This week, the NFL enters the final quarter of the season. Coaches get one more month to save their job. A handful of teams get four more chances to punch a ticket to the postseason or better their seed. The rest of the league has to start thinking about all the things they have to do next year and where they'll land in the draft.
With so much on the line, it feels like we need to spice things up in the old weekly picks. To do that, I'm putting myself, and my pride, on the line, going toe-to-toe with Rob Ford, PFT Commenter's ultimate NFL fan and the league's ideal commissioner. Ford made his picks on DC sports radio this week, on the same station that Dan Snyder's trying to sue for bad jokes.
If I can't beat Rob Ford at picking NFL games, I'll have to try to beat him at being mayor of Toronto ... or something else. It would be humiliating enough to lose to Rob Ford, but I'll make sure there's some further indignation to suffer in that case.
So here are my picks against the spread for Week 14.
Houston Texans (-3) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
The world of online NFL hot takes has done more than enough complaining about Thursday Night Football. It's not going away, not unless it stops making money, and it will never stop making money. So why indulge it again?
This is really the perfect TNF matchup. Two crummy teams playing out the season while their respective brasses thinks about what to do in January. Strangely enough, this could be a decent game, or at least an entertaining one. I was the one who said the Jaguars' win last week over the Browns was actually the best game from Sunday. It doesn't take competency to provide entertainment.
Jacksonville is red-hot with three wins in its last four games. Those are the Jaguars only three wins, but it's three more wins than we once thought they'd have. But the Jaguars still haven't won a game at home. They haven't even covered a spread at home. However, Gus Bradley's had a tough schedule on his home turf: Chiefs, Colts, Chargers, 49ers, and the Cardinals. The Chargers are the only team out of the bunch with a losing record.
The Jaguars beat the Texans two weeks ago, and they should do it again this week, unless Gary Kubiak find some inspiration in his desperation.
The pick: Jaguars
Minnesota Vikings vs. Baltimore Ravens (-7)
Baltimore currently has the sixth seed in an AFC wild card race that represents the ugly underside of parity. The Ravens also could have Dennis Pitta back this week, which is the best news Joe Flacco's had since McDonalds found a way to pull the bones out of chicken wings.
None of that matters because this week it's the Vikings, and the Ravens have what it take to stop the Vikings by virtue of their defense. The Ravens have a -17.2 percent DVOA against the run, the eighth best according to Football Outsiders. Take away Adrian Peterson's ability to run free and you stop the Vikings. It really is that simple.
The pick: Ravens
Indianapolis Colts vs. Cincinnati Bengals (-6)
You have to admire the Colts for their persistence and dedication. They have no business running a power O, but they're going to keep trying, with or without Trent Richardson (which is essentially the same thing). Did Bruce Arians forget to leave Chuck Pagano the instruction manual for how to use Andrew Luck?
Speaking of Luck, he has two touchdown passes and five interceptions in his last four games. Andy Dalton has six touchdowns and six interceptions in his last four games.
The pick: Bengals
Cleveland Browns vs. New England Patriots (-11 1/2)
Josh Gordon may have finally met his match this week, from his own quarterback. Caleb Hanie could end up starting for the Browns with the team's other fill-in quarterbacks concussed or otherwise unable to play. We all kind of thought that Brandon Weeden was a pretty sure impediment for Gordon, but that wasn't the case.
The Patriots will play Gordon tight, likely attaching Aqib Talib to his hip. And that should pretty much do it for the Browns, not that the outcome wasn't a forgone conclusion anyway. It definitely makes that double-digit spread look a lot smaller for bettors.
The pick: Patriots
Oakland Raiders vs. New York Jets (-3)
Remember when the Jets beat the Saints? It happened. About a month ago, in Week 9. That loss, in New York, probably says more about the Saints than it does the Jets. Because the 5-4 Jets of Week 9 are long gone.
Is it time to bring back Terrelle Pryor yet? He hasn't played in two weeks, and the Raiders haven't been much fun to watch since then. We can't in good conscious recommend you to bet on this game. Offered cautiously ...
The pick: Jets
Detroit Lions vs. Philadelphia Eagles (-3)
Detroit picked the Packers bones clean on Thanksgiving, stopping a two-game Lions skid and reversing a long stretch of holiday haplessness. Maybe Jim Schwartz learned something after losses to the Steelers and Buccaneers the two weeks before that. The Lions are 3-3 against the spread on the road.
Chip Kelly's Eagles are 1-4-1 against the spread at home, thanks in part to appearances from Matt Barkley. It's not hard to imagine Nick Foles and Co. putting up big numbers against this Lions defense. Then again, Calvin Johnson could add another argument in his case to MVP.
The pick: Lions
Miami Dolphins vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (-3)
You see the Steelers and assume that Ben Roethlisberger is going to get left for dead by his offensive line. That's where Pittsburgh is as an organization right now. Miraculously, he hasn't been sacked in three weeks, including games against tough defenses like the Browns and Ravens. If the Steelers line can keep Dolphins pass rusher Oliver Vernon (4.5 sacks in his last two games) at bay, they should have this one.
The pick: Steelers
Buffalo Bills vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3)
A Schiano Man doesn't bet, but for all the regular joes out there who don't quite measure up to the exacting standards of fascism, we say bet on the Bucs this week. Buffalo's run defense isn't as stingy as it was earlier in the season. The last three opponents have posted triple digit rushing totals for an average of 139 yards per game.
Both teams have lost seven games after blowing a lead this season. Buffalo is 1-4 on the road this year.
The pick: Buccaneers
Kansas City Chiefs (-3) vs. Washington Redskins
The Chiefs have lost three in a row, tied with the Jets for the longest active losing streak in the NFL right now. It's a good time for Andy Reid to make another visit to his old haunts in the NFC East. He's 3-0 against his old division this year, and the Chiefs get the worst team of the lot this week. For Washington, another loss means another weird week of takes about RGIII, Mike Shanahan and Dan Snyder, so there's that.
The pick: Chiefs
Atlanta Falcons vs. Green Bay Packers (-2.5)
It's hard to get a line on this one because nobody knows whether or not Aaron Rodgers will play this week. Rodgers and the Packers are sending out hopeful signals, but it sounds more like blind optimism than any rational diagnosis. For now, the Packers are a slight favorite at home. The Packers are 0-4-1 without Rodgers, but the quarterback's absence doesn't excuse a string of terrible defensive performances that could get Dom Capers fired once the season ends. Roddy White and Steven Jackson are both healthy, and that should be the difference for the Falcons in this one.
Unless Rodgers comes back in time for this one.
The pick: Falcons
Tennessee Titans vs. Denver Broncos (-13)
The Titans have a decent pass defense, allowing an average of just 212 yards per game. With apologies to Alterraun Verner, the real issue here might be the weather. Temperatures in the teens and a 30 percent chance of snow versus Peyton Manning ... it almost writes itself if the Broncos lose. But they won't lose. John Fox is back on the sidelines this week; never bet against positive emotional footnotes like that.
The pick: Broncos
St. Louis Rams vs. Arizona Cardinals (-6)
When the Rams can't run the ball, the offense falls apart. Last week the Niners exposed that fundamental truth of having Kellen Clemens under center. Arizona's defense is limiting opponents to a miserly 83.2 yards per game on the ground, and just 3.5 yards per attempt. So then it becomes Kellen Clemens against Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. Chris Long and Robert Quinn can do some damage against whatever awful pass protection the Cardinals provide Carson Palmer, but unless they can give the Rams 14 points or so, it's just too much to ask.
The pick: Cardinals
New York Giants vs. San Diego Chargers (-3)
Reminisces of the Eli Manning/Philip Rivers trade would be a lot more interesting if these two teams were in a different place than 5-7 apiece. These two teams haven't played each other since 2009. The Chargers won that one. New York is finding its way again, winning five of its last six games. The Chargers have one win in their last four, against the Chiefs.
The pick: Giants
Seattle Seahawks vs. San Francisco 49ers (-2.5)
Seattle looked unstoppable on Monday night, shutting down the Saints. So it's a little surprising to see Pete Carroll's team as an underdog, even a slight one, here. Even with Michael Crabtree back in the mix now, it's hard not to imagine Seattle's back seven shutting down all of San Francisco's targets. Then again, on the road in a short week against a bitter division rival, the line might make a little more sense. Something else to consider; Pete Carroll has never won a professional game in San Francisco. In fact, the Seahawks haven't won there since 2008. But this Seahawks team is operating on an entirely different plane from years past.
The pick: Seahawks
Carolina Panthers vs. New Orleans Saints (-3 1/2)
The Saints and Falcons have alternated as NFC South champs for the last four seasons. Carolina last held the division title in 2008, before Cam Newton, Riverboat Ron, ultra rich running backs, Luke Kuechly and angering Bill Belichick. This could be the year the Panthers reclaim the top spot in the division, but they have to get through the Saints, with two games against them in the closing month of the season.
The first of those games is in New Orleans. Winning in the Superdome is a tall order with noisy crowds and pre-existing narratives to overcome. One thing Seattle did so well on Monday was to smother the Saints in coverage, with a lot of help from the Seahawk linebackers. The Panthers have a group of linebackers that excel in coverage as well, with or without helpful officials.
Carolina has what it takes to beat the Saints. It's the home field advantage in this one that's hard to overlook. New Orleans in 6-0 at home this year, 5-0-1 against the spread. Carolina has lost two on the road, but that was before they rode the Riverboat to the current eight-game streak. The Panthers were the last team to win in the Superdome too, but that came against the 2012 Saints.
This should be a great game, but it's a tough one to pick. Don't overthink it. Take the Saints at home.
The pick: Saints
Dallas Cowboys vs. Chicago Bears (-1)
Dallas is the popular pick in this one, with a majority of bettors hoping for an NFC East showdown between the Eagles and the Cowboys. Forget the spread in this one. The Cowboys are all about the prop bets. Will Dallas finish with a third-straight 8-8 season? What about Monte Kiffin? O/U on Tony Romo interceptions?
Look at the over/under on this game, 49 points. Most people are taking the over. And why not? Chicago's defense can't stop the run. Dallas' defense is still confused about how they managed to hold the Eagles to three points. The over looks like a smart bet in this one.