Vince Lombardi is rolling over in his gridiron grave. Wild endings, bizarre blunders, inclement weather, playoff ramifications — week 14 had it all. Amidst the chaos one contest stood out from the rest.
In Baltimore, the Ravens trailed the Minnesota Vikings 12-7 with just over two minutes remaining in the final period. That’s when things got interesting. Joe Flacco connected with Dennis Pitta for a one-yard score to give Baltimore a 15-12 advantage. 38 seconds later, Minnesota’s Toby Gerhart, filling in for an injured Adrian Peterson, took a handoff up the middle and turned it into a 41-yard touchdown run. The score gave the Vikings a 19-15 lead. On the ensuing kickoff, with Baltimore’s postseason aspirations fading from reality, Jacoby Jones fielded a short kick and raced past the coverage for a 77-yard scoring scamper, regaining a 22-19 lead for the Ravens with 1:16 left in the contest. After two unsuccessful pass attempts, Minnesota faced third and ten from their own 21 yard line on their next possession. The play began innocently with a short completion from Matt Cassel to Cordarrelle Patterson. With a flock of Raven defenders closing in fast, Patterson turned in his best Houdini impersonation. The rookie receiver ducked and darted past errant tacklers racing up the field for an incredible 79-yard touchdown! The score gave Minnesota a 26-22 edge with just 45 seconds left on the clock. Game over, right? Wrong. Baltimore quickly drove the ball the length of field reaching the Vikings nine-yard line with four seconds to spare. With time expiring, Flacco hit Marlon Brown, who made a miraculous diving catch in the back of the end zone for the game winning touchdown! Ravens win 29-26. The two teams combined for an astonishing 36 points in the final 2:05 of regulation. No big deal.
There were thrilling finishes across the league. Antonio Brown appeared to score a game winning touchdown for the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Miami Dolphins only to have stepped out of bounds five yards from the goal line. Frank Gore gashed the Seattle Seahawks for a 51-yard run in the fourth quarter setting up a game winning field goal with only 26 seconds left on the clock. The Green Bay Packers kept their playoff hopes alive with a narrow 22-21 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. In Boston, the New England Patriots found the end zone twice in the final 61 seconds of regulation to post a 27-26 triumph over the Cleveland Browns. Not even Lord Roger could write this script!
In spite of the madness, the Prince of Pick’em managed to post a very merry 12-4 record against the spread over the weekend. The mark leaves us at a downright festive 112-83-13 for the season.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS @ Denver Broncos -10
The NFL is attempting to redeem itself after last Thursday’s snoozer with a pivotal showdown between AFC West rivals. The Broncos are battling the Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots for the number one seed in the AFC playoffs. Denver has a one-game advantage over both, but New England owns the tie breaker over the Broncos should Denver slip in the final weeks of the regular season. San Diego finds itself in a tight race with a number of teams for a wild card berth. The Chargers are the more desperate team and San Diego has one of the few offenses in the NFL capable of keeping pace with Peyton Manning on the scoreboard. I like Denver to win the game but ten points is a tough cover. Broncos win 35-30
WASHINGTON REDSKINS @ Atlanta Falcons -6
Only an idiot would side with the Native Americans, but hear me out on this one. The Redskins have become the drama queens of the NFL. Robert Griffin’s knee hurts. He’s a poor leader. Mike Shanahan has lost touch with today’s younger players. Owner Dan Snyder can’t stop meddling in football matters. What else could possibly go wrong (excluding government) in the nation’s capital? What happens if Shanahan benches RG3 for Captain Kirk Cousins and Cousins plays well? What happens if Cousins leads the ‘Skins to a victory? If nothing else I’m rooting for it. Redskins win 27-20
CHICAGO BEARS @
Cleveland Browns -1
The Chicago Bears high-powered offense, led by journeyman passer Josh McCown, visits Cleveland, Ohio (against their will of course) to face the Browns. The Bears crawled back into NFC North contention last Monday night with a prolific offensive performance in a victory over the Dallas Cowboys. Unfortunately, the Bears defense is allergic to tackling. That’s a problem when you’re facing Browns receivers Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Gordon has devastated opposing defenses of late averaging 194 yards per contest over a four-game span. That’s good. Admittedly, I don’t have a good feel for this game. Bears win 31-30
Houston Texans @
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS -6
The Colts found something last Sunday in Cincinnati despite falling to the Bengals 42-28. For weeks Andrew Luck and the Colts offense had been stuck in neutral. The passing game in particular had struggled in the absence of star receiver Reggie Wayne, but a pair of young pass catchers emerged in the defeat. Da’Rick Rogers and LaVon Brazill combined for 160 yards and four touchdowns against a good Bengals defense. If Rogers and Brazill continue to provide a spark for the Colts offense Indianapolis should cover against a Houston Texans team that’s quit on the season. Colts win 28-17
NEW ENGLAND PATS @ Miami Dolphins +2
The Patriots authored another miraculous win a week ago in a season full of surprising finishes for the Brady Bunch. New England now sits at 10-3, just a game behind Denver in the AFC, but the Patriots are reeling heading into a pivotal contest in Miami against the Dolphins. Star tight end Rob Gronkowski is out for the season, lost to an ACL injury. The 7-6 Dolphins have managed to remain in the AFC playoff picture despite a tumultuous season. Miami’s quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, has yet to defeat Tom Brady in his young career. Patriots win 23-20
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES @ Minnesota Vikings +5
The red hot Philadelphia Eagles fly to Minnesota to face the rumbling, bumbling, stumbling Vikings. First year head coach Chip Kelly has the 8-5 Eagles at the top of the NFC East standings after five consecutive victories. Quarterback Nick Foles has performed beautifully during the winning streak. The Eagles have averaged 31.6 points per game with Foles under center. Minnesota was terrible at American football with a healthy Adrian Peterson in the backfield. Peterson won’t be in the lineup this Sunday. Eagles win 35-14
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS @ New York Giants +7
Seattle was caught in a classic trap game in San Francisco against their hated rivals, the 49ers. The Seahawks dropped to 11-2 following the narrow 19-17 defeat. Pete Carroll still has his team in position to claim the top seed in the NFC, all they have to do is take care of business in New York. The Giants postseason hopes were dashed in sunny San Diego a week ago. Now the G-Men return home to the frigid Meadowlands with nothing but pride to play for. Pride alone won’t be enough to beat Seattle. Seahawks win 31-16
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers +5
San Francisco got a huge home win last Sunday against the Seahawks. The victory improved the 49ers record to 9-4, safely in the NFC playoffs in the season ended today. Colin Kaepernick and the passing attack still hasn’t found a rhythm but the defense has been dominant in recent weeks. Don’t let Tampa Bay’s record fool you, the Bucs have played well winning four of their last five contests. Tampa Bay will be competitive, but the 49ers will slowly pull away for a 4th quarter cover. 49ers win 23-10
Buffalo Bills @
JACKSONVILLE JAGS +1
The Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars both enter week 14’s Toilet Bowl with matching 4-9 records. Confirming the results of this contest will prove challenging as zero Americans are expected to watch this stinker. Remember, coin flips favor the home side. Jaguars win 30-27
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS @ Oakland Raiders +5
After three consecutive losses the Chiefs got back in the win column with a 45-10 scalping of the Washington Redskins last Sunday. Now, the Chiefs must travel to the other coast to battle the rival Oakland Raiders. After a surprisingly competitive start to the season the Raiders have fallen on hard times of late. The Silver and Black is now left to play out the string with no hopes of reaching the postseason. One side has every reason to play well, the other is looking forward to the offseason. One side is good at football, the other isn’t. Take the good team. Chiefs win 26-14
New York Jets @
Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith is an embarrassment to the forward pass. Smith avoided the bench for another week with a victory last week over the Oakland Raiders. The neophyte will find things to be a bit tougher in Carolina against a Panthers team looking to bounce back from a poor performance in New Orleans. Carolina’s top ranked defense, with an assist from the home crowd, will terrorize an anemic Jets offense. New York’s defense is good enough to keep the score close for a half, but a pair of costly turnovers will prove to be Geno and the Jets undoing. Panthers win 27-13
GREEN BAY PACKERS @ Dallas Cowboys -7
It sounds like Packers star quarterback Aaron Rodgers will miss another week of action with a shoulder injury. I would like Green Bay in this spot if Rodgers was expected to play, of course the Packers wouldn’t be a touchdown dog against the Fighting Jerry Jones’ with Rodgers in the lineup. The Cowboys defense is a mess. The team jettisoned defensive coordinator Rob Ryan a year ago in favor of the ancient Monte Kiffin. Ryan promptly joined the New Orleans Saints and turned a historically bad defense a year ago into a top 10 unit. Kiffin has experienced similar success in Dallas. Add on Tony Romo’s traditional December collapse and it’s hard to fathom laying points to back the Cowboys.
ARIZONA CARDINALS @ Tennessee Titans +3
The Cardinals and Titans are heading in opposite directions as the end of the regular season approaches. Arizona has won five of six to reach 8-5 on the season. The emergence of wide receiver Michael Floyd, opposite future Hall-of-Famer Larry Fitzgerald, has been key to the team’s turnaround. Despite the hot streak, Arizona is still battling for a playoff berth in the fiercely competitive NFC. Tennessee has fallen from playoff contention after losing four of five contests. With just three games remaining on the schedule, Titan’s coach Mike Munchak is once again fighting to keep his job. The smart money is on Munchak getting fired. An Arizona victory will be a big step towards that outcome. Cardinals win 28-20
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS @ St. Louis Rams +6
New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees has thrown for 50,026 yards and 357 touchdowns in his illustrious 13 year career. His counterpart in this contest, Kellen Clemens, has thrown for 3,471 yards and 12 touchdowns in his eight ambiguous seasons. How can you possibly side with the Rams? Saints win 33-13
CINCINNATI BENGALS @ Pittsburgh Steelers +3
The Pittsburgh Steelers had to win a week ago at home against the Miami Dolphins to remain relevant in the AFC playoffs race. Trailing 34-28 with just seconds to play, Ben Roethlisberger, pitched the football to Antonio Brown. Brown headed up the sideling and broke into daylight. It appeared Brown would score a miraculous game winning touchdown when he inexplicably stepped out of bounds untouched by a Dolphins defender! Welcome to the Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 season. Cincinnati is clearly the class of the AFC North this season. The cream will rise to the top this Sunday. Bengals win 26-20
BALTIMORE RAVENS @ Detroit Lions -6
I’m in the semifinals of my fantasy football league’s playoffs. My opponent has Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, and Reggie Bush on his roster. Go Baltimore! Ravens win 23-17