By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) Here’s my take on how the NFL’s Week 14 will shake out with my predictions, my juggernaut game of the week, and my “juggernot lame of the weak”:
(Home team in all CAPS)
Juggernot Game of the Week
Giants 27, COWBOYS 24 – 7:20 PM
Who is going to step up and win the NFC East? Perhaps the winner of Week 14’s Game of the Week does, when the Giants and Cowboys battle in Big D. Losers of four straight, the Giants are desperate for a win. They gave the undefeated Packers their toughest test of the season, taking them to the wire, only to lose 38-35 on a last second field goal. Maybe this is only interesting to me, but the 38-35 score is identical to the score from the Giants-Patriots game in 2007, another game where the Giants nearly played spoiler to a team’s perfect season bid. I really like how physical the Giants defensive line is playing and they will have to have another dominant performance against a dangerous Dallas offense. What is it about the Cowboys and Cardinals? Even with a 50-50 crowd on the road, the Cowboys have dropped three straight in Arizona, all on the last play of the game. I’ve questioned Dallas head coach Jason Garrett all season long, and his decision to ice his own kicker last week backfired. Seeing that this is the first match-up between these two teams, I expect a slow start to this game with each team trading body shots, but in the end, I think the Giants defense will deliver the knockout blow.
Juggernot Lame of the Weak
Buccaneers 20, JAGUARS 13 – Noon
Jacksonville hosts Tampa Bay in the Florida “Toilet” Bowl. I wonder if Shahid Khan has a 30-day return policy on his purchase of the Jags? There may be more points scored in this game than fans in the stand. Everyone assumes growing pains with a rookie quarterback, but Jacksonville’s Blaine Gabbert has been all pain and no growing. From start one to start 10, Gabbert has made no progress. In addition to finding a new coaching staff, the Jags need to find a quarterback as well. Maurice Jones-Drew has become the AFC’s version of Steven Jackson, a warrior running back stuck on a team going nowhere in a hurry. Tampa Bay is also going nowhere in a hurry. All the hype around this team in the pre-season was just that. Even so, the Bucs are the better team in this match-up and will prove it to the fan in attendance.
BRONCOS 13, Bears 10 – 3:05 PM The hits just keep on coming for the Bears. Two weeks ago, they were sitting pretty at 7-3, entering the “soft” portion of their schedule. But Jay Cutler’s bum right thumb forced Caleb Hanie into action and the results after two starts are trending towards colossal failure. Now running back Matt Forte is shelved with a MCL sprain. I only play a doctor at parties, but I’m fairly certain that the throwing hand of a quarterback and legs of a running back are somewhat related to effectiveness. I may need a medical opinion to validate those assumptions though. This week, the Bears head to Mile High for a tilt against Touchdown Tebus and the Broncos. Some context about Tebow’s 6-1 record, they’ve played two teams with winning records during this stretch – Jets and Raiders – neither of which I believe in. But anyway you slice it, the Broncos are winning games, which is all that matters. The critical success factors for the Broncos during this run are a stout defense and a bruising rushing attack, both of which will pose huge challenges for the Bears. A few weeks ago, I looked at this game as a chance to mock Tebow and make pithy jokes about how much he offended my quarterbacking sensibilities (well, I still did that here), but now it’s Hanie who offends me most. Bears down…for the count.
Patriots 31, REDSKINS 23 – Noon
This is a game that real Americans can be proud of, as the Patriots battle the Redskins. End sarcasm. Despite their 9-3 record, the Patriots defense will prevent them from hoisting any hardware this season. While they may be the best team in the AFC, their secondary will certainly prevent them from beating a team like the Packers or Saints. For the second time this season, the Patriots have moved a wide receiver to a safety, which isn’t a formula for success in the NFL. How do you let a team like the Colts led by a quarterback like Dan Orlovsky reel off 266 yards and 21 points in one quarter? Hard to comprehend, but that’s exactly what transpired in Foxboro last weekend. This weekend Sexy Rexy gets his chance to carve up the Pat secondary. A chronic substance abuse problem has shelved both Grossman’s top target – tight end Fred Davis – and his top protector – left tackle Trent Williams – for this weekend’s game against the Pats. The Redskins switched to field turf this week as their version of Cheech & Chong smoked all the grass. As bad as the Patriots defense is, they will outscore the Redskins in Landover.
PACKERS 34, Raiders 23 – 3:15 PM
Green Bay had their first scare of the season last week, needing all 60 minutes to beat the Giants. Even though the Packers only had 58 seconds to work with, there was no doubt in my mind they were going to win. That’s how high MVP Aaron Rodgers has raised the bar, no deficit is insurmountable and all he needs is one minute to move his team across the field. This week, the Packers welcome the Raiders to Lambeau. I should’ve followed my gut last week, when I mentioned I always have reservations about a team making a coast-to-coast trip for a Noon kickoff, as the Raiders got waxed in Miami. Fake Packers stock or not, I bought the Packers since the pre-season (they were my Super Bowl pick), and they’ll pick up lucky number 13.
JETS 24, Chiefs 10 – Noon
I’m still in disbelief about what I saw last week from the Chiefs. Outside of a gutsy defensive performance and some stellar punting, this team is absolutely atrocious. Will quarterback Kyle Orton become only the second quarterback in NFL history to take only one snap with a team? A snapped right index finger may allow Orton to live in NFL infamy. Not to get too far ahead of myself here, but I have a feeling Orton may be the back-up quarterback in Chicago next year, but that’s pure speculation. What more can be said about Tyler Palko? He simply doesn’t belong in the NFL, yet will make another start this weekend against the Jets. The Jets are still in the playoff hunt, and a match-up at home against the Chiefs will help their cause. I like the Jets to blitz, ground, and pound their way to a win against the Chiefs.
TEXANS 20, Bengals 17 – Noon
Unlike their NFC counterpart Bears, the Texans have withstood injuries to both their starting and back-up quarterback and continue to hold the top seed in the AFC. Hats off to the entire Texans coaching staff, who have overcome injuries to star players all season long and stacked wins. This week, the Texans play host to the Bengals who are fighting for their playoff lives. The Bengals were gut-punched last week by the Steelers, in a 35-7 dismantling. As much as I admire the future of the Bengals, I think their playoff bid is starting to fade and will lose even more steam this weekend in Houston.
RAVENS 31, Colts 13 – Noon
The Ravens host the winless Colts in a game featuring a lot of streakers, I mean, streaks. Obviously, the Colts are on a winless streak in 2011, but the Ravens are also winless against the Colts in their last eight meetings, and a Ravens quarterback has never thrown a touchdown pass against the Colts. I expect two of those aforementioned streaks to come to an end and both of them involve the Ravens. The Ravens flattened the Browns last weekend, racking up almost 300 rushing yards (290 to be exact) on a club-record 55 attempts. Seeing that the Colts haven’t been able to stop anybody from running the ball all season – or anything for that matter – I expect a heavy dose of Ray Rice this weekend. I like the Ravens to keep pace with the Patriots and Texans (whom they own the tiebreaker against) and notch their 10th victory.
LIONS 31, Vikings 17 – Noon
The Lions host the Vikings in game two of the Suh-spension era. I’m not even a Lions fan, yet I found myself enraged last weekend by the repeated inexcusable personal foul penalties committed by the Lions. As if playing the Saints in the Super Dome isn’t a big enough challenge on its own, the Lions beat themselves, losing their cool in critical situations, one killed the momentum of a drive, the other turned a touchdown opportunity into a field goal attempt. Between the Suh stomping incident, the frustration fouls in the Bears debacle, to last week’s game, there is no doubt that the issues start at the top with head coach Jim Schwartz. Recall if you will, Schwartz was the defensive coordinator in Tennessee when Albert Haynesworth did an irish jig on the face of Andre Gurode. I appreciate physical play in between the whistles within the confines of the rulebook, but stupid is as stupid does. And the paper champion Lions have been plenty stupid this season. On the other side of the ball, the Vikings have officially mailed it in. I didn’t like the Vikings chances with quarterback Christian Ponder and running back Adrian Peterson, and now that it’s possible neither will play, I ask: What’s less than zero chance?
Falcons 27, PANTHERS 20 – Noon
For the second straight week the Falcons face a rookie signal caller, this time it’s Cam Newton and the Panthers. The Falcons playoff hopes suffered a setback last week at the hands of rookie TJ Yates who won his first NFL start. This is a bounce back game for the Falcons, who will certainly revert back to their old formula of sticking the pigskin in the gut of bowling-ball running back Michael Turner 20-plus times to attack the soft underbelly of the Panthers defense. Turner is on the verge of tying Gerald Riggs’s record of 48 rushing touchdowns as a Falcon, and judging by his past performances against the Panthers, there’s a strong possibility he will not only tie it, but exceed it. Fresh off a win against the Bucs, the Panthers look to stack another division win and play the spoiler role. Cam Newton continues to find the end zone at a record setting pace and has now gone two games without throwing a pick. Seeing how important this game is to the Falcons, I like them to lean on Turner who will set up the play-action game for Matt Ryan and company, much to the delight of the raucous Georgia Dome fans.
Eagles 24, DOLPHINS 20 – Noon
Two teams seemingly headed in opposite directions square off in Miami, as the fading Eagles face the surging Dolphins. After starting the season 0-7, the Dolphins are 4-1 in their last five games, led by an opportunistic defense and a resurgent offense. Not only are the Dolpins winning games, they’re doing it in blowout fashion, piling up several 20-plus victories. Quarterback Mike Vick makes his first start in three weeks for the Eagles, who desperately need a spark. I’m safely assuming that the Eagles organization anticipated having more than four wins at this point in the season given the hefty contracts they doled out. Apparently the Eagles didn’t pay attention to division rival Redskins, who failed several times with the same strategy. Perhaps the Eagles thought they had a more solid organization to handle an influx of high priced free agents? The shortened off-season has definitely played a role in this. As far as the game goes, this is a tough one to pick, but I’m giving a reluctant nod to the Eagles, who still have a glimmer of hope in the NFC East.
Saints 30, TITANS 20 – Noon
The Saints march on into Tennessee for a tilt with the Titans. Both teams are in the playoff hunt, as the Saints are surging in the NFC South, and the Titans trail the Texans by two games in the AFC South. New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees inked a page in the NFL record book in last week’s win over Detroit, eclipsing 4,000 passing yards faster than any quarterback in history (12 games). Brees has played at an MVP-level all season and has made Jimmy Graham a household name and a 1,000-yard receiver. Expect more of the same this weekend from the dynamic duo, as nobody has found a way to stop them yet. Titans running back Chris Johnson seems to have found his legs and the timing couldn’t be better. The Titans passing game carried them through the first half of the season, but they stalled when wide receiver Kenny Britt was lost for the season. While Johnson may turn in another solid performance, the Saints
are in another class, and will notch their 10th victory of the season on the road.
49ers 23, CARDINALS 17 – 3:05 PM
Seeking a first-round playoff bye, the 2011 NFC West Champion 49ers pay a visit to Arizona for divisional match-up against the Cardinals. Congratulations to Frank Gore, whose 7,396 rushing yards make him the 49ers all-time leader in that category. Seeing star linebacker Patrick Willis pull up lame last weekend with a hamstring injury must give head coach Jim Harbaugh some pause about giving heavy minutes to his star players. This weekend, they won’t need a full compliment of players to shut down Arizona running back Beanie Wells, as the 49ers play swarming and smothering team defense against the run. Through 13 games the 49ers have yet to surrender a rushing touchdown, and have gone 34 games without allowing a 100-yard rusher. Pure dominance. Removing the Cardinals running attack from the equation puts the game in the hands of quarterback Kevin Kolb, which means a loss for the Cardinals.
CHARGERS 27, Bills 20 – 3:15 PM
Two teams who got off to a hot start but have since gone out like parachute pants and moon boots lock up in San Diego, as the Chargers welcome the Bills. Too bad the Chargers can’t play the Jaguars every week, as they snapped their six-game skid in style. Phillip Rivers picked apart an awful Jaguars secondary, spoiling game one of the Shahid Khan-era in front of a Monday Night crowd in Jacksonville the size of a Class 2A Illinois High School Football Championship game. This week, the Chargers hope to win in San Diego for the first time since late October. Losers of five straight, the Bills are sinking like a stone in the AFC East, only one game ahead of the Dolphins. Losing Fred Jackson was a backbreaker for the Bills, who are struggling to put points on the board. One bright spot from last weekend’s loss to the Titans was the performance of CJ Spiller, who should have another solid game this weekend. The Chargers defense let Maurice Jones-Drew do a lot of damage in between the 20’s on Monday night, but clamped down in the red zone. The Bills haven’t beaten the Chargers in San Diego since I was five years old, and three decades later, I don’t see anything changing.
SEAHAWKS 24, Rams 13 – 7:30 PM Monday Night
This game will set NFL quarterbacking back several decades, as Seattle’s Tarvaris Jackson squares off against St. Louis’s Tom Brandstater. What an awful venue for Brandstater to have to make his first NFL start, as the home crowd and home team has been a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks all season. Throw in a Monday Night stage to amp up the intensity and it’s going to get ugly for the Rams. Just how bad has it gotten in St. Louis? They didn’t advance the ball past San Francisco’s 35-yard line last weekend. Fueled by Skittles, Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch has been the most productive running back in the NFL since Week 9, bulldozing his way through every defense he’s faced. Seeing that St. Louis has one of the worst run defenses in the NFL, it will be “beast mode” time on Monday night.
Dan Durkin joined The Score’s columnist community after finishing runner-up in the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he was a member of the men’s football team (despite his best efforts to join the women’s team). Dan is a longtime Scorehead, known as Dan in Wicker Park – even though he no longer resides in Wicker Park – who will be sharing NFL analysis and opinions. You can follow Dan on Twitter @djdurkin. To read more of Dan’s blogs click here.