Week 12 NFL Picks
Chicago at Minnesota
With a win here the Vikings will have all but wrapped up the NFC North and this game will mean a little something to Favre who is 2-6 vs Chicago since Lovie Smith took over. Minnesota will be very rested as this is their 3rd straight home game since their bye week while Chicago is off last week’s Sunday Night game loss to Philadelphia and has to travel with a holiday week. I really like the matchup of the Minnesota #1 sack defense (36) vs Chicago’s older OL and while it only has allowed 20 sacks so far (#12) they play a big part in Cutler’s 18 interceptions. Cutler’s body language in games tells me that he can frustrates easily and doesn’t fully trust his teammates yet. Favre is having a career season (248 yards per game, 70%, 21-3 ratio), Minnesota has outgained foes 416-280 and have a reason to keep playing hard as they chase the Saints.
FORECAST: Minnesota 31 Chicago 13
Carolina at NY Jets
Rex Ryan has decided to have more input with the offense and will implement a “code system” that he believes will reduce the amount of pre-snap decisions Sanchez has to make and just let him play. I think a really interesting matchup will be with the Jets #16 run defense (112 4.0) matching up vs the Carolina #3 rush offense (159 yards per game, 5.0) as I want to see how long the Jets defense holds up without Kris Jenkins. The problem for Carolina is that while they have respectable rankings (#15 off and #11 def) they mistakes at key points (-8 TO’s) and their passing game lacks even an average receiver outside of Steve Smith. Still I have a lot more faith in a rested Panthers defense with extra time to prep vs a Jets team off 3 tough losses to Miami, Jacksonville and New England.
FORECAST: Carolina 27 NY JETS 14
Seattle at St Louis
Seattle is simply a weaker team when they get on a plane and going 0-5 on the road losing by a 32-15 average score. I was skeptical about the Seahawks’ OL and run game going into the year and they are very 1 dimensional right now (#13 pass, #32 rush) and RB Jones (bruised lung) will miss again. Mora noted that Aaron Curry has hit the rookie wall and he is going to reign him in a bit here. Marc Bulger (fractured kneecap) has probably played his last game for St Louis and the Rams will want to take a long look at Kyle Boller to see if he can be the transition QB for 2010. I like how St Louis has played hard the last 2 weeks but Steven Jackson (back) has missed 2 days of practice this week and St Louis could be without its RG and RT here. I think St Louis will do enough at home vs a Seattle defense allowing 267 yards per game, (73%) with a 12-1 ratio on the road this year.
FORECAST: ST LOUIS 26 Seattle 20
Kansas City at San Diego
The Chargers reclaimed the AFC West with a 32-3 thumping of the Broncos but they lost RT Clary (leg) and Turner isn’t confident that DE Castillo can play this week. Kansas City pulled off the upset of the year by beating Pittsburgh in OT last week despite being outgained 515-282. Statistically the Chiefs are a wreck with the #30 off and #30 def right now but they are playing smart minimizing their mistakes and capitalizing on others (97 yard kick return and 10 points off 2 interceptions last week). San Diego has converted a very impressive 43% on 3rd downs on offense the last 4 weeks and I really like the matchup of their bigger receiving targets in Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson vs the #28 pass defense. Kansas City will keep it close in the 1st half or so as WR Chris Chambers was cut by San Diego just a few weeks ago and they have lots of confidence after last week. Still the Chargers have huge talent edges here and should pull away in the 2nd half.
FORECAST: SAN DIEGO 38 Kansas City 21
Tampa Bay at Atlanta
I have serious concerns about Tampa Bay HC Raheem Morris as he has replaced both coordinators this year with well respected DC Jim Bates being demoted after Last week’s 38-7 loss to NO. Morris named himself the DC and is going to take the team back to the Cover-2 as the base defense. Atlanta starts a 3 game homestand here after being in 4 road games in 5 weeks. As with most QB’s Ryan is better at home where Atlanta has an 11-1 record. RB Jerious Norwood is expected to start while Michael Turner is a gametime decision with his ankle sprain. Freeman had his 1st bad game as a starter last week (126 yards, 52%, 1-3 ratio) and while he has looked promising I want to see how he rebounds here. Atlanta is 5-1 vs teams that have a losing record right now, Tampa Bay has been outgained 392-268 on the road (0-5) and while I think Tampa Bay can make some plays vs a weaker Atlanta defense the Falcons are simply a better team here.
FORECAST: ATLANTA 37 Tampa Bay 20
Miami at Buffalo
Miami throttled the Bills 38-10 with 250 yards rushing (5.6) in the 1st meeting and have now won 3 straight vs the Bills. Buffalo overachieved last week under interim HC Perry Fewell losing by 3 with a 33 yard edge. I’m not as high on Fitzpatrick’s game (297 yards, 58%, 1-2) as the Jags are notoriously bad in pass defense. Miami has the rest advantage here after upsetting Carolina 24-17 last week thanks to a great game by Ricky Williams. Miami could be without Center Jake Grove (ankle sprain) which is a big blow as this will be Henne’s 8th start overall and 1st at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Buffalo is one of the most injury depleted teams in the NFL and will have their 7th different OL combo in 11 games and lost both starting OG’s last week. Miami could be starting their 3rd string NT here with Jason Ferguson (quad) going to injured reserve and #2 Paul Soliai being unknown here. Miami is healthier, better rested, and more talented but keep an eye on the weather here.
FORECAST: Miami 16 BUFFALO 10
Cleveland at Cincinnati
I refuse to overreact to Brady Quinn’s career day last week (304 yards, 64%, 4-0) as the Lions finished with the #32 defense in 2007, 2008 and are 31st right now. Cleveland has been outgained 434-234 on the road this year and keep in mind in they had 35 total points in 5 road games prior to Detroit. Cincinnati was embarrassed by a 20-17 loss to Oakland last week as they were flat after their big win vs Pittsburgh the week before. I really like the matchup of the Bengals CB’s vs the inexperienced Cleveland WR’s here and expect them to play man to man and send an extra player against Quinn on every pass down. This is a very important game to the Bengals as they can sweep the AFC North here and look for them to reward the fans with a win here.
FORECAST: CINCINNATI 31 Cleveland 20
Indianapolis at Houston
The Colts are the 1st team in NFL history to win 4 straight games after trailing in the 4Q and with a win can be the 4th team since 1990 to win their division by their 11th game. While they are 14-1 vs Houston the last 3 games have been decided by 13 combined points. The Texans are coming off a tough loss to the Titans which put them at 1-3 in division play. Schaub gets a nice matchup here vs a Colts secondary that is giving up 307 yards (70%) with a 4-4 ratio the last 3 weeks. I think they can get enough out of Steve Slaton/Ryan Moats on sweeps and bubble screens to move the ball and take the pressure off Andre Johnson (58 rec, 15.1). I think the Colts got a bit beat up after playing Baltimore last week and that the Texans can get their 2nd win in the series here.
FORECAST: HOUSTON 28 Indianapolis 27
Washington at Philadelphia
The Redskins dominated the first 57 minutes vs Dallas but a missed FG gave Dallas the ball on their 40. Romo then led Dallas on a 9 play, 60 yard drive for the win. Making matters worse for Washington is that they lost RG Chad Rhineheart (broken leg) and #2 RB Ladell Betts (torn ACL/MCL) and Clinton Portis was quickly ruled out for this game. While Philadelphia beat Chicago last week on Sunday Night, I am really not that impressed with their ability to sustain drives and they continue to rely on “explosive plays” to win games. That plays to the Washington defense who has only lost 1 starter this year and they continue to play good ball. Washington has pulled in 21 sacks the last 7 games and the Philadelphia coaching staff has had to point out to McNabb that he’s not as spry as he used to be and he needs to start getting rid of the ball faster. I think this will be a closer than expected game as the Washington defense keeps them in the game.
FORECAST: PHILADELPHIA 20 Washington 14
Arizona at Tennessee
This is promises to be a good game with the Cardinals winning all 5 road games and the Titans having won 4 straight off an impressive win on Monday Night. The Titans defense has gotten healthy and deep since their meltdown vs New England allowing 213 yards per game (60%) with a 6-7 ratio the last 4 weeks. Arizona had a 21-3 lead and 299 yards before Kurt Warner left last week’s game with a blow to the head but he’s fully expected to play here. In the first 7 games Arizona averaged 42 pass attempts per game but with the growth of Chris Wells and the run game (162 yards per game, 5.4) they’ve trimmed to 34 pass sttempts. I think that being benched was the best thing to happen to Vince Young. It allowed him to mature and OC Mike Heimerdinger to fully grasp his athleticism and develop plays for him instead of fighting his ability and forcing him into something he’s not. Both teams have strengths that counter each other but I’ll lean with Jeff Fisher who traditionally does well hosting NFC teams and has his team playing very well.
FORECAST: TENNESSEE 24 Arizona 21
Jacksonville at San Francisco
The 49ers are perplexing to me. They started out being a very straight forward power run team on offense but the strengths of Alex Smith and Michael Crabtree are in spread styles. The OL isn’t stout enough to at the point of attack and they are playing without their starting OT’s which causes problems in pass protection. San Fran’s defense has fallen fast as in the last 6 games they have been outgained 395-288 and minus the Cutler meltdown they have allowed a 7-1 ratio. What really alarms me is that they are allowing 47% on 3rd downs in that span. Jacksonville at 6-4 has a shot at a Wildcard spot but the fact they’ve won their last 3 games by 3 points or less vs similar talent level and now travel out West is a bit of a concern. Jacksonville does have a leaky pass defense (#25, 17-9) but San Fran is below average at WR though Vernon Davis (51 receptions, 11.8) is playing at a Pro Bowl level. Jacksonville is playing much better and in a better frame of mind than when they faced Seattle and this will be a close game here.
FORECAST: SAN FRANCISCO 17 Jacksonville 14
Pittsburgh at Baltimore
Both teams enter this crucial game off tough losses. While Pittsburgh had a 515-282 yard edge in last week’s loss they set an NFL record by allowing a special teams/defensive return for a TD for the 8th straight game. Baltimore played tough with Indy last week and intercepted Manning twice but they couldn’t get the run game on track (98 yards, 3.2) to open up the passing game. BAL will be without OLB Suggs again and Roethlisberger is expected to start as he’s been cleared of concussions. This game will have a playoff implications as barring a Cincinnati collapse they are fighting for 1 of the 2 Wildcard spots.