I was 9-7 last week in my predictions. Maybe a few too many “upset picks”, but this week will be better. I missed on Arizona, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Carolina, New York [Jets], Denver and New Orleans.
– Arizona’s defense was dominant against the Rams last week. I thought St. Louis had found a rhythm offensively in the previous weeks, but Arizona shut whatever it was down completely. My first upset pick to go astray…
– Pittsburgh is hard to figure out, but last week they won a game they were supposed to win behind their offense. Atlanta made it closer than some expected, but Pittsburgh was always the better team and this time they didn’t slip up.
– Buffalo upset Green Bay? That defense in Buffalo is very talented (clearly), but the Bills offense still struggles. I thought Buffalo didn’t have the offensive firepower to keep up with Green Bay, and in a lot of ways I was ultimately right, but I had no idea Buffalo’s defense would control the game as well as they did.
– Carolina may play just as well or even better with Derek Anderson under center. Just throwing that out there…
– Jake Locker just can’t catch a break. He suffered another injury during last week’s game that has now sent him to IR. I promise… Tennessee would have found a way to win with Locker under center. Well that’s my opinion anyway.
– Denver is getting hot heading into the playoffs. Watch out. San Diego continues to hover around the middle of the pack, unable to use home-field to take down quality teams (early season Seattle doesn’t really count at this point).
– What gives with New Orleans? Are they really better on the road than at home? As for the Bears, I caution people to throw Cutler under the bus for the entire season, but it is telling that we keep talking about his “potential” when he is in his ninth season and 31 years old. Chicago’s defense is horrible.
No byes as the regular season nears it’s end. The gif this week is from the Oakland and Kansas City game. With the holidays here and all the talk about playoffs, injuries, fantasy football…etc., I think this is just a good reminder of what sports is all about. The experiences and memories that accompany them.
Thursday, 12/18 – 8:25 pm ET
Tennessee Titans 2-12 @ Jacksonville Jaguars 2-12
Prediction: Jacksonville Jaguars
Jake Locker’s return to the starting lineup was short lived and now Tennessee returns to the “Charlie Whitehurst show” at quarterback. Whitehurst isn’t known to challenge defenses and when you consider that Jacksonville has been quietly improving and playing hard, particularly on defense, you have to think the Jaguars will find a way to win this one. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the game where we begin to see a more comfortable Blake Bortles for Jacksonville. Tennessee doesn’t pose much of a threat on either side of the ball. I like the Jaguars to play well and build some momentum heading into the offseason.
Saturday, 12/20 – 4:30 pm ET
Philadelphia Eagles 9-5 @ Washington Redskins 3-11
Prediction: Philadelphia Eagles
I’m sorry, but I can’t see this going in favor of the Redskins. Divisional games are traditionally closer and more hard-fought than games against other opponents due to how well each team knows each other. Heck, they structure their entire team around the goal of beating their divisional opponents and have to play them multiple times each season. Washington has the ability to compete and make this close for that reason alone. Robert Griffin III is by no means “washed-up” or a bust at this point in his career and he can make plays in this game. The problem is that this is a team dealing with internal struggles between coach, quarterback, owner and other players. A 3-11 team, with nothing to play for, that has those issues don’t traditionally put together their best games. Philly is too good and will play well. I highly doubt Washington will be able to pull it together to beat the Eagles this week.
Saturday, 12/20 – 8:25 pm ET
San Diego Chargers 8-6 @ San Francisco 49ers 7-7
Prediction: San Diego Chargers
How much of an NFL game comes down to where each team is mentally? That may be the deciding factor this week and specifically in this game. There is a theory that Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is the “prime meridian” of NFL quarterbacks, or in other words, Dalton is the quarterback you measure your starter to. If yours is worse, then you need a new one and if he is better than you can win with him long-term. I mention this because I feel like San Diego may be the NFL’s version. They beat the teams they should beat, but always seem to waver around the middle of the NFL, not beating teams with superior talent. San Francisco has the talent to beat the Chargers, and maybe should be considered favorites, but I think San Diego wins. San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh is being courted by Michigan and is clearly on his way out and the 49ers are coming off a physical loss against their hated rival, which subsequently kicked them out of playoff contention. Their season is now over and changes loom on the horizon. These are professionals and they won’t simply throw in the towel, but the Chargers now they need this win to have a chance at the playoffs in the AFC. The necessity of this game to them makes me think San Diego will go into San Francisco and win a physical, low-scoring affair with a disheartened 49ers team.
Sunday, 12/21 – 1:00 pm ET
Minnesota Vikings 6-8 @ Miami Dolphins 7-7
Prediction: Minnesota Vikings
This is an upset pick, but hear me out. Minnesota has actually caught fire as of late, playing close games against the likes of Green Bay and Detroit while beating Carolina and the New York Jets in the process. Okay, so “hot” is a relative term here, but nonetheless, Minnesota is playing great defense and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is slowly, but surely, developing under head coach Mike Zimmer. Miami has recently fallen from graces with their defense giving up 41 points to New England last week and their offense only scoring 42 points over their last three games combined. Minnesota isn’t New England and the trip to Miami won’t be easy, but I like the Vikings defense to keep this game low-scoring and for Bridgewater to find a way to win this one for the Vikings.
Baltimore Ravens 9-5 @ Houston Texans 7-7
Prediction: Baltimore Ravens
Both teams need this one for a chance at the playoffs, but I have to pick Baltimore on the road. Houston is down to either Case Keenum or Thad Lewis at quarterback after Ryan Fitzpatrick went to IR due to a leg injury last week. Houston’s defense is formidable, but Houston’s offense wasn’t particularly explosive before Fitzpatrick went down and I can’t imagine they will be able to keep up with Joe Flacco and company with Keenum or Lewis at the helm. I’m taking Baltimore in a two-touchdown win behind their defense forcing turnovers and Flacco spreading the ball around through the air.
Detroit Lions 10-4 @ Chicago Bears 5-9
Prediction: Detroit Lions
Chicago has had a tough season and now Jay Cutler will ride the bench while backup quarterback Jimmy Clausen finishes out the year. I don’t think Clausen is necessarily “bad”, but his ceiling is limited. What I mean is, this game is more about the quality of Detroit’s defense rather than Clausen’s ability. Detroit’s defense terrorizes most opponents (Tom Brady being a exception) and I don’t think Clausen is suddenly going to find a way to beat them, even at home. Throw in that Chicago’s defense is atrocious and has little to no hope of containing Calvin Johnson and this is the makings of a big win for Detroit.
Cleveland Browns 7-7 @ Carolina Panthers 5-8-1
Prediction: Carolina Panthers
I told you I wasn’t big on Johnny Manziel and last week furthered may case. Many of the “playmaker” plays Manziel made in college were toss-ups to current Buccaneers star Mike Evans or him using his speed – which isn’t blazing by NFL standards – to create. Those don’t work very well in the NFL and last week was a quick demonstration of that with forced throws, movement in the pocket that felt rushed or chaotic and bad decisions. Even when I first expressed my feelings towards Manziel, I said he wouldn’t completely fall flat though. He has the raw ability to make an impact during his NFL career, I just don’t think he is the savior like others believe. I think this week we will see improvement. He should be more comfortable in the pocket and will have a better command of the playbook, but I have to take Carolina in this one. The Panthers are at home and are still very much in the playoff race. Derek Anderson has been playing well when asked to and Cam Newton is still an elite talent if he plays. Manziel will have his moments, both promising and infuriating, but let’s keep in mind that Cleveland wasn’t exactly tearing it up with Brian Hoyer at the helm. Hoyer was a captain keeping the ship afloat while Manziel is the new guy learning his way, but he is by no means the guy who carries a team right now. I’m taking Carolina, but Manziel’s play can only go up from last week’s performance.
Atlanta Falcons 5-9 @ New Orleans Saints 6-8
Prediction: Atlanta Falcons
This is essentially a toss-up. Both teams can’t play defense and both offenses remain explosive in theory, yet can’t find consistency. New Orleans is the more talented team, but there is something about Atlanta this week. NFC South teams, for some reason, tend to lose at home to their divisional opponents, but are hard to beat at home otherwise. I think we will see Atlanta come out and throw the ball at will, using their early season win over New Orleans as a blueprint. Expect a shootout, but I’ll take the Falcons in this one.
Green Bay Packers 10-4 @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2-12
Prediction: Green Bay Packers
Sorry Tampa Bay. The Packers won’t drop a second game in a row.
Kansas City Chiefs 8-6 @ Pittsburgh Steelers 9-5
Prediction: Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh finally seems to have shaken off the inconsistency that plagued them early this season and now is playing with confidence. The Pittsburgh offense is hot and, frankly, I don’t see Kansas City being able to keep up. The Steelers defense can be beaten, so the Chiefs will likely use a heavy dose of the run game to control the clock, but when the Steelers are playing like they are offensively, they are hard to beat. Look for Antonio Brown to have a big game this week.
New England Patriots 11-3 @ New York Jets 3-11
Prediction: New England Patriots
This would be a heck of an upset if the Jets pulled this off. I don’t see it happening though. Watch out for Shane Vereen. He was big in the first meeting between these two teams.
Sunday, 12/21 – 4:05 pm ET
New York Giants 5-9 @ St. Louis Rams 6-8
Prediction: St. Louis Rams
St. Louis encountered a stingy Arizona defense last week in their home loss, but the Giants don’t pose the same sort of threat. I expect the Rams to find a way to move the ball on the ground and then open up the passing game that way. Odell Beckham Jr. may be impossible to stop, but the Rams will get after Eli Manning and force some turnovers, as they do at home. St. Louis may runaway with this one, despite their poor offensive performance last week.
Sunday, 12/21 – 4:25 pm ET
Buffalo Bills 8-6 @ Oakland Raiders 2-12
Prediction: Buffalo Bills
I am picking Buffalo, but let’s put the Bills on upset alert. Buffalo earned a huge win over Green Bay last week at home and now are traveling west to play a bad Oakland team. Buffalo isn’t explosive offensively, but their defense is the difference-maker in this one. Derek Carr is a solid rookie quarterback for Oakland, but matching up with a defense that just dominated the Packers and Aaron Rodgers may be too much. This will be close and I wouldn’t be surprised if Oakland found a way to win it, but I’m taking Buffalo. I see another rookie, Sammy Watkins, having a big game for the Bills at wide receiver while the Buffalo defense takes care of business.
Indianapolis Colts 10-4 @ Dallas Cowboys 10-4
Prediction: Dallas Cowboys
This will likely depend on the availability of DeMarco Murray. Murray, recovering from surgery on his hand, is a game-changer and probably the most important piece of the puzzle in this game for the Cowboys. Like their game against Philadelphia a week ago, Dallas needs to run the ball and keep the ball out of the hands of the opposing offense. This week, those hands are Andrew Luck’s. Luck will move the ball on Dallas, but if Dallas runs the ball effectively and can get a little lead, the Cowboys should win this one. If Murray doesn’t play, I will still take the Cowboys behind Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. The win last week against Philadelphia was huge for the Cowboys, but also demonstrated that this team can win games they really shouldn’t win on paper. The saving grace for the Cowboys defense may be that, unlike Philadelphia, Indianapolis is limited in the run game and isn’t as scheme dependent as the Eagles in the passing game.
Sunday, 12/21 – 8:30 pm ET
Seattle Seahawks 10-4 @ Arizona Cardinals 11-3
Prediction: Seattle Seahawks
If Drew Stanton was starting this game for the Cardinals at quarterback, I would consider siding with Arizona, but with Ryan Lindley drawing the start against Seattle, I can’t pick the Cardinals. Seattle had a slow start to their season, but they now are hitting their stride and we are seeing more and more of the team that won last year’s Super Bowl in a blowout. The defense is clicking and playing well enough to carry the Seahawks offense. This game will be in that vain with two top-notch defenses colliding. Seattle will win the game of field-position though and that will be the deciding factor.
Monday, 12/22 – 8:30 pm ET
Denver Broncos 11-3 @ Cincinnati Bengals 9-4-1
Prediction: Denver Broncos
Cincinnati has lost one regular season home game since December 2012 and is coming off a dominating road performance against Cleveland, but there is no way I am picking them here. Cincinnati has been historically bad in primetime and welcoming Peyton Manning and the Broncos to town won’t suddenly fix that. This is a statement game for the Bengals, but I don’t Andy Dalton will play well enough to keep up with the Broncos offensively. Look for Denver to run the ball effectively and then throw the ball for “back-breaking” big plays. Dalton will likely throw some “back-breaking” throws of his own to the enjoyment of Broncos fans. This game runs the risk of getting out of hand, despite the success each team has had this season to this point. I will say, Cincinnati will have a chance if they run the ball effectively, keeping the ball out of both Dalton’s and Manning’s hands and play stifling defense. It’s unlikely, but this Cincinnati team has the talent to beat anyone (I’m serious), but they can’t seem to maintain that level of play, particularly in big games when everyone is watching.