Six teams on upset alert in NFL Week 13

By Jesse Reed
Nov 16, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) looks on against the Tennessee Titans during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh won 40-17. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

We’re coming down the home stretch now in the month of December, and it’s time to separate the men from the boys in NFL Week 13.

Inevitably, however, teams that should win this weekend won’t win due to their own mistakes or the exemplary play of underdogs who are ready to rain on their parades.

These are the teams we see with a real chance to be upset in NFL Week 13.

Note: Odds courtesy of Bovada

San Francisco 49ers vs. Chicago Bears (-3)

It’s the beginning of the Jimmy Garoppolo era for the San Francisco 49ers, who were forced to sample what he offers late last weekend following an injury to C.J. Beathard. And while the sample size was minuscule, it was delicious. Garoppolo completed both of his attempts in the final minute of the game, including a fourth-down conversion, and threw a touchdown pass as time expired (watch here).

Chicago has a tremendous ground game and has an underrated defense. But we trust Garoppolo to play better than Mitchell Trubisky in this game. That’s pretty much all it comes down to. The 49ers have been in many close games this year but haven’t had the firepower to win in the end. Garoppolo gives them that extra element — also known as a competent quarterback — to get over the hump.

Minnesota Vikings vs. Atlanta Falcons (-3)

Sure. Atlanta is at home and has been hot offensively. We get that. But it’s hard to believe Minnesota comes into this game as an underdog given the way it has performed the past two months. Winners of seven games in a row, the Vikings now have an offense to match their stifling defense.

Case Keenum has revived his career as the emergency option for the Vikings. After last season in Los Angeles, it sure looked like he’d be forever seen as a backup. Now he’s due to land a nice contract in 2018, either with the Vikings or another team in need of a quarterback. And now that Latavius Murray is coming on as the starting-caliber running back the Vikings hoped they were signing in free agency, there really is no weak link on this side of the ball.

Better still, they get to the quarterback, both from the inside and out on the edge. Minnesota also has the defensive backs to mitigate the greatness of Julio Jones. And we’ve seen in the past that when Jones struggles, Atlanta’s offense generally does, too.

Kansas City Chiefs (-3.5) vs. New York Jets

The Chiefs are in an epic lull. Their once-unstoppable offense is now a pitiful mess. Alex Smith is Captain Checkdown. Rookie running back Kareem Hunt has come crashing down to earth after his scorching start. Tyreek Hill hasn’t gone over 100 yards in a game for a while. The offensive line is in disarray.

All that offensive dysfunction is a huge reason why the Chiefs have lost five out of their last six games. And while New York isn’t a juggernaut, it does have a defense capable of keeping Kansas City’s offense under its thumb.

On the other side, Josh McCown continues to throw touchdown passes to Robby Anderson. The second-year receiver has caught at least one in his last five games and has seven to his credit this season. If the Jets can get the ground game going on offense, they will win, and probably win handily.

Houston Texans vs. Tennessee Titans (-7)

The last time these two teams played, Houston shocked Tennessee in a blowout win. Of course, Deshaun Watson had a lot to do with that stunning outcome. But he wasn’t the only person who came up big in that game for the Texans. The team’s defense forced four interceptions and ended up knocking Marcus Mariota out of the game.

The way Jadeveon Clowney is playing right now, he could have another huge game against a Titans offensive line that hasn’t been great this year. And if he gets to Mariota, then nobody should be surprised if the young passer has another miserable game. He’s thrown just nine touchdowns this year and 12 interceptions, including six in his last two games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts.

The big X-factor here is Tom Savage, who also had a rough outing last week, throwing no touchdowns and two interceptions. But he and DeAndre Hopkins continue to make plays together, and we know Hopkins can roast Tennessee’s defensive backs.

New York Giants vs. Oakland Raiders (-9)

Let’s be honest. This is anyone’s game to win. The Raiders have one of the league’s worst defenses, despite featuring one of its best individual defenders in Khalil Mack. And this weekend they’ll be without their two top receivers, Amari Cooper (concussion and ankle injury) and Michael Crabtree (suspension).

Geno Smith will start under center for the Giants, which means literally anything could happen. He’s known as a bust, but he’s also had a handful of monster games in his career against bad defenses. He’ll have Sterling Shepard in this game, and rookie tight end Evan Engram should shred Oakland’s immobile linebackers.

If Derek Carr has another bad game — it’s happened a lot more this year than we thought possible, even with all his receivers — then Big Blue could not only win its third game but win in a blowout.

Pittsburgh Steelers (-6) vs. Cincinnati Bengals

There are two key reasons why the Steelers could lose on the road Monday night against its AFC North rival. Well, three, if you count the venue.

Ben Roethlisberger is turnover prone this year. He has made some unconscionable decisions to throw the ball into tight coverage at times this year, including the two passes that turned into interceptions last week. Pittsburgh’s receivers have bailed him out many a time, so he’s gotten away with his mistakes more often than not in 2017. But you play with fire enough times and eventually you will get burned.

On the flip side, Andy Dalton has been remarkably efficient the past few weeks and hasn’t thrown an interception since…well, since the last time he played against the Steelers. But that was a month-and-a-half ago. Since then, he’s thrown seven touchdowns, and the Bengals have won three of their last five games, including two in a row.

If Vontaze Burfict doesn’t do something stupid in this game (like this), Cincinnati’s defense absolutely has the players to nullify what Pittsburgh does best on offense. This game should be close, and nobody should be surprised if the Bengals end up victorious.