Week 14 NFL Picks
Welcome to Week 14, the last “normal” week of the NFL schedule. By normal I mean that Week 15 is the last week for Thursday Night football and both Week 15 and 16 feature Saturday games while Week 17, as always, features just one prime time game (SNF). Long story, short: Enjoy Week 14 because it’s gonna be 2018 before we know it. We have a terrific slate this week including the top two DVOA teams going head to head (#1 Rams vs #2 Eagles), so on to the games!
Picks by Chris
Minnesota Vikings (10-2) @ Carolina Panthers (8-4); Line: Vikes by 2.5
Crunch time. This is the part of the season I really enjoy. Teams are focused on either earning a spot in the playoffs or clinching their division, and in the case of the Vikings proving they’re worthy of consideration as a Super Bowl contender. Healthy skepticism of Case Keenum has been both welcome and expected this season, but at what point should we cast aside our doubts and really stand behind this guy as a quality quarterback capable of leading this team into the post-season?
Unless some serious shenangians occur in Minnesota, the Vikings are going to not only make the playoffs but also take the division. Their last playoff appearance was in 2015 with a wildcard match up against the Seattle Seahawks. Teddy Bridgewater was leading the team at that time but the roster still has several players from that squad, so they’re going to at least have a little experience this year as well. Case Keenum has performed admirably at the quarterback position and if he can maintain the poise he’s had all year, the Vikings are not only going to be a tough out but might be favored depending on their eventual match up. Make no mistake though, the Vikings’ key to winning is their defense and that’s the same case this Sunday when they face Cam Newton and this Carolina Panthers offense.
The Panthers have been somewhat up and down this season, as they’ve struggled at times with consistency. Their passing game hasn’t been very good, Cam Newton is too inefficient with the football, and their running numbers are a bit skewed because of Cam’s ability to make plays with his legs. He’s rushed for 515 yards this season, second only to Jonathan Stewart, and he’s got more carries than Christian McCaffrey their RB2. Now, I applaud Cam’s ability to make things happen, but against an elite defense like the Vikings, I don’t believe he’s going to be able to have as big an impact with his legs and I don’t see him falling into sync with his receivers this weekend either. The Panthers will only have a shot if their own defense can keep Case Keenum, Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, and this 6th ranked run game, bottled up and out of the end zone.
The Vikings have exceeded 30 points four times this season and I’m thinking they do it again. Vikings 31, Panthers 21.
New York Jets (5-7) @ Denver Broncos (3-9); Line: Jets by 1.5
We talk about quarterbacks a lot in these pick columns, and unfortunately, I’m going to have to do it again this week. This is a strange contest to look at on paper because the New York Jets and Denver Broncos perform similarly on offense if you look at the numbers, but the edge is given to the Broncos on defense. If you were to tell me that in a vacuum, I’d normally be leaning towards the team with the defensive edge, but the gambling pundits have the Jets favored on the road no less… and I agree. The difference between these two teams is at the quarterback position of all things. The New York Jets have 38-year-old Josh McCown playing some of his best football, which isn’t great, but it’s good and he’s been surprisingly consistent this year. The Denver Broncos are struggling with a QB carousel of the type I mentioned last week, and only two years removed from their Super Bowl victory in 2015, they are a completely different team without consistency at the QB position.
If I’m not mistaken, the Broncos are going with the guy they started the season with, Trevor Siemian. He actually looked okay to open the year with a couple of victories over the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Chargers, but his early-season efficiency evaporated quickly as they entered their eight game losing streak. The Broncos have now rotated three different guys through the QB position and have fired their offensive coordinator to try and fix the issues affecting the team, but we’ve yet to see signs of a turnaround. I don’t believe we’re going to see any sudden improvements from Siemian, he’s had plenty of time to work out the kinks and hasn’t been able to do so thus far.
I’m going with the Jets on the road at Mile High, Jets 21, Broncos 17.
Seattle Seahawks (8-4) @ Jacksonville Jaguars (8-4); Line: Jags by 2.5
Last week, I was definitely in the Eagles’ camp for their match-up against the Seahawks, but Seattle managed to upset the number one team in the NFL in convincing fashion and I have to address some of that here. I felt like the Seahawks were outclassed in pretty much every respect by a fantastic Philadelphia Eagles team that has played extremely well on the road this season, still, I did give Seattle a fighting chance because they have Russell Wilson. And, boy are they lucky they have Russell Wilson. He was the little engine that could last week and while I firmly believe the Eagles should have won that game, check out the stats and tell me how they put up the numbers they did without getting the ball into the end zone. Russell did what Russell does down the stretch, and that’s win football games. I apologize for betting against you, my man, I won’t do it in Week 14.
The Jaguars are great. Eh, they’re great on defense. The offensive success they’ve had for most of the season has encountered some hiccups in recent weeks, and I think they’re going to struggle against a Seahawks team that appears to be in sync on the defensive side. Mr. Perseverance will perform as expected and I feel like this game is going to come down to Blake Bortles again making the most of his opportunities. He was pretty solid against an awful Indianapolis Colts team last week, but the Jaguars run-game was awful, and if Bortles has to beat Seattle’s defense with his arm, he’s going to lose.
The Seahawks are picking up steam as they head into the post-season, Seahawks 28, Jaguars 24.
Picks by Brad
Dallas Cowboys (6-6) @ New York Giants (2-10); Line: ‘Boys by 2.5
After three straight games tallying single digit points, America’s Team had a scoring outburst at home against the hated Redskins last week. The 38-14 score may give the appearance that Dallas got things turned around, but a closer look reveals just 275 yards of total offense and a Trubisky-like 102 yards passing from Dak. The truth is that the Cowboys benefited from a punt return touchdown as well as four turnovers by the sloppy Redskins. Obviously the playbook changes when you get out to a 17-point lead and winning is more important than pretty stats, but Dak was inaccurate and Dez still can’t get any separation, so they’re not out of the woods yet.
The Giants enter this contest in a completely different category of disarray. They’re changing QBs again and they’ll be coached this week by interim HC Steve Spagnuolo who hasn’t even been on the job a full week. While I do think the Giants will play hard against their most hated rival—especially with #10 back under center—Dallas is the more desperate team and has actually played better on the road than at home this year. The league’s second worst scoring offense continues to struggle and Dallas does enough to keep its slim playoff hopes alive. Cowboys 24, Giants 16
Tennessee Titans (8-4) @ Arizona Cardinals (5-7); Line: Titans by 3
In any reasonable NFL season, I think we’d all assume that the #3 team in the AFC playoff picture (as of the end of Week 13) would be a shoe-in to beat the moribund Cardinals and their third string QB, but this is 2017 and the AFC kinda sucks. Tennessee is the ONLY team currently sitting in a playoff spot that has a negative point differential (-16) to this point in the season, however the Titans hold the tiebreaker over Jacksonville by virtue of their 37-16 beatdown of the Jags way back in Week 2. Perhaps even more astonishing is that the Jags have a +121 scoring differential in spite of that September blowout. The insanity cycle then continues when you realize that Arizona just beat Jacksonville two weeks ago. (In case you’re curious, Arizona is -91 this season.)
So what to make of this match up? On paper these teams are actually somewhat similar, ranking in the same band for many metrics. One big advantage I do see is that Tennessee has the league’s 8th best rush offense whereas Arizona is dead last. When teams have comparable talent levels, it comes down to play makers and I believe Tennessee simply has more on the offensive side of the ball with Mariota and their versatile ball carriers. The Titans go on the road and do enough to stay in the AFC South driver’s seat. Titans 23, Cardinals 20
Baltimore Ravens (7-5) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (10-2); Line: Stillers by 4.5
A few weeks ago there was a lot of talk about using flex scheduling to move this game out of the Sunday Night Football slot, mostly because Baltimore was just unwatchable. They sat at 4-5 after being pushed around by Tennessee and seemed to be headed for a 7-9 season. It was at this point that they were gifted a dreadful Brett Hundley start in Green Bay and things seemed to turn around. For more about Baltimore’s recent habit of snacking on Ws, check out this week’s 5 Things I Think.
Pittsburgh sees the Ravens 3-game winning streak and raises you a 7, with their last loss coming on October 8th. Truthfully, there have been some perilous times within that win streak as the Steelers seem to play to the level of their competition every week. A narrow win against Green Bay; at 17-point comeback against Cincy; a squeaker against Indy. All of these are troubling signs, but I think we’ll see a revitalized Steeler team this week. It’s been an emotional five days as the team (and the country) has been praying for defensive captain Ryan Shazier’s health following a scary spinal injury on Monday night in Cincinnati. Pittsburgh historically hasn’t needed any extra motivation when it comes to the Ravens rivalry, but sometimes this kind of tragedy can bring a team closer. My guess is that this line is closer to 3 points by kickoff, but I’ll take the home team! Steelers 24, Ravens 20
Picks by Danny
Oakland Raiders (6-6) @ Kansas City Chiefs (6-6); Line: Chiefs by 4
At the mid-point of the season, many of us here on SportsIntel were high on the Chiefs. Since then the Chiefs have managed to win a single game and the team’s playoff chances hang in the balance. The Chiefs’ offense has been bad while the offense has regressed to the mean. This week they face a Raiders team that has failed to match expectations this season. This is a tough game to pick because the Chiefs have found a way to lose so many winnable games of late. If Amari Cooper is able to make it back this week, he’ll likely have another big game against his division rival. To make matters worse, it appears that Kareem Hunt may have hit the rookie wall. At the end of the day I’m going to have faith in the Chiefs. They still have enough weapons to put up big numbers and the Raiders really only have one quality win all season on the road. I think the home field helps make the difference in this game. The Chief pull out a high scoring affairs and stay in the hunt for the division crown. Chiefs 30, Raiders 27
Philadelphia Eagles (10-2) @ Los Angeles Rams (9-3); Line: Iggles by 1.5
I think we are going to learn a lot about the Philadelphia Eagles this week. They’re are a team loaded with talent on both sides of the football and I would argue from a pure talent perspective they are better than the Seahawks team they lost to last weekend. A lot of that loss could be chalked up to coaching and inexperience. The Eagles are also a team that hasn’t had to face a lot of adversity this season and this week they will face the second leg of their most difficult two game stretch this season. In many ways the Rams are similar to the Eagles. Both teams have young second year QBs who have put up great numbers and are in contention for a first round bye. Both teams have exceeded expectations this season, perhaps none more than the Rams. The Rams and Eagles are also tied for the highest scoring offense in the league. While a lot of attention will be paid to the young signal callers in this game, I think it will be the defense that will determine the winner.
The Philadelphia Eagles have better numbers defensively than the Rams and to be honest I’m not sure if that is because they have a better defense or because they’ve played worse competition. One thing that I am sure of is that Eagles have a better rush defense than the Rams and that does not bode well for the LA faithful. The Rams offense is built off of handing the ball to Gurley which sets up everything else the offense does so well. The Eagles will respond to their loss in Seattle with ferocity. I expect them to be focused and dialed in this week and pull out a close game on the road in LA. Eagles 27, Rams 22
Washington Redskins (5-7) @ Los Angeles Chargers (6-6); Line: Bolts by 5.5
The Redskins don’t have much left to play for this season and given the number of injuries that team has endured it’s remarkable they haven’t collapsed. The Chargers are trying to capture the division and are the hottest team in the AFC West having won 6 of their last 8. Playing at home isn’t much of an advantage for the Chargers, but it will be enough for a victory. The Redskins’ injuries are too much to overcome in this one. Chargers 24, Redskins 14