Thankfully for all of us, the NFL’s season of giving didn’t end last week.
Professional football kindly marches on in Week 14, bringing us plenty of action to wash down our cold turkey sandwiches. The Thanksgiving slate didn’t do anything to clarify the playoff picture, with the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints somehow both winning, and the Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers all losing.
Yes, the NFL is just a complete mess.
Luckily, confusion only ups the intrigue. Let’s see how our “experts” expect to happen this week.
Ben Watanabe: 9-7 (115-60-1). Accurately predicted the Pats’ loss, so direct all hate mail to him.
Darren Hartwell: 10-6 (117-58-1). Was only off by 23 points or so in predicting Dallas over Philadelphia. You’ll get ’em next time.
Mike Cole: 9-7 (119-56-1). Another “meh” week to stay ahead. Could end up being the most boring champion this side of the San Antonio Spurs.
Dallas Cowboys (8-4) at Chicago Bears (5-7), Thursday, 8:30 p.m. ET
Ben: Cowboys. DeMarco Murray has carried a heavy load this season, so it will be nice if he can sort of take the week off and let Tony Romo carve up the league’s third-worst pass defense.
Darren: Cowboys. Chicago actually has a decent run defense, so Dallas might have to resort to the passing game to win this one. But yeah, the Bears aren’t winning this game.
Mike: Cowboys. Dallas needs this game so much more than the Bears, and when Jay Cutler looks like this in a game that does matter, I’m not picking him in a game that doesn’t matter.
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) at Cincinnati Bengals (8-3-1), Sunday, 1 p.m.
Ben: Steelers. It’s funny how the Steelers rise and fall with the (perceived) quality of their opponent. Cincinnati’s won three straight, but its pass defense is so-so and Ben Roethlisberger has made a mockery of so-so pass defenses this season.
Darren: Bengals. Trash the Bengals all you want, but they’ve won three straight games on the road. They should be fine at home against the inconsistent Steelers.
Mike: Bengals. Is there a more misleading record than the Bengals’ 8-3-1 mark? Oh, wait. Actually, maybe it’s the Steelers’ 7-5 record.
Indianapolis Colts (8-4) at Cleveland Browns (7-5), Sunday, 1 p.m.
Ben: Browns. I’ve taken the Browns every game since Week 3, and they’ve come through more often than not. You know the saying: Only dead men and fools never change their minds — and me, apparently, when it comes to the Browns.
Darren: Colts. Mike Pettine ruined my fantasy column by naming Brian Hoyer his starter, so I might just do the exact opposite of Ben.
Mike: Colts. Consistency within a given game continues to be an issue for the Colts, but that issue is nowhere near as bad as the Browns’ recent turnover problems — no matter who’s under center.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-10) at Detroit Lions (8-4), Sunday, 1 p.m.
Ben: Lions. That Bucs fan in the Bud Light commercial is “Up for Whatever,” hopefully including a loss to the Lions.
Darren: Lions. The Lions finally remembered how to score touchdowns again last Thursday, and they’ll do some more of it Sunday.
Mike: Lions. Detroit’s 17-point Thanksgiving win was its largest margin of victory this season, at least until this week.
New York Giants (3-9) at Tennessee Titans (2-10), Sunday, 1 p.m.
Ben: Giants. I’m not overreacting to the Giants’ loss to Jacksonville. Maybe I should, but I’m not, because the Titans gave up six touchdown passes to Ryan Fitzpatrick last week.
Darren: Titans. The Giants should win this game, but they aren’t a consensus pick to beat anyone these days, especially after last week.
Mike: Giants. The Giants have better players. You would think that would be enough to win the game, but they are the Giants, so we’re not feeling great about this one.
New York Jets (2-10) at Minnesota Vikings (5-7), Sunday, 1 p.m.
Ben: Vikings. I don’t know. Insert joke about Rex Ryan’s wife’s feet or the butt fumble here. Whatever.
Darren: Vikings. The Dolphins did everything they could to throw Monday night’s game and still managed to beat the Jets on the road. Also, the Vikings aren’t playing too bad right now.
Mike: Vikings. At this point, I legitimately feel bad for Ryan. He was almost in tears after Monday’s loss. Alas, a stingy Vikings defense isn’t what the Jets need to see right now.
Carolina Panthers (3-8-1) at New Orleans Saints (5-7), Sunday, 1 p.m.
Ben: Saints. The Saints are resurgent (in that they’ve won a game) and the Panthers couldn’t move the ball against a defense consisting of 11 blocking dummies.
Darren: Saints. Nothing like an NFC South showdown. The Saints’ offense should generate enough points at the Superdome to have no trouble winning this one.
Mike: Saints. Here’s a fun exercise: Google “Panthers preseason predictions,” and you’ll soon realize how badly the Panthers have underachieved.
St. Louis Rams (5-7) at Washington Redskins (3-9), Sunday, 1 p.m.
Ben: Rams. I still don’t get how Shaun Hill helps St. Louis’ long-term plans. (He somehow threw for just 183 yards last week as his team put up 52 points.) But nobody’s quarterback situation is more of a mess than Washington’s.
Darren: Rams. The fact that Robert Griffin III isn’t starting gives Washington a chance, but the Rams’ defense should be able to hold down the fort against Colt McCoy.
Mike: Rams. St. Louis is starting to show us what it’s capable of when it has consistent quarterback play, which, for the most part, it’s gotten from Hill in the last three weeks.
Houston Texans (6-6) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10), Sunday, 1 p.m.
Ben: Texans. My personal motto is, “When the other team has one good player, take that team over the Jags.” The Giants did not have one good player, while the Texans have J.J. Watt.
Darren: Texans. There’s no way Ryan Fitzpatrick throws for six touchdowns again. Then again, he is playing the Jaguars.
Mike: Texans. Nice win for the Jaguars last week, but not nice enough for me to change my rule about always picking against the Jaguars.
Baltimore Ravens (7-5) at Miami Dolphins (7-5), Sunday, 1 p.m.
Ben: Ravens. This might be the toughest call of the week for me. Both teams have mediocre quarterbacks and Miami boasts the better defense, but I guess I’ll take Baltimore’s slightly better rushing attack.
Darren: Ravens. These teams have identical records, but I think Baltimore is the better team. It also has the experience to win tough games down stretch. Miami does not.
Mike: Dolphins. I think Miami will get its run defense straightened out just enough and Ryan Tannehill also will bounce back for the pesky Fins.
Kansas City Chiefs (7-5) at Arizona Cardinals (9-3), Sunday, 4:05 p.m.
Ben: Chiefs. Both teams are coming off stinkers and Arizona is at home, but the Chiefs lost to one of the greatest quarterbacks ever last week, while the banged-up Cards lost to Matt Ryan.
Darren: Cardinals. Arizona has hit a rough patch, but if anyone can slow down Jamaal Charles and KC’s rushing attack, it’s the Cardinals’ stout front seven.
Mike: Cardinals. Points will be at a premium as both teams have good defenses and mediocre offenses. With that in mind, give me the home team.
Buffalo Bills (7-5) at Denver Broncos (9-3), Sunday, 4:05 p.m.
Ben: Broncos. Is Denver done being weirdly bad, like it was for a couple of weeks? Maybe not, but I see them taking care of business against the Bills before tougher road matchups in San Diego and Cincinnati.
Darren: Broncos. Three of the Bills’ last four games are against the Broncos, Packers and Patriots. That’s one tough wagon to circle.
Mike: Broncos. The Patriots should send the NFL schedule-makers a card. They got Denver at home. Their primary AFC East competition — Miami and now Buffalo — both have to go to Denver. The Bills will go the way of the Dolphins.
San Francisco 49ers (7-5) at Oakland Raiders (1-11), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
Ben: 49ers. The Chiefs could miss the playoffs because they lost to the Raiders. That’s hilarious.
Darren: 49ers. This matchup actually could be a great Bay Area rivalry, if one of the participants wasn’t the worst team in the NFL.
Mike: 49ers. This should be a good week for Jim Harbaugh. He’ll pick up a win and do some advanced scouting for the team he’ll be traded to during the offseason.
Seattle Seahawks (8-4) at Philadelphia Eagles (9-3), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
Ben: Seahawks. Philly took care of Dallas with ease on Thanksgiving, but the Cowboys haven’t played really well in more than a month, while the ‘Hawks could be primed to take control of that division.
Darren: Seahawks. As much as I want to take the Eagles, the Seahawks are finally coming together. They beat the Niners on the road last week and are one of the few teams that can slow down Philly’s offense.
Mike: Seahawks. The Eagles beat the Colts in Week 2. Other than that, you know who’ve they beat? No one, really. The Seahawks are coming on strong to end the season, too.
New England Patriots (9-3) at San Diego Chargers (8-4), Sunday, 8:30 p.m.
Ben: Patriots. I know he’s been retired for three years now, but I hope LaDainian Tomlinson comes back for one game to do this, for old time’s sake.
Darren: Patriots. Bill Belichick eliminated a brutal travel schedule by flying his team straight to San Diego this week. The Patriots need this win to stay atop the AFC, and they’ll take care of business.
Mike: Patriots. Tom Brady hasn’t lost two in a row since September 2012. In games following a loss since then, he’s thrown 15 touchdowns and just three interceptions.
Atlanta Falcons (5-7) at Green Bay Packers (9-3), Monday, 8:30 p.m.
Ben: Packers. The Falcons are riding high after their victory over Arizona, which means they might hold Aaron Rodgers to only four TDs.
Darren: Packers. There’s a very good chance Green Bay wins out and gets home-field advantage through the playoffs. If it does, look out.
Mike: Packers. Two division leaders meet in December with an 11.5-point spread. The NFC South, everyone!
Thumbnail photo via Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports Images