Welcome to another edition of Justin Hier’s weekly game previews and predictions!
Another week, another NFL star goes down for the count. This week, we lost MVP front runner Carson Wentz to a season ending knee injury. The number of notable players lost to significant injuries this season seems far greater than we generally see on a yearly basis, and it further exemplifies just how much these athletes put on the line to play the game they love.
On a happier note, a franchise cornerstone is making his long-awaited return to the field this week. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will be back under center as the Green Bay faithful wait to see if he can lead another magical run to the postseason as an encore to last season’s “run the table” performance. As an NFL fan, I know we’d all love to see that happen. Will Rodgers make that first step with a win over Carolina this weekend? Keep reading on to find out.
Each week of the NFL season, I’ll be giving you a sneak peak of the action ahead, as well as my own forecast for the outcome of every contest. Feel free to leave your own predictions and opinions in the comments below!
Week 14 prediction record: 9-7
2017 season prediction record: 130-76
Denver Broncos (4-9) at Indianapolis Colts (3-10) - 8:25 PM ET on NBC/NFLN
Score prediction: Denver 16 - Indianapolis 10
Final Score: Denver 25 - Indianapolis 13
Chicago Bears (4-9) at Detroit Lions (7-6) - 4:30 PM ET on NFLN
That’s right folks, Saturday NFL football has arrived! With the college football season all but over and the NFL schedule reaching its climax, we’ll be treated to a full weekend’s worth of football over the next few weeks. Starting off that slate of unusually scheduled games is an NFC North showdown between the Bears and Lions. While the Bears may be out of playoff contention, they’ve still put up several quality outings and handily upended Cincinnati last week. I don’t expect Chicago to roll over easily for a Lions team that is still very much in the playoff race, but with Matthew Stafford getting healthier, Detroit’s Offense will find a way to get the job done.
Score prediction: Detroit 23 - Chicago 17
Los Angeles Chargers (7-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (7-6) - 8:30 PM ET on NFLN
The Chiefs essentially saved their season last week by finally having their offense and defense show up to the same game. Alex Smith once again looked like the quarterback that led this team to a 5-0 start while the offensive line decided it was time to once again open up some holes for talented rookie runner Kareem Hunt. However, keeping the good times rolling against the division rival Chargers will be a tough task.
This LA Chargers team has been the hottest outfit league-wide since slipping into a 0-4 hole at the beginning of the season. Philip Rivers has been unstoppable, while head coach Anthony Lynn’s defense has been stopping almost all opponents in their tracks. My bet is on Rivers to once again lead his team to a win.
Score prediction: Los Angeles 30 - Kansas City 24
Houston Texans (4-9) at Jacksonville Jaguars (9-4) - 1:00 PM ET on FOX
Sacksnoville is going to go to work this week. With the Houston Texans starting T.J. Yates at quarterback, the Jaguars are sure to bring heavy pressure. That means we’ll see plenty of one-on-one matchups on the boundary, one of which is sure to garner a great deal of interest. That matchup: Jalen Ramsey v DeAndre Hopkins. The last time these two squared off, Hopkins had an inefficient, yet high-yield day, corralling six receptions on seventeen targets for 55 yards and one touchdown. Who will win the standoff this weekend?
Score prediction: Jacksonville 20 - Houston 10
Baltimore Ravens (7-6) at Cleveland Browns (0-13) - 1:00 PM ET on CBS
Ready to hear a crazy stat? The Cleveland Browns are ranked higher in both total offense (24th) and total defense (12th), than the Baltimore Ravens (27th and 14th, respectively). Yet, the Ravens have seven more Ws on their schedule than the winless Browns. That’s just the way of the NFL, and it goes to show you how important red-zone production is on both sides of the ball. Baltimore is better able to capitalize on their opportunities and is better at protecting the ball, leading to more scoring, and more victories. They’ll collect another here in the home of their division rivals.
Score prediction: Baltimore 21 - Cleveland 14
Green Bay Packers (7-6) at Carolina Panthers (9-4) - 1:00 PM ET on FOX
As I mentioned above, the great Aaron Rodgers is back under center for the Green Bay Packers. Not only does that development mean a great deal to the Green Bay faithful, but to the rest of the NFL as well. Simply put, Rodgers is a wonder to watch. There have been very few quarterbacks in the history of this great sport that have done more with less week in and week out and have been so entertaining while doing so. Rodgers makes magic happen whenever he touches the football, and watching him do so is a privilege.
With that said, he faces a stiff test in his first week back from a broken collarbone. Carolina has a daunting defense, and it will take all of that Rodgers magic to overcome one of the best units in the NFC. Does he make it happen? I’m not going to be the one to bet against Mr. Discount Double Check himself.
Score prediction: Green Bay 31 - Carolina 27
Miami Dolphins (6-7) at Buffalo Bills (7-6) - 1:00 PM ET on CBS
The Dolphins shocked the football world by doing two things most Dolphins fans thought were impossible this season. First, they won a primetime game, a feat they’d yet to accomplish this season in three previous tries. Their second achievement was far more extraordinary. Miami defeated the Super Bowl champion Patriots, ending head coach Bill Belichick’s eight-game winning streak and dropping Tom Brady’s career record in Miami to an astounding 7-9.
Jay Cutler and Kenyan Drake’s respective performances kept Miami’s playoff hopes alive, and now the Dolphins have a serious opportunity to run the table with two games against the lackluster Buffalo Bills and one against the inconsistent Kansas City Chiefs. This week, Miami will face a hobbled Tyrod Taylor in the frigid Buffalo winter. Drake will need to carry the offense yet again in a matchup that’s sure to feature plenty of running and hard-hitting defense.
Score prediction: Miami 24 - Buffalo 20
Cincinnati Bengals (5-8) at Minnesota Vikings (10-3) - 1:00 PM ET on CBS
The Vikings finally dropped a game after an impeccable midseason run led by a revitalized Case Keenum and a stifling defense. This week, that defense should get back on track against a Bengals offense that has struggled mightily to move the ball this season. Despite a few ill-timed turnovers, Keenum has looked marvelous while leading Minnesota’s offense and is clicking with Adam Thielen on a level no one, not even those in Minneapolis, could have expected. Expect the Vikes to steal an easy at home this week.
Score prediction: Minnesota 30 - Cincinnati 16
Arizona Cardinals (6-7) at Washington Redskins (5-8) - 1:00 PM ET on FOX
Adrian Peterson’s season has officially ended with the veteran being placed on injured reserve with a neck injury, meaning it will be up to Kerwynn Williams to carry the load on offense. For the Cardinals’ offense to score points this week, Bruce Arians will need to spread the ball around and Blaine Gabbert will need to ensure he doesn’t turn it over to the other team.
All in all, this season has been a disappointment for both of these franchises. With expectations high for both Carson Palmer and Kirk Cousins back in August, fans must be frustrated with the production we’ve seen, especially given the fact that Cardinals fans are now forced to watch Gabbert sling the rock. He could find success in this one, but I see Cousins outperforming him for the win.
Score prediction: Washington 26 - Arizona 19
Philadelphia Eagles (11-2) at New York Giants (2-11) - 1:00 PM ET on FOX
What. A. Shame. Of course, we all know I’m talking about the season ending injury to Carson Wentz. The former MVP frontrunner was treating NFL fans to spectacular football week in and week out. Here’s to hoping the sophomore gunslinger makes a full recovery. Hope is not all lost for Eagles fans though. Nick Foles has had some real success wearing Philadelphia green, and in an offense brimming with play-makers, he’ll have the opportunity to do so once again.
On the Giants’ end of things, the team is simply trying to get out of this season without any more gaffes. The way the year has gone, no one can blame them. Expect another L to be ticked onto their record come Sunday.
Score prediction: Philadelphia 27 - New York 17
New York Jets (5-8) at New Orleans Saints (9-4) - 1:00 PM ET on CBS
The Jets did an impeccable job exceeding expectations this year. That’s not something you’d expect to hear about a team that’s three games under .500, but for an outfit that many had pegged to go near winless, I think Gang Green deserves some credit. A big portion of that credit should specifically directed towards veteran quarterback Josh McCown, and unfortunately for the Jets, his broken hand is going to keep him out for the rest of the season. Bryce Petty doesn’t pose nearly the same threat, and the fact that he’ll be lining up under center must have Saints defenders licking their chops. This one could get messy for the Jets down in New Orleans.
Score prediction: New Orleans 33 - New York 13
Los Angeles Rams (9-4) at Seattle Seahawks (8-5) - 4:05 PM ET on FOX
Russell Wilson has pulled off his best impression of Aaron Rodgers this year, putting the entire Seattle offense on his back and making magician-like plays each and every down. In a way, those plays are becoming as much of a trademark of Wilson’s game as they are a focal point of Rodgers’. However, I foresee Jared Goff coming out of this game the winner. Seattle’s secondary is banged up and I think Goff will take advantage in a game where he’s likely to get his favorite weapon, Robert Woods, back and healthy. Not to mention, Todd Gurley is always a threat to score.
Score prediction: Los Angeles 27 - Seattle 21
Tennessee Titans (8-5) at San Francisco 49ers (3-10) - 4:25 PM ET on CBS
Jimmy Garoppolo has transformed the 49ers attack in his two starts, adding some much needed stability to the offense, and he has the 49ers faithful believing the team has found its franchise quarterback. Can he repeat that success this week?
I say yes. The Titans’ defense, especially in the secondary, has not been able to do much in the way of stopping opposing offenses. With Marcus Mariota hobbled and the Titans oddly unable to move the ball with an offense chalk full of talented skill position players, San Francisco has a shot to keep this one close.
Score prediction: San Francisco 20 - Tennessee 19
New England Patriots (10-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2) - 4:25 PM ET on CBS
The Steelers won a heart-stopping victory over the division rival Ravens and are riding that emotional high into a key matchup with New England. The Patriots are coming off a contest with Miami that went in the exact opposite direction, one in which they were heavily favored going in and soundly beaten by Jay Cutler and the Dolphins. This contest is likely to decide which AFC outfit has home-field advantage in the playoffs. With Rob Gronkowski returning this week and Chris Hogan getting healthier, I think New England’s offense will be back and humming at its usual pace this Sunday, which will be just enough to overcome the Steelers.
Score Prediction: New England 34 - Pittsburgh 30
Dallas Cowboys (7-6) at Oakland Raiders (6-7) - 8:30 PM ET on NBC
This is Dallas’ last game of the year without Ezekiel Elliott, one which they need to win to stay in the NFC wildcard race. Oakland is facing a similar situation in their own playoff hunt. For the Raiders to have a shot at the wild card spot, head coach Jack Del Rio will need to pull this one out and find a way to stop the Cowboys’ up-and-down Zeke-less offense. Alfred Morris and Rod Smith have done an admirable job filling in for Zeke over the past few games, and I think they do just enough to help the Cowboys stay relevant this season.
Score prediction: Dallas 23 - Oakland 21
Atlanta Falcons (8-5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-9) - 8:30 on ESPN
This NFC South divisional matchup concludes a week of relatively lackluster primetime contests. Outside of the unusually scheduled Chiefs-Chargers Saturday night game, week 15 is uncharacteristically void of any real primetime intrigue.
The last time the Falcons took on the Bucs just a few short weeks ago, star wide receiver Julio Jones torched the Tampa Bay secondary for over 200 yards. While I don’t see him matching that same astronomical production, I do see Julio going for over 100 yards and a touchdown. With Brent Grimes pushing it in the age category and without any other viable option at cornerback who can challenge the unstoppable force on the boundary, Matt Ryan is sure to find his favorite target over-and-over again down in Tampa.
Score prediction: Atlanta 28 - Tampa Bay 17