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Week Fourteen Picks

December 4th, 2014

I gonna blame it on Thanksgiving. And the nor’easter that hit the day before. Because, yeah, it can’t just be me. There has to be some external cause of my poor picking in week thirteen. I finished 8-8 straight up, 6-10 against the spread. Yeesh. For the season, that puts me at 126-66 (.656, which isn’t awful) straight up, 89-101-2 (.468, which is pretty awful) against the spread. Let’s see how much farther I can fall this week. Here’s what not to expect.

Dallas (-3.5) at Chicago
Heading into their Thanksgiving matchup with the Eagles, the Cowboys must have looked at their December schedule, realized they only had two certain losses on the way, and decided to get an early start on their annual late-season fade. Dallas may yet find a way to lose this game — like they did when they went into Chicago in week 14 of last season — but I can’t see what it might be. Even so, I wouldn’t give more than three. Cowboys by a field goal.

Baltimore (+2.5) at Miami
The Ravens are getting two and a half? From the Dolphins? The same Dolphins who barely escaped the one-dimensional Jets on Monday night? Yeah, that totally makes sense. Baltimore by a touchdown.

Pittsburgh (+3) at Cincinnati
With Cleveland headed for a loss to Indianapolis and a sweep of the season series with Baltimore already in the bag, Cincinnati has a chance to effectively (though not numerically) sew up the the AFC North title here. I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Bengals wilt, but given the uncertainty about Ben Roethlisberger’s wrist, I’m not going to bet on it. Cincinnati by six.

Indianapolis (-3.5) at Cleveland
While I certainly agree that sticking with Brian Hoyer gives the Browns their best chance to win this game, I’m not sure the Browns “best chance” is actually that great of a chance. I do think the Browns defense can limit Andrew Luck‘s production, so I don’t expect a blowout. But I still think the Colts come out on top. Let’s say by a field goal.

Houston (-5) at Jacksonville
There’s a possibility that what we saw last week wasn’t simply a meltdown by the Giants, but also an indication that the Jaguars are starting to round into form. Of course, it’s an outside possibility. And the Texans still have a chance, however slim, at qualifying for the postseason. So I’m gonna hold off getting excited about Jacksonville for a little while longer. Houston by a touchdown.

NY Giants (pick ’em) at Tennessee
There’s also a possibility that what we saw last week wasn’t anything more than the Giants transitioning from a team struggling through a season with a roster depleted by departures and injuries to a team in utter disarray. And that makes this game tough to pick. The Giants ought to have it in them to beat the Titans, but you don’t win many football games when you can’t keep your locker room focused. I’m reluctantly taking the home team, which I guess feels slightly better than reluctantly taking the visitors. But only slightly. Titans by a point.

Carolina (+9.5) at New Orleans
The Saints can both end a three-game home losing streak and, with the Falcons headed for a big loss Monday night in Green Bay, take control of the NFC South by beating up on a Panthers squad that appears to be more interested in preparing for 2015 than finishing 2014 with more than three games in the win column. That’s a deal even the hot-and-cold Saints can’t pass up. New Orleans by 13.

Tampa Bay (+9.5) at Detroit
The Lions aren’t out of the NFC North race yet. Win this one, next week’s home game against the Vikings, and their week 16 road game against the Bears, and the Lions can go into the final week of the season with a chance to surprise the Packers in Green Bay (which would complete a sweep in the season series) and take the division. That last part isn’t going to happen, but, if nothing else, I like Detroit’s chances to make that final game count. And I certainly like the Lions’ chances to get December off to a strong start with a win over the awful Buccaneers. I’m not taking a team that scores fewer than 20 points a game to win by nine and a half over any team on any field. But I don’t think a seven-point Lions win is too much to expect.

St. Louis (-2.5) at Washington
It doesn’t matter who you start at quarterback if you can’t keep him upright. Rams by four.

NY Jets (+6) at Minnesota
The Vikings don’t have much of a run defense. So I’ll look for New Jersey to hold Minnesota’s margin of victory to a field goal.

Buffalo (+9.5) at Denver
The Bills have a tough final quarter of the season ahead. After this game, they go home to host the Packers. Then they get a little break with a trip to Oakland before they head to Foxborough to round out the season. To me, that looks a lot like 7-5 and a shot at the playoffs turning into 8-8 and wait till next year. Denver by two touchdowns.

Kansas City (+1) at Arizona
I don’t know how to pick this game. Both teams are fading fast, but one of them has to win. If it weren’t for Andre Ellington’s injury, I’d feel pretty good about the Cardinals, figuring their ability to stop the run combined with the Chiefs’ vulnerability to the run would end up making the difference. But Ellington’s hurt, and I don’t know that Arizona can do much damage through the air. I guess that all means that I’m not expecting much offense from either team. Maybe that means this thing turns on a big defensive play. If that’s the case, you’ve got to like the Cardinals. And that’s where I’m going. I suppose. Arizona by a point.

San Francisco (-8.5) at Oakland
Sometimes home field isn’t really home field. Niners by ten.

Seattle (+1) at Philadelphia
With Arizona dropping off, this game has the potential to decide which of these teams gets a first-round bye in January. The winner also has a shot at snagging the NFC one seed. Neither of those things is a small prize. Of course, none of that gets anyone any closer to figuring out how this game is likely to turn out. Really, almost nothing does. It should be a hell of a game. In the end, I guess I like Marshawn Lynch‘s chances of breaking through the Philadelphia run D better than LeSean McCoy‘s odds of running successfully against Seattle. And I definitely don’t like Mark Sanchez‘s prospects of throwing successfully against the Seattle secondary. So I guess I’ll take the Seahawks to win it outright.

New England (-3.5) at San Diego
You can talk about Tom Brady being angry about the Patriots loss to Green Bay if you like. You can talk about New England rarely losing two straight. But I don’t think Brady or any of his teammates really need to tap into their feelings about one game to find motivation to win another. It’s December. This is a divisional matchup with another team making a push for the postseason. What’s it matter what happened last week? What matters this week is that the Patriots are playing for the AFC one seed. What matters more is that the Chargers defense has trouble pressuring the passer, which is to say that San Diego doesn’t have the tools to slow down the New England offense. Neither do the Chargers have the offensive weapons to prevail in a shootout with the Patriots. So, yeah, I like New England. And I don’t think it’s nearly so close as three and a half. Patriots by 14.

Atlanta (+12) at Green Bay
And the NFC South title goes to New Orleans. Green Bay by 20.

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