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Phinsider Week 14 Game Previews and Predictions

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Welcome to another edition of Justin Hier’s weekly game previews and predictions!

NFL: Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The playoffs are fast approaching, which means every game has greater implications in deciding how January football is going to shape out. That means the window of opportunity for teams on the verge of playoff contention is getting tighter. Who will win the surprisingly underwhelming AFC West? Which team will take the top seed in a highly contentious NFC South? It’s only a matter of time before we find out, and the week 14 slate of games will have a big impact on the answers.

Each week of the NFL season, I’ll be giving you a sneak peak of the action ahead, as well as my own forecast for the outcome of every contest. Feel free to leave your own predictions and opinions in the comments below!

Week 13 prediction record: 11-5

2017 season prediction record: 121-69

Thursday

New Orleans Saints (9-3) at Atlanta Falcons (7-5) - 8:25 PM ET on NBC/NFLN

The Saints have been on fire recently, with each of the team’s three phases playing winning football week in and week out. It’s nice to see this organization finally capitalizing on fantastic quarterback play from one of the greatest passers this game has ever seen. What’s even more impressive? New Orleans is winning games WITHOUT relying on Drew Brees’ arm and is instead punishing teams on the ground on the back of two talented rushers.

Every year, we see a rookie flourish and wonder how every team passed on them during the NFL draft. Third-round pick Alvin Kamara is that rookie this season. With Mark Ingram playing through a toe injury, we may get to see the young buck shoulder a larger share of the carries and find out if he can be a future three-down work horse. If he does so successfully, opposing teams better watch out.

Score prediction: New Orleans 30 - Atlanta 23

Sunday

Indianapolis Colts (3-9) at Buffalo Bills (6-6) - 1:00 PM ET on CBS

The status of Tyrod Taylor will have a massive impact on the outcome of this game. After suffering a scary-looking knee injury in last week’s loss to the Patriots, Taylor is listed as “day-to-day” by head coach Sean McDermott, but his availability is looking to be 50-50 at best for Sunday’s contest.

If Taylor isn’t out there, that means we’ll see rookie Nathan Peterman under center for his second start of the season. The last time Peterman started a game, he flamed out in spectacular fashion with five first-half interceptions against the surging Los Angeles Chargers. Now, against a far less imposing secondary, Peterman may get his shot at redemption. If he does, expect the Bills to employ a heavy dose of LeSean McCoy. The Colts are vulnerable enough on the ground that McCoy should be able to carry the offense if Buffalo’s defense can do its part.

Score prediction: Buffalo 20 - Indianapolis 17

Dallas Cowboys (6-6) at New York Giants (2-10) - 1:00 PM ET on FOX

Well, the Geno Smith saga sure didn’t last long. After being promoted to starting quarterback following Eli Manning’s unceremonious benching, Smith is now third on the depth chart behind Manning and rookie Davis Webb. It appears the Giants’ brass had enough of Ben McAdoo and are eager to put the quarterback conundrum that he poorly handled behind them.

The Cowboys were having some problems on offense of their own until Alfred Morris finally broke free last week. Without the team’s star running back, the Cowboys will attempt to recreate their offensive success from last Thursday’s rout of the Washington Redskins. Luckily for Jason Garrett and Co., the Giants haven’t posed much of a defensive threat to opposing offenses.

Score prediction: Dallas 24 - New York 16

Detroit Lions (6-6) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-8) - 1:00 PM ET on FOX

Matthew Stafford’s health will be of the utmost importance heading into this contest. The franchise quarterback has a badly bruised hand (yes, his throwing hand), which means Jake Rudock may be counted on to sling the rock for the Lions. The fact that many of you likely just said to yourselves “Who’s Jake Rudock?” tells you all you need to know about Detroit’s chances if Stafford sits. Then again, the Buccaneers have been anything but impressive this season, so it’s difficult to tell how this game is going to go. For the purposes of these projections, and because we don’t know where Stafford stands at the time this article is being published, I’m going to assume he plays.

Score prediction: Detroit 28 - Tampa Bay 20

Oakland Raiders (6-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (6-6) - 1:00 PM ET CBS

An already hole-filled secondary took another hit this week when Chiefs head coach Andy Reid announced the team would be suspending superstar cornerback Marcus Peters for this game due to his unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and subsequent self-removal from play during last week’s close loss to the New York Jets. Without Peters, Kansas City’s secondary is in serious trouble moving forward and will be relying on the newly acquired Darrelle Revis to step up against Michael Crabtree.

Both of these AFC West rivals have been seriously hot and cold all season long, but I expect both offenses to get moving in this contest. Early season sensations Kareem Hunt and Alex Smith will have solid games, but Derek Carr will lead a comeback drive and keep Oakland in playoff contention.

Score prediction: Oakland 27 - Kansas City 24

San Francisco 49ers (2-10) at Houston Texans (4-8) - 1:00 PM ET on FOX

Jimmy Garoppolo may not have lit up the sky in San Francisco’s second win of the season, but he showed the NFL why the 49ers were so smart to pay up for the young passer instead of gambling on an untested rookie in April’s draft. The former Patriot looked poised, level-headed, and displayed the type of accuracy that’s had quarterback-needy teams interested in trading for Tom Brady’s former understudy for years.

Against Houston’s battered defense, Garoppolo will have another opportunity to impress his new employers. If head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch can surround Garoppolo with more weapons, the youngster could have a bright future in the city by the bay.

Score prediction: San Francisco 23 - Houston 19

Green Bay Packers (6-6) at Cleveland Browns (0-12) - 1:00 PM ET on FOX

Folks, the Browns are running out of chances and are coming dangerously close to another winless season. With four games left, and two of them coming against far superior division rivals, head coach Hue Jackson may need this win to keep his job despite the fact that the higher ups in Cleveland are preaching patience when it comes to rebuilding this franchise (well, not for Sashi Brown).

On the other side of the field, Green Bay needs this win pretty badly themselves. In order to give Aaron Rodgers a fair shot at leading this team to the playoffs upon his possible return next week, the Packers have to pull out another victory to push their record above 0.500. If they don’t, head coach Mike McCarthy may elect to shelve his franchise cornerstone and save the risk of reinjury.

Score prediction: Green Bay 17 - Cleveland 14

Chicago Bears (3-9) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-7) - 1:00 PM ET on FOX

The Bengals came this close to upending their biggest rivals in a game that was truly difficult to watch. Far too many big hits and far too many injuries. Here’s to hoping linebackers Ryan Shazier and Vontaze Burfict make speedy and full recoveries.

This week, Andy Dalton and the Bengals get to take on a Bears team that is limping to the finish line after another underwhelming season. Rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky is not as NFL ready as fans in the city of Chicago would have hoped, and it’s looking like he’ll need another full offseason to get acclimated to the big leagues. Don’t be surprised if he’s doing so under the eyes of a new coaching staff next season.

Score prediction: Cincinnati 24 - Chicago 13

Minnesota Vikings (10-2) at Carolina Panthers (8-4) - 1:00 PM ET on CBS

Wow! That Vikings defense is a force to be reckoned with. Kyle Shanahan or not, the Atlanta Falcons offense is not an easy unit to hold to nine points, and the Vikes did just that last Sunday. This Panthers team poses a whole new set of problems with one of the most mobile quarterbacks this league has ever known, but if anyone’s up to the task of containing Cam Newton, it’s Mike Zimmer’s defense.

The Vikings’ offense is nothing to be scoffed at either. Case Keenum is having a career-revitalizing season surrounded by a bevy of weapons that he’s taking full advantage of. I see the Vikes continuing to roll even against a tough NFC opponent.

Score prediction: Minnesota 27 - Carolina 21

Washington Redskins (5-7) at Los Angeles Chargers (6-6) - 4:05 PM ET on CBS

The Chargers are truly lucky to have a quarterback like Philip Rivers. Despite the sometimes frustrating and ill-timed turnovers that have spotted the veteran quarterback’s career, there’s truly no replacing a passer that can will his team out of a 0-4 hole and bring them to the brink of the playoffs. Rivers is doing just that with impeccable quarterback play over the team’s past eight games. Though, we can’t discount the improvement that his defense has seen.

The secondary and front-seven have combined to create a unit that no offense wants to face staring down the stretch run of the season. Despite Kirk Cousins continuing to play at a high level, I see the Chargers defense shutting him down this week just enough to give Rivers a shot at winning another game for his team.

Score prediction: Los Angeles 23 - Washington 20

New York Jets (5-7) at Denver Broncos (3-9) - 4:05 PM ET on CBS

Denver hit a new low with last week’s loss to Miami. The Dolphins were in a rut, a five-game losing streak to be exact, and they absolutely manhandled the Broncos in every phase of the game. The Broncos have zero quarterbacks on their roster capable of playing winning football right now, and the defense is having trouble stopping the likes of Jay Cutler. That is not a recipe for success.

On the other hand, Jets’ quarterback Josh McCown is doing what he always does when he joins a new team. He’s continuing to be the best stop-gap option this league has to offer at the quarterback position despite being on his eighth team in the NFL. That’s right, McCown has played for one-quarter of the 32 NFL teams. You don’t reach that point in your career if you’re not at least serviceable at your position. Durable too.

Score prediction: New York 24 - Denver 10

Tennessee Titans (8-4) at Arizona Cardinals (5-7) - 4:05 PM ET on CBS

The Titans have strung together a gaggle of underwhelming wins on the way to a playoff caliber record, but hey, in the NFL, a win is a win. The question is whether they’ll be able to continue just barely scraping up victories with concerning play from Marcus Mariota and a mediocre defense. Against the Cardinals, I expect them to struggle. Blaine Gabbert has been better than expected and Larry Fitzgerald continues to show why he’s a future Hall of Famer. For this contest, I’m expecting the better-quarterbacked team to come out victorious, and with the respective defense they’re playing, Gabbert gets the slight edge.

Score prediction: Arizona 23 - Tennessee 20

Philadelphia Eagles (10-2) at Los Angeles Rams (9-3) - 4:25 PM ET on FOX

Ladies and gentlemen, your game of the week! Despite losing to Seattle last Sunday, the Eagles are still a top tier team and a favorite to reach the NFC Championship game. In fact, it’s entirely possible that this game right here is a preview of the NFC Championship. What makes this matchup so exciting is the potential for an astronomically high final score. The Eagles and Rams have fielded two of the top offenses all season, meaning Carson Wentz and Jared Goff will be heavily relied on to consistently string together scoring drives. While Goff has been impressive, I see a bounce-back game for Wentz.

Score prediction: Philadelphia 33 - Los Angeles 31

Seattle Seahawks (8-4) at Jacksonville Jaguars (8-4) - 4:25 PM ET on FOX

I’d bet very few in the football world had the Seahawks pegged to overtake the Eagles, but Pete Carroll executed a perfect game plan that took advantage of Philly’s few weaknesses, one of them being their banged-up secondary. Russell Wilson is a true MVP candidate and consistently wills the Seahawks offense into the endzone. Asking him to repeat his magical performance from last week against the Jaguars is a tall order, but if the Hawks d-line can stop Leonard Fournette, Seattle should be able to make it happen.

Score prediction: Seattle 24 - Jacksonville 21

Baltimore Ravens (7-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (10-2) - 8:30 PM ET on NBC

The Ravens defense is elite, especially the secondary. However, losing Jimmy Smith for the season is a big blow, and if anyone can take advantage of an ailing cornerback unit, it’s Antonio Brown. The Ravens have been historically stout against the All-Pro receiver, but despite his injured toe, I see him going off against this Baltimore squad. Pittsburgh’s defense is banged up as well, but containing Joe Flacco is not nearly as tough as stifling Big Ben and Co. Pittsburgh wins this one and retains the number one seed in the AFC.

Score prediction: Pittsburgh 27 - Baltimore 23

Monday

New England Patriots (10-2) at Miami Dolphins (5-7) - 8:30 PM ET on ESPN

The Dolphins generally play the Patriots better at home than away. Unfortunately, that’s not saying much. Simply put, New England is the far superior team in this matchup, but divisional games are fickle beasts, and I don’t necessarily see the Dolphins getting blown away here despite their primetime track record. The Pats will be without Rob Gronkowski and have already placed Martellus Bennett on IR, meaning the way in which Bill Belichick normally exploits Miami’s defense (with tight ends over the middle), will be neutralized. If Miami can establish the running game early and keep Tom Brady off the field, head coach Adam Gase will have a chance to keep it close.

Score prediction: New England 30 - Miami 21