NFL Week 14 will start answering the questions of which teams will fight their way into the postseason and which teams have squandered opportunities.
This week is filled with do-or-die games. The New England Patriots can clinch the AFC East title with a win against the Miami Dolphins but are also fighting the Houston Texans for a first-round bye. The Los Angeles Chargers can also clinch a playoff spot this week.
Nostrathomas NFL Week 14 Picks
In the NFC, the Chicago Bears will try to tighten their grip on an NFC North title against the best team the 2018 NFL season has to offer. The Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks will also be battling for wild-card positioning.
Before we dig into this weekend’s slate, the Seer of Sayers is now 18-22-2 with his top picks in 2018, 78-84-2 against the spread and 102-51-1 straight up.
NFL Week 14 Game of the Week
Los Angeles Rams vs Chicago Bears +3 (Sunday Night Football; Soldier Field, Chicago, IL)
It’s common knowledge that Chicago modeled their last off-season build on the Rams success in 2017. They jettisoned head coach John Fox for Matt Nagy, a coach on the cutting edge of offensive innovations. General manager Ryan Pace also upgraded his semi-pro roster of wide receivers into a squad big league pass catchers.
The idea was to give his 2017 second overall draft pick, quarterback Mitch Trubisky, every chance to succeed in the NFL. This week, the Bears get the chance to see how far they’ve progressed with Los Angeles coming to town for a Sunday night, prime-time fight.
Jared Goff has already proved that he’s more than a one-season wonder. Goff is fifth in the league with a 109.9 passer rating but the Bears defense is first in passer rating against at 78.5.
The Bears also have a ball-hawking defense that Goff will have to contend with. Cornerback Kyle Fuller is second in the league with six interceptions and safety Eddie Jackson, who has returned one fumble and two interceptions for touchdowns this season.
Goff’s success against Chicago will also have a lot to do with Todd Gurley’s success in running the ball. Gurley leads the NFL in rushing with 1,175 yards and all-purpose yards from scrimmage with 1,649. He also leads the league in touchdowns with 19.
Trubisky will be back at quarterback for Chicago after missing two games with a shoulder injury. He’ll return with Aaron Donald staring him down from across the line of scrimmage. A national audience will get to see what Trubisky has learned this season about evading a pass rush, throwing on the run and sliding when he does tuck the ball and run.
Who Has the Edge?
If this game were in Los Angeles, Nostrathomas would take the Rams to win and cover. However it’s going to be in Chicago, at night and it’s going to be cold, especially if there’s a wind blowing in from across Lake Michigan.
It’ll be one hell of a struggle between the two teams. Nostrathomas says that Trubisky throws two touchdown passes, catches a touchdown from running back Tarik Cohen and the defense adds a score of their own.
Chicago Bears 31, Los Angeles Rams 30
NFL Week 14 Top Picks
Minnesota Vikings vs Seattle Seahawks -3 (Monday Night Football; CenturyLink Field, Seattle, WA)
The Vikings have lost two of their last three games, to Chicago and New England, and are in danger of sliding out of an NFC wild-card slot. Meanwhile, Seattle has won three straight games to move past Minnesota into the top wild-card slot.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has finally had a chance to emerge from the shadow of a dominating defense into a spotlight of his own. Anyone still calling him a game manager hasn’t been paying attention this season. He’s going to be tough for the Vikings still tough defense to contain.
It also shouldn’t be said that Seattle’s defense hasn’t risen to the occasion this season, minus most of its past stars.
Kirk Cousins was able to put some of the doubts about his about his ability to perform in prime time to rest after a 24-17 Week 12 win over the Green Bay Packers. That win doesn’t look as impressive now though.
Minnesota is currently 0-4 this season against teams that went into Week 14 over .500. That this game being played in Seattle is enough for Nostrathomas to take the Seahawks to win and cover.
Seattle Seahawks 29, Minnesota Vikings 23
Denver Broncos -3.5 vs San Francisco 49ers (4:05 PM ET; Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, CA)
This game opened with the Denver Broncos favored by six and has seen the spread bet down to -3.5 points. It’s true that Denver will be missing wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and cornerback Chris Harris, Jr. but the San Francisco 49ers are going to be hard pressed to put a full team on the field this week.
Running back Matt Breida will be out for San Francisco with an ankle injury. Without him, rookie quarterback Nick Mullens is going to be challenged to move the ball against a still tough Broncos offense.
Nostrathomas has always said don’t be reluctant to take what Las Vegas is willing to give. In this instance take Denver to win and cover.
Denver Broncos 23 San Francisco 49ers 9
New Orleans Saints -9.5 vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1 PM ET; Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL)
Tampa Bay is on a two-game winning streak, both home wins. A big key to that is quarterback Jameis Winston throwing four touchdown passes against zero interceptions. Still, Drew Brees is having a season for the ages, even when you take his Week 13 performance against the Dallas Cowboys into account.
The Buccaneers are playing their third straight at home but, despite last week’s loss, New Orleans is still one of the NFL’s elite teams in 2018. Take the Saints to avenge their Week 1 loss and cover in Tampa.
New Orleans Saints 34, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 22
The Best of the Rest
New England Patriots vs Miami Dolphins +7.5 (1 PM ET; Hard Rock Stadium, Miami, FL)
This line has dropped dramatically. The Patriots opened as a 10-point favorite but are currently giving seven points plus the hook to the Miami Dolphins.
Miami has won four of their last five games against the Patriots at home. The problem with taking them here though is they haven’t won two straight games since the opening of the season.
The Dolphins need this win to keep their playoff hopes alive but New England needs it too. They’re currently fighting Houston, both at 9-3, for a first-round postseason bye.
Miami is 5-1 at home this season while the Patriots have struggled away from Gillette Stadium at 3-3. The home team is also 11-1 against the spread in the last 12 games in this series. Those are heavy trends to try and buck. Take the Dolphins to cover the spread but the Patriots to win because since when does New England fail to win when a clinch is on the line.
New England Patriots 26, Miami Dolphins 20
Indianapolis Colts vs Houston Texans -4.5 (1 PM ET; NRG Stadium, Houston, TX)
Heading into Week 13, the Indianapolis Colts were facing a Jacksonville Jaguars team that had done a full Wile E. Coyote fall off a cliff with a big boulder looming overhead. Andrew Luck had thrown a minimum of three touchdown passes in eight straight games. A win would have put Indianapolis in the driver’s seat among the chasers for the final AFC Wild Card slot, especially with a win over the Tennessee Titans already in the books.
What happened? They spit the bit. The Colts not only lost, but they were also shut out. Now they travel to Houston with the playoff math saying that they’ll need to win out to have any chance of playing postseason football.
The Texans are riding a nine-game win streak and have climbed to sixth in Nostrathomas’ statistical power rankings. They are currently one of only five squads to have a winning record against NFL teams that entered Week 13 with a win percentage over .500. Indianapolis has done a stellar job protecting Luck this season but Houston’s defensive front is one of the best in the game, especially against the run. Running back Marlon Mack could be in for a long afternoon which would force Luck to fill the air with footballs to move his team downfield.
This game comes down to the Colts resurrecting their offense against Houston’s strong defense. Last week, Indianapolis may have been caught looking ahead to this match-up. That mistake will put the Colts on the brink of postseason elimination after the Texans win and cover.
Houston Texans 26, Indianapolis Colts 20
Cincinnati Bengals vs Los Angeles Chargers -14.5 (4:05 PM ET; StubHub Center, Carson, CA)
The Chargers can clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Cincinnati Bengals. With quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green now out for the season, Cincinnati should be grateful if they get out of this game without any more starters being lost to injury.
The only chance the Bengals have is if Los Angeles is looking past them to their Thursday night showdown with the Chiefs in Kansas City. That would be a very Chargers thing to do but not reason enough to expect Cincinnati to keep the score within two touchdowns in this game.
Los Angeles Chargers 30, Cincinnati Bengals 13
Baltimore Ravens vs Kansas City Chiefs -6.5 (1 PM ET; Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO)
The Baltimore Ravens have won three straight with quarterback Lamar Jackson starting in place of Joe Flacco. This week, even though Flacco is healthy, Jackson has been named the starter against the Kansas City Chiefs by head coach John Harbaugh.
The Chiefs are a big step up in competition for Jackson over the teams he’s beaten so far. Baltimore’s defense has been strong but nobody has succeeded in holding down Patrick Mahomes yet this season.
If Kansas City gets a lead the run will have to be removed for Jackson’s repertoire. Can he beat an elite team through the air? Unlikely at this point in his career.
Kansas City Chiefs 34, Baltimore Ravens 19
Carolina Panthers vs Cleveland Browns +1 (1 PM ET; FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland, OH)
The Carolina Panthers have fallen from challenging New Orleans for the NFC South title to a half-game behind the Vikings for the conference’s final wild-card slot. Carolina’s normally stout defense has given up an average of 31.5 points per game over the past four weeks and Superman quarterback Cam Newton has found himself buried under an avalanche of kryptonite.
The losing streak has resulted in Panthers head coach Ron Rivera taking full control of the defense, including play calling, away from defensive coordinator Eric Washington.
The Cleveland Browns had been surging since firing head coach Hue Jackson before dropping their Week 13 game to the Texans at Houston. Still, interim head coach Gregg Williams has solidified Cleveland’s defense while rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield has established himself as the leader of the offense.
Mayfield has pulled up his passer rating to 91.1 and the Browns defense is fourth in the league in passer rating allowed. The Browns are also better than Carolina in passer rating differential, offensive rating minus defensive rating allowed.
The Panthers offense relies on Newton and running back Christian McCaffrey who pulls double duty as Carolina’s leading rusher and leader in receiving targets. In today’s NFL, that’s not a sustainable offensive model.
The Panthers are 1-5 on the road this season and Cleveland is 3-2 at home. Nostrathomas is going to take the home dog to rise up and bite the visitors.
Cleveland Browns 27, Carolina Panthers 23
Philadelphia Eagles vs Dallas Cowboys -3.5 (4:25 PM ET; AT&T Stadium, Dallas, TX)
Dallas has been impressive over the past month, especially in their Week 13 win over the Saints. The Philadelphia Eagles are on a two-game winning streak but a last-second win over the New York Giants and a victory against a quarterback deficient Washington team leave a lot to be desired.
Dallas Cowboys 27, Philadelphia Eagles 20
Games of the Weak
Pittsburgh Steelers -10 vs Oakland Raiders (4:25 PM ET; Oakland Coliseum, Oakland, CA)
Pittsburgh Steelers 30 Oakland Raiders 17
Atlanta Falcons vs Green Bay Packers -4.5 (1 PM ET; Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI)
Last week, Green Bay allowed the warm weather Arizona Cardinals to beat them 20-17 on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. That loss resulted in Green Bay pulling the plug on head coach Mike McCarthy, which was originally speculated to be a strong possibility after the season. This week, they get to host the dome based Atlanta Falcons, who also find themselves in free fall.
For the Falcons, quarterback Matt Ryan is fifth in the league in passing yards while Julio Jones leads the league in receiving yards. If yards counted on the scoreboard Atlanta would be contending for a first-round bye. Instead, they’re mired in the NFC South basement with no realistic possibility of a postseason appearance.
Even with the firing of McCarthy, the Packers are the statistically better bet here. That and Green Bay still being 4-1 at home and the Falcons 1-4 on the road leads Nostrathomas to pick Green Bay to win and cover.
Green Bay Packers 29, Atlanta Falcons 20
New York Giants -3 vs Washington Redskins (1 PM ET; FedEx Field, Washington, DC)
The Washington Redskins have gone from the top of the NFC East to barely hanging on in the playoff race after losing both starting quarterback Alex Smith and backup Colt McCoy for the season. Gruden the Younger is down to starting Mark Sanchez, who hasn’t taken an NFL snap since 2016, at quarterback.
For the Giants, they’ve won three of their last four by a total differential of seven points. Still, Washington is going to be hard pressed to move the ball in this game.
New York Giants 22, Washington Redskins 10
New York Jets vs Buffalo Bills -4 (1 PM ET; New Era Field, Buffalo, NY)
The New York Jets opened 3-3 with hopes that they had turned the corner but a six-game losing streak sunk them back to the bottom of the AFC East. Meanwhile, with two wins in their last three games, and a near comeback win last week in Miami, the Buffalo Bills seem to be pushing their arrow back in the right direction.
Buffalo crushed the Jets 41-10 at MetLife Stadium the last time they met. The Bills are 7-3 against the spread in this series over the last 10. Take them to win and cover at home.
Buffalo Bills 20 New York Jets 13
Detroit Lions -2.5 vs Arizona Cardinals (4:25 PM ET; State Farm Stadium, Glendale, AZ)
This is a battle between two teams going nowhere. Arizona won their “Super Bowl” last week in Green Bay. The Detroit Lions are settling to the bottom of the NFC North.
Detroit Lions 22 Arizona Cardinals 14