Week 14 Predictions- Analysis of Colts, Bengals, Eagles, Lions

Posted: 12/08/2013 by levcohen in Football

We’re in the final quarter of the NFL season, and that means that this is the stretch run. Starting this week, the true contenders will separate from the pretenders, and we’ll get some hints as to who will make a run deep into the playoffs. In recent times, what has happened throughout most of the season has had very little bearing on what ends up happening in the playoffs. Seeding matters less than how a team is playing going into the playoffs. With that in mind, I think this week there are a few games in particular between slightly under the radar teams that will help tell us who will succeed in the playoffs.

There is Indianapolis at Cincinnati. Indianapolis is not playing well, but they pretty much have their division locked up and are 8-4. The final four games for Indy is about establishing a rushing attack and a deep passing game. They are just squeaking by bad teams right now, and won’t have the luxury of playing the Titans or another team of that mold in the playoffs. Since Reggie Wayne got injured, the passing game has been much more short to intermediate, basically eliminating one dimension of their game. That short passing game is fine, but it will only work if they have a competent rushing game to pair with it. That was supposed to come with the early trade of Trent Richardson. But Richardson has been possibly the worst running back in the NFL this year, averaging 3.0 yards per carry on the year and just 2.8 for the Colts. To put that in perspective, only three other qualified running backs are averaging under 3 yards a carry. Willis McGahee is about 10 years past his prime, and the other two are the Baltimore running backs. I don’t know what’s happened to the Baltimore run game this year, but that’s beside the point. One thing is clear; the Colts need to get their run game going if they want to succeed in the playoffs. And I think they’ve realized that, as last week they finally sacrificed their pride by benching Richardson for the more successful Brown. But Brown doesn’t exactly have a successful past, and he might not work out either.
Bottom Line: Right now, Indianapolis has an 8-4 record with wins over Seattle, San Francisco and Denver (that is really impressive), but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Since Wayne went down, the Colts have been outscored by a combined 45 points against Houston, St. Louis, Tennessee (x2), and Arizona. Those teams are a combined 19-32. Of course, the Colts won three of those games, but that’s unsustainable. They can prove a lot in Cincy today.

The Cincinnati Bengals have really gone under the radar. They could easily be 11-1, as they had three losses by a combined eight points (including two overtime losses). They are also 5-0 at home, which should bode well as three of their last four games are in Cincinnati. It’s hard to take a team with Andy Dalton as quarterback seriously, but Dalton has been competent. He is ninth in the NFL in passing yards, although his 16 interceptions (4th in the NFL) and 49.6 QBR (22nd out of 36 qualifiers) tell a different story. But if Dalton can avoid mistakes in the playoffs, and that’s possible, than the Bengals have the weapons to carry them to a deep playoff run, especially at home. Their defense is the NFL’s 4th best according to Football Outsiders, and that could be even better if their offense didn’t turn the ball over so much (they are third in the AFC in takeaways, but still have a -1 turnover differential because they’ve turned it over more than all but two teams in the AFC). They also have some offensive weapons. A.J. Green is one of the best receivers in the NFL, and the Bengals have a great stable of tight ends at running backs, with one exciting rookie (Tyler Eifert, Giovani Bernard, respectively) and one steady veteran (Jermaine Gresham, BenJarvus Green-Ellis).  So if Dalton can just be steady and stop throwing the ball to the other team, I think the Bengals can be a dark horse team in the playoffs.
Bottom Line: The Bengals are finally getting some respect, as they are favored by a full touchdown over fellow 8-4 Indianapolis today. They have a fairly easy schedule to end the season, and if the Patriots drop a game they could finish with a first round BYE and a home game in round two, which is important for Cincy. Let’s see if they can prove how good they are today against Indy.

In the NFC, there is another important game between teams with even records. The Philadelphia Eagles are rolling right now. They’ve won four straight, going from a 3-5 team eying a quarterback in next year’s draft to 7-5 with Nick Foles, the best QB in the NFL right now. Foles’s play has been well documented, so I’ll just keep it short and say that he has been spectacular, with no interceptions yet on the year (he should have one, as his pick last week was called back by a bogus penalty). The scary thing about the Eagles is that, while their passing has been lighting it up, they are a team that wants to run the ball. And they do it effectively, running for the second most yards in the NFL. So if the Lions decide to focus on Nick Foles, LeSean McCoy will tear them up. If they decide to focus on McCoy, Foles will light them up. Right now, it looks like the Lions are in a “pick your poison” situation. The Eagles defense has to get a lot of credit, too. They have allowed no more than 21 points since WEEK 4 (averaging about 18 points allowed in that time), a shocking turn around given that in the first four weeks, they allowed 34 points per game. They’ve allowed just 8 more points in the last eight weeks than they did in the first four. Pretty amazing. With that being said, I’m still skeptical about the defense. Their opposition in that time have offenses that look like this (from FO): 27th (twice), 22nd, 10th, 29th, 26th (without Aaron Rodgers), 19th, and 24th. That’s an average of the 23rd best offense in the NFL. In the first four weeks, they faced a top 10 offense on average. That’s why this week is so important. In Detroit, the Eagles face arguably the best offense they have faced since they gave up 52 to Denver (Dallas and Denver are pretty even offensively). Can they hold up?
Bottom Line: The Eagles are tied with the Cowboys at 7-5, and control their own destiny. If they go 10-6 or 11-5 and win the NFC East, watch out, because they’ll be a dangerous team to play against.

And then there is Detroit. It’s easy to fall in love with the Detroit Lions. They have a ton of weapons, both offensively and defensively. Matthew Stafford, Reggie Bush, CALVIN JOHNSON, Ndamukong Suh, Ziggy Ansah, Stephen Tulloch, Nick Fairly, etc.. Those guys are terrific. They also just routed the Green Bay Packers. By 30 points. It might have been the most dominant performance by any team all year, because if they hadn’t turned it over three times it could have been much worse. But that’s just it. The Lions turn it over a ton. As in more than any team in the NFL outside the Giants. Six teams have a worse turnover differential than Detroit, and those teams are a combined 22-50-1. So Detroit is unique. They turn it over, but still win. But will that continue in the playoffs?
Bottom Line: The Lions are explosive, they are talented, and they just beat the Packers by 30. But they are a high variance team, and turn it over a ton. They need to get more consistent if they can be considered a legitimate Super Bowl contender, and this week would be a good time to start.

So those are two huge games to keep an eye on, and I haven’t even gotten into the two most publicized ones, both of them divisional battles. 9-3 Carolina, winners of eight straight, travel to 9-3 New Orleans, while 11-1 Seattle, who just blew out the aforementioned Saints, travel to 8-4 San Fransisco. All four of those teams will in all likelihood be in the playoffs, and they are probably the four most likely teams to represent the NFC in the Superbowl, so you should definitely watch those games, too. But watch out for the Lions and Eagles.

By the way, watch out for bad weather on the East coast during today’s games. That could definitely affect some of these games. I’ll italicize games that could have weather problems due to the storm in the East.

Week 14 Predictions:

Indianapolis Colts (8-4, 7-5) at Cincinnati Bengals (8-4, 7-4-1):
Line: Bengals favored by 7
Over/under: 43
My prediction: Bengals- 27, Colts- 14
Bengals cover
Under

Atlanta Falcons (3-9, 4-8) at Green Bay Packers (5-6-1, 5-7):*
Line: Packers favored by 3
Over/under: 44
My prediction: Falcons- 27, Packers- 20.. No Aaron Rodgers in this one, and if the Packers lose this game, they might well shut Rodgers down, although Rodgers might have a say in avoiding that.
Falcons cover
Over

Cleveland Browns (4-8, 5-7) at New England Patriots (9-3, 6-6):- Lock of the Week
Line: Patriots favored by 10.5
Over/under: 47
My prediction: Patriots- 31, Browns- 10.. Patriots at home. We haven’t seen a Patriots home blowout yet this year (they beat the Steelers handily but still gave up more than 30 points to Pittsburgh), and I think this is the one.
Patriots cover
Under

Oakland Raiders (4-8, 7-5) at New York Jets (5-7, 6-6):*
Line: Jets favored by 3
Over/under: 39
My prediction: Raiders- 24, Jets- 14.. Geno Smith is the starting quarterback for the New York Jets. Enough said.
Raiders cover
Under

Detroit Lions (7-5, 6-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (7-5, 6-5):
Line: Eagles favored by 2.5
Over/under: 54
My prediction: Eagles- 27, Lions- 23.. Riding the Eagles in this one, but this is a coin-toss game, especially with inclement weather.
Eagles cover
Under

Miami Dolphins (6-6, 7-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (5-7, 6-6):
Line: Steelers favored by 3.5
Over/under: 40.5
My prediction: Steelers- 24, Dolphins- 20.. I love the Dolphins, but the Steelers are going to bounce back after this loss to the Ravens last week, and I think they’ll get back in the playoff mix with a win here.
Steelers cover
Over

Buffalo Bills (4-8, 6-6) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-9, 5-7):
Line: Buccaneers favored by 2.5
Over/under: 42
My prediction: Buccaneers- 23, Bills- 20.. I have no idea what will happen in this game, but I do know that the Bills are a pretty bad road team.
Buccaneers cover
Over

Kansas City Chiefs (9-3, 6-6) at Washington Redskins (3-9, 3-9):*
Line: Chiefs favored by 3
Over/under: 44
My prediction: Redskins- 24, Chiefs- 17.. I really do hate those Chiefs. I also am not a big fan of Washington, but they have to play hard, right? They don’t even have a first round pick this year, so they have some incentive to play well, and not poorly. Of course, that hasn’t stopped them from playing badly. Maybe it will this week against a KC team that has lost three in a row (yes!).
Redskins cover
Under

Minnesota Vikings (3-8-1, 6-6) at Baltimore Ravens (6-6, 6-6):
Line: Ravens favored by 7
Over/under: 41.5
My prediction: Ravens- 23, Vikings- 20.. The Vikings have been playing a lot better recently. I think the Ravens win this one, but just barely.
Vikings cover
Over

Tennessee Titans (5-7, 6-5-1) at Denver Broncos (10-2, 8-4):
Line: Broncos favored by 12
Over/under: 40
My prediction: Broncos- 30, Titans- 20.. Titans can cover this spread, but they have no chance of winning it.
Titans cover
Over

St. Louis Rams (5-7, 5-7) at Arizona Cardinals (7-5, 8-4):
Line: Cardinals favored by 5
Over/under: 41
My prediction: Cardinals- 20, Rams- 16.. The Cardinals are super good at home. That should be enough here to win, but I’m picking the Rams to cover, as I think these two teams are pretty even.
Rams cover
Under

New York Giants (5-7, 5-7) at San Diego Chargers (5-7, 6-5-1):*
Line: Chargers favored by 3.5
Over/under: 48
My prediction: Giants- 27, Chargers- 23.. This is a big game for one reason and one reason alone. It’s Eli Manning’s first game in San Diego. And that is substantial because the Chargers are the team that drafted Eli. And, if you don’t remember, Manning refused to play on the Chargers, and forced himself out. I would think that there will be quite a few boos from Charger fans today. I would hope so, at least, because if I were a Charger fan I’d still be disgusted at Eli Manning.
Giants cover
Over

Seattle Seahawks (11-1, 8-4) at San Francisco 49ers (8-4, 9-3):*
Line: 49ers favored by 2.5
Over/under: 41
My prediction: Seattle- 23, San Francisco- 20.. The Seahawks are really good, people. Normally I would take San Francisco at home, but right now I have complete faith in Seattle, even on the road. This is Seattle’s first game as an underdog all year, and I could easily see them losing at a division rival who is really good at home, but I have to go with Seattle.
Seahawks cover
Over

Carolina Panthers (9-3, 8-4) at New Orleans Saints (9-3, 6-6):
Line: Saints favored by 3
Over/under: 46
My prediction: Saints- 24, Panthers- 20.. This was the toughest game for me to pick. On the one hand, there is Carolina, winners of eight straight including marquee wins in San Francisco and over New England. The Panthers are for real. At the other side, there is New Orleans, seemingly unbeatable at home but coming off a 27 point loss at Seattle. I think Carolina is the better team, but it comes down to this: Which outcome would I be less upset about picking wrong? I think that I’d be less upset about picking New Orleans at home and guessing wrong than I would be about picking the upset incorrectly. If that makes any sense. That worked in my head, anyway. Go Saints.
Saints cover
Under

Dallas Cowboys (7-5, 8-4) at Chicago Bears (6-6, 2-9-1):*
Line: Cowboys favored by 1
Over/under: 48
My prediction: Bears- 30, Cowboys- 27.. I have no idea why I’m picking Chicago. They’ve been terrible recently, and are 2-9-1 against the spread. Maybe it’s just because I really want Dallas to lose. Who knows. But I’m picking the Bears as a home underdog.
Bears cover
Over

Upset picks:
Bears over Cowboys
Seahawks over 49ers
Falcons over Packers
Giants over Chargers
Redskins over Chiefs
Raiders over Jets

Lock of the Week:
Patriots over Browns

Games with weather issues:
Colts at Bengals
Browns at Patriots
Raiders at Jets
Lions at Eagles
Dolphins at Steelers
Chiefs at Redskins
Vikings at Ravens

So that’s seven games. Pretty tough.

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