As the playoff picture begins to take shape, the prevailing narrative surrounding many games this week revolves around motivation. But even on teams that have long since lost hope of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in February, players are competing for contracts and coaches are jostling for their jobs.
With a quarter of the season to go, it's too soon for professionals to throw in the towel. Motivation remains high across the board, perhaps even for a team still seeking its first win....
Browns +6 vs. Bengals
Yes, the Browns are the worst team in the NFL. But coming off a bye and at home against an in-state rival that's nothing special without A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard, this could be their best shot at a win during the final four weeks.
In addition to coming in motivated, having Robert Griffin III back at QB gives Cleveland a potential playmaker it has sorely lacked on offense. While Griffin is about as fragile as they come, he doesn't have to stay healthy for long to make enough plays to keep Cleveland in the hunt Sunday.
With the opportunity to put a silver lining around what's otherwise been a nightmare of a season, the Dawg Pound is primed to bring its best effort to keep Cincinnati in check.
Ravens/Patriots Under 45
In a marquee showdown between perennial AFC powers, each team brings reason to like the Under.
As good as the Ravens looked dominating the Dolphins last week, they're consistently inconsistent on offense. Meanwhile, their stout defense is especially formidable against the run, often forcing opponents to be one-dimensional.
On the Patriots' side, a likely pass-heavy approach with no Rob Gronkowski and no Danny Amendola means limited options for a banged-up Tom Brady.
It should finally be an exciting edition of Monday Night Football, but not necessarily a smooth one for the offenses.
Pick of the Week: Teaser - Dolphins +8 vs. Cardinals, Lions -1.5 vs. Bears
After the Dolphins opened as the favorite, a flood of money on the Cardinals has moved Miami into perhaps the best role for any teaser - a short home underdog taken up through the key numbers of 3 and 7. This can be especially valuable in games that project to be low-scoring like this one, with low totals increasing the relative value of each point.
In the second leg of the teaser, the Lions come in as the biggest favorite on the Week 14 board needing to do little more than win outright at home against the lowly Bears. That shouldn't be asking too much of a defense that just shut down Drew Brees in the Superdome or an offense led by MVP candidate Matthew Stafford that will look to find the end zone early and often.
Last Week: 2-1
Picks of the Week: 7-6