengals' defense is playing much better than the Cowboys' D, which gets Cincy the W.
Dallas isn't consistent enough right now. The Cowboys had to work way too hard to beat the Eagles. It's a bad time to run into the Bengals.
When thinking about the Cowboys, the word "inconsistent" comes to mind, which makes any game they appear in fairly unpredictable. In contrast, the Bengals have been just about as steady as they come, winning four straight.
The Bengals know how to prepare for and defeat teams whether at home or on the road, and because of this recent spate of steady progress, I think they get the win over Dallas.
**Going Against The Grain**
The Cowboys aren't dead yet! They're not that far out of the division race in a wide-open NFC East and they have an outside shot at a wild-card berth.
The Cowboys can smell the blood in the water. On top of that, the Bengals' secondary is more than a little suspect and Tony Romo has the tools in Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten to tear it up. The Bengals will fight hard, but the Cowboys have more overall talent, and it's going to show up this week.
Also Picking the Cowboys: Frenz.
B/R Consensus: Browns (10-1)
Vegas: Browns (-4.5)
Kudos to the Chiefs for their hard-fought, emotional win last week. But going on the road is going to bring a whole new set of challenges against another young team that's been competitive in more games than the Chiefs this season. This isn't going to be a pretty game by any standard, but the Browns should win a close one.
It's been an emotional roller coaster for the Chiefs, but they managed to play great and win in Week 13. They'll do the same on the road against the suddenly confident Cleveland Browns.
The Chiefs' emotional victory over the Panthers showed what the team is capable of on both sides of the ball. Unfortunately, Cleveland's defense will present a much tougher test. Brandon Weeden and Josh Gordon have found a groove and that continues here.
The Chiefs put together an emotional win the day after an unthinkable tragedy and finally found a formula of success. The Chiefs will attempt to replicate that on the road against the Browns, which could be significantly more difficult to do.
Brady Quinn had a great passing day and history tells us that isn't likely to happen again. I'm going with the Browns, but the Chiefs are certainly capable of winning again if they play like they did last Sunday.
The Kansas City Chiefs just picked up their second win, while the Cleveland Browns are on a two-game winning streak and host the Chiefs this week. The Browns are easily the best four-win team in the AFC. A three-game winning streak for the Browns? It's not impossible. It will happen this week.
B/R Consensus: Colts (Unanimous)
Vegas: Colts (-5)
At home against a Titans team that isn't playing for much, I expect the Colts to win big here. They have the ability to match the Titans point for point and (as bad as they've been) actually have the better defense in this one. Add in Andrew Luck's magic at home and this one could be over quickly.
Andrew Luck is approaching Tom Brady status for me—meaning I never pick against him, especially when playing the Tennessee Titans.
The Titans are rudderless and lost. The Colts play every game as if lives depended on the outcome. Right now, it's impossible to pick against Indy at home.
B/R Consensus: Bears (9-2)
Vegas: Bears (-3)
Feel like it's been a long time since I've seen Christian Ponder in a solid rhythm. It's probably not a good bet for him to find one against the Bears' defense, though. All-Day Adrian Peterson is a great player, but the Bears should cruise here in spite of him.
The Bears were in position to beat the Seahawks before giving the game away when they were unable to stop the read option. They are presented with a much more traditional rushing attack in Adrian Peterson and company this week. Jay Cutler will move the Bears enough to score a couple touchdowns and win the game.
As I said in this week's game preview video, this game will come down to Adrian Peterson because it has to for the Vikings to win—and they have to win. The Vikings do best when we've counted them out, and pretty much everyone has done so.
The defense will be chomping at the bit to get revenge and re-establish itself. While offensively, Kyle Rudolph and Jarius Wright are real matchup issues for even a great coverage group like the Bears. Playing this in the Metrodome doesn't hurt the Vikings' chances, either.
The Bears' defense has put enough bad tape out there that the Vikings should be able to cook up a solid game plan. When all else fails, turning around and handing off to Adrian Peterson is a pretty good game plan, too. Plus, the game is played in Minnesota, where the Vikings are 5-1.
B/R Consensus: Buccaneers (Unanimous)
The Eagles are a terrible team. Nick Foles isn't their savior. If he somehow saves Andy Reid's job, it will set the franchise back even more. Expect the Bucs to run all over the Eagles and capitalize on the many mistakes they're almost certainly going to make.
The Eagles have lost seven straight. Better make it eight. The Tampa run game and speed on defense will be too much for Nick Foles and the NFC East's worst offensive line.
The Eagles couldn't be in more disarray as they face the Buccaneers. Have they hit rock bottom? Not yet, not until Doug Martin and company tear through them. I actually think Nick Foles will have a nice game here, but it won't be enough.
Tampa Bay needs this one badly, so I think Greg Schiano's team takes care of business. But it won't be easy. The Eagles appear to be making at least a little late-season progress.
Tampa Bay has a lot to fight for and its margin for error is razor thin. The Bucs can make the playoffs if their offense gets hot again and their defense starts taking advantage of teams up front. The Eagles should be a jumping-off point.
B/R Consensus: Redskins (8-3)
Vegas: Pick 'Em
Honestly, I'm writing off the Ravens' loss to the Steelers (as bad as it was) to divisional rivalry. This game looks like it's going to be a tough matchup for the 'Skins. As impressive as RGIII is, the Ravens still have a great defense and Flacco will be able to take advantage of the 'Skins' terrible pass D.
My confidence in the Ravens disappeared when they lost to the Steelers with third-stringer Charlie Batch under center. Imagine what super-rookie Robert Griffin III will do to this defense.
After a brutal loss to the Steelers, the Ravens try to regroup against the Redskins. Without Terrell Suggs, the Ravens will be hard-pressed to get after RGIII, who will win his cat-and-mouse game with Old Man Ed Reed.
The Ravens were handed their first home loss since 2010 in Week 13 and now have to go on the road to handle the offensively explosive Redskins, potentially without linebacker Terrell Suggs. I am not convinced that Joe Flacco and Baltimore's offense can match Robert Griffin III and their Redskins counterparts point for point on the road, so the advantage here goes to Washington.
Neither squad is particularly healthy, but the Ravens are still the much better team. It's been more than three years since Baltimore has lost back-to-back games. Not happening here.
Also Picking the Ravens: Bardeen.
B/R Consensus: Falcons (Unanimous)
Vegas: Falcons (-3)
Cam Newton presents a special challenge to any defense, but the same Falcons' defense that was able to bottle up RGIII earlier in the season should have no problem with Newton. Look for the Falcons' run game to make the biggest impact here, as the Panthers can't stop anyone up the middle.
A tougher test than it may seem, but with Ron Rivera already thinking about 2013, the Falcons will be able to execute on offense and should be in the backfield all day against a leaky Carolina offensive line.
Atlanta has clinched the NFC South but still has work to do to claim the NFC’s No. 1 seed. Carolina is reeling from yet another loss in a winnable game last week. Plus, Atlanta just has more talent. This will be a double-digit win for the Falcons.
B/R Consensus: Jaguars (6-5)
Vegas: Jets (-3)
If you had told me six months ago that I'd be picking the Jaguars in this game, I'd have laughed in your face. Yet, as the Jets continue to spin out of control, Greg McElroy is going to fall to Earth. He may be better than Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow, but he's not the answer. Neither is Chad Henne for the Jags, of course, but right now the home team has more talent in this matchup.
Whether it is Mark Sanchez or Greg McElroy at quarterback, the Jets will win. Even better if Tim Tebow heads home to Florida and beats the team he chose not to be traded to this offseason.
These teams are brutal to watch. Who plays quarterback for the Jets? Does it matter? Chad Henne does just enough to pull one out for the hometown crowd.
We don't even know who will start at quarterback for the Jets. But it almost doesn't matter. His job will be to hand the ball off to Bilal Powell and Shonn Greene (in that order). The Jets have struggled against Chad Henne in the past, but their job will be decidedly easier if Maurice Jones-Drew is still out.
Simply put, neither of these teams is any good, but the Jaguars are playing at home. When in doubt, take the home team. That's about the only reason to ever take Jacksonville at this point.
Also Picking the Jets: Hansen, Langland, Bardeen.
B/R Consensus: Steelers (Consensus)
If the Steelers can win on the road with Charlie Batch, they can certainly beat anyone at home with Ben Roethlisberger coming back. This defense is playing at a ridiculously high level and the offense should be much improved this week. The Steelers will attack the Chargers through the air and put Norv Turner one step closer to unemployment.
The Steelers have momentum, while the Chargers once again look like the most underachieving team in football. Norv Turner's days are numbered. This one might do it.
After the biggest win of Charlie Batch's NFL career, the Steelers may just get Big Ben back under center. The Chargers continue to implode and shouldn't present much of a roadblock for a Pittsburgh team that is playing tough, team football.
The Chargers don't know who is going to start on the offensive line because they have three players hurt. There's a realistic chance that a free agent is picked up and draws a start. The Chargers failed to score an offensive touchdown at home against the Bengals and Philip Rivers continued to turn the ball over in critical moments.
It's hard to imagine the Chargers doing much better against the Steelers than they did in last week's 20-13 loss to the Bengals. The only thing the Chargers have going for them is a pretty good defense, but that alone has not been enough to beat any team not named the Chiefs, Raiders or Titans.
The Chargers couldn't football their way out of a wet paper bag at the moment, and things now become even more difficult when they have to travel to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers. The Steelers proved in their defeat of the Ravens that they can win without Ben Roethlisberger. So whether Roethlisberger returns this week or it's another start for Charlie Batch, the Chargers don't seem to have much of a chance.
B/R Consensus: 49ers (Unanimous)
Vegas: 49ers (-10)
The Dolphins may be backsliding a bit the second half of the season (seems like everyone in the NFL is!). But they still have the ability to get to the passer and will confuse/harass Colin Kaepernick. It will be up to the rushing attack to take as much pressure off of him as possible. The Niners will make their hay on the other side of the ball where Ryan Tannehill won't be able to get much done.
Coming off a loss, the 49ers will be motivated to play their tails off. The Miami Dolphins should be worried. The San Francisco defense will punish the Miami offensive line, which is minus Jake Long at left tackle. Keep Ryan Tannehill in your prayers this week.
The 49ers may be licking their wounds from their loss to the Rams, but the Dolphins provide the perfect opportunity to get back on track. While Miami's defense can hang with the 49ers' offensive attack, Ryan Tannehill and a retooled offensive line will be overwhelmed by the Niners' defense.
Flying all the way out west to take on one of the best teams in the NFC will be a tough challenge for the Dolphins. If they had a hard time moving the ball against the Patriots, it will be even tougher sledding against the 49ers.
Colin Kaepernick should be able to get in rhythm against the Dolphins' secondary, especially since mobile quarterbacks (see Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson) have had some of their best games against Miami.
B/R Consensus: Seahawks (Unanimous)
Vegas: Seahawks (-10)
Arizona's defense is still good and it's sad that people are forgetting that due to the (wholly predictable) mess that is its offense. That said, there's simply too much pressure on the defense to be perfect knowing that every point it gives up basically ensures a loss.
This game won't be pretty and it'll probably be closer than the spread, but the Seahawks win.
The Seahawks don't lose at home, especially to the Arizona Cardinals.
B/R Consensus: Giants (Unanimous)
Vegas: Giants (-6)
I've been one of the Saints' biggest believers this season (after doubting the heck out of them in the offseason), and the Giants started their pre-playoff struggles again on Monday night. So this game seems ripe for upset possibilities. That said, I expect both quarterbacks to be "up" for this game and Eli Manning to come out on top.
Drew Brees and the Saints will be essentially playing for their season in this one, but don't expect sympathy from Eli Manning and friends, as the Giants need to keep winning to clinch the NFC East.
The Giants won't force Drew Brees into as many turnovers as the Falcons did, but their front seven will cause enough havoc to take the Saints out of what they like to do in their passing game.
Drew Brees is coming off of one of his worst games of his career and won’t have much help from his offensive line, which will struggle to slow down the Giants up front. Expect Brees to bounce back, but not enough to overcome the aerial assault Eli Manning will lay on the Saints’ secondary.
New Orleans is out of hope and the Giants have so much to play for at home. December is when this team shines. Tom Coughlin won't let the Giants slip up here.
B/R Consensus: Packers (Unanimous)
Vegas: Packers (-6.5)
Just like the last time around (really, every game for the second half of the season), expect Calvin Johnson to go off in this one. Tramon Williams can talk all he wants, but the Packers don't have anyone who can cover Johnson one-on-one.
That won't be enough, though. Aaron Rodgers will pick apart the Lions' defense, and the Lions make just enough bone-headed errors to lose convincingly at Lambeau.
The Lions are down to Megatron and a bunch of stiffs at wide receiver, while Aaron Rodgers watches Jordy Nelson go down but knows he has Randall Cobb, Greg Jennings, James Jones and Jermichael Finley to pick up the slack. Rodgers and company dominate on offense.
This is a tough game for a Lions secondary that hasn't been playing well the last few games. Matthew Stafford can put yards up, but when the defense collapses at the end of the game, all those yards don't matter much.
Worse, Ryan Broyles is out for the season with another torn ACL, which leaves Calvin Johnson and...um...hold up...somebody...uh...some guys.
The Packers just have too many weapons for the Lions to overcome, while Detroit has one weapon who, as good as he is, won't be enough, just as he has not been the last few weeks.
B/R Consensus: Patriots (Unanimous)
Vegas: Patriots (-4.5)
How do you scout the Patriots? Seriously? Want to stop their trademark vertical passing attack? Great, they'll hit you underneath with Wes Welker and Julian Edelman (who could miss this week's game). Able to stop their receivers? Meet the best tight end tandem in football (although Rob Gronkowski is still out with a broken arm). Stop the pass altogether? Stevan Ridley would like to have a word with you.
When the Pats are on, they're not going to be stopped, even by a great Texans defense.
This is a potential AFC Championship Game preview, and a game in which the Patriots will quiet any doubters who think they aren't the best team in the league. Tom Brady should enjoy an easy day at the office against the Houston secondary, as long as he avoids J.J. Watt.
This was my preseason pick for the AFC Championship Game and I haven't seen much to make me change my mind. The Patriots win this matchup in New England, mostly because Tom Brady will pick apart the Texans secondary. A rematch in Houston, however, might be another story.
The Texans have the best record in football, but New England is the scariest team. With the problems Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph has had with his hamstring, even if he plays, it may not be for long on a cold New England night. Without him at 100 percent, I don't think they can stop Tom Brady
The Patriots were too close for comfort in their win over the Dolphins, but they usually get up for prime-time showdowns like this one. Expect Tom Brady to spend a lot of time studying what Aaron Rodgers did to the Texans defense a few weeks back in Houston's lone loss this season. Plus, New England has done its best work against the run, which is the basis for much of Houston's offensive success.
Michael Schottey is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at "The Go Route."