The second weekend of December promises to bring some cold weather to the NFL as much of the country has already been visited by Old Man Winter. The 14th week of the pro football season also promises to give fans meaningful games that will directly impact the postseason field come January as well as the seedings and matchups each conference enters the playoffs with. Here now are my previews and predictions for all the NFL matchups during Week fourteen of the 2021 season.
Pittsburgh (6-5-1) at Minnesota (5-7): These two teams combined to go 1-1-1 in three games against the Detroit Lions, and with both Vikings/Lions games being settled by two points, Detroit scored as many points as their opponents did in those contests. The reward for the Steelers and Vikings is a Thursday Night Football game to start this week as both sit one game outside of a playoff spot, so terms like “running the table” may be spoken about each squad before, during and after this game. The oddsmakers and computers are betting against each other this week, with the former giving the Vikings a standard 3-point for being home, but the computers seeing a 10-12-point win for the people in purple. Despite their underdog status, better than three out of five bettors are taking the traveling Steelers on a short week to build on Sunday’s win over Baltimore. Minnesota has the most traffic to deal with in their division since the Eagles are 6-7 and three NFC South teams (Carolina, Atlanta and New Orleans) are all 5-7, meaning that trying to put some distance between them is important if the Vikings want to be a playoff team. So is getting to .500, which will now take at least two wins for Minnesota after their lost to the Lions. Pittsburgh is due for a letdown after their big win but may be able to build some momentum off their victory Thursday night. Minnesota has been hot and cold all season, and I think will stay cold this week after falling flat Sunday. Taking Pittsburgh +3 to keep in close and maybe even win outright.
Atlanta (5-7) at Carolina (5-7): As the NFC’s 10th and 11th seeds, these two NFC South teams, you might say, are playing an elimination game this weekend. They both sit one game behind the 6-6 teams from Washington and San Francisco, who hold the final two Wild-Card spots and would move into a tie with the Eagles with a win this Sunday. Each of these teams goes as well as their offense does, with the visiting Falcons still relying on Matt Ryan despite little talent around him other than rookie TE Kyle Pitts. The Panthers started with former Jets’ QB Sam Darnold, then discovered Cam Newton was a free agent before signing, starting and then benching their former MVP. With Newton and his fashion sense expected to start again in this game, Carolina is a token 3-point home favorite with even amounts of money going down for and against the Panthers. The Falcons have done more with less this year since Carolina has a better defense, and for Atlanta’s one-trick offense, posting points will be a challenge. Taking the Panthers -3 to win/cover here.
Baltimore (8-4) at Cleveland (6-6): While still leading their division the Ravens have slipped to third in the AFC Playoff Picture behind the Patriots and Titans. That, while the Browns have fallen out of the top seven seeds as they are one game behind the three 7-5 Wild-Cards teams (Chargers, Bengals and Bills) as well as the Steelers, Colts and Raiders. In other words, this is a first place vs. fourth place game with huge AFC Playoff implications, especially if Cleveland can win at home. This is the second straight game for the Browns against the Ravens, with their bye week coming in between, while Baltimore will need to bounce back from their loss to the Steelers. Bettors are worried about the Ravens in this game and let their displeasure show in turning Baltimore from a 1-point favorite when the game opened to a 2.5-point underdog with their money. Both of these teams have been offensively challenged recently, playing to a 16-10 score just two weeks ago … with the Browns rested and getting a second straight crack at the Ravens, this time on their own home field, every little improvement will matter and favors Cleveland in the game. It will be close, but a late FG will be enough for the Dawg Pound to howl, Browns -2.5 to win.
Dallas (8-4) at Washington (6-6): Dallas suddenly has some competition for the NFC East title, with one of those team being Washington, who is playing only their second divisional game of the season. Washington ends this year with five of their last six games against NFC East foes, including this week against Dallas, one of two meetings against the Cowboys down stretch. The oddsmakers have the ‘Boys as a 4-point favorite despite having lost three of five games since the start of November. Washington has played their way into a Wild-Card spot with a four-game winning streak since the start of November, and have their eyes fixed on earning a second straight NFC East crown. The computers like Washington and the bettors like the under (48), which could be a low scoring game decided on a turnover or bad special teams play; all those factors point towards Washington, which is why I am grabbing those 4.0 points and taking Washington here … and don’t be surprised if the Cowboys go home with another loss in the standings.
Jacksonville (2-10) at Tennessee (8-4): The Jaguars have given the NFL about all it can in 2021 considering the talent level they have. The Titans, despite losing their best player in RB Derrick Henry, still holds the AFC’s second seed. This one-sided AFC South game is not likely to hurt anyone’s draft status or playoff positioning since Tennessee is a solid 9-point favorite and is expected by many to post one of the biggest wins of the weekend here. This has the makings of a “get right” game for Tennessee, who needs a few easy wins to pad their record, with one coming this Sunday for the home fans. No reason to even fool around here, take the Titans -9 to win and cover, get their ninth win of 2021, and see where they stand next week in the AFC Playoff Picture.
Las Vegas (6-6) at Kansas City (8-4): The last place you want to travel to for a must-win game is Kansas City, yet that’s what the Raiders are facing this week in this AFC West blood feud. The Silver and Black continue to see their season fade to black, with an overtime FG on Thanksgiving the only thing standing between them and five-game losing streak since the start of November. KC was one of those teams to beat up on the Raiders in November, going to the desert and winning 41-14 in their first meeting of the season, with oddsmakers giving the Raiders a 9.5-point boost in this game to see if they can attract some bettors to the road team. The home team has won five straight heading into this game, but have struggled to score, not breaking 24 points in four of the five games, thus the lower-than-normal betting line. The Raiders are desperate but can’t find their way in 2021, with both on the field and off the field issues; KC has learned that just winning is enough to advance, with style points often hurting, not helping the team’s overall success. With a chance to put the Raiders’ season to bed, KC comes up big. Kansas City -9.5 to win by 17+.
New Orleans (5-7) at NY Jets (3-9): Losing Jameis Winston and a few other offensive players has lowered the Saints stats so much in recent weeks, that on paper, they are fairly even when put side-by-side with the Jets. New Orleans is the last of the four NFC South teams in the playoff mix, but they are still closer to the playoffs than a top five draft pick. With the Jets’ head coach getting back Zach Wilson, that means more yelling on the sidelines and less points on the board, which is why Gang Green is a 5.0-point underdog here; but with bettors liking the under (43.5), the point spread is getting nearly equal plays for both teams. With the forecasters calling for nice weather on Sunday in New York (those same forecasters didn’t see the bad weather in Chicago and Buffalo last week), the Saints are set up for a road win to keep themselves in the playoff mix; that’s why New Orleans is the play, giving up the 5-points but watch for the backdoor cover by the Jets.
Seattle (4-8) at Houston (2-10): Those never-say-die Seahawks are still fighting despite their 2021 season being over, a tribute to head coach Pete Carroll and QB Russell Wilson. One can only wonder if Wilson came back from his hand injury too soon and was perhaps hurting the team by not being 100% but raising expectations too high. This week Seattle takes a trip to Houston to take on another AFC South team that appears to have called it a year in the Texans. Houston’s offense has been devoid of talent most of the season, something that even having Deshawn Watson on the field instead of the inactive list probably would not have improved; but without being able to score and having a shaky defense at best, the Texans have been calling this a lost season since training camp. That, among anything else is why there was no reason to play Watson this year. Seattle should light up the Texans in this game because they still have pride and Carroll will have them convinced a playoff berth is on the line with every pass play. The computers see this game close, but I don’t; I am giving up the 7.5-points and taking Seattle to win big over Houston here.
Detroit (1-10-1) at Denver (6-6): The “red hot” Lions enter this game with a win and a tie over their last four games, their best streak in seemingly forever as Detroit fans finally got to post a win last week over the Vikings. From the consistent loser to the hot and cold Broncos, who have had a three-game win streak and four-game losing streak this season and have floundered around at .500 all season, leaving them on the outside looking in at the AFC Playoffs, yet still just one game removed from a Wild-Card. Detroit clearly played with a cause last week as head coach Dan Campbell dedicated the win to those killed and injured in the Michigan school shooting; with those emotions not quite as strong this week, I don’t know if the Lions will be able to carry any momentum into the Mile High City against a team who is still playing for the playoffs. Denver is a solid 8-point home favorite drawing 60% of the early bettors to their side of the point spread with the computers seeing a Broncos win of twice that many points. I don’t know if the Broncos are 17 or 20 points better than any NFL team, but they are ten points better than the Lions, so Denver -8 is my play here since Detroit and their win, now they can worry about the 2022 Draft.
NY Giants (4-8) at LA Chargers (7-5): The difference between having an up and down season when you have, or don’t have a quarterback can be seen in these two teams. When you have a good QB like the Chargers Justin Herbert, you can stay above .500 and in the playoff chase; when you don’t, you end up like the Giants of Eli Manning, oh, sorry, I mean Daniel Jones, who, when healthy is a sub .500 QB at best. Jones still has some doubt surrounding his playing status for this game, which takes what little hope Big Blue has of going to LA and making it almost zero, something the oddsmakers are taking into account by making the Chargers a 10.5-point favorite and bettors laying the points at a 3-to-1 rate. The computes see this game landing right around the number, but as someone who sees the Giants play, I know when they get close to doing everything right, they will hiccup and give back their gains in grand style, costing themselves points, a possession, or falling further behind on the scoreboard. Even if you told me RB Saquon Barkley was fully healthy and going to reel off 200 yards on the ground, I would still hesitate to take the Giants in this game. The Chargers -10.5 are the play here without a doubt.
Buffalo (7-5) at Tampa Bay (9-3): Life doesn’t get any easier for the Bills Mafia this week, just seven days after falling to the Patriots at home on a windswept Monday night, their team travels to Tampa Bay to take on Tom Brady and the Buccaneers. While never a dynamic as last year, Buffalo had been playing well early in the season in taking the AFC East lead; but now that the Patriots are the hottest team in the NFL, any loss suffered by the Bills pushes them further back into the AFC Wild-Card race, where right now they are among the three 7-5 teams with a playoff berth in their hands. Tampa Bay is third among the NFC’s top three teams, with Arizona one game ahead in the loss column and Green Bay ahead on a head-to-head tiebreaker, meaning that the Bucs need to tread water and hope that someone falls back to them since surpassing anyone in the seedings will be difficult. Brady and company are a modest 3-point home favorite in this AFC vs. NFC matchup … and while you may hear a whisper or two of “Super Bowl Preview” tied to this game, let’s just enjoy Josh Allen being on the same field with Tom Brady at least one more time. Buffalo really does need to find a way to win this game and get their mojo back; I just don’t think they can do so if they can’t stop the running game, something they couldn’t do on Monday night when they knew New England wasn’t going to throw it. Tampa Bay -3 is the play here, because I don’t see the Bucs winning a close game, I see them winning by 10 with a late score.
San Francisco (6-6) at Cincinnati (7-5): Does this game have enough playoff implications for you? The ‘Niners are the NFC’s seventh seed, and the Bengals are the AFC’s sixth seed heading into this late Sunday game, making this an important contest for both conferences. Even the super computers that pick these games for many betting websites see this contest as a dead heat with each team winning and losing the same number of times … That’s why Cincy is only a 1-point home favorite in this critical game. San Francisco only allows 205 passing yards per game, but with Joe Burrow able to hand off to Joe Mixon or pass the ball to a host of weapons down the field, will the ‘Niners choose the slow death at the hands of a running back? I don’t like this matchup for San Francisco because I think their head coach Kyle Shanahan will try and go toe-to-toe with a superior offensive team with trick plays and crazy formations when he doesn’t have the horses to win this derby. That, to me, spells blowout win for the Bengals. Cincy -1 to win outright.
Chicago (4-8) at Green Bay (9-3): Without having any late season Packers’ games schedule for primetime, NBC has a chance to flex this game into the primetime slot Sunday and did. Coming off their bye and still just one game behind the Cardinals, Green Bay only needs to tie Arizona to take over the top spot in the NFC Playoffs thanks to their head-to-head win. With Chicago unable to play an injured Justin Fields, it will be Andy Dalton again at QB, marking another loss game in another pointless season for the Bears’ development … and considering how the Green Bay defense has played this season, it should be a long night for the Red Rifle. The Packers are a 12.5-point favorite and seeing 3-out-of-4 bettors laying the nearly two TDs in early betting as most agree this is another Green Bay win just waiting to unfold. I am among those people who believe the Packers will win and win big at home. Green Bay -12.5 to win going away Sunday night.
LA Rams (8-4) at Arizona (10-2): ESPN scores again with another divisional rivalry game of great importance to end the week. This time it is the recently struggling Rams going to the desert to take on the Cardinals with the NFC West title (kind of) in the balance. Arizona already defeated LA in early October 37-20, so a win here would give the Cards the season sweep and a nearly insurmountable lead in the division; while a Rams’ win would pull the Arizona to within one game with four games left on the schedule for everyone in the NFL. With all hands back on deck for Arizona and the Rams suffering an identity crisis, I am surprised the leaders of the NFC are only getting a 2.5-point spread in their favorite in this game. I say that since Kyler Murray is the best quarterback on the field in this game and the Cardinals are just a better team that is also playing better. True this is a divisional matchup, but the Cardinals have played better all season and won in LA earlier this season when the Rams were at their peak … now with Matthew Stafford facing the heat of a few losses, do I really think LA is going to play better on the road? No way, taking Arizona -2.5 to win by ten and relegate the Rams to being a Wild-Card team this season … which for players like Odell Beckham, Jr. is a banner year.
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NFL Week Fourteen Previews And Predictions | TooAthletic.com