Week Fourteen Picks
Three quarters of the season down, the playoff picture coming together, and still here I am with next to no idea what the hell is going on. Here’s what not to expect in week fourteen.
Denver (-10) at Oakland
The only way the number ten factors into any assessment of this game is in a calculation of how many wins Denver will have at the end of the night. Nine going in, ten coming out. Denver by a bazillion (which I’m fairly certain is considerably more than ten).
Baltimore (+2.5) at Washington
The Ravens are fading; the Native Americans are surging. And Baltimore has zero hope of shutting down the Washington run game. It won’t look it, because the Native Americans will only lead by about nine, but this one for all intents and purposes will be decided by halftime. In by the time it’s literally over, Washington come out on top by something on the order of 16.
Kansas City (+6.5) at Cleveland
The Browns may not do a ton of things well (though they’re getting better week by week), but there are only four teams in the league with more takeaways than Cleveland this season. And — ready? here comes your moment of absurd understatement — none of those are the Chiefs. Count on Kansas City to do a whole lot of what they do best, put the ball in the hands of the opposition, as they earn their eleventh loss of the season. Cleveland by nine.
San Diego (+6.5) at Pittsburgh
It was just about to ask whether the Chargers could be any more done, and then I realized that, yes, they can. And they will. And it doesn’t even matter who’s taking the snaps for Pittsburgh. Steelers by a touchdown.
Tennessee (+5.5) at Indianapolis
If the Colts were a bit more balanced on offense, I’d be happy to give the points here. Indy’s D is terrible, but I’m not sure the Tennessee offense has the weapons to take advantage of that weakness. So all the Colts need to do is put up a bunch of points and commence worrying about the Texans and preparing for the playoffs. But that may not prove all that easy. I expect to see Andrew Luck throw a pair of costly picks in this game, and for the score to be closer than it ought to be as a result. The Colts win, but not by more than a field goal.
NY Jets (-2.5) at Jacksonville
Awfully confused meets confusedly awful. The good news for New Jersey is that they could stick 44-year-old Browning Nagle behind center and still come away with a win in this one (hell, he might even get Woody Johnson’s vote to keep the starting job). Jets by four.
Chicago (-3) at Minnesota
I’m more certain than ever, after last week, that the Bears simply cannot beat good teams. Of course, I’m also pretty damned certain that the Vikings just put half their offense on injured reserve. So Chicago’s ability to succeed against quality competition has exactly zero to do with this game. The Bears will win the turnover battle by three, the game by 13.
Atlanta (-3.5) at Carolina
The Falcons need two wins over their final four games to sew up home field advantage through the playoffs. They’ll make it one with a big win over the foundering Panthers. Atlanta by 10.
Philadelphia (+7.5) at Tampa Bay
The Eagles have decided to make the most of their early off season with a team trip to the Gulf Coast. Maybe they’ll pick up some pointers on how to play football. Bucs by a dozen.
Dallas (+3) at Cincinnati
We know the Cowboys can win at home against opponents who clearly don’t care. Should that lead us to conclude that they can win on the road against opponents who are trying to battle their way into the post-season? Even though I still suspect their playoff hopes are somewhat less than realistic, I think the Bengals keep themselves in the mathematical hunt for another week with five sacks of Tony Romo and a fairly convincing win over the Cowboys. Cincy by 14.
Miami (+10) at San Francisco
The 49ers need a win. The Dolphins are due for a loss. None of that matters, but what am I gonna do, explain to you why Miami can’t keep pace with San Francisco in this game? You already know. Niners by three touchdowns.
New Orleans (+5) at NY Giants
In which the Giants, having successfully put their hold on the NFC East in jeopardy, finally get around to turning it back on. It’s a good day for both quarterbacks, but a slightly better one for Eli Manning. Giants finish a high-scoring game with a last second TD and a four-point win.
Detroit (+7) at Green Bay
As long as the Packers can keep him on his feet, Aaron Rodgers should be able to shred Detroit’s secondary. Green Bay edges closer to the NFC North title with a 10-point win.
Houston (+3.5) at New England
I keep hearing and reading about how the Patriots are the better football team in this match, records notwithstanding. And that may be true. But I’m not as certain of it as others seem to be. No doubt, the Patriots have been good football lately. Their win in Miami on Sunday might have been their best win of the season — because they won in spite of the fact that their quarterback struggled a bit (as is his wont in Miami), and they did it with solid defense and an actual four-minute offense. Patriots fans should feel great about that. They should also be mindful of the fact that the Patriots were playing the Miami Dolphins. Yep, division rival and all that. But still, the Miami Dolphins. And the Miami Dolphins are most decidedly not the team with the inside track on the AFC one seed. The Texans, even if they haven’t looked as powerful lately as they did earlier in the season, remain a very talented, very dangerous team. They have a balanced offense, which makes it tough when your defensive orientation is to take away the one thing an opponent does best. They have a balanced D as well, though they do a particularly good job of getting to the quarterback and disrupting opponents’ passing attacks. That spells trouble for a team like the Patriots. And, on top of that, the Texans are almost as good as the Patriots at taking care of the ball. New England lives by the takeaway. The Patriots have 33 on the season, second only to Chicago’s 34. And, too often, they’ve used takeaways to compensate for defensive deficiencies. That’s OK; winning the turnover battle typically wins you the game in the NFL. But it’s unreliable. When you run into a team that protects the ball, reliance on takeaways can tend leave you wanting. None of that means that the Patriots can’t or won’t win this game. They can. They may. Since they’re at home, perhaps one might even go so far as to say they will. But it’s not gonna be easy. And I wouldn’t give more than a point or two. Let’s say New England wins 30-28.