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Minnesota Vikings (4-9-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (9-5)
Prediction: I was disappointed to see Cincinnati blow an opportunity to overtake New England for the AFC’s No. 2 seed. Losing to Pittsburgh gave them an uninspiring 3-5 road record. However, they’re 6-0 at home and their final two games are in the jungle. In other words, despite last week’s defeat, Cincinnati remains in strong shape to win the AFC North.
Bengals 38 Vikings 13
Tennessee Titans (5-9) at Jacksonville Jaguars (4-10)
Prediction: The Jaguars don’t have the skill players to put enough points on the board. Cecil Short’s out for the year and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jacksonville sit Maurice Jones-Drew, who is dealing with a hamstring injury. Given the circumstances, Tennessee should win comfortably.
Titans 30 Jaguars 10
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-10) at St. Louis Rams (6-8)
Prediction: Keep an eye on St. Louis in 2014. They have a ton of young talent and they’ll likely have a top three pick in this year’s draft. The only remaining question is whether Sam Bradford can elevate his play.
Rams 28 Buccaneers 14
Cleveland Browns (4-10) at N.Y. Jets (6-8)
Prediction: Despite being a bad team themselves, the Jets have just enough to beat below average and bad teams at home. The Browns fall in that category.
Jets 16 Browns 13
Upset of the Week
Miami Dolphins (8-6) at Buffalos Bills (5-9)
Prediction: Even with all the drama surrounding Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito, Miami controls its own destiny. If they win out, they’ll make the playoffs. They have a favorable schedule, too. They’re favored to beat Buffalo this week and they’ll definitely be favored to defeat the Jets next week. Nevertheless, I think they’re ripe for an upset. They’re coming off an emotional victory over New England and now they travel to Buffalo to play in uncomfortable weather conditions. This’ll influence the passing game, which hinders Miami‘s offense. A few turnovers and this one could easily bounce Buffalo’s way.
Bills 23 Dolphins 20
Denver Broncos (11-3) at Houston Texans (2-14)
Prediction: Losing to San Diego only reinforces Denver’s postseason vulnerability. Somebody in the AFC needs to make a move, though. I don’t think New England is that team. Maybe it’s Baltimore or Kansas City. Denver did comfortably beat both teams this year, but they comfortably beat Baltimore last regular-season, yet the Ravens won in Denver during the playoffs. Regardless, Kansas City’s late-season surge is keeping pressure on the Broncos, which may actually be a good thing. They need to stay sharp because somebody will make a run at them in the postseason.
Broncos 45 Texans 24
Game of the Week
New Orleans Saints (10-4) at Carolina Panthers (10-4)
Prediction: In the olden days, you won in December with defense and running the ball. Today’s game is different, though. You still need defense, but you can substitute a running game for a great quarterback. The Saints have the quarterback, but not the defense. Rob Ryan’s done a nice job, but his unit feeds off the Superdome’s energy. On the road, they’re rather mediocre, as was the case in St. Louis last week. The Panthers, meanwhile, have a great defense. Do they have a great quarterback? I’ve been one of Cam Newton’s defenders. I wrote quickly that he’d be the No. 1 overall pick in 2011. I’ve always considered him a top-flight fantasy quarterback. This year, I picked Carolina to make the playoffs, in large part because I expected Newton to become a great quarterback. Great quarterbacks win big games, especially at home. It’s now time for Newton to prove he’s such a player.
Panthers 28 Saints 17
Indianapolis Colts (9-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (11-3)
Prediction: I don’t trust the Colts on the road. In fact, I don’t trust the Colts anywhere. They haven’t been the same since Reggie Wayne went down and their defense is regressing. Their victories over Denver, San Francisco, and Seattle seem so long ago. For Kansas City, they’re keeping pressure on Denver. Their defense remains one of the best in football and they can run the ball. They sound like a Super Bowl contender from the olden days.
Chiefs 27 Colts 20
Dallas (7-7) at Washington (3-11)
Prediction: After all the dust settles, Dallas will make the playoffs if they win their final two games. Because of their defense, they won’t make much noise in the postseason, but just earning a playoff berth would probably feel like vindication for Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett. I wouldn’t necessary agree with that premise, but that’s the only way Jones can justify keeping Garrett and the rest of his coaching staff round another year. Considering Jones’ ego, that’s probably good enough for him.
Dallas 34 Washington 28
N.Y. Giants (5-9) at Detroit Lions (7-7)
Prediction: Wins from Chicago and Green Bay would eliminate Detroit from postseason contention. It doesn’t matter what they do against the Giants. Their destiny is out of their hands. That’s what Justin Tucker’s 61-yard kick did to them. It may have also ended Jim Schwartz’s tenure as Detroit head coach.
Lions 27 Giants 7
Arizona Cardinals (9-5) at Seattle Seahawks (12-2)
Prediction: The Cardinals could beat Seattle and San Francisco in the next two weeks, and they could still miss the playoffs. According to the media, winning in Seattle is impossible. I still think there’s a team out there that’ll give them a game in the playoffs. It won’t be Arizona, though.
Seahawks 23 Cardinals 14
Oakland Raiders (4-10) at San Diego Chargers (7-7)
Prediction: Both teams struggle to defend the pass. However, just one has a competent quarterback. Look for a big game from Rivers, as San Diego keeps their desperate playoff hopes alive.
Chargers 38 Raiders 24
Pittsburgh Steelers (6-8) at Green Bay Packers (7-6-1)
Prediction: The forecast for Sunday’s game in Lambeau calls for a high of 25 degrees and snowy conditions. Ben Roethlisberger is rolling, having thrown 12 touchdowns and just 1 interception in his last five games, so the snow and wind could be Green Bay’s best defense against the two-time Super Bowl champion. The Packers always face an uphill climb without Aaron Rodgers, but Eddie Lacy’s running style in these conditions could be a huge boon to Green Bay.
Packers 21 Steelers 20
New England Patriots (10-4) at Baltimore Ravens (8-6)
Prediction: While the Patriots struggle to stay healthy, Baltimore’s reeled off four consecutive wins. The Ravens are positioning themselves as one of the AFC’s most dangerous teams. In fact, if they win their next two games, they’ll win the AFC North. They may not have Ray Lewis or Ed Reed, but their defense is arguably better than it was a year ago. The only missing ingredient is the running game. Perhaps they’ll get it going against New England’s 31st ranked rush defense.
Ravens 27 Patriots 24
Chicago Bears (8-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (8-6)
Prediction: Both teams could be playing for their division next week. This week, they’ll focus on each other. The Eagles should play better after putting forth a dud against Minnesota, but Chicago’s offense is rolling. Their receivers are a matchup nightmare for any secondary. In fact, their presence is overshadowing Matt Forte. He has 1,200 rushing yards, 522 receiving yards on 66 receptions, and 9 touchdowns. That’s an unbelievable year and it shows the versatility of Chicago’s offense.
Bears 31 Eagles 28
Atlanta Falcons (4-10) at San Francisco 49ers (10-4)
Prediction: The 49ers are not losing what is likely the final game at Candlestick Park.
49ers 45 Falcons 10
Last Week: 9-7
Season Record: 142-81-1