Editor’s note: This column has been updated to reflect Friday’s news that Texans QB C.J. Stroud will not play against the Titans because of a concussion.
Week 14 was another reminder of the NFL’s unpredictability. The Jets’ Zach Wilson and the Giants’ Tommy DeVito were named AFC and NFC Offensive Players of the Week! Meanwhile, the Chiefs made another costly late-game mistake in a loss to the Bills, the Ravens survived an overtime thriller against the Rams, and the Vikings needed just one field goal to take down the Raiders. What’s in store for Week 15? On to the picks!
Week 14 record: 9-5-1
Season record: 101-100-7
Los Angeles Chargers at Las Vegas Raiders (-3.5)
Here are all the reasons I can think of for why someone would spend three-plus hours watching this game:
- You’re gambling on it
- Fantasy playoffs
- You’re a fan of one of the teams
- It’s part of your job
- You hate your family
Did I miss anything? Didn’t think so. It’s Easton Stick vs. Aidan O’Connell. It’s two teams that are not going to make the playoffs. And it’s (probably) two teams that are going to be looking for new head coaches in 2024. I’ll take the points.
The pick: Chargers (+3.5)
Minnesota Vikings at Cincinnati Bengals (-2.5)
Minnesota defensive coordinator Brian Flores is the front-runner for my inaugural “More With Less” coaching award. The Vikings held the Raiders to eight first downs last week in their 3-0 win. Minnesota is all the way up to sixth in defensive DVOA, and you probably can’t even name three of their defensive players. Just an incredible job by Flores.
While we’re complimenting coaches (don’t get used to this!), shout-out to Zac Taylor and the Bengals staff. I thought the Joe Burrow injury meant irrelevancy for Cincinnati. I was wrong. The Bengals’ screen game killed the Colts last week in their 34-14 win, and quarterback Jake Browning continued to execute the offense at a high level.
Do I want to take the Vikings’ new starting QB, Nick Mullens, on the road in a December game that has playoff implications? Of course not. But the Vikings have a knack for keeping games competitive, and I think Flores’s defense is good enough to give them a chance here.
The pick: Vikings (+2.5)
Pittsburgh Steelers at Indianapolis Colts (-1.5)
The Steelers and the NFL deserve every bit of criticism they’re getting for how they handled T.J. Watt’s concussion last week. For those who missed it, Watt took a bad hit to the face on his first snap against the Patriots. He was reportedly evaluated for a concussion but then reentered the game wearing a dark visor. Watt played the rest of the game and then reported symptoms the next day. I know that diagnosing concussions is tricky, but there was obviously some reason why Watt requested a new visor. Teams can’t be messing around with this stuff in 2023. The NFL and NFLPA are reportedly reviewing the protocol.
As for the Colts, they managed just one offensive touchdown in last week’s loss to the Bengals. If the season ended today, they’d sneak into the playoffs as the seventh seed, and the Steelers would be the sixth seed. It’s Mitchell Trubisky vs. Gardner Minshew. There’s no way to feel good about either side here.
The pick: Steelers (+1.5)
Denver Broncos at Detroit Lions (-4)
Earlier this week on Extra Point Taken, I predicted that this Broncos team will make the playoffs. They’re not the most exciting group. They don’t have a high ceiling. But they know exactly who they are. It’s like the Broncos pretty much play the same game every single week. Since Week 8, the Broncos defense is fourth in DVOA. For a while there, it felt like they were just benefiting from turnover luck. But now that the sample has grown, what they’re doing feels a little more sustainable.
The Lions feel like they’re going in the wrong direction. They have lost two of three and are 31st in defensive DVOA since Week 7. Most weeks, especially at home, this Lions offense is going to give opponents trouble as long as they’re not turning the ball over. But their defense has been a disaster after a promising start. Because of that, I’ll take the points.
The pick: Broncos (+4)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Green Bay Packers (-3.5)
We all should have known not to trust that Packers defense, right? They gave up 367 yards to the Tommy DeVito–led Giants on Monday night. Quarterback Jordan Love did not play well, and the Packers had three turnovers, but in an alternate universe, we’re talking about Green Bay’s resilience and how they won a game despite not being at their best. Love and the Packers scored a go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter, but the defense allowed DeVito to complete four straight passes to set up the game-winning field goal for New York.
As for the Bucs, they did not play a great game against the Falcons, but Baker Mayfield made a couple of plays down the stretch and they stole a win. Had Tampa lost, it feels like this would’ve been a pretty big deal:
Bucs had nine players on the field on defense for Bijan Robinson's touchdown run in the fourth quarter Sunday. Asked about it today, Bowles said Will Gholston had just been hurt and wasn't replaced, and then another play came off the field mistakenly. Obviously that can't happen.— Greg Auman (@gregauman) December 11, 2023
Nine men on the field! On a touchdown run! In the fourth quarter! In a huge divisional game! In a different market, forget the win. That’d be all anyone would be discussing this week.
I am still a big believer in this Packers team. I think they showed their inexperience a little bit last week and had a bad game. I like Green Bay to bounce back here in a big way.
The pick: Packers (-3.5)
New York Giants at New Orleans Saints (-6)
What a weird season for the Saints. They’re 6-7 and have a legit chance to win the NFC South, yet their fans seem to hate the team—and for good reason! Derek Carr got into a shouting match with center Erik McCoy during last week’s win over the Panthers. Those things happen, but they usually don’t happen this often. As this ESPN.com article by Katherine Terrell outlines, Carr went at it with offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael in Week 6 and was yelling at wide receiver Chris Olave in Week 7. Watching the Saints has been a mostly miserable experience this year. Rooting for them, I imagine, has to be even worse.
Meanwhile, Tommy DeVito has injected life into the Giants’ season. That is not a sentence I expected to be typing in this space. The biggest difference with DeVito on Monday night was that plays that would have been sacks in previous weeks turned into positive scrambles against the Packers. At the very least, he can make some plays with his legs.
Normally, I would want to fade the Giants here given all the DeVito hype, but I just can’t trust the Saints with a number this big.
The pick: Giants (+6)
Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers (+3)
One of the true joys of this season for me has been watching the Falcons torture my Extra Point Taken cohost Ben Solak. He picked them to win the division, and while they’ve shown signs of competency, they just can’t get out of their own way. Atlanta outgained the Bucs by 144 yards last week and still found a way to lose, thanks to mistake after mistake. Just magical stuff.
I can’t figure out why Atlanta is only a 3-point favorite. I know the Falcons have some offensive line injuries, but this Panthers team looks like it’s just counting down the days until the season’s over. Bryce Young threw for 137 yards on 36 attempts last week against New Orleans. This game falls into the “if it looks too easy, stay away” category. But I just can’t bring myself to take the Panthers.
The pick: Falcons (-3)
Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans (-3.5)
Am I going to use this space to shout out the nerds? You betcha! The Titans were down 14 points to the Dolphins on Monday night and scored a touchdown with 2:40 left. Mike Vrabel decided to go for two. Tennessee converted. After forcing a punt, they scored a second touchdown, kicked the extra point, and took the lead (and the eventual win). The point of this strategy is to try to win the game in regulation, rather than risking overtime, which is a 50/50 proposition. The best-case scenario is that it plays out like it did for the Titans. Had the Titans failed to convert the two-point try after the first touchdown, they could have tried again after the second. If they converted that time, they would’ve forced overtime. If they hadn’t, they would have lost. So you’re taking on some risk, but also increasing your chances of winning the game. The strategy made even more sense on Monday night, given that the Titans were big underdogs against Miami. Great job by Vrabel to go for it (and yes, I would’ve said this even if it hadn’t worked out!).
The Texans have ruled QB C.J. Stroud out after he suffered a concussion in last week’s loss to the Jets. That means it will be Davis Mills starting for Houston. My first instinct was to switch this pick to the Titans, but have they really earned that? I say no! This is the year of the backup quarterback. Mills has started 26 games in his career. He’s not good, but he’s not horrible. And I still believe in the Texans coaching staff. C’mon Houston, ugly this game up, and let’s keep it to a field goal.
We are back to the long injury reports for the Texans.— DJ Bien-Aime (@Djbienaime) December 13, 2023
DNP: Will Anderson Jr , Blake Cashman, Nico Collins, George Fant, CJ Stroud, and Tavierre Thomas.
Whew 6 starters. pic.twitter.com/KVNIKU7nzH
The pick: Texans (+3.5)
New York Jets at Miami Dolphins (-8.5)
The Dolphins are another team that’s getting hit with injuries at a bad time. Tyreek Hill was on and off the field Monday night because of an ankle injury, and Miami’s offense looked bad without him. Hill did not practice on Wednesday, and the Dolphins are also dealing with a banged-up offensive line.
That Jets defense was impressive last week against the Texans. They had 10 pass breakups and limited Houston to 135 total yards. The Jets are all the way up to third in defensive DVOA, and this is probably the best they’ve looked all season. Please don’t mistake this pick for me buying into the Zach Wilson hype. I just think the Jets defense is good enough to keep them competitive here.
The pick: Jets (+8.5)
Chicago Bears at Cleveland Browns (-3)
The Bears delivered an impressive win last week at home against the Lions. They have won three of four and have been competitive for a while now. Chicago has just one loss of seven-plus points in its last 10 games. Justin Fields played well last week, but I do worry about his ability to protect himself. Some of the hits Fields took against the Lions were vicious. On the other side of the ball, the Bears have had a top-10 defense since Week 8.
The Browns, meanwhile, held on in a wild one last week against the Jaguars. They had 17 (!) offensive possessions—tied for the most for any team in a game this season. Cleveland’s defense once again led the way, and Kevin Stefanski did a nice job scheming up some explosive plays for Joe Flacco.
I like the way this Bears team is playing right now. If their defense shows up, and Fields makes a handful of high-leverage plays, I think Chicago can keep it close.
The pick: Bears (+3)
Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots (+8.5)
Here’s what I think about Patrick Mahomes’s outburst after last week’s loss to the Bills:
That Patrick Mahomes outburst Sunday didn’t feel like it was about one call.— Sheil Kapadia (@SheilKapadia) December 12, 2023
This has been building all season, and now it’s Week 15.
From Extra Point Taken @BenjaminSolak @ringernfl. pic.twitter.com/HALlP8yBfM
The Chiefs have lost three of four, but if you want to find a silver lining, their offense has been moving the ball more consistently than it was earlier in the season. Kansas City’s three highest offensive success rates all year have been the last three games. I still don’t trust those wide receivers in a big spot, but there are definitely more signs of life for the offense as a whole.
The Patriots beat Pittsburgh last week to pick up their third win of the season. There’s a lot on the line here. If the season ended today, New England would have the second pick in the draft. But a win here, combined with a Cardinals loss, would knock the Patriots down a spot. But I don’t think that’s going to be an issue. Bailey Zappe didn’t suddenly turn into Joe Montana, and the Chiefs need a get-right game. I think Kansas City avoids a three-game skid and takes care of business.
The pick: Chiefs (-8.5)
Washington Commanders at Los Angeles Rams (-6.5)
Here’s a comparison of two NFC teams that you may or may not find interesting:
Comparing the Eagles and Rams
|Special Teams DVOA
|Special Teams DVOA
In terms of offensive and defensive efficiency, there’s not a whole lot separating the 10-3 Eagles from the 6-7 Rams. But look at special teams! That group has been letting the Rams down all season, including last week in their loss to the Ravens. If the Rams performed at even a league-average level on special teams, they would probably be close to locking up a playoff spot. Instead, they’ll have to fight for one over the next four weeks.
The Commanders lost four in a row before their bye last week and have the NFL’s worst defense. I think Matthew Stafford and Co. put up 30-plus here and roll to a victory.
The pick: Rams (-6.5)
San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals (+12.5)
The 49ers had 11 plays of 20-plus yards in their win against the Seahawks last week—the most by any team in a game this season. Earlier this week, I was looking at the best single-game offensive performances of 2023, based on success rate. Among the top 10, there were five by the 49ers and five by the rest of the NFL combined!
This week, the 49ers face a Cardinals team that ranks 31st in defensive DVOA. When these two teams played each other in Week 4, the 49ers produced the highest offensive success rate of any team in a game this season. If I get this pick wrong because the 49ers have some flukey turnovers or special-teams mishaps, so be it. But this looks like another Niners blowout.
The pick: 49ers (-12.5)
Dallas Cowboys at Buffalo Bills (-1.5)
The Cowboys are on an absolute tear. They beat the Eagles last week for their fifth straight win and have scored 30-plus in each of those victories. Dak Prescott is playing the best football of his career, and the Cowboys offensive line is dominating.
Last week couldn’t have worked out any better for the Bills. They now have a 49 percent chance to make the playoffs, according to the New York Times model. This might feel like a must-win, but it’s really not. If the Bills lose to the Cowboys but win their last three (at Chargers, home vs. Patriots, at Dolphins), they have over an 80 percent chance of getting in. The AFC East title is even still in play for the Bills. If they can pick up one game on the Dolphins in the next three weeks, that Week 18 matchup in Miami would be for the division.
The Cowboys are the more complete team, but in a coin-flip game, I’ll take the Bills at home.
The pick: Bills (-1.5)
Baltimore Ravens at Jacksonville Jaguars (+3.5)
The case for the Ravens as a legit Super Bowl contender is simple: They can win in a bunch of different ways. Baltimore’s defense is second in DVOA and has been integral in many of its wins this season. But last week, the Rams went up and down the field against that Ravens D, totaling 410 yards of offense. Yet Baltimore still found a way to win. They had 449 yards of offense. Lamar Jackson led an impressive drive late in the fourth quarter, and Tylan Wallace ended the game with a 76-yard punt return touchdown in overtime. There are games when not everything’s clicking for the Ravens, but usually something is clicking, and that pretty much always gives them a chance. This is a team with a high ceiling and a high floor. Right where you want to be.
The Jaguars were down two touchdowns in the second half last week against the Browns and battled, but they couldn’t complete the comeback. I’m a little worried about what that pass-catching group looks like with Christian Kirk injured. Zay Jones had 14 targets against Cleveland and finished with just five catches for 29 yards. The good news for Jacksonville? I thought quarterback Trevor Lawrence moved well in that game, despite dealing with an ankle injury.
A convincing win by the Ravens here would not surprise me, but I like to ride with Doug Pederson in an underdog role in these spots.
The pick: Jaguars (+3.5)
Philadelphia Eagles at Seattle Seahawks (+3.5)
Since 2000, we’ve seen 107 teams have at least 10 wins through the first 14 weeks of the season. Among that group, the 2023 Eagles rank 104th in point differential, at plus-21. They’ve been outscored by a combined 43 points in back-to-back losses to the 49ers and Cowboys. Offensively, I thought the Eagles looked OK last week in terms of moving the ball, but three of their seven real drives ended with fumbles. The defense, however, is a different story. They can’t get off the field on third down. The Eagles have invested heavily in their pass rush, yet they’re producing sacks on third down just 6.3 percent of the time—the lowest rate in the NFL.
As for the Seahawks, they’re fighting for their playoff lives. Seattle has now lost four in a row for the first time ever during the Pete Carroll era. They’ve poured a lot of resources into a defense that ranks 26th in DVOA. As of this writing, it’s unclear whether Seattle will get Geno Smith back for this game after he missed last week’s game against San Francisco with a groin injury. If Smith returns and the Seahawks can protect him, he could shred this Eagles secondary. But I worry about Seattle’s defense facing an Eagles offense that should have all 11 regular starters healthy for this game. I think it’s a competitive game, but I like the Eagles to grab the cover late.
The pick: Eagles (-3.5)