|Candlestick Park has been the scene of many famous NFL moments including ‘The Catch’ and Steve Youngs legendary scramble against Minnesota|
With just two weeks of the 2013 NFL season remaining there’s still plenty to play for with the majority of teams in the NFL still in the play-off hunt. While the likes of Jacksonville and Atlanta saw their seasons ended many weeks ago there are tight races for a division crown in the NFC north, NFC south, NFC east, AFC west and AFC north. Home-field advantage throughout the play-offs is also undecided in the AFC after both Denver and New England were upset in week 15. Keep on reading to find out what I think will happen next in this most exciting of NFL seasons.
Miami @ Buffalo
The surging Dolphins picked of Tom Brady and the Patriots last week to move to 8-6 and within touching distance of a wild-card spot. Miami’s defense is performing admirably and with Thad Lewis slated to start at quarterback for the Bills this Sunday they’ll fancy their chances of keeping Buffalo’s offense in check. Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson is out with injury which will give Lewis one less option to throw to in the passing game so despite Buffalo picking up a win over Jacksonville last week the smart money is on the streaking Dolphins extending their run of wins to four. Dolphins 27, Bills 16
New Orleans @ Carolina
Essentially an NFC south title game, these two teams both sit at 10-4 with two games remaining this season. Carolina will be looking for revenge after they were beaten by the Saints in the Superdome just two weeks ago and after New Orleans lost last week in St. Louis they’ll fancy their chances at home. The Saints are peculiar in that they’re almost guaranteed to win at home, while on the road they transform into the 2008 Detroit Lions. Ok so they may not be quite that bad they are 3-4 away from Louisiana and that will give their fans cause for concern if Drew Brees and co lose on Sunday and are forced to go on the road in the wild-card round of the play-offs. Despite their poor road record I’m backing the Saints to buck that recent trend after they hammered Carolina the last time the two teams met a fortnight ago. Nonetheless whatever happens this is a game that you won’t want to miss.
Saints 28, Panthers 24
Minnesota @ Cincinnati
These two teams made the headlines last week for contrasting reasons; the Vikings pulled off an upset against the Eagles while Cincinnati blew a chance to move into position for a play-off bye when they lost to Pittsburgh. However despite those results the Bengals are heavy favourites at home against the lowly Vikings, who even after last weeks win are a pitiful 4-9-1 on the season. Flaws in the Minnesota secondary were shown up by Philadelphia when Nick Foles threw for over 300 yards so expect Marvin Jones and A.J Green to have big days on Sunday, in the process putting another nail in Vikings coach Leslie Frazier’s coffin. Vikings 21, Bengals 31
Denver @ Houston
Before the season began it wasn’t unrealistic to expect these two teams to be competing for play-off seeding when they met in week 16. Fast forward to the present day and the concept of Houston even competing for a spot in the post-season is laughable as they’ve stuttered to a 2-12 record after losing 12 straight games. The Broncos meanwhile are sitting pretty at 11-3 although last weeks shock defeat to San Diego means that they’ll have to win out if they want to hold of Kansas City and secure the number one seed in the AFC. Even though Houston ran New England close a couple of weeks ago I can’t see the same happening this Sunday and Peyton Manning should make hay as he chases the single season NFL touchdown record held by Patriots gunslinger Tom Brady.
Broncos 41, Texans 21
Tennessee @ Jacksonville
After the Jaguars ran off a surprise three game winning streak they came back to earth last week when Buffalo sent them to their tenth defeat of the season. Tennessee meanwhile were unable to pick up the win against Arizona, although they were able to take the NFC play-off contenders to overtime. All told it’d been a season to forget for both of these AFC south teams but I think the Titans have just about enough talent to overcome the Jags this weekend. If the Panthers – Saints game is much watch TV on Sunday, this game is ‘must avoid’ television. Titans 20, Jaguars 17
Indianapolis @ Kansas City
This game could potentially be a play-off preview should Indianapolis end up the fourth seed in the AFC and Kansas City the fifth. For that to happen the Chiefs will likely have to win on Sunday and I fully expect them to be up to the task in front of the raucous Arrowhead faithful. A Colts win over Houston last week can’t hide the fact that over the past couple of months Indianapolis have gone from one of the most feared teams in the league to one every team in the play-offs would like to face. Trent Richardson continues to be one of the worst running backs in the NFL despite the Colts giving up a first round pick to acquire him from Cleveland, while Reggie Wayne has been sorely missed at wide receiver. Kansas City meanwhile have put up impressive points totals in each of the past two weeks as Jamaal Charles has firmly established himself as one of the leagues elite running backs. The Chiefs should be able to continue that trend against a very average Colts defense, and I’m not sure Andrew Luck will be able to keep up. Colts 21, Chiefs 34
Cleveland @ New York Jets
The Jets are 6-8. The Browns are 4-10. Neither is very good. Jason Campbell is better than Geno Smith, and Rex Ryan will almost certainly be fired at the conclusion of this season. Those are known facts, less tangible is the future for both of these embattled franchises. Cleveland fans should be optimistic as the Browns have shown signs of life during this season not least when they should have beaten New England two weeks ago. A questionable pass interference call hurt them that day, unfortunately for Jets fans Geno Smith rarely hurls the ball far enough down the field to get those kind of penalties. It probably won’t be a pretty game but I’m plumping for a Cleveland win and yet more misery for big apple football fans. Browns 16, Jets 10
Tampa Bay @ St. Louis
The Rams are currently without their franchise quarterback with Sam Bradford on injured reserve, while the Buccaneers may have found there’s in Mike Glennon after Josh Freeman was jettisoned earlier in the season. Although these teams share records with the Jets and Browns don’t be misled into thinking they are as weak as their AFC counterparts. St. Louis have the misfortune of being the the NFL’s best division while Tampa Bay have come a long way since they began the season 0-7. Last weeks win over the Saints really was a statement game from the Rams, who with talented youngsters such as Tavon Austin should be able to win their second consecutive game in the comfort of the Edward Jones Dome and inch ever closer to a .500 record. Buccaneers 21, Rams 27
Dallas @ Washington
When these two NFC east rivals meet you can almost always throw the form book out of the window, which thankfully for both the Cowboys and Redskins means ignoring their recent woeful records. Washington showed signs of life under Kirk Cousins last week who’s in for the embattled Robert Griffin III at quarterback. However they still lost by a solitary point to Atlanta and the dysfunctional ‘skins are one of the biggest messes in the NFL. Dallas threw it away themselves against a Green Bay side minus Aaron Rodgers, in the process making this weeks trip to Washington a must win. As bad as Washington have been I truly believe that Tony Romo’s poor December record plays on the quarterbacks mind during these crucial encounters, which leads me to believe that on the road against a division foe with something to prove Dallas will fall short when it matters – just for a change.
Cowboys 30, Redskins 33
New York Giants @ Detroit
Last week Eli Manning threw his 25th interception of the season (he’s thrown five in a game twice this year), in the process doing so for the second time in his career. Since 1990 there have only been seven such mediocre seasons, which obviously makes Eli a first ballot hall of famer. Moving on to the game at hand Detroit know they have to win this weekend after they’ve lost two in a row when their fate had appeared to be in their own hands at 7-5. With a 4-1 record within their division they hold the tie-breaker over both Green Bay and Chicago, although thanks to the Packers tie against Minnesota that will be irrelevant in any case. The Lions defensive front is one of the most feared in football and it’s tough to see how Manning will be able to cope in the face of a fearsome pass rush, especially with his favourite wide-out Victor Cruz sidelined with injury. It’s been a long season for the Giants and I fully expect Detroit to compound New York’s misery further with a convincing win on Sunday. Giants 18, Lions 34
Arizona @ Seattle
The Cardinals travel to the loudest stadium in football knowing that only a win will do if they are to stay alive in the play-off hunt. Unfortunately Seattle are unlikely to be in hospitable mood with home-field advantage on the line for the Seahawks, who with a win can ensure the road to New Jersey runs through Washington in January. Carson Palmer has played well this season but he has also been inconsistent, something that doesn’t bode well against the elite Seahawks defense. As good as the Cardinals are, and I think they are good enough to compete in the post-season, the schedule hasn’t been kind to them and I think they’ll suffer a terminal defeat against the best team in the NFL; not that there’s any shame in that. Cardinals 17, Seahawks 27
New England @ Baltimore
This rematch of last seasons AFC championship game could also precede a potential play-off tie next month following Baltimore’s late season surge as they attempt to defend the Lombardi they won in February. The Patriots hopes of clinching home-field took a blow after they lost in Miami last week and without Rob Gronkowski New England looks worryingly impotent on offense. Baltimore edged past Detroit on Monday night to keep themselves in the play-off hunt but Joe Flacco suffered an MCL sprain, though he’ll attempt to play through it tomorrow. Both of these teams are flawed and not quite as good as previous championship editions yet with Tom Brady still in tow you have to figure the Patriots will find a way to win this tough road encounter, especially with Flacco banged up. Patriots 24, Ravens 20
Pittsburgh @ Green Bay
Aaron Rodgers remains out for Green Bay with his collarbone injury, meaning Matt Flynn will have to carry over his second half form from last week if the Packers are to keep their play-off hopes alive. At 6-8 Pittsburgh’s own play-off dream is dead but they’ll still be keen to play the role of spoiler at a potentially snowy Lambeau Field. Eddie Lacy has provided a real spark to the Packers ground game and helping Flynn to settle in, and with the Steelers D a far cry from the impenetrable units of past years I’ve every confidence the Packers can push on from last weeks whirlwind second half. Should Green Bay make it through to January they could be the team everyone wants to avoid, however they’ll need help as their fate is out of their hands
Steelers 27, Packers 30
Oakland @ San Diego
While the Raiders season was rendered meaningless weeks ago San Diego surprisingly kept themselves alive with their shock win in Denver last Thursday. Oakland have struggled on offense and when the choices at quarterback are Matt McGloin and Terrell Pryor it’s easy to see why. However it’s their defense that’s been their real Achilles heal with only Jacksonville shipping more points in the AFC, so expect Phillip Rivers to take full advantage and put a lopsided number on the scoreboard. San Diego are no great shakes but it would still be shocking to see anything other than a Chargers win here. Raiders 17, Chargers 35
Chicago @ Philadelphia
If Washington beat Dallas as I’ve predicted then Philly has a chance to wrap up the division and the number three seed in the NFC with a win tonight. However if Dallas were to win however then this becomes a dead rubber from the Eagles perspective, although Chicago will still have every incentive to win if they’re to stay atop the NFC north. Either way I’m not sure the Eagles will be able to live with the Chicago passing attack now that Jay Cutler is back in charge of the offense with both Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery offering him big targets on the outside. If Matt Cassel can look like Tom Brady against the Eagles pass defense then Cutler could turn into the 2004 Madden video game version of Michael Vick (basically superhuman and unstoppable) which leads me to believe Chicago will bolster their play-off hopes while damaging Philadelphia’s in the process.
Bears 34, Eagles 27
Atlanta @ San Francisco
Somehow this game has made it through the flex scheduling procedure without being shifted out of the Monday night slot, so if you want to watch any football tomorrow night you’ll have to put up with this mismatch to end all mismatches. While the Falcons are in prime position to nab a top five pick in the draft San Fransisco are busy jockeying for play-off position, although they’ll have to win on the road thrice to make it to the Superbowl with Seattle locks to win the NFC west crown. Colin Kaepernick’s been playing well lately which bodes well for the 49ers as they look to win their final ever game at Candlestick Park before moving into their new stadium in Santa Clara next year. Unless things go worryingly astray then they should be able to do so with ease.
Falcons 13, 49ers 28
Those are my picks for this week, let me know if you agree or not in the comments or tweet me @fredjstanley. I’ll be back later in the week with a Christmas special AFF podcast.