NFL Picks Week 14: X-Factors That Will Key Victories
Football is the consummate team game, but every game has a player or performance that puts the victor over the top.
These players should be the x-factor in crucial wins this week.
St. Louis Rams vs. Buffalo Bills—Chris Givens, WR Rams
Without Danny Amendola, the Rams haven't missed a beat, as Chris Givens has stepped in and been extremely productive the past two weeks, racking up 16 catches for 207 yards.
While Steven Jackson and the Rams' running game should run roughshod over the Bills, it will be Givens' key receptions on third down that give the Rams the edge in this one.
Atlanta Falcons vs. Carolina Panthers—Jacquizz Rodgers, RB Falcons
Whether Michael Turner plays or not, Jacquizz Rodgers is in line for an increased workload and a big performance against the Panthers' mediocre defense.
The past two weeks have seen Rodgers rush for 92 yards on 18 carries, so he has some momentum going into this game. Expect Rodgers to build on that with big, game-changing carries against the Panthers that should key a Falcons win.
Dallas Cowboys vs. Cincinnati Bengals—Geno Atkins, DT Bengals
In recent weeks, Geno Atkins has been getting real consideration for Defensive Player of the Year, and for good reason. With 59 total pressures this season, Atkins has been a real force, and no Cowboy will be able to block him.
The Bengals should be able to force Tony Romo into mistakes, and Geno Atkins will be the biggest source of that pressure in a Bengals win.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Cleveland Browns—Joe Thomas, OT Browns
Week in and week out, Joe Thomas proves he's one of the premier left tackles in the game. With a tough matchup against Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, Thomas will be crucial to the Browns' effort.
Thomas should be able to neutralize the Chiefs' fierce pass-rushers while keying a strong game from Trent Richardson. His performance should help put the Browns over the edge.
Tennessee Titans vs. Indianapolis Colts—Andrew Luck, QB Colts
In every Colts win, Andrew Luck has been a real difference-maker. He has five comeback victories, making him perhaps the most clutch quarterback in the league.
Expect more of the same against the Titans. Luck should guide the Colts to a solid win with another tremendous performance.
New York Jets vs. Jacksonville Jaguars—Shonn Greene, RB Jets
Shonn Greene is a true feast-or-famine performer. But in this case, it should be all feast for the hefty running back. Against a Jaguars defense that allows 144 rushing yards per game, Greene should have no trouble going off for a big game.
With a strong running game keyed by Greene, Mark Sanchez's responsibilities will be at a minimum, and the Jets' offense should roll in a comfortable win.
Chicago Bears vs. Minnesota Vikings—Brandon Marshall, WR Bears
The Bears have a bad taste in their mouth after a loss to the Seattle Seahawks, and Brandon Marshall will lead their bounce-back effort.
Despite seven dropped passes this season, Marshall has been otherwise stellar for the Bears, especially in recent weeks. With 22 receptions in the past two weeks, including 12 against the Vikings in their previous matchup, Marshall is undoubtedly the offensive star in Chicago. Another big performance from Marshall should key a Bears' victory.
San Diego Chargers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers—Ben Roethlisberger, QB Steelers
The Steelers will be thrilled to have Big Ben back in this game, and that emotional boost should be enough to put them over the edge.
As for Ben himself, as long as he's healthy enough, he'll shred a defense that gives up more than 240 passing yards per game.
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers—Josh Freeman, QB Buccaneers
The past three weeks, the Eagles have been shredded by Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton and Tony Romo. That these three are all mobile threats is not a coincidence. If the Eagles can't get to the opposing quarterback, they can't stop him.
The Eagles should be in line for more of the same against the mobile Josh Freeman. He should dominate this secondary en route to a big statistical performance and a win.
Baltimore Ravens vs. Washington Redskins—Trent Williams, OT Redskins
The Ravens only have one healthy, competent pass-rusher at this point in Paul Kruger, and Trent Williams will be tasked with blocking him or Terrell Suggs. Williams is more than up to the task, as he's given up just 18 pressures all season.
Expect Williams to dominate en route to a Redskins' victory.
Miami Dolphins vs. San Francisco 49ers—Aldon Smith, OLB 49ers
With Jake Long sidelined for the season, Aldon Smith will take on rookie tackle Jonathan Martin, who has given up 41 pressures this season.
Needless to say, this is a matchup Smith should dominate. Expect Smith to be in the backfield on a constant basis. The Dolphins won't be able to get anything going in what should be an easy 49ers win.
New Orleans Saints vs. New York Giants—Victor Cruz, WR Giants
There is just no way the Saints will be able to defend Victor Cruz and the Giants' passing attack.
The Saints give up 286.7 yards per game through the air, so don't be surprised if Cruz has a similar performance to the 216-yard outburst that Vincent Jackson had against this defense. Regardless, a big play or two from Cruz should be the difference in this game.
Arizona Cardinals vs. Seattle Seahawks—Chris Clemons, DE Seahawks
The Seahawks' pass rush is among the best in the NFL, and this week they will be going against the league's worst offensive line, one that has given up 48 sacks this season. Chris Clemons, the Seahawks' leading pass-rusher with 48 pressures, has to be licking his chops.
Clemons will be in the Cardinals' backfield on a regular basis, completely disrupting the Cardinals' offense. That should be enough to help the Seahawks win.
Detroit Lions vs. Green Bay Packers—Alex Green, RB Packers
Alex Green hasn't done much yet in the NFL, but if he provides balance for the Packers this week, that will be enough to give the Packers the win.
Expect Green to exceed his season average of 3.3 yards per carry and provide the balance the Packers usually lack.
Houston Texans vs. New England Patriots—Tom Brady, QB Patriots
Despite its reputation, the Houston Texans' defense is susceptible to the pass. It has been shredded this season by elite quarterbacks such by Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Matthew Stafford, and even more ordinary QBs Jake Locker and Chad Henne.
Tom Brady should have little trouble picking up where they've left off. Expect a massive game from Brady en route to the Patriots' most impressive win of the season.
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