Week 14 NFL Picks: Are Your Playoff Dreams Dead?

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers

Isn’t it interesting how one person’s dream can be another person’s nightmare? Kind of like the trash/treasure saying, the same goes for dreams. I’m not talking about the dreaming we do when we’re asleep. I’m talking about dreams in the sense of hopes, wishes and fantasies. For instance, take a look at this poor guy’s dream, which he shared with the whole world on Thursday Night Football last week:

 

lions fan

Yikes. That’s a rough dream. That’s the type of dream that would actually be a nightmare to a Patriots fan like me (or to a handful of other teams’ fanbases). But all this man with the wispy mustache wants is for his Lions to reach the pinnacle of success (in Detroit speak), a 9-7 record.

But as a bogus facemask penalty, an untimed final play and Aaron Rodgers proved last Thursday, dreams can’t always come true.

Another example: My dream is for the people in charge of the NFL to have just one collective brain cell that’s operating at full capacity so that they’ll be able to make even the most basic of decisions in the best interest of their fans.

But as the week 14 schedule clearly indicates, dreams can’t always come true. The geniuses at NFL headquarters scheduled 11 games for the early timeslot on Sunday (1pm Eastern, 10am Pacific) and a whopping 2 games for the afternoon timeslot.

If you asked a three-year-old with severe brain damage how these 13 games should be split up, his top 500 ideas wouldn’t include “11 games in the early spot and 2 games in the late spot.”

And this doesn’t have anything to do with most of the games being hosted by teams in the Eastern or Central time zones. It’s true that that’s where the majority of games take place this week, but that’s never stopped the NFL from scheduling an East Coast game in the late spot. Just last week, for example, the Patriots hosted the Eagles at 4:25pm Eastern. This isn’t rocket science. It’s not even remedial 1st grade science. Grab two or three games from the morning and stick them in the afternoon. Make your league’s fans, the people who literally pay you billions of dollars a year, just a tiny bit happy by showing a shred of decency. Maybe a holiday gift for your loyal followers.

But no, we can’t even get that. Instead we’ll try to follow 11 games over a three-hour period and wind up missing the majority of the action in most of them. Perfect. But not to worry! After those games finish up, we can put our full attention on Raiders/Broncos & Cowboys/Packers! Hurray!

So yeah, dreams are bullshit and life is meaningless…especially for that Lions fan. After their brutal loss last Thursday, the best they can do is 8-8. And that won’t get them a playoff spot.

Luckily for many other fanbases, the dream of a playoff berth is still alive. But I’m here today to crush those dreams for all but 12 groups of supporters. Last week I mentioned how 28 teams were still technically alive and I dreamed about some awesomely awful playoff scenarios. This week I figured out with scientific precision exactly what the playoffs will look like, right down to the final records and seedings. Are you ready to have your dreams either realized or crushed? Here it is:

NFC Playoffs

  1. Carolina (15-1)
  2. Arizona (14-2)
  3. Green Bay (10-6)
  4. Washington (7-9)
  5. Seattle (10-6)
  6. Minnesota (9-7)

Notes

  • Washington gets in on the 4th tiebreaker over the 7-9 Giants. Both teams go into the final week at 6-9, both teams win, but the Redskins win the division. Same overall record, tied head-to-head, same division record, same record against common opponents, Redskins go 6-6 in conference while the Giants go 5-7.
  • Teams missing out just barely on the playoffs: Chicago and Tampa Bay, who both go 8-8.
  • Atlanta goes down as the biggest disaster of the season after wasting a 5-0 start by finishing 7-9 (which would mean a Cleveland-like 2-9 finish to the season).
  • The NFC Wildcard Round will feature (6)Minnesota at (3)Green Bay and (5)Seattle at (4)Washington. What’s crazy is that this is the exact same matchups of the 2012 NFC playoffs, right down to the seedings of these four teams.

AFC Playoffs

  1. Denver (13-3)
  2. New England (13-3)
  3. Cincinnati (12-4)
  4. Indianapolis (9-7)
  5. Kansas City (10-6)
  6. Pittsburgh or New York Jets (10-6)

Notes

  • If Kansas City, Pittsburgh and New York all finish 10-6, the Chiefs’ conference record will get it the #5 seed, and I actually can’t figure out the tiebreaker between the Jets & Steelers because it’ll probably come down to strength of victory.
  • The only other worthy AFC team that barely misses out is Buffalo at 9-7.
  • The AFC Wildcard Round will feature (6)Pittsburgh or the Jets at (3)Cincinnati) and (5)Kansas City at (4)Indianapolis. Not nearly as crazy as the NFC matchups but still interesting is that this is almost exactly how the AFC playoff bracket came together in 2013.

So there you have it, everyone. The records, seedings and matchups have been decided. Feel free to take the rest of December off and check back in for the playoffs in January. Unless of course you’re trying to make money off the NFL…in which case, check out the week 14 picks.

Minnesota at Arizona (-10.5)

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 31, Minnesota 13

I haven’t shown Carson Palmer a lot of respect over the years. Basically from the time he went to Oakland until a few weeks ago, I’ve felt like he was just an average quarterback at best. I assumed his career was over when he was in Oakland, and I figured the Cardinals were just getting a turnover and injury machine when they grabbed him a couple years ago. But that’s the smoke & mirror effect that playing for the Raiders will have on a career. I can’t keep spitting in the face of results. So I often have to remind myself that over the past two years, the Cardinals are 18-3 when Palmer is the starting QB. That translates to 13.7 wins per 16-game season. I think we should all be rooting for Palmer’s health because it would be nice to see what he, Bruce Arians and the rest of that extremely fun team can do with a full roster in January.

The reason why that record should easily improve to 19-3 with Palmer at the helm is because their opponent, the Vikings, are an anomaly. They’re a pretty atrocious 8-4 team that benefited from an extremely easy early-season schedule and all their advanced stats say they’re closer to a 6-6 team right now. The most interesting piece of data though is around Teddy Bridgewater. You probably hear a lot about this 2nd year QB who’s led the Vikings to the cusp of the playoffs. But did you know that Bridgewater has thrown only 8 touchdown passes this season? He’s thrown that exact same amount of interceptions. If you combine his rushing numbers, he’s produced 10 touchdowns while turning the ball over 13 times in 2015. That’s bad. Against some teams, Adrian Peterson can cover up the ugly spots on this offense. But not against the Cardinals.

Thankfully Arians doesn’t like letting his foot off the pedal either, so I’m not worried about the backdoor cover.

(BUYER BEWARE: This line was Arizona -7.5 at the start of the week and it has gone up, up, up. Obviously Vegas is dying for some people to put money on the Vikings before kickoff tonight.)

Buffalo (-1) at Philadelphia

The Pick: Buffalo

The Score: Buffalo 26, Philadelphia 16

For all the bashing that we do of the NFC East and particularly the Eagles, it’s a little impressive that two of their five wins have come against AFC East teams. We like to think the NFC East can only beat each other, but that’s not exactly the case. That’s where the compliments for Philly end in this column.

The Bills are playing very well over their last five games. They have three wins, and their two losses are each by a touchdown to the Patriots and Chiefs. Their defense is decimated by injuries, but against the Eagles that shouldn’t matter. Remember that Chip Kelly’s offense only put up 19 and 17 points to the Dolphins and Bucs, respectively, in home games just a few weeks ago (and they only put up 14 on the Patriots). I’m expecting Tyrod Taylor & Sammy Watkins to do what Tom Brady & Brandon LaFell couldn’t do to Philly last week: Connect on deep passes early and often.

Seattle (-7.5) at Baltimore

The Pick: Seattle

The Score: Seattle 27, Baltimore 0

This season for the Ravens has been absolutely crazy. The injuries to essentially every player on the original 53-man roster are well documented. But it’s incomprehensible to the feeble human brain that this team has played 12 straight games that have been decided by a touchdown or less. That just doesn’t compute. And the poor Ravens fans probably wouldn’t mind some of the drama being taken out of every single Sunday. If your team is going to lose 8+ games in a season, might as well have some of them be blowouts to ease the stress and anxiety levels. Even subbing in Matt Schaub hasn’t given this team the kick in the ass it needs to lose games more convincingly.

So do we finally see the bottom fall out now that Baltimore’s up against the newly-anointed kings of the advanced stat rankings? In a word, no. I realize Seattle is playing good football and we’re starting to hear about how scary they’ll be come January. But I’m sorry I’m not impressed by a big win over the crappy Vikings, a close win at home against the Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger missing the pivotal moments of that game, and a blowout win over the 49ers. That’s actually a pretty unimpressive list of opponents right there. I don’t think Thomas Rawls is the second coming of Peterson. I don’t think the team is “better off” without Jimmy Graham. And I don’t think they’re a great road team.

Matt Schaub is going to make people say, “He threw another pick-six and the Seahawks only won by 7. Wow.”

Wait a minute…I just said that about Matt effing Schaub? And he is severely banged up to the point where they might start Jimmy Clausen over him? Or both guys might play? NEVERMIND. Seattle by 80.

San Francisco at Cleveland (-1.5)

The Pick: San Francisco

The Score: San Francisco 12, Cleveland 10

The road team in this game is 1-5 on the road this year, but the home team is 1-5 at home. These are the two worst teams in football according to FootballOutsiders.com. It’s Blaine Gabbert vs Cleveland’s 3rd option at QB. This is the Browns’ last chance to win a game before next September. That usually means they’ll find a way to lose in heartbreaking, never-seen-it-before fashion.

Detroit (-1.5) at St. Louis

The Pick: Detroit

The Score: Detroit 17, St. Louis 6

It’s amazing that between these two teams, the coach who hasn’t yet blinked even once while on the sidelines this year is doing a significantly better job than the coach who has been fiery and openly challenging his players. Both teams are 4-8 and can be looked at as huge disappointments. And yet, Jim Caldwell seems to be in great shape compared to Jeff Fisher. I guess that’s what happens when your fans dream of going 9-7 and you may fall just short of that at 8-8 or 7-9. Hopefully for the Lions the extra days off after last Thursday’s game gave them enough time to move on from such a devastating loss. Fisher is out of answers and I don’t think he’s going to find any this week when his 32nd ranked offense puts up single digits at home, again.

Tennessee at NY Jets (-7)

The Pick: Tennessee

The Score: NY Jets 22, Tennessee 17

I’m just not interested in backing the Jets when they need to win by more than a touchdown over anyone. I know they’re much better than the Titans (isn’t everyone?), but they just aren’t a team who reliably handles weak competition with ease. It’s a simple pick for me unless this line drops to 6.5 or lower.

Pittsburgh at Cincinnati (-3)

The Pick: Pittsburgh

The Score: Pittsburgh 41, Cincinnati 38

Remember how in the recent history of Steelers vs Ravens the games would almost always end in a three-point victory for one of the teams? This feels like where we’re at with Steelers vs Bengals now. Except instead of ugly, brutal, low-scoring slugfests, we’re going to get the much more aesthetically pleasing barnburner where both teams score at will and whoever has the ball last wins by a field goal. At least that’s my hope. It would be such a shame if these two uber-talented offenses didn’t match points through 60 minutes.

If things play out just like that, then we’re talking about a futile effort figuring out who wins/covers in this game. I’m taking the Steelers for the sole reason of having to root against Cincy down the stretch if I want the Patriots to have an easier path to a 1st round playoff bye. But there’s no way anyone should be putting confidence no matter which way you lean. This absolutely qualifies as my Stayaway Game of the Week.

Indianapolis at Jacksonville (PICK)

The Pick: Jacksonville

The Score: Jacksonville 24, Indianapolis 21

Nothing can convince me that the Colts are significantly better than the Jaguars. These two unimpressive teams have already played once this year. It was an overtime win for the Colts at home, and Matt Hasselbeck was Indy’s starting QB in that game too. So why wouldn’t the Jags be favored by the standard three points for being the home team this time around? Because Vegas knows the public only sees the names of the teams (Indy = good!, Jacksonville = crappy!) and doesn’t think twice about it.

And, hey, why should the NFC East get all the attention for being a putrid division? If the Colts lose this game and the Texans lose to the Patriots, both teams will be 6-7, the Jaguars will only be one game back at 5-8 and we’ll all have a good laugh.

San Diego at Kansas City (-10)

The Pick: Kansas City

The Score: Kansas City 37, San Diego 17

It goes against everything I know to so easily pick a double digit favorite to cover without giving it any real thought. I can’t believe we’ve reached the point in this AFC West matchup where it’s as obvious as a Cleveland at Seattle situation. Any spread less than 14 points here feels like a steal. Just three weeks ago the Chiefs demolished the Chargers by 30 points in San Diego. How are we to expect anything different this time around?

Washington at Chicago (-3)

The Pick: Chicago

The Score: Chicago 30, Washington 21

Their records are the same. The advanced stats have them ranked right next to each other, about middle of the pack among the 32 NFL teams (Of course, the Skins have the benefit of being in the East, which makes them tied for 1st place while Chicago toils away in 3rd place in the North). But I’m a little more impressed with Chicago over the course of the season and especially lately. Add in the fact that Washington hasn’t won a road game yet this year (sometimes teams just really aren’t good on the road), and I’m thinking this is a not-too-difficult win for the Bears. Don’t worry, Washington fans. There’s a 95% chance the other three teams in your division also lose this weekend and your hold on 1st place will remain intact.

Atlanta at Carolina (-7.5)

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Carolina 29, Atlanta 20

Isn’t this line a bit disrespectful to the Panthers? The Falcons have been playing like one of the worst teams in football for the past two months. That’s not an exaggeration. They’ve lost to plenty of questionable teams since that 5-0 start that seems more like two years ago than two months ago. Meanwhile the Panthers have basically destroyed every team in their path. Since Atlanta last won a game, Carolina has won in Seattle by three, beat Green Bay by eight, and put up double digit wins on four of the league’s more mediocre teams. You would think this line would be closer to the Kansas City-San Diego 10-point spread. I’m thinking Vegas knows people want to bet on a Panthers loss or close game before we get to 16-0. Maybe that’s why they’re treating this like a game where the opponent can keep it close?

New Orleans at Tampa Bay (-4)

The Pick: Tampa Bay

The Score: Tampa Bay 26, New Orleans 18

I get why the spread has to be more than a field goal with the perception everyone must have of these two teams. The Bucs are on the rise, playing inspired football and showing lots of momentum. The Saints are on life support and the Payton/Brees era might be officially dead. Oh, and their starting running back and best cornerback are out for this game. You know what? This paragraph was heading towards me saying, “But I don’t think Tampa should be favored by more than three over anyone,” but instead I’m realizing that the Bucs truly are a lot better than the Saints. And the Saints just played their hearts out in their version of the Super Bowl last week in that close loss to Carolina. They’re dead.

Oakland at Denver (-7.5)

The Pick: Oakland

The Score: Denver 20, Oakland 19

I think the Raiders are one of the best 10 teams in football, and I think the Broncos are barely better than them. Oakland plays teams pretty close even when they lose, unless they’re facing one of the two or three best teams. I also can’t get over the fact that the “new & improved Broncos” only put up 17 points against San Diego’s terrible defense last week. I don’t think Denver’s winning this by more than a touchdown.

Dallas at Green Bay (-7)

The Pick: Green Bay

The Score: Green Bay 30, Dallas 9

The Packers haven’t played a good game in Lambeau since mid-October, and they’re coming off 10 days of rest. The Cowboys haven’t played a good game this year when someone other than Tony Romo starts at quarterback, and that includes Monday night’s lucky win in Washington. They happen to be on short rest and traveling to Lambeau where the home team is absolutely due. Look out.

New England (-3) at Houston

The Pick: Houston

The Score: Houston 19, New England 15

[channels Bart Simpson writing on the chalkboard]

I will not pick a Gronk-less Patriots.

I will not pick a Gronk-less Patriots.

I will not pick a Gronk-less Patriots.

I will not pick a Gronk-less Patriots.

I will not pick a Gronk-less Patriots.

I will not pick a Gronk-less Patriots.

New York Giants (-1.5) at Miami

The Pick: NY Giants

The Score: NY Giants 28, Miami 20

If the Giants can just find a way to not be winning towards the end of the game, I think they’ll have a real chance to win this one.

The weekly tally looks like this:

  • 10 Favorites, 5 Underdogs, 1 PICK
  • 1 Home Dog, 4 Road Dogs
  • 8 Home Teams, 8 Road Teams
  • Season Record: 93-92-1 (8-8 in week 13)

Enjoy week 14.

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