Week thirteen was a hectic one but a rewarding one as we went 12-4, our best week of the season so far. There are four weeks of the regular season and our picks are 109-65 on the year. There are a lot of crucial games as far as the playoffs this week but also a whole host of totally insignificant games with so many teams now out of the playoff race.
Houston Texans @ Jacksonville Jaguars
The Texans are now the only team in the league with as few as two wins. The Jaguars have won three of their last four games including their last two after an 0-8 start. If the Jags win this game they could genuinely finish the season feeling pretty positive about themselves while for the Texans a win would salvage a slither of pride against a rival yet a defeat would give them pole position to draft their franchise quarterback.
To lose ten straight is completely unforgivable given the way the NFL is geared and when you think the Texans won 12 regular season games and a playoff game just a year ago it’s hard to believe things could go so wrong. Houston’s losing streak started off when quarterback Matt Schaub threw a flurry of interceptions and things didn’t get any better when he was benched for little known rookie free agent Case Keenum. In between we saw head coach Gary Kubiak rushed to hospital mid game and assistant head coach Wade Phillips lost his father Bum, a former NFL head coach himself. Rather than rally in a ‘this one’s for you coach’ manner the Texans just took advantage of the situation and played even softer. They played their best game for weeks last week but still lost and although they are more talented than the Jags it’s impossible to fancy them right now, especially on the road.
What has changed in Jacksonville? Well for starters the Jags have won the turnover battle in each of their three wins which will always bridge some of the gap in ability when you have a roster like Jacksonville’s. Their offense, the league’s worst has certainly been better since running back Maurice Jones-Drew started to get more carries, while MJD is nowhere near the form of his NFL rushing title year in 2011 he at least offers some balance and consistency. The Jags defense restricted the Texans to just two field goals a fortnight ago but they were torn apart by Josh Gordon in Cleveland.
The Jags found a way to keep coming back last week and eventually knocked off the Browns with a game winning touchdown drive late on. Houston performed the better of the two teams even though they lost as they really pushed the Patriots hard. Two weeks ago an abject offensive display by the Texans saw them humiliated even further by the Jags. We still maintain that the Texans are the more talented team here but on a ten game losing streak on the road to a team that’s already beaten them at home you just can’t fancy them.
ATPF Prediction– The Jags continue their revival and Houston’s misery to win by a touchdown.
Indianapolis Colts @ Cincinnati Bengals
Both of these two teams have 8-4 records and lead their respective AFC divisions. The winner of this game will still be alive in the race for a bye through the wildcard round of the playoffs but both look pretty much assured of a playoff spot and to win their divisions.
The Colts haven’t been inspiring in recent weeks but got a crucial win over their closest pursuers in the woeful AFC South last week. Their defense is built around creating turnovers and big plays so the four interceptions they got against Tennessee would have delighted defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. The Colts offense has been stunted somewhat by losing receiver Reggie Wayne to injury and by the lack of production they have got from Trent Richardson. The Colts are pretty effective at turning their drives into points but they don’t look to have the firepower of some of the other leading teams in the AFC.
The Bengals have a ton of firepower. A.J. Green is one of the league’s best receivers, Jermaine Gresham and rookie Tyler Eifert form a dynamic pair of tight ends and running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard are an effective one-two punch. Quarterback Andy Dalton is the question mark on this whole team; he was awful in both of his two playoff games to date and has games where he kills his team with turnovers. When Dalton plays well and looks after the football the Bengals are as good as any team in football because their defense is outstanding, they held Philip Rivers and the Chargers fourth ranked offense to just ten points a week ago in another excellent showing.
On the face of it these teams are closely matched but the overall talent level of the Bengals is far greater than the Colts. Indianapolis has the better quarterback but that is about all and with the Bengals so good against the run we expect that Andrew Luck is put under enormous pressure by the Bengals pass rush. The Colts are always looking for turnovers and face a quarterback prone to them here but they will have their hands full containing all of Cincinnati’s weapons so both sides of the ball to us favour the Bengals.
ATPF Prediction– Bengals win this one by ten points and make a statement of intent.
Detroit Lions @ Philadelphia Eagles
A fantastic Thanksgiving display by the Lions not only put them top of the NFC North but also virtually ended the Packers chances in the division. The Eagles responded to the Cowboys Thanksgiving win with their fourth straight win to remain tied atop the NFC East.
The Eagles offense was dynamic from the start under college guru Chip Kelly but it was as combustible as it was explosive with Michael Vick under center. Vick’s injury problems forced Nick Foles into the starting lineup and Kelly’s offense has never looked back. Foles has nineteen touchdown passes to his name this season and is yet to throw an interception; he is playing at a pro bowl level for the league’s third best offense. The Eagles offense offsets their 31st ranked defense which almost let the Cardinals back into the game last week but crucially forced three turnovers in the game. Coordinator Bill Davis’ unit is lacking talent but has been able to do enough more often than not with a bend but don’t break mentality.
The Lions like their opponents are built around a high powered offense but they have far more talent on defense and have a line which as we saw against Green Bay can be dominant at times. In that mauling of the Packers they got seven sacks, three turnovers and held the Packers to just 136 yards and one touchdown. Jim Schwartz needs to get this level of performance more consistently from the unit. Matt Stafford takes chances with his throws but trusts himself and his receivers and his game in general was summed up by his performance on Thanksgiving. Stafford threw two picks but led his team to 40 points and nearly 600 yards of total offense as the Lions ran riot over Green Bay.
Two explosive offenses clash here in a game which could be crucial to both team’s playoff hopes. Stafford’s penchant for turnovers always concerns you when looking at the Lions but Calvin Johnson looks a matchup nightmare for the Eagles secondary here. If the Lions defense can replicate their last effort they will give Foles his toughest test to date in a game where he will have to consistently lead his team on touchdown drives. Stafford is a specialist in shootouts and we fancy his experience of them to be crucial here against a porous Eagles secondary.
ATPF Prediction– Lions get a big road win, outscore the Eagles by a touchdown.
Buffalo Bills @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers revival was halted by the might of the Panthers last week and Buffalo suffered a disappointing loss in overtime to the lowly Falcons. Tampa are 3-9 and Buffalo are 4-8 so there isn’t a great deal at stake in this AFC-NFL match.
The Bucs hat-trick of wins was inspired by finally getting some decent quarterback play with rookie Mike Glennon consistently completing his passes and not turning the ball over but in Carolina Glennon and Tampa Bay’s cautious style didn’t cut it. The Buccaneers defense ranks 16th but it is their run defense that will be most tested here against the Bills top drawer run game and if the Bills can get Gerald McCoy blocked up you can see problems for the Tampa linebackers.
Buffalo have had two major problems this year, injuries to quarterback E.J. Manuel and their two running backs and their secondary which once again was unable to make a stand late on when they had the Falcons on the ropes. Manuel and backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson are all healthy and the trio all had rushing touchdowns against Atlanta as Buffalo’s fourth ranked rushing attack racked up nearly 200 yards on the ground. The Bills defense love to blitz and will try to get after Glennon but when they don’t get home their secondary is too often exposed as the 23 touchdown passes they’ve already given up shows and Vincent Jackson looks likely to give them all they can handle here.
So it’s down to the Bills run game versus the Bucs passing game in a battle of rookie quarterbacks. We have changed our mind a few times but ultimately gone with momentum and home advantage.
ATPF Prediction– Tampa edge to a three point win.
Oakland Raiders @ New York Jets
Two more teams who won’t be playing on into January here. The Jets still could mathematically make the playoffs from 5-7 but anyone who has seen their last three games would write them off as we are doing. The Raiders may have found a diamond in the rough in undrafted rookie quarterback Matt McGloin but his time under center has started with back to back losses and the Raiders are 4-7.
McGloin made some nice throws particularly to the sidelines against Dallas but a botched exchange with center Stefan Wisniewski and a fourth quarter red zone interception were his most memorable plays. Rashad Jennings ran in a couple of short scores in big D but isn’t the threat that oft injured Darren McFadden is in the backfield. Fortunately McFadden looks set to return here but another stop start season has seen him run for just 365 yards. Oakland’s defense has regressed ever since they were embarrassed by the Eagles a month ago and have slipped into the bottom half of the rankings.
Jets quarterback Geno Smith didn’t finish the game against Miami but apparently remains the starter in New York. Smith has clearly found the burden of a poor offense and savage media tough to deal with of late and has been horrendous in the last three matches. The Jets are a run first team but with no superstar in their backfield their offense is as ineffective and unexciting as any in the league right now. The Jets wins have mostly been inspired by their defense but with the offense coughing up ten turnovers in their last three the unit have been rendered useless.
Hard to believe but we are tipping the Jets here in a battle of two pretty desperate teams. A fourth straight three or more turnover game would see us wrong but surely Rex Ryan knows his defense should win the battle against the under talented Raider offense. The Jets offense needs only take care of the ball to gain the win here.
ATPF Prediction– Jets win an ugly one by a touchdown.
Atlanta Falcons @ Green Bay Packers
The Falcons finally found a win last week when they forced overtime and won in Buffalo. Green Bay remain winless since Aaron Rodgers injury and the 2011 MVP looks a long shot again for this clash.
The Packers struggles without Rodgers got a huge exclamation point with a humiliating thirty point loss to their bitter rivals Detroit last week; they were outgained by almost 400 yards by the Lions. Scott Tolzien couldn’t deal with the rampant, bloodthirsty front four of the Lions nor could Green Bay’s extremely average offensive line. The Packers defense can get away with average when Rodgers is tearing teams apart but without him Dom Capers unit has been shown up. Detroit racked up 560 yards including over 200 on the ground last week and the Packers now better just eight teams defensively.
Atlanta’s humiliating season has long been over but a bit of pride has been restored by giving the Saints a fight and then winning in Buffalo. The Falcons can salvage some respectability from a very tough season if they can win two or three more games. Matt Ryan had a pretty good and notably interception free game in Buffalo and it’s easy to forget that he was playing really well early in the season before he was dragged down to the rest of the team’s level with the season lost. Steven Jackson has barely been fit or a factor for the Falcons since his trade from the Rams but he had a pair of touchdowns against the Bills and could salvage his year also with a strong finish. The Falcons struggled against Buffalo’s running game but had one of their best defensive showings against the might of the Saints the week before.
Until Rodgers returns there is little to like about Green Bay even at home against a 3-9 team. Atlanta’s defense should find this a welcome ease in class after the Saints and the Bills dynamic running attack and Matt Ryan and Steven Jackson will both be relishing this game after what the Lions did to the Packers on Thanksgiving.
ATPF Prediction– Falcons win on the road by ten (presuming Rodgers doesn’t play)
Cleveland Browns @ New England Patriots
The Patriots had to work a little harder than expected in Houston but won to move second in the AFC, Manning leads Brady now atop the AFC, how unusual. The Browns awful offense racked up 28 Josh Gordon inspired points against the lowly Jags, their useful defense however allowed Chad Henne to twice lead come from behind fourth quarter touchdown drives for the win.
The Browns have gone from Brandon Weeden to Brian Hoyer to Jason Campbell and back to Brandon Weeden at quarterback. Weeden is out with concussion ahead of this game and Campbell is doubtful after a severe concussion in week 12. Caleb Hanie, a backup who hasn’t thrown a pass since 2011 could start after signing on Tuesday. The Browns defense has flirted with being a top 10 unit all year but having coughed up 42, 27 and 32 since their bye they look more like ending the year in mid table obscurity.
The Patriots having been unrecognisable earlier in the season are now the team of old with their formerly useful defense now pretty moderate and awful against the run and their formerly stagnant offense now back to being pretty scary. Tom Brady has thrown for 1443 yards, 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions in his last four games since he got Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola back. The Patriots surrendered four rushing touchdowns in Houston and since Vince Wilfork’s injury they have looked really vulnerable on the ground but here they face one of the league’s worst rushing attacks so it should be little problem.
The Patriots are getting really hot right now but the Browns could easily lose all four remaining games on current form. It looks likely to be one sided and it will be.
ATPF Prediction– The Patriots win by just over twenty.
Minnesota Vikings @ Baltimore Ravens
The Vikings edged the Bears in overtime in week thirteen and have been better lately but they lost starting quarterback Christian Ponder to concussion and he is 50-50 for this one. Baltimore are really scrapping to make the final AFC wildcard spot and after beating arch rivals Pittsburgh last week look favourites to get in now.
The Ravens managed just one touchdown against the Steelers with Torrey Smith again showing just how big he has become for this offense. Joe Flacco had a good game also against the Steelers and Baltimore know from last year’s playoffs that when Joe gets hot he can stay hot. Ray Rice has had easily his worst NFL season and Baltimore rank 30th in the league in rushing. Defense has been the strength for John Harbaugh’s team and his unit are in the top ten despite playing some of the league’s best offenses this season.
Ponder hasn’t been great for the Vikings but as we’ve said before his presence seems to bring out the best in Adrian Peterson who basically is the Vikings offense. Peterson had a 200 yard game last week but will find this defense much tougher than a Bears unit which has been easy to run on of late. Even in winning Minnesota’s 30th ranked defense allowed almost 500 yards and their offense doesn’t often match such totals.
The Ravens need to keep winning and have a favourable matchup here. Expect them to be ultra aggressive upfront against the run and take advantage of Minnesota’s charitable defense to continue their march towards a wildcard spot.
ATPF Prediction– Ravens rarely win by many; seven is this week’s margin.
Kansas City Chiefs @ Washington Redskins
Three straight losses for the Chiefs have thrown them right out of the AFC West race and at 9-3 these next four games will go a long way to showing what they are or aren’t going to be capable of in the playoffs. Washington are at the other end of the scale, they are 3-9 and in line for a top 5 draft pick a year after finally winning the NFC East.
Washington were playing catch up as far as their preparation from the get go really with quarterback Robert Griffin III missing all of the preseason. That excuse doesn’t really cut it though for their defense which was expected to be much improved after being injury ravaged last year. The Redskins rank 23rd in total defense and have given up a staggering eight yards per pass attempt to opponents so expect the secondary to be seriously considered in the Redskins draft war room. Washington rank seventh offensively and lead the league in rushing behind the relentless Alfred Morris but Griffin has not hit last year’s heights. Griffin’s downturn in rushing yards and attempts can be put down to his knee but interceptions have been a bigger problem. Last year Griffin was remarkably good for a rookie, throwing just five interceptions and the Redskins were excellent in not turning it over yet this year he has already got eleven picks against his name and will head into his third year with something to prove.
Kansas City put up a better fist of it against the Broncos at home but their defense was again unable to cope with Peyton Manning’s quick releases and Denver’s arsenal of weapons. Their defense was sound for a good stretch of the season but lost both Tamba Hali and Justin Houston against the Chargers and suddenly Kansas’ dominant pass rush looks pretty ordinary. Their offense has stepped up in the last two games scoring 38 against the Chargers and 28 against the Broncos but they lost starting left tackle Brandon Albert against Denver and had to reshuffle the line and tight end Anthony Fasano was concussed so he is doubtful here too.
Two run first teams face off here and where you would have said that Kansas City’s defense would have been the difference a few weeks ago now one can’t be so sure. Kansas City are now really desperate for a win with their season in danger of slipping away whereas Washington’s is long gone. They are playing for pride but recent displays show that they aren’t that proud and we expect the Chiefs desire and discipline to get them over the line.
ATPF Prediction– Hard fought win for Kansas City, they win by a field goal.
Miami Dolphins @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin made all of the headlines last week but his team’s narrow defeat in Baltimore has them behind the eight ball as far as making the playoffs. Miami saw off their AFC East rivals the Jets to get back to .500 and they are a game ahead of the Steelers in a crowded pack fighting for the final AFC wild card spot.
The Steelers held the Ravens to just one touchdown but their defense couldn’t get off the field and gave up five field goals in the two point loss. Pittsburgh have been considerably better in the second half of the season on offense but Ben Roethlisberger is short on targets and the Steelers are particularly lacking any game changing players who can be difference makers in games such as last week’s. Their defense has been ok but no better than that and ok doesn’t cut it in Pittsburgh. They have particularly struggled against the run but face a pretty average rushing attack here.
Miami rank 25th in rushing to be precise and starting running back Lamar Miller has found the endzone just twice. Their 26th ranked offense has not gotten the kind of injection of big plays that they hoped from Mike Wallace who faces his old team here and their offensive line has been pretty poor with Jake Long gone and of course the Richie Incognito saga. Miami have relied on their defense more often than not this season although the unit are no better than average.
Two teams of similar ability face off here but Ryan Tannehill’s penchant for holding onto the ball too long could be his undoing against the Steelers who will likely blitz him early and often. Ben Roethlisberger is renowned for a similar trait but he can also make big plays when teams fail to get him down and Miami’s retooled secondary are just the kind of unit Roethlisberger has torched in the past.
ATPF Prediction– The Steelers stay alive just, winning this one by ten
Tennessee Titans @ Denver Broncos
The Broncos path to the AFC’s top seed now looks clear after beating the Chiefs again last week and they will fully expect to win this one against the overmatched Titans. Tennessee are 5-7 and saw their slim playoff and AFC South hopes all but disappear as they lost in Indianapolis last Sunday.
The Titans much improved defense and cautious offense got them off to a decent start to the season but both have slid into mediocrity as the long season has gone on. Starting quarterback Jake Locker’s season ending injury thrust former Bills starter Ryan Fitzpatrick into the starting lineup but he is not an ideal fit for an offense which prides itself on not turning it over and he threw three more interceptions last week. The Titans defense remains the team’s better unit and they rank ninth in the league after 12 games.
The Broncos need little introduction. They have been by far the NFL’s most dynamic offense so far and after last week the prospect of them facing the Seahawks in the Superbowl has football fans salivating. With Demaryius Thomas one of the league’s best receivers, Wes Welker barely missing a beat since joining from the Patriots and Eric Decker continuing his ascent up wide receiver rankings the Broncos have a terrific trio of weapons. Throw in break out tight end Julius Thomas who sat out the last two and running back Knowshon Moreno who is having a career year and the composer of the orchestra Peyton Manning, one of the all time greats and you have one of the best offenses the NFL has ever seen. If the Broncos stay healthy it will take some effort to stop them in January.
The Broncos will win this one easily but how easily exactly? We see the Titans doing ok for a while but once Fitzpatrick has to start taking risks things could get ugly with a defense which is more opportune than it is solid.
ATPF Prediction– Broncos win this one by around twenty.
Seattle Seahawks @ San Francisco 49ers
This isn’t the big rematch that the 49ers had hoped it would be with Seattle three games ahead and looking sure to win the NFC West regardless of the outcome here. Back in September Seattle served notice to the league of their intentions as they were too strong for the 49ers in all phases. They have done nothing but back their claims up since and again showed who is the NFC’s best team when they steamrollered the Saints on Monday night. San Francisco continue to look a good team themselves but we will see here how close or far away they are from Seattle with the playoffs just around the corner here.
The Seahawks defense was supposed to be weakened minus Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond (their second and third best cornerbacks) but such is the depth of the team Pete Carroll has built that they were still able to hold Drew Brees and the Saints much vaunted attack to under 200 yards and just one touchdown. The headline maker on Sunday was Russell Wilson who met the challenge to prove he can carry the team in big games with a career best performance. His accuracy is quite incredible and he has not only leapt RG3 as the second best quarterback in last year’s draft but he is now right there with Andrew Luck too.
San Francisco have got big performances from their defense back to back in wins over Washington and St.Louis. The 49ers defense has given up the fifth fewest yards in the league and only the Saints (23) have scored over 20 against them in their last nine games. San Francisco’s offense and especially their 32nd ranked passing attack has been their downfall in the four losses they’ve suffered so far. The 49ers like to control the clock and wear down opposition defenses with their ground and pound running game but when that doesn’t work Colin Kaepernick hasn’t been able to get it done through the air. With his favourite target Michael Crabtree back opposite Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis working centre field though Kaepernick should have more success going forward and the physical pair of Crabtree and Boldin will test Seattle’s patched up secondary.
We can’t wait for this game which can go either way. Both teams will want to establish the run; both will want to shut down their opponents on the ground. If one team can significantly outgain the other on the ground that will be key, we reckon both have some success but neither will dominate. Russell Wilson is the more assured passer but the 49ers have the stronger receivers with Harvin and Rice out for Seattle and at home we give them the slight edge.
ATPF Prediction– 49ers get a crucial win here, winning by a field goal.
St. Louis Rams @ Arizona Cardinals
The other two NFC West teams do battle here with the 7-5 Cardinals still fighting to make the sixth spot in the NFC and the Rams at 5-7 looking to complete a respectable if disappointing season.
The Cardinals fourth quarter comeback came up short against the red hot Eagles last week but indoors at home they have been very tough to beat and only the Seahawks have come away with a win there. Carson Palmer threw a pair of interceptions in Philly and the veteran finds places like the wide open, windy Lincoln Financial Field a problem these days. Indoors he seems to throw the ball with more confidence and velocity. The Cards defense has been their star turn; they held the Eagles to 307 yards last week and average just 315 per game on the year. Their big, aggressive front three are all tough to block one on one and in linebacker Daryl Washington and corner Patrick Peterson they have two big time playmakers.
The Rams found the 49ers defense too tough last week with backup quarterback Kellen Clemens at the helm. Rookie receiver, returner and running back Tavon Austin provides the big play spark and fellow rookie Zac Stacy has been a significant upgrade since cracking the starting eleven at tailback. The Rams defense has gotten better as the season has gone on but their secondary is vulnerable when the rush can’t get home and the 7.6 yards per attempt for opposing quarterbacks tells the tale.
Few teams would get our vote in Arizona and the Rams aren’t one of them. Carson Palmer should have plenty of joy here with talented pair Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd going against the Rams modest secondary and the Rams offensive line will have it all to do against the three men mountains upfront for the Cardinals.
ATPF Prediction– Cardinals dominate at home again, win by two touchdowns.
New York Giants @ San Diego Chargers
Two of the better 5-7 teams around face off here but neither look to have any chance of getting into the playoffs. The Giants at least beat the Redskins last week and have been a different team since they lost their first six games. The Chargers beat the Chiefs in Kansas City in week 12 but inconsistency has been their downfall and their offense found the Bengals too strong last week.
The Giants revival has been inspired by their defense although their ability to get pressure upfront which has been so instrumental to the current regimes two Superbowl wins remains inconsistent. Offensively they have found running backs they can trust in journeyman Andre Brown and veteran Brandon Jacobs and the improved balance has improved their offensive line play. Kevin Gilbride has toned down the deep passing a little after Eli Manning threw an avalanche of interceptions early in the season but in doing so he has also limited Manning’s best asset.
The Chargers passing game has been one of the league’s best this season with Phil Rivers enjoying a renaissance. Rivers has thrown 23 touchdown passes and led his team to a top 5 offensive ranking through 12 games. He had one of his more average games last week after a sensational display in Kansas City the week before but will find the Giants defense easier than the Bengals top five unit. San Diego started a rebuild of their defense in the offseason and the result has been inconsistency. They rank 29th overall and a linebacking corps looking in need of further investment has been the culprits behind them averaging 4.9 yards per carry conceded.
The Giants run first game looks sure to trouble the Chargers but San Diego’s passing game could have just as much success against a Giants secondary which is pretty ordinary. This is a pretty marginal game so the home comforts of warm Southern California could be the difference for San Diego.
ATPF Prediction– Chargers win an entertaining game by seven.
Carolina Panthers @ New Orleans Saints
The Panthers brilliant eight game winning streak has hauled them level in the NFC South after the Saints were soundly beaten in Seattle on Monday Night.
Carolina strangled the Bucs last week and their second ranked defense is outstanding week in and week out. Their offense is based on a run first, turnover free approach with Cam Newton able to make just enough big plays to keep defenses honest. The Panthers rank 24th in yards but 15th in scoring with plenty of short fields handed to them by their defense.
There is no shame in losing in Seattle but the manner of the Saints loss on Monday night was surprising. Their defense has consistently surprised us this year but while their focus on Marshawn Lynch was successful they couldn’t deal with Russell Wilson’s dual threat ability which bodes badly ahead of this game. The biggest surprise in Seattle was the Saints offense only managing the one touchdown. Drew Brees wasn’t able to get the key completions when he needed them and the Seahawks were able to virtually shut down the Saints rushing attack which entered the game on a hot streak.
Very few teams win in the Superdome but we are going to say that Carolina will do. At a time in the season when the best teams are being separated from the pretenders the Saints looked a few notches off top class last week whereas the Panthers have come through all of their toughest tests of late. The Panthers are a similar team to Seattle in many ways and can follow the Seahawks lead in exploiting the Saints weaknesses.
ATPF Prediction– Carolina win by seven.
Dallas Cowboys @ Chicago Bears
The Cowboys and Bears are both fighting for their respective NFC divisions with four games to go. Dallas have won their last two and remain tied with Philadelphia in the East but the Bears have lost their last two and are a game behind Detroit now.
The long term absence of quarterback Jay Cutler hasn’t been as big as losing Lance Briggs for the Bears. In Briggs’ absence Chicago have consistently struggled against the run and have given up over 500 yards rushing in their last two games. Bears backup quarterback Josh McCown has been comfortably the best of the backups to play in the NFL this season and Chicago rank in the top ten in both passing and total offense as a result. McCown has just one interception so far this season and has two huge targets in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.
Dallas’ 32nd ranked defense struggled to contain the Raiders in the first half and although they were better in the second they will find this much tougher with Matt Forte, Marshall and Jeffery all top class in their respective positions. The Cowboys offense has been more conservative this year which makes the run game all the more important. DeMarco Murray is fit again and the oft injured starter ran in three touchdowns on thanksgiving. Against a Bears unit which has really struggled recently Murray could be vital here.
While the Cowboys come here in slightly better form we fancy the Bears. Morris Claiborne is out and while Orlando Scandrick is playing well he doesn’t have the size to cover either Jeffery or Marshall and we expect the Bears to score plenty of point en-route to success.
ATPF Prediction– Bears have too much for the Cowboys and win by ten.