NFL Picks Week 14: Expert Predictions on Every Game
By now, we have separated which NFL teams have realistic playoff hopes from those who are going to spend their January at home.
Week 14 does not feature many divisional matchups, but there are a lot of teams, particularly in the NFC, that can create some separation in what is going to be a thrilling wild-card race this December.
Here are predictions for every Week 14 game.
Denver Broncos vs. Oakland Raiders
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The case for the Broncos
The Broncos are playing as well as any team in football right now, and not just because Peyton Manning is back to his old self. They are playing complementary football with their defense feasting on the lead that the offense provides.
Despite Willis McGahee's absence, the offense has not missed a beat. Oakland's defense is perhaps the worst unit in the league, and Manning can feast on its secondary. This game has a good chance to be a blowout.
The case for the Raiders
There is not much to like about the Raiders right now, although Carson Palmer is playing better than most realize. The Raiders defensive line has some talent and could give Manning some problems, but they will need a huge day from Palmer to stay in this game.
The Broncos are maybe the best team in the NFL, while the Raiders are awfully close to being the worst. This should be a blowout.
Broncos 38, Raiders 17
New York Jets vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
The case for the Jets
The Jets defense pitched a perfect game last week in keeping Arizona out of the end zone, and they get another undermanned offense this week in Jacksonville. Antonio Cromartie should be able to take away Cecil Shorts, and the run defense has steadily improved over the past few weeks.
As of this writing, it is unknown who the Jets quarterback will be in Week 14. However, they were able to rush for over 100 yards last week against a good Cardinals defense, and the Jaguars let the Bills run for over 200 yards on them last week.
The case for the Jaguars
Chad Henne has given the Jaguars offense new life and has developed chemistry with Cecil Shorts. Justin Blackmon has started to come to life as well.
Their defense hasn't improved much with the addition of Jason Babin, but the Jets offense is hardly a juggernaut. Whoever the Jets start this week, they will struggle to move the ball through the air.
This should be an ugly game with both offenses struggling, but the Jets defense has been much more stout than that of the Jaguars this season.
Jets 14, Jaguars 9
St. Louis Rams vs. Buffalo Bills
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The case for the Rams
The Rams are one of the most inconsistent teams in the NFL, but they have shown the ability to beat elite teams like the 49ers when they eliminate mistakes. What was most impressive is that they got the job done against San Francisco without their go-to man, Danny Amendola.
If Amendola plays next week, he will give the Rams an offensive boost in what should be a close game.
The case for the Bills
After grossly underperforming earlier in the season, Buffalo has played much better on defense as of late. Its running game was dominant last week against the Jaguars and figures to have similar success against a Rams defense that can be suspect against the run.
The Rams may have upset the 49ers last week, but they have also been blown out of games against teams like the Jets. The Rams are due for a letdown game after going into overtime for the second time this season.
Both teams match up very evenly talent-wise, but the Bills are playing a more convincing brand of football right now given how they ran all over the Jaguars. A heavy dose of C.J. Spiller should put Buffalo over the top.
Bills 27, Rams 24
Dallas Cowboys vs. Cincinnati Bengals
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The case for the Cowboys
Tony Romo give his team a chance to win every week despite his offensive line's ineptness. Dez Bryant takes plenty of heat for his mental mistakes, but he is playing as well as any receiver in the game. He should torch a slow and aging Bengals secondary.
Dallas' defense has also fallen off over the past month, but the Bengals offense was out of sync against the Chargers on Sunday. Brandon Carr should at least slow down A.J. Green.
The case for the Bengals
The Bengals front seven should take over this game. Geno Atkins is due for a monster game against a weak interior line, and Cincinnati's athletic, young linebackers should bottle up what is an ineffective Dallas running attack.
Even if the Cowboys take away A.J. Green with Brandon Carr, the Bengals still have other weapons in Andrew Hawkins and Mohamed Sanu that can generate big plays.
Both teams have been very up and down this season, but the Bengals are easier to trust with more consistent play in the trenches.
Bengals 28, Cowboys 24
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Cleveland Browns
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The case for the Chiefs
Brady Quinn played very well in what was a very emotional win over the Panthers last week. The Chiefs defense is starting to play to their talent level, and the Browns are hardly an offensive juggernaut.
Justin Houston and Tamba Hali should be able to get after Brandon Weeden, and Jamaal Charles should have some success against a Browns defense that has been worn down from a lot of time on the field this year.
The case for the Browns
Cleveland may only have four wins, but it has all of the pieces in place to keep improving every week. As the youngest team in the NFL, the arrow is finally pointing up for the Browns.
Their defensive line is playing very well with Phil Taylor back in the lineup. Sheldon Brown and Joe Haden make for one of the better corner tandems in the AFC and should give Brady Quinn plenty of problems.
This figures to be a low-scoring game, but the Browns have more talent on both sides of the ball.
Browns 17, Chiefs 10
Tennessee Titans vs. Indianapolis Colts
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The case for the Titans
Chris Johnson may not be the same player he was in 2009, but he always takes advantages of bad run defenses. The Colts rank 22nd in run defense, priming him for a big game.
The rest of the Titans weapons, including Kenny Britt, should be able to have success against what is a bad Colts secondary.
The case for the Colts
Andrew Luck has proved that he is good enough to put the Colts in prime playoff contention. Luck and Reggie Wayne are doing enough on the offensive side to compensate for the team's defensive issues.
Meanwhile, Jake Locker can hardly be trusted to win the game for the Titans. Getting a pass rush from Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney should slow down the Titans offense.
The Colts have a clear edge at the quarterback position, which will ultimately decide this game. I expect plenty of points against two weak defenses.
Colts 35, Titans 28
Chicago Bears vs. Minnesota Vikings
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The case for the Bears
No matter how inconsistent their offense is, the Bears can always count on their defense to get them through games. They will feast on a quarterback that has struggled in Christian Ponder.
If the Bears offense struggles, they can count on their defense and special teams to give them good field position, if not score on their own.
The case for the Vikings
Adrian Peterson is good enough to carry the team on his own, even against a stout Bears front.
The Vikings are too reliant on Brandon Marshall. Minnesota's defensive line rotation will be too much for what is a horrific offensive line for the Bears. Jared Allen is due for a multi-sack day.
The Bears have a ton of talent on their defense, but the Vikings match up very well against a very flawed Bears offense. Unless Christian Ponder starts throwing pick-sixes, the Vikings can certainly pull off the upset here.
Vikings 20, Bears 17
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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The case for the Eagles
The Eagles are a mess, but perhaps the recent firing of Jim Washburn (per the AP, via ESPN) will give this team new life. Despite his fumbling issues, running back Bryce Brown has incredible talent that can open things up for Nick Foles.
Plus, after trading Aqib Talib, Tampa Bay is very thin at the corner position.
The case for the Bucs
The Bucs are the top-ranked run defense and should be able to keep Brown in check on the ground.
Vincent Jackson, who is having a monster season, should have another huge day against the aging Nnamdi Asomugha. Jackson is particularly good when he is not pressed, and Nnamdi has not been able to be an effective press corner in some time.
This game has a chance to be a blowout. The Eagles secondary is not suited to keep up with Tampa Bay's weapons.
Buccaneers 31, Eagles 21
Baltimore Ravens vs. Washington Redskins
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The case for the Ravens
The Ravens defense has suffered plenty of injuries, but players like Corey Graham and Dannell Ellerbe have performed much better than expected in place of their Pro Bowl counterparts.
Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense have underperformed this year, but the Redskins' woes in the secondary present the perfect opportunity to make big plays with Torrey Smith.
The case for the Redskins
Robert Griffin III gives this team a chance in every game, and his unique skill set will present new challenges to a veteran Ravens defense.
Defensively, as long as they keep Ray Rice in check, the Redskins should limit the Ravens offense enough to give RGIII a chance to win the game for them.
The Ravens may be the worst nine-win team in football, while the Redskins are much better than their record indicates. I expect Alfred Morris to have a big day on the ground and for the Redskins to edge out a close victory.
Redskins 24, Ravens 21
Atlanta Falcons vs. Carolina Panthers
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The case for the Falcons
The Falcons do not always win in spectacular fashion, but they find ways to win nonetheless. Under Mike Nolan, their defense is playing better than it has in years.
Julio Jones and Roddy While should present huge problems for Carolina's secondary, as long as the Falcons can protect Matt Ryan.
The case for the Panthers
The Panthers were a miracle drive away from beating the Falcons in their own building a few weeks ago. Since then, their defense has greatly improved, and they are playing with fewer college concepts on offense.
The Falcons have been flirting with the losing column for weeks. Cam Newton is playing well enough to give the Panthers the win at home.
This has the makings of another close NFC South contest, but the Falcons always find ways to win close games, while Carolina continues to lose them.
Falcons 27, Panthers 24
San Diego Chargers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
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The case for the Chargers
San Diego has lost plenty of close games this year. Sooner or later, it figures to actually finish a game.
As of this writing, Ben Roethlisberger's status for Week 14 is unknown, but the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that he "has a chance" to play. If Big Ben can't go, that obviously favors the Chargers, especially since their defense is playing better than it is given credit for.
The case for the Steelers
With or without Big Ben, the Steelers are back to playing the type of defensive football they are used to playing. Their run defense is back to normal, and they are playing much better in the secondary.
If the Steelers can at least keep the game close, Charlie Batch has the capacity to make enough throws to give the Steelers a chance to win. If Roethlisberger plays, they should be heavy favorites.
This prediction may change as more information on Roethlisberger's status is revealed, but even if he does not play, the Steelers have enough firepower on both sides to beat the mentally weak Chargers.
Steelers 21, Chargers 20
Miami Dolphins vs. San Francisco 49ers
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The case for the Dolphins
After dropping a game to the Rams last week, the 49ers are vulnerable. Miami's front seven should shut down the 49ers' rushing attack, putting all of the pressure on Colin Kaepernick.
If the Dolphins can find a way to block Aldon Smith, they should have some success against the 49ers average secondary.
The case for the 49ers
The 49ers did not look good against the Rams, but Jeff Fisher just seems to know exactly how to play against them. Their defense should be able to shut down the Dolphins' rushing attack, forcing Ryan Tannehill to beat them with an average receiving corps.
Aldon Smith, who already has 17.5 sacks on the season, could have another big day. He'll likely face off with rookie Jonathan Martin, who would move to left tackle should the injured Jake Long be unable to play.
Both of these teams are similar in the way they are built, but the 49ers have the better offensive line and group of receivers to make a few more plays to win the game.
49ers 21, Dolphins 17
Arizona Cardinals vs. Seattle Seahawks
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The case for the Cardinals
As long as Ryan Lindley is playing quarterback for the Cardinals, they have virtually no chance of winning. After they failed to even resemble an NFL offense last week against the Jets, Ken Whisenhunt may be forced to turn back to John Skelton, who has at least won a few games in the NFL.
Defensively, the Cardinals match up well against Seattle with their talent in the secondary.
The case for the Seahawks
First, there is this good news:
Appeal of Seahawks CB Richard Sherman’s four-game suspension is scheduled for Dec. 14, which means he will play Sunday against Arizona.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 3, 2012
The Cardinals are a very good team on defense, but Seattle should have some success on the ground while shutting down the Cardinals passing game, especially if Lindley gets another start.
Seattle is nearly unbeatable at home, especially considering the state of the Cardinals offense. It has the edge at nearly every position on offense.
Seahawks 20, Cardinals 10
New Orleans Saints vs. New York Giants
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The case for the Saints
Drew Brees is still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and can have his way against an average Giants secondary. A heavy dose of Mark Ingram could keep the Giants off-balance.
The case for the Giants
In the loss to the Redskins, Eli Manning made a handful of great throws and appears to be out of his funk. The Saints defense is among the worst in football, and the Giants can attack them in any way they want.
This figures to be a high-scoring game, but the Giants are a bit more balanced and have a defense that can at least slow down the Saints' high-octane offense.
Giants 34, Saints 28
Detroit Lions vs. Green Bay Packers
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The case for the Lions
After a slow start to the season, Calvin Johnson is putting up numbers at a record pace. No matter how much attention he draws from the Packers defense, he has the potential to break open any game with a single play.
The case for the Packers
As we saw on Sunday, the Lions still have major issues in the secondary that Aaron Rodgers should be able to exploit with ease.
With Ryan Broyles now out for the season with a torn ACL (per CBS Sports), covering Calvin Johnson becomes much easier without a real threat opposite him (the Lions are still not planning to activate Titus Young).
The Lions are simply too banged-up to compete with the Packers' high-flying offense. Going into Lambeau Field to knock off the Packers is simply asking too much.
Packers 31, Lions 23
Houston Texans vs. New England Patriots
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The case for the Texans
If there is a team that was built to beat the Patriots, it's the Texans. Bill Belichick is famous for taking away a team's best player, but the Texans can attack the Patriots in a multitude of ways. Andre Johnson is playing his best football as of late and should torch the Patriots secondary.
Defensively, they have the safety/corner hybrids to match up well with New England's tight ends. Another big game from J.J. Watt will give the Patriots' young offensive line fits. The Patriots have scored a lot of points, but they have gotten a ton of points from returns.
The case for the Patriots
The Patriots are always a tough out on their home turf. The Texans defense is good, but as the Packers showed a few Sunday nights ago, elite quarterbacks can beat them.
The Patriots secondary has taken a lot of heat, but Aqib Talib has been a good addition, and they are good against the run. Arian Foster has not looked quite as explosive in the second half of the season, which is probably due to the Texans overusing him.
This is easily the best game of the week. Ultimately, the multi-dimensional Texans will expose what is a very flawed Patriots team.
Texans 28, Patriots 24