Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Hail Mary - Week 15

Thursday, December 11

Arizona (10-3) at St. Louis (6-7), St. Louis favored by 4 1/2

It is not often that Vegas would have a team under .500 as 4 1/2 point favorites versus the number one seed in the NFC but here we are. The Cardinals have been sputtering without Carson Palmer, while the Rams have pitched back to back shutouts, outscoring their opponents 76-0 in those games. The Rams run is a little too late, as they are only mathematically alive for the playoffs at this point, but they could put a dent in the Cardinals chances at winning the NFC West and securing a first round bye. The Cardinals offense has been stagnant with Drew Stanton at quarterback and now their running game is in trouble after starter Andre Ellington was lost for the season. However, Kenwynn Williams stepped in for Ellington last week and rushed for 100 yards against the Chiefs. The Rams might be in a better position if Jeff Fisher had shown more faith in Shaun Hill, who has played well since replacing Austin Davis. I don't think the Rams will post a third straight shutout, but I do think with the advantage of homefield they can earn their third straight victory.

Prediction: St. Louis 20, Arizona 17 

Sunday, December 14

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

New England can clinch the AFC East with a win, which is something I feel like I have typed ever since I started this blog way back when. The Dolphins look like they will once again just miss the playoffs after playing terrible football at home against Baltimore last week. A third straight year of no playoffs would probably spell the end of the Joe Philbin era. I think Ryan Tannehill has had a strong enough season that the Dolphins should re-up him and make him their franchise quarterback. I think Philbin is a nice enough guy but he has taken the Dolphins as far as he can. They need to hire someone else to help them take that next step. The Dolphins tend to always play New England competitively., so I expect the Patriots to have to work their tails off but they will defeat Miami and become AFC East champs yet again.

Prediction: New England 27, Miami 20

Washington (3-10) at New York Giants (4-9), New York Giants favored by 6 1/2

The only intrigue surrounding this game between losers is who will start for the Redskins, Colt McCoy or Robert Griffin III? McCoy injured his neck in the Skins latest embarrassing home loss last week, so Griffin might get a chance to wipe off some of the stink from his last start against San Francisco. No matter who starts for Washington, they will drop their sixth straight game and secure a last place finish in the NFC East for a second straight year.

Prediction: New York Giants 20, Washington 14

Pittsburgh (8-5) at Atlanta (5-8), Pittsburgh favored by 2 1/2

Atlanta keeps losing but it hasn't mattered as they remain in first place in the NFC South. But if they want to backdoor their way into the playoffs they will have to win at some point. Facing the usually potent Steelers offense with their usually awful defense does not seem like the recipe for a win though. Plus, their best player Julio Jones is dealing with a hip injury and may have to miss the game. The Steelers offenses latest explosion came in the fourth quarter at Cincinnati last weekend, keeping the Steelers very much alive in the AFC North race. Le'Veon Bell is on a tear, posting over 200 yards from scrimmage in three straight games. Him and Big Ben should be in line for another big game, against the Falcons 32nd ranked passing offense and 21st ranked rushing defense. Much like their game with Green Bay last week, Matt Ryan will keep his team in it but the defense won't be able to get the necessary stops.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 34, Atlanta 24

Oakland (2-11) at Kansas City (7-6), Kansas City favored by 10 1/2

The Chiefs three game losing streak began with a loss to the Raiders and now they face a make or break game for their season at home against Oakland. Will this finally be the week that Alex Smith throws his first touchdown to a wide receiver this year? Raiders QB David Carr is having a pretty strong rookie season and giving the usually hopeless Raiders some faith that they may have landed a franchise quarterback. However, when the Raiders last went on the road two weeks ago, they were blasted by the Rams 52-0. The Raiders haven't been good for a very long time but they always play the Chiefs hard and have had some success against them in this rivalry game. I can't picture Kansas City getting swept by Oakland but this game will be closer than the experts think.

Prediction: Kansas City 28, Oakland 20

Houston (7-6) at Indianapolis (9-4), Indianapolis favored by 6 1/2

With a victory the Colts will wrap up the AFC South for a second straight season. Indy got an ugly win at Cleveland last week, but Andrew Luck continues to have trouble holding on to the ball, losing a fumble for the third straight game. He could be in line for a fourth straight game with a fumble with J.J. Watt running after him all day. Chances seem strong that Colts will win the division Sunday as the Texans have never won in Indianapolis. With #1 pick Jadaveon Clowney out for the year this season and barely playing at all prior to that, Texans fans have to be pretty pleased with Bill O'Brien in his first season. He has already improved the team by 5 wins from last year and has done that with Ryan Fitzpatrick as his starter for most of the season. This is the Colts last home game of the regular season, and they want to make sure it is not their last home game period, and a win would guarantee that.

Prediction: Indianapolis 35, Houston 21

Jacksonville (2-11) at Baltimore (8-5),  Baltimore favored by 13 1/2

The already awful Jags are a little more awful for the final three games of the season after losing Denard Robinson for the year. That likely means that free agent bust Toby Gerhart will see the bulk of the carries on Sunday. No matter who is running the ball has a tough time against the Ravens fourth ranked rush defense. Last week, the Ravens overcame a 10-0 deficit at Miami and won but the defensive line definitely showed they missed Haloti Ngata. Lamar Miller averaged over four yards per carry, and the Ravens face a Houston rushing attack next week that is fourth in the league. If things break a certain way the Ravens could be in first place by the end of the day Sunday. The Jags haven't won on the road all season and the Ravens are very tough at home, especially QB Joe Flacco who is much better at home. This should be a cake walk for Baltimore.

Prediction: Baltimore 29, Jacksonville 10

Green Bay (10-3) at Buffalo (7-6), Green Bay favored by 5

The Bills will have to play their best game of the season if they want to keep alive their slim playoff hopes. Thankfully for them they will be hosting the Packers and not have to travel to Lambeau Field where the Packers have reasserted their dominance this season. The Packers defense was quite generous against Atlanta last Monday night, but I am not sure the Bills, led by Kyle Orton have the weapons to take advantage of them. The Bills defense should keep the offense in the game, as they are Top 10 in the NFL and held Peyton Manning without a touchdown pass last week. It would be quite a feat if they were able to do the same to Aaron Rodgers on Sunday. This is the Bills final home game of the season and it is a must win game so I expect a raucous atmosphere at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Those type of situations sometimes bring the worst out of the road team, but Rodgers is a special player and he will thrive in those conditions. 

Prediction: Green Bay 27, Buffalo 17

Tampa Bay (2-11) at Carolina (4-8-1), No Line

The Panthers saved their season with a rout of New Orleans in the Superdome but the good vibes didn't last long, when Cam Newton was hurt in a car accident on Tuesday. Newton will miss Sunday's game against Tampa and after that the team says they will take his status on a day by day basis. Derek Anderson will make his second start of the season, and his first came against Tampa in the regular season opener which the Panthers won. A win and losses by the Saints and Falcons would have the Panthers in first place in the NFC South with two games left to go. That is miraculous and speaks to how awful the NFC North is when you see that Carolina has just two wins in their past 11 games. Anderson should play capably and the Buccaneers suck, so the Panthers playoff hopes will remain alive after Sunday.

Prediction: Carolina 24, Tampa Bay 21

Cincinnati (8-4-1) at Cleveland (7-6), Line is pick em'

The Johnny Football era finally begins! Johnny Manziel will make his first NFL start in a must win game for the Browns. The offense has been stagnant for about a month and coach Mike Pettine had decided he had seen enough and was ready to bench Brian Hoyer in favor of Manziel. The Bengals will be hell bent on revenge because they were embarrassed by the Browns on national television when these teams last played. The Bengals have won three straight on the road and can practically eliminate the Browns from contention in the AFC North. Manziel has a chance against a Bengals defense that has really struggled this season. They are coming off allowing 4 touchdowns in the fourth quarter at home against Pittsburgh. They have been dealing with injuries all season and just placed LB Vontaze Burfict on IR. I think Manziel will make some plays happen with his legs and revitalize the Browns offense to a degree. But being that this is his first NFL start, I expect him to make just as many mistakes and for it to be too much for Cleveland to overcome.  

Prediction: Cincinnati 24, Cleveland 20

New York Jets (2-11) at Tennessee (2-11), New York Jets favored by 1 1/2

What a disgusting game. 

Prediction: New York Jets 6, Tennessee 3

Denver (10-3) at San Diego (8-5), Denver favored by 4

The Broncos clinch the AFC West with a victory. The Chargers are hanging on to a playoff spot but are desperate for a win here as they finish on the road at San Francisco and at Kansas City. The Broncos passing offense has been surprisingly stagnant the past few weeks but Denver has won despite that. The Chargers are another team with a tough pass defense so I expect C.J. Anderson to see plenty of carries. However, the Denver passing game will receive a boost by the likely return of TE Julius Thomas to action. Save for a strong performance against Baltimore a few weeks ago, the Chargers offense has been scuffling, and it appears the lack of a consistent run game has finally caught up to Philip Rivers and the passing game. The Broncos pass defense struggles so Rivers

Prediction: Denver 34, San Diego 27

San Francisco (7-6) at Seattle (9-4), Seattle favored by 10

Such a bitterly disappointing season for the 49ers. I thought they had the toughness to overcome all the divisive talk in the media but it has become apparent that something will have to change in San Francisco next year. I would prefer it not be the head coach, but it sounds like things are pretty toxic and that Jim Harbaugh will be shown the door in some form or fashion once the season ends. The 49ers have been brutal in their last few regular season trips to Seattle and many are expecting a similar blood letting this time. The Seahawks defense has returned to form and been nearly impenetrable, while the 49ers offense has been the definition of putrid the last few weeks. Colin Krapernick seems to have contracted RGIII disease and now completely sucks.  I give San Francisco about a one percent chance of winning this game, but I also think they will at least go down fighting. Everyone is calling for a blowout and typically when everyone is in agreement on something, the opposite will happen. I can't really break down X and O reasons why the 49ers will make this game, other than to say this is a prideful group and I don't expect them to be eliminated from playoff contention without a fight. I hope I am right, because after how embarrassingly awful they played at Oakland last week, I know another tough game is entirely possible. 

Prediction: Seattle 26, San Francisco 20

Minnesota (6-7) at Detroit (9-4), Detroit favored by 7 1/2

The Vikings are hanging on by a mathematical thread to their playoff hopes, while Detroit is attempting to keep pace with the Packers for the NFC North. Detroit plays Green Bay in Lambeau the final week of the season, so we could be headed for a winner take all showdown.  Teddy Bridgewater could get nothing going the first time he played the Lions, as Detroit held the Vikings to just three points. I think he has improved since then and I expect a better showing from him against Detroit this time. Detroit is the better team though and their defense will make the crucial plays needed, and Calvin Johnson and Matt Stafford will probably hook up for a touchdown or two. 

Prediction: Detroit 27, Minnesota 21

Dallas (9-4) at Philadelphia (9-4), Philadelphia favored by 3 1/2

These two bitter rivals meet for the second time in three weeks. Dallas was embarrassed at home on Thanksgiving but recovered nicely last week with a dominating offensive performance against the Bears. The Cowboys had a ready made excuse last time they played Philly as they had played on Sunday night and then had a very short week. No such excuse exists this time as they have had a week and a half to prepare for Philly. Bad Mark Sanchez came out to play for the Eagles last week, as he could generate next to nothing offensively other than a fluke touchdown pass. He was flawless last time he played Dallas and LeSean McCoy had an excellent game running the ball. I think that in this game both offenses will play well and overwhelm the defenses, but that McCoy will carry Philadelphia to the win and sole possession of first place in the NFC East.  

Prediction: Philadelphia 27, Dallas 24

Monday, December 15

New Orleans (5-8) at Chicago (5-8), New Orleans favored by 3

Two teams with identical records sitting in completely different situations. Chicago is eliminated from playoff contention while New Orleans is tied for first place in the NFC South. The Saints have swapped their narrative, having now lost four in a row at home, while winning two straight on the road. The Bears offense has already been highly disappointing and now is without Brandon Marshall for the rest of the season. Matt Forte has disappeared the past few weeks as the Bears have gotten behind and abandoned their run game. The Saints have been bad on defense but haven't been much better offensively at times, and it is really mystifying just how much they have struggled this season. Neither of these teams are very good but the Saints have a lot more to play for than pride and I think they win their third straight on the road.  

Prediction: New Orleans 28, Chicago 22

Last Week Against the Spread: 10-5-1
Overall Against the Spread: 103-103-1

Last Week Straight Up: 13-3
Overall Straight Up: 143-64-1

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