NFL Week 14 odds, picks: The numbers behind Kirk Cousins' big-game struggles, plus five best bets

When the Vikings handed Kirk Cousins a three-year contract fully guaranteed for $84 million, they signed the quarterback to get them over the hump after they came up a game short of the Super Bowl with Case Keenum. While Cousins has played about as well as-- if not better than -- he did during his Redskins career over the first 12 games of the season and has the Vikings in a playoff position, his recent performances in big games have been mostly underwhelming, giving his critics who say he shrinks against top teams in big moments even more ammunition. 

Looking back at the Vikings' season, one could argue that there have been seven games that can be called "big." It's fair to say that it's been a mixed bag for the Cousins in those games -- far from the utter disaster some have made him out to be, but far from a success story.

He threw for 425 yards, four touchdowns -- including a game-tying touchdown at the end of regulation -- and one interception in a Week 2 tie against the Packers, but he was only able to get the Vikings into overtime after a controversial penalty on Clay Matthews extended the Vikings' game-tying drive by wiping away an interception that would've lost the Vikings the game. In Week 4, Cousins played brilliantly in a close loss to the Rams, throwing for 422 yards and three touchdowns without turning the ball over. In Week 5, Cousins helped the Vikings beat the Eagles in Philadelphia by completing 81.1 percent of his passes for 301 yards and a touchdown. In Week 8, Cousins submitted a solid enough statistical outing in a loss to the Saints with 359 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception, but it's worth noting that Cousins was able to boost his stat line after the Vikings went down 17 points midway through the fourth quarter.

Over the past three weeks, the Vikings have played three important games against the Bears, Packers, and Patriots. In a loss to the Bears and their league-best defense, he totaled 262 yards and two touchdowns, but gave away two crucial interceptions, including a game-deciding pick-six in the fourth quarter. Once again, it's worth noting that Cousins' stat line benefited from garbage time, when the Bears let him dink and dump his way downfield to both of his touchdowns. He rebounded brilliantly a week later in a win over the Packers, during which he outplayed Aaron Rodgers by throwing for 342 yards and three touchdowns. But the seesaw brought him back down against the Patriots last week, when he submitted arguably the worst game of his season against a mediocre-at-best Patriots defense, averaging an awful 4.6 yards per attempt and getting picked off twice as he checked the ball down over and over again. 

Put together, here are Cousins' numbers in those seven games:

  • 73.4 completion percentage
  • 7.6 yards per attempt
  • 16 touchdowns
  • 6 interceptions
  • 104.2 passer rating

As the stats indicate, the narrative is a bit overblown, though as previously noted, Cousins did benefit from multiple garbage time opportunities, which also means, of course, that the Vikings have been trailing in a bunch of those games. In those seven games, which came against the Packers (twice), Rams, Eagles, Saints, Bears, and Patriots, the Vikings went 2-4-1. Their wins came against the Packers and Eagles. Their tie came against the Packers. The Packers are 4-7-1 and just fired their coach. The Eagles are 6-6 after finally piecing together their first two-game winning streak of the season. Some might say his performances against the Packers and Eagles shouldn't count. They might not be wrong given just how bad the Packers and Eagles have been this season. Entering the season, all seven of those games would've been considered big games. In hindsight, they don't appear to have been that big.

If we take away his three outings against the Packers and Eagles, Cousins' numbers in four big games this season look like this:

  • 71.3 completion percentage
  • 6.9 yards per attempt 
  • 8 touchdowns
  • 5 interceptions
  • 93.3 passer rating

That's not good, especially when you factor in the garbage-time aspect as discussed above. Two of his eight touchdowns came after the Vikings trailed the Bears 22-6 midway through the fourth quarter. Another touchdown came when the Saints led by 17 points midway the fourth quarter. Cousins has been largely bad in all of those games except the loss to the Rams.

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Again, the biggest reason the narrative exists is that the Vikings have gone winless in their four biggest games of the season. The Bears, Patriots, Saints, and Rams are all playoff teams and there's a Super Bowl argument that can be made for all four of them. The Vikings got outscored by 36 points in those four games. Cousins deserves some of the blame for that, and the criticism won't stop until he finally plays well in a big game that the Vikings win. 

Cousins will get yet another chance to shake the narrative on Monday night when he faces a playoff-good Seahawks team in Seattle. While I generally like Cousins as a quarterback and think the Vikings will find a way to make the playoffs, I don't like their chances in this game. With the first of my five weekly best bets -- after my worst week of the season, but we don't need to get into that -- I'm taking the Seahawks to beat and cover the three-point spread. 

Last week: 1-4
This year: 37-27-1

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At least I get an excuse to use this GIF. via Gifer / Footage via Rogue One (obviously)

All odds via SportsLine 

Seahawks (-3) vs. Vikings

My reason for the picking the Seahawks has less to do with the Cousins Big Game Narrative, and more to do with the fact that I just think the Seahawks are better -- especially at home. The Seahawks are the better team by DVOA (10th compared to 15th), point differential (55 points separates them), and yards per play (but only just barely). At home, the Seahawks' only losses have come against the Chargers and Rams, and they lost those two games by a combined 10 points. The Vikings' only two road wins have come against the Eagles (who have only just now won two games in a row for the first time all season!) and the Jets

In a huge game between the two teams occupying the two wild-card spots in the NFC, I'm taking the Seahawks to add to Cousins' narrative that is somewhat deserved.

Chiefs (-6.5) vs. Ravens

The Chiefs have been money against the spread (8-3-1) even though they failed to cover a huge road spread against the Raiders. The Ravens aren't a bad team, but I don't think Lamar Jackson and their run-oriented offense will be able to keep pace with an offense that is scoring 37 points per game and averaging a league-high 7.0 yards per play. Let's say the Chiefs hit their average of 37 points. The Ravens have scored more than 30 points only twice this season. With Jackson, they're averaging 5.4 yards per play, which ranks in the bottom half of the league in that span.

I figure Patrick Mahomes will put the Chiefs ahead early, which will force Jackson to throw the ball more than the Ravens would like him to, and the Chiefs will win by a touchdown or so. 

Bears (+3) vs. Rams

It wasn't that long ago when the Bears were being talked about a fringe Super Bowl contender, the kind of team that the frontrunners in the NFC wouldn't want to reckon with come January. After the Bears' defense shut down Cousins and the Vikings, the Bears established themselves as the favorites in the NFC North. When the Cowboys' defense -- a very good unit, but one that isn't nearly as good as the Bears' defense -- provided a blueprint on how to beat the Saints not long ago, things looked even better for the Bears, who fit that blueprint perhaps even better than the Cowboys do. Unfortunately for the Bears, starting quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who remains oft-maligned despite his very good stat line, suffered an injury late during the win over the Vikings, and the Bears proceeded to go 1-1 on the road against two bad teams with Chase Daniel as their quarterback.

Trubisky is expected to play Sunday night, but the Bears are still three-point underdogs at home to the Rams. I'm not certain the Bears should be three-point home underdogs to any team in football. Their defense is good enough to slow down the Rams' high-powered offense, which struggled in Detroit last week, while their offense is dynamic and diverse enough to cause problems against a Rams defense that has been remarkably average this season. So long as they get the ball out quickly to their playmakers in space to negate Aaron Donald's impact, the Bears should be able to score points. The Bears' defense should bother Jared Goff, force a few turnovers (they lead the league with 30 takeaway), and limit Todd Gurley. It should be a close game, but I think the defense and Trubisky's return is enough for the Bears to pull off an upset at home and remind the rest of the NFC that they'll be a major player come January. 

But if Trubisky doesn't play, it'll be a bloodbath. That's a gamble I'm willing to take, because it sounds like Trubisky will be ready to go by Sunday night.

What NFL picks can you make with confidence in Week 14? And which Super Bowl contender gets a huge scare? Visit SportsLine now to see which NFL teams are winning more than 50 percent of simulations, all from the model that has beaten 98 percent of experts over the past two years.  

Chargers (-14) vs. Bengals 

The biggest mismatch in Week 14 pits the league's third-best team by DVOA against the league's ninth-worst team by DVOA, a team that just lost its starting quarterback and superstar wide receiver for the remainder of the season. Even with Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, the Bengals were beginning to be revealed as frauds who were lucky to have started 5-3 with several lucky wins. Since that 5-3 start, the Bengals have lost four straight games by an average of 17.3 points. Jeff Driskel is averaging 6.4 yards per attempt since taking over for Dalton, and he'll have a tough time finding success against a defense that just added Joey Bosa, one of the best pass rushers on the planet.

But, really, I think the Chargers will roll on Sunday because their offense (third in DVOA, second in yards per play, and sixth in points per game) should steamroll a Bengals defense that checks in at 28th in DVOA, 29th in yards allowed per play, and dead last in points allowed per game. Philip Rivers should have a prolific day against a horrible defense while the Bengals' offense struggles to move the ball against a solid defense. 

Chargers win big because they're the better team by a significant margin. 

Browns (+2) vs. Panthers

Something is wrong with Cam Newton, and the Panthers have gone from contenders to just another team bumbling their way toward a playoff-less season. During the Panthers' four-game losing streak, Newton has thrown nine touchdowns and seven interceptions for a passer rating of 97.8. It's the interceptions that are concerning, especially considering he's now going up against a team that has generated the second-most takeaways (27) in the NFL

The Browns are coming off a disappointing loss that saw them get walloped by the Texans, but I don't think we should overreact to a road loss against a team that's now won nine games in a row and climbed its way up to 11th in DVOA. The Browns are home underdogs even though they've been competent and competitive since firing Hue Jackson. After a difficult outing that saw him turn the ball over three times, I think Baker Mayfield will prioritize protecting the ball while letting his defense (ninth in DVOA) go to work against an offense that is being led by a possibly injured quarterback.

Give me the home underdog that's been competitive against a team that's been bad on the road.

CBS Sports Writer

Sean Wagner-McGough joined CBS Sports in 2015 after graduating from UC Berkeley. A native of Seattle, Sean now resides in the Bay Area. He spends his spare time defending Jay Cutler on Twitter. Full Bio

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