Four weeks remain in the regular season and while the Packers continue to roll through the NFC with an unblemished 12-0 mark, the AFC’s top seed is very much up for grabs. Heading into the weekend, a number of key teams look to gain an edge, with the Texans taking on the Bengals, the Jets hosting the Chiefs, Ravens hosting the Colts and the Patriots traveling to D.C. to face the Redskins.
Over in the “Pick Your Knows” department, I have posted three consecutive subpar performances. It’s almost to the point that if you’re a regular reader, you may want to go with the opposite of my selections. Still, I remain at the .500 mark for the season, and started off this week in the victory column by taking the Bowns. Here’s hoping that good fortune continues.
Last Week: 6-10
This Season: 96-96
Last Season: 144-112
It’s once again time to “Pick Your Knows” – the only time it’s not a disgusting habit – and here are Week 14’s scheduled games (with spreads as they appear through CBSSports Fantasy).
Pick Your Knows: 2011 NFL Week 14 Picks Against the Spread
Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers (-13.5)
Peyton Hillis is dealing with a hip injury, but it’s reported that he might play. Still, traveling to Pittsburgh is always a challenge for the Browns, and it will be again. The Steelers have been a tricky bunch versus the spread this season, often blowing out the unexpected, while getting into dogfights with cupcake teams. With the Browns, it’s a weaker opponent, but a division rival. Most importantly, this matchup faces off the NFL’s top two pass defenses, each allowing under 180 yards per game. Taking that statistic in mind, plus the division rivalry, I expect a game heavy on the run, resulting in a fairly low scoring, tight matchup – at least, less than two touchdowns. That’s why I’m taking Cleveland and the points, even on the road at Heinz Field.
KP’s Pick: Cleveland
Update: After a few weeks, I’m finally in the win column for a Thursday game. The Steelers defeated the Browns 14-3.
Indianapolis Colts at Baltimore Ravens (-16.5)
Last week, I fell into a similar trap, taking the Patriots to cover by three touchdowns against the winless Colts. New England held a 31-3 lead, but gave up a few late scores, which took the pick out of my hands. This week, here we are again. The Ravens are clearly the better team, and will throw a lot of Ray Rice in the direction of the Colts. However, Baltimore’s defense is much more ferocious than New England’s, and the Ravens are also at home. I expect a heavy dose of pressure on Orlovsky, leading to numerous turnovers, and a big win for Baltimore. Ravens cover.
KP’s Pick: Baltimore
Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers (+2.5)
Cam Newton, Steve Smith and the Panthers offense has been fairly consistent, but also continue to go through growing pains from time to time. Facing off against a talented bunch like the Falcons will be a major challenge, especially since the Carolina defense has struggled throughout the season. If Atlanta can put forward a steady attack on both the run and pass game, then it may be too much for Newton to be able to keep up with, especially considering the aforementioned defensive struggles of the Panthers. Atlanta covers.
KP’s Pick: Atlanta
Houston Texans at Cincinnati Bengals (-2.5)
Andre Johnson is out this weekend and T.J. Yates is still an inexperienced quarterback that could struggle against a solid defense, such as the one that the Bengals have. Cincinnati was embarrassed last week against the Steelers, yet remains a team in a playoff chase. Playing at home this week against a depleted Houston offense, I expect the Bengals to bounce back and come away with an emotional and crucial victory. Cincy covers.
KP’s Pick: Cincinnati
Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions (-7.5)
The Lions have struggled in recent weeks, specifically with discipline. The Detroit offense still remains potent, especially when Kevin Smith adds balance in the run game. However, Smith remains hampered by an ankle injury. Adrian Peterson is listed as questionable with an ankle injury, and if he gets back into the lineup, it would mean a major difference for the Vikings. Minnesota’s defense has managed the second most sacks, and could cause problems for Detroit. Meanwhile, Suh is suspended and the Detroit defensive line may not put much pressure on Christian Ponder (who is also questionable). Even still, with all this in mind, I expect a one-score game at a touchdown or less, and am taking Minnesota and the points.
KP’s Pick: Minnesota
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Jacksonville Jaguars (+0.5)
With Josh Freeman out last week, the Bucs struggled. This week, Freeman has been limited in practice and is questionable for Sunday’s game against the Jags. Jacksonville continues to struggle offensively, so even if Freeman can’t go, this could wind up being a low-scoring game that comes down to a late field goal. With a tossup spread in mind, I’m picking the team with more talent, and that’s the Bucs.
KP’s Pick: Tampa Bay
Philadelphia Eagles at Miami Dolphins (-2.5)
This game features two teams headed in opposite directions, and not in the sense that we would have expected when the season begun. But while the Eagles have struggled and fallen from the playoff chase to some degree, Michael Vick and Jeremy Maclin should return this week. I missed out on the Dolphins last week as 2 ½ point favorites, and I’m going against them again this week. Even with Matt Moore and Reggie Bush playing so well, I think with Vick back in the lineup, the Eagles will win this game on the road.
KP’s Pick: Philadelphia
Kansas City Chiefs at New York Jets (-8.5)
Kyle Orton is listed as doubtful this week, so I don’t expect him to play and revive the offense at all. However, after struggling to get to the quarterback for the first two months, the KC defense has performed better in recent weeks, holding the Bears to three points and staying within four points of the Steelers. This week, the Chiefs travel to New York to take on the Jets, a team that has struggled to pull away from most of its opponents. The KC defense has 17 INT’s, which is the second most in the NFL, and expect the Chiefs to potentially get a few turnovers that result in this being a one score game. I’m taking the Chiefs and the points.
KP’s Pick: Kansas City
New Orleans Saints at Tennessee Titans (+3.5)
The Saints have been on a roll in recent weeks, and that much is clear statistically when you look at the New Orleans offense, ranked first in the NFL, averaging nearly 450 yards per game. Chris Johnson has finally been taking off for the Titans, and having a good game is likely the only way that the Titans will be able to pull this one off. New Orleans is in the middle of the pack when it comes to run defense, but Gregg Williams will also likely attempt to blitz and force mistakes in the pass game. With a spread this low, the Saints are the safe bet to cover.
KP’s Pick: New Orleans
New England Patriots at Washington Redskins (+7.5)
The Redskins have played better over recent weeks, getting more balance on offense with Roy Helu starting at running back, and Santana Moss returning to carry the pass game. Rex Grossman has also limited his mistakes in recent weeks. The Redskins should be able to score on New England’s struggling pass defense, but this is not an offense that is able to get into a scoring battle. Washington also will be missing a few key pieces due to suspension, and with all this in mind, my bet is on Tom Brady and the Pats to cover on the road.
KP’s Pick: New England
San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals (+3.5)
The Cardinals have had some balance on offense with Beanie Wells excelling and Kevin Kolb returning from injury to play quarterback. But the key to the Arizona offense is centered around Wells, and a consistent run game. San Francisco sports the league’s top run defense, allowing just 71.8 yards per game. It’s a good bet that the 49ers will be able to shut down Wells, forcing Kolb, Fitzgerald and the pass game to try and keep up. Frank Gore, Alex Smith and the San Francisco offense should do enough to cover on the road.
KP’s Pick: San Francisco
Chicago Bears at Denver Broncos (-3.5)
The Broncos have needed fourth quarter heroics from Tim Tebow on a regular basis, and no matter how much an opponent has struggled, it’s a good bet that it could happen again. That’s why a 3 ½ point spread is a tough one to choose from. However, with the Bears being without its two most potent offensive weapons – Jay Cutler and Matt Forte – it’s hard to imagine the Bears being able to stay with any opponent offensively. Last week, the Bears struggled and managed just three points against the Chiefs. The Broncos are the safe pick to cover.
KP’s Pick: Denver
Oakland Raiders at Green Bay Packers (-11.5)
The Packers have managed 23 INT’s on the year, the most in the NFL, and face off against Carson Palmer. Palmer should move the ball against the Packers, who also have been vulnerable against the pass, allowing 22 TD’s. Expect one of those rollercoaster days from Palmer, with a few TD’s and a few picks. The mistakes will almost certainly lead to points, as Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers are too efficient. Darren McFadden is out yet again, and with him not playing, the Raiders have missed a step on offense. Take the Packers to cover at home.
KP’s Pick: Green Bay
Buffalo Bills at San Diego Chargers (-5.5)
Aside from last week’s blowout of the Jaguars, the Chargers have consistently struggled to not just pull away from opponents, but also to collect victories. Buffalo has played better in recent weeks, but still lacks a consistent run game since Fred Jackson suffered a season-ending injury. Still, Ryan Fitzpatrick and the pass game should find ways to move the ball on the Chargers, even when playing on the road. San Diego needs wins to stay in the playoff chase, but don’t expect the Chargers to pull away from Buffalo.
KP’s Pick: Buffalo
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys (-3.5)
The Cowboys and Giants face off in a pivotal NFC East matchup that will have a major say in who wins the division this season. Dallas is dealing with some injuries to its wide receivers again, Both Laurent Robinson and Miles Austin are questionable, and if they are out, the Cowboys could suffer a hit on its offensive productivity. Meanwhile, the Giants will likely get Mario Manningham back, and I’m banking on at least a field goal game.
KP’s Pick: New York Giants
St. Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks (-6.5)
The last time these teams faced off, the Seahawks dominated on the road. This week, Seattle is at home, where they play even better football. Sam Bradford is questionable heading into Monday night, and it’s a good possibility that he may not play. The Rams have struggled to stop teams, as well as move the football on a consistent basis. With Bradford and Chris Long both up in the air, I’m banking on the Seahawks to find a way to win at home by a touchdown. Seattle covers in a fairly low-scoring game.
KP’s Pick: Seattle