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It was another great Thursday night game this week, which saw the Minnesota Vikings visiting the Arizona Cardinals, and they were much more effective than I was expecting despite the injuries in their defence, but that’s not where I will start.

The Cardinals began the game moving the ball well, but couldn’t finish their first drive and had to settle for a field goal. The Vikings in contrast put together a highly effective first drive, with Adrian Peterson looking like he was going to dominate the game as he carved up the Cardinals defence, and made some amazing jump cuts to get his touchdown. However, the Cardinals adjusted and in later drives limited him effectively as they made several tackles for losses. Not only that, but one of the Vikings three fumbles was caused when Josh Mauro cam bursting through the line and tackled Peterson as he attempted to make the pass to a receiver on a reverse play. So if the Vikings didn’t dominate on the ground, how did they stay in the game? The answer is that they came into this game with a plan for dealing with the Cardinals’ pressure schemes in the pass game and were able to throw the ball successfully with Teddy Bridgewater completing twenty-five of thirty-six attempts to eleven different receivers for three hundred and thirty-five yards and a touchdown. A lot of this was on little dump offs and screen passes to counter the pass rush and so whilst no one player dominated, the Vikings were effective moving the ball. The timing of a lot Bridgewater’s throws was good, which they have to be as his balls do seem to hang in the air and I imagine he would not be a relaxing quarterback to watch week in and week out if the Vikings are your team.

The Cardinals were equally as good moving the ball on offence, but could have won this game more easily if they were more effective closer to the goal line. They went 0-2 in the red zone, kicking three field goals and scoring two long passing touchdowns. The aggressive vertical passing game is the defining feature of the Cardinals offence under Bruce Arians, and in Carson Palmer he really has the quarterback to execute it. Not only that, but Arians really has this team playing for each other and nowhere was this more visible on the field than the Cardinal’s second touchdown when three Vikings players bit on an inside route leaving both Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald open. Carson Palmer said after the game he saw that they were both open and threw the ball between them and hoped, although on the coaching tape Floyd is in front of Fitzgerald so it does look like Floyd was the intended target, but the impressive thing for me was Fitzgerald’s block on safety Anthony Harris that opened the way for Floyd to finish a forty-two yard touchdown pass. The crazy thing is that this was not even the longest passing play of the day with John Brown demonstrating his flat out speed as he took a pass to the end zone to complete a sixty-five yard touchdown pass. It should be noted that whilst the vertical passing game is the defining feature, the Cardinals do not ignore the run game, with rookie David Johnson gaining ninety-two yards from nineteen carries, keeping the Vikings defence honest.

So we have seen how effective both offences were, but this was not a high scoring game and as such we shouldn’t overlook the defences. The Vikings defence had some bad moments like the miscommunication on the second touchdown play that had three defenders follow one receiver’s inside route, but they were generating consistent pressure in the passing game and if they only sacked Palmer twice and hit him a further six times, this looked like it was a function of how quickly Palmer was getting rid of the ball rather than impressive offensive line play. They also managed to bat away six passes, and whilst by no means dominant, they absolutely gave the Vikings a chance to win on the road despite on a short week whilst carrying a number of injuries.

Part of this was due to the boom or bust nature of the Cardinals’ aggressive blitzing on defence, which only gained the Cardinals one more sack and one less quarterback hit. The problem with that is the extra sack was Dwight Freeney pulling off one of his trademark spin moves and getting to Teddy Bridgewater on the last play of the game. However, what I was impressed with was the play of the two defenders I am intending to watch on coaching tape next week in Deone Bucannon and Tyrann Mathieu. They led the team in tackles, with Mathieu getting ten solo and Bucannon seven. Not only that but they both had tackles for a loss, Mathieu batted a quick out pass in a way I’ve not seen before, somehow guessing right immediately and getting a hand to the ball as it was in the air but still behind the line of scrimmage, whilst Bucannon forced one of the Vikings three fumbles and recovered the ball. I wonder if the Vikings would have had the same success late in the game if the Cardinals had kept a few more players in coverage, but that doesn’t seem to be in Arians and his coaching staff’s nature and it certainly makes the Cardinals a highly entertaining team to watch.

This was a great game, and I thought the Vikings had a very credible outing in a game I was expecting to be very one sided. A lot of the post game focus is on the final play call, with some arguing the Vikings should have just kicked the field goal, and others saying that with a good quarterback you try to make the field goal easier and it was just a bad play by Bridgewater. I think this is one of those situations where whatever play you call, if it goes wrong the coach will be criticised, but whilst the Vikings will need to start getting some wins to stay in the playoff hunt, only the Seahawks are able to join them and the Packers on eight wins this week so they stand a very good chance of joining the Carolina Panthers and the Cardinals in the playoffs. The Cardinals now have the division sewn up, but could do with working on their red zone efficiency if they want to be truly terrifying, but no one will want to face this team in the post season.

And now onto our picks for the rest of week fourteen.

Falcons @ Panthers (-7.5)

The Falcons are settling into an eight and eight season kind of a season, which is still an improvement on last year, it just came in a very lopsided way thanks to their impressive start, but they really need to get some pass rush to help get their defence sorted out in the offseason. They travel this week to Carolina to face the unbeaten Panthers who they have to play twice in the coming weeks. I’m not sure the Panthers will go unbeaten, but games against the Giants in week fifteen and the Buccaneers in week 17 look like more likely losses, and I think they will have too much for the Falcons in both Carolina and Atlanta. The points give me a little bit of pause, but in the end I can’t look past Cam Newton and the Panthers’ defence in this one.

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

Bills @ Eagles (-0.5)

The Eagles may have beaten the Patriots last week, but they conceded a lot of late points to a team with very few options in the passing game and a patchwork line, whilst getting touchdowns from their defence and special teams. They are still not a team that you can trust, whilst the Bills seem to be doing it on offence rather than defence, but have an outside chance of making a wildcard place. In a straight pick the winner situation I am going for the road team, nervously…

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

Washington @ Bears (-3.5)

The Bears are coming off what they will likely see as a frustrating loss to the 49ers, and will have a point to prove against a Washington team that has not been good on the road. The difference in Washington’s performance on the roach and at home is quite startling, so I’m not going to back them to get their first road win in Chicago this week.

Gee ‘s Pick:    Bears
Dan’s Pick:     Washington

Steelers @ Bengals (-3.5)

This is game of the week, as it’s always a good contest between these two teams, but the Steelers offence is working so well at the moment and they are exactly the wrong team for the Bengals to be facing with the injuries mounting up in their secondary. I will be very happy to be proven wrong, but I simply don’t have as much faith as Dan in the Bengals this week.

Gee ‘s Pick:    Steelers
Dan’s Pick:     Bengals

49ers @ Browns (-1.5)

I am not sure why the Browns are getting points against anyone at the moment, particularly with Johnny Manziel starting at quarterback. The Browns have had an amazing stretch of failing to find a franchise quarterback, and this season is falling apart spectacularly giving them the opportunity to mess up a high pick again. The 49ers are by no means a good team, but given the amount of talent they lost and the division they play in, getting four wins is better than how things looked early in the season and I think they will add to their win total this week.

Gee ‘s Pick:    49ers
Dan’s Pick:     49ers

Lions @ Rams (-0.5)

The Rams continue to slide, whilst the Lions have a defence that is now playing well and a system that is functioning better on offence. The Rams offence is so focussed on Gurly and has so many problems in the passing game that I don’t think they will win this one.

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

Titans @ Jets (-7.5)

The Jets keep going, and are truly in the hunt for the wildcard place, but whilst I expect them to beat the Titans, this number of points make me nervous given the Titans defence has played okay in stretches this season. Part of me wants to pick the Titans to cover in a loss, but in the end I can’t bring myself to make the pick.

Gee ‘s Pick:    Jets
Dan’s Pick:     Jets

Colts @ Jaguars (-1.5)

The Colts fell back to earth last week in the AFC’s own division that no one wants to win, losing to the Steelers badly and getting Hasselbeck injured in the process. The forty year old quarterback has practised all week, but the Colts are a team I don’t trust. The problem for me is that so are the Jaguars, who seem to play well enough to put up a good showing, but make too many mistakes to win regularly. This is another game where part of me wants to pick a team, but I can’t quite bring myself to do it. I know the Jaguars are at home, but I’ve been bitten too many times to back them in this one, which is probably their cue to get the win.

Gee ‘s Pick:    Colts
Dan’s Pick:     Colts

Chargers @ Chiefs (-9.5)

The Chargers surprised me in week 12, but it was against the Jaguars and could get nothing going against the Broncos defence last week. I don’t expect them to have much luck against the Chiefs this week either, and whilst divisional games can be funny, I think the Chiefs will cover in a game they need to win to stay in the playoff hunt.

Gee ‘s Pick:    Chiefs
Dan’s Pick:     Chargers

Saints @ Buccaneers (-3.5)

The New Orleans Saints offence seems to be hit and miss, but they’ve just lost running back Mark Ingram for the rest of the season, whilst the Buccaneers have really come on during the course of this season. This is usually the sign that things are going to go wrong for the Bucs, but I think they will win this one at home in Tampa Bay and so I’m going to back them. Sorry Bucs fans…

Gee ‘s Pick:    Buccaneers
Dan’s Pick:     Buccaneers

Seahawks @ Ravens (+8.5)

The Seahawks are playing good football on offence, with Russell Wilson seemingly beginning the transition to a pocket quarterback, and Thomas Rawls continuing to run well. They absolutely hammered the Vikings last week with their defence pitching a shut out. This is a lot of points for the Ravens to be getting, particularly as they have specialised in close games all season, but Matt Schaub is a pick six throwing machine these days, and I think this is finally the game where the Ravens’ problems finally are reflected in the score. I wouldn’t be too surprised if they kept it close though…

Gee ‘s Pick:    Seahawks
Dan’s Pick:     Seahawks

Raiders @ Broncos (-7.5)

The Broncos keep rolling with great defence and just enough offence to win, but whilst I think they will be able to run on the Raiders and win, I do wonder if they are this much better given how effective Derek Carr and Amari Cooper have been in the passing game. I’m going for a Raiders cover.

Gee ‘s Pick:    Raiders
Dan’s Pick:     Raiders

Cowboys @ Packers (-7.5)

The Dallas Cowboys got a win last week, and somehow are still not out of the race in the NFC East despite only having four of them. This week they travel to face a Packers team that got a stunning last minute win last week, but are still not playing well on offence. They will have had some extra days to try to get healthy on the offensive line, but I’m not sure I feel comfortable backing them to win by this much over anybody at the moment. I could regret this as I still think the Packers will win, but I have a feeling the Cowboys keep it closer than this.

Gee ‘s Pick:    Cowboys
Dan’s Pick:     Packers

Patriots @ Texans (+3.5)

I was all set to pick the Texans in this one, and then Sir JJ of Watt broke his hand in training, and whilst he will be playing this weekend, I think this is one obstacle too many for the Texans. I don’t know if Rob Gronkowski will play, although he’s made the trip from New England to Houston, but it’s hard to see the Patriots losing three in a row for the first time in forever.

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

Gaints @ Dolphins (+0.5)

The New York Giants seem to be a team that wins or loses off the back of which Eli Manning is playing and Odell Beckham making spectacular catches. I’m not sure if this will be enough to beat the Dolphins in Miami, but given their recent run of form and the problems in the Dolphins secondary I suspect it might.

Gee ‘s Pick:    Giants
Dan’s Pick:     Dolphins

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