NFL Week 14 Picks: Picking the Winners Against the Spread
It is time to make my NFL Week 14 picks. As Week 14 approaches the playoff picture is starting to take shape. Rather, usually when Week 14 approaches the playoff picture starts to take shape.
This season there are is an incredible number of teams who are still mathematically alive to make the playoffs even in Week 14. Wild Card races are up for grabs, and even more-so, there is only one division that doesn't have a team that is only one game behind the leader or tied at the top.
We are now fully in December and the games take on a much larger magnitude. Divisional games almost count as one and half wins for teams, since division record is one of the first tie-breakers for divisions.
Many teams have some big games this week against big teams, games that could decide the fate of each team.
For some fans, there is a lot of anticipation heading into Week 14. For other fans, such as Jets fans, they just want their teams to get back on the field so they could forget about last week.
Without further ado, here are my Week 14 picks. Home teams will be listed in CAPS.
Record last week: 9-7
Record in B/R articles: 36-12
Indianapolis (-3) Over TENNESSEE
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This is it, I'm giving Peyton Manning just one more week. How much longer are we going to live under the illusion that the Colts are still good? Or from the other side, how much longer are the Colts going to continue to struggle before they realize that they are good and start to turn it on?
Before the Colts Week 2 game against the Giants, ESPN.com's Bill Simmons wrote that when it comes to dynasty's we can't just write them off. Rather, they need to tell us when their dynasty is coming to an end. Its not something we can predict.
This was a week after the Colts were destroyed by Houston in Week 1 and the entire world was ready to write off the Colts. Simmons was not ready to do that.
Well, now it is Week 14 and it is looking like the Colts are trying to tell us something. Their trying to tell us, that in previous years they would move past the injuries, in previous years they would have replacements, that this isn't previous years anymore.
The injuries are piling up for the Colts and they simply get can't get over them. The Colts are struggling. Peyton Manning has thrown 11 interceptions in his last three games. That is a sentence I never thought I would ever right.
We keep getting duped into picking the Colts and we keep getting burned. I'm giving the Colts one more week for a few reasons. The first, is if Peyton Manning is at all angry and wants to show everyone that the Colts could still qualify for the playoffs, he will let everyone see it on Thursday night, with a national audience. I'm falling the "never pick against Peyton Manning at night rule," I'm just hoping it still applies.
On the other side, I cannot trust the Titans. Yes, they kept it close against the Jaguars, but they still couldn't score. The Titans were 5-3 when they claimed Randy Moss off of waivers, but they haven't won since he joined the team. More interestingly, he has gone AWOL, not only is he not making any catches for the Titans, but the Titans aren't even throwing to him.
For as bad as the Colts have been in the last three weeks, the TItans haven't done anything that would make me comfortable picking them.
JACKSONVILLE (-4.5) Over Oakland
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By Week 14 of an NFL season we usually know some things for sure by this point. This season, the only thing we know for sure is that we really don't know anything.
Last week I picked the San Diego Chargers to cover a 13 point spread over the Raiders because the Raiders have been awful on the road and the Chargers have been great at home.
The Raiders had had some bright spots at home this season, but even that had come to an end. They were just bad. Meanwhile they went up against a quarterback who had never lost in December.
Well the Raiders went into San Diego and gave the Chargers a spanking.
Jacksonville meanwhile has also been all over the place this season. Recently they've been good however. They currently are sitting atop the AFC South with a 7-5 record and have won four of their last five.
The Jags are led by their offense, but that offense struggled to score last week against the Titans. But when the offense wasn't there, the defense picked them up, holding the Titans to just six points.
The Raiders may have causes a surprise last week, which may cause some people to be skeptical about picking against them this week, but for anyone who is planning on picking the Raiders, just remember this one stat.
They are a west coast team flying across the country to play a 1:00 game. That game will be played at 10:00 am for the Oakland Raiders body clocks. These games never end well for West Coast teams.
Cincinnati (+9) Over PITTSBURGH
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Bold prediction time, this is a trap game for the Steelers.
The Steelers are coming off of a big hard-fought win on the road over their hated division rivals the Baltimore Ravens. Next week they have a possible playoff preview against the New York Jets. In between they face the 2-10 Cincinnati Bengals, losers of their last nine games.
These two teams met in Cincinnati on Monday Night Football of Week 9. The Steelers jumped out to a big lead, only to watch it nearly slip away late. Trailing by six, Carson Palmer took the Bengals all the way to the red-zone, before failing to convert a fourth down.
The Bengals had been playing opponents tough this season, often digging themselves a big hole in the first half before storming back in the second half. However most of the time it was just too little too late.
That eventually ended after blowing a 17 point halftime lead against Buffalo, but last week the Bengals got back on track playing a tough game against the Saints. They ended up losing by four, and that was because they beat themselves.
The Bengals are not a good football team, but they do play teams tough, especially within their division. The Steelers have won three in a row, but they struggled in their last two.
The Steelers got away with one in Buffalo when Steve Johnson dropped a game-winning touchdown pass. They were bailed out in Baltimore when Joe Flacco was passing with the lead and just four minutes left. The Steelers sacked him and caused a fumble, leading to their go-ahead touchdown.
While it was luck that Johnson dropped the touchdown pass, it was not luck that the Ravens were throwing the ball with a small lead and little time on the clock. The Ravens could NOT run the ball on the Steelers all night. There was no way they'd be able to pick up a first down on the ground. They HAD to throw the ball, and the Steelers knew it, and they made a great play.
The Steelers also have to deal with the mysterious foot injury to Big Ben's foot. He looked OK moving around on it last week, but it still looked like it was bothering him and the Steelers were only able to score 13 points. It remains a question as to whether he will be able to play well consistently on that bad foot.
With the Jets looming the following week, it is easy to think the Steelers could already have one eye looking past the Bengals. While it might take a late wakeup call to get the Steelers going, they will beat the Bengals, it just might be a bit closer then they would like.
New England (-3) Over CHICAGO
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Though I bought into the Bears last week and nothing would make me happier then a Bears win this week there is no way I could pick against the Patriots right now.
The Pats had established themselves as the best team in football, but then they had that slip-up in Cleveland. We allowed a bunch of other teams to enter the discussion, but really we all should have looked past the little slip up and kept the Patriots at no. 1.
The 2010 Patriots have done something that almost no other team has done in NFL history. They have completely re-built their team mid-season. In Baseball and Hockey, the champions final roster usually looks very different then their opening day roster. This is because of waivers, the minor leagues, and a lot of deadline deals, usually bringing in a major piece at the trade deadline.
That rarely happens in football, as big name players are rarely traded. But the Pats did it twice this year. They traded away Randy Moss and traded for Deion Branch, completely rebuilding their offensive identity.
Chicago is not an easy place to play, they don't call it the windy city for nothing. But while that might make it difficult for many visiting quarterbacks, it won't make it any more difficult for Tom Brady. The Patriots play an offense that features a lot of short passes and short crosses. Those balls will be almost completely unaffected by strong winds. On Monday night in Foxborough, the winds were gusting at about 20 MPH, and Brady threw for over 300 yards.
While the Bears might be 9-3 and on top of the NFC North, it is hard to believe that they, or anyone else are on the Patriots level right now. Their best bet is to hope the Pats are still hungover from their win over the Jets.
Did I really need to write this much to explain why I'm picking a team that just absolutely destroyed a team that was tied for the best record in football 45-3?
Cleveland (+1) Over Buffalo
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I am done sticking with Buffalo. The Bills continue to play teams strong, with the exception of last week, but they just can't finish. Everyone seems to agree that they are better then their 2-10 record, but if they were that much better they would have a few more wins. They put themselves in position to win games, but they can't win them.
On the other side, it is very difficult to stand behind a team that is starting Jake Delhomme at quarterback. I know he somehow managed to beat the Dolphins last week, but that still isn't enough to earn my trust.
This game is going to be a very physical contest, and since it will be played in Buffalo in December, you never know what kind of weather you will get. Since their is a chance of crazy strong winds, or even a blizzard, there is a good chance that for much of this game, Jake Delhomme won't be throwing the ball anyway.
I went back and forth several times with this game, eventually settling on Cleveland because of Peyton Hillis. Buffalo cannot stop the run, so how do we expect them to stop a big physical back who everyone has trouble tackling? Peyton Hillis could win this game on his own for the Browns.
When in doubt, take the point.
MINNESOTA (+2) Over New York Giants
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Who to pick, who to pick? The Vikings are playing well under interim head coach Leslie Frazier, while the Giants are 8-4 and chasing the Eagles for the NFC East division crown.
Meanwhile, who is going to start at quarterback for the Vikings. Will it be Brett Favre, who sprained his shoulder last Sunday? Or will they go with Tavaris Jackson who played decently after replacing Favre?
The Giants could be bolstered by the return of wide receivers Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith. Nicks has targeted Week 14 as his return date, but it is still unclear if he will make it back. Meanwhile, while Smith is more likely to play this week, he will not be able to be an every down player if he returns.
The Giants have struggled throwing the ball at times this year, and the Vikings have the 4th best rushing defense in football, which will force the Giants to throw it even more.
If Brett Favre plays, this game will feature the two quarterbacks who are leading the league in interceptions. Favre has 18 this season, while Giants quarterback Eli Manning is right behind him with 17. The Giants will hold the advantage in that category as they have the 2nd best pass defense and have caused 15 interceptions.
This is one of the harder games to pick this week, but it is very hard to ignore history with this one. Other then Week 17 of the 2008 season, when the Giants had a 12-3 record and the no. 1 seed already locked up going into their game against the Vikings, allowing them to rest Eli Manning in a loss, Eli Manning has not only never beaten the Minnesota Vikings, but he has been awful.
In three meaningful starts against the Vikings, Manning is 0-3 with two touchdowns and nine interceptions. He's been better in Minnesota, but I'll take the Vikings until Manning proves that they don't have his number anymore.
Green Bay (-7) Over DETROIT
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The Packers got off to a slow start Sunday against the 49ers before finally pulling away, but I'm going to blame that on the players taking a while to get over the shock that they were actually wearing such hideous uniforms.
The Lions continue to be frisky at home, losing by just four to the division leading Bears. But unfortunately for the Lions, that's all they've been, frisky.
The Lions, like the Bills, continue to play teams strong but have nothing to show for it. Calvin Johnson is continuing to make plays for the Lions, but they have been unable to hold onto leads, or stay with opponents for a full game.
The Packers offense is really starting to click, with just one hiccup in Atlanta, one of the more difficult places for visiting teams to play in the NFL.
The Packers are continuing to try to track down the Bears, and with the Bears facing the Patriots this week, the Packers know this is a great chance to pull even at the top of the NFC North.
The Green Bay Packers will return to the Green and Gold, and they will not let a "frisky" divisional opponent get in their way this week.
Atlanta (-7.5) Over CAROLINA
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At some point during the middle of the season everyone started to realize the Falcons were for real. Slowly, almost every fan started becoming aware that Matt Ryan has a 19-1 career record at home.
People quickly started trying to find new questions to ask about the legitimacy of the Falcons. Could they get it done on the road?
The Falcons have been answering those questions with resounding "yes's." Other the two hiccups against division leading teams, the Falcons defeated every other opponent that has come in their way.
For those of you that like stats, here is one for you. This season the Falcons are 0-2 in the state of Pennsylvania and undefeated everywhere else in this country.
The Falcons will continue on their road to trying to lock up the no. 1 seed in the NFC, and ensure that the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC will run through Atlanta.
This week the Falcons take on the Carolina Panthers, who have the worst record in the NFL.
Put it this way, if you are trying to wrap up a no. 1 seed in the playoffs, you beat the worst team in the league by more then a touchdown. Even if it's on the road.
Tampa Bay (-2) Over WASHINGTON
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Once again it's Week 14 so we should know a lot about each and every team. We know that the Redskins are not good, and are possibly even worse then their record. But then there's the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Are the Bucs good, or are they over-achieving. They started the season well and everyone wrote it off to luck and a soft schedule. Then they kept winning and people started buying into Josh Freeman. Now were starting to hear the phrase "Josh Freeman just wins football games." (Note to Bucs fans: that is not a good phrase, it pretty much means Freeman is not that great and god only knows how he's winning games, when he really shouldn't be. They said the same thing about Vince Young...)
The question remains, are the Bucs that great? They currently sit at 7-5, but just two weeks ago they were even with the New Orleans Saints at 7-3. All five of the Bucs losses have come against teams that will be in the playoffs. The four teams that have beaten the Bucs have a combined record of 36-12.
On the flip side, The Bucs have only beaten one team that might make the playoffs. That would be the St. Louis Rams who have a shot at winning the terrible NFC West. The Rams currently own a 6-6 record.
The Bucs are one of just two 7-5 teams in the league, with the other being the Jacksonville Jaguars. However they sit just one game ahead of six 6-6 teams. That list includes the Rams, Seahawks, Chargers, Raiders, Dolphins, and Colts.
This allows us to accurately place the Bucs. We will no longer be caught off guard by their wins, nor will we expect them to pull upsets against the top teams such as the Falcons. The Bucs are a slightly above average team. Thats it. Of the average teams, they are by far superior. They are doing their job, when they play the other average teams or below average teams, they take care of business and win, when they play good teams they lose. There, it's settled. We now know where the Bucs belong.
On the other side, Washington is terrible. They can't seem to find the end zone at all, and they are pace to have their worst rushing season in over 40 years. The only thing the Redskins have going for them is that they have suspended DT Albert Haynesworth. Unfortunately, they have already played without him this season that hasn't helped.
This constitutes Washington as a below average team. Since we now know where the Bucs belong, we know they will beat the below average team.
NEW ORLEANS (-9) Over St. Louis
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You have to like the way the Rams have been playing recently, if not this whole season. Rookie quarterback Sam Bradford is doing a fantastic job, of not just winning, but learning and maturing on the fly.
The Rams have won two straight road games, their first two road wins of the season, but those wins came against the Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals, two teams with identical 3-8 records, the former of the two having just fired their coach.
Meanwhile the Saints are starting to find the form that led them to the Super Bowl last season. Their offense will never become as potent as they were, but they are starting to handle their opponents with much more ease.
They struggled in their last two games, on Thanksgiving against the Cowboys, and last week against the Bengals.
I'm going to look past the Bengals game. New Orleans is a warm city, and not only that, the Saints are a dome team. It is already an accomplishment for warm-weather dome team to go to cold Cincinnati in December and get a victory.
Despite last weeks win being only by four points, the Saints will return home this week where they have been fantastic. The fans will be welcoming back their beloved Saints, and the crowd will be too much for rookie Sam Bradford to handle.
Seattle (+4.5) Over SAN FRANCISCO
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I really wish it was possible to be able to accurately pick a game in the NFC West that didn't involve the Cardinals. Unfortunately every team is really bad and you never know what your going to get, especially when Pete Carroll and Mike Singletary are involved.
In the 49ers last seven games, their only wins have come against teams from either the NFC or AFC West, the two worst divisions in football. Even worse, they are the reason that the Carolina Panthers have a one in "W" column to brag about.
In those same last seven games, the Seattle Seahawks have been able to pick up just three wins. Two of them came against NFC West celler-dwellers the Arizona Cardinals, and the other one came against the current holders of the 2011 no. 1 draft pick the Carolina Panthers.
These two teams now square off in San Francisco. Usually in these putrid NFC West encounters the home team takes the win, but could you really be confident about either of these teams.
When in doubt, take the points, especially when this could just be a terrible sloppy "everybody loses but one team has two more points then the other" kind of game.
Miami (+5.5) Over NEW YORK JETS
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What did we learn from the Jets 45-3 Monday Night Football loss to the Patriots this past week? Did we learn that the Jets are very overrated, and that they really aren't good? No, we didn't. Here's the answer, we learned absolutely nothing.
We already knew that offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer somehow gets lost when he has over seven days to prepare for a game. Heading into the game, when the Jets had over seven days to prepare, the offense looked lost both times and had scored a grand total of nine points. That number is now up to 12.
We know that Mark Sanchez struggles in the wind.
We also knew that Mike Pettine has been calling more of the defensive plays this year, and that his blitzes have not been as effective as Rex Ryan's. We knew the Jets blitzes weren't as effective as last year, and we also knew that they weren't blitzing as much. We knew that in order to get pressure on the quarterback the Jets can't rely on their front seven, the Jets get sacks when they bring their defensive backs on blitzes. When the Jets rely on just four pass rushers they can't get pressure. They couldn't do it last year, and they can't do it this year.
We also knew that the Jets were built to beat the Patriots at the start of the season. But between when they last played in Week 2 and now the Patriots have become a completely different team.
We knew that the strength of the Jets defense was their cornerbacks, Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. They shut down receivers on the outsides, but we've known all season long that the Jets have had a tremendous amount of trouble stopping everything up the middle, the slot receivers and most importantly the tight ends. Then on Friday, the quarterback of the Jets defense, Jim Leonhard was lost for the season. Though Leonhard has struggled in coverage this season, he was still their best option to cover a tight end.
We knew all of this going in to the Monday Night Football matchup with the now 10-2 New England Patriots. You know who else knew all of this? The New England Patriots.
The Patriots simply devised a gameplan that attacked the Jets weaknesses. Since Week 2, the Patriots have re-built their entire offense. They no longer live off the deep ball threat of Randy Moss opening up space underneath for the shifty Wes Welker. They now involve their two tight ends as primary targets in their offense.
The Patriots stayed away from Revis and Cromartie, instead focusing on attacking the safties, who have been struggling in coverage all year. The Patriots simply exploited a weakness, one that has been there all season.
The Jets didn't play well, but the performance is not indicative to how good the team actually is. Unfortunately they now face the Miami Dolphins, another division matchup against a team that plays the Jets really well.
Chad Henne has had two of his best games of his career against the Jets, and the Dolphins will look to exploit those same weaknesses that the Patriots did.
This game is a home game for the Jets, meaning the wind and weather at the New Meadowlands Stadium will be a mystery. That is bad news for the Jets, as Sanchez has a history of struggling in the wind.
Denver (-4.5) Over ARIZONA
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One thing and one thing only swung this pick. The Denver Broncos fired head coach Josh McDaniels Monday. Of the two teams that have fired their coaches this season, the Cowboys and Vikings, those teams have combined to lose just one game since firing their coach.
The Broncos and Cardinals are bad, there is no other way to say it. They come in with identical 3-8 records and have been playing some sorry versions of football.
The Broncos have played their last two games tough, scoring 33 points at home against the Rams, and holding the Chiefs to just 10 points in Kansas City.
Meanwhile the Cardinals have been going in the opposite direction and have not scored a touchdown in their last two home games.
The one thing we know for sure, is that Derek Anderson takes this #&*! seriously, unfortunately that won't be enough.
Kansas City (+7) Over San Diego
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The battle that will likely decide the AFC West champion. Everyone expected the Chargers to make another second half surge, a staple in the Norv Turner era, this season. But so far that surge has been pretty lackluster.
Last week Phillip Rivers lost his first career December start. He did at home nonetheless, against the Oakland Raiders.
The two teams met on Monday Night Football of Week 1. A rain soaked affair that saw Kansas City pull out what was then a shocking home win. In Week 14 the Chiefs enter with an 8-4 record, the Chargers come in at 6-6.
A Chiefs win would eliminate the Chargers from the AFC West, and although they wouldn't be eliminated from the playoffs mathematically, realistically they wouldn't have much of a chance.
The Chargers have played well at home, posting a 4-2 record, but the Chiefs are starting to become an all around team.
The Chiefs currently hold the leagues best rushing offense. In addition, Matt Cassell owns the leagues 5th best QB rating. Cassell and wide receiver Dwayne Bowe have connected for 14 of Cassell's 23 touchdown passes.
The Chiefs are attempting to be a surprise team to wrestle away the AFC West belt from San Diego. And of course, 7 points is just too many points to lay when the "law of Gus Johnson" is involved.
DALLAS (+3.5) Over Philadelphia
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Last week I wrote that the honeymoon period for Jason Garett in Dallas was over. I was wrong. The Cowboys played tremendous defense, and intercepted Peyton Manning three times, in an overtime win against the Colts.
The Cowboys, winners of three of their last four, now return home to face the hated division rivals the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Cowboys will have their work cut out for them in this one. Michael Vick is having an MVP season, and is an almost certain lock for a "comeback player of the year" award.
While the Cowboys may have just flummoxed Peyton Manning, Michael Vick provides a whole different ball game. The Cowboys will now have to be prepared for the strong arm of Vick, and his explosive legs.
On offense, the Cowboys finally got their running game going last week. All season we have been waiting for it to break out and it looks like they finally have gotten it clicking. A strong running game will give the Cowboys the chance to go play-action, and give immobile and aging quarterback Jon Kitna more time in the pocket. Say what you want about Kitna, but if you give him time in the pocket he could sling it around the field like the rest of the above average QB's in this league.
The Cowboys have struggled in big home games this season, but this is their first one under Jason Garrett. The Eagles are their biggest rivals, and the Cowboys will get it done this week.
Baltimore (-3) Over HOUSTON
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This is not as easy of a game as you would think. Contrary to the belief of many fans, the Ravens ARE struggling.
The Ravens defense is starting to look very susceptible at the end of game now. A few weeks ago they allowed the Falcons to march down the field and score a late touchdown. Two weeks ago they allowed a deep td pass to the Bucs, only to have the Bucs drop it. They still allowed the Bucs to drive down the field and score on the same drive. Last week they conceded yet another late touchdown against the Steelers, though it was with a short field.
The Ravens were bailed out of the Tampa Bay game by their offense and its ability to rush for a first down, allowing them to run out the clock. But the defense has looked shaky over the past few weeks.
The Ravens pass defense has struggled this season. If there is one thing the Houston Texans can do it is throw the ball.
Houston has been able to score against everyone this season. Their problem has been their defense, they can't stop anybody.
The Ravens offense has been struggling recently, but Joe Flacco should be able to get back on track against the bad Houston pass defense. If he can, the Ravens take this one easily, if he can't, the Ravens may quickly find themselves in a lot of trouble.