Friday, December 5, 2014

The Hail Mary - Week 14

Sunday, December 7

Baltimore (7-5) at Miami (7-5), Miami favored by 3

The Dolphins currently hold the final playoff spot in the AFC. Similar to last year they find themselves controlling their own destiny, and they should be favored in three of their final four games. However, if they lose to Baltimore they will essentially fall two games behind Baltimore thanks to losing the tiebreaker. The Ravens let a great opportunity slip away when they blew a 13 point lead late against San Diego last week. Harbaugh's teams usually respond pretty well after some form of adversity and they have had Miami's number in recent years. The Dolphins will be helped by news of the suspension of Ravens monstrous DT Haloti Ngata for adderall. That should open up things for their rushing attack and Lamar Miller. Last week's ugly performance against the Jets was at least reassuring in the fact that the Dolphins won the game. That was often a game that they have lost in recent years. I think it is a sign that Miami has turned over a new leaf and is ready to take the next step with Tannehill and Philbin.

Prediction: Miami 24, Baltimore 17

New York Jets (2-10) at Minnesota (5-7), Minnesota favored by 6

The Vikings goal for the final four games of the season is to win all of them and finish over .500 or at least win three of four. They should have no problem with Geno Smith and the Jets in frigid Minneapolis this weekend. The Jets took ground and pound to a whole other level against Miami last Monday night, only allowing Smith to throw the ball 13 times. I'd expect a similar gameplan this week since the Vikings defense is 6th in the NFL against the pass, but 24th against the run. Like last week, it may keep the Jets in the game, but it won't lead to a victory.

Prediction: Minnesota 26, New York Jets 15

St. Louis (5-7) at Washington (3-9), St. Louis favored by 2 1/2

Both of these teams are playing out the string, although the Rams could be playing for Jeff Fisher's job, since this will make it the third year in a row the Rams miss out on the playoffs under his leadership. Washington could hardly ever beat the Rams when they were slightly better than St. Louis, so I don't expect that to change now that the tables have turned and the Redskins are the completely terrible team.

Prediction: St. Louis 23, Washington 20

Pittsburgh (7-5) at Cincinnati (8-3-1), Cincinnati favored by 2 1/2

The Steelers have mostly dominated Cincinnati in games played at Paul Brown Stadium, and have to hope that trend continues if they want to keep their AFC North hopes alive. The Steelers once again couldn't beat a bad team at home, falling to New Orleans last week. The defense hasn't been getting stops consistently and Ben Roethlisberger has been struggling after his two game tear when he threw 12 touchdowns. Cincinnati has won three in a row, all of those coming on the road. Last time they were at home, QB Andy Dalton had one of the worst performances of his career and the Bengals were embarrassed by the Browns. It was their first regular season loss at home in two years, but you have to wonder about Dalton's psyche playing at home. If he starts off this game struggling, the crowd could turn on him quickly. The Steelers make no sense and seem to win games you never expect them to, so that is the path I will follow with this game.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 28, Cincinnati 20

New York Giants (3-9) at Tennessee (2-10), Line is pick em

Lord help the Giants if they lose in back to back weeks to the Jaguars and Titans. I think the Giants will finally end their seven game losing streak this weekend but who knows. What I do know is that Tom Coughlin won't be back next year, as I am guessing he will resign, and who knows, maybe Eli will move on as well.

Prediction: New York Giants 33, Tennessee 20

Carolina (3-8-1) at New Orleans (5-7), New Orleans favored by 9 1/2

With last week's loss and wins by the Falcons and Saints, we can almost stop pretending like the putrid Panthers have any chance of winning the NFC South. A loss to the Saints on Sunday would all but eliminate the Panthers from playoff contention and would also be their seventh straight defeat. Drew Brees is coming off his finest performance of the season as the Saints made it two straight wins on the road. Now apparently it is at home where they can no longer win, entering this game with a three game home losing streak. The three teams they lost to at home, 49ers, Bengals, and Ravens were all over .500 though and solid teams. I don't envision them not being able to beat a very bad Panthers team at home this weekend.

Prediction: New Orleans 34, Carolina 25

Indianapolis (8-4) at Cleveland (7-5), Indianapolis favored by 3 1/2

Browns coach Mike Pettine created unnecessary quarterback drama by removing Brian Hoyer from last week's loss against the Bills and inserting Johnny Manziel. The media is obsessed with Johnny Football so him leading a touchdown drive turned into the greatest feat ever accomplished. Pettine though has decided to stick with Hoyer, likely because the Browns remain very much alive in both the AFC North and wild card races. The Colts have only 2 wins against teams with winning records this season and both of those came at home. If they win and the Texans lose, then Indianapolis clinches the AFC South early for the second straight year. The Browns are no juggernaut and this is the type of game the Colts have to win if they are to be taken seriously as contenders in January.

Prediction: Indianapolis 27, Cleveland 19

Tampa Bay (2-10) at Detroit (8-4), Detroit favored by 9 1/2

The Bucs found a new way to lose last week, having 12 men on the field on a crucial gain late in the game and then watching Bengals coach Marvin Lewis illegally challenge the play, which drew the attention of the officials and ended up working out against Tampa. The Lions moved closer to a playoff berth by overcoming an early deficit against Chicago, and blowing out the Bears on turkey day. It was a much needed return to form for the Lions offense, including the reemergence of Megatron, Calvin Johnson. Tampa Bay has had recent success in Detroit, but I don't see their offense being able to generate enough to pull off the road upset.

Prediction: Detroit 30, Tampa Bay 22

Houston (6-6) at Jacksonville (2-10), Houston favored by 5

Usually if you were just a game behind the final playoff spot with four to go you would feel like you had a real chance. Unfortunately for the Texans, that one game out has them behind six teams that are all 7-5. Houston has two games left against Jacksonville so an 8 win season is highly possible and would be a nice turnaround after winning just 2 games a year ago. The Jaguars have played some of their better games at home though, so the Texans can't count on this game to be a complete pushover. Ryan Fitzpatrick won't throw six touchdowns against like he did last week, but he will play well and Houston will get back over .500.

Prediction: Houston 27, Jacksonville 14

Buffalo (7-5) at Denver (9-3), Denver favored by 10

Bills fans thought their season was over two weeks ago when they lost to the Dolphins to drop to 5-5. But back to back wins have the Bills right back in the playoff race, but they face a monumental challenge in Denver. Kyle Orton plays one of his many former teams, while the Bills defense looks to keep pace with Peyton Manning and the Broncos lethal offense. A new dimension has taken the load for Denver the last two weeks, their run game, led by third string running back C.J Anderson. The Bills have one of the better defenses in football, but so does Miami and the Broncos put up 30+ on the Dolphins in Denver two weeks ago. The Bills best chance will be if their defensive line can overwhelm the Broncos inconsistent offensive line and make life hell for Manning. But even if Manning can't throw as much, the line has proved they can pave the way for Anderson.  You need a dynamic offense to beat Denver, especially on the road, and Kyle Orton doesn't provide that for the Bills.

Prediction: Denver 34, Buffalo 26

Kansas City (7-5) at Arizona (9-3), Arizona favored by 1

The Chiefs loss to the awful Raiders could end up being the nail in their coffin if they end up missing the playoffs. A win at Arizona this week could be huge though as they get the Raiders at home next week and I can't picture them losing again to Oakland. The Cardinals are having problems of their own, losing two straight games as Drew Stanton has struggled. It hasn't helped Stanton that Larry Fitzgerald sat out the past two games with injury. The Cardinals are undefeated at home this season and have to hope the crowd can carry them to a win. The Chiefs defense is terrible against the run but the Cardinals don't have much of a run game to speak of. Kansas City is first in the league against the pass, so Stanton will have his work cut out for him. On the other side though, Mr. Dink and Dunk Alex Smith hasn't thrown a touchdown to a wide receiver all season. That won't make too much of a difference this weekend since I expect this to be a close game, but Smith's limitations are starting to frustrate Chief fans like they did 49er fans. I think this game might turn into a field goal battle.

Prediction: Arizona 18, Kansas City 15

San Francisco (7-5) at Oakland (1-11), San Francisco favored by 8

The 49ers three game winning streak is a distant memory after their embarrassing Thanksgiving loss at home to Seattle. The 49ers just went through the motions, not playing with any level of urgency and the offense is horrific. Colin Kaepernick seems to have RG3 disease and has regressed and when Frank Gore doesn't get enough touches early, the entire flow of the offense falls apart. If the offense was ever going to show signs of life, playing the Raiders this weekend is their chance. Oakland is coming off an embarrassing 52-0 pasting courtesy of the Rams in St. Louis. The Niners next three games after this are at Seattle, and then they close out at home against San Diego and Arizona. Those opponents have a combined record of 25-11, so if the 49ers do somehow find their way into the playoffs they would have earned it. The defense has played well all season and they should be licking their chops getting to face rookie David Carr. I think Carr will be good for about two to three interceptions, which will help make things easier for the offense. I really hope that Kap shows some improvement this week, and that offensive coordinator Greg Roman can start calling plays that accentuate his players strengths. It would also be nice if Vernon Davis could return from wherever it is that he has gone missing.

Prediction: San Francisco 28, Oakland 14

Seattle (8-4) at Philadelphia (9-3), Philadelphia favored by 1

The Seahawks are starting to find their swagger again and now just sit one game out of the NFC West race. If they end up getting homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, the Seahawks will likely repeat as NFC champions. The Eagles will have something to say about that though and if they can beat Seattle at home they would basically guarantee that Seattle couldn't overtake them in the standings this year. Mark Sanchez faces his former college coach Pete Carroll. Sanchez has performed pretty well since taking over for Foles but I still am not convinced that he can go against a defense like Seattle's and find a lot of success. I also am not sure how well the Eagles defense will be able to contain Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch. The Eagles had a fine defensive performance at Dallas last week, but that was a tired Cowboys team. The Seahawks will be well rested and Wilson just creates so many opportunities with how he moves around the pocket. I expect a low-scoring game but the Seahawks to make the championship plays at the end of the game that separate them from other contenders.

Prediction: Seattle 21, Philadelphia 16

New England (9-3) at San Diego (8-4),  New England favored by 3 1/2

December is Philip Rivers month, and that will be put to the test right away as the Chargers host the Patriots. New England will be looking to avoid a 2 game losing streak after a tough loss at Green Bay last week. Primetime road tests seem to bring out the best in the Patriots, while playing the Patriots seems to bring out the worst in Philip Rivers. Rivers had a fine performance last week after some duds the past month. The Chargers will need that fine form to continue, as Rivers faces a very good New England secondary. The Patriots seem to feature a new running back every week, as last weekend it was Brandon Bolden who got into the end zone, while Jonas Gray has remained missing after shredding the Colts two weeks ago. Both teams play strong defense so both Rivers and Brady will have their work cut out for them. I can't pick against New England on a Sunday night though, especially with them looking to avoid a losing streak. Belichick and Brady will be at their finest and the Chargers won't be able to match it.

Prediction: New England 31, San Diego 21

Monday, December 8

Atlanta (5-7) at Green Bay (9-3), Green Bay favored by 12

Record wise this doesn't look like a matchup of teams with similar stakes, but because of the awful NFC South, the Falcons, like the Packers, enter this game in first place. Green Bay defeated New England last week in a potential Super Bowl preview, remaining unbeaten at Lambeau Field this year. Aaron Rodgers has been almost perfect at home, not yet throwing an interception, and he should have a field day against the Falcons porous pass defense, which ranks dead last in the NFL. I can't really envision any scenario where the Packers don't force their will offensively on Atlanta and because of that I think we will see another home Packer rout.

Prediction: Green Bay 42, Atlanta 17

Last Week Against the Spread: 5-11
Overall Against the Spread: 93-98-1

Last Week Straight Up: 11-5
Overall Straight Up: 130-61-1

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