There are many storylines to follow as the season winds down. Will the Saints and Colts both finish undefeated? Can the Steelers overcome their recent losing streak, catch a few breaks, and reach the playoffs?
Will Chris Johnson reach the 2,000-yard plateau? Who will emerge as the league’s MVP in what promises to be a tight race?
If you’re a faithful reader you already know this, but all picks are for entertainment purposes only. As evidenced by my run of losing weeks lately, if you’re betting with me, you’re not going to do well financially.
Hoping to mitigate the damage caused by the Steelers’ loss to the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night, here’s the remainder of my Week 14 picks against the spread:
Denver (+7) over Indianapolis
The Colts are, deservedly, the heavy favorites in this game. They are 12-0 and, with a win, could clinch home field advantage throughout the playoffs, so there is incentive for them to win this game and earn that privilege as soon as possible.
Denver’s secondary (Champ Bailey, Andre Goodman, Brian Dawkins, Renaldo Hill, et al) matches up well with the Colts’ passing game, I believe, and the Colts have not run the ball well all season long.
If Denver can run the ball effectively, play mistake-free football, and sustain long drives, they can minimize the potential damage the Colts’ offense can cause and, in the process, give their defense much-needed rest.
The Broncos won’t shut Peyton Manning down; no one has been able to this season. However, the Broncos are much more talented in the secondary than some other teams (Miami, New England, and Houston come to mind right away) that the Colts have rallied against this season.
If Denver can get out to an early lead, they can not only cover the spread, they can win outright, and that’s my bet here.
Broncos 24, Colts 21
Cincinnati (+7) over Minnesota
Two straight picks against the grain, I know. However, there are sound reasons to bet on the Bengals to not only cover the spread, but to also win outright.
Cincinnati is No. 2 in the NFL in run defense, allowing just 81 yards per game on the ground, and their pass defense has been strong all season long as well.
While the Bengals’ conservative play-calling on offense in recent weeks makes it likely they won’t score many points, which may play into their hands, especially if their defense can contain Minnesota’s offense.
Minnesota is equally good on defense; they are No. 3 in the NFL against the run, and they compare well with the Bengals against the pass.
On offense, the Vikings are more explosive than the Bengals are. Minnesota’s speed really shows on the artificial surface in the Metrodome, and it was one reason I considered picking them.
I expect a close game, something the Bengals have had a lot of experience with this season, and I’m taking Cincinnati, believing they will find a way to win it late.
Bengals 17, Vikings 14
NY Jets (-3.5) over Tampa Bay
Tampa Bay has one of the worst run defenses in the league, and the Jets, with Kellen Clemens in for Mark Sanchez at QB, figure to run the ball quite a bit.
The Jets feature the No. 1 pass defense in the league, and Tampa Bay has a rookie QB in Josh Freeman. Freeman is fresh off a five interception-effort last week.
Need I say more?
Jets 27, Buccaneers 10
Buffalo (pick ‘em) over Kansas City
In allowing 43 and 44 points in the last two weeks, the Chiefs have made a lot of mistakes, given up a ton of points, and looked dreadful.
Buffalo hasn’t looked much better, having lost four of five themselves.
I’m better on Terrell Owens making a big play in this game. Throw out his poor numbers against the Jets and Darrelle Revis last week; Owens has played much better since Ryan Fitzpatrick has taken over as the Bills’ QB.
Kansas City’s pass defense is among the league’s worst. It’s a matchup that favors Owens and the Bills.
Bills 24, Chiefs 17
Chicago (+3) over Green Bay
This feels like a classic trap game. The Packers aren’t going to catch the Vikings for the NFC North, and they appear to have a wildcard berth all but locked up. They’ll be on the road against a division rival in a stadium they haven’t won in since 2006.
While the Bears’ season has been an embarrassment, they could come into this game with something to prove. Either that or they’ll mail this game in, knowing their chances at a playoff spot are slim.
Throwing all logic out the window (turnover-prone Jay Cutler vs. strong Packers pass defense; weak Bears run defense vs. improving Packers running game), I’m taking the Bears. In a week where the Browns have already beaten the Steelers, and I’m already taking the Broncos and Bengals as road underdogs, why not pick the Bears?
Bears 23, Packers 17
New Orleans (-10) over Atlanta
Even if Matt Ryan and Michael Turner play for the Falcons, they are in danger of getting blasted by the Saints in this game.
The Falcons’ defense has been average at best this season, and ranks in the bottom third in the league overall.
They don’t cover the run or pass well at all, and against the diverse, high-powered Saints offense, the Falcons will struggle to slow New Orleans down.
The Falcons’ only hope is that the Saints make mistakes and play another close game on the road.
Washington nearly upset New Orleans last week, so it’s entirely possible that the Saints could lose, or be in a position to lose. However, the likelihood is small.
Saints 34, Falcons 14
Baltimore (-13) over Detroit
There’s a strong chance Baltimore will stage a defensive revival this week. Recognizing there is ground to be made up in the chase for a playoff spot in the AFC, the Ravens could come out and thoroughly dominate the Lions.
However, given the opportunity to win close games against quality opponents, the Ravens have failed nearly every time this year. The lone win that stands out was their 30-7 thrashing of the Broncos, which came off a bye week.
I nearly picked the Lions in this one, but the Ravens seem capable of scoring 30 or more points, and I doubt Detroit can stay within two touchdowns of that.
Ravens 31, Lions 14
Miami (+3) over Jacksonville
These two teams are similar in many ways. They play a lot of close games, they both feature strong running games, and their defenses are both overrated.
Both the Dolphins and Jaguars have reputations for having good defenses, but neither team is in the top half of the league statistically. In fact, Miami allows 349 yards a game, while the Jags allow 345.
The belief is that the inexperienced Miami QB, Chad Henne, will be more prone to mistakes than his Jacksonville counterpart, the veteran David Garrard, giving the Jaguars more opportunities on offense and, presumably, a better chance to win.
However, having seen Henne lead the Dolphins to a surprising win over the Patriots last week, I believe he is capable of limiting mistakes and doing enough to help his team win.
The playoff chase usually becomes chaotic at this time of year, and these two teams are in direct competition for a spot. I’m betting on Miami contributing to the chaos this week with a close win.
Dolphins 24, Jaguars 20
New England (-13.5) over Carolina
There is a growing sense that all is not well in New England.
In recent seasons, when faced with adversity, the Patriots have responded with resounding victories. This season, that hasn’t happened.
In fact, New England has lost three of their last four. Now, players are reporting to practice late and taking shots at their coach in the media.
Hey New England fans, we know your pain! Glad you could join us here in the Land of the Average NFL Fan. The bliss that was “Being a Patriots Fan” is gone.
They no longer play at a higher level than the rest of the league. The players no longer bow at the feet of Bill Belichick . As B.B. King sang, “The Thrill is Gone.”
That isn’t to say that the Patriots are incapable of winning this game by two touchdowns. I fully expect inspired play this week from New England. Division rivals are closing in.
The Panthers’ starting QB is making his second career start. Tom Brady is coming off consecutive starts with two interceptions, which is highly uncharacteristic.
The Panthers’ running game should be cause for concern of course, but if the Patriots defense can focus on the running backs and let Carolina QB Matt Moore try to beat them through the air, New England should win easily.
Patriots 31, Panthers 13
Houston (-6) over Seattle
The Texans’ hopes of making the playoffs have disappeared, thanks to a four-game losing streak and a season-ending injury to Steve Slaton.
With that as a backdrop, the Texans host the Seattle Seahawks, who have won two straight, thanks in part to a resurgent running attack, and also in part to favorable opponents.
Some of the Texans’ losing can be pinned on the teams they’ve faced; they’ve lost to Indianapolis twice, as well as once each to Tennessee and Jacksonville, all quality opponents. Houston’s strength on offense is in moving the ball through the air, something the Seahawks struggle to defend against.
Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson figure to have big days for Houston and, perhaps, stem the tide of negativity that is swirling around a franchise that had high hopes entering the 2009 season.
Texans 31, Seahawks 20
St. Louis (+13) over Tennessee
This game will feature two of the best running backs in the NFL: Chris Johnson of Tennessee, and Steven Jackson of St. Louis.
Given that the Rams have one of the worst run defenses in the league, Johnson is likely to have a big game. Meanwhile, Jackson is the Rams’ lone weapon on offense, and he should see lots of carries and catches out of the backfield.
Tennessee should win, but the Titans are a risky pick to win by two touchdowns or more. Vince Young, who has done well at quarterback since returning to the starting lineup, is injured and could be less effective if he starts.
Plus, the Rams will try to keep the Titans offense off the field by using a conservative approach when they have the ball, and that will limit Tennessee’s opportunities to score enough to win by a large margin.
Titans 24, Rams 14
Washington (-1) over Oakland
I know the Raiders have won two of their last three games, but the Redskins are better on both sides of the ball, and can expose some of Oakland’s flaws.
While Washington doesn’t have a great passing attack, it is developing and it should allow the Redskins to move the ball downfield against an average Raiders pass defense. Also, Oakland is horrible against the run.
While the Redskins won’t have Clinton Portis to run the football, Washington should at least be effective in this area.
Bruce Gradkowski has been remarkable at quarterback for Oakland these last few weeks, but the Redskins are solid defensively against the pass.
Traveling from the East Coast to the West Coast is sometimes difficult for teams to overcome. Plus, add to that the emotionally charged loss the Redskins had to the Saints last week. Many will pick the Raiders for those reasons.
However, I’ll take the ‘Skins. They have more capable players on both sides of the ball and should pull this one out, despite the factors working against them.
Redskins 20, Raiders 13
Dallas (-3) over San Diego
Opinions on this game are split down the middle it seems, but the Cowboys have the edge in two key areas of importance:
1) They are desperate, have something to play for, and something to prove.
2) They run the ball extremely well.
That isn’t to say the Chargers can’t win this game. The passing offense for San Diego has produced gaudy statistics, and the Cowboys’ defense struggles to defend the pass.
Phillip Rivers has developed into one of the best QB’s in the game, and the Chargers’ receivers are tall and difficult to defend.
However, Dallas is capable of controlling the clock with their stable of backs, limiting San Diego’s chances to get on the field with their offense.
The bet is that the Cowboys will do exactly that and, perhaps, give new life to the Broncos in the AFC West in the process.
Cowboys 27, Chargers 21
NY Giants (-1) over Philadelphia
A Giants win over the Eagles, coupled with a Dallas loss to San Diego, puts the Giants in first place in the NFC East, thanks to their division record (4-1, which would be better than Philly’s 3-2 record, or Dallas’ 2-2 record).
I’m sure Giants coach Tom Coughlin, the motivator that he is, has made his team well-aware of this fact.
And while the Chargers may not hold up their end of the bargain, the Giants will certainly do everything in their power to avenge their embarrassing loss to the Eagles from earlier in the season.
The Giants are at home. The Eagles are banged up. The Giants are at home, and they are desperate for a win.
Giants 28, Eagles 23
Arizona (-3.5) over San Francisco
The 49ers are 8-4 against the spread, but just 5-7 on the season. They’ve played a lot of close games, but have been unable to maintain leads, or incapable of taking leads late in games due to offensive deficiencies.
At the beginning of the season, I and many others misread the 49ers strong start as a team figuring out how to win games. Instead, after starting out 3-1, San Francisco has gone 2-6.
On the other side, the Cardinals are fresh off a dismantling of the Vikings, and have played pretty consistent football, so long as Kurt Warner has been under center, which he should be this Sunday.
If this game develops into a shootout, the Cardinals are more capable of scoring 30 or more points. They are the pick.
Cardinals 34, 49ers 27