NFL playoff picture/Week 14 picks

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NFL playoff picture/Week 14 picks

Four weeks to go and still much to be hashed out. Starting at the top, the Super Bowl will be going through Seattle in the NFC after the Seahawks dismantled the Saints on Monday night. Suffice to say the Hawks are heavy favorites to be playing in New Jersey on Feb. 2. In the AFC, the Broncos control their own destiny for the top seed and have a manageable closing slate (TEN, SD, at HOU, at OAK). However, the door will open for New England if Denver slips up, as the Patriots own the tiebreaker between the two teams. Either way, something drastic would have to happen for anyone else to leapfrog the Broncos or Pats for a bye.

There’s unsettled business for the second seed in the NFC, as the Saints and Panthers (both 9-3) will square off twice over the next three weeks. It’s unlikely either team sweeps the other, meaning tiebreakers could come into play (with the current edge to New Orleans). The NFC North remains Detroit’s to lose, especially in light of Aaron Rodgers’ continued absence. And the NFC East figures to go down to the wire, with the Eagles-Cowboys winner in Week 17 taking the crown.

The division races in the AFC are all but decided, as the Bengals (two-game lead in North) and Colts (three-game cushion in South) would need major collapses not to win their respective divisions. Sunday’s game between the two teams will in all likelihood determine the 3-seed. As for the wild-card races, three of the four slots are locked up. In the NFC, one will go to the Saints or Panthers, the other to San Francisco – which finishes with a favorable schedule (SEA, at TB, ATL, at ARIZ). Kansas City appears destined for the 5-seed in the AFC, with a handful of teams vying for the final spot, currently held by Baltimore.

Onto the Week 14 picks.

49ers (-2.5) vs. Seahawks

Motivation is a major determining factor this time of year, particularly in rivalry games. The Seahawks have been unquestionably the strongest team in the NFC (and arguably all of football), punctuated by their wire-to-wire domination of the Saints that all but assured them of home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. We may very well look back at that win as Seattle’s catapult to the Super Bowl, but it’s actually working against them in this spot. The Seahawks already made their statement, and while it’s doubtful they’ll roll over against their division rivals, the outcome of this game means little to Seattle in the grand scheme. It’s the exact opposite for the Niners, who are battling for their playoff lives, playing at home and seeking to avenge a Week 2 blowout loss in primetime to the Hawks. When teams are close to evenly matched talent-wise, home field and motivation is usually what decides the outcome. Look for a desperate revenge-seeking Niners team to put forth its strongest effort yet.

Steelers -175 vs. Dolphins

Between having to lay 3.5 points on Pittsburgh at most shops and the fact that eight of 12 Miami’s games having been decided by four points or fewer, the moneyline is the only real play in this matchup. While the Dolphins have been competitive all season, they have not been consistent, last winning consecutive games in Weeks 2-3. Uneven results are usually a reflection of uneven quarterback play, which is what Miami has gotten from Ryan Tannehill, who has turned the ball over at least once in four straight games and six of the last seven. In games pitting closely matched teams, you have to look to the quarterback. And there’s really only one choice between Ben Roethlisberger – who’s completed 64.2 percent of his passes with an 8/0 touchdown/interception rate over his last three games – and¬†Tannehill.

Vikings vs. Ravens – over 41

The Vikings have trended in one direction on both sides of the ball recently, and that’s toward scoring. Defensively, they haven’t been able to stop anyone all season, as they’ve surrendered at least 20 points in every game (with last week’s season low of 20 to the Bears far from a fair representation when considering they gave up 480 yards of offense). Offensively, Minnesota has found something in the last five weeks, during which it’s scored at least 20 points in every game while averaging over 25. That something is named Adrian Peterson, who has rushed for 637 yards and four touchdowns in that span. As for the Ravens, it would appear oddsmakers hung this total more on the reputation of the Baltimore defense than its recent performance. Throwing out a 19-3 win over the anemic Jets in Week 12, the Ravens have allowed at least 17 points in each of their last eight games, and an average of 20.6. This total looks to be about two points too low.

Saints (-3) vs. Panthers 

The case for the Carolina side in this game relates more to the difficulty teams have had ATS directly after playing the Seahawks. With the Saints having made the trek to Seattle (and coming off a short week, no less) that argument is strengthened. However, there are simply too many factors New Orleans has going in its favor. First, Drew Brees and Sean Payton have been dominant off a loss the last two seasons. In five such circumstances, the Saints have won and covered each time, with margins of victory ranging from 11 to 55 points. Not surprisingly, Brees has been the catalyst, completing 78.6 percent of his passes with a 19/1 touchdown/interception ratio. The Saints have been equally as sure of a bet in primetime at home, going 5-0 with an average margin of victory of over 32 points during the same time frame. And with the exception of a 62-7 thrashing over the winless Colts in 2011, all of those games have come against teams with winning records, so it’s not like they have played patsies. Finally, there’s extraordinary line value here, as the 3-point spread is a reflection of the public having the Monday night massacre fresh in its memory. Before the Seahawks game, the Saints were 4.5-point favorites. Big difference. Put it all together and one thing is clear: Brees and Payton don’t lose often, but when they do they bounce back quickly. And decisively.

Titans vs. Broncos – under 49.5

As of Saturday night, the forecast Sunday in Denver called for a high temperature of 17 degrees with a 20 percent chance of snow and 5-10 mph winds. The age-old debate of whether Peyton Manning can have success in cold weather won’t be settled until January, but it’s nonetheless irrelevant in this spot. The Broncos will win the game, but anyone who thinks Manning will be airing out and leading quick-strike drives has probably never tried to throw or catch a football in frigid temperatures. Denver knows it’s going to have to win games in these conditions if it hopes to reach its ultimate goal, and to do so, running the football will be paramount. Against a Titans defense that is strong against the pass and mediocre against the run, look for the Broncos to have a similar game plan to what they featured vs. the Patriots (57 percent rushing plays). Which is to say extended drives, heavy doses of Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball and a general goal of doing everything to keep Manning off the frozen Mile High turf.

Giants +160 at Chargers – CLICK HERE

Overall picks: 22-15

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