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ATPF Preview Conference Championships

 

So here we are, the conference Championships, for every player this is the big one, they are on the cusp of the Superbowl and the game they have dreamed of for so long. Of course this is hardly alien territory to the likes of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Bill Belichick or indeed any member of the 49ers who of course lost the big game itself a year ago.

New England Patriots @ Denver Broncos

Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning for the AFC title. It’s a script we’ve all read before but this time Manning is clad in orange not blue. In his second year in Denver Manning has had one of the greatest years in NFL history, breaking virtually every single season passing record along the way. Of course Brady’s historic 16-0 season of 2007 saw play of a similar calibre and the two best quarterbacks of this century will once again do battle here, maybe for the final time.

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Brady took a backseat as the Patriots pummelled the Colts on the ground last week. It was a win that will have inspired confidence in New England considering the Colts were one of just three teams to beat the Broncos in the regular season, of course New England were one of the trio too, downing the Broncos in overtime nearly two months ago. LeGarrette Blount led the way as the Patriots scored six rushing touchdowns against the Colts and ran for 234 yards total. The Patriots lack of a superstar receiver minus Rob Gronkowski was easily overcome with Blount in particular’s big day but if the Broncos can tighten up against the run it will be interesting to see how Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman fare against a secondary that gives up too many big plays. The Patriots defense scooped up four interceptions from Andrew Luck last week and the unit tries to mix up coverages and give opposition signal callers a variety of different looks to cause confusion. Manning will enjoy such a battle and his excellence at changing plays at the line of scrimmage could tie the Patriots in knots. The defense of New England has to have some success up front to give them a chance here. If they can attack running back Knowshon Moreno at the line of scrimmage and get some pressures on Manning they should be able to force a few punts but if Manning has time and a viable check down run game to audible to the Broncos dominant offense could be unstoppable.

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Denver’s offense is not just about Manning, the arsenal of offensive weapons at his disposal is what terrifies opponents. Demaryius Thomas is their number one; he is the big bodied dynamic deep threat. Eric Decker runs fantastic routes, catches well and is a danger with the ball in his hands. Wes Welker faces up to his old team here and remains the premier slot receiver in the game, his ability to find a small crease in the center of the field to get open is unparalleled. Julius Thomas has been the surprise of the year; the tight end is a real threat in the red zone and his combination of size and wide receiver speed causes matchup nightmares. Running back Knowshon Moreno is also having a career year, the former first round pick is a tough inside runner who excels near the goal line. The Broncos defense has been up and down throughout the year but seems to have a knack for making big plays just when they need them. They held the Chargers top five offense to just 17 points last week but couldn’t cope with Keenan Allen. Star pass rusher Von Miller’s season ending injury could yet haunt the Broncos and in this game they could really do with him. New England do a great job of keeping Tom Brady upright so minus the superb Miller it will be interesting to see if and how they pressure him.

Both defenses are flawed here so this one will come down to which defense can make a stand every now and then because we suspect the majority of drives will result in points. Expect the Broncos to priorities stopping the Patriots running game after last week and try to turn this into a shootout. If that becomes the case Manning’s superior weapons will be key and for that reason we expect Denver, the AFC’s best team to indeed win the AFC.

ATPF PredictionBroncos 38 Patriots 27

San Francisco 49ers @ Seattle Seahawks

These two NFC West powerhouses hate each other and on the field blood is always spilled when they do battle. The two teams are very similar and that’s what makes their contests so fascinating. They both won their home clash against each other with Seattle beating San Francisco surprisingly easily here early in the season.

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The Seahawks only lost once at home this season and their 13-3 record was the best in the NFC. They built their success around the league’s number one ranked defense and the unit gave up just one touchdown in two meetings with the 49ers. The Seahawks are dominant and deep upfront with giant Red Bryant playing over the strong side tackle and speedy pass rushers Chris Clemons, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett all rotating in to get after quarterbacks. Cornerback Richard Sherman has gained virtual shutdown status, his physical style and ability to intercept passes strikes fear into opposing quarterbacks. Playmaking strong safety Kam Chancellor and center field hawk Earl Thomas are easily the best duo in the league and round out a fantastic defense. Seattle’s offense isn’t far behind, sophomore quarterback Russell Wilson has climbed to the top of an extraordinary quarterback draft class of 2012 with his brilliant play this season. Wilson is as dangerous with his legs as he is with his arm but even when he sets off he keeps his eyes downfield looking to throw rather carry the ball and his accuracy on the move is as good as anyone in the league. As good as Wilson is veteran running back Marshawn Lynch remains the bread and butter of the offense. Lynch is a relentless battering ram who has a knack of making people miss and is as tough to tackle as anyone in the league. Lynch’s inside running opens up lanes for Wilson to scramble to the edge and make plays. The Seahawks look like missing playmaker Percy Harvin again but he has barely been sighted all year and that hasn’t stopped them.

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San Francisco are in their third straight NFC Championship under head coach Jim Harbaugh and after making the Superbowl at the second attempt they only have eyes on winning the Lombardi Trophy this time around. Like their rivals defense is the strength of the team and after a slow start they ended up as the fifth best unit in the league. A week ago against the Panthers two interceptions of Cam Newton were vital in a game that was considerably closer than the final score suggested. Linebacker Patrick Willis and safety Donte Whitner were the two interceptors and both are top drawer defenders. Willis’s partnership with Navorro Bowman is the heart of this unit with both undoubtedly in the top five inside linebackers in the league and as a unit the two can take over a game at times. Upfront the relentless power of defensive end Justin Smith sets the tone and defensive end/linebacker Aldon Smith is one of the most physically gifted pass rushers in the league.  Continuing the similarities between the two teams the 49ers offense revolves around their power running game. Veteran Frank Gore has been a fine player for the 49ers for a long time and he sets the tone. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick may be the most explosive runner at his position in the league and his speed off the edge makes him a big play threat every time he tucks it and runs. The 49ers passing offense languished near the bottom of the rankings all year but Kaepernick’s favourite target Michael Crabtree’s return has given them a jolt. Hardnosed veteran Anquan Boldin and lightning fast tight end Vernon Davis combine with Crabtree to give Kaepernick a strong arsenal of weapons.

These two know each other so well and such games tend to come down to turnovers. Who will make the crucial error when it matters, who will make the big play that swings the game in his teams favour? We can’t split the two on paper but they reckon home field advantage is worth three points and at deafening CenturyLink Field it may be worth a little more so we are going to give Seattle the edge.

ATPF PredictionSeahawks 17  49ers 13

 

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ATPF Preview Wildcard Round

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What a crazy week to finish the season. The Steelers mustn’t be able to comprehend how the Chargers ‘won’ their game against the Chiefs backups. The Bears must also be hurting, they had their winner takes all game in their grasp, Julius Peppers had Aaron Rodgers in his grasp, Rodgers escaped, Green Bay escaped and piled more misery on their deadly rivals. There was a familiar theme even minus Tony Romo in Dallas as for the third straight year the Cowboys lost a winner takes all NFC East clash; all three teams have beaten them in the three year skid. The coaching carousel is in full swing too, Gary Kubiak’s position was untenable, Mike Shanahan and Greg Schiano had lost their locker rooms and both Leslie Frazier and particularly Jim Schwartz had failed to meet expectations relevant to the talent level on their rosters. I do feel most for one year head coach Rob Chudzinski, fired by the Browns. Chudzinski inherited a woeful roster and organisation which knows only how to lose, admittedly they fell apart once the season was lost but if Michael Lombardi thinks anyone is making this team competitive in one season he is very much mistaken.

Anyway to look back, we went 13-3 in our condensed week 17 preview, our best week of the year. In our first season we went 151-87 on predictions; we have had plenty of fun and a few headaches along the way but turned out reasonable numbers. Onto the playoffs now and the stakes are raised, we are excited about the next month but hope it doesn’t go too quick.

Kansas City Chiefs @ Indianapolis Colts

A fortnight ago the Colts beat the Chiefs 23-7 in this stadium so will certainly enter this game with confidence. They have been giant killers in an 11-5 AFC South winning season, San Francisco, Denver and indeed Kansas City were all favoured but all beaten by the Colts. The Colts are not without their flaws but they certainly have the winning knack. Their defense ranked 20th in yards allowed but eighth in scoring, allowing just 21 points per game and the 27 turnovers forced by the unit were vital. Offensively the Colts haven’t been ultra dynamic, Trent Richardson has disappointed on the whole but showed a few signs down the stretch and the loss of Reggie Wayne has put a lot on the shoulders of T.Y. Hilton who has had a solid sophomore year. Andrew Luck hasn’t yet reached the pantheons of the likes of Manning, Brees or Rodgers but is smart, accurate and more athletic than many realise.

The success of the Chiefs, 2012’s worst team has been surprising but not completely shocking. They have a lot of talent; we already knew that and in Andy Reid brought in a highly respected, experienced and successful coach. Reid has got the best out of a team that past managements got the least out of. Kansas City have been led by Jamaal Charles, their superstar running back who was deprived of a 2000 yards from scrimmage season by being rested for the final game and had nineteen total touchdowns. Quarterback Alex Smith’s accurate short and intermediate passing has been an ideal fit for Andy Reid’s west coast offense and Smith has had arguably the best year of his career. Kansas’ defense is laden with stars and boasts one of the league’s most feared pass rushes and most talented secondaries. Few teams in fact can boast the talent that K.C. can on defense with playmakers throughout the starting eleven.

In the first meeting Kansas uncharacteristically committed four turnovers, couldn’t complete on third down and lost the time of possession battle by almost seventeen minutes. They are a team built to not turn it over, not get in third and long situations and to control the clock so the game went all wrong. Andy Reid will want to shut down the Colts run game here first and foremost and allow Jamaal Charles to both control the clock and make big plays. The Colts will hope to do a better job on Charles than in the last meeting but he can make plays in so many ways. Kansas defense is entirely reliant on pressure but they couldn’t get at Luck nearly enough last time and when their blitz doesn’t get home they can be vulnerable.

ATPF PredictionThe Colts finished the season strongly including a verdict over the Chiefs. Kansas City are more solid as an all round team but the Colts were able to exploit all of their weaknesses last time out. Reid will want to correct many of these issues but the Colts won comfortably that day so have to get the edge. It will be closer however this time; we predict the Colts win by a score of 27-20.

New Orleans Saints @Philadelphia Eagles

All credit to Chip Kelly who took the Eagles from worst to first in the NFC East behind one of the league’s most feared offenses. The Eagles finished the season 7-1 to power past the Cowboys and will enter the playoffs with great confidence. Their offense went from explosive but self destructive under Michael Vick to just flat out explosive under Nick Foles. LeSean McCoy led the league in rushing and DeSean Jackon came back to his best as the dynamic deep threat that terrified defensive coordinators in his first couple of years in the league and a word must be said about the offensive line which paved the way for McCoy’s great season at a tempo which is hardly comfortable to men weighing around 300 lbs. The Eagles have languished in the bottom five of the defensive rankings all year yet they have allowed over 22 points just once in their last 12 games.

The Saints finished the season with an 11-5 record but lost the NFC South to the shock success story of the Carolina Panthers. The Saints are imperious at home but won just three of their eight road games this season and none of those were convincing. Defeats to the substandard Jets and Rams on the road, a crucial loss to the Panthers and a whipping in Seattle further backup the view that this team needs the comforts of home to be at their best. Their best is however arguably better than the Eagles best so there is hope if they can find their best form. The Saints always prolific offense ranked fourth in the league and Drew Brees’ pass attack was good for second best overall. The biggest difference for New Orleans this year was their fourth ranked defense which was second best in the league against the pass. Rob Ryan’s defense uses many different formations, sub-packages, coverages and blitzes and he will hope to disguise his plays from the relatively inexperienced but usually unflappable Nick Foles; it will be an interesting battle.

Offenses grab the headlines in these two cities but don’t be fooled, the Saints defense is the best we have seen for years and I include their Superbowl year in that and the Eagles are way better than the stats suggest too. The Eagles have great momentum, are at home and will find conditions much more to their liking than their opponents. The Saints are a very experienced postseason team and can go toe to toe with anyone but their away form just doesn’t add up to the same as their home form.

ATPF PredictionThis game won’t be an offensive shootout like some are suggesting but nor will it be dull. The Eagles were brilliant in the snow against Detroit a month ago so minus 6 celsius (21 Fahrenheit) temperatures shouldn’t be an issue. The Eagles have enough in their favour to upset the better side here and we see something like Philadelphia 34 New Orleans 28.

San Diego Chargers @ Cincinnati Bengals

As we spoke of earlier San Diego winning their decisive week 17 game wasn’t far short of miraculous. I have heard a few cynical whispers but the Chiefs did not want their AFC West rivals in the playoffs so such talk is ridiculous. The Chargers have been behind the eight ball all year as their West rivals Denver and Kansas City blazed such a trail yet beating both in their own backyards gave them hope and their win last week saw them in against the odds. They look the most flawed team in the playoffs but their schedule has been brutal so a 9-7 finish was no mean feat and they have one major thing in their favour here. That is quarterback Philip Rivers who has led them to a top five ranking in total offense and in passing. Defensively the Chargers are in stage one of a major revamp and there are some obvious holes particularly in their secondary.

The Bengals at last won the NFC North from perennial Lombardi trophy contenders Pittsburgh and current holders of the trophy Baltimore. In their third straight year in the playoffs they need to win at least one postseason game and with a home game in the cold against the Southern Californians they will fancy their chances. Few teams are as strong on both sides of the ball as Cincinnati; their defense has been strong for a few years now and despite some big name injuries they ended the season as the third ranked unit in the league. Their offense is full of talent too; superstar receiver A.J. Green is among the league’s elite and Marvin Jones has emerged as a valid number two. Tight ends Jermaine Gresham and rookie Tyler Eifert are both good pass catchers and running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard form an effective one-two. The lone issue on this team is quarterback Andy Dalton. Dalton enters his third straight postseason needing a win and needing to prove that he is capable at this level. Dalton passed for a seventh best in the league 4296 yards and a third best in the league 33 touchdowns but his 20 interceptions is the most of any quarterback to make the playoffs. If Dalton can hold it together and use his weapons the Bengals will be tough to beat.

The Chargers need Phil Rivers to be at his best as he has been for much of the year here against a very stout defense capable of constant pressure from just their four man rush. The Chargers will also hope that Dalton errs as he has in the last two postseasons.

ATPF PredictionThe Bengals shouldn’t struggle against the Chargers defense and should score plenty of points. San Diego will score points also despite the Bengals defensive strength but we can’t see them matching their rivals on the scoreboard. Our prediction is Cincinnati 34 San Diego 24.

San Francisco 49ers @ Green Bay Packers

There is history here and it favours the 49ers but the Packers will be ready for Colin Kaepernick this year but minus Clay Matthews they may still struggle to contain him. The bitter weather of Lambeau Field may have been a problem to 49ers teams of the past but strangely the blue collar 49ers ought to be more suited by it than the dynamic Green Bay Packers. San Francisco are a run first, ground and pound offense and veteran Frank Gore sets the tone. The Niners ended the year with the third ranked ground game in the league but they will need more from their passing attack. Michael Crabtree stepped up on their run to the Superbowl last year and they will need more of the same from him having missed the majority of the year. The 49ers ended the year ranked fifth in total defense and haven’t given up thirty points once this season.

The Packers scored 28 against that stingy defense in week one but it wasn’t enough. Their offense has struggled on the most part this season with Aaron Rodgers missing more than half of the season but we all know how dangerous they can be with him at full speed. He was slow to get going on his return last week but typically made a brilliant game winning throw inside the final minute. Randall Cobb is back also and caught two touchdowns against Chicago, Cobb, speedy James Jones and Rodgers favourite target Jordy Nelson are a formidable trio especially when you consider that the Packers have run the football the best that they have since their Superbowl campaign of three years ago. Their defense is one of the weaker units in the playoffs and injuries to their front seven will certainly give Dom Capers some headaches when you think back to the way Kaepernick consistently got to the edge in the playoffs last year and then picked up huge chunks of yardage en route to a quarterback rushing record.

The Packers are a team everyone will fear now but perhaps less so San Francisco who have such a fine recent record against them. The Packers must pick their poison with San Francisco’s multi faceted offense but the matchups seem to largely favour the 49ers.

ATPF PredictionThe Aaron Rodgers factor will be big here but the 49ers are a more talented all round team so they again hold the edge in this matchup. It was 34-28 last time and a similar score is likely. We are going to say 30-28 this time.

 


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ATPF Preview Week 15

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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 PredictionBroncos 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 PredictionChicago 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 Prediction49ers 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 PredictionIndianapolis 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 PredictionFalcons 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 PredictionThe 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 PredictionJacksonville 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 PredictionPanthers 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 PredictionChiefs 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 PredictionSaints 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 PredictionThe 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 PredictionDallas 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 PredictionBengals 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 PredictionLions cling on atop the NFC North with a seven point win.

 

 


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ATPF Preview Week 14

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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 PredictionThe 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 PredictionBengals 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 PredictionLions 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 PredictionTampa 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 PredictionFalcons 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 PredictionThe 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 PredictionRavens 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 PredictionThe 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 PredictionBroncos 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 Prediction49ers 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 PredictionCardinals 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 PredictionChargers 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 PredictionCarolina 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 PredictionBears have too much for the Cowboys and win by ten.