Usually, as we head into December football, we have a lot of clarity on the outlook of every team. Yet, with several upsets happening on a weekly basis, it feels as though we still haven’t seen the true contenders separate themselves from pretenders. Will this be the week? Potentially; there a lot of marquee matchups that’ll be extremely entertaining to watch (though difficult to predict). So, who’ll win those critical games? Let’s predict every game that’ll happen in Week 14.
TNF: Cowboys (6-6) at Bears (6-6)
Spread Pick: DAL (-3)
Over/Under Pick: Under/PUSH (43.5)
Score Prediction: Cowboys 26 Bears 17
In a matchup between a pair of 6-6 teams that have disappointed this season, the Cowboys and Bears both face must-win scenarios when they do battle in Chicago. In fact, this has the potential to be one of the closely-matched games, as both are talented teams, yet lack the organization needed to beat elite teams. Therefore, this is a game that’ll come down to who the more well-rounded team is, and in that regard, it’s definitely Dallas. It may go under the radar, but the Cowboys have the top-ranked offense currently, as their passing efficiency has been off the charts. Now, they’ll face a Bears defense that has regressed significantly, as they struggled to stop a Lions offense on their third-string quarterback. Well, Dak Prescott and co. are a completely different animal, and if their stout offensive line can limit Chicago’s pass rush, a Bears secondary without Prine Amukamara won’t be up to the task of providing much resistance. Plus, for all of Dallas’ defensive inconsistencies, they have a prime opportunity to bounce back against a Bears offense that’s playing well, but also has done so against the likes of the Giants and Lions; Chicago’s underperforming offensive line, for example, could struggle mightily against a very talented Cowboys defensive line. At this point, it’s difficult to pick the Cowboys to win a “big game” – they’ve failed to do so all game. Still, it’s hard to overlook the quarterback mismatch in this game; with the Cowboys losers off two straight and the Bears winners of two straight, both teams feel destined for a regression back to the mean in Week 14 with a crucial road victory for Dallas.
Panthers (5-7) at Falcons (3-9)
Spread Pick: ATL (-3.5)
Over/Under Pick: Over (47.5)
Score Prediction: Panthers 17 Falcons 34
Do the Panthers or Falcons have any fight in them? Both NFC South teams have been extreme disappointments, and at this point, appear to be the two worst teams in the division- a far cry from their standing at the beginning of the decade. With Carolina firing long-time head coach Ron Rivera this week, we have no idea how they’ll play, and head coach Dan Quinn appears to be on his last leg as head coach in Atlanta- the similarities between these two teams are extraordinary. Usually, teams with interim coaches either play hard to next week, or completely collapse. For the Panthers, I’ll choose the latter. After all, Rivera was extremely popular in Carolina, and was definitely a players coach. Therefore, it’s probably going to be difficult for the team to move on- this is an organization already looking towards next year. Meanwhile, the Falcons will get back star receiver Julio Jones and tight end Austin Hooper from injury, and Carolina’s defense has really struggled since a hot start to the year. Despite the records, Atlanta has more energy and talent at this point of the year- it’d be foolish not to take them to win this game at home, and thus sweep the season series.
Ravens (10-2) at Bills (9-3)
Spread Pick: BUF (+6)
Over/Under Pick: Under/PUSH (44)
Score Predictions: Ravens 24 Bills 19
Who would’ve thought that a matchup between the Ravens and Bills would not only feature two of the AFC’s top teams, but a combined record of 19-5? It’s been fun to watch these two teams play all season, even if it’s for completely different reasons- Baltimore has shined with their innovative offense, while Buffalo has an extremely disciplined defense with a great culture. Still, I don’t see these two teams as evenly matched at all. The Bills play a cover-two defensive scheme that thrives against the pass, but against Baltimore’s potent rushing offense, they’ll certainly have to adjust significantly- Buffalo has struggled to stop the run this season. With that comes a lot of growing pains, so even though they’re very fast and disciplined, I don’t expect them to execute their plan effectively. That would force Josh Allen to play “catch up”, and with that, comes a lot of mistakes, especially against an extremely opportunistic Ravens secondary. The Bills are the type of feisty team that’ll probably keep this game close, but in the end, I have no doubts that Baltimore will win their ninth straight game to advance to 11-2 and strengthen their hold on the #1 seed.
Bengals (1-11) at Browns (5-7)
Spread Pick: CIN (+7)
Over/Under Pick: Under (41.5)
Score Prediction: Bengals 17 Browns 23
In the first of two matchups between the league’s two Ohio teams, the Browns and Bengals will meet up in Cleveland in a game that’s not as lopsided as it once seemed destined to be. While the Browns continue to lack any sort of discipline and have seen their defense declined significantly without star pass rusher Myles Garrett, the Bengals won their first game after turning back to Andy Dalton under center and have seen their defense improve in recent weeks. Is that enough for me to take Cincinnati to pull off the upset? It’s tempting, but there’s a reason they have just one win this season- they’re still one of the worst teams in the NFL. With Cleveland utilizing more two running back packages with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, they put a lot of pressure on opposing linebackers. Well, the Bengals have arguably the worst group of linebackers in the league, and considering their secondary won’t fare much better against the Browns’ passing attack, this could be a potential offensive explosion for Cleveland. Now, I do see Dalton being able to move the ball against a defense that let Devlin Hodges move the ball with ease last week, but still, the Browns just have the overall explosiveness that the Bengals can’t handle, and as a result, will avoid being upset at home.
Redskins (3-9) at Packers (9-3)
Spread Pick: GB (-13)
Over/Under Pick: Over (41.5)
Score Prediction: Redskins 13 Packers 38
After winning two straight games, have the Redskins found their groove? The offense was fantastic last week around their key young players in Carolina- they may be heading in the right direction for the future, though you can’t ever be sure with this franchise. However, they’re still not a good football team by any measure- they aren’t ready to be in competition in Green Bay. Dwayne Haskins played well under center for Washington last week, but the Packers pass rush should harass him all game long, and he has a tendency to play poorly under pressure. Meanwhile, Washington’s pass defense is amongst the league’s worst, and now, they’ll be thrown to wolves against Aaron Rodgers. Yes, the Redskins’ power rushing attack should work against a weak Green Bay run defense, but assuming that they immediately trail in this game due to poor defense, that won’t matter- their only chance of winning this game is in a shootout, and there’s no way that Haskins can keep up with Rodgers in any sort of the imagination. Therefore, the Packers should win their second straight game in blowout fashion to an NFC East team last week (31-13 vs Giants), and by doing so, improve their standing in the NFC as they push for a first-round bye.
Broncos (4-8) at Texans (8-4)
Spread Pick: DEN (+9)
Over/Under Pick: Over/PUSH (43)
Score Prediction: Broncos 20 Texans 24
Do the Broncos have a second chance to reenact the upset victory they should have had in Minnesota in Week 11? In that game, the Vikings were coming off of an unexpected primetime win in Dallas, and came out flat before achieving a twenty-point second-half comeback. Well, the Texans are coming off of a huge Sunday Night Football win against the Patriots, a team they hadn’t beaten in a decade- they appear due for a letdown, and Denver has been competitive all season long. Plus, for all of rookie quarterback Drew Lock’s faults, he does have the big-play ability to keep the Broncos in this game, especially against a lackluster Texans pass defense. Still, in the end, I do believe Houston wins this game at home. After all, this is Lock’s first road start, and he is prone to turnovers that could put Denver in a tough situation. And while the Broncos remain stout versus the run, their pass defense has regressed, and that’ll probably continue against an explosive Houston offense that just carved up arguably the best secondary in the NFL. This will be a much closer game than expected, but nevertheless, I do expect the Texans to prevail as they look to remain at the top of the AFC South.
Lions (3-8-1) at Vikings (8-4)
Spread Pick: MIN (-12.5)
Over/Under Pick: Under (43)
Score Prediction: Lions 7 Vikings 31
Back in Week 7, the Vikings and Lions engaged in a shootout in Detroit, which resulted in Minnesota winning a game that appeared to have major playoff implications. Now, that doesn’t appear to be the case- Detroit hasn’t won a game since Week 8, and despite his success last week, starting quarterback David Blough is still a third-string undrafted free agent. In theory, this is a great bounce-back opportunity for Minnesota’s defense, which has underperformed in recent weeks; with more film on him, I expect Blough to regress, thus causing the Lions offense to falter. Furthermore, Detroit’s defense has been abysmal, allowing the likes of Mitch Trubisky and Daniel Jones to move the ball on them. Therefore, the Vikings’ talented offense should have a field day, and threaten the 42-point mark they put up on this defense in the first matchup. This is definitely the biggest mismatch of the week- there’s no way I see the Lions keeping this game close at all.
49ers (10-2) at Saints (10-2)
Spread Pick: SF (+2.5)
Over/Under Pick: Over (44.5)
Score Prediction: 49ers 41 Saints 14
After giving the Ravens their best fight in Week 13, and arguably outplaying them, the 49ers will play their second straight road game, this time in New Orleans against the Saints. Based on the two team’s records, these two teams should, in theory, play each other tightly. Yet, this looks primed to be a massacre in San Francisco’s favor. The 49ers defense is undoubtedly the best in the NFL right now, and after slowing down the Ravens last week, should be able to shut down a Saints offense that is also predicated on short passes (the 49ers’ tackling is amongst the best in the NFL), but has quietly struggled throughout the season. Plus, as New Orleans’ offensive line remains banged up on the left side, they’ll now have the challenge of taking on San Francisco’s elite pass rush- it could get ugly for Drew Brees. Then, there’s the other side of the ball, which provides an even more lopsided mismatch for the 49ers. Head coach Kyle Shanahan has a history of dominating the Dennis Allen’s defense from his time in Atlanta, and now that the Saints don’t have two of their top linebackers, they’ll certainly vulnerable covering tight end George Kittle, as well as San Francisco’s abundance of running backs- both in the passing and zone-rushing game. Meanwhile, the Saints secondary has struggled to defend Kyle Allen and a Julio Jones-less Falcons offense in the past two weeks; how can we expect them to slow down a much better 49ers passing offense, where Jimmy Garoppolo could easily throw for over 400 yards against this defense if asked to? San Francisco is the significantly better team, and matched up perfectly with the Saints- they should come out firing early, and take over New Orleans with a massive blowout win.
Dolphins (3-9) at Jets (4-8)
Spread Pick: NYJ (-4.5)
Over/Under Pick: Under (46)
Score Prediction: Dolphins 14 Jets 20
Are the Jets about to be swept by the Dolphins? When these two teams matched up in Week 9, New York embarrassingly gave Miami their first victory of the season, and at this point, these two teams are much more evenly matched than they perhaps should be. However, if anything, the aforementioned first meeting should serve as motivation for the Jets, who still are the much more talented team. Even in their loss to the Bengals last week, Sam Darnold maintained his excellent production, and since he won’t face much pressure from Pro Football Focus’ lowest graded pass rush, should once again play tremendously- the Jets offense should definitely rebound. I’m not as confident in the Jets defense, who’ll be without star safety Jamaal Adams, but at some point, Ryan Fitzpatrick’s volatile style of play (heaving up 50-50 balls) is bound to catch up to him- it’s not sustainable. The Dolphins may be getting too much love from the public- they’re still the least-talented team in the league, and aren’t likely to pull off back-to-back upsets.
Colts (6-6) at Buccaneers (5-7)
Spread Pick: IND (+3)
Over/Under Pick: Under/PUSH (47)
Score Prediction: Colts 23 Bucs 13
Just a couple weeks ago, the Colts looked to be in a position to potentially win the division, while the Bucs appeared to be competing for a top-five pick. Well, of a sudden, the Bucs are now a three-point favorite in this matchup, as these two teams have gone in completely different directions over the past two weeks. However, it’s important to note that Indianapolis probably should’ve won their last two games in Houston and against the Titans (two quality teams), while Tampa Bay has picked on the inferior Falcons and Jaguars- the perceptions of these two teams are incorrect at the moment. After all, Jameis Winston is as inconsistent as it gets, and after a few strong performances, feels destined to regress against a disciplined Colts defense- their heavy usage of zone coverage is a good fit against Winston, who fares much better against man-coverage defenses. Additionally, Tampa Bay’s run defense should be able to limit Indianapolis’s rushing attack, but the Colts offensive line dominated against the elite Titans run defense last week- they have the upper-hand in any matchup. Indianapolis is so well-coached with head coach Frank Reich, that it’s hard to see them caving in at all- they should get back on track this week with a much-needed road victory.
Chargers (4-8) at Jaguars (4-8)
Spread Pick: LAC (-3.5)
Over/Under Pick: Over (42.5)
Score Prediction: Chargers 27 Jags 21
In a battle between inconsistent 4-8 teams who’ve seen their stock dramatically decrease, the Chargers and Jaguars will look to at least play for pride when they face off in Jacksonville. At this point, it’s impossible to trust either team, making this one of the toughest games of the week to predict. Therefore, it makes sense to play it safe, and go with the more talented team in the Chargers. Despite their poor record, Los Angeles hasn’t been an awful team this season. After all, each of their losses has come by one score, including losses to playoff-caliber teams like the Titans, Chiefs, etc. Meanwhile, Jacksonville has lost each of their last four games by three scores, and right now, they have zero strength whatsoever. Their once-vaunted defense? They’ve allowed an average of 32.25 points per game, can’t stop the run or pass, and will now be without star linebacker Myles Jack. There are still a lot of playmakers (running backs Austin Ekeler and Melvin Gordon, receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, tight end Hunter Henry) for quarterback Phillip Rivers to work with on the Chargers offense, which made positive strides last week in Denver- they should be able to put up plenty of points in this game. Furthermore, Jacksonville’s pass protection has really struggled this week, and now, they’ll face an edge rush duo of Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa- Gardner Minshew may be more elusive than Nick Foles under center, but there’s only so much he can do, especially since star corner Casey Heyward should limit top receiver DJ Chark. This prediction says more about how I feel about the Jaguars than the Chargers- they’ve shown zero fight recently, appear to have quit, and are easily one of the worst teams in the NFL.
Steelers (7-5) at Cardinals (3-8-1)
Spread Pick: ARI (+1.5)
Over/Under Pick: Under (43.5)
Score Prediction: Steelers 13 Cardinals 20
Can the Steelers officially avoid a losing season without Ben Roethlisberger? They’ve had to deal with a lot of adversity in the injury department, but with a victory in Arizona, they’d get their eighth win of the season, and the third with undrafted free agent Devlin Hodges as the starter under center. In other words, their stock couldn’t be higher right now. Well, unfortunately for Pittsburgh, a letdown makes too much sense for it not to happen. Hodges has a gunslinger attitude, which is fine, but also will cause him to be a little volatile- he relied on a lot of 50-50 balls last week to beat Cleveland. Plus, unlike last week, he’ll likely be under pressure more against a much better pass rush, which would make him even more prone to mistakes. On the other side of the ball, there’s no doubt that Pittsburgh has one of the top defenses in the NFL, especially with their dominant front four in pass rush and run defense. Yet, that may not matter against the Cardinals offense, which does two things really well: get the ball out quickly and spread the defense out. The former aspect helps them neutralize pass rushes (hence, their success against the 49ers), and puts a lot of pressure on the defense’s open-field tackling ability-Pittsburgh’s main weakness on defense is their problems with tackling. Meanwhile, Arizona has proved that even against the top run defenses, they can still run the ball when needed, given their ability to spread out the opposing team’s defensive line. Somehow, the Cardinals match up as well as one can against the Steelers; when you add that they have the better quarterback in Kyler Murray, will likely play with an edge after being embarrassed by the Rams at home last week, and Mike Tomlin-led teams are just 2-6 on the west coast, we have all the makings of an upset win for the home team in this game- Arizona should probably not be an underdog in this game.
Chiefs (8-4) at Patriots (10-2)
Spread Pick: KC (+3)
Over/Under Pick: Over (49)
Score Prediction: Chiefs 42 Pats 31
In what has to be considered the game of the week, at least in my opinion, the Chiefs and Patriots will face off in Foxborough in an AFC Championship game rematch- in fact, Kansas City and New England had two of the top games of the year last season. Patrick Mahomes and co. came up short against the Patriots in both matchups last year, but can this year be different? This may be bold, but I don’t see any reason why they can’t win this game. Many have described New England’s defense as “historic”, but as we’ve seen in recent weeks against the Ravens and Texans, they have several vulnerabilities, namely defending explosive plays. Well, there isn’t an offense that produces more big plays than Kansas City’s offense, which is finally healthy, and showed their dominance last week in a blowout win against the Raiders. Plus, the Patriots’ linebackers have serious problems in pass coverage, and head coach Andy Reid is able to scheme up passes to running backs (LeSean McCoy and Darwin Thompson are great receiving backs) as well as any play-caller in the NFL- the Chiefs have a legitimate chance to score 40 points in this game. The main wildcard in this game has to be Kansas City’s defense, who has looked better in recent weeks, against New England’s offense. Last year, the Patriots were able to dominate the Chiefs with their power rushing game and with tight end Rob Gronkowski. Well, Gronkowski’s gone, and with no one stepping up in his place, this may legitimately be a below-average passing attack. And ever since fullback James Devlin went on injured reserve at the beginning of the season, New England also has been unable to have an efficient rushing attack. The Patriots win through stellar defense and special teams, and can’t keep up in shootouts. The problem is, there’s no way they’ll be able to hold the Chiefs in check enough for that happen- this is just a poor matchup for them, and as a result, they’ll lose their second straight game while Kansas City makes a major statement.
Titans (7-5) at Raiders (6-6)
Spread Pick: TEN (-3)
Over/Under Pick: Under (47.5)
Score Prediction: Titans 30 Raiders 13
Two weeks ago, the Raiders, in the eyes of the public, were destined to be the sixth seed in the AFC. Well, after blowout losses to the Jets and Chiefs, their stock has sunk significantly, while the Titans have seemingly taken their place. After all, no team is playing better right now (outside of the Ravens) than Tennesee- they’re 5-1 with Ryan Tannehill under center. Tannehill has been a master of explosive plays this season, which has really opened up an offense that has a strong offensive line and deep receiving corps. That makes the Raiders defense a great fit for him, as they’ve been vulnerable to explosive passes all season long, and don’t have the pass rush needed to make Tannehill uncomfortable- he has a significantly better passer rating when kept clean. As for the other side of the ball, I am certainly a little worried about a Titans defense that has played poorly in recent weeks, and now will be without top corner Adoree’ Jackson. However, they’re one of the top defenses on third down, which fits well with the Raiders offense, which isn’t very efficient on early downs. Oakland always plays well at home, which could lead to an upset victory for them, but on paper, this appears to be a huge mismatch in favor of the Titans, who’ll win as they make a late-season postseason surge.
SNF: Seahawks (10-2) at Rams (7-5)
Spread Pick: LAR (+1)
Over/Under Pick: Over (47.5)
Score Prediction: Seahawks 24 Rams 31
Continuing on with tremendous matchups between two playoff contenders, the Seahawks and Rams will do battle in Los Angeles in an NFC West matchup on Sunday Night Football. When these two teams faced off in Week 5, we were entertained with a hard-fought affair, in which Seattle won by a single point due to a missed field goal. Ever since then, these two teams have headed in different directions, with the Seahawks continuing to find different ways to win games and the Rams being stuck in extreme inconsistency. However, that will change in this game. Not only are these teams closer in talent than their records would suggest, but honestly, Los Angeles has a more well-rounded roster. Their defense, outside of one poor outing against the Ravens, has been fantastic, and they have the depth in the secondary to keep up with Seattle’s deep group of receivers, especially if the Seahawks continue to run the ball on early downs- the Rams are a much more efficient team on early downs. Plus, when he’s protected, Jared Goff has produced at a high-level under center for the Rams, and he was excellent in their first matchup. In fact, head coach Sean McVay has a history of destroying this Seattle defense- the Rams have averaged 35 points per game in their last four games against the Seahawks. Seattle’s extensive history of winning in primetime, as well as the Rams’ unpredictability, are concerning, but Los Angeles has fared well against the Seahawks in the past, and I expect them to keep their playoff hopes alive, and avoid a sweep, with a critical primetime win.
MNF: Giants (2-10) at Eagles (5-7)
Spread Pick: PHI (-8.5)
Over/Under Pick: Under/PUSH (45)
Score Prediction: Giants 10 Eagles 34
Brace yourselves football fans! Eli Manning is back as the Giants starting quarterback, as Daniel Jones will be sidelined with an ankle injury. In fact, he’ll be putting his 116-116 record on the line- if he loses this game, he may retire with a losing record, assuming Jones is out for multiple games. While one could hope that Manning is able to go out on top, there’s no way that happens in Philadelphia. The Eagles are 5-7 and have lost three straight, but as the Cowboys continue to lose, they still have a likely chance to win the playoffs. Thus, they’ll have a lot to play for, whereas the Giants have lost eight straight and seemed to have lost their focus in recent weeks as their losing streak continued. And it’s not as though Philadelphia just has the physiological advantage, but their also a significantly better team. Their passing offense showed flashes of excellence with their receivers and offensive line back healthy last week, and now, they’ll face arguably the worst pass defense in the NFL- the Giants haven’t been able to slow down any offense this year, so why should it be the Eagles? Plus, there’s a reason why Manning was benched- he’s a liability at this point, so as Philadelphia continues to add more points, New York will be running a check-down-heavy offense with a lot of “three and outs”. In other words, this should be one of the most lopsided games of the week; how can the Eagles not win this game by at least three scores?