Massimo’s NFL Blog
NFL Predictions | Week 12: NFL Football Picks, NFL Football Predictions
By Massimo Russo: Co-Editor Silver and Blue Report & Hook’em Report

NFL, Dallas Cowboys, Cowboys, Massimo Russo  Owning the best record in the NFL, Patrick Peterson and the Arizona Cardinals look to continue their dominance and further themselves ahead of the pack in the NFC and NFC West division with a victory on the road against defending champion Seattle. Plus, Detroit and New England will square off at Foxboro in an intriguing matchup, while the Dolphins and Broncos go head-to-head in a pivotal AFC showdown at Mile High.

Week 12
Thursday Night Football, November 20 8:25 ET – TV: CBS/NFL Network
Kansas City Chiefs 7-3 @ Oakland Raiders 0-10
The Raiders are averaging a league-low 15.2 points per game without balance on offense. They’re ranked 26th through the air, last on the ground and at the bottom of the league when it comes to third down efficiency. They’ve only scored more than 20 points in two games this season (Week 6 against the Chargers and Week 9 against the Seahawks). Their backs (Darren McFadden, Maurice Jones-Drew and Latavius Murray) haven’t been finding lots of room behind a substandard run-blocking O-line, and the meat of Kansas City’s defensive front features Tamba Hali and Justin Houston – two dynamic outside linebackers on the edges – and a nose tackle in Dontari Poe clogging the interior. It’s hard to see Oakland’s lackluster ground attack come to life against them, and that’s a calling for lots of passing attempts from Derek Carr – not good if they want to play a mistake free game against a Kansas City pass rush that’s brought quarterbacks to the ground 30 times, tied for 3rd most with Minnesota and Miami.

Imperatively, Oakland’s linebackers (Miles Burris, Sio Moore and standout rookie Khalil Mack) need to be masters of the middle of the field and wrap Jamaal Charles up, not letting him get past the second level of their defense for big runs. And watching all them sweeps with Charles getting out to the edges and cutting back against the grain that’s been working out to the tee for Kansas City’s offense — they shouldn’t have lots of troubles operating their basics against a vulnerable against the run Oakland defense, whose defensive front has been worse than everyone else at getting after the quarterback, ranked last in the league with 10 team sacks. As long as Alex Smith doesn’t get out of his way, the Chiefs will most likely improve their winning streak to six games.
Pick: Chiefs 23, Raiders 16
Final Score: Raiders (1-10) 24, Chiefs (7-4) 20  

Sunday, November 23
1:00 PM ET
Cleveland Browns 6-4 @ Atlanta Falcons 4-6 – TV: CBS
The Browns have been getting most of their success on the ground, deploying a three-headed-set of backs, gashing opposing defenses with a mixture of rookies Terrance West, Isaiah Crowell and veteran Ben Tate. However, that tandem has been shredded to a two-back set after the team released Tate earlier in the week to clean up a crowded backfield. Anyhow, the prowess of what makes their offense go in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s zone-blocking-running-scheme remains the objective of Cleveland’s offense – add that with the return of star-receiver Josh Gordon from a 10-game suspension and quarterback Brian Hoyer’s game should improve from his struggles over the last few weeks — and the Falcons have some weaknesses in their secondary that isn’t getting any help from their front seven on placing opposing quarterbacks under duress. Not to mention, they’re not innocent against the run.

Cleveland’s defense has been worse against the run, ranked third to last, allowing 142.1 yards per game, but that’s not where the specialty of Atlanta’s offense will look to exploit them on. Matt Ryan has a bunch of talented weapons, mainly focused on receiver Julio Jones, who’ll be matched up on Cleveland’s top-tier cornerback Joe Haden as the best one-on-one battle in this matchup. Donte Whitner and Tashaun Gipson at safety can limit Ryan from connecting deep, but if the Browns’ defense allows Atlanta’s backs (Steven Jackson, Devonta Freeman and Jacquizz Rodgers) to set the pace, it’ll open up the play-action selections for offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to dial up — particularly if they get Whitner and Gipson to cheat up near the tackle box. I think they do decently with that, and unless Shanahan shows signs of taking the hand-cuffs off Hoyer, getting him away from being limited on deep ball attempts, he won’t better Ryan inside the Georgia Dome.
Pick: Falcons 27, Browns 24  

Tennessee Titans 2-8 @ Philadelphia Eagles 7-3 – TV: CBS
Tennessee’s defense has been one of the worst units defending the run, ranked 31st, allowing 143.5 yards per contest — and glancing in on them facing top-level and quality running backs (Week 8, 150 allowed against Houston’s Arian Foster, Week 10, 112 allowed against Baltimore’s Justin Forsett, and Week 11, a wowing 204 yards allowed against Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell) – Philadelphia’s offense has to be licking their chops, knowing they have LeSean McCoy, one the league’s most skilled runners geared up to attack Ray Horton’s group. Horton’s defense has improved each week on getting after the quarterback and he has two key-players upfront in defensive end Jurrell Casey and outside linebacker Derrick Morgan that need to be playmakers in pressuring Mark Sanchez and contain McCoy and spell-back Darren Sproles – whether it’s on the ground or in the screen-game. Best bet for Horton’s approach here is to have his defensive backs (Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Jason McCourty) press at the line of scrimmage to try to disrupt the routes of Philadelphia’s stellar receivers (Jeremy Maclin and rookie Jordan Matthews). On the home teams’ sideline – Eagles D-coordinator Bill Davis should waste no time on crowding the box against Tennessee’s rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger — due to the fact the Titans’ offensive line hasn’t been able to open up holes for rookie back Bishop Sankey, and with nothing to present threats for Philadelphia’s secondary at receiver, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Davis’ unit put on a show like they did in Week 10 when they sacked Carolina’s Cam Newton 9 times.
Pick: Eagles 31, Titans 14

Detroit Lions 7-3 @ New England Patriots 8-2 – TV: FOX
Detroit’s defense is ranked first overall, and when it comes to stuffing the run, they’ve been better than any unit — allowing 68.8 yards per game. Ndamukong Suh, Ezekiel Ansah and Nick Fairley lead the way for an aggressive Detroit defensive front that’s superb on disrupting plays, penetrating into the backfield on stunt concepts — and blitzing has also been one of the successful elements at the line of scrimmage for D-coordinator Teryl Austin’s group. Their excellence of penetration has helped them place opposing quarterbacks in third and longs for the betterment of their pass defense that’s held its own, getting off the field – halting offenses from keeping their drives sustained. Formation-wise, the Patriots have used extra-blockers with double tight end sets, and one of their key contributors on being a lead-blocker for New England’s running game has been James Develin – a tight end/fullback creating lanes for Jonas Gray to run through. To take away the prowess of Detroit’s defense, the Patriots will likely use proper angles on blocking strategies – using trap runs, screens and draws that could freeze the meat of Detroit’s defense, negating them from rattling the timing of Tom Brady and throwing him off his spots in the pocket. And, of course – New England’s offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels uses Shane Vereen on multiple formations – making it difficult for opposing defensive coordinators to find the right match to key on him. Strategically, the Patriots have the right plan on offense with Vereen dragging linebackers or any defensive back the Lions use on him from Brady’s main-read – and that leaves lots of favorable one-on-ones for Brady to play pitch and catch with – ultimately to tight end Rob Gronkowksi, a nightmare for any defense to take out of the picture.

The marquee-matchups in this contest will be New England’s cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner manning up on Detroit receivers Golden Tate and Calvin Johnson. Look for Revis to be on Tate and the more physical Browner to be placed on Johnson – with safety Devin McCourty staying over the top wherever Johnson lines up. Protecting the football is imperative for Detroit, and Joique Bell needs to be a factor on the ground for Detroit’s offense to help open up the pass and set up the play-action pass for Matthew Stafford. Primarily, Stafford needs to make smart reads and not get overly aggressive and thread the needle against an opportunistic New England defense.  Reggie Bush could bring the same X-Factor-assets New England’s Vereen brings to the table for Detroit’s offense (if he can recover from his ankle-injury and play this weekend). But on the plus-minus takeaway aspect of the game – the Patriots have always been champions when forcing their opponents to make mistakes for their offense to capitalize on at Foxboro.
Pick: Patriots 34, Lions 24

Green Bay Packers 7-3 @ Minnesota Vikings 4-6 – TV: FOX
It’s tough as a coach when having the responsibility of game planning with a rookie quarterback. Minnesota’s offensive coordinator Norv Turner has been through the ups and downs of managing the position – dating back to his days working with Troy Aikman, a quarterback that turned out to be a Hall of Famer. Turner did have a world of talent to support Aikman then, but the challenges he faces on getting the best out of Teddy Bridgewater is a tall hurdle to get over. Examining Bridgewater’s game has given me the inside-look of him lacking to get the ball downfield to spark a vertical attack for Minnesota’s passing game. But, creativity and utilizing unique talents can be part of the plan against Green Bay this Sunday. Whatever happened to the Jet-Sweeps, motioning receiver Cordarrelle Patterson around in the backfield, getting the football in his hands to make defenders miss trying to bring him down in the open field? Being creative could form some isolating of Green Bay’s linebackers – the strength of Dom Capers’ defense, drawing them away from pressuring the rookie on pass-selection and putting them in coverage, a weakness of Green Bay’s defense.

Adding Ben Tate, who was waived by the Browns gives rookie back Jerick McKinnon a pace-changer, while Matt Asiata remains the third down back and option out of the backfield as a pass-catcher. It’s hard to pencil in how much Tate will be used in his first game with the team, but running the ball effectively and getting Bridgewater in third and shorts is important for Minnesota’s offense to control the tempo and limit the possessions of Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay’s prolific offense.  What this matchup really boils down to is – can Minnesota’s talented front that features Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph, Sharrif Floyd, Brian Robison, and Anthony Barr get after Rodgers and stop Green Bay’s power back Eddie Lacy from running full-steam ahead downfield for big gains? Can defensive backs Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith stop the beating pass-defenses have been taking from Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, Rodgers’ two deadly-threats at receiver? Well, they’ll need to, but envisioning it isn’t registering up in my thinking-cap.
Pick: Packers 34, Vikings 17

Jacksonville Jaguars 1-9 @ Indianapolis Colts 6-4 – TV: CBS
Where there’s a weakness, you have to strike it. Indianapolis’ defense has been exposed against the pass this season and Jacksonville has a skilled running back in Denard Robinson, who offensive coordinator (Jedd Fisch) likes to have lined up in the pistol formation behind Blake Bortles. Applying those basics has helped Bortles in getting the play-action pass going from time to time, and if Jacksonville’s offense is going to slow down the pressured fronts Indianapolis’ D-coordinator (Greg Manusky) deploys — Robinson will need to get in open space — using his athleticism in the open field to help dictate the pass. On passing downs, Jaguars’ left tackle Luke Joeckel’s protection on the edge needs to keep Indianapolis’ best down-lineman Cory Redding from getting after Bortles in a head-to-head matchup that will determine Bortles’ success on finding enough time in the pocket. Losing Ahmad Bradshaw (ankle) for the remainder of the season is a tough loss for Chuck Pagano’s team, and though the offense still has enough sugar in the punch without him, they’ll miss his intangibles as a viable pass-blocker, picking up the blitz and helping on the edges where right tackle (Gosder Cherilus) is a liability. Daniel Herron will be Indianapolis’ change-of-pace runner behind the now lead-back Trent Richardson.

Indianapolis’ O-coordinator Pep Hamilton will have to make adjustments without Bradshaw, and that could be in the avenue of throwing in quick slants and screens to his skilled weapons. Jacksonville does have a talented defensive front that sports two defensive ends (Chris Clemons and Red Bryant), but Andrew Luck’s improvising-ways will keep the passing game flowing smoothly. And Jacksonville’s cornerbacks (Jeremy Harris and Demetrius McCray) don’t cut the cheese enough going up against T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne and Hakeem Nicks – plus tight end Coby Fleener becoming a vertical threat down the seams. Only a slew of turnovers could help Jacksonville in this one.
Pick: Colts 30, Jaguars 13

Cincinnati Bengals 6-3-1 @ Houston Texans 5-5 – TV: CBS
Whether Alfred Blue or Arian Foster carries the load for Houston’s backfield this Sunday, Cincinnati’s linebackers need to up their game on gap discipline and tackle much better than they have this season. Foster (groin) will be a game time decision, but Blue proved worthy to shoulder a hefty-sized workload – carrying the football 36 times for 156 yards — guiding the Texans to an impressive 23-7 win on the road against the Browns. Head coach Bill O’Brien will put trust in his blockers on stretch runs to get the Cincinnati’s range of beefy D-lineman (Carlos Dunlap, Domata Peko, Geno Atkins and Wallace Gilberry) to move laterally, neutralizing them from using their strengths of getting bench-press pushes off the ball – a dictation of setting up the play-action pass for Ryan Mallett to get the football to receivers Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins, who in Mallett’s first start combined for 11 catches on 18 targets. Paul Guenther, Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator should use an aggressive approach, deploying extra defenders in the box to halt Houston’s ground attack – and blitzes in the direction of Mallett, forcing him to make ill-advised throws will be a key-objective for his unit in this matchup.

Giovani Bernard (hip) has practiced fully this week and looks ready to get to work along with his counterpart Jeremy Hill in the Cincinnati backfield. Hill ran all over New Orleans’ defense last week for 152 yards, and with Bernard back in the mix, quarterback Andy Dalton now has his dynamite runners to lean on against a Texans’ D-front that sports the games most dangerous defensive lineman in J.J Watt. Dalton is much better when the running game supports him and keeps him out of long distance passing downs, and A.J. Green has put his toe-injury behind. With that in mind, he now becomes the ultimate vertical threat for Dalton, who’s capable of chucking the football deep to him. Houston’s corner (Jonathan Joseph) is feisty and will challenge Green, but when going up against top-tier receivers, Joseph and the Texans’ secondary has been torched to death this season.
Pick: Bengals 24, Texans 17

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2-8 @ Chicago Bears 4-6 – TV: FOX
Chicago’s running back Matt Forte is handful to prepare for. Forte is the total package when it comes to being utilized as a playmaker both carrying the football and as receiver, and in Tampa Bay’s head coach Lovie Smith’s Tampa 2 scheme – the bend but don’t break approach leaves lots of opportunities for Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler to the get the football to Forte on screens, check-downs and get the football to his wide-range of talented receivers to gain yards after the catch. Bucs’ cornerbacks Alterraun Verner and Johnthan Banks’ responsibilities will be to keep Chicago’s Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery in front of them, while safeties Dashon Goldson and Bradley McDougald stay over the top as Smith’s two-deep defensive backs, bracketing Chicago’s dynamic duo on deep-ball opportunities. Without pressure, the scheme can be dissected – and getting pressure needs to come from the Bucs’ interior of their defensive line. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy can ruin opposing offenses protection schemes, and it’s going to be up to Chicago’s center Roberto Garza and the guys next to him – guards Kyle Long and Michael Ola to keep McCoy from being a disruptive force, both getting in the backfield off the snap to slow down Forte – and slowing him from setting up the outside rush for defensive ends William Gholston and Michael Johnson to get after Cutler.

Tampa Bay’s ground game has been horrific and they could use the services of Doug Martin (ankle), who’s on track to return – because Bobby Rainey and rookie Charles Sims aren’t the runners to improve this particular area of the Bucs’ offense. The HUGE bright spot of Tampa’s offense has been the immense production of rookie receiver Mike Evans, who in his last three games has caught 5 touchdown passes for 458 yards. Whether it’s Tim Jennings or the rookie Kyle Fuller assigned on Evans – Fuller has been the Bears’ most capable defensive back to make plays against talented receivers. Josh McCown and Cutler are much better throwers when protected, and there’s holes for them to gun-sling after against susceptible to the pass defenses. The difference is — Cutler has a tight end in Martellus Bennett in the middle to connect with — and Tampa Bay will likely be without linebacker Lavonte David (hamstring). Evans and Vincent Jackson are the only true-concerns for Mel Tucker’s defense – Smith’s has more to deal with and Forte has lots of green lights ahead of him for another high-scoring-points production for you Fantasy Football lovers out there.
Pick: Bears 30, Buccaneers 24

4:05 PM ET
Arizona Cardinals 9-1 @ Seattle Seahawks 6-4 – TV: FOX
Going up against Detroit’s talented group of receivers (Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate) last week, Arizona blitzed less, but this week — you can bank on defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to turn the heat back up, firing his exotic-blitzes against a Seattle passing game that’s ranked 30th in the league when Russell Wilson heaves the pigskin. Seattle’s running game has been far better up the ladder as the league’s best rushing attack – feeding Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch the rock and Wilson getting out to the edges off zone-read concepts. The status of Lynch (back) was up in the air earlier in the week, but after returning to practice, the power-back is ready to go. He’ll be without his best blocker on the interior (center Max Unger), who sprained his ankle – leaving him out of the lineup for three to four weeks. Patrick Lewis will take his spot and he has a difficult challenge going up against Arizona’s defensive tackle Dan Williams, a viable part of the Cardinals’ front that’s helped Bowles’ defense as the third-ranked defense on stuffing the run, allowing 80.5 yards per game. Another plus in the run-stopping aspects of Bowles’ defense is rookie safety Deone Bucannon, who’s been used on nickel and dime packages as a linebacker in Arizona’s pressure-packed fronts. His speed and quickness will be used to spy on Wilson off the play-fakes and when Wilson eludes pressure and decides to take off with his blistering speed to move the chains.

Arizona’s offense is predicated on attacking defenses downfield, vertically in head coach Bruce Arians’ system, and his two biggest threats are receivers John Brown and Michael Floyd for Drew Stanton to connect big with – while Larry Fitzgerald does most of the hauling in passes intermediately. Getting linebacker Bobby Wagner (toe) back in the lineup is important for Seahawks’ defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s group to shadow both Wagner and safety Kam Chancellor on Arizona’s versatile running back Andre Ellington, who’s an all-around runner, used lots in the screen-game and lined up in the slot on some alignments against a linebacker to his advantage. More imperatively for Seattle’s defense, safety Earl Thomas keeping his tremendousness of bracketing the deep ball will be vital on keeping his eyes on Brown and Floyd. Lynch is more capable than any back to break tackles and wear down a herd of gang-tacklers, but the main-man of this contest is going to be the playmaking abilities and unorthodox traits you can’t teach when it comes down to raw-talent, and Wilson is the type of quarterback that can get away from a swarm of rushers — extending plays – giving extra time for his receivers (Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and Paul Richardson) to get separation against Arizona’s stout one-two-punch in cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie. Wilson knows pressure is coming and that’ll get him ready to dance as the ultimate improviser to victory for Seattle in a slobber-knocker.
Pick: Seahawks 20, Cardinals 16               

St. Louis Rams 4-6 @ San Diego Chargers 6-4 – TV: FOX
This whole mysterious rib-injury Philip Rivers has been dealing with has been overblown. He hasn’t missed any practice time and is in no danger of missing this Sunday’s game. What’s not mysterious is the turnaround of the Rams’ defense getting much better play from the likes of a Robert Quinn-led defensive line, and pass-protection has been an area of concern for San Diego’s offense that’s sputtered, averaging 13.5 points and 258.8 points per game during a stretch of winning 1 of their last 4 games.  Their offensive line could use better play from guard Johnnie Troutman on the interior against Rams’ talented rookie defensive tackle Aaron Donald, and left tackle D.J. Fluker going up against Quinn will be pivotal for Rivers to avoid being hit throughout the game. Ryan Mathews (knee) returned to the lineup last week, rushing for 70 yards on 16 attempts, splitting touches with Branden Oliver, who had 13 attempts for 36 yards, keeping Oakland’s defense honest.

There’s no reason for the sharing of touches to change for head coach Mike McCoy’s team this week, and the ideal plan is to keep the Rams’ D-front from higher-percentage chances of getting after Rivers on third down. Tight end Antonio Gates has been silent of late, but that doesn’t take away the fact of him being Rivers’ critical third down option and red zone threat that Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree will need to shadow for 4 quarters. Ogletree has the size and speed to keep up with the best of them in coverage, and taking away the middle could help benefit St. Louis’ defense. For the Chargers, defensively, safety Eric Weedle leads the team in tackles, and coming down in the box to help contain Rams’ running back Tre Mason, who’s also an option out of the backfield in the screen-game will be an imperative part of this matchup.  Shaun Hill brings the qualities of a mature veteran passer at quarterback for St. Louis, but the playmakers are more so on the side of the Chargers’ offense, and quietly Malcolm Floyd has been a red zone target, using his size and jump-ball abilities in tight coverage when Rivers looks his way. Look for San Diego’s offense to be better between the two clubs when inside the St. Louis 20 yard line.
Pick: Chargers 21, Rams 17  

4:25 PM ET
Miami Dolphins 6-4 @ Denver Broncos 7-3 – TV: CBS
Miami’s offensive coordinator Bill Lazor has implemented a strategy for quarterback Ryan Tannehill to get rid of the ball quickly. The constant motioning, utilizing receivers Jarvis Landry, Mike Wallace and a few others with this formula has dictated the oppositions defense to make adjustments before the snap – isolating linebackers and defensive backs near the line of scrimmage. These concepts can work to Miami’s advantage against Denver’s defense that has lots of talent from the D-line, linebackers and in the secondary. Running the ball effectively is always a neutralizer in slowing down a defense that has a top pass rush, and Miami could use some mustard from running back Lamar Miller, who’s been banged up this season, playing through a minor shoulder-injury. He and spell-back Daniel Thomas can’t have an ineffective game – otherwise Tannehill will be situated to throw often – opening up the flood gates for Denver’s outside-rushers DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller against a shaky pass-protecting Miami offensive line that’s without Branden Albert at left tackle. The interior of Miami’s O-line (guards Mike Pouncey and Shelley Smith along with center Samson Satele) have to have their chinstraps buckled tightly to keep Denver’s defensive tackles Terrance Knighton and Sylvester Williams from clogging and penetrating between the tackles. Setting the pace on the edges won’t come in handy for Miami’s backs on the strong side where Ware and Miller roam — and on the weak side where Brandon Marshall has been stout – and factor in safety T.J. Ward in the box to support the run defense for Jack Del Rio’s unit, sticking towards the middle of Denver’s defense, having the backs get underneath Denver’s tacklers with physicality would be the better plan for Miami to keep Tannehill out of third and longs.

Good news for Denver; Emmanuel Sanders has passed the concussion protocol and will play this Sunday. However, tight end Julius Thomas (ankle) hasn’t been able to do much in practice this week, and if he’s absent Sunday, Jacob Tamme will take his spot. Miami’s has lots of talent themselves defensively, and if Peyton Manning is going to stay upright, his tackle Chris Clark will need to contain Miami’s Cameron Wake from buzzing in his ear. When Wake gets to the quarterback, the rest of Miami’s D-lineman Earl Mitchell, Jared Odrick and Olivier Vernon flourish. Those four need to be the stars for Miami to come away with an upset. A stellar pass rush will help cornerback Brent Grimes in coverage on Denver’s Demaryius Thomas if Manning is rattled. Point being, when you hit Manning, history has shown his play sputters. Miami’s defense can keep things in front of them, not getting beat for big plays from Denver’s passing game and blanket the chances for Denver’s back C.J. Anderson to tally runs past the second level of their defense. But in the end, I’m going with Denver’s defense to come up with more stops and for Manning to have a bounce back game.
Pick: Broncos 27, Dolphins 20

Washington Redskins 3-7 @ San Francisco 49ers 6-4 – TV: CBS
Let’s go inside the numbers here on quarterback play and zoom in on Colt McCoy’s efficiency when given the opportunity to be the signal-caller for Washington’s offense. McCoy has completed 36-of-52 attempts for 427 yards, 1 passing and rushing touchdown and a lone interception. Mainly, the last time the Redskins ended up on the winning side of things was with him under center, and the offense moved effectively, unlike what we’ve seen from the mess of Kirk Cousins and Robert Griffin III being indecisive from the pocket. And with a bleak outlook on their hands, futuristically, one can wonder if head coach Jay Gruden will make the switch back to McCoy, knowing that Washington’s chances of making the postseason are on life support. You can’t really say that Washington’s quarterbacks haven’t been getting anything from their running game, even with starting back Alfred Morris not reaching the century mark in single-game this season, the physical back has done enough work on the ground to give his quarterbacks some comfort.

It’s just simply put, Gruden’s best quarterback this season has been McCoy. And without RGIII being the dangerous threat he once was with his feet before suffering a knee-injury, Washington’s offense has been inconsistent and primarily a sloppy-unit across the board. And facing 49ers’ defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s group that’s been doing it loudly without star-linebackers NaVorro Bowman (knee) and Patrick Willis (toe) along  with a few other notable players on the defensive side of the ball that’ve also been missing, there’s only more darkness staring in the face Washington’s offense this Sunday at Levi’s Stadium. And though San Francisco’s offense has been stagnant, offensive coordinator Greg Roman is leaning on Frank Gore using his physicality over the last two games. That would be the smart strategy going up against Jim Haslett’s defense that likes to use extra defenders in the box. Gore and rookie Carlos Hyde getting the hard fought yards, plus Colin Kaepernick extending plays — finding receivers (Michael Crabtree and Anquan Bolding) on passing downs are the pieces aligned to move San Francisco’s winning-streak to three games.
Pick: 49ers 27, Redskins 13  

Sunday Night Football in America 8:30 PM ET – TV: NBC
Dallas Cowboys 7-3 @ N.Y. Giants 3-7
In their first matchup in Week 7 at AT&T Stadium, Dallas’ offense tallied 423 total yards of offense against New York’s defense — 128 of them came from league-leading rusher DeMarco Murray and 151 through the air from Tony Romo and Dez Bryant on 9 completions in Dallas’ 31-21 win. Since then, the Cowboys have won 1 of their last three after winning six straight – while that Giants’ loss against the Cowboys five weeks ago started their five-game losing streak after winning three straight. Injuries have played a major role in New York’s lapses and woes for defensive coordinator Perry Fewell’s unit. The Giants lost linebacker Jon Beason (toe) for the season at the end of October, and for their Sunday night rivalry square off this weekend, linebacker Jacquian Williams (concussion) and defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins (calf) have been ruled out. Without Beason and Williams and the lack of stopping the run, the Cowboys’ offense has lots of pluses to use against New York’s defense that’s ranked last on defending the run, allowing 145 yards per game. Fewell may use some overloaded fronts to crowd the box to contain Murray, but he’ll still need his D-lineman Johnathan Hankins, Jason Pierre-Paul and Mathias Kiwanuka to show up in order for the Giants to come out on top.

Dallas’ interior area of their offensive that sports guards Ronald Leary, rookie-standout Zack Martin and center Travis Frederick has been the center piece of creating open running lanes for Murray, and when Murray is gashing defenses on the ground, Dallas’ offense becomes balanced and Romo is able to function effectively on play-action passes – freezing linebackers and rushers upfront – keeping them guessing between crashing down in the box or dropping back into coverage. Without pressuring Romo or slowing down Murray, New York’s defense could be in for a long night, unless Fewell can steal a page from Washington’s Week 8 playbook and deploy the same extra man fronts and blitz Romo with a numbers game for most of the night. The Cowboys get linebacker Rolando McClain (knee) back fresh off their bye week as an imperative run stuffer to keep New York’s running back Rashad Jennings from breaking free for big runs. On the perimeter where rookie receiver Odell Beckham Jr. has become more integrated as a serious threat for Eli Manning in the passing game, Dallas’ D-coordinator Rod Marinelli better make sure he keeps a safety over the top to help Orlando Scandrick in coverage, knowing that Manning isn’t shy to take shots deep at Dallas’ defense. New York has lots of uncertainties on their offensive line for Dallas’ defense to pressure Manning and Marinelli’s defense should be better than Fewell’s on getting off the field on third down.
Pick: Cowboys 24, N.Y. Giants 17

Monday, November 24
7:00 PM ET
N.Y. Jets 2-8 @ Buffalo Bills 5-5 (at Ford Field) – TV: CBS/NFL RedZone
Buffalo’s D-front constantly gives offensive lines fits, led by arguably the league’s most fearsome group of down-lineman that features defensive tackles (Kyle Williams and Marcel Dareus) and defensive ends (Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes) rushing off the edges — those four horses upfront are the prime reasons for Buffalo’s defense leading the league in team sacks (39) and ranked in the top 10 against the run. In their first meeting against each other on Oct. 26, Buffalo’s defense held New York’s running backs (Chris Johnson and Chris Ivory) to a combined 50 yards. New York needs to up those numbers this time around by relying on the ground game, not getting into the mess of letting Michael Vick throw the football lots – an ideal plan for New York’s offense to play sound football. In their stunning win over the Steelers, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg dialed up 36 run-plays to 18 passing attempts and it proved to be successful in keeping Vick out of being erratic within his progressions. If both Johnson’s have decent productions on the ground – it could force Buffalo’s extremely talented front to get out of their pass-rushing dominances — turning their focus on run responsibilities – downing their havoc creating elements.

Who Rex Ryan assigns against Sammy Watkins is up in the air. I don’t think it’ll be Darrin Walls, who may return after missing his last two games with a calf-injury.  Marcus Williams, Josh Thomas and Phillip Adams have played better in coverage, and in terms of scheme – Ryan has kept things open underneath, not pressing at the line of scrimmage with them, and the three have only surrendered 1 touchdown over the last two games. The Bills and Jets haven’t been able to depend on their running games – so we get a game here that could be decided on which quarterback will be more efficient on third down to move the sticks. The addition of Percy Harvin gives New York’s offense play-fakes to use with the versatile talent, but Kyle Orton won’t force the issue when pressured – Vick will. Therefore, Buffalo’s defense will have more opportunities to make plays.
Pick: Bills 26, N.Y. Jets 20

Monday Night Football, 8:30 PM ET – TV: ESPN
Baltimore Ravens 6-4 @ New Orleans Saints 4-6
New Orleans’ offense may be looked upon as being a pass-first offense, but the truth of the matter is – they’re actually one of the more balanced operating offenses in the game. Mark Ingram has rushed for 459 yards in last four games, but last week, he was kept under 100 yards in the Saints’ loss to the Bengals, ending his three-game streak of reaching or eclipsing the 100 yard barrier for New Orleans’ offense that’s ranked 8th overall running the football. Haloti Ngata anchors Baltimore’s D-line in their 3-4 defensive base, but it’s their linebackers, particularly in the middle with rookie C.J. Mosely and Daryl Smith as tackling monsters, helping their defense in allowing 84.5 yards per game against the run, ranked 5th in the league. Mosely and Smith’s performances on trying to shut down Ingram could decipher Drew Brees’ success on mixing and matching between the run and pass — more so in getting the play-action pass going, getting Baltimore’ safeties Will Hill, Matt Elam and Darian Stewart to bite the dust, cheating up near the tackle box – a strategic-plan that’s helped Brees strike defensive backs, vertically for big plays.

When the Ravens have the ball, it’s all about setting the pace on the ground with their triple-set of backs (Justin Forsett, Bernard Pierce and Lorenzo Taliaferro). Forsett has been remarkable as the teams number one back in offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s zone-running system, averaging 5.4 yards per carry, and out of the backfield, he’s been targeted 42 times by Joe Flacco, catching 31 of them on screens and check-downs. Forsett has helped Baltimore’s offense by generating balance – keeping Flacco poised and he’s playing much better than his dreadful 2013 stint of throwing 22 interceptions.  The Saints have missed Pierre Thomas badly in the screen game, and his shoulder appears to be healing up for him to potentially return to action this week. The Saints lost rookie speedy-receiver Brandin Cooks (thumb) for the season – so getting Thomas back in the fold as an important part of working the underneath routes will help Brees and the offense on drawing in defenders to formulate single-coverage’s for receivers Kenny Stills and Marques Colston. The Ravens will likely assign the safety Hill on New Orleans’ tight end Jimmy Graham and double him, while the Saints’ best cover corner (Kennan Lewis) is iffy with a knee-injury, and that could be a costly blow for New Orleans’ secondary on the perimeter against Flacco’s prime-receivers (Steve Smith Sr. and Torrey Smith). Baltimore has the recipe to keep the Saints’ high-octane offense off the field by pounding the rock, setting up the passing game to stretch the Saints’ defense. Having said that – New Orleans has usually responded after porous outings, and it’s hard to fathom them losing for a third consecutive time before their home crowd.
Pick: Saints 27, Ravens 24

Bye: Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4), Carolina Panthers (3-7-1)

You can follow Massimo Russo on Twitter @NFLMassimo and @SilverBlueRpt

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