Happy Holidays. This has been a great NFL season and the last week of regular season previews.
Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons:
After a huge win against the Saints that catapulted them to the number two seed in the NFC, the Panthers will attempt to solidify their position and obtain a first round bye. The Panthers have played great defense all season and will be dangerous in the postseason, if they can claim home field in the divisional round. The Panthers play great defense because their linebacking core is one of the best in the league. With the combination of Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly, the Panthers duo rivals the combination of Navarro Bowman and Patrick Willis. Kuechly is a tackling machine and should be in consideration for DPOY, although he is only in his second year. Last week, Kuechly recorded 24 tackles, one shy of the NFL record, and an interception to seal the Panthers biggest win of the season. Along with Kuchly, the defensive line is dominating and does not allow teams to rush the ball. The Panthers’ defense makes opposing teams one dimensional, which forces many issues and not a lot of points. On offense, although the Panthers are not the Broncos, they do not turnover the football and make clutch plays at the end of games. Cam Newton has become one of the better quarterbacks in the league because of his strong arm and athleticism. Newton’s statement win last week should give him the confidence to lead the Panthers to the Super Bowl. The Panthers need to get the extra bye week for Steve Smith and will obtain it with a win. While the Panthers had a great win last week, the Falcons had a heart breaking loss last week on Monday Night Football. The Falcons were won of the most talented teams in the league before injuries. Although they were considered a Super Bowl contender at the beginning of the season, they currently have the third worst record in the league. Although the Falcons will hope to ruin the Panthers’ record, like the 49ers last season, their defense has not been successful this season and the offense is struggling. Although the offense was better last week with the addition of a healthy Roddy White and Steven Jackson, the Falcons will have trouble against the Panthers’ defense. The Saints did not have enough weapons to score on the Panthers so the Falcons will have little chance of breaking 20 points. The Falcons will want a better draft pick to revamp their defense this offseason. Although the team has pride, they will not have the same desire as the Panthers and ultimately lose the game. The game should be relatively low scoring but the Panthers should win by at least 7-10 points.
Prediction: Panthers win 24-13
Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals:
The Ravens are attempting to make the playoffs for the six straight season. With the core of Rice, Harbaugh, and Flacco, the Ravens have never missed the playoffs in the AFC. Last week, the Ravens lost an embarrassing game to the Patriots, 41-7, which puts their postseason hopes in jeopardy. If the Ravens won last week, they could have clinched their playoff position. In order for the Ravens to make the playoffs, they need to win and have the Dolphins or Chargers lose the game. If the Ravens lose, they can still make the playoffs if the Dolphins, Chargers, and Steelers lose their games. The Ravens have been up and down all season because they do not have consistency on offense or defense. Before their loss at home to New England, the Ravens had won four in a row and looked like they were ready to make another miraculous playoff run. The key to the Ravens’ success is Ray Rice and Joe Flacco. Although Rice is having one of the worst seasons of his career, he is a game changing player because he can run and catch the ball out of the backfield. The problem with Flacco of late has been his health. Flacco currently has an injured knee, which affected his play last week and could affect his play this week. The Ravens will need him to succeed if they are going to score on the Bengals feisty defense. After a devastating loss two weeks ago to the Steelers, the Bengals played great last week against the Vikings. The Bengals have won four of their last five games because their defense is one of the best in the league and the offense is beginning to become explosive. Led by Andy Dalton, AJ Green, and Giovanni Bernard, the Bengals have enough talent and fire power to go to the Super Bowl. Along with Green, Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert, and Marvin Jones have provided quality complimentary receivers to the monster on the outside. Even though the Bengals lost their best defensive player Geno Atkins, they still own the six best scoring defense in the league because of the emergence of Vontaze Burfict. The middle linebacker is a tackling machine and has all the talent in the world. Although he was not drafted, he was projected as a first round pick for most of his college career, before injuries and off the field issues. Although it is difficult to pick against the Ravens because they always seem to get the necessary win to make the playoffs, the Bengals need another quality win to show the league that they have the potential to reach the playoffs. Also, if the Bengals win, they solidify the number three seed in the conference, set to play a 9 or 8 win team, and have a chance to secure the two seed if New England loses. If they lose, the Colts could jump them in the ranks and they would have to play the 12 win Chiefs. The Bengals have a lot of options on offense and the Ravens will have trouble matching their offense, especially if Flacco is limited by his knee injury.
Prediction: Bengals win 30-28
Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans:
The Texans have had one of the worst seasons in their franchise’s history, which will likely net them the first overall win in the 2014 draft. While other team are looking to clinch a playoff spot, the Texans can clinch the first overall pick with a loss or a Redskin win. The Texans have lost 13 straight games and have no inclinations of winning another game. The Texans have lost the last two games by a combined 46 points to the Colts and Broncos. The Texans have struggled all season because their quarterbacks have been horrible. The combination of Case Keenum and Matt Schaub have not been able to get the job done, although they have one of the best wide receivers in the league. Although Andre Johnson does not have a good quarterback, he has garnered one of the best seasons of his career, 103 catchers, 1358 yards, and 5 touchdowns. Although Johnson has been successful, the rest of the offense has experienced the worst seasons of his career. Arian Foster has been hurt all season, Ben Tate has not been successful, and the receivers have not stepped up to be a complement for Andre Johnson. The Texans could have lost all 15 games, thus far, although they were expected to be one of the top teams in football. If the Texans add a young quarterback next season, they could return to be one of the top teams in football. While the Texans have underachieved, the Titans have played well this season. Over the past two games, the Titans have played very well on offense. Two weeks ago, the Titans lost a heart breaker to the Arizona Cardinals in overtime, 37-34. Last week, the Titans beat the Jaguars on the road, which was a good win since the Jaguars have played well lately. The difference for the Titans has been the improvement of Fitzpatrick and the running game. In the game against the Cardinals, Fitzpatrick threw for over 400 yards and 4 touchdowns, while the Titans rushed for over 180 yards and a touchdown against the Jags. The Titans ability to diversify their offense and play at home should enable them to win against the Texans. The Texans will probably play with little effort so they can claim the number one draft pick. The Titans will like to give their fans one more win so they return next year.
Prediction: Titans win 24-17
Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts:
After losing the first 8 games of the season, the Jaguars have won four of the last seven games, which should give fans hope for the future. The Jaguars have lost their last two games by a combined 11 points. Although the Jags will been in the market for a quarterback this offseason, they should feel confident in Chad Henne as a backup or a spot starter. Over the past few games, Henne has played well and has been a competent starter. If the Jaguars select a quarterback in the first round this offseason, they should let Henne start the first few games so that the rookie can learn behind a successful veteran. Along with the emergence of Henne, Jordan Todman has been a great running back over the past few games. Jordan Todman and MJD are good running backs and should be good for the next quarterback of the Jaguars. On defense, the Jaguars are improving and should continue to improve because of the youth on that side of the football. While the Jaguars are attempting to find their quarterback of the future, the Colts have their franchise quarterback for the next 10-15 years. This season, Andrew Luck has taken the necessary leap and is one of the best quarterbacks in football. Luck has led an average team to a division championship and at least ten wins. Along with the 10 wins, they have some of the best wins in the NFL, Chiefs, Broncos, Seahawks, and 49ers. Besides Luck, the Colts do not have much talent on offense. Since the loss of Wayne, Luck has continued to find new receivers. Along with the dearth of wide receivers, the Colts have an inconsistent running game. Although they have talent with Donald Brown and Trent Richardson, two first round picks, they have not achieved much success to help the Colts on offense. With Luck, the Colts have the chance to win a playoff game and possibly advance to the Super Bowl. The problem with the Colts going to the Super Bowl is their defense. Besides Robert Mathis, who leads the league in sacks, the Colts do not have much talent on defense, although they spent big money this offseason. However, they have played well over the past two games, 10 combined points. If the Colts can continue playing good defense, they may be able to pull off a few upsets in January and possibly reach the big game in February. The Jags will have trouble stopping Luck and the Colts because they are playing at home and have superior talent. The Colts still have a chance at the two seed if the Pats and Bengals lose and the three seed if the Bengals lose. They would rather play the Dolphins or the Chargers or Ravens than the Chiefs.
Prediction: Colts win 31-17
Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings:
When next season rolls around and these teams meet up again, they will probably have different coaches because both coaches are on the hot seat. With both teams out of playoff contention, neither teams seems likely to put forth their best efforts. After a devastating loss to the New York Giants, the Lions do not have a chance of making the playoffs, although they were in position to make the playoffs all season. The Lions have a lot of talent, but are extremely undisciplined and make many useless errors. The Lions had a prime chance to make the playoffs with the Packers losing Aaron Rodgers and the Bears without Jay Cutler. This offseason, the Lions’ job will be in high demand because of the players set in place. The incoming coach will have a solid quarterback, running back, defensive line, and the best wide receiver since Jerry Rice. This offseason, the Lions need to look toward improving their offensive line or secondary because they have been the achilles heal of the team, besides for the coaching and leadership. If the Lions can hire the right man to provide leadership and put confidence in Matthew Stafford down the stretch, the Lions should make the playoffs and challenge for the NFC North crown for many years. While the Lions have most of their players in place for the future, the Vikings need to make major changes throughout their football team. The Vikings need to improve almost everyone on their defense because they are old on the line and the linebackers do not have the necessary talent to excel. On offense, the Vikes need a new quarterback and a few offensive linemen to take the next step. Although Matt Cassel is a nice back up quarterback, he cannot lead a team to the playoffs in consecutive years. The Vikes should look for a quarterback in this quarterback heavy draft to replace Cassel and Ponder. The Vikings have good weapons on the outside with Greg Jennings and Cordelle Patterson. In this game, the Lions should come out victorious. They have superior talent and now do not have the pressure of making the playoffs. Without the added pressure, Stafford should stop making so many turnovers and play like he did in the beginning of the season. Without forcing multiple turnovers, the Vikes will have no chance in this football game because their defense does not have the capability to stop Megatron, Stafford, and Bush. Although the Vikings will continue to play hard for Leslie Frazier, they will ultimately lose and settle for a top ten pick in the draft.
Prediction: Lions win 27-24
Washington Redskins at New York Giants:
Before the season started, many felt that this game could decide the division or a playoff spot in the NFC East, not the Dallas vs Philadelphia game. The Redskins have underwent a nightmare of a season because of the poor play of quarterback, Robert Griffin III. The believed quarterback of the future has given the Redskins fans reason to doubt their team’s future. RGIII did not look like the same quarterback this season because he was never fully healthy. However, people must wonder if RGIII will ever return to his 2012 form. Over the last two games, Kirk Cousins has started at quarterback and has played well for the team, although they lost both contests. Although they do not believe that Cousins is the answer at quarterback, they hope that another team feels that his is a franchise quarterback and trades a first or second round pick for his services. Luckily for Griffin or Cousins, the Redskins have good weapons on the outside with Moss, Garcon, and Morris. While the offense has garnered most of the attention and criticism in Washington, the defense has to improve if the Redskins are going to return to the playoffs. The Washington defense is allowing over 30 points per game, second worst in the NFL. Unfortunately for the Redskins, they do not have a first round pick in this year’s draft, which could become the first or second overall selection. The Redskins will need to strike gold in the later rounds or hope to find a few low cost free agents, if they want to return to the playoffs next season. Along with the disappointed fans in Washington, the New York Giants’ fans are not pleased with their team as well. For the second straight season, the Giants will be watching the playoffs from their houses. The Giants started the season with little energy or emotion, which caused them to fall 0-6. Although they attempted to rebound, they lost a crucial game to the Cowboys, 24-21, which all but eliminated them from playoff contention. The Giants have been hurt this season because they frequently turnover the football. The Giants are first in the league in total takeaways, 41, which is seven more than the closets competitor. Eli has not been the same quarterback, which has people doubting his future status as an elite quarterback. However, the Giants’ receivers have not played well this season. Victor Cruz did not step up and play like a number one after receiving a new contract and Hakeem Nicks looked lost for the seasons as he did not record one touchdown. Along with the poor receiving play, the Giants did not run the ball very effectively all season. When Brown returned from injury, they rushed the ball better and gave Eli more options, but Brown is a fragile back and cannot be the sole contributor. In this game, the Giants should win the game because they have more heart and desire than the Redskins. The players on the Giants have refused to give up on the season because they want to ensure that Tom returns for next season. However, in Washington, the same story does not apply. There is currently a disconnect between the players, coaches, and owner, which has resulted in the Redskins folding on the season. The Giants’ defense should be stop the Redskins’ offense because they have been playing better, since their 6 game losing streak. Also, the Redskins’ defense does not intimidate Eli, who should be able to find receivers and put up a lot of points for the second straight game.
Prediction: Giants win 27-17
Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers:
Although the Steelers have a chance of making the playoffs, it seems that neither of these teams will make the playoffs for the second straight season. The Cleveland Browns have been on a roller coaster season because they have experienced inconsistent quarterback performances. After commencing the season 0-2, the Browns won three straight games, including a win over the Bengals, with quarterback Brian Hoyer. However, after his torn ACL, the Browns have only won one game and are riding a six game losing streak. Last week, the team had a lot of trouble offensively against the New York Jets because the wide receivers were playing badly. Although Josh Gordon is one of the best wide receivers in the league, he made three crucial drops in last week’s game that could have resulted in points for the Browns. While Gordon has great speed and route running ability, he needs to diminish the amount of drops if he is going to enter the next tier of wide receivers. Also, on defense, the team had trouble stopping one of the worse offenses in football, led by Geno Smith. Smith accounted for three touchdowns against the team. The Browns even lost the turnover battle to the team with the worst turnover differential. The Browns, like many other teams, should look for a quarterback this offseason. Former first round picks, Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell, are not viable options and should not be on the team next season. While Brian Hoyer looked like a good quarterback in the three game stint, he is not a franchise quarterback. The Browns should use one of their two first round picks on a quarterback and allow him to learn from Hoyer. The Browns need to find a running game, as well. After trading Trent Richardson, the Browns received nothing from their ground game, which will hurt a young quarterback’s development. On defense, they are solid with Joe Haden, but could use another pass rusher to add pressure on the quarterback. While the Browns have been ending the season badly, the Steelers have played well since week 10. The Steelers have won 4 of the last 6 but could have won each game, with a little extra luck. The difference from the beginning of the season has been the improvement of Big Ben. Ben returned to his Super Bowl form and has played great over the last few weeks. Ben has been helped by star wide receiver Antonio Brown, who looks like one of the top ten receivers in football and rookie running back Levon Bell, who can catch the ball out of the back field and is a bruising runner. Also, the offensive line has improved, which has given time to throw and stay on the field without injuries. On defense, the team is beginning to play as a unit and has started recording more turnovers. The team needs to improve their pass rushing ability this offseason. Since the loss of James Harrison, the Steelers have not had a star pass rusher. This season, no player has more than 8 sacks. However, if the Steelers can be extremely luckily and have the Dolphins, Ravens, and Chargers lose and make the playoffs, they will be a dangerous team that could end up playing in New York. In this game, the Steelers will win by a decent amount because they are playing at home and still have a desire to win. The Browns have not beaten the Steelers in Heinz since 2003 and this time will not be different. Ben is playing well and should light up the Browns defense, like their previous match ups.
Prediction: Steelers win 31-17
New York Jets at Miami Dolphins:
In two of the previous five seasons, the Dolphins have ended the Jets hope of making the playoffs by winning in week 17. However, the Jets will attempt to win and end the Dolphins hope of making the playoffs. The Jets are coming off an eleven point win at home against the Browns, which was one of their best games of the season. The Jets will go as far as Geno Smith takes them. The Jets have been unable to win two straight games this season because Smith has not played two consecutive quality games. The Jets’ coaching staff hopes that last weeks three touchdown performance will given confidence against the rival Miami Dolphins. The Jets will probably give the ball to Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell to ease Geno into the game. The Jets’ offensive line will need to play well against the Dolphins ferocious pass rushers in order to give Smith more time to pass. In the previous meeting, the offensive line played horribly and Olivier Vernon was in Geno’s face all season. As a result, the Jets played one of their worst games of the season. The Jets defense will need to continue playing hard in order to stop the Dolphins’ passing offense. In the previous matchup, the Jets could not stop the Dolphins’ receivers. However, Dee Millner and Antonio Cromartie played well in the game against the Browns and look to be improving. The Jets will need to establish a pass rush in order to confuse Tannehill and force a few turnovers to give Smith a short field. While the Jets will be handicapping their young quarterback, the Dolphins have no intention on stopping Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins have attempted the 12th most passes while recording the third least amount of rushes in the NFL this season. The Dolphins do not run the ball very frequently because their running backs, Miller and Thomas, are not very good nor explosive and the offensive line does not form good holes for the tandem. The Dolphins will attempt to rebound this week after a horrible loss against the Bills last week. The Bills did not even have EJ Manuel and they still beat the Dolphins, who could have almost clinched a playoff position with a win. The Dolphins will need to stop the run this week after allowing over 200 yards against the Bills. The Dolphins need to show that they have the maturity and skill to win a big game in order to make the playoffs, after laying an egg last week while getting shut out. On defense, the Dolphins need to continue rushing the passer and creating pressure, if they are going to stop teams. In the secondary, the Dolphins do not have the same talent, which puts an added pressure on the front seven. Although the Dolphins are the only team that could make the playoffs, the Jets seem like they want the game more than the Dolphins. The team that is more physical and ready for the game should win the game. In this game, the Dolphins have the advantage. The Jets have not put together two good games in the row and they have been even worse on the road. Although the Jets will want to improve to 500, they have never played well in Miami. Unless Geno takes a big step forward or the running backs have huge games, the Jets will have trouble scoring.
Prediction: Dolphins win 23-20
Other game predictions:
Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears:
Prediction: Packers win 34-31
Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders:
Prediction: Broncos win 31-13
Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots:
Prediction: Patriots win 27-16
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints:
Prediction: Saints win 34-20
San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals:
Prediction: 49ers win 31-28
Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers:
Prediction: Chargers win 23-16
St. Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks:
Prediction: Seahawks win 31-20
Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys:
Prediction: Eagles win 31-17
Pics and stats from ESPN.com