Spread ‘Em: Week 13 NFL Picks
Posted by Andrew Zercie on December 5, 2009
The NFL is in its home stretch. The final five weeks of the season are here, and teams still alive for a playoff spot will see their seasons changed for the better, or for the worse.
As for me, I’m hoping to use my Thursday win as a springboard to a big week, following my worst week of the season (6-10) with my picks last week.
Remember the picks are for entertainment purposes only. Here’s the remainder of week 13 now:
Denver (-4.5) over Kansas City
At this time of year, with bye weeks now in everyone’s rearview mirrors, playing on Sunday the week after playing on a Thursday is the closest thing a team can get to having an extra week off.
Traditionally, Denver is brutal at Kansas City in the month of December, and the Chiefs have played better recently, with the exception of their game against the Chargers last week. This could be a prime example of a “trap game.”
However, I’ll take the bait, and the Broncos. They have something to play for, they’re rested, they’re running the football with renewed vigor, and they are, simply, the better football team.
Broncos 24, Chiefs 13
New England (-5) over Miami
Given their road woes this season, I was surprised to see the Patriots favored by five points in this game. All their losses this season have come away from Gillette Stadium.
Following the rout in New Orleans in week 12, and given their 0-4 record in road games in the continental United States, the Patriots recognize they need a win, and a convincing one, in Miami, for two reasons.
First and foremost, a loss to the Dolphins puts the Pats at 7-5, and allows the Dolphins and Jets to believe they have a shot at the AFC East. Secondly, a big road win against a division rival restores confidence and gives the Patriots reason to believe they can win the rest of their games, which would give them an outside shot at the AFC’s #2 seed.
I think the Patriots are due. They’re better than they’ve shown in road games, and at this time of year in seasons past, they’ve played their best football. I’m not ready to declare this year different from the rest.
Patriots 31, Dolphins 17
Pittsburgh (-13) over Oakland
Like the Broncos, the Raiders have had a little extra time off, thanks to their Thanksgiving Day game in Dallas. My initial thought about this game was that the Raiders would be competitive because of their rest, and because of the uncertainty regarding Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger.
However, after some thought, I came to the conclusion that the Steelers can win this game by two touchdowns with Dennis Dixon under center, if Mike Tomlin and the Steelers decided to rest Roethlisberger another week. With Oakland allowing something in the neighborhood of 160 yards per game on the ground, the Steelers should be able to run the ball capably and dominate the Raiders.
Plus, if motivation means anything, the Steelers have lost three games in a row, the last two in overtime, and need a win to begin improving their playoff hopes.
Steelers 28, Raiders 10
Jacksonville (pick ‘em) over Houston
Last week’s deflating loss to the Colts effectively ended any chance the Texans had of reaching the playoffs. According to most “in the know,” it also marked the beginning of the end of the Gary Kubiak Era in Houston as well.
The Texans struggle to defend the run, and the Jaguars have Maurice Jones-Drew. The Jaguars don’t defend the pass well, and Houston thrives on moving the ball through the air.
So long as Jaguars’ QB David Garrard can complete a few passes to keep Houston’s defense honest, the Jags should be able to control the ball and keep the Houston offense off the field, giving them the edge in this one.
Jaguars 24, Texans 21
Tennessee (+7) over Indianapolis
Peyton Manning should feast on the Titans’ pass defense, as he did earlier this season (309 yards passing, 3 TD). The Colts are capable of striking early in this game, and the Titans would seemingly have difficulty playing catch-up.
However, these Titans are different from the ones that were blown out by the Colts earlier this season. The main differences are at quarterback and running back.
Vince Young has taken over at QB, and he’s completed nearly 63% of his passes, well above his career average (58%). He seems poised, and offers more versatility at the QB position than Kerry Collins did.
At running back, Chris Johnson is no longer splitting carries with LenDale White. In Tennessee’s five-game winning streak, the 18 carries he had last week against Arizona was his lowest total. He had averaged 26 carries per game in the previous four games.
This is a winnable game for the Titans. More importantly, they need to win in order to stay alive in the AFC playoff picture. For the Colts, reaching 12-0 and 21 straight wins in the regular season, tying an NFL record, would be important milestones.
I’d like to see the Titans win. More likely, Manning has a huge game, and the Colts survive a 130-yard effort from Johnson to win a close one at home.
Colts 27, Titans 24
Philadelphia (-5.5) over Atlanta
With Matt Ryan and Michael Turner dinged up, the Falcons turn to their understudies (Chris Redman at QB, Jerious Norwood and Jason Snelling at RB) to salvage their playoff hopes.
Meanwhile, the home crowd will be riled up for an appearance from former franchise QB Michael Vick.
Those storylines aside, the Eagles are better defensively, have some highly-skilled, big-play receivers on offense that should have no trouble moving the ball and scoring points against an Atlanta defense that isn’t very good.
Eagles 31, Falcons 17
Cincinnati (-13) over Detroit
Cincinnati’s pass defense is very good, led by the under-publicized Leon Hall at cornerback.
Should Calvin Johnson play for the Lions, Hall will get the nod to start opposite him, and he’ll quietly limit Johnson to one of his worst games of the season.
Cincinnati’s run-based offense should thrive against the Lions, who can’t seem to stop anyone on the ground or in the passing game. Expect big days for all of the Bengals’ skill players as they attempt to cement their status as the AFC’s #2 seed.
It sounds preposterous, Cincy as a potential #2 seed, but it’s the reality of the NFL in 2009.
Bengals 31, Lions 10
Washington (+9.5) over New Orleans
First, let me get the obvious out the way: I’m well aware that the Saints are clearly the better team in this matchup.
However, the Redskins’ defense is very good against the pass, which could negate the Saints’ strength on offense, to some degree. Of course, the Redskins are not as strong defensively against the run, and the Saints’ group of running backs should be able to pound the ball and control the time of possession, if need be.
The matchups seem to lead to a closer game than many would expect. Factor into this that the Saints are coming off an emotional home win, they have a slightly shorter week to prepare, and they travel to Washington for this game. This could be a trap game for the Saints, I think.
I’ll go out on a limb and take the Redskins outright, given the above as my reasoning. At the very least, they should cover.
Redskins 24, Saints 21
Tampa Bay (+6) over Carolina
Believe it or not, the Buccaneers enter this game with the more stable quarterback situation. I have no faith in Jake Delhomme, and neither should Carolina at this point.
Still, the Panthers’ offense is based in large part on their strong running game, and the Buccaneers struggle to defend the run. Whether Delhomme starts or the Panthers turn to backup Matt Moore, Carolina’s running backs will have to do much of the work, and the Buccaneers should be able to load up the line of scrimmage to stop the run.
I don’t believe the Panthers’ passing game can make enough plays to prevent the Bucs from keying on the run, and the Panthers’ defense isn’t what it used to be.
Buccaneers 20, Panthers 13
St. Louis (+9) over Chicago
The Rams could be just what the doctor ordered for the struggling Bears. However, with the Bears struggling both offensively and defensively, they’ll be locked in a tight game with the Rams.
The bottom line is that the Bears have to play mistake-free football to cover this spread, something I don’t believe they are capable of right now. Talent-wise, they should win. If the Rams are forced into a few turnovers, the Bears will win easily.
The Rams’ Stephen Jackson will be heavily utilized against the Bears, and rightfully so. If he has a big game, the Rams have a chance to win this game outright.
Bears 24, Rams 20
San Diego (-13) over Cleveland
Do I have to explain this one? I was surprised to see this spread under two touchdowns.
Chargers 37, Browns 13
San Francisco (pick em) over Seattle
The 49ers still have a shot at a playoff berth, and their offense has some emerging talent. Meanwhile, the Seahawks have struggled lately on both sides of the ball.
One thing working in the Seahawks’ favor is that they haven’t played a home game in nearly a month; their last three games have come away from Qwest Field. They tend to play significantly better at home.
Still, I believe the 49ers’ desperation to win and stay in the NFC West and NFC Wildcard races will be the deciding factor in what should be a close game.
49ers 20, Seahawks 17
NY Giants (+2) over Dallas
Both teams enter this game having last played on Thanksgiving, so they’ve both enjoyed a slightly longer break between games.
The Giants have seemingly lost the ability to run the ball. Their quarterback is playing through the effects of plantar fasciitis. Their defense is struggling. The Giants have lost five of six.
Yet despite these obvious issues, they are desperate. They’ll be at home. They’ll rediscover some of what made them successful in the last couple of years in this game (rushing the passer, pounding the football).
Simultaneously, a Giants win will cast doubt on whether or not the Cowboys are legitimate contenders for a Super Bowl berth. Dallas’s struggles in the month of December with Tony Romo as the quarterback are well-known. A loss in this game will re-ignite that topic.
Giants 24, Cowboys 21
Minnesota (-3) over Arizona
Many believe the Vikings are the best team in football, and I would agree they are certainly among the best. If the Cardinals were to beat Minnesota, they’d need to be at full strength, meaning that Kurt Warner would play and play well.
Given that Warner sat out last week and is a game-time decision this week, I question his ability to have the kind of game necessary to keep the Cardinals in this one.
Regardless of whether or not Warner plays, or how effective he might be if he does play, the key matchup will be between the Arizona run defense and the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson. Arizona’s run defense had a great start to the season, but has struggled in recent games.
If the Cardinals can limit Peterson, their chances or covering the spread or winning improves. If they can’t slow Peterson down, the Vikings will win easily, no matter who is under center for Arizona.
Vikings 27, Cardinals 17
Baltimore (+3) over Green Bay
Oh sure, the Ravens’ defense isn’t what it once was. In fact, statistically speaking, the Packers are better than the Ravens on defense.
However, the Ravens’ five losses this season have all come to teams in the playoff picture in their respective conferences (New England, Minnesota, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati twice). Is it possible the Ravens are underrated?
That isn’t to say the Packers are overrated. Three of their four losses have also come to playoff-type teams (Minnesota twice and Cincinnati). Their QB, Aaron Rodgers, is playing Pro Bowl-caliber football.
I like the Ravens in this one. They still have some big performers on defense, even if the unit as a whole seems to be in decline. A big game on a big stage is where Ray Lewis shines, and I’ll gamble he makes a few big plays to turn the tide in a close Baltimore win.
Ravens 17, Packers 13