Week thirteen started well for us, we predicted all three results correctly, we expected the Lions to win easily but it’s kind of hard to predict anyone to win a game by thirty! The Cowboys gave the Raiders an early thanksgiving present by fumbling the opening kickoff away; the Raiders scooped up the gift and took it to the end zone. Dallas came back to win by seven, that opening gift however cost us the predicted margin of fourteen. Ravens and Steelers games are always close, earlier in the year we predicted a Steeler win by 3 which was spot on, here we went for Baltimore by 3, it was 2 so we have particularly enjoyed the two matchups there.
The ATPF crew enjoyed the hospitality of Manchester’s Lost Dene for the thanksgiving games and were delighted to find the bar thronged with keen NFL fans, the Raiders and Seahawks were particularly well represented.
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Cleveland Browns
The Jacksonville Jaguars are no longer the league’s worst team, if the draft were tomorrow they would be picking third thanks to a win in Houston against the team who do look the league’s worst. Cleveland lost a second straight with Jason Campbell concussed and Brandon Weeden booed onto the field to replace him.
A season which showed a little potential for the usually awful Browns is in danger of falling off the cliff. They are 4-7, an 8-8 or even 7-9 season would be a step forward for a team with two first round picks in the 2014 draft but if they let it slip to 5-11 or even 4-12 then a season where they’ve played some good football will be forgotten and more upheaval will likely rake place. The defense of the Browns has been outstanding, only three teams have allowed less yards and facing the worst offense in football here should help them more. Brandon Weeden needs to let the defense win the game for his team; his main responsibility is to not lose it. Weeden has six touchdown passes to seven interceptions but in Josh Gordon he has one of the league’s most talented young receivers, the sky’s the limit for Gordon if he can stay on the straight and narrow.
Jacksonville’s own potential superstar receiver Justin Blackmon hasn’t been able to stay on the straight and narrow and remains banned indefinitely. Cecil Shorts leads the team with 700 yards and is tied for the lead in receiving touchdowns, with one! Jacksonville also has the fewest rushing yards in the league so things are pretty brutal for this offense. Defensively they had their best performance by a mile last week when holding the Texans to just two field goals but this isn’t a unit with the talent to make such performances the norm.
The Jags have won two of their last three and are probably feeling pretty good about themselves for a 2-9 team. Cleveland meanwhile look a team whose morale has gone since they fell back to last in the AFC North and slid out of playoff contention. The Browns must keep fighting; this is a very winnable game at home and one which their defense especially should relish.
ATPF Prediction– The Browns come out on top by just a field goal.
Tennessee Titans @ Indianapolis Colts
The Colts are suddenly struggling for form, they have been beaten heavily two of the last three weeks and in between were let out of jail by their rivals here Tennessee. The Titans had a game winning touchdown in Oakland with eight seconds remaining to remain in playoff contention but have won two of their last seven so are hardly a team in great form themselves.
The Colts looked a team both ready and determined to become legitimate contenders not long ago. They beat the Broncos who had been looking invincible and made a statement of intent when giving up their 2014 first rounder to acquire Cleveland running back Trent Richardson. The message seemed clear, the Colts were done rebuilding, they wanted to start winning now. Richardson has been awful, he has under 3 yards per carry, just two touchdowns and is being outplayed by veteran Donald Brown so the jury is very much out on that trade. With Reggie Wayne lost Andrew Luck has only T.Y. Hilton as a reliable wide receiver and teams are starting to double him. Defensively the Colts have relied on big plays but teams are starting to realise that they if you can slow down Robert Mathis off the edge that this team can be attacked.
Tennessee quarterback Jake Locker is out for the season but his deputy Ryan Fitzpatrick has plenty of experience as a starter in Buffalo and had his best start in a Titans uniform last week. Fitzpatrick led his team to a game winning touchdown and crucially threw no interceptions. The Titans started the season well and did so by consistently winning the turnover battle in games. Their defense has been solid on the whole and if the offense can look after the ball consistently down the stretch they can be real contenders for the wide open final AFC wildcard spot.
The Titans had the Colts where they wanted them a fortnight ago but let them off, had the Titans won that game this one would be for the AFC South lead. The Colts need to find more contributors on offense to help their excellent quarterback Andrew Luck; Trent Richardson should be standing up to be counted for one. There is little between these teams right now and whoever gets the big plays in the game should win it. We trust Luck more than Fitzpatrick who is the kind of quarterback the opportune Colts defense will relish facing.
ATPF Prediction– Colts virtually seal the AFC South with a seven point victory.
Arizona Cardinals @ Philadelphia Eagles
The Cardinals continue to improve and may have had their best performance yet this past Sunday when they comprehensively outpointed the Colts. Philadelphia won three straight before their bye week to prepare for the NFC East battle ahead; they are level with the Cowboys at 6-5.
Getting to the bottom of the Eagles improvement isn’t that hard, Nick Foles got his chance to start at quarterback and seized it, he has been one of the hottest passers in the league in the last month. Foles has thrown sixteen touchdown passes to zero interceptions so far this season and is complemented by running back LeSean McCoy, the lynchpin of the Eagles top ranked rushing attack. DeSean Jackson and Foles favourite Riley Cooper have seven touchdowns each in Philadelphia’s fourth ranked offense. Unfortunately for the Eagles their defense is as bad as their offense is good, only the Cowboys have given up more yards but in their last nine games the most points they have given up in a game was 21 so things aren’t as bad as the stats suggest.
Arizona have won four straight and are right in the mix for a wildcard spot all of a sudden even though they play in the toughest division in the NFL. Carson Palmer’s turnover issues have been resolved of late and with him throwing just two interceptions in their four game streak Arizona have looked a decent offense. Receiving duo Larry Fitzgerald and emerging star Michael Floyd are a very solid pairing and combine nicely with the 1-2 punch of Rashard Mendenhall and Andre Ellington in the Cards backfield. It is the defense however which is Arizona’s real strength. The unit are ranked eighth in the league and were outstanding last week, holding the Colts to just 239 yards.
Two form teams face off here but neither are by any means flawless. The Eagles defense is a unit which always gives their opponents hope and the Cardinals four game win streak has seen them beat all of the league’s 2-9 teams and an out of form Colts team. As good as Arizona are defensively we still see Philly scoring at least two touchdowns here with their exciting offense while on the road outdoors Palmer is always a worry with turnovers so we fancy a home win.
ATPF Prediction– The Eagles get a big win, prevailing by a touchdown.
Miami Dolphins @ New York Jets
Two 5-6 divisional rivals clash here with both still in the mix for the AFC’s final wildcard spot. This is the first of two late season clashes between these old rivals and if either team can do the double they will go very close to making the postseason although neither are in great form. The Jets lost by twenty three against the Bills a fortnight ago before mustering just three points in a defeat to the Ravens last week. Miami led the league’s hottest team Carolina for over 50 minutes before finally going down by just four points last week.
The Dolphins have been playing some decent ball in recent weeks with Ryan Tannehill getting the ball out quicker and Mike Wallace finally starting to show signs of his game breaking speed. Tight end Charles Clay and steady target Brian Hartline give Tannehill three decent options in the passing game. Miami are pretty average defensively, they rank 19th in yards allowed but have only given up 30 or more points once, to the Saints nine weeks ago.
Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith has had his ups and downs all year but has really struggled of late. He has thrown five picks to no touchdowns in his last two games and has eighteen interceptions on the year. Smith didn’t look ready to be an NFL starter in college but was thrust into the Jets starting lineup after Mark Sanchez’s injury. Teams have worked him out it seems and the Jets offense now looks among the league’s worst. Rex Ryan prides himself on playing solid defense and his team rank ninth in the NFL. They played well against the Ravens until giving up the game’s only touchdown on a deep throw to Jacoby Jones late on.
While Miami are pretty average both offensively and defensively the Jets are awful offensively but strong defensively. That Jets defense will give the Dolphins problems and Ryan Tannehill has to avoid costly sacks against a very strong defensive line. If Tannehill can keep negative plays to a minimum his team can get a big road win against a team who have really hit the buffers offensively.
ATPF Prediction– Miami edges this one by a field goal to get back to .500.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Carolina Panthers
The hottest team in the league Carolina meet Tampa a team who have found some pretty good form themselves albeit much too late. Nevertheless this NFC South clash should be well contested and the Bucs would love to dent their rival’s playoff push. The Panthers are waiting for the Saints to blink and know this may be the week it happens as they travel to NFC leading Seattle; the Panthers must win first to add to the pressure.
The Panthers seven game win streak has been inspired by their quite brilliant defense. Earlier in the year there were suggestions that a suspect looking secondary might be the undoing of the unit but cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and safety Mike Mitchell are both having career years and consequently the unit has been as strong against the pass as it has been against the run. Offensively the Panthers remain a run first team behind their veteran trio of tailbacks DeAngelo Williams, Mike Tolbert and Jonathan Stewart but all three are currently battling injuries. At least one will likely be available come Sunday so we wouldn’t be too worried there. Quarterback Cam Newton himself has contributed to the success of this running game and is having his best season despite the Panthers ranking 30th in passing. If Carolina could find a star receiver next April this team could start to look as complete as any in the league.
Tampa Bay has won their last three after losing their first eight, strange old game this. Head coach Greg Schiano’s regimented approach has been unpopular with the players but if they keep winning they may save his job. Schiano’s decision to trade starting quarterback Josh Freeman to Minnesota and start rookie Mike Glennon didn’t pay immediate dividends but right now Glennon is playing the best of the rookie quarterbacks we have seen start. Glennon displays nice accuracy and arm strength, he has thirteen touchdown passes to just four interceptions and seems to be getting the best of star receiver Vincent Jackson lately. Tampa have several highly talented defenders, Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson were both big money recruits but defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has impressed us the most and this defense has climbed into the top half overall now.
Few teams would get the nod going to Carolina right now let alone a 3-8 team. For Tampa this will be a good measuring stick as to how far they have come in recent weeks and how far they still have to improve to become playoff contenders next year. Glennon’s calm and assured play of recent weeks will be severely tested by this defense and we can’t see him being able to deal with it if the Panthers get ahead and he is forced to pass consistently.
ATPF Prediction– The Panthers win their eighth straight, and come away with a ten point victory.
New England Patriots @ Houston Texans
The Texans lost their ninth straight game last week, they are the NFL’s worst team and star player Andre Johnson even admitted it to be the case. New England’s seasons are judged by what goes on in January and a big overtime comeback against the Broncos last week all but guarantees that they will once again play on into the New Year.
Last year the Texans blew what should have been home field advantage in the playoffs late in the season. This year the emphasis was to go one better and make sure they would be at home in the playoffs. As that dream quickly slipped away then the AFC East started to get away and then any hopes of the playoffs went too things have just spiralled out of control. The Texans run of defeats and gradual decline saw its exclamation point last week when the Jaguars, long considered to be the NFL’s worst team beat them and held them to just two field goals in the process. A lot of Houston’s players look to have quit on the team now so where a third win is going to come from is hard to see.
The Patriots serene progress to yet another AFC East title continued as Tom Brady put in a vintage display against the Broncos. Brady is starting to look like his old self and must be thrilled to have the likes of Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola back contributing. Gronkowski, Amendola and Aaron Dobson have been on this week’s injury report but only Dobson looks in doubt so again Brady should have a strong arsenal. Since Vince Wilfork’s season ending injury the Patriots have struggled against the run and were absolutely gashed by Knowshon Moreno last week, if Arian Foster wasn’t injured he could be a danger to them.
We have predicted Texans wins five times in their nine game losing run. We should have learnt our lesson long ago but we are done with them now. New England surprised us last week, we didn’t think they were quite as good as the very best teams in the league but clearly they are. We have been saying all season that they might just come good at the right time and it that could be prophetic yet. Here the Patriots offense should have no issues outscoring an offense which is completely devoid of confidence.
ATPF Prediction– Patriots beat the hapless Texans by twenty points.
Chicago Bears @ Minnesota Vikings
The NFC North picture looks a little clearer after Thanksgiving. Detroit are the team to beat and the Bears are their biggest rivals. Aaron Rodgers injury has just been too costly to Green Bay so we look to have a match. Minnesota are a long way behind the other three but haven’t performed really badly since week seven, last week they had a tied game in Green Bay.
The Bears have had just half a game from starting quarterback Jay Cutler in the last five matches and he is again out with a high ankle sprain here. Josh McCown has performed as well as any of the backups we have seen forced into starting duties this year and even in last week’s defeat his 36 of 47 passes completed for 352 yards, two touchdowns and an interception shows he was not the man to blame. That credit went to the Bears defense which bled 258 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Chicago are again without defensive leader Lance Briggs here so their problems against the run could continue, especially with reigning MVP Adrian Peterson coming to town.
Minnesota are undoubtedly playing better right now. They finally have a settled starter at quarterback in Christian Ponder and for whatever reason Peterson seems to be a better player when Ponder is under center. The Vikings defense despite the infusion of two rookie first round draft choices has been the problem and only two other teams have given up more than the 401 yards per game the Vikings are averaging.
This is an interesting game, the two key players the Bears are still missing have got to be a major factor but they are still a better team than the Vikings on the whole. We see this game coming down to one simple matchup- Adrian Peterson versus a defense which was savaged by the run last week. If the Bears can at least get a few stops and make Christian Ponder complete some passes they have a shot because they will score points against a terrible defense but if Peterson runs wild anything could happen. In a game we are struggling to call we think the Bears superior all round talent can prevail.
ATPF Prediction– Chicago edges to a crucial victory by just a field goal.
St. Louis Rams @ San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco’s win over Washington on Monday kept them in position for a wildcard into the playoffs whilst the Rams are playing pretty well for backup quarterback Kellen Clemens. They have won back to back games by margins of 30 and 21 against teams in playoff contention so this is a potential banana skin for San Francisco.
The 49ers defense is generally a pretty strangling unit, when teams have been able to unlock it the 49ers offense which is predicated on a ground and pound, clock control style has been found out. Last week they were able to completely overwhelm the Redskins by taking away their first option, running back Alfred Morris. The 49ers rank fifth defensively and given some of the teams they’ve faced it’s reasonable to say they are probably a bit better than that. They are 4th in the league in rushing behind Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and quarterback Colin Kaepernick. As dynamic as Kaepernick is with his legs he still needs to complete more passes but he will finally have his favourite target Michael Crabtree back for his first start of the season here. Crabtree was pivotal in the 49ers run to the Superbowl last year and should help the league’s worst passing offense.
The Rams defense was supposed to be a strong unit itself this year but proved disappointing early on. Things are back on track now and they are playing like a top ten unit, not nineteenth as they are ranked overall. Robert Quinn especially has been outstanding and is one of the premiere pass rushers in football. First round draft choice Tavon Austin, a passenger for nine games has been electrifying in those last two contests and is one of the most exciting players in football. Running back Zac Stacy has finally given them a consistent runner after early problems dealing without Steven Jackson around and Clemens is playing ok despite his obvious limitations.
The Rams are probably one of the best teams with a losing record but this is an all round bad matchup for them. Austin is unlikely to get any big plays against such an outstanding defense and if the 49ers can shut down Alfred Morris they should have little problem with Zac Stacy. That makes this down to Kellen Clemens and it’s hard to like that matchup if you’re a Rams fan. Crabtree’s performance will be very interesting; the 49ers need him somewhere near 100% if they are going to be serious players in January.
ATPF Prediction– San Francisco are much too strong, win this by twenty.
Atlanta Falcons @ Buffalo Bills
The Falcons are still bang in contention to be picking first next April after losing their fifth straight against the Saints. Buffalo are technically still in wildcard contention but they are much more likely to have their usual top ten draft pick.
The Falcons woes have been put down to injuries but there has been more to it than just that. Nevertheless they played one of their better games against the Saints last Thursday and with ten days to prepare they should fancy giving another decent account of themselves against a team a long way off the Saints in ability.
Buffalo are all about their running game and when both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller are fit there are few better combinations in the game. Both have had injuries yet the Bills are still fifth in rushing and that could be bettered with some favourable matchups remaining for the pair. The Bills have also had injuries at quarterback but rookie starter E.J. Manuel returned in week eleven and had a really nice game against a stout Jets defense. The bye week should have helped Manuel who is certainly an intriguing prospect for the future, the long suffering Bills fans deserve a quarterback to hang their hats on.
Atlanta have been good at home for a long time and of course enjoy a healthy dislike for the Saints so there improved effort against that rival in the Georgia Dome ten days ago can be taken with a pinch of salt. The Bills are as healthy as they’ve been for a long time and should be well prepared after their bye. In the cold, windy expanses of upstate New York we do not see some of the Falcons fancying this too much.
ATPF Prediction– The Bills gain momentum by winning this one by ten.
Cincinnati Bengals @ San Diego Chargers
The Chargers got a massive win against the Chiefs last week and having been struggling a little a few weeks ago they could be reinvigorated by such a huge win. The Bengals are a game and a half ahead in the AFC North and should have used their late bye to prepare for one last big push towards a third straight playoff season and a first AFC North title since 2005.
The Bengals are clearly the best team in the AFC North and one of the most talented in all of football. Losing Geno Atkins, arguably the best defensive tackle in the game for the season hasn’t stopped their outstanding defense which ranks seventh overall and has one of the most dominating front fours around, even without Atkins. Their offense is full of playmakers but quarterback Andy Dalton is capable of throwing in a really bad game at any point which does make the Bengals a little unpredictable. Dalton has 21 touchdowns but 15 interceptions, if he could cut down on the latter from now into January the Bengals could be genuine contenders.
San Diego are still four games back such is the strength of the AFC West so must hope that they can join the Broncos and Chiefs to give the division three playoff teams. Quarterback Phil Rivers has been nothing short of brilliant this season and his flawless near 400 yards and three touchdown day against the Chiefs top defense just highlighted how strongly he has come back to his best after a couple of difficult years under Norv Turner. Running back Ryan Mathews is questionable for this game after injury last week so it will likely be on Rivers to again unravel a fine defense. The Chargers defense has not been good, they are the fourth worst in the NFL and although they have a few pretty good players in safety Eric Weddle and defensive ends Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes there are too many substandard players starting for this unit.
The Chargers offense will have their hands full against this defense especially with Antonio Gates doubtful. The Bengals are excellent at getting pressure with a four man rush and the Chargers offensive line looks overmatched on paper. The Bengals playmakers, particularly A.J. Green and Gio Bernard both look to have favourable matchups so as long as Dalton isn’t in kamikaze mode the Bengals will be too strong.
ATPF Prediction– Big win for the Bengals who win this by ten.
Denver Broncos @ Kansas City Chiefs
The Broncos victory against the Chiefs a couple of weeks saw most anoint them the league’s best team. When Kansas followed up with defeat against the Chargers it looked like the Broncos were about to seize control of the AFC South but they allowed a 24 point lead to slip away and lost to the Patriots in overtime.
The Chiefs lost both Tamba Hali and Justin Houston against the Chargers and they couldn’t get any pressure on Philip Rivers. Rivers found their defense considerably easier to pick apart with the duo injured but Houston may be able to play here at least, Hali will be out for a while. The Chiefs lack of a top passing attack was blamed for their defeat in Denver but they scored 38 points last week, that should be enough. Jamaal Charles has been the best running back in the NFL this year, he had another big game last week but the Broncos did a nice job of limiting his effectiveness in the first meeting.
Denver got some big plays from their defense and a big day from Knowshon Moreno last week so it was pretty astounding considering their passing attack that they lost. I suspect that Peyton Manning’s bad ankles are bothering him a little more than some realise. He has carried the injury for a while now and has barely practiced in the last month; the Broncos could do with resting him for the last week but need to shake the Chiefs off to consider that. Knowshon Moreno left the game injured in overtime last week so he has to be a doubt and Julius Thomas who missed that game is another who Manning could be without. The Broncos defense got a huge play early on from Von Miller last week and he has certainly helped this defense with his extreme athleticism yet they are still a pretty average unit overall.
We really fancied the Broncos the first time the teams met but last week’s performance, particularly by Manning tempers such enthusiasm here. The Chiefs defense however can no longer be relied upon so freely after giving up 41 last week in this stadium and key injuries are a factor. We are willing to trust that Manning simply had a bad day and that he can still push off his battered ankles, he may have a bit more time to pass than most of the Chiefs opponents have this season too.
ATPF Prediction– Broncos prevail by a touchdown.
New York Giants @ Washington Redskins
The defending NFC East champions Washington and pre season NFC East favourites New York clash here but both look out of the race. New York’s revival was halted by a game winning field goal by the Cowboys last week. Washington are a game further back and having lost three straight are just a game from the NFC basement.
The Redskins are really in turmoil, Robert Griffin III has criticised the coaches, players are saying Griffin shouldn’t be playing and Griffin himself was dreadful last week. Mike Shanahan has a great resume but even he will be tested trying to pull his divided players together for these last five matches. Only four teams in the league are worse defensively than the Redskins although two of them play in the NFC East but their offense is usually pretty good. Against San Francisco however it was not. They managed just two field goals and under 200 yards in the game and as good as the 49ers are it was a dismal day all round.
The Giants game with the Cowboys mirrored their season. They got themselves into a huge hole only to fight back and get right into contention only for their old problems to return and see the comeback come up just short. Andre Brown in particular had a big day as the Giants ran the ball with terrific results but the passing attack wasn’t able to make plays when asked as the offensive line struggled with an inspired Jason Hatcher. The Giants defense couldn’t make a stand on the Cowboys game winning drive and their edge rushers Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul were basically non factors in the game.
The Giants morale must have been damaged with such a huge loss at home but they are in far better form than their rivals here and simply have to win to have any chance of winning the NFC East. Washington are coming off a short week and likely a pretty uncomfortable one. You sense that another defeat could see them implode and you just couldn’t fancy them after their latest effort.
ATPF Prediction– Giants end the Redskins season with a ten point win.
New Orleans Saints @ Seattle Seahawks
The most eagerly awaited clash of the week sees the Seahawks twelfth man inspired defense ready to do battle with Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles et al. At 10-1 the Seahawks lead the NFC and if they can secure homefield advantage it will take something special to beat them given their record in this stadium. The Saints are just a game back and are just as tough to beat in the Superdome so this game has huge ramifications as far as the NFC favourites come January.
Seattle have won games ugly and they’ve won them impressively but one blip aside they have just kept on winning. Their defense ranks second in the league and has given up a league low 180 yards passing per game but starting corner Brandon Browner has just been hit with a one year suspension for a second substance abuse offense and nickel corner Walter Thurmond is halfway through a four game ban. The timing couldn’t be much worse with one of the most feared offenses in football rolling into town. Seattle’s 12th ranked offense will have to be effective and it can’t just be Marshawn Lynch contributing. Russell Wilson has often been just a game manager for the league’s 24th ranked passing attack with the strengths of the team elsewhere but here he may have to take some risks. Percy Harvin was acquired to be the difference in games like this and he will be expected to make big plays also.
The Saints have the fifth best defense in the league themselves, an astounding feat given they were within touching distance of giving up the most yards in a season in NFL history last year. Rob Ryan’s huge playbook full of different looks, schemes and all sorts of exotic blitzes has wreaked havoc at times but against a quarterback like Wilson they must stay in their lanes or risk him having a big day on the ground. Offensively the Saints are third best in the NFL which is about as low as they ever rank with Sean Payton and Drew Brees calling the shots. With Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles and now Mark Ingram all contributing on the ground their offense has at times looked irresistible. If they can have success on the ground they can get Jimmy Graham matched up one on one and as good as safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas are Graham is simply unstoppable one on one.
We would have probably gone for the Seahawks but for their two suspensions but their brilliant secondary will never miss Browner and Thurmond more than they will here. Sean Payton is a genius at devising offensive schemes and with eleven days to prepare here he will have all kinds of weird and wonderful things in store for the Seahawks. The Saints will have their hands full with Marshawn Lynch but Seattle will likely need more than usual from Russell Wilson here and he hasn’t proved his ability to compete with the elites of the game yet.
ATPF Prediction– A massive win for New Orleans who are a touchdown better here.