The NFL playoff picture is finally starting to come together. We know that the Indianapolis Colts, Cincinnati Bengals, and New Orleans Saints will be playing in January. Like every other NFL season, the Wild Card situation is a mess. 23 other teams are still alive and need to win-out for any hopes at post season play. In other words, 23 teams will be playing playoff football in week 14 of the 2009 NFL season.
The game with arguably the biggest playoff implications in the NFC will be played between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants on Sunday night. This will be the marquee game of the day and will headline NBC’s Sunday Night Football. The Eagles are tied with the Cowboys for the division, yet the Giants and Eagles are tied for the best record against fellow NFC East teams at 3-1.
After rolling to 5-0, the Giants hit a skid. The Giants continue to play inconsistent football winning important conference games against the Cowboys and Falcons, yet looking completely inept against the Denver Broncos. The jury is still out as to how badly hurt Eli Manning really is. At the same time, Brandon Jacobs may finally be coming around after having a big game against the Dallas Cowboys last week. The Giants dominated the Cowboys on the ground, while the Cowboys three touchdowns in the air weren’t enough.
Conversely, the Eagles have been more consistent than anyone in the NFC East. The Eagles are 8-1 against the NFC this season, with their only loss coming against the New Orleans Saints with their backup quarterback playing. The Eagles have been routing teams this season like they did with T.O. back in 2004. The Eagles are genuinely a hot team in December. However, unlike past seasons they have put it together all year long and look like a serious sleeper team in the playoffs.
DeSean Jackson is expected back for the birds, not that they needed him in the rout in Atlanta. I keep waiting for the Eagles to fall apart and well, it hasn’t happened. Andy Reid has a new deal and this team is looking towards January play. I think the Eagles go up to New York and steal one from the Giants. I don’t expect a rout like Week 8, but this team has Eli Manning’s number. Leonard Weaver is getting hot and will give the Giants a taste of their own medicine on the receiving end of a big, bruising back. I predict a win by the birds and people start talking about the birds in the same sentence as the Minnesota Vikings.
Speaking of the Vikings, the Vikings will play in the most intriguing game of the weekend. After being blown out for the first time all season, the Vikings now have the luxury of playing the Cincinnati Bengals. If you thought Brett Favre had problems with the Cardinals, he hasn’t seen anything yet. The Bengals are the overall fourth defense in the NFL. Adrian Peterson is in for another tough day, as the Bengals are the overall number-two rushing defense in the NFL.
If the Vikings have one thing in their favor, it is that they are playing at home. The Vikings are undefeated at home this season. Judging from the last few weeks, Brad Childress may be outcoaching himself. Childress has played with Adrian Peterson’s time and has been putting Chester Taylor in the game more over the last few weeks. He made no adjustments to the Cardinals swarming passing attack and defense last week. New York Jets fans are smiling and have a big, “I told you so” on their faces. Remember, Favre fell apart for the Jets after a flashy start last season. Sunday’s game will be a huge indication on whether this was a twelve-week story or whether a 40-year old quarterback can truly play at a high-level for a full season.
The Bengals have put the division away and are on their way to securing the second seed. The Bengals rolled as expected last week over the Lions. Adrian Peterson hasn’t had over 100 rushing yards in three weeks and the Bengals haven’t given up over 75 rushing yards in three weeks. The Bengals will be looking to grind it out on the ground and play the time of possession game against the Vikings. The Vikings will need to get their passing attack in order to beat this team. I also think that Childress needs to give Peterson more than 13 carries to beat the Bengals.
I look back at the Vikings Week 7 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers as an indication of how this game will play out. The Vikings got bit by some bad penalties, yet were in the game all of the way up until the end. Peterson was held to 3.8 yards a carry but did have a touchdown. Favre lit it up for 334 yards, but had no touchdowns. I see a very similar game on Sunday. It is hard for me to believe that the Vikings would lose two in a row, but I can’t see them beating the Bengals at this stage. I think the Bengals edge the Vikings, Adrian Peterson breaks more fantasy hearts, and Brett Favre becomes a question once again.
The playoff preview this week comes between the Indianapolis Colts and the Denver Broncos. I, like many would never have thought the Broncos would be 8-4. The Colts have clinched, but are still playing for home field with the Bengals still in the mix. I am tired of picking against the Colts, and I won’t this week. The Broncos just had an impressive divisional win over the Kansas City Chiefs, while the Colts handed the Tennessee Titans their first loss since Vince Young became the starter. These are two red hot teams and it will be interesting to say what they show each other with the potential of playing in the divisional round in January.
Both teams are susceptible to the running game. I talk every week about how the Colts are vulnerable in the rushing department, yet nobody has taken advantage of it yet. The Broncos have been a rushing machine the last few weeks, with Knowshon Moreno finally living up to the expectations of being a first-round draft pick. Unfortunately the Broncos may run into the same problem that the Dolphins had when playing the Colts. As much as the Broncos would like to grind it out, it all means nothing when Peyton Manning retaliates with a 75-yard touchdown in 11 seconds. I think the Colts win and we see these two play each other again in January.
Quick Hits – I wonder if Ben Roethlisberger will question Hines Ward’s heart if he sits out Thursday? Matt Ryan may play, but why bother? The Saints can’t even lose when they try. Don’t be fooled by Sunday night, the Cardinals are still vulnerable in the air and come back down to earth against the 49ers this week. Wade Phillips feels disrespected for being a lame duck coach, while December continues to feel disrespected by the Dallas Cowboys. The best way for the Titans to rebound and close strong is a game against the Rams. Who thought that the Dolphins and Jags would be fighting it out for a playoff spot in December? I have no confidence in the Ravens offense, but I have even less in Duante Culpepper. You couldn’t pay me to watch the Bills and the Chiefs, well actually you could.
Fantasy Fix – Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers. If you read my waiver wire blog, you already know about the man-crush I’m developing on Smith. Smith is putting up Matt Schaub/Aaron Rodgers numbers over the last few weeks. The 49ers have turned into a passing team with weapons like Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree. The Cards boast the overall 30th ranked passing defense in the NFL. I sense a bit of a comedown for the Cardinals after the big win over the Vikings and the Brenda Warner voodoo dance. I would rank Smith in the top ten this week, if not number five in terms of fantasy quarterbacks.
Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs – I am sorry Jamaal for not believing and dropping you a few weeks ago. Believe me, I am paying the price! He has had touchdowns in the last three of four weeks. He has had double digits for the last four weeks. He has a tremendous matchup against the Buffalo Bills. The quarterback situation is in flux in Kansas City after Matt Cassel was benched. This team is a run first, second, and maybe even third team. I love his matchup this week and I think he has the potential to go off at home.
Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers – He may or may not be the obvious choice this week, but I love him as a dubious tight end. He had 80 yards and a touchdown against the Browns earlier this season. His value increases dramatically with Hines Ward out of the game. Ward is Big Ben’s go-to guy in the red zone, and Miller is his second favorite red zone target. Does anyone believe that the Steelers won’t be in the red zone at least three times on Thursday night? I guarantee you that Miller comes away with one of those scores and rolls up another big number against the Browns this week.
NFL Week 14 Picks
I had my worst week all season going 7-9 on my picks. I have a feeling with upsets by Oakland, New York, Jacksonville, and Arizona that I wasn’t the only one. It just goes to show you that when a good team loses, it is more than just a one-week hiccup. I am 122-70 overall on the season. Now for the NFL Week 14 Picks (Picks in BOLD) –
Pittsburgh Steelers vs Cleveland Browns
New Orleans at Atlanta
Green Bay at Chicago
NY Jets at Tampa Bay
Miami at Jacksonville
Detroit at Baltimore
Seattle at Houston
Denver at Indianapolis
Buffalo at Kansas City
Cincinnati at Minnesota
Carolina at New England
Washington at Oakland
St. Louis at Tennessee
San Diego at Dallas
Philadelphia at NY Giants
Arizona at San Francisco
Happy Holidays to you and yours.
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