In week 11 we had the NFCpocalypse. Five games featured the NFC’s best teams either facing off against each other or taking on a tough AFC opponent. The results mattered greatly as this was the week where Green Bay effectively passed Detroit in the North, Carolina bowed out of the NFC South race and Seattle tried to play its way out of NFC West consideration.
In week 14 I’m happy to say we’re looking at AFCmageddon. This is even bigger and crazier than what went down in the NFC in that wild week.
Running through the games to appreciate from a pure football standpoint should provide all you need to know about how awesome this week of football could be, especially in the AFC:
- Pittsburgh (7-5) at Cincinnati (8-3-1) – Sunday 1pm ET
- Baltimore (7-5) at Miami (7-5) – Sunday 1pm ET
- Indianapolis (8-4) at Cleveland (7-5) – Sunday 1pm ET
- Buffalo (7-5) at Denver (9-3) – Sunday 4:05pm ET
- Kansas City (7-5) at Arizona (9-3) – Sunday 4:05pm ET
- Seattle (8-4) at Philadelphia (9-3) – Sunday 4:25pm ET
- New England (9-3) at San Diego (8-4) – Sunday 8:30pm ET
In total, there are seven games on Sunday pitting teams with winning records against each other. Five of those games are pure AFC vs AFC matchups. So much is on the line for the two Wildcard spots as well as the AFC North positioning.
There’s a chance we emerge from week 14 with eight AFC teams having eight wins, meaning nothing would really be settled, but we’d be set up nicely for more weeks of contender-on-contender insanity.
And thanks to good luck with the schedule, we get three awesome games Sunday morning, three more Sunday afternoon and one on Sunday night.
The anticipation is killing me so let’s dive into the week 14 picks.
Dallas (-4) @ Chicago
- The Pick: Dallas
- The Score: Dallas 29, Chicago 16
As long as the Cowboys are undefeated on the road and the Bears are regularly defeated everywhere, this pick is easy. Sure, it’d be nice to expect Dallas to flop like it usually does in December, but I think any decent team is flop-proof when facing Chicago. Before you pull out all your fancy stats on the Thursday games, remember that both teams are on full rest after playing Thanksgiving Day.
Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati (-3.5)
- The Pick: Cincinnati
- The Score: Cincinnati 30, Pittsburgh 21
Don’t be scared of having to lay more than a field goal on Cincy because I promise you the Steelers are a certified bad road team. In their two previous road division games, they lost by 21 and 20 points. In general we might be seeing an old, fading Pittsburgh squad. They lost at home last week to a Saints team that never wins on the road. The weeks before that they beat Tennessee by three and lost to the Jets by seven (both road games for Pitt).
The Bengals just won three straight road games and I think we all need a reminder that they’ve only lost three times the entire year. I know every time we see Andy Dalton we naturally knock this team down a peg in our minds, but they keep getting the job done. Scary as it sounds, they’re a lot more trustworthy than the Steelers right now.
St. Louis (-2.5) @ Washington
- The Pick: St. Louis
- The Score: St. Louis 31, Washington 9
Washington has played like one of the worst teams in football for most of the year. St. Louis has played like one of the better teams in football for at least the past seven weeks. Sure, the Rams are only 1-4 in their past five road games, but our hands are tied here. Picking against them in this game would be the equivalent of picking against Denver or Seattle with this same exact point spread at Washington.
NY Giants @ Tennessee (PICK)
- The Pick: NY Giants
- The Score: NY Giants 27, Tennessee 23
Are the Giants tanking? It would make life a lot easier for bettors if we knew the answer to that question. I guess if Ryan Fitzpatrick can throw for six touchdowns against Tennessee, Eli Manning can at least claw his way to two touchdowns, three interceptions and a 54% completion rate in this matchup. That should be just enough to squeak out the win.
Carolina @ New Orleans (-10)
- The Pick: New Orleans
- The Score: New Orleans 52, Carolina 3
Of course the Saints had to lose three straight home games in November just to mindfuck us when picking their final two home games of the season. The combined record of the three teams that beat the Saints last month is 22-13-1. As you probably know, the Panthers are just a tad worse than that. In fact, here are the results of Carolina’s road games in 2014: win by six (against Tampa), lose by 28, tie at Cincy, lose by 21, lose by 24, lose by 18.
Anyone feel like backing the Panthers after seeing that?
NY Jets @ Minnesota (-6)
- The Pick: Minnesota
- The Score: Minnesota 34, NY Jets 18
The Vikings have been so good lately beating the shittiest teams in the league. What about the Jets could possibly make this game any different? Sure, they gave a spirited effort against the Dolphins on Monday in Rex Ryan’s penultimate home game as head coach, but these guys have yet to win a road game this year. By the way, any chance the Jets opt for the no-quarterback strategy and start a seventh offensive lineman at some point?
Baltimore @ Miami (-3)
- The Pick: Miami
- The Score: Miami 29, Baltimore 23
This game is just slightly more important to Miami’s playoff hopes than Baltimore’s. That’s because the Dolphins are in New England next week, so a loss at home to the Ravens likely means going from 7-5 to 7-7 by the end of week 15, and that would eliminate them from consideration. The Ravens can still run the table after a loss in Miami and end up at 10-6 (their remaining schedule: vs Jacksonville, @Houston, vs Cleveland).
These teams are very similar. According to FootballOutsiders.com, Baltimore is the 4th best team in the NFL and Miami is 6th. On offense, the Ravens have the 9th best unit while the Dolphins come in at 10th. On defense Miami is slightly ahead, 7th in the league vs 9th for Baltimore.
The nod goes to Miami because Baltimore is only 1-3 in RGNCOPANFCS (road games not counting ones played against the NFC South). And because the Ravens seem to have one major weakness (pass coverage) and the Dolphins have none.
NOTE: I made this pick and wrote the previous three paragraphs before learning that Ravens nose tackle Haloti Ngata was suspended for the rest of the year. That only makes my case stronger.
Indianapolis (-4) @ Cleveland
- The Pick: Cleveland
- The Score: Cleveland 22, Indianapolis 19
Tough one because the Browns haven’t been all that impressive at home and the Colts haven’t done much on the road. The closest thing Cleveland has to a signature home win was their 31-10 beat down of Pittsburgh in week 6, but that doesn’t even seem good right now. And Indy’s got no signature road win. In a game like this, I’ll take the home underdog. I also wonder if this line will go up a bit after the announcement that Brian Hoyer is still Cleveland’s starter, since people are very down on him at this point.
By the way, a loss by Indy this week could make for a HUGE game theoretically against Houston next week.
Tampa Bay @ Detroit (-10)
- The Pick: Tampa Bay
- The Score: Detroit 23, Tampa Bay 16
Here’s what the Bucs have done on the road since that embarrassing 56-14 week 3 loss in Atlanta: win at Pittsburgh by three, lose at New Orleans by six in OT, lose at Cleveland by five, win at Washington by 20, lose at Chicago by eight. Sure, they’re still losing most of their games, but lately they’ve been a tough out for the opponent.
I’m struggling to feel good about this one, but you know my pattern by now is to lean towards the underdog when I’m unsure and especially when the point spread is this large.
I’m ready for the Lions to go back to being an enigma full of underachievement on offense.
Houston (-6) @ Jacksonville
- The Pick: Houston
- The Score: Houston 33, Jacksonville 17
The combined win percentage of the teams that Houston has beaten this year in its six wins? .333
The combined win percentage of the teams that Houston has lost to this year in its six losses? .606
The soft schedule is probably the #1 contributor to the Texans still being alive in their division and the Wildcard race.
In five of those six wins, Houston has won by double digits. This is a classic no-think pick. The Texans will likely blow out Jacksonville twice in the next four weeks but will lose their other two games, keeping them at .500.
Side note: Jacksonville has lost eight games by 10 or more points so they aren’t shy about letting a team have its way with them either.
Buffalo @ Denver (-9.5)
- The Pick: Buffalo
- The Score: Denver 28, Buffalo 21
If we’re following the narrative that the December weather & fatigue are causing the Broncos to need to effectively run the ball in order to succeed, then this could be a tough game for them. Buffalo’s defense is legit, and it travels pretty well.
Admittedly Buffalo’s recent 4-2 run isn’t that impressive when you consider the wins were against Minnesota, Cleveland and the Jets twice. But during that span they also played the Chiefs and Dolphins pretty close. If you think their offense can’t possibly put up any points at Denver, remember that they beat the best defense in the league on the road when they went into Detroit in week 5. They didn’t score a lot of points, but they got the job done.
You know what? I’m making this my “football is fucking nuts and anything can happen” game of the week. Buffalo wins outright, 23-19.
Kansas City @ Arizona (-1)
- The Pick: Kansas City
- The Score: Kansas City 25, Arizona 18
I’m playing the injury card on this one. Arizona suffered a ton of injuries early in the year and they somehow didn’t skip a beat, but now it feels like they have a new wave of injuries, and I just wonder how much longer they can keep playing good football.
As we saw last week, the good football could already be over. The Cardinals lost 29-18 in Atlanta. That comes just a week after losing 19-3 in Seattle. Over all, Arizona has just four offensive touchdowns in its last 13 quarters of football. That coincides with the moment Carson Palmer was lost for the year.
Now they’ll be without the Honey Badger in their secondary for a few weeks, Larry Fitzgerald’s status is still unclear, and there might be a player or two missing/banged up on the offensive line. None of this is good news when facing a formidable Chiefs team.
A relatively healthy team plus a quarterback much less prone to bad games than Drew Stanton is making me back the Chiefs in this one.
Seattle @ Philadelphia (-1)
- The Pick: Philadelphia
- The Score: Philadelphia 24, Seattle 15
It’s a beautiful day when the odds you got back in March on a future Super Bowl winner are finally the same as that team’s current odds. The Eagles are now 12/1 to win it all, and that’s what I got way back nine months ago. (fingers crossed that their odds get even better so I can say, “See, it was smart of me to make that bet nine months ago! I got good odds.)
If they win this game, they’ll be looking really good for a 1st round bye in January. The likelihood of a #1 overall seed in the NFC rests in Green Bay’s hands as the Packers currently have the same record and hold the tiebreaker over the Eagles. Regardless, when I made that bet back in March, I never could have imagined a Nick Foles-led team would be closing in on a top seed. And it’s even more bizarre than that because it’s actually a Mark Sanchez team that’s doing it!
Remember that two-year run just recently when the Eagles were terrible at home? Well, they’re quietly on a 10-game winning streak at home, going back to midseason 2013. Also, Seattle’s win at San Francisco on Thanksgiving does nothing to change my mind that they’re a mediocre team on the road.
I was also surprised to learn that the Eagles are 16-4 in their last 20 games. So they’ve been really good for over a year. Maybe they should be favored by more than a point here?
This feels like a 1st or 2nd round matchup in the playoffs waiting to happen.
San Francisco (-8.5) @ Oakland
- The Pick: San Francisco
- The Score: San Francisco 31, Oakland 16
This could normally have the makings of a trap game for the 49ers. Seattle is looming the following week. But there is enough pressure on this team to win that the 9ers can’t possibly take this game lightly. A loss in Oakland coupled with a loss at Seattle next week, which is very likely, would all but end their season.
It goes without saying that this is not a road game in any way for San Francisco, except for a few extra scary-looking fans in the end zone seats. This is one of the few games where it feels like you don’t necessarily need to worry about Jim Harbaugh’s joke of an offense. They’ll put up points.
New England (-4) @ San Diego
- The Pick: San Diego
- The Score: New England 28, San Diego 26
This pick isn’t an indictment of the Patriots as much as a mini-endorsement of the Chargers. San Diego’s only misstep this season was a three-game losing streak at a time where the team was in dire straits with injuries and just happened to be playing three games in 14 days. Those games featured opponents who are all still firmly in the playoff hunt (Kansas City, Denver, Miami). What I’m saying is you really can’t get too down on the Chargers just because of their October troubles.
Before that period, they were winning all their games fairly easily. Since that period, they’ve won all their games but not so easily.
New England is near the end of a scheduling gauntlet that saw them playing against six straight opponents with winning records. Their wins might not be very pretty or comfortable for a couple more games, but it’s the Patriots in December, they’ll find a way.
Atlanta @ Green Bay (-12)
- The Pick: Green Bay
- The Score: Green Bay 77, Atlanta 12
I already nailed Atlanta last week to win the “football is fucking nuts, anything can happen” award by beating Arizona. I’m not about to double down on them in a road game against the NFC’s best home team. You know why I didn’t blink at the humongous point spread in this game? Because Atlanta hasn’t gotten shellacked in seven weeks. That’s way too long for this team.
In other news, did you know that Mike Smith won Coach of the Year honors just six years ago? What the hell happened to him? That’s a drastic enough decline in his job that he should really think about seeing a doctor about a possible brain parasite or ten.
Unlike in years past, I haven’t done an MVP Race article so far in 2014. Honestly, I don’t think one is needed at this point anyway. Aaron Rodgers wins. Stop wasting your time talking about, reading about or even thinking about another option. He’s on pace for 4,433 yards, 43 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. He also leads the league by a significant margin in Passer Rating (118.6, the next closest is Peyton Manning at 107.8) and QBR (86.4, again Manning is 2nd at 80.6). More than anything, it’s that insane TD-to-INT rate that locks it up for me. To be able to throw 10 touchdowns to every interception over the course of a season is incredible for a quarterback starting all 16 games. Just look at this touchdown to interception chart.
Out-of-this-world stuff from him.
I haven’t strongly urged my readers to get onboard with my bets in a few weeks. Considering I went 11-5 against the spread last week, it seems like a good time to recommend you follow along with me once again.
Either way, enjoy week 14!