Shapiro's Week 14 NFL picks: 49ers will take down Washington
The 1972 Dolphins once again were able to pop the champagne Monday night, after Washington’s upset victory of previously undefeated Pittsburgh.
The Steelers are among the best teams in the AFC and have shown the ability to win in multiple ways, but they have too many weaknesses to make it through a 16-game season with a perfect record. Mike Tomlin’s squad must regroup quickly, as they'll encounter one of the toughest challenges of the season Sunday night in upstate New York.
My selections on BetAmerica left a lot to be desired in Week 13. The Raiders should have lost to the hapless Jets, while the 49ers had no answer for Josh Allen and the Bills’ high-octane attack. Fortunately, the Colts found a way to win and cover in Houston.
On to Week 14!
Washington Football Team vs. San Francisco 49ers
Sun, December 13 2020, 9:25 PM
San Francisco 49ers
Washington Football Team
What a storybook run it has been of late for the Washington Football Team.
Quarterback Alex Smith returned from his gruesome leg injury, first-year head coach Ron Rivera overcame cancer, and heading into the final four games of the 2020 campaign, Washington is tied for first place in the NFC East and on a three-game win streak.
Smith has managed Washington’s offense well, but it is the defense that has paved the way to the unlikely run to the top of the division. Specifically, it has been the Washington defensive line — led by first-round picks Chase Young, Montez Sweat, Daron Payne, and Jonathan Allen — that has Washington in position to make the playoffs for the first time since 2015. The dominant group up front should be a major factor Sunday against San Francisco, but it is unlikely to be good enough to overcome a 49ers team that will look to bounce back from a 34-24 loss Monday night.
The Niners have played with a ton of energy since they returned from their bye a couple weeks ago. The defending NFC champions have suffered through a ton of injuries in 2020, but they have not yet given up hope of winning the conference in back-to-back seasons.
The San Francisco defense played hard against Buffalo in Week 13, but it did not have the manpower to deal with Josh Allen’s “A" game. Few do. However, the 49ers should have no problem containing a Washington offense that will be without rookie running back Antonio Gibson, who suffered a toe injury in the first quarter against Pittsburgh.
Look for a desperate 49ers team to control the game on defense and for Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel to make enough plays on the outside for San Francisco to win and cover.
Minnesota Vikings vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Sun, December 13 2020, 6:00 PM
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Things have not gone as planned for Tampa Bay over its last four games.
The Buccaneers offense is still not nearly as efficient as it should be, given the talent at its disposal, and the Tampa Bay defense that was once considered one of the NFL’s best has been exposed.
As frustrating as the stretch has been for Tom Brady and Bruce Arians, it has come against three of the NFL’s best teams — Kansas City, New Orleans, and the Los Angeles Rams. We will find out over the next couple months if Tampa is good enough to play with the league’s top tier, but fortunately for the Bucs, they get an easier matchup off the bye against the Vikings.
Credit Minnesota for bouncing back after a 1-5 start, but much of its recent success has come against weak competition.
The Vikings were able to upset the Packers to start November, but a loss to Dallas in Week 11 and come-from-behind victories against Carolina and Jacksonville in back-to-back weeks has done little to alter my opinion that Minnesota is a below-average team.
Mike Zimmer’s group has a trio of stud skilled position players in Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen, and Justin Jefferson, but the Minnesota defense is a major weakness. I expect Brady and Arians to exploit it Sunday.
Brady is 14-4 as a starter off of a bye week and his receiving corps of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, and Rob Gronkowski all have plus matchups against the Vikings. They should score early and often.
Arizona Cardinals vs. New York Giants
Sun, December 13 2020, 6:00 PM
New York Giants
Much like Washington, the Giants have made a surprising run to the top of the NFC East and have done it with defense.
New York does not possess the same talent as its division rival, but Patrick Graham has done a masterful job in his first year as defensive coordinator. His disguises and ability to confuse opposing offenses has vaulted the G-Men to a 5-7 record and should once again play a major factor Sunday against the Cardinals.
Arizona’s Kyler Murray has shown signs of brilliance in his second professional season and was being discussed as an MVP candidate, after his Hail Mary was answered by DeAndre Hopkins in Week 10 against Buffalo.
But since then, Kliff Kingsbury’s offense has sputtered. Murray, who injured his shoulder a few weeks ago, is running far less and has been subpar with his decision making and accuracy. Things will not get easier for the first-overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft in Week 14.
The Giants defense is playing at a high level and New York lacks the ability to make big plays down the field with quarterback Daniel Jones injured.
Look for New York to run the ball early and often with Wayne Gallman and try to win the same way it did in Seattle.