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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 Divisional Round

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Wildcard weekend proved to be a thriller. The Colts started the ball rolling with a 28 point comeback against the Chiefs in which they had plenty of luck and plenty from Luck. The Saints then got over their road woes to beat the Eagles. Andy Dalton’s postseason struggles returned and he was pretty abysmal as the Chargers made light of the cold weather to beat the Bengals and the weekend concluded with the 49ers continuing their recent dominance over the Packers in a game that was tense and close throughout.

New Orleans Saints @ Seattle Seahawks

When these two NFC powerhouses met earlier in the season in the same stadium the Seahawks completely dominated proceedings winning by 27 points. What was most surprising that day was the way Seattle’s defense completely stifled the Saints offense with Drew Brees averaging less than 5 yards per pass attempt. Seattle meanwhile moved the ball with consummate ease with Russell Wilson averaging over 10 yards per attempt as the turnover free Seahawks racked up over 400 yards against Rob Ryan’s defense which has been excellent on the whole this year.

The Saints were only 3-5 on the road in the regular season but did manage to win in Philadelphia last week. They will need two more road wins if they are to be NFC Champions which looks a tall order. The Seahawks were 7-1 at home and there are few louder or more hostile stadiums around than Centurylink field. The Seahawks defense was the best in the NFL during the regular season and the unit is ultra disciplined yet able to make big plays as well. Their offense led by the relentless running of Marshawn Lynch and dual threat of quarterback Wilson can beat you in a variety of ways and they will hope to make big plays when Ryan takes his big gambles. The Saints need their defense to get pressures, hits and sacks on Wilson and to limit Lynch’s effectiveness to have a chance. Their offense is almost certain of a bolder showing and they will hope that Mark Ingram can be productive as he was last week to take a Seahawk out of coverage.

It was a surprise to everyone that the first meeting was so one sided but we expect the Saints to make a game of it here although we still think Seattle will prove too strong.

ATPF PredictionThe Seahawks advance to the NFC Championship with a 27- 24 win.

Indianapolis Colts @ New England Patriots

The Colts were dead and buried when they fell 28 points behind against the Chiefs last week but Andrew Luck suddenly found his rhythm and led his team to a thrilling comeback. Luck has been a little more reserved than we expected in his sophomore year but he threw for 443 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions in a true gun slinging performance. T.Y. Hilton is one of the more underrated receivers in the league and despite the lack of a viable receiver opposite him he had 224 yards receiving and two (including the game winner) touchdowns.

The Patriots have had plenty of problems this year and have been decimated by injuries so to get a first round bye was remarkable and it should have helped heal a few of the stricken. Unfortunately though it won’t heal Rob Gronkowski, their superstar tight end who is one of the most feared weapons in the league and it won’t heal Vince Wilfork their man mountain nose tackle who has been sorely missed since his season ending injury. Tom Brady minus Gronkowki for most of the year and with both Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez gone has not put up nearly the numbers of years past and there is no getting away from the fact that his receiving corps is substandard.

Both teams are pass first teams here and both have average defenses but both groups are capable of making big plays. It should be quite close but Luck seems to be the man with the Midas touch and he and main man Hilton can be crucial. Tom Brady’s legacy was set long ago but he has struggled in the playoffs in the last few years and he looks short of targets here so we favour a road win for Indianapolis.

ATPF PredictionThe Colts take another major scalp as they beat the Patriots 31- 27.

San Francisco 49ers @ Carolina Panthers

These two teams met in week ten when the Panthers won 10-9 in San Francisco. There may be a few more points scored here but expect defenses to dominate again. The hosts Carolina led by brilliant young linebacker Luke Kuechly won twelve of their last thirteen games and only once in that stretch allowed over twenty points. San Francisco were just as stingy, allowing over twenty just once in their last thirteen games and they have two superstar linebackers in Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman as well as superstar pass rusher Aldon Smith and consistently dominant lineman Justin Smith.

Both teams will look to lean heavily on their run games with San Francisco sure to offer a heavy dose of bruising Frank Gore and plenty of read option looks to try and get the speedy Colin Kaepernick to the edge where he is so dangerous. Carolina aren’t too dissimilar with veterans DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert all effective runners and Cam Newton an even bigger danger on quarterback keepers. The difference maker for this game in our view is San Francisco’s receivers. Michael Crabtree is back and has been lauded by his head coach for his catching ability while Anquan Boldin is as tough as they come and has bucket loads of playoff experience including one winning and one losing Superbowl appearance. Vernon Davis remains one of the fastest tight ends in football and he will be a real threat running the seams between these two receivers. Carolina still have veteran Steve Smith and tight end Greg Olsen has had a nice season but there is little doubt San Francisco is stronger in this area and we think it will be key in a game where points will be at a premium and touchdowns like gold dust.

ATPF PredictionThe 49ers make a third straight NFC Championship, we think the score will be something like 17-13.

San Diego Chargers @ Denver Broncos

The Chargers seem to have the football gods smiling on them of late but make no mistake they are playing some good football as well. A whole catalogue of events got them into the playoffs at Pittsburgh’s expense two weeks ago and they rode a catalogue of Andy Dalton errors to victory at Cincinnati’s expense last week. Their next game may on the face of it a daunting one but the Chargers were the lone team to beat Denver in this stadium this year so they won’t be overawed.

The Broncos have been the most entertaining team in the NFL this season with their league best offense scoring over thirty points in thirteen of their sixteen games. Crucially they managed just twenty in that shock defeat to the Chargers which was all the more surprising given the Chargers defense is pretty average and their secondary short on top level talent apart from safety Eric Weddle. Denver’s orchestra of offense has been led sublimely by veteran Peyton Manning who has had a career year. Receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker both had 1000 yards season for the second straight year and both Wes Welker and Julius Thomas would have gotten really close but for injuries. Running back Knowshon Moreno has had a fine year also as an every down back whose rugged style is perfect as a change of pace to the much feared passing game.

The Chargers offense ended the year a top five unit also with Philip Rivers enjoying a remarkable career renaissance under new head coach Mike McCoy, formerly of the Broncos of course. McCoy is an expert in teaching quarterbacks and has again excelled with Rivers. Veteran tight end Antonio Gates, breakout rookie Keenan Allen and journeyman Eddie Royal have been among Rivers favourite targets and talented running back Ryan Mathews has finally stayed healthy. The Chargers defense will have its work cut out; Manning and co won’t fall for the same tricks as in their last meeting so it will be interesting to see the Chargers defensive game plan. When the Broncos won these two teams first clash in San Diego the Chargers too often had to settle for field goals rather than touchdowns. They must find the end zone on drives here because the Broncos defense is significantly weakened by the loss of explosive edge rusher Von Miller.

The Chargers have performed admirably to get this far but we expect a different Broncos team to the slightly complacent one they beat a month ago. It’s hard to see the Chargers secondary coping with all the talent at Manning’s disposal although both offense should have plenty of success.

ATPF PredictionThe Broncos offensive juggernaut leads them into the AFC Championship; our score prediction is 41-31.

 


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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 17

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Its week seventeen in the NFL already, where has the season gone? For twenty teams this will be their last game for nine months.

We know five of the six AFC playoff teams and the winners of all four AFC divisions. The Broncos will get homefield advantage with a win and New England will be second and get a first round bye with a win. The Chargers, Dolphins and Ravens should fight out the sixth spot although if all three lose Pittsburgh could still sneak in.

In the NFC there is far less certainty. All four divisions remain up for grabs and the last wildcard spot could still go to either New Orleans or Arizona.

It is also Christmas week of course. While the NFL is at the forefront of our minds time is not on our side so this week’s predictions will be kept very short but hopefully very sweet. Merry Christmas and happy holidays from ATPF!

Baltimore Ravens @ Cincinnati Bengals

The Ravens have to win this to keep their wildcard hopes alive but Cincinnati still have a chance of the AFC’s second seed so they won’t be letting up. The Bengals are the better all round team and can end their AFC North rivals dreams of returning to the Superbowl.

ATPF PredictionCincinnati wins this one by a field goal.

Jacksonville Jaguars @ Indianapolis Colts

The Colts are still just about in the race for the AFC’s second spot. They are the upset kings of the NFL and will be feared by all in January. Jacksonville have battled away all year but are a very average team and can’t be given any real chance here.

ATPF PredictionColts are a comfortable ten points too strong.

New York Jets @ Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins have to win this game and we expect an unusually loud, unusually full Sun Life Stadium. The Jets would love to play spoilers but their rookie quarterback Geno Smith will likely give the Dolphins a few gifts to ensure success.

ATPF PredictionMiami win this crucial game by a touchdown.

Carolina Panthers @ Atlanta Falcons

The Panthers must only win to tie up the second seed in the NFC which would be a fantastic achievement for Ron Rivera’s team. They face a Falcons team coming off a short week and a disastrous season so they should win but a word of caution. Atlanta are better at home and have played better the last month.

ATPF PredictionPanthers made to work hard but prevail by six or seven.

Washington Redskins @ New York Giants

The ‘other two’ NFC East teams do battle here in a meaningless contest. The Redskins have been absolutely terrible of late so we prefer the Giants.

ATPF PredictionNew York ends a disappointing year with a two touchdown win.

Cleveland Browns @ Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers have a very slim chance still so will have to give this their all although they will no doubt become aware if things aren’t going their way elsewhere. The Browns season has capitulated so it should be simple for Mike Tomlins’s men at least.

ATPF PredictionSteelers win by two scores.

Houston Texans @ Tennessee Titans

Two more teams who have nothing to play for although in Houston’s case they won’t want to give up the first overall selection in the draft right now. Tennessee can hand them a fourteenth straight defeat.

ATPF PredictionTitans win by ten.

Detroit Lions @ Minnesota Vikings

The Lions are just getting used to the fact that they won’t be in the playoffs but the Vikings have known for weeks. In what will likely be Jim Schwartz’s final game we think the Vikings can send him out with a whimper.

ATPF PredictionMinnesota prevail by ten.

Green Bay Packers @ Chicago Bears

The NFC North rides on this game. It also likely rides on Aaron Rodgers health. With Clay Matthews and Eddie Lacy banged up the Packers really need him now, we however are presuming he doesn’t play when we predict a Bears win.

ATPF Prediction Chicago win by a touchdown.

San Francisco 49ers @ Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals are extremely hard to beat at home and won on the road in Seattle last week. San Francisco will be feeling good after their playoff clinching win against the Falcons but on a short week we can’t see them becoming just the second team to win in Arizona.

ATPF PredictionArizona keep their side of the bargain, win by a field goal.

Kansas City Chiefs @ San Diego Chargers

The Chargers have already won in Kansas City and Denver this year. They can beat the best teams and can do the double over KC here in a game they have to win.

ATPF PredictionChargers win by a touchdown.

Buffalo Bills @ New England Patriots

The Patriots can seal a bye next week with a win although it’s unlikely that Denver gifts them a shot at the top seed. Buffalo should pose few problems to Brady and co here.

ATPF PredictionThe Patriots win by fourteen.

Denver Broncos @ Oakland Raiders

The Broncos lost Von Miller to injury last week which could be big in the postseason. As far as this game they can’t be opposed but will be scared of further injuries.

ATPF PredictionDenver locks up home field advantage with a two touchdown win

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New Orleans Saints

The Saints look like finishing second now in the NFC South behind the inspired Panthers. Priority for them now is winning this to get into the playoffs against a Bucs team who would love to stop them. New Orleans at home however should be too strong.

ATPF PredictionThe Saints win by ten.

St. Louis Rams @ Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks were shocked at home by Arizona last week but it’s hard to see lightning striking twice. The Rams offense will pose few problems to Seattle who should ensure home field advantage here.

ATPF PredictionSeattle win by ten.

Philadelphia Eagles @ Dallas Cowboys

Is Tony Romo going to play for Dallas? Their 32nd ranked defense means that they will need to score a lot of points and under a rusty backup quarterback that wouldn’t bode well. Even if Romo plays we fancy the Eagles against a toiling Cowboys team.

ATPF PredictionEagles win by ten to clinch the NFC East.

 


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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.

 

 


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ATPF Preview Week 13

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Week thirteen started well for us, we predicted all three results correctly, we expected the Lions to win easily but it’s kind of hard to predict anyone to win a game by thirty! The Cowboys gave the Raiders an early thanksgiving present by fumbling the opening kickoff away; the Raiders scooped up the gift and took it to the end zone. Dallas came back to win by seven, that opening gift however cost us the predicted margin of fourteen. Ravens and Steelers games are always close, earlier in the year we predicted a Steeler win by 3 which was spot on, here we went for Baltimore by 3, it was 2 so we have particularly enjoyed the two matchups there.

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The ATPF crew enjoying thanksgiving football from Manchester’s Lost Dene

The ATPF crew enjoyed the hospitality of Manchester’s Lost Dene for the thanksgiving games and were delighted to find the bar thronged with keen NFL fans, the Raiders and Seahawks were particularly well represented.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars @ Cleveland Browns

The Jacksonville Jaguars are no longer the league’s worst team, if the draft were tomorrow they would be picking third thanks to a win in Houston against the team who do look the league’s worst. Cleveland lost a second straight with Jason Campbell concussed and Brandon Weeden booed onto the field to replace him.

A season which showed a little potential for the usually awful Browns is in danger of falling off the cliff. They are 4-7, an 8-8 or even 7-9 season would be a step forward for a team with two first round picks in the 2014 draft but if they let it slip to 5-11 or even 4-12 then a season where they’ve played some good football will be forgotten and more upheaval will likely rake place. The defense of the Browns has been outstanding, only three teams have allowed less yards and facing the worst offense in football here should help them more. Brandon Weeden needs to let the defense win the game for his team; his main responsibility is to not lose it. Weeden has six touchdown passes to seven interceptions but in Josh Gordon he has one of the league’s most talented young receivers, the sky’s the limit for Gordon if he can stay on the straight and narrow.

Jacksonville’s own potential superstar receiver Justin Blackmon hasn’t been able to stay on the straight and narrow and remains banned indefinitely. Cecil Shorts leads the team with 700 yards and is tied for the lead in receiving touchdowns, with one! Jacksonville also has the fewest rushing yards in the league so things are pretty brutal for this offense. Defensively they had their best performance by a mile last week when holding the Texans to just two field goals but this isn’t a unit with the talent to make such performances the norm.

The Jags have won two of their last three and are probably feeling pretty good about themselves for a 2-9 team. Cleveland meanwhile look a team whose morale has gone since they fell back to last in the AFC North and slid out of playoff contention. The Browns must keep fighting; this is a very winnable game at home and one which their defense especially should relish.

ATPF Prediction The Browns come out on top by just a field goal.

Tennessee Titans @ Indianapolis Colts

The Colts are suddenly struggling for form, they have been beaten heavily two of the last three weeks and in between were let out of jail by their rivals here Tennessee. The Titans had a game winning touchdown in Oakland with eight seconds remaining to remain in playoff contention but have won two of their last seven so are hardly a team in great form themselves.

The Colts looked a team both ready and determined to become legitimate contenders not long ago. They beat the Broncos who had been looking invincible and made a statement of intent when giving up their 2014 first rounder to acquire Cleveland running back Trent Richardson. The message seemed clear, the Colts were done rebuilding, they wanted to start winning now. Richardson has been awful, he has under 3 yards per carry, just two touchdowns and is being outplayed by veteran Donald Brown so the jury is very much out on that trade. With Reggie Wayne lost Andrew Luck has only T.Y. Hilton as a reliable wide receiver and teams are starting to double him. Defensively the Colts have relied on big plays but teams are starting to realise that they if you can slow down Robert Mathis off the edge that this team can be attacked.

Tennessee quarterback Jake Locker is out for the season but his deputy Ryan Fitzpatrick has plenty of experience as a starter in Buffalo and had his best start in a Titans uniform last week. Fitzpatrick led his team to a game winning touchdown and crucially threw no interceptions. The Titans started the season well and did so by consistently winning the turnover battle in games. Their defense has been solid on the whole and if the offense can look after the ball consistently down the stretch they can be real contenders for the wide open final AFC wildcard spot.

The Titans had the Colts where they wanted them a fortnight ago but let them off, had the Titans won that game this one would be for the AFC South lead. The Colts need to find more contributors on offense to help their excellent quarterback Andrew Luck; Trent Richardson should be standing up to be counted for one. There is little between these teams right now and whoever gets the big plays in the game should win it. We trust Luck more than Fitzpatrick who is the kind of quarterback the opportune Colts defense will relish facing.

ATPF PredictionColts virtually seal the AFC South with a seven point victory.

Arizona Cardinals @ Philadelphia Eagles

The Cardinals continue to improve and may have had their best performance yet this past Sunday when they comprehensively outpointed the Colts. Philadelphia won three straight before their bye week to prepare for the NFC East battle ahead; they are level with the Cowboys at 6-5.

Getting to the bottom of the Eagles improvement isn’t that hard, Nick Foles got his chance to start at quarterback and seized it, he has been one of the hottest passers in the league in the last month. Foles has thrown sixteen touchdown passes to zero interceptions so far this season and is complemented by running back LeSean McCoy, the lynchpin of the Eagles top ranked rushing attack. DeSean Jackson and Foles favourite Riley Cooper have seven touchdowns each in Philadelphia’s fourth ranked offense. Unfortunately for the Eagles their defense is as bad as their offense is good, only the Cowboys have given up more yards but in their last nine games the most points they have given up in a game was 21 so things aren’t as bad as the stats suggest.

Arizona have won four straight and are right in the mix for a wildcard spot all of a sudden even though they play in the toughest division in the NFL. Carson Palmer’s turnover issues have been resolved of late and with him throwing just two interceptions in their four game streak Arizona have looked a decent offense. Receiving duo Larry Fitzgerald and emerging star Michael Floyd are a very solid pairing and combine nicely with the 1-2 punch of Rashard Mendenhall and Andre Ellington in the Cards backfield. It is the defense however which is Arizona’s real strength. The unit are ranked eighth in the league and were outstanding last week, holding the Colts to just 239 yards.

Two form teams face off here but neither are by any means flawless. The Eagles defense is a unit which always gives their opponents hope and the Cardinals four game win streak has seen them beat all of the league’s 2-9 teams and an out of form Colts team. As good as Arizona are defensively we still see Philly scoring at least two touchdowns here with their exciting offense while on the road outdoors Palmer is always a worry with turnovers so we fancy a home win.

ATPF PredictionThe Eagles get a big win, prevailing by a touchdown.

Miami Dolphins @ New York Jets

Two 5-6 divisional rivals clash here with both still in the mix for the AFC’s final wildcard spot. This is the first of two late season clashes between these old rivals and if either team can do the double they will go very close to making the postseason although neither are in great form. The Jets lost by twenty three against the Bills a fortnight ago before mustering just three points in a defeat to the Ravens last week. Miami led the league’s hottest team Carolina for over 50 minutes before finally going down by just four points last week.

The Dolphins have been playing some decent ball in recent weeks with Ryan Tannehill getting the ball out quicker and Mike Wallace finally starting to show signs of his game breaking speed. Tight end Charles Clay and steady target Brian Hartline give Tannehill three decent options in the passing game. Miami are pretty average defensively, they rank 19th in yards allowed but have only given up 30 or more points once, to the Saints nine weeks ago.

Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith has had his ups and downs all year but has really struggled of late. He has thrown five picks to no touchdowns in his last two games and has eighteen interceptions on the year. Smith didn’t look ready to be an NFL starter in college but was thrust into the Jets starting lineup after Mark Sanchez’s injury. Teams have worked him out it seems and the Jets offense now looks among the league’s worst. Rex Ryan prides himself on playing solid defense and his team rank ninth in the NFL. They played well against the Ravens until giving up the game’s only touchdown on a deep throw to Jacoby Jones late on.

While Miami are pretty average both offensively and defensively the Jets are awful offensively but strong defensively. That Jets defense will give the Dolphins problems and Ryan Tannehill has to avoid costly sacks against a very strong defensive line. If Tannehill can keep negative plays to a minimum his team can get a big road win against a team who have really hit the buffers offensively.

ATPF PredictionMiami edges this one by a field goal to get back to .500.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Carolina Panthers

The hottest team in the league Carolina meet Tampa a team who have found some pretty good form themselves albeit much too late. Nevertheless this NFC South clash should be well contested and the Bucs would love to dent their rival’s playoff push. The Panthers are waiting for the Saints to blink and know this may be the week it happens as they travel to NFC leading Seattle; the Panthers must win first to add to the pressure.

The Panthers seven game win streak has been inspired by their quite brilliant defense. Earlier in the year there were suggestions that a suspect looking secondary might be the undoing of the unit but cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and safety Mike Mitchell are both having career years and consequently the unit has been as strong against the pass as it has been against the run. Offensively the Panthers remain a run first team behind their veteran trio of tailbacks DeAngelo Williams, Mike Tolbert and Jonathan Stewart but all three are currently battling injuries. At least one will likely be available come Sunday so we wouldn’t be too worried there. Quarterback Cam Newton himself has contributed to the success of this running game and is having his best season despite the Panthers ranking 30th in passing. If Carolina could find a star receiver next April this team could start to look as complete as any in the league.

Tampa Bay has won their last three after losing their first eight, strange old game this. Head coach Greg Schiano’s regimented approach has been unpopular with the players but if they keep winning they may save his job. Schiano’s decision to trade starting quarterback Josh Freeman to Minnesota and start rookie Mike Glennon didn’t pay immediate dividends but right now Glennon is playing the best of the rookie quarterbacks we have seen start. Glennon displays nice accuracy and arm strength, he has thirteen touchdown passes to just four interceptions and seems to be getting the best of star receiver Vincent Jackson lately. Tampa have several highly talented defenders, Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson were both big money recruits but defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has impressed us the most and this defense has climbed into the top half overall now.

Few teams would get the nod going to Carolina right now let alone a 3-8 team. For Tampa this will be a good measuring stick as to how far they have come in recent weeks and how far they still have to improve to become playoff contenders next year. Glennon’s calm and assured play of recent weeks will be severely tested by this defense and we can’t see him being able to deal with it if the Panthers get ahead and he is forced to pass consistently.

ATPF PredictionThe Panthers win their eighth straight, and come away with a ten point victory.

New England Patriots @ Houston Texans

The Texans lost their ninth straight game last week, they are the NFL’s worst team and star player Andre Johnson even admitted it to be the case. New England’s seasons are judged by what goes on in January and a big overtime comeback against the Broncos last week all but guarantees that they will once again play on into the New Year.

 Last year the Texans blew what should have been home field advantage in the playoffs late in the season. This year the emphasis was to go one better and make sure they would be at home in the playoffs. As that dream quickly slipped away then the AFC East started to get away and then any hopes of the playoffs went too things have just spiralled out of control. The Texans run of defeats and gradual decline saw its exclamation point last week when the Jaguars, long considered to be the NFL’s worst team beat them and held them to just two field goals in the process. A lot of Houston’s players look to have quit on the team now so where a third win is going to come from is hard to see.

The Patriots serene progress to yet another AFC East title continued as Tom Brady put in a vintage display against the Broncos. Brady is starting to look like his old self and must be thrilled to have the likes of Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola back contributing. Gronkowski, Amendola and Aaron Dobson have been on this week’s injury report but only Dobson looks in doubt so again Brady should have a strong arsenal. Since Vince Wilfork’s season ending injury the Patriots have struggled against the run and were absolutely gashed by Knowshon Moreno last week, if Arian Foster wasn’t injured he could be a danger to them.

We have predicted Texans wins five times in their nine game losing run. We should have learnt our lesson long ago but we are done with them now. New England surprised us last week, we didn’t think they were quite as good as the very best teams in the league but clearly they are. We have been saying all season that they might just come good at the right time and it that could be prophetic yet. Here the Patriots offense should have no issues outscoring an offense which is completely devoid of confidence.

ATPF PredictionPatriots beat the hapless Texans by twenty points.

Chicago Bears @ Minnesota Vikings

The NFC North picture looks a little clearer after Thanksgiving. Detroit are the team to beat and the Bears are their biggest rivals. Aaron Rodgers injury has just been too costly to Green Bay so we look to have a match. Minnesota are a long way behind the other three but haven’t performed really badly since week seven, last week they had a tied game in Green Bay.

The Bears have had just half a game from starting quarterback Jay Cutler in the last five matches and he is again out with a high ankle sprain here. Josh McCown has performed as well as any of the backups we have seen forced into starting duties this year and even in last week’s defeat his 36 of 47 passes completed for 352 yards, two touchdowns and an interception shows he was not the man to blame. That credit went to the Bears defense which bled 258 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Chicago are again without defensive leader Lance Briggs here so their problems against the run could continue, especially with reigning MVP Adrian Peterson coming to town.

Minnesota are undoubtedly playing better right now. They finally have a settled starter at quarterback in Christian Ponder and for whatever reason Peterson seems to be a better player when Ponder is under center. The Vikings defense despite the infusion of two rookie first round draft choices has been the problem and only two other teams have given up more than the 401 yards per game the Vikings are averaging.

This is an interesting game, the two key players the Bears are still missing have got to be a major factor but they are still a better team than the Vikings on the whole. We see this game coming down to one simple matchup- Adrian Peterson versus a defense which was savaged by the run last week. If the Bears can at least get a few stops and make Christian Ponder complete some passes they have a shot because they will score points against a terrible defense but if Peterson runs wild anything could happen. In a game we are struggling to call we think the Bears superior all round talent can prevail.

ATPF PredictionChicago edges to a crucial victory by just a field goal.

St. Louis Rams @ San Francisco 49ers

San Francisco’s win over Washington on Monday kept them in position for a wildcard into the playoffs whilst the Rams are playing pretty well for backup quarterback Kellen Clemens. They have won back to back games by margins of 30 and 21 against teams in playoff contention so this is a potential banana skin for San Francisco.

The 49ers defense is generally a pretty strangling unit, when teams have been able to unlock it the 49ers offense which is predicated on a ground and pound, clock control style has been found out. Last week they were able to completely overwhelm the Redskins by taking away their first option, running back Alfred Morris. The 49ers rank fifth defensively and given some of the teams they’ve faced it’s reasonable to say they are probably a bit better than that. They are 4th in the league in rushing behind Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and quarterback Colin Kaepernick. As dynamic as Kaepernick is with his legs he still needs to complete more passes but he will finally have his favourite target Michael Crabtree back for his first start of the season here. Crabtree was pivotal in the 49ers run to the Superbowl last year and should help the league’s worst passing offense.

The Rams defense was supposed to be a strong unit itself this year but proved disappointing early on. Things are back on track now and they are playing like a top ten unit, not nineteenth as they are ranked overall. Robert Quinn especially has been outstanding and is one of the premiere pass rushers in football. First round draft choice Tavon Austin, a passenger for nine games has been electrifying in those last two contests and is one of the most exciting players in football. Running back Zac Stacy has finally given them a consistent runner after early problems dealing without Steven Jackson around and Clemens is playing ok despite his obvious limitations.

The Rams are probably one of the best teams with a losing record but this is an all round bad matchup for them. Austin is unlikely to get any big plays against such an outstanding defense and if the 49ers can shut down Alfred Morris they should have little problem with Zac Stacy. That makes this down to Kellen Clemens and it’s hard to like that matchup if you’re a Rams fan. Crabtree’s performance will be very interesting; the 49ers need him somewhere near 100% if they are going to be serious players in January.

ATPF PredictionSan Francisco are much too strong, win this by twenty.

Atlanta Falcons @ Buffalo Bills

The Falcons are still bang in contention to be picking first next April after losing their fifth straight against the Saints. Buffalo are technically still in wildcard contention but they are much more likely to have their usual top ten draft pick.

The Falcons woes have been put down to injuries but there has been more to it than just that. Nevertheless they played one of their better games against the Saints last Thursday and with ten days to prepare they should fancy giving another decent account of themselves against a team a long way off the Saints in ability.

Buffalo are all about their running game and when both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller are fit there are few better combinations in the game. Both have had injuries yet the Bills are still fifth in rushing and that could be bettered with some favourable matchups remaining for the pair. The Bills have also had injuries at quarterback but rookie starter E.J. Manuel returned in week eleven and had a really nice game against a stout Jets defense. The bye week should have helped Manuel who is certainly an intriguing prospect for the future, the long suffering Bills fans deserve a quarterback to hang their hats on.

Atlanta have been good at home for a long time and of course enjoy a healthy dislike for the Saints so there improved effort against that rival in the Georgia Dome ten days ago can be taken with a pinch of salt. The Bills are as healthy as they’ve been for a long time and should be well prepared after their bye. In the cold, windy expanses of upstate New York we do not see some of the Falcons fancying this too much.

ATPF Prediction The Bills gain momentum by winning this one by ten.

Cincinnati Bengals @ San Diego Chargers

The Chargers got a massive win against the Chiefs last week and having been struggling a little a few weeks ago they could be reinvigorated by such a huge win. The Bengals are a game and a half ahead in the AFC North and should have used their late bye to prepare for one last big push towards a third straight playoff season and a first AFC North title since 2005.

The Bengals are clearly the best team in the AFC North and one of the most talented in all of football. Losing Geno Atkins, arguably the best defensive tackle in the game for the season hasn’t stopped their outstanding defense which ranks seventh overall and has one of the most dominating front fours around, even without Atkins. Their offense is full of playmakers but quarterback Andy Dalton is capable of throwing in a really bad game at any point which does make the Bengals a little unpredictable. Dalton has 21 touchdowns but 15 interceptions, if he could cut down on the latter from now into January the Bengals could be genuine contenders.

San Diego are still four games back such is the strength of the AFC West so must hope that they can join the Broncos and Chiefs to give the division three playoff teams. Quarterback Phil Rivers has been nothing short of brilliant this season and his flawless near 400 yards and three touchdown day against the Chiefs top defense just highlighted how strongly he has come back to his best after a couple of difficult years under Norv Turner. Running back Ryan Mathews is questionable for this game after injury last week so it will likely be on Rivers to again unravel a fine defense. The Chargers defense has not been good, they are the fourth worst in the NFL and although they have a few pretty good players in safety Eric Weddle and defensive ends Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes there are too many substandard players starting for this unit.

The Chargers offense will have their hands full against this defense especially with Antonio Gates doubtful. The Bengals are excellent at getting pressure with a four man rush and the Chargers offensive line looks overmatched on paper. The Bengals playmakers, particularly A.J. Green and Gio Bernard both look to have favourable matchups so as long as Dalton isn’t in kamikaze mode the Bengals will be too strong.

ATPF PredictionBig win for the Bengals who win this by ten.

Denver Broncos @ Kansas City Chiefs

The Broncos victory against the Chiefs a couple of weeks saw most anoint them the league’s best team. When Kansas followed up with defeat against the Chargers it looked like the Broncos were about to seize control of the AFC South but they allowed a 24 point lead to slip away and lost to the Patriots in overtime.

The Chiefs lost both Tamba Hali and Justin Houston against the Chargers and they couldn’t get any pressure on Philip Rivers. Rivers found their defense considerably easier to pick apart with the duo injured but Houston may be able to play here at least, Hali will be out for a while. The Chiefs lack of a top passing attack was blamed for their defeat in Denver but they scored 38 points last week, that should be enough. Jamaal Charles has been the best running back in the NFL this year, he had another big game last week but the Broncos did a nice job of limiting his effectiveness in the first meeting.

Denver got some big plays from their defense and a big day from Knowshon Moreno last week so it was pretty astounding considering their passing attack that they lost. I suspect that Peyton Manning’s bad ankles are bothering him a little more than some realise. He has carried the injury for a while now and has barely practiced in the last month; the Broncos could do with resting him for the last week but need to shake the Chiefs off to consider that. Knowshon Moreno left the game injured in overtime last week so he has to be a doubt and Julius Thomas who missed that game is another who Manning could be without. The Broncos defense got a huge play early on from Von Miller last week and he has certainly helped this defense with his extreme athleticism yet they are still a pretty average unit overall.

We really fancied the Broncos the first time the teams met but last week’s performance, particularly by Manning tempers such enthusiasm here. The Chiefs defense however can no longer be relied upon so freely after giving up 41 last week in this stadium and key injuries are a factor. We are willing to trust that Manning simply had a bad day and that he can still push off his battered ankles, he may have a bit more time to pass than most of the Chiefs opponents have this season too.

ATPF PredictionBroncos prevail by a touchdown.

New York Giants @ Washington Redskins

The defending NFC East champions Washington and pre season NFC East favourites New York clash here but both look out of the race. New York’s revival was halted by a game winning field goal by the Cowboys last week. Washington are a game further back and having lost three straight are just a game from the NFC basement.

The Redskins are really in turmoil, Robert Griffin III has criticised the coaches, players are saying Griffin shouldn’t be playing and Griffin himself was dreadful last week. Mike Shanahan has a great resume but even he will be tested trying to pull his divided players together for these last five matches. Only four teams in the league are worse defensively than the Redskins although two of them play in the NFC East but their offense is usually pretty good. Against San Francisco however it was not. They managed just two field goals and under 200 yards in the game and as good as the 49ers are it was a dismal day all round.

The Giants game with the Cowboys mirrored their season. They got themselves into a huge hole only to fight back and get right into contention only for their old problems to return and see the comeback come up just short. Andre Brown in particular had a big day as the Giants ran the ball with terrific results but the passing attack wasn’t able to make plays when asked as the offensive line struggled with an inspired Jason Hatcher. The Giants defense couldn’t make a stand on the Cowboys game winning drive and their edge rushers Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul were basically non factors in the game.

The Giants morale must have been damaged with such a huge loss at home but they are in far better form than their rivals here and simply have to win to have any chance of winning the NFC East. Washington are coming off a short week and likely a pretty uncomfortable one. You sense that another defeat could see them implode and you just couldn’t fancy them after their latest effort.

ATPF PredictionGiants end the Redskins season with a ten point win.

New Orleans Saints @ Seattle Seahawks

The most eagerly awaited clash of the week sees the Seahawks twelfth man inspired defense ready to do battle with Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles et al. At 10-1 the Seahawks lead the NFC and if they can secure homefield advantage it will take something special to beat them given their record in this stadium. The Saints are just a game back and are just as tough to beat in the Superdome so this game has huge ramifications as far as the NFC favourites come January.

Seattle have won games ugly and they’ve won them impressively but one blip aside they have just kept on winning. Their defense ranks second in the league and has given up a league low 180 yards passing per game but starting corner Brandon Browner has just been hit with a one year suspension for a second substance abuse offense and nickel corner Walter Thurmond is halfway through a four game ban. The timing couldn’t be much worse with one of the most feared offenses in football rolling into town. Seattle’s 12th ranked offense will have to be effective and it can’t just be Marshawn Lynch contributing. Russell Wilson has often been just a game manager for the league’s 24th ranked passing attack with the strengths of the team elsewhere but here he may have to take some risks. Percy Harvin was acquired to be the difference in games like this and he will be expected to make big plays also.

The Saints have the fifth best defense in the league themselves, an astounding feat given they were within touching distance of giving up the most yards in a season in NFL history last year. Rob Ryan’s huge playbook full of different looks, schemes and all sorts of exotic blitzes has wreaked havoc at times but against a quarterback like Wilson they must stay in their lanes or risk him having a big day on the ground. Offensively the Saints are third best in the NFL which is about as low as they ever rank with Sean Payton and Drew Brees calling the shots. With Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles and now Mark Ingram all contributing on the ground their offense has at times looked irresistible. If they can have success on the ground they can get Jimmy Graham matched up one on one and as good as safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas are Graham is simply unstoppable one on one.

We would have probably gone for the Seahawks but for their two suspensions but their brilliant secondary will never miss Browner and Thurmond more than they will here. Sean Payton is a genius at devising offensive schemes and with eleven days to prepare here he will have all kinds of weird and wonderful things in store for the Seahawks. The Saints will have their hands full with Marshawn Lynch but Seattle will likely need more than usual from Russell Wilson here and he hasn’t proved his ability to compete with the elites of the game yet.

ATPF PredictionA massive win for New Orleans who are a touchdown better here.