by Ryan Meehan
Week fourteen is here, and the race for the playoffs is in full swing. The race for the AFC is heating up both at the top and for the two remaining Wild Card seeds, and the NFC is turning into a real mess for any team that isn’t the Atlanta Falcons. This week was a rough one because every day there has been more and more information coming out about the Javon Belcher murder/suicide, and that’s not something we thought we’d have to deal with heading into a busy playoff race. But it happened, and although we may never know just why it happened, we still have a lot of football to cover so let’s take a look at the games and what week fourteen’s matchups have to offer.
Thursday Night Football: Denver Broncos (9-3) at Oakland Raiders (3-9)
The Denver Broncos have finally found their savior, if only for just a couple more years. I don’t foresee the Raiders really being a problem for them, even on a short week. Oakland’s defense should be very easy for Peyton Manning to pick apart and as for when they are on offense, I have to believe that the Denver’s D line will eat them up. Oakland has the biggest point differential of any other team in the entire league, at -141 and they have lost five games in a row. So obviously this is not a team that just happens to be losing a lot of close games, and nobody sucks that bad by accident. Look for Denver to be testing out some new plays in this one – there’s almost no way in the world that they can lose here and they’ll be looking for some playbook add-ons with the playoffs fast approaching.
Meehan’s Pick: Broncos 26, Raiders 17
Baltimore Ravens (9-3) at Washington Redskins (6-6)
Baltimore is coming off a heartbreaking last minute loss at home to the Steelers, while Washington earned every second of that victory on Monday night against the Giants. There was something about the way they failed to show up at the end of the PIT game that I just can’t get out of my head. They weren’t able to use their running game effectively (might very well have been gassed) and Flacco wasn’t really fully with it. (I still have some Joe Flacco-related questions that have not been answered) This is a tough must win for the Ravens due to the fact that they are now in a three way tie with New England and Denver for getting that wild card week off. And it’s crucial for Baltimore, because they have a tough game here and they also still have to play the Giants so nobody will need that week off more than them. Even though this goes against almost every statistical category, I am going to say that the Skins pull this one off because that place had a very unique electricity to it Monday night that I hadn’t seen in a very long time. Robert Griffin the Third looks painfully average on paper in the pocket, but what he can bring to a home game is huge because he’s always going to be good fro two or three really explosive plays in a game. Plus, their strength is in running the football anyway and not only will the Ravens have to worry about Griffin, they’ll also be forced to contain running back Alfred Morris who ran for 122 yards on a very strong Giants defense last week. Taking Washington in a close game.
Meehan’s Pick: Redskins 18, Ravens 16
Dallas Cowboys (6-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (7-5)
Dallas struggled a little bit against the Eagles and gave up 33 points in that game at home. They were down early and they didn’t really start to hit their stride until the end of the second quarter. This game will be very different as they head into HamCo to face the Bengals where Cincy is younger, hungrier, and at the moment playing hotter. They’ve won four in a row and one of those games were against the current Super Bowl champion. Dallas on the other hand had to struggle to put together last Sunday night’s win. The Cowboys suffer from a very bizarre case of football bipolar disorder, and what’s even worse is sometimes they can go in and out of any of those personalities three or four times a game. Some days it works, other days writer like me wonder how they get some much primetime air. Can they compete with the Cincinnatis and Pittsburghs of the league? When they are on, of course they can…Will they? I’m going to say no here. I’ll probably say no when they play they play Pittsburgh the following week as well.
Meehan’s Pick: Bengals 31, Cowboys 27
St. Louis Rams (5-6-1) at Buffalo Bills (5-7)
The Rams seem to be getting much better. They don’t appear to be entirely threatening, but they’ll cut ya’…In those two games they played against the Niners I’ve really grown to dig the Rams and their current situation. I’ve heard a few people suggest that since Bradford hasn’t won a lot of games in his tenure as Rams QB that maybe they should start looking elsewhere, and I couldn’t disagree more. Plus, there’s nobody that is going to be available in the draft that is as good as he has been or has the NFL potential that Bradford’s structure would dictate. They’ve found their guy & if Stephen Jackson can stay healthy next year they are a legitimate contender and the NFC West might get back at the football gods for everything they’ve been made fun of for over the past decade. The Bills are 5-7? That ought to show you how little attention I’ve paid to the AFC East because it’s so painfully obvious that New England is going to win every year. There’s a part of me that wants to pick the Bills here because it’s outside in Buffalo on a December afternoon, but there’s another part of me that has serious doubts about the existence of the Bills’ offense altogether, so I’ll take the Rams by a field goal.
Meehan’s Pick: Rams 26, Bills 23
Philadelphia Eagles (3-9) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-6)
Andy Reid has named Nick Foles his starter for the remainder of the season, which is a good thing for Eagles fans to see if the kid can develop some skills while it doesn’t count. If he can prove it, he may very well be the focal point of their offense in 2013. But it’s unlikely that whoever will be the coach that replaces Reid next year will be as pass-friendly as Andy has – he’s been the most pass-balanced coach of the Super Bowl era. The Buccaneers have lost a couple close games so far that would have put them in a perfect position to make a run for it, but I still don’t think they will get in. Having said that, they ought to beat the shit out of the Eagles who have lost eight in a row. Philly is also 1-5 on the road and 1-8 in conference play, so it goes without saying that you’re going to want to take the over.
Meehan’s Pick: Buccaneers 38, Eagles 17
Atlanta Falcons (11-1) at Carolina Panthers (3-9)
As nuts as this sounds, I can see this game being closer than one might expect. It’s being played outside and on the Panthers’ home turf, and both of these teams are due for the opposite of what they’ve been getting. In any other year the Saints would have never made the kind of mistakes they did against the Falcons last Thursday night, and I still don’t think that Atlanta’s defense is nearly as good as the power rankings make them out to be. On the other hand, the Panthers are set up for the perfect upset where Cam Newton can re-establish himself as the 2012 version of the 2011 Cam Newton. Even though there is no chance in hell that they could ever make the playoffs this year, this is a statement game and I have to think that they want this one bad after not knowing what to think and how to play last week against Kansas City. But can I bring myself to pick them? Of course not. I would love to not be a sissy, but I don’t have a lot of self-esteem issues so I would much rather be right than tough.
Meehan’s Pick: Falcons 23, Panthers 21
Kansas City Chiefs (2-10) at Cleveland Browns (4-8)
The Cleveland Browns have won two straight and done so in decent fashion. I have this weird theory that for some reason the Browns are going to have to take advantage of every single game they play outside of the AFC North. In the years to come they will have to develop their offense to the point where they can be competitive, all the while keeping pace with the other three teams in that division. This is a perfect example of what I call a “definitely-must-win” game for them now and in the coming years. A “Definitely-Must-Win” game is one that is even more crucial than a must-win because it assumes that the rest of your schedule is set up in a way that you simply can’t afford to lose. And I don’t mean that in a half-assed ESPN commentator kind of way, I mean it in a “It’s fifty degrees below zero and you’re out of bus fare” kind of way. The Browns literally cannot afford to lose these games as a franchise. As for Kansas City yes they won last week but as everything is finally starting to sink in regarding last week’s events, I can hardly inagine that being out of the playoff race they can think of anything but football. They will lose every game for the remainder of the season.
Meehan’s Pick: Browns 27, Chiefs 12
San Diego Chargers (4-8) at Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5)
The Pittsburgh Steelers have to be the heavy favorite here, because they won a nail biter on the road against a tough division opponent that had only lost two games on the year. Roethlisberger may or may not play, and if I were Mike Tomlin if he were experiencing any sort of severe pain whatsoever I’d yank him and throw Batch in there. Let’s face it, if the Steelers can’t beat the Chargers in their own house in December, they don’t really deserve to be in the playoffs anyway so might as well roll the dice. If you’re Pittsburgh you have to expect that the Bengals are going to beat the Cowboys so this is one you have to be able to put away, and put away early. The Steelers’ running game has improved in recent weeks and on clutch third down scenarios they have put it down. San Diego is bracing for the inevitable changes that will be occurring when the season is over, or worse maybe even earlier. They don’t stand a chance at winning this game on the road, and where three years ago this would be a marquee matchup heading into the last few weeks of the regular season I can honestly say I have no interest in this game whatsoever.
Meehan’s Pick: Steelers 31, Chargers 22
Tennessee Titans (4-8) at Indianapolis Colts (8-4)
A few weeks back I was telling a close friend of mine that out of all of the sub-.500 teams the Titans had the most promise. Not only was I proven wrong, luckily I didn’t know any Redskins fans because otherwise I’d be covered in urine right now. Tennessee had the best shot at the time, they had a veteran QB in Hasselbeck as well as a young guy in Locker, and a hell of a running back in Chris Johnson with lightning speed. But they still aren’t racking up any yards in the air at all, and what’s even worse for their timing is they seem like a teetering bowling pin ready to fall at even the slightest rumbling. Which of course means that this is an awful time for them to run into Indianapolis, who is an absolute nightmare to a team like the Titans. They are in the process of going from one of the worst teams in NFL history to the possibility of winning double digit games, and they will be doing so under the direction of interim head coach Bruce Arians who seems to be getting very little credit for all that he has done for that franchise. Arians is of course running the Colts due to the complications that have resulted due to cancer taking an unnecessary shot at head coach Chuck Pagano, who will also be in attendance on Sunday. Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but the Colts should roll easily here.
Meehan’s Pick: Colts 32, Titans 13
New York Jets (5-7) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10)
As of press time, Rex Ryan has not decided who will start for the New York Jets. It’s hard to believe that the Jets could still finish over .500. They won’t, but I’m getting the feeling that they will go with Sanchez because it’s the easy choice and the New York Jets don’t seem like they are up to any challenges anymore. The Jaguars may or may not still be a professional football franchise, but they will at least get to play this game in their own stadium. The sad part about the result of this game is that the Jets will probably win, but even worse will be the fact that whoever starts at quarterback will get most of the credit. You know their defense isn’t going to show up big, and as strange as it is to say Tebow gives them the best shot at winning. Both of these teams are ranked near the bottom when it comes to overall offense, and it’s not like anybody on either side other than Maurice Jones-Drew will be playing for anything other than stats or a bigger paycheck next year. Let’s just say for the sake of argument that the Jets win by 6.
Meehan’s Pick: Jets 20, Jaguars 14
Chicago Bears (8-4) at Minnesota Vikings (6-6)
The Bears lost a rough one at home last week against Seattle, and the Vikings were simply no match for the Packers. Both of these squads took it on the face and they deserved it. This one has the potential for a level of sloppiness that could be legendary. When the Bears aren’t dialed in, Cutler gets frustrated and has problems with time management. But at least he has some concept of time management, whereas Christian Ponder doesn’t have a whole lot of experience engineering game winning drives. Although I can’t say that I disagree with the play calling, just because you have Adrian Peterson doesn’t mean that you should grind him into the ground every drive. I look for this one to come down to a fumble by the Vikings and for the Bears to walk away with an exceptionally lucky win. Added Note: Brian Urlacher is going to miss two to four weeks with a grade two hamstring injury. That may mean that he very well may not play the rest of the season, and you have to wonder if this may be the end of an era for a guy who said in the middle of the season that he would retire if the Bears win the Super Bowl. I couldn’t be any less of a Bears fan, but it would be sad to see it go down like that. I’ve always liked Urlacher a lot, I like the way he plays and I loved the way he defended Jay Cutler after the NFC Championship game a couple years back. I hope he’s gpt at least one more year left in him. Now, Jared Allen? I couldn’t care less what happens to that hillbilly.
Meehan’s Pick: Bears 19, Vikings 17
Miami Dolphins (5-7) at San Francisco 49ers (8-3-1)
The whole quarterback “controversy” surrounding San Francisco continues to puzzle me to no end – so Harbaugh likes to go with the guy who’s got the hot hand, does that also mean that he doesn’t like to go with the guy who might not have the hot hand? You could certainly argue that the guy who doesn’t would be Kaepernick seeing as how he just lost to the Rams. OK, we’ll give him a break since that game was in St. Louis…but when you think about it technically he wasn’t able to pull off a win against them at home the first time, and let’s not forget it wasn’t his job when the season started. I do hear the argument that he does open up the offense a little bit more and give the 49ers more options since he can run the ball so well, but in all honesty how much more can they possibly run the ball? Either way, this is a must win for the 49ers. Regardless of the fact that they are a very complete team and have an extremely driven head coach that will not settle for failure, I have to think that if they lose this game all of the other NFC playoff contenders will be grinding their teeth and drooling over playing San Francisco first. The Dolphins have played some of the most respectable ugly football of the season, so you never know they might be over-inspired here and looking to play spoiler. As hard as it is to believe, they could still finish 9-7 if they win out and with the way that the AFC North seems to be beating them piss out of itself who knows what could happen?
Meehan’s Pick: 49ers 25, Dolphins 13
Arizona Cardinals (4-8) at Seattle Seahawks (7-5)
If all goes as planned, this will be the Arizona Cardinals’ ninth loss in a row. That’s likely to happen against Seattle, who is playing with a newfound sense of confidence after Russell Wilson was able to lead them on a game-winning touchdown drive against the Bears last week. Seattle is still in the driver’s seat and although mathematically they don’t control their own destiny, really the only other team they have to worry about creeping up on them is the Redskins. We all know abut the Cardinals and their recent struggles to remain relevant, but these division games can be tough. But in this case, the game in question is in Seattle where the Seahawks haven’t lost a game all year. I like the Seahawks to improve to 8-5 here, they are going to need to show some of that defensive strength that they had displayed earlier on in the year but they look good heading into the playoffs.
Meehan’s Pick: Seahawks 26, Cardinals 15
New Orleans Saints (5-7) at New York Giants (7-5)
This is about as much of a trap game for the Giants as it gets: They are coming off of a one point loss against the Washington Redskins in which they looked very undisciplined and committed several penalties in situations where they couldn’t afford to. On the other hand, the Saints are having a lot of problems as well. They looked terrible against Atlanta last Thursday and for once it’s their offense that is responsible for their poor play. Which may actually be a blessing in disguise, I’m sure there has to be some refuge taken in the fact that for once they don’t have to answer to giving up 30 or 35 points an outing. The New York Giants have to exercise their skills in short memory and really come out firing. They need a big play early from Victor Cruz to scare the Saints back into the secondary, and then really start to pound the running game. Bradshaw needs to have a big day, and for once the Giants are going to have to put their balls on the chopping block and throw David Wilson to the wolves. Although I don’t believe that both of those things will happen, I’d be willing to bet that one of them will and it will probably be Bradshaw stepping up. It’s still going to be close, and I look forward to seeing the Saints drop to 5-8.
Meehan’s Pick: Giants 29, Saints 26
Sunday Night Football: Detroit Lions (4-8) at Green Bay Packers (8-4)
The Lions probably feel some sense of despair as they lost a very close game last week to Indianapolis in what I believe had to be a very embarrassing situation for a defense that prides themselves on being able to kick people in the crotch and then step on their heads. The Packers will be in Lambeau ready to make sure that the Lions are exposed even further than they have been to this point. It’s hard to imagine that’s even possible, but if anyone can make it happen it’s Green Bay. At the moment, they hold the tie-breaker over Chicago and looked very good against the Vikings last week. Aaron Rodgers still looks like he hasn’t slept since the playoff loss against New York last season, but somehow he’s managed to keep everything together. This has been a season where the referees are solely responsible for one of their losses, and then he came out just a few weeks later and handed the Texans their only defeat to date in front of a national viewing audience. He’s done a very solid job of holding that franchise together, and he will never look nearly as cartoonish as Matthew Stafford. Packers will also get some players back on defense which should be to their advantage, I look for them to cover the spread.
Meehan’s Pick: Packers 36, Lions 20
Monday Night Football: Houston Texans (11-1) at New England Patriots (9-3)
This will be the most fun matchup to watch all week. The Texans, having their most successful season to date ten years into their franchise’s life cycle, will head to Massachusetts to take on the three time world Champion Patriots and Tom Brady. Both teams beat divisional foes in last weeks matchup, and this is obviously the game of the week even if you don’t have cable. I expect this one to be the highest rated Monday Night Football game of the year, and I can’t wait for it. The Texans have looks amazing this year, but they do play in the AFC South and the only team in that division that’s worth a fart in the wind is the Colts, who they haven’t even played yet but will face in two of the last three weeks. As much as I don’t want to, I am going to have to choose experience over a record that likely contains a little hot air, especially at Gillette Stadium. I don’t want to overanalyze this one too much, I want to enjoy the game.
Meehan’s Pick: Patriots 24, Texans 21
Bonus Comment: During a segment on Sunday Night Football that I usually love, Bob Costas made an ass of himself on national television when he made comments regarding the death of Javon Belcher. In case you missed it, Costas quoted Jason Whitlock who had suggested in his column over the weekend that if handguns were not so readily available Belcher and his girlfriend would still be alive. Now, I’m not a sports broadcaster. I don’t work for any major network and am not currently under any contract to keep the focus of my output solely on sports. Therefore, I can talk about whatever I want.
There is no doubt in my mind that I could go on for ten pages about how this is ridiculous and hypocritical. I actually like Costas, but this was too much for me. All I will say is this: Costas has the luxury of being on two shows on NBC, one of which is a sportsweekly TV magazine full of stories along this vein. Instead, he chose to go on to the other show and recite an opinion of Jason Whitlock (who is a very bad columnist and is very poor at what he does) in order to spray his belief system on everybody. I could sit here all night and tell you why I don’t agree with that, but I do know that he is paid to tell stories devoid of an agenda during that segment and that’s the opposite of what happened Sunday night.
In the meantime I can’t do anything about the current state of gun control or lack thereof in this country, so when you come here to read about football I will talk about football. This should be a great week so enjoy the games and stay warm!
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