|Guess who’s back..|
Almost as quickly as it began the end of the NFL regular season is nearly upon us. Just one more round of games remain tonight as teams jockey for a spot in the play-offs or sleepwalk through the last week of a lost season. Coaches of many teams that fill the latter category are in danger of being fired come tomorrow as owners and general managers come to the conclusion that the buck stops with the man calling the plays. Keep reading to find out what I think will happen in this final act of the 2013 season.
Carolina @ Atlanta
The Panthers head to their division rivals knowing a win wraps up a play-off bye and the number two seed in the conference after they were able to beat New Orleans last week. Atlanta are pretty much playing out the string at this point although they deserve credit for fighting hard in recent weeks despite their awful record. Expect the vaunted Carolina defense to keep Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense in check, paving the way for Cam Newton to secure the win and the NFC south title for the Panthers. Panthers 24, Falcons 14
Baltimore @ Cincinnati
With the AFC north title already wrapped up the Bengals could be forgiven for taking this game lightly but it’s unlikely they will with their fierce rivals in town. The Ravens have to win if they’re to back into the play-offs as a wild-card. However in the Bengals jungle the Baltimore D could be in for a rough ride with Andy Dalton throwing bombs to A.J Green and Marvin Jones, one of the best receiver combinations in the NFL. The Ravens secondary isn’t what it once was and as a result I’m fearful for their chances of winning here and claiming a play-off spot.
Ravens 21, Bengals 28
Jacksonville @ Indianapolis
Indy already are assured of a home play-off tie next week so they’ll likely rest a few starters after a brief tune up this evening, with Gus Bradley’s Jaguars attempting to win just their fifth game of 2013. As much credit as Bradley deserves for coaxing even four wins out of a mediocre crop of players he’d do well to beat the Colts in Indianapolis, who should be able to head into the post-season on the back of a comfortable win – starters or not. Jaguars 16, Colts 28
New York Jets @ Miami
Rumour has it that Rex Ryan will keep his job with the Jets regardless of the season finale in Florida tonight, leaving New York free to play the role of play-off spoiler without being under pressure. The Dolphins stand a good chance of making the play-offs with a win so they’ll be going all out, but much like the Ravens I can see them failing to hold up their end of the bargain this weekend. New York under Ryan have been infamously unpredictable so with some added job security and the chance to finish the season on a high note I can see the Jets upsetting Miami on their own field. Even with Geno Smith at quarterback. Jets 24, Dolphins 21
Detroit @ Minnesota
This is the first game on the list that’s truly a dead rubber, with both sides already eliminated from play-off contention. Calvin Johnson is likely to miss out for Detroit who could see head coach Jim Schwartz fired at the conclusion of the season after a late season collapse. Despite their poor form of late the Lions still possess far more talent than the Vikings, which leads me to believe they’ll wave goodbye to to the Metrodome with a loss. It’s also worth noting that Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier is under just as much if not more pressure than Schwartz, so both of these teams could enter 2014 under new leadership. Lions 31, Vikings 17
Washington @ New York Giants
Like the above game this match-up features two teams who’ve had seasons to forget. Also like the above game both head coaches involved are under significant pressure heading into the off-season. Eli Manning has had his worst season to date and he’ll be up against Kirk Cousins, the Redskins back up QB who was handed the keys to the offense upon the shutting down of regular starter RG III. Both of these teams are a shambles but unlike Mike Shannahan Tom Coughlin almost always manages to get his team to fight to the last, a quality which should earn the G-men a hollow victory in the seasons final week. Redskins 20, Giants 24
Cleveland @ Pittsburgh
If the Steelers back into the play-offs it would be a monumental achievement given their awful start to the season and the relative lack of talent on the roster. But a win here combined with losses for Miami, Baltimore and San Diego would accomplish just that and I have absolutely no doubts about Pittsburgh’s ability to handle the Browns at Heinz Field. Cleveland have tailed off as the season has worn on, with the majority of their playbook now simply reading “throw it to Josh Gordon”. As good as Gordon is, and he is very good, the remainder of the offense is poor and the defense will struggle to contain an improving Steelers offense led by Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell. I can’t see anything other than a home win here, keeping the impossible dream alive for Mike Tomlin’s outfit.
Browns 13, Steelers 27
Houston @ Tennessee
This AFC south battle has about as much meaning as one of my awful puns, i.e not a lot. Penn State coach and former Patriots offensive co-ordinator Bill O’Brien is rumoured to be the favourite to take over in Houston next season so keep an eye out for any sign of him being smuggled into Tennessee to watch the game. Failing that, change the channel and watch a game that involves at least one competent team. As far as the actual game is concerned I’m backing Ryan Fitzpatrick to lead the Titans to an easy win against the team with the worst record in the NFL; your 2013 Houston Texans!
Texans 16, Titans 21
San Fransisco @ Arizona
This game could turn out to be between the NFC’s two wild-card teams, however for that scenario to play out the Cardinals will have to beat the 49ers which is no easy task. San Fran’s defense is truly elite, as is Arizona’s, yet I have serious doubts about Carson Palmer’s ability to avoid mistakes and not turn the ball over. A road win over Seattle was truly impressive last weekend and a similar defensive performance is needed if the Cards are to put heat on New Orleans. Colin Kaepernick has been extremely efficient of late and as a result I can see him outperforming Palmer and ending the Cardinals play-off hopes in what promises to be a defensive exhibition.
49ers 17, Cardinals 14
Green Bay @ Chicago
Another fascinating game between two play-off contenders, this winner takes all affair will decide the fate of the NFC north crown. Aaron Rodgers is back from his collarbone injury which changes the entire dynamic of the match-up, and after Chicago were destroyed by the Eagles last week it would be a brave man who’d back the Bears tonight. With Eddie Lacy primed to run rough-shed over the porous Bears run defense I expect Green Bay to put up a fair few points on Chicago and claim an unlikely play-off berth on the hallowed Soldier Field turf. Packers 33, Bears 24
Buffalo @ New England
Bills fans will be satisfied if not overly excited over the teams play under first year head coach Doug Marrone, while New England once more are gearing up for the play-offs with a first round bye as good as guaranteed. While a Denver loss at Oakland coupled with a Patriots win would see Bill Belichick’s men secure homefield throughout January that scenario is extremely unlikely, so the post-season implications are minimal. That won’t stop New England from tuning up for the play-offs with a convincing win however, as the Bills will find out just how far they are from competing with the team that has set the standard in the AFC east for so long.
Bills 20, Patriots 30
Tampa Bay @ New Orleans
Apparently Penn State are lining up Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano as Bill O’Brien’s replacement if/when he leaves for the NFL. Colour me confused as Schiano has done very little to impress me or anyone else for that matter during his time with the Buccaneers, although he deserves credit for cutting ties with former quarterback Josh Freeman. Freeman’s replacement Mike Glennon has performed well but he’ll have his work cut out for him in the Superdome against the Saints, especially as the hosts know a win is needed to secure the final play-off spot in the NFC. I don’t think the Saints will run away with it but it would be a huge surprise to see them slip up with so much on the line in the comforts of home. Buccaneers 21, Saints 27
Denver @ Oakland
Denver are very good. Oakland are very bad. Very, very bad actually. Peyton Manning should add a few more touchdown tosses to his record on the season and he also stands a fantastic chance of breaking Drew Brees single season yardage mark. While the Broncos are set the book homefield advantage throughout the play-offs the Raiders can go ahead and book their tee times for January and beyond. Broncos 42, Raiders 20
Kansas City @ San Diego
Should Miami and Baltimore slip up then the Chargers can sneak into the play-offs with a win here, although that’ll be no easy task against the post-season bound Chiefs. Kansas City have gone from a team with a stout defense and stuttering offense to a point scoring, point leaking side in the space of a few short weeks and even though they’re locked in as the number five seed in the conference they’ll still fight hard against their division rivals. I’ve gone for Baltimore and Miami defeats this week; I’ll complete a clean sweep by gunning for the Chiefs on the road here even if they decide to rest some starters as has been reported. Chiefs 27, Chargers 21
St. Louis @ Seattle
A shock defeat at home to Arizona was the Seahawks first home reversal in nearly two years but make no mistake – Seattle is still the class of the NFC and maybe the entire NFL. St. Louis have performed admirably in the absence of Sam Bradford for the second half of the season and with Washington’s first round pick to go along with their own in April they could be a team on the rise heading into 2014. Unfortunately for the Rams it’s still 2013, and they still don’t have much of a chance with Kellen Clemens squaring off against the best defense in the league. Rams 13, Seahaawks 24
Philadelphia @ Dallas
Dallas are without Tony Romo and Sean Lee for this NFC east championship game, which on paper makes the Eagles very strong favourites indeed. However I’m hesitant to jump to conclusions in such a monumental game for both sides. All statistics point towards a Philly romp yet while I think the birds will pull it out and advance to the play-offs the Cowboys won’t go down without a fight.
Eagles 31, Cowboys 24
Those are my picks, let me know what you think on twitter @fredjstanley or leave a comment. Happy New Year!