It's that time of the week. Picks time. It's also do-or-you-know-what time for several NFL teams, or they won't be playing football in January.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers find themselves in must-win territory after dropping two straight. Another loss, and the Buccaneers' conference record will fall to 3-6, destroying their hopes in most tiebreaking scenarios. The Minnesota Vikings desperately need to win, or they're done, too. The St. Louis Rams play at the Buffalo Bills with scant postseason hopes on the line. The Dallas Cowboys could really use a win, but thanks to the New York Giants' loss on Monday night, the Cowboys are still only a game back in the NFC East. Ditto the Washington Redskins.
Yep, it's that time of year. But before we get to it, we have some accounting to address ...
Believe it or not, I've gotten at least one score dead nuts in each of the last five picks columns. I don't know what to say, other than GET TO THE CHOPPAH!!!
Until then, let's delve into some picks. If you've got a quarrel, bring it to @Harrison_NFL ...
Elliot Harrison went 10-6 on his predictions for Week 13, giving him a 100-43-1 record since taking over this space in Week 4. How will he fare in Week 14? His picks are below, with home teams listed second:
Intense lobbying withing factions of NFL.com has forced me to change my prediction to the Bills. I don't like it, and you shouldn't either, but if you're worried about your hack withering under a storm of Bills-related criticism, you should be more concerned about Sam Bradford's performance on the road. The Rams' defensive line has played great in St. Louis, but the road, it's been a different story. Nonetheless, the unit presents an issue for a Bills front five that's been hit-or-miss and is devoid of blue-chip players. A key question will be how much C.J. Spiller plays, and how effective he can be if -- once again -- his touches are limited. #STLvsBUF
Matt Ryan has been lights-out on the road in 2012, and even though he's had his struggles the past few weeks, I anticipate he will be solid in Bank of America Stadium. Will he go for 369 yards like he did in the Atlanta Falcons' first meeting with the Carolina Panthers? No. Carolina's pass defense is eighth in the NFL and has played relatively well. The run defense, however, is a problem. Jamaal Charles went for 127 yards last week, and Bryce Brown piled up 178 the week prior. This should be a good game for Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers. #ATLvsCAR
Some interconference games are yawners, and some are not. This would fall under the cool category, especially when you look at the matchups. The red-hot Tony Romo faces a Cincinnati Bengals defense that has been playing well for a month, especially in the secondary. Cincy also leads the NFL in sacks. Meanwhile, Andy Dalton had been on a roll before tossing two interceptions in San Diego. He'll face two very talented corners who have been slumping of late in Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne. Speaking of which, the whole Dallas Cowboys defense has struggled without either of its starting inside linebackers. Will BenJarvus Green-Ellis make it four straight games with 100 yards? No. #DALvsCIN
The Cleveland Browns win a battle of attrition in the Brady Quinn Bowl. Speaking of Quinn, his and Matt Cassel's seasons were completely flushable until Brady balled out versus the Panthers last Sunday. Can the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback repeat his stellar 19-for-23, two-touchdown performance? He'll have to, because the Browns have played much better defense as of late, not to mention the fact that they're at home. Cleveland has allowed opposing quarterbacks less than 200 yards passing in four of the past six games. Carson Palmer put up 351 on them last week, but had just 17 points to show for it (seven of which were meaningless garbage points, commonly known as "Raider points"). #KCvsCLE
Can Jake Locker give the Tennessee Titans some return on investment? That's the question as Tennessee plays out the string. That's what's going down in Nashville these days. At 4-8, the Titans are merely hoping to develop their young quarterback, as well as some other young players, like first-round pick Kendall Wright. On Sunday, Locker will face what his organization would like him to be: Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. The Titans have allowed opposing quarterbacks to post a 101.2 passer rating. That's great, because it's not like Luck has been that effective at home (except he has). I'd say a 5-1 record with nine touchdowns and three interceptions constitutes "effective." #TENvsIND
And you thought Cardinals-Jets was ugly ... The Greg McElroy experiment? Don't get your hopes up. Mark Sanchez -- despite doing absolutely nothing to earn it -- will get the call in Jacksonville. Luckily for loyal New York Jets fans, the Jacksonville Jaguars' offense will stall against the NFL's 10th-ranked defense. Rex Ryan should make it easy for his beleaguered quarterback by running the football early and often versus the league's 31st-ranked defense in that department (144.0 yards per game allowed). Now, watch Sanchez throw for 339 yards and three touchdowns. Good grief. #NYJvsJAC
I like the Chicago Bears on the road this week. They have to be sick to their stomachs over last Sunday's home loss to a Seattle Seahawks team that simply showed more heart. Brandon Marshall presents a big matchup problem for the entire Minnesota Vikings secondary. Last time out versus the Vikes, he caught 12 balls -- with six going for first downs -- in a Bears win. And wouldn't you know it, little Robbie Gould has dominated the Vikings in their own place, hitting all 13 of his career field-goal attempts in Minnesota while making 20 of his last 21 field-goal attempts indoors. #SolidGould (That was awful.) #CHIvsMIN
For the second consecutive week, the Pittsburgh Steelers need just 23 to win. The San Diego Chargers' defense has, for the most part, kept the club in games. The key here will be how that unit fares on first downs versus Jonathan Dwyer and the Steelers' run game. Provided a potentially less-than-100-percent Ben Roethlisberger isn't faced with anything much tougher than third-and-manageables, the Steelers should prevail. In case you're wondering, the Chargers' run defense on first down is ranked seventh in the NFL (4.06 yards per carry). I just looked it up because I felt you wanted to know. You needed to know. The Steelers must utilize play action and rollouts occasionally on the all-important down to keep San Diego honest. Or they can just wait for two Philip Rivers picks. #SDvsPIT
It's on you, Nick Foles. Trailing 24-20, I see the Philadelphia Eagles engineering an end-of-the-game drive before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers get a pick-six to seal the deal. The much-harassed Bucs secondary has allowed 52 pass plays of 20-plus yards -- the most in the NFC. But don't expect Bryce Brown to run wild, as Tampa's run defense is the best in the NFL (82.3 yards per game). Don't worry, he'll still fumble. Bucs win. #PHIvsTB
For the second straight week, I'm predicting a high-scoring game, and for the second straight week, I'm picking the Washington Redskins to lose a close one. But I'm teetering. You can mount a case for either team. Ray Rice is the best player on the field. The Baltimore Ravens' defense, however, will have trouble with the Redskins' formations and Robert Griffin III's versatility. So, I ask you, Baltimore and Washington fans, who wins the I-95 fight? (Which I hope is better than I, Robot.) @Harrison_NFL is the dropbox. #BALvsWAS
In what amounts to a defensive struggle, the San Francisco 49ers get a pick-six and a fumble-return score to get over the 20-point mark in the second half. Colin Kaepernick and his offensive brethren know they did not do enough to win the game in St. Louis last week, and I fully anticipate the second-year quarterback ripping off another long run like that 50-yard scamper versus the Rams. Ryan Tannehill has to play smart while being extremely accurate in the short passing game -- that's where the Miami Dolphins could do some damage and get Reggie Bush involved. Tempt the Niners safeties to creep up, then send a well-timed vertical shot to Davone Bess or Brian Hartline. Otherwise, they're done. #Ginnbowl #MIAvsSF
Can the New York Giants' front four get to Drew Brees? Big Blue's pass rush is either dominant ... or nonexistent. While the Giants are tied for ninth in the NFL with 30 sacks, they've had three games where they didn't get the quarterback on his butt -- with the ball in hand -- this season. That includes twice -- both losses ( Bengals and Redskins) -- in the past three games. We know this: The New Orleans Saints won't get to Eli Manning, who's suffered just 14 sacks and will have all day to pick about the New Orleans secondary. #NOvsNYG
Get this: An Arizona Cardinals quarterback hasn't had a passer rating over 90 since Sept. 23. In fact, that was the only time it happened the entire season. And it came against the Eagles; everybody carves them up. Cardinals passers haven't surpassed 70 since Oct. 21. We're truly in Derek Anderson waters here. Considering the Seattle Seahawks boast a top-five pass defense ... well, at least Arizona will get a Patrick Peterson return late to make the contest close. #AZvsSEA
A shootout slows down late. No Matt Flynns throwing for 480 here. Although the Green Bay Packers won't be able to run the football 36 times like they did versus the Vikings -- not with James Starks out. The team phoned Ryan Grant. Word on the street is that he was doing Bikram Yoga. Saying he'll give the team something is a stretch, but I don't trust the Detroit Lions' secondary to stop Green Bay, even if Jordy Nelson doesn't play. Detroit has allowed the most quick-strike points, i.e., drives that require three plays or less, in the NFC (56). More word on the street: That's not good for the Lions. #DETvsGB
This is a contest many of us in the bidness have been looking forward to since summertime. As solid as the 11-1 Houston Texans have been, I can't get their lone blemish out of my mind, when Aaron Rodgers lit them up at Reliant back in Week 6. Sure, the New England Patriots give up more big plays than any team in the AFC, but Bill Belichick's club also leads the conference in takeaways with 33. If Stevan Ridley -- the league's seventh-leading rusher -- gets it going versus the NFL's second-best run defense, this is the Patriots' ballgame. I'm guessing 82 yards and a touchdown. Pats win. #HOUvsNE