With four weeks left in the regular season, a number of playoff spots have already been clinched, with the Patriots, Broncos and Falcons each clinching their divisions, while the Texans also clinched a playoff spot.
Week 14 features some fantastic matchups on paper, especially RG3 vs. Flacco, Rodgers vs. Stafford and the Texans taking on Tom Brady on Monday night.
Over in the “Pick Your Knows” department, last week, I swayed away from some of my standard techniques and got aggressive with some selections, too. The result was a sub-par 6-10 record for the week. But all in all, I remain 24 games above the .500-mark for the year.
Last Week: 6-10
This Season: 108-84
Last Two Seasons: 144-112 (2010) and 131-125 (2011)
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 CBS Sports Fantasy).
Pick Your Knows: 2012 NFL Week 14 Picks Against the Spread
Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders (+10.5)
The Raiders are a mess and the Broncos have won seven straight. In the trenches, the Broncos have the second most sacks (38), while allowing the third fewest (16). Peyton Manning is putting up MVP-like numbers and will be facing against a defense that is ranked 25th versus the pass, while allowing a 100.7 QB rating to opposing quarterbacks. Darren McFadden is set to return, which will help, but Denver’s defense is ranked seventh against the run. Oakland has the home field advantage, but it’s hard to pick against Peyton Manning, especially when he’s facing a team that is giving up an average of thirty-plus points over the last month. Broncos cover against the struggling Raiders.
KP’s Pick: Denver
Update: Broncos 26, Raiders 13– The frightening stat for future opponents of the Broncos: Denver got its running game going, Knowshon Moreno had a huge night (32 carries for 119 rushing yards and 1 TD, plus 4 receptions for 48 receiving yards). The Broncos covered and I got back to my winning ways on Thursday night.
Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers (+3.5)
The Falcons have had a few extra days of rest after knocking off the Saints last Thursday night. Atlanta also saw a spark from its running game last week, as Michael Turner had 83 yards on just 12 carries). Carolina’s run defense has been torched in recent weeks, and is vulnerable. Cam Newton has been streaky at times, but much improved in recent weeks. Newton will be facing a defense that picked off Drew Brees five times last week. On the other side, Carolina’s pass defense has only 8 picks on the year. Facing an Atlanta team that has as many passing weapons as it possesses, I’m putting my pick on the side of the Falcons.
KP’s Pick: Atlanta
Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings (+3.5)
The Bears will be without Brian Urlacher, which will hurt Chicago’s defense significantly. On the other side, Percy Harvin is out for the Vikings, which will hurt Minnesota’s offense. Adrian Peterson is the key here, playing against a division rival and in front of a home crowd that will be ready to go. This is one of the trickier spreads, considering just how dominant Adrian Peterson has been this season. But the Bears have been solid and balanced offensively when Jay Cutler is on the field. We’ll just have to see how the Bears handle Peterson without Urlacher. Here’s considering that the Bears get a lead, forcing Minnesota to have to abandon the run some. Chicago covers.
KP’s Pick: Chicago
Baltimore Ravens at Washington Redskins (-0.5)
The Redskins are rolling after winning three straight, and feature the league’s top run offense and the NFL’s fourth ranked run defense. The Ravens are 23rd against the run, allowing 11 touchdowns on the ground. The Ravens are likely without both Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, which won’t help the run defense. Robert Griffin III will give Baltimore headaches, and the home crowd will be fired up and ready to cheer him on. Baltimore’s pass game should have some success against Washington’s pass defense. Still, the Redskins have improved defensively in recent weeks, including when it bent, but didn’t break against the Giants. In a tossup spread, my gut is pushing me towards RG3 and a team that is clearly playing with a lot of confidence. Redskins win at home.
KP’s Pick: Washington
Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-7.5)
Nick Foles will start the rest of the way for the Eagles, and he was solid Sunday night against the Cowboys. Facing off against Tampa Bay’s pass defense, which is ranked last in the NFL in yards allowed (309 per game) he should have another solid day. The Bucs also have the league’s top ranked run defense, which will provide a major challenge for Bryce Brown, who has been explosive, while also having a tough time holding onto the football. One of Philadelphia’s major issues has been its offensive line, which has had trouble blocking (35 sacks allowed). Tampa Bay’s pass rush has only produced 18 sacks on the year, which is the third fewest. Again, consider that a positive for the Eagles. Josh Freeman, Doug Martin and the Tampa Bay offense will have success against Philly’s defense, but as mentioned above, it’s a good bet that the Eagles will have success, too. Therefore, bank on this game being fairly high scoring and finishing with a result at a touchdown or less. Take Philly and the points.
KP’s Pick: Philadelphia
San Diego Chargers at Pittsburgh Steelers (-7.5)
Ben Roethlisberger will return this weekend, which is obviously a huge advantage for the Steelers. Pittsburgh is in the thick of the Wild Card race, and needs to take advantage of must-win games at home. The loss of Ike Taylor will hurt Pittsburgh’s top ranked pass defense, but overall, the Steelers have the majority of its key offensive weapons back for this game, including its QB. San Diego is clearly a one-dimensional team that has had to focus more on its success in the passing game. Considering that this is a road matchup against the league’s top pass defense, the Chargers could have trouble moving the football. Take Pittsburgh to cover, as Roethlisberger plays well in his return.
KP’s Pick: Pittsburgh
Dallas Cowboys at Cincinnati Bengals (-3.5)
Rain may be a factor for this game and therefore, look for turnovers and field goals to become more frequent than touchdowns. Dallas is more balanced on offense with the return of DeMarco Murray. Dallas will be in an emotional state after the loss of a teammate (and arrest of another) during a fatal car crash. Everyone saw how well the Chiefs played after a tragic event, and we could see that kind of emotion from the Cowboys, too. Tony Romo will have his hands full, as the Cincinnati defense has the most sacks in the NFL (39). The key will be if Rob Ryan and the Dallas defense can find ways to limit A.J. Green. Again, I like the balance that Dallas has with Murray back in the lineup, and I’m banking on a three-point game here. Take the Cowboys and the points.
KP’s Pick: Dallas
Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts (-5.5)
The Colts won the first matchup by six points on the road, so it’s convenient that the spread line is right in that same space. Seven of Indy’s eight victories have been by a touchdown or less, clearly meaning that Andrew Luck and Co. are used to playing in close games. With that in mind, it’s equally tough to take the Colts to run away with any game. Indianapolis is also ranked 22nd against run, allowing 12 rushing touchdowns, meaning that Chris Johnson – who has had a solid stretch of games – could have some success. Success on the ground can and does chew up a lot of clock, while also providing some balance to an offense. Tennessee’s passing offense hasn’t been stellar by any means, but the Colts have just 6 interceptions as a team, the second fewest in the NFL. With all these facts in mind, I see the Colts winning, but not by much. Take the Titans and the points.
KP’s Pick: Tennessee
New York Jets at Jacksonville Jaguars (+2.5)
The Jets are once again going with Mark Sanchez as the starting quarterback. Sanchez was clearly torn apart when being benched and upon getting another opportunity, it would be surprising if he wasn’t motivated to prove his critics wrong. Jacksonville’s defense has just 13 sacks on the year (the fewest in the NFL), which means that Sanchez could also have time in the pocket. The Jags have been playing better football in recent weeks, but this is still a team that lacks offensive balance without the presence of Maurice Jones-Drew. Worse off, Jacksonville may be without one of its best receivers in Cecil Shorts. One would only have to look at New York’s pass defense, which is ranked fourth in the NFL in yards allowed (198 per game). Therefore, while it may be difficult to actually move forward and take a Jets team that is clearly struggling, these factors push me to the point of actually doing so, especially with the spread this tight. Jets win by a field goal, cover on the road.
KP’s Pick: New York Jets
St. Louis Rams at Buffalo Bills (-3.5)
The key to this matchup will be in the ground game. Buffalo has the NFL’s fourth best running game, currently led by C.J. Spiller, who is closing in on his first career 1,000-yard season. But it’s Buffalo’s defense that also allows 4.9 yards per carry on the ground, which is 31st in the NFL. The Rams are a Jekyll and Hyde team, knocking off (and tying) the Niners in recent weeks, while also suffering a big loss to the Jets. There are not a lot of stats that stand out in this game, and the Bills have been a team that I have struggled to get a good grip on. But with a spread this close, I’m leaning towards the Rams, who I think will have success in the ground game. I’m taking St. Louis and the points.
KP’s Pick: St. Louis
Kansas City Chiefs at Cleveland Browns (-5.5)
The Browns have played solid football over the last two months, going 4-3 after starting the season 0-5. However, one fact that I notice is Cleveland’s schedule. The Browns have not played a highly-ranked, non-divisional running team since Week 3, when they lost to the Bills by ten points. The other time was against the Ravens, both losses by seven and ten points, respectively. Kansas City has the league’s fifth-ranked rushing offense, averaging 146.7 yards per game. The Chiefs have also played a lot better over the last month (loss to PIT by 3 in OT, holding the Broncos to 17 points and knocking off the Panthers last week). Brady Quinn also had the best game of his career against the Panthers last week. In the end, while I think the Browns are the better team and will win the game, I still have a hard time calling for Cleveland to cover. Kansas City keeps this one close, thanks to its run game.
KP’s Pick: Kansas City
Miami Dolphins at San Francisco 49ers (-10.5)
The Dolphins are a tricky team to predict, and that starts with rookie Ryan Tannehill, who has looked lost in some games, but stellar in others. The east-to-west coast trip for Miami will be a tough one, especially to face one of the team’s more talented and aggressive defenses. The Dolphins have allowed 25 sacks on the year, a respectable 18th in the league, but it still will be a challenge to try and keep players like Aldon Smith in check. If San Francisco gets to Tannehill, we could see a lot of rookie mistakes by the young quarterback. Both run defenses are solid, with San Francisco being second in yards per carry average, while the Dolphins are fourth. The Niners start with its run game, and that could be held in check. If Frank Gore can’t get it going, this game could be a lot closer than the line. But I go back to San Francisco’s home field advantage, its multi-dimensional quarterback and guys like Aldon Smith, who could pressure Ryan Tannehill all day long. San Francisco covers at home.
KP’s Pick: San Francisco
New Orleans Saints at New York Giants (-6.5)
New Orleans has had a few extra days of rest and preparation, after playing last Thursday. The Giants are playing on short rest, after falling to the Redskins on Monday night. Hakeem Nicks is banged up again and remains a question mark for the game. Drew Brees has to be fuming after throwing a career-high five interceptions against the Falcons last week. Eli Manning has to be equally upset after moving the ball against Washington, but stalling in Redskins territory. Clearly, this game has the makings of a shootout. The statistical advantage goes to the Giants within the pass defense, but I can’t count on Drew Brees to have another game like last week. Brees alone keeps this game closer than a touchdown. Take New Orleans and the points.
KP’s Pick: New Orleans
Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks (-10.5)
The Cardinals are in a downward spiral and now face a Seahawks team that is dominant at home. Kevin Kolb is questionable and hasn’t played since Week 6, while rookie Ryan Lindlay has also struggled in recent weeks. The Cardinals announced that John Skelton has returned and will start this game, and he will be the key. One of Seattle’s starting corners dropped his appeal and is suspended for four games. Therefore, expect a lack of depth and drop in efficiency within Seattle’s secondary, which could open up some opportunities for Larry Fitzgerald and the Arizona passing game. The Seahawks are obviously very dominant at home, but this still isn’t a very potent offensive team. Seattle relies on establishing a running game through Marshawn Lynch – and while Arizona is ranked 24th against the run, they have allowed just five TD’s on the ground. Each of the two pass defenses is ranked in the NFL’s top five in yards allowed. In the end, if John Skelton has a decent day, or Arizona manages a touchdown on defense or special teams, it should be enough to keep this game at ten or less. Take the Cards and the points.
KP’s Pick: Arizona
Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers (-6.5)
Snow showers and cold temperatures are in the forecast, but the Packers are used to that. If it’s just showers, the game may not be affected too much on the field. Detroit continues to lose heartbreaking games, but its top-rated pass offense will continue to put points on the board. While a shootout is expected between Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford, the key will be in the trenches, where Green Bay has allowed 39 sacks (2nd most in the league). If there’s enough snow on the ground, the ball could get slippery and mistakes could be made. Add into that the fact that the Lions score a lot of points and push teams to the brink. That’s why I’m banking on this to be more of a three-to-four point win, as opposed to a touchdown or more. Take Detroit and the points.
KP’s Pick: Detroit
Houston Texans at New England Patriots (-4.5)
Rain showers are in the forecast for this Monday night matchup of AFC powers. How many times do you see a team with one loss (in Week 14), coming into a game as a 4 ½-point underdog? That’s the expectation that is always there for New England’s offense, led by Tom Brady. The Texans have also been vulnerable at times defensively in recent weeks. Still, this is a very potent and very balanced Houston team, on both sides of the ball. New England’s defense can also be scored upon, and the Patriots will have to respect the running of Arian Foster, while trying to limit Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson and the pass game. This will obviously be a huge challenge, and it’s the talent of the Texans that leave me to not take New England to cover. I do think the Pats win, but by three or more points.
KP’s Pick: Houston