Fade Material: NFL Week 14 Predictions

Jacksonville Jaguars rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert looks to throw the ball downfield against the Houston Texans in the first half at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas on October 30, 2011. The Texans defeated the Jaguars 24-14. UPI/Aaron M. Sprecher

Turns out I do have a pulse – who knew!

After weeks of bad to horrendous predictions, I’ve started to turn things around with my NFL picks. After going 3-1 in Week 12, I followed that performance with another 3-1 Sunday in Week 13 as the Texans, Chiefs and Saints all covered. (My lone loss was the Bengals, who forgot to get off the bus in Pittsburgh.) The latest 3-1 effort lifted my season record to 24-25-2. Let’s see if I can’t get over that .500 mark so I can save some of my dignity.

Texans @ Bengals, 1:00PM ET
The Bengals burned me last Sunday but I’m a glutton for punishment so I’m back for more this week. I think at some point the Texans won’t be able to overcome not having guys like Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson and Mario Williams in the lineup. T.J. Yates outperformed a very shaky Matt Ryan last Sunday in Houston’s 17-10 victory over Atlanta, but he also didn’t pay for his biggest mistake (an interception returned for a touchdown that would have given the Falcons a second-half lead) because of a penalty on corner Dunta Robinson. I don’t point that out to criticize Yates because the bottom line is he helped the Texans notch a very huge win. But again, at some point Yates will play like a fifth-round rookie and all of these injuries that Houston has endured will eventually catch up to them. Methinks that point will be today in Cincinnati. The Bengals need to slow Arian Foster and Ben Tate to have a shot and I think they will. Their run defense has been consistent all season as long as Andy Dalton and the offense comes up with a couple of big plays, I like Cincinnati to notch a huge home win.

Falcons @ Panthers, 1:00PM ET
This is what I wrote in my Week 13 recap last Sunday: You heard it here first: “The Panthers will beat the Falcons next Sunday in Carolina. The records say different but there’s not that big of a gap between Carolina and Atlanta right now. And with two of the Falcons’ top three corners out with injuries, Cam Newton should have a field day throwing the ball.” The two corners that I was referencing was Brent Grimes (knee) and Kelvin Hayden (toe), who will miss their second and third-straight games, respectively. With the inexperienced Dominique Franks and Christopher Owens starting in Grimes and Hayden’s places, I like Carolina to pull off the small upset.

Bucs @ Jaguars, 1:00PM ET
This is the week that the Bucs get off the schnide. The Jaguars aren’t explosive offensively thanks to Blaine Gabbert and while their defense has kept them in most games, they’re extremely banged up in the secondary. Tampa Bay lacks explosion on offense itself, but I just think the Bucs are due. Some bettors will hesitate laying three points on a bad Tampa team that’s playing on the road, but this is a game where the Bucs could wind up taking all of their frustrations out on Jacksonville and cruising. I just think Tampa is due.

Raiders @ Packers, 4:15PM ET
Given how poorly the Raiders played in Miami last Sunday, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to take Oakland this Sunday against a juggernaut like Green Bay. But then again, I don’t have a ton of sense so I’m going to do it anyway. The Raiders are in a dogfight with the Broncos in the AFC West so they can ill-afford not to play well in Green Bay today. The Packers aren’t playing like they’re taking anyone lightly but I could see their defense allowing the Raiders to keep things within 10 points. I just think 11.5 is too much to be giving a team in Oakland that could wind up winning its division.

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Jekyll and Hyde Texans strike again

If the Houston Texans could ever find some consistency from week-to-week, there’s no doubt they would be a playoff team. But one week they’re losing to the Jaguars at home and the next they’re beating a red-hot Bengals team in Cincinnati.

Matt Schaub dissected the Bengals for 392 yards and four touchdowns in Houston’s 28-17 victory on Sunday. It might have been the best performance of his career, as he used multiple receivers and was incredibly patient while waiting for receivers to come out of their breaks. He was also extremely accurate, hooking up with Andre Johnson eight times for 135 yards, including once for 59 yards.

The Texans have a good enough offense to hang with any opponent in the league. But it will be the play of their defense that decides whether or not they’ll make the playoffs. Today their defense was excellent, limiting the Bengals to only 46 yards on the ground and forcing three turnovers. But next week, who knows?

One factor that could help Houston down the stretch defensively is the emerging play of rookie Brian Cushing. He has shown the ability to shed blockers, hang with backs and receivers in coverage and has displayed a knack for making the big play. He was outstanding on Sunday, intercepting Carson Palmer and forcing two fumbles. Houston has found a special player in this year’s first round pick.

Cincinnati suffered today when defensive end Antwaan Odom left the game with an injury. The Bengals were also without Domata Peko, who has been their best run-stuffer. Without those two defenders, Schaub, Steve Slaton and Chris Brown were able to move the chains with consistency and the Bengals were in catch up mode the entire game outside of when they added a late field goal to take a 17-14 lead into halftime.

This loss might wind up being good for the Bengals. They may have started to read their own press clippings after beating the Ravens in Baltimore last week and Marvin Lewis can use this loss to remind his team that there are 16 games in a NFL season.

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