After a thrilling Week 13, we now get a Week 14 filled with difficult questions:
- Can the San Francisco 49ers stay in contention with Brock Purdy?
- Can the Detroit Lions go from cute and frisky to actual playoff contenders?
- How high would the spread have to be to take the Houston Texans to cover in Dallas?
Lines are from FanDuel as of Wednesday night. Stats are from TruMedia/Pro Football Focus unless otherwise noted. Now, on to the picks.
Week 13 record: 9-6
Season record: 102-87-6
Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Rams (+6.5)
The Rams were feisty last week in a loss to the Seahawks, but as of this writing, we don’t even know who will start for them at quarterback. They claimed Baker Mayfield, but Sean McVay told reporters that Mayfield is probably not ready for a full workload. John Wolford is questionable because of a neck injury. If he can’t go and Mayfield indeed isn’t ready, it’ll be Bryce Perkins.
For Las Vegas, the Josh McDaniels experience has been a roller-coaster ride. On one hand, the Raiders have figured some things out offensively. They’re all the way up to fifth in the NFL in expected points added (EPA) per drive. On the other, McDaniels’s in-game decision-making has been a mess. He might be the most conservative coach in the NFL.
I think the Raiders will be able to move the ball consistently, so I’ll take them to cover. But I’m fully prepared to be irate when McDaniels settles for field goals on fourth-and-1 in the red zone on multiple occasions.
The pick: Raiders (-6.5)
Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions (-2.5)
In the last 20 years, there have been 53 teams with 10 wins or more through 13 weeks. Among that group, the Vikings (10-2) rank dead last in point differential at +10. Minnesota is now a league-best 7-0 in games decided by seven points or fewer.
If you’re a Vikings fan hurling obscenities at me right now, I get it! You shouldn’t care about those numbers. Your team is giving you a fun season. They’re 10-2 and will host a playoff game. They’ve been fun and entertaining. Enjoy the ride.
But if you’re an objective observer, just know that this Vikings team isn’t as good as its record indicates. And that belief is reflected in the line here. The 5-7 Lions are favored. Dan Campbell’s team dominated the Jaguars last week and has won four of five. The Lions rank ninth offensively in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric, and their defense is playing much better than it was earlier in the season.
This is a tough one. Detroit should be able to move the ball consistently against a Vikings defense that doesn’t do a whole lot schematically and will give up yards. But I’m not sure the Lions will have an answer for Justin Jefferson. Regression is likely coming for the Vikings at some point, but this feels like a coin-flip game, so I’ll take the points.
The pick: Vikings (+2.5)
New York Jets at Buffalo Bills (-9.5)
I’m still trying to figure out how the Jets lost that game to the Vikings last week. They outgained Minnesota by 199 yards. Kirk Cousins averaged 4.9 yards per attempt. And Justin Jefferson’s longest catch was 10 yards. But an offense that goes 1-for-6 in the red zone and -2 in turnovers will get you every time, I guess. On Extra Point Taken this week, Ben Solak and I both explained why we still believe in the Jets and think they’ll make the playoffs.
As for the Bills, they were the big winners of Week 13. Buffalo went from the 5 seed to the first seed in the AFC with a win over the Patriots and a loss by the Dolphins. This week, the Bills got rough news that Von Miller is done for the season, but this is still a very good team. It feels like the Bills have had ups and downs, yet their +124 point differential is tops in the AFC.
The Jets held the Bills to 17 points in a win earlier this season. I’d be surprised if that happened again, but I think their defense keeps this one competitive.
The pick: Jets (+9.5)
Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers (-2.5)
Mike Tomlin can’t do it again, can he? We all know that he’s never had a losing season in 15 years as the Steelers head coach. A month ago, it felt certain that this would be the year. But now the Steelers have won three of four and are 5-7. They get the Ravens twice, the Panthers, the Raiders, and the Browns in their final five games. The odds are against Tomlin keeping the streak intact, but it’s not over just yet.
The Ravens are expected to have to go with Tyler Huntley in place of Lamar Jackson (knee injury) this week. Huntley has looked competent in the past, but all season long, it’s felt like Jackson has had to put the offense on his back. There’s a chance this gets ugly for Baltimore, depending on how much time Jackson misses.
The Steelers are a mediocre team at best, and the Ravens pretty much always have an edge on special teams. Their defense should be able to get to Kenny Pickett. I think Huntley is capable of doing enough for the upset here.
The pick: Ravens (+2.5)
Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants (+6.5)
The Titans’ plan against the Eagles last week was to slow rush Jalen Hurts and not let him scramble. That didn’t work out so well.
Jalen Hurts: 2nd-and-15. Four verts vs. Tampa-2.— Sheil Kapadia (@SheilKapadia) December 6, 2022
MIKE opens up to the seam. Hurts reads it, has the bender to Stoll. Processes quickly, throws on target. 26 yards.
Hurts from the pocket vs. TEN: 27-for-33 for 370 yards and 3 TDs.
This clip is @Coach_Flinn approved! pic.twitter.com/Dk7pFwT3qW
It was probably the Eagles’ most complete win of the year. They dominated up front on both sides of the ball.
The Giants, meanwhile, tied the Commanders in overtime. They are -110 to make the playoffs, according to FanDuel, which translates to roughly a 52 percent chance. Keep an eye on the Giants’ pass rush down the stretch. If they can get Kayvon Thibodeaux, Azeez Ojulari, Dexter Lawrence, and Leonard Williams (who left last week’s game with a neck injury) healthy, that group has a chance to give opponents problems.
It’s a divisional game, and I generally like taking Brian Daboll as an underdog. But the Giants’ lack of talent at wide receiver and corner is a huge factor here. I like the Eagles by a touchdown.
The pick: Eagles (-6.5)
Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals (-6.5)
A key play from the Bengals’ win over the Chiefs last week: third-and-5 from the Kansas City 32 with 2:55 left. They needed a first down to use up more clock and keep Patrick Mahomes off the field. Joe Burrow threw a screen to Ja’Marr Chase. The Chiefs should have had him, with four defenders versus the Bengals’ two blockers. It didn’t matter. Chase made a guy miss, got upfield, and picked up the first down.
We like to talk about schematics, coaching, and analytics when we analyze games. But sometimes it is simple: One team had Chase to make that play, and the other didn’t. I couldn’t be any more impressed with this Bengals team. They are on my short list of Super Bowl contenders.
As for the Browns, if last week was any indication, it could take some time before they’re operating smoothly after the on-field transition to Deshaun Watson. Watson’s first start against the Texans was Cleveland’s worst offensive performance of the season, in terms of EPA per drive.
The Browns have had the Bengals’ number recently. They’ve won three in a row against Cincinnati, outscoring the Bengals by 49 points in those matchups. But the Bengals might be the most fun team right now, and they can win in a number of different ways. I like them to take care of business here.
The pick: Bengals (-6.5)
Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans (-3.5)
Very weird timing for the Titans to fire GM Jon Robinson this week. It feels like there could end up being more to that story. Ryan Tannehill had no chance last week against Philadelphia. Tennessee’s offensive line got destroyed, and the Titans just don’t have a lot of playmakers.
The Jaguars turned in a brutal performance in a 40-14 loss to the Lions. The Jaguars defense is really struggling, and they’re just 4-8 against the spread this season. But I still like their chances of being able to move the ball through the air here.
This feels like the pick I’m most likely to regret, but what can you do?
The pick: Jaguars (+3.5)
Houston Texans at Dallas Cowboys (-16.5)
This is the biggest spread of any game so far this season. The Cowboys lead the NFL with a +127 point differential, and the Texans are last at -99. Dallas is a legit Super Bowl contender, and Houston is looking at the no. 1 overall pick in the 2023 draft.
I don’t know how much analysis you really need here. I’m sure there’s a sharp angle that likes the Texans, given how high the number is and the fact that weird things (special teams, turnovers) happen in NFL games. But I think it’d need to get to at least 17.5 for me to think hard about taking the Texans. I just can’t do it.
The pick: Cowboys (-16.5)
Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos (+9.5)
The Broncos play the Chiefs twice in the final five weeks of the season. The humane thing would have been to fire Nathaniel Hackett after last week’s loss and put him out of his misery so that he doesn’t have to coach against Patrick Mahomes two times.
As for the Chiefs, nothing about that loss to the Bengals last week has me worried about them. The Chiefs had only seven real possessions, and they scored on four of them. Based on EPA per drive, the Chiefs had the fourth-best offensive performance of any team in Week 13. They just didn’t have a lot of possessions. Plus, Travis Kelce fumbled on one of them, and they missed a field goal on another.
I know it’s on the road, and Denver’s defense is legit, but I love the Chiefs to bounce back here.
The pick: Chiefs (-9.5)
Carolina Panthers at Seattle Seahawks (-4)
The Seahawks barely got by the Rams last week, and they’re decimated at running back, but Geno Smith continues to make high-level throws from the pocket.
Seattle’s defense is a concern, but we have enough evidence at this point to know that the most likely outcome with Sam Darnold is that he produces a below-average (and potentially terrible) game.
Is there a scenario where the Panthers run the ball well and keep this game competitive? Sure. But I still believe in this Seahawks team and think they’ll make enough plays in the passing game to cover the number here.
The pick: Seahawks (-4)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at San Francisco 49ers (-3.5)
This is probably the hardest Week 14 game to pick. Every fiber of my being wants to fade this Bucs team. They don’t have it. Yes, they put together two drives in the fourth quarter last week to steal a win. But the Saints gave that game away. And for much of the night, the Bucs looked miserable—just as they have all season.
Having said that, I know that part of making picks is being able to look yourself in the mirror after you turn the column in. Can I really do that if I’m taking Brock Purdy to cover 3.5 points against Tom Brady?
I believe strongly that the 49ers defense will shut down the Bucs offense, but Tampa rarely turns the ball over. I also believe that Kyle Shanahan will put together a game plan that protects Purdy. That potentially means a low-scoring game. And when that’s the case, you take the points.
There’s no chance this ends well for me.
The pick: Bucs (+3.5)
Miami Dolphins at Los Angeles Chargers (+3.5)
If I’m a Dolphins fan, I’m not panicking after that loss last week. The 49ers have a great defense. The Dolphins were without their two starting offensive tackles. And Tua Tagovailoa had an off day. It happens. I still think this offense will be hard to stop most weeks.
As for the Chargers, they continue to look like one of the NFL’s most joyless teams. And their defense stinks. It ranks 28th in EPA per drive and 27th in success rate after last week’s loss to the Raiders.
The injury reports here are worth keeping an eye on throughout the week. Dolphins left tackle Terron Armstead did not practice Wednesday, while Chargers center Corey Linsley missed last week’s game because he was in the concussion protocol.
I hate taking the Chargers as favorites, but Herbert’s been good (10-6 against the spread) as an underdog in his career. There’s a chance the Dolphins come out and just drop 40+ on this defense, but Herbert gives the Chargers a good chance to keep it competitive.
The pick: Chargers (+3.5)
New England Patriots at Arizona Cardinals (+1.5)
When we last saw the Patriots, they were not competitive in a 24-10 Thursday night loss to the Bills.
Here is Mac Jones’ full explanation of the viral video where he cussed out the Patriot sideline, per team-provided video. pic.twitter.com/CnY4PsxEBB— Keagan Stiefel (@KeaganStiefel) December 2, 2022
Bill Belichick’s Matt Patricia–Joe Judge experiment has been a disaster. The Patriots offense ranks 27th in EPA per drive and 28th in success rate. Mac Jones ranks 30th of 33 quarterbacks in EPA per pass play.
Having said that, I’m not taking Kliff Kingsbury’s offense against Belichick’s defense. The Patriots are mediocre. The Cardinals are dysfunctional.
The pick: Patriots (-1.5)