NFL Week 14: Who Will Challenge Seattle?
The Monday night game between the Seattle Seahawks and the New Orleans Saints was supposed to be a game that decided who reigned supreme in the NFC. Instead of an entertaining game, the ‘Hawks crushed the Saints out of the gate and never looked back, laying claim to the “best team in the NFC” moniker (and claiming a playoff spot in the process). But who will challenge them? And, in the AFC, who is the likely contender to have to face the Seahawks come this February?
The NFC picture will get much clearer with the Week 14 slate of games in the NFL, but it will take a while before the AFC picture gets any clearer. At this late point in the season, only Houston and Jacksonville have been eliminated from contention and nine teams will fight it out for what will be the last wild card slot (the runner up in the AFC West, be it Denver or Kansas City, seems assured of the first playoff slot). Thus, this weekend’s games have a tremendous amount riding on them (home team in CAPS, choice for game in BOLD, lines from the Mirage in Las Vegas).
Houston Texans vs. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (+3)
Ah, yes, the only game that really doesn’t matter this week is the feature game on Thursday Night Football! The only thing this game will be good for is setting up the order come next April for the NFL Draft, something that one of these teams thought they wouldn’t even be close to. How far have the Texans fallen that they are only a three point favorite over the hapless Jags? The way both teams have been playing of late, a tie isn’t out of the question, but take the Jags and the points in what should be a snooze fest.
Indianapolis Colts vs. CINCINNATI BENGALS (-6)
OK, this game’s a bit better. The “Jekyll and Hyde” season of the Colts continues this week with a trip outdoors to take on the Bengals in what should be a death match for both teams. Currently the leaders of their respective divisions, both teams have a bit of heat on them to keep ahold of that division crown (Cincy over the Ravens by two games, Indy by three over Tennessee).
You would think there would be some urgency for the Colts to win this game (a win would essentially lock them in as the AFC South champion), but the way the Colts have played of late I can’t conceivably see them winning this game. Take the Bengals and give up the points because I see QB Andy Dalton and WR A. J. Green lighting up the Colts secondary.
Atlanta Falcons vs. GREEN BAY PACKERS (NO LINE)
For the first time this season, we are seeing something happen in the NFL and bookmaking that doesn’t frequently happen. Due to the ineptitude of the injury-riddled Falcons and the status of who will actually start at quarterback for the Packers (not to mention that the game will probably be played in a snowstorm), Las Vegas has refused to put odds on this game. Expect QB Matt Flynn (who has been around more than Lacey Underall in the movie Caddyshack) to get the start for the Pack and lead them to a win over the Falcons, who will probably be wishing they were back home in their comfy dome in Georgia by the time this game is done.
Cleveland Browns vs. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (NO LINE)
Much like the game above, Vegas has refused to put a line on this game due to the Cleveland quarterback injury dilemma. Both of the QBs who have taken snaps for the Browns in the past three weeks, Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell, are questionable due to concussions (Campbell was cleared Thursday to practice) but, even if either of them were at full speed, they wouldn’t have enough to stop the Patriots juggernaut.
Oakland Raiders (+2.5) vs. NEW YORK JETS
Once hanging on to a wild card seat, the Jets are now looking to leap several teams to get back in that position. The problem has been the play of rookie QB Geno Smith, who was benched at halftime in the abysmal 23-3 loss at home against Miami last week. A week of practice isn’t going to make the Jets any better, so I am taking the Raiders and the points and look for a Raiders’ win outright.
Detroit Lions vs. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (-3)
The Lions keep trying to give the lead up in the NFC North, but neither the Bears nor the Packers seem to want to take it from them. After finally putting the offense in the hands of QB Nick Foles, the Eagles have suddenly surged to become a contender for the NFC East crown against the Cowboys. While I love the Lions’ combo of QB Matthew Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson, I believe that the Eagles will have the edge outdoors over the dome team and will take a hard fought win here.
Miami Dolphins vs. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (-3)
The Dolphins come to the Steel City looking to keep themselves in the hunt for an AFC wild card slot, but they will have a tough time pushing forward against the Steelers. QB Ben Roethlisberger will be glad to have RB Le’Veon Bell back this week (knocked out of the game against Baltimore last week with a concussion) and, between the two, they should be able to grind out the win over Miami.
Buffalo Bills vs. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (-2.5)
In another weak matchup on the Week 14 slate, the Bills take on the Bucs in sunny Florida. If this game were in Buffalo, then I’d be making a completely different pick. Since they will be in the Sunshine State, however, you have to go with the Buccaneers, who have actually been showing signs of coming around to head coach Greg Schiano’s mindset. Regardless, this game won’t be pleasant to watch.
Kansas City Chiefs (-3) vs. WASHINGTON REDSKINS
After reeling off their first nine games with wins, the Chiefs have suddenly become mortal in losing their last three (two of those were to Denver, to be fair). What better cure for a losing streak can there be other than a trip to the nation’s capital, where a Redskins team in disarray awaits them. QB Alex Smith and the Chiefs should get back into shape with a win (and without much effort) with a thrashing of the ‘Skins.
Minnesota Vikings vs. BALTIMORE RAVENS (-7)
Don’t look now, but the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens have pushed their nose back into the AFC playoff picture, currently holding down the sixth slot. How they’ve done it is astounding to anyone that has watched them this year as RB Ray Rice has been a shell of his former self and QB Joe Flacco has looked for his bevy of receivers from last year and found none of them. I usually would hate to give up this many points, but the Ravens have a weak opponent in the Vikings and, at home, should take care of business.
Tennessee Titans (+12.5) vs. DENVER BRONCOS
Do not think in any way that I see the Titans actually pulling off a victory at Mile High against the Broncos. The weather conditions at game time are for snow to be falling, which might keep the vaunted Peyton Manning passing assault grounded and release the Broncos’ running back corps. I believe that the Broncos will win this by ten, but not by more than that.
St. Louis Rams vs. ARIZONA CARDINALS (-6.5)
What if I told you that, with a win in this game and some breaks, that the Cardinals would be in position to make a run at the playoffs? That’s the scenario that presents itself this week in the desert as QB Carson Palmer and the Cardinals, with a win, will be 8-5 and breathing heavy on the 49ers for the final playoff spot. Expect the Cards to win this one big and keep the pressure on the boys in San Fran.
New York Giants vs. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (-3)
Although they have played well over the past couple of weeks, the Giants will run into an offensive powerhouse when they visit Cali on Sunday. The Chargers and QB Phillip Rivers will be looking to exploit the Giants’ secondary and continue to maintain a glimmer of hope for making the playoffs.
Seattle Seahawks (+3) vs. SAN FRANCISCO 49ers
Having already clinched a playoff spot, the Seahawks aren’t going to let up this weekend as they look to seal the NFC West division title and strengthen their lock on home field advantage during the playoffs. QB Russell Wilson and the rest of the Seahawk offense ran roughshod over the Saints at home on Monday night and I expect them to do the same this week against the 49ers, who haven’t shown that they really came back from their previous thrashing by the Seahawks back in Week 2.
Carolina Panthers vs. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (-3)
This is the biggest game of the week and, naturally, it has been moved to Sunday night for the primetime audience. The Panthers and the Saints are tied atop the NFC South (with the Saints earning the tiebreaker) and, with another meeting in Charlotte in two weeks, the victor in this game will gain a tenuous edge. After their debacle in Seattle last week, I expect that the Saints will come out at home strong, but the Panthers will keep it close. This game could result in a push, as I expect the Saints to take it by a field goal in an entertaining battle.
Dallas Cowboys (+1) vs. CHICAGO BEARS
Although they haven’t been a dominant road team, I can’t see how the Bears will be able to pull off this one at home against the Cowboys. The ‘Pokes are battling to keep their edge in the NFC East and this game should bring out their best as they try to stay ahead of the Eagles. The biggest question is who will be the QB for the Bears on Monday night; if Jay Cutler makes a go of it over Josh McCown, then I’d probably switch my bet but, for now, I’ll take the Cowboys and hold my breath.
Last Week: After starting the week on Thanksgiving going 2-1, thought we were on the track for a great weekend. Alas, that fell apart…7-9 isn’t the way you want to end up in anything, let alone laying down some bets on the NFL.
Season: 92-90-9, still over .500, but just barely.
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