by Robert Ferringo - 12/08/2005
Here's a quick peek at the NFL in Week 14, or as I like to call it, Week 1 of the Pre-Playoff Playoffs:
Chicago at Pittsburgh (-6)
I've seen this number as low as four in certain areas, meaning a lot of sharp money has dropped on the Steelers. It's a smart play - the Bears and their eight-game winning streak have to end sometime. With uncertainty (warranted or not) clouding Chicago's QB situation, and Pittsburgh still smarting from their crushing loss last week, it's not a shock that the number is heading Pittsburgh's way.
Pittsburgh's horrendous home run (3-4 SU in its last seven) has to even out at some point. But be careful if this number inflates any more. The Bears are 8-3-1 ATS this season, and are 4-1-1 ATS in their last six on the road. They have a portable game plan (running and defense) that should keep them from getting blown out.
My quick take on the Bears QB conundrum: why mess with what works? If the Bears had a decent backup (a Brad Johnson, Jeff Garcia, etc.) then a move would be academic. But how can you clamor for Grossman when he has fewer career starts (6) than Orton (12)?
Indianapolis at Jacksonville (-8)
This number seems very low to me, and I expect it to creep up near 10 by kickoff. You have to give the Jaguars credit for hanging with the Colts over the last two seasons (they've split the series each year), but you can't expect a backup quarterback and a backup running back to overwhelm the World's Best Team.
Indianapolis is outscoring its opponents by an average score of 33.7 to 14.7. And those numbers are slightly skewed because of their "slow" start. Since Week 4, they've only won by less than 10 points one time (Cincinnati). Their average margin of victory in that span is 19 points.
David Garrard and Greg Jones are tough, solid, dependable guys. But they're not going to be enough to beat the Colts. Jacksonville found out today that they've lost center Brad Meester for the year. Facing a ferocious Indy front four, the last thing you don't want to have is your center, which is responsible for the blocking assignments and blitz pickups.
Tampa Bay at Carolina (-5.5)
Just a few short weeks after being left for dead in the NFC playoff race, the Buccaneers have come storming back and can seize a tie for the NFC South lead with a road victory.
The early number was a straight 5.0, but books were getting overwhelmed with Carolina money. I wouldn't be surprised if this one makes an appearance at 6.0 before kickoff. The Bucs are 1-4 ATS in their last five at Carolina, and 5-14 ATS in their last 19 road games. Simms will have to make some plays, since the Panthers second-rated rush defense should bottle up the Bucs 15th-ranked run offense.
Carolina is 5-1 ATS in its last six games, and 5-0 SU and ATS in its last five against Tampa Bay. The Panthers won by 20 in Tampa on November 6, and I don't see where they've gotten any weaker. They've allowed just one touchdown in the last four games.
Kansas City at Dallas (-3)
Of all the games getting hyped this weekend, I think this is not only the most interesting, but the most important. Each of these clubs is clawing at a wild card position, and can ill afford another loss.
Thus far, the AFC West holds an 8-5 edge against the NFC East this season (the home team is 8-5 as well). But Kansas City isn't nearly the same club on the road as they are in Arrowhead. Also, I feel a bit of a letdown out of the Chiefs after a big divisional win.
The Kansas City defense hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher in its last 19 games, and Dallas hasn't had a 100-yard rusher yet this season. Of course, that means that Julius Jones will go for over 100. Dallas leads the league in time of possession, and if they do win it should be a relatively low-scoring affair.
Without further ado, here's my Week 14 Power Rankings:
1) Indianapolis (12-0) - A little more than a month ago you could have had the AFC -3 in the Super Bowl. I'm kicking myself for not taking it, because if Indy goes the number is going to be closer to 13.
2) Denver (9-3) - The Broncos defense had a hard time adjusting to the motion and multiple formations the Chiefs threw at them. The only other multifaceted offenses that they've seen like that are San Diego (win) and the Giants (loss).
3) Seattle (10-2) - Tremendous win on Monday night, but losing Andre Dyson is a huge blow to that secondary. He and Ken Lucas were their two playmakers. I see them giving up a lot of points the rest of this season.
4) Chicago (9-3) - The Bears have muffed or fumbled 10 punts this season. That's more than twice as many as the next highest, and it could come back to haunt them. They're also 9-1 on the Under this season.
5) Carolina (9-3) - Carolina has forced the league's second-most turnovers (30). They're 9-0 when they finish even or better in turnover differential.
6) Jacksonville (9-3) - Corner Rashean Mathis is going to play with a wrap on his broken finger, but likely not a full cast. Not a good game to be short-handed in the secondary.
7) Cincinnati (9-3) - Only 13 players are left from the Bengals 2002 opening day roster - the year before Marvin Lewis signed on.
8) San Diego (8-4) - The Chargers are 8-3-1 ATS this season, including a smoldering 6-1 ATS over its last seven games.
9) New York Giants (8-4) - Opponents are converting 84 percent of their third and fourth downs of two yards or less. That's important for those late-game 3rd-and-1's. They signed Terrell Buckley this week to plug into their faltering defensive backfield.
10) Tampa Bay (8-4) - Matt Bryant is still injured and Todd France still sucks. For a team that like to play/win tight games, having a shaky kicker is not the way to go.
11) Kansas City (8-4) - Scrambling quarterbacks have given the Chiefs defense fits. They're licking their chops at the thought of blitzing Bledsoe.
12) Pittsburgh (7-5) - I don't think that Cowher can keep up the running back-by-committee system he has going. Where is Duce?
13) Dallas (7-5) - Terry Glenn had 582 yards through the first six games, but just 222 in the last six. The Cowboys' depleted secondary took another hit with Aaron Glenn's injury.
14) Atlanta (7-5) - In three of their last five games, they've failed to register a sack. Lack of pressure is exposing their weakness - their safeties.
15) New England (7-5) - The Pats totaled a season-high 146 rushing yards last week. Belichick has been using some new blitz packages to help mask their suspect defensive backs.
16) Minnesota (7-5) - The Vikings have gone back to a 4-3 base defense, and that's helped lead the resurgence. They're stronger against the rush at the point of attack, and the front four is getting pressure on the quarterback without having to blitz.
17) Washington (6-6) - This team could still make things interesting. They're at Arizona, have Dallas and New York at home, and then go to Philly.
18) Philadelphia (5-7) - And that right there is why you don't give Brian Westbrook a big-money deal. He's fragile, and is a glorified third-down back.
19) Miami (5-7) - Forget the musical quarterbacks. Injuries and ineffectiveness are still forcing Nick Saban to shuffle his offensive and defensive lines.
20) Cleveland (4-8) - I think this is a bad idea going with Charlie Frye on the road against a Cincinnati defense that excels at forcing turnovers. This is a good spot to go with a veteran arm (Dilfer). This is a rookie-coaching mistake.
21) St. Louis (5-7) - After Joe Vitt loses his job in four weeks, don't be surprised if you read about him holding up a Post Office or something. The guy is creepy.
22) Oakland (4-8) - Oakland is 0-5 versus its division, and 4-3 against everyone else.
23) Buffalo (4-8) - First, Eric Moulds has his 121-game reception streak snapped. Then he gets suspended by coach Mike Mularkey. Coincidence? I think not.
24) Detroit (4-8) - The Kitty-Cats are 25th in the league in rushing, and only averaging 3.6 a pop.
25) Baltimore (4-8) - I feel a mail-in game coming out of these clowns. They almost lost to the Texans at home, and are going up against a Denver team looking to lock in a first-round bye. Bad news.
26) Arizona (4-8) - The Cards are averaging 11 penalties a game over their last three outings.
27) New Orleans (3-9) - Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?
28) Tennessee (3-9) - There was a Billy Volek sighting last week. I'm sure we'll see a few more in the next few weeks, which means points, points, points.
29) Green Bay (2-10) - The defense has improved. They still have playmakers on offense. Favre will be back. And they have a lot of money to spend this offseason.
30) New York Jets (2-10) - I think they have one more win in them. It's either this week against Oakland, or Week 17 at home against Buffalo. But that's it.
31) San Francisco (2-10) - When they faced Arizona in Mexico earlier in the year they took a worse beating than Seattle gave Philly on Monday night. To see them battle last the Cards in the rematch shows how much they've improved.
32) Houston (1-11) - I've been reading in reports that the Texans are in love with Reggie Bush. Isn't everybody? But why draft a running back when you already have one (Domanick Davis) and have so many other glaring holes?
Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at email@example.com or check out his Insider Page here.
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Doc's football picks service.