Sunday Selections – Week 14
By Phil Steele
Baltimore at Washington
RG3 is off back-to-back nationally televised division games and his combined numbers vs the Cowboys and the Eagles were eye catching (252 ypg, 79%, 8-1) before last week’s 13-21-163 performance vs the Giants. The Ravens make this short trip down I-95 losing a potential AFC North clincher to their rivals and has fallen behind for homefield edge. They will still be looking for Parkway superiority as these players cross paths often. December football brings a different mentality and the Ravens have a veteran team led by a veteran QB who has led his team to 4 road wins this year throwing only 2 int in the L/5 games and has led them to the playoffs in each of his 4 seasons. The Ravens injury maligned D allowed 23 ppg their first 7 but since the bye and the return of Suggs they are #1 in the NFL the L5W allowing only 16.2 and also may see Ray Lewis in some spot duty. This is an example of learning to win versus knowing to win.
PHIL’S FORECAST: BALTIMORE 27 WASHINGTON 24
Kansas City at Cleveland
It’s obviously a difficult situation for Chiefs players and coaches and this week may be more emotionally difficult than the last. Their inspired effort led them to a second win. The “KC Browns” are bringing back HC Crennel, OC Daboll, QB Quinn and RB Hillis. CLE is off a trip to OAK where they totaled a season high 475 yards as rookies Weeden (364 yds, 69%), Gordon (116 yds, 19.3) and Richardson (95 ttl yds, 4.1) are becoming a dynamic trio. They’ve been impressive at home going 3-1 while holding PIT, BAL and SD to 16 FD’s and 263 ypg. Weeden will be linked to Quinn as each was the Browns 2nd of 2 first round DC’s. The difference is that Weeden used his first 5 games (0-5 SU, 5-9 ratio) to learn from (5-3, 8-6) while Quinn who had a 10-9 ratio for CLE had an 0-4 for the Chiefs ratio this year before last week’s 2-0. The Browns showed last week they are clearly an improving team. The Browns fans will give the Chiefs a warm welcome but once the ball kicks off, you now have an excited and hungry team looking for a 5th win vs a two win team with emotions that few, if any, have had to play with at this level.
PHIL’S FORECAST: CLEVELAND 24 KANSAS CITY 13
San Diego at Pittsburgh
PIT not only upset the Ravens last week but now get the return of Big Ben. On the flip side the boom you heard on the West Coast may have been the Chargers organization imploding after a 4th straight loss. The Chargers are 1-6 in EST games with the only win vs JAX last year for a 29-17 avg score in the losses. The Chargers are paying for their inability to protect Rivers whose 36 sacks are only behind Rodgers 39 sacks this year. That along with not getting a true #1 WR has seen Rivers only avg 247 ypg (65%) with an 18-15 ratio despite playing 1 team (DEN) with a def in the top half of the league. Last year SD had twice (42) as many offense/spec tms td’s vs 3&outs (21) and this year they have just 22 off/spec tms td’s vs 38 3&outs. PIT is allowing an NFL best 242 ypg/12.4 ppg at home this year and has held Dalton, Eli and Flacco led offenses to under 200 yds this year. While both teams have beat up OL’s the Steelers are sounder on defense and getting healthier (Polamalu, & WR Brown) and I’ll call for the home team by 13 here.
PHIL’S FORECAST: PITTSBURGH 27 SAN DIEGO 14
Tennessee at Indianapolis
In their first meeting Luck led his team to a season high 30 FD’s and got his first NFL road win throwing a 16 yd td pass to Ballard in OT. Last week they stunned DET and are now home where they’ve won 4 straight beating GB, CLE, MIA and BUF while outFD’ing each of them by 5.5 per game. Luck who has struggled away (8-13 ratio) has 9-3 ratio at home and after throwing for 53% in Sept and 57% in Oct he tossed for 59% in Nov. Now the improving rookie faces a Titans D allowing 70% on the year and has the league’s #31 D QBR with a 24-10 ratio. The Colts D gets very little publicity but they are only allowing 334 ypg at home with their high being only 365 yards. That is a big part of why they’re the ONLY team in the NFL to have outgained their L/7 foes. The Titans struggled against a physical Texans D and with Locker (6.9 ypa, 57%, 8-7 ratio) operating with a new OC having lost their starting RT expect the Colts to dial up blitzes to keep him out of rhythm and make RB Johnson a non-factor.
PHIL’S FORECAST: INDIANAPOLIS 30 TENNESSEE 20
NY Jets at Jacksonville
Mark Sanchez threw multiple picks the L/3 games so let’s get Tebow to help out the QB spot. This Tebow guy is inj’d and some say a distraction so let’s make him inactive. Oh well, Sanchez threw multiple int’s for the 6th time in 15 games so what do we do know? We’ll bring in McElroy to a standing ovation and he led the Jets to more yards (150) on 4 drives than Sanchez did prior (139) along with a td. NY has taken to the road twice against losing teams and did win both vs MIA and STL. The Jets D showed what their capable against a weak offense allowing ARZ FIVE FD’s and 137 yds. The Jags continue on their pace to finish dead last in both offense and defense getting outgained 344-236 last week and they’ve now been outgained in every game this year with the exception of GB. The Jaguars did win a game at home this year thanks to +3 in TO’s but in their 5 losses the avg score was 31-9. The Jets have a solid edge on defense and like BUF last week are used to Henne and I’ll call for the road team by 7 here.
PHIL’S FORECAST: NY JETS 17 JACKSONVILLE 10
Chicago at Minnesota
The Bears have won 6 straight vs MIN with a 31-15 avg score. CHI won the previous meeting 2 weeks ago 28-10 at home. CHI paid a heavy toll as they lost both starting OG’s (RG Louis for year), WR Hester (concussion) with #1 RB Forte and #1 CB Tillman (foot) leaving as well. Ponder has TOTALED 286 yds (50%) with a 1-2 ratio in 3 starts vs CHI while Cutler has avg’d 218 ypg (66%) with a 14-7 ratio with CHI vs MIN. This is a huge game for CHI as they host GB next week and these div wins may decide the champion. MIN has the edge with their #13 pass rush at home on turf vs an OL that is 28th with 36 sacks (1 every 10.4 att) so far. However, MIN has been very limited without Harvin (ankle) and Peterson has been held to under 95 yds rushing in 4 of the L/5 meetings. I’ll call for the Bears by 3 as due to key injuries for both teams.
PHIL’S FORECAST: CHICAGO 23 MINNESOTA 20
Atlanta at Carolina
ATL has won 5 straight but the Panthers had the Falcons on the ropes in the 1st meeting until Newton fumbled on 3rd down at mid-field which they recovered and then punted. Ryan hit a 59 yd pass to White and 5 plays later ATL hit the game winning FG with :10 left. Ryan has avg’d 242 ypg (61%) with a 15-5 ratio vs CAR while Newton has been fairly contained by ATL being held to 243 ypg (56%) with a 4-5 ratio and 172 yds rushing (7.8). ATL has extra rest off a Thur game and ATL has actually been outgained by an avg of 5 ypg this year in Div play. CAR is off a loss to an inspired KC team and while Newton didn’t play badly (232 yds, 56%, 3-0) he doesn’t have much of a supporting cast as the rest of the team had 87 yds rushing (5.8) and 7 of 8 rec’s had less than 50 yds receiving. CAR’s DL woes are catching up to them again as they have allowed 176 ypg rushing (5.3) the L3W with just 4 sacks total over the L4W (16-8 ratio). ATL has a big game vs the Giants on deck and has already wrapped up the NFC South and will be more interested in avoiding injuries. I’ll call for the road team by 1 in a higher scoring game.
PHIL’S FORECAST: ATLANTA 28 CAROLINA 27
Philadelphia at Tampa Bay
This a horrible situation for PHI as this is the only non-primetime game in a 4 week span and their 3rd road game in a 4 week stretch. This is a huge break for TB as in the L4W they’ve given up 296 ypg (72%) with an 8-4 ratio to Rivers, Newton, Ryan and Peyton and they get a rookie QB behind a beat up OL missing his top WR (Jackson 45 rec, 15.6). Freeman has avg’d 280 ypg (62%) with a 10-2 ratio at home. This accounts for the fact that RB Martin has yet to crack 100 yds rushing at home this year (68 ypg, 4.0) but PHI is allowing 126 ypg (4.3) rushing away. PHI erred greatly when they made Bowles the DC as since the bye they’ve given up a Raider-esque 243 ypg (75%) with a 13-0 ratio and only 11 sacks vs 235 ypg (52%) with a 7-7 ratio prior. TB is in a heated battle for the final NFC wild-card and the Bucs should win comfortably here.
PHIL’S FORECAST: TAMPA BAY 31 PHILADELPHIA 17
St Louis at Buffalo
This is one of 2 games with zero playoff implications this week and will likely be forgotten as it doesn’t have the story line of KC/CLE. STL does have a slight stat edge with the #25 and #12 units (-2 TO’s) vs a top 5 sked while BUF has the #17 and #24 units (-6 TO’s) vs the #21 sked. This is a battle between 2 teams trending in opposite directions. BUF is on a 6-15 run as Fitzpatrick has tossed a 30-28 ratio over that span while the defense has allowed a 41-16 ratio. BUF’s strength is their #4 ground game that has churned out 163 ypg (5.0) at home but they’ve only played 2 top 10 def this year (SF/ARZ). STL has their own issues at WR/OL but this is a welcome step down for Bradford after 4 games vs physical defenses. The only bad true road game he’s played this year has been vs CHI and in the others he’s tallied 248 ypg (64%) with a 5-1 ratio. The Rams under Fisher have become a run first team (#12) that is top 5 in sacks (32 this year) which has hold their foes on the road to 322 ypg and 3.6 ypc which spells victory at BUF in December.
PHIL’S FORECAST: ST LOUIS 23 BUFFALO 17
Dallas at Cincinnati
The Bengals are trying to “clinch the NFC East” after having already beaten the NYG and Washington. CIN took a 3 game winning streak into SD and the defense overcame Dalton’s struggles on the day. The Cowboys meanwhile are off a SNF win over PHI keeping their playoff hopes intact and will be playing with heavy hearts for a fallen teammate. On paper this is a mismatch with the Cowboys only 1 of 3 teams (HOU & DEN) that rank in the top 10 of both off and def and they’ve outgained their foes by 47 ypg vs the #6 sked while CIN has outgained their foes by 26 ypg but versus the #30 sked. However, taking a look at the Cowboys L/6 games their 3 losses were to WAS, ATL and the Giants while in their 3 wins they were outgained by 7 yards vs CAR, outgained by 75 yds vs PHI and only outgained CLE by 9 yards. The Cowboys offense has missed Murray (expected limited time last week) as in the 2 games he rushed 18+ times they won both and in the other 9 games Romo has avg an astounding 44 att’s per game incl 112 in the 2 games prior to Philly. After yesterday’s tragedy, I’ll back the Cowboys much like the Chiefs last week who pulled out an emotional win.
PHIL’S FORECAST: DALLAS 23 CINCINNATI 20
Miami at San Francisco
The 49ers #11 off and #2 def (+5 TO’s) should easily handle the Dolphins #28 and #20 units (-10 TO’s), right? I’ll give the Dolphins credit as they allowed 302 ypg their L/4 while also holding the #1 offense to a season low. MIA lost #1 LT Long and which will only make SF’s Smith tandem’s job (20.5 sks combined) that much easier. Last week Kaepernick was int free and was 8-19 on 3rd down but will be remembered for his fumbled pitch that led to a td. While the Dolphins may be settled at QB they are still only avg 302 ypg away and now a rookie will face the winds of SF Bay against a D that has 19 sacks the L/5 games. While some of the polish may have come off, it may not matter who the 49ers QB is because they’ve dominated foes off a loss going 6-0 with an avg score of 23-4.
PHIL’S FORECAST: SAN FRANCISCO 31 MIAMI 10
New Orleans at NY Giants
Even though the Saints have the extra rest while the Giants are off a MNF loss, NY has an edge as they are familiar with DC Spagnuolo’s defense and the fact that NO doesn’t have the right players for it. Brees had a career worst game last week with 5 int and NO is 0-4 when Brees tosses 2 or more int this year. Over the L/6 game the Saints are 3-3 but the offense is clearly missing the adjustments that Payton made as the season progressed as they’ve avg’d 362 ypg. NO has improved their yards allowed in 3 straight games but the L/2 are misleading as both ATL and SF went vanilla with the lead. The Giants are very beat up on the defensive side as JPP, Tuck and safety Phillips were all beat up prior to WAS which would be great news for Brees who has to play a perfect game for NO to win. I’ll call for the Giants by a td in a higher scoring game.
PHIL’S FORECAST: NY GIANTS 31 NEW ORLEANS 24
Arizona at Seattle
ARZ started the season 4-0 with an off avg 23 ppg but since that time they’ve lost 8 straight never reaching 20 points in any game while avg 11.5 ppg. Now they travel to face the league’s #5 D playing with revenge for a season opening loss. In that game SEA had 1&gl on their final drive but were SOD. Wilson continues to gain confidence as last week he led a 80/12pl drive scoring with 7:33 left in OT to upset CHI and now gets to see the same defense as his first ever NFL game in which he was 18-34. Ryan Lindley gets no such luck with ARZ playing its 3rd road game in 4 weeks and despite not having faced a D ranked higher than #13 he’s thrown for 125 ypg (56%) with an 0-4 ratio. The Cards OL started 2 rookies and a 1st time center last week and they were held to 5 FD’s and 137 yds in the loss to the NYJ. Now they face a relentless SEA pass rush that is #10 in sks by and allowed. The Seahawks have won 5 straight at home and take another one here.
PHIL’S FORECAST: SEATTLE 21 ARIZONA 6
Detroit at Green Bay
This is the Packers 5th primetime game this season but only the 2nd one at home. While GB would never look past a div foe with each win vital, they do have CHI on deck for the possible NFC North championship. The Lions are relegated to the role of spoiler but to pull the upset it would take beating their first winning team on the road this season! While I do not like the matchup at the LOS with an aggressive DET front going up against a GB OL that has given up the most sks in the NFL this yr, Rodgers at home should be the difference.
PHIL’S FORECAST: GREEN BAY 27 DETROIT 20
For project box scores for these games, please click here.
Phil Steele is a college football analyst who has been publishing his annual College Football Preview since 1995. His magazine is regarded as one of the best in the business.