The pressure for a postseason push will reach its boiling point around the NFL with the murky playoff picture continuing to clear in Week 14.
The Pittsburgh Steelers (10-3) took care of business against the Cleveland Browns (4-9) on Thursday Night Football 14-3 in a division collision that sent both starting quarterbacks to head to the sidelines temporarily. FYI I picked the AFC North get-together before it got underway on our Facebook page in a 27-7 landslide. Nevertheless, 15 games remain to be played.
With this in mind, here’s my latest batch of predictions for Week 14. And analogous to last week, don’t let this slate of action fool you. “It may look like a crummy ole’ biscuit, but it smells and tastes like a lip-smacking batch of hot pancakes.”
Now let’s get this started before you try to lick my article.
Last Week: 11-5 (130-62 Overall)
Indianapolis (0-12) at Baltimore (9-3) (CBS, 1:00pm EST)
While the Colts continue down the path to join the ’08 Lions and ’76 Bucs in the record books for infamous imperfection, the Baltimore Ravens battle for the all-important AFC North Title and a first-round bye in the postseason.
As NFL Network’s Jason La Canfora points out, “People in Baltimore haven’t forgotten about the Colts sneaking out of town in moving vans in a snowstorm. They will take considerable glee in beating the Colts any chance they get, especially with them flirting with 0-16. This won’t be a passive environment, despite the record of the road team in this one.”
Joe Flacco and company ended their pattern of poor play on the road following big wins at home last week in Cleveland and look to put on a show against Indianapolis. Prediction: Baltimore 34, Indianapolis 14
Houston (9-3) at Cincinnati (7-5) (CBS, 1:00pm EST)
If the season ended today, these two teams would face off in the first round of the playoffs. That’s right, a club that’s never reached the postseason in franchise history, featuring a rookie third-string quarterback and embracing the “next man up” lingo on a weekly basis would battle a “rebuilding” team projected to finish 4-12 or worse by virtually everyone before the season.
It’s a quarterback-driven league and Cincinnati certainly has the advantage under center with rookie Andy Dalton (first-rounder) over T.J. Yates (fifth-rounder), but the Texans are exhibiting the perfect winning recipe for December and January—a great ground game and elite defense.
The Bengals need to win this game more, coming off their first lopsided loss on the season and now tied with the three other teams for the sixth seed in the AFC. Marvin Lewis says this is the biggest game in his entire NFL experience.
With the home-field edge and no Andre Johnson (hamstring), Cincy might be able to pull the trigger. Still, Houston’s defense is often a nightmare for opposing offenses and ex-Bengal Johnathan Joseph should be chock-full of added motivation.
The Bengals haven’t exactly earned their stripes against elite competition, either, earning just one win over an opponent currently with a winning record—Tennessee. In the end, the Texans improve to their first-ever 10-win season in a bare-knuckles brawl for four quarters. Prediction: Houston 20, Cincinnati 17
Tampa Bay (4-8) at Jacksonville (3-9) (FOX, 1:00pm EST)
On the same level as a game of chess, checkers or bingo, this affair doesn’t exactly scream marquee matchup or fun fest.
The Buccaneers have suffered six straight defeats. The defense ranks 26th or worse in all four major categories (run, pass, yards and scoring). Head coach Raheem Morris could be on the verge of facing the same fate as Jack Del Rio if Tampa Bay doesn’t finish the season fairly strong.
Meanwhile, in Jacksonville, turmoil is at an all-time high after the head coach was fired and the team was sold in the blink of an eye. Making matters worse, the Jaguars were just embarrassed in a 38-14 blowout by the Bolts on Monday Night Football in their own stadium and suffered more casualties, especially on the defensive side. Prediction: Tampa Bay 24, Jacksonville 13
New Orleans (9-3) at Tennessee (7-5) (FOX, 1:00pm EST)
Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints have been firing on all cylinders as of late, but they’re going on the road on a short week. Chris Johnson is finally holding his own and it’s another borderline must-win game for Tennessee. The Titans are also 4-2 at home, while the Saints are 3-3 on the road this season.
And how’s this for irony—the Titans’ last three contests have all ended in the same exact final score—23-17.
It won’t be a picnic for Brees and company against the Titans’ stout secondary. However, Matt Hasselbeck isn’t putting on as much of a clinic as he did back in the beginning of the season and New Orleans will have LB Jonathan Vilma back in the lineup, allowing for plenty of run blitzes. Prediction: New Orleans 30, Tennessee 21
Atlanta (7-5) at Carolina (4-8) (FOX, 1:00pm EST)
It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to realize when you don’t possess much balance, you’re not going to win many games. In last week’s disappointing defeat in Houston, Matty Ice threw the ball 47 times and Michael Turner received just 14 carries. Those stats speak for themselves.
The Atlanta Falcons remain in prime playoff position with Chicago’s current condition and should bounce back with a heavy dose of Turner to burn the Panthers’ poor run defense. Prediction: Atlanta 27, Carolina 17
Philadelphia (4-8) at Miami (4-8) (FOX, 1:00pm EST)
Everything has fallen apart at the seams for Philly. It’s been the complete opposite in Miami. SI.com’s Peter King asks the question, “How wild would it be if I told you before the season that Matt Moore would beat Vick to give Miami a better record than Philadelphia after 14 weeks?” You can toss the Dolphins’ 0-7 start into the mix as well.
I’m starting to believe that in addition to the improved play from Moore, Reggie Bush and the entire defense, as well as the desire to win for Tony Sparano and the fans, the Dolphins were given a stroke of luck after losing in overtime to Tim Tebow and co. Perhaps as compensation for the loss or just passed on luck to the opponent…
Check this out.
Since Miami lost to the Tebows, the Dolphins have gone 4-2, with the losses last-minute to the Cowboys and Giants. The Raiders won three straight after falling to Denver. Following a dreadful inevitable outing against the Patriots (which featured Tyler Palko in his first NFL start and followed the loss to the Broncos), the Chiefs gave the Steelers all they could handle and might have put an end to the Bears’ postseason hopes with a 10-3 win over Chicago.
The Jets have won their last two tests since falling to the Tebow magic and after Rivers and the Chargers ended up with the losing stick, they crushed the Jaguars by 24 points.
With all of this outside-the-box relatively unrelated, yet interesting insight that you probably didn’t know beforehand, I ask, perhaps just for fun or for more Tebow talk (which I hear Charles Barkeley can’t get enough of), does Timmy’s magic spread to opponents, and is losing to the Tebows actually a blessing in disguise?
Boy, is that a loaded question. And it’s for the fans to answer. Now back to this game.
The significance of the return of Michael Vick is unknown, especially considering the Eagles have already been mathematically eliminated from the playoff picture and the Dolphins are one of the hottest teams right now in the NFL. Prediction: Miami 24, Philadelphia 21
Kansas City (5-7) at N.Y. Jets (7-5) (CBS, 1:00pm EST)
Anything could happen here. I mean anything. From more than a fair share of C’mon Man-worthy material to tons of turnovers to a blowout to a low-scoring snooze-fest to a shocking upset and much more. You may even see Rex Ryan trot onto the field and try to make a tackle. Or Fireman Ed decide to keep his voice down after the first half. OK, that last one might be a stretch. Look for the Chiefs to give the Jets about all they can handle in this must-win game. Prediction: N.Y. Jets 22, Kansas City 15
New England (9-3) at Washington (4-8) (CBS, 1:00pm EST)
As GridironGrit.com NFL Insider Barry Barnes points out, the Washington Redskins will be without two of the best players on offense in tight end Fred Davis and left tackle Trent Williams for the rest of the season for violating the NFL policy and program for substance abuse and will be without pay for the four-game suspension.
With immense anticipation, we’re all waiting for when Wes Welker and Julian Edleman make their way to the defensive side of the football. There’s only one NFL city where the Patriots have never collected a win. New England finally earns its first win in D.C. Prediction: New England 35, Washington 7
Predictions for remaining games are coming shortly!
But I will tell you I’m picking the Lions over the Vikings, Niners over Cardz in a close contest, Chargers to knock off the Bills, Broncos to outlast the Bears, Packers over the Raiders, Giants to upset the Cowboys in thrilling fashion and the Seahawks to escape the Rams.
Predictions are always posted on our Facebook page (http://facebook.com/GridironGrit and http://facebook.com/NFLTouchdown) whenever they’re not all published in article form before game time. Thanks for reading and hope you enjoyed it! Please feel fee to comment and let us know what YOU think! Happy holidays and enjoy Week 14!
Be sure to check out Peter King’s predictions (127-65), Albert Breer’s picks (124-66) and Jason La Canfora’s preview on all of the games. And enjoy another great slate of games! Also find ESPN.com’s and CBSSports.com’s expert roundtable picks.
Verse of This Piece: “Whoever gives to others will get richer; those who help others will themselves be helped.” —Proverbs 11:25
Minnesota (2-10) at Detroit (7-5) (FOX, 1:00pm EST)
Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions are in an absolutely must-win game. Good thing for them considering they have home-field advantage. Stafford and co. got back on track last week in New Orleans, but a dreadful display of discipline cost them dearly, as they were charged with a whopping 11 penalties for 109 yards, including three personal fouls after the whistle.
The majority of the flags were game-changing and drive killers. It should be a comfort to Lions fans that head coach Jim Schwartz is finally taking action, as he says he will bench any player for personal fouls.
Christian Ponder and Adrian Peterson also didn’t practice this week, which should lead to a matchup muddled with mistakes, gadget game planning and direct-snap situations with Percy Harvin in the Wildcat. Prediction: Detroit 31, Minnesota 17
San Francisco (10-2) at Arizona (5-7) (FOX, 4:05pm EST)
The Arizona Cardinals have won four of their last five games and have home-field advantage. In addition, Patrick Willis is out of the lineup and Cardinals wide receiver Andre Roberts comes off a breakout game against the Cowboys.
Albeit San Francisco’s run defense is as rock-solid as solid rock, running back Chris “Beanie” Wells has been playing out of his mind as of late. Kevin Kolb and the Cardz win in another wild shocker in a sure-fire thriller against the Niners, a team that’s also already wrapped up its division. Prediction: Arizona 20, San Francisco 16
Chicago (7-5) at Denver (7-5) (FOX, 4:05pm EST)
The Bears are without Matt Forte and Jay Cutler. The Tebows have won six out of their last seven contests and are riding high with tons of horsepower on a five-game winning streak. While Willis McGahee is questionable (knee), star rookie linebacker Von Miller is expected to play.
And albeit Charles Barkeley is tired of all of the Tebow talk, John Elway is finally showing his support for Tebow, who actually has superior stats to Elway in his first 10 NFL starts in terms of wins and losses (7-3 to 4-6), completion percentage (48.5 to 47.1), passing YPG (162.6 to 152.9), touchdowns to interceptions (13-4 to 6-14) and passer rating (83.7 to 51.8).
Oakland (7-5) at Green Bay (12-0) (FOX, 4:15pm EST)
When the Oakland Raiders are at their best, they can keep pace with anyone, even the virtually invincible Green Bay Packers. However, Oakland is mediocre at best when Darren McFadden, Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore are not on the field. Prediction: Green Bay 38, Oakland 17
Buffalo (5-7) at San Diego (5-7) (CBS, 1:00pm EST)
Phillip Rivers and the not-so-super San Diego Chargers powered forward last week on Monday night with a 38-14 beating against Jacksonville. The Bolts now return home for a date with the once promising Bills, a team which has seen more than its fair share of second-half season tumbles over the years and hasn’t cracked the postseason since 1999. The Chargers advance in comfortable fashion. Prediction: San Diego 27, Buffalo 13
N.Y. Giants (6-6) at Dallas (7-5) (NBC, 8:20pm EST)
Eli Manning looks to feast on the wounded state of the opposing secondary and the return of Ahmad Bradshaw in the backfield only improves his chances of having a great game with better balance on offense.
The New York Giants are also headed down their same inevitable path with a second-half season collapse, having lost each of their last four contests. Nevertheless, the G-Men tend to play well in Dallas and must win to stay alive in the two-team race in the NFC East.
Down-to-the-wire, I’ll take the Giants to pull off the must-needed win on Sunday Night Football. Prediction: N.Y. Giants 33, Dallas 30
St. Louis (2-10) at Seattle (5-7) (Mon, ESPN, 8:30pm EST)
Like last week, you should only tune into this game on Monday Night Football if you’re either a die-hard fan of one of the two teams playing, you’re just tuning in for the C’mon Man segment on Monday Night Countdown or you’re actually forced to watch it like the commentators Mike Tirico, John Gruden and Ron Jaworski.
Whoever’s under center for St. Louis will have a daunting outing, analogous to running back Steven Jackson, who will be facing a Seahawks defense that will constantly crowd the line of scrimmage all night. Marshawn Lynch will be enjoying a lot of green grass and tasting the rainbow on the sidelines. But for some reason, I expect this game to be closer than expected. Prediction: Seattle 27, St. Louis 20