We are at the final quarter-pole of the regular season, and hopefully it still finds you competing in your survivor pool. The St. Louis Rams could have torpedoed your pool last week by shocking the San Francisco 49ers. The teams actually were 26 seconds from tying for the second time this season – ties, by the way, should be considered a loss in your survivor pools because you are picking the winner (or I suppose loser, as some unique pools do). The Seahawks pulled a minor upset last week in Chicago as did Indy in Detroit, but I didn’t recommend those games. My top choice was Dallas, which piled on the Eagles’ misery. Perhaps my top pick of the season was putting that Jets-Cardinals game in the “ugly” category. And was it ever, with New York winning 7-6. At this point, I don’t think Mark Sanchez would start at Alabama.
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Keep an eye on Houston and Atlanta this week. I am sure you have used both already, but each could clinch the top seed in its respective conference with a win and some help. Thus, the motivation for the rest of the season is likely to be nil. But pretty much every other seed in both the AFC and NFC remains up for grabs.
On to Week 14, with presumed favorites listed first.
Seattle vs. Arizona: Could rookie Russell Wilson be a Pro Bowler? He doesn’t get much pub because of Andrew Luck and RG3, but Wilson has a 120.4 rating and nine TDs in the past four games. At home, he has been especially terrific, and Wilson is the first rookie since the 1970 merger to start and win each of his team’s first five games at home. Cardinals’ QB situation, meanwhile, is humorous. I actually feel bad for Larry Fitzgerald.
Tampa Bay vs. Philadelphia: Not sure I have seen such a talented team simply quit like the 2012 Eagles. They still haven’t won as recently as the Phillies! Andy Reid keeps firing assistant coaches, and nothing works. The Bucs have lost two straight but now are desperate at 6-6. Doug Martin/Josh Freeman should have a field day against a defense that has allowed at least 28 points in six straight games.
Green Bay vs. Detroit: There is one lock in the NFL these days: The Packers winning at home against the Lions. Green Bay’s 20-game regular-season home winning streak against Detroit is the longest in NFL history – it’s actually 21 straight overall if you include a 1994 playoff game.
Indianapolis vs. Tennessee: I will admit this worries me a bit for the Colts in that I wonder how they respond to last week’s thrilling victory in Detroit. Young teams sometimes don’t deal with unexpected success well. But the Colts have won a few games that way this season, are 5-1 at home, and won 19-13 in overtime at Tennessee in Week 8.
San Francisco vs. Miami: Jim Harbaugh is going with Colin Kaepernick, but I could see Alex Smith relieving the former Nevada star if the Niners’ offense struggles again. With Seattle right on their tails in the NFC West, the 49ers can’t afford another upset loss. For sure Harbaugh needs to replace kicker David Akers, as he has cost the team more than once.
Pittsburgh vs. San Diego: The Bolts are the West Coast Eagles as they have mailed it in. Reportedly Ben Roethlisberger will return, which should make Pittsburgh a safe choice here. If it’s Charlie Batch again, with all due respect to his game last week, I would steer clear.
Atlanta at Carolina: Again, I am sure the Falcons are off your board. But they would love to get that No. 1 seed locked down and start resting players. The Panthers should have beaten the Falcons in the Georgia Dome earlier this season if not for a Cam Newton late fumble and a semi-Hail Mary to get the Falcons into field goal range in the final seconds.
Denver at Oakland (Thursday): You know how I feel about the road teams in these quick turnaround games. These two teams couldn’t be going in more opposite directions, but maybe the Raiders win one for Coach Dennis Allen. His father died earlier this week, and Allen probably needs a few wins to close the season to keep his job – reports are that the Raiders have reached out to Jon Gruden to bring him back to the Bay area.
Cincinnati vs. Dallas: Two very motivated teams. The Bengals look dangerous all of a sudden, having won four straight. The Cowboys, meanwhile, have won three of four and know they probably have to close 3-1 to have a playoff shot. A loss here would in a way not be as damaging to the Bengals (partly because it’s out of conference) – their postseason fate likely will be decided in Week 16 at Pittsburgh.
Chicago at Minnesota: Yes, the Bears easily handled the Vikings just two weeks ago in Chicago. And, yes, Jay Cutler has won five straight against Minnesota. But now the heart and soul of that Chicago defense, linebacker Brian Urlacher, is likely done for the rest of the regular season. Top cornerback Tim Jennings also is expected to sit this week. That could mean yet another big game for Adrian Peterson, who now has 2,000 yards in his sights. Plus, the Vikings are 5-1 at home.
Washington vs. Baltimore: The Battle for the Beltway is clearly too close to call. The Skins suddenly look like an NFL threat as RG3 has a 140.0 rating and nine TD passes during a three-game winning streak. But it’s a short week for Washington. Baltimore remains the only AFC division leader yet to clinch a playoff spot.
NY Giants vs. New Orleans: I fully expect Drew Brees to bounce back from last week’s loss in Atlanta, one of the worst games in his career and in which his consecutive games with a TD pass ended. The Saints know they must finish 4-0 to have a playoff chance, and even then it’s slim. You just never know which Giants team will show up, although this is generally the time of the year they turn it on. But it’s a short week for the G-Men, and the Saints had 10 days to prepare.
New England vs. Houston: One of the best MNF matchups ever, pitting the two Super Bowl favorites. I have no clue who wins, but I will be watching.
St. Louis at Buffalo: With a few tweaks, I do believe both of these clubs could be playoff contenders in 2013, but this figures to be a turnover-filled ugly game. The Rams appear to have really blown it by not trading Sam Bradford when they had the chance and taking RG3 with the No. 2 pick in this year’s draft.
Cleveland vs. Kansas City: Plenty of good tickets available! Actually the Browns are showing some life – perhaps Brandon Weeden wasn’t a terrible pick -- and might actually save Coach Pat Shurmur’s job. K.C. made the mistake of upsetting Carolina last week and is now tied with Jacksonville for the NFL’s worst record and potential No. 1 overall draft pick.
NY Jets at Jacksonville: Does Rex Ryan just hate Tim Tebow or what? Sanchez was pulled last week for third-stringer Greg McElroy because Tebow was hurt. But the former Heisman winner should be active this week, so why not start him in his hometown? Yet Ryan stubbornly is sticking with Sanchez. I truly don’t understand why as the Jets’ season is over. Might as well find out what Tebow or even McElroy has.
I love Green Bay and San Francisco this week, but no doubt they are off the board. Also fully expect Seattle to win, but the Seahawks also might be gone. For sure I haven’t used the Bucs yet, so if that’s the case go there.
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