Friday, December 6, 2013

The Hail Mary - Week 14

Sunday, December 8

Miami (6-6) at Pittsburgh (5-7), Pittsburgh favored by 3

Every game left on their schedule is now a must win for Pittsburgh, while Miami is currently tied for the last playoff spot in the jumbled AFC playoff picture. Both teams are desperate so this game could have a playoff like atmosphere to it. I am sure Steelers fans will be ready to give Dolphin WR Mike Wallace a rude welcome upon his return to the Steel City. Wallace seems to be hitting his stride as a Dolphin these last two weeks, so maybe he has something in store for his former team. Neither team is exceptionally good at running the ball, so this game will likely come down to who has a better game between Ryan Tannehill and Ben Roethlisberger. Tannehill has shown definite improvement this season, but I don't feel comfortable picking him to win a shootout against Big Ben.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 27, Miami 20

Minnesota (3-8-1) at Baltimore (6-6), Baltimore favored by 7

It appears that Matt Cassel will start this game for the Vikings, as Christian Ponder is still dealing with the effects of a concussion. It is hard to imagine that the Vikings won't be drafting a quarterback in April, and try to find some stability at the position. The Ravens have won back to back home games and currently hold the final Wild Card spot in the AFC. They will likely be underdogs in their final three games so it is imperative they win a game they should against Minnesota. The Ravens defense has steadily improved this season, as they have become more and more a cohesive unit. The Ravens offense still leaves plenty to desire, but the Vikings porous defense should provide ample opportunities for Ray Rice and Joe Flacco to make plays. Torrey Smith has a chance to have a real big game.

Prediction: Baltimore 28, Minnesota 23

Detroit (7-5) at Philadelphia (7-5), Philadelphia favored by 2 1/2

This game could end up having major playoff implications with these teams neck and neck in the standings. The Eagles actually have a home winning streak now and another streak going is Nick Foles has still not thrown an interception, while throwing 19 touchdowns on the season. The Eagles have won four straight but what has been worrisome the last two weeks is their inability to put teams away with some conviction. They have gotten comfortable leads over the Redskins and Cardinals the last two weeks and then each time let both teams back into the game. The offense seems to go on cruise control or something, as they appear to be an entirely different unit. What has not been worrisome is the play of the defense. Their stats aren't pretty, but the Eagles haven't allowed more than 21 points in a game since Denver hung 52 on them in September. They will have their work cut out for them trying to slow down the Lions offense. The Lions now have a fierce running game with Reggie Bush and Joique Bell to go with Megatron and Matthew Stafford in the passing game. While the Lions rush defense is stout, their pass defense should be susceptible to big plays from DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper. I think the Eagles newfound home success continues on Sunday, but I expect Foles to finally throw a pick.

Prediction: Philadelphia 35, Detroit 24

Kansas City (9-3) at Washington (3-9), Kansas City favored by 3 1/2

The Chiefs are reeling after a 9-0 start having dropped three straight, while the Redskins have lost four in a row. So I guess this is the something has to give game. What will likely give is the Redskins defense as Jamaal Charles runs all over them. Even Alex Smith has stepped up his production in these last few games as the Chiefs have been playing more catch up than they were in the beginning of the year. He should find open receivers against a Washington secondary that has been generous in allowing the big play. If Kyle Shanahan decides to stick with the run and not abandon it was he is so prone to doing then maybe Washington might have a chance against a wounded Kansas City defense. It would also help Robert Griffin III if his receivers can hold on to the ball this week and not suffer from massive cases of butterfingers like they did against the Giants. But no one in their right mind should be picking the Redskins right now, no matter how many games in a row the Chiefs have lost.

Prediction: Kansas City 30, Washington 21

Indianapolis (8-4) at Cincinnati (8-4), Cincinnati favored by 5 1/2

Despite their mostly dreadful play for the last month, Indianapolis can clinch the AFC South with a win at Cincinnati on Sunday. If the Bengals win, they will edge even closer to clinching the AFC North. They are getting healthy at the right time and could finally be ready to win a playoff game this season. The key matchup in this game will be the Colts Vontae Davis trying to cover A.J. Green. That means that Bengals QB Andy Dalton needs to avoid the mistakes that have plagued him his last four games. He may have to do that with Robert Mathis in his face most of they day since Mathis is having the best year of his career. The Colts avoided a slow start last week, but something still seems sort of off about them right now.

Prediction: Cincinnati 33, Indianapolis 24

Atlanta (3-9) at Green Bay (5-6-1), No Line

This game was bumped out of its original Sunday night slot since both of these teams have been colossal fails this year. Green Bay at least has somewhat better of an excuse since they have been without Aaron Rodgers since their slide. There is a chance Rodgers could return for this game and try to save Green Bay's season. I am going to pick this game going under the assumption that Rodgers will play and the Packers offense will more resemble what we have gotten used to seeing the last few years.

Prediction: Green Bay 28, Atlanta 14

Cleveland (4-8) at New England (9-3), No Line

The Browns are so thin at quarterback now due to injuries to Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden, that they may have to start Caleb Hanie in this game. Bears fans just threw up after reading that sentence. The Patriots have needed to make double digit comebacks the last two weeks, but should not face the same quandary at home on Sunday. One story to watch is how the Browns record setting receiver Josh Gordon fares in this game coming off his second straight over 200-yard receiving game.

Prediction: New England 42, Cleveland 20

Oakland (4-8) at New York Jets (5-7), New York Jets favored by 2 1/2

Geno Smith was yanked yet again but after Matt Simms failed to impress while replacing him, Smith remains the Jets starting quarterback. The Raiders are hurting at running back, to the point that they may have to put converted cornerback Taiwan Jones back at running back. The starting quarterback battle of Smith versus the Raiders Matt McGloin could be seen as an indictment of the level of quarterback play in the NFL. McGloin has been serviceable but hasn't been able to get Oakland's passing game jump started. With both teams quarterbacks not throwing the ball all that well, and with defenses that are good at stopping the run, it should be a challenging day for the offenses and a challenging game for people to watch.

Prediction: New York Jets 18, Oakland 15

Buffalo (4-8) at Tampa Bay (3-9), Tampa Bay favored by 2 1/2

Old ACC acquaintances meet up when E.J. Manuel of the Bills faces Mike Glennon of the Bucs. And that's about all I can find worth talking about in this game between losing teams.

Prediction: Tampa Bay 35, Buffalo 27

Tennessee (5-7) at Denver (10-2), Denver favored by 12

This game could possibly be a snow bowl which is always the best type of football to watch. However, the last time the Titans played in a snowstorm they were destroyed by the Patriots, 59-0. After two weeks of being held to paltry scores of 28 and 27, the Broncos offense is back to scoring over 30 again. Eric Decker also got going, hauling in four touchdowns in last week's win at Kansas City. Montee Ball also went over 100 yards last week, so the Broncos may be getting even deeper offensively which is scary to think about. Ryan Fitzpatrick was awful in Indianapolis last week and its tough to imagine him playing as well as he will need to in the cold to beat the Broncos.

Prediction: Denver 31, Tennessee 20

St. Louis (5-7) at Arizona (7-5), Arizona favored by 6 1/2

The Cardinals remain a team that shows up much better at home than on the road, as evidenced by their loss at Philadelphia last week. Carson Palmer was back to his turnover happy self, and Cardinals coach Bruce Arians wanted to go the loser route and blame the refs for the loss. The Cardinals lost on the road to the Rams in Week 1, and though St. Louis is just 2-4 on the road this year, those two wins were blowouts at Indianapolis and at Houston. One encouraging outcome from last week's game for Arizona was that Rashard Mendenhall finally looked somewhat capable of running the ball. If he can get going on a more consistent basis that will increase Palmer's chances of not turning the ball over.

Prediction: Arizona 27, St. Louis 20

Seattle (11-1) at San Francisco (8-4), San Francisco favored by 3

I am actually shocked that the 49ers are favored in this game. They will likely be without two of their starting offensive lineman, Joe Staley and Mike Iupati and they have been embarrassed by Seattle the last two times these teams have met. People still try to knock Seattle about their road play but they are 5-1 on the road this season. They also have Marshawn Lynch who runs over the 49ers every time he plays them, no matter how well the Niners defense is playing. Also concerning for San Francisco is that Frank Gore has not run the ball well the last two weeks. During his struggles, Colin Kaepernick has played better, which is frustrating because I wish the run and passing game could both be strong at the same time for a change. Couple the Seahawks embarrassing the Niners along with how annoying Pete Carroll and Richard Sherman are and the Seahawks have quickly become one of my most hated teams. A loss to Seattle on Sunday would be even more embarrassing for the Niners than those previous blowout defeats because it would allow the Seahawks to clinch the NFC West on the Niners home field. Winning the division is a longshot for San Francisco now, but they can still win this game and show themselves to be capable of playing with the best the NFL has to offer. This is a crucial game for Kap and the team as a whole, and I am counting on them responding to that pressure and getting a big win.

Prediction: San Francisco 20, Seattle 16

New York Giants (5-7) at San Diego (5-7), San Diego favored by 3

Both teams are on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoffs and the loser of this game will all but be eliminated from playoff contention. The Giants overcame at 14-0 hole at Washington last week to save their season. I am not positive but I think this will be Eli Manning's first time playing San Diego at Qualcomm since he made it clear in 2004 he wouldn't play for the Chargers if selected by them. I wouldn't be surprised if that ramps up the Chargers crowd a little more than normal for this game. Philip Rivers has somewhat come back to Earth the last month after his otherworldly start, but I think he could be in line for a big game on Sunday.

Prediction: San Diego 28, New York Giants 22

Carolina (9-3) at New Orleans (9-3), New Orleans favored by 3 1/2

Control of the NFC South is on the line in the Superdome on Sunday night. The Panthers are the hottest team in football, having won eight straight games. The winner of this game not only takes control of the South but will also clinch a playoff berth. The Panthers defense is rightfully receiving high praise as of late, and what most people are interested to see in this game is that defense can slow down the Saints on the fast track of the Superdome. The Saints are unbeaten at home and Drew Brees has been nearly unstoppable. I think the Panthers defense will somewhat slow Brees, but I also think that the Saints defense also feeds off their home crowd. I expect them to get a lot of pressure on Cam Newton and force some mistakes out of Newton and the Panthers offense.

Prediction: New Orleans 27, Carolina 21

Monday, December 9

Dallas (7-5) at Chicago (6-6), Dallas favored by 1 1/2

The Sam Hurd bowl! Unfortunately, it won't be the Jay Cutler vs. Tony Romo bowl as Cutler is once again out with an injury. He seems to miss an awful lot of crucial games for the Bears and it will be interesting to see how much money and years Chicago is willing to invest in him in the off-season. Romo has been fantastic this season, throwing 24 TDs and even more impressively, just 7 picks. However, December has not been kind to Romo and the Cowboys in the past and their last three games after this are challenging enough to make another December collapse seem possible. Both teams struggle defensively but survive by creating turnovers. So hopefully we see a high scoring, turnover filled, action packed game that ends with the Bears winning.

Prediction: Chicago 31, Dallas 26

Last Week Against the Spread: 5-11
Overall Against the Spread: 89-95-8

Last Week Straight Up: 11-5
Overall Straight Up: 127-64-1

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