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Titans @ Jaguars

This game was not only interesting, buy pretty enjoyable as the Jaguars managed to pick up their third win of the season.

The Titans opened the game strong taking a ten point lead having elected to receive the ball as they wanted to get off to a fast start. And this is exactly what they got in their opening drive, going eighty-four yard with several nice throws by career backup Charlie Whitehurst, including a lovely twenty-one yard pass to Delaine Walker that must have settled the nerves of everyone on the Titans’ sideline.

In fact the story of this game was the quarterback play, along with pass protection issues, and the Jaguars defence.

The Titans played the more consistently on offence, with Whitehurst throwing some lovely balls and them demonstrating a balanced approach. However, I was pretty impressed with the Jaguars defence that played very tough and frequently caused the Titans problems getting four sacks and really stifling the Titans except for a couple of drives. In fact, the only really impressive drive after their opening drive was in the fourth quarter, when Whitehurst drove them up the field with a succession of good looking passes to different receivers. However, when it really mattered he couldn’t get the ball into the end zone, with a lovely pass defence by Jonathan Cyprien on third down resulting in a Titans field goal. The Jaguars made life difficult for him and I was really impressed by fith round pick Telvin Smith who seemed to be popping consistently in good places from inside linebacker.

If you just compare the numbers of the quarterbacks, you would have thought that the Titans’ had won the game with Whitehurst throwing for over twice as many yards as Blake Bortles. However, I think that Bortles had a better game than these numbers indicate as whilst the Titans were bad in pass protection, the Jaguars were horrible. On one of the few times that Bortles stood in the pocket in the first half he got absolutely drilled. The Jaguars made good use of bootlegs, options, and play action to move Bortles in an attempt to get him time to throw, but often even doing this the Titans were really coming after him. However, there were a few lovely passes amongst the wayward and there could be potential here. The other positive, was although Bortles rushed for fifty yards in this game, and there were option plays being run, he only kept the ball once that I remember on one of these and most of the time he was scrambling out of necessity. Another good point about his running was the absence of heroics, Bortles got what yards he could and then got down. He may have escaped a safety and made up twenty-six yards for the first down, but he didn’t take a hit and that bodes well for his longevity. However, we really won’t know if he has the ability to make the throws you need to be a quality starter until he gets an offensive line that can protect him.

The Titans really were pretty nondescript and it will be interesting what approach they take in the offseason to turn things round, where as I really do think there are some good things beginning to be put together in Jacksonville, but it was always going to take time to turn around a team who had been as bad as the Jaguars were.

And now we get back to the week sixteen picks, pausing only to give you the standings after week 15

Gee:      Week 15   11-5                   Overall   112-112
Dan:       Week 15   7-9                     Overall   113-111

Eagles @ Semi-Pros (+8.5)

The Semi-Pros lost their starting quarterback Colt McCoy to a reoccurrence of his neck injury and so it was time for Robert Griffin to return, shortly after being benched, but even if it was good to see him escape the pocket and get into the end zone, he managed to fumble the boy and lose the touchdown. He did have one passing touchdown and more importantly, managed not to throw an interception but the Semi-Pros never got themselves back in the game against the Giants. The new low key Robert Griffin might help calm the media circus that currently sounds the team, but it is going to take a solid offseason of work to correct the litany of faults that Jay Gruden mentioned a few weeks ago. Whether either of them will be with this team to do this is anyone’s guess, but for now they welcome a smarting Eagles team to FedEx Field.

The Eagles fell out of the playoff places after their loss against the Cowboys last week, and will have to win both of their next two games and hope that results go their way to get back in. They could very well go 11-5 and fail to make the playoffs. They have been a very good team with okay quarterback play, which has probably cost them over the last few weeks with Mark Sanchez throwing nine interceptions to ten touchdowns. The other problem they had last week was that they kept leaving Dez Bryant in single coverage, and your pass rush is not going to get to Tony Romo against the Cowboys o-line before Bryant gets open. He is too good of a receiver to let this happen, and in this game he caught six balls for 114 yards and three touchdowns. The good news is that the miss-firing Semi-Pro offence does not offer similar challenges, and their secondary could really struggle against the fast paced Eagles offence.

I expect Chip Kelly’s team to get back to winning ways this week, but I’m not sure they make the playoffs.

Gee’s Pick:          Eagles
Dan’s Pick:          Eagles

Chargers @ 49ers (-2.5)

The 49ers season continues to fall apart, they performed as I expected last week, and even lost one if the few bright spots of their season when Chris Borland injured his ankle, possibly putting an end to his eye catching debut season. They also finally released Ray McDonald this week, who was not charged with anything following an investigation regarding domestic violence earlier this year, but who is now being investigated on suspicion of sexual assault. The season can’t be over quickly enough for the 49ers so they can sort their coaching situation and start preparing for next season.

The injuries caught up with the Chargers a few weeks ago, but it also appears that quarterback Philip Rivers may be battling a more significant back injury than the team were letting on.  Losing four centres would be enough to cripple any team’s season, yet the Chargers are a very respectable 8-6, and if they can get healthy next year then they could really push on. They have lost their last two games, but given they were facing the Patriots and Broncos this is perhaps not surprising and I think they will get back on track this week.

Gee’s Pick:          Chargers
Dan’s Pick:          Chargers

Falcons @ Saints (-6.5)

This is another strange game brought to you by the NFC South.

Before the season it would have been unthinkable that the Saints would lose four straight games at home, but that is what they have done, and having beaten the woeful Bears on the road last week, they welcome the Falcons. I really don’t have a handle on this team, their offence is top ten by DVOA but their defence has been an awful thirtieth by DVOA.

The Falcons offence is only ranked one place lower that the Saints despite losing nearly an entire starting line up of offensive linemen, but their defence is even worse, ranked as they are at the bottom of the league.

I am worried about the injury status of Julio Jones, but I’m not sure what the Saints have done to be nearly a touchdown up against anyone at home this season and I think that the Falcons really could win this one.

Gee’s Pick:          Falcons
Dan’s Pick:          Saints

Lions @ Bears (+6.5)

The Bears season continues to be an exercise in pain for their fans, with another loss and the benching of the leagues most expensive offensive player.  Jay Cutler’s stats were horrible last week, and the team may need a change just to mix things up, but there doesn’t seem to be a coherent plan and you have to wonder what is going to happen during the offseason in Chicago.

The Lions got the win against a Vikings team that are playing tough defence, and their offence looked like its troubled self again having had a good couple of weeks. However, those good performances started against the Bears and given the way the Chicago defence has been playing, I think the Lions should be able to get going again and setup a huge final game against the Packers in Lambeau Field.

Gee’s Pick:          Lions
Dan’s Pick:          Lions

Browns @ Panthers (-4.5)

The Panthers got their second win over the Buccaneers with Derek Anderson under centre, but we don’t know for sure yet who the starter will be for the Panthers in this game. This should make me nervous about picking this game, but whilst I think they have to start him to find out what they have in their first round pick, Johnny Manziel was awful last week and I think it’s going to be a difficult end to what has been a very promising first season for Mike Pettine in charge of the Browns.

Gee’s Pick:          Panthers
Dan’s Pick:          Panthers

Packers @ Buccaneers (+10.5)

The Buccaneers have been playing well on defence recently, but they’ve just lost Gerald McCoy and this is making me hesitant. The Packers may have been peerless at home, but have been much more of mixed bag on the road. The Bills defence has been playing brilliantly all season, and it was a perfect storm of good play and misfires from the Packers that resulted in the Bills winning last week. I don’t see the Buccaneers winning the game, but I’m tempted by the line to back them to cover. If this was a matter of money then I would be staying well away from this game, but as it’s not I’m prepared to just look stupid.

Gee’s Pick:          Buccaneers
Dan’s Pick:          Packers

Chiefs @ Steelers (-3.5)

The Steelers kept the pressure on in the AFC North race with another win. This is a team that has terrifying ability to take over a game in very little time with explosions of offence as the Bengals learnt to their cost two weeks ago. However, their defence is just flat out bad this season and with a couple of injuries in their secondary, they could be really exploited in this area of the field.

The problem is that whilst the Chiefs will know about the problems with the Steelers defence, they don’t have the receivers to take advantage. You have to admire the coaching staff’s commitment to staying with what works for them, but the fact that they don’t have a receiving touchdown amongst their receivers this season does not bode well when that is the obvious way to attack your opponent. The Chiefs have done amazingly well considering this handicap, but I don’t think the Steelers will be doing the Bengals any favours this week.

Gee’s Pick:          Steelers
Dan’s Pick:          Steelers

Vikings @ Dolphins (-6.5)

The Dolphins season seems to be fading at the worst time, despite seeing enough development from their third year quarterback Ryan Tannehill to answer a lot of the questions that surrounded him at the start of the season. However, there are questions about the coaching job that Joe Philbin has done this season, but the big concern at the moment is the defence which has been struggling in recent weeks, particularly against the run. This could be a real problem in this game as although the Vikings are ranked twenty-second in offence by DVOA, they are ranked fourth in rushing offence.

The Vikings have quietly gone 6-8 this despite losing Adrian Peterson for the season, and an o-line that has not exactly been giving rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater the protection that he needs. However, Mike Zimmer has his defence playing solidly and his team have been in every game for a month including a narrow two point loss to the Packers, and he has the rushing attack to exploit a Dolphins defence that has struggled against the run in recent weeks. I fancy them to keep this game close and possibly beat a Dolphins team who have seen the playoffs slip out of their grasp.

Gee’s Pick:          Vikings
Dan’s Pick:          Dolphins

Patriots @ Jets (+10.5)

I want to pick the Jets in this game. The double digit lines have been causing me problems for a lot of the season. The problems is that whilst the Jets are playing hard and just got a win against the awful Titans, they are horrible on offence and fatally flawed on defence as they don’t have the cornerbacks to play Rex Ryan’s defensive system.

I still think there are signs that Tom Brady is creeping towards being human, but he and the team have been playing so well since their bad start to the season, and having smashed the Dolphins last week, I think they will cover again this week when they visit the Jets. I may be worried about it being a divisional road game for the Patriots, but that apparently this isn’t going to stop me backing them.

Gee’s Pick:          Patriots
Dan’s Pick:          Patriots

Ravens @ Texans (+4.5)

The Texans have basically run out of quarterbacks with Ryan Fitzpatrick going down with a broken leg. This is such a shame for a team that with a bit more consistency from that position and Arian Foster not missing games could have pushed for a playoff spot. Not only will they miss the playoffs, but a losing record makes it that much harder for JJ Watt to win MVP, even though he has had the most ridiculous of seasons. He has more caught touchdowns than the Chiefs entire receiving corp. However, their problem in this game is that they are starting Case Keenum who was picked up this week off the Rams’ practice squad, but who was with the Texans all through training camp. This is an issue as the glaring place to attack the Ravens is in the passing game as they have just lost yet another member of the secondary, but I just don’t see it happening.

The Ravens are a scarily complete team, with the one glaring flaw I just mentioned, but I don’t see their injured secondary hurting them in this game. The offence is working well, and there defensive front might actually be playing better since Haloti Ngata’s suspension as it has increased Timmy Jernigan’s playing time. They may be on the road in this game, but I don’t expect that to stop them.

Gee’s Pick:          Ravens
Dan’s Pick:          Ravens

Giants @ Rams (-5.5)

The Rams have a defence that is playing really well over the recent weeks (they are top ten by DVOA), but they cannot move the ball on offence and so having got a couple of wins, they were unable to beat the Cardinals last week. I think this should be a close game, but whilst I can see them winning the game, I’m not sure I can see them beating the Giants by this much.

The Giants season has been massively disappointing, but they have one of the most exciting rookie receivers that we have seen in years. They are ranked a few places higher in offence by DVOA, but there defence is much worse. However, the Eli Manning to Odell Beckham Jnr. Connection is so much more effective than anything that the Rams offence can offer that I think it will keep them in the game.

In the end, I’m taking the points in a game where the team records are only separated by a win.

Gee’s Pick:          Giants
Dan’s Pick:          Giants

Bills @ Raiders (+5.5)

Oakland crashed back to earth last week with a heavy loss against the Chiefs. They have some pieces to build around for next year, but who will be coaching them and what the plan will be is anyone’s guess at this point. It will be interesting to see how things evolve, but I think we could have seen their last win of the season, as they follow this game against the Bills with a visit to the Broncos.

The Bills got an excellent win against the Packers, and whilst there were some miscues from the Packers offence, the Bills defence continued their strong play and now lead the league in defensive DVOA. I think they will have more than enough to deal with the Raiders this week, and it will be interesting to see what they do about the quarterback position in the offseason, as this is the one thing that give me pause in this game. Still, whilst I’m wary of a drop off from last week, I have no trust in the Raiders and I think it could be a very long day for Derek Carr against the Bills’ fearsome pass rush.

Gee’s Pick:          Bills
Dan’s Pick:          Bills

Colts @ Cowboys (-2.5)

The Cowboys really impressed me with their win against the Eagles last week, and Tony Romo looked a lot more like the quarterback who played so well at the beginning of the year. The problem is that DeMarco Murray broke his hand and we’re still not sure if he will be playing with a cast. However, I’m prepared to take a risk here as the Cowboys’ offensive line has been simply fabulous this year and I think that any competent back can probably have success behind it. They didn’t get a great deal of yards last week against the Eagles, but the Colts defence is not such a fierce proposition.

The truth is that the Colts have been getting away with it for the last few weeks. Andrew Luck has a surprising number of fumbles and interceptions, and it’s only been down to some redemptive heroics on his part that they haven’t dropped a couple of games. The Patriots were the last team to beat them, but they also gave the league a template for doing it, and the Cowboys have the offensive line to run the ball down the throat of the Colts defence like the Pats did in week eleven. I think this will be an interesting game, and could reveal a lot about both of these teams’ prospects in the playoffs.

Gee’s Pick:          Cowboys
Dan’s Pick:          Cowboys

Seahawks @ Cardinals (7.5)

This is going to be an ugly game, both teams are playing good defence and both have their challenges on offence.

The Cardinals have had so many injuries, but Ryan Lindley as quarterback might be a handicap too far for the Cardinals who somehow have only three losses despite being on their third starting quarterback and the fourth to play for them this season. They have not been running the ball well for most of the season, but did manage to do so last week with a balance of Kerwynn Williams and Stepfan Taylor.

The Seahawks have been back to their best on defence over the last few weeks and are peaking at the right time of the season. No one will want to play them at the moment, but they are limited on offence as Russell Wilson doesn’t’ have the skill players to throw to. I think that the Seahawks are going to win this game, but I don’t see them having enough offence against the Cardinals defence to get a win big enough to cover this line.

Gee’s Pick:          Cardinals
Dan’s Pick:          Seahawks

Broncos @ Bengals (+3.5)

I am terrified of this game. The Bengals looked really good against the Browns last week, but a high pressure Monday Night Football appearance is not what I would have chosen for a must win game if we are to make the playoffs. This is a chance for our January woes to come a visiting in December, and whilst I’m happy that we’ve seem to have found the right balance in the run game, the defence is not where it was last year in terms of consistency and run stopping, whilst everything sits on Andy Dalton’s big game play. Like I said, I have no confidence in this game.

The Broncos have been winning ugly in recent weeks, and something is going on with Peyton Manning as although he’s been throwing wobbly balls for years, they are lacking zip and he hasn’t had a good performance since week thirteen. The bad new for the Bengals is that the Broncos seem to have found a formula to run the ball and their defence has been playing well all season. They may not be dominating like they were earlier this season or last year, but they have built the team to win in other ways than riding the arm of Manning and I suspect this will seem them through in this game.

I would love for this to be a break out game for Marvin Lewis and Andy Dalton, a win here could turn around the narrative surrounding them in big games, and at the beginning of the season I was hopeful that they could get a playoff win and push on as there is so much talent on the roster, but I’m still haunted by the previous losses to the Patriots and Browns in prime TV spots. Prove me wrong guys!

Gee’s Pick:          Broncos
Dan’s Pick:          Broncos