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NFL Week 14: 6 Bold Predictions

Sam Spiegelman breaks down the top six matchups of Week 14 and offers his bold predictions for each.

Leveon Bell

On Thursday night the Dallas Cowboys held off a late rally by the Chicago Bears to keep their playoff hopes alive with a 41-28 victory. A December swoon in Dallas — not this year!

That was the start of Week 14, but there are many more NFL games on the slate this Sunday and on Monday night.

A week ago, we whiffed on the Chargers, no thanks to Philip Rivers leading a game-winning drive with under a minute left for a season-saving win. Thank goodness we saved face by predicting a Packers and Broncos win. That was close.

That was then. This is now. Let’s move onto Week 14 … where we included an extra prediction given the wealth of significant showdowns.

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cincinnati Bengals

This game has tremendous playoff ramifications. The Bengals lead the tightly packed AFC North by 1.5 games, and the Steelers’ chances of making the playoffs could be crushed with a loss.

With a Cincinnati win, the Steelers’ playoff chances fall to 22.7 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight. A Pittsburgh win, however, boosts those percentages to 23.9 percent. A must-win for the Black and Gold.

Cincinnati has won three straight games, including a jaw-dropper a week ago when the team squeaked by Tampa Bay thanks to the Bucs’ trotting 12 men out onto the field on offense, knocking the team too far out of field goal range before attempting what would’ve been a game-winning kick. A win is a win, and the Bengals escaped.

Thankfully, the rest of the AFC North lost in Week 13, including the Steelers, who despite what the final score says were routed by the Saints in Heinz Field. Fortunately, Andy Dalton is not Drew Brees, and the Steelers have a chance to make up serious ground by defeating the division leaders. A mismatch here: the Bengals have struggled to stop the run, and here comes Le’Veon Bell, who has totaled more than 200 yards of offense in each of the past two games.

Bold prediction: The Steelers have lost to the likes of the Jets, the Buccaneers, and were a comeback short of falling to the Titans on Monday Night Football. Then again, they’ve defeated Indianapolis. In order words, nobody knows what you can expect from this team. But if you’re going to pick this game, you’d have to side with Ben Roethlisberger over Dalton 10 out of 10 times. In a game that could possibly feature 600 yards of total offense and five turnovers combined, I lean toward Big Ben and Bell getting the best of Dalton, whose final turnover translates into points for Pittsburgh in the pivotal victory for the road team.

Baltimore Ravens @ Miami Dolphins

It’s amazing how the end of the year schedule has lined up so many of these AFC Wild Card hopefuls facing one another in these potentially season-ending showdowns. Up next is the Ravens traveling to South Florida to take on the Dolphins.

Baltimore is coming off a late-game loss to the Chargers at home, which dropped the team three games out of the No. 6 seed behind Kansas City and Buffalo and these Dolphins. A loss here would be devastating for the team’s playoff chances at this point in the year, and the defense will be without arguably its top player, Haloti Ngata, who was handed a four-game suspension for using Adderall.

The loss of Ngata should boost the Dolphins’ chances of running the ball successfully. Last week, Lamar Miller‘s late touchdown lifted Miami over the Jets on Monday night. But the Ravens’ injury-riddled secondary should also be exploitable for Ryan Tannehill. Miami has failed to beat the league’s elite, but has fared well against the fellow Wild Card contenders. They’ve beaten the Bills twice and San Diego, and look to add Baltimore to that list.

Bold prediction: With a banged up secondary and no Ngata, the Ravens are going to struggle on the defensive side of the ball, even against an inconsistent Tannehill. According to Pro Football Focus, Ngata was the eighth-ranked player at his position, and now rookie Timmy Jernigan is going to have to play up in a big spot. However, Miami’s home-field advantage is pretty solid, having beaten the Patriots, Chargers, and Bills there and nearly doing the same against Green Bay. Tannehill has been inconsistent, but the ‘Fins need this win to stay in the race. Somehow, they get it.

Kansas City Chiefs @ Arizona Cardinals 

These two teams are trending in the wrong direction at this juncture in the season. This is certainly a must-win for the Chiefs in terms of playoff chances, but for the Cardinals it’s bigger in terms of getting back on the right track.

Kansas City has dropped two in a row, falling a game back of the sixth Wild Card spot and in doing so getting leapfrogged by the suddenly surging Chargers in the AFC West standings. While the Chiefs’ strong point is their MVP candidate Jamaal Charles and the rushing attack, that is coincidentally the Cards’ strength. However, it’s bad news for Drew Stanton, who has has to try and bounce back against the league’s top-ranked pass defense.

The Cardinals are 1-2 since Stanton returned to being the starting quarterback and went 10 quarters — nearly 11 — between scoring against Detroit and getting a garbage-time score late in the loss to Atlanta. The offense needs a rebound performance in order to regain confidence down the stretch, as well as to hold off the surging Seahawks who are making a valiant push toward another NFC North crown. Remember, the ‘Hawks and Cards face off again on Dec. 21.

Bold prediction: For the bulk of the season, Arizona was atop the NFC standings. After Carson Palmer went down for the year, there was a quick scare about the team’s chances of maintaining that success before Stanton downed Detroit. However, all those fears became realities over the past two games — both losses — and now Stanton and Co. find their season very much in jeopardy. Equally as concerning is the Chiefs’ play of late. After winning five in a row from Weeks 7-11, they’ve dropped games to Oakland and Denver. In a game that may not even feature an offensive touchdown, I lean toward Todd Bowles and that Cinderella Cards defense to harass Alex Smith. Chandler Catanzaro‘s game-winning field goal is the difference here.

Seattle Seahawks @ Philadelphia Eagles

It seems like each week there’s a battle of the birds, and this one features the red-hot Seahawks on the verge of re-capturing the NFC West title against the NFC East-leading Eagles coming off a Thanksgiving beatdown of Dallas.

The defending champs have found a groove of late, winning their past two games to move within a game of division-leading Arizona. The defense looks as if it has returned to that dominant playoff form, while Marshawn Lynch continues to be a workhorse, earning his fourth 100-yard game of the season in rout of San Francisco on Thanksgiving night.

The Eagles, too, have won two in a row, and by defeating the Cowboys have taken hold of sole possession of first place in the NFC East standings. However, Philadelphia is just 1-2 against NFC West teams this season, having lost to both the 49ers and Cardinals and getting by the Rams, 34-28. The team’s other loss — to Green Bay — means the Eagles are 1-2 against division leaders this season. The Eagles are 5-0 when forcing two or more turnovers on defense, which will be a challenge against Seattle, which owns a +9 differential with nine giveaways on the year.

Bold prediction: The Eagles will win the NFC East, but compared to the NFC North and West divisions, they are still a ways away. The issue for Seattle is that it hasn’t been a strong road team this season at 3-3. However, this game is scheduled for a 4:25 ET start, which should provide some level of comfort for the champs. Mark Sanchez has looked solid at times, but he’s about to see a beast unlike any other, not to mention a defensive scheme mustered up by his former coach at Southern California.. It’s one thing to pick apart the Cowboys secondary; it’s another to beat the Legion of Boom. Hawks force the boo birds to make an appearance in Philly, as Seattle gets a two-touchdown win.

New England Patriots @ San Diego Chargers

The Patriots just suffered their first loss in two months at the hands of Green Bay on Sunday, while the red-hot Chargers reeled off their third straight victory in the final minute at Baltimore.

These two teams have been among the best when it comes to the month of December. Over the past decade, the Patriots are 36-4 and the Bolts are 32-9 in December, the best two records in the NFL, per ESPN Stats & Info.

Last week, the Patriots allowed Aaron Rodgers to sit back and tear through their defense, which yielded its highest total yardage mark of the season. Largely, New England was unable to get a solid pass rush on Rodgers, but that could quickly change if Chandler Jones is able to return. Jones has missed the last six weeks due to a hip injury.

Led by Philip Rivers‘ 383-yard, three-touchdown performance against the Ravens, San Diego leapfrogged Kansas City in the AFC West standings and into the top Wild Card spot. The Bolts are 5-1 at home this season, which bodes well against a Patriots squad that’s just 3-3 away from Foxborough, including that loss at Lambeau a week ago.

Bold prediction: The Patriots beat the likes of Indy, Denver and Cincinnati — all AFC division leaders — during that seven-game win streak. The defense simply ran into an equally as dynamic machine in the form of Rodgers last week. But if those two teams played 10 times, it could wind up a 50-50 split. The Chargers have been impossible to get a gauge on this season, starting the year off strong then dwindling into their bye week on a three-game skid. They’ve responded with three straight wins, including the comeback at Baltimore. I think it’s difficult to expect Tom Brady and Co. to lose back-to-back games this late in the season, especially against a defense that yielded 33 points to Joe Flacco. This one ends up ugly for San Diego, which falls out of Wild Card spot with a two-touchdown loss.

Atlanta Falcons @ Green Bay Packers

The week’s finale on Monday night pins two division leaders up against one another in the 9-3 Packers and 5-7 Falcons. Yes, Atlanta leads the NFC South with a sub-.500 record.

This game features no shortage of offense, especially from Green Bay which just posted 26 points and 478 yards on a New England defense that was quickly ascending to among the best in the NFL. The Packers have ripped off four consecutive wins and are 6-0 at Lambeau Field this season. The average margin of victory in those home wins: better than 23 points per game.

The NFC South-leading Falcons are coming off arguably their best win to date, a 29-18 beatdown of West-leading Arizona in the Georgia Dome. Atlanta has won three of its past four games, and has done so by averaging 25 points and limiting its opponents to about 17 in those wins. However, these birds don’t fly as high away from their home field at just 2-4 on the road. This is the first of a final four-game stretch that includes games vs. Pittsburgh, at New Orleans and vs. Carolina.

Bold prediction: There’s nothing bold about siding with Green Bay to beat up on a sub-.500 team in front of the cheese heads. That’s a given. Rodgers’ night should be over before the start of the fourth quarter, and there’s a chance this is where the Falcons’ demise begins. But lets credit the defense for this upcoming win. Expect Matt Ryan to be on the ground 10 times in this one, as Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers and the surging Green Bay line take advantage of the Atlanta offensive line in a 21-plus-point rout.

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