Spread picks for NFL Week 14
After Week 13 gave us Atlanta losing a heartbreaker to Kansas City, a huge comeback win for the Raiders, and two primetime blowouts, Week 14 promises us a slate of games as interesting as any this season. Our model is bearish on underdogs this week, with four underdogs predicted to win their games outright. We have some decent survivor picks, with Detroit having a 67.78 percent chance to win, while Atlanta (65.06), Cincinnati (64.39), and Minnesota (63.37) also have nice odds among possibly-available teams. We were 6-8 last week, and 3-3 in games where our spread was 2 points or more away from Vegas’, giving us marks of 89-83-4 (51.74 percent) and 48-38 (55.81 percent) marks, respectively, on the season.
For my picks of Thursday Night Football games, as well as win probabilities for Sunday games, follow me on Twitter @EricEager82.
[Editor’s note: Analyst Eric Eager utilizes Pro Football Focus’ NFL Premium Stats in his predictive model. For more on Premium Stats, click here.]
Broncos at Titans (-1)
Prediction: Broncos win by 1
It appears that Broncos starter Trevor Siemian is still slowed by an ankle injury, leaving his status for this Sunday’s game in Tennessee in doubt. Paxton Lynch has been far from impressive in his 177 snaps of action this season, completing just 59.0 percent of his attempts and recording an adjusted completion percentage of just 65.8, the worst mark in the league for anyone with more than 50 dropbacks. While the Jaguars did enough to self-destruct against Denver last week in a 10-point loss, look for the Titans, powered by one of the league’s best running games and an above-average rushing defense (in terms of our grading), to keep this one close as they battle for the top of the AFC South at the quarter point.
Chargers at Panthers (-1)
Prediction: Panthers win by 3
Both of these teams play close games nearly every week, as the Chargers have yet to lose a game this season by more than one score, and the Panthers have played seven games (including six of the last eight) decided by three or fewer points. As such, this is a tough one to pick; it’s a game that might come down to whether Cam Newton can figure out Casey Hayward and the Chargers’ underrated secondary. Hayward, fresh off of limiting Mike Evans to just 9 yards into his coverage last week (including an interception and an offensive pass interference forced), should be able to slow down Kelvin Benjamin, who, despite having a relatively quiet year, has a respectable yards-per-route-run average (2.14). It will be up to Carolina’s secondary targets, like Greg Olsen—who has failed to eclipse 50 yards receiving in six of his last seven games—to propel the Panthers’ offense to victory in this one.
Texans at Colts (-6)
Prediction: Colts win by 3
While the Colts looked fantastic against the listless Jets last week on the road, this number appears too high, even against a Texans team that has lost three straight and is now in a dog fight for their second-consecutive AFC South title. The Texans still field a good defense, with five starters earning overall grades above 80.0 on the season so far—a far cry from a Jets’ defense with just two such players and severe weaknesses in the secondary (which were exploited by Indianapolis on Monday night). It’s also a far cry from the Colts’ defense, which currently has the worst cumulative grade out of the entire NFL through 13 weeks. If Brock Osweiler is ever going to earn his money for the Texans, this is the week.
Bengals (-6) at Browns
Prediction: Bengals win by 3
This is probably the Browns’ best chance to win a game the rest of the year. It appears that Robert Griffin III will be starting for Cleveland, which gives the team a bit of an unknown in a game against a team that generally knows them quite well. The Bengals have struggled a bit in pass coverage during the course of the season, as they are in the bottom third of the league in our grading. However, last week they were better, holding Eagles’ rookie Carson Wentz to just 5.1 yards per attempt in 63 dropbacks. If their linebackers and secondary can shut down WR Terrelle Pryor (averaging 1.89 yards per route run) and RB Duke Johnson (1.81 yards per route run), they should be able to keep Cleveland from their first win in 13 tries.
Steelers (-2) at Bills
Prediction: Steelers win by 2
It looked for some time like the Bills were going to make the perplexing three-point spread last week in Oakland look brilliant, only to allow the Raiders to blow by them for 29 unanswered points. The Steelers had a comfortable win at home against the Giants, but were certainly aided by red zone difficulties and turnovers on behalf of New York. The matchup to watch in this one is how well the Bills’ pass-rush, led by Lorenzo Alexander and his 11 sacks (second among 3-4 OLBs, but just one since Week 7), fare against an offensive line of the Steelers that is fifth in the league in pass-blocking efficiency (83.2). If Pittsburgh can keep Ben Roethlisberger clean, he has a big-time advantage with Antonio Brown against a pair of Buffalo corners that have regressed substantially (and lately, have not been healthy) this year.
Cardinals at Dolphins (-1.5)
Prediction: Cardinals win by 1
We backed the Dolphins last week, and they disappointed us greatly, surrendering 381 yards (on more than 8 yards per attempt) to a quarterback with a bottom-third grade to this point of the season. While he is a better overall player, Cardinals QB Carson Palmer has many of the attributes that Ravens QB Joe Flacco has, and has been playing similarly-inconsistently this season (although he has five straight positively-graded games). If Palmer can continue his improvement this week, look for the Cardinals and their fourth-highest-graded defense (and sixth-highest-graded run-defense) to make a run at the spoiler role this week in Miami against RB Jay Ayaji and the Dolphins.
Bears at Lions (-8)
Prediction: Lions win by 5
A lot has changed since the Bears upset the Lions at home in Week 4. For one, the future looks somewhat brighter at the quarterback position in Chicago, where Matt Barkley has given the Bears two straight well-graded games. The Lions’ prospects are far better, as well, having gone 7-1 since their defeat at Soldier Field, with a defense that finally put a good game together against a good offense, holding the Saints to just 13 points and 50 yards rushing a week ago in New Orleans, while also intercepting three passes. It’s difficult for me to see the Bears—sans star receiver Alshon Jeffery (76.3)—gaining enough traction this week to win outright against a Lions’ secondary with Darius Slay (87.3) playing among the best football at his position through Week 13, allowing just 0.89 yards per coverage snap to opposing receivers. However, eight points is a lot to give up in a game between two divisional opponents, suggesting the Lions are a bit overvalued at this point.
Vikings (-3.5) at Jaguars
Prediction: Vikings win by 4
Jaguars QB Blake Bortles has played terribly this year, and last week, his pick-six to Denver’s Bradley Roby provided the difference in a game at home against a rookie backup quarterback. We’ve said for weeks that the Jaguars’ defense, in the top 12 in both run-defense and pass-coverage grading, is a lot better than people realize. If Bortles can play an average game against a stout Vikings’ defense (without Harrison Smith), the Minnesota offense, which has been nothing short of awful since their bye week, may not score enough points to bury a Jaguars team that has played competitively in every game since Week 9. I just don’t see Bortles playing an average game, and thus see a Vikings cover in this one.
Washington (-1) at Eagles
Prediction: Washington by 1
The Eagles generated a lot of respect for themselves during their 3-0 start and subsequent victory over a 5-0 Vikings team that has later shown their stripes. Some of this respect has dissipated since, a process accelerated by an embarrassing 32-14 loss last week in Cincinnati. Rookie Carson Wentz has been a bottom-third quarterback in the league since Philadelphia’s 3-0 start, with a yards-per-attempt average (6.1) besting only that of Blake Bortles and Brock Osweiler over that time period. Washington had a setback last week in Arizona, with Kirk Cousins (fifth-highest quarterback grade during the same stretch) earning his first negatively-graded game since Week 5. With Trent Williams (the highest-graded player at his position when suspended) coming back to play left tackle, and Jordan Reed (the second-highest receiving grade at his position) presumably returning to play tight end, look for Washington to regain its success this week on the road.
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) December 7, 2016
Saints at Buccaneers (-2.5)
Prediction: Buccaneers by 1
The Buccaneers have won four games in the row on the strength of an improving defense and the play of quarterback Jameis Winston, who has the fourth-highest grade among quarterbacks during that span. Last week, with Mike Evans effectively shut down, Winston turned to tight end Cameron Brate, who caught six of eight targets and scored a touchdown. The Saints struggled over the middle of the field at home against the Lions, surrendering 14 completions in 17 attempts for 136 yards (8 yards per attempt) inside of the hash marks. With the Saints’ rushing defense surrendering just 68 yards per game over the last three games, it will come down to whether Winston and Tampa Bay’s offense can exploit the Saints’ weaknesses in pass coverage and keep up with Drew Brees and a New Orleans passing game looking to rebound off a poor performance a week ago.
Jets at 49ers (-2.5)
Prediction: Jets by 1
Yikes. For the second straight, week the 49ers are favored (or close to favored) in a game against another weak opponent. Last week, they laid an egg in Chicago, only to be bested in the egg-laying department by the Jets on Monday night. It looks like Bryce Petty will start this week for New York. Petty has, in 91 snaps, one of the worst grades of any quarterback so far this season. The Jets’ hope, therefore, rests in how well RB Matt Forte performs against the league’s worst run defense. If his successor in Chicago (Jordan Howard) is any indication (117 yards and three touchdowns last week in the snow), Forte should be able to help the Jets move the ball on the road. To decide this one, it will be up to Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers’ offense to shake off a disastrous week and continue their recent rebound against the Jets’ fourth-lowest-graded defense in the league.
Seahawks (-2.5) at Packers
Prediction: Packers by 3
In what should be one of the more compelling games of the weekend, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense will look to take advantage of a Seahawks defense that lost its leader last week in free safety Earl Thomas (84.1 overall grade). While the Seahawks still have plenty of talent defensively, including Michael Bennett (83.0), Frank Clark (82.5) and Cliff Avril (79.3) up front, much of this can be mitigated by the league’s most efficient offensive line in terms of pass blocking. If Green Bay can put up some points offensively, their defense, which has improved nicely in recent weeks after getting two of their top three corners back from injury, will need to shut down Russell Wilson (the league’s fifth-highest graded quarterback) and Seattle’s newfound running game to win their third straight.
Falcons (-6) at Rams
Prediction: Falcons by 4
Despite a perceived commitment to their head coach, the Rams are teetering on the brink at this point, having dropped seven of their last eight games, including the last two by multiple scores. Jared Goff has played like a rookie, earning the third-lowest grade among quarterbacks during the last three weeks. Los Angeles’ only hope in this one is that their defense, solid up the middle with Aaron Donald (95.4), Michael Brockers (80.6), Lamarcus Joyner (81.1), Alex Ogletree (76.8) and Mark Barron (74.7), can stop a Falcons’ offense slowed by another injury to star receiver Julio Jones, as well as one to complementary piece Mohamed Sanu. If they, like the Chiefs a week ago, can force a few Matt Ryan miscues, look for them to be competitive at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Cowboys (-3) at Giants
Prediction: Cowboys by 2
The Cowboys head to New York to avenge their only loss of this 2016 season. The Giants look to rebound after a mistake-riddled effort on the road in Pittsburgh. As noted on the “PFF Pro Podcast,” there hasn’t been much redeemable about the play of Eli Manning the past few seasons, despite his sometimes-gaudy numbers. However, Dallas’ defense isn’t exactly the type of unit that can pressure Manning into the magnitude of meltdown of which he is capable, as they have zero defensive linemen with a pass-rushing productivity better than 30th among their position group. Manning’s quarterback rating jumps 23 points when kept clean, giving Odell Beckham Jr. a chance to exploit a Cowboys’ secondary that, while having played well most of this season, has exploitable personnel. Couple these opportunities with a Giants’ defense capable of slowing the vaunted Dallas offense, and we have an exciting game coming up on Sunday night.
Ravens at Patriots (-7)
Prediction: Patriots by 6
In a rematch of memorable playoff games from the past, the Ravens enter Foxborough in a dead heat for first place in their division, with PFF grades (fifth overall, fourth in rushing, fifth in total defense, first in run defense, sixth in pass coverage, and second in special teams) that indicates a team better than their current 7-5 record. The Patriots, without arguably their best player, have won two straight relatively ho-hum efforts behind a defense that has allowed just 26 points during that stretch and comes into this game ranked second in PFF’s NFL Power Rankings. With the Ravens (giving up a league-best 3.4 yards per carry) likely able to limit the Patriots’ rushing attack, it will be up to Tom Brady to figure out the Ravens’ back seven, a group with just one player earning an overall grade below 74.6 on the season. Like the Sunday night game, look for ESPN and its viewers to get their money’s worth this week.
[Editor’s note: To see how PFF Analyst Eric Eager fares versus other spread pick experts, check out the latest rankings on NFL Pickwatch.]