Friday, December 20, 2013
The Hail Mary - Week 16
Miami (8-6) at Buffalo (5-9), Miami favored by 2 1/2
My faith in Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins was rewarded, as they upset the Patriots last weekend just as I predicted. Despite that win, the Dolphins are still on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoffs. Baltimore would get in over them right now so it leaves Miami in a weird position of not really wanting either Baltimore or New England to win when they play each other Sunday.Although, if the Dolphins were to choose, I guess they would want the Patriots, because Baltimore and Cincinnati losses, and a Dolphins win clinches a playoff spot for Miami. The Dolphins can't overlook the Bills as winning in the frigid air of Buffalo in December can be a challenge. Hell, the Dolphins couldn't even beat Buffalo at home a few weeks back. Just like last game, the Bills will be starting Thad Lewis, as EJ Manuel is once again injured. Lewis won't have Stevie Johnson to throw too, as he grieves the death of his mother. Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller have been running the ball well as of late so stopping the run will be Miami's number one concern. The biggest key to Miami's success seems to be Tannehill. He has really limited his mistakes in recent weeks and because of that the Dolphins are thriving. I feel the switch is flipping for Tannehill at the best time for Miami and his hot play will continue Sunday.
Prediction: Miami 28, Buffalo 22
Minnesota (4-9-1) at Cincinnati (9-5), Cincinnati favored by 7
Road Bengals and home Bengals are two very different teams. The Bengals finished just 3-5 on the road this season but fortunately for them they finish up the season with 2 games at home. At home, Cincinnati is 6-0, and has scored 41 points or more in their last three home games. The Vikings overall record still remains putrid but they have a winning record in their last six games. Their offense has been playing really well, and Matt Cassel is coming off a game where he looked like 2010 Cassel. Even down to their third string running back last weekend, Minnesota still scored 48 points. This week they could have both Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart back, against a stout Bengals defense. The Bengals are going to try to find some consistency on offense, and have both their rushing and passing attacks at their peaks on Sunday. The Vikings generous defense should make that more than possible.
Prediction: Cincinnati 33, Minnesota 27
Dallas (7-7) at Washington (3-11), Dallas favored by 3
The two most dysfunctional franchises in football. Despite their dysfunction the Cowboys are still very relevant when it comes to the playoff chase. If they win, it guarantees that their final game at home against Philadelphia will be for the NFC East and a playoff spot. If that happens it would mark the third straight season the Cowboys were playing for the NFC East in the final week. The Redskins are playing out the string, but ruining the Cowboys season would be a little bit of consolation in a loss season. Kirk Cousins lit up Atlanta last weekend, but was mistake prone. He will have a chance to light up a Cowboys defense that has loved making backup quarterbacks look exceptional the last two weeks. These teams always seem to play close games and you can pretty much throw out the records any time they meet. I think Kirk will have another strong passing game, and I think the Redskins will spoil the Cowboys season. Hey, maybe Tony Romo can throw another boneheaded late game pick, or Dallas can refuse to run the ball despite averaging over 7 yards per carry. You know, the usual.
Prediction: Washington 34, Dallas 31
Indianapolis (9-5) at Kansas City (11-3), Kansas City favored by 6 1/2
The Patriots loss lost week put the Colts in play for a possible bye if they wan win their last two games and have some breaks go their way. The Chiefs once faint AFC West hopes became much more real due to the Broncos loss to the Chargers. The Chiefs offense continued their hot play but their defense has slid a ton ever since the offense began to play well. The Colts Jekyll and Hyde act continued last week, as they were dominant in a win against the hapless Texans. People are still not sold on the Colts being a real threat come playoff time and a road game in Arrowhead will be quite telling. I expect the Chiefs offense to come back to Earth a bit and the Chiefs defense to play its best game in over a month.
Prediction: Kansas City 24, Indianapolis 19
Tampa Bay (4-10) at St. Louis (6-8), St. Louis favored by 5 1/2
Teams that are playing for the chance to have good vibes going into the 2014 season. The Rams have been a very good team at home recently, especially last week when they dominated the Saints.
Prediction: St. Louis 29, Tampa Bay 17
Cleveland (4-10) at New York Jets (6-8), New York Jets favored by 2 1/2
Another game between two teams with nothing but pride left to play for in 2013. If it follows the normal Browns and Jets scripts, the Jets will look like a playoff team at home, but the Browns will be winning late and somehow blow the game in the fourth quarter.
Prediction: New York Jets 27, Cleveland 20
New Orleans (10-4) at Carolina (10-4), Carolina favored by 3
If the Saints win, they clinch the NFC South and will lock up a bye in the playoffs. If Carolina wins, then they will control their destiny in the NFC South going into Week 17 and themselves be in line for a playoff bye. Losses by either team could mean that they are on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoffs. That of course means major stakes, and a game that will have a playoff atmosphere. The Saints destroyed Carolina in New Orleans two weeks ago, but the Superdome Saints and the road Saints are two vastly different teams. The Panthers have won six straight at home and five of those wins have been by double digits. The Saints offense is just not the same unit away from the Superdome and it puts too much pressure on their defense. The defense is incredibly improved from last season, but it isn't good enough to compensate for the offense playing poorly. The Carolina defense had never been pushed around like they were a few weeks ago, and playing at home I expect them to improve their performance this time by about 100 percent. Even if you are a Saints fan, I can't think of any logical reason right now why you would pick the Saints in a road game with any confidence.
Prediction: Carolina 28, New Orleans 21
Tennessee (5-9) at Jacksonville (4-10), Tennessee favored by 5 1/2
Prediction: Tennessee 29, Jacksonville 26
Denver (11-3) at Houston (2-12), Denver favored by 10 1/2
Broncos can clinch the AFC West with a win and a Chiefs loss. Denver has looked very so-so over the last month and not as clearly the favorite to come out of the AFC. Peyton Manning seemed to really miss Wes Welker last week. I think the Broncos will likely hold out Welker for this game, but against a Texans team that hasn't won since September, I expect Manning and the Broncos offense to return to putting up video game like numbers.
Prediction: Denver 42, Houston 24
New York Giants (5-9) at Detroit (7-7), Detroit favored by 9
The question used to be is Eli better than Peyton? The new question seems to be is Eli the worst quarterback to ever win multiple Super Bowls? Eli is having a truly awful season and unlike Brett Favre he isn't a gunslinger having fun out there, so it is harder for people not to notice. He is more like a guy making derpy faces and awful decisions out there. The Lions went from first in the NFC North to third and on the outside looking in for the playoffs. Matthew Stafford has been atrocious the last few weeks, and he was really hurt by the case of butterfingers Megatron contracted on Monday night against Baltimore. Even with their struggles, I think the Lions can beat a Giants team at home that has looked mostly awful this season.
Prediction: Detroit 25, New York Giants 20
Arizona (9-5) at Seattle (12-2), Seattle favored by 10 1/2
The Cardinals just won't go away and continue to make life nervous for teams like the 49ers, Panthers, and Saints. As a Niners fan I am slightly torn about this game. I would like the Cardinals to lose so the Niners can wrap up a playoff berth, but a Cardinals win would keep alive the 49ers hopes of coming back to win the division. That being said, I can never, under any circumstances cheer for a team coached by Pete Carroll and with Dick Sherman playing for them. Arizona barely beat a bad Tennesee team on the road, so the chances of them winning in Seattle seem very slim. The Seahawks defense feasted on mistake prone Eli last week and Carson Palmer is another quarterback that likes to serve up interceptions.
Prediction: Seattle 35, Arizona 24
Pittsburgh (6-8) at Green Bay (7-6-1), No Line
Another Packers game with no line as no one has any idea whether or not Aaron Rodgers will play. If Rodgers does play I really like the Packers in this game, but even if he doesn't I still think a Matt Flynn led Packers team can beat a mediocre Steelers team at Lambeau. The Steelers are coming off their best game of the season when they trounced the Bengals, but I don't expect that performance to translate to this weekend. This will be a competitive game between two old school franchises, and the Packers will be desperate as they have to win out. The Packers defense will have to step up their game, as Ben Roethlisberger is enjoying one of the best years of his career. Eddie Lacy will have his work cut out for him running the ball, as the Steelers run defense has been shutting teams down the last few weeks. Even with those things working against them, I like the more desperate team.
Prediction: Green Bay 26, Pittsburgh 23
Oakland (4-10) at San Diego (7-7), San Diego favored by 10
December seems like when Philip Rivers and the Chargers are at their best and that was again made apparent by their shocking win in Denver last week. They still sit a game out of a playoff spot with two to go but a home victory against Oakland would keep their season alive for one more week. The Chargers will be looking to avenge an embarrassing loss at Oakland earlier this season. The Raiders defense has been in the holiday spirit, giving out touchdowns like Santa gives away gifts. The Matt McGloin era started off pretty well but he has been a turnover machine recently and coach Dennis Allen now splits time between him and Terrelle Pryor. It is obvious the Raiders need to draft a quarterback in the off-season. McGloin and Pryor have shown flashes but neither appears to be the type of consistently good quarterback the Raiders need to be relevant again.
Prediction: San Diego 38, Oakland 21
New England (10-4) at Baltimore (8-6), Baltimore favored by 2 1/2
Oddly, NBC decided to flex this game out in favor of Chicago/Philadelphia. This game still has major playoff implications, while there is a possibility that Chicago/Philadelphia might mean nothing for one of the teams depending on earlier results on Sunday. These teams have developed quite the little rivalry over the years, with memorable meetings in the regular season and of course, their back to back battles in the AFC Championship the last two years. The Ravens of 2013 seem to be modeling the Ravens of 2000 a bit, where offense is optional, the kicker is their best offensive weapon and the defense bails out the offense. More amazing to me than Justin Tucker hitting a 61-yard field goal to win the game, was that the Ravens trusted that more than their 120 million dollar quarterback Joe Flacco to get them 7 yards with the game on the line. The Patriots record is a bit deceiving, as without those miracle wins against the Saints, Broncos and Browns they would be on the outside looking in on the playoffs. They have won more games than they probably should have because of the Brady/Belichick effect. While I have ended up being wrong about the amount of games the Ravens would win, I still cannot pick them to beat the Patriots. I just don't trust Flacco to make enough plays and I think the Ravens are eventually going to lose living on the edge like they have.
Prediction: New England 24, Baltimore 20
Chicago (8-6) at Philadelphia (8-6), Philadelphia favored by 3
Various scenarios cold take this game and make it quite meaningless for one or both teams. Chip Kelly has said he will play to win no matter what, but that could be tested if Dallas loses and the Eagles already have the NFC East clinched. Even a Dallas win makes this game pretty meaningless because Philadelphia would have to beat Dallas no matter what next week to win the division. But after a very poor performance in Minnesota, I agree with Kelly that the Eagles need to focus on winning and not so much on how much the game means. The Eagles defense had been playing so well but that all fell apart at the Metrodome last week. Against the beasts the Bears have at receiver, Brandon Marshall, and Alshon Jeffery the Eagles secondary will have to literally play above their heads to keep up with those gigantic guys. Jay Cutler started off slow in his return last week, but then pulled it together and led the Bears to victory. I think this game could turn into a shootout between him and Nick Foles. I also think both LaSean McCoy and Matt Forte could be in for big games. The Eagles have been much better at home lately, winning three in a row there after breaking their 10 game losing streak. I think that will ultimately be the difference in a game between two similar, and every evenly matched teams.
Prediction: Philadelphia 34, Chicago 27
Monday, December 23
Atlanta (4-10) at San Francisco (10-4), San Francisco favored by 12
A rematch of last season's NFC Championship is instead more being hyped about being the last game the 49ers will probably ever play at Candlestick Park. The Falcons should be the perfect opponent, almost like a homecoming opponent, for the 49ers to beat up on and close out Candlestick in style. The Falcons defense can't stop a soul, and the 49ers defense has been impenetrable for most of the season. The Falcons are dead last in rushing, so their only hope will be Matt Ryan airing it out to Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, and Harry Douglas. But the 49ers secondary has been on point this season, and I expect the 49ers pass rush to wreak havoc on the Falcons poor offensive line. The 49ers passing offense has crawled out of last in the NFL, up to 30th, as Colin Kaepernick has started getting his weapons back. Frank Gore should run for over 100 yards against an Atlanta rush defense that hasn't proven it can stop anyone.
Prediction: San Francisco 34, Atlanta 13
Last Week Against the Spread: 11-5
Overall Against the Spread: 112-104-8
Last Week Straight Up: 8-8
Overall Straight Up: 149-74-1