The NFL regular season is down to the last month of games and there are still a slew of teams in the running for the playoffs. Who would have thought, at the beginning of the season, that the intense rivalry between the 49ers and Seahawks would be overshadowed by the Saints and Panthers, vying for first in the NFC South?
Week 14 also features the Dolphins vs. Steelers, Lions vs. Eagles, Colts vs. Bengals, and Cowboys vs. Bears; all key games that will give us a clearer picture on how the playoffs will play out. So let me take a closer look at these match-ups and tell you my predictions.
Dolphins vs. Steelers: These teams are carbon copies of each other, as they rank similar in many categories (ex. total defense, sacks, and points per game) and both have had their fair share of issues on the offensive line. Still there is one major difference; Miami‘s offensive line is starting to improve, while Pittsburgh’s just took another major hit. Center Fernando Velasco is out for the season, while linemen David DeCastro, Kelvin Beachum, and Mike Adams are all not guaranteed to play Sunday. No matter how much the Steelers have improved lately this is a critical blow because we all know that success starts in the trenches. Also Levon Bell is banged up after the vicious hit he took, although he looks like a go for Sunday
This is also the homecoming of Mike Wallace, who should be greeted surely with a course of boos. Now I know everybody is saying that Wallace was highly over paid, which I agree with, however, he has been on fire recently (12 receptions, two touchdowns, and 209 receiving yards in the last two games) and should be motivated playing his old team. With the Steelers offensive line dwindling down to almost nothing because of injuries it’s going to be tough to produce on offense, which is why I see the Dolphins edging out the Steelers in another heartbreaking game for the black and gold. Dolphins 17 Steelers 14
Colts vs. Bengals: Both the Colts and Bengals sit at 8-4 and are pretty much guaranteed to make the playoffs, still this game is imperative on how both teams will be seeded come playoff time. Even though these teams seem playoff bound they both are far from perfect. The Bengals play great defense but the offense flows with the way Andy Dalton plays; which is good, bad and ugly depending on the week. Whereas the Colts have not been the same since Reggie Wayne went down, which is clear when you look at Andrew Lucks stats since then (five touchdowns and five interceptions), and they also have been playing catch up a lot lately.
Another thing that Colts have problems with is stopping the run, which might be a problem especially after the Bengals just put up 164 rushing yards on the Chargers. With the Bengals averaging 31.4 points a game at home I like their chances. Also, I think their defense (ranked sixth only allowing 18 points a game) will overpower the Colts feeble (ranked 22nd by Pro Football Focus)offensive line, which will cause problems for Andrew Luck throughout the game and help the Bengals get the win. Bengals 27 Colts 16
Lions vs. Eagles: The Lions are inching closer to clinching their first ever NFC North title, while the Eagles are striving to keep up the pace with Dallas in the NFC East, so this game is kind of a big deal for both teams. With the Lions ranking second and the Eagles ranking third in total offense; you should expect a lot of scoring going on in this contest.
Another reason to expect a ton of points is both teams have concerns on defense. The Lions have had trouble stopping the pass, which is evident in the 21 passing touchdowns they have allowed. While, the Eagles are 31st overall in total defense and have issues everywhere on that side of the ball.
If Detroit plans on winning this contest, they will have to contain the run, which won’t be an easy task with Philly averaging 146.8 rushing yards a game. Still, I believe a steady dose of Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson will be too much for this Eagles defense to handle. While the Lions defense led by defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (ranked 15th in total defense), is nasty enough to take on Chip Kelly’s offense and the red hot Nick Foles; if they keep playing the way they did against the Packers. Lions 38 Eagles 30
Seahawks vs. 49ers: With Seattle totaling a combined score of 71-16 in the last two meetings against San Francisco, it’s safe to say that the 49ers have been their whipping boys. However, both games were played in the confines of CenturyLink Stadium, with the 12th man on their side. This time they play at CandleStick Park, where Pete Carroll has yet to guide his team to victory in all three of his tries. Nevertheless Seattle has looked unstoppable, partially after holding the Saints to a measly seven points last week.
Still, the 49ers have bounced back from their two game losing streak and now have won two straight. Also, Colin Kaepernick has started to find his groove as he has completed 65.2 percent of his passes, with a 123 quarterback rating, while producing four touchdowns and no turnovers during the 49ers winning streak. In spite of this, he will still have his work cut out for him against Seattle, who boasts the best defense in the league, led by “The Legion of Boom” secondary.
Furthermore, Kaepernick has to play better against Seattle as he has only completed 49.8 percent of his passes, while throwing only one touchdown compared to three interceptions in the two games he’s played against them. How star running backs Frank Gore and Marshawn Lynch fare will also be a deciding factor on who wins this clash. Now if there is a weakness on this Seahawks team, it’s against the rush where they allow 107.2 rushing yards a game, which isn’t horrible but isn’t great. Mainly because the 49ers need this game more than Seattle does, I see them pulling off the upset at home, as they try to keep a hold of their wild card spot in the NFC. 49ers 19 Seahawks 17
Panthers vs. Saints: The battle for first in the NFC South goes down Sunday night, with the Panthers riding an eight game winning streak, while the Saints are trying to bounce back after getting trounced by Seattle. This rivalry game gives us the Saints high powered offense that averages 33.1 points at home, going toe to toe with the Panthers second best defense which only allows 13.1 points. You also have defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and his pass rush that ranks third in sacks with 38, going up against Cam Newton who has 25 total touchdowns while completing 61.7 percent of his passes. So with the strengths of the Panthers and Saints fighting it out in this game, it should be a doozy.
Now even though the Panthers are legit and have already proved against San Francisco that they can beat tough teams on the road, I still see the Saints edging them out in this one. The reason why I think this is because the Saints are at home where they are unbeaten. It also won’t help Carolina that the Saints have a nasty taste in their mouth after the beat down they took Monday, which will have New Orleans more than ready to bring their A game. Saints 24 Panthers 21
Cowboys vs. Bears: The Cowboys are still in the driver seat in the NFC East, whereas the Bears need this win after losing two straight and another lose pretty much means their playoffs hopes are over. With key defensive players Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman out, the Bears defenses has started to fall apart, as they now rank 28th in total dense and are giving up 27.7 points a game. This is not good with Dallas coming to the Windy City as their offense is averaging 27.4 points with Tony Romo having one of his best seasons ever (24 touchdowns, seven interceptions, and 3,140 passing yards).
Now Dallas is just as bad on defense ranking at the very bottom, although they have done enough to win the last two weeks. Despite how well the Bears play on offense(ranked eighth), this team has slowly started to diminish with all the injuries Chicago has had to deal with; which is why I see the Cowboys getting the victory and staying on top in the NFC East. Cowboys 36 Bears 24