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The Giants defense derailed Matt Ryan and the Falcons last January in the NFC Wild Card round. Will things change for the better this weekend for Ryan and the Falcons in front of their home crowd against the defending champs?
Thursday Night football, December 13 8:20 PM ET – TV: NFL Network
Cincinnati Bengals 7-6 @ Philadelphia Eagles 4-9
The Bengals defense has been dynamite at stopping the run. If the Eagles have any chance of putting together successful drives, they’ll need to pound the rock with Bryce Brown on early downs to open up the passing game. The Bengals athletic defensive front creates havoc at the line of scrimmage, forcing quarterbacks to throw on the run. That’s what Eagles rookie quarterback Nick Foles will have to do most of the night. He’ll need to make big plays on passing downs with improvising throws. That’s why I like the Bengals to bounce back this week, after blowing a fourth quarter lead at home to Dallas. The pressure they’ll provide on Foles will help them win the turnover battle. Pick: Bengals 27, Eagles 17.
Final Score: Bengals (8-6) 34, Eagles (4-10) 13
Sunday, December 16
1:00 PM ET
N.Y. Giants 8-5 @ Atlanta Falcons 11-2 – TV: FOX
With thoughts of the Giants pass rush ringing in his head, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan knows his offensive line needs to be at their best against arguably the most talented defensive line in the game. “The Giants are probably the best in the league,” Ryan said. “They’ve got three top-tier pass rushers, and we know that from playing them last year. They’ll present us with a difficult challenge. Their front four is very solid. For four quarters, they rush the passer as well as anybody in the league.” Atlanta’s bright spot offensively has been through the air averaging 289.2 yards per contest. The downfall has been the running game that’s ranked 28th only averaging 86.9 yards per game, and only 68.4 over the last five games. That needs to change this weekend for the Falcons offense going up against a Giants defense that’s forced 34 turnovers, second in the league. Michael Turner and spell running back Jacquizz Rodgers need to be effective for four quarters, particularly Turner on early downs to keep Matt Ryan out of third and long situations. Mainly, I like both defenses to provide pressure and to limit big plays on the ground. But between both quarterbacks that will be in third and long situations, how can I not like Eli Manning to be the better third down converter than Matt Ryan? Pick: N.Y. Giants 26, Falcons 23.
Minnesota Vikings 7-6 @ St. Louis Rams 6-6-1 – TV: FOX
Here’s a statistical factor I really like about St. Louis’ defense: The Rams have not allowed a running back to gain more than 65 yards in four straight games. They held the Bills, who have one of the better rushing attacks to just 61 yards in a come from behind 15-12 road win. The defense will have its most difficult task this weekend trying to slow down the amazing Adrian Peterson and the Vikings running game. The Rams may not have statistics on the offensive end that blow your mind out the frame, but winning is winning and having a head coach their players respect and believe in like Jeff Fisher, has his them finding ways to win games. “At the end of the day a win’s a win,” Fisher said. “We’re not equipped like New England to put 40 up on everybody. Hopefully we’ll get to that point, but right now we’re finding ways to win.” We know his squad has a defense that stops the run, but when you’re allowing your opponents to average only 14 points against you over the last three games, you have a chance to win every game. That’s why I like the Rams to edge out Minnesota. They’ll keep the game close limiting Adrian Peterson from making big plays and the offense will do just enough with a reliable kicker like Greg Zuerlein that can nail them from 50-yards plus to win it. Pick: Rams 19, Vikings 17.
Jacksonville Jaguars 2-11 @ Miami Dolphins 5-8 – TV: CBS
I don’t know why Miami would take running back Reggie Bush out on third downs even though his blitz pickup was poor earlier in the season? Look, you have to have your best playmaker on offense in the game most of the time. Reggie has been known to be one of the more dangerous players in the open field when he gets the ball in his hands. The team seems to realize now that they can’t take him out. You have to use your best weapon the best way possible. When you don’t have a talented reliable receiving core you can bank on to get open on third down, you use the check down play or run a screen pass to Reggie, utilizing him like he was used in New Orleans. What took them so long to figure this out? Pick: Dolphins 24, Jaguars 13.
Green Bay Packers 9-4 @ Chicago Bears 8-5 – TV: FOX
A win for the Packers at Soldier Field clinches the NFC North for the second straight season. What I like most about Green Bay this season is the balance they have on offense with a good mixture of runs and high-percentage passes on early downs. The Packers have been much better running the football than last year. And with the Bears short at linebacker without Brian Urlacher (hamstring), their defense against the run and covering tight ends is vulnerable. The Bears weak offensive line continues to make life a living hell for quarterback Jay Cutler. And with Clay Matthews (hamstring) returning this week for the Packers defense, I don’t expect things to get better for Cutler. Just look at the tape from the first time these teams met this season, you’ll notice Matthews rushing Cutler like a wild vicious animal on some kind of animalistic dog-fluid juice. Pick: Packers 31, Bears 19.
Washington Redskins 7-6 @ Cleveland Browns 5-8 – TV: FOX
I’m not 100% how Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan’s approach will be offensively if Robert Griffin III (knee) doesn’t play. The good thing for his offense is that he has a power running game with Alfred Morris that can take on a huge chunk of carries without running the usual pistol offense. That’s what I expect the approach to be without RGIII. And even if the star rookie quarterback plays, I’m not so sure how effective he’ll be against a better than anyone thinks Cleveland defense. If you’re a Browns fan reading this at this moment, you can thank Mike Holmgren for bringing in the right mix and positive potential future lying ahead for your team that’s been thirsting for something good for once. Pick: Browns 23, Redskins 20.
Denver Broncos 10-3 @ Baltimore Ravens 9-4 – TV: CBS
This is the ultimate quarterback reading the safety type of matchup. You have the best quarterback ever Peyton Manning at reading the safety before the snap at the line of scrimmage going up against the best safety ever at reading the quarterback Ed Reed. Reed is the best safety in the business that will keep Manning’s attention wherever he rolls on the back end of the defense, but Baltimore needs more than just Reed’s deep zone coverage taking away the deep pass. They need outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (biceps) to be dynamite rushing Manning for four quarters. Suggs is questionable, however. If Suggs doesn’t play, hopefully the heart and soul of the Ravens defense Ray Lewis (triceps) plays for the first time in nine weeks. Surely, the Ravens can run the football effectively with Ray Rice, but I’m not confident in Suggs, even if he plays to create enough havoc at the line of scrimmage to force Manning into bad decisions. Pick: Broncos 29, Ravens 24.
Indianapolis Colts 9-4 @ Houston Texans 11-2 – TV: CBS
After being blown out by New England in front of a nationally televised audience, I expect the frustration of Houston’s defensive end J.J. Watt and the Texans defense to take it all out on Indianapolis’ rookie quarterback Andrew Luck. Look for Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to stress to his group the importance of pressuring the pocket and using a few blitzes to keep the pressure at a high level of intensity. And if your fantasy football team is in the playoffs that has Arian Foster going for you, this is a favorable matchup for him to give you big points. Pick: Texans 34, Colts 24.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 6-7 @ New Orleans Saints 5-8 – TV: FOX
Tampa is on the outside looking in after losing three consecutive games. After two straight games of running for just 50 yards against Atlanta and only 56 at Denver, Doug Martin returned back to his normal gashing between the tackles self, rushing for 128-yards and a score at home last week. That statistical factor of Martin going over century mark usually would result in a win. That wasn’t the case as the defense gave up a game winning drive to the Eagles dropping their record to 6-7 on the season. That’s been the major issue with Greg Schiano’s Bucs in the fourth quarter. The defense hasn’t made key stops, particularly in the secondary. And even though the Saints have ruined their chances of making the postseason, I still like them to play up-tempo and put up big plays against a struggling Bucs defense behind the arm of Drew Brees in front of his home crowd. Pick: Saints 34, Buccaneers 27.
4:05 PM ET
Detroit Lions 4-9 @ Arizona Cardinals 4-9 – TV: FOX
I’m trying to find an offensive line as bad as Arizona’s to remember. I’ve seen bad ones since I’ve been watching this game, but this could be the worst I’ve ever seen. And to know that this team won a game in New England this season, gives me a headache. Pick: Lions 34, Cardinals 13.
Carolina Panthers 4-9 @ San Diego Chargers 5-8 – TV: FOX
No question the most talented skilled player on the football in this matchup is Carolina quarterback Cam Newton. That’s the obvious. Here’s the difference: At 6-5, 217 lbs. stands Danario Alexander, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers’ new go to receiver that continues to get better each week. Alexander is also one of the better pickups off the waiver wire that could help your fantasy team win your league. I think he and Rivers connect big, helping the Chargers win this game and for the organization to start thinking about a price tag and possible contract extension for Alexander in the near future. Pick: Chargers 27, Panthers 23.
Seattle Seahawks 8-5 @ Buffalo Bills 5-8 – TV: FOX
How about this? Seattle pulls one out this weekend and then returns home next week to face San Francisco in a battle for first place in the NFC West. Pick: Seahawks 20, Bills 16.
4:25 PM ET
Pittsburgh Steelers 7-6 @ Dallas Cowboys 7-6 – TV: CBS
I get it. I understand why most of the football world expects the Cowboys to tank down the stretch. We tend to live on the past and expect what happened yesterday to happen again. I did lots of thinking about this matchup. I thought about the similarities of both teams fighting through a slew of injuries, staying in the playoff hunt. I don’t know what to make of Pittsburgh’s egg-laying performance at home last week against San Diego, other than making uncharacteristic mistakes on both sides of the football. And I understand why everyone would expect Pittsburgh to win this game because of their recent success late in the season. But there’s something about this Dallas team that I like better than last year’s team. They have more fight in them. Reason being, you have an emerging receiver Dez Bryant that wants to play instead of having season ending hand surgery. And you have a quarterback who doesn’t get the credit he deserves playing behind a bad offensive line and still connecting big with his prime target. DeMarco Murray back at running back makes Dallas a much better team and better equipped to win in the fourth quarter. That’s why I like Dallas to win this game. They’ll keep the Steelers defense honest and for Tony Romo to continue to make key improvising throws to move the sticks against a banged up Steelers secondary. Pick: Cowboys 24, Steelers 20.
Kansas City Chiefs 2-11 @ Oakland Raiders 3-10 – TV: CBS
Raiders head coach Dennis Allen has indicated he’ll start playing his younger players over the last three weeks, a perfect approach to test your personnel’s future. Carson Palmer is Oakland’s best quarterback, but if Allen is taking the young-gun approach, he needs to get Terrelle Pryor under center for a good portion of snaps. As far as the game goes, Kansas City will attack Oakland’s dismal run defense by feeding the rock to Jamaal Charles. But those Chiefs find ways to turn the football over in games the offense is expected to play well. Pick: Raiders 19, Chiefs 16.
Sunday Night Football in America 8:20 PM ET – TV: NBC
San Francisco 49ers 9-3-1 @ New England Patriots 10-3
I love these kinds of matchups. You have a stingy 49ers defense going up against a prolific Patriots offense. Both San Francisco’s top rated pass rushers Aldon Smith and Justin Smith need to have their best performance to pressure the league’s hottest quarterback Tom Brady. The key for San Francisco’s defense is the ability to stuff the run, get after the quarterback and cover intermediate routes. The intermediate routes Brady exploits defenses with Wes Welker in the slot and using his tight ends will be the most difficult challenge for the 49ers defense. If I was in coach Harbaugh’s shoes, I’d tell my group to keep the intensity up and not to get frustrated when Brady completes passes against tight coverage on third down. Because if those dart passes get into the heads of the 49ers highly energized defense, then you’ll start to see lots of defensive holdings and pass interference penalties. I like the Patriots to use a good mixture of runs and passes on first down, keeping the 49ers defense guessing and for their defense to create key turnovers and capitalize off of them. Pick: Patriots 30, 49ers 20.
Monday Night Football, December 17 8:30 PM ET – TV: ESPN
N.Y. Jets 6-7 @ Tennessee Titans 4-9
Although Titans running back Chris Johnson hasn’t been consistent in terms of having big games this season, the Jets defense should be well aware of his capability of having a breakout game. Look for Titans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer to call Johnson’s number most of the night to run the ball outside the tackles with the speedy Johnson against a Jets defense that’s struggled against the run. The Jets offense will use the same approach trying to run the football, but mostly between the tackles with a power running game to set up third and shorts for quarterback Mark Sanchez. That factor will give Sanchez high-percentage passing downs. Ultimately, I like the Jets defense to win the turnover battle giving the offense better field position than Tennessee. Pick: N.Y. Jets 20, Titans 13.