Pick-6 for NFL Week 14

Written by Sam Pearce

Time for the NFL Week 14 picks! Make sure to listen to the podcast with KAM and Sam this week to get caught up on everything you need to know about the NFC Playoff picture. My opinion is that Week 14 is the best week (yet) of the NFL season. It starts with a great Thursday night game in the NFC South, then we get several games on Sunday with Playoff implications: Philly-LA and Minnesota-Carolina will both go a long way in deciding who gets which seed in the NFC. Baltimore-Pittsburgh on Sunday Night Football is the biggest matchup between those teams in a few years. And if Pittsburgh wins then New England can't afford to trip up in Miami on Monday night. Plus we get to see Seattle go to Jacksonville for an inter-conference slugfest. Here are the picks, previews, and commentary from the rest of the team at The Football Pod:

 

The Ravens are playing much better over the last month, but can they win in Pittsburgh?
Photo Courtesy: Evan Habeeb, USA TODAY Sports

 

 

***These are Wednesday morning lines for Week 14. If you pick later in the week and need help with adjusted lines just find me on twitter, and I'll help you out. That's what friends are for!***

 

New Orleans @ Atlanta (pickem):

We debated whether or not it's been a good year for Thursday Night Football on the podcast this week.  I still contend that it's been much better this season than previous years.  And this is another example.  These NFC South division rivals will square off Thursday night in a huge game.  Because of the Philadelphia loss on Sunday night, New Orleans is only a game back of the two top teams in the NFC.  Both of those teams - Minnesota and Philly - have tough road tests on Sunday.  So if the Saints win Thursday night, they can go into their mini-bye, root against the Vikings and Eagles, and possibly find themselves in a three-way tie for first in the conference by Sunday night.  But they'll have to do it in Atlanta.  The Falcons are fortunate to be at home because they need this game even more than the Saints.  The Falcons' loss to the Vikings last week dropped them out of the top six spots in the conference.  At 7-5, Atlanta is now in the seventh spot in the NFC and needs to win to get back into Wildcard contention.  The Falcons will have to be a lot better than they were last week.  In their loss to the Vikings they only gained 275 yards for the entire game.  Worse, they only managed nine points.  Prior to that loss, Atlanta had won three in a row, and scored almost 32 points per game (PPG) in the process.  New Orleans doesn't have a defense like Minnesota, so offensively, Atlanta should be better on Thursday night.  But defensively, the Falcons may have their hands full.  The run-first Saints of 2017 seem to be getting stronger every week.  Mark Ingram is having his best season as a pro, and Alvin Kamara is clearly the offensive rookie of the year.  The team is now third in the league in rushing, at 142.6 yards per game (YPG).  But more impressive is their yards per play (YPP) stat.  The Saints average a full 5 YPP on the ground.  That sounds like a college number, not something you'd see 12 weeks into an NFL season.  Atlanta has a very average run defense so they'll have to sell out to stop the run and try to force Drew Brees into throwing.  How weird does that sound if you've been watching the NFL for the past decade?  The Falcons needs to try and force Brees into beating them through the air?!  But that's where we're at.  And if the Falcons can do that, that will pay dividends.  Not so much because Brees is incapable of beating them.  But the Saints have their weakest group of receivers that we've seen from them in several years.  Two weeks ago in Los Angeles, the Rams forced the Saints out of their run-first game plan and it worked.  The Saints receivers struggled to get open and make plays.  But getting them out of that game plan won't be easy for Atlanta.  The Falcons have a very average run defense.  So this game may come down to Atlanta's ability to attack on offense, connect on big plays, and simply outscore New Orleans by the time the clock has all zero's.  The Saints still rank in the top half of the league when it comes to total defense, allowing 330.1 YPG.  But in their last three they haven't been nearly as good, giving up 383.3  A big part of that is that the Saints have been without their excellent rookie cornerback, Marshon Lattimore.  But he's getting over an ankle injury and if he can play he'll match up with Julio Jones (and most likely shadow him wherever Jones lines up).  If Lattimore is still a no-go, then the Falcons MUST take advantage of the Saints secondary and capitalize.  Even if Lattimore does play, then it's up to Atlanta offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian and quarterback Matt Ryan to generate offense elsewhere.  If Lattimore is busy with Jones on every down, then it may take Jones out of the game, but Ryan should be good enough to get others involved, right?  Isn't that what MVP quarterbacks do?  Especially at home, in a prime time, national TV game.  Atlanta not only won the NFC South last year, they won the whole conference, and nearly the Super Bowl.  Now they're trying to get back in the mix this year and they've got a tough road ahead.  But they can't lose at home.  I'll take a desperate Falcons team in the pickem game:

Sam's Play: Falcons
KAM's Play: Saints
Kevin's Play: Saints
Payton's Play: Falcons
Rick's Play: Saints
Greg's Play: Saints
Jeremy's Play: Falcons

 

Dallas (-4.5) @ New York:

***Editor's Note: Rick York was on thefootballpod this week to discuss the Cowboys big win over the Redskins last week. Rick also told us what Dallas needs to do over the next month to salvage this season and grab a Wildcard spot in the Playoffs. Listen to the podcast, but we'll give you a hint: It starts by beating the Giants this week. Here's Rick's preview and pick ATS.***

Should the Cowboys fear the Giants a little more now that the "brain trust" is gone?
Photo Courtesy:  William Hauser, USA TODAY Sports

 

The 6-6 Dallas Cowboys head to New Jersey for a Week 14 showdown with the dysfunctional Giants.  The Cowboys are trying to keep their Playoff hopes alive.  I'm not too optimistic about the post-season but I'm along for the ride no matter what.  Dallas needs to win  out and get some help to play on Wildcard Weekend.  This is the first of four must-win games for Dallas to close out the regular season and stand a chance.  

The Giants and their fans can finally stop crying over Eli's benching as he'll return to his starting job.  But will it revitalize a team with nothing to play for?  Possibly, since the Giants would love to end the Cowboys Playoffs chances.  That's why Dallas has to take them seriously and put them away early.  If the Giants can get some early stops on defense that will keep it close and potentially lead to a tight game throughout.  That could also give the Giants offense some momentum they desperately need.  They've had problems scoring for what seems like years, and that should be the same on Sunday, but divisional games can get a little wild no matter what the records are.  To avoid this, I'd love to see Dallas come out swinging, get a big lead, and safely get to 7-6.  But the Cowboys have a habit of playing down to the level of their competition, even though they should be treating this very winnable game like an in-season playoff.  I'd bet on this being a low-scoring, close game with Dallas just barely covering the spread.

Every Dallas fan is nervous for the big letdown here, the kind that can ruin a season.  I thought Thanksgiving was that moment, but then they rebounded against the Redskins to get my hopes up again.  Now I have a feeling they may be planning an extra special Christmas Eve disappointment.  Until then, I'll just try to have fun with it, drink through every game, and keep expectations low.  That's how you survive the typical Dallas December!

Sam's Play: Giants
KAM's Play: Cowboys
Kevin's Play: Giants
Payton's Play: Giants
Rick's Play: Cowboys
Greg's Play: Giants
Jeremy's Play: Cowboys

 

Minnesota (-2.5) @ Carolina:

If you're waiting for Case Keenum to falter you may be waiting for a while. The Vikings starting quarterback hasn't gone under a 100 passer rating since October.
Photo Courtesy:  Jason Getz, USA TODAY Sports

 

Seattle's win over Philly on Sunday Night Football garnered most of the Monday morning headlines this week, but Minnesota probably had the next best win in the NFC last week.  The Vikings went to Atlanta and beat a Falcons team that had previously won three straight.  It wasn't just impressive that the Vikings won; it was that they physically dominated the Falcons all day.  Minnesota made Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and the rest of the Falcons players look very average.  Now they'll try to do that to another NFC South opponent when they go to Carolina.  The Panthers may have similar struggles against this Vikings defense.  Minnesota is now second in the league in scoring defense, only giving up 17 PPG.  And as the Falcons found out, it's also really hard to move the ball on the Vikings.  Minnesota is second in the league in total defense, only giving up 289.1 YPG.  And second in the NFL in my favorite defensive stat, giving up only 4.8 YPP.  It's hard not to love this Minnesota defense.  Unless, of course, you happen to be playing them.  Like Carolina this week.  So what can the Panthers do to slow down a Vikings team that has won its last eight games in a row?   

It has to start on defense for Carolina.  On the podcast this week, KAM pointed out that the Panthers defense got worked in New Orleans last Sunday.  They looked overwhelmed by the Saints, and not ready for a big-time NFC game.  They gave up 400 yards in total offense, which can't happen here.  For the season they give up less than 300 YPG.  They need to look more like the latter and I think they will at home.  For the year, they've only given up 88.6 YPG on the ground.  They need to stop the Vikings rushing attack, led by Latavius Murray, an excellent off-season addition for Minnesota.  Murray is gaining 80 YPG rushing over the last six games, and more importantly, getting over 4.5 yards per carry.  Carolina must slow him down and get Minnesota into passing situations.  Keep in mind that Case Keenum, Stefon Diggs, and Adam Thielen have been converting in these situations this year.  So Carolina still has to defend on third down and get off the field.  But forcing Keenum to beat them is much better than getting run on the way they did in New Orleans.  Nothing is worse for a defense than getting run on like that.  It's flat-out embarrassing.  So again, I think we'll see a bounce-back effort from a proud defense at home.

As long as the Carolina defense can keep them in this game, then it'll be up to Cam Newton to close it out.  It won't be easy since the Vikings will take away the Panthers running game.  Minnesota is only giving up 77.7 YPG on the ground, second-best in the NFL.  They made it look easy last week against Atlanta.  The Falcons couldn't get anything going on the ground, and Matt Ryan looked bewildered by the Vikings coverages.  But Ryan is no threat to make anything happen with his legs.  Newton is.  And he'll have to be on Sunday.  If Newton can keep drives alive by running for first downs when necessary, then Carolina is at a real advantage.  Points should be hard to come by on Sunday, so getting into field goal range and converting needs to be viewed as a good thing.  Both teams want to control the clock here, so whoever can do that and win the turnover battle should come out on top.  The Panthers are at home, and like the Falcons, a little desperate in a very competitive NFC.  Carolina needs to play for their season and I think they will.  Panthers to cover and win outright:     

Sam's Play: Panthers
KAM's Play: Vikings
Kevin's Play: Vikings
Payton's Play: Panthers
Rick's Play: Vikings
Greg's Play: Panthers
Jeremy's Play: Panthers

 

Oakland (+4) @ Kansas City: 

We told the Raiderettes that the Chiefs were on the schedule this week and that was cause for celebration.
Photo Courtesy:  Oakland Raiders/raiders.com

 

The Kansas City Chiefs free fall continued last week with a loss in New Jersey to the Jets.  The Chiefs now have the infamous distinction of losing to all three crappy teams from New York/New Jersey.  That's right - the Chiefs have lost to the Bills, Jets, and Giants.  Those teams are a combined 13-23 this year and doing their best to embarrass fans in the Empire State.  But at least they've all beaten the once proud 5-0 Chiefs.  Kansas City has dropped six of seven games to fall to 6-6 for the year.  The Chiefs only win came against the hapless Broncos and that was way back in October.  The Chiefs are yet to win a game in November or December.  Now the Raiders come to town with the same 6-6 record, but with more of hint of optimism.  The Raiders have won three of their last five, albeit against a pretty weak schedule.  The Raiders lost badly to the Patriots a few weeks ago, and that was the only decent team they've seen lately.  So we have a pair of teams with average records here, but neither one is playing particularly well.  The Raiders are at least finding ways to beat bad teams though.  The Chiefs aren't.  They're not only losing to bad teams, but they have the style of these games dictated to them.  When they suffered the aforementioned losses to the lowly Bills and Giants, they got stuck in ugly games where neither team moved the ball or scored much.  (That's the only way the Bills and Giants can win right now...)  When they lost to the Jets last week, they got into a semi-shootout with little defense, and they couldn't outscore the opponent.  When they lost to the Cowboys, they just got beat in every facet of the game.  So all of this being said, how can you take the Chiefs to cover more than a field goal here?  I have no idea who wins this game, but I'll take the slightly less sloppy team that's getting points.  Raiders to cover:

Sam's Play: Raiders
KAM's Play: Raiders
Kevin's Play: Raiders
Payton's Play: Chiefs
Rick's Play: Raiders
Greg's Play: Raiders
Jeremy's Play: Chiefs

***For more on Kansas City's recent struggles, check out Jeremy DeBottis's weekly Chiefs commentary.***

 

Green Bay (-3.0) @ Cleveland: 

***Editor's note:  What an up and down season for Packers fans!  Kimberly Ann Maley has been dealing with it all.  Now Green Bay needs to win in Cleveland and possibly get Aaron Rodgers back just in time for a Playoff run.  You can probably guess how Kim will pick this game.  Check our her preview and ATS pick for Packers/Browns!**

Green Bay lives to fight another day after the overtime victory over Tampa Bay last week.  This Sunday the Packers head to Cleveland and it's the first time since 2009 that they'll finish a season by playing three of four games away from home.  The Packers will be looking to keep their slim Playoff hopes alive; the Browns will be looking for their first win of the season.  Thus, both teams will be playing with their own sense of desperation.  Not only is Green Bay looking to sneak back into the NFC Wildcard race, but the Packers are hoping to get Aaron Rodgers back in the lineup next week.  If they can win on Sunday, and get to 7-6, then it makes sense for Rodgers to return for a home game with Carolina the following week.  If Green Bay falls to 6-7 then that pretty much eliminates them from a competitive NFC field, and the Packers will have to seriously consider whether or not Rodgers should come back.  Rodgers coming back really hinges on this game.  How crazy is it that the Packers season depends on a game that Rodgers won't even play?!  But that's what we'll see this weekend.  Green Bay is essentially playing a playoff game without #12 to get back to being the Aaron Rodgers Packers.

To get there, Brett Hundley will have to be just good enough for one more week.  Hundley and the Packers offense will be met by a good defensive line in Cleveland.  There is little else to fear when it comes to the Browns defense.  But the Green Bay offensive line will have to play well against Cleveland's defensive line so they can get both Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams going early.  Packers fans got a glimpse of what their backfield of the future looks like last week with both Jones and Williams playing so well.  Jones returned from a knee injury and made it count, taking his lone carry to the end zone for a game-winning touchdown in overtime.  Williams ran for 121 yards and also scored a touchdown.  Expect to see plenty of both on Sunday in Cleveland.

On defense, Green Bay will face Cleveland's rookie quarterback, DeShone Kizer.  Kizer is far from stellar.  He leads the NFL in interceptions thrown, and he's made crucial mistakes on a regular basis in the red zone.  Cleveland did get receiver Josh Gordon back last week after a suspension that seems to have started back in the 1990s.  Somehow, Gordon is still the Browns best player on offense and gives Cleveland fans some hope that they'll get something going on Sunday.  It also means that Kizer may be staring him down and doing a poor job finding other receivers.  If Green Bay can apply pressure to Kizer early, they should be able to force him into more mistakes.  Last week, Clay Matthews led the team with two sacks against Tampa, his first multiple sack game since 2014.  Defensive lineman Dean Lowry had a sack and fumble return for a 62 yard touchdown, which earned him NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.  Matthews, Lowry, and the rest of the Green Bay should have more success this weekend against Kizer.  Kizer is now 0-11 as an NFL starting quarterback.  The Browns haven't won a game in 347 days.  They haven't actually won a game on a Sunday since 2015.  And now they're facing an opponent in must-win mode.  You'd be foolish not to take the Packers to cover by a field goal:

Sam's Play: Browns
KAM's Play: Packers 
Kevin's Play: Packers 
Payton's Play: Packers 
Rick's Play: Browns
Greg's Play: Packers 
Jeremy's Play: Browns 

 

Washington (+6) @ Los Angeles: 

Thanks to a three game win streak, the Chargers are tied for first place in the AFC West.
Photo Courtesy:  Jake Roth, USA TODAY Sports

 

Are we looking at the 1992 Chargers (then in San Diego) reborn?  In 1992 the Chargers started 0-4 and then rallied to finish 11-5, win the AFC West, and make the Playoffs.  To this day, that's the only NFL team to ever start a season 0-4 and make the Playoffs.  The 2017 Chargers, Los Angeles-variety, also started 0-4.  Yet here they are, on a three game win streak to get their record back to 6-6, and poised to make a run at the AFC West division title.  The Chargers find themselves in a three-way tie for first with Kansas City and Oakland.  Nobody saw this coming back in October when Kansas City got out to a 5-0 start.  Momentum is huge and the Chargers have it.  Can they keep it going when they host the Redskins this week? 

Defensively, the Chargers have become a pretty good team.  I watched them limit the Patriots to 21 points in a one-possession loss at Foxboro over a month ago and started to take notice.  For the season, the LA has the fourth best scoring defense in the league, only allowing 17.7 PPG.  But over their last eight games, they're especially good, giving up less than 15 PPG.  Unsurprisingly, they're 6-2 over that stretch.  LA's excellent defensive play starts up front with their pass rush.  They'd have an advantage at the line of scrimmage over Washington, regardless, but the fact that the Skins have a decimated offensive line due to injuries makes it even more lopsided.  LA should be able to shut down the Washington ground game.  Most teams do; the Skins are ranked 23rd in the NFL in rushing YPG.  That will force Kirk Cousins and the Redskins to revert to their predictable pass-first offense.  Then Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, and the rest of the defense will get after Cousins, and most likely force turnovers.  The Chargers force the fourth most interceptions per game this year, at 1.2.  But in their last three games, all wins, the Chargers are forcing 2.7.  This defense continues to play better, and Washington should have a tough time preventing that.

On offense the Chargers are good and getting better, but far from great.  They scored 54 against Buffalo a few weeks ago but that was thanks to five first half interceptions.  They put up 28 on Dallas, but again, that was thanks to turnovers.  For that reason, I'd think about taking the Skins on the first half line.  But LA has too many advantages on both sides of the ball.  It may take them all afternoon - like last week against the Browns - but Chargers to cover and win by at least a touchdown:

Sam's Play: Chargers
KAM's Play: Chargers
Kevin's Play: Chargers
Payton's Play: Redskins
Rick's Play: Chargers
Greg's Play: Chargers
Jeremy's Play: Redskins

 

New York Jets @ Denver (pickem):

***Editor's note:  Hopefully you were smart enough to listen to Greg Armstrong when he told you to take New York last week. New York not only covered, but the Jets beat the Chiefs outright and Greg predicted that here. That was a nice moneyline play if you took his advice.  If you're keeping score, Greg is a ridiculous 11-1 ATS picking Jets games this season.  In between sports talk radio segments and his work for TurnOnTheJets.com, we caught up with Greg to get his take on the Jets-Broncos game this week.***

New York beat Kansas City in a shoot-out last week, despite falling behind 14-0 early in the first quarter.  But the Jets came back strong, scored 38 points, and beat the Chiefs by a touchdown.  Now they get another AFC West foe this week, but it's on the road in Denver.  The Mile High City is one of the tougher places to play in the NFL, but the Broncos aren't a very good team this year.  The Jets are the more talented roster, and they have an advantage at almost every position.  Denver's defense just isn't as scary as it has been in recent years.  Teams have discovered they can throw on the Broncos, and the Jets have the receivers to pull that off.  Robby Anderson is quickly becoming one of the best receivers in all of football.  If you don't believe me, go watch the tape, because Anderson can seemingly beat any cornerback in one-on-one coverage.  Jermaine Kearse has proven to be one of GM Mike Maccagnan's best pickups.  So together, Anderson and Kearse are a formidable challenge for almost any secondary.  Additionally, the Jets should look to get Matt Forte more involved in the passing game on Sunday.  It worked well against the Chiefs and it's probably the best use of his talents at this point in his career.

For the Jets to win, Josh McCown will need to play as well as he did last week.  Offensive coordinator John Morton understands this and must plan accordingly.  Then he needs to call a good game and take advantage of these advantages in the passing game.  For four quarters.  Morton has had games that he's called well for three quarters and then flamed out in the fourth.  He needs to embrace the fact that McCown has weapons, and the Jets need to use them all afternoon.  Morton should be able to ensure that McCown repeats his solid performance from last week.  But hopefully with more passing touchdowns this time around.  Also, look for Chad Hansen to get more looks.  He was key on a handful of Jets third down conversions last week and gives them yet another option.

On defense, the Jets need to force Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemien to beat them.  The Broncos don't have a speed receiver like the Chiefs had last week in Tyreek Hill.  That means the Jets corners should be in man coverage most of the day.  This allows Jamal Adams the freedom to roam, up to and including playing right at the line of scrimmage.  He's thrived this year when he's been able to play all to mix it up like this.  I think Adams will get his first interception of the season against Denver.  Marcus Maye, the other rookie standout safety, has to have a bounce-back game.  Last week was his worst game as a pro, which says a lot coming this late in the year.  On one of Travis Kelce's touchdowns last week, Maye got caught trying to undercut a route with no help over the top.  I expect him to eliminate mistakes like these, especially since Denver doesn't have a reliable deep threat.  Everyone in the secondary will benefit if the Jets defensive line can pressure Siemien.  They did a tremendous job pressuring the Panthers two weeks ago, but were only okay last week against the Chiefs.  Siemien is not a very good quarterback and if the Jets can apply pressure, they should be able to force him into bad decisions.

As a team, the Jets need to have the same fire on the road as they do at home.  This cannot be a repeat of the game in Tampa Bay.  The offense came out flat that day and just never got anything going.  Denver is a bad team that's looking forward to drinking on the beach for five months.  The Jets need to go after them and put this game away early.  I think the Jets get it done on the road, where they've only managed one win this year.  That was a three point victory over the winless Browns.  This will be a close game for about a half and the Jets will pull away in the third quarter.  Final score prediction:  Jets 27 - Broncos 10.

Sam's Play: Jets
KAM's Play: Broncos
Kevin's Play: Broncos
Payton's Play: Broncos
Rick's Play: Jets
Greg's Play: Jets 
Jeremy's Play: Jets

 

Seattle (+2.5) @ Jacksonville: 

Jalen Ramsey and the Jaguars rank number one in almost every meaningful defensive statistic.  Can they shut down Russell Wilson?
Photo Courtesy: Jacksonville Jaguars/jaguars.com

 

Earlier we noted that Minnesota ranks second in the league in just about every major defensive team stat. But if there's one unit that's better than Minnesota this year, it's Jacksonville. The Jaguars lead the NFL in the following defensive categories:

  • Scoring Defense: The Jags are first in the NFL, only giving up 14.8 PPG
  • Total Defense: The Jags are first in the NFL, only allowing 282.5 YPG
  • Yards per Play: The Jags are first in the NFL, only allowing 4.5 YPP
  • Takeaways per Game: The Jags are second in the NFL, with 2.2 TPG
  • Sacks per Game: The Jags are first in the NFL, with 3.8 SPG

Add it all up and Jacksonville is a truly great defense.  Ironically enough, this may be the best defensive unit we've seen since Seattle of 2013-2014.  Like the Jaguars now, those Seahawks were at or near the very top of every major defensive stat.  And when you watched them they were even better than their stats suggested.  The Jaguars are starting to show that same swagger and confidence.  How fitting, then, that the league's dominant defense of a few years ago comes to Jacksonville this weekend.  And while the Seahawks may not be the same unit they used to be, they're still very good.  Bobby Wagner may be having his best season as a pro.  What was the NFL's best defense for a few years versus what could be the NFL's best defense for the next few years should make for a fun game.  But when we get matchups like these, we need to remember that the two defenses don't play each other.  Jacksonville may have the better defense, but they also have to face the better quarterback.  Russell Wilson made play after play last week against one of the NFC's best defenses, and there's no way the Seahawks would have won that game without him.  This is an even bigger challenge for Wilson this week, but he'll be up for it.  Seahawks to escape Jacksonville with the cover and the outright win:

Sam's Play: Seahawks
KAM's Play: Seahawks
Kevin's Play: Jaguars
Payton's Play: Seahawks
Rick's Play: Seahawks
Greg's Play: Seahawks
Jeremy's Play: Jaguars

 

Philadelphia (-1.0) @ Los Angeles: 

The Eagles failed to fly high in Seattle. Can they do better in a return trip to the West Coast this week?
Photo Courtesy:  Steven Bisig, USA TODAY Sports

 

The game of the day features 9-3 Los Angeles hosting 10-2 Philly. This game features the top two picks of the 2016 NFL draft: Quarterbacks Jared Goff, for LA, and Carson Wentz for Philly. Both have taken huge steps forward in their second year. Wentz and the Eagles were red hot until suffering a bad loss in Seattle last week. With back-to-back West Coast trips on the schedule, the Eagles actually stayed in California all week to avoid the travel, and focus on this game. That focus will include trying to stop the run, something they've done all year. The Eagles lead the league in rushing defense, allowing a mere 68.1 YPG on the ground. If they can bottle up Todd Gurley and force Goff into passing situations, they should have some success. Goff won't be able to take off and pick up first downs like Russell Wilson did to the Eagles last week. But the Rams have been good at throwing the ball this year. LA has the seventh best passing offense in the league. Because of their balance, they rank fourth best in total offense, and fifth best in YPP. Even if Philly sells out to stop Gurley on the ground, the Rams have done an excellent job getting him the ball in the short passing game. He goes for almost 12 yards per catch on his 48 receptions this year. Last week Philly had trouble containing Wilson's dual threat capabilities. This week it may take the combination of Goff and Gurley's skill sets but I think they may have similar struggles. Philly's been great at beating up on bad teams this year but they had some real difficulties last week, against the best team they've seen to date. Now they get their chance at redemption, but this may be the best offense they've seen all year. In what should be a close game, I'm going to take the home team getting a point here:

Sam's Play: Rams
KAM's Play: Rams
Kevin's Play: Rams
Payton's Play: Eagles
Rick's Play: Rams
Greg's Play: Rams
Jeremy's Play: Eagles

 

Baltimore (+5) @ Pittsburgh: 

The Steelers will have to go without JuJu Smith-Schuster after he threw the block of the season.
Photo Courtesy: Aaron Doster, USA TODAY Sports

 

I said it last week! Picking the Steelers game has become my least favorite part of the weekly picks column. I took them to cover, and sure enough, they started the game down 17-0 to a mediocre Cincinnati team. Of course, the Steelers came back to win an awesome, physical, hard-fought football game in the division. So Steelers fans should be happy. Unless of course you had them covering five points. Now we have to pick against that same line this week. We'll get back to that.

A few thoughts on the nature of the Steelers-Bengals game: Reasonable football people will agree that the game was in no way "too violent." It's a collision sport; always has been. Kids learn that the first day they put on pads. So I'm with Jason Whitlock: If you don't like it, don't watch it. Or don't broadcast it. The JuJu Smith-Schuster block was the best block that I've seen in open space all season. Probably in several years. There are better blocks made by linemen and fullbacks in just about every game, but they don't get highlighted because they aren't so visible. Smith-Schuster's block was, and it was nothing short of spectacular. Within the direct vicinity of the play, the linebacker was pursuing the ball-carrier and looking to make the tackle. That's exactly who the offensive players should be blocking! The first thing a receiver is taught in this instance is to "get in front" of the defender. If you hit him in front, and keep your hands inside the width of his shoulders, then you can't get called for a block in the back or a hold. The challenge is being quick enough to get in front when the defenders are flying to the ball. Smith-Schuster did this. Perfectly. And he hit him right in the chest. No leading with helmet. No head-to-head contact. No dirty play where he targeted the head or a knee. Just a perfect block. If it's no longer okay to get in front of a defender and hit him in the chest, what block can a receiver throw downfield? The fact that he was suspended a game for that hit is embarrassing.

Fortunately, I expect the Steelers and the Ravens - the NFL's best divisional rivalry a few short years ago - to play "AFC North football" again this week. Steelers-Ravens was Steelers-Bengals five years ago, but typically with bigger stakes. The Steelers and the Ravens played for the AFC North title, and sometimes in the Playoffs, for the better part of a decade. The Ravens have had a couple down years but they've rebounded in 2017, and they're in the AFC Wildcard picture as much as anyone else. Like they did in years past, the Ravens are winning on the strength of their defense. They're top seven in the league in both scoring defense and total defense. They also lead the league in turnover margin per game. That could be key here. If the Steelers turn it over early and the Ravens get up, it may not be possible to come back and win as they did against Green Bay and Cincinnati. I think the Steelers will get it done here and they'll win the game. But five points is too many for me, so Ravens to cover:

Sam's Play: Ravens
KAM's Play: Ravens
Kevin's Play: Ravens
Payton's Play: Steelers
Rick's Play: Steelers
Greg's Play: Ravens
Jeremy's Play: Steelers

 

New England (-12.5) @ Miami: 

It's been the typical last-place type of season in Miami. Maybe Tom Brady and the Patriots can give football fans in south Florida something to cheer about.
Photo Courtesy:  dolphinscheerleaders.com

 

Last Sunday was a big day in Miami. The Dolphins won for a change, their first win in well over a month. Two weeks ago was a different story when they lost to the Patriots at Foxboro. New England was favored by 17.5 points, the biggest line of the NFL season. The Patriots won by 18, but the game was never in doubt. Now they have to cover another huge spread on the road, but against the same hapless Dolphins team. New England will have no trouble here, but the spread worries me for a few reasons: First, it's late in the season, when Bill Belichick and the Patriots tend to keep winning but limit what they show opponents on film. Second, they have the Steelers the following week in a game that's the biggest of the season for both teams. I don't worry about the Patriots falling victim to the "trap game" but I do think it reinforces the tendency to limit their playbook. And third, I'll give the Dolphins some credit; they did show some signs of life last week. Miami scored 35 points in their blowout win over Denver, their largest output of the season. The Dolphins scored in a variety of ways, including safeties (plural) and a pick-6. Hopefully the Dolphins enjoyed themselves last week, because they won't be scoring on defense this week. Even if the Dolphins keep it close, and I think they will for most of the night, the Patriots won't beat themselves. Last week New England was favored by ten at Buffalo and it was close for a half before the Patriots pulled away. I expect more of the same on Monday night. Patriots to cover: :

Sam's Play: Patriots
KAM's Play: Patriots
Kevin's Play: Patriots
Payton's Play: Patriots
Rick's Play: Dolphins
Greg's Play: Dolphins
Jeremy's Play: Patriots

 

 

Last Week Win Loss Push
Sam 4 5
KAM
Kevin 6
Payton 6
Rick 5
Greg
Jeremy

 

Season Win Loss Push
Sam 67 47 4
KAM 57 57 4
Kevin 50 64 4
Payton 60 54 4
Rick 56 58 4
Greg 62 52 4
Jeremy 46 68 4

  

 

Did you like our NFL picks this week?  Hate the picks?  Want to play along and teach us how to pick?  Let our experts know what you think: 

 

Sam
Sam finally had a decent season in 2016 and hit a 55% success rate on his NFL picks. So your best bet is to fade his picks this year. It won't hurt his feelings.
@samuelwpearce
 
KAM
The voice of thefootballpod.com, KAM's so good that she's been known to pick both NFL and college games. She'll share her picks as long as you don't trash talk her Packers.
@kimberlymaley
 
Kevin
Need power picks and the power sweep, both? Then look no further than Kevin's picks. This Western Pennsylvania football product knows the game as well as anyone.
@kjcon71
 
Payton
She's not only the best bartender in town, but #PaytonsPicks set the pace in 2016, to the tune of a 56% success rate! Catch her if you can. Or just wisely follow her picks.
@paytonricher
 
Rick
He's our resident Cowboys expert, so you'll hear from Rick a lot this year. As for his picks, #RicksLocks are as money as Dallas playing as the one seed in the NFC Playoffs.
@touchtuneshero
 
Greg
Founder of theredbeat.com, and a contributor at turnonthejets.com, Greg is the newest member of the team. He's the biggest Jets fan we know (and willing to admit it...)
@gregarmstrong_
 
Jeremy
After making the rounds on the podcast circuit for years, we finally have our Kansas City Chiefs expert weighing in, writing columns, and picking games. So pay attention!
@jeremy_undrscor

 

 

 

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