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NFL Team Rankings, Week 15

By Christopher Reina

Our NFL Team Rankings are based entirely on the The Trench Counter, which is an objective formula measuring average yards per pass and run on both offense and defense, along with first downs registered and given up, turnovers for and against, and total penalty yards. 

Over time, The Trench Counter rankings begin to closely resemble the standings but goes even further to determine which teams are truly the best when on the line of scrimmage. 

The chief aim of the Trench Counter is to take the subjective out of the equation and even the somewhat fluky nature of teams actually scoring points, which is of course the whole point on a game-by-game basis.

The Green Bay Packers lost at the Buffalo Bills, but remained in the top spot in our rankings due to a +6.6 in the Trench Counter. The Baltimore Ravens swapped spots with the Miami Dolphins, as did the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks.

Rankings after Week 15

1. Green Bay Packers: 6.5
2. Denver Broncos: 6.0
3. Seattle Seahawks: 5.9
4. Baltimore Ravens: 5.4
5. Miami Dolphins: 4.7
6. Arizona Cardinals: 3.3
7. Indianapolis Colts: 3.3
8. New England Patriots: 2.8
9. Houston Texans: 2.3
10. Dallas Cowboys: 2.2
11. San Francisco 49ers: 2.1
12. Detroit Lions: 2.1
13. New Orleans Saints: 2.1
14. Pittsburgh Steelers: 1.0
15. Kansas City Chiefs: 0.8
16. Cincinnati Bengals: 0.7
17. Philadelphia Eagles: 0.0
18. Buffalo Bills: -0.1
19. Cleveland Browns: -0.4
20. San Diego Chargers: -1.1
21. Carolina Panthers: -1.1
22. Minnesota Vikings: -1.4
23. Washington: -2.0
24. Atlanta Falcons: -2.1
25. New York Giants: -2.8
26. St. Louis Rams: -3.4
27. Chicago Bears: -3.9
28. Jacksonville Jaguars: -4.7
29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: -5.9
30. New York Jets: -6.1
31. Tennessee Titans: -6.9
32. Oakland Raiders: -9.2

$.10 After NFL Week 15

By Jeff Risdon

$.01--The Dallas Cowboys traveled to Philadelphia late in the season with the playoffs on the line once again. And as they seemingly always do, America’s Team got humiliated…

Wait. What’s that? Dallas rallied for the win. Really?!?

That’s certainly not on the script.

On this night, Tony Romo was great. Other than one sack where he held the ball about three times too long, Romo avoided mistakes and smartly picked apart Philadelphia’s shaky coverage. Dez Bryant caught six passes for 117 yards, but three of those receptions ended in the end zone.

Seriously, this is not the script I was handed by the national media almost universally predicting gloom and doom for Dallas. Granted it was an easy one to write, as it happens just about every year, but this is why they play the games.

Philly’s defense just could not keep up with the (Jerry) Joneses. Perhaps it has something to do with the double-edged sword that is their go-go offense. The Eagles ran just 53 plays to Dallas’ 76. At one point the margin was 30-6 as Dallas leapt out to a quick 21-0 lead. As Philly followed the script and took the 24-21 lead, the frantic pace left its own underwhelming defense gassed and taxed. Including last week’s home loss to Seattle, the Eagles opponents have run 53 more plays than Philly has. The time of possession differential is nearly 48 minutes in those two weeks. That’s a major stress on the defense, one the Eagles could not handle.

The Cowboys are now 7-0 on the road and hold a one-game lead on the Eagles at 10-4. Their schedule is a little tougher than Philly’s, but with Indy wrapping up the AFC South (more on that below) the Colts have little to play for next week. The Eagles finish at Washington and New York, with the Cowboys ending their season at Washington. Because of NFC tiebreakers, it’s unlikely more than one of these teams gets into the playoffs. If they wind up tied, Philadelphia will win the tiebreaker for the NFC East title.

$.02--Johnny Manziel debuted as the starting QB for the Cleveland Browns with greater fanfare than the Pope coming to America.

The beginning was quite anticlimactic for Cleveland’s latest messiah. Cincinnati held the ball for over half the first quarter on the opening touchdown drive. Manziel responded with a quick 3-and-out…and then another one. That wound up being a recurring theme in Cincinnati’s 30-0 rout in Cleveland.

The Browns offense was abysmal. They managed just five first downs, and two of those came via penalty. They didn’t top 100 yards until the final play of the game, a 9-yard pass to Travis Benjamin. Mr. Football had a terrible line…






QB Rating







…caused in no small part by having a terrible line in front of him. The Bengals often got easy pressure, including a sack where Brandon Thompson got a paw on Manziel on his third step of a 5-step drop. Andrew Hawkins dropped an easy third-down pass on the first drive. The running game was negligible for the most part. Cincinnati’s defense was impressive, to be sure.

Manziel doesn’t play defense, either, and Cleveland’s D was ugly. Rookie RB Jeremy Hill chugged for 148 yards and two TDs, making defenders look silly at times with his slip-step and excellent power behind his pads. Andy Dalton was pretty lousy (14-of-24, 103 yards, QB Rating 53.6) but kept the chains moving and avoided the crippling mistakes. That was more than enough to beat down a poor effort in all phases from the Browns.

It’s important to not read too much into Manziel after just one start against a likely division champ. He was not good but got little help. Next week’s performance, on the road against the first-place (at 5-8-1) Panthers will be more important. He must create some momentum and keep the defense off the field. With the playoffs a pipe dream, it’s all about professional development. 

$.03--The Arizona Cardinals are a league-best 11-3 and blessed with a fiercely aggressive defense, yet they are the one team everyone in the NFC will be lining up to play in the playoffs. The prospect of facing 3rd-string QB Ryan Lindley is a tantalizing development for the likes of Green Bay, Philadelphia or even the sub-.500 NFC South champ.

Lindley took over in the second half when backup Drew Stanton injured his knee, the same way Stanton inherited the gig from Carson Palmer. While Stanton’s wound didn’t appears as serious, his official status of “week-to-week” with a sprained MCL is not encouraging. Somehow the third-year signal caller from San Diego State managed to secure the touchdown-free 12-6 victory over St. Louis on Thursday night, though that was far more about the Rams’ own offensive ineptitude than anything positive for Mr. Lindley.

It was surprising Lindley even got the call over rookie Logan Thomas. You might recall Thomas got the nod when both Stanton and Palmer were hurt earlier in the season. Then again, Thomas’ line against Denver wasn’t exactly inspiring: 1-of-8, 81 yards, one TD. At least he can threaten the defense and get the Cards in the end zone, something Lindley has never done in significantly more playing time.


The win over St. Louis in essence clinched a playoff berth, something which was later validated when Dallas and Philly didn’t tie. The Arizona defense will keep them in any game, but it’s real difficult to see the Cardinals offense capitalizing. Remember, they’re also without starting RB Andre Ellington and sport the league’s 26th-best O-line according to Football Outsiders. They finish by hosting Seattle and then visiting San Francisco, not exactly an easy road to building confidence in young Lindley.

$.04--Congrats to the Indianapolis Colts, who clinched the AFC South by holding off Houston 17-10 on a bad day from Andrew Luck. It was Indy’s defense rising to the occasion. Facilitating the Colts defense was Houston losing starting QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to a broken leg, replaced by 4th-round rookie Tom Savage.

Savage started and ended slowly--his final throw was picked off to seal the game--but made some impressive throws and reads in between. He flashed the rocket right arm and the ability to fit the ball into tight windows along the sideline. Savage also had major issues handing the ball off to Arian Foster thanks to improper footwork, which is symptomatic of a player who has been the third-stringer most of the season. He’s going to get two more games to prove his future worth, and with the loss the Texans playoff aspirations are essentially doused.

Indianapolis heads back to the playoffs with a wakeup call from Houston. Luck was consistently off all afternoon, including yet another befuddling pick-six where he predetermined his read but never read the switch in coverage. This remains a big issue for Luck, who has the most turnovers in the last three years of anyone not named Eli Manning. He was terrible on 3rd down, missing six in a row on that fateful down at one stretch.

Then again, with Indy’s defense playing so coordinated and effective, they can survive an off day from their franchise QB. The front consistently bested Houston’s offensive line with quickness and good recognition of what play was coming. The secondary was sharp for the most part, though Houston not having Andre Johnson helped there too. If both units can get hot at the same time, Indy is going to be a dangerous playoff team in an AFC where even the best two teams--Denver and New England--have exploitable flaws. 

$.05--Seattle officially eliminated San Francisco from the playoffs with a 17-7 win. It was a game dominated by hard-hitting, aggressive defenses overwhelming the opposing offenses. Neither team netted even 140 yards passing, thanks in part to 11 combined sacks and several more hits.

The biggest play in this game was a truly atrocious call from celebrated referee Ed Hochuli. “Guns” threw a flag on a sack by 49ers LB Nick Moody, who rocked Russell Wilson with a clean hit to the chest. Hochuli thought he saw the crown of Moody’s helmet strike Wilson, but the replays showed otherwise. FOX officiating guru Mike Pereira, who has nicely transitioned from blind sycophant for his former official mates to open-minded analyst, broke down why it was such a bad call:


Instead of getting off the field on 3rd down, San Francisco wound up surrendering a touchdown pass to move the score from 10-7 to 17-7. Given the 49ers dreadful offense and Seattle’s awesome defense, that was essentially the end of the game. It’s a shame such a pivotal game was decided on a bad call. I’ve been a frequent critic of about-to-be-former Niners coach Jim Harbaugh, but he deserves better than to have his fate sealed with a crappy call. With all the injuries the 49ers have endured this year--and add both Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde to the list from this game--the end of the year cannot come soon enough in San Francisco. They put up a game fight against their bitter rivals, but it wasn’t enough. 

$.06--The most surprising result on Sunday was in Buffalo, where the Bills cooled off the red-hot Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Rodgers, still the presumptive MVP, suffered through a miserable day. Several drops helped contribute to a 17-of-42 performance, netting just 175 yards and throwing two INTs with zero INTs. Jordy Nelson dropped a sure touchdown, perhaps returning the favor from when Rodgers threw a pick instead of seeing him streaking down the right sideline uncovered.

Buffalo’s defense is the real story from this game. The Bills front four dominated the Packers line, continually getting pressure by rushing just four while mixing up the safety coverages down the field to thwart the routes Green Bay tried to run. Mario Williams provided the capper by stripping the ball from Rodgers into the end zone inside the final two minutes. When Eddie Lacy--who ran quite well all afternoon, getting 97 yards on just 15 carries--recovered, the dead ball resulted in a safety thanks to the apparently little-known rule that only the player who fumbles can advance a recovery in the final two minutes.

Buffalo’s offense wasn’t pretty, but they benefitted from Bacarri Rambo’s two INTs and a punt return TD from Marcus Thigpen, like Rambo a waiver-wire acquisition during the season. They fed off the defense, and showing the blueprint for beating Rodgers is indeed out there: Don’t blitz! Here’s a screenshot from ESPN which illustrates how it works:


Not every team can get away with it. In fact, the three teams there are probably the only ones who can, with the possible exceptions of Philadelphia and Denver. Here’s the problem for Green Bay, and it’s a very real one: Four of those teams are potential playoff foes. With RT Bryan Bulaga suffering a concussion in this game, the protection issues against non-blitzing teams only gets worse if he can’t answer the bell.

Technically the Bills could be a potential foe as well, as this win lifted them to 8-6 and still very much alive. They’re still on the outside looking in, but with that defense playing at this kind of level they have a chance. 

$.07--Adrian Peterson lost his appeal to have his indeterminate suspension overturned, ending his 2014 season. This was widely expected, including from some in Peterson’s own camp based on media interviews.

One of the reasons this was not a surprise is that the man hearing the appeal was a former NFL official appointed by Commissioner Roger Goodell. While Harold Henderson did his best to project blind neutrality, it still raises eyebrows when the man hearing the appeal is a former employee of the opponents of said appeal. Henderson is technically correct when he stated,

“I conclude that the player has not demonstrated that the process and procedures surrounding his discipline were not fair and consistent. He was afforded all the protections and rights to which he is entitled, and I find no basis to vacate or reduce the discipline.”

But it’s the process which upsets so many. It certainly does so for Peterson, who will be a 30-year-old convicted felony child abuser with no guaranteed money going forward. He’s threatened to sue the league. He’s also threatened to retire, and perhaps try his hand in the Olympics.

It’s hard to say what will come of the NFL’s top running back of the last few seasons. The Vikings are not obligated--morally or financially--to keep supporting their former star, though they have indicated a willingness to welcome him back. Peterson’s matter-of-fact non-apology for severely injuring his own child for interrupting a video game makes it hard to get behind him, even if the NFL’s disciplinary process does indeed seem weighed against him. For a man who lost a son to a child abuser less than a year before he savagely attacked a different son, the level of contrition and remorse sure rings hollow. Peterson could do himself a lot of good if he came out and spoke about what he did wrong and why it’s wrong. Even if he doesn’t believe it, and he might not, he still needs to try and fake it. That would make a nice first step toward getting back into the NFL and ameliorating concerns potential employers would have with the public relations travails sure to follow Peterson.

$.08--NFL Quickies

--Denver smartly locked up one of the more underrated players in the entire league in CB Chris Harris. The $42.5M extension features a high amount of guaranteed cash at $24M, which definitely indicates their commitment. Harris has quietly emerged as one of the stickiest, most reliable cover men in the league. For my money, and for Denver’s money too, he’s a better player than Joe Haden.

--Adam Schefter broke the news Sunday morning that the Oakland Raiders will fire GM Reggie McKenzie. I’m not a big fan of McKenzie’s work in Oakland, but there were many forces beyond his control working against him. He’s a natural fit for a director of collegiate scouting for another team to restore his good name before taking a different GM job. His 2014 draft haul is a great ground floor for the Raiders going forward.

--I’m not a big watcher of the Sunday morning yakfests, but I really enjoyed the NFL Network crew breaking down the rub/wheel route. Michael Irvin showed actual insight and presented an erudite point for perhaps the first time in his life. It also brought back fond memories of Kurt Warner throwing to Marshall Faulk. Man that was a fun team to watch!

--Exact quote from the Titans/Jets game when the score was 5-3 late in the 3rd quarter: “You can’t expect Charlie Whitehurst playing behind a tackle signed on Tuesday is going to have a lot of success.” Whitehurst is Tennessee’s 3rd QB, but both ahead of him are china dolls. With Zach Mettenberger already out, Jake Locker got hurt once again. The Titans could very well need three new QBs this offseason, though I’m sure they’ll keep Mettenberger.

--The Kansas City Chiefs have still not thrown a touchdown to a wide receiver all season. At least they tried to attack down the field a little bit in their 31-13 pasting of Oakland. Alex Smith attempted 8 throws longer than 15 yards, which is at least 4 more than he’s tried in any game in two months. Baby steps. 

$.09--College/Draft Quickies

--Not much drama with the Heisman Trophy, as Oregon QB Marcus Mariota was the runaway winner. He won with the second-highest vote total in NFL history, trailing only Troy Smith. If you had any doubts about Mariota’s character, his excellent acceptance speech should dispel those silly notions. His intangibles are through the roof…and his tangibles are pretty darn impressive too.

--Iowa tackle Brandon Scherff won the Outland Trophy as the nation’s top lineman, another well-deserved award for the downright nasty blocker. He’s a good example of a player who could have been a high pick one year but stayed in school and became a better prospect, and his hard work was rewarded with the prestigious honor. I still think he’s a right tackle in the NFL, but he could be a very good one with his improved hand placement and foot frequency while engaged.

--In a bit of a surprise, Arizona sophomore linebacker Scooby Wright won both the Bednarik and Nagurski Awards, both of which honor the best defensive player in the nation. I’m not questioning Wright’s credentials (I voted for him for the Bednarik Award, after all) but it’s hard for an underclassmen to win these types of awards. Wright led the nation in tackles vs. BCS-level opponents with 153, 27 of which were tackles for loss. It often seemed like there were two of him on the field.

--I did little film review this week but I did do some catching up on Ohio State wideout Devin Smith, after his strong performance in the B1G title game rout of Wisconsin. Daniel Jeremiah of the NFL Network, one of the most respected draftniks in the business from both the inside and out, proclaimed Smith was a top 50 pick after the game. I respectfully disagree with Jeremiah here. Smith has average size at 6’ and 200 lbs, and both his power and playing speed are merely good. Putting him in the top 50 insinuates he’s a better prospect than guys like Sammie Coates, Ty Montgomery, Rashad Greene or Nelson Agholor. I just don’t see it.

--Love the move by Auburn to hire recently deposed Florida coach Will Muschamp as defensive coordinator. His Gator defenses were always the strength of his teams, and he has proven he can develop recruits into NFL talents. That’s a big selling point when competing against Alabama, LSU and Florida State.

--Look for a new mock draft on Friday. Here’s a tease to the top: QBs will go 1-2 but then not again for quite some time, with a preponderance of pass rushers and protectors filling out the top 15.

$.10--I unwittingly ignited a flame war of fairly epic proportions with a simple, honest question this week:


Most of the early responses were rational and fairly divided. The general consensus was that it’s easier to win at Wisconsin right now, but Michigan offers greater high-end potential. Then my friends at ESPN 96.1 in Grand Rapids (I’m a guest every Monday and Friday at 3) used it as a topic du jour the next day. To quote Ron Burgundy, that escalated quickly.

The defensive nature of Wolverines fans rivals their surly mascot in the wild protecting its young. It was as if they were being compared to Eastern Michigan, who happened to beat UM in basketball the night before, and not a program with more Rose Bowls, more B1G titles, more NFL draft picks and more bowl wins over the last 20 years.

It’s difficult to have an open conversation with anyone with a closed mind. Many Michigan fans--not the majority but a vociferous band nonetheless--lack a wider perspective. I’ve told the story here before of attending the Michigan-Alabama game in Jerry World in 2012 with my son, who was decked out head to toe in maize and blue. Alabama fans were amused at the notion that anyone actually thought the Wolverines could compete…and they didn’t. My time living in Houston taught me how irrelevant Michigan football has become on a national level. No recruits from that hotbed area even consider Ann Arbor anymore, which is a shame because it’s a fantastic school in a great locale. The vast majority of folks in Texas see Michigan football the way Michiganders see Tennessee football, a former power faded with perennially overrated recruiting classes, ineffective coaching and far behind better conference rivals.

Yet many Michigan fans stubbornly cling to the notion their school is still what it was under Bo Schembechler or even Gary Moeller. That delusion only serves to heighten expectations that the next coach (forget Jim Harbaugh, too) cannot possibly live up to, certainly not with the group he’s inheriting from Brady Hoke. The best NFL prospect among the upperclassmen is corner Blake Countess, who at this point would seem a 4th or 5th round pick in 2016. The QB situation is dire, the offensive line even worse. The student section is more empty than full most weeks, a result of deposed AD David Brandon’s arrogant money grab from the sycophants who continue to foster the unrealistic vision of Michigan football.

My advice to Wolverine faithful: be patient and be humble. Accept the current reality: this program is squarely behind Ohio State, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Michigan State in the B1G pecking order. Just getting bowl-eligible will be a serious uphill task in 2015. Embrace the “fallen hero” role, which can be mighty attractive to legit top recruits and not the ones who pay (or get paid) to get an extra star or two next to their names. The facilities are among the best in the nation. So is the tradition. UM football will be back, but it’s not a quick fix. 

Football Meteorology For NFL Week 15

By Jeff Risdon

Football Meteorology For Week 15

We are in the home stretch of the season. Fantasy football playoffs are under way…if you’re lucky enough to still be alive. One of my two teams is still going strong, but my neighbor Randy quickly snuffed out my #1 seeded team. C’est la vie!

Last week: 11-5 with a couple of forecasts that nearly nailed the final scores as well. 132-74-1 on the season

Gambling update: I wagered $1000 each on the Patriots and Lions and won, but I lost $500 on the 49ers. The strong profit takes me back up to almost even on the season, at $8500 after starting with $10,000.

Thursday Night

- Arizona Cardinals at St. Louis Rams (-3.5): It might surprise that the 6-7 Rams are favored over the 10-3 (and current #1 seed in the NFC) Cardinals, but extenuating circumstances validate the books. St. Louis has back-to-back shutouts and are healthier than at any point in the season. Arizona has lost its starting QB and now starting RB, with Andre Ellington now gone. Star cornerback Antonio Cromartie, a much more effective cover man than the more celebrated Patrick Peterson, is iffy with a bad ankle.

The Cardinals got their much-needed win last week, and I think the short week and giant exhale with the win over the Chiefs leaves them gasping for air against a smothering Rams defensive front. This is a great week to have the Rams defense on your fantasy team. Not a good week for any offensive player on either team, as the first team to double-figures will win.

Rams 16, Cardinals 12

Sunday Games

- Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers (+3.5): In doing a little research on this matchup, I found it fascinating that this is the third time the 8-5 Chargers have been home underdogs this season. That’s a hellacious schedule, though they did beat Seattle outright in Week 2.

San Diego has to win this game, period. They’re not going to win both at San Francisco and at Kansas City in the final two weeks, and it’s going to take 10 wins to make the playoffs. Given how Denver’s passing offense has sputtered recently, there is a real chance. For that to happen, Philip Rivers is going to have to be at his best and avoid the misreads and accompanying histrionics.

I don’t see it coming to fruition. While Peyton Manning has been substandard lately, with three QB Ratings below 86 in his last four weeks, I think he gets hot in San Diego--both figuratively and literally. The warm weather will snap him out of his chill. As long as the offensive line protects him from Melvin Ingram, that is…

Broncos 30, Chargers 24

- Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots (-7.5): The Patriots can clinch the AFC East for what seems like the 20th year in a row. Miami is dangerous when playing in odd-numbered weeks, and their defensive front should give the Dolphins a fighting chance. Tom Brady has had some odd bouts of scattershot throws, too. Yet losing safety Louis Delmas really hurts Miami’s back end, more for his strong run support than his guesswork in coverage. New England’s RB du jour takes advantage and the Patriots run out the clock on Miami’s fledgling playoff hopes.

Patriots 23, Dolphins 20

- Green Bay Packers at Buffalo Bills (+5.5): The Packers appear unstoppable, but the Bills defense is capable of creating some problems for Aaron Rodgers. They can get pressure both from the edge and up the gut and they can do it rushing just four and dropping seven into coverage. That’s exactly how Detroit held these Packers to just 7 points earlier in the season, albeit against a less relaxed Rodgers.

The problem for Buffalo is scoring enough to hang around. Green Bay’s defense is inconsistent and vulnerable when the pass rush isn’t getting home (see the Monday night game against Atlanta), and the Bills do have a very talented receiving corps. Unfortunately their quarterback is Kyle Orton. It would take at least one defensive or special teams score for Buffalo to stick within a touchdown based on that quarterback matchup.

Packers 27, Bills 17

- Pittsburgh Steelers at Atlanta Falcons (+2.5): I really gained respect for Atlanta in the second half of the Monday night loss to Green Bay. Their defense came alive, and I think that is something they can carry over. The Falcons will need every bit of it, because Pittsburgh’s offense is smoking hot after erupting for 42 last week in Cincinnati. This is the most unpredictable game on the slate; wager at your own peril.

Steelers 33, Falcons 30

- Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns (+1): All eyes will be at the end of West 3rd St. for the starting debut of Johnny Manziel, finally named Cleveland’s starter after weeks of Brian Hoyer futility cost the Browns any real chance at the playoffs.

I’ve consistently stated my opinion on Manziel: I have no idea if it’s going to work, but it’s going to be fascinating to watch it play out. His improvisational ability is a nightmare for defenses, but it can also be a nightmare for his own teammates when he goes off-script without reason.

Given how much trouble Cincinnati’s defense had last week with Pittsburgh’s free-flowing offense, Mr. Football might have quite a debut. The Browns defense will have its say as well, and they embarrassed Andy Dalton & Co. in the first meeting. Dalton will be better here--it’s physically impossible to be any worse--but I think the Dawg Pound will bark happily at a pick-six that wins the game and further jumbles the giant chaotic mess that is the AFC North.

Browns 24, Bengals 21

- Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts (-6.5): Andrew Luck vs. J.J. Watt. Yum. Two of the top five MVP candidates, and they directly face each other.

Even though the Colts have won the last four meetings, Indy is beat up physically. Houston’s defensive line is going to give Luck and the Colts problems, but Indy’s recent ground resurgence is a very good sign. The Colts have rushed for over 5 yards per carry in the last month, and that sort of offensive balance will allow them to seize the win over the pesky Texans and clinch the AFC South.

Colts 23, Texans 17

- Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions (-8): I broke down this game at Bleacher Report, and one of the themes from that piece is Minnesota is no easy win for Detroit. The Lions are the better team and I think they’ll show as such, but the Vikings are not going to make it easy. Detroit’s defensive front getting pressure on an improving Teddy Bridgewater is the big key, but Matthew Stafford needs to be wary of another rapidly improving Viking: corner Xavier Rhodes. He’s been outstanding lately, and his size gives him a decent matchup chance with Calvin Johnson. Should be a good week for Golden Tate going against Captain Munnerlyn, who was torched repeatedly last week when he wasn’t guilty of interference. $500 on the Vikings to keep it within 8 points.

Lions 20, Vikings 13

- San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks (-9.5): This is a death-gasp game for Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers, who need to win out and still get a little help to make the playoffs. To pull that off, they’re going to have to score a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Amazingly, that’s not something they’ve done well.

Colin Kaepernick has yet to throw a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, which almost seems impossible for 13 games. The Niners are dead last in 4th quarter points, touchdowns and first down differential. Seattle hasn’t allowed a single point in the 4th quarter in the last month and their defense is playing better than ever since Bobby Wagner returned at linebacker. Even if the Niners keep it close, they have zero ability to close out the game. The line seems high, but then again SF just lost to a one-win Oakland team. I think the rivalry keeps this close, but I’ll be stunned if Seattle loses in a game they also desperately need for playoff purposes.

Seahawks 24, 49ers 16

- Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles (-3.5): I’m one of the last people to pile on Tony Romo, but his December woes against these Eagles are awfully hard to ignore. Even though he’s been great on the road this year--Dallas is undefeated away from Jerry World--I just can’t get the epic choke jobs of seasons past out of my head.

Then again, Romo might not get the chance to piss yet another NFC East title away. Philly’s offense was humiliated last week by Seattle, and there is too much talent and schematic genius present for that to happen again. The Eagles might not punt more than three times in 13 possessions. I expect the Eagles to light up Lincoln Financial Field with a cornucopia of points. Oops, I mixed up my holiday metaphors there…$1000 on the Eagles to win going away

Eagles 40, Cowboys 26

- Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs (-10.5): The Raiders are playing better, and they already have a win over these Chiefs. I’m very confident Kansas City will return the favor, but there’s no way this punchless KC offense is 10 points better than anyone. Inconceivable! $500 on the Raiders to cover. Inconceivable!

Chiefs 16, Raiders 13

- Jacksonville Jaguars at Baltimore Ravens (-13.5): For some reason I mistype the word “Baltimore” more than just about any other word. Sometimes it’s “Blatimore”, others it comes out “Balmitore” or even “Abltimoer”. Such are the travails of a football writer. The only one I consistently type incorrectly more often is Cardinals, which invariable comes out “Cardinlas”. I have no problem with Jacksonville, other than their offensive chances in this game. The Ravens tend to play to the level of competition, so be careful with your money.

Ravens 30, Jaguars 20

- Washington at New York Giants (-6.5): I’m sure the network executives projected this as the marquee game back when the schedule was announced. Instead it’s a yawner other than the coaching/quarterback controversy in Washington or the potential upheaval of the same positions in New York after the season. Hard to sell that during the game with two weeks still remaining.

Giants 36, Ethnic Slurs 28

- Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers (-5.5): Cam Newton’s car accident and broken transverse process in his back throw this outcome very much in doubt. The Panthers’ defense is bad enough that receivers Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson could wind up outscoring backup Derek Anderson throwing to Kelvin Benjamin. The rookie wideouts, Evans and Benjamin, are an intriguing draw. The Panthers will sell the “win for Cam” angle, but I’m not sure they’re talented enough to do that. Then again, I’m not sure the Bucs are good enough to capitalize.

Panthers 20, Bucs 17

Monday Night

- New Orleans Saints at Chicago Bears (+3): The fact the Bears are getting points at home to a New Orleans team coming off a 41-10 blowout loss at home to a bad Carolina team tells you all you need to know about how Chicago’s season has gone.

I’ve been suckered three times now by Chicago, predicting a resurgence only to see them lay down in a pile of inept, uninspired goop. I’ll assume the classic weatherman stance here: Chicago has a 30% chance of rising up and blowing out the Saints with an unexpected gust of offensive brilliance from Jay Cutler and Matt Forte. It’s enough of a chance that if it were a rain forecast, you should probably bring along the umbrella, though you’ll probably keep it closed up. While it’s not a compelling matchup, points should rain down in Soldier Field between two of the worst-coached and staffed defenses.

Saints 39, Bears 35

Betting recap:

Philadelphia -3.5 for $1000

Minnesota +8 for $500

Oakland +13.5 for $500

NFL Team Rankings, Week 14

All appears to be right in the world with the Packers, Seahawks and Broncos now comprising the top-3 in the Trench Counter.

$.10 After NFL Week 14

On the Seahawks being fully back to Super Bowl form, New England's win at the Chargers, the CFP, Washington's dysfunction, the Bears' nightmare season and more.

Football Meteorology For Week 14

The playoff races are really crowded in both conferences, though there are chances for two different teams to clinch berths this week. It's also the weekend where the college football playoff is resolved and the bowls are announced, which is a very exciting time.

NFL Team Rankings, Week 13

The Seahawks have finally found their 2013 formula again and have moved up from No. 6 to No. 4 in our Trench Counter rankings, while the Eagles jumped from No. 15 to No. 9 ahead of their Week 14 showdown.

$.10 After NFL Week 13

On the Packers emerging as the best team in the NFL, Ray Rice's reinstatements, huge wins for the Eagles and Seahawks over the Cowboys and 49ers, and much more.

Football Meteorology For Week 13

On 49ers/Seahawks, Cowboys/Eagles, Lions/Bears, Patriots/Packers, Broncos/Chiefs and the rest of the Thanksgiving Week slate.