NFL Picks Week 13: Early Predictions for Most Important Games on Schedule

Matt FitzgeraldCorrespondent IIINovember 26, 2013

Nov 17, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos running back Montee Ball (28) scores a touchdown against Kansas City Chiefs inside linebacker Akeem Jordan (55) in the second quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Spor

The playoff race is really starting to heat up as the 2013 NFL campaign progresses into Week 13. Plenty of contests have postseason ramifications, but a couple clashes between the league's elite highlight the upcoming schedule.

For the second time in three weeks, the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs will do battle for AFC West supremacy, this time in Arrowhead Stadium. In the NFC, the No. 1 seed is up for grabs with the Seattle Seahawks hosting the New Orleans Saints.

But before diving into those two tantalizing matchups and picks for the rest of the games on tap, let's take a look at a contest between two of the NFC's more surprising, prominent playoff contenders.

 

Arizona Cardinals (7-4) vs. Philadelphia Eagles (6-5)

TEMPE, AZ - APRIL 02:  Head coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Carson Palmer of the Arizona Cardinals speak at a press conference after Palmer was acquired in a trade with the Oakland Raiders at the team's training center facility on April 2, 2013 in Temp
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Both of these teams are facing the pressure of following up recent sustained success and forging forward for a playoff push.

For Arizona, head coach Bruce Arians has helped Carson Palmer revive his career at the quarterback position, and Arians dismantled his ex-team, the Indianapolis Colts, 40-11 in Week 12.

Before extending their winning streak to four, the Cardinals had beaten teams in their three prior contests that now all have records of 2-9. Nevertheless, Palmer has thrown eight touchdowns and just two interceptions amid Arizona's recent run, which has it in seventh in the NFC.

Former Colts head coach Tony Dungy had to weigh in and admit his underestimation of the Cardinals:

Nick Foles is Palmer's counterpart in Week 13, and while Palmer has 15 interceptions to go with his 16 touchdowns on the season, Foles has the same number of scoring passes—with zero picks.

Philadelphia is at home and is coming off a bye, and Chip Kelly's uptempo, No. 2 rushing offense will do battle with the league's No. 2 defense against the run.

It will be exciting to see how each team fares, but look for the Eagles to maintain pace with the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East race while also getting a key head-to-head victory over the Cardinals.

Expect a fair amount of points in this one, but Philly's red-zone defense (sixth in the league in yielding touchdowns 47.22 percent of the time, per TeamRankings.com) will be the difference in forcing Palmer into mistakes.

Prediction: Eagles 34, Cardinals 24

 

Denver Broncos (9-2) vs. Kansas City Chiefs (9-2)

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 17:  Julius Thomas #80 of the Denver Broncos completes a first down pass reception against the defense of  Eric Berry #29 and  Kendrick Lewis #23 of the Kansas City Chiefs in the first half at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on N
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

In what may become known as the "Wind Game," Peyton Manning was forced to throw into a stiff, 20 MPH breeze in overtime at Gillette Stadium after blowing a 24-0 halftime lead to the New England Patriots.

Manning and Co. didn't get it done, and his prolific fellow QB, Tom Brady, stole the show in the Pats' landmark victory.

But that doesn't mean the league's top scoring offense is going to shrink amid inclement weather moving forward. The Chiefs are depleted on defense entering Week 13 with both Tamba Hali and Justin Houston having left the 41-38 loss to the San Diego Chargers with injuries.

The tandem has combined for 20 of Kansas City's 37 sacks, a total that is tied for the league lead with several other teams.

Without that pass rush—which didn't even sack Manning in the first matchup—it doesn't look good for the Chiefs.

As solid as Alex Smith is as a decision-maker, he isn't going to succeed in a shootout with The Sheriff. Manning and the Broncos should win this one big, even in one of the most hostile environments.

Prediction: Broncos 38, Chiefs 21

 

New Orleans Saints (9-2) vs. Seattle Seahawks (10-1)

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 15:  Cornerback Richard Sherman #25 of the Seattle Seahawks looks on during the game against the San Francisco 49ers at CenturyLink Field on September 15, 2013 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

This is Monday Night Football at its finest: The top two teams in the NFC doing battle at CenturyLink Field for a pivotal edge for the conference's top seed.

Home-field advantage would be huge for either of these clubs, but if the Seahawks put two games between themselves and the Saints for first place, don't expect them to relinquish it.

On the other hand, New Orleans would have the head-to-head tiebreaker by beating Seattle at home and handing second-year signal-caller Russell Wilson his first loss at the raucous stadium.

The big concern for the Saints is the presence of Percy Harvin, who had just one catch for 17 yards in his Seahawks debut but will now have had a bye week to readjust and become a more integral part of the game plan.

Although Drew Brees is a nightmarish quarterback for most opposing defenses to face, Seattle has arguably the most talented secondary in the game.

The Seahawks' ability to play effective press man coverage on the outside combined with free safety Earl Thomas playing center field will allow Seattle to bring the heat and pressure Brees while also focusing a lot of attention on Jimmy Graham.

That all works in Seattle's favor, along with a running game driven by physical RB Marshawn Lynch and the dual-threat Wilson.

As shaky as New Orleans looked in beating the Atlanta Falcons 17-13 in Week 12, it would take a monumental improvement and another extraordinary effort from Brees to pull this out on the road.

It will be close, but it won't happen.

Prediction: Seahawks 20, Saints 17

Complete Week 13 NFL Picks
Away TeamHome TeamWinner
Green Bay PackersDetroit LionsLions
Oakland RaidersDallas CowboysRaiders
Pittsburgh SteelersBaltimore RavensSteelers
Jacksonville JaguarsCleveland BrownsBrowns
Tennessee TitansIndianapolis ColtsTitans
Chicago BearsMinnesota VikingsVikings
Miami DolphinsNew York JetsJets
Arizona CardinalsPhiladelphia EaglesEagles
Tampa Bay BuccaneersCarolina PanthersPanthers
New England PatriotsHouston TexansPatriots
Atlanta FalconsBuffalo BillsBills
St. Louis RamsSan Francisco 49ers49ers
Denver BroncosKansas City ChiefsBroncos
Cincinnati BengalsSan Diego ChargersChargers
New York GiantsWashington RedskinsGiants
New Orleans SaintsSeattle SeahawksSeahawks
Picks are strictly opinion