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- Ian's Week 14 picks

Ian Hetherington December 6, 2007
Ian Hetherington
NFL Columnist

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NFL Week 14 Picks

Chicago Bears vs. Washington Redskins
Not only did the Bills not have to weather a particularly strong tide of emotion in the play of the Redskins last week following the death of Sean Taylor, it wasn’t an especially spirited performance in general and Washington were lacklustre rather than brimming with spirit to give Taylor a good send off. Whether that’ll carry over I don’t know, but Chicago will go to FedEx knowing this is a game they can win and Lovie Smith will undoubtedly inform his players that if they don’t do anything stupid they might be able to gut this one out. Washington -be it in their physical abilities, game plan decision making- don’t seem able to consistently go the distance as evidenced by another late-game disappoint last week. The loss of their team-mate could still hang over them on Thursday and the Bears will be on hand to pick up a win if it’s there for the taking.

Carolina Panthers vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
To me the Jags don’t look that far away from being one of the best teams in the AFC. They’re rarely on the wrong end of a huge score, are capably of putting points on the board for themselves and have a defense with the potential to be truly dominating if they tightened it up at a few positions. Carolina head to Jacksonville to play them coming off a win over the 49ers but the Jags gave a good account of themselves in Indianapolis and will likely have taken solace in that despite leaving empty handed. Carolina have yet to beat a team who’ve played particularly well against them and could find the Jags too much to contain with too many tough players to break down.

Dallas Cowboys vs. Detroit Lions
Since putting up over forty points against Denver, the Lions have gone on to a losing streak of four games, and have been on the pointy end of a 126-67 point difference. In that time, Dallas have won four (two divisional games, and last week’s crucial win over the Packers) for a cumulative score of 130-73 in their favour. I don’t like to base judgements purely on form and number-crunching but I think that speaks for itself. Can Detroit score against Dallas? Sure. Can they stop Dallas scoring freely against them? Only time will tell but I wouldn’t put money on it.

Miami Dolphins vs. Buffalo Bills
Could this be Miami’s wee-…. No, no. I’m not falling for THAT one again.

New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles
That O-line and the coach have a lot to make up for going into this one. After a catastrophic quarterback protection scheme at Giants Stadium, a lot of Eagles want to turn that pocket into a fortress. A fortress with a turret to direct their passing game from. Eli Manning is difficult to figure out but I don’t think he’s going to get a license to do what he wants on Sunday, and did I mention how much the Eagles have to prove? New York are in good position for a Wild Card while Philly can still get one, starting with a win in this one.

Oakland Raiders vs. Green bay Packers
By putting twenty-seven points on the board without Brett Favre helping them do it, Green Bay continued to look like a more balanced team. Early in the season their game plan was to let Favre do everything and see what the opposition could do to stop them. Now, though, they’ve found a running game with Ryan Grant and he might had more yards to go with his touchdowns if he’d carried the ball more than he did. Oakland enter this game after a big win against Denver, they even let JaMarcus Russell throw a few, but I find it hard to buy into the result of any Broncos game at the moment whether they win or lose. It looks like Favre will play at the time of writing, but should he miss this I think Rodgers and Grant have what it takes to get a home win against Oakland.

***Game of the Week***
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New England Patriots
If ever the Patriots have looked beatable this season, it’s now. They got a win over Philly thanks to A.J. Feeley handing them the ball to kill the game, they just barely scraped past Baltimore who arguably let them off the hook. It’s been proven that Randy Moss can be rattled, Wes Welker can be managed, and that Tom Brady can be got at. Bill Belichick will have been riling the Pats up with the fact that everybody says they’ve stumbled through a couple of games, but I feel that the Patriots’ 16-0 hopes are on the ropes and Mike Tomlin’s Steelers smell blood. I’m not quite brave enough to pick against New England I’m afraid because I think I’d be doing it as a knee-jerk reaction after what’s happened in their last two games, but I expect the Steelers to have the game in their hands at least once in the fourth quarter.

San Diego Chargers vs. Tennessee Titans
It’s not many defensive tackles who are so important their team’s offense struggles without him in the team. Albert Haynesworth is that defensive tackle, and he still doesn’t seem to be fully fit after getting bothered by his hamstring again. LT is back in the mood for touchdowns even if he’s not piling up the same yardage this time around. Still, hard to imagine the Titans reigning him in without their talisman.

St. Louis Rams vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Cincy’s defeats against Pittsburgh and Arizona are more relevant to me than their win over a Titans team who seemed completely lost without Albert Haynesworth. Getting beaten by Pittsburgh isn’t something to be particularly concerned about, but make no mistake: Cincinnati are still a team with big problems. Not that St. Louis aren’t, but they at least seem to have an offense functioning and they’ve generally stiffened up since the first weeks of the season when they looked pretty hopeless. It’s a game that could go either way at this stage but I think Steven Jackson getting his game back is going to be the key factor.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Houston Texans
Sometimes it’s only when I make a cursory check of the stats and recent results that I get an clarity at all regarding how good a team is. I have this tendency to make an early judgment and then struggle to allow a team to shake off whatever label I’ve given them. Tampa Bay are a perfect case in point. They’re 8-4, yet every week when I come to picking them I have my pre-season opinion lodged: “Tampa Bay – Bad year in 2007.” It’s wholly unfair and about time I gave them the credit they deserve.

Arizona Cardinals vs. Seattle Seahawks
Seattle are in the same boat with me as Tampa Bay. 8-4? How!? Anyway, let’s talk about Arizona. To me they’re somewhat of an enigma because they win the games you’d expect them to lose and lose the ones you think they’d cruise through. I mean, beating Cleveland, Detroit and Pittsburgh while also losing to teams like San Francisco…. Twice. What to make of it? Well, despite their inconsistency seeming to attract them to the big wins I think Seattle will strengthen their playoff position by letting Matt Hasselbeck look after the ball.

Minnesota Vikings vs. San Francisco 49ers
With Tarvaris Jackson actually looking like an NFL quarterback for the past two games, the defense being immense all over the field and the Taylor-Peterson one-two taking care of business the Vikings at last look like a legitimate contender. For now, at least. They take that defense to face San Francisco, a team who including a game where they nearly scored forty are averaging less than two touchdowns per game. How you can predict that for a win?

Cleveland Browns vs. New York Jets
The Jets don’t make the most of their chances every game like they did last week. They won’t get the turnovers they were gifted by Miami. Cleveland have an offense. Cleveland have won seven games, which is roughly more than the team the Jets beat last week. Don’t take me wrong, the Jets have some good players and I really want to like them, but after their collapse following the playoff season of 2006 it’s difficult to hide the disappointment. Kellen Clemens has a tough job on with so many receivers either being or having been hurt and it’s hard for him with Thomas Jones struggling to provide the support he should.

Kansas City Chiefs vs. Denver Broncos
I’m kind of torn… on the one hand I’m struggling to pick Denver to win in any given game at this moment. They’ve got a decent young quarterback in Jay Cutler and their running game is producing yards and touchdowns whoever’s in there. They keep letting teams dominate them though, in spite of them seeming to have the personnel to be successful in most areas of the game. In the last two weeks though they’ve shown their worst sides, one being the side where they gift the opposition (e.g. Devin Hester) everything they need to punish them. The other is where they just let a team –Oakland, last week- trample them when they’re really not a better football team. Luckily for them they’re playing a Kansas team in freefall. After a mini-revival earlier this year they’ve now lost five consecutively, including three games against divisional revivals. They seem determined to remain a catchable target for Oakland which is why I’d find it hard to go for them even against such a Jekyll and Hyde team as Denver.

Indianapolis Colts vs. Baltimore Ravens
After such a gutsy performance from Baltimore against New England, I fear on their behalf that the Colts are going to be on hand to make the most of any hangover from Monday Night that may be in evidence. It was against the Ravens in the playoffs last season where Peyton Manning showed he really could withstand heavy pressure in a big game and with the Colts not being assured of anything right now they’ll need more of the same. Assuming Rex Ryan throws the house at Manning, he’ll just take care of the ball and I don’t picture Boller –who’ll be hoping not to emulate A.J. Feeley’s post-Pats performance- winning a duel with him.

New Orleans Saints vs. Atlanta Falcons
You know why I keep picking the Saints? No? Hm, I was hoping somebody would. The time is gone for talking about the talent and the coaching and the underachievement. That’s been done to death so I’ll leave it… for this week anyway. What’s important is that in the NFC Atlanta are one of the few teams who are genuinely out of the running but New Orleans have a chance if they just win their last games. Atlanta have as good a shot as anybody else of upsetting the Saints I’d say, and that’s not a bad shot at all, I’m going to pig-headedly stick with the Saints though. They’ve got to justify my decision sooner or later, haven’t they?

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