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Week 14 Cheat Sheet

Schrager: Wild NFL weekend preview
Schrager: Wild NFL weekend preview
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Peter Schrager

Peter Schrager is the Senior NFL Writer for FOXSports.com and the national sports correspondent for FOX News Channel's "FOX Report Weekend." He's the co-author of Victor Cruz's New York Times' best-selling memoir "Out of the Blue" and lives in New York. Feel free to e-mail him at peterschrager@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter.

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It’s growing increasingly obvious the last thing you ever want as an NFL coach these days is the dreaded owner’s “vote of confidence.” It’s the final nail in the coffin, considering we saw the third coach who has gotten such a “VOC” this season get the ax earlier this week.

Josh McDaniels joins Brad Childress and Wade Phillips as coaches shown the door this season, but there are more than quiet whispers in Cincy about 2009 NFL Coach of the Year Marvin Lewis, in San Francisco about Mike Singletary and in Houston about Gary Kubiak potentially joining that trio before the 2010 season ends.

For the teams that are actually still relevant in the playoff picture, Week 14 presents a bevy of must-wins. Whether it’s the brought-crashing-back-down-to-earth Chargers and Jets hosting division rivals Kansas City and Miami, respectively, the 9-3 Bears facing the 10-2 Patriots or the 8-4 Giants traveling to Minnesota for a date with the suddenly rejuvenated Vikings, everyone in the hunt seems to need a win this weekend.

WHAT'S THE LATEST?

Get all the news from the football world on our NFL Buzz Blog.

As for my picks? Let’s dig into the Cheat Sheet.

Week 13 Record: 10-6

Overall 2010 Record: 110-83

Thursday night

Indianapolis at Tennessee: For seemingly ever, the Colts and Titans have been the powers in the AFC South. Heading into Thursday night’s showdown, however, neither team is in possession of first place in the division, and both would be on the outside of the playoffs if the postseason started this weekend. For as awful as the Colts have looked during their three-game losing streak (just the fourth such streak in the 12 years since Peyton Manning was drafted), Tennessee has looked even worse. The Titans have lost five straight games and haven’t scored a touchdown in 13 quarters. Jim Caldwell was a Coach of the Year candidate last year, and Jeff Fisher is by far the longest-tenured coach in the league. Both men need wins in this one. Badly. The Pick: Colts 24, Titans 16
 

Sunday 1 p.m. ET games


Cincinnati at Pittsburgh: With Sunday’s you-can’t-make-this-up loss to the Saints, the Bengals have now dropped nine straight games, with seven of those nine losses coming by eight points or less. They also became the first team since the 1958 49ers to surrender runs of 20 yards or more in 12 straight games. If there’s any bright side to what has been a downright abysmal season in Cincinnati, it’s that if the NFL draft were this weekend, the Bungles would have the second pick. Andrew Luck, Patrick Peterson, Nick Fairley and Da’Quan Bowers would all obviously be welcome additions. Cincinnati has the lowest opponent winning percentage (82-60) when compared with fellow 2-10 squads Buffalo (83-61) and Detroit (83-61). So, yeah, the Bengals have that going for them. The Pick: Steelers 34, Bengals 17

Oakland at Jacksonville: Beloved Raiders fans, please take a moment to envision me right now, my hat in my hand, knocking on the door of your crazed silver-and- black locomotive. I got your emails; I got your tweets. And I’m sorry. I said it. A week after I “officially” declared I was turning in my white jumpsuit and retiring my shoulder spikes for the season, I want to get back on the Raiders bandwagon. I understand that I was once driving this ride and hastily deserted all of you the second things got rough, but I also recognize it was a mistake. I feel like a high school kid who dumps his longtime girlfriend for a shot with the cheerleader, only to be kicked to the curb a few weeks later. If you’ll have me, I want back on the bandwagon. The dream season continues with a win over the AFC South leaders in their building on Sunday. Just win, baby. The Pick: Raiders 24, Jaguars 20

Green Bay at Detroit: I’ll eat some crow and man up to what can be described as nothing more than hubris getting the best of me last week. Picking the Niners — without Frank Gore in the lineup, on the road in Lambeau and on just six days of rest — to beat the Packers? Well, that wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve ever done. Aaron Rodgers is beyond locked in right now, but I was most excited by the glimpse of something that maybe sort of resembled a Packers running game on Sunday. Rookie running back James Starks made his pro debut against San Francisco with 18 impressive carries for 73 yards. The Pack have beaten the Lions 10 straight times, dating back to the 2005 season. Add another one to the list as the Lions drop yet another bout to a division opponent. The Pick: Packers 27, Lions 17

New York Giants at Minnesota: With both teams having won two in a row, the Giants face the Vikings for the 10th time in 11 years. New York was embarrassed in a 44-7, season-ending blowout loss at Minnesota last season and should be looking to get some revenge for that. To the chagrin of some in Minnesota, it looks like Mr. Favre will be under center on Sunday. He might be better off letting T-Jack take the snaps in this one, though. With the recent emergence of rookie Jason Pierre-Paul (two sacks last weekend), the Giants' defensive line and pass rush has looked unstoppable over the past few weeks. If the Giants get David Diehl and Steve Smith back as expected in this one, I like New York. The Pick: Giants 23, Vikings 13

Cleveland at Buffalo: For the first time since opening day, Eric Mangini will actually have his choice of starting quarterbacks. With Jake Delhomme fresh off two straight wins and Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace healthy, Mangini will need to pick among the hot hand, the young gun and the reliable third option in Wallace. The worst game of the 2009 season took place last year between Cleveland and Buffalo, a contest the Browns won 6-3, though quarterback Derek Anderson completed just 2 of 17 passes for 23 yards. Expect a bit more of a watchable game and another Mangini-led December Browns victory. The Pick: Browns 24, Bills 16

POWER RANKINGS

Which teams are looking up in this week's NFL power rankings?

Atlanta at Carolina: Matt Ryan did it again last Sunday, leading the Falcons back from 10 points down in the fourth quarter on the road in Tampa. This weekend’s bout — if you want to call it that — with Carolina shouldn’t be nearly as difficult. Michael Turner, who broke the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the second time in his career last week, should have his way with the depleted Carolina defense. As for Carolina’s offense? The shot of team captain Steve Smith with his head in his hands on the bench in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss at Seattle was all you needed to know about the 2010 Panthers season. Could Carolina take Andrew Luck a year after selecting Jimmy Clausen? Absolutely, it could. The Panthers probably will. The Pick: Falcons 34, Panthers 14

Tampa Bay at Washington: I had this one circled since August as the Joey Galloway Bowl. Alas, the 39-year-old former Bucs star was waived by the Redskins a few weeks back. The last man to have a full gray beard and start at a skill position will have no role in this one. Tampa is 4-2 on the road this season, but the Baby Bucs are coming off back-to-back heartbreaking losses against the Ravens and Falcons. A lesser coach and perhaps a lesser team would let such defeats squash them, but not Raheem Morris and his kids. After their trip to D.C. this weekend, the Baby Bucs finish the season with winnable home games against Detroit and Seattle and then a potential wild-card play-in game with the Saints at the Superdome. Win out, and a postseason berth could be theirs. Tampa is probably another year away from the playoffs, but I don’t see the Bucs falling to the ‘Skins on Sunday. The Pick: Buccaneers 27, Redskins 22
 

Sunday, 4 p.m. ET games


Seattle at San Francisco: The NFC West is slowly but surely becoming a two-horse (donkey?) race between the Seahawks and Rams. Seattle showed its first signs of life in three weeks in the second half of Sunday’s 31-14 win over Carolina, outscoring the Panthers 28-0 in the third and fourth quarters. The running game and the defense — two nonexistent pieces for much of the year — stepped it up, with a season high in rushing yards and just 106 yards surrendered in the second half. San Francisco passed on drafting a corner or safety in the first round of April’s draft and instead selected two offensive linemen. Sure enough, its secondary is one of the worst units in the league. Look for Matt Hasselbeck to light up the San Fran pass defense, just as he did in Week 1. The Pick: Seahawks 30, 49ers 22

St. Louis at New Orleans: Though they haven’t been nearly as dominant or as aesthetically pleasing as last season’s Super Bowl-champion squad, the 2010 Saints have been racking up key road victories down the stretch. New Orleans was sloppy Sunday in Cincinnati, surrendering multiple leads and tallying season highs in penalties (11) and penalty yards (100). But wins are wins, and, at 9-3, the Saints are in good shape for another postseason run. St. Louis could technically lose this one and next week against Kansas City and still be in the hunt for the NFC West crown. The Rams’ final two games — home against the Niners and at Seattle — should decide the division champion. I don’t see them competing in this one. The Pick: Saints 31, Rams 13

Kansas City at San Diego: Though things were looking rather rosy a week ago at this time after a road romp over the Colts, coming off Sunday’s loss in Oakland, the Chargers now suddenly find themselves with a 6-6 overall record and a 1-3 mark within the division. Another loss to the Chiefs would put the Chargers three full games behind the division leaders with three games to play. Furthermore, they would have been swept by the two teams (Raiders, Chiefs) that could conceivably tie them for a division title. In short, the playoffs start now for the Chargers. Oakland piled up 251 rushing yards to San Diego’s 21 on Sunday, and the Chiefs feature an even better ground game than the Raiders. I think the Bolts do find a way in their building this weekend, but it will take yet another superhuman effort out of their quarterback. The Pick: Chargers 27, Chiefs 21

Miami at New York Jets: Are the Jets contenders or pretenders? Lost in their recent four-game winning streak was that they’d beaten Detroit, Cleveland, Houston and Cincinnati — four teams with losing records. The Patriots brought the Jets back to reality on Monday night. I think they rebound and take care of the Dolphins, a team that’s beaten New York the past two times they’ve made the trip up north, in a close one on Sunday. The Pick: Jets 23, Dolphins 17

Denver at Arizona: And with that, the forgettable — at times embarrassing — Josh McDaniels era of Denver Broncos football is over. In a matter of two years, McDaniels traded away a franchise quarterback in Jay Cutler, got rid of a franchise wide receiver in Brandon Marshall and dealt a future first-round pick for Alphonso Smith, only to trade Smith for the other Gronkowski brother the very next offseason. Oh, and he threw in Peyton Hillis — likely a first-team All-Pro selection this season — as an add-on in a trade for third-string quarterback Brady Quinn. Mercifully, one of these two teams likely will get a win on Sunday when they square off against each other. Anderson, Hall, Skelton and Bartel sounds more like a personal injury law firm that advertises on park benches than a quarterback depth chart. Unfortunately, there’s no Leinart in that mix. In a meeting of two awful teams, give me the team with an at least somewhat effective running game. The Pick: Broncos 17, Cardinals 7

New England at Chicago: Now 9-3 and winners of five straight games, the Bears would be safely headed to the playoffs, you’d think. Then you look at what’s left on their schedule and realize they should feel anything but comfortable. Sunday’s matchup with the red-hot Patriots is followed by a road trip to play the Vikings, an all-out slugfest with the Jets and a season finale at Green Bay. Could Chicago finish the year 0-4 and find itself out of the playoffs at 9-7? Absolutely. Will it? I don’t think so. Few pundits seem to believe in these Bears, but with five touchdowns and just one interception in his past three games, I like Mr. Cutler to get to the playoffs for the first time in his five-year NFL career. It starts on Sunday with a win over the Patriots, who’ll be coming into this one on just six days’ rest after Monday night’s emotional win over the Jets. Belichick and Brady don’t tend to have many “letdown” games, but the Bears are going to be tough to beat in their own building on a late Sunday afternoon in December. In the rare home upset, I’ll take Chicago on a last-second Robbie Gould field goal. The Pick: Bears 30, Patriots 27
 

Sunday night


Philadelphia at Dallas: The Cowboys defense has generated 11 takeaways in the past four games, after getting just 10 in the first eight games under Wade Phillips. That includes four takeaways on Sunday against the Colts, two of which were interceptions returned for touchdowns. Opportunistic, high-flying and full of optimism, the suddenly rejuvenated, Jason Garrett-led Cowboys are enjoyable to watch. At 3-1 since the guy took over, it’d be easy to take the Cowboys at home on Sunday. Eh, I like Vick — 6-1 in games he’s started and finished this year — with the Sunday night spotlight and first place in the NFC East on the line. The Pick: Eagles 31, Cowboys 23

 

 

LET'S KICK IT

Your team may be painful to watch, but these cheerleaders are easy on the eyes.

Monday night


 

Baltimore at Houston: The Texans enter Week 14 with a 5-7 record for the fourth consecutive season. The past three years, they finished 3-1, 3-1 and 4-0. Great. They didn’t make the playoffs in any of those campaigns, though, and still have not been to the postseason as a franchise. The offense has been competent in 2010, but the defense has been inept. Joe Flacco is coming off a less-than-impressive Sunday night outing last weekend, and Cam Cameron should have some tricks up his sleeve for the Swiss-cheese Houston D. I’ll take the Ravens in what could be yet another Monday night snoozefest. The Pick: Ravens 34, Texans 21

Cheat Sheet Trivia Question of the Week

In Kansas City’s 10-6 win over Denver on Sunday, Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles had 116 rushing yards. Charles is averaging 6.2 yards per carry (1,137 yards on 182 attempts) this season. Only one player in NFL history has finished a season with more than 1,100 yards and a 6.2-plus carry average. Who was that player and in which year was the feat accomplished?


Cheat Sheet Reader E-Mail of the Week

Peter,

I noticed your subtle coach Eric Taylor reference in your column this week and wanted to thank you. “Friday Night Lights” is the best show on TV, and few football fans even watch it. My friends and I were having a fun debate this week at the sports bar and wanted to get your opinion. Of all the great quarterbacks we’ve seen on TV and in the movies — whether it be East Dillon’s Jason Street (pre-injury, of course), Johnny Utah or the golden-haired Ronnie Bass from “Remember the Titans” — who would you take as your quarterback if you were building an NFL franchise? — Gregg, Charlotte, N.C.


Gregg,

Great question, Gregg. I assume you’re talking pro quarterbacks, thus eliminating any of the “Friday Night Lights” kids (sorry, Vince Howard, Matt Saracen, J.D. McCoy), any of the “Varsity Blues” boys (Lance Harbor and Johnny “Mox” Moxon) and the many standouts from the Pop Warner ranks that we’ve watched over the years (including Devon Sawa’s Junior Floyd character in the vastly underappreciated Disney gem “Little Giants”). I’d love to have a scouting combine of some sort to get 40 times and Wonderlic scores, but based solely on the “eye” test, I’m going with the following five guys as my franchise picks:

5. Paul Blake, played by Scott Bakula in 1991’s “Necessary Roughness”: Already long in the tooth and probably not the long-term answer, but if you need a win and a leader to shape up your team in an instant, I can’t imagine a better guy to do the job. Took the Texas State Armadillos to places they’d never dreamed of going.

4. Shane Falco, played by Keanu Reeves in 2000’s “The Replacements”: Most would take Reeves’ other quarterback character, Johnny Utah from “Point Break,” but I like this lefty workhorse who took a rag-tag bunch of losers and turned them into winners. I do not respect him crossing the picket line, though, thus moving him down to No. 4.

3. Joe Kane, played by Craig Sheffer in 1993’s “The Program”: A fantastic quarterback who battled personal demons, Kane was a “Sports Illustrated” cover boy (“Kane is Able”) and the owner of one of my favorite sports movie quotes of all times: “Let’s put the women and children to bed and go lookin’ for dinner!”

2. Willie Beamon, played by Jaime Foxx in 1999’s “Any Given Sunday”: The music video, the style and flash, and his calm under pressure in big games is enough to make this onetime third-stringer my franchise quarterback. It was enough for the great Tony D’Amato, too.

1. Paul Crewe, played by Burt Reynolds in 1974’s “The Longest Yard”: One of the more inspiring performances out of a quarterback that you’ll ever see, Crewe puts together a team of inmates and got them to play above and beyond their abilities. He’s got a moral compass, too. Sure, he’s an ex-con. But who isn’t in the NFL these days? I’ll take Crewe at quarterback and let’s build from the inside out.

Cheat Sheet Trivia Answer of the Week: In 1963, Jim Brown (291 attempts, 1,863 rushing yards, 6.4 yards per carry) became the first and only player to exceed 1,100 rushing yards and average more than 6.2 yards per carry. Amazingly, Brown didn’t even win the MVP award that season. Y.A. Tittle of the New York Giants did.

Tagged: Falcons, Bears, Browns, Broncos, Lions, Packers, Colts, Chiefs, Dolphins, Giants, 49ers, Seahawks, Panthers, Ravens, Cardinals, Matt Hasselbeck, Steve Smith Sr., Steve Smith, Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, Alphonso Smith, Jason Pierre-Paul, Colt McCoy

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