Friday, December 13, 2013

The Hail Mary - Week 15

Sunday, December 15

San Francisco (9-4) at Tampa Bay (4-9), San Francisco favored by 5 1/2

Looking at the records this would appear to be a guaranteed win for San Francisco. However, the Bucs have been playing very good football as of late, winning four of their last five games. The Niners are also playing well, having won three straight, which includes a fantastic victory over the Seahawks last weekend. The 49ers defense, which showed worrisome signs at the end of last season, has been back to their dominating selves this season. They have yet to allow a 100-yard rusher, and Bobby Rainey doesn't figure to be able to break that streak. The offense has all of its pieces back now, but still could use these last three games to gel together. Arizona is still nipping at the 49ers heels for the final playoff spot, so each week remains of critical importance for San Francisco. Bucs quarterback Mike Glennon has struggled the past few weeks and I think he is ripe to have the 49ers defense manhandle him. Maybe Kap can hit some plays to Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin and show up former 49er Dashon Goldson. Harbaugh will have San Francisco ready to play and take the Bucs seriously, and I expect a strong effort on Sunday.

Prediction: San Francisco 27, Tampa Bay 14

New England (10-3) at Miami (7-6), New England favored by 2 1/2

The Patriots clinch the AFC East this weekend if they beat the Dolphins in Miami. Miami had the Patriots on the ropes in their last meeting, but then fell apart in the second half, as well as had some questionable calls go against them. Just as the Patriots offense was rounding into form, they have now lost injury prone TE Rob Gronkowski for the season. It will be interesting to see if Brady regresses without Gronk or if he can use what he learned as far as playing without him earlier this season to his advantage now. Miami had their best game of the season last week in my opinion. To win in Pittsburgh, in the snow, the way they did, showed a lot of heart. They almost ended up losing on the most fluke play possible but thankfully Antonio Brown stepped out of bounds. I think the Dolphins are getting back to playing the type of football they played to start the season, and I really like the strides Ryan Tannehill has taken this season. I think the Dolphins will pull off the upset this weekend and keep alive their slim AFC East hopes.

Prediction: Miami 24, New England 21

Philadelphia (8-5) at Minnesota (3-9-1), Philadelphia favored by 4 1/2

Both these teams had snow games last week but very different outcomes. The Eagles came from behind to bludgeon the Lions in the second half. LaSean McCoy had the greatest rushing day in Eagles history and continues to make clear that he is one of the best running backs in all of football. The Vikings had one of the craziest finishes you will ever see, as they and the Ravens traded 5 touchdowns in the final 2 minutes of their game. But as they have done countless times this season, the Vikings managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Adrian Peterson is questionable for this game, but Toby Gerhart has shown some of the college ability he had at Stanford that made the Vikings draft him a few years ago. While the Eagles have won five straight, the Vikings have been playing better football as of late, and WR Cordarrelle Patterson is really starting to come into his own. The Eagles defense continues to step up week after week, but they could really be tested this weekend. I do think the Eagles will pull out the victory and stay atop the NFC East.

Prediction: Philadelphia 31, Minnesota 27

Washington (3-10) at Atlanta (3-10), Atlanta favored by 6

No point in discussing this game because no one cares. What everyone cares about is Mike Shanahan's decision to bench Robert Griffin III for the final three games of the season, and start Kirk Cousins. I'm torn on the decision because I can see both sides of the argument. Maybe Shanny wants to play Kirk so that Kirk can play well and the Skins might be able to flip him for some draft picks this offseason, and recoup some of what they lost in the trade for the #2 pick a few years ago. Maybe he really does think this is necessary to keep Griffin healthy and make sure he is able to work on his craft this offseason. I don't really like the message it sends though, that Griffin is above the team. We can't let Griffin play because he might get hurt but the rest of you guys, well screw you. People had Shanny as good as fired on Monday but now I am not so sure. I really think that Snyder might keep him for his last year since he knows he is going to have to pay Shanny the 7 million dollars anyway. But as what has unfortunately become usual over the past 20 years, the Skins are making headlines off the field, and not for anything they are doing on the field.

Prediction: Atlanta 35, Washington 30

Chicago (7-6) at Cleveland (4-9), Cleveland favored by 1 1/2

It was announced yesterday that Jay Cutler is healthy and will start on Sunday. Some Bears fans and even former Bear Brian Urlacher were clamoring for Josh McCown to remain the stater. McCown has definitely played well in Cutler's place, but I can't say I disagree with Marc Trestman in going back to Cutler. Now if Cutler looks off in this game, I wouldn't hesitate to turn to McCown. One of the biggest reasons for McCown's success has been the emergence of Alshon Jeffery as one of the new premiere receivers in the game. The Bears identity has completely shifted this year from a defensive led team to a team that wins games only because of their offense. Jason Campbell is another quarterback that has had a resurgent years and if the Browns weren't the Browns they wouldn't have found a way to blow last week's game at New England. They also have a premiere receiver, Josh Gordon, who has gone absolutely insane the last three weeks. This should be a fun, high scoring game, but the Bears are the more desperate team, so I like them to win.

Prediction: Chicago 33, Cleveland 27

Houston (2-11) at Indianapolis (8-5), Indianapolis favored by 6

People have crapped on the NFC East this season but a division that is a bigger joke is the AFC South. The Colts were bludgeoned by Cincinnati last weekend but with the Titans loss, they have already clinched the AFC South despite being just 8-5. The Texans fired Gary Kubiak last week after losing again to Jacksonville, and dropping their 11th straight game. The Texans job should be a desirable one, as they are a team that has a lot of talent, and could make a Kansas City like turnaround with the right coach next season.

Prediction: Indianapolis 29, Houston 21

Seattle (11-2) at New York Giants (5-8), Seattle favored by 7

The Giants loss last week to the Chargers eliminated them from playoff contention, meaning they have now missed the playoffs four times in five seasons. Coach Tom Coughlin is bullet proof because of his two Super Bowl titles, but even those years the Giants were never that good in the regular season. The Seahawks were handed a much needed loss last week but it wasn't enough to humble that idiot Richard Sherman. Like a true loser Sherman blamed the refs and every other dumb thing he could think of for why Seattle lost. I will be rooting like mad for a team to take down Seattle in Seattle during the playoffs and shut up Sherman and the stupid 12th man.

Prediction: Seattle 34, New York Giants 20

Buffalo (4-9) at Jacksonville (4-9), Buffalo favored by 2

Just like Tampa Bay, the Jags have won four of five games since starting the season 0-8. The Bills are trending the opposite way, so to me, the easy money is on Jacksonville.

Prediction: Jacksonville 24, Buffalo 17

Kansas City (10-3) at Oakland (4-9), Kansas City favored by 4

Another lost season for the Raiders, as they will miss the playoffs for an 11th straight season, a mark only eclipsed by the Bills who will be missing the playoffs for a 14th straight season. The Raiders have been in games this season but don't know how to close out victories. The Chiefs do know how to close out games, and ended a three game losing streak in dominating fashion last weekend at Washington. Their offense has really come around the last month, and if the offense can stay at this level, then maybe the Chiefs can make an impact and win their first playoff game in 19 years this year.

Prediction: Kansas City 30, Oakland 17

New York Jets (6-7) at Carolina (9-4), Carolina favored by 11

Carolina was humbled at New Orleans last week, and showed that they still have some work to do to be a Super Bowl contender. They should gain their confidence back pretty quickly this week hosting the New York Jets. The Jets are absolutely awful on the road. They are 1-5 away from home this season and in their 5 losses have been outscored 175-55. Geno Smith is especially dreadful on the road and going up against the Carolina defense I would be shocked if he and the Jets have less than three turnovers.

Prediction: Carolina 27, New York Jets 9

Green Bay (6-6-1) at Dallas (7-6), No Line

No line for this game due to the questionable status of Aaron Rodgers, although reports seem to indicate that once again Matt Flynn will start. These teams are both in tight divisional battles and winning their divisions is the only way either team is likely to be able to make the playoffs. That means that stakes will be high in this game, as neither can afford a loss. The Cowboys defense was embarrassed on national television Monday night, as the Bears scored on every single possession against them. That has to give the Green Bay offense some confidence that even with Flynn in, they should be able to move the ball against Dallas. However, Tony Romo continues to have an excellent season and I expect him and the Cowboys offense, including DeMarco Murray to make a lot of plays against the suspect Packers defense. This should bring back some memories of these teams battle in the 90s as the game will come down to the final possession.

Prediction: Dallas 28, Green Bay 24

Arizona (8-5) at Tennessee (5-8), Arizona favored by 2 1/2

The Titans are playing for pretty much playing for pride at this point while the Cardinals are still very much alive in the playoff race. With both Carolina and San Francisco a game ahead of them, Arizona has to keep winning to keep their hopes alive. Winning on the road has been tough at times for this group and I think Sunday's game at Tennessee will present a hiccup. The Titans offense has actually looked pretty good since Ryan Fitzpatrick took over and they are desperate to end a four game home losing streak. The Cardinals suffered a pretty big loss on the defensive side of the ball with last week's season ending injury to Tyrann Mathieu. I think that could leave the Cardinals vulnerable and will help the Titans earn an upset victory.

Prediction: Tennessee 31, Arizona 28

New Orleans (10-3) at St. Louis (5-8), New Orleans favored by 5 1/2

If this game were at the Superdome I would give the Rams no chance, but the Saints are a different team away from home. They will be happy to be indoors for this game but will be facing a Rams team that has been catching their stride as of late at home. What will likely be the Rams undoing in this game, besides having to try to stop the Saints offense, is their porous offensive line. Kellen Clemens has been getting battered the last few weeks and Rob Ryan's Saints defense leads the NFC in sacks with 43.

Prediction: New Orleans 23, St. Louis 20

Cincinnati (9-4) at Pittsburgh (5-8), Cincinnati favored by 3

Another dull Sunday night game for NBC as they gambled that the Steelers would still be in the playoff race and lost. Cincinnati is looking to edge closer to another division title and reach the playoffs for a third straight season. It would be the fifth time they have made the playoffs under Marvin Lewis but a playoff win has eluded Marvin and the Bengals. Cincy is still in the hunt for a first round bye so they will be plenty jacked for this game. Mike Tomlin will have his team ready and motivated but motivation can't always overcome a talent discrepancy, and the Bengals are much more talented than the Steelers. As long as Andy Dalton can play more like the Dalton we saw last week and less like the one we had been seeing, the Bengals will be fine.

Prediction: Cincinnati 27, Pittsburgh 20

Monday, December 16

Baltimore (7-6) at Detroit (7-6), Detroit favored by 6

The Ravens have won three in a row and managed to beat my predicted total of 6 wins with three games remaining in the season. However, with games at Detroit, home to New England and at Cincinnati remaining, I am picking the Ravens to at least finish 7-9. They should have lost at home to Minnesota last weekend, but were bailed out by the Vikings inability to ever hold on to a game in the final seconds. With the Ravens at just 1-5 on the road it seems like a sure bet to expect the Lions to cover in this game. Detroit's offense always looks much better on their fast track at Ford Field, and with the Lions running game starting to produce along with the passing game I expect a relatively comfortable victory for Detroit on Monday night.

Prediction: Detroit 31, Baltimore 19

Last Week Against the Spread: 12-4
Overall Against the Spread: 101-99-8

Last Week Straight Up: 14-2
Overall Straight Up: 141-66-1

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