Three weeks remain in the 2013 season. Week 14 saw the Broncos and Colts both join the Seahawks in the playoffs and several other teams are as good as in and ready to confirm their places this week.
We at atpf followed our season high 12-4 total from week 13 with another 12-4 week 14. On the season we have a 121-69 record but learnt from one pretty big mistake last week; always check the weather reports! We had no idea just how severe the weather was going to be in places like Philadelphia. Had we known we would have had a few different predictions but we’re not crying over spilt milk, just learning from the mistake.
San Diego Chargers @ Denver Broncos
The Chargers kept their slim playoff hopes alive last week when beating the Giants whilst the Broncos reminded us of just how unstoppable their offense can be as they mauled the Titans.
The biggest concern in Denver right now is the health of Wes Welker who had a second concussion this season against the Titans. They might hold him out until the playoffs now but he is certainly going to be missing this one. Even so the Broncos can boast Demaryius and Julius Thomas, Eric Decker and Knowshon Moreno at the skill positions. Defensively the Broncos are still a long way behind the likes of Seattle, Carolina or San Francisco but their offense twice made light work of a strong Chiefs defense in wins so they may not need to worry about defense too much anyway.
San Diego have a pretty dynamic offense and quarterback themselves in Phil Rivers and the fourth ranked offense he leads. Rivers doesn’t have the weapons at his disposal that Peyton Manning does but in Keenan Allen has a very talented young receiver who could cause the Broncos some problems. The Chargers defense has really struggled this season and ranks 28th in the league while averaging almost six and a half yards per play to opponents.
The Chargers can score some points and move the ball easily enough here but need to get touchdowns not field goals unlike the two’s first meeting. Denver will undoubtedly score touchdowns and it’s hard to see the Chargers keeping pace for 60 minutes.
ATPF Prediction– Broncos win a high scorer by around ten.
Chicago Bears @ Cleveland Browns
The Bears got a crucial win on Monday against the Cowboys to draw level with the Lions again in the NFC North. The Browns who we wrote off a week ago gave the Patriots an almighty scare.
Browns receiver Josh Gordon is the hottest receiver in football right now and he has been borderline unstoppable in the last few games. Journeyman Jason Campbell returned against the Patriots and he seems to be the best of the quarterbacks in Cleveland. The Browns defense has been the strength of the team this season and although they haven’t been quite up to scratch of late this is still the league’s seventh best unit.
Chicago scored on their first eight drives against the Cowboys and we are no longer worried who is under center for the Bears. Matt Forte is one of the most underrated players in the league at running back and giant receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery cause matchup nightmares with their sheer size. The Bears biggest problem is stopping the run but here they face one of the league’s poorest rushing attacks so they should be able to manage the problem.
This is an altogether different task for the must win Bears. The Browns defense is far sounder than the Cowboys and they won’t have it all their own way for sure. Josh Gordon likewise may find Tim Jennings a tough opponent although he hasn’t been close to 2012 form in 2013. We favour the Bears because they have three playmakers to the Browns one, this game may be low scoring but somebody should get the Bears a touchdown or two.
ATPF Prediction– Chicago edge to a three point win.
San Francisco 49ers @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The 49ers got a big win against the Seahawks and one that will give them real belief with the playoffs around the corner. Tampa Bay’s season was over long ago but they have fought back to four wins and found a solid young quarterback in Mike Glennon.
Glennon has been unspectacular and very cautious but he has given the Buccaneers some stability and ball security at the position, he may be better still next year. Receiver Vincent Jackson is having another fine year and is a very consistent player. The Buccaneers defense has steadily improved of late and a top ten finish is in sight, their performance in holding the Bills to just two field goals and forcing five turnovers last week was their best of the season.
The 49ers defense, the fifth best in the league held the Seahawks to seventeen last week and they have only conceded over twenty once since week three. Their offense wasn’t great against Seattle but four Phil Dawson field goals and a single touchdown saw them home. Frank Gore is on the verge of another 1000 yard season but San Francisco are dead last in the league in passing and they will need recently returned Michael Crabtree to have an influence if they are to go deep in the playoffs.
Defenses should dominate this game but the 49ers unit is bombproof. Tampa Bay could find Colin Kaepernick tough to handle on the run and he gives the 49ers an extra element that Mike Glennon doesn’t for Tampa.
ATPF Prediction– 49ers win this one by a hard fought touchdown.
Houston Texans @ Indianapolis Colts
Will the 2-11 Texans win another game this season or are they already booked for the first pick in the 2014 draft? We suspect the latter. The Colts won the poor AFC South even though they lost last week.
What a mess this season has been in Houston. Gary Kubiak was fired after last week’s defeat and the Texans are now searching for their second ever head coach. Things could pick up quickly for the Texans next year; they have some real talent on the roster and will no doubt be looking at the Chiefs who of course picked first this year as inspiration.
The Colts can look forward to the postseason now but look some way short of the best AFC teams although they have beaten the Broncos this season. The Colts rank nineteenth offensively and lack playmakers. Reggie Wayne was lost for the season and the bewildering trade for Trent Richardson looks a big mistake. Their defense gives up yards but lives for big, game changing plays. Robert Mathis leads the league in sacks and the Colts have a plus six turnover ratio.
The Colts should beat the sorry Texans, especially at home.
ATPF Prediction– Indianapolis win by ten.
New England Patriots @ Miami Dolphins
The Patriots are on the verge of another AFC East title and only losing their last three could cost them. Miami, their closest pursuers have won back to back games and at least are right in the wildcard race even if the division looks beyond them.
The Patriots lost Rob Gronkowski to a torn ACL last week and without him things look much harder for New England going forward. Tom Brady has been red hot of late and the Patriots are eighth in the league offensively now. They will need a revival from their toiling defense now to make up for Gronkowski’s loss but since Vince Wilfork went down they have bled yards on the ground and through the air.
Miami leant on their defense to beat the Jets a fortnight ago and then it was their offense which won them the game against Pittsburgh last week. Ryan Tannehill has had his ups and downs in his sophomore season but was pretty good against the Steelers in tough conditions. The Dolphins should have some success here but Tannehill has to get rid of the ball rather than taking costly sacks. Their defense is a mid-table unit led by the outstanding Cameron Wake but hamstrung by their porous secondary.
This is no foregone conclusion with Gronkowski so important to Tom Brady but Brady should still be the difference maker here. Ryan Tannehill should have success of his own but can he be mistake free in such a critical game?
ATPF Prediction– The Patriots edge to a three point success.
Washington Redskins @ Atlanta Falcons
The battle for the second pick in the NFL draft of 2014 starts here. The Redskins have lost five straight to get to 3-10 while the Falcons actually won two weeks ago before resuming normal service last week.
The Redskins are an absolute mess right now. The fallout from their aberration of a season has been public and it has been ugly. Robert Griffin III, the rookie of the year last year and supposed saviour for Washington has been poor, he has passed the blame however onto the coaches. Head coach Mike Shanahan consequently is under fire and the former Superbowl winner could be on his way after the season. Then there’s Griffin’s health, Shanahan has always defended rushing him back after his torn ACL but now with the season gone he’s talking about benching him for health reasons. Either he was never truly ready to play or this is simply Shanahan making a stand as to who is in charge of this team. Something it seems will have to give in the capital and we expect it to be Shanahan.
The Falcons mess has been brought on by an avalanche of injuries and a defense which may be the league’s worst at rushing the passer. Teams have averaged 7.6 yards per pass against the Falcons whose secondary is also in desperate need of upgrade. Their offense has missed the outstanding Julio Jones way more than we expected with no big play threat beyond him. Jones continues to be missed but Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez are both now fully healthy as is running back Steven Jackson so the Falcons are only missing one starter at the skill positions.
Two teams who are counting down to the season end here but we fancy the Falcons quite strongly. They are far better in the Georgia Dome and have pushed the Patriots and Saints close at home as well as getting two of their three wins here. Washington will fancy this matchup but whether Kirk Cousins can get more from a modest group of receivers remains to be seen.
ATPF Prediction– Falcons gain their fourth win; they beat the Redskins by a touchdown.
Seattle Seahawks @ New York Giants
A chance for the NFC leading Seahawks to have a look around the stadium they hope they will revisit in February here as the 11-2 Seahawks look to bounce back from last week’s defeat by the 49ers and slam the door shut on the Saints in the race for the NFC’s top seed in the playoffs. The Giants mini revival has been halted as they’ve lost two of their last three to drop to 5-8 and out of the playoff race.
A disappointing season for Tom Coughlin’s team started with a tidal wave of turnovers sending them spiralling to an 0-6 start. Three more turnovers in last week’s loss to the Chargers took their total to a staggering 34 and a minus 13 ratio. Their defense has been completely overwhelmed at times by their self destructive offense and the tenth ranked unit must wonder what’s coming next from Eli Manning. How hard the proud Giants will fight for these last few games remains to be seen but either way this team looks a long way short of their Superbowl team of nearly three years ago.
The Seahawks lost an ill tempered, hard fought war in San Francisco last week as four Phil Dawson field goals led the 49ers to a two point victory. With Percy Harvin again injured and potentially out until the playoffs and Sidney Rice out for the season Seattle lack weapons in the passing attack and it showed in San Francisco as little known rookie Luke Willson caught the only touchdown pass from Russell Wilson and led the team in receiving. The Seahawks will need Harvin back and firing if they are to fulfil their dream of winning the Superbowl. Their defense is of course outstanding and even with a couple of key suspensions in their secondary they haven’t missed a beat and are currently the NFL’s number one ranked unit.
The Seahawks number one defense is bad news for the Giants turnover loving offense. Seattle will look to stop the run and wait for Manning to take the chances that have been so costly to them this year. Seattle will likely be pretty conservative offensively with Marshawn Lynch expected to have a heavy workload.
ATPF Prediction– The Seahawks defense is the key as they win by ten here.
Buffalo Bills @ Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jags keep winning in ‘garbage time’ and in doing so keep falling further down the pecking order for drafting a quarterback next May. The Bills are now level with Jacksonville at 4-9 after an appalling offensive display in Tampa Bay last week.
E.J. Manuel, Buffalo’s raw rookie quarterback threw four interceptions against the Bucs as the Bills toiled to just two field goals against the lowly Buccaneers. The Bills offense centers on their fifth ranked rushing attack spearheaded by the explosive C.J. Spiller and bruising Fred Jackson but neither got going at all last week and much more is needed here. The Bills secondary is their defensive weakness with twenty five touchdown passes already conceded but they have managed eighteen interceptions at least.
The Jags have won four of their last five and with their soft second half of the season continuing here they will again be hopeful. In their post by-week revival they haven’t allowed 100 yards rushing once and if they can continue that trait here they will likely have the upper hand. Their 29th ranked defense did give up 221 yards rushing to the 49ers in week eight however and the Bills are one place ahead of the 49ers in the rushing statistics. Jacksonville still have the league’s worst offense but Chad Henne is playing pretty well and Maurice Jones-Drew is still a solid short yardage and goal line runner.
Can the Jags continue their hot streak or will the Bills gain just their second road win of the year? All the momentum is on the Jaguars side and while we are worried about Buffalo’s running game we are taking the Jags to win their fourth on the bounce here.
ATPF Prediction– Jacksonville edge this one by three points.
Philadelphia Eagles @ Minnesota Vikings
The Eagles are on the longest winning streak in the NFL at five games and the run looks like taking them to the NFC East title. The Vikings are 3-9-1 and their last four games have all been decided by a field goal or less.
Minnesota couldn’t hold off the Ravens in the snow last week in a wild finish where Baltimore scored 22 fourth quarter points. Adrian Peterson left the game with a foot injury and was in a walking boot on Monday yet the Vikings haven’t ruled him out. Peterson has remarkable powers of recovery, we know that but we don’t see any way he can make this game. Without him bruising runner Toby Gerhart will start in the backfield and quarterback Christian Ponder, out with concussion in Baltimore should return. Minnesota’s defense managed three interceptions of Joe Flacco but he still led the Ravens to a game winning drive and only the wretched Cowboys are giving up more yards than the Vikings.
Philadelphia’s defense leapfrogged Minnesota into the dizzy heights of 30th overall as the Eagles had fun in the snow against the Lions. Shady McCoy has been the NFC’s best running back this year and he had over 200 yards and a pair of scores against Detroit. Nick Foles finally threw an interception but it was little issue as he moved to twenty touchdown passes on the year. The Eagles third ranked offense and perhaps the most balanced in the league should relish this matchup.
Even with Adrian Peterson we would fancy Philadelphia strongly, without him this looks a formality. The Eagles high powered offense should completely have their way here whilst the Vikings offense looks pretty toothless minus Peterson.
ATPF Prediction– Philadelphia take their streak to six, they are two touchdowns better than Minnesota.
New York Jets @ Carolina Panthers
The Panthers win streak ended at eight in the Superdome but they should quickly regain the thread against the 6-7 Jets who rode the ‘Genocoaster’ to success last week.
Geno Smith had been awful in his previous three games but managed a nice game against the lowly Raiders as the Jets stayed alive in their very thin hopes of a playoff spot. The Jets won’t make the playoffs and to do so next year they will need Smith to be considerably more consistent and make far less bad decisions. The defense of Rex Ryan’s team hasn’t been a problem; they rank just outside the top ten and could be a dominant unit if they can find a genuine edge rusher this offseason.
The Panthers defense; the league’s second best got a rude awakening by Drew Brees and the Saints last week as Brees threw four touchdown passes and New Orleans accumulated nearly 400 yards of offense. Carolina conversely had to wait until the fourth quarter for their lone touchdown as the Saints got relentless pressure on Cam Newton in the deafening Superdome. Against the Patriots a few weeks ago Cam Newton had the sort of game we have been waiting for but in New Orleans he showed that as a passer he is still some way off the likes of Drew Brees although it must be said that Carolina have no Jimmy Graham’s or Darren Sproles on their roster.
The Panthers may have had their limitations exposed by the Saints but they are a far superior team to the Jets and their excellent defense could throw the ‘Genocoaster’ back off the rails here. The Jets should limit the Panthers running game but Cam Newton could be a big problem if he can get to the edge.
ATPF Prediction– Panthers back to winning ways, beat the Jets by ten.
Kansas City Chiefs @ Oakland Raiders
The Chiefs snapped their three game losing streak and showed that they are still a top team as they trounced the toiling Redskins behind their resurgent defense last week but the Raiders fell to one of the league’s worst teams on current form, the New York Jets.
The Raiders and their colourful fans would love nothing more than to upset the Chiefs but they haven’t beaten a team with a winning record this season so it’s hard to summon much optimism for them. The Raiders rank 20th in the league offensively but their new approach of splitting playing time between quarterbacks Matt McGloin and Terrelle Pryor is an idiotic one and shows that the Raiders don’t truly believe in either.
Kansas City got six sacks and two turnovers in Washington last week and after a few rocky outings the performance should bring back some confidence to a unit that sat inside the top ten for most of the season. Their offense got back to doing what it does best too in Washington running the ball consistently and successfully and having some success with a cautious short passing game. The Chiefs will guarantee a playoff spot with a win here, a tremendous achievement by Andy Reid and his staff.
The Chiefs won the first clash between these teams by seventeen at Arrowhead but they have lost a few players since and the Raiders can keep it closer at home although their chances of winning are very slim indeed.
ATPF Prediction– Chiefs win by ten.
New Orleans Saints @ St. Louis Rams
The Saints look booked for the NFC’s second seed after comprehensively beating their NFC South rivals Carolina last week. The Rams are 5-8 after consecutive defeats and their season has been a disappointment.
The Rams have collectively played better in the second half of the season without starting quarterback Sam Bradford but have suffered poor play at the position from backup Kellen Clemens. Clemens has managed just one touchdown pass in his last two games against the top ten defenses of San Francisco and Arizona but there is little respite here with the Saints sixth ranked unit rolling into town. St. Louis’ defense has been a little disappointing as a unit although Robert Quinn has been exceptional and is a major contender for defensive player of the year.
The Saints were back to their very best as Drew Brees dissected the Panthers second ranked defense with clinical precision. The phenomenal Brees could again top 5000 yards passing this season and his 33 touchdown passes, eight interceptions ratio is absolutely outstanding. With chalk and cheese playmakers Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles at full speed the Saints are ultra dynamic and if Marques Colston can come to the party as he did last week things could get even better.
The Saints are better than the Rams in all phases of the game. Their blitz heavy defense should get plenty of pressure on Clemens and their offense won’t meet much resistance either.
ATPF Prediction– Saints are two touchdowns too good here.
Arizona Cardinals @ Tennessee Titans
The Cardinals are one place and one win outside of the playoffs as it stands and they have to be thinking of finishing 3-0 to try and get in as the final NFC wildcard team. Tennessee looked to have a chance of an AFC wildcard until they suffered back to back losses and now they would need a minor miracle to get in.
The Cards have been one of the season’s success stories given the perception that they were in rebuilding mode and were light years behind the NFC West’s two powerhouses Seattle and San Francisco. Although the Cardinals haven’t beaten either they are just one game behind San Francisco and they host them in week 17. Arizona’s success can largely be attributed to their fifth ranked defense and their 6-1 home record. Their offense has improved too as Carson Palmer has cut down on his mistakes and both Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd are having nice seasons.
Tennessee have won just two of their last nine games and a promising start is a pretty distant memory now. Journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick has struggled on the whole at quarterback save for a game winning touchdown in Oakland three weeks ago and running back Chris Johnson, he of 2k fame is unlikely to rush for 1k again this season. The Titans defense has been ok on the whole but they still lack a consistent pass rush.
As much as the Cardinals are better at home they are still the strong favourites here. The Titans 2-7 run shows just how poor the team has been and the Cardinals defense should be able to virtually shut Clemens and co down.
ATPF Prediction– The Cardinals are ten points too good here.
Green Bay Packers @ Dallas Cowboys
The Packers finally won without Aaron Rodgers last week and somehow they are just a half game off the pace in the NFC North. The Cowboys lost their long held divisional lead with a dire performance in Chicago and look like finishing second in the NFC East for a fourth straight year.
Rodgers has missed Green Bay’s last five and three quarter games and in that stretch the team have a win, a tie and four losses to their name. Again the former MVP looks unlikely this week so Matt Flynn who seems to have found his feet again in Wisconsin is the likely starter. Flynn completed three quarters of his passes against the Falcons and rookie of the year contender Eddie Lacy got his seventh rushing touchdown of the season. Green Bay’s weakness apart from at quarterback has been an underperforming defense which ranks 21st in the league and has a paltry sixteen turnovers, just seven of which are interceptions so far.
The Cowboys defense is a sieve. They are the league’s worst unit and allowed the Bears to score on their first eight drives on Monday night. Their secondary was no match for the Bears receivers, they got no pass rush and their tackling of Matt Forte was awful. Usually the Cowboys at least have a powerful offense but a more restrained 2013 version ranks just 22nd in the league. Tony Romo is clearly playing under restraint and as much as it’s stopped his backbreaking plays it’s also taken away his effectiveness. If the Cowboys are going to somehow get the three wins they need to finish the season, they have to turn him loose.
Minus Rodgers there isn’t that much in this one. The Cowboys defense can’t stop anyone it seems but they have gotten turnovers this season and Matt Flynn mustn’t make mistakes. The Cowboys offense has been way too cautious of late considering how bad the defense is. They must take more chances but can afford to against a Green Bay defense so shy when it comes to interceptions. We are presuming Rodgers is out when we predict that the Cowboys win this one.
ATPF Prediction– Dallas stay alive with a turnover inspired, three point victory.
Cincinnati Bengals @ Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers inexplicable loss in the snow to the Dolphins last week ended their wildcard hopes in the AFC. The Bengals are finally going to win the AFC North and could do so this week if they win and Baltimore lose.
Cincinnati are a very strong team on both sides of the ball. Their defense has barely missed a beat since losing all-pro Geno Atkins and the unit ranks eighth in the league. Their offense is tenth in yards and tenth in scoring and few teams have the amount of weapons that they do. Andy Dalton has been the architect of most of their losses this season but is pretty good more often than not. Dalton is 0-2 in the postseason and he will be judged on the playoffs rather than the regular season this year.
Pittsburgh have always been playing catch-up after a bad start and although they got back into contention they are a heavily flawed team. Their defense is as well coached as any around but hasn’t reached the heights we expect from them. Although Troy Polamalu got a big pick six they still gave up three touchdown passes to the inexperienced Ryan Tannehill and allowed Daniel Thomas 6.6 yards per carry and a touchdown last week in a game that ended their season. A miracle play to win the game came up just short as Antonio Brown narrowly failed to stay in bounds at the end. Brown and journeyman Jerricho Cotchery have both had good seasons but the Steelers have missed the vertical threat of Mike Wallace and their offensive line has desperately missed too often injured center Maurkice Pouncey.
The Bengals are simply a superior team to the Steelers. Pittsburgh will fight with all they have here but it’s hard to see how they can a) stop the Bengals offense or b) consistently score against their defense.
ATPF Prediction– Bengals move a step closer to the AFC North, win by seven.
Baltimore Ravens @ Detroit Lions
This game has major playoff implications. The Lions were lost under a mountain of snow in Philadelphia last week and now lead the AFC North on just head to heads. Baltimore are now favourites to get the AFC’s last playoff spot having won three straight games.
The Ravens used all of their experience, knowhow and sheer will to come through in the clutch last week. They scored three fourth quarter touchdowns including the game winner with nine seconds remaining to finally overcome the stubborn Vikings. Their defense had led their previous two wins against the Steelers and Jets but was found wanting against an Adrian Peterson-less Vikings. Baltimore know how to win games in December and January and they will hope their experience can carry them into the postseason.
The Lions are an incredibly up and down team, a hugely talented team that too often underperforms when it really matters. They got a good start in Philly but minus Reggie Bush they didn’t have a back of anywhere near LeSean McCoy’s ability and when McCoy ran wild late on they were swept aside. Their defensive line, one of the most talented around was awesome on Thanksgiving as they overwhelmed the Packers upfront but the Eagles pulled them all over the field and they were completely nullified. Detroit could be without Reggie Bush again here which will put this all on Calvin Johnson and Matt Stafford offensively.
The Ravens are carrying some momentum right now and they are a team well capable of outplaying the sum of their parts. Despite this the Lions are our fancy, they were brilliant in their last home game and their latest defeat can largely be disregarded due to the unplayable conditions. Wins over the Jets, Steelers and Vikings were all big for the Ravens but the Lions are a vastly more talented team than that trio and are a tough game for anyone on their own ground.
ATPF Prediction– Lions cling on atop the NFC North with a seven point win.