Week 14 Cheat Sheet: Hopkins will lead Texans past Tom Brady, battered Patriots
If 2014 was the year of Odell Beckham, Jr., 2015 may very well be the year of DeAndre "Nuk" Hopkins.
I know. The Texans aren't on national television often, and when they are, J.J. Watt gets the bulk of the attention, if not all of it. A team playing in the AFC South, Texans highlights are few and far between on the national studio shows, even when the team is winning.
What you're missing out on is one of the great seasons from an NFL wide receiver in the game's history. Hopkins, still not a household name, is putting up major numbers, making all the circus catches each week, and has done so with a quarterback trio of Ryan Mallet, T.J. Yates, and Brian Hoyer throwing him the passes.
The third-year pro out of Clemson is third in the league in receiving yards, third in receiving touchdowns, and fourth in receptions. He's the only player in the top four of three of those categories, and he's got more than twice as many grabs (86) than the Texans' second leading receiver (Cecil Shorts III, with 40). Last Sunday's touchdown grab in Buffalo set a Texans franchise record for receiving scores in a single season. And this is a franchise that saw Andre Johnson haul in 1,012 passes over 11 years with the team.
So why don't you hear about "Nuk" Hopkins? He's a personable kid with an incredible life story. He deserves the pub.
Players have overcome adversity before, but few have had as tragic a family history as the Texans' star. In 2002, when Hopkins was 10 years old, his mother, Sabrina Greenlee, was attacked and blinded in a horrific and disfiguring attack at the hands of another woman.
Ten years earlier, when Hopkins was just five months old, his father was killed in a car wreck on I-85 in Georgia.
His uncle, Terry Smith, was a star receiver at Clemson in the early 90's and had a cup of coffee in the NFL with the Colts. In 1997, the police were called to his home during a domestic disturbance with his estranged wife. He was shot and killed by the cops that evening. Hopkins' cousin Louis Austin, a standout basketball player in the mid-90's, died tragically of a heart attack during a pickup basketball game when he was just 24-years-old.
And Hopkins, of course, had his own brush with death a few years ago. As a star sophomore wide receiver at Clemson in 2012, Hopkins was running late to catch the team bus to the airport before the Orange Bowl. His drive that day ended in a horrific car accident in which his ride wrapped around a tree. He survived, and bounced back to have an 82-catch season the following year.
So much tragedy, so much pain, and yet Hopkins plays the game with so much joy. Watch him on a Sunday and you can't help but smile at his approach to the game. The one-handed grabs, the colorful personality, and the pure talent are all off the charts special.
Cheat Sheet Week 14 Trivia Question: Odell Beckham is the second youngest player in NFL history to have five consecutive 100-yard receiving games. Who is the youngest?
Now, on to the picks.
Week 12 Record: 6-10
Overall Record: 98-94
Minnesota Vikings at Arizona Cardinals: It's tough to pick against the Arizona Cardinals at home. They've won every game but three in the Bird's Nest over Bruce Arians' three seasons (16-3) as coach. I also love the depth of their roster. So, their top two running backs go down with injuries. How did they respond last week in St. Louis against a good Rams defense? Rookie running back David Johnson had a 99-yard effort on 22 carries and caught a 10-yard touchdown pass. His backup, Kerwynn Williams, was activated off the team's practice squad a few days earlier. He rushed six times for 59 yards, including a 35-yard scoring run. Loaded team. Good quarterback. Great at home.
The Pick: Cardinals 31, Vikings 20
Final: Cardinals 23, Vikings 20
Seattle Seahawks at Baltimore Ravens: I wrote at length about Russell Wilson's evolution as a quarterback in last week's Cheat Sheet, and there could probably be about seven paragraphs added after his performance in Minnesota last Sunday. The Seahawks are for real, and as two-time defending NFC champions catching fire at the right time, probably the team all the NFL contenders least want to face in January. The Ravens? They're playing hard for Coach John Harbaugh, but are limited without many healthy bodies.
The Pick: Seahawks 24, Ravens 6
Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers: You've read plenty about Cam Newton this season, this week, and probably even today. He's awesome. And he's my pick for league MVP, with Tom Brady a distant second. You probably haven't read much about Trai Turner, Kurt Coleman, Josh Norman, Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Greg Olsen, Kawann Short, and Graham Gano. All of these guys deserve All-Pro consideration this season. What a pleasure it is to watch the Panthers play football. In an era of spread offense and aerial attacks, they're a throwback. And downright awesome.
The Pick: Panthers 33, Falcons 17
Washington Redskins at Chicago Bears: Both of these teams were favored and in great need of a win at home last weekend. Both teams lost. I don't see this Redskins team traveling on a short week and beating Chicago, despite the Bears being without tight end Martellus Bennett for the rest of the way. Redskins linebacker Mason Foster, who was cut by the Bears out of training camp, made his first start for the Redskins on Monday, and was solid.
The Pick: Bears 24, Redskins 21
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals: My favorite play of the year came in last week's 37-3 Bengals blowout of the Browns. Hue Jackson, the Bengals' creative offensive coordinator, sent three different offensive tackles -- Andre Smith, Andrew Whitworth and Jake Fisher-- out wide on the line of scrimmage, and had Andy Dalton throw a bubble screen to wide receiver Marvin Jones. Jackson's ingenuity on offense is likely only matched by what Todd Haley is doing in Pittsburgh this season. Bengals-Steelers used to be a battle of two defensive teams. Now, it features the AFC's two biggest offensive juggernauts. It's the game of the week, and with weather supposed to be moderate, it'll be a shootout.
The Pick: Bengals 35, Steelers 30
San Francisco 49ers at Cleveland Browns: I'll be on the sidelines reporting for FOX's broadcast of this one, and think we're in for a better football game than some might expect. Johnny Football's the big story, yes, but with so many Browns receivers battling injuries, it looks like Terrelle Pryor has a real shot at being active for the game, as well. Dwayne Bowe, making $9 million this season, has been a healthy scratch too many times. We should see him, too. San Francisco just went on the road and beat a red-hot Bears team. There's momentum with San Francisco.
The Pick: 49ers 21, Browns 20
Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars: After winning three of four games and being on the edge of the wild-card race in the AFC, the Jaguars have lost two games in a row in heartbreaking fashion. Last week's loss to the Titans was historically painful. Two missed extra points, and an errant snap over Blake Bortles' head will do you in. The Jaguars had the Colts on the ropes earlier this season and gave the game in Indy away. Indianapolis, meanwhile, has won its last 16 games against the AFC South.
The Pick: Colts 24, Jaguars 20
San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs: You won't hear much of a push behind his candidacy (especially from the man himself), but Andy Reid has to be in consideration for NFL Coach of the Year. The Chiefs were written off and dismissed after a slow start and the loss of their All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles. They've responded with six straight wins. Alex Smith hasn't thrown an interception in nine games. List all the bigger name teams you want. There's no team in the AFC that wants to see Kansas City in January.
The Pick: Chiefs 23, Chargers 6
Tennessee Titans at New York Jets: It was almost a year ago when the Jets and Titans -- two awful 2-11 teams -- played in Week 14. The Jets won the game 16-11 (the only NFL game in history decided by that score), and finished ahead of the Titans in the NFL standings at the end of the year. Marcus Mariota, a guy Jets fans lusted for all last season, was scooped up by Tennessee and the rest is history. Gang Green, 7-5 and in the playoff picture, has had a far better season than the 3-8 Titans this year. But I could see Mariota, fresh off a 268-yard, three-touchdown performance, coming in and playing spoiler. Upset special.
The Pick: Titans 27, Jets 22
Buffalo Bills at Philadelphia Eagles: This one's got so much riding on it for both teams, but maybe no one person has more at stake than LeSean McCoy. An All-Pro running back jettisoned by Chip Kelly last March, McCoy's had a fine season in Buffalo this year, fighting injuries and a banged up offensive line. "I don't have no issue with him," McCoy said of Kelly via The Philadelphia Inquirer in a story published Tuesday. "There's no problem. I don't hate him. It's nothing like that." McCoy later added, "We ain't like best friends or that, but we're no enemies." Chip Kelly's got some beef to resolve with his current running back, DeMarco Murray, now, too. For as bad as things seemed in Philly a week ago, they're tied for first place heading into this one. In a bad division, the Eagles may be the best of the worst.
The Pick: Eagles 22, Bills 19
Detroit Lions at St. Louis Rams: The Rams offense is terrible this year, their quarterback play has been abysmal, and there's not exactly much reason to believe a change at the coordinator position is going to magically turn things around. It's on to 2016 for St. Louis. With 10 days to prepare after a heartbreaking loss, the Lions should be able to notch another W if they stuff the box and make the Rams beat them in the passing game.
The Pick: Lions 27, Rams 17
New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jameis Winston's third-and-19 game-saving run on the Bucs' final drive in Tampa Bay last week was the stuff legends are made from. I don't see the Bucs dropping this one at home, especially against a historically bad Saints pass defense. The return of Austin Seferian-Jenkins and rookie guard Ali Marpet paid big dividends last week.
The Pick: Buccaneers 33, Saints 20
Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos: The Broncos keep winning with Brock Osweiler, and keep on doing so with the defense leading the way. Denver's biggest game will be Dec. 28 versus the Bengals with a home playoff game and bye likely on the line. They can't look past Oakland, though. They won't.
The Pick: Broncos 24, Raiders 16
Dallas Cowboys at Green Bay Packers: Lots of reasons to like the Packers, here. They're home in Lambeau, the Cowboys are putrid without Tony Romo, and Dallas's best defensive player (Greg Hardy) seemed to limp off in severe pain Monday night. But, this is the NFL. Weird things happen. And the Dallas defense has been stout on the road all season, Sean Lee's been a revelation since he returned to the lineup, and there's still some unfinished business from last year's Divisional Round matchup.
The Pick: Cowboys 23, Packers 21
New England Patriots at Houston Texans: The list of Texans with Patriots ties is endless. Seriously. Bill O'Brien was an offensive assistant with New England, only to move up to quarterbacks coach. Romeo Crennel was part of three different Super Bowl-winning Patriots staffs. Houston offensive coordinator George Godsey was with the Patriots from 2011-13. Then, there's Mike Vrabel, Brian Hoyer, and of course, Vince Wilfork. That's not even all of them. New England tends to bounce back with big wins (Cincinnati last year) anytime the media questions them. But this Texans team is Patriots Lite, and they're healthy. I've got Houston winning at home. Three straight losses for the defending champs. Two straight Sunday night losses. Big, big day from Hopkins.
The Pick: Texans 24, Patriots 20
New York Giants at Miami Dolphins: This one is going to be packed to the gills with Giants fans who booked this trip back in April when the schedules were announced. The grunting and the disgusted gasps from those same fans may not make the ESPN broadcast, but Giants fans have seen it all this year. The New York Times noted earlier this week that if each game this season had ended with 75 seconds left in regulation, the Giants would be 10-2. Unfortunately, games are 60 minutes, not 58 minutes. I like Miami to win their second straight game since Zac Taylor took over as offensive coordinator. Really bright, young talent who's got Ryan Tannehill's ear.
The Pick: Dolphins 28, Giants 23
Reader Email of the Week
I saw you on Fox Sports 1 praising Coldplay. You need to stop. Seriously. Looking out for you on this one. Loyal reader, here, but you're testing me with all that Coldplay crap.
Brett, Dix Hills, New York
It's not like I'm president of the Coldplay fan club. I don't necessarily tour the country to see them play "Clocks", but the way Twitter reacted to the news, you'd think it was the band Nelson selected to perform at the Super Bowl halftime show. I also assume it will be a Coldplay "and friends" deal, where the NFL trots out about 10 other musical acts. If it were up to me, it'd be Foo Fighters, The Killers, and the lead singer from the Alabama Shakes every year. Hey, it's not up to me. In the meantime, I will enjoy my Coldplay.
Cheat Sheet Week 14 Trivia Answer: Isaac Bruce was the youngest player in NFL history to record give straight 100-yard receiving games. He did it in when he was 23 in 1995.