Remember when the AFC West was the clear-cut choice for best division in football? It’s now the division with the smallest gap between its first place team and the 0-11 Cleveland Browns. Remember when the NFC East appeared to be the most competitive in its conference? It now joins the AFC West as the only division with three teams below .500. The Eagles can become the first team in the NFL to clinch their division with a win this weekend. This season has been strange to say the least. Major injuries have crippled usual contenders. Eli Manning is going to miss a start… for Geno Smith? The AFC is essentially a cesspool of mediocrity waiting for the day that the Patriots and Steelers no longer rule. The NFC appears to be the opposite. An unlimited number of middleweights are poised to battle it out for supremacy with the NFC Championship forecast as murky as ever. Whatever the formula, December football is here. The twists and turns have only begun.
Bold Prediction: An unnamed source from the Chiefs locker room will reveal that Kareem Hunt is dating Yoko Ono and claim she’s breaking up the band.
Kownack Record: 118-67
Madden Record: 104-81
Week 13 Picks
Big Game Spotlight
- Kownack: Vikings 26, Falcons 23 / Madden: Vikings 23, Falcons 31
My Take – Minnesota has won seven straight games and has visions of becoming the first team in NFL history to play a home Super Bowl. The next step in that journey is defeating the defending NFC champs to stay on track for a bye. That’s exactly what Minnesota will do. The Falcons appear to have found their mojo. Looks, however, can be deceiving. Atlanta’s modest three-game win streak to revive its season began against the Cowboys. It looked like a statement game at the time. Several weeks later, the statement turned out to be that Dallas is a dumpster fire without Ezekiel Elliott. The next win would normally be cause for belief as well, but Seattle’s defense was decimated. Atlanta should have never let the game come down to a last-ditch field goal. The third win came against a punchless Bucs squad. Minnesota has proven stronger than any of those teams. They can limit Atlanta’s surging offense and pile up points of their own.
Madden’s Take – Madden believes in Atlanta, their home field advantage, or both. The Falcons led a close game wire to wire, always staying one step ahead of the Vikings. Devonta Freeman returned to action with a nine-yard touchdown run and a six-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan. Julio Jones didn’t repeat his epic week 12 performance, but he did lead the team with 98 yards receiving. Adrian Clayborn added two sacks for the Falcons as well. One of the more intriguing twists of the simulation involved Keenum sustaining an injury in the fourth quarter. Teddy Bridgewater went 4 for 7 for 57 yards and a score in Keenum’s absence.
- Kownack: Lions 20, Ravens 13 / Madden: Lions 16, Ravens 20
My Take – Aside from Houston, which still ranks 6th in points per game thanks to the Deshaun Watson’s heroics, Baltimore hasn’t beaten a team ranked better than 19th in the category. That team was Green Bay, who was without their star quarterback as well. The Detroit Lions rank 5th in total points and enjoyed a mini bye week because of Thanksgiving. This is obviously far from exact science, but even casual analysis points toward a Detroit win. Baltimore still hasn’t added an impressive victory to their resume yet, and the season is nearing an end. Why would they start now?
Madden’s Take – The game didn’t see a touchdown until the third quarter. Alex Collins punched the ball in from the one to put Baltimore up 13-9. Detroit answered by finding the endzone on an Abdullah run, but the Ravens countered with a Mike Wallace touchdown midway through the fourth. Joe Flacco actually outplayed Matthew Stafford. Only five of his 21 passes fell incomplete and he threw for 199 yards. Stafford couldn’t find the endzone and amassed a paltry 176 yards through the air. Neither turned the ball over. Although Alex Collins ran for 111 yards, his ball security issues returned when Anthony Zettel forced him to fumble. Luckily, his team still got the W.
- Kownack: Patriots 30, Bills 17 / Madden: Patriots 28, Bills 42
My Take – Although the game technically plays a role in deciding the AFC East champion, it’s far more likely to be a barometer for Buffalo’s future success in fighting for a playoff spot. New England has things figured out defensively. Buffalo won’t have easy sledding even after shunning Nathan Peterman for another week. The Bills have beaten Tom Brady in Buffalo only once this decade. The future Hall of Famer has a 26-3 career record against them. Again, not an exact science, but let’s chalk this up to a New England victory.
Madden’s Take – Quarterback A went 22/40 for 258 yards and one touchdown. Quarterback B completed 24 of 34 for four touchdowns and a pick. How many people would bet their paycheck that Tyrod Taylor was A and Tom Brady was B? According to Madden, those realities will be switched this weekend. Tyrod Taylor went off as New England’s defense reverted to its September form. LeSean McCoy didn’t make things any easier by totaling 107 yards on the ground and adding a touchdown of his own. Malcolm Butler’s interception was the only negative for Buffalo. The Bills outscored their nemesis 42-18 after falling into a 10-0 first quarter hole. I’ll believe it when I see it.
- Kownack: Panthers 20, Saints 28 / Madden: Panthers 20, Saints 34
My Take – The Saints crushed the Panthers in Carolina to begin their eight-game winning streak on September 24th. They saw that streak come to an end last Sunday and now have an opportunity to start a new one against the Panthers at home. It’s difficult to trust Carolina’s offense even after the team scored 80 points in the last two games. Greg Olsen could likely deal with lingering foot issues for the rest of the season. Cam Newton completed only 39.3% of his passes last week. His feet will only carry the Panthers for as long as he remains healthy, and even then it won’t be enough to avoid a sweep against New Orleans.
Madden’s Take – As expected, the Panthers offense could not keep up. New Orleans never trailed. Drew Brees threw for 277 yards and two touchdowns compared to Newton’s 221 and one score. The Saints’ running back tandem also continued to be a force. Ingram and Kamara combined for 184 yards. Kamara added another receiving touchdown. Neither defense forced a turnover, and there was only one sack in the game. Cameron Jordan took down Newton.
- Kownack: Eagles 35, Seahawks 27 / Madden: Eagles 34, Seahawks 38
My Take – The Eagles will wrap up the division this weekend with a win on Sunday night. Philadelphia is stronger in all facets of the game. Even if Seattle technically needs this win more, a tight race for home field advantage should keep Carson Wentz and company on their toes. The ever-resourceful Russell Wilson is fighting a losing battle trying to disguise the fate of the doomed Legion of Boom. This one will only be as close as he wills it.
Madden’s Take – This is the fourth of five spotlight games with conflicting results. The Eagles held a 31-14 lead going into the fourth quarter. For the umpteenth time this season, however, Russell Wilson happened. Seattle stormed back to force a 24-3 swing in the last 15 minutes. For those still upset about their Super Bowl defeat, Seattle took the lead on the game’s last drive by running it in from the one. Doug Baldwin was another key factor in bailing the defense out. He had 10 catches for 122 yards.
Pick a Lock
Kownack: Chargers (vs. CLE) – Cleveland won a single game last year. It came against the Chargers. Los Angeles will be determined not to fall victim to the Browns for a second year in a row, especially when the AFC West remains well within their reach.
Madden: Raiders (vs. NYG) – Even without Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper, the Raiders bowled over the Giants. Jared Cook and Cordarrelle Patterson picked up the slack. Geno Smith completed 46% of his passes for 157 yards. The result was a 34-3 blowout.
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