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LOOKING AT WEEK 14 IN THE NFL
by Trace Armstrong on December 8, 2011 a 1:19 PM

Greetings everyone! I hope the last week has been a good one as you enter the holiday season. Mine has been filled with Starbucks holiday drinks (boy do I wish they paid me for this stuff), vacation planning, and having the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack on repeat.

Last week I went a putrid 8-8 in picks bringing me up to a respectable 127-65. There were a lot of upsets and infuriating moments that filled the landscape. Rather than do a rundown of what happened, I’m going to take some time to look at the playoff contenders and where they sit heading into the home stretch.

The AFC:

Mortal locks – New England, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Houston.

New England can coast their way to the division title this season. The 7-5 Jets have little hope to catch them. That Pats play at Washington and Denver, then settle in for Miami and Buffalo at home. To clinch, they only need to win two games at most due to their tie breakers over the Jets.

Baltimore has been a puzzling team this year in that they have destroyed good teams and lost to pretenders or worse but the tiebreaker over the Steelers puts them in the lead for the division title. The Ravens finish the year hosting Indianapolis, at San Diego, home for Cleveland, and finishing on the road in Cincinnati. Realistically, they need to win three of these to capture the division and it is entirely doable.

Usually the wild card race is tight but the 5th seed seems to have the Steelers’ name engraved on it. The Steelers have two easy wins against Cleveland and one at St. Louis with their toughest test on 12/19 against the 49ers in San Francisco on Monday night. The Steelers should win 3 of those 4 to at least clinch the 5th seed and possibly put them in contention to win the division if the Ravens stumble.

Houston is most likely to make it sitting at 9-3 but losing Andre Johnson (again), Matt Schaub, and Matt Leinart puts them one Arian Foster injury in the first quarter away from losing three out of the next four which will put them in the playoffs but as a “one and done” team. With Cincinnati, Carolina, Tennessee, and Indy on the schedule, it is entirely possible they do lose 3 out of the next 4. 

In Contention –Tennessee, Denver, Oakland, and Cincinnati.

Tennessee has the easiest road to the 6th seed. A tough game at home against New Orleans gives way to Indy, Jacksonville, and Houston. The Titans have been wildly inconsistent all year but have found a stride in recent weeks. Look out for them; the division isn’t out of the question yet, but the 6th seed is most likely.

Cincinnati is in a dog fight for the 6th seed. They realistically need 10 wins and some luck to get the nod. They have had opportunities against the Steelers and Ravens and not delivered so their chances are getting smaller. They have games against Houston, St. Louis, Arizona, and Baltimore left. Realistically, they go at least 2-2 but 3-2 is possible. The problem is the tiebreakers don’t swing their way. Losing twice to Pittsburgh and possibly Baltimore won’t get you into the playoffs and even if it does, you’ll see one of them again on the road.

Oakland/Denver. How did we get into this situation? Oakland was on pace to take this division then Tim Tebow came along and offensive turnovers virtually disappeared putting the Broncos into the thick of the AFC West. Denver has a real shot at this because they are catching the Bears without Cutler and Forte, then a game in Denver against New England, followed by a trip to Buffalo and a home game with KC to close out the year. I don’t even want to venture a guess as to what their record will be because I’ve been wrong at every point this year about Timmy save for the Miami comeback. Oakland has the bigger chance to blow this. With games against Green Bay, Detroit, San Diego, and KC left, there is a strong chance they go 2-2 or 1-3 especially in light of the Miami beatdown. If I had to pick a winner of these two, I have to go with Denver. I don’t like it but their defense is too good and Timmy doesn’t turn the ball over somehow.

Outside Chance – New York Jets. A lot has to happen for this to come true and sadly, I don’t see it happening.

The NFC:

Already clinched – Green Bay and San Francisco

Green Bay is a great football team with one of the best quarterbacks having the season of a lifetime. They have also had a soft schedule and will be catching more teams with lots of injuries to finish the year. 15-1 or 16-0 is likely.

San Francisco went from bottom feeder under Singletary to dominating foe in one season. How they did it with Alex Smith and Co. on offense will never fully be explained (I’ve yet to hear a great argument) but that defense is tough. The second round playoff games should be phenomenal.

Lock – New Orleans.

New Orleans has settled in as one of two teams that could take down Green Bay. They had their shot in Week 1 and came very close but didn’t quite get it done. I like their playoff chances and they are still my NFC Super Bowl pick. If they win on Sunday, they have clinched at least a wild card and will most likely win the division. The only real blemish on their record is that Rams loss which is still unexplainable.

Everyone Else – Dallas, New York Giants, Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, Seattle, and Arizona.

Dallas/New York Giants. Neither team wants to win the division. Seriously, have you watched either team play? I think the Giants are better but being one game behind Dallas in the division is going to make it harder for them. The two teams play twice in the next four weeks and both teams need to at least clinch tie breakers if not more. Dallas plays in Tampa Bay and home for Philadelphia which are both winnable games. The Giants have Washington and the Jets. Realistically, the Cowboys have the best shot at the division and it’s mainly because Washington isn’t going to lay down and the Jets are fighting for their playoff life. If Dallas doesn’t win the division, it’s due to going 1-3 in the final four weeks. A wild card berth is possible for either team but they will have to finish 9-7 to make it reality.

Poor Chicago. They were cruising directly for the 5th seed and were primed for it. Then they lost Cutler and Forte. With the offense neutered, it is possible da Bears go 0-4 to finish the season out of contention.

Detroit’s inexperience has not served them well. They commit stupid penalties and lose games due to their immaturity than any other reason right now. They have very winnable games against Minnesota and San Diego but Oakland and Green Bay are still looming. Green Bay wants that 16-0 but won’t chance injuries so a win is possible. I like their wild card chances to creep in with a 9-7 record but it is entirely likely they choke.

Atlanta is the biggest pretender on the list but due to a soft schedule, but will limp into the playoffs only to be eliminated in round one.

Seattle/Arizona have the outside of outside-ish chances to make it. They both have to win out and Arizona has to hope Dallas is their competition as they hold a head-to-head tiebreaker with them and Seattle is rooting for the Cards to fail. Realistically, neither of these teams make it but stranger things have happened (a 7-9 Seattle team won the NFC West last year and won a playoff game against the Saints).

Now, let’s look at what Week 14 holds for us in the NFL.

Cleveland Browns @ Pittsburgh Steelers

Cleveland stinks. No brainer.

Winner: Pittsburgh by 14.

Houston Texans @ Cincinnati Bengals

The kitties really need the win and I’m rooting for the Houston collapse.

Winner: Cincinnati by 3.

Minnesota Vikings @ Detroit Lions

The Vikings are showing signs of life but that secondary is putrid. Lions should be able to put up enough points to win but Minnesota has the ability to pull off the upset.

Winner: Detroit by 3.

New Orleans Saints @ Tennessee Titans

Looking at history, New Orleans tends to slow down in easy games that don’t mean much to them. This year they have lost on the road to a not as good Tampa Bay and a terrible St. Louis. The question becomes, which road loss do you bet on, Tennessee or Minnesota?

Winner: New Orleans by 2.

Philadelphia Eagles @ Miami Dolphins

You know what’s funny? Sparano is going to be fired at the end of the year because of the past 3 years. What’s hilarious? The Dolphins were right there with Indy in the “Suck for Luck” campaign and Matt Moore and Big Tony ruined it. You know with every win Tony is just smiling and sticking it to the owner who is going to fire him in a month.

Winner: Miami by 14.

Kansas City Chiefs @ New York Jets

I’m sick of hearing the “watch out for the Chiefs” talk. Stop it. “That’s just, that’s just not very good,” to quote Raheem Morris. Speaking of which, Raheem is the king of great coaching soundbites like this:

http://www.youtube.com/embed/azB5wGPRcV0 

Winner: New York Jets by 10.

New England Patriots @ Washington Redskins
The Redskins have nothing to lose so expect the fake gunslinger Rex Grossman to start throwing rocks in the air and hoping his corps of “Who are you?” receivers to bring them down. There is trap game potential here in light of Indy’s back door cover of the 20 ½ point deficit last week. I don’t see it happening, but there is potential.

Winner: New England by 5.

Atlanta Falcons @ Carolina Panthers

What to do? What to do? Carolina isn’t the worst team in the NFL but the defense is horrible. Matty Ice and company have too many close calls this year. That said; they should be able to run at will on Carolina.

Winner: Atlanta by 3.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Jacksonville Jaguars

How Jacksonville is getting any points is beyond me. Freeman has had a week off and should come back strong.

Winner: Tampa Bay by 10.

Indianapolis Colts @ Baltimore Ravens

Really?

Winner: Baltimore by 14.

Chicago Bears @ Denver Broncos

I’m finally jumping on the Tebow train for a week. The Bears have no Forte or Cutler.

Winner: Denver by 3.

San Francisco 49ers @ Arizona Cardinals

Do we really have to go in depth on this?

Winner: San Francisco by 7.

Oakland Raiders @ Green Bay Packers

If McFadden, Forde, and Moore were healthy Oakland may have had a shot at winning but without them, no chance. Carson Palmer is the king of garbage time stats and will keep it close but not close enough.

Winner: Green Bay by 9.

Buffalo Bills @ San Diego Chargers

Norv has the ability to win when it doesn’t matter. Buffalo has collapsed after a good head start.

Winner: San Diego by 3.

New York Giants @ Dallas Cowboys

New York is playing better football and I trust Eli more than I do Romo.

Winner: Giants by 3.

St. Louis Rams @ Seattle Seahawks

Wow! What another epic Monday night encounter. Does ESPN really want to renew MNF when you’ve gotten such great games as San Diego vs. Jacksonville, New York Giants vs. St. Louis, New England vs. Kansas City, and Seattle vs. St. Louis? At least ESPN closes out with Pittsburgh at San Francisco (what should be a great game) and Atlanta at New Orleans (which should be watchable). Oh wait, who wins?

Winner: Seattle by 14.

Game of the week: Giants @ Cowboys, no question. The NFC Playoff picture is a mess and this game will help clear it up, at least a little.



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