NFL Picks Week 14: Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Picks

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystDecember 9, 2015

NFL Picks Week 14: Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Picks

0 of 17

    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    Just when we thought we knew everything.

    OK, when we thought we knew something.

    When we thought we knew anything.

    That's the thing about the NFL. Just when you think you know how a season will play out, along comes a game that demonstrates how little we actually understand.

    Like a contest where the Philadelphia Eagles roll into Foxborough, put up 35 unanswered points and send the New England Patriots to a second straight loss after 10 wins a row to open the season.

    Of course, not everything in Week 13 was wonky. The Carolina Panthers kept winning. The Cleveland Browns kept losing.

    But as the NFL Analysts and National Lead Writers here at Bleacher Report cast their eyes toward the upcoming week's playoff-push-packed slate, they do so with one caveat in mind: Expect the unexpected.

Roll Call/Standings

1 of 17

    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Well, at least when we're wrong, we're wrong as a team.

    As has happened more than once in 2015, all eight members of our panel picked the Chicago Bears to down the San Francisco 49ers a week ago. Ditto for the Patriots over those four-win Eagles.

    Um, oops. And oops again.

    Still, it was a pretty good week overall. The entire panel came in at .500 or better.

    And as we have had all season, there was another change at the top, with NFL National Lead Writers Mike Freeman and Matt Miller continuing to flip-flop for the top overall spot.

    With four weeks to play, it looks like things are coming down to the wire.

    Gary Davenport: NFL Analyst 10-6 (116-76)

    Mike Freeman: NFL National Lead Writer 10-6 (119-73)

    Brad Gagnon: NFL Analyst 10-6 (113-79)

    Matt Miller: NFL National Lead Writer 8-8 (118-74)

    Ty Schalter: NFL National Lead Writer 9-7 (104-88)

    Brent Sobleski: NFL Analyst 9-7 (114-78)

    Mike Tanier: NFL National Lead Writer 10-6 (110-82)

    Sean Tomlinson: NFL Analyst 10-6 (113-79)

    Consensus: 9-7 (118-74)

Minnesota Vikings (8-4) at Arizona Cardinals (10-2)

2 of 17

    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    The Pick: Arizona Cardinals (8-0)

    With the Arizona Cardinals enjoying one of their best seasons since moving to the desert and barreling toward an NFC West title, it's not a big surprise that quarterback Carson Palmer is generating some MVP buzz.

    What is surprising, as's Josh Weinfuss reports, is that in advance of Thursday night's tilt between the Redbirds and Minnesota Vikings that MVP buzz is coming from Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer:

    Honestly, watching tape, I hear about all these people talking about MVPs, and he really should be in the consideration with the way he's playing. And that's not media talk, either. That's true. That's what I believe. ...

    He's playing with a ton of confidence. He's throwing the ball into a lot of tight places. His arm looks outstanding, better than what I remember. Footwork is great. I think he's playing with a lot of confidence. He trusts these receivers and tight ends, obviously. Like I said before, I think he's a legit MVP guy.

    That's heady praise from Zimmer, who has a short week to drill last Sunday's beatdown at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks from his players' minds.

    Bleacher Report NFL Analyst Brad Gagnon thinks that's a tall task:

    I like the Vikings, but they're a year away from being capable of winning big games against Super Bowl contenders, especially on the road on short rest. Teddy Bridgewater is running into an elite defense at the wrong time.

    The panel is unanimous in its agreement.

    Vikings: Bright side? Those unanimous votes I referenced in the previous slide.

    Cardinals: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

Buffalo Bills (6-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-7)

3 of 17

    David Duprey/Associated Press

    The Pick: Buffalo Bills (7-1)

    It's not easy going home.

    This week's tilt between the Philadelphia Eagles and Buffalo Bills features a pair of teams scrambling to keep their playoff hopes afloat. It also features a pair of players traded for each other before the season who are now facing their former teammates for the first time.

    However, despite an acrimonious exit from the City of Brotherly Love, Bills tailback LeSean McCoy insisted to Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer that no ill will exists between him and Eagles grand poobah Chip Kelly:

    I don't have no issue with him. There's no problem. I don't hate him. It's nothing like that. It's just that he wants things done a certain way. He doesn't care about the player and how he feels about it. He's the coach, so I guess I can understand that type of thinking.

    Maybe I'm just different. Certain things I might ask him or talk to him about - he's probably not used to. We ain't like best friends or that, but we're no enemies.

    OK, so they might not be ready for pistols at 10 paces, but given McCoy's remarks it's also a safe bet the pair won't be exchanging secret Santa gifts Sunday either.

    And with one dissenting voice (some yokel trying to make up a game on the leaders) our writers expect Shady to exact a measure of revenge on his former mates in Week 14.

    Bills: Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

    Eagles: Davenport

San Francisco 49ers (4-8) at Cleveland Browns (2-10)

4 of 17

    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    The Pick: San Francisco 49ers (6-2)

    There was good news and bad news for the San Francisco 49ers in their overtime win over the Chicago Bears in Week 13.

    The good news? The whole winning the game thing.

    The bad news? The Niners didn't earn any style points doing that. Two of San Francisco's plays (a 44-yard scoring dash by quarterback Blaine Gabbert and a 71-yard touchdown pass from Gabbert to Torrey Smith) accounted for 115 of the team’s 291 yards of total offense on the day.

    That's some offensive offense right there.

    Head coach Jim Tomsula conceded to Ron Kroichick of SF Gate that there's still a lot of work to be done on that side of the ball:

    It wasn’t what we wanted it to be coming out of the gates. We did have a 16-play drive (in the second quarter) - that’s what we wanted to look like, with our rhythm and getting in and out of the huddle.

    Then there was a lull again. … But there were a lot of things to feel good about and continue to grow from.

    Luckily for the 49ers, they travel to face the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.

    And as bad as the Niners are offensively, the Browns are even worse on defense—as in 29th in the NFL at 398.8 yards allowed per game.

    49ers: Davenport, Freeman, Miller, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

    Browns: Gagnon, Schalter

Detroit Lions (4-8) at St. Louis Rams (4-8)

5 of 17

    Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

    The Pick: Detroit Lions (8-0)

    The Detroit Lions were this close.

    The final gun had sounded. The Green Bay Packers' last-second lateral play had failed. The Lions had won the game 23-21, sweeping the season series with Green Bay and climbing to 5-7 in the process.

    Of course, you know what happened. A facemask penalty that may or may not have actually been a facemask penalty. An untimed down. A Hail Mary. And a catch by Packers tight end Richard Rodgers that will be replayed ad nauseam over the days and weeks to come.

    And as Kyle Meinke of reported, recent history suggests the stench from that loss might hang around the Lions a while:

    The Detroit Lions are no strangers to adversity. At 4-8, they've taken some blows.

    And they haven't always handled it well, despite Jim Caldwell's insistence to the contrary.

    After coming up on the short end of a blown call against Seattle, Detroit was eviscerated at home against the Arizona Cardinals -- a loss so bad, fans cheered for an Arizona touchdown in the second half.

    After getting undressed at home against Minnesota and firing three assistants, Detroit was blown out in London by the Kansas City Chiefs.

    Caldwell likes to think of his team as resilient in the face of adversity, but the facts suggest otherwise, most notably in games immediately following tough losses. And that's a salient point this week, as the Lions (4-8) try to put their gut-wrenching loss against Green Bay in the rear view in time for a road game Sunday against the St. Louis Rams (4-8).

    So why is our panel unanimous in its belief that the Lions will shake off the heartbreak and get the job done?

    Maybe it's because, for as bad as the Lions are, they haven't quit.

    Lions: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

    Rams: Yeah, I said it. For a team that swears it hasn't quit, the Rams look an awful lot like a team that's quit.

New Orleans Saints (4-8) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-6)

6 of 17

    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    The Pick: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-0)

    In Week 13, both of the top two picks in the 2015 NFL draft guided their teams to victory for the first time in the same week since back in Week 1.

    Of course, Jameis Winston of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has done a fair bit more than that. The No. 1 overall pick in last April's draft has the Buccaneers at 6-6 and in the thick of the NFC wild-card race.

    And while Marcus Mariota of the Tennessee Titans has also impressed in his first NFL season, at this point's Bill Barnwell feels the Bucs chose wisely:

    After reviewing the two quarterbacks, I lean toward Winston as the better of the two players right now. That's not an indictment of Mariota, especially in terms of his future as Tennessee's franchise quarterback. These are two passers who are beginning to deliver on their lofty promise, and it helps that they're both in their age-21 seasons, meaning that they'll have extra development time in the years to come relative to other highly drafted passers, who often enter the league during their age-22 or age-23 campaigns. Ask me to pick now, and I choose Winston. Ask me to pick for the future, and I pick them both.

    The last time Winston and the Buccaneers faced the Saints the result was 207 yards through the air and one touchdown.

    In other words, that's approximately what the New Orleans' pass "defense" has been allowing per quarter of late.

    Big day for the rookie. Home team rolls.

    Saints: I'm not kidding. Their pass defense really is that bad.

    Buccaneers: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

Tennessee Titans (3-9) at New York Jets (7-5)

7 of 17

    Al Pereira/Getty Images

    The Pick: New York Jets (8-0)

    On the heels of last week's win in the battle of New York, the Jets remain very much in the thick of the wild-card race in the AFC.

    And as Dennis Waszak of the Associated Press reports, for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (who has never played in the postseason), being in the hunt this late in the year is a nice change of pace:

    It’s great to be in this situation. To be able to play meaningful games in December, that’s always the goal. It will be a lot more fun if we continue to win. ...

    This whole year has been awesome and a lot of it is just the team that we have. Coming to work every day is great because we have guys that love the game of football and love playing together.

    Wideout Eric Decker, on the other hand, credited Fitzpatrick for much of the team's success this year: “When we go on the ball, he just has command of the huddle, getting the play out, calm, collected,” the receiver said. “What a good leader should be.”

    After the Giants missed a game-tying field goal late a week ago, wide receiver Brandon Marshall said there were other forces at work: “I told him [Fitzpatrick] they’re going to miss it. I said, ‘Hey, I’ve been in the league 10 years (and) haven’t made the playoffs; you, 11. We’ve bounced around from team to team. The football gods are hearing us right now, so he’s going to miss this kick.'

    Of course, it may just be that the Jets are a better football team than they've been in quite a few years.

    They're better than the three-win Titans; that's for sure.

    Titans: The Titans won last week. That met December's quota.

    Jets: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) at Cincinnati Bengals (10-2)

8 of 17

    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    The Pick: Cincinnati Bengals (5-3)

    At 10-2, the Cincinnati Bengals are walking a path the franchise has rarely seen. In fact, this year's 8-0 start was the best the team has ever produced.

    With a three-game lead on Pittsburgh with four to play, Cincinnati's math is simple. Win at home Sunday, and the Bengals clinch the AFC North and remain at the head of the conference, at least for now.

    As Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer wrote, Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is using that and anything else he can think of to motivate his squad:

    Jackson called his offensive players and coaching staff together and asked a simple question: Who has ever been 10-2?

    Only two men raised their hands.

    Wide receiver and kick returner Brandon Tate, and wide receivers coach James Urban.

    Tate caught 24 passes and three touchdowns for the 2010 New England Patriots who went 14-2 but lost in the divisional round to the New York Jets. Urban coached on the 2004 Philadelphia Eagles that started 13-1 before finishing 13-3. They eventually lost in the Super Bowl to the Patriots.

    “That's it,” the Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator said. “I've never been 10-2. I've been to the AFC Championship Game, but I've never been 10-2. As you reach milestones, it gets harder. You have to meet that challenge. Motivation is a fleeting thing, so I'll look for anything and everything to motivate our group every chance I get.”

    Given the opponent and the stakes, it's a safe bet the Bengals don't need any added motivation.

    And our experts think Cincy will end the week as the 2015 AFC North champions.

    Steelers: Freeman, Gagnon, Tomlinson

    Bengals: Davenport, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier

Indianapolis Colts (6-6) at Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8)

9 of 17

    Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    The Pick: Indianapolis Colts (6-2)

    The 2015 season has not gone according to plan for the Indianapolis Colts.

    At 6-6, the Colts are in first place in the AFC South, but the team has already lost more games this season than any one year in the Andrew Luck/Chuck Pagano era. The Colts' star quarterback struggled badly out of the gate before going down with a kidney injury, placing the franchise's present in the hands of 40-year-old Matt Hasselbeck.

    Still, despite all those struggles the Colts are still in first place, and tight end Dwayne Allen told's Mike Wells he knows it's put-up-or-shut-up time in Indy: "This is different. We’ve never experienced this. We believe it’s a test of our character as a team and organization. Are we going to fold it up? Or are we going to dig down and go out there and do what we need to do to get in the playoffs?"

    Pagano said his team is approaching every game now as if it were the playoffs: "We’re sitting in Vegas and I don’t know if you have $50,000 in front of you or $50. We’re putting everything in, all of our chips in. We got a month left, and it all starts this week. All we need to be is 1-0 on Sunday afternoon at 4:05 eastern time."

    The Colts were in a similar situation back in Week 4, sitting at 1-2 with Luck on the shelf and the Jaguars coming to town.

    Hasselbeck squeaked the Colts to a 16-13 win in overtime, and while Indy isn't inspiring a ton of confidence right now, our scribes predict a similar outcome in Round 2.

    Ah, AFC South football, where the motto is "at least we aren't the NFC East."

    Colts: Davenport, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Tanier, Tomlinson

    Jaguars: Freeman, Sobleski

San Diego Chargers (3-9) at Kansas City Chiefs (7-5)

10 of 17

    Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

    The Pick: Kansas City Chiefs (8-0)

    The Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers are a tale of two losing streaks in 2015.

    The Kansas City Chiefs dropped five of their first six games. Their season was over.

    Now, however, the Chiefs have suddenly peeled off six wins in a row and are back in the hunt. In fact, at least one former AFC West great told Colin Cowherd of Fox Sports he thinks the Chiefs are much more than just a playoff contender:

    The reason I say that [the Chiefs are a Super Bowl dark horse], you look at past Super Bowl teams, they're good in the turnover margin. They don't turn the ball over on offense, period. That's key, that's the most important stat. You can win without getting the ball from the other offense but you can't give the ball back. They're great at that.

    Alex Smith has been great. They look more explosive. Early in the year they didn't have all their weapons. Eric Berry, he was dealing with his health issues. It took him a while to come along. Sean Smith's suspension, he's a premier corner in the league. You get those guys back; they start jelling and you see how this defense can be. They got the best pass rush, some of the best pass-rushers. Great coach, he's been there, been to a Super Bowl. They're battle-tested at the top and these guys are figuring out how to win.

    They look so great right now and it's a scary team. What they did to the Broncos was not a fluke. People wanna blame it on Peyton not being healthy. These guys are good, really good.

    The player who said that was former Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey, so you know that wasn't easy.

    The Chargers, on the other hand?

    Well, they went the Chiefs one better, losing six in a row. Only thanks largely to injures that have ravaged both sides of the ball, they haven't recovered.

    The Chiefs were done.

    The Chargers are.

    Chargers: San Diego is just too banged up to play spoiler.

    Chiefs: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

Washington Redskins (5-7) at Chicago Bears (5-7)

11 of 17

    Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

    The Pick: Chicago Bears (6-2)

    Good luck figuring this game out.

    Last week, both the Chicago Bears and Washington Redskins faced "must-win" tilts against teams that were inferior, at least by virtue of record. Both squads had a chance to climb to .500 with a win.

    Both came up short.

    And according to's Jeff Dickerson, last week's setback against the San Francisco 49ers just goes to show why the Bears won't be making the playoffs in 2015:

    Next season, the Bears need to find a way to beat clubs in the NFC. Chicago now has the fewest conference wins (2) by virtue of Dallas knocking off the Redskins on Monday night.

    The Bears currently occupy the 11th spot in the NFC playoff picture, and they hold no tiebreakers. That’s what happens when you can’t win games inside your own conference. ...

    Finishing 9-7 is highly unlikely, but not impossible. The Bears play only one team with an above .500 record (Minnesota) over the final four weeks (Tampa is 6-6).

    So why are the Bears the overwhelming pick over a Redskins team that "leads" (and it is not possible to use that word more loosely) the NFC East?

    Well, maybe because Washington is 0-5 away from home this year.

    That might have something to do with it.

    Redskins: Miller, Schalter

    Bears: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

Atlanta Falcons (6-6) at Carolina Panthers (12-0)

12 of 17

    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    The Pick: Carolina Panthers (8-0)

    Atlanta is burning.

    As Luke Kerr-Dineen of For the Win reports, to say the Falcons are falling apart after their 5-0 start would be, um, kind:

    The Atlanta Falcons were never as good as its 5-0 start suggested. The team installed a good head coach over the off-season, and with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones leading the offense, Atlanta was more than capable of putting up some points and grabbing some wins. But the main problem plaguing the Falcons remained: its defense still had the same duds that have failed them in past seasons. Until Dan Quinn can replenish that side of the ball with his guys, this was and remains a transitional year. The team may have started 5-0, but the Falcons were always going to regress to the mean.

    And they did. A win and two losses in its next three seemed to suggest as much. But the losing hasn’t stopped. Since its 10-7 victory over the Titans on October 25th Atlanta has lost five straight, and Matt Ryan has manufactured a chunk of them with a series of terribly-timed interceptions. His game-ending pick against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers despite his team leading late in the fourth quarter dropped them to 6-6 and clinched the division for the Carolina Panthers before they had even taken the field. The regression is over. Now, this is a full-on meltdown from the Atlanta Falcons.

    Well, at least the reeling Falcons don't have to travel to face the NFL's lone unbeaten team in, crap.

    However, according to Chris Chase of For the Win, all isn't lost for the Falcons, as the Panthers are far from unbeatable:

    How good are the Carolina Panthers? The only stat that matters is that 12 next to the zero, making the team just the ninth in NFL history to get through three-quarters of the season with an unblemished record. Oddly though, the stats aren’t as bullish on the Panthers as the won/lost column.

    Using the SRS (simple rating system) stat on pro-football-reference, which measures team quality against the average, using offense, defense and strength-of-schedule stats, the undefeated Carolina Panthers, while having the best record in football, only rank No. 7 in the 32-team NFL. And since the difference in SRS “could be considered a point spread,” that means six of the 31 remaining NFL teams (just under 20%) would be favored over the so-called best team in the NFC if they faced off on a neutral field.

    Of course, the Falcons have a negative SRS, so um...

    OK, all is lost then.

    Falcons. Who knew Falcons was spelled F-A-C-E-P-L-A-N-T?

    Panthers: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

Seattle Seahawks (7-5) at Baltimore Ravens (4-8)

13 of 17

    Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

    The Pick: Seattle Seahawks (8-0)

    I don't know how he does it.

    Baltimore Ravens quarterback Matt Schaub is in the midst of something truly historic. It shouldn't be possible. And yet every week Schaub goes out there and makes the impossible look routine.

    Of course, the problem, as reported by Neil Greenberg of the Washington Post, is Schaub keeps throwing interceptions that are returned for touchdowns.

    This is not a good thing for a quarterback to do:

    Schaub has now thrown a pick-six in each of the last three games he has played, and that includes both his starts for Baltimore this season. What’s crazier, is that Schaub is now closing in on equaling his streak of four-straight games with a pick-six, an NFL record he set in 2013. ...

    This season, as of the end of Week 12, the chances of seeing a pick-six on any given pass attempt was 0.3 percent. Schaub has two in 62 attempts as of the end of the first half of today’s contest, giving him a 3.2 percent rate — 10 times what we would expect from an average pass.

    Since 2013, there have been 151 interceptions returned for touchdowns, giving you an 11 percent chance of seeing one in any given game. If we go with the assumption that all games and quarterbacks are equal, that puts the chances of Schaub throwing a pick-six in each of his last three games at 0.13 percent, or a 1-in-751 chance.

    The odds of a quarterback throwing pick-sixes in four straight games is 6,830-to-1. The odds of the same quarterback throwing pick-sixes in four straight games twice in his career is that squared, almost 4,000 times worse than being struck by lightning (12,000 to 1).

    Just look at those numbers. Bask in them. Soak in just how truly awful Schaub has to be to buck those odds. He is literally so bad he broke math.

    It is not hard to see why every member of the panel picked the team playing against him Sunday.

    Seahawks: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

    Ravens: Long live the Schaub, bringer of the pick-six!

Oakland Raiders (5-7) at Denver Broncos (10-2)

14 of 17

    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    The Pick: Denver Broncos (8-0)

    All the hail the reign of Baron Brock of Osweiler, the greatest hurler of pigskins in the long, regal history of the kingdoms of NFL.

    Or something to that effect.

    OK, so maybe the hype around Brock Osweiler hasn't reached that point yet. But with each game Osweiler wins in place of Peyton Manning, the more the league's most improbable hero of 2015 sees his legend grow.

    Osweiler insisted to Jeff Legwold of that he's ready to go back to the bench once Manning is ready to return:

    Right now, I've been asked to do that (start) on weekly basis. In Chicago was one week at a time. Then I was told I'm going to play against the Patriots, so that was one week at a time, and now this week against San Diego. I'm truly taking this just one week at a time. ... We'll see what the future holds for the Raiders next week.

    However, the more games Osweiler wins the less likely Manning ever "recovers" from injury, at least this season.

    And given that the Broncos have been winning with defense all season, there's no reason to think they won't continue to win, especially if Osweiler keeps taking better care of the football than Manning did.

    Didn't think I'd be typing that sentence back in September.

    Raiders: Getting better. But not there yet.

    Broncos: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

Dallas Cowboys (4-8) at Green Bay Packers (8-4)

15 of 17

    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    The Pick: Green Bay Packers (8-0)

    Back in September, this looked like a marquee matchup. Must-see TV. A rematch of last year's playoff thriller known for Dez Bryant's catch that wasn't a catch even though it sure looked like a catch.

    Of course, back then the Cowboys still had Tony Romo. Then Romo broke his collarbone and the team imploded. Then Romo returned just long enough to break his collarbone again.

    Also, per Bleacher Report's Michelle Bruton, the Packers' long break following two Thursday games in a row gave the team a great chance to recharge a banged-up offensive front.

    The Week 14 injury report has not been released yet, but the situation looks promising. Though (David) Bakhtiari missed part of the game against the Lions, head coach Mike McCarthy said he planned on practicing "every day" in the week leading up to the matchup with the Cowboys, per Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

    We'll see whether (Bryan) Bulaga or (T.J.) Lang practice this week, but having the mini-bye over the weekend will certainly help. 

    If the Packers are going to make a late-season push to keep their spot atop the NFC North, Rodgers will need solid protection and a reliable run game. Getting the starting five back in the lineup is crucial to those goals.

    All signs point to a game where the Packers should cruise at home.

    Of course, so did the Thanksgiving contest against Chicago.

    And the home tilt with the Lions a few weeks ago.

    Still, this is a game where the Packers could open some daylight between themselves and the Vikings in the NFC North.

    The belief here is that Aaron Rodgers and Co. avail themselves of the opportunity.

    Cowboys: Yeah, so this year has been, um, Matt Cassel.

    Packers: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

New England Patriots (10-2) at Houston Texans (6-6)

16 of 17

    Associated Press

    The Pick: New England Patriots (7-1)

    There's trouble brewing in Beantown.

    OK, as much trouble as a 10-2 defending Super Bowl champion can have. But still, trouble.

    Amid mounting injuries, the Patriots have dropped two in a row for the first time since 2012. Last week in a loss to the Eagles, New England allowed 35 unanswered points for the first time in over two decades.

    Quarterback Tom Brady has taken a beating over the mini-skid, and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels admitted to reporters, per Rich Garven of the Telegram and Gazette, that the protection for the Golden Boy has to get better:

    When you’re talking about the passing game and pressures and those types of things there are many variables that dictate whether or not the defense gets pressure on you or not. The design (of both teams) certainly is something that can be looked at and discussed.

    You have to have people open on time and in rhythm to be able to get the ball out on time. There are other times where you certainly need to hold up the protection a little bit cleaner, a little bit longer to try to execute a specific type of play. ...

    Everybody needs to do their job and we need to do a good job of coaching and trying to put those guys in good positions to certainly limit that number of hits. There’s no question that’s not something we’re trying to do. We want to try to minimize that as much as we can.

    Things aren't about to get any easier. This week the Patriots face the biggest variable who ever figured out varying ways to make a quarterback cry in Houston end J.J. Watt.

    Watt and a stout Houston defense can keep this one close, especially given all the Patriots' injuries on offense. So close, in fact, that one of our writers picked the Texans to send New England to an unthinkable third straight loss.

    The problem? New England's offense is wounded. With Brady. The Houston offense is just bad. With Brian Hoyer...

    Pats get back on track.

    Patriots: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tomlinson

    Texans: Tanier 

New York Giants (5-7) at Miami Dolphins (5-7)

17 of 17

    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    The Pick: New York Giants (8-0)

    Ah, the NFC East. The division no one wants to win. A division where the three teams presently tied for first place are a combined six games under .500.

    That's not good.

    But in a wide-open (like a toilet bowl) division in 2015, the Giants possess one thing the rest of the division does not, according to Dan Graziano of

    A quarterback:

    Eli Manning has his faults, and his greatest glories have come when surrounded by considerably more talent than he has around him now. But if you had the first pick in an NFC East quarterback draft for the rest of this season, you'd run to the podium with Manning's name. He's the only one of the four you'd trust to lead a game-winning drive in a must-win game. And in a league in which the team with the best quarterback wins, you can't count out Manning in a division that features Kirk Cousins, Sam Bradford and Matt Cassel.

    What the Giants also have, at least this year, is an ability to find new ways to lose late that rivals Matt Schaub's ability to throw interceptions for scores.

    Last week a new one entered the pantheon when the normally automatic Josh Brown missed a field goal in overtime.

    It's been that kind of year for the Giants. And yet they are a unanimous pick to close out Week 14 with a win—because it's been that kind of year for the disappointing Dolphins as well.

    Giants: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

    Dolphins: I could have just as easily picked the Dolphins. I would have had just as little confidence in that pick, too.