NFL WEEK 14: With temperatures dropping, injuries piling up, and bye weeks coming to an end, it feels like the playoffs are right around the corner, when in reality we have five weeks left– more than a quarter of the season– and that seems like an eternity given the week-to-week craziness of the NFL. Last week, for instance, we saw the 2-10 Cardinals go into Pittsburgh and knock off the 7-4 Steelers, the mighty Eagles lose by 23 at home, and Jordan Love outplay Patrick Mahomes in leading his Packers to an upset victory over the suddenly struggling Chiefs. We also saw a journeyman backup QB making his first career start, Jake Browning, slice up a top-10 Jaguars defense to the tune of 354 yards on 32/37 passing, while his counterpart, former No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence, suffered an ankle injury that could spell doom for Jacksonville. And, again, we have five more weeks of this stuff before the “real” battles begin… beautiful time of year, isn’t it?
This Week 14 kicked off with a showdown in Pittsburgh between two of the league’s ugliest offenses, and New England’s Bailey Zappe was a little less ugly than Steelers backup (and former No. 2 overall pick… try to say that out loud without laughing next time you watch him play) Mitch Trubisky in a 21-18 Patriots win. Getting those teams out of the way improves the watchability factor for Sunday’s games, for sure– no Zappe or Trubisky to suffer through. We still get Zach Wilson, Desmond Ridder, and Tommy DeVito, and some of us (ahem) might just be dumb enough to throw some money at one of those gentlemen, but we’ve also got Allen vs. Mahomes and Hurts vs. Prescott, so there’s plenty to be excited about this week. We also have two Monday night games… opportunity galore! Here’s what I’m thinking:
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Cleveland Browns (CLE -3, 33.5)
Recommendation: Cleveland -3 at 2.05; Cleveland moneyline (to win) at 1.72
Both of these teams have questions at quarterback this week– the Browns haven’t yet announced whether they’ll be going with rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson or 38-year-old Joe Flacco, who played fairly well in a loss to the LA Rams last week, while Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence has been deemed a gametime decision after suffering a high ankle sprain in last week’s loss to Cincinnati. Lawrence has practiced in a limited capacity this week, but anyone who saw him gimping off the field last Monday night knows that, even if he does play, he’ll be far from 100% in this one, and the Browns have a fearsome defense led by one-man wrecking crew Myles Garrett, which is why I firmly believe Lawrence WILL NOT end up playing and the Jags will go with C.J. Beathard instead. Regardless of who is under center, it’s going to be tough sledding for the Jags against a Cleveland defense that leads the NFL in yards allowed and has surrendered just 33 combined points in the team’s five home wins. Offensively, the Browns will likely play it close to the vest on what is expected to be a cold and rainy day, and if they can limit mistakes, which is what a veteran like Flacco is supposed to provide, then I like their chances of picking up a key win. That said, giving 3 points is tough to swallow in a bad weather game with a total like 33.5, so while I do expect the Browns to cover, I’d sprinkle some on the moneyline as well.
Houston Texans @ New York Jets (HOU -3.5, 33.5)
Recommendation: New York +3.5 at 1.93
It’s back to Zach Wilson for the struggling Jets offense this week, as Wilson’s running ability gives the team a dimension that Tim Boyle doesn’t provide. Wilson also does a better job of targeting Garrett Wilson, an elite playmaker who is easily the team’s most dynamic offensive weapon. Wilson & Wilson will look to make some things happen against a Houston secondary that has struggled at times this season, ranking 26th in the league in pass yards allowed, but the real plus matchup for New York here is on the other side of the ball, where the excellent Jets secondary will be facing a Texans offense that is now without its top playmaker, rookie Tank Dell, who was lost for the season with a devastating knee injury last week. This might be the toughest test of Houston QB C.J. Stroud’s rookie season– a road game in bad weather (forecast calls for cold rain) against a well-coached, veteran defense that is known for disguising pressures and coverages. It will be nothing short of a miracle if Stroud escapes this game without a turnover or two, and the Texans feel really overvalued in this spot, all things considered. Gimme the home ‘dog.
Denver Broncos @ Los Angeles Chargers (LA -2.5, 43.5)
Recommendation: Los Angeles -2.5 at 1.91
This is a huge game between division rivals, as both of these teams are still clinging to playoff hopes in the crowded AFC. After intense criticism directed at head coach/defensive boss Brandon Staley the Chargers have been playing much better on that side of the ball, limiting the high-scoring Ravens to just 20 points and 164 passing yards in Week 12 and then pitching a shutout in a 6-0 win over New England last week. They’ll look to build on that momentum against a pedestrian Denver offense that has been held to 21 points or fewer seven times this season and is coming off an ugly 282-yard, 17-point performance in a loss to Houston last week that featured three Russell Wilson interceptions. Wilson has lost some athleticism and is clearly not the player he once was, and he’s not surrounded by much in the way of elite game-breaking talent. The Broncos had been relying on an improved defense during their recent winning streak, but that defense was torched by C.J. Stroud last week and now faces a Chargers offense that is both balanced and explosive and features Pro Bowl-caliber talent at every position group. The LA offense has underperformed lately due to their inability to run the ball, but Denver ranks last in the league in rushing defense, surrendering 149.7 yards per game on the ground and a whopping 5.2 yards per attempt, so I expect Austin Ekeler to get rolling in this game and cause the Broncos some problems. This is just a tough matchup for Denver and has been for a while, as the Chargers are looking for their fourth straight home win in this series. I like their chances to cover the 2.5-point number with relative ease.
Green Bay Packers @ New York Giants (GB -6.5, 36.5)
Recommendation: Green Bay -6.5 at 1.92
The Giants are surely feeling a bit better about themselves after back-to-back wins to move to 4-8 on the season, but I think it’s important to put those wins in context: they beat a mistake-prone Washington team in a game that featured 6 Commie turnovers, and last week they won a 10-7 slugfest over New England, the team with the NFL’s worst offense. We’ll see how they do against the red-hot Packers, a team that has won 3 straight and 4 of 5 behind an underrated defense and emerging young quarterback Jordan Love. Love outdueled Patrick Mahomes in Green Bay’s upset victory over Kansas City last week and now gets a New York defense that ranks 28th in the league in yards allowed and has surrendered 24 points or more seven times this season. Plus, Packers tailback A.J. Dillon has been running well lately and the Giants struggle against the run, allowing 136 rush yards per game and 4.8 yards per carry. The Giants counter with a struggling offensive line and Tommy DeVito, who in the author’s humble opinion might be the worst starting QB in the NFL at the moment. I’m sure New York will play it close to the vest and try to keep it low scoring, but the Packers are rolling right now and I don’t expect this Giants team to be anything more than a speed bump. Lay the points.