Week 13 was an unlucky one for many of the NFL’s most notable quarterbacks. Some of them have a matchup in Week 14 against an opponent that has been a nuisance throughout their careers, with most of those coming as a surprise since these teams generally aren’t quality opponents. I imagine we’ll see at least one upset there.
Upset Alert: Steelers at Raiders (+10)
You can say I’m forcing the narrative on this one, but it’s a fact that underachieving Steelers seasons always involve a loss to the Raiders no matter how bad Oakland is. It’s happened all four times the Steelers have missed the playoffs in the Ben Roethlisberger era (2006, 2009, 2012, and 2013). This Oakland team is hardly any worse than those teams were either. Roethlisberger had two of his best performances in a loss ever in the 2009 and 2012 games, but he’s still just 2-4 against Oakland for his career.
This is almost a must-win for the Steelers (7-4-1), because they have the Patriots and Saints coming up. A five-game losing streak could knock them out of the playoffs altogether, so they have to get this one, but it won’t be easy. Oakland did just only lose by 7 points to the Chiefs last week. As much as I criticize Derek Carr, he’s been very functional in three of the losses this year (DEN, IND, KC). They can move the ball and score in this one, and the Steelers are playing anything but stellar defense right now.
I think the spread is too high, and that’s even after coming down from 11 earlier this week. The Steelers have played 14 road games since last year. They’ve won only two of those games by more than 7 points. They just make too many mistakes on the road to trust them to win big. With James Conner out, Roethlisberger might think he’s going to throw 45+ times just because he’s the least-pressured QB in the NFL and the Raiders have the worst pass rush. That’s why they should win this game, but it’s also easily why they could lose it if he starts forcing passes to Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. By DVOA, the Raiders are actually good (top 4) against #1 and #2 WRs. They suck everywhere else, and again, they just don’t generate pressures and sacks. So Roethlisberger needs to use his tight ends and use Jaylen Samuels as a receiver in this one and just be careful with the ball.
My biggest pet peeve about this season would be people blaming Le’Veon Bell’s absence on any lack of success for the Steelers. Clearly, they haven’t missed him and still remain a great offense, albeit more one-dimensional. However, it’s a different story when his replacement is out too. The Steelers aren’t well equipped to handle a RB injury since they put so much into a workhorse back, and Samuels has never been that type of player going back to college. So it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out, but if they’re just going to follow the script of past Pittsburgh disappointments, then bet on an Oakland win here.
Falcons at Packers (-4.5)
Yes, I picked both of these teams to finish 12-4, so them coming in with 4 wins (4.5 for Green Bay, technically) is very depressing. Aaron Rodgers is 3-5 against the Matt Ryan-led Falcons, including a playoff split. I think the Packers play well after the Mike McCarthy firing and get this win over an Atlanta team that has gone off the rails offensively the last month. Cue “dome team in Green Bay in December” too, though these teams did play a 43-37 game on a Monday night in 2014 (12/8) that was pretty entertaining. 2014 was also the last time the Packers looked like a well-oiled machine.
Patriots at Dolphins (+8)
Believe it or not, but Tom Brady is 7-9 as a starter in Miami, including 1-4 since 2013. He’s lost to some QBs much worse than Ryan Tannehill there, including Joey Harrington, A.J. Feeley, and Chad Henne. I’d feel better about Miami’s chances if Xavien Howard was active, because the Dolphins have a lot of takeaways this year and he has 7 INT alone. But he’ll miss a game for the first time since 2016 (figures). I’d also feel better about Miami scoring enough points to win if they had some of its YAC players still active, but Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant have been lost for the season. So I don’t think Miami has much to hang its hat on right now, but Adam Gase has at least beaten the Patriots before so it could be worth a watch. The first matchup in Foxboro sure as hell wasn’t.
Saints at Buccaneers (+10)
Tampa Bay had one of the stunners of 2018 with that 48-40 win in New Orleans in Week 1. Ryan Fitzpatrick had a monster day, but it’s Jameis Winston now. He can still move the ball at a high level, but he’ll obviously have to avoid the turnovers in this one. The Saints had a mini-bye after that Dallas stinker and will be looking for a bounce-back performance, especially from Drew Brees. Tampa Bay has done better against the pass since firing Mike Smith, but the problem is the run defense is still atrocious too, and the Saints still have Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara.
So I think the Saints get a series split, but I still like Tampa Bay to keep it within 10. Maybe that’s fool’s gold, but in 12 career starts in Tampa Bay, Brees is 7-5 with only three wins by more than 7 points (all in 2006-2010 era). He’s not immune to throwing up a stinker in that building. Of course, he’ll probably throw for 500 yards and 6 TD after I questioned if the cliff is coming sooner than expected since he is about to turn 40.
SNF: Rams at Bears (+3)
Finally, I wanted to briefly cover SNF’s flexed game in Chicago. It could be a good one, and picking the Rams could be my regret of the week. I just think the Rams are more than capable of winning out to finish 15-1 and get the No. 1 seed. I also know that teams rarely finish 15-1, and a road game against a potential No. 3 seed that ranks top 5 in points scored and allowed is a juicy spot for an upset. I’m still going to trust the Rams in that they don’t let Khalil Mack blow this game up, because that’s Chicago’s most likely path to victory. Mack disrupting Jared Goff and forcing turnovers. But even when the Rams look off, like they did last week in Detroit, they still found a way to score 30 points on the road and won by 14. Whether it’s Goff, Gurley on the ground, or Aaron Donald doing incredible things on defense, I trust this team to find a way in this one.
It’ll be good to see Mitchell Trubisky back in the lineup in a big game, arguably the biggest of his young career. It’s not huge for playoff seeds since Bears are unlikely to catch anyone for a bye after losing to the Giants last week, but it could be big just to see if the Bears match up well with a top team. Show us that the NFC playoffs could be more than just an inevitable rematch between the Rams and Saints. Alas, the Bears are the only team this season with multiple losses despite 3+ takeaways. They’re also the only team to have 7 such games, but the point is even with takeaways they can still be outscored, especially by a potent team like the Rams.
Final: Rams 27, Bears 23
NFL Week 14 Predictions
I didn’t realize Jacksonville would quit after that shocking 6-0 win over the Colts. They really wanted no part of tackling Derrick Henry on TNF, so I’m 0-1 ATS, which has been kicking my ass for weeks now.
Browns and Cardinals are two underdogs I like to win outright at home. I also will put something on Oakland winning straight up against Pittsburgh, but likely stick with the spread on that one.