NFL Picks Week 15: Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Picks

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystDecember 10, 2014

NFL Picks Week 15: Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Picks

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    We're already into the final month of the 2014 NFL season, and if we've learned one thing about the NFL this year, it's this: We know very little about the NFL.

    Very few pundits pegged the Arizona Cardinals as a Super Bowl contender before the season. However, despite an ever-growing list of injuries to key contributors, the Redbirds sit atop the NFC West at 10-3.

    The San Francisco 49ers, on the other hand, were tabbed as contenders in many circles. After dropping to 7-6 after a loss to a one-win Oakland team last week, those hopes are toast, as is Jim Harbaugh's tenure as the Niners head coach.

    So, with the playoffs just around the corner, who will rise up in Week 15 and who will fall flat?

    Let's find out by examining the game-by-game picks of the Division Lead and National Lead Writers here at Bleacher Report.

Roll Call/Standings

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    With only three weeks to go in the regular season, the competition between our scribes is heating up.

    Spearheaded by a sterling 14-2 week from NFL National Lead Writer Matt Bowen, 13 of the 16 Bleacher Report writers racked up double-digit "wins" in Week 14.

    They included NFC East Lead Writer Brad Gagnon, who maintains his overall lead. However, a 12-4 week from analyst Gary Davenport (hate that guy) closed the gap to a single game, NFC West Lead Writer Sean Tomlinson is just behind Gagnon from a winning percentage standpoint and four writers are within five picks of first place with three weeks to go.

    Matt Bowen: NFL National Lead Writer 14-2 (134-73)

    Gary Davenport: NFL Analyst 12-4 (138-69)

    Mike Freeman: NFL National Lead Writer 11-5 (126-81)

    Erik Frenz: AFC East Lead Writer 9-7 (123-84)

    Brad Gagnon: NFC East Lead Writer 11-5 (139-68)

    Andrea Hangst: AFC North Lead Writer 10-6 (123-84)

    Christopher Hansen: AFC West Lead Writer 10-6 (124-83)

    Zach Kruse: NFC North Lead Writer 10-6 (132-75)

    Rivers McCown: AFC South Lead Writer 12-4 (119-88)

    Matt Miller: NFL National Lead Writer 12-4 (136-71)

    Ty Schalter: NFL National Lead Writer 12-4 (127-80)

    Michael Schottey: NFL National Lead Writer 9-7 (131-76)

    Chris Simms: Former NFL Quarterback, Video Correspondent 12-4 (136-71)

    Brent Sobleski: NFC South Lead Writer 10-6 (131-76)

    Mike Tanier: NFL National Lead Writer 11-5 (129-78)

    Sean TomlinsonNFC West Lead Writer 10-6 (117-58)

    Aggregate: 11-5 (136-71)

Arizona Cardinals (10-3) at St. Louis Rams (6-7)

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    The Pick: St. Louis Rams (13-3)

    Make no mistake. There isn't a playoff contender in the NFL that wants any part of playing the St. Louis Rams right now.

    The Rams have already knocked off both of last year's Super Bowl teams this season. Over the past two weeks, the Rams have pitched back-to-back shutouts, downing the Oakland Raiders and Washington Redskins by a combined score of 76-0.

    Yes, it was the Raiders and Redskins, but one shutout is hard to come by in the NFL. Two in a row is a big deal, no matter the opponents.

    NFC East Lead Writer (and current picks leader) Brad Gagnon expects the Rams to keep that positive momentum rolling this week against the division-leading Cardinals:

    Arizona was lucky to beat the Chiefs. Had they not, the Cardinals would be free-falling on a three-game losing streak. On the road on short rest against a team that has outscored its opponents 76-0 the last two weeks, this might not even be close.

    There are a few dissenters, but the majority of our experts believe that the Rams will prevail, which could set up a huge meeting in Week 16 between the Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks in Glendale.

    Cardinals: Freeman, Frenz, Schalter

    Rams: Bowen, Davenport, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5) at Atlanta Falcons (5-8)

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    The Pick: Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3)

    On its surface, this would appear to be an easy call. The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off a huge win over the Cincinnati Bengals where running back Le'Veon Bell was completely unstoppable.

    Meanwhile, the Falcons are coming off a loss to the Green Bay Packers in which their defense once again showed it isn't interested in stopping anybody.

    Still, before you go betting the mortgage money on Big Ben and the boys in black, AFC North Lead Writer Andrea Hangst has some words of caution:

    The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off of a convincing win over the Cincinnati Bengals and are firmly in the AFC playoff hunt. But this contest in Atlanta has all the hallmarks of a Steelers loss. The Steelers have been adept at playing down to inferior competition (the Buccaneers, the Jets and the Saints have all defeated Pittsburgh this season) and the Falcons are no exception. Add in the Steelers' struggling secondary, which will have to deal with Julio Jones (granted his hip injury isn't severe), and it doesn't look pretty for Pittsburgh on Sunday.

    Hangst makes some valid points, but NFL National Lead Writer Mike Tanier looks for the Steelers to prevail:

    The only real question in Steelers-Falcons is whether the Steelers will totally flake out the way they did against so many other bad opponents this season. It is possible, but watching the Falcons defense spend the first half of Monday Night Football slip and tumble to the ground as if they wanted to file a lawsuit against the Packers, it's hard to imagine them mounting any pass rush or stopping Le'Veon Bell. Julio Jones could score three 70-yard touchdowns against the Steelers defense, but the final score would still end up 42-21. Kind of like the Steelers-Bengals game, only sillier.

    The majority of our writers sided with him.

    Steelers: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Gagnon, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

    Falcons: Hangst, Schalter, Schottey

Washington Redskins (3-10) at New York Giants (4-9)

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    The Pick: New York Giants (16-0)

    All right! This game will come in handy with it being winter and all, as we can all gather around this dumpster fire and get warm.

    The soap opera that is the 2014 Washington Redskins has now become something of a tragedy. Washington has lost five in a row and nine of 11, with the latest setback coming in the form of a 24-0 home loss to the St. Louis Rams.

    Now, a "beaten down" Jay Gruden, who acknowledged that the pressure of this is job more than he expected, is telling reporters (including Dianna Marie Russini of NBC4 in D.C.) that jobs are on the line when the Redskins travel to face the New York Giants on Sunday.

    Granted, the Giants haven't fared much better this year. However, Big Blue is coming off a big win over the Tennessee Titans, and the Giants blasted Washington in D.C. back in Week 4.

    Combine it all together, and you get a unanimous vote in favor of the home team.

    Redskins: Think Gruden knows one of those jobs on the line is his?

    Giants: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

Miami Dolphins (7-6) at New England Patriots (10-3)

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    The Pick: New England Patriots (15-1)

    It's do-or-die time for the Miami Dolphins.

    After squandering a late lead against the Baltimore Ravens a week ago, the 7-6 Dolphins have zero margin for error. Lose another game, and it's sayonara postseason.

    Unfortunately, this week the Dolphins have to travel to Boston to face their AFC East nemesis. Granted, the Dolphins defeated the New England Patriots back in Week 1, but AFC East Lead Writer Erik Frenz writes that accomplishing that feat twice in a row is a tall order:

    The last time these two teams played, the Patriots surged out to an early 10-point lead before coughing up a 13-point loss without scoring a single point in the second half. These are two very different teams now, though, and they are trending in opposite directions. The Dolphins' playoff hopes hinge on this game, but the Patriots' No. 1 spot in the AFC does, too. If the Patriots can prevent Ryan Tannehill from dinking-and-dunking them to death, they should move to 11-3.

    With the exception of AFC South Lead Writer Rivers McCown (who hasn't seen an upset pick he didn't like all season long), the panel is with Frenz in picking the Patriots.

    Maybe next year, Miami.

    Dolphins: McCown

    Patriots: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

Oakland Raiders (2-11) at Kansas City Chiefs (7-6)

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    The Pick: Kansas City Chiefs (15-1)

    Last week, the Oakland Raiders gave their fans much more than just their second win of the season.

    They gave them hope.

    Mind you, the San Francisco 49ers may not be the team that many thought they would be in 2014. But the Raiders didn't just beat the 49ers—they controlled the game throughout.

    In Week 14 at least, the Raiders looked every bit an NFL team. And not the worst one in the league, either.

    The Raiders have already beaten the Chiefs once, but as AFC West Lead Writer Christopher Hansen points out, the Chiefs are a much different animal at Arrowhead:

    Just a couple weeks ago, the Raiders managed to upset the Chiefs in Oakland, but Arrowhead changes a lot of things. The Raiders have been a team that can hang around at home, but they've been generally awful on the road.

    The Chiefs need a win to stay in the playoff hunt and for once shouldn't hesitate to give Jamaal Charles nearly every other touch. The Raiders have done a good job slowing down Charles in the run game, but he's gouged them in the pass game over the last couple years. In fact, the Raiders have done a generally poor job covering backs in the passing game, and the only touchdown they allowed last week was on a swing pass to fullback Bruce Miller.

    Kansas City's top pass defense should be able to slow down rookie quarterback Derek Carr, and the Raiders are obviously going to try to run it on the league's worst run defense. Expect a low-scoring affair as both teams ride their running backs, which should also prevent a blowout. If the Chiefs don't win big, expect them to figure out a way to win late at home to keep their playoff hopes alive.

    However, "Riverboat" Rivers McCown thinks the Raiders are about to enter uncharted waters—with a winning streak:

    Lone dissenter! Okay, so let's reboot:

    • The Chiefs are freefalling, having lost three in a row, including on the road at Oakland. Kansas City has zero downfield passing game to speak of, and that will continue to make any game they play in close.
    • While Oakland got destroyed by the Rams in Week 13, their other two wins have come against the Chiefs and the 49ers, who appear to have tried to replicate the KC passing game this year.
    • A healthy Latavius Murray actually makes Oakland's offense semi-frisky.
    • Despite the huge blowout by the Rams, the Raiders haven't allowed more than 348 yards on defense over the last four games.

    I can understand why KC is favored, but I think Oakland will give them a tighter game than most expect.

    The man likes his upsets.

    Raiders: McCown

    Chiefs: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

Houston Texans (7-6) at Indianapolis Colts (9-4)

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    The Pick: Indianapolis Colts (15-1)

    The stakes are simple in Sunday's meeting between the Texans and Colts in Indy. If the Colts win the game, they are the AFC South champions for a second straight season and the Houston Texans' playoff hopes are all but finished.

    It would probably mean the end of J.J. Watt's MVP candidacy as well. Watt has played ridiculously well this season, leading all defensive linemen with 14.5 sacks while scoring an eye-popping five touchdowns.

    However, only two defensive players have ever been named MVP, and both those players were part of teams that made Super Bowl runs.

    With that said, AFC South Lead Writer Rivers McCown relayed a fact that throws a very big, very cold bucket of reality on the Texans' chances in this game:

    Let me tell you about the last time the Houston Texans beat the Indianapolis Colts in Indy: Never. The Texans have existed since 2002, have played the Colts in Indy once per season and lost every single one of those games. Even the one Dan Orlovsky started.

    While I don't think something like that has a lot of predictive value, what it does show is Houston's long-standing place in the order of the AFC South. The Colts have always been the team led by an amazing quarterback with other holes, and the Texans have always been the team with five or six good players and a lot of mediocrity around them.

    I'm not saying that J.J. Watt can't pull off an upset here, because J.J. Watt can do anything he damn well pleases. But, until I see it happen with my own eyes, I won't believe the Texans won a game in Indianapolis.

    Looks like Watt may have to settle for another Defensive Player of the Year award.

    Texans: Simms

    Colts: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

Cincinnati Bengals (8-4-1) at Cleveland Browns (7-6)

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    The Pick: Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)

    It's Johnny Jamboogie time!

    As reported, the switch has been made. Rookie Johnny Manziel will start at quarterback for the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, a move head coach Mike Pettine said gives the Browns the best chance to win:

    This decision is really not about Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel, it is about the Cleveland Browns. We are always going to make decisions that we feel are in the best interest of the team. Brian has done everything that has been asked of him and he has done so as a true professional. ... We are trying to get the offense to perform at a higher level. Johnny has worked very hard to earn this opportunity and it will be very important for every member of the offense to elevate their play for us to obtain our desired result.

    It's a game with huge stakes for both teams. After dropping three of four, the Browns' playoff hopes are hanging by a thread. The same holds true for the Bengals' lead in the AFC North, which was trimmed to half a game after last week's loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    NFL National Lead Writer Ty Schalter thinks that everyone's focus in the days leading up to this game has been on the wrong signal-caller:

    Much of the anticipation for this big AFC North matchup is on who’ll play quarterback for Cleveland. The focus should instead be on Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. The Browns are tied for the NFL lead in interception rate, per Pro Football Reference, and only five qualifying passers have thrown picks more frequently than Dalton.

    With the Bengals inexplicably getting away from their very effective run game over the past few weeks, the Browns defense should feast. Meanwhile, the Bengals are ranked 27th in rushing yardage allowed; the Browns fourth in rushing attempts. As long as whomever starts at quarterback for the Browns doesn’t make many more mistakes than Hoyer’s been making, this game should be Cleveland’s to lose.

    However, over two-thirds of our writers predicted that the Bengals will right the ship on the road, spoiling Manziel's first career start.

    Bengals: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Gagnon, Hansen, Kruse, Miller, Schottey, Sobleski, Tomlinson  

    Browns: HangstMcCownSchalterSimmsTanier

Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11) at Baltimore Ravens (8-5)

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    The Pick: Baltimore Ravens (16-0)

    On the surface, this pick looks like the no-brainer of the week.

    In one corner, we have a battle-tested Baltimore Ravens team still very much in the hunt in the AFC North. The same Ravens team (largely) that won Super Bowl XLVII.

    In the other, we have—the Jacksonville Jaguars.

    (My mother always said if you can't think of something nice to say, don't say anything at all.)

    However, NFL National Lead Writer Matt Miller cautioned that this game may not be the blowout that some expect:

    The Baltimore Ravens are looking to make a playoff push, and the only thing standing in their way in Week 15 is the Jacksonville Jaguars. You might not think a two-win team is a big obstacle, but the Jaguars are a good matchup against this Baltimore team.

    The Jags can get after the quarterback, especially defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks, and will test the Ravens' offensive line. And while the linebackers and secondary are average at best, the pass rush will be key to helping the entire defense.

    The good news for the Ravens is that they have the upper hand in talent on both sides of the ball, the more stable quarterback (and that's an understatement) and a running game that can take over the game and control the tempo. The Jaguars may get a few big plays off against this secondary, but in the end, it won't be enough to swing the game in their favor.

    Of course, he didn't actually pick the Jaguars.

    Jaguars: Jaguars don't need wins anyway. They need players.

    Ravens: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

Green Bay Packers (10-3) at Buffalo Bills (7-6)

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    The Pick: Green Bay Packers (16-0)

    The Buffalo Bills find themselves in much the same boat as their AFC East brethren in Miami on Sunday.

    Coming off a disheartening loss, with their playoff hopes hanging by the slimmest of threads, the Bills have to face one of the NFL's most potent offenses, guided by a quarterback who will one day likely be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

    Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers is playing about as well as a quarterback can play in 2014. The 31-year-old has tossed 35 touchdown passes against only three interceptions, and his passer rating is a gaudy 119.0.

    Stopping the Green Bay offense is a Herculean task at present, but NFC North Lead Writer Zach Kruse opined that the Bills have it in them to keep this game close:

    This game feels a lot like the Chiefs' upset over the Packers back in 2011, which ended Green Bay's perfect season. It's on the road, against a top defensive front and with Kyle Orton at quarterback. The difference for this Packers team: an offensive line and a capable running game.

    He just didn't say anything about the Bills winning.

    Packers: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

    Bills: Unless they Gorilla Glue Rodgers' hotel room door shut, nope.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-11) at Carolina Panthers (4-8-1)

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    The Pick: Carolina Panthers (14-2)

    Just when things were finally looking up for the Carolina Panthers.

    Just a few days after playing easily their best game of the season in a blowout win over the New Orleans Saints, the Panthers were rocked by off-the-field news.

    As reports, quarterback Cam Newton was hospitalized Tuesday after being involved in a two-car accident that resulted in a significant back injury:

    "Further testing revealed that Cam Newton has two transverse process fractures in his lower back and no further internal injuries," the Panthers said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. ...

    The Panthers earlier said Newton will be held overnight for observation but that the franchise quarterback was 'in fair condition and undergoing tests at Carolinas Medical Center.

    On Wednesday, the Panthers announced that Derek Anderson would get the start at QB against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. NFC South Lead Writer Brent Sobleski believes that, Cam or no Cam, the Panthers will still get the win in Week 15:

    The Panthers smell blood in the water as the 2-11 Buccaneers come to town. Carolina played its best game of the season Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. An injury to quarterback Cam Newton complicates matters, though. Luckily, Carolina still has veteran Derek Anderson as its backup quarterback. Anderson started the season-opener due to other injuries to Newton, and he led the Panthers to a 20-14 victory over the Buccaneers. While NFC South divisional contests have been toss-ups this season, the 4-8-1 Panthers are trending in the right direction as they enter this weekend's contest.

    At least we know that an NFC South team will be getting a win in this one. Hasn't been much of that going on in 2014.

    Buccaneers: McCown, Simms

    Panthers: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

New York Jets (2-11) at Tennessee Titans (2-11)

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    The Pick: No One (16-0)

    This game is an affront to football, its fans, the ghosts of players from the 1920s and eyes. As such, our panel boycotted picking the game, instead retiring to the game room for a spirited foosball tournament.

    The Real Pick: New York Jets (14-2)

    OK, we don't get to pick and choose our battles, and while everyone likes foosball, it's our panel's solemn duty to pick every NFL game. Even ones worse than Gigli.

    In fact, AFC East Lead Writer Erik Frenz even offered up a breakdown of the game that will decide a great deal—so far as draft position in 2015 goes:

    When you're picking a game between two bad teams, it's usually smart to pick the bad home team to beat the bad road team. The Titans haven't won at home since mid-October, but if they can find a way to take advantage of the Jets' porous secondary, a win could be in order.

    However, most of the panel went with the visitors in this one, perhaps because the ground-and-pound Jets get a Titans "defense" in Week 15 that ranks dead last against the run.

    Jets: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tomlinson

    Titans: Frenz, Tanier

Denver Broncos (10-3) at San Diego Chargers (8-5)

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    The Pick: Denver Broncos (11-5)

    There's trouble on the mountaintop. At least, that's what some would have you believe.

    In Week 14, Denver quarterback Peyton Manning failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time since November—of 2010. The Broncos haven't topped 30 points or scored three touchdowns in a game since all the way back in Week 12.


    Of course, these offensive "struggles" haven't stopped the Broncos from winning, and while AFC West Lead Writer Christopher Hansen expects a close game in San Diego, he predicts that the Broncos will sew up the AFC West on Sunday afternoon:

    It's amazing the San Diego Chargers are still in position to make the playoffs because they are probably the most inconsistent team in the entire league. One week, they are beating the Baltimore Ravens on the road, and the next, they are blowing it at home against the New England Patriots. The Broncos have been much more consistent about winning games, but they're banged up and relying on tertiary options to carry the offense. A brutal schedule has likely been a factor for both teams.

    Like the Patriots last week, the Broncos have the defensive pieces to slow down Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates and Malcom Floyd. Denver's top run defense should also be able to keep the Chargers from executing the ball-control offense that was successful against them once last year.

    San Diego's defense had a great performance last week, but has been almost perfectly average this season. The Chargers will need another great defensive performance against Peyton Manning, who threw three touchdowns to Emmanuel Sanders earlier this season in Denver. Sanders happens to be the Broncos' healthiest receiving weapon and the Chargers have struggled with smaller, faster receivers that can run sharp routes. Julian Edelman had eight receptions for 141 yards and a touchdown last week, for example.

    It's just not a good matchup for the Chargers, but in the wild AFC West, anything can certainly happen. Expect the Broncos to come out passing early and then go to their new-found running game. If the Chargers can keep it close, expect them to try to run the ball early and between the 20s and use the passing game to convert on third down and in the red zone.

    It wasn't a landslide, but our writers sided with Hansen on this one.

    Broncos: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Hansen, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

    Chargers: Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Kruse, McCown

Minnesota Vikings (6-7) at Detroit Lions (9-4)

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    The Pick: Detroit Lions (16-0)

    In an odd way, the fact that this pick is unanimous should scare the crud out of Lions fans.

    Yes, the Lions have so far avoided the late collapse that doomed their season a year ago. However, thanks to teams like the Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks, the Lions' margin of error is effectively zero right now.

    It looks like another year where a 10-win NFC team may miss the playoffs altogether.

    As David McCoy of CBS Minnesota reports, the Vikings are still nursing faint playoff hopes of their own:

    First of all, the Vikings must win out so that they finish 9-7. The Seahawks must lose out so that they finish 9-7.

    The Eagles OR Cowboys (doesn’t matter which) must lose out so that one of them finishes 9-7. The 49ers must lose at least once so that they don’t finish better than 9-7.

    Here’s the crazy part: The Rams must win out so that they finish 9-7 and force a 9-7 Seahawks team into a tiebreaker situation. The divisional record is the first tiebreaker — which the Rams would win by having beaten the Seahawks twice. That would result in the 9-7 Vikings being compared with the 9-7 Rams, which they would move ahead of via head-to-head victory in Week 1; whereas, if the Rams weren’t 9-7 and only the Seahawks and Vikings were, the Seahawks would have the tiebreaker over the Vikings and knock them out) WHEW!

    And here’s the really crazy part: The Packers and Lions both need to win at least one game. That’s because if either the Packers or the Lions finish 9-7 along with the Vikings, it’ll come down (just like the SEA/STL situation) to the divisional record tiebreaker, which will knock the Vikings out, because no matter what happens, the Vikings will have a worse divisional record than the Packers and Vikings. However, if the Packers and Lions (and yes, it has to be both of them) have a better record than the Vikings, the divisional tiebreaker won’t come into play — because then the Vikings would be compared against 9-7 teams from other divisions instead of first being compared with the 9-7 team(s) in their own division, which would knock them out before even getting to the comparing them against teams from other divisions part.

    Please win, Detroit. That whole scenario just gave me vertigo.

    Vikings: Bright side? The team's improved this year. Mike Zimmer's done well.

    Lions: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

San Francisco 49ers (7-6) at Seattle Seahawks (9-4)

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    The Pick: Seattle Seahawks (16-0)

    At the beginning of the 2014 season, this was circled on many calendars as a "pre-playoff." After all, the Seahawks and 49ers met in last year's NFC Championship Game.

    Now, 14 weeks in, it's a unanimous pick featuring two teams barreling in opposite directions.

    NFC West Lead Writer Sean Tomlinson doesn't see this game turning out any differently than the Thanksgiving night affair dominated by the Seahawks in San Francisco:

    Jim Harbaugh might be gone by halftime of this game, and off purchasing furniture for his new Oakland office (along with a fresh supply of Wal-Mart khakis). There was a period of this season when the Seahawks defense played poorly by Seahawks standards. That strange time in our lives is now a distant memory, as they've allowed only 20 points since Week 12. Meanwhile, Colin Kaepernick has been an unhinged mess, completing only 54.8 percent of his passes over the last two weeks. This will get ugly fast (again).

    Nobody's lining up to argue with him.

    49ers: Dude. They lost to Oakland.

    Seahawks: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

Dallas Cowboys (9-4) at Philadelphia Eagles (9-4)

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    The Pick: Dallas Cowboys (11-5)

    Not to be overly dramatic, but Sunday night's game in Philadelphia may well define the Dallas Cowboys' season.

    That's because, as's Todd Archer reports, it may well be NFC East champs or bust for the 'Boys:

    Thanks to the Seattle Seahawks beating the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, the Cowboys' rematch with the Eagles has the division on the line again.

    Of course, Seattle's win leaves the Cowboys with little margin for error the rest of the way because they are out of the playoffs at the moment because the Seahawks and Detroit Lions, also 9-4, own the tiebreaker over the Cowboys. Dallas' win at Seattle earlier this season is moot in a three-way tie.

    The Cowboys could find themselves out of the playoffs even if they win 11 games. That has happened only twice: the 1985 Denver Broncos and the 2008 New England Patriots.

    That, coupled with the Cowboys' history of December dives, has created more than a little anxiety in North Texas. But NFC East Lead Writer Brad Gagnon thinks the Cowboys are going to keep things interesting in the East:

    The Cowboys have had extra rest and should be better prepared for an Eagles team that was exposed a little against Seattle. I don't trust Philadelphia in big games, and I don't think Tony Romo will perform badly twice in a three-week stretch against a bad defense.

    A surprisingly decisive percentage of Gagnon's colleagues agree.

    Cowboys: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Miller, Schottey, Simms, Tomlinson

    Eagles: Kruse, McCown, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier

New Orleans Saints (5-8) at Chicago Bears (5-8)

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    The Pick: New Orleans Saints (11-5)

    Since NBC started televising games on Sunday night, Monday Night Football has lost some of its luster. The games are on cable now. Many say that the matchups have suffered.

    That may be true, but there are times when that's no one's fault. Take Monday's matchup between the Bears and Saints in the Windy City. Before both teams engaged in dually disappointing seasons, this looked like an exciting offensive matchup.

    Now the most offensive thing about the game may be the play of two wretched defenses.

    AFC South Lead Writer Rivers McCown went with the home team, while both aptly naming this game and taking a (well-deserved) shot at the dismal NFC South.

    "Disappointment bowl! I studied these teams carefully," McCown said, "then I realized that Chicago was not in the NFC South. So, that was enough to pick them to win this one."

    However, the Bizarro-Saints of 2014 have looked better on the road than at home this year, and the majority of our voters apparently just aren't ready to pick Jay Cutler over Drew Brees.

    Saints: Bowen, Davenport, Gagnon, Hansen, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

    Bears: Freeman, Frenz, Hangst, Kruse, McCown