Chris Simms' Week 14 NFL Picks
This is an exciting time in the NFL season because the playoff races are heating up and some teams are on the verge of punching their tickets to the postseason. This week, four teams—the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles—can clinch division titles.
The Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints can also clinch playoff spots, though each needs a little help.
Fans might not always place a lot of stock in division titles, especially after the Lombardi Trophy is handed out. However, I can tell you that it's a tremendous accomplishment for the players who win them. Winning your division and reaching the playoffs are the first two goals you set out to accomplish when the season starts. To achieve those goals provides a special feeling.
The downside to clinching a playoff spot this early in the season is that a team can start to coast toward the playoffs and lose the sense of intensity it's going to need in the postseason. That shouldn't be a problem for the four aforementioned teams, however, because each is still fighting for the No. 1 seed in its respective conference.
Earning home-field advantage is a magical feeling all its own. It means you were the best team in your conference during the regular season, and it means the road to the Super Bowl runs through your home stadium. Teams in the hunt for it aren't going to lose their intensity down the stretch.
I was with the Tennessee Titans in 2008 when we hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 16. The winner of that game would get home-field advantage in the playoffs (it was us), and the contest had a playoff atmosphere itself.
Expect to see plenty of intensity in Week 14 because there is so much on the line for so many teams. Here's how I see the week playing out.
New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons
When: Thursday at 8:25 p.m. ET (NFL Network, Amazon, NBC), Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta
This is a huge game for the Atlanta Falcons. They're teetering on that line of the NFC's sixth seed, and this might be a year when a 10-6 team misses the postseason in that conference.
The Falcons and the Saints are both quality teams, and that's going to make this a fun matchup. However, the Saints offense at this point is nearly unstoppable. I like the new and improved Saints defense and all, but it's the offense that will make the difference in this matchup. It's balanced and has the size and physicality to match up with the Falcons defense.
Here's the thing with the Atlanta defense. It's one of the fastest units in football, but the schemes it uses are simple. Once teams adjust to that speed, opposing offenses are able to take advantage because they have figured the defense out by that point.
The Falcons will be able to move the ball on New Orleans some too—and the health of Marshon Lattimore will be big. However, I trust Saints coach Sean Payton and defensive coordinator Dennis Allen to make the right adjustments more than I trust Dan Quinn's defensive game plan for Atlanta.
Prediction: Saints 21, Falcons 20
Green Bay Packers at Cleveland Browns
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (Fox), FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland
If there were a matchup and a week in which the Cleveland Browns could get a victory, this is it. The Green Bay Packers offense isn't great in the passing game with Brett Hundley under center instead of Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay is trying to rely on the run more, and Cleveland's run defense has been terrific most of the season.
The Browns are allowing an NFL-best 3.3 yards per rushing attempt.
The Cleveland defense is good, and that shouldn't be lost in the 0-12 record. The Browns offense can create some explosive plays too, especially now that Josh Gordon is back in the lineup. However, the offense is still too inconsistent, and DeShone Kizer is still making too many critical turnovers.
It's at home, and it's there for the taking for the Browns. I really want to pick Cleveland to get its first win of the season here, but I just don't have the guts to pull the trigger. The Browns need to prove they know how to win before I'll pick them to actually do it.
Prediction: Packers 20, Browns 17
Detroit Lions at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (Fox) Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida
Obviously, the status of Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (hand) is going to be huge in this game.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be able to move the ball against Detroit's defense. We saw Joe Flacco carve it up a week ago, and Flacco has been a disaster for most of the season. There simply isn't a great difference-maker on the Lions defense. That's a problem against Jameis Winston, Mike Evans and Co.
On the other side, though, it's hard to see this Buccaneers defense shutting down Stafford. The problem with Detroit's offense is that it's one-dimensional, but Stafford is able to put together game-winning magic when the contest is close more often than not.
Winston seems to have a habit of making mistakes and creating turnovers when games are close.
This is the type of game in which Stafford can take over by himself. Tampa has no great pass-rushers and an inconsistent secondary. I believe Stafford will play and will be close to 100 percent, and so I'm picking Stafford's Lions because of that.
Prediction: Lions 31, Buccaneers 27
Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (CBS), Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri
The matchup between the Oakland Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs is a huge AFC West showdown. These two teams are tied with the Los Angeles Chargers at 6-6 and atop the division.
The Chiefs got things going with some big plays in the pass game last week, but I still have concerns about the offense as a whole. Expect the Raiders, however, to shy away from some of the coverages the New York Jets used that allowed those big plays. The Oakland defense isn't great, but it's familiar enough with Kansas City to utilize the right game plan.
The Kansas City defense is even worse than Oakland's, and now it's without its best playmaker, Marcus Peters. He was handed a one-game suspension by the team after last week's outburst. The Raiders will have Michael Crabtree back this week and have figured out how to get more out of the run game. With Derek Carr directing the show, their offense presents a big problem for the Chiefs defense.
Both offenses will be able to move the ball most of the day. However, the Chiefs are allowing the third-most yards in the NFL (382.2 per game) and are more likely to break down when it matters most—especially without Peters. That's what happened the last time these two rivals met, and it'll happen again here.
Prediction: Raiders 24, Chiefs 21
Minnesota Vikings at Carolina Panthers
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (CBS), Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina
This is arguably the game of the week. It's at home for the Carolina Panthers, and it's a huge game for them because last week's loss leaves them looking at a wild-card spot. Carolina is hosting one of the NFL's hottest teams in the Minnesota Vikings.
The Vikings present a tough matchup for the Panthers. Carolina is a team that wants to play with solid defense while imposing its physical will on offense. However, they won't be able to impose that will against Minnesota's defense.
The Vikings have the size up front to counter Carolina's power-run game, and they have the cornerback talent to lock up man-to-man with any of Cam Newton's targets.
While the Panthers defense is good, it's had a hard time against balanced offenses like the Saints'. So much has been made about Minnesota's defense this season that many people may not realize the Vikings have the No. 5 offense (370.4 yards per game) in football. The Vikings can run, and they can make big plays in the pass game with Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph.
Because of Minnesota's defensive prowess and its offensive balance, I have to take the Vikings in a close one.
Prediction: Vikings 23, Panthers 20
San Francisco 49ers at Houston Texans
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (Fox), NRG Stadium, Houston
I loved the way Jimmy Garoppolo looked at quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers last week. Having a legitimate starting quarterback at the helm of Kyle Shanahan's offense changed the entire look of the team.
With Garoppolo under center, the 49ers are going to continue to be able to create big plays in the pass game. The problem is that this Houston Texans defense is better than the Chicago Bears defense San Francisco faced last week. The 49ers will struggle to block Jadeveon Clowney and some of the other talented defenders Houston has up front.
The other side of the equation is that the San Francisco defense is not good, plain and simple. Houston's offense isn't as dynamic as it was with Deshaun Watson, but Tom Savage has enough weapons around him to exploit the 49ers. DeAndre Hopkins is always a threat, and Savage is capable of making some big throws against a secondary like San Francisco's.
This will be a close game, but the Texans have a few more difference-makers on each side of the ball. They're also playing at home, and that's why I give them a slight edge in the matchup.
Prediction: Texans 24, 49ers 23
Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (CBS), New Era Field, Orchard Park, New York
The Indianapolis Colts actually match up pretty well with the Buffalo Bills. The Colts' biggest weakness is their pass defense, and the Bills don't necessarily have the offense to expose that. Indianapolis also has the size up front to slow down the run.
Running the ball is what Buffalo wants to do on offense.
On the other side, Jacoby Brissett is capable of making some big plays in the passing game. However, this is a good Buffalo defense. The Bills play a zone scheme that works well against a passing game like Indianapolis'. The Bills keep things in front of them and force opposing offenses to execute in increments all the way down the field.
Buffalo hasn't been great against the run, but running the ball isn't exactly a strength for the Colts. The Bills secondary will be able to limit big plays, while guys like Jerry Hughes and Kyle Williams will make life tough on Brissett.
Expect the Bills to escape with a win and keep their playoff hopes alive.
Prediction: Bills 27, Colts 23
Chicago Bears at Cincinnati Bengals
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (Fox), Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati
The Cincinnati Bengals are still not out of the playoff conversation. That's going to play into this game, as is the fact Cincinnati is coming off a physical and heartbreaking loss to Pittsburgh.
The Bengals have talent, and they have something to play for. While I have a lot of respect for the Chicago Bears, they don't have a lot of power at receiver or in the secondary. That's a problem against this Cincinnati team.
The Bengals have the cornerback talent to lock up with Chicago's receivers one-on-one. That will allow them to put eight guys in the box and slow down the Bears' physical run game. At the same time, Cincinnati has enough playmakers on offense, particularly A.J. Green, to take advantage of Chicago's secondary.
Cincinnati hasn't been great at running the ball this season, but the Bengals have running back talent. They should be able to run just enough to keep the Bears defense honest. One or two big plays from Andy Dalton to Green should be enough to break this game open.
Prediction: Bengals 24, Bears 17
Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (Fox), MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey
The Dallas Cowboys are coming off a long week. Hopefully, they worked on their offense and have figured out how to add some creativity to the game plan. The New York Giants actually match up well with the Cowboys because they have the size up front to slow the run.
The problem is that New York's defense overall has been a disappointment this season, and there's been virtually no pass rush.
If the Giants can contain Dallas' pass rush, Eli Manning should be able to make some big plays in the passing game against an inconsistent Dallas secondary. Manning's return should also give the Giants a raucous crowd and home-field advantage.
The fans will be juiced up to see one more moment of Eli magic.
However, the extra time for Dallas and the recent turmoil of the Giants franchise tilts this matchup in the Cowboys' favor. Dallas is still fighting for a shot at the NFC's sixth seed, while the Giants are likely just trying to finish out an era.
This will be another classic Cowboys-Giants slugfest. Expect Dallas to pull ahead late.
Prediction: Cowboys 28, Giants 21
Tennessee Titans at Arizona Cardinals
When: Sunday at 4:05 p.m. ET (CBS), University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
This is actually a scary matchup for a Titans team that still has a chance to win the AFC South. The problem is that Tennessee doesn't have that one great receiver who will scare a defense, and the Arizona Cardinals defense is still pretty good.
The Cardinals have the talent in the secondary to match up with Tennessee's receivers. This will allow them to focus more on stopping the Tennessee run game, and Arizona is good against the run anyway.
Tennessee's defensive strength is against the run, but Arizona doesn't run the ball a whole lot. Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians will be able to find ways to create big plays in the pass game because of his Pittsburgh experience. He spent time there with Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, and he'll know how to attack Tennessee.
I don't trust the Cardinals, but they're at home, and they match up well with the Titans on both sides of the ball. Because of that, I'm going to pick Arizona.
Prediction: Cardinals 27, Titans 24
New York Jets at Denver Broncos
When: Sunday at 4:05 p.m. ET (CBS), Sports Authority Field, Denver
Plain and simple, I have no faith in the Denver Broncos right now. The offense and the special teams unit are too mistake-prone for Denver to play through its defense. It doesn't matter how good the Broncos defense is because the other two phases always manage to screw things up.
The Denver defense is so worn down by now, it's not even capable of playing up to its potential.
The New York Jets will still have trouble moving the ball against the Broncos, at least early on. However, the Denver offense is also going to struggle to move the ball against New York. Eventually, the Broncos offense is probably going to make that one game-killing mistake.
The Jets still have something to play for because they have an outside shot at the postseason. Denver has nothing to play for, and that showed in last week's blowout loss to the Miami Dolphins. This will be another close game, but the hungrier team will win out.
Prediction: Jets 19, Broncos 17
Washington Redskins at Los Angeles Chargers
When: Sunday at 4:05 p.m. ET (CBS), StubHub Center, Carson, California
The Washington Redskins are coming off a long week after playing on Thursday night. They should be healthier and fresher than they've been for some time. However, that may not make much of a difference against the Chargers, who are one of the best teams in the league right now.
Washington has injuries in the backfield and has been inconsistent in the run game. The Chargers, meanwhile, have dramatically improved their run defense over the course of the season.
Of course, L.A. is very talented in the secondary and has one of the best pass rushes in the league. While the Redskins are a pass-heavy team, we've seen several instances where the chemistry in the passing game has been lacking. Because of this, it's hard to envision Washington moving the ball with consistency.
The Chargers have firepower in the passing game and can get enough from Melvin Gordon on the ground to keep things balanced. While the Redskins defense is a solid unit, it won't be able to home in on any one thing.
Washington should be able to keep things close for a while, but the Chargers are simply playing too well right now to pick against them.
Prediction: Chargers 27, Redskins 20
Philadelphia Eagles at Los Angeles Rams
When: Sunday at 4:25 p.m. ET (Fox), Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles
The Eagles-Rams matchup is interesting because it pits two of the league's best play-callers against each other. We'll be treated to a chess match between Rams head coach and offensive mind Sean McVay and Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
The Eagles played one of their worst games of the year last week, but it doesn't worry me. It was still a seven-point game early in the fourth quarter in Seattle even with the bad performance. I still think the Eagles are the better team between these two.
The fact this game is in L.A. does favor the Rams—though Philadelphia's decision to stay out west after the Seahawks game could lessen the advantage. The problem is that it's going to be hard for the Rams to consistently move the ball.
The Eagles have a more balanced offense, one that can take advantage of L.A.'s lack of size on defense. While the Philadelphia front can contain Todd Gurley on the ground, the Rams will struggle to stop the Eagles run game.
Expect this to be a battle that comes down to the wire, but the Eagles are just a notch above and will pull it out in the end.
Prediction: Eagles 23, Rams 21
Seattle Seahawks at Jacksonville Jaguars
When: Sunday at 4:25 p.m. ET (Fox), EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Florida
This Jacksonville team is very similar to the Seattle Seahawks of 2013—minus Russell Wilson, of course. Schematically, these two defenses are mirror images of each other, but Jacksonville has the superior unit at this point.
In fact, the Jaguars are the most talented team in football on the defensive side. The advantage Seattle has in this matchup is the fact the Seahawks offense practices against this scheme every day.
While Seattle's defense is banged up and simply isn't the same unit it was back in 2013, it's still a good defense. It's hard to trust quarterback Blake Bortles against it. Because the Seahawks won't be scared of Bortles' throwing ability, they'll be able to stack the box in order to stop Leonard Fournette. When Fournette can't go off, the Jaguars offense struggles.
Seattle has Wilson too, and I haven't seen any defense contain him yet. This is going to be an ugly, physical, defensive game, and one of the quarterbacks is going to have to deliver in crunch time to get the win. I'll take Wilson over Bortles any and every time.
Prediction: Seahawks 16, Jaguars 12
Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
When: Sunday at 8:30 p.m. ET (NBC), Heinz Field, Pittsburgh
The matchup between the Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens probably won't be as physical as the Steelers-Bengals tilt on Monday night. However, it's always a battle when these two get together, and this game will be no different.
The issue for Baltimore is the fact the Ravens defense is beat up and is now without cornerback Jimmy Smith, who was placed on injured reserve after tearing his Achilles tendon against the Lions last week. Meanwhile, the Steelers offense is finally hitting its stride—though the one-game suspension for receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster will also come into play.
The Steelers will be able to move the ball on the Ravens, at least for stretches.
While the Ravens offense was more productive and more aggressive last week, this Steelers defense is far better than Detroit's. Don't expect Baltimore to rack up points in this game.
The Steelers have more offensive weapons and are playing to lock up the AFC North title. This will be another hard-fought battle, but Pittsburgh will come out on top.
Prediction: Steelers 20, Ravens 17
New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins
When: Monday at 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN), Hard Rock Stadium, Miami
The Patriots and Dolphins just played each other two weeks ago. That always makes for an interesting dynamic because the game is fresh in your memory and makes for a more personal matchup.
In a short turnaround like that, though, I always favor New England. No other team is better at making adjustments and learning from its mistakes. The Patriots have plenty to learn from too. While the game ended 35-17, the Dolphins played a closer game than that score might indicate.
The Dolphins defense was good at slowing down Brady and the passing attack. If not for some key mistakes by the Miami offense, the game would have been closer.
Still, the Patriots are the best team in football, and even without Rob Gronkowski (one-game suspension), they have an offense that is virtually unstoppable. At the same time, the New England defense is playing great. People may still remember the defense's breakdowns over the first month of the season, but that defense has allowed just 11.9 points per game since then.
Dolphins coach Adam Gase has a good idea of what the Patriots want to do on both sides of the ball, and Miami will make this close for a time. The Patriots are rolling, though, and they aren't going to stop this week.
Prediction: Patriots 28, Dolphins 17