Chris Simms' Week 13 NFL Picks
December brings about a weird time of the year for football players. Games are often won or lost on motivation and preparation as much as they are on talent. A lot depends on where your team stands in relation to the playoff picture—and I've been at both ends of the spectrum.
When your team is out of playoff contention, this time of year tries your professionalism. You love playing the games Sundays, but Mondays through Saturdays become hard. Your body is beat up, and you're not as eager to put in the dedication and the preparation when you know it ultimately means little.
Even on Sundays, being out of contention can take a toll. Sure, it allows you to play loose and to take risks. If you get down early, however, it's hard to fight back. You've been getting stomped all season, and it's easy to feel like this latest game is going to be no different.
On the other side of things, this can be the most exciting time of your professional career—even for a guy like Tom Brady. The childhood dream of almost every NFL player is to appear in a Super Bowl. When it's late in the season and you're still fighting for that goal, it's magical.
It's not hard to stay motivated or to put in the extra work when your ship is steering toward the postseason. It's not difficult to want to battle back when you're losing a game or to stand up to an opponent who may be better than you. The players across the field have the same dreams you do, and you have to beat them to help ensure you get there first.
Of course, playoff-bound teams can also run the risk of becoming complacent and being surprised by opponents that simply want it more.
As we head into December, we're going to see a lot of games decided by the mindsets of the teams involved. Here's how I see the ones of Week 13 playing out.
Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys
When: Thursday at 8:25 p.m. ET (NFL, Amazon, NBC), AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
There's just no way I'm picking the Dallas Cowboys to win this game with the problems they have right now. The offense is having a hard time running the ball—and we know the reasons why.
The question is whether they can make some plays in the passing game. Can the receivers create some separation on the outside and get open? I have a hard time believing it against this Washington Redskins defense.
Dallas is forced to run a simple offense without Ezekiel Elliott, and I have a ton of faith in Washington defensive coordinator Greg Manusky's ability to break it down. This isn't the only reason why the Redskins have the advantage here, though.
They have a good offensive line, which takes away Dallas' defensive strength, its front. Washington is healthier than the last time these two teams met as well. The Redskins have something to play for, and the Cowboys are sliding off the rails and have lost their last two games at home.
Prediction: Redskins 27, Cowboys 20
Kansas City Chiefs at New York Jets
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (CBS), MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey
The matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and the New York Jets is a very evenly matched one. At this point, the Jets are only two games behind Kansas City.
The Chiefs have no identity on offense right now, and that's concerning. The Jets have the defensive line, the linebackers and the safeties to take away Kansas City's offensive trickery. When Alex Smith is forced to win with a straight dropback passing attack, the Chiefs have struggled.
Offensively, the Jets aren't great. When I turn on the film each week, though, I generally like their plan of attack and how they try to expose opposing defenses. This Chiefs defense right now is a joke, plain and simple. I do expect New York to move the ball efficiently.
The Chiefs are bordering on a full collapse. Until I see them fix the issues that are hurting them on both sides of the ball, I have a hard time picking them. This will be an entertaining game and ultimately another tough loss for Kansas City.
Prediction: Jets 23, Chiefs 20
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (CBS), New Era Field, Orchard Park, New York
This is a horrible matchup for the Buffalo Bills. They don't do a lot creatively on offense, and the running game hasn't been great as of late. Now, against a team like the New England Patriots—who are better at breaking down film than anyone—Buffalo is likely to add some new wrinkles to the offense. Still, the Bills aren't going to carve up New England's defense.
The Patriots defense is playing great right now. It's shutting down opposing offenses and has allowed just 13.14 points per contest over the last seven games. People have to get over what they saw at the beginning of the year because this is a totally different defense.
I like the Bills defense, and Buffalo is well-coached by Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. However, it isn't the most talented group in the game, and it lacks the cover corners necessary to play a lot of man-to-man coverage. You have to sprinkle in at least a little man defense against the Patriots because Tom Brady will dissect the zone over the course of four quarters.
The Bills always fight hard against the Patriots, but fight isn't going to be enough.
Prediction: Patriots 34, Bills 20
Denver Broncos at Miami Dolphins
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (Fox), Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida
The Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins are two teams that are reeling. As I've said about a couple of teams to this point, however, Denver is one that I have to see changes from before I'll buy in again.
I know the Broncos defense is still talented, but Denver finds ways to lose games on offense and on special teams. That includes last week, which involved a terrible interception in the red zone by the Oakland Raiders. The Broncos should be able to win by playing through their defense, but they can't get out of their own way.
The Dolphins aren't anything to brag about either, but I believe in head coach Adam Gase more than I do Vance Joseph right now. Miami had a chance to make the game in New England very interesting last week, but two blown coverages—and a notable talent gap—cost the team. The final score of 35-17 made the game look worse than it was.
New England is a far better team than Denver. If the Dolphins can avoid the mistakes that cost them last week, they'll handle the Broncos easily. Regardless, they're at home, they still have an outside shot at the postseason and they're well-coached.
Prediction: Dolphins 20, Broncos 17
San Francisco 49ers at Chicago Bears
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (CBS), Soldier Field, Chicago
It's the San Francisco 49ers debut of Jimmy Garoppolo, everyone! Of course, San Francisco is going to win.
Seriously, if there is a game in which the matchup favors the 49ers, it's this one. The San Francisco defense isn't great, but the Chicago Bears offense is one-dimensional. The 49ers should be able to hunker down against the run and force rookie Mitchell Trubisky to beat them through the air.
The Bears defense is talented, but its strength is up front. San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan does a great job of taking away teams' front sevens and pushing the ball downfield with his passing scheme. He's going to be extra motivated to put Garoppolo in a position to succeed in the quarterback's Niners debut, and Chicago's secondary is definitely nothing special.
The Bears are going to be embarrassed by how they played last week in a 31-3 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, and they're going to come out fighting. However, Garoppolo is going to provide the 49ers with a spark, and he and Shanahan will find ways to create enough explosive plays to win.
Prediction: 49ers 27, Bears 24
Detroit Lions at Baltimore Ravens
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (Fox), M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore
This is an important game for both the Detroit Lions and the Baltimore Ravens. Both are fighting for the sixth seed in their respective conferences. You're going to see the best shot from each.
The Ravens defense has gotten itself together and is playing well. However, this isn't the dominant defense of years past. Baltimore has been fortunate to play some bad offenses lately, which makes the defense look a bit better than it really is. It isn't going to win this game on its own.
The Lions offense is good too. The offensive line is better than it has been in recent years, and Matthew Stafford has go-to targets in Marvin Jones Jr., Golden Tate and Kenny Golladay. Of course, Stafford is still one of the three best quarterbacks in football.
I have zero confidence in the Ravens offense, even against a Detroit defense that isn't great. That makes this a matchup of Stafford against the Ravens defense. I'll take Stafford to win that before I'll take Joe Flacco to win against anyone right now. It'll be close because Detroit's defense will give up some plays, but Stafford will find a way to win.
Prediction: Lions 19, Ravens 16
Minnesota Vikings at Atlanta Falcons
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (Fox), Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta
There are some very interesting matchups in the game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Atlanta Falcons. The one that jumps out is Xavier Rhodes against Julio Jones. Rhodes, to me, is the second-best corner in football behind Jalen Ramsey. Jones is obviously one of the top three receivers in the game.
This is a Vikings defense that has not only the scheme, but the players to match up with Jones and Co. On the other side, I like the Falcons defense, but it's a speed-based unit. That's an issue because it can wear down in games. The Vikings can wear it down with the running game.
One thing that's lost on a lot of people is just how good this Minnesota offense is. It's fifth in the NFL with 375.7 yards per game. The Vikings are actually more productive on offense than the Falcons. This isn't just a matchup between the Falcons offense and the Minnesota defense.
The game is in Atlanta, and that's an advantage for the Falcons. However, the Vikings are the more balanced team, and they match up really well with the Falcons on both sides of the ball.
Prediction: Vikings 24, Falcons 21
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Green Bay Packers
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (Fox), Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wisconsin
Jameis Winston is going to play, so that's favorable for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Still, he's been out a few weeks, and he might not be 100 percent. Don't expect him to come out playing perfectly.
I'll say this about the Green Bay Packers. I don't love Mike McCarthy as a play-caller, but I love him as a head coach. He might not draw up the most creative game plan against the Buccaneers, but the Packers are going to play hard, they're going to be detailed and they're going to execute.
The Packers defense has some admirable qualities too. There are some playmakers in the secondary and some guys up front who can wreak havoc. If Tampa's passing attack was what we expected it to be going into the 2017 season, Green Bay might struggle to contain it, but it isn't.
The Buccaneers don't have a great scheme on either side of the ball, and they don't have a lot of talent either. Because of that, I'm going to pick the Packers to win an ugly game. They'll be the better-prepared team, and they're at home.
Prediction: Packers 23, Buccaneers 22
Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (CBS), Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tennessee
The Houston Texans aren't pretty, and I don't trust quarterback Tom Savage. I still love watching them play, though, because they're one of the most physical teams in the game and Jadeveon Clowney is freaking awesome.
The Tennessee Titans are one of the least impressive 7-4 teams I've seen. They have no glaring weaknesses, but they have no standout strengths either. Marcus Mariota also still needs to prove he can carry the team with the passing game when the Titans cannot run.
Oh, and can the Titans please play Derrick Henry more? He's the best back on the roster, and Tennessee needs to quit wasting carries on DeMarco Murray.
This is going to be an ugly and unbalanced game, and it'll probably include more than a few fluky plays. Plain and simple, though, the Titans are healthier and are the more talented team right now. They're at home and battling for a postseason spot. Plus, I trust Mariota more than Savage.
Prediction: Titans 24, Texans 17
Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (CBS), EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Florida
I've said this before, and I still stand by it. The Jacksonville Jaguars may be the best team in football, but they may also have the 70th-best quarterback. This means they're capable of beating any team on any given Sunday, but they're also capable of losing to any one.
If I were the Jaguars, I'd look at utilizing Blake Bortles as a Wildcat quarterback. The best thing he does right now is run the ball. Let him hand off, scramble and throw a couple of deep balls down the sideline each matchup. The Jaguars' game plan is to limit Bortles' impact on the contest. This would limit his impact as a thrower while still allowing him to utilize his talents.
It would also help offset the fact Leonard Fournette still isn't 100 percent and isn't able to cut like he did early in the season. Take five or six carries away from Fournette each game and allow him to heal better.
The Indianapolis Colts don't have a great pass defense (30th in the league). Well, this is a week where they absolutely don't have to worry about a passing attack. Still, I don't like Indianapolis' chances. The Jacksonville defense is one of the best I've ever seen, and I've been around football a long time.
Even with Bortles under center and a matchup that is favorable for Indianapolis, the Jaguars are too much for the Colts, and they're still fighting for something.
Prediction: Jaguars 20, Colts 16
Cleveland Browns at Los Angeles Chargers
When: Sunday at 4:05 p.m. ET (CBS), StubHub Center, Carson, California
This is a horrible matchup for the Cleveland Browns. They have to go to Los Angeles to play the Chargers, and they lack talent in so many areas.
The Browns defense is good, and the front seven is impressive. That's great and all, but the Chargers are only going to have to run the ball enough to slow the pass rush. Los Angeles has done an excellent job of protecting Philip Rivers too. Given time, he'll be able to pick apart Cleveland's secondary.
The Chargers defense is one of the hottest units in the NFL. It's hard to envision Cleveland being able to run the ball with any consistency, and DeShone Kizer is severely lacking weapons in the passing game, even with the potential return of Josh Gordon. With no Joe Thomas on the line, he's going to have a miserable day against a phenomenal L.A. pass rush.
Expect Cleveland to fight hard early but to do what it's done most of the season—collapse.
Prediction: Chargers 28, Browns 10
Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints
When: Sunday at 4:25 p.m. ET (Fox), Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans
The matchup between the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints is definitely one of the best of the week—and I'm picking it assuming both of New Orleans' starting corners are playing.
The big thing in this matchup is this: Carolina's defense is really good, but it cannot play man-to-man on a regular basis. That's an issue against Drew Brees. The Panthers rely on their front seven to overpower people, and it's not going to overpower the Saints offense.
On the other side, the Panthers are playing better offensively than at the beginning of the season. I think we'll see a better Cam Newton than we did last week coming out of the bye too. This is simply a tough matchup for the Carolina offense. The Panthers want to beat you up physically, and that won't be easy against the Saints front seven. If Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley are healthy, the Saints will be able to load the box and slow Newton and the running game as well.
The Saints are at home, they'll be looking to bounce back after a Week 12 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, and Brees will be able to find holes against the Panthers defense in crunch time.
Prediction: Saints 21, Panthers 17
Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals
When: Sunday at 4:25 p.m. ET (Fox), University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
This will be a good test for the Los Angeles Rams to see how they handle coming off a big win. The Arizona Cardinals could threaten the L.A. defense too because Blaine Gabbert has added a new dimension to the offense. His strength and athleticism have helped make up for some very suspect pass protection.
The Rams defense will ultimately be too much for even the new-look Cardinals offense, though. Coordinator Wade Phillips does some creative things schematically, and there is talent at all three levels of the defense. While the L.A. defense doesn't simply shut people down, it will create some big plays of its own. Its one weakness is against the run, but the Cardinals aren't consistent enough on the ground to expose that.
There is talent on the Arizona defense too. However, it's not good enough to stop the Rams offense all game long. Head coach Sean McVay is too creative and will find ways to gets guys open downfield against anyone.
L.A. has something to play for, and it'll notch another win here.
Prediction: Rams 30, Cardinals 20
New York Giants at Oakland Raiders
When: Sunday at 4:25 p.m. ET (Fox), Oakland Alameda County Coliseum, Oakland, California
If there is a game the New York Giants can win, this is it. The Oakland Raiders will be without Michael Crabtree and could be without Amari Cooper, who is in concussion protocol.
Of course, Geno Smith is making his first start for the Giants. That's never easy to do at this point in the year. Still, the New York offense matches up well with Oakland. The Giants offense stinks, mind you, but so does the Raiders defense. New York will have some success moving the ball.
Ultimately, though, the Giants are a defeated football team. Their ship is sinking, and they have nothing to play for. Plus, I'm going to take Derek Carr over Smith in almost any situation.
Prediction: Raiders 23, Giants 20
Philadelphia Eagles at Seattle Seahawks
When: Sunday at 8:30 p.m. ET (NBC), CenturyLink Field, Seattle
On paper, the Philadelphia Eagles should win this game hands-down. They're the better team, and their defense should steamroll the Seattle Seahawks offensive line. However, games aren't played on paper, and you never know what's going to happen with the human wild card Russell Wilson on the field.
This is a huge game for the Seahawks, who are trying to keep pace in the playoff race. This game is also in Seattle, so I don't expect the Eagles to just roll.
However, Philadelphia does have the talent in its front seven to contain Wilson and enough secondary talent to take advantage when he makes a mistake. The Eagles offense is by far better than the Seattle defense right now as well.
This game will be close because of where it's played and because of the Wilson factor. Yet, the Eagles have the talent, the balance and the game plan to go into Seattle and win.
Prediction: Eagles 24, Seahawks 21
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals
When: Monday at 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati
When the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals get together, it's always a physical affair. This year's Steelers defense is for real, but so is Cincinnati's. This is going to be another in a long line of tough slugfests.
The Steelers, though, are close to putting it all together as an offense. Once they do, watch out. Cincinnati has talent on offense, but since the Bengals run such a simple scheme, it's often hard for them to sustain drives and produce big plays.
While the Pittsburgh defense has been gashed by a few big plays this season, those have come because of mistakes, not because of a lack of talent. I don't see this basic Bengals offense forcing many defensive breakdowns.
Cincinnati will keep this close for a while. Ultimately, though, Pittsburgh's talent and balance on offense will allow the Steelers to pull away late. Expect a late touchdown to seal this one and make it appear more lopsided than it really was.
Prediction: Steelers 27, Bengals 17