Sunday 1 PM EST
New Orleans Saints v. Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta got off to a strong start this season, but they have only won 2 of their last 7 games. Injuries to Matt Ryan and Michael Turner have taken their toll on the Falcons. On defense they have struggled against the pass. Currently they rank 29th in pass defense DVOA. Expect the Saints to take advantage by throwing the ball downfield.
New Orleans leads the league in total offense. Their terrific trio of running backs has combined to give the Saints the fifth best rushing attack. After locking up the division title last week, New Orleans could play down to the injury riddled Falcons which could lead to an upset. However, the Saints are still focused on securing home field advantage throughout the postseason so they should be ready to play on Sunday.
Prediction: New Orleans
Detroit Lions v. Baltimore Ravens
Calvin Johnson's ability to make big plays on jump balls may be the Lions best chance to get a win against the Ravens. He has the physical gifts necessary to come down with the football in traffic, making him a dynamic threat that can score on any play.
Joe Flacco has certainly slumped as of late, but he'll get a chance to turn his sophomore season around against Detroit's league worst pass defense. Flacco has thrown twice as many interceptions as touchdowns since Baltimore's Week 8 bye, and if he continues to play this poorly it will mean the end of the Raven's playoff run.
Continue after the jump for the rest of the predictions...
Green Bay v. Chicago Bears
Charles Woodson is having a great year for Green Bay, and he should get some opportunities to make a play against Jay Cutler. Chicago's much maligned quarterback has thrown a league leading 20 interceptions. The Packers have played well in the second half of the season and boast a 6-3 conference record. Another win against the Bears will help boast that up even further and help bolster their chances at a wild card berth.
The Bears need a strong finish to end the season on a high note. They have been a disappointment thus far, but if they are able to finish at .500 that would give them some credibility. If they continue to play poorly as the season draws to a close, you can expect to see widespread changes throughout the organization in the offseason.
Prediction: Green Bay
Seattle Seahawks v. Houston Texans
Despite starting the season with a 5-3 record, Houston comes into this game on the brink of playoff elimination after losing their last four. They have not won a game since losing tight end Owen Daniels for the season, and they are clearly missing his presence in the passing game.
The Texans' secondary has been burnt by receivers all year, and Nate Burleson is the Seahawks best deep threat. Look for him to get lose in the defensive backfield for at least one big play. Seattle still has an opportunity to get back to .500 and finish second in the NFC West, but they will need to play better on the road if they are going to beat Houston at home.
Denver Broncos v. Indianapolis Colts
Indianapolis comes into this game with a 12-0 record, and it's easy to see why with a quick glance at this years' stat sheet. Reggie Wayne is having another superstar caliber year, with 83 catches and over 1,000 yards receiving. The Miami alum already has nine touchdowns, and it will be up to the Broncos' Champ Bailey to keep him from getting another one. Of course nobody is likely to stop tight end Dallas Clark. One the defensive side of the ball, defensive ends Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney continue to set the standard for the unit as a whole. The two have combined for 20 sacks and six forced fumbles this season. If the Colts win on Sunday they will wrap up home field advantage for the playoffs.
For the Broncos to compete they're going to need to play their best game. A big play on special teams would go a long way towards ensuring the upset. Eddie Royal is one of the league's top kick returners, and he will help Denver win the battle for field position. Their offensive line has excelled in pass protection this year, and it's important that they keep Kyle Orton upright on Sunday. Orton is not very mobile and he could be forced into a costly mistake if the pressure gets to him.
Carolina Panthers v. New England Patriots
After last week's loss to Miami, Tom Brady publically called out his teammates saying, "If things don't go your way, you've got to fight back. At times we do and at other times I don't think we fight very hard" (nfl.com). It will be interesting to see how his teammates respond to the criticism after losing three of their last four games. If they are going to rebound and remain atop the AFC East, they will need improved production from their defensive line. Their front has generated very little pass rush, and as a result their young secondary has been getting torched for big plays.
While the Panthers are a power running team first and foremost, I think they will take some shots down the field with Steve Smith to test New England's defensive backfield.
Prediction: New England
Miami Dolphins v. Jacksonville Jaguars
Miami's rookie cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Sean Smith have performed well recently, and they will need to continue to improve this week. They face a tough task in the Jaguar's Tory Holt and Mike Sims-Walker. If they allow explosive plays in the passing game, it could take them out of their gameplan on offense.
Tory Holt was signed by Jacksonville in part to provide veteran leadership in the locker room. With a team as young and inexperienced as the Jaguars, it will be up to Holt to show them how to win a postseason berth. Unfortunately for Jacksonville, he will not be able to help them rush the passer. Their pair of young ends, Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves, has combined for a total of one sack on the season. If they do not find a way to get pressure on the quarterback, the Jaguars will not make the playoffs.
Cincinnati Bengals v. Minnesota Vikings
After last weeks' less than stellar performance, questions are beginning to swirl around Vikings quarterback Brett Favre. Some people doubt that he will be able to finish the season as strong as he started, and they cite his two interceptions against the Cardinals as a sign of his impending slump. A bigger concern for me is the drop-off in Adrian Peterson's production. He is coming off one of the worst games in his career, and is only averaging 3 yards per carry in his last three. Peterson has only scored one touchdown during that span, and he will need to get back on track to take some of the pressure off of Favre. Cincinnati has a very good secondary, and if the Vikings become one dimensional it could be a long day for Minnesota.
The Bengals are also looking for more consistency from their quarterback. Ironically, their success has had very little to do with Carson Palmer and everything to do with their running game and defense. Minnesota is second in the league against the run, so Cincinnati will need Palmer to step up and add balance to their offense. Teams have attempted an average of 21 running plays against the Vikings, but the Bengals come in averaging 34 running plays a game. It will be interesting to see if Cincinnati sticks with this game plan or tries to open things up a little bit with Palmer.
Buffalo Bills v. Kansas City Chiefs
Matt Cassel was benched in the second half of last week's loss to the Broncos. In the past he has typically rebounded the week after a tough experience, but he will have no easy task finding success against the Bill's fourth ranked secondary. Cassel is not the only one in danger of being benched. Defensive linemen Tyson Chandler and Glenn Dorsey have underperformed since arriving from LSU. Any production from these two will certainly help the league's worst defense improve by at least a marginal amount.
For the Bills, it's all about Terrell Owens. T.O. is playing for his next contract, and he will need to prove he still has some playmaking ability left in the tank during these next four weeks. We have all seen in the past how a motivated T.O. can carry his offense on his back.
New York Jets v. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Kellen Clemens will get the start this week against the Buccanneers, and with a full week of preparation under his belt he should play better than he did in Week 13. Mark Sanchez is out with an injury, but no matter who is playing quarterback the Jets are going to emphasize the run. On defense, I expect Rex Ryan to have plenty of varied looks and blitzes to confuse rookie quarterback Josh Freeman.
For Tampa Bay, the most important aspect of this game will be stopping New York's rushing attack. Linebacker Barrett Ruud is the defensive signal caller for the Buccaneers, and it will be up to him to ensure that Tampa is in the right alignments to slow down Thomas Jones. Ruud is a stabilizing presence on the defensive side of the ball and he should have a big day.
Prediction: New York
Sunday 4:05/4:15 PM EST
St. Louis Rams v. Tennessee Titans
This game is all about the running backs as it features two of the league best: Steven Jackson and Chris Johnson. These are two very competitive runners, and you know they are going to be fired up going against each other. Look for a lot of rushing highlights in this match up.
If St. Louis is going to slow down Tennessee's offense, defensive end Chris Long will need to continue his current hot streak. The second year man has recorded four sacks in his last five games, and he will play a big role against Vince Young.
While the running game remains the focus for the Titans, they may have stumbled upon a number one wide receiver. Since the departure of Derrick Mason in 2005, Tennessee's receiving corp has lacked an elite wide out. Rookie Kenny Britt has quickly become Vince Young's favorite target, and he has a touchdown catch in each of his last three games to show for it.
Washington Redskins v. Oakland Raiders
Washington has played better lately, but they have not learned how to put teams away. Each of the past three weeks they have blown a fourth quarter lead and ended up with a loss. Their best bet to secure a win in this one is to go for the early blowout.
Since Bruce Gradkowski has taken over at quarterback Oakland has shown some signs of life. Although he lacks the physical tools of a JaMarcus Russell, Gradkowski seems to maximize his ability with his mental toughness. He will face a tough test this week going up against the Redskins' 5th ranked pass defense, but I expect that he will do enough to give the Raiders a chance to win.
San Diego Chargers v. Dallas Cowboys
Much has been made about the Cowboys' inability to win in December, and it won't get any easier when the Chargers come into to town on Sunday. San Diego is riding a seven game winning streak and their talent is finally starting to show up after a slow start. Dallas has been plagued by problems in their kicking game recently. Third year man Nick Folk has only hit two of his last seven field goals, and if he continues to struggle it could cost the Cowboys a chance at a win. Troubles in their secondary have also surfaced as of late, and they will need to tighten up their coverage or risk a loss at home.
The Chargers should be able to find success through the air in Week 14. Phillip Rivers is having a phenomenal season having thrown for 3,311 yards and 21 touchdowns. Now he gets a chance to shine against Dallas' 20th ranked pass defense. Darren Sproles has been getting more touches on offense, and he could be a factor in this game.
Prediction: San Diego
Sunday 8:20 PM EST
Philadelphia Eagles v. New York Giants
One of the problems for New York this year has been the regression of Brandon Jacobs. After a stellar 2008 campaign, Jacobs has failed to show the same explosiveness in 2009. However, last week against Dallas he got loose for a 74-yard touchdown run and if he can do the same in this game it would go a long way to securing another win for the Giants. On defense New York will need to eliminate the big play. Philadelphia struggles at sustaining drives, so if you shut down the explosive plays you stop their offense.
The Eagles are hoping to get DeSean Jackson back for this game. That would be a big boost considering the injuries that have depleted their linebacker corp. New York returned to their power running ways last week, and Philadelphia could have trouble stopping their running game.
Monday 8:30 PM EST
Arizona Cardinals v. San Francisco 49ers
Kurt Warner has been on fire for the Cardinals lately, posting a quarterback rating of over 120 in each of his last four games. He could be in for another big day against San Francisco's 27th ranked pass defense. Arizona can wrap up the division if they are able to beat the 49ers.
It will be up to Alex Smith to match Arizona's offensive output. The 49ers have become more of a spread offense in recent weeks, and Smith's production has increased accordingly. Unfortunately, the statistics have not translated into wins and he will need to perform well in the clutch if San Francisco is going to pull the upset. While a wild card berth is still not completely out of the question, the 49ers will need to run the table if they want to have any chance at the playoffs.
Prediction: San Francisco