NFL Picks for All 15 Games in Week 13
As we prepare to kick off Week 13 of the 2011 NFL season, we'll pick winners for all 15 of this weekend's games.
The Philadelphia Eagles and the Seattle Seahawks kicked the week off Thursday night, and the Eagles' incredibly slim playoff hopes were effectively dashed with a sloppy 31-14 loss.
As the stakes go up with teams fighting to earn playoff spots, who will come out on top this week?
Tennessee Titans at Buffalo Bills
The 6-5 Tennessee Titans, whose playoff hopes have been renewed with Houston's loss of its top two quarterbacks, visit the 5-6 Buffalo Bills, who would likely have to win out to have a shot at the playoffs.
Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has had a very good year in his first season in Tennessee, and he's carried this team in the wake of running back Chris Johnson's struggles.
Johnson may have finally found his groove, however, tearing up the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for 190 yards last week. Tennessee's depleted receiving corps is led by Nate Washington, Damian Williams and tight end Jared Cook.
The defense has been very good in terms of points allowed (seventh in the NFL), but an already-iffy rush defense will take a hit with the absence of starting middle linebacker Barrett Ruud.
The Bills are led by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has had a pretty good year, but running back Fred Jackson was put on the IR earlier this season following awful losses to Dallas and Miami.
Receiver Stevie Johnson, who is now an infamous figure for his touchdown dance against the Jets, still showed his skill by catching eight passes and a touchdown on cornerback Darrelle Revis. Johnson will likely draw coverage from Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan.
Defensively, the Bills haven't been good all year, and they seem to be regressing. They rank 28th in the NFL in scoring defense.
The Titans' playoff hopes are still alive, and they'll keep them alive this week by beating an ailing Buffalo Bills squad.
Titans 27, Bills 17
Kansas City Chiefs at Chicago Bears
The Kansas City Chiefs and the Chicago Bears match up in a game that pits two teams with poor quarterback situations against each other.
The Chiefs are led by Tyler Palko at quarterback, who has taken over for the injured Matt Cassel. They also signed former Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton, who might end up taking over.
The running game has been effective even in the absence of Jamaal Charles, with Jackie Battle and Dexter McCluster leading the way. Dwayne Bowe, Steve Breaston and Jonathan Baldwin complete a talented receiving corps at KC's disposal.
Kansas City's defense has been carrying this team, despite their relatively poor rankings. They had a gutsy performance in a 13-9 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers last week.
The Bears are led by young quarterback Caleb Hanie in the absence of Jay Cutler, who is out for the season. The team will be carried by all-everything running back Matt Forte, who needs just 15 yards to break the 1,000-yard rushing barrier.
Chicago's defense is also surprisingly average as far as the rankings go, but their strengths match up well against Kansas City. I like the Bears to keep themselves in playoff contention in this defensive battle.
Bears 16, Chiefs 10
Atlanta Falcons at Houston Texans
The Atlanta Falcons travel to take on the Houston Texans in what might be the week's most pivotal game. Atlanta enters the contest with a 7-4 record, while Houston stands at 8-3, and both teams are fighting for a playoff spot.
With the loss of their top two quarterbacks, the Texans are rolling with fifth-round rookie TJ Yates in their quest to make the playoffs for the first time ever. Star receiver Andre Johnson will be healthy for the game, but the offense will have to lean on running backs Arian Foster and Ben Tate to move the ball.
Houston's defense has been transformed into one of the best units in the league after being spectacularly awful just one season ago. The defensive play will be key throughout the rest of their season to make the playoffs.
Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan has been having a good season and has built an impressive rapport with receiver Roddy White lately, but running back Michael Turner and receiver Julio Jones could be hobbled even if they play in this game.
Defensively, the Falcons have struggled against the pass, but unless Yates can take advantage with his arm, Atlanta should match up pretty well.
This should be a very good game, but the Falcons seem to be on a run and I think they keep inching closer to New Orleans.
Falcons 21, Texans 19
Oakland Raiders at Miami Dolphins
The Oakland Raiders look to keep the lead in a weak division as they travel to Miami to take on the resurgent Dolphins.
The Raiders are led by veteran quarterback Carson Palmer, who has played well lately after a rough start. The running game has been very effective even without Darren McFadden, but they will miss McFadden against the Dolphins. Receiver Denarius Moore will also be out, which will force Darrius Heyward-Bey to step up in the passing game.
Oakland's defense is ranked in the 20s in all major statistical categories, but they had a good performance against the pass-challenged Bears last week.
The Dolphins have won three of their last four after starting 0-7, and much of that has been because of quarterback Matt Moore's hot streak. He's been playing much better lately along with running back Reggie Bush and receiver Brandon Marshall. The three of them lead an offense that is suddenly effective.
Defensively, the Dolphins have been solid all year. They have struggled against the pass, but they are ranked sixth in points allowed.
Both of these teams are playing good football right now, but I like Miami to give the Denver Broncos a little help this week by beating the Raiders.
Dolphins 24, Raiders 17
Denver Broncos at Minnesota Vikings
The 6-5 Denver Broncos will visit the 2-9 Minnesota Vikings as the Broncos seek to stay in playoff contention.
Denver is led by possibly the most controversial player in the NFL in Tim Tebow. Tebow has had an awful completion percentage, but more importantly, he has thrown eight touchdowns to just one interception and makes plays in the clutch.
Tebow has been great with his feet as well and has gotten a ton of help from running back Willis McGahee.
Defensively, the Broncos were just plain awful at the beginning of the year, but once Tebow took over, they significantly improved, and they are now largely responsible for Denver's win streak.
Rookie Von Miller will be hampered with a thumb injury, but he may still be on the field. Either way, players like Elvis Dumervil and DJ Williams will have to step up.
The Vikings are led by rookie quarterback Christian Ponder, who has had an okay NFL debut but hasn't had much help outside of Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin. Peterson will be out for the game against Denver, which means Harvin will have to be very active.
Defensively, the Vikings have one of the best pass rushers in the NFL in Jared Allen, but they have been terrible in pass coverage and points allowed.
This should be another very defensive game unless Tebow has a breakthrough as a passer, but I still like the Broncos to continue their streak.
Broncos 17, Vikings 9
Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots
In what could be one of the most lopsided games of the year (the Indianapolis Colts will be on the wrong end of more than one of those), the 8-3 New England Patriots host the winless Colts.
New England has finally found its groove again behind quarterback Tom Brady after slipping up a couple times earlier this year. Receiver Wes Welker is having an outstanding season, and Rob Gronkowski has been a touchdown machine at tight end. The running game is adequate.
The Patriots were downright awful defensively for awhile, especially against the pass, but they have since improved in all areas. They are still ranked dead last in pass defense and total defense, but they are allowing a respectable 20.3 points per game, good for 11th.
The Colts are pretty terrible in just about all aspects of the game. They are ranked no better than 26th in any major statistical category, offensively or defensively.
At quarterback, the Colts will start Dan Orlovsky, who had some success at Detroit with Calvin Johnson before becoming a journeyman. Receivers Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon are good receivers, while the running game is shared by Joseph Addai, Donald Brown and Delone Carter.
The Colts have two great pass rushers in Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, but other than that, this defense has been terrible, plain and simple.
Unless the Patriots badly overlook the Colts, Indy has no shot at their first win.
Patriots 44, Colts 14
Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers
The Cincinnati Bengals will try to stay in the thick of the playoff race as they take on the Pittsburgh Steelers for a rematch. The Steelers won by a touchdown in the first game.
Cincinnati's offense will be led by a couple of rookies in quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver AJ Green, who have developed a great connection this year. Receiver Jerome Simpson has had a great season as the No. 2 guy, while running back Cedric Benson is pulling his weight in the running game.
Defensively, the Bengals have been very strong in all phases, ranking no lower than 11th in any category. One negative is the doubtful status of defensive end Carlos Dunlap.
Pittsburgh has a three-dimensional offense that features Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, deep threat Mike Wallace and intermediate threat Antonio Brown at receiver, and Rashard Mendenhall at running back.
This offense has had some slight struggles, however, scoring just 13 against Kansas City last week and ranking 19th in scoring offense on the year.
The Steelers are well-known for their ferocious defense, and they haven't disappointed this year, ranking no worse than sixth in any major category.
This is a very tough call, but I'm going to go with the upset. The Bengals greatly improve their playoff chances in Pittsburgh.
Bengals 19, Steelers 17
Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In one of the less meaningful games of the week, the 4-7 Tampa Bay Buccaneers take on the 3-8 Carolina Panthers in Tampa.
The Buccaneers overachieved in 2010 but have been very disappointing this year. They are led by Josh Freeman at quarterback, whose play hasn't been nearly as good as it was last year.
Freeman has been limited in practice this week. Second-year receiver Mike Williams, whose production has also slipped, is Freeman's top target. LeGarrette Blount is quickly becoming one of the better running backs in the NFL.
Defensively, the Bucs have been very disappointing. In fact, they have been downright pathetic, ranking 28th or worse in all four major statistical categories.
Carolina is led by sensational rookie Cam Newton at quarterback, who has had a very good year both passing and rushing.
DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are both underutilized, but they provide dangerous weapons when they get the ball. Receiver Steve Smith has been resurgent this year with Newton throwing him the ball.
The Panthers are also pretty terrible defensively. They are average against the pass but very poor against the run while allowing 27.7 points a game, good for 31st in the league.
This game will probably be defense-optional, but the Bucs have been better than their record suggests at times this year, so I'll give them the edge at home.
Buccaneers 38, Panthers 34
New York Jets at Washington Redskins
The New York Jets try to keep their playoff hopes alive this week against the Washington Redskins.
The Jets are quarterbacked by Mark Sanchez, who threw for four touchdowns against the Bills last week despite completing fewer than half of his passes. Receiver Santonio Holmes and tight end Dustin Keller have been his top targets, while Shonn Greene is carrying the running game.
The defense is where the Jets have the real advantage. They struggled earlier in the season, but they've been playing decently well for the most part as of late. They have very good pass defense and decent run defense.
The Redskins will be led by Rex Grossman at quarterback, who started out the year in impressive fashion but has really struggled since.
He doesn't have much help in the passing game outside of tight end Fred Davis and receiver Jabar Gaffney. Rookie running back Roy Helu has played very well in a tough situation.
The 'Skins also started the year well on defense, but have slightly regressed in that area. They are still decent, ranked 10th, 11th, 10th and 18th in scoring, total, pass and rush defense.
I think the Jets take advantage through the running game and walk out of DC with a win and stay alive for the playoffs.
Jets 26, Redskins 20
Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns
The division-leading Baltimore Ravens take on the bottom-dwelling Cleveland Browns in a game that might be a lot more interesting than many might think.
The Ravens have a huge talent advantage in this game, but the Browns still have a shot simply because of Baltimore's tendency to overlook inferior opponents.
The Ravens are led by Joe Flacco at quarterback, Ray Rice at running back and Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith at receiver. The Ravens' offense has been pretty average in terms of yards gained, but they rank seventh in the league in points scored.
A lot of the success scoring points has to be accredited to a ferocious defense that ranks third in scoring, total and rush defense and fifth in pass defense.
Cleveland has one of the worst offenses in the NFL and simply doesn't have very many playmakers. They are led by Colt McCoy at quarterback, Greg Little at receiver and Peyton Hillis at running back, who is trying to salvage a very disappointing season.
Defensively, Cleveland is actually pretty good. They have an outstanding, top-ranked pass defense that brings their total defensive ranking to sixth despite being ranked 29th against the run. They allow just 19.6 points per game, good for ninth.
I was very tempted to pick Cleveland in an upset over a sleeping Ravens team, but I don't think Baltimore lets that happen this time around. Baltimore's defense is going to be too strong for Cleveland's anemic offense.
Ravens 17, Browns 10
Dallas Cowboys at Arizona Cardinals
The Dallas Cowboys look to continue their win streak as they visit the Arizona Cardinals, who have played better lately as well.
The Cowboys are led by Tony Romo at quarterback, who has played well lately and has been able to hook up with Jason Witten, Dez Bryant and Laurent Robinson frequently. Rookie running back DeMarco Murray has been a gem.
Defensively, the Cowboys are inconsistent but outstanding at times. They rank 15th or better in all areas, and linebacker DeMarcus Ware is leading the league in sacks, with 14.
The Arizona Cardinals will be quarterbacked by Kevin Kolb, who is listed as probable for this week's game.
Kolb's top target is Larry Fitzgerald, who is having a solid season, and the running game features Beanie Wells, who is enjoying a breakout statistical season. Still, they rank 19th or worse in all four major categories.
Arizona's defense has resembled a sieve this year, getting diced by the Giants, Vikings, Steelers and Ravens. They've been a little better lately, but they still rank anywhere from 20th from 26th in all four categories.
The Cowboys definitely know how to lose games they should win, and I think the Cardinals will hang in there with Dallas. Still, I think this is the Cowboys' year to win the division, and I think they keep playing well.
Cowboys 30, Cardinals 23
Green Bay Packers at New York Giants
In another one of the week's biggest games, the Green Bay Packers hit the road to take on a New York Giants team that is trying to avoid a collapse.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is having one of the best statistical seasons in the history of the NFL, thanks in no small part to his outstanding receiving corps. Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Jermichael Finley and James Jones have been reliable and dangerous targets for Rodgers, while James Starks has done a decent job at running back.
Defensively, the Packers have had some struggles, especially against the pass. They rank 31st against the pass and 30th in total defense. However, the 20.6 points they have allowed is ranked 15th and is two touchdowns less than their average points per game on offense.
The Giants have been awful running the football, in large part due to the loss of Ahmad Bradshaw (who is listed as questionable for this week's game), but they rank fourth in the passing game.
New York's defense is surprisingly bad this year, ranking 24th or worse in all four major categories. They do have a strong pass rush, however.
I think Green Bay improves to 12-0 unless the Giants can somehow keep up with them in the passing game.
Packers 37, Giants 27
St. Louis Rams at San Francisco 49ers
The St. Louis Rams visit the San Francisco 49ers this week as the 'Niners look to rebound from a tough loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
The 'Niners are quarterbacked by Alex Smith, who hasn't put up a ton of stats but has been very careful with the football this year.
The running game, led by Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter, has carried the team, while receivers Michael Crabtree and Braylon Edwards (who is questionable for the game) and tight end Vernon Davis provide the offense with some dangerous weapons.
The defense is led by linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, who have both been stat machines this season. This defense has struggled a bit against the pass, but they are first in rush defense and scoring defense.
The Rams, on the other hand, are dead last in scoring offense, which doesn't bode well for quarterback Sam Bradford and running back Steven Jackson. Receiver Brandon Lloyd has provided Bradford with a quality target, but outside of him, there is nobody very reliable for Bradford to throw to.
The Rams are also pretty bad on defense, ranking dead last against the run and 24th in points scored. They are pretty good against the pass, but that won't be much of a factor against the 49ers.
San Fran rolls over the Rams.
49ers 35, Rams 7
Detroit Lions at New Orleans Saints
The Detroit Lions look to keep their playoff hopes burning brightly as they travel to New Orleans to take on the Saints' scoring machine.
The Lions have an explosive passing offense led by quarterback Matt Stafford and receiver Calvin Johnson. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew and receivers Nate Burleson and Titus Young are solid secondary options.
The running backs for Detroit have had much more than their share of bad luck; fourth-string Maurice Morris is the starter in the event that Kevin Smith can't play.
The defense has been solid against the pass largely because of the pass rush, but key players Ndamukong Suh, Louis Delmas and Chris Houston will likely be out for this game. Suh was suspended for two games, while Delmas and Houston are listed as doubtful.
New Orleans is led by Drew Brees at quarterback and has the top-ranked passing offense in the league while scoring the third-most points per game. Tight end Jimmy Graham is having a Pro Bowl-type of year while Marques Colston is having a good season at receiver.
You wouldn't think of New Orleans as being a running team, but they are ranked eighth on the legs of Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles.
Defensively, the Saints have been pretty disappointing. They rank 17th or worse in all categories. However, they play well enough to hold most teams below their offense's total, which really isn't that difficult.
The Lions are on the way up, but they won't likely be able to beat the red-hot Saints without Suh or an effective running game.
Saints 34, Lions 28
San Diego Chargers at Jacksonville Jaguars
The San Diego Chargers will take on the Jacksonville Jaguars on Monday Night Football in a game pitting two underachieving teams against each other.
The Chargers are led by Philip Rivers at quarterback, Vincent Jackson at receiver and Ryan Mathews at running back. This offense has been good at getting yards, ranking seventh in total offense, but mistakes have plagued them all season.
Defensively, it has been more of the same. This whole team has great potential and a ton of talent, but despite ranking 13th in total defense, they rank 26th in scoring defense.
Jacksonville has one of the worst offenses in the league, ranking dead last in scoring, total and passing offense. Rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert has had a very ineffective season, but has had almost no help from his receivers. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew has been a rock for this offense.
The Jaguars are actually very good defensively, ranking fifth, fourth, fourth and 14th in scoring, total, passing and rushing defense.
This game should be a low-scoring affair, but with nothing really on the line for the Chargers anymore, I could see them taking out their anger on the Jags.
Chargers 24, Jaguars 6