Week 14 in the NFL is loaded with divisional matchups and also features several cross-division games that have critical implications in the NFL Playoff race. This first article in this series covered the Steelers at the Vikings, the Bills at the Buccaneers, the 49ers at the Bengals, and the Lions at the Broncos and Part Two of The Professor’s NFL Games of the Week focuses on divisional matchups with breakdowns of the Rams at the Cardinals, the Raiders at the Chiefs, the Cowboys at the Football Team, and the Ravens at the Browns. All spreads and totals are provided by DraftKings.
Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals (ARI -2, Total 51.5)
The spread on the NFL’s Week 14 Monday Night Football matchup has gotten as high as Arizona -3 after quarterback Kyler Murray successfully returned to the field last week, but the matchup between the Rams and Cardinals appears set to settle at Arizona -2. On paper, the Cardinals have the edge: they won the first matchup 37-20 in Los Angeles and sit at 10-2, while the Rams are 3-3 in their last six games, with their wins in that stretch coming against the Lions, Texans, and Jaguars.
While the odds appear to be stacked against them, the NFL is a funny league, and quarterback Matthew Stafford has the talent to elevate the Rams. Stafford must be more consistent with his ball placement than he was in last week’s win over Jacksonville when many of his completions were in areas that did not maximize the run-after-catch opportunity. The positive is that Stafford broke his pick-six streak against Jacksonville, though he is likely to be back in the turnover column if he doesn’t sharpen up his ball placement against a Cardinals defense that intercepted Bears quarterback Andy Dalton four times in last week’s win. Stafford continues to make a handful of jaw-dropping throws each game and has performed at an MVP level in the past; the Rams need him to find that form this week against Murray.
A Rams victory would set these teams up for a sprint to the finish in the NFC West, while a Cardinals win would put Murray in a strong position to lead his team to the top seed in the NFC. Backup Colt McCoy’s play allowed the Cardinals to be patient with Murray’s recovery from an ankle injury; that paid off, as Murray was able to return to the field at full speed, and now Arizona needs Murray to play at his MVP-form the rest of the way. Green Bay is hot on Arizona’s heels and has the head-to-head win, which makes this game every bit as important in the NFC as last week’s Monday Night matchup between Buffalo and New England was in the AFC. It depends on taste, but for NFL fans who enjoy watching the forward pass, the weather in this Monday Night’s matchup should allow for a Kyler Murray-Matthew Stafford shootout, which would be a heck of a way to wrap up the week’s NFL action.
Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs (KC -9, Total 47.5)
The Raiders got a brief reprieve from their woes with a Thanksgiving win over Dallas, but any positive vibes that win created were snuffed out by last week’s loss to Washington. The Raiders are now 1-4 since the start of November, leaving quarterback Derek Carr and company desperate for a win as they travel to Kansas City to face a Chiefs team that blew them out 41-14 a few weeks ago.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs have won five straight games but the win against the Raiders was the only notable offensive performance during that streak. Kansas City’s second-highest point total in those games was 22 in last week’s win over Denver, a number that was inflated by safety Daniel Sorenson’s pick-six, and the team has not topped 20 in any other game.
There are valid questions about whether Mahomes will be able to put up points when it counts, but between the recent improvements on defense and what this talented offense has done when they are clicking, the Chiefs are as dangerous as any team in the NFL. Kansas City has been able to stack wins as they work through their struggles on offense, but they need to start finding more consistent answers or they may have an early exit from the NFL playoffs. With a quick turnaround for a critical Thursday Night matchup with the Chargers on the horizon, Chiefs fans would love to see Mahomes and receiver Tyreek Hill find their rhythm again in Sunday’s game.
Dallas Cowboys at Washington Football Team (DAL -3.5, Total 48)
The NFC East odds on Dallas are down to -800, and while those odds may sound long, the Cowboys were once more in line with the Packers and Buccaneers for division odds, and those teams now sit at -10,000, which makes the number on Dallas relatively short.
This division could be as interesting as any in the NFL down the stretch; Philadelphia and Washington only have division games left on their schedules, while the Cowboys play four of their last five games against division opponents. The Giants are something of an afterthought in the race for the NFC East crown at this point, but with three of their final five games in the division, they could play the role of spoiler down the stretch if this turns into a three-team race. Dallas has an opportunity to snuff that out before it begins; the Cowboys have games against the Eagles and the Football Team after this week, but if Dallas beats the Football Team as decisively as they beat the Eagles in their first matchup, bettors are unlikely to lay money on the underdogs in this race moving forward.
A Cowboys win is far from a foregone conclusion, however, as Washington has rallied around a balanced offense and steadier play from quarterback Taylor Heinicke to rattle off four straight wins while the Cowboys have gone 2-3. Most NFL fans and evaluators would agree that the Cowboys are a markedly more talented team than the Football Team, but that was also true two years ago when a Carson Wentz-led Eagles team that had been decimated by injuries managed to steal the NFC East when the Cowboys unraveled down the stretch. That season cost head coach Jason Garrett his job; if current head coach Mike McCarthy’s team doesn’t figure it out in this one, questions about whether a similar fate awaits him will start to get much louder.
Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns (CLE -3, Total 42)
The betting market has shifted hard toward the Browns in light of Baltimore’s loss to the Steelers; after opening at BAL -1 and moving to BAL -1.5 on the look-ahead lines, this game hit CLE -3 on DraftKings Thursday morning.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore offense have struggled in recent weeks, though it is worth asking whether this line would have shifted as far if Jackson had managed to hit tight end Mark Andrews for the two-point conversion and the win against the Steelers last weekend. Given that the Ravens were able to beat the Browns 16-10 despite Jackson’s four interceptions when the teams met two weeks ago, Baltimore would seem to have the edge, but the bye week might have allowed quarterback Baker Mayfield to get healthier, and Cleveland’s running back tandem of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt is unlikely to be held to 2.4 yards per carry in this week’s rematch.
Mayfield may be healthier, but Cleveland’s prospects are bleak if they don’t gain more traction in the run game this time around. It would help if Mayfield could stress the defense downfield to open things up, but given the investment Cleveland has made in contracts and draft picks at offensive line and running back, this ground game needs to show up regardless of how the quarterback plays. There’s an argument that adding a run threat at quarterback could take this offense to the next level, but for now, the Browns have Mayfield, and NFL fans will have to hope that he and Jackson put together a more watchable game than the turnover-driven fiasco these teams put together two weeks ago.
This article previewed four prominent NFL matchups for the coming week and talked about how to bet them. For more content from The Professor, including the rest of his game previews and his fantasy content, check out The Professor on BeerLife Sports!
Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.
You must log in to post a comment.