The two most important games of Week 14 in the NFL involve the Los Angeles Rams and the Jacksonville Jaguars. That pretty much sums up the 2017 season thus far.
Both of those games have huge playoff implications in both conferences with the playoffs rapidly approaching. NESN.com’s Mike Cole, Ricky Doyle and Andre Khatchaturian are back to make their against-the-spread picks for those games and the rest of the Week 14 slate.
Here’s how they fared last week.
Mike Cole: 9-6-1 (92-89-7)
Andre Khatchaturian: 7-8-1 (89-92-7)
Ricky Doyle: 9-6-1 (88-93-7)
And here are their Week 14 picks with lines courtesy of OddsShark.
THURSDAY, DEC. 7
(-1) New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons, 8:30 p.m.
Mike: Saints. Tackling remains an issue for the Falcons, who allowed Latavius Murray alone to gain 52 of his 76 yards after contact last week. And now they have to deal with Alvin Kamara, the NFL’s leader in yards after catch.
Ricky: Saints. New Orleans typically plays well within the division — 11-2-1 in its last 14 games against NFC South opponents — and Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium hasn’t provided enough of a home-field advantage this season to cause any uneasiness about picking the better team. Marshon Lattimore has been awesome, and assuming he’s healthy, the rookie could limit Julio Jones’ production for a second consecutive week.
Andre: Saints. The Saints are a better version of the Falcons at the quarterback and running back positions. In the trenches, the Saints are better at getting to and protecting the quarterback according to sack rate metrics. They’re also the only NFL team since Week 3 that’s averaging more than 6 yards per play and allowing fewer than 5 yards per play.
SUNDAY, DEC. 10
Chicago Bears at (-6) Cincinnati Bengals
Mike: Bears. The beat-up Bengals might be reeling after Monday night’s war with the Steelers and could be without both Joe Mixon and Vontaze Burfict. Both teams might struggle to generate offense, so I’ll take the points in what should be a low-scoring game.
Ricky: Bengals. The Bears have been awful on the road this season. They’ve gone 1-4 away from Soldier Field, with those four losses coming by an average of almost 20 points.
Andre: Bears. The Bears are 31st and the Bengals are 32nd in offensive plays this year. Neither team really moves the ball well, but the Bears’ running attack (10th in rush yards per play) should be able to dictate the pace of the game on a cold Cincinnati afternoon.
(-4) Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants, 1 p.m.
Mike: Giants. The move back to Eli Manning and away from Ben McAdoo will give the Giants a momentary jolt against a divisional foe.
Ricky: Cowboys. Dallas’ offensive line finally looked like its 2016 version last week against the Redskins, and that’s a scary development going into a game against the Giants, whose run defense is among their many flaws.
Andre: Cowboys. Sean Lee is coming back, so don’t expect the Giants’ anemic offense to be productive just because Eli is starting again. Also, last week was the first time Alfred Morris was the centerpiece of the Cowboys’ offense and the team played as if it was Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield. Morris averages more than five yards per carry and the Giants have allowed the most rushing yards in the NFL.
Detroit Lions at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1 p.m. (No line)
(-3) Green Bay Packers at Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m.
Mike: Browns. For as bad as the Browns are, they’re allowing the fewest yards per carry of any team in the league. If they slow down the Packers’ rushing attack, it might be a long day for Brett Hundley, especially considering the forecast calls for wind and temps in the 20s.
Ricky: Packers. The Packers must win, and I can’t stomach taking the Browns when the spread is less than a touchdown knowing how badly they can collapse at the drop of a hat.
Andre: Packers. Cleveland has yet to win the turnover battle in any game this season. The Packers have a plus-5 turnover differential and their run game has been strong.
Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills, 1 p.m. (No line)
(-3) Minnesota Vikings at Carolina Panthers, 1 p.m.
Mike: Vikings. The Panthers missed a bunch of tackles last week, and it won’t get any easier against the Vikings and their collection of YAC’ers. Minnesota continues to be undervalued.
Ricky: Vikings. Minnesota is good at extending drives on offense (first in third-down conversion percentage) and stopping drives on defense (first in opponent third-down conversion percentage). If the Vikings can limit the Panthers’ rushing attack on first and second down, forcing the Panthers into some third-and-long situations, it could be a long afternoon for Cam Newton.
Andre: Vikings. Carolina’s defense stinks in the red zone. They’ve allowed a touchdown on 63 percent of their opponent’s red zone appearances, which ranks 27th in the league. Meanwhile, the Vikings have the sixth-most red zone appearances (3.6) and rank eighth in red zone conversion.
Oakland Raiders at (-4) Kansas City Chiefs, 1 p.m.
Mike: Chiefs. K.C. turned the ball over just once in its first seven games and went 6-1. Since then, the Chiefs have seven turnovers in five games. The Raiders — allowing 6.1 yards per play on the road — will be the remedy, as they’ve forced just nine turnovers all season.
Ricky: Chiefs. The Raiders have the NFL’s worst defense, according to Football Outsiders’ overall defensive DVOA. If the Chiefs’ offense can’t get right this week, they’re screwed. Also, Derek Carr typically stinks in Kansas City.
Andre: Raiders. The Chiefs averaged 10.3 yards per play last week against the Jets, and they still lost. Why? Because their defense stayed on the field for a total of 85 plays. Their defense has been on the field more than any other team except for the Bengals this season, and Marcus Peters’ suspension isn’t going to help their cause.
San Francisco 49ers at (-2.5) Houston Texans, 1 p.m.
Mike: 49ers. Eleven Texans were either out or limited at practice Wednesday (three with concussions). Not good. Also, I wonder if Jimmy Garoppolo will benefit from any knowledge gained from five games (plus joint practices) versus the Texans when he was in New England.
Ricky: 49ers. Since 2014, the 49ers have gone 2-11 SU and 2-10-1 ATS versus AFC opponents, which is the worst mark of any NFC team over the span. But that was before Jimmy Garoppolo arrived. There’s a good chance the Jimmy G hype increases after this week, as the Texans, who have lost five of their last six, are a shell of themselves without their leaders on offense (DeShaun Watson) and defense (J.J. Watt).
Andre: 49ers. Carlos Hyde said Jimmy Garoppolo reminds him of a young Tom Brady. Marquise Goodwin called Jimmy G a “winner.” And Joe Staley put it best saying, “We’ve got a quarterback, huh?” Yes, San Francisco. You have a quarterback and you’re getting 2.5 points against a team that doesn’t have a quarterback.
New York Jets at (PK) Denver Broncos, 4:05 p.m.
Mike: Jets. My pal Jonny OddsShark asked me this week which team I’ve had the most trouble handicapping this season. I didn’t mention Denver, but I certainly could have. And at a certain point, I’ve just gotta cut my losses and fade the Broncos. You’re welcome in advance, Denver.
Ricky: Jets. The Browns no longer are the NFL’s worst bet. Now, that honor belongs to the Broncos, who are 2-9-1 ATS this season, including 0-8 ATS during their eight-game losing streak.
Andre: Jets. The Broncos have cracked 20 points just once since Week 2, and that was thanks to a garbage time touchdown in a 51-23 loss to the Eagles. Amazingly, all three of their quarterbacks have more picks than touchdowns this year.
(-3) Tennessee Titans at Arizona Cardinals, 4:05 p.m.
Mike: Cardinals. The Titans aren’t very good, right? Arizona’s run defense (3.7 yards per carry) should be able to slow down the only thing Tennessee can do well, and it might be a big day for Larry Fitzgerald against that Titans secondary.
Ricky: Titans. Tennessee has been pretty good at stopping the run, and Arizona might be without Adrian Peterson again. The Cardinals also have been a terrible bet this season (3-8-1 ATS).
Andre: Cardinals. The Titans are 8-4, but they’ve been very unimpressive this season. They’ve been even less impressive on the road. They’ve won just twice in their last five road games and they really had to work for those two wins against the trash Browns and stink-fest Colts.
Washington Redskins at (-6) Los Angeles Chargers, 4:05 p.m.
Mike: Chargers. The Redskins had done a nice job of dealing with injuries for most of the season, but a banged-up offensive line isn’t conducive to success against that Chargers pass rush.
Ricky: Chargers. The Chargers have long had the talent. And now, they’re finally putting it all together. Expect their winning ways to continue against a wounded Redskins team that looked like a boxer wobbling on his last legs last week against the Cowboys.
Andre: Chargers. The Chargers’ offensive line protects its quarterback better than any team in the league, allowing a sack on less than 3 percent of dropbacks. L.A. also is fourth in defensive sacks. The Chargers haven’t turned the ball over in their last three games.
Philadelphia Eagles at (-2) Los Angeles Rams, 4:25 p.m.
Mike: Rams. Offensive lines don’t always travel, as Philly proved Sunday night when Carson Wentz was pressured on nearly 60 percent of dropbacks. Now, they get the Rams’ pass rush. Also of note: Nine of the 16 touchdown passes allowed by the Eagles were to running backs or tight ends. Todd Gurley must love that.
Ricky: Rams. Not to dump all over the Eagles’ success, but it’s worth noting they demolished some bad teams at their lowest points before running into the Seahawks in Seattle last week, when it looked like Philadelphia’s injuries — Jason Peters, Jordan Hicks, Darren Sproles, etc. — finally had a negative impact. Rams head coach Sean McVay also had success against the Eagles as the Redskins’ offensive coordinator, with Washington going 5-1 SU against Philadelphia during his tenure.
Andre: Rams. The Rams have been successful this season because they dominate the trenches. They’re third in sack rate and seventh in sacks allowed rate. Peters’ absence will be noticeable in this game. Jared Goff also is heating up, completing at least 62 percent of his passes in each of his last five games.
Seattle Seahawks at (-3) Jacksonville Jaguars, 4:25 p.m.
Mike: Seahawks. Probably a trap, but I’ll still take the better quarterback: Russell Wilson. If Seattle continues to slow down the run, the pressure will be on Blake Bortles, as Jacksonville is 3-4 this season when he throws more than 31 passes.
Ricky: Seahawks. Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” secondary isn’t intact, with Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor sidelined, but there’s still plenty of talent at the first and second levels of the defense. The Seahawks, who lead the NFL in penalties by a wide margin, also have been much more disciplined the last two weeks, which is a good sign for a team that can’t afford to beat itself.
Andre: Jaguars. Wilson can’t do it all by himself. He’s been carrying the Seahawks all year, but it’ll be tough to do it against the league’s best defense and pass rush. Sure, the Jags can’t stop the run, but the Seahawks are atrocious on the ground.
Baltimore Ravens at (-5) Pittsburgh Steelers, 8:30 p.m.
Mike: Ravens. Pittsburgh continues to leave a lot to be desired, and it doesn’t get a whole lot easier this week in its second consecutive divisional game while a date with the Patriots looms next week.
Ricky: Ravens. “AFC North football.” That’s how Ben Roethlisberger described the brutality of Monday night’s Steelers-Bengals game, which Pittsburgh might still be feeling come this Sunday night against a physical Baltimore defense. Field goal decides it.
Andre: Ravens. Big Ben has thrown one interception per game this season, and the Ravens lead the league in takeaways and turnover differential. Roethlisberger will make a few mistakes to keep this one close, but I don’t see any way Joe Flacco takes advantage of those mistakes against an elite Pittsburgh defense.
MONDAY, DEC. 11
(-11) New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins, 8:30 p.m.
Mike: Patriots. Miami hasn’t been kind to the Patriots in the past, but the 13-game road winning streak (11-2 ATS) and the fact New England is 9-0 ATS in its last nine without Rob Gronkowski are too much to ignore.
Ricky: Patriots. The Patriots are playing excellent on both sides of the ball, meaning there’s little reason to believe they won’t win this game by at least two touchdowns. New England is 6-0 ATS since Week 7, which includes covering a 17-point spread against Miami in Week 12.
Andre: Patriots. The Patriots have won their last four games by an average margin of 22 points. In that span, the Patriots’ defense has emerged as one of the best, allowing just 4.6 yards per play. Miami, on the other hand, has a minus-7 turnover differential in its last four games.
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