Three-quarters of the way home and the playoff races in the NFL are predictably jumbled. Except, that is, for the Indianapolis Colts’ status as the clear top team in the league.
Will they get to 16-0… and beyond? The odds remain against them, but what they’ve accomplished to this point is impressive. Three tough tests remain – at Jacksonville this week, at home against San Diego the following week, and at Seattle the week after that. Any one, or even more than one, could bust the Colts and reduce them to merely a very good club. It’ll be fun to see what transpires either way. Personally, I’m rooting for them. Coach Tony Dungy and QB Peyton Manning are class acts, and with all due respect to Don Shula and the 1972 Miami Dolphins, we need new blood at the perfection party.
But even more important to most fans is for the unexpected to continually crop up. Who thought Minnesota could go on an extended winning streak in the wake (pun intended) of the boat sex party that scarred the franchise less than two months ago? Did anyone – including the Dolphins themselves – believe that Miami could come back to beat Buffalo down 20 points? And how ‘bout the Bengals? Spanked Pittsburgh on the road and can clinch their division this week. Entertaining as heck.
Let’s see what goes down next. On to Week 14…
OVERALL PREDICTIONS, 2005
Straight-Up: 126-66 (66%) ATS: 103-82-5 (56%) Over/Under: 90-97-5 (48%)
Straight-Up: 12-4 ATS: 8-8 Over/Under: 9-7
New England (7-5) at Buffalo (4-8)
Line: Patriots favored by 3 (total points line is 37)
Series: The Patriots have won the last four meetings including a 21-16 home victory on Oct. 30.
Patriots Status Report: New England shut down the New York Jets at home last week, 16-3, and has a two-game lead over Miami in the AFC East.
Bills Status Report: Buffalo squandered a 23-3 lead at Miami Sunday and lost to the Dolphins, 24-23. The Bills are third in the AFC East – three games behind the first-place Patriots and four out of a wild-card berth.
Fantasy Tidbit: Buffalo QB J.P. Losman isn’t exactly a proven commodity just yet. But if he can manage three TD passes against a decent Miami secondary, imagine the possibilities going up against the patchwork Patriots. Translation – he might be a nice sleeper play this week.
Game Summary: Right out of the gate, we have a game in which my instincts say one thing, but the numbers say another. My gut is to take the Patriots – they’re favored and obviously know how to get it done. But the stats indicate a bias toward the host Bills, who are 4-2 at home and have allowed fewer than 14 points per game at home. Okay, so the smart and dignified thing would be to go with the numbers… but regarding the Patriots, my instincts have been pretty good, so I’ll stick with them another week.
Prediction: PATRIOTS, 20-13
Oakland (4-8) at New York Jets (2-10)
Line: Raiders favored by 3 (total points line is 37)
Series: The Jets won the last meeting, 27-24, at Oakland in 2003. However, the Raiders have won in four of their last five trips to The Meadowlands and are 9-3 against the Jets overall since 1990.
Raiders Status Report: Oakland lost at San Diego Sunday night, 34-10, and is last in the AFC West. The Raiders were eliminated from playoff contention with last week’s defeat.
Jets Status Report: The Jets offense struggled again in a 16-3 loss at New England Sunday.
Fantasy Tidbit: RB Lamont Jordan is a great play this week. He will be ultra-motivated facing his former Jets teammates and he’s coming off a game in which his fumble helped turn the momentum completely against his club at San Diego. Oh, and the Jets run defense is ranked 29 th in the league. Don’t start QB Kerry Collins, though. The Raiders may opt to bench him in favor of Marques Tuiasosopo.
Game Summary: The Raiders are not the sort of franchise which plays well when only pride is at stake. This team may very well cash it in, and while the Jets have been even worse this season, coach Herm Edwards instills more confidence in me from an emotional standpoint than does his counterpart, Norv Turner. Add in the QB change, and the Jets get a slight nod at home.
Prediction: JETS, 22-17
Cleveland (4-8) at Cincinnati (9-3)
Line: Bengals favored by 12 (total points line is 43)
Series: Cincinnati won the first meeting this season, at Cleveland, by a 27-13 score. The last meeting at Cincinnati was a wild 58-48 Bengals victory a year ago last month.
Browns Status Report: Cleveland came from ahead to lose at home to Jacksonville Sunday, 20-14. The Browns are tied for third in the AFC North with Baltimore, and are four games out of playoff spot with four weeks remaining.
Bengals Status Report: With last week’s 38-31 triumph at Pittsburgh, the Bengals put themselves in position to clinch the AFC North with a victory, and a loss by the Steelers this week. They also clinched a winning season for the first time since 1990.
Fantasy Tidbit: Bengals QB Carson Palmer is money this season, but RB Rudi Johnson has also been hot lately and the Browns rushing defense is rated 27 th in the NFL.
Game Summary: The prize is right in front of the Bengals now, and head coach Marvin Lewis has been great in keeping his guys focused. Add in that this is a rivalry game, and Cincy will have no trouble getting up for it. Palmer vs. Charlie Frye (or Trent Dilfer) is a bigtime mismatch.
Prediction: BENGALS, 35-17
Chicago (9-3) at Pittsburgh (7-5)
Line: Steelers favored by 5½ (total points line is 31)
Series: The Steelers have won two of the last three meetings, none recent.
Bears Status Report: Chicago won its eighth in a row Sunday, beating visiting Green Bay, 19-7. The Bears are currently the second seed in the NFC, and sport a two-game NFC North lead over Minnesota.
Steelers Status Report: Pittsburgh lost at home to Cincinnati, 38-31, and is now two games behind the Bengals in the AFC North. If the playoffs were to start this weekend Pittsburgh, which has lost three in a row, would be out. The Steelers trail San Diego by a game for the last wild-card berth.
Fantasy Tidbit: It’s really just a hunch, admittedly, but the Steelers defense is likely to be a bit testy after being dominated by the Cincinnati offense last week on its home field. The Bears don’t possess anywhere near the firepower – look for a strong defensive showing by the Steelers.
Game Summary: I’m willing to bet that QB Ben Roethlisberger will start this week, simply because his team needs him so much… not just for his tangible play, but the offense is obviously a lot more confident with him under center. Chicago has the defense, of course, to extend their own winning streak and the Steelers’ skid. But I can’t envision the Steelers dropping another home game… even if Big Ben is less than his usual self. However, the line is downright gaudy.
Prediction: STEELERS, 13-10
Indianapolis (12-0) at Jacksonville (9-3)
Line: Colts favored by 7½ (total points line is 42)
Series: Indianapolis won the first meeting this season at home, 10-3. The season series has been split each of the last two years.
Colts Status Report: The Colts remained unbeaten with a 35-3 pasting of visiting Tennessee last week. Indy can clinch the AFC South title with a victory, and can wrap up homefield advantage throughout the playoffs with a win combined with a loss by Denver.
Jaguars Status Report: Jacksonville rallied at Cleveland Sunday for a 20-14 victory, the Jaguars’ fifth in a row. They are currently the top wild-card qualifier in the AFC.
Fantasy Tidbit: TE Bryan Fletcher has scoring catches in three straight games. While it’s tempting to play the hot hand, you’re better off ignoring both Fletcher and Dallas Clark unless your alternative is truly second-rate.
Game Summary: Many have predicted that this will be Indy’s toughest test on the road to a perfect season. Personally, I believe the Colts’ trip to the Pacific Northwest and a date with Seattle in Week 16 will be the real measure… but anyway, look for both defenses to play well. Jacksonville’s D controlled the Colts in the first meeting, and can do so again although Indy’s offense is playing a lot better now than it was going into that initial encounter. Without QB Byron Leftwich, I don’t give the Jags much of a shot at an upset. But I believe their defense and this clash as a developing rivalry will keep things cozy.
Prediction: COLTS, 20-14
Houston (1-11) at Tennessee (3-9)
Line: Titans favored by 6½ (total points line is 44)
Series: Tennessee won the first meeting this season, 34-20 at Houston. But the Texans won the previous two meetings, including a 20-10 upset at Tennessee last season.
Texans Status Report: Houston keeps coming close, but last week was another defeat – 16-15 at Baltimore.
Titans Status Report: Tennessee was predictably trashed at Indianapolis Sunday, 35-3. The Titans can assure they don’t finish last in the AFC South with a victory.
Fantasy Tidbit: Texans WR Andre Johnson, who has put up disappointing numbers, could have a rare breakout game against an injury-depleted Tennessee secondary… but of course, don’t count on it.
Game Summary: As bad as the Titans essentially are, they have the advantage over Houston in just about every meaningful category. And Tennessee is playing at home, plus they already own a 2-TD victory over the Texans this year.
Prediction: TITANS, 27-14
St. Louis (5-7) at Minnesota (7-5)
Line: Vikings favored by 6½ (total points line is 45)
Series: The Rams have won five of the last seven in this series, including a 48-17 trashing of the Vikings at home in the most recent clash, two years ago.
Rams Status Report: St. Louis lost at home to Washington last week, 24-9. The Rams trail the current holders of the second NFC wild-card slot – a group that includes the Vikings -- by two games.
Vikings Status Report: Minnesota’s 21-16 triumph at Detroit Sunday was its fifth straight victory. The Vikings trail Chicago by two in the NFC North.
Fantasy Tidbit: The first instinct when two dome teams meet is to predict lots of points – especially with offensive traditions of these two franchises -- but the Vikings defense might be the best play of the whole bunch this week. Partly, it’s because the Vikings have too many receivers to bank on one, and two RBs to take opportunities from each other.
Game Summary: This is classic momentum game – the Vikings have it, the Rams don’t. Minnesota’s replacement QB is effective and experienced, St. Louis’ is inconsistent and wet behind the ear holes. Minnesota’s surprising run continues.
Prediction: VIKINGS, 31-16
Tampa Bay (8-4) at Carolina (9-3)
Line: Panthers favored by 5 (total points line is 37)
Series: Carolina won the first meeting this season at Tampa, 34-14, and has won the last seven meetings.
Buccaneers Status Report: Tampa Bay beat New Orleans at Baton Rouge last Sunday, 10-3. The Bucs are a game behind the Panthers in the NFC South, but are atop the wild-card standings.
Panthers Status Report: Carolina whipped Atlanta at home a week ago, 24-6, and is in first place in the AFC South. If the playoffs were to begin this week, the Panthers would be seeded third and open at home in the wild-card round.
Fantasy Tidbit: Carolina RB DeShaun Foster has unquestionably assumed the role of primary featured back. In yardage leagues, he has significant value. Bear in mind, though, that veteran Stephen Davis is likely to continue getting the ball close to the goal line.
Game Summary: The Panthers can take the South Division by the throat with a victory here, and considering how they’ve totally dominated this series and how well they’re playing currently, it seems virtually brainless not to stick with them. That’s why Tampa Bay will probably pull an upset… but I’m sure as heck not predicting anything of the kind.
Prediction: PANTHERS, 23-13
New York Giants (8-4) at Philadelphia (5-7)
Line: Giants favored by 7½ (total points line is 38)
Series: The Giants won this year’s first meeting just three weeks ago, 27-17. The Eagles have won the last four played at Philadelphia, however.
Giants Status Report: The Giants held off Dallas at home a week ago, 17-10, to take a one-game lead over the Cowboys in the NFC East.
Eagles Status Report: Philadelphia was utterly embarrassed at home by Seattle on Monday night, 42-0, and is last in the East.
Fantasy Tidbit: Philly’s run defense continues to be solid, but teams have consistently hurt the Eagles’ secondary this season. Even though this is a road game, and QB Eli Manning is decidedly less effective on the road, he could fare quite well in this matchup.
Game Summary: If you go strictly by the numbers, the Giants are a straight-forward pick here. But this is a team that hasn’t been real predictable, and while the Eagles certainly aren’t very good right now, neither are they 0-42 at home bad. Still, the home underdog thing that I’ve come to rely on in previous years hasn’t been even remotely reliable this season. The stats point to a decisive Giants’ victory, so I’ll trust them.
Prediction: GIANTS, 24-10
Washington (6-6) at Arizona (4-8)
Line: Redskins favored by 3½ (total points line is 40½)
Series: No recent meetings. Arizona has won seven of the last 10 games between the two played at Tempe Ariz.
Redskins Status Report: Washington whipped St. Louis on the road last week, 24-9. The Redskins trail the first-place New York Giants by two games in the NFC East, and are one game out of the final wild-card slot.
Cardinals Status Report: Arizona triumphed at San Francisco last weekend, 17-10. The Cardinals are third in the NFC West, and three games out of a playoff spot.
Fantasy Tidbit: Arizona QB Kurt Warner has been a fantasy machine of late, averaging 310 yards passing and about two TDs in his last four starts. The Redskins defense is solid, but the Cardinals passing game is worth sticking with.
Game Summary: Admittedly, my Upset of the Week selections have been, uh, upsettingly weak of late. But we persevere… and this is the contest that gets the nod this week. The Redskins are playing in their second straight contest a long way from DC, and the Cardinals are playing with more confidence on both sides of the ball. And while Arizona misses kicker Neil Rackers, its advantage on special teams is nevertheless substantial. I know, I know… it’s the Cardinals. But the Redskins are allowing nearly 24 points per game on the road… and that’s after yielding only nine to the Rams last week.
Prediction: CARDINALS, 24-21
San Francisco (2-10) at Seattle (10-2)
Line: Seahawks favored by 16 (total points line is 43½)
Series: Seattle won the first meeting this season at San Francisco, 27-25, as a late 49ers comeback bid was thwarted. The most recent meeting at Seattle was a 34-0 Seahawks win in September of 2004.
49ers Status Report: San Francisco lost at home to Arizona last week, 17-10. It was the 49ers’ fifth consecutive defeat and 10 th in 11 games.
Seahawks Status Report: Seattle routed host Philadelphia Monday night, 42-0, to clinch the NFC West Division title. The Seahawks currently sport the best record in the conference.
Fantasy Tidbit: Seattle’s defense posted a shutout last week… it shut out the 49ers last time San Francisco came north… I’m going out on the proverbial limb and recommending the Seattle defense and special teams. Forget what happened earlier this season at San Francisco.
Game Summary: Are you kidding me? Sixteen points? That is likely a franchise record for Seattle – most points favored by. In short, Seattle is a confident team playing extremely well, against a totally overmatched opponent. The stats say Seahawks by about 30… and, well, 30 would be more than 16.
Prediction: SEAHAWKS, 35-6
Miami (5-7) at San Diego (8-4)
Line: Chargers favored by 13½ (total points line is 45)
Series: The Dolphins have dominated this series, winning eight of the last 10 meetings and three of four at San Diego including a 26-10 triumph there in 2003.
Dolphins Status Report: Miami rallied from a 20-point deficit at home against Buffalo to score a 24-23 victory and remain within two games of first-place New England in the AFC East.
Chargers Status Report: San Diego won its fifth straight, routing Oakland 34-10 at home Sunday night. The Chargers are tied with Kansas City in the AFC West, a game behind Denver but in the sixth and final wild-card slot.
Fantasy Tidbit: San Diego stops the run better than anyone in the league, but its passing defense can be had… and Miami WR Chris Chambers is coming off a monster performance against a pretty solid Bills secondary. Count Chambers as a recommended start, regardless of who plays QB (but even moreso if it’s Sage Rosenfels).
Game Summary: The Chargers are explosive and on a roll, but Miami comes in having won two straight and with a big shot of adrenaline from last week’s amazing comeback. It’s not enough for an upset – the Chargers are awfully good at home – but I like Miami to be pesky enough to stay inside the two-touchdown spread, if for no other reason than because a second straight home game against an inferior foe might leave the Chargers a little lackadaisical, and perhaps anticipating next week’s trip to Indianapolis a little early.
Prediction: CHARGERS, 24-14
Baltimore (4-8) at Denver (9-3)
Line: Broncos favored by 14 (total points line is 40)
Series: The Ravens have a surprising advantage in this series, having won four of the last five meetings including a split at Denver. In the most recent meeting, Baltimore dominated at home, 26-6, in 2003.
Ravens Status Report: Baltimore held off Houston at home a week ago, 16-15.
Broncos Status Report: Denver lost a hard-fought contest at Kansas City Sunday, 31-27, ending the Broncos’ four-game winning streak. They lead the AFC West by a game over the Chiefs and San Diego.
Fantasy Tidbit: A clue of my complete grasp of the obvious – don’t bother playing either of the Ravens’ RBs this week against the NFL’s third-rated run defense. Oh, and don’t play any other Ravens, either. Not even reliable K Matt Stover.
Game Summary: All Broncos, all afternoon long.
Prediction: BRONCOS, 34-0
Kansas City (8-4) at Dallas (7-5)
Line: Cowboys favored by 3 (total points line is 43½)
Series: These teams don’t play often, but when they do the home team wins – five straight going back 20 years.
Chiefs Status Report: Kansas City outlasted Denver at home last week, 31-27, and trails the Broncos by a game and is tied with San Diego for a wild-card berth.
Cowboys Status Report: Dallas’ 17-10 loss at the New York Giants a week ago was its second straight, and dropped the Cowboys a game behind the Giants in the NFC East. In the NFC wild-card picture, the Cowboys are tied with Atlanta and Minnesota for the final slot.
Fantasy Tidbit: Several wide receivers have enjoyed big games against Dallas this season, so look for KC’s Eddie Kennison to excel.
Game Summary: The Chiefs have won three in a row, the Cowboys have dropped two straight. But momentum, alone, isn’t enough to produce victories in the NFL. Dallas is a tough home team, sure, but here’s my real “logic” for taking them: Denver beat Dallas, Kansas City beat Denver… so it only makes perfect NFL sense that the Cowboys would beat the Chiefs. Seriously, this one is too close to get overly excited about one or the other. Either could win, and I’d be amazed if it’s not decided by less than a TD.
Prediction: COWBOYS, 23-17
Detroit (4-8) at Green Bay (2-10)
Line: Packers favored by 5½ (total points line is 36)
Series: Green Bay has defeated Detroit at home 16 straight times. But in this year’s first encounter at Detroit, to open the season, the Lions won convincingly, 17-3.
Lions Status Report: Detroit lost at home to Minnesota, 21-16, and is three games out of a wild-card berth. The Lions have lost three in a row and six of seven.
Packers Status Report: Green Bay fell at Chicago a week ago, 19-7.
Fantasy Tidbit: Despite his periodic fumbling, Packers RB Sam Gado has been consistently productive, scoring a TD in all but one of his starts. This game bodes well for him.
Game Summary: Interestingly, the statistics that I utilize most frequently when assessing teams – rushing offense and defense, turnover ratio, special teams play – all favor the Lions. But the intangibles of a team in transition with the coaching staff and having played so poorly of late more than offset the season-long numbers in this case. Packers QB Brett Favre has made a living beating the Lions at home. I can’t see this turning out any differently, regardless of the win-loss records.
Prediction: PACKERS, 27-16
New Orleans (3-9) at Atlanta (7-5)
Line: Falcons favored by 10½ (total points line is 43½)
Series: Atlanta held on for a 34-31 victory at San Antonio, Tex. earlier this season, and the Saints are 5-1 ATS in the last six meetings in this rivalry. Last year’s game at The Georgia Dome was also close – a 24-21 Falcons win.
Saints Status Report: New Orleans lost to Tampa Bay, 10-3, at Baton Rouge Sunday.
Falcons Status Report: Atlanta was whipped at Carolina, 24-6, to fall two games behind the Panthers (and a game back of Tampa Bay) in the NFC South.
Fantasy Tidbit: Atlanta QB Michael Vick in the dome against the 28 th-ranked run defense, coming off a poor performance the week before… Do the math, and put him in there.
Game Summary: The norm in this series is to side with the underdog, at least to cover the spread, because this is a typically tight rivalry. But the Saints are having an atypical year – not in terms of wins and losses, but the circumstances of not actually having a home game. They’re tough to analyze on a weekly basis. The Falcons desperately need this game to right their ship which has dropped three of the last four. Before the big audience, Atlanta takes it to ‘em.
Prediction: FALCONS, 30-13