N.F.L. Picks Week 14: N.F.C. Offers a Playoff Preview

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The Panthers (8-4, 68 percent) have numbers that are similar to Minnesota’s, but they have been less consistent. Cam Newton is capable of having a more electric game than Keenum, but he is also more prone to errors and mixes in bad performances with great ones.

Picking against the Vikings does not seem wise. They are clicking in a way that few teams are. But should Newton have one of his better days, this one can go either way. Pick: Vikings

Eagles at Rams, 4:25 p.m., Fox

Line: Rams by 2

The Eagles (10-2, > 99 percent) went into last weekend with a wide path cleared for them to clinch their first division title since 2013. All they needed was to beat or tie the Seahawks, or for the Cowboys to lose to or tie the Redskins. Somehow, none of that happened. Philadelphia went from the cusp of clinching a division title to being knocked out of the top spot in the N.F.C. playoff bracket, thanks to its blowout loss to Seattle and Minnesota’s win over Atlanta. The Eagles and the Vikings have 10-2 records, but Minnesota holds the tiebreaker between them, so if the Eagles want that top spot in the conference and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, they need to keep winning, regardless of when they clinch the N.F.C. East.

Getting back to winning could be difficult for the Eagles when they travel to Los Angeles to face the Rams (9-3, 95 percent). The teams have eerily similar statistics, with both averaging 30.1 points a game. Philadelphia allows 17.9, and the Rams allow 18.5. They are close to each other in total yardage and yardage allowed, and they even have similar defensive styles, with a fantastic defensive line setting up everything by putting consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback.

This game is strength against strength: Both teams are among the top all-around teams in the N.F.L. But with the Eagles potentially playing without their top red zone scoring threat in Zach Ertz, who has yet to clear the N.F.L.’s concussion protocol, and the Rams playing at home, the scale tips to Los Angeles. Pick: Rams

Saints at Falcons, 8:25 p.m. (Thursday), NBC and NFL Network

Line: Saints by 1

The Saints (9-3, 97 percent) and the Falcons (7-5, 41 percent) play each other twice in the next three weeks. If one team sweeps the season series, it will go a long way toward determining the N.F.C. South (Carolina is in the mix as well). Last season, Atlanta beat New Orleans twice on its way to a division title and a Super Bowl appearance, but the Saints rebuilt through the draft, with Marshon Lattimore revamping the team’s secondary and Alvin Kamara teaming with Mark Ingram to form a devastating running back duo. At full strength, the Saints would be credible favorites on the road, but with Lattimore expected to be limited by an ankle injury, if he plays at all, the scale tips to Atlanta. Pick: Falcons

Seahawks at Jaguars, 4:25 p.m., Fox

Line: Jaguars by 2.5

It is a bit convoluted, but the Jaguars (8-4, 98 percent) could clinch a playoff berth provided they win, Buffalo loses, Miami loses or ties, the Jets lose or tie and the Oakland-Kansas City game doesn’t end in a tie. For Jacksonville fans, who last saw the playoffs in 2007 and only five other times in the franchise’s 22 full seasons, that concept might be just tantalizing enough to keep a cheat sheet of all of those playoff scenarios handy. The Seahawks (8-4, 76 percent) surprised a lot of people with a tremendous performance against Philadelphia last Sunday, but they will have a hard time scoring against Jacksonville on the road. Pick: Jaguars

Ravens at Steelers, 8:30 p.m., NBC

Line: Steelers by 5

The loss of Ryan Shazier to a back injury, the extent of which has not been revealed, will have an impact on the Steelers (10-2, > 99 percent) in many ways. Emotionally, they will be thinking about their team leader and wondering about his future. On the field, they will be without their most important defensive player, while also missing his backup, Tyler Matakevich, who injured his shoulder on Monday. They were able to come back to win against Cincinnati despite the injuries, with multiple players saying they rallied together for Shazier. But the reality of playing the Ravens (7-5, 82 percent) with a third-string inside linebacker and without JuJu Smith-Schuster, the rookie wide receiver who was suspended over an illegal block he delivered Monday, could delay the Steelers’ clinching of the A.F.C. North, which would happen with a win or a tie. Pick: Ravens

Second-Tier Games

Photo

Marshawn Lynch has looked rejuvenated for the Oakland Raiders in recent weeks.

Credit
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Raiders at Chiefs, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Chiefs by 4

A win for the Raiders (6-6, 21 percent) and a loss by the Chargers would put Oakland in sole possession of the top spot in the A.F.C. West. The Raiders would still have a tough road to the playoffs, closing out their season with games against Dallas, Philadelphia and the Chargers, but the fact that they can mostly control what happens is shocking after that four-game losing streak from Weeks 3 through 6. Pick: Raiders

Cowboys at Giants, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Cowboys by 4

The Cowboys (6-6, 6 percent) have two more games before Ezekiel Elliott is eligible to return from a suspension, and if they continue to play the way they did last week against Washington, then the star running back could be coming back to a team with an 8-6 record. Standing in the way of that is a hypermotivated Giants team (2-10, 0 percent) that fired its unpopular head coach, reinstalled Eli Manning at quarterback and will do everything possible to come away with a win at home. Dallas has a huge advantage in talent, and is rightfully the favorite, even on the road, but the Giants might want this one a little more. Pick: Giants

Titans at Cardinals, 4:05 p.m., CBS

Line: Titans by 3

Of the five wins the Cardinals (5-7, < 1 percent) have this season, only one came against a good team. The other four were against Indianapolis, Tampa Bay and San Francisco (twice). Even the resurgence of Adrian Peterson is not as good upon close inspection. He has 448 rushing yards in six games, but over the last three games, he has averaged 2.44 yards a carry. He and Drew Stanton are questionable against the Titans (8-4, 92 percent), and a home loss seems inevitable. Pick: Titans

Redskins at Chargers, 4:05 p.m., CBS

Line: Chargers by 6

The Chargers (6-6, 33 percent) started the season 0-4, but it was clear even then that they were not as bad as the Clevelands and San Franciscos of the world. They have proved that fact emphatically in the eight games since, going 6-2, with the losses coming on the road against two of the best teams in the American Football Conference (New England and Jacksonville). The Redskins (5-7, < 1 percent), despite showing signs of life during the season, have almost nothing to show for it, and will have a difficult decision this off-season in the way they approach contract negotiations with quarterback Kirk Cousins. Pick: Chargers

Lions at Buccaneers, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: N/A

It was easy to write off a close loss to division-leading Minnesota two weeks ago as the Lions’ (6-6, 10 percent) having some bad luck in a game in which their margin for error was tiny. Last Sunday’s blowout loss to Baltimore was harder to justify. This road game against the Buccaneers (4-8) is certainly winnable for Detroit, but it will be interesting to see how bad Matthew Stafford’s hand looks after he injured it against Baltimore. When he was asked during the week to show the hand to reporters, he said, “I would rather not.” Pick: Lions

Bottom-Tier Games

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Aqib Talib returns from a one-game suspension this weekend. He, Chris Harris Jr., Bradley Roby and the rest of the Denver Broncos’ secondary will try to make life difficult for Josh McCown and the newly pass-happy Jets.

Credit
Isaiah J. Downing/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

Jets at Broncos, 4:05 p.m., CBS

Line: Jets by 1

The Jets (5-7, 1 percent) managed just 10 points in Week 10, and went into their bye week looking to change things up. Whatever adjustments they made should have happened long ago, as they have been an entirely new offense, piling up 879 total yards and 65 points while going 1-1 against Carolina and Kansas City. Josh McCown has been fearlessly throwing the ball down the field, and has 638 passing yards and four touchdowns to show for it. The Broncos (3-9, < 1 percent), though, are a tough matchup for them, as they have not allowed a 300-yard passing game all season despite their imploding in nearly every other respect. If McCown tries his gunslinger act against them, he may be watching Aqib Talib run the other way on a pick-6. Pick: Broncos

Colts at Bills, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: N/A

It was easy to make fun of the Bills (6-6, 15 percent) for trying to switch from Tyrod Taylor to Nathan Peterman at starting quarterback when both players were healthy. The jokes then wrote themselves when Peterman had one of the worst debuts as a starting quarterback in N.F.L. history. Against the Colts (3-9, < 1 percent), Buffalo will most likely have to turn to Peterman as an injury replacement for Taylor, who hurt his knee, and even the most ardent Taylor supporters have to be pulling for Peterman to find a way to avoid embarrassing himself this time. Pick: Bills

Packers at Browns, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Packers by 3

A two-game disadvantage to both Carolina and Seattle and a one-game disadvantage to Atlanta probably makes any chance at a playoff run by the Packers (6-6, 9 percent) a bit too crazy to entertain seriously. But with a reasonable chance of a road win against the Browns (0-12, 0 percent), Brett Hundley may be returning the team to Aaron Rodgers for Week 15 with a 7-6 record, which with a healthy and motivated Rodgers could easily result in a 10-6 season. Would that be enough to get into the playoffs? Probably not. But it could be fun to watch them try. Pick: Packers

Bears at Bengals, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Bengals by 6.5

For most of Monday night’s eventual loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Bengals (5-7, 2 percent) looked strong on both sides of the ball. But things fell apart quickly in the fourth quarter, and with Vontaze Burfict, Adam Jones and Joe Mixon missing practice on Wednesday, a large spread in their favor is problematic. It is not that the Bears (3-9, 0 percent) are particularly good, but the Bengals have too many question marks for anyone to have so much faith in them. Pick: Bears

49ers at Texans, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Texans by 3

Before Jimmy Garoppolo took over at quarterback, the 49ers (49ers 2-10, 0 percent) had been outscored by 104 points. Since his promotion, they have outscored their opponents by 8 points. While Deshaun Watson was the quarterback of the Texans (4-8, < 1 percent), they outscored their opponents by 46 points. Since his injury, they have been outscored by 40. It’s a shame the two promising young quarterbacks will not get a chance to face each other, but with just Garoppolo active, the 49ers might be in line for their first in-season winning streak since Weeks 11 and 12 of the 2014 season. Pick: 49ers

Monday’s Matchup

Patriots at Dolphins, 8:30 p.m., ESPN

Line: Patriots by 11.5

The Patriots (10-2, > 99 percent) had severe flaws at one point this season, but it is getting harder to remember what they were. Their offense has consistently produced, their defense has seemingly worked out its kinks, and they have won eight games in a row about as quietly as a team can. Losing Rob Gronkowski to a suspension does not help, but it should hardly stop them from beating the Dolphins (5-7, 3 percent). The only drama will be whether they can cover the enormous spread. Pick: Dolphins.

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