In Week 13, the 49ers blew out the Eagles, the Packers hype train continued to pick up steam, and Jake Browning delivered a Monday night surprise for the Bengals. What’s in store for Week 14? On to the picks!
Lines are from FanDuel as of Thursday morning. Stats are from TruMedia and Pro Football Focus unless otherwise noted.
Week 13 record: 6-7
Season record: 92-95-6
New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers (-6)
Bailey Zappe vs. Mitchell Trubisky! This is exactly the type of matchup Amazon had to be envisioning when it decided to shell out roughly $1 billion per year for Thursday Night Football. The Steelers managed one touchdown last week against a Cardinals defense that ranks 30th in DVOA. Kenny Pickett suffered an ankle injury in that game and had surgery earlier this week. It’s unclear how long Pickett will be out, but for now, Trubisky is the starter.
As for the Patriots, they got shut out last week in a 6-0 loss to the Chargers. If the season ended today, New England would have the no. 2 pick in the 2024 draft. Only the Panthers have a worse record. The over/under for this game is just 30.5! Given how low that number is, I’ll go ahead and take the points.
The pick: Patriots (+6)
Los Angeles Rams at Baltimore Ravens (-7.5)
The good news for the Ravens: They are coming off of their bye in a nice spot, tied for the best record in the AFC, at 9-3. The bad news: They have the fifth-hardest remaining schedule, according to the betting markets. The Ravens host the Rams this week before road games at Jacksonville and San Francisco. They then return home to face the Dolphins and Steelers. If the Ravens want to get the 1-seed, they’ll really have to earn it.
The Rams played well last week in their win over the Browns. We’ve seen over and over again that when they’re healthy on offense, they can be dangerous. I said a couple of weeks ago that I think the Rams will make the playoffs, and I’m feeling good about that prediction.
Having said that, this is a tough spot for them. The Ravens are 18-1 (!) in games Lamar Jackson has started against NFC opponents. They played the Lions and Seahawks at home earlier this season and won those games by a combined score of 75-9. I think special teams could be a big factor here. The Ravens have Justin Tucker, while the Rams added longtime Packers kicker Mason Crosby this week and are looking to solve their field goal issues. Baltimore can win in different ways and overcome mistakes. I don’t think the same is true of the Rams here.
The pick: Ravens (-7.5)
Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints (-5.5)
There was a good story in The Athletic this week about Panthers owner David Tepper and Carolina’s season of dysfunction. So many interesting nuggets, including this one about Tepper’s potential pursuit of Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson as his next head coach:
Johnson is a native of Asheville, N.C., who played at North Carolina. But it might not be easy to lure him to Charlotte: Some in the Panthers’ organization, according to a league source, have been texting Johnson about how complicated it’s been to work in Carolina this season.
As of this writing, it’s unclear whether the Saints will have quarterback Derek Carr for this game. Carr is in concussion protocol and is also dealing with rib and shoulder injuries. If he can’t go, it’ll be Jameis Winston. Meanwhile, Taysom Hill, who was a big part of the offensive game plan last week, didn’t practice Wednesday because of multiple injuries. The Saints are banged up and have lost three in a row. I don’t trust them here.
The pick: Panthers (+5.5)
Indianapolis Colts at Cincinnati Bengals (+1.5)
What a performance from Bengals backup quarterback Jake Browning on Monday night in the Bengals’ win over the Jaguars. I don’t think Cincinnati will make the playoffs, but as I’ve said often: The best moments as a sports fan are when you have no expectations and your team surprises you. Bengals fans will remember the three-plus hours they spent with Browning on Monday for years to come. And you know what? It didn’t feel fluky. He might not throw for 354 yards every week, but Browning made good decisions, got the ball out quickly, and was accurate downfield.
I don’t know what to make of this Colts team. They needed some special teams magic to force overtime last week against the Titans, and then Gardner Minshew got them across the finish line.
I’m trying not to put too much stock in one excellent Browning performance, but I really think he can play well enough to keep Cincinnati competitive here.
The pick: Bengals (+1.5)
Jacksonville Jaguars at Cleveland Browns (-3)
Trevor Lawrence didn’t practice Wednesday, and as of this writing, it’s unclear whether he’ll play in this game after suffering an ankle injury on Monday night. That wasn’t the only injury for the Jaguars. Wide receiver Christian Kirk is out with a core muscle injury. And the Jaguars could be down to their third-string left tackle.
The Browns have their share of injury issues too. Kevin Stefanski has not named a starting quarterback. He’ll either stick with Joe Flacco or go back to Dorian Thompson-Robinson. It’s unclear whether Cleveland will get corner Denzel Ward back. And while Myles Garrett played through a shoulder injury last week, he obviously wasn’t at full strength, failing to notch a sack, tackle, or quarterback hit.
This game has big playoff implications, and I’ll have to make a pick without knowing who’s starting at quarterback for either team. This is the NFL in 2023!
The pick: Browns (-3)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons (-1.5)
The race for first place in the NFC South is a complete yawn-fest. Three teams are separated by one game, and nobody cares at all. Per DVOA, the 6-6 Falcons have a 51.3 percent chance to take it, followed by the Bucs (5-7), at 25.4 percent, and the Saints (5-7), at 23.3 percent.
The Bucs needed a late stop last week to preserve a win over Carolina, while the Falcons were outgained by a Jets team that was playing Tim Boyle and Trevor Siemian at quarterback.
I think I have two options here:
- Abstain from making a pick based on principle.
- Flip a coin, knowing I’ll get the pick wrong.
Option no. 2 it is.
The pick: Bucs (+1.5)
Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears (+3)
There will be a lot of talk in the weeks ahead about how Justin Fields is auditioning for the Bears quarterback job in 2024 and beyond. Barring something completely unforeseen, I don’t think that’s happening. The Bears will almost certainly have the no. 1 pick (from Carolina), and they can’t risk missing out on a quarterback. If you’re unsure about a guy after three seasons, it’s probably time to move on. The upside of having a quality starter on a rookie deal is pretty much gone at that point.
I already had concerns about this Lions defense, and now it’s lost one of its better players, defensive tackle Alim McNeill, to a knee injury. Just not a lot of pass-rush production with this group. These two teams just played each other in Detroit in Week 11. The Bears led that game 26-14 with under five minutes left before the Lions stormed back and escaped with the win. Chicago’s been much more competitive over the past month. I wouldn’t be surprised to see an outright upset here.
The pick: Bears (+3)
Houston Texans at New York Jets (+3.5)
As I mentioned on Extra Point Taken this week, the Jets need to go away. They found themselves back in the news this week with a report that Zach Wilson was reluctant to play even though the team wanted to reinsert him as the starter. Eventually, everyone got on the same page, and Wilson will be under center in this game.
The Texans continue to be one of the most entertaining teams in the NFL. They have now played eight straight games that have been decided by seven points or fewer. Last week, corner Derek Stingley Jr. had a pair of interceptions, including a terrific leaping pick in the fourth quarter that helped secure a win over the Broncos.
I have some concerns about the Texans’ ability to score here. The Jets defense remains legit, and Houston has injuries on its offensive line. Plus, the Texans lost wide receiver Tank Dell to a season-ending injury last week. But let’s be real: There’s just no chance I’m taking Wilson over C.J. Stroud in this spot.
The pick: Texans (-3.5)
Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers (-10.5)
After two punts to start the game, the 49ers scored six straight touchdowns last week against the Eagles. In terms of expected points added per drive, it was the second-best offensive performance by any team this season (the 49ers’ Week 4 performance against the Cardinals was first). These two teams played on Thanksgiving night, and it wasn’t close; the 49ers left Seattle with a 31-13 victory.
The Seahawks offense looked terrific last week against Dallas, but their defense couldn’t get a stop. These two teams have played four times since the beginning of last season. The 49ers are 4-0 with a 16-point average margin of victory in those games.
Could the Seahawks pull off the upset? Sure. I could see their offense moving the ball, and maybe they can create a couple of turnovers or make a play on special teams. But it’s just so hard to get stops against this Niners offense right now. If I get backdoor covered here, so be it.
The pick: 49ers (-10.5)
Minnesota Vikings at Las Vegas Raiders (+3)
Justin Jefferson will (presumably) return to play for the first time since Week 5, which offers a fun twist for the fantasy stretch run and playoffs. Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell confirmed to reporters that the team is sticking with Josh Dobbs at quarterback, even though Dobbs committed six turnovers in the team’s previous two games. At 6-6, the Vikings would be in the playoffs if the season ended today.
The Raiders are 5-7. They’ve been competent and competitive under interim head coach Antonio Pierce, but this group is mostly playing out the string before owner Mark Davis decides what he wants to do next. Two of Vegas’s best players—defensive end Maxx Crosby and left tackle Kolton Miller—are dealing with injuries and did not practice Wednesday.
Dobbs is a roller coaster, but I feel like the Vikings probably made good use of their bye and came up with a plan to better set him up for success. It won’t hurt that “Throw the ball to Jefferson” can now be a big part of the plan. I’ll take Minnesota here.
The pick: Vikings (-3)
Denver Broncos at Los Angeles Chargers (-2.5)
I don’t feel any differently about the Broncos this week than I did last week. They battled the Texans but couldn’t make a play at the end. Russell Wilson threw three interceptions, but I thought he played pretty well. Wilson is moving around much better than he did in previous seasons, and the Broncos can count on Courtland Sutton for a couple of big plays every game.
The Chargers last week broke a three-game losing streak with a 6-0 win over the Patriots. They are 5-7 and have a 12.1 percent chance of making the postseason, per DVOA odds. You would be foolish to think Los Angeles can go on a run. They still have the Bills and the Chiefs on their schedule.
The Chargers lack firepower on offense and are gettable on defense. The Broncos will be the better-coached team. Add it all up, and I’ll take Denver.
The pick: Broncos (+2.5)
Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs (-1.5)
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I am not giving up on this Bills team until they are mathematically eliminated. But let’s at least acknowledge that they face an uphill climb. DVOA gives Buffalo a 12.4 percent chance to get in. The Bills face the hardest remaining schedule in the NFL, according to the betting markets. It really feels like they need to win this game or next week’s game against the Cowboys and then sweep the final three (at the Chargers, the Patriots at home, at the Dolphins).
As for the Chiefs, I have serious concerns about this team. I thought they might be able to get on a roll, but the defense got lit up last week in a loss to the Packers. The good news is they could get linebacker Nick Bolton back for this one.
I initially was leaning Bills here, but the line dipped, and Patrick Mahomes has generally been good in these spots. When favored by three points or fewer, the Chiefs are 12-6 against the spread with Mahomes. I think Kansas City takes care of business.
The pick: Chiefs (-1.5)
Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys (-3.5)
Since 2000, there have been 58 teams with at least 10 wins through the first 13 weeks of the season. Among that group, the Eagles’ plus-41 point differential ranks 56th. Only the 2019 Seahawks and the 2022 Vikings were worse. The Eagles saw a lot of their issues get exposed during last week’s blowout loss to the 49ers, but my biggest concern right now is their pass rush. The Eagles can’t get off the field on third down, and there’s a big reason for that: They’re not impacting opposing quarterbacks nearly enough. The Eagles’ sack rate of 5.3 percent on third down is the lowest in the NFL. That’s tough to swallow, given how many resources general manager Howie Roseman has poured into that group.
The Cowboys, meanwhile, continue to look great on offense. Dak Prescott carved the Seahawks up last week and is playing the best football of his career. He’s tied with Brock Purdy for the best MVP odds in the NFL going into Week 14.
This Eagles team hasn’t faced a lot of adversity in the past two years, but the offense has been uneven in recent weeks, and the defense has glaring holes. Coming into the season, I thought these two teams would split their two games, and I’m sticking with that.
The pick: Cowboys (-3.5)
Tennessee Titans at Miami Dolphins (-13.5)
It feels like the Dolphins are flying a little under the radar, yet if the season ended today, they’d be the 1-seed in the AFC. But they close the season with a brutal stretch: Cowboys at home, at Baltimore, Bills at home. I like this team quite a bit, but Miami doesn’t have a single win against a team that would make the playoffs if the season ended today.
The Titans had a series of miscues in their loss to the Colts that led Mike Vrabel to fire special teams coach Craig Aukerman. Meanwhile, they’ll be without one of their best players, defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons, for this game.
On one hand, the Dolphins have been consistently blowing out bad teams. On the other hand, Vrabel often finds ways to muddy these games up when Tennessee is a big underdog. I’ll take the points.
The pick: Titans (+13.5)
Green Bay Packers at New York Giants (+6.5)
I think I’m all in on this Packers team. Going into last week, I was pumping the brakes and thinking that prime-time spot against the Chiefs might be too big for them. Whoops! I couldn’t have been any more wrong. The Packers had seven possessions and scored on five of them (three touchdowns and two field goals). In terms of EPA per drive, it was the fifth-best game for any offense this season.
It was 1am. @BenjaminSolak started throwing questions my way about how good I think Jordan Love is going to be. And I answered them.— Sheil Kapadia (@SheilKapadia) December 5, 2023
I regret nothing!https://t.co/fgNET4gqrY@ringernfl @ringer pic.twitter.com/YnDjTdXhIt
As for the Giants, they won two straight before their bye, squeaking out wins against bad teams, but they have been irrelevant for weeks now. Only the Commanders have a worse point differential on the season. I don’t see a letdown for the Packers here. They’re battling for a playoff spot.
The pick: Packers (-6.5)