NFL Predictions | Week 14: NFL Football Picks, NFL Football Predictions

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NFL Predictions | Week 14: NFL Football Picks, NFL Football Predictions
By Massimo Russo: Co-Editor Silver and Blue Report & Hook’em Report

Dallas Cowboys, Cowboys, Cowboys fan, Dallas Cowboys FanWho do you think will win? Check out our own expert NFL picks every week for NFL games: Pro Football Predictions. Our NFL Predictions are subject to change prior to games. We provide the best and most educated National Football League picks based on relevant statistic and resources, along with: key injuries, Historical results, and accurate comparisons.

Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers

Linebacker Luke Kuechly and Carolina’s red hot defense take their act to the “Big Easy” this weekend in a battle for sole possession of first place in the NFC South against Drew Brees and the Saints.

Week 14
Thursday Night Football, December 5 8:25 PM ET – TV: NFL Network
Houston Texans 2-10 @ Jacksonville Jaguars 3-9

Houston clearly has the better overall talent than Jacksonville, but in terms of which team is playing better with a sense of urgency, Gus Bradley’s Jaguars get the nod. Houston and Jacksonville squared off back on Nov. 24, a game Jacksonville’s defense made an adventure for Houston’s ground game and aerial attack to generate big plays. Ben Tate was held to just 1-yard rushing on 7-attempts and Case Keenum threw for low end of only 169-yards. The Texans would surely like to get the same performance out of running back Ben Tate this week as they got from him against New England. Case Keenum has been struggling as of late, including his last two outings, no touchdown passes and two interceptions. Blitzes from New England last week rattled Keenum in being indecisive in the pocket. That’s been the issue in evaluating Keenum, who’s been timid against the rush. If he’s to get out of that funk, the running game needs to set the tone early on in this ballgame. Jacksonville’s defense has played better recently, but still ranks at the bottom pack of the league against the run. That’s where the Houston’s offense should look to do their dirty work. Jacksonville’s offensive success is based on the effectiveness of running back Maurice Jones-Drew. When he gets his touches by pounding the rock and catching out of the backfield, Jacksonville’s offense is able to keep the game close and control the tempo. Chad Henne has shown his ability to complete intermediate routes most of the time, but I think he needs to do better than that against the Texans that are overdue for a win. Keenum and Andre Johnson hookup and end Houston’s ten game losing streak.
Pick: Texans 27, Jaguars 20
Final Score: Jaguars (4-9) 27, Texans (2-11) 20

Sunday, December 8
1:00 PM ET
Indianapolis Colts 8-4 @ Cincinnati Bengals 8-4 – TV: CBS

Trent Richardson admitted this week that he hasn’t been comfortable in Indianapolis’ running scheme, never fully grasping the offense. Donald Brown will make his second straight start after running for 54-yards, scoring late in the fourth quarter in helping Indianapolis top Tennessee 22-14 to move a step closer on clinching the AFC South division. Brown is better suited in carrying the football, but Indianapolis’ offensive line remains in flux. Andrew Luck has been under constant duress and was sacked five times last week despite the win. And facing a Bengals defense that’s registered 36-sacks on the season isn’t a favorable part of this matchup the Colts are going up against. Vontaze Burfict is a tackling machine at linebacker for Cincinnati that does all the cleanup work, running down running backs, while the big and physical front pushes offensive lines off the ball in generating pressure and covering their gaps, not allowing the opposition to get a good deal of running lanes. The Bengals have had their deficiencies on the offensive end, particularly in the passing game, but the running game that likes to change the pace throughout the game with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard, gives the offense balance, controlling the tempo. Other than Andy Dalton’s tendency to play sloppy in turning over the football, he’s still finding ways to strike defenses for big plays connecting with star-receiver A.J. Green. The team that has more substance on offense and a down-right advantage at the line of scrimmage is Cincinnati in this AFC showdown. Keeping pass-rushers away from Andrew Luck will be a tall mountain to climb for Indianapolis’ banged up O-line.
Pick: Bengals 23, Colts 16

Atlanta Falcons 3-9 @ Green Bay Packers 5-6-1 – TV: FOX
You can pencil in a 25 plus carry work load in the making for Packers running back Eddie Lacy. Atlanta’s defense is one of the worst units in stopping the run and getting after the quarterback. A bright spot in Atlanta’s miserable season came to life last week, as receiver Roddy White, who’s been down and out, dealing with hamstring issues, caught 10-passes for 143-yards against the Bills. I give two thumbs up to Matt Ryan, who’s dealing with a bad offensive line, a dismal running game, a receiving-core decimated with injuries, and a defense that’s been putrid. It makes sense why he’s thrown the ball nearly 70-percent of the time in differential to barely running the ball. Still, 19-touchdown passes, 12-interceptions and completing 66.3-percent of his passes. In this matchup, he’ll need some solidness from Steven Jackson running the ball on the road at Lambeau Field. Green Bay’s defense hasn’t been up to par recently, and you can pin point things on the offense not sustaining drives without Aaron Rodgers under center. This is a must win game for the Packers, and if the Falcons can’t get anything going on the ground, negating a loud crowd won’t come easy. Look for Eddie Lacy to get things going early on to set the tone and for Matt Flynn to be much more comfortable in his second start against a porous Atlanta defense. Green Bay still has a pulse.
Pick: Packers 24, Falcons 17

Cleveland Browns 4-8 @ New England Patriots 9-3 – TV: CBS
Brandon Weeden (Concussion) is likely out, making way for Jason Campbell (concussion), Alex Tanney or Caleb Hanie. Campbell was cleared to practice this week and is more in line to get the start under center. Cleveland’s best hope will be Campbell avoiding any setbacks, otherwise Tanney or Hanie would be a downgrade of experience in protecting the football against a Patriots defense that consistently forces turnovers. Cleveland’s issues at quarterback has been overshadowed by receiver Josh Gordon, who last week continued to light up the fantasy football scoreboard catching 10-passes for 261-yards and 2-touchdowns, highlighted on a 95-yard score late in the fourth quarter. If you have him on your fantasy roster, you can bank on him to continue to rack up points, regardless if Weeden or Campbell is throwing him the football. The Browns don’t do enough running the football, and eventually, when you throw lots against New England, you’ll end up biting the dust. Watching Rob Gronkowski healthy running routes, catching passes and stretching the defense is bad news for defenses across the league. The Browns defense allowed lots of intermediate passes against Jacksonville last week. And one of the better, if not, the best at working things intermediately in spread formations, Tom Brady doing that with Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola in the slot, and then working things down the seam to Rob Gronkowski will give Cleveland’s defense fits all afternoon long.
Pick: Patriots 37, Browns 24

Oakland Raiders 4-8 @ N.Y. Jets 5-7 – TV: CBS
Big difference between Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin: McGloin is taking care of the football and the offense isn’t centered off the read-option or the quarterback making plays with his feet. McGloin is giving his receivers chances throwing the ball in tight spots to win the one-on-one battles. Receiver Denarius Moore (shoulder) has missed practice and looks iffy this week again. Rod Streater still remains Oakland’s number one target with Moore sidelined, but McGloin found another target on Thanksgiving with potential and upside, Andre Holmes, a second-year receiver with a big frame that caught passes on crossing routes and on the outside using his physical traits to get up and grab the football. New York’s defense has been the best unit at stopping the run, but last week, Miami found lanes in running the ball effectively and kept Ryan Tannehill in high-percentage passing downs. That needs to be the same pedigree for the Raiders offense to establish the run with Rashad Jennings to keep McGloin out of third and longs. You can say whatever you want about the struggles of Geno Smith and the Jets ineptness offensively of sustaining drives, but the key for Rex Ryan’s squad to get things going is the running game. New York’s receiving core doesn’t sport dangerous targets that can stretch the field or force the backend of the defense to roll its coverage with double teams, so give the kid a break and time to develop. Why make a switch, anyways? Matt Simms wouldn’t ignite a spark. There should be no reason for Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to shy away from the running game this week after watching the Cowboys gash the Raiders between and outside the tackles for 144-yards. I like New York’s chances in splitting touches between Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory against Oakland’s defense to keep this game close, but watching McGloin throwing the football with confidence is what’s in favor for Oakland instead of the pressure mounting around Geno Smith to stop turning over the football.
Pick: Raiders 20, N.Y. Jets 17

Detroit Lions 7-5 @ Philadelphia Eagles 7-5 – TV: FOX
I’m always thinking outside the box, and I wonder if we have a storybook season in the making here. Remember 2001, the season where Drew Bledsoe got whacked before giving signal-calling duties to Tom Brady? I really think we need to stop looking at this whole Chip Kelly/Nick Foles thing as a fluke-run. I know numbers don’t tell us everything, but something’s working and it’s coming from the quarterback in Philadelphia. 19-touchdown passes to 0-interceptions needs to be taken seriously. It all really, truly started back on Nov. 3 when Foles threw seven touchdown passes, tying the record for touchdown passes in a single game out west in Oakland. That was the beginning of Philadelphia’s four straight W’s, a stretch where a potential star or perhaps one of the better (out-of-nowhere) QB’s is manifesting its true colors right before our eyes. Never once did I think Brady would end up being one of the greater quarterbacks of all-time or lead the Patriots to the Super Bowl and stun the Rams in 2001, and look at how things turned out. I’m not saying that I’m getting feelings like a Nostradamus or saying the Eagles and Foles will do the same, but history does have a way of repeating itself sometimes.
Pick: Eagles 34, Lions 31

Miami Dolphins 6-6 @ Pittsburgh Steelers 5-7 – TV: CBS
Pittsburgh will have their two best pass-rushers back with LaMarr Woodley returning from a calf injury to start on the opposite side of Jason Worilds, who leads the team in sacks with six. Running back Le’Veon Bell (Concussion) has been cleared to play and will run behind an offensive line that will have its sixth different alignment on the season. Cody Wallace will make his first career start at center and Mike Adams is likely to start at left tackle with Kelvin Beachum (Knee) unlikely to play. Defensive end Brett Keisel (Foot) will be missing in action, a bulldog when healthy on Pittsburgh’s D-line. Miami’s offensive line has had its downs, but I was really impressed by their performance last week in New York as they created running lanes and kept Ryan Tannehill upright against one the league’s top D-fronts. Miami’s defense has been obviously better with Cameron Wake healthy to anchor the D-line, but has anyone noticed the play of second-year defensive end Olivier Vernon? 10.5-sacks for him on the season, three a week ago against Geno Smith and Matt Simms, as Miami’s pass-rush made life a living hell for New York’s passing game. So…time for Ben Roethlisberger to be ready to dance and prance in the pocket. He has to with Miami’s pressure coming from all angles. The job at hand for Miami’s rush with Roethlisberger’s physical stature is much more difficult to bring down than what Miami faced last week. Roethlisberger is also much more decisive with the football and as the weeks go on, the more he continues to develop continuity with receivers Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery. The matchup I’ll be eyeing on is cornerback Ike Taylor going one-on-one with his former teammate Mike Wallace, Roethlisberger’s once deep-ball threat that’s now starting to get some rhythm going with Tannehill in his post Steeler days. This game ultimately comes down to which defense or coordinator will come up with the better game plan in stopping the run and forcing the quarterback to thread the needle. I think both defenses do that well, but Roethlisberger is the main difference maker in making improvising throws. Always trust (Burger Eater Man#7) when you need him most. Just trust him when you need to score on the final drive of the game to keep your season alive.
Pick: Steelers 21, Dolphins 20

Buffalo Bills 4-8 @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers 3-9 – TV: CBS
Poor E. J. Manuel, he had two passes completed that could’ve sealed the deal last week in a crushing loss to the Atlanta Falcons. A 14-yard completion to Stevie Johnson would’ve set up Buffalo on Atlanta’s 30-yard line with less than 30 seconds to play in regulation, but Johnson coughed up the football. Tight end Scott Chandler followed that by laying it on the ground on the second play in overtime, leading to Atlanta’s game-winning field goal. That has to sting the rookie quarterback that still had Buffalo in the AFC playoff run for a wild-card spot. And with that loss, Manuel and Buffalo’s chances of reaching the postseason has been burned out. On the other side of the border, Tampa Bay’s loss out in Carolina wasn’t anything surprising, as they ran into a brick wall, Carolina’s defense. Tampa only scored three less points I had them scoring last week (6), but have a better matchup this week to get the running game going against Buffalo’s 24th against the run defense. Bobby Rainey and the Bucs running game will need to gain positive yardage on early downs to keep Mike Glennon upright against Buffalo’s pass-rush, 43-sacks, better than any team this season. Buffalo sacked Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan six times, but still got shredded for over 300-yards. Glennon’s top target Vincent Jackson (Hamstring) is listed as questionable, but head coach Greg Schiano has stated that he expects Jackson to be ready Sunday. I’ll give Buffalo’s secondary a pass for their porous performance last week out of my respect for Matt Ryan, one of the top quarterbacks in the game. 47 attempts from him and a healthier Roddy White is trouble for any defense. What Buffalo needs to do in this matchup is force Glennon to throw more than often, and they can do that by stopping the run. That’s my verdict between these clubs, and I like the team that’s better at stopping the run, Tampa Bay.
Pick: Buccaneers 23, Bills 17

Kansas City Chiefs 9-3 @ Washington Redskins 3-9 – TV: CBS
Despite Kansas City losing three straight games, they still lead the AFC wild-card race and can clinch their first playoff berth since 2010 with a win and a loss or tie by Miami or Baltimore. Although Washington’s season has gone south, they still present some challenges for defenses with the talent they possess on the offensive end. And Kansas City’s defense isn’t playing like it did during their first nine games, particularly against the pass when playing talented offenses (Denver twice and San Diego) in their three-game losing stretch, allowing 371-yards per game. And why has Kansas City’s secondary been getting torched? No pass rush from Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, two vital rushers off the edge that provided consistent pressure up until the halfway point of the season. Houston is still nursing an elbow injury and is listed as doubtful. That’s the break Washington’s offense and Robert Griffin III can get to buy time in the pocket and dissect the Chiefs secondary that’s been leaving holes for offenses to work on. Here’s a factor that everyone missed in Washington’s loss to the Giants: RGIII ran for 88-yards, making plays with his feet, but Alfred Morris needs to get back on track to set up the play-action pass. That’s the ideal plan for Washington to get back to doing things like it did en route to their division title in 2012. Problem is, the defense is playing with no sense of urgency and that’s not fitting to stop Jamaal Charles from doing damage running and leaking out of the backfield as a pass-catcher. Don’t forget, Alex Smith can make plays with his feet too and I don’t see Washington pressuring him. Look for the Chiefs to control this game and get back to the basics of what won them their first nine games in operating the west coast offense, smash-mouth style.
Pick: Chiefs 27, Redskins 17

Minnesota Vikings 3-8-1 @ Baltimore Ravens 6-6 – TV: FOX
Baltimore’s defense isn’t ranked last against the run like Chicago’s defense. More notably, Baltimore’s linebackers Daryl Smith and Josh Bynes are better suited in stopping the run and aren’t as vulnerable as Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene in Chicago are. The Ravens sport a defense that gets after the quarterback, 37-sacks on the season and ranked 6th in running down running backs. If Minnesota has a prayer at M&T Bank Stadium, Adrian Peterson will need to shed tacklers that will be focused on gang-tackling the games most talented runner. And with Christian Ponder (Concussion) doubtful, the Vikings lose his ability to make plays with his feet by escaping the pocket from Baltimore’s fearsome pass rush. Matt Cassel will likely be the starter. That’s good news for Greg Jennings, as Cassel has been able to get him involved more than Ponder when under center. Minnesota’s defense got slam-dunked last week despite pulling out the W against the Bears. The defense allowed 355-yards through the air, mostly to one receiver Alshon Jeffery, who had 249 of those yards and two scores. Matt Forte ran for 120 of the teams 135-yards on the ground. This is the week Ray Rice and the running game make things happen, and Joe Flacco is starting to get the football over the top to deep-threat receiver Torrey Smith. The Ravens are still waiting to get clearance on tight end Dennis Pitta (Hip) to return to action. Pitta was a major part of Baltimore’s passing attack down the stretch in 2012. Mainly, the Ravens know they need this game badly looking at their last three opponents remaining after Minnesota, @ Detroit, New England and Cincinnati. Pending on how the Bengals shape out, that final game could potentially be for the AFC North division. How about that?
Pick: Ravens 26, Vikings 17

4:05 PM ET
Tennessee Titans 5-7 @ Denver Broncos 10-2 – TV: CBS

Interim coach Jack Del Rio, who led the team to three wins in four games in head coach John Fox’s absence, will return to his duties as defensive coordinator. Fox returns to the sideline after having open-heart surgery four weeks ago in a game Denver can clinch a playoff spot with a win over Tennessee. The Titans might have a chance if Ryan Fitzpatrick can protect the football. That’s been the ultimate downfall of Fitzpatrick’s game. However, Chris Johnson has been more effective with Fitzpatrick under center as a check-down target. Utilizing the offenses most dangerous weapon will be a must in continuing to give Johnson a high-dose of touches. With Fitzpatrick at quarterback, Johnson is averaging 3.6-receptions and 101.8-total yards per game. Fitzpatrick can also make plays with his feet and has found the endzone three times on 34-scrambles away from the rush. He’ll need to do that in this matchup to help improvise against a solid Denver defensive line featured by Von Miller, one of the games most prolific pass-rushers on the outside. Tennessee’s secondary is a stout group with Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty leading the way for a pass defense that’s allowed the fewest scores through the air this season. Facing Peyton Manning will be Tennessee’s most difficult task, and they need their front to get after Manning on passing downs. The weather reads a potential chance of snow fall and temperatures in the low 20’s, but I like Denver’s chances to be able to turn to the running game and grind things out with Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball, if the weather effects Manning’s throwing arm, negatively. Getting tight end Julius Thomas (Knee) back gives Manning his valuable redzone target again when Denver spreads defenses out with their spread formations. Not enough juice going for Tennessee’s offense to make plays in the passing, and Denver will be more efficient when in striking distance to punch it in the endzone.
Pick: Broncos 37, Titans 23

4:25 PM ET
St. Louis Rams 5-7 @ Arizona Cardinals 7-5 – TV: FOX

Zac Stacy is a hard-nosed runner that will need 20 plus touches and be able to fight through Arizona’s gang-tackling defense that doesn’t allow offenses to make big plays on the ground. St. Louis’ defense can create havoc at the line of scrimmage and keep Arizona’s offense from shredding their suspect secondary. The Rams lack the ability to get favorable matchups downfield in this contest. Arizona will focus on containing Stacy and force Kellen Clemens to beat them with his arm. Not a good matchup for the Rams and Arizona is a much better team than when both squads battled in Week 1, a game tight end Jared Cook caught 7-passes for 141-yards and two scores in the Rams 27-24 win over Arizona. Sam Bradford was quarterbacking for the Rams in that game, and Kellen Clemens has proven that he isn’t capable of sticking it between the numbers. He’ll need to do that against Arizona’s physical approach in challenging receivers in tight coverage. Can you say Pick 6 for Patrick Peterson in the desert?
Pick: Cardinals 24, Rams 13

N.Y. Giants 5-7 @ San Diego Chargers 5-7 – TV: FOX
New York can certainly use another solid performance from their D-line like it displayed last week against Washington. Justin Tuck recorded four of the teams five sacks in helping the Giants continue their solid play after starting the season 0-6. Tuck’s (4-sack) performance was a career-high for him. The Giants need him to disrupt the timing of Philip Rivers trying to exploit New York’s secondary with multiple weapons on spread formations. Jason Pierre-Paul (Shoulder), a valuable asset of New York’s defense will miss his second consecutive game. Stalled drives and turnovers haunted San Diego’s offense last week in their 17-10 loss to Bengals, their fourth loss of their last five games after starting the season 4-3. The Giants’ offense has regrouped and with Andre Brown back in the backfield, the offense has balance and Eli Manning is finding comfort in high-percentage passing downs, not facing lots of third and longs. The addition of Peyton Hillis has also helped in the physical aspect of the game that’s made New York’s offense successful as of late. On the defensive side of the ball, San Diego’s defense has given up more chunks of yardage against the run and pass, ranked 21st against the run and 27th against the pass. New York’s defense has shut down top runners, and I don’t expect Ryan Mathews to ignite the Chargers running game against New York’s 9th against the run defense. The Chargers will keep Rivers in shotgun and spread New York’s defense out with a series of exotic spread formations. Ultimately, the Giants aren’t giving up and seeing them bounce back last week on the road after trailing 14-0, lets me believe that this team will fight until they know they’re mathematically out. The more physical team wins this game, New York. You better stay winning, Philadelphia and Dallas. The Giants never give up. They just don’t.
Pick: N.Y. Giants 24, Chargers 23

Seattle Seahawks 11-1 @ San Francisco 49ers 8-4 – TV: FOX
We have an ultimate battle in the trenches here. Both teams are physical at the line of scrimmage and feature linebackers that can get after the ball-carrier as one of the better groups in the league. Looking back in their first meeting in Week 2, Seattle’s defense used lots of press-coverage and took running back Frank Gore out of the game, a vital part for San Francisco’s offense that ran for only 16-yards on 9-attempts. Seattle’s DB’s bump and run approach on the 49ers receivers disrupted their routes, and the pressure they provided upfront on Colin Kaepernick forced him to thread the needle, throwing 3-interceptions. Those turnovers helped Seattle pounce on the 49ers, as they bamboozled their division rival 29-3. It’s going to be interesting with Michael Crabtree back who wasn’t present on Sept. 15 to see if he can win the one-on-one matchup vs. Richard Sherman in a physical battle, or if Sherman man’s up on Anquan Boldin. I’ll take Sherman in that matchup, but if you really want to get anything going against Seattle’s defense, you need to establish the run first to open up the pass. You have to be able to get their secondary to back off at the line of scrimmage. When San Francisco defeated Seattle last season at home, Frank Gore was active in the running game rushing for over 100-yards and an option out of the backfield as a pass-catcher. The 49ers arguably have the best run-blocking offensive line in the game, but will likely be missing two key parts of the line. Left tackle Joe Staley (Knee) is likely out, while guard Mike Iupati (Knee) might miss a third straight game. Look for both defenses to bring pressure upfront and focus in on stopping the run. Marshawn Lynch’s “Beast Style” of running in breaking tackles, getting the extra yards will be a key factor in trying to wear San Francisco’s defense out by the fourth quarter. If Seattle continues its way of establishing the run, this will get Russell Wilson working off the zone-read and be able to get outside off the edges to make plays with his feet. Wilson has been comfortable in the pocket in reading defenses and making throws on the run. The 49ers front and Aldon Smith need to able to get after him and lay a few shots on the play-making QB. That’s how you take him out of his comfort-zone. All in all, Kaepernick needs to be dynamite for San Francisco and be able to get the football in small windows against Seattle’s disciplined pass coverage. It’s time for San Francisco’s offensive coordinator Greg Roman to draw up the perfect game plan like he did yesteryear, because I don’t see Frank Gore gashing Seattle’s defense on the ground. Maybe a gadget play or two will work? Show me what you got in store coach.
Pick: Seahawks 21, 49ers 17

Sunday Night Football in America 8:30 PM ET – TV: NBC
Carolina Panthers 9-3 @ New Orleans Saints 9-3

Carolina’s linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis will play a major role in trying to stop New Orleans’ running backs Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas on underneath coverage. Seattle’s pass-rush and speedy linebackers kept Drew Brees and the Saints high-powered passing-attack out of rhythm on Monday, and the Panthers D-line sports a group that can get after the quarterback with Star Lotulelei and Greg Hardy. No question, they’ll have to pressure the pocket to disrupt Drew Brees’ timing in finding favorable matchups downfield with tight end Jimmy Graham singled up in the slot on spread alignments. Negating a loud crowd can work if you have a physical type of offense and be able to run the football on early downs. Carolina has that with a three-headed backfield in mixing things up with DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert, and of course, Cam Newton’s ability to escape the pocket as one of the better scramblers in the game. New Orleans’ offense is based off the pass, but I wouldn’t be surprised if coach Payton throws in some physicality by giving running back Mark Ingram some touches against Carolina’s swarming tackling group. Coming off an embarrassing loss at Seattle and back at the environment that favors them tremendously, I think will ignite Brees and gang to right the ship in front of their home crowd that hasn’t lost a home game since week 17 of 2010 with coach Payton on the sidelines.
Pick: Saints 30, Panthers 20

Monday Night Football, December 9 8:30 PM ET – TV: ESPN
Dallas Cowboys 7-5 @ Chicago Bears 6-6

I’m still wired up and connected to the playbook Marc Trestman has installed into the Chicago’s offense. Even without Jay Cutler, the play at quarterback hasn’t been the issue for the Bears in 2013, as Josh McCown has thrown 9-touchdown passes and only 1-interception in Cutler’s place. Receiver Alshon Jeffery is grooming into a dangerous threat on the opposite side of the already well-polished Brandon Marshall. Both receivers are physical, good route-runners and have the ability to beat you over the top with their tremendous athletic ability. The Cowboys also have a talented group of targets at receiver with Dez Bryant and Tony Romo’s bread and butter third down option, tight end Jason Witten. Both defenses have been able to create turnovers each week, but are one of the more susceptible to the pass groups in all of football. Chicago’s defense ranks dead-last against the run, allowing 153.6-yards per game, and Dallas’ defense ranks 31st against the pass. The problem for both defenses is a lack of providing pressure and getting after the quarterback, only 24-sacks for Chicago and 26 for Dallas. You can throw the injuries into the mix that has played a part in both units’ downside of defensively play, but with the weather conditions not in favor for both quarterbacks to throw the ball at an enormous amount, the running game will be a major factor for both teams. With linebacker Lance Briggs (Shoulder) out, the Bears play at linebacker has been putrid, and Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene covering Cowboys tight end Jason Witten isn’t in favor for the Bears defense. They might want to throw a nickel corner on him. That would be a better approach. Look for Cowboys offensive coordinator Bill Callahan to have a plan in place to feed running back DeMarco Murray the ball 20 plus times. The Cowboys have been on the winning side of things when Murray is involved in the game plan. Sean Lee (Hamstring) makes his return at linebacker, a huge plus for the Dallas defense in trying to contain all-purpose runner Matt Forte. I like the advantage Chicago has with Alshon Jeffery going up against cornerback Orlando Scandrick, an area where I’m expecting McCown to take shots at, but the more important matchup will be both Brandon’s, Carr and Marshall going toe-to-toe. This is a desperation game for the Bears to win, but I just don’t trust the deep end of their secondary. Chris Conte and Major Wright are terrible in coverage and tackling in the open field. They need to up their game tremendously in this contest, and by games end, Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will wish that Charles Tillman was in the building to cover Dez Bryant late in the fourth quarter.
Pick: Cowboys 27, Bears 23

You can follow Massimo Russo on Twitter @NFLMassimo and SilverandBlueReport.com @SilverBlueRpt

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