Shawn Rine’s Week 14 NFL Picks

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For the perhaps the first time in my life, the score of a Pittsburgh Steelers game didn’t mean a thing. When Ryan Shazier went down with what looked like a potentially paralyzing injury, my heart dropped into my stomach and prayers were quickly said. If they would have gone on to be beaten 100-0, it would not have mattered one bit.

For that moment, everything was put into perspective. This is just grown men playing a child’s game. The thing about this game, though, is it’s violent — at times, super violent.

Shazier is not out of the woods, but there have been positive reports up to this point. Now the Steelers have to go from one vicious rivalry right into another, as Baltimore comes to town for yet another late kick.

One person who won’t be participating, is Pittsburgh receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. He’s been suspended for a — wait for it — violent hit on Vontaze Burfict that sent the linebacker to the locker room. Rules are rules, I suppose, but that wasn’t a dirty hit. In fact, it was legal not all that long ago before being changed in the name of former Pittsburgh receiver Hines Ward, who clobbered another Bengals linebacker, Keith Rivers, with a similar hit that broke his jaw.

The NFL season is very much a war of attrition, and the Steelers aren’t immune. That we know of for sure, they will be missing Marcus Gilbert, Smith-Schuster and Shazier for certain. Mike Mitchell, Joe Haden, Tyler Matakevich could well be added to that list.

But, don’t feel sorry for Pittsburgh. It still has No. 7, which means there’s a chance.

Another solid week for me, checking in with an 11-5. Here’s hoping we keep trending upward with this week’s picks.

Thursday

Atlanta 24, New Orleans 21

This is pretty much the last stand for the Falcons if they harbor any intentions of winning the NFC South. A loss here and it would take a total meltdown by both the Saints and the Panthers. If New Orleans can win in this spot, I am firmly on the bandwagon. Can’t see Atlanta folding though.

Sunday

Oakland 17, Kansas City 15

It didn’t seem possible roughly a month ago, but this is battle for first place in the AFC West. That doesn’t say anything about the Raiders, who at 6-6 are as average as that sounds. It says a lot about the Chiefs, however, because they have lost six of their last seven games. Alex Smith blew up last week, but it wasn’t enough as that awful K.C. defense allowed the Jets to score 38 points.

San Francisco 26

Houston 14

Does it feel like the Texans have approximately three healthy players to anyone else? This team seems to get ravaged by injuries on an annual basis, and that’s especially tough considering that division is always a winnable proposition. It took Jimmy Garoppolo all of one game to wake up the echoes by the bay. Maybe the 49ers have found something.

Minnesota 18, Carolina 10

Another big-time matchup in the NFC, as this one is dripping with playoff implications. The Vikings are now tied for the best record in the conference despite some devastating injuries of their own. It wouldn’t be easy if the postseason were to go through Minneapolis. Cam Newton and Co. have a chance to derail that, at least a bit. The Panthers need a victory to keep pace.

Cincinnati 7, Chicago 3

The Bears coughed up a late lead to the 49ers last week. So if you expect me to pick them to beat anyone else, well, that would be silly. The Bungles showed their true stripes yet again against the Steelers, racking up a franchise-record 173 yards in penalties. This is a club that will never win with the current regime, simply because those folks don’t understand how to win.

Green Bay 20, Cleveland 9

The Packers have somehow managed to stay afloat with Aaron Rodgers on the shelf. They are in the thick of the wild-card race and No. 12 is inching closer to a return. Does anyone in the NFC want to see Green Bay and Rodgers come to town in the postseason? Me thinks not. The Browns will be the same place they are every January — on the couch.

Tampa Bay 6, Detroit 2

If an injured Matthew Stafford doesn’t play, the Lions don’t win. Come to think of it, they aren’t winning with him. But I digress. The Buccaneers saw the return to health of quarterback Jameis Winston last week, yet someone still found a way to drop an overtime decision to a banged-up Packers squad. This prediction is based on the assumption Stafford will not suit up.

Indianapolis 23, Buffalo 19

The Bills had a chance to make life easier on the Steelers last week. As it turns out, they made it easier on their opponent — the Patriots. Tyrod Taylor is out multiple weeks, which means Nathan Peterman — yes, the same one who threw five interceptions in the first half of his only career start — will be back under center for this one. Call it a hunch, but the Colts get it done.

Dallas 13, N.Y. Giants 12

Eli Manning’s consecutive games started streak is about to reach one. After being unceremoniously benched for Geno Smith of all people, Manning is back this week. All it took for that to happen is for the general manager and head coach to lose their jobs this week. Will this be Manning’s N.Y. swan song? Is the relationship beyond repair?

L.A. Chargers 25, Washington 16

Don’t look now, but here come the Chargers with their annual late-season playoff push. The difference this time, is their fate is in their own hands. Well, technically speaking, it’s in the hands of Philip Rivers, which if we’re being honest, is a pretty good place to be. Look for Los Angeles to win the AFC West.

Arizona 27, Tennessee 14

Remember a week ago when Bruce Arians told us not to write off the Cardinals? And remember when I said that was a goofy thing to say? Told you so. That all behind us, this is a favorable matchup for Arizona. At home, against a so-so team that is traveling across the country.

N.Y. Jets 22, Denver 8

Putting overall records aside for a minute, is it possible that the Broncos are actually a worse team than the Browns? You could certainly make that case in my estimation. After all, they have used three quarterbacks that probably wouldn’t be on any other NFL roster and have been outscored by more than 100 points. At 5-7, the Jets have to be considered the league’s most pleasant surprise, especially after 0-16 talk was everywhere during the preseason.

Seattle 15, Jacksonville 13

There promises to be fireworks in this one. Two hard-hitting clubs are set to collide in the land of the sun. It’s a nice test to see exactly where the Jaguars stand in the NFL pecking order. I continue to be unimpressed with their offense. Maybe it’s because he plays in Seattle, but until Sunday night I really didn’t have any idea how good of a season Russell Wilson is having. He deserves MVP consideration.

L.A. Rams 28, Philadelphia 27

Last season’s top two quarterbacks taken in the draft are ready to battle with more than any of us could have expected to be at stake this early in their careers. Carson Wentz and the Eagles failed their first major test last week and are looking for a resumes-building victory. It’s not going to be easy against Jared Goff and the high-flying Rams.

Pittsburgh 21, Baltimore 19

If Pittsburgh can pull this off, it will not only be its eighth straight victory, but the AFC North will be put to bed for the rest of the season. But the Steelers always seem to make it difficult on themselves and this won’t be any different. Two weeks ago it was my belief they would lose to either the Bengals or the Ravens, but I don’t think that way anymore. No matter how the chips are stacked, Pittsburgh has found a way.

Monday

New England 30, Miami 7

Speaking of winning division titles, the Patriots can do that again with a victory against the Dolphins. Rob Gronkowski won’t be there after the NFL Wheel of Justice levied a one-game suspension his way, but New England won’t need him. This sets up a winner-take-all matchup for AFC home-field advantage next week in Pittsburgh.

Shawn Rine can be reached via email at: srine@theintelligencer.net