The Thinking Man's Guide: NFL Week 14 Predictions

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The Thinking Man's Guide: NFL Week 14 Predictions
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Only a quarter of the NFL season remains. If things stay on their current pace, 2012 could be the most efficient season ever for passing, rushing, kicking, punting and more.

Week 14 will likely feature our last “juggernaut” meeting of the regular season, when the Houston Texans (11-1) travel to New England (9-3) for the Monday night game.

TV prediction: Jon Gruden is going to tell us about the 24 different players he loves, and will compliment at least one for being a “football player.” Like Chase Blackburn, or the 1,700 other players in the NFL that fit the description.

 

Broncos at Raiders: Peyton Manning’s last prime-time showcase for MVP

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After playing in several nationally televised games early in the season, the Denver Broncos have somewhat quietly put together a seven-game winning streak. The last five games have been daytime affairs without a national audience.

This week, the Broncos play their Thursday night game, and while the home-field advantage would usually matter, this is a matchup between Peyton Manning and Oakland’s No. 32 (dead last) scoring defense.

Any questions? This should merely be a case of Manning adding onto his 2012 resume.

Manning is already the NFL’s “Mr. Thursday” if you look at the history. He is 7-1 in games played on a Thursday, with 25 touchdowns, three interceptions and a 127.2 passer rating.

Even more impressive is the fact that most of Manning’s games have come on the road, where it is supposed to be a real disadvantage on the short week.

Manning’s Thursday road mastery: 6-1 record, 157-of-218 (72.0 percent) for 1,956 yards, 8.97 YPA, 22 TD, 3 INT and a 127.4 passer rating.

No other quarterback in NFL history has more than three Thursday road wins, while Manning will be looking for a seventh.

Speaking of seven, Denver has won seven straight games. It marks the eighth time Manning has gone on a winning streak of at least seven games, which is also an NFL record. No other quarterback has more than four, though Tom Brady can get a fifth with a win this week.  

We knew Manning could get on a streak in Indianapolis, and now he is leading the same kind of run in Denver. Rarely has this happened before in NFL history.

It should be noted that Norm Van Brocklin was also part of streaks for the 1952 Rams (eight games) and 1960 Eagles (nine games), but he split time with co-starter Bob Waterfield in Los Angeles.

Let it be known those four previous names (that’s including Van Brocklin) all won a championship during that second streak.

That is some food for thought, Denver fans.

 

Chargers at Steelers: How will Philip Rivers blow it this week?

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Without looking it up, San Diego cannot be that far away from Hollywood. The Chargers need a new script, because this “do well for three quarters before blowing it in the fourth” has gotten stale.

That is unless you enjoy watching the regression of Philip Rivers, who has gone from being just outside the elite quarterbacks into the league’s No. 1 bumbling choker.

His latest loss against Cincinnati involved a fumble deep in his own territory, followed by four attempts at trying to throw a 17-yard touchdown pass when the Chargers could have just gotten a first down (only needed 10 yards for all four plays) and used up the clock to tie the game.

This has been a three-season trend now for Rivers and the Chargers. The decline does not get any sharper than this.

If you scramble “Norv Turner” you can spell “turnover,” but this is just ridiculous.

Rivers has failed to lead the Chargers to a single point on the last 23 drives he has had in the fourth quarter and overtime when tied or trailing by one score. That goes back to Halloween 2011. Instead, Rivers has 12 turnovers on those 23 drives.

A dozen turnovers in clutch situations since last Halloween? That is hard to believe. Peyton Manning has 17 turnovers in the clutch…since the year 2000.

That is why there should be little fear of the Steelers losing at home to San Diego this week. No matter if Ben Roethlisberger starts or not, even if San Diego is leading late, they will find a way to blow it.

San Diego has lost its last three trips to Heinz Field, and the Chargers failed to really make it close outside of garbage time the last two times. Those games were in 2008 and 2009.

That was back to a time where San Diego was actually making the playoffs. It seems so long ago now.

The Steelers will get this win and push another step closer to their return trip to the postseason. Roethlisberger usually struggles when he returns from missing time with injury, but with the (recently) stingy defense and Turner/Rivers on the other side, this one is pretty safe.

 

Saints at Giants: Merry Christmas, C.C. Brown

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Since Drew Brees tossed five interceptions in Atlanta last week, many have buried the Saints in the NFC playoff race with their 5-7 record.

While it is true they are unlikely to win out now, this is one game you should not even think of penciling in as a Giants victory based on past history.

Brees has been a Giant killer in his career: 4-0 record, 43.0 points per game, 8.65 yards per attempt, 11 TD, 0 INT and a 122.1 passer rating.

No quarterback in NFL history (min. 50 attempts) has a higher passer rating against the New York Giants than Brees does. If not for the 49ers coming back to beat the Saints in the playoffs last year, it likely would have been the Saints destroying New York in the NFC Championship in the Superdome.

That’s what happened last year in the regular season, when the Saints won 49-24. In his four starts against them, Brees’ team has scored 30, 45, 48 and 49 points.

In 2009, the Giants were 5-0 coming into the game, but the Saints embarrassed them and especially humiliated safety C.C. Brown. He may be gone and many new faces have arrived, but last year’s game still showed the Saints can be downright lethal against the Giants defense.

If there is anyone who still believes the Saints can make the playoffs, it is Brees and his teammates. He will desperately want to make up for seven interceptions in his last two games, and this is a defense he has mastered.

The game may be in New York this time, but it’s still Brees and the Saints, whom Eli Manning has yet to outscore in four career meetings.

Speaking of Manning, he has not been at his sharpest for much of this season. The Giants are 1-3 in their last four games, though they did have the impressive victory over Green Bay.

The Giants are an oddball team who practically need to be playing the underdog role to bring their “A” game. Based on what I have seen leading into this game, the Saints are the underdog.

With the NFC East really tightening up and tough games remaining, the Giants better find that underdog mindset again, or else this one could get ugly.

 

Texans at Patriots: Best in the AFC or NFL?

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Are you ready for the best Monday Night Football game ever this late in the season? That is what the teams' records say, as they are a combined 20-4 (.833) heading into the game.

New England desperately needs to win this game if it wants the AFC’s No. 1 seed, which still seems unlikely even with a win here. But if the Pats lose, they can forget having home-field advantage over the Texans, let alone a first-round bye.

In fact, a loss could send the Patriots to the No. 4 seed, though the Ravens (9-3) look a bit shaky right now as well.

I frame this game with the idea that the Texans really do not need to go all out to win it, and they may even be wise to save some things for a potential playoff rematch. They may not have Johnathan Joseph available this week, while the Patriots are still without Rob Gronkowski.

What Houston can really earn from this game is respect. If Matt Schaub goes into Foxboro late in the season and outscores Tom Brady, that would go a long way in changing the perception of him in big games and give this team a lot of confidence having already beaten Denver and Baltimore this season.

For New England, obviously a first-round bye is huge, as the Patriots have yet to reach a Super Bowl under Bill Belichick without one. But they also could use another quality win in a prime-time setting. They have just three wins combined over the last two years against teams with a winning record.

Both teams have won six straight games coming into this one. Houston has done it against better competition, though the Patriots get home field here, which is critical.

Brady is 39-2 (.951) in the regular season at home in his last 41 starts. He is 71-10 (.877) at home since 2003 when including playoffs.

Meanwhile, Schaub is 2-13 (.133) as Houston’s starter on the road against playoff teams in his career. The Texans are 3-16 (.158) in that situation since 2007, though these numbers do not include the win in Chicago this season.

These teams have not met since 2009’s Week 17 finale. That was the game when Wes Welker was injured without being contacted. The Patriots led by 14 points in the fourth quarter, but the Texans came back for a 34-27 win.

Much has changed since then. The Patriots have moved to a more tight end-dependent offense, and the Texans have revamped their defense under coordinator Wade Phillips.

But the spotlight on this game should be the prolific New England offense, coming off a subpar outing in Miami, against that Houston defense, which has been exposed a bit in recent games.

Last season, Houston played the Saints in New Orleans and was lit up for 40 points. This year, the Texans had Green Bay at home, and Aaron Rodgers threw six touchdowns in a 42-24 win.

Now they get Tom Brady, and admittedly an offense missing their most dangerous receiver (Gronkowski), but it is still very hard to defend with all the other receivers.

This could be a statement game for Phillips’ defense and the Defensive Player of the Year candidacy for J.J. Watt.

New England likes to get the ball out quickly, so that could be a key way for the Texans to get some batted balls like they are so good at doing. Brady has eight passes batted down at the line of scrimmage this season.

It is hard to blitz Brady, as he will pick it apart and the offensive line is so good at not letting guys get in there cleanly. Brady has a 124.0 passer rating against the blitz this season (12 TD, 0 INT).

If the Texans get lit up again, as a passing team like Detroit did to them on Thanksgiving, then that might shatter their confidence that they can stop an offense led by a Brady or Manning in the postseason, which is likely what this season will come down to.

The AFC is starting to really separate itself at the top, and a game like this is one of the final pieces in figuring out how good these teams are relative to each other before the postseason.

I am picking the Patriots to win at home, because that’s just what they tend to do in these situations. Maybe they will falter in a rematch down the road, but in Week 14, I like New England.

Just hope this game will actually live up to the hype, because so many of these marquee prime-time games in 2012 have been terrible.

 

Hurry-up predictions

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For the record, my season picks stand at 123-68-1 (.643). It was not a good Week 13.

Bears over Vikings – Cautiously going with the Bears here. While they blew out the Vikings 28-10 in Week 12, you can expect this one to play out much differently. Adrian Peterson is enjoying his finest season ever, but Christian Ponder is still holding the team back, and that’s why I put my faith in Jay Cutler to lead the Bears to the season sweep, even if Chicago is starting to crack down the stretch. Remember all the takeaways the defense had? They have had four in the last three games combined. After that head-to-head loss to Seattle and three of the last four games on the road, Chicago must get this one.

Browns over Chiefs – Both coming off a win, I like the Browns at home. They have been the better team this season, and Brandon Weeden just had 364 yards against a bad Oakland defense. The Chiefs may be better defensively than their numbers due to such a bad offense, but the fact is they have allowed 25 touchdowns to seven interceptions for a 103.0 defensive passer rating. Not sure anyone is getting amped up for the “Revenge of Brady Quinn” angle, either.

Cowboys over Bengals – Key game between teams trying to make the playoffs, but needing a lot to go right. Both teams can claim the Giants as their marquee victory of the season. This could be a high-scoring game, though neither team can be reliably trusted for either side of the ball to show up. Both teams are coming off a comeback win, and Tony Romo seems to have found his usual game after a rough start. Andy Dalton has been up and down in his sophomore season. May regret this one, but going with Dallas.

Buccaneers over Eagles – Though Josh Freeman has been erratic this season (completion percentage is way down from last two years), he is going to face “The Todd Bowles Movement” at home this week. That should be a great boost for his stats, as Nick Foles will be unable to keep up with the Tampa Bay offense, which will almost surely get back on track this week. That’s what happens when you play a pass defense going through the worst six-game stretch in NFL history.

Falcons over Panthers – This one seems rather predictable. Matt Ryan has three comebacks and game-winning drives against Carolina since last season. The Panthers play almost everyone close, but especially Atlanta. They also lose close games to everyone, but especially Atlanta. The beat goes on to 12-1.

Jets over Jaguars – There is nothing wrong with Rex Ryan going back to Mark Sanchez. If he fails this week against Jacksonville, then that is the final sign that he needs replaced.  

Rams over Bills – This is a “gut” pick between two five-win teams. Well, the Rams are a 5.5-win team if you want to get technical. They play the 49ers so well this year, yet get blown out at home to the Jets. Buffalo is also a bit up and down, and both teams are coming off a win. I like the Rams, since Sam Bradford seems to be coming around, Steven Jackson and Daryl Richardson should have their way with Buffalo’s defense, and the Rams overall have the better defense. The only concern is St. Louis’ scoring. They have been held to 20 points or fewer in eight games this year.

Redskins over Ravens – Taking a chance on the trendy team. Baltimore has not lost consecutive regular-season games since 2009. To make matters worse, they have Denver in Week 15 and the Giants in Week 16. Could they really lose three or four in a row? The reason I like Washington is what I saw from Pittsburgh last week. Charlie Batch had time to throw and open receivers. This is not your typical Ravens defense because of injury, and the Redskins are so dangerous with the run, play action and open receivers. Joe Flacco’s road woes are real, too. This one could be very interesting.

Colts over Titans – An overtime game in the first meeting, the Colts should play even better at home as they look for that ninth win. Andrew Luck had a strong game in Tennessee, excelling under pressure. Tennessee is still allowing quarterbacks to complete 69.5 percent of their passes, so this is a very favorable game for the Colts at home.

49ers over Dolphins – Expect Colin Kaepernick to get back on track and put more points on the board. A long trip for the Dolphins, and they just do not have the weapons on offense to get the job done against this San Francisco defense.

Seahawks over Cardinals – Russell Wilson came up just short at a game-winning drive in his NFL debut in a loss to Arizona. That will not happen this time, and it would be a surprise if Seattle even trails in the fourth quarter. Arizona has lost eight straight, and while they go back to John Skelton over the awful Ryan Lindley, they still have too many offensive issues to go on the road and win in Seattle.

Packers over Lions – While the first game was close, this one feels like it should be all Green Bay as Detroit’s receivers are dropping like flies, leaving Calvin Johnson there to try and break Jerry Rice’s single-season yardage record. Then again, the Packers have been anything but consistent this season, playing down to some of the competition as they try and get through several injuries. Still, this one should go a hell of a lot better than their Sunday night game against the Giants did two weeks ago.

 

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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