A rollicking 7-1 start to last week's picks fizzled into a 9-7 mark, fading down the stretch like a mid-2000's Chargers team. Still, based upon your feedback on Twitter, it seems that nine wins were enough to win a number of office pools. No wonder, really, as Vegas notched only eight wins in what was one of the least predictable weekends of the NFL season.
As it stands now, the sharps in LV have fallen eight correct picks behind this Winners column on the year and it will take a schismatic shift in their favor from here on out to remedy that. If you've stuck with my picks all season, there have been weeks where your $5 ended up buying someone else's beer, but for those who have kept the faith, the weeks in which these picks have proved satisfactory have likely well outweighed the investment.
Not satisfied to merely sit on our substantial lead over the pros in the desert, we press onward, with the Winners* for Week 14 of the NFL season.
Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders
It's Peyton Manning and a top-five defense versus the Raiders and everything that entails. Do you really need me to break this one down? If HFA overcomes this talent disparity (#2 in DVOA vs #31), I'll tip my hat and move on.
THE PICK: BRONCOS
St. Louis Rams at Buffalo Bills
You know my rule by now: Bad teams? Home team.
Look past, if you can, the fact that the Rams are coming off of beating the 49ers. It's easy to look at a game like that and conclude that any team that can best a top-three unit like SF is certainly capable of beating a lowly Bills squad on the road, but two of the Rams' three best performances of the year (thumping Arizona in Week five, tying San Francisco on the road in Week 10) were followed by losses. The average gambler's sense of "momentum" is one of the main reasons that, over time, the house always wins. Momentum is nigh-unquantifiable. The best thing you can do as a sports gambler is identify concrete indicators of success and I assure you, momentum is not one of them.
The Bills aren't good, per say, but they aren't a terrible team (17th in weighted DVOA) either, and they're playing at home. That's more than enough reason for me to stick to my axiom.
THE PICK: BILLS
Dallas Cowboys at Cincinnati Bengals
I still don't spell Cincinnati right on the first try more than 50% of the time. It's like there's a Cincinnati-shaped hole in brain that this knowledge keeps seeping out of. Any how, this game will feature two of the best young receivers in football in A.J. Green and Dez Bryant and the way they've been playing of late, they're both capable of being the difference in a close game.
Frankly, I consider Tony Romo to be a better QB than Andy Dalton at this point of time, and I think Dallas has a better pass defense than Cincy, but the loss of Sean Lee has sent Big D's big D from a top-ten unit down to 23rd overall in Defensive DVOA and I just don't see a team with a negative overall metric rating winning this one on the road against a team that seems to have figured itself out over the last month.
THE PICK: BENGALS
Kansas City Chiefs at Cleveland Browns
You know what I'm going to say here. BT?HT.
THE PICK: BROWNS
Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts
The Colts keep finding ways to win close games and at this point, I'm not sure what to say about it. Andrew Luck has been an extremely high risk, high reward QB so far in his career, just like Peyton Manning was as a rookie. The scary thing is that Luck is entering the league at a time when the AFC is down and his penchant for mistakes is still lower than Peyton's was back in 1998 when he led the NFL in interceptions. The Colts have learned to spread out their offense and trust Luck to make the right decisions. The Titans defense has been, with the exception of the Miami game, silly and I expect Luck, Reggie Wayne, Donnie Avery, and the rest of the offense to offset Chris Johnson's big day against a bad Colts run D.
THE PICK: COLTS
Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings
This season, the Vikings have produced one of the oddest positional splits I've ever seen. To date, Adrian Peterson is averaging 6.2 yards per carry, two full yards better than Christian Ponder's adjusted yards per pass of 4.2 (h/t @AM_Misfit). That's right, the Vikings get 140% more yards running the ball (often against eight man fronts) than they do passing. the gap is even bigger since Percy Harvin went down and frankly, even though Seattle won in Chicago last week and even though Brian Urlacher will be out, Chicago should still be plenty good enough to outscore Minny's pitiful one-facet offense.
THE PICK: BEARS
San Diego Chargers at Pittsburgh Steelers
Even without Ben Roethlisberger, this Steelers team is more than capable of handling a deflated Chargers team at home. I'll say this much, I've gained a lot of respect for Philip Rivers this season, given how ludicrously the franchise of which he is the face has been handled.
THE PICK: STEELERS
Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Sucks if you're an Eagles fan that waited your whole life for tickets and then finally got them this season. I guess the good news is that you don't have to waste the gas money on this one.
THE PICK: BUCCANEERS
Baltimore Ravens at Washington Redskins
This isn't as much of a road game as you'd normally see, given that Baltimore's proximity to (the structure formerly known as) RFK Stadium is so close and if John Harbaugh hasn't figured out that Ray Rice deserves 20 touches every game by this point then I just don't know what to do. I want to bet on him no longer trying to force Joe Flacco down the league's throat after the loss to Pittsburgh and return the offense to its roots. If he does that, I think they can keep Robert Griffin III off the field long enough to win. Unfortunately, early season passing success seems to have embedded itself in Harbaugh's psyche and I think their recent penchant for three-and-outs will allow RGIII and fellow rookie Alfred Morris to run the league's most successful read-option offense of late.
THE PICK: REDSKINS
Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers
The difference between the first and last teams in terms of total DVOA this year is 74.4%. The difference between the 11-1 Falcons and the 3-9 Panthers is only 9.8%. That doesn't translate to a very big advantage if this game were being played on a neutral field and Atlanta's defense has proven susceptible when the opposing QB buys time, something that Cam has been doing a lot better job of recently.
I'm saying that the Panthers hold serve at home in this one, but this is one of my rare "gut" picks, so if you disagree, I got no problem with it.
THE PICK: PANTHERS
New York Jets at Jacksonville Jaguars
I don't even want to talk about the Jets they're so bad and their quarterback situation and locker room seem so jacked up that only a masochist could find any joy in anything relating to such a glorified pile of unwatchable dog poop and any minute of airtime that any non-NY media spends on them outside of obligatory highlights is a minute wasted.
The Jaguars are awful too, but at least I can turn on the radio without having to hear about it. That said, the Jags are dealing with the fact that they have less zero running backs, are likely going to be missing their most productive receiver in Cecil Shorts, can't stop anybody, and might be so bad that I'm willing to overlook my BT?HT rule simply because the Jets will be able to run the ball with some certainty while Jacksonville will probably have to lean on Chad Henne to beat a defense that is still not awful.
Look, this is already too many words for this game.
THE PICK: JETS
Miami Dolphins at San Francisco 49ers
Sure would be great if the Niners lost this one. They won't, though.
THE PICK: 49ERS
New Orleans Saints at New York Giants
No clue what to make of this one. The only definitive advantages that I see both favor the Giants: NYG's D-line vs NO's O-line and NYG's running game vs NO's run defense. Drew Brees played one of the worst games of his career last week and, while I don't expect him to be as bad this week, New York's pass rush is better than Atlanta's and if he waits until he's down by two scores points to remember Darren Sproles again then I think they're toast. Eli and Co get back on track with this one.
THE PICK: GIANTS
Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks
It's gotten to the point where I can't even give an honest opinion about Russell Wilson without sounding like a crazed Seattle fanboy-homer. He's just so damn good, you guys. So, so good.
The ten points that Vegas is predicting Seattle to win by is the largest spread I've ever seen for this team since I started paying attention. Arizona's defense is nothing short of excellent, so I won't be shocked if the 'Hawks don't cover but I will be shocked if they lose.
THE PICK: SEAHAWKS
Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers
This could be an absolute slaughter. Only way I see the Lions covering the seven point spread is with a late backdoor score, because I think Green Bay will be able to put the big guns away early in this one. Detroit seems destined to set the NFL record for rip-the-hearts-out-their-fans'-chests losses in one season, so the bright spot in this one may be that Detroiters (Detroitians?) can probably disengage early.
THE PICK: PACKERS
Houston Texans at New England Patriots
This is one of the best games you can ask for this late in the season. A win and Houston can clinch HFA throughout the playoffs. It's something I think they could pull off at full strength and/or at home, but they're neither in this one. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are hitting their usual late season stride and I'm not sure how many teams can win in New England right now.
These teams are both playing such damn good football right now, but the complete depletion of the Texans' linebacking corps means there is just not going to be any sort of coherent answer for NE's short passing game and well-timed runs. Expect there to be a lot of juicy stats in this one, but also expect the home team to take it.
THE PICK: PATRIOTS
Good luck, my friends.
Jacson's 2012 record: 128-63-1 (.670)
Vegas' 2012 record: 120-69-3 (.638)