by Ryan Meehan
The next to the last week of the NFL season is here, and before we could even wrap week fifteen up ESPN released news that they have agreed to a deal with broadcaster and former Super Bowl Winning Coach Jon Gruden that will ensure he’ll be in the Monday Night Football booth until 2021. It will never cease to amaze me that a guy who was such a good coach ended up being such an awful broadcaster. According to Lil’ Jon Chuckie G, every player who touches the football at any given time should be at the top of everybody’s Pro Bowl ballot. I’m shocked that a guy who used to be so cut-throat and so critical of his own players has immediately become such a pushover for the league. I’m a fan of the whole science of how the product is presented as an entertainment product, and I can’t tell you the name of one person I know that’s a fan of him. Thankfully he’s just on for one night a week, and much to our delight there are several games on this weekend that are going to be killer. The first one isn’t exactly one of those games, but after that shitstorm synopsis let’s fast forward to the rest of the week and take a look at what we think will go down in week sixteen of the 2014 NFL season.
Thursday Night Football: Tennessee Titans (2-12) +3 at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12) (40.5)
Can we flex games out of Thursday night? How funny would it be if both of these teams just kept taking a knee in order to throw the game so they could get a better selection in April? The fans in the stadium would hate it, but those of us at home who didn’t pay for a ticket would head up to the local bar just to see how long it would last before one team finally caved in and starting actually running plays or a full-on riot ensued. Given the fight that the Titans instigated in the Jets game last week, they would be much more suited to defend themselves than trying to stop the run – at which they are dead last in the league. Just when it seemed like nothing could get worse for the Titans, their 2015 home schedule was announced this week, and if you are living in that area and contemplating getting season tickets – well, let’s just say it may not be worth the money. To put things into perspective, here are the games that will be played in LP Field next year: The Titans will face the Colts (but you knew that already…), the Jaguars, the Texans, the Dolphins, Bills, Falcons, Panthers, and then whoever in the AFC West places where the Titans finish this year in the North. Don’t everybody all line up for season passes at once, folks. Titans barely cover in an awful football game.
Jaguars 20, Titans 16
Saturday Afternoon: Philadelphia Eagles (9-5) -8.5 at Washington Redskins (3-11) (50.5)
If there is one NFC team that the Philadelphia Eagles would love to see right now, I’d have to think it would be the Redskins. After two tough home losses to two very solid teams in the Cowboys and the Seahawks, the Eagles head to a stadium in which a very poor franchise has virtually no home field advantage whatsoever. It should also be a break for the Eagles run defense, who will now be defending against a 20th ranked attack that used to be in the top ten just a few short weeks ago. A lot of that has to do with the fact that no matter who is starting at QB for the Redskins, they have a pathetic passing attack at best. That’s just one reason three in a row at home and six in a row altogether, and it’s also why I like the Eagles to easily cover this spread. I’m not sold on the Eagles topping 30 points again just yet, so hold off on the over for the point total.
Eagles 29, Redskins 15
Saturday Night Football: San Diego Chargers (8-6) +2.5 at San Francisco 49ers (7-7) (41.5)
If sure that when the schedule was made, this looked like a fantastic Saturday night game for week sixteen: You expected to have the San Francisco 49ers jockeying for a better playoff seed so they wouldn’t have to listen to Richard Sherman scream at Erin Andrews after the final play, and likewise you would have expected the newly revitalized San Diego Chargers to be comfortably on their way to a ten wins season. You’d also expect this game to take place as the sun was going down on a beautiful Northern California Saturday, but it would be very fitting if it poured rain like crazy during this one as the Bolts have lost five out of their last eight after a 5-1 start and the 49ers have become the blueprint for how to not run a pro football team. Chargers wideout Keenan Allen will sit in this game, which sucks for Rivers because he is a popular target. Their offensive line has struggled, and they can’t run the ball very well at the moment. (Going out on a limb here and saying that Branden Oliver is not a long term solution). However the San Francisco 49ers are such a mess right now I’m not sure that any of this makes a difference. Point total here will be way under, and I like San Diego to win here given they still have something to play for albeit a long shot.
Chargers 13, 49ers 6
Sunday: Baltimore Ravens (9-5) -5 at Houston Texans (7-7) (41.5)
The Ravens could legitimately win out, finish 11-5 and still miss the playoffs. It’s not bloody likely that’ll happen, but for a team that has won four out its last five games I’m sure they’d be disappointed. This is a total trap game for them, as the Texans I’m sure are very disappointed that they can’t seem to get over .500 to save their lives. ESPN analyst Tedy Brushci said earlier this week that he thinks the Ravens are a playoff caliber team, but that is very different than being a team who will actually make the playoffs. Playoff caliber teams miss the playoffs every year, and teams that they could probably beat in a one game playoff usually end up taking their spot for whatever reason. The most disappointing stats in the league last week came from the Ravens’ matchup against the Jaguars, in which Justin Forsett rushed for less than 50 yards and Flacco only putting up 221 yards against a pathetic defense. The Texans have nothing to really play for here, and Baltimore does. I like the Ravens to cover barely
Ravens 23, Texans 17
Cleveland Browns (7-7) +4 at Carolina Panthers (5-8-1) (39.5)
The media circus surrounding Johnny Manziel’s rocky start in Cleveland is living proof that ESPN loves to hype up rookies. Turtleboy did a great piece about this whole mess on Sunday, in which he basically stated that he enjoyed seeing Johnny Football get his ass handed to him because he might just not have a game that translates to the NFL. I had argued on Tuesday that it might actually help him in the long-run, but after reading that TB piece I am more leaning in the direction of “maybe there isn’t a long-run” for Johnny Manziel in the first place. It certainly wouldn’t shock Browns fans, who have been dealing with a constant carousel of QBs since Bernie Kosar stopping sending Kevin Mack hate mail about fumbling in the 1987 Championship Game. One of those quarterbacks was Derek Anderson, who finds himself in a very bad playoff hunt because of the Cam Newton accident. If for some reason they end up starting Newton instead of Anderson, they have no idea what they are doing and Ron Rivera should be given a coloring book for Christmas this year. Panthers win, but they don’t cover and it should be one ugly football game.
Panthers 18, Browns 16
Detroit Lions (10-4) -7.5 at Chicago Bears (5-9) (45.5)
If the Lions beat the Bears in Soldier Field on Sunday, they will guarantee themselves a spot in the 2015 postseason. They’ll deserve it too, because this team has fought through a lot of bullshit to keep pace with the Packers this year. Thankfully for their sake Green Bay lost to Buffalo this weekend, setting both of those teams up for that week 17 showdown. The Bears were invisible last week in the first three quarters at home against New Orleans, a team who by most accounts is not very good but handle Chicago with ease. In that contest the Bears continued to invent new ways to not score points, and has anybody even explained the concept of a checkdown to Jay Cutler? It looks like it won’t matter, because they are going to start Clausen in this game. They also can’t run the ball very well either, a problem that likely won’t improve given the strength of Detroit’s D-Line. I still expect the Bears to score a couple late touchdowns when the Lions start resting guys for next week just a bit too early. Detroit will win, but won’t cover and they will barely sneak out of here with a W in a one possession game. Point total should be the under on this one, the Lions won’t score a ton of points but I don’t expect Chicago to do so either.
Lions 23, Bears 17
Green Bay Packers (10-4) -11.5 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-12) (48.5)
Let’s get real for a second: The Green Bay Packers’ wide receiving corps did not do wonders in making the case for Aaron Rodgers’ MVP bid. As someone whose own favorite team is quarterbacked by Eli Manning, I can assure you that sometimes it’s not always the fault of the signal caller. In fact, the Packers logged a total of seven drops in a pathetic performance that had to have been frustrating for every one of McCarthy’s boys. Rodgers took a brief shot at the officiating crew during his press conference, suggesting that Buffalo’s corners and safeties were getting away with a lot of physical contact in the game. This was a smart move for a couple of reasons: First, almost everybody criticizes the officiating so there’s no harm done there as long as you stay classy about it which Rodgers never seems to have much of a problem doing. Secondly, he didn’t publicly call out his guys for those drops which was a great move because he needs those wideouts to make those catches in the coming weeks. This is the perfect setup for the Packers to come back firing on all cylinders in this game, and it happens against a team that may or may not be told to lay down in order to get a better draft pick. Tampa is a very disgusting looking football team at the moment, and I can’t see any conceivable way they pull off the upset as there is virtually no home field advantage here. Packers get back on track and cover easily, but stay away from the total bet for sure.
Packers 34, Buccaneers 13
Kansas City Chiefs (8-6) +3 at Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5) (46.5)
For the Steelers, the goal is simple: Beat the Chiefs, and they are in the playoffs. They’ve won six out of their last eight, and were able to hold on the road against a very hungry Falcons team in the Georgia Dome last weekend. The Steelers are 9-5, so although this game is important there are still numerous scenarios where they could make the playoffs if they lose here. The Kansas City Chiefs on the other hand are fighting an uphill battle. They have to win this game and next week’s divisional showdown against the Chargers to get in at 10-6, and their offense has been very “Game-manager-like” as opposed to being one that can actually put up points in a shootout against a team like the Steelers. Luckily for them this won’t be one, but unfortunately they won’t win it either. Fine with me, I have no desire to watch the Chiefs in the playoffs. I like Pittsburgh to cover what I consider to be an easy spread at home, but I’d stay under for the point total or avoid it altogether.
Steelers 24, Chiefs 14
Minnesota Vikings (6-8) +7.5 at Miami Dolphins (7-7) (42.5)
The Dolphins have been eclipsed by the Buffalo Bills as the “who to watch” AFC Team over the past month or so, and even though they beat the Bills in that stretch they’ve lost four out of their last six and have become buried underneath the legions of teams trying to make the postseason in that conference. Which is a shame, because for the most part they are playing pretty well and all four of those losses have come against really good teams that should probably make the playoffs. But it’s too late for all that now, and this is precisely why those tiebreakers are so important come mid-December. The Vikings have been playing some inspired ball as of late, and almost took one from the Lions at Ford Field last week. I hate the spread on this one, but I can understand why the Dolphins are the favorite especially at home. Miami wins but doesn’t cover, and like a lot of other games here I don’t like the point total on this one either.
Dolphins 23, Vikings 19
New England Patriots (11-3) -11.5 at New York Jets (3-11) (47.5)
The Patriots are tied with Denver for the number one seed in the AFC, but would host every playoff game if they win out as they own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Broncos. This shouldn’t be much of a challenge here, as New York has had an excruciatingly long season filled with numerous offensive failures caused by their depressing quarterback situation. If they’re sitting here at 3-11 and wishing they hadn’t traded Mark Sanchez away, I can think of at least ten other options they should have explored before the season started which would have resulted in a better record. Of the Pats’ final two games, this is the least of their worries as they have to face a very hot Bills defense next week. Believe it or not I like the Jets to give Brady a lot of problems in this one early, but then I expect him to pull away in the third quarter and never look back. Pats cover as Jets run for it once the air attack gets going.
Patriots 30, Jets 16
Atlanta Falcons (5-9) +7 at New Orleans Saints (6-8) (56)
Well boys and girls, this is the moment we’ve all sort of been waiting for but not really. If you were to tell me four years ago that these two teams would be meeting in the Superdome for a week sixteen match-up where they were fighting for a playoff spot, I would have probably assumed that they were both 9-5 heading in and that the Saints’ home field advantage would be too much for Atlanta to handle so New Orleans would win easily. Flash forward to 2014, and I’d be wrong about that entire sentence. Both of these teams face the fact that neither one of them can mathematically finish over .500, and the Superdome has become a place that opponents hardly fear upon entry. The Falcons lost a tough game at home to Pittsburgh last week, dropping them to 5-9 on the season but still very much alive in the NFC Slouch. The Saints won big against the Bears on Monday night, but given what Cutler and company put on the field that evening that’s hardly an achievement. We’d all like to believe that whoever wins this division has a legitimate shot at what will essentially be an upset in the first round of the postseason, but then again if you buy that angle I have some lakefront property on the moon that is gorgeous this time of year and I’ll sell it to you at a price you can’t beat. Those of us who don’t use our fingers to eat mashed potatoes are all secretly hoping that the Falcons win here so that the competition committee doesn’t have any choice but to fix this broken playoff system. Although my dreams rarely come true, I am looking for the Saints to fall flat on their face and for Matt Ryan to have a huge day here. This spread is ridiculous and even though I’m going out on a limb for this one, I think I should be allowed a wish like this every once in a while.
Falcons 30, Saints 17
New York Giants (5-9) +5 at St. Louis Rams (6-8) (43.5)
Even though neither of these teams have a chance in hell at making the postseason, I am kind of interested to see what they do in this game. For the Giants, this should be an indicator of who they will move forward with at several different positions – particularly at offensive line and secondary. As for St. Louis, even though they have a tough road game next week in Seattle they could technically still finish .500 if they win this game at home on Sunday. And I wouldn’t be shocked if they were somehow able to beat the Seahawks, as that’s the sort of unpredictability they’ve brought to the league this season. Impressive wins against great teams show that they are ready to take the next step in a difficult division, and don’t intend to wait until next year to set that process in motion. (A year in which they will get a healthy Sam Bradford back) They don’t seem to be intimidated by anybody at the moment, so going toe to toe against a squad whose only wins since early October have been against Washington and Tennessee should be a cake job. Rams cover easily and this one could be sloppy. Don’t touch any point total when it comes to the Giants even though I am picking the over.
Rams 32, Giants 14
Buffalo Bills (8-6) -7 at Oakland Raiders (2-12) (39)
The Buffalo Bills shocked the world last week when they planted one on a Green Bay offense that had previously appeared invincible. So even in the Oakland Colesium this shouldn’t be too tall of an order against an interim coach. Buffalo has an easy one this week, and it will seem like a scrimmage compared to when they step on the field at Foxboro week seventeen. But if they win this one, they are guaranteed to finish over .500 which is a lot more than most people expected out of them this season. I haven’t looked into this game too much so I’m not really sure who is starting for the Raiders, but I did read something a week and a half back that said Ryan Leaf got out of prison so anything could happen here. The Bills still aren’t very explosive on offense, but they run well so I like this to be a low scoring game much like the oddsmakers do. Buffalo covers and avoid the point total like the plague.
Bills 24, Raiders 15
Indianapolis Colts (10-4) +2.5 at Dallas Cowboys (10-4) (55.5)
A great match-up between two playoff bound teams, this here is your interconference game of the week. The Cowboys avenged an embarrassing home loss to the Eagles on Thanksgiving by smacking the Eagles down in Philly last week, and the Colts seemed to really struggle in a 17-10 home victory against the Texans. Perhaps that’s the best scenario that the Cowboys could envision for themselves as they are 7-0 on the road this year, but alas this game is in Arlington. I’m very torn with this pick, because both teams have several holes that allow me to prevent myself from considering them elite. The Colts still can’t run the ball very well at all, and at times their tackling is very poor. The Cowboys on the other hand look like a Super Bowl team at times, only to disappear for quarters on end and leave Romo with that pained expression on his face that only he can sell. Andrew Luck is going to make the playoffs every year for the next half of a decade and there isn’t much urgency here as the Colts have already clinched the AFC South. Tony on the other hand has to win big and win now, so I like the Cowboys to cover an easy spread and the point total is too close to call.
Cowboys 31, Colts 24
Sunday Night Football: Seattle Seahawks (10-4) -9.5 at Arizona Cardinals (11-3) (36.5)
My guess would be that this is the game where the Seahawks take over first place in the NFC West. If that happens, both of these teams would be 11-4, but Seattle would own the tie breaker because they would have swept the season series against Arizona. Before Carson Palmer got hurt the second time, as most of you know I was pretty lit off of the Arizona Cardinals. I was really hoping that they’d finish 14-2 or something ridiculous like that to scare the shit out of the traditionalists. Truth be told they were never really capable of scoring a whole lot of points against anybody this season, so when Palmer went down the rest of that offense went with him. That’s a difficult predicament to be in if you’re facing the Seattle Seahawks this time of year, what with Richard Sherman mocking everything that steps in his path – and that’s just off the field. The Seahawks aren’t just trying to beat Arizona, they’re testing out that field in hopes that they will be back there the first week in February for the Super Bowl. To complicate matters, the Cardinals will be starting Ryan Lindley and the rest is just a recipe for disaster. Arizona also has a solid defense, and as we all know Russell Wilson takes some time getting everything into place before he finds his offensive rhythm. However I do believe that he will eventually kick into gear and regardless I expect Marshawn Lynch to have a huge day in the desert. Seahawks cover a rather larger spread for this game, but the more I think about it the more I get it.
Seahawks 27, Cardinals 14
Monday Night Football: Denver Broncos (11-3) -3.5 at Cincinnati Bengals (9-4-1) (47.5)
Crazy as it may seem, the biggest Peyton Manning fans in America this upcoming Monday will be Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger. The Ravens and the Steelers can’t wait to see the Denver Broncos come into Cincinnati and clean Dandy Dalton’s clock, which I’m sure has a really goofy looking pendulum and a hefty display of red pubic hair. On paper Denver should run away with this game and it’s not even close. Now that they’ve found their running back in C.J. Anderson, it opens Peyton Manning up to throw to any one of his available targets even more than he has been doing. Plus, the Bengals have already been shut out once this year by Manning’s old team which is clearly not as talented as the Broncos. Slam dunk, right? Wrong. I love the Bengals in this game. It’s on a Monday Night and by this point the Patriots will already be one home win over the Bills away from home field advantage, the exact sort of thing that gets to Peyton Manning mentally even though he’d never admit it to the press in a million years. Don’t get me wrong – Andy Dalton is going to get his dick ripped off in the first round of the playoffs right on schedule again this year, but I do believe that Cincinnati will win this game. And to be brutally honest with you in this case, I hope I’m not wrong.
Bengals 27, Broncos 17
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