The end of the season is just four short weeks away, but that also seems so far away. The NFL season won’t end until it is 2016. Week 14 is like that last week of the semester in college, so close to playoff football we start dreaming and talking about it. However, it is just far enough away and has enough stuff in between that we can’t really be too excited yet. The next four weeks of football should be great, so let’s jump straight into the picks.
What to watch for: Will the Falcons continue their skid, and will the Panthers move to 13-0? Cam Newton is one of the frontrunners for the MVP through 12 weeks, despite having receivers that make any QB have nightmares. The last time the Falcons won was October 25th, they have lost five since then. The Panthers may have already clinched their division, but they still have plenty to play for as they have yet to clinch home field. This matchup is between two teams going in opposite directions. The Panthers are still flying high while the Falcons appear to be close to crashing. I’ll take the Panthers.
What to watch for: The LeSean McCoy bowl. Quick, over/under 150 rushing yards for McCoy on Sunday. I’ll cautiously take the over. Football outsiders says the Eagles rushing defense is in the bottom half of the league, so the opportunity will be there for McCoy. The Eagles are also one of the worst five teams at guarding the opponents best WR, so look for Tyrod to look towards Sammy Watkins early and often. I think that the Bills edge the Eagles Sunday, in a game that is not to close.
What to watch for: The Bears secondary vs. Kirk Cousins. Look, to the surprise of me and many Bears fans that I know, the Bears secondary has somehow been one of the best five in the league in the past few weeks. If Kirk Cousins can’t get anything going, especially deep with D-Jax, then Washington could be in for a long day. For the Bears, they are hoping for the return of Eddie Royal to help solidify a top heavy WR group. They will also need Jay Cutler to continue to play good football. I’ll take the Bears, who win this one behind their defense.
This is the best game of the day in my opinion. With a win, the Bengals clinch the AFC North, but the Steelers also need a win to keep pace in the Wild Card. I can’t wait to see how the Bengals secondary tries to shut down the Steelers passing attack, which looked like the best in the league last week. The Bengals do a good job at covering top WRs, but Antonio Brown is nearly impossible to cover. They are average at covering #2 WRs, which looks promising for Martavis Bryant. However, they are one of the best in the league at covering the deep ball, so that is a negative. Overall, I think this Steelers passing attack is just too good for the Bengals. If Big Ben can avoid injury, the Steelers should be able to pull out this crucial game for them.
What to watch for: Jockeying for draft position. The Browns have the inside track for the #1 pick right now, but let’s be honest here: they are the Browns. This seems like the exact kind of game that they should win. Let me lay this out for you: Their entire fan base is basically resigned to a losing season, and has been since the Ravens game. They need to lose all of the rest of their games in order to secure the top pick. This is a game against another bad team, so it is not impossible for the Browns to lose. The Browns always seem to win these kind of games that they should just tank. Since Johnny Football is back this weekend, their offense could all of a sudden have a little life in it. I just have a gut feeling that this is going to be one of those games that the Browns win, but shouldn’t.
What to watch for: Can the Lions rebound from that bad loss last Thursday night? They are 4-3 in their last seven games, after appearing to be left for dead at 0-5 earlier in the season. They face a tough test in the Rams defense this week, but in the Lions defense they have played some decent defenses recently and played well. The best thing going in favor of the Lions has to be the fact that the Rams have no real passing attack. The Lions have the 21st ranked passing defense according to football outsiders, but the Rams have the worst passing offense by their metrics. The Lions should be able to stack the box against Gurley if they so wish, and if they can contain him, should be able to win the game. Give me the Lions.
What to watch for: Mariota vs. the Jets secondary. The Jets have an insanely talented secondary, although some think that Revis has been falling off a bit recently, and the Titans have one of the worse passing attacks in the NFL. The Jets should have no problem shutting down the Titans offense. For the Jets offense, the Titans are in the bottom ten in the league when it comes to guarding opponents top two WRs, meaning Decker and Marshall should be able to feast all day against the Titans secondary. The Jets should be able to win this one handily.
What to watch for: This matchup could go a long way to deciding the AFC south. Just kidding, but if the Jaguars lose, it basically eliminates them from contention – they’d be three games out with only three games left to play. Dare I say that Matt Hasselbeck has played better than Luck this season? Alright, Luck has been hurt so it really doesn’t matter, but if Hasselbeck can continue to win these games, it could ensure that Luck plays postseason football again. The Jaguars do not have a great secondary, and with the Colts wealth of passing options, that could spell a long game for them. T.Y. Hilton is one player I would focus on, as the Jags don’t do a great job at defending the deep ball. I’ll take the Colts, who could be a bout to peak at the right time for this division crown.
What to watch for: The Chargers are 1-6 over their last seven, while the Chiefs are 6-1. The Chiefs have a top ten defense, that has allowed more than 20 points just once over those last seven, while the Chargers defense is considered among the worst defenses in the league. The Chargers at this point should have two goals. First, figure out if Melvin Gordon is worth keeping around, and second, lose as many games as possible. The Chiefs should be able to easily win this game, as the Chargers, especially Rivers, have not been good
What to watch for: The Buccaneers continued contention this late into the season. Also, Jameis Winston should be one of the favorites right now for offensive rookie of the year (OROY). The Saints have one of the worst, if not THE worst, secondaries in the league. They have had trouble covering opposing teams top receivers, which is great news for Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson. For proof of this, just check out what Cam did last week with his poor receivers, and the day he could have had if Ted Ginn had not dropped a couple passes. I think that the Bucs will be able to throw it early and often with success against the Saints, and win another game.
What to watch for: Will the Matt Schaub consecutive games with a pick-6 streak continue? I believe it is at 6 or 7 currently, and this Seattle secondary is hungry to prove that they have not fallen off just yet. It looks like Schaub may not be able to play, which would leave Jimmy Clausen to play. That is even better for the Seahawks, trust me, Clausen is a bad player. But seriously, this Ravens offense is a shell of itself after losing it’s top three players. This Ravens team wasn’t even that good to begin with, but after losing Flacco, it took a turn for the worst. This is the kind of game where the Seahawks are far and away the better team, and should win by a few touchdowns.
What to watch for: The Broncos can put a stranglehold on their AFC West crown with a win Sunday. It was never really in doubt, now that Osweiler has come in and played as well as he has, but its still something interesting to watch for. The Raiders, once considered a potential Wild Card team, have lost five of their last six dropping them to two games behind the current wildcard leaders. The Broncos under Osweiler could be an elite team because he does not turn the ball over. He has only thrown three picks so far this year, and the Broncos will take it especially after watching Peyton throw ducks for the first part of the year. The Broncos have a fascinating choice to make: Do they go back to Peyton, or do they stick with Osweiler. That decision will have to be made after they win Sunday
What to watch for: If Matt Cassel shows any signs of life, also if the Packers can finally dominate a team for a whole game. Matt Cassel was atrocious on Monday Night, but the Cowboys somehow still won. America’s team is going to need him to pull a great game out of nowhere if they have any hopes of winning this game. Meanwhile, the Packers barely beat the Lions on Thursday Night last week after being down 20 points at half. Football fans have been waiting for this Packers to go out and just dominate a team all season. If there is ever going to be a game where that happens it is going to be this one. The Cowboys passing defense is ranked 15th by football outsiders, but they are 31st in guarding opposing top WRs. This could be a huge game for Randall Cobb. This pick is easy for me, I’ll take the Packers
What to watch for: How much the Pats play Gronk, and how effective he is. It appears that Gronk is going to return after a one game absence. However, the Pats will probably limit his snaps. The Pats offense without him looked pretty different. It will be interesting to see how effective he is in limited snaps, as it could have a pretty big impact on the outcome of the game. The Pats offensive line is going to need to find a way to block J.J. Watt, or else Brady is going to be taking hits all day. The Patriots defense, ranked 7th in guarding opposing top WRs, will most likely try and shut down DeAndre Hopkins on Sunday. That has been easier said than done so far however. The Patriots are the better team, especially if the have Gronk. I also doubt Belichick would let this team lose three straight games. I’ll take the Pats.
What to watch for: Can the Giants keep pace with the rest of the NFC East, or pull ahead depending on the results of the games Sunday? The Giants sit in a three way tie for first, and could sit in the drivers seat if Washington and Philly lose. First they have to get by a Dolphins team that is not good. After they beat the Texans and Titans handily, many football fans(myself included) wondered if this team had turned their season around. Turns out the answer was no. They are 1-5 in their last six games. The dolphins rank dead last in covering #1 WRs, meaning it should be a huge Odell Beckham game. This is a game where the Giants also really need Eli Manning to play well, as a loss could really put a dent in their playoff hopes. I’ll take the Giants, who have more to play for at this point in the season
Best eliminator bets: Broncos, Jets, Chiefs, Packers, Seahawks. Deeper choices: Bears, Buccaneers
Ted Van Green (@TVG_5)
Spark Sports NFL Analyst