You can generally count on NFL teams to play hard all season, although there are varying degrees of motivation.
It's human nature. If you're out of the playoffs, or have a spot wrapped up, you're not going to be as engaged as the team fighting for its playoff life.
So if there's a spot for someone to make Seattle look even a little vulnerable at home, it's Arizona this week.
The Cardinals are 9-5 but face a tough road to the playoffs if they lose this week. They could be eliminated this week, but only if they lose. A win at Seattle means they'll be alive going into Week 17 no matter what else happens.
Seattle still needs to clinch the division and the first seed in the NFC playoffs, but the Seahawks have a two-game cushion for both. They'd probably like to take care of that this week, but it isn't necessary. If they let down at all, it's going to come against a Cardinals team that isn't that bad, and will have to treat this like a playoff game. The Cardinals are 10.5-point underdogs, but they're going to give the Seahawks a tough game. It should be close, at very least.
Here are the rest of this week's picks:
Buffalo (+3) over Miami: I think Thad Lewis at quarterback might give Buffalo a better chance to win. And I think the Dolphins' high-stress season, on and off the field, has to affect them at some point.
Minnesota (+7.5) at Cincinnati: Cincinnati fans have to be getting nervous. Baltimore is a real threat to win the division now. Then again, with two more wins and one Patriots loss, the Bengals can get a bye.
Kansas City (-6.5) over Indianapolis: Maybe the Colts have it all figured out, but I'm not convinced of that. Interesting question: Knowing that they're likely to meet again in the first round of the playoffs, how much do these teams hold back this week?
Tampa Bay (+5.5) over St. Louis: Two of the most unpredictable teams in the NFL. Who knows. (Certainly not me, who has no chance of picking winners this season.)
N.Y. Jets (-2.5) over Cleveland: So, once home-field advantage for the Jets is factored in, Vegas is saying that on a neutral field, the 4-10 Browns are the better team? Interesting.
Dallas (-2.5) over Washington: I know it's practically a sport to rip the Cowboys, but come on, they're not losing to the woebegone Redskins while they're still alive for the NFC East title. For Jason Garrett's sake, I hope not.
Carolina (-3) over New Orleans: If I picked Carolina to win the NFC South before the season I have to pick them to win this week, right?
Jacksonville (+5) over Tennessee: The Jaguars already won at Tennessee. They're not playing that bad, and no reason they can't at least keep it close.
Denver (-10.5) over Houston: The Texans didn't look too feisty rolling over at Indianapolis last week. The Broncos have had extra rest, are motivated coming off a loss and are going after the No. 1 seed.
Detroit (-9) over N.Y. Giants: So Detroit is embarrassed and wants to save its season too. And here come the absolutely horrid Giants, a team that's a lot worse than everyone realizes.
Pittsburgh (off) over Green Bay: Vegas opened up this game at Green Bay as 2.5-point favorites after it was announced that Matt Flynn would start. Doesn't matter, I don't think the Packers will win.
Oakland (+10) over San Diego: The Dolphins and Ravens comeback wins last week took a lot of wind out the Chargers' sails.
New England (+2.5) over Baltimore: Let's not forget the Ravens offense didn't score a touchdown last week, and Joe Flacco is a bit banged up. The Patriots won't lose the No. 2 seed.
Chicago (+3) over Philadelphia: Since I don't think the Redskins upset the Cowboys, I think that by the time this game kicks off the Eagles will know they're playing for the NFC East title in Week 17 no matter what happens here. And Eagles coach Chip Kelly would be foolish to not rest his starters if that's the case.
San Francisco (-13) over Atlanta: The 49ers play well against bad teams, and the final game at Candlestick Park provides a little more motivation.
Last week: 5-11
Season to date: 91-129-6
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Mock drafts are fun this time of year — please keep that in mind.
They also are fluid as all get out.
We don’t know who will be coaching 6-10 of these teams, for instance. There also is a lot of movement yet to happen that will impact the draft order, such as the results of the final two weeks of the NFL season, for instance, as well as the college bowl games.
Yet it's a point of fact that if you put together a mock draft this time of year, an angry reader will threaten castration. Must keep churning ... It's a part of the job description.
And we must also try to provide some quality speculation for everyone’s favorite offseason pastime. It’s an entertaining process, but also a difficult and (at this point) quite incomplete one.
So here’s our second full look at how we think the top 37 picks — the first round, plus five bonus second-round picks — could go as things stand now.
1. Houston Texans
Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater
I am far more unsettled on this pick than you might suspect. Sure, everyone is projecting Bridgewater first, and the Texans need a quarterback. Seems obvious. But recent rumblings from his camp suggest he’s not locked into coming out, as there have been enough concerns about his physical makeup holding up in the NFL to make some scouts worry a little. Still, he’s here until further notice.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins)
Texas A&M Jake Matthews
There are some who think that Matthews isn’t quite the player that former Aggies line mate Luke Joeckel was coming out, but Matthews has shown up well in head-to-head battles with future NFL talent, and he has the right-left tackle flexibility the Rams would covet. They could park him on the right side — a big need — for 2-3 years and then shift him over when Jake Long is gone. A nice fit.
3. Oakland Raiders
Central Florida QB Blake Bortles
Whoa, right? First, reread our intro: So many factors here. Is Dennis Allen the coach next season? Is Reggie McKenzie making the picks? The last part is likely yes; the first is not so clear. But the Raiders never have been shy about gambling on greatness with their first-round picks, and even following the death of Al Davis, they’d have to consider the rising talent of Bortles, who has shown up big this season and will go very high if he enters the draft. Personally, I’d love to see them go after Kirk Cousins at a lower cost, but who am I?
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney
Of two minds here: One, the Jaguars need a quarterback. Two, the team has a chance to land an elite defender for a defensive-minded head coach in Gus Bradley who really could fire Clowney up and make him one of the best strong-side ends in football. A front of Clowney, Sen’Derrick Marks, Tyson Alualu and Andre Branch really could be something to watch and something approach what Bradley had in Seattle. Of course, knowing the Jaguars’ need for some zest at QB, they could pull the trigger on either Derek Carr or Johnny Manziel to rev up the fan base and solve a trouble spot, too.
5. Cleveland Browns
Fresno State QB Derek Carr
Their dream scenario would be to have their choice of franchise quarterback fall in their laps — and Carr makes a lot of sense for this offense — without having to trade picks to move up, and then they can use their second first-rounder to secure more offensive talent. Bet you that Browns execs will be watching closely how Carr fares in the bowl game against USC on Saturday, but one game won’t make or break his draft stock.
6. Atlanta Falcons
UCLA LB Anthony Barr
Falcons fans might not be wild about the team taking a linebacker with such a high pick, but Barr has the pass-rushing skills to make him a rare breed at the position. He can move in reverse well, too, and could kick down into a defensive end spot in nickel situations. This defense needs help in many ways, and Barr could help provide a boost.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Alabama OT Cyrus Kouandjio
I debated this pick for a while. The Bucs’ biggest needs and what’s available might not be a perfect mesh, so maybe they are trade candidates here. But that’s a long way off. For now, we project them a not-quite-ready, but high-upside tackle for the future. Donald Penn and Demar Dotson have played well, but maybe one of them can kick inside to guard, which has become a weak spot, once Kouandjio is ready.
8. Minnesota Vikings
Texas A&M Johnny Manziel
There are so many variables with this projection, it’s not even funny. Could we see Manziel playing for Leslie Frazier? Frankly … no. (We’d be curious as heck how it would play about, but it’s tough to picture.) But all the guts and athleticism that GM Rick Spielman favored in Christian Ponder can be found in Manziel — along with much more natural talent — that would make Vikings fans hearken back to the days of Fran Tarkenton. Whom, some have suggested, Manziel might be the second coming of. A Manziel-Adrian Peterson-Cordarelle Patterson offense would be fun heaped upon gratuitous fun, would it not?
9. Buffalo Bills
Buffalo LB Khalil Mack
Forget where Mack played his college ball; or pretend for a minute he played at, like, Bowling Green or something. The dude can play. Flip on the Ohio State tape if you need more convincing. Or, if you’re up for it, check out the Idaho Potato Bowl (I wanted so badly for the Bulls to end up in the Buffalo Wild Wing Bowl) Saturday against San Diego State, where he could lock horns with San Diego State OT Bryce Quigley, a later-round draft pick, in a nice matchup.
10. Tennessee Titans
Alabama LB C.J. Mosley
The Titans have invested heavily at linebacker the past 3-4 drafts and might not care to do so again, but they could get a three-down player in Mosley who would be an upgrade over Moise Fokou, who is a free-agent-to-be, and Colin McCarthy inside and help make this budding defense take another step forward. But another factor: We don’t know who the coach will be, they have grand plans to make sweeping changes and that could include taking a quarterback if they move on from Jake Locker. Things are so fluid in Nashville these days.
11. New York Giants
Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard
The Giants have not picked this high in a while, and yet it makes sense for them to upgrade a position that needs a boost. Corey Webster could be gone next season, and Terrell Thomas’ contract is up after this season. Pairing Dennard across from Price Amukamara, and having Trumaine McBride or Jayron Hosley inside wouldn’t be bad at all. Dennard is a riser; you can get a good look at him in the Rose Bowl against Stanford.
12. Pittsburgh Steelers
Auburn OT Greg Robinson
Robinson has dominated of late, and if he has another big performance in the BCS title game, he could rise pretty high in this draft. The Steelers’ need for a left tackle has been well-documented, even with Kelvin Beachum’s emergence. Robinson has worked well in Auburn’s up-tempo game, and he has made some beastly run blocks to pave the way for Tre Mason’s breakout season.
13. New York Jets
Clemson WR Sammy Watkins
Rex Ryan would do shirtless roundoffs through Times Square to get a playmaker of Watkins' talent with the 13th pick. Maybe it’s the luck of No. 13 — the same slot they stole Sheldon Richardson a year ago — who knows? But Watkins instantly would upgrade the downfield passing game and give us a better idea if Geno Smith is the quarterback the team should be building around or not.
14. St. Louis Rams
Texas A&M WR Mike Evans
They have a number of needs, such as safety, interior offensive line or perhaps even quarterback, but those can be addressed down the line. A trade back also would be a strong possibility given GM Les Snead’s recent track record for making deals involving the draft. But passing on Evans might be too tough. Imagine a three-WR set of Evans at split end, Tavon Austin in the slot and the winner of Chris Givens/Austin Pettis/Brian Quick flanked outside. No more excuses, Sam Bradford.
15. Detroit Lions
Oregon CB Ife Ekpre-Olomu
For the umpteenth year in a row, the Lions could use help on the back end. Ekpre-Olomu fits their style of defender; of course, head coach Jim Schwartz’s possible departure could bring in a new style of defense, too. This situation also is quite fluid, so this pick is written in pencil for sure, even if their needs are fairly defined.
16. Dallas Cowboys
Alabama S Hasean "Ha Ha" Clinton-Dix
Jerry Jones will seek active, playmaking defenders, and he loves good pedigrees such as that of Clinton-Dix. Jones got a first-class seat to watching him and his Bama teammates dominate Michigan last season at Jerry World and will covet Clinton-Dix’s size, athleticism and ballhawking skills at a major need position.
17. San Diego Chargers
Oklahoma State CB Justin Gilbert
This might be their top need, but it also could be tough to pass on one of the quality offensive tackles available. Gilbert, however, is a strong cover corner who only needs to sharpen up his technique a little, and he also can be an impact returner as well. He has a great matchup against Missouri’s excellent wide receivers in the Cotton Bowl to display his skills.
18. Green Bay Packers
North Carolina TE Eric Ebron
The Ebron-Jace Amaro debate could be a fun one, and we think it will bleed into Wisconsin quite a bit the next five months or so. Ebron has the feet, body control and receiving ability to make a difference from Day One in this offense. Amaro will be a strong consideration, too, and he’s a little bigger, but maturity concerns could be a red flag for GM Ted Thompson. We’ll side with Ebron for now. Of course, the defense also could use help …
19. Miami Dolphins
Michigan OT Taylor Lewan
We’re not naïve to suggest that owner Stephen Ross will lean on GM Jeff Ireland (if he still has a job) to take a Michigan Man here, but considering it’s coincidentally a position of need, the fit makes some sense with Jonathan Martin unlikely to return. Perhaps Florida State’s Cameron Erving has the higher upside. But Lewan would help solidify a need spot and give them a poor man’s version of Jake Long.
20. Arizona Cardinals
Florida State OT Cameron Erving
A left-side combo of Erving and Jonathan Cooper (who has missed his entire rookie season with injury) could make this Cardinals offense something to watch next season. They have other pressing needs, but athletic left tackles do not grow on trees, especially in the desert. The Cardinals long have sought help here, and they could finally solve a real problem for an offense that is growing nicely.
21. Baltimore Ravens
USC WR Marqise Lee
No, they wouldn’t be getting an Anquan Boldin clone to pair with Torrey Smith, but GM Ozzie Newsome isn’t afraid to gamble on top-end talent, and it just so happens that Lee fills a need for another dynamic receiver on this offense. This could be a perfect landing spot for a still-fertile talent coming off an "off" senior season.
22. Chicago Bears
Notre Dame DE Stephon Tuitt
The Bears’ D-line has been a sieve, and they could use a strong, versatile talent such as Tuitt, who can line up inside or out, give them flexibility to switch to a 3-4 defense at some point and help offset the likely release of Julius Peppers in the offseason. No, Tuitt does not rush the passer like Peppers used to, and Tuitt had a disappointing 2013 campaign, but his upside is strong.
23. Philadelphia Eagles
Stanford DE-OLB Trent Murphy
This is a tough team to project here, and there are other needs, such as safety and wide receiver, worth considering. But Murphy is the kind of versatile edge talent who could fit into almost any scheme, and he’s someone whom Chip Kelly has seen up close in Pac-12 action. Murphy can play with his hand in the dirt, or even standing up.
24. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis Colts)
Fresno State WR Davante Adams
They wouldn’t, would they? Carr-to-Adams has been one of the nation’s most fun and effective passing combinations this season, so why break up a good thing? The Browns need a running back, more interior offensive help and, of course, and Josh Gordon needs a running mate. Both receivers would have size and deep ability, and coupled with Jordan Cameron down the seam, the Browns could feature a vertical offense that would be entertaining and tough to defend.
25. Cincinnati Bengals
Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier
Not much fancy to say here: Talented player who fits in this area of the draft find a great home of a defense that badly needs a shot of talent at linebacker. He can cover from the weak side, seek and flow, and hit. A good fit with Mike Zimmer’s group, and it could allow Vontaze Burfict to move back inside and put Rey Maualuga on the bench.
26. New England Patriots
Minnesota DT Ra'Shede Hageman
A trade always is a possibility; they almost never stick with the first-round pick they start with. But with such a big need up front, and age creeping up on Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, both of whom are rehabbing serious injuries, Bill Belichick might not be able to afford passing on a lineman who — at least physically speaking — looks like Richard Seymour getting off the bus and who can play multiple techniques.
27. New Orleans Saints
Clemson OLB Vic Beasley
Rob Ryan will flip for Beasley’s white-hot motor and closing skills on the outside, giving him another toy to use on third downs when the Superdome noise is reaching ear-splitting levels. This almost makes too much sense.
28. Carolina Panthers
Stanford OG David Yankey
Adding another strong offensive line piece would go a long way toward protecting Cam Newton for years and offering a lynchpin in the run game they like employing. Travelle Wharton is merely a placeholder at left guard currently, and the Panthers could have their choice of replacements at this spot, with either Yankey or Baylor’s Cyril Richardson.
29. San Francisco 49ers
Penn State WR Allen Robinson
Even with the return of Michael Crabrtee to the fold, the 49ers could stand to add more talent at wideout, and they can’t be gunshy for their previous missteps in evaluating this position in the draft if the right player is there. Robinson would give the Niners four extremely gifted and well-sized receivers who not only can help move the sticks, but also run block on the exterior.
30. Kansas City Chiefs
Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro
Amaro has spent most of his season in the slot, torturing Big 12 defenses, and he’d be the perfect addition to this Chiefs offense that needs just a little additional boost. Alex Smith had strong tight ends in San Francisco, and Amaro could be just the kind of seam target he’s looking for to take that next step.
31. Denver Broncos
TCU CB Jason Verrett
They have managed this position for a while, and though their other corners are a little more sturdy, Verrett has the hips, the athleticism and the ballhawking ability this Broncos defense could use more of. Champ Bailey’s replacement.
32. Seattle Seahawks
Vanderbilt WR Jordan Matthews
Bit of a hunch pick here, but this could help protect them against Sidney Rice’s and Percy Harvin’s injury histories and give them a solid, chain-moving target on the outside. Matthews has a little bit of Marques Colston in him in that he doesn’t wow you with his speed, but he finds ways to get open and produce. That’s good enough for Pete Carroll, John Schneider and Darrell Bevell, if he’s not a head coach somewhere else next season.
And, as we did last time, a bonus: the first five picks of Round 2:
33. Houston Texans
Texas A&M OT Cedric Ogbuehi
Local product overshadowed by Jake Matthews this season but a strong right tackle prospect.
34. Washington Redskins
Tennessee OT Antonio Richardson
Massive man who start immediately at right tackle, a real need position. A new coach would seek more size up front.
35. Oakland Raiders
Missouri DE Kony Ealy
Would be a nice bookend to Lamarr Houston, if they can keep him around.
36. Jacksonville Jaguars
Alabama QB A.J. McCarron
Seasoned, smart passer whose job will be to get the ball to Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon.
37. Cleveland Browns
Baylor OG Cyril Richardson
Three offensive starters in three picks? The Browns would take that.
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