Friday, November 22, 2013

The Hail Mary - Week 12

Sunday, November 24

Carolina (7-3) at Miami (5-5), Carolina favored by 4

Despite losing 5 of their past 7 games, the Dolphins are tied with the Jets for the final playoff spot in the AFC. The next month of games will make or break Miami's season, starting with Sunday's game versus Panthers and followed up with games against the Jets, Steelers and Patriots. Last weekend's win over the Chargers was a gritty one, especially with three backups starting on the offensive line. Week after week Ryan Tannehill is getting killed back there, but to his credit he has hung tough and made plays when needed. The Panthers are the hottest team in the NFL, having won six straight games. Redskins fans that want to quit on RG3 should pay attention to Cam Newton and how he has recovered from his struggles in his second year. The Panthers have a championship level defense, so if the offense can raise their game just a bit more, then Carolina will be true Super Bowl contenders. Like most Panthers games I expect this week's game at Miami to be a struggle but for Carolina to be their new selves, and finding a way to win a close one.

Prediction: Carolina 24, Miami 21

Minnesota (2-8) at Green Bay (5-5), Green Bay favored by 5

Aaron Rodgers can't come back soon enough for the Packers. Green Bay has to hope he can return by Thanksgiving against Detroit or there may not be a reason for him to play again this season with how the Pack have been losing. If Scott Tolzein is going to win a game as a starter, playing the hapless Vikings at home will be his best chance. Minnesota is winless on the road this season and Lambeau Field is typically a house of horrors for them. This game will remain close because Tolzein will make mistakes that will keep Minnesota competitive, but I expect Eddie Lacy to go over 100 yards and literally carry the Packers to a win.

Prediction: Green Bay 24, Minnesota 17

Pittsburgh (4-6) at Cleveland (4-6), Cleveland favored by 1 1/2

Pittsburgh has won four of their past six games to climb right back into playoff contention in the weak AFC. The Browns also are still fighting for that last playoff spot, so this is a pretty major game between two rivals. Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers passing game have been on fire the past few weeks, as Antonio Brown is stepping into the number one role he was expected to take after the departure of Mike Wallace. The Browns rely on their defense to win them games, so when Jason Campbell throws three picks like he did last week and their special teams sucks, they get trucked, like they did by Cincinnati. The Browns have been pretty good at home, winning three of their past four games there while the Steelers have been terrible on the road. Sometimes making picks is just that simple, go with the trends.

Prediction: Cleveland 26, Pittsburgh 21

Tampa Bay (2-8) at Detroit (6-4), Detroit favored by 9

The Buccaneers are suddenly a juggernaut, having won two straight! Maybe that means they will win their first road game of the season. Bobby Rainey emerged into America's consciousness last week with a fantastic, dominating performance against the sorry Falcons. He will have his work cut out for him this week though, as the Lions rank 5th in the league against the run. The Lions pass defense on the other hand is awful and was repeatedly victimized in Detroit's loss to Pittsburgh last week. Bucs QB Mike Glennon is starting to earn accolades for his play, having thrown 11 TDs and just 4 INTs in his rookie season. However, I don't believe the Bucs defense will be up to the task of stopping Matthew Stafford in Detroit. The Lions offense goes to a whole other level at home. Most fun matchup to watch in this game, Calvin Johnson versus Darrelle Revis.

Prediction: Detroit 35, Tampa Bay 23

San Diego (4-6) at Kansas City (9-1), Kansas City favored by 5

The Broncos/Chiefs game pretty much played out as I expected. The Chiefs were shown to be good, but not truly an upper echelon team, because they don't have a quarterback in Alex Smith that can carry them above a certain level. When their defense isn't working and not being able to get to Peyton Manning once during the game qualifies as not working, the Chiefs will not win. Returning home to play San Diego and Philip Rivers, I expect the Chiefs defense to get plenty of pressure on Rivers. The Chargers offense has stalled out during their three game losing streak and while Rivers hasn't played poorly, he isn't playing at the high level he was to start the season. Also, the Chargers defense has struggled during their losing streak. If Smith can't take advantage of the Chargers defense, there isn't a defense out there he can take advantage of.

Prediction: Kansas City 27, San Diego 16

Chicago (6-4) at St. Louis (4-6), St. Louis favored by 1

Backup quarterbacks do battle in St. Louis. The Bears Josh McCown seems to finally be the backup the Bears have been searching for all these years. Unlike in past season's when Jay Cutler has gone down and the Bears season went down with him, McCown is keeping the Bears winning. The Rams are coming off their bye week, following a shocking road trouncing of the Indianapolis Colts. The game served as first round pick, WR Tavon Austin's coming out party. Austin had been a disappointment up until that game, but maybe now the Rams can finally feature him in their offense. Zac Stacy has also given them a running game, something they didn't have for the majority of the season. Strangely, the Rams most impressive wins have come on the road, so they might be better off if this game were at Soldier Field. The Rams defense allows 118 yards rushing per game, so Matt Forte should have a big game for Da Bears.

Prediction: Chicago 28, St. Louis 24

New York Jets (5-5) at Baltimore (4-6), Baltimore favored by 3 1/2

Geno Smith is laughably bad when playing on the road. For the season Smith has thrown 8 TDs and 16 INTs, and is turning the ball over at even more absurd rate than Mark Sanchez was. Matt Simms has looked smooth and confident when replacing Smith in games, so if Smith struggles in Baltimore we could see Simms sooner than when the game is out of hand. It has been a tough season for the defending Super Bowl champions but they still remain a strong team at home. They also received a ray of hope (get it!?!?) last week as Ray Rice finally ran the ball well. Including this game Baltimore plays their next three at home and each is a winnable game. The Ravens season will be made or broken over these next three weeks.

Prediction: Baltimore 31, New York Jets 14

Jacksonville (1-9) at Houston (2-8), Houston favored by 10

Vegas thinks so little of Jacksonville that they are making the Texans, losers of eight straight game, double digit favorites. I do agree that Houston won't lose fourteen straight to close the season, so it stands to reason this will finally be the game they pick up a win. I have no idea what Gary Kubiak was doing, yanking Case Keenum last week against the Raiders, inserting Matt Schaub, but then once again saying Keenum is his starter. Case has played well, you're playing out the string at this point, let the kid get some valuable experience. The Jags did finally score some touchdowns at home, so things have been looking up for them!

Prediction: Houston 28, Jacksonville 21

Tennessee (4-6) at Oakland (4-6), Oakland favored by 1

Last week against the Colts, Ryan Fitzpatrick looked determined to best Alex Smith in the game of human check down. The biggest beneficiary of that was former 49er Delanie Walker. With how awful the 49ers pass offense has been this season, I wish they would have found the money to keep Walker. The Raiders kept their season very much alive by winning in Houston last weekend. Even more surprising was that Matt McGloin played excellent in his first career start. McGloin was a terrible college quarterback until Bill O'Brien showed up his senior year. His college career was similar to Carson Palmer, as many people forget that Palmer was mostly useless in college until his senior year. McGloin versus Fitzpatrick is the least sexy quarterback matchup in a long time, but I'm going with the ginger.

Prediction: Oakland 25, Tennessee 23

Indianapolis (7-3) at Arizona (6-4), Arizona favored by 2

Bruce Arians faces the team he led to the playoffs last season. It is a good road team versus a good home team. The Cardinals have quietly snuck their way right into the wild card race and are nipping at the 49ers heels in the NFC West. Carson Palmer has been better during the team's three game winning streak, throwing 6 TDs and 2 INTs. Donald Brown is clearly the better back over Trent Richardson and it seems like the Colts are finally starting to feed him the ball more. Brown will have his work cut out for him, as the Cardinals rank second in the league against the run. Richardson would have his work cut out for him trying to run on me, so expect him to have no problem falling to the ground immediately against Arizona. Andrew Luck continues to play well despite not having Reggie Wayne and Darrius Heyward-Bey not being able to catch anything thrown his way. I think this will end up being one of the best games this weekend, with a late Jay Feely field goal being the difference.

Prediction: Arizona 27, Indianapolis 24

Dallas (5-5) at New York Giants (4-6), New York Giants favored by 2 1/2

In typical Giants fashion, just when New York looked dead they have won four straight and are just a game and a half out of first in the NFC East. If they win this week, they will move into a tie for second and just a game back of the Eagles. The biggest reason for the Giants winning streak hasn't been Eli Manning but the Giants defense. The Giants have given up just 47 points in their last four games and guys like Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck are playing like their old selves. The offense has been helped by the return of Andre Brown at the running back position, allowing Brandon Jacobs to slide back into a backup role. When we last saw the Cowboys they were being embarrassed on national television by the Saints. They will be without star LB Sean Lee in this game, but expect DeMarcus Ware to play. The Cowboys offense couldn't get anything going against the Saints and Tony Romo and the passing game have been off in their last couple of games. Maybe Miles Austin returning to action will help, but he seems to be a shell of his former self. The Cowboys will probably struggle running the ball as usual, putting too much pressure on Romo to make everything happen.

Prediction: New York Giants 26, Dallas 19

Denver (9-1) at New England (7-3), Denver favored by 2 1/2

Manning vs. Brady XIV is how this game has been billed. If you look past the battle of two of the best quarterbacks in history, it will also be a game between two really good teams. The question is, how much can the Patriots defense slow down Manning? The Broncos could be without both Wes Welker and Julius Thomas in this game, but even if they were, they still would have Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas as major weapons. The Broncos do play into the Patriots strengths on defense. The Patriots are a good cover team that struggles to stop the run. Broncos RB Knowshon Moreno has had a resurgent season, but the Broncos still rank just 20th in the league in rushing. They are a team that likes to throw and throw often. Both Brady and Manning are stationery quarterbacks that have thrived all of these years because of their abilities to get the ball out quickly and having excellent offensive lines. The Broncos secondary is not very good, so Brady could be in line for his second best game of the season, like the game he had against Pittsburgh a few weeks back. He has all of his weapons back and will be facing a vulnerable defense. I expect this game to be a shootout and will come down to who has the ball last. With two quarterbacks at this level and two good teams, not a ton separates them, but to me the Broncos have the slight edge over the Patriots.

Prediction: Denver 35, New England 31

Monday, November 25

San Francisco (6-4) at Washington (3-7), San Francisco favored by 5

Both of these teams are reeling and desperate for a win. For the 49ers the desperation is a little more as they still have very real playoff hopes. Any chances of winning the NFC West have probably gone by the wayside, so it is about getting that 5 or 6 seed, not that it makes that huge a difference. For Washington, they just want a win to clear out the buzzards that are swirling around their dead season. Predictably, the media has begun turning on their poster boy from last season, Robert Griffin III. There is nothing the media relishes more than propping someone up, tearing them down, and then propping them back up again. What has been disappointing but shouldn't have surprised me is the number of Redskins fans already turning on RG3. Skins fans are so reactionary and in the moment. Last year Griffin was the best quarterback the franchise had ever seen. Now this season, coming off a major surgery, and having no true off-season work, he has struggled and people are quitting on him. I'll be rooting for Robert to have a great career like I think he will have and make his doubters look silly. I won't be rooting for him this week though, especially since I will be there live for this one. The cure for what ails the 49ers offense may simply be playing the Redskins historically bad defense. Colin Kaepernick is experiencing similar struggles to Griffin. The 49ers fanbase hasn't turned on Kap, but it has been disconcerting how much he has struggled this season. However, I think I underestimated how much Kap would miss Michael Crabtree. Thank goodness they traded for Anquan Boldin, because without him it would just be Vernon Davis and no one else for Kap to throw to. The Skins leaky secondary should open up plenty of things for Davis and Boldin and hopefully Kap can have his first real big game since the opener. The Redskins offense has been hit or miss most games, not usually able to put together a strong game. They will play well in spurts, mostly this relates to the passing game because Alfred Morris has been very good running the ball this season. Much like Kap, Griffin hasn't had a number two receiver step up. Leonard Hankerson showed flashes but not enough consistency and he is now out for the season. Josh Morgan will have a chance to step up now against his former team, and maybe they will even get Fred Davis out of mothballs. The 49ers are a better team than the Redskins, especially defensively and that should be the way to victory.

Prediction: San Francisco 30, Washington 20

Last Week Against the Spread: 6-6-3
Overall Against the Spread: 80-75-7

Last Week Straight Up: 11-4

Overall Straight Up: 111-51

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