Week 12 NFL Picks

The New Orleans Saints take on the Los Angeles Rams in another battle of the best. We’ll see if the Rams can bounce back after a loss to the Vikings and if the Saints can keep their winning ways alive. Oh, and we’ve picked a couple other games this week, too. Don’t ask me which ones, just read’em below!

Picks by Brad

Tennessee Titans (6-4) @ Indianapolis Colts (3-7); Line: Titans by 3

On the surface this may look like a pretty easy call in favor of the visiting Titans, but Vegas sees it as a one-possession game and there has to be a reason for that. Coincidentally these are the last two opponents of the Steelers who allowed 17 points to each in a pair of wins. Indy limited Pittsburgh to 20 at home while Tennessee surrendered 40 on the road. Advantage: Indy.

Interestingly, in their Week 6 meeting in Nashville, the Titans became the only team NOT to record multiple sacks against Jacoby Brissett since he took over as the Colts’ full-time starter. Taking sacks has been a problem for the mobile young signal caller (20 in the last four games and 35 total in nine starts this year), but when he has been able to stay upright, he’s shown an ability to make plays.

Tennessee as a team is a real enigma. One can pour through volumes of statistics and not find much that jumps out other than being the fifth best rush defense in the NFL. Mariota is in the middle of the pack in passer rating with 8 TDs against 10 INTs. He’s rushed for just 186 yards. I’m telling you, everything about the Fighting Mularkey’s is super duper average. However, I suppose this may also mean that they don’t suffer from any significant weakness and, in a terrible AFC, you just have to be average. I’ll take Tennessee on the road. Titans 20, Colts 17

Carolina Panthers (7-3) @ New York Jets (4-6); Line: Panthers by 5

Both teams were on late season byes last week, but their prior form shapes the expectation for this match up. The Panthers are riding a three-game winning streak while the Jets have dropped four of five. I have to admit that I have gained some respect for Todd Bowles and the Jets this season. They play hard and, other than a blowout loss at Oakland in Week 2, have been in every game. Despite being mathematically alive for a playoff berth, this team is very much in the business of evaluating players for next year which may mean allowing big name players with nagging injuries to sit. (Muhammad Wilkerson, Matt Forte, etc). That said I believe they will play hard.

Carolina is still very much alive for an NFC South title with a trip to New Orleans—who they trail by a single game—coming up next week. They also have to keep an eye on Atlanta who has won two straight against fellow NFC playoff contenders and trails Carolina by just one game. While there is letdown potential for the Panthers based on that Saints showdown looming, the real key on Sunday will be the health of Cam Newton. Despite nursing injuries to his thumb and shoulder, experts are expecting him to go against the Jets. As has been the case the last few years, as goes Cam, so goes Carolina. Panthers 17, Jets 13

New Orleans Saints (8-2) @ Los Angeles Rams (7-3); Line: Rams by 2.5

For the second straight week, all eyes are on the Rams as they take on a fellow NFC division leader. Last Sunday in Minneapolis, LA found out how much harder it is to throw the ball when you can’t run it. The Vikings bottled up Todd Gurley and frustrated the NFL’s highest scoring offense, shutting them out entirely after surrendering an opening drive touchdown. The Saints meanwhile picked up their 8th straight win as they completed an improbable fourth quarter comeback at home against a Redskins squad that couldn’t close a game they led by 15 points with less than six minutes to play.

A game this close can obviously go either way, but, to me, the key factor is whether the Saints can run the ball and the numbers indicate that matchup favors New Orleans greatly. They are the 4th best rushing team in the league while the Rams are 5th worst against the run and Aaron Donald is listed as questionable to play on Sunday. When Kamara and Ingram get into a rhythm, everything flows for the Saints’ offense.

I see a lot of similarities in these two surprisingly dominant teams and look forward to seeing whether they can hold on to their respective division leads down the stretch. Both teams need to address some of the issues from last week, but I think the Rams come up short again. Saints 31, Rams 21

Picks by Chris

Green Bay Packers (5-5) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (8-2); Line: Steelers by 15

At the start of the season this was a game I couldn’t wait to see. The Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers are both storied franchises that have been remarkably consistent for the last twenty or so years, and seeing Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger air it out once again in a head-to-head match up would have been one for the history books. They’ve only met twice before, once in the regular season in 2009 and again in Super Bowl XLV. Big Ben won the regular season game with a masterful performance. 503 yards and three touchdowns, his last touchdown coming as time expired to win the game. Their second meeting occurred in Super Bowl XLV and saw Aaron Rodgers get the better of the Big Ben to the tune of 304 yards and three touchdowns. The Packers and Steelers did play in 2013, but Aaron Rodgers was out with an injury and Matt Flynn battled Big Ben in a close loss, 38-31 in favor of Pittsburgh. Wouldn’t it be nice to have Flynn back, Packer fans? Unfortunately, Aaron Rodgers is on the inactive reserve right now with a broken collarbone, but even if he were in the game, Big Ben simply hasn’t looked the same this season, so my early season excitement might not have been warranted anyway. Big Ben is sporting an 87.8 QBR through 10 games, which is below his career average, and that’s likely to do with his TD to INT ratio as he’s thrown 16 touchdowns compared to 10 picks so far this season. I will caveat these numbers by saying five of those picks came in one game against the Jaguars and he’s been on an offensive upswing with 10 touchdowns to only three interceptions since his forgettable performance against Jacksonville. But the overall numbers are concerning nonetheless. In the end, Roethlisberger is facing Brett Hundley and a diminished Green Bay Packer defense, so it’s looking like a Steelers victory on Sunday.

Steelers extend their winning streak to six games with a comfortable win. Steelers 28, Packers 14. 

Final thought: If Hundley starts off slow again, give Joe Callahan a shot. I’ve been asking for it, and if there’s a miracle to be had the Packers need it this week. A win can see them still fighting for a playoff opportunity with the Lions loss to Minnesota. If the Pack lose this weekend, it won’t matter if Aaron Rodgers can play come playoff time. I don’t know that Callahan is an NFL quarterback, but I’m pretty sure Hundley isn’t one.

Buffalo Bills (5-5) @ Kansas City Chiefs (6-4); Line: Chiefs by 10.5

These two teams are on a similar trajectory 10 games into the season as they started off strong and have been in free fall since. The Buffalo Bills were projected to be a losing team at the start of the season and talk of tanking might have spurred them into overachieving. Their quarterback weirdness aside, this was a team succeeding because of it’s defense but they’ve allowed 135 points in the last three games so it’s no wonder they’ve gone 0-3 since a convincing win over the Oakland Raiders in week seven. If you take a look at the numbers, a lot of those points are coming off of turnovers, so you can’t completely blame the defense, but it’s safe to say this team as a whole has struggled. The Kansas City Chiefs have also seen their fair share of struggles in recent weeks. After starting off their season with an impressive 5-0 run, including big wins over the Patriots and the Eagles, they’ve gone 1-4 including an embarrassing loss to the New York Giants. Their offense has struggled, particularly their offensive line, which has impacted their running game. Kareem Hunt was electric through five games with 609 rushing yards on 97 carries, but his numbers have taken a dive since with only 264 yards on 76 carries. He’s still managed to add all-purpose yards with his receiving play, but his ineffective running has really allowed teams to focus more on stopping Alex Smith and the Chiefs passing game. They need Hunt and this line to get back on track so they can run a balanced offense.

Both of these teams have problems right now, but the Chiefs have fewer issues and they also have Andy Reid. I don’t think you can put the same stock in Sean McDermott. Chiefs 28, Bills 21.  

Jacksonville Jaguars (7-3) @ Arizona Cardinals (4-6); Line: Jags by 5.5

Blake Bortles is like a cockroach, and that’s a good thing. No matter how many times you think he’s done for, he still manages to survive and the Jaguars seem to be living and dying with him in recent weeks. He never plays particularly well, and their success has largely been decided by their defense’s ability to force turnovers and turn them into points, but Bortles has had a couple of games that came down to him having to throw the ball for a touchdown… and he’s delivered. He’s not turning the football over quite as much as he did earlier in the season, and he’s allowed his teammates to compete by doing just enough to keep these games interesting. Which is why I can’t simply say the Jaguars win. Normally, when a team is on their third string quarterback, I’d write them off against a team with Jacksonville’s record, but again this game is going to come down to the Jaguars producing takeaways and scoring points defensively. How long can a team hope to keep doing that? This is an injury-laden and struggling Arizona Cardinals team, but they’re still an NFL team and… it’s Blake Bortles. Does he deliver this week? Can Leonard Fournette build off his 111 yard performance against the Browns? I think so, but I’m still not confident in the Jaguars offense as we enter week 12. I don’t think Vegas is either, because they’re only a 5.5 point favorite.

Tentatively, I’m going to say this Jaguar defense and maybe Blake Bortles,  delivers again. Jaguars 21, Cardinals 14.