NFL Week 13 game picks: Saints over Panthers; Eagles hit 11-1

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It's Week 13, which carries plenty of relevant games in the playoff picture, and a whole bunch of quarterback intrigue.

As we head into this week's slate, much focus has been placed on the play of one position, which seems to carry more weight than ever before -- and not all of it's good weight. The Eli Manning benching threw everyone for a loop, even those who have sided with the decision to play for the future (not me). Actually, a true play-the-other-guy-for-the-future situation can be found in San Francisco, with the 49ers starting Jimmy Garoppolo. To a certain extent, the same can be said about Bruce Arians handing the keys to Blaine Gabbert again. On the other end of the spectrum, Carson Wentz and Tom Brady are in a two-man race for league MVP. Other fans and media have continually pointed out the high-level play of Case Keenum. Jared Goff isn't slipping under anyone's radar, either -- not because of hype, but on merit, if for no other reason than the San Andreas-level shift in his play from 2016. Then there's Philip Rivers, who's been streaking since early October.

We haven't even delved into the iceberg Alex Smith struck, the struggles of Dak Prescott, or the Redskins apparently needing like 385,000 throws before they can make a decision on Kirk Cousins. See what I mean?

On to your non-quarterback, football thoughts ...

Super Bowl. They run the football and play solid team defense. Might be an old formula, but it allows them to close out games. They actually have two closers. Don't forget great starting pitching, too.

Viking fans have been saying Minnesota's a top-three team for weeks. That said, the NFC is fascinating this year. The Vikes and Saints can beat the Eagles.

Wow, checking in from Ireland! Well, Matt, the NFC is fascinating with contenders in the Saints, Vikings and Rams. We are all mindful of the Patriots. Yet, at risk of going green because of your homeland, going with the Eagles. They are a complete team.

Now, you'll see my picks for potential contenders New Orleans and Philadelphia's enticing games -- and every other Week 13 contest -- below. Almost all the member teams are still in it mathematically, though some of those odds are quite long -- kinda like the chances that Geno Smith is Big Blue's future. Your future thoughts can be sent now: @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Now, let's get to it!

Elliot Harrison went 13-3 on his predictions for Week 12, giving him a record of 109-67 thus far this season. How will he fare in Week 13? His picks are below:

Vikings
30
Pick
Falcons
27
Sunday, Dec. 3 @ 1 PM ET
What a matchup, in a similar vein to Saints at Rams last week. This could very well be a preview of a Divisional Round game, if the Vikings go on to win the NFC North and Atlanta captures a wild-card spot. Of course, the Falcons could still make a move for more, with two games remaining against New Orleans and one vs. the Panthers at the new palace in Atlanta. Remember, the Falcons were only 7-4 at this point in their Super Bowl season a year ago. In fact, they lost to the Kansas City Eric Berrys in Week 13. Can Vikings safety Harrison Smith play the role of Berry this year?

Yet another reason this is a fantastic matchup: The Falcons own the top-ranked third-down offense (48.1 percent conversions), while the Vikings field the league's best third-down defense, yielding a lowly 28.5 percent conversion rate.

Titans
26
Pick
Texans
21
Sunday, Dec. 3 @ 1 PM ET
If the Titans keep farting around with weaker teams (or at least what we think are weaker teams), they will lose soon. Despite a strong 7-4 record, Tennessee has easily been outscored by its opponents this season. The ground game has been middling for most of the year ( it currently ranks 13th), with Marcus Mariota unable to mitigate the offensive deficiencies. The Texans showed on "Monday Night Football" that they are not as dysfunctional offensively as many would have you believe -- sort of. Solid game here.

Those who complained that Tennessee was disrespected in this week's Power Rankings should know the Titans have a negative point differential (minus-27), a negative turnover differential (minus-4) and a negative yardage differential (minus-8).

Chiefs
24
Pick
Jets
21
Sunday, Dec. 3 @ 1 PM ET
You would think the Jets would be the perfect salve to heal what's been ailing the Chiefs. Yeah, not so much. And I'm not buying into any Darrelle Revis-returns-in-glory storylines. (On that note, has any signing of a Hall of Fame-level talent ever received less coverage than Revis joining the Chiefs? No, probably because no is sure if the cover man can still provide any, uh, coverage.) For Kansas City to win, Kareem Hunt must be productive. Take the onus off Alex Smith, whom everyone is watching with a microscope, and who has been outplayed by Josh McCown of late. (In their last four games, McCown has a 7:1 TD-to-INT ratio and a 101.9 passer rating, while Smith's gone 4:4 and 78.7.) Hunt's last four games warrant scrutiny: He's put up 46, 37, 73 and 17 rushing yards. His yards-per-carry mark during that time is 2.88. Oy. Larger problem: the Chiefs' defense, which is bottom five against both the run and the pass. The 1980 Vikings are the only team since the AFL-NFL merger to make the playoffs matching both those unfortunate criteria. It took this crazy play for Minnesota to pull it off, too. Two crazy plays, in fact.

Broncos
22
Pick
Dolphins
20
Sunday, Dec. 3 @ 1 PM ET
Siemian! Cutler! It's the NFL on CBS!!! Er ... FOX! It's a bit of a plunge from Elway-Marino. Broncos coach Vance Joseph, who is taking a ton of criticism right now, gets off the seven-game schneid with a game plan designed to beat a Miami team he knows well (he was DC there just last season), along with a prideful if not perfect performance from Trevor Siemian.

(Not) Fun fact: The Browns are the only team with a longer active losing streak (11 straight losses) than the Broncos (seven) and Dolphins (five). Tell you what, Jake Plummer and Jay Fiedler aren't walking through that door, either.

Jaguars
30
Pick
Colts
14
Sunday, Dec. 3 @ 1 PM ET
The Colts have stayed in every game for two months, but this matchup in Jacksonville will get away from them. As mentioned in this week's Power Rankings, Indy has scored only two offensive fourth-quarter touchdowns all year. This game will be 16-14 before the Jags produce a defensive touchdown for the third week in a row. (It would be the fourth week in a row, if Tashaun Gipson's fumble return had counted versus the Chargers.) Add a Blake Bortles garbage-time special, and Jacksonville moves to 8-4.

From the incredibly effective football department: The Jags have allowed a league-low 15.3 points per game while scoring 9.4 points per game off turnovers alone. Hard to lose that way.

Packers
25
Pick
Buccaneers
17
Sunday, Dec. 3 @ 1 PM ET
Which Brett Hundley will we see this week? Will it be the guy who looked shell-shocked versus the Ravens? The player held in bubble wrap by the Packers' coaches against the Lions? Or the coolly efficient quarterback in Pittsburgh? Hundley delivered the ball accurately and on time at Heinz Field last week, with Davante Adams emerging as his favorite target. Adams and the proverbial WR2(?), Jordy Nelson, could feast on a Tampa secondary that has let receivers run around like a pack of bloodthirsty squirrels. Or something like that ...

So here's a surprising nugget: The Packers are tied with the Patriots for the longest active postseason streak, having made the playoffs in eight consecutive years. And despite Green Bay being in business for 97 seasons, it's also the longest run in franchise history.

Ravens
21
Pick
Lions
14
Sunday, Dec. 3 @ 1 PM ET
This is as important as any game in Week 13 in terms of the playoff race. Both the Lions and Ravens are in the wild-card mosh pit. Both have head-to-head losses to their division leaders (though Detroit did also beat Minnesota in Week 4). This interconference matchup is especially relevant to the January future of the 6-5 Lions, as it will take 10 wins to get into the NFC tournament. In order to come out successful in Baltimore, Detroit must get Ameer Abdullah going, or feature Theo Riddick enough to give the Ravens' D pause. Their mix of youth and veteran talent has created a purple haze for one-dimensional offenses. Second-year pros Matt Judon and Patrick Onwuasor have particularly impressed. They need to, because the Baltimore offense is far from dynamic. Like when Joe Flacco tries to throw the ball far ... he is only 5 of 33 with one touchdown and seven interceptions on deep balls (20-plus air yards). Ugh.

Patriots
26
Pick
Bills
22
Sunday, Dec. 3 @ 1 PM ET
No, I'm not picking a blowout in this AFC East tussle. The Bills' defense will show up Sunday. Forcing Tom Brady to make mistakes will be problematic, however, as the 40-year-old quarterback's season is evolving into one of the best campaigns in an all-time great catalogue. Brady has thrown a scant three interceptions in 408 attempts. That is an unbelievably low interception percentage of 0.7, putting him on pace to lead the NFL in that category for a third straight year. By the way, Brady's passer rating when targeting Rob Gronkowski this season is 124.9. That's the top mark among pass catchers with 70-plus targets in 2017.

Bears
24
Pick
49ers
20
Sunday, Dec. 3 @ 1 PM ET
The Jimmy Garoppolo era begins in earnest in Chicago, as C.J. Beathard is out and Niners fans wait to see their team's new toy. Garoppolo will be met by a defense that has been viable most of the season, and one which will be motivated after the embarrassment it endured in Philadelphia last week. As much promise as Jimmy G has shown in his brief NFL career, I don't expect to see him and his teammates electric sliding on the Soldier Field turf. (Although it would be appropriate, given that the renovated stadium looks like a lit-up spaceship landed on top of it.) In other news, NFL Research maestro @RealJackandrade tried to sell me this bill of goods: Garoppolo boasts the highest passer rating by a quarterback with multiple starts since the AFL-NFL merger. OK, so that's technically true. But he's started two games, dude.

Chargers
37
Pick
Browns
16
Sunday, Dec. 3 @ 4:05 PM ET
There are those pundits (what does "pundit" even mean?) who would suggest that the media is playing up the Chargers so much that this is precisely where the Browns will grab their first W of the season. Not seeing it. Not even close, frankly, as these Bolts are different than past iterations. Different head coach, different pass rush and a different number of dudes on IR (i.e., "not 20") make Los Angeles a player in both the AFC West and the conference as a whole. Two things must change for Cleveland to come out on top: The Browns must limit turnovers on offense, a category in which they lead the league, and they must muster up some defense in the red zone, where they've been awful (ranking 31st in the NFL).

Fun fact: The Browns' only win over the last 30 games came against the Chargers.

Raiders
20
Pick
Giants
13
Sunday, Dec. 3 @ 4:25 PM ET
Will the Raiders have Amari Cooper's services? That's the question in this contest. (UPDATE: Ian Rapoport reports that Cooper is likely to miss Sunday's game.) Derek Carr need only look at Eli Manning's struggles to see how difficult it is to toil sans your WR1 and WR2. (" Eli Manning's Struggles" soon to be " Geno Smith's Struggles," coming to a home theater near you.) Oakland, of course, will not have the suspended Michael Crabtree for this interconference tussle. The optimal way to attack the Raiders is through the air, where they've given up yards in chunks and can't buy an interception with Vegas money. Thus, Geno Smith must gamble early to open up running lanes for a Giants ground game that's been hit-or-miss. (Mostly miss -- like, 90 percent miss.) Since Manning began his 210-game streak as the Giants' starting quarterback (which will end Sunday), every team in the league has started at least three quarterbacks. You don't want to know the Browns' number.

Saints
29
Pick
Panthers
23
Sunday, Dec. 3 @ 4:25 PM ET
This is a huge game in the NFC. The way these defenses have competed and improved this season, many will see this as a low-scoring affair. I don't. Drew Brees knows the offense left a few plays out on the L.A. Coliseum grass. (Quarterbacks have felt that way for 90 years, going back to Bob Waterfield, Johnny Unitas and whomever USC was playing in 1930.) Cam Newton is due for one of those Cam-running-like-a-Mack-truck performances, like we saw from him last year in the Superdome. The final score of that contest was 41-38, Saints. The year before, in the Panthers' Super Bowl season, the score of the Big Easy matchup was 41-38 in favor of Carolina. What are the chances of that score being reached again? Speaking of, what are the chances that Saints running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara both finish the season with 1,500 scrimmage yards? They're on pace to reach that bar. No RB tandem in league history has pulled that feat off. Tecmo numbers.

Rams
30
Pick
Cardinals
21
Sunday, Dec. 3 @ 4:25 PM ET
Bruce Arians has stated that Blaine Gabbert will start his third game in a row for the maroon-and-white. (Does anyone refer to the Cardinals as the maroon-and-white?) It's been a mixed bag for Gabbert thus far, but the seventh-year pro has displayed the resilience that's kept his NFL career afloat after a choppy start. Jared Goff can relate, as his rookie year in Los Angeles went worse than Gabbert's in Jacksonville -- and that's saying something. The Cardinals must shut down Todd Gurley like they did Leonard Fournette and the Jags running backs last week (the group was held to 29 yards on 14 carries). Goff might discover a few lanes himself, as no one contained Jaguars QB Blake Bortles on his myriad scrambles in Arizona (six carries for 62 yards and two scores). No one is containing Goff, period. Since Week 8, only Tom Brady has a higher passer rating than Goff's 111.9.

Eagles
30
Pick
Seahawks
24
Sunday, Dec. 3 @ 8:30 PM ET
Ah ... the chic pick this week will be to take the Seahawks in an upset. Especially with the Eagles looking so cocky and ripe for a flat road showing. Philadelphia should be able to accomplish plenty against this depleted Seattle defense, though, even with that noisy crowd in play. While the Seahawks do rank ninth in total defense, keep in mind that they've played the offensively challenged 49ers and Cardinals in two of the last three weeks. Pete Carroll's defense has been eaten alive by Deshaun Watson, Kirk Cousins and Matt Ryan this season. Trusting Carson Wentz yet again, but not without a struggle. Russell Wilson has kept Seattle in games with superhuman play. How about this gem from @RealJackandrade: Wilson averages more combined passing and rushing yards per game than five teams this season.

Steelers
21
Pick
Bengals
16
Monday, Dec. 4 @ 8:30 PM ET
The Steelers will be up 21-9 when Andy Dalton puts together a frantic drive late to pull within one score. It won't be enough, and the Bengals' playoff aspirations could be sealed. Media and fans alike always look for the fights and chippy stuff in this matchup, which will never live down that ridiculous wild-card affair from a couple of seasons ago. Your hack writer, who is more sinister, wants to see Le'Veon Bell go for 150 and two tugs in one-upmanship of Joe Mixon. Bell doesn't consider imitation the highest form of flattery. Bad sign for the Bengals: Antonio Brown has 14 touchdown catches in his last seven prime-time games. That'd average out to 32 over a full season!

ALREADY COMPLETED

Redskins
28
Pick
Cowboys
23
Thursday, Nov. 30 @ 8:25 PM ET
The Cowboys' offense, and Dak Prescott, will rebound in this contest, but the Redskins win the day. Washington is still undecided on Kirk Cousins, apparently, which should only serve to motivate him in a matchup against a Dallas defense that "quit" against the Eagles ( according to Jay Ajayi, at least). Having Sean Lee -- out with a hamstring injury -- in the middle would make a huge difference for the Cowboys' defense, but the main factor here is simple: Cousins > Dallas' DBs.

Fun fact: A team that started 5-6 or worse has made the playoffs in each of the last five seasons, including Washington -- twice (2015 and 2012). The Redskins and Cowboys are both 5-6.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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