Derrick Gunn's NFL Week 14 picks: NFC showdowns highlight the weekend as playoff race heats up

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Derrick Gunn's NFL Week 14 picks: NFC showdowns highlight the weekend as playoff race heats up

Derrick Gunn makes his picks for Week 14 of the NFL season. 

Eagles at Rams, 4:25 p.m. on FOX
What a matchup this should be. The top two players selected in the 2016 NFL draft showcasing their skills on the same field (see story). Carson Wentz is further along in his development than Jared Goff, but Goff has made significant strides.

Both teams have scored 361 points this season. That's tops in the league, and both offenses lead the league in scoring, averaging 30.1 points.

Can the Rams' offensive line hold off the Eagles' defensive pressure up front? Can the Birds' O-line control Rams DT Aaron Donald, who has 71 QB pressures? The Rams' defense is third in the league with 37 sacks, and the Eagles' D is tied for seventh with 33.

Will the Birds' deep and versatile RB stable be able to do damage? Will the league's No. 2 rusher Todd Gurley (939 yards, 4.2 yards per carry, eight TDs) find room to roam?

Zach Ertz (concussion protocol) could be a big loss to the Birds' passing game. The Rams' top pass catcher and deep threat Robert Woods (shoulder injury) is listed as questionable.

Wade Phillips and Jim Schwartz are two of the best defensive coordinators in the game. Rams head coach Sean McVay is the same one who used to give Eagles' defenses fits when he was the Washington Redskins' offensive coordinator from 2014-16 (see story). Yes, I know the Eagles' defensive personnel is much better than in the past, but I don't like this matchup for the Birds on the left coast.

Playoff seeding is at stake. I've gone back and forth many times on which way to go. My hunch tells me to go with the Rams.

Pick: Rams 27, Eagles 24

Colts at Bills, 1 p.m. on CBS
The Bills wilted in their chance to show the Patriots last Sunday that they are playoff worthy. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor is questionable this week with a knee injury, wide receiver Jordan Matthews has been placed on injured reserve with a knee injury, and cornerback Tre’Davious White, who suffered a concussion against the Pats, is practicing on a limited basis. The Colts are out of playoff contention. They’ve lost three straight and six of their last seven. Head coach Chuck Pagano is also on the hot seat. That seat gets even hotter for Pagano after this loss to Buffalo.

Pick: Bills

Bears at Bengals, 1 p.m. on FOX
The Bears couldn’t even hold on at home to beat the Niners. The Bengals just lost a tough division war with the Steelers, but Marvin Lewis gets his guys to play hard every week. The Bears will lose their sixth in a row in what should be Lewis’ 15th and final season in Cincy. Bengals fans say enough is enough.

Pick: Bengals

Packers at Browns, 1 p.m. on FOX
The fact that the Pack are hanging on to a faint playoff hope by a wing and a prayer is amazing in itself. Aaron Rodgers is practicing, but still two weeks away from game ready. The Browns are still the Browns. Rookie QB DeShone Kizer is winless in 11 starts, but the organization likes his potential. All Browns fans want for Christmas is a win, but it won’t happen this week.

Pick: Packers

Raiders at Chiefs, 1 p.m. on CBS
Just think ... a month ago this AFC West matchup seemed meaningless, but thanks to the Chiefs' ineptitude lately, this is a showdown for first place. Andy Reid’s crew has lost four straight and six of its last seven, plus 'Big Red' has suspended his star corner Marcus Peters for stupidity. As for the Raiders, winners of two in a row, Derek Carr’s favorite receiver Amari Cooper is questionable with an ankle issue. Oakland handed KC its second loss of the season weeks ago, and my lack of faith in the Chiefs leads me to believe Oakland adds to their current misery.

Pick: Raiders

Cowboys at Giants, 1 p.m. on FOX
What a week it’s been for the Giants. Eli Manning’s consecutive starts streak ends, head coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese get fired, Manning gets his starting job back and then defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo takes over as interim head coach. The headlines are out of control in the Big Apple. Spags will try to get his guys to play inspired football, which shouldn’t be too hard to do considering it's against their division rivals. Dallas is still limping along without Zeke, but should be able to hold off the G-Men.

Pick: Cowboys

Lions at Buccaneers, 1 p.m. on FOX
The Lions are in big trouble if Matthew Stafford can’t go because of a hand injury. The Bucs wasted a great Jameis Winston performance at Green Bay. What is it about this Lions team that seems to fall apart in December? I like the Bucs at home.

Pick: Buccaneers

Vikings at Panthers, 1 p.m. on CBS
Another marquee matchup on the day. What the Vikings' defense did to the Falcons last week was down right impressive. Cam Newton will be elated to have his tight end Greg Olsen available for this battle, hoping to rebound from the Panthers' loss to the Saints last week, but the Vikings' defense is just too strong for Cam and company to overcome.

Pick: Vikings

49ers at Texans, 1 p.m. on FOX
The Niners are feeling good about themselves after a comeback win in Chicago. The Texans were averaging 34.7 points per game with Deshaun Watson at the helm, but now are putting up just 14.7 points per game with Tom Savage leading the way. This one could be closer than it should be, but the Texans will successfully defend their home turf.

Pick: Texans

Jets at Broncos, 4:05 p.m. on CBS
Todd Bowles' Jets scored a big win over the Chiefs in Week 13 and now will try to creep one game closer to .500 at Denver. The Broncos have their first losing season since 2010. John Elway says he’s embarrassed and we agree that he should be with his team, losers of eight in a row. What a season it’s been for the Jets' 38-year-old quarterback Josh McCown, who was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week after his performance against Kansas City. Denver will feel the wrath of the old man on Sunday.

Pick: Jets

Titans at Cardinals, 4:05 p.m. on CBS
The Titans better be careful or this could be a trap game in the 'Zona desert. You never know which Cardinals team will show up. The Titans, who are trying to keep even with Jacksonville atop the AFC South, will need a strong run game to help them through this one. Bruce Arians' guys would love to knock the Titans off their perch, but I don’t think it will happen.

Pick: Titans

Redskins at Chargers, 4:05 p.m. on CBS
Hey, remember when the Chargers were 0-4? Yeah, well now they’re in a three-way tie for first in the AFC West and riding a three-game win streak. It should be a good shootout between Philip Rivers and Kirk Cousins. The 'Skins have injuries all over the place, but Jay Gruden says his guys will be ready. I say the Chargers go over .500 for the first time this season.

Pick: Chargers

Seahawks at Jaguars, 4:25 p.m. on FOX
You want rock 'em sock 'em football? Then this game is it. The Seahawks have had a long tradition of being a physical team, and the Jags are the new physical kids on the block. Both teams need this game to stay in the chase for their divisions and playoff positioning. I like the way Jacksonville plays on both sides of the ball, but I like the Seahawks' experience more.

Pick: Seahawks

Ravens at Steelers, 8:30 p.m. on NBC
This AFC North rivalry  is old school football. Brass knuckles, extra punches, whatever it takes to win.  The Steelers are riding a seven-game win streak and have a three-game lead on the Ravens. Right now, the Ravens are more concerned about clinging to the sixth seed. In the last two games, the Steelers had to rally to beat Green Bay and Cincinnati … they’ll find a way to get it done against the Ravens.

Pick: Ravens

Patriots at Dolphins, 8:30 p.m., Monday night on ESPN
Can anyone stop the Pats? Right now the answer is no! Only New England can stop itself and that doesn’t appear likely to happen. Tom Brady continues to show age is only a number. The Pats have averaged 33 points per game over their last four games, and have won by an average of 22 points per game over that time frame. The Dolphins are in for a long night.

Pick: Patriots

Jeffery's role, Pederson's personality, and more in Roob's observations

Jeffery's role, Pederson's personality, and more in Roob's observations

Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis, record-setting third-down conversions, and Vince and Mike Lombardi highlight Monday's edition of 10 random Super Bowl observations, which will appear every day between today and Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4 in Minneapolis.

That should be 140 total random Super Bowl observations! 

1. You could just sense Nick Foles and Alshon Jeffery building up their chemistry over the past few weeks, and in these two playoff games Jeffery has played like the star the Eagles hoped they were getting when they signed him. Jeffery was 4 for 61 against the Falcons and 5 for 85 with two TDs against the Vikings. Foles targeted him five times and he caught every one, including that 53-yard TD on a scramble drill. Jeffery needs 66 yards in the Super Bowl to break the franchise record for receiving yards in a single postseason (211 in 2008 by none other than Kevin Curtis). Jeffery is just blossoming now. His two TDs Sunday give him 11 this year, and only Harold Carmichael, Tommy McDonald, Terrell Owens and Mike Quick have had more in a season in franchise history. He just looks more and more comfortable each week, especially in the red zone, where he has a real flair for going up and getting the ball. I have a hunch he's going to have a big game in Minneapolis.

2. The Eagles have allowed 15 second-half points in their last five games. 

3. Pretty funny after everything that’s transpired over the past few months that the Super Bowl winner receives the Lombardi Trophy. Definitely not named after Mike! 

4. According to Pro Football Focus, 69 of Jay Ajayi’s 73 rushing yards Sunday night came after first contact. That means 94.5 percent of his yards came after he was hit. That’s remarkable and speaks to just what a tough runner he is. 

5. Corey Graham was such an underrated signing. He’s been very solid as a third safety and like newcomers LeGarrette Blount, Torrey Smith, Chris Long and Dannell Ellerbe, he’s a winner and has a Super Bowl ring. He knows what it takes. Graham’s interception Sunday was his third career postseason INT, and only two active players — Antoine Bethea and Tramon Williams, with four each — have more. Solid guy, solid player.

6. Soon after the media was allowed in the locker room after the game Sunday night, linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill snuck over to this panel on the wall and plugged his iPhone into a jack and instantly music began blasting over speakers throughout the locker room. Grugier-Hill closed his eyes and started dancing. Rodney McLeod cracked up but yelled over, “Come on, Kamu. You can’t be playing Lil Yachty in the locker room while the media is in here,” and everybody cracked up. This team is so loose and having so much fun right now. Doug Pederson deserves so much credit for letting these guys show their personality all the time, whether it’s in an end zone celebration, in the locker room before a game or on the sideline with the German Shepherd masks. If you’re loose, you can just go out and play your game. If you’re tight, it’s tough to be at your best. Pederson understands this as well as any coach I’ve ever been around.

7. Amazing that the Patriots’ top two receivers this postseason are former Eagles: Receiver Danny Amendola (18 for 196) and running back Dion Lewis (16 for 111). Amendola spent the early part of the 2009 season on the Eagles’ practice squad before the Rams signed him. Lewis was the Eagles’ fifth-round pick in 2011 and spent his first two NFL seasons with the Eagles before getting traded to the Browns for linebacker Emmanuel Acho.

8. The Eagles’ 456 yards of offense Sunday are the most they’ve ever had in a playoff game, two more than they had in the 2008 NFC Championship Game. It was the second most the Vikings have allowed in their 49 franchise playoff games. The Giants netted 518 in their 41-0 win over the Vikings at Giants Stadium in 2001. The Eagles' 27 first downs are also a franchise playoff record. 

9. I can’t get past the fact that 24 months ago Pederson had never coached above the high school level and Foles was mulling retirement. Twenty-four months ago! Look at ‘em now! This is why sports rule!

10. Maybe the craziest thing about Sunday’s game was the Eagles’ ability to convert on third down against a defense that came into the game historically among the best in NFL history on third down at 25.4 percent. The Eagles were 10 for 14 on third down, good for 71.4 percent. That’s third best against the Vikings in any game — regular season or postseason — since 1991, which is as far back as available records go. To put that 71.4 percent figure in perspective, the Eagles converted more third downs Sunday (10) than the Vikings’ last four opponents had combined (eight). 

Former Eagles assistant named Giants head coach

AP Images

Former Eagles assistant named Giants head coach

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has been hired as the New York Giants head coach.

The Giants announced the hiring late Monday afternoon, less than 24 hours after Shurmur and the Vikings were beaten by the Eagles in the NFC title game.

The 52-year-old Shurmur replaces Ben McAdoo, who was fired in early December with the team mired with a 2-10 record and owners and fans upset with his handling of the benching of two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning.

Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo took over for the final four games and posted a 1-3 record.

"He has an outstanding track record in developing young players, and it is clear his players respond to his guidance and direction," co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch said in a statement.

"We interviewed six talented and qualified candidates, and we feel like Pat, with his vision and experience, is the right person to lead our team."

The Giants won't officially introduce Shurmur until Friday. A winter storm in the Midwest is preventing him from coming to New Jersey on Tuesday and he will be at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, from Tuesday night through Thursday.

Shurmur returns to the head coaching ranks for the first time since leading the Cleveland Browns in 2011-12. He takes over a troubled team that posted a 3-13 record a year after making the playoffs.

Shurmur was interviewed on Jan. 6 by Mara, new general manager Dave Gettleman and assistant GM Kevin Abrams.

Following that meeting in Minneapolis, Shurmur had an hour-long phone conversation with Tisch.

"I can't wait to start working with Pat," said Gettleman. "I know he will provide the type of leadership we need to take our team back to where it belongs. I have followed Pat's career for many years, and he has had great success wherever he has been.

"What struck me during our conversation is that being the head coach of the New York Giants is not too big for him. He is made for this moment and this opportunity."

The Giants interviewed five other candidates, kicking it off with Spagnuolo three days after the season ended.

New York also spoke with New England coordinators Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia, Carolina defensive coordinator Steve Wilks and recently fired Broncos running backs coach Eric Studesville, who has since been hired as a running backs coach by the Dolphins. Wilks was hired as the head coach in Arizona on Monday

Shurmur has earned a reputation as a quarterback whisperer. NFC title game opponents Nick Foles of the Eagles and Case Keenum of the Vikings were tutored by him.

With the Giants, Shurmur will get to work with Manning and possibly the No. 2 pick in the draft, if New York uses the pick to pick an heir apparent.

But the Giants also had problems in the locker room. Three defensive backs -- Janoris Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Eli Apple were suspended for a game for conduct detrimental to the team.

Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen said Shurmur constantly put players in position to contribute and he doesn't take anything for granted.

"He's not a stubborn guy. He's going to throw stuff out if it's not working, and he's going to find things that guys are good at," Thielen said Monday as the Vikings cleaned out their lockers.

"So I think as a head coach, he's going to do that on both sides of the ball. Special teams, he's going to find guys who can make plays and let them do what they do. So I think he's going to have a lot of success as a head coach."

Shurmur has been a part of teams that have qualified for the playoffs nine times and won seven division titles. He was the Eagles' quarterbacks coach when the Eagles played in the Super Bowl against New England in the 2004 season.

Shurmur is finishing his second year with the Vikings. He began last season as the tight ends coach and for the final nine games was also the offensive coordinator, the title he retained this season.

The Vikings finished 10th in the NFL in scoring (23.9 points), 11th in total yardage (356.9), and seventh in rushing yardage (122.3) this season.

Shurmur posted a 9-23 record in his two seasons with the Browns, going there after a two-year stint as the offensive coordinator with the Rams. He spent three seasons as the Eagles offensive coordinator after being fired.

Shurmur's NFL coaching career began with a 10-year run (1999-2008) with the Eagles. He coached in college at Stanford and Michigan State.