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We provide the best and most educated National Football League picks based on relevant statistic and resources, along with: key injuries, Historical results, and accurate comparisons.
When head coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey were hired in January, they began reshaping Kansas City’s roster. Ten months later, Kansas City stands at 9-0, the only undefeated team in 2013. Reid’s Chiefs have done it with defense, special teams, a running game and a discipline quarterback running the west coast offense. This week, his team travels to Denver to face Peyton Manning and the prolific Broncos offense in battle for sole possession of first place in the AFC West.
Thursday Night Football, November 14 8:25 PM ET TV: NFL Network
Indianapolis Colts 6-3 @ Tennessee Titans 4-5
Both teams are coming off horrific performances in trying to establish effectiveness on the ground. And as a result of being one dimensional offensively, both teams suffered losses to teams that haven’t been on the A plus side of things in stopping the run. That should ring a bell, and head coach Chuck Pagano released a statement after his Colts loss to the Rams by saying, “”We got to run better,” Pagano said. “We got to be on the same page. Somehow, some way we have to be able to run the football. . It makes it difficult because you become one-dimensional. … Our inability to run the football of late, it hurts your football team.” So…how has Indianapolis’ trade for Trent Richardson fared so far? He’s only averaging 2.8-yards per carry in differential to his 3.4 in Cleveland. You can pin-point the issues Indianapolis has on the offensive line, but they need to get Richardson involved more anyway they can. In 2012 with Cleveland, Richardson caught 51 passes as a valuable option out of the backfield. In his seven games as a member of the Colts, he only has 7-receptions on 15-targets. I think that’s the route Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton will be taking going forward, considering the lack of running lanes that Richardson is running behind. The Titans offense is just about in the same fold of ineptness of getting running back Chris Johnson going consistently, but the main issue is losing quarterback Jake Locker (Lisfranc) for the remainder of the season. Ryan Fitzpatrick is the likely starter the rest of the way, a quarterback with a nag of turning over the football, and he doesn’t have many options that can make plays in the passing game. That’s the difference in this matchup. Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis passing-attack that has more options on critical passing downs to win this game late in the fourth quarter.
Pick: Colts 27, Titans 23
Final Score: Colts (7-3) 30, Titans (4-6) 27
Sunday, November 17
1:00 PM ET
N.Y. Jets 5-4 @ Buffalo Bills 3-7 – TV: CBS
New York’s defense has been the best in the business at stopping the run, allowing only 73.8-yards per game. Not a good matchup for Buffalo’s offense that’s mostly predicated on the run. I’m not expecting Buffalo to change their approach in mixing things up with running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller to try to gain positive yardage on first and second down. They’ll need that to work to keep E.J. Manuel out of third and longs. The Jets sport one of the better defensive lines in the game with Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson rushing off the edges. Nose tackle Damon Harrison, a big 350 pound bull-dozer that clogs the middle, helps stop the run and gets bench-press-like pushes in the middle to help free up the outside rush. That’s what Manuel will be dealing with all afternoon long, and he’ll need to make throws on the run due to his vulnerable offensive line that will have trouble protecting him against New York’s pass-rush. Buffalo’s defense can get after the passer, but when trying to stuff the run, things have gone south. New York’s grounding and pounding style with Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell gashing between and outside the tackles, along with Geno Smith protecting the football, will be enough to muster a win on the road. Side Note: Jets receiver Santonio Holmes (Hamstring) is on track to return this week, his first action since Week 4. Also, I think signing Ed Reed doesn’t hurt. You can say he’s lost a step and aging, but are any of you meaning to tell me that he doesn’t bring leadership qualities to the locker room? He’s still a smart player and I think a low-risk for them. Good move.
Pick: Jets 23, Bills 13
Baltimore Ravens 4-5 @ Chicago Bears 5-4 – TV: CBS
With Jay Cutler (Ankle) ruled out this week, Josh McCown will get the start this weekend. With McCown at signal-caller, the Bears offense doesn’t look like it misses a beat, but they’ll need a better performance from their running game against a feisty Ravens defense that can create havoc upfront and stuff the run. The Bears are better upfront on the offensive line in differential to Cincinnati’s the Ravens defense faced last week in sacking Andy Dalton five times. The Bears offensive line has only allowed their quarterbacks to get sacked 14 times, the third lowest in the league. Chicago has found ways to get the football to receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, but Matt Forte hasn’t really had a breakout game this season. His best performance came against Green Bay on Nov. 4, a game he ran for 125-yards, the only 100-yard rushing game from him this season. I’m not saying he hasn’t been effective, but if the Bears are going to be a serious contender, they need Forte to give defenses headaches by making big plays in the open field out of the backfield at his full potential. Baltimore’s running game has been abysmal this season and Ray Rice has been nothing like the Ray Rice we are used to seeing. Baltimore ranks 30th on the ground, averaging 73.1-yards per game and is tied for last at 2.8-yards per carry. Rice rushed for at least 1,143-yards in each of the last four seasons. This season, he has 289-yards rushing and is averaging only 2.5-yards per attempt. He’ll get the chance to right the ship against Chicago’s defense that’s struggled in stopping the run, ranked 29. The Bears defense has a two-way street in their grasp. They’re one of the top units in generating turnovers, but extremely susceptible in getting beat over the top. Torrey Smith is a serious deep threat and I’m expecting Joe Flacco to test Chicago’s secondary on a few deep-balls. In the grand scheme of things, I like Chicago’s offense to be more efficient and I’m starting to like the Marshall/Jeffery combo as one of the better one-two punches at receiver that’s getting better by the week. Bears pull one out at home on a game winning field goal drive.
Pick: Bears 24, Ravens 23
Cleveland Browns 4-5 @ Cincinnati Bengals 6-4 – TV: CBS
Cleveland got the best of Cincinnati on Sept. 29, a game the Browns defense limited big plays from Andy Dalton and the Bengals passing game to 203-yards. Most importantly, they held Bengals star-receiver A.J. Green to only 51-yards receiving, keeping him out of the endzone. Dalton and Green have found soft-spots in the defense since their deficiencies early in the season, but over the last two weeks of play, the pressure that Dalton’s faced from the blitz has stumped the Bengals passing game. The Bengals offensive line needs to protect better. Their porous play has resulted in Dalton getting sacked 10 times combined on the road, 5 against Miami, a game he was sacked for a decisive safety and 5 last week in an overtime loss to Baltimore. The pressure he’s facing is also causing him to turn over the football with 6-interceptions, 3 in each of his last two outings as well. Get it? Dalton doesn’t play well under pressure and I expect Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton to steal a back-page when watching the film on Miami and Baltimore’s defensive approach in pressuring Dalton. Jason Campbell has been solid at quarterback for Cleveland in replacing the Browns episode of “General Hospital” at quarterback that’s caught the injury-bug this season. In his two starts, Campbell has thrown 5-touchdown passes and 0-interceptions. Campbell can escape the pocket better than perceived, but he’ll need more from his running game for some balance to keep Cincinnati’s defense from shadowing receiver Josh Gordon all game long. And I don’t expect Greg Little to be as valuable as a second option for Campbell like he was against Baltimore on the road in Cincinnati, a place the Browns have only won once in their last nine trips.
Pick: Bengals 27, Browns 17
Washington Redskins 3-6 @ Philadelphia Eagles 5-5 – TV: FOX
If you’re going to cool off the hot hand of Philadelphia’s quarterback Nick Foles, you need to keep him off the field by controlling the tempo with your offense. Of course, you still have to pressure him, but Washington’s defense hasn’t been on the plus side of things in generating sacks. And without pressure, their defense is getting torched in the secondary on a consistent basis, allowing 275-yards through the air per game. The interesting matchup will be Washington cornerback DeAngelo Hall (Foot) matched up on speedy Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson. Hall has been limited in practice this week, but head coach Mike Shanahan indicated that he expects him to be available Sunday. Hall is a physical player that likes to get into the heads of receivers and he’ll need to be on his A-game in trying to disrupt Jackson’s routes with some press-coverage. Washington’s offense is based off the running game with bruising back Alfred Morris setting the tone to get the play-action pass going. The Redskins haven’t had major issues in moving the football, but from time to time on a few offensive series, the protection from the offensive line has gone down the drain. Although Philadelphia’s defense has been better than Washington’s this season, they’re still capable of giving up big plays against the pass, and I like Washington’s chances to be able to run the ball effectively to keep Robert Griffin III in high-percentage passing situations. Pierre Garcon and tight end Jordan Reed will be as much of a headache for the Eagles defense as Riley Cooper and DeSean Jackson will be for the Redskins. I expect LeSean McCoy and Alfred Morris to dictate the passing game for both offenses well, but if I’m going by laws-of-average, a quarterback that’s not turning over the football like Foles, and for once, the Eagles will win a game at home. This is the perfect chance for them to end their 10-game home losing streak. And boy, I have a feeling this one is going to be a nail-biter.
Pick: Eagles 34, Redskins 31
Detroit Lions 6-3 @ Pittsburgh Steelers 3-6 – TV: FOX
The more I catch a glimpse of Matthew Stafford, the more of a believer I’m becoming in him making big time throws and engineering critical drives for his offense. Whenever you have a QB/WR tandem that can play pitch and catch with each other and single out favorable coverage’s before the snap, you sort of have that Montana to Rice thing going. Slow down people, I’m not putting Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson in that same group or sentence, but if you don’t think they have potential to get better and better, than you’ve been missing out on something special grooming, and pending on if he can stay healthy and avoid any setbacks, Reggie Bush, like I told many would be a great fit for Detroit’s offense in using spread formations and utilizing the backs out of the backfield as receiving options. They have that with Bush and Joique Bell, effectively. But, what about the other factors outside of the Bush and Detroit’s passing attack with “Megatron” dancing all over defenses? Statistically, Detroit doesn’t rank amongst the top units in bringing the quarterback to the ground, only 15-sacks, but they’ve been fairly consistent on making the pocket uncomfortable for opposing quarterbacks, keeping them under duress. What about the discipline factors? They don’t have a group on the offensive line that’s been hit with lots of holding penalties and the offense isn’t stalling much in the redzone. Mainly, they’re sustaining drives and keeping their defense off the field, keeping them fresh. The defense is also ranked 8th against the run and the performance last week they displayed in Chicago, keeping Matt Forte and the Bears running game in check was what I was mostly impressed by. If Pittsburgh has a chance, they’ll need the running game to be up to par and Ben Roethlisberger to extend plays by making improvising throws. But, without the running game making anything happen, the Steelers are asking for Roethlisberger to do too much, and that can get him burned on threading the needle against an opportunistic Lions defense.
Pick: Lions 27, Steelers 21
Atlanta Falcons 2-7 @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1-8 – TV: FOX
Atlanta’s ground game is plain and simply pathetic. Sorry, but it’s true. They can’t get anything going in that department. Steven Jackson (Toe) has been practicing this week and looks ready for another shot to turn things around and help the Falcons sputtering offense come to life. It’s one thing to try to get Jackson going, but if he’s not 100 percent, why is Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter handcuffing Jacquizz Rodgers? Rodgers has been used more as a receiver out in the flats, but only been slightly used as a change-of-pace runner. He clearly has more spurt in his legs than the banged up Jackson and Roddy White (Ankle) admitted that he’s not anywhere near at 100 percent. Tampa Bay’s defense is ranked 5th against the run, and we saw a big reason why on Monday when they stuffed Miami’s running game to 2-yards on 14-carries. And with cornerback Darrelle Revis likely to be matched up on the banged up White, or if they decide to thrown him on Harry Douglas’s side, a healthy effective receiver for Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan to make plays with, I don’t like Atlanta’s chances of sustaining drives in this matchup. Plus, I like the change-of-pace options the Bucs running game has going forward. With Bobby Rainey and Brian Leonard carrying the load, look for them to be effective and setup quarterback Mike Glennon for some over the top plays downfield to Vincent Jackson.
Pick: Buccaneers 24, Falcons 17
Arizona Cardinals 5-4 @ Jacksonville Jaguars 1-8 – TV: FOX
It was the defense that stopped Tennessee’s running game and scoring on defense that got Jacksonville to get rid of their “Goose-Egg” in earning their first victory under head coach Gus Bradley. It’s always great to get that off your backs as team and nobody wants to go winless, but the Jaguars are still ranked dead last on offense in running the football, averaging only 65-yards per game and dead last in stopping the run, allowing 153-yards per contest. Maurice Jones-Drew ran for only 41-yards and a score last week, a game he was held to 45 or less yards for the sixth time this season. The play at quarterback from Chad Henne didn’t head towards the upside of the hill, neither. Henne threw for 180-yards with 2-interceptions and no touchdowns despite the win. He only has one touchdown pass since starting the last four games. Arizona’s defense is ranked third against the run, allowing 86.9-yards per game and without Jacksonville having a threat at receiver, minus the suspended Justin Blackmon, look for Arizona’s defense to keep Henne in long distance passing downs. This game has all the implications of being a field position/turnover battle, with what appears to be a better attitude on the defensive side of the ball for Gus Bradley’s team, but the edge is slightly in favor of Arizona’s offense to capitalize on with Carson Palmer connecting with Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald should get back on track from last week’s 3-catch performance and muster better numbers against Jacksonville’s shaky pass defense.
Pick: Cardinals 20, Jaguars 14
Oakland Raiders 3-6 @ Houston Texans 2-7 – TV: CBS
Two weeks after suffering a mini-stroke, Texans head coach Gary Kubiak is expected to return to the sidelines. That’s the good thing. The bad thing is how everything has gone wrong for his team that was a legitimate contender heading into the season. Injuries have plagued Houston at key positions, and the worst of them all was never seeing a healthy Arian Foster (Back) that was placed on injured reserve, ending his season. But, the bright side of suffering a losing season is perhaps finding the right guy under center. Who would’ve thought Case Keenum would get a chance and take the starting job away from Matt Schaub? If Keenum goes eight more pass attempts without an interception, he’ll tie Schaub’s franchise record for most attempts without an interception of 110. Oakland’s key asset to their offense, Darren McFadden (Hamstring) remains out indefinitely. Rashad Jennings has been effective both running and out of the backfield as a pass catcher for the Raiders running game in McFadden’s spot, but still lacks that homerun ability McFadden has to take it to the house. Terrelle Pryor (knee) returned to practice early this week, splitting first-team reps with Matt McGloin. Whether he gets to go or not, the Raiders still have issues within the passing game, and even if Pryor suites up, you can’t bank on him to be 100 percent and effective off the read-option. Houston’s defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will throw a series of pressure like packages in knowing Pryor has only been effective on minimal formations and plays. The pressure Houston will provide upfront with be the difference maker along with Case Keenum connecting big with Andre Johnson. All five of Johnson’s touchdown grabs have come from Keenum on the season.
Pick: Texans 27, Raiders 16
4:05 PM ET
San Diego Chargers 4-5 @ Miami Dolphins 4-5 – TV: CBS
I’m not going to continue to throw my opinion out there about the whole bullying story surrounding Miami down in south beach. It’s just a ridiculous matter that’s come about within the mental-state of the team. But, as far as X’s and O’s go, Miami needs better play from its offensive line to create running lanes for Lamar Miller to gain something positive, so they can get opposing defenses to cheat on the backend for Ryan Tannehill to go over the top to receiver Mike Wallace. Tannehill distributed the ball well in a short passing game that gained yards after the catch against Tampa Bay, mainly connecting with Rishard Matthews eleven times for 120-yards and two scores. I think Matthews will be a good replacement and perhaps a better target than the injured Brandon Gibson. However, Lamar Miller being effective as a runner and out of the backfield as a receiving option is an important element for Miami’s offense to make things better going forward. San Diego’s defense is suspect on giving up chunks of yardage against the pass. Their defense doesn’t present a fearsome defensive front that can create consistent pressure in this matchup, even with Miami’s vulnerabilities blocking. Miami will need a stout-like performance from their best player on the D-line, Cameron Wake to buzz in the ear of Philip Rivers for four quarters. Rivers is completing over 70 percent of his passes and not turning over the football. The spread formations San Diego will be lined up with can create matchup problems for Miami’s defense. The good thing for Miami’s defense is Rivers’ inability to make plays with his feet, but San Diego’s offensive line has been solid at giving him protection. Both offenses should move the football, but the main difference will be who can punch it in when in the redzone better, and I like San Diego’s matchups with their running backs Danny Woodhead and Ryan Matthews, both backs that work well out of the backfield on third and shorts on check-downs, screens and dink-passes, along with tight end Antonio Gates as valuable options for Rivers to connect with.
Pick: Chargers 27, Dolphins 24
4:25 PM ET
San Francisco 49ers 6-3 @ New Orleans Saints 7-2 – TV: FOX
The read-option isn’t working and Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco’s most explosive weapon isn’t turning heads like he did in his rookie campaign. Head coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman must get Kaepernick making plays with his feet again. But if the read option is silent, why not throw out a new set of wheels? A lack of explosive-plays from their receiving core has made their offense stagnate with a lack of options in the passing game. Mario Manningham missed the team’s first eight games before returning to the lineup last week and Michael Crabtree (Achilles) is practicing, but the 49ers have yet to activate him off of PUP. Here’s another key player the Niners miss this season that’s now in Tennessee: tight end Delanie Walker. They don’t have that double-tight set they were able to use last season with Walker in the mix, and we know that San Francisco can run the football with authority with Frank Gore, but they need to utilize the backs more out of the backfield in the passing game. Change-of-pace runner Kendall Hunter hasn’t been part of the flow much, neither. You need to give defenses a different look if something isn’t working. If the linebackers and safeties are mainly spying on tight end Vernon Davis, it makes things much easier, but if the backs start catching passes and making plays in the open field, that could take the attention away from Davis somewhat. Anquan Boldin is a physical receiver that can get separation, but defenses have been playing lots of press coverage on him with a safety over the top, not respecting the rest of Kaepernick’s options. The Saints offense is still the well-oiled machine in using Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram, all three valuable backs that can do so much at the position. In this matchup, the 49ers do have speed at linebacker with Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman to potentially limit Sproles from destroying them on screens, dinks and dunks out of the backfield, but stopping tight end Jimmy Graham will be an adventure. Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will have his secondary ready to play bump and run on Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis when lined up in the slot, and I don’t see Kaepernick burning Ryan’s defense off the read-option. Drew Brees and his “Ninja-Group” of weapons keep things rolling at Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Pick: Saints 38, 49ers 24
Green Bay Packers 5-4 @ N.Y. Giants 3-6 – TV: FOX
Seemingly, the signing of Matt Flynn was a sign of Packers coach Mike McCarthy not seeing anything positive from Scott Tolzien, but that’s not the reality of the deal. “I’ve had enough of this bad karma about quarterbacks getting injured. So, Scott’s going to play the whole game.” Luckily for Tolzien, the Packers have a running game capable of helping the team win on the road with Eddie Lacy and James Starks, and New York’s defense could be without defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (Shoulder) who didn’t practice all week. He’s listed as questionable and will be a game-time decision. The Giants have a running game of their own with the return of Andre Brown last week, who received a heavy work-load of 30-carries, gaining 115-yards and a score in helping the Giants win their third straight game after starting the season 0-6. Having an effective runner can open up the pass for Eli Manning to get back to connecting big with his play-making receivers, Hakeem Nicks, Ruben Randle and more importantly, the ever so dangerous Victor Cruz. The Packers and Giants defense have been one of the better units on stopping the run, but always suspect in the secondary on getting beat on the deep-ball. Look for Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers and Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell to have their defensive units committed in stopping the run and throw a few pressure-like stunts to puncture the pocket. As bad as the Giants have been in getting in sync throwing the football, they have the edge at home over the “Rodgers-less” Packers, and Eli Manning will have a mistake-free game for once and connect with Victor Cruz on a pair of scores.
Pick: N.Y. Giants 21, Packers 17
Minnesota Vikings 2-7 @ Seattle Seahawks 9-1 – TV: FOX
I’m pretty sure Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has been stressing all week to his group on being much more aggressive and getting ready to gang-tackle Adrian Peterson. Although Seattle’s defense ranks up the ladder in Take-Aways, they’ve been vulnerable against the run, and Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave knows his offense isn’t in line to work wonders against Seattle’s incredible secondary. Anyway, anyhow, the ball needs to be in Peterson’s hands for most of Minnesota’s offensive plays. This is when the stats sort of lie, even though they tell us what a team is producing. Seattle is ranked 23rd against the run, but here’s what will work against Minnesota: Seattle likes to man up by playing press-coverage, disrupting the oppositions receivers in breaking into their routes, and with pressure provided upfront, they get the quarterback to make bad throws by keeping them off-rhythm, making inaccurate throws to the DB sitting in the zone. That’s the approach Seattle should take in this matchup by crowding the box on Peterson and jamming Minnesota’s receivers at the line of scrimmage. So, you can forget about what the stats are telling us about Seattle against the run, because if you don’t have any balance on offense, eventually, they’ll force you to break and they’ll capitalize off of them on offense with Marshawn Lynch gutting teams between the tackles and Russell Wilson making plays with his feet, completing methodically ran plays, waiting for the deep-ball to develop. Did you think I was going to forget about Percy Harvin (Hip) likely to make his debut? He’ll be on a snap-count, but in the slim amount of plays, they test him deep and he burns Minnesota’s putrid secondary for a score. Sounds like a good plan, huh?
Pick: Seahawks 34, Vikings 16
Sunday Night Football in America 8:30 PM ET – TV: NBC
Kansas City Chiefs 9-0 @ Denver Broncos 8-1
At 37-years of age, Peyton Manning has been feeling the hits, and I’m sure Kansas City’s league-leading sack unit (36) led by Justin Houston, Tamba Hali and Dontari Poe would love to land a few punches on his bummed right ankle. Anything, you need to do anything you possibly can to make Manning uncomfortable in the pocket, rather manufacturing pressure or not. I love this matchup. You have a high-powered offense and opportunistic defense versus a smash-mouth, west coast offense and ball-hawking defense. Not anything in the realm of shocking to see what Manning’s been doing with his loaded group of pass-catchers, but the most impressive part of this chapter in his illustrious career is having an historic season, 33-touchdown passes through his first nine games, tied for the most with his old rivalry buddy and legends of their own era of quarterbacks, Tom Brady, who sparked the same mark through his first nine in the 07 season, a record setting year. For the record, I can’t wait till they meet next week @ Gillette Stadium. The Chiefs offense is a disciplined group centralized around running back Jamaal Charles keeping quarterback Alex Smith in high-percentage passing downs, working the football methodically in the west coast short passing game. The play from their offensive line is physical and wears down a defense by the fourth quarter, and if they have the lead on you with the ball late, they’ll grind out the clock. Both squads special-teams needs to be looked at here with Kansas City’s Dexter McCluster and Denver’s dynamite return specialist Trindon Holliday, the potential X-Factors of this game. Denver’s kicker Matt Prater and punter Britton Colquitt are having outstanding years as well. It’s no secret that Chiefs coach Andy Reid has been whispering in the ear of his punter Dustin Colquitt to kick the ball out of bounds away from Holliday, and maybe he can have a few punts pinning Denver’s prolific offense inside their own 10-yard line. Controlling the tempo, creating turnovers and special teams play are the key factors for Kansas City’s chances, and I know the Chiefs defense can generate turnovers, but this is the extra film-study type of week for the Robotic-Manning to find ways to break down a defense he’s well aware of as a top group. Kansas City keeps things close, but not enough to slow down the Welker’s, both Thomas’, Julius and Demaryius, the Moreno’s and Decker’s of Manning’s “X-Men” bunch.
Pick: Broncos 30, Chiefs 23
Monday Night Football, November 18 8:30 PM ET – TV: ESPN
New England Patriots 7-2 @ Carolina Panthers 6-3
Week 11 tops off with a rematch of Super Bowl XXXVIII under ESPN’s bright lights. The Panthers are rolling with dominant defensive play, holding opponents to 12.8-points per game and stuffed defending NFC champion San Francisco without a touchdown in last Sunday’s 10-9 road victory out west. Linebacker Luke Kuechly earned conference defensive player of the week honors for an 11-tackle performance in Carolina’s continuation of laying the hammer down on opposing offenses. The additions of rookie defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short have helped Carolina’s defensive front, accommodating along the line with edge-rushers Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy in part of the team collecting 29-sacks on the season. They’ve been disciplined in their gaps, not allowing running backs to get open running lanes, while linebackers Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly run down the ball carrier. 5th year safety Mike Mitchell has also been an asset in building one of the top defenses. Offensively, Carolina has been tremendous in keeping the football away from the opposition, controlling time of possession. No team in the league has been better than Carolina in that department (33:48 per game) and that’s a bread and butter pedigree to give Tom Brady and the Patriots offense that finally came to life in their last outing before their bye, less chances and possessions to rack up points. Clearly, the return of Rob Gronkowski and a healthy Danny Amendola gives Tom Brady and the New England passing game more options in stretching the field, but they’ll need running back Stevan Ridley to have a better than average game Monday. Ridley was a huge part of New England’s offense that gave them balance on Nov. 3 in their offensive explosion win over Pittsburgh. Carolina should be able to find some comfort in gashing the Patriots between the tackles running the ball with DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and the quiet-asset to Carolina’s offense Mike Tolbert. Carolina doesn’t present lots of weapons outside of Steve Smith at receiver and Greg Olsen at tight end, but Cam Newton always finds ways to get them the football with the running game setting him up for short-distance passing downs. In the end, it’s Brady and the Pats being the better team in the redzone in a slobber-knocker.
Pick: Patriots 23, Panthers 20
Bye: Dallas Cowboys 5-5, St. Louis Rams 4-6
You can follow Massimo Russo on Twitter @NFLMassimo and SilverandBlueReport.com @SilverBlueRpt