DAL (7-4) @ NO (5-6) | THU 8:20 PM ET | FOX/NFL Network/Amazon
The Cowboys were one of many teams around the NFL to have a shaky month of November, and it’s a concern that the defense has seemed to struggle with opponents that can run the ball with physicality. Fortunately, star defensive end Demarcus Lawrence (foot) is expected to return tonight, and his leadership will be a definite boost along with the on-field contributions for a talented defense that is better than they showed on Thanksgiving. Also, getting CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper (COVID-19) back in the lineup will make it difficult for the Saints to defend Dak Prescott and the passing attack, so it will be up to Taysom Hill to put up points in his first start of 2021. The versatile quarterback went 3-1 under center last season, and I think the receiving trio of Marquez Callaway, Tre’Quan Smith, and Deonte Harris—with others mixing in—can give Dallas problems in coverage, especially if the running game can get going without Alvin Kamara (knee) for the fourth game in a row. I’ll go with the healthier team in a possible shootout.
Winner: Dallas Cowboys
NYG (4-7) @ MIA (5-7) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Daniel Jones (neck) again showed his toughness by playing through what is now considered a week-to-week injury suffered early in the win over Philadelphia, but now the Giants are going to need the entire team—particularly on defense—to step up if they are going to make a late-season push. Don’t be surprised if new signing Jake Fromm eventually makes starts if he impresses enough in practice (or Mike Glennon struggles), as he is in an ideal spot with a handful of Georgia Bulldogs on the roster, which includes former teammate Andrew Thomas at left tackle. It would have been cool if we’d gotten an SEC rematch between Fromm and Tua Tagovailoa, and New York’s newest quarterback could be in a much different spot in terms of his NFL career if he’d have been able to knock off Alabama in the 2017 College Football Championship or 2018 SEC Championship; for anyone that doesn’t follow college football, it took both Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts playing in both games to get Alabama the victories. This week, the defense of the Giants can keep it close, but Tua is gaining more and more confidence with every start.
Winner: Miami Dolphins
IND (6-6) @ HOU (2-9) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Indianapolis pushed Tampa Bay to the limit last week, and it’s difficult to not be impressed by the team if you watch Hard Knocks—the best part of last night’s episode was All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson telling head coach Frank Reich that Jonathan Taylor is hungry and they should start running the ball, which resulted in them tying the game at 31-31 thanks to a run-heavy drive late in the fourth quarter. Against the Texans, we’ll undoubtedly see a heavy dose of Taylor and the ground game with the superstar back averaging 7.4 yards per carry against them in three matchups, and T.Y. Hilton can also have a big game in a stadium he loves playing at with 52 receptions, 1,061 yards, and eight touchdowns through nine games at NRG Stadium. A letdown is always possible considering how crazy this season has been, but Houston might not have enough firepower to pull off the upset if Carson Wentz doesn’t make any crucial mistakes.
Winner: Indianapolis Colts
MIN (5-6) @ DET (0-10-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
The soft coverage of the Lions on Thanksgiving ended up costing them their chance at picking up a victory, and even though they have a tie on the ledger, you have to imagine they’re feeling the pressure of a winless season with just six more opportunities to put an end to it. Detroit’s first matchup against the Vikings ended on a heartbreaking, 54-yard field goal by Greg Joseph as time expired after the defense fought to create a late turnover and the offense capitalized with a quick scoring drive to take the lead, but Minnesota surely remembers and won’t be taking a division rival lightly on the road. Jamaal Williams should be fed 20 touches with D’Andre Swift (shoulder) out, and the veteran outplaying Alexander Mattison in place of Dalvin Cook (shoulder) would give the Lions a shot. Still, Jared Goff’s top weapon in T.J. Hockenson has been taken away by Mike Zimmer’s defense throughout the tight end’s career, and no big-time wideout on the perimeter could continue to haunt Detroit’s offense the rest of the way.
Winner: Minnesota Vikings
PHI (5-7) @ NYJ (3-8) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Four turnovers doomed the Eagles last week in a 13-7 loss to the Giants, but the game plan seemed to take a step back from recent weeks despite another 200-yard effort on the ground, so it’s encouraging that Jalen Hurts—despite not playing well at all—was still in position to win the game with a Tim Tebow-like outing in terms of being a “gamer” by making things happen late; Philadelphia would currently be sitting as the No. 7 seed if Jalen Reagor was able to make a play in the final minute. The Jets are a great opponent to rebound against with an NFL-high 30.4 points per game allowed (by far worst in the league), and aside from committing to the run for the entire game, Philly should incorporate more double moves into the passing attack to prevent defenders from sitting on routes. Assuming the Eagles set the tone offensively, it could be a long day for Zach Wilson if he feels forced to push the ball downfield against what has turned out to be an opportunistic defense.
Winner: Philadelphia Eagles
ARI (9-2) @ CHI (4-7) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Arizona sitting atop the NFC despite playing without Kyler Murray (ankle) and DeAndre Hopkins (hamstring) for multiple games is reason to believe in them as a legitimate Super Bowl contender, but Sunday will be a great challenge for a cold, rainy matchup in Chicago—which is their last outdoor game of the regular season. Because of their style of team, earning homefield advantage throughout the playoffs would be massive for the Cardinals, so they need to be sharp coming off the bye to remain on track. That means not forcing the ball to Hopkins too much in a battle versus Jaylon Johnson, and it will be easier to create balance with James Conner likely not having to deal with Roquan Smith (hamstring) tracking him all day. Whether it’s Justin Fields (ribs) or Andy Dalton at quarterback for the Bears, David Montgomery needs to be featured, as Arizona has notably lost this year in headlining performances by the backfields of Green Bay (188 total yards) and Carolina (239 total yards).
Winner: Arizona Cardinals
LAC (6-5) @ CIN (7-4) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
I was very high on the Chargers and their new coaching staff at the start of the season, and a big reason for that was their usage of Mike Williams. But now, I’m getting a feel similar to the Bears from the past couple of seasons when the game picks every week seemed to talk about them getting back to basics on offense—though unlike Chicago, a strong defense hasn’t been there despite some star-caliber pieces for the group. It’s unlikely the unit will suddenly stiffen up against the run to stop Joe Mixon, so Joey Bosa (catching fire with a sack in each of the past four games) needs to takeover and keep Joe Burrow from getting comfortable when Cincinnati airs it out, as they are 5-0 with 32.8 points per game scored when Burrow isn’t sacked more than twice. I’m expected more of a shootout than last season’s 16-13 win for the Chargers, but I’ll stick with them nonetheless by counting on Williams to be featured.
Winner: Los Angeles Chargers
TB (8-3) @ ATL (5-6) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
It was a surprise that they were led by Leonard Fournette and the running game, but Tampa Bay’s offense turned it on last week—including more success in the red zone—and they appear to be hitting their stride late in the season similar what happened in 2020. Tom Brady won’t get Antonio Brown (ankle) back this weekend, but Rob Gronkowski has been a huge boost over the past two games, while both Chris Godwin and Mike Evans have been excellent against the Falcons throughout their respective careers. Atlanta stuck around to overcome a 28-10 deficit to make it 28-25 by the end of the third quarter back in their Week 2 meeting, but back-to-back pick-sixes ended any hopes of completing the comeback, so we’ll see if Matt Ryan and company have better luck at home; they’ll undoubtedly need to throw with the Bucs being determined to stop Cordarrelle Patterson (Bruce Arians made note after their win over the Colts that “nobody runs the ball on us” to highlight their early success containing Jonathan Taylor).
Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
JAX (2-9) @ LAR (7-4) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | FOX
If getting called out for being “soft” by ESPN’s Booger McFarland (with Hall of Fame quarterback Steven Young agreeing) isn’t enough to get the Rams going, they might as well book vacations now with the expectation they’ll be one-and-done next month.
Winner: Los Angeles Rams
WAS (5-6) @ LV (6-5) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | FOX
The Raiders showed great resilience by shaking off back-to-back blowout losses to beat the Cowboys in overtime on a short week, and Sunday is an important game for them to stay hot in with road matchups against the Chiefs and Browns up next. Derek Carr probably won’t have Darren Waller (knee), but Josh Jacobs looked better than he has all season in Week 12, and now he’ll have had a few extra days to be ready for another heavy workload. On the other side, Antonio Gibson is also coming off his best game of the year with a career-high 36 touches on Monday night, and he’ll again be fed with J.D. McKissic (concussion) looking unlikely to play this week. Overall, I’m anticipating a slugfest that will be determined by whichever team runs the ball better, but Las Vegas having the extended preparation time and playing at home is enough to give them the edge.
Winner: Las Vegas Raiders
BAL (8-3) @ PIT (5-5-1) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS
Ravens-Steelers never seems to disappoint as one of the best rivalries in football, but with the way this season has gone, it’s tougher than usual to get a read on the matchup. Although Baltimore remains stout against the run, they’re allowing the most passing yards per game in the league (275.7), while Pittsburgh’s defense has struggled tremendously without Joe Haden (foot) in the lineup because of their inability to hold up in coverage—leading to 41 points allowed in each of the past two weeks. That said, something tells me the long-time foes will both be able to come out playing stingier defense, and Lamar Jackson has struggled with seven turnovers in two starts versus the Steelers (one being a 26-23 win against Mason Rudolph in 2019, and the other being a 28-24 loss to Ben Roethlisberger last season). This year, a more pass-happy offense for the Ravens might lead to the former NFL MVP being able to solve them, but his play has fallen off, and Baltimore could decide to go run-heavy by getting Latavius Murray more involved after J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards combined for 200 rushing yards in last year’s first loss. It will be close, but I think Najee Harris can make a strong first impression in the rivalry like Le’Veon Bell did as a rookie back in 2013.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
SF (6-5) @ SEA (3-8) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS
Seattle is easily the most disappointing team in the league, and it’s surprising that offense has been the reason with point totals of zero, 13, and 15 since Russell Wilson’s return—compared to the defense holding opponents to 19.0 points per game over the past three weeks. Monday night was close to a must-win, but now it almost certainly is, so Wilson needs to have some magic return against a San Francisco team that he’s 16-4 against (including playoffs) throughout his career. Maybe a spark will be provided by Adrian Peterson quickly getting elevated from the practice squad, but having DeeJay Dallas play a more central role might be an easier fix, and D.K. Metcalf—who caught eight-of-20 targets for 70 scoreless yards in November—is too dominant to be quiet for much longer. On defense, the Seahawks won’t have to contend with Deebo Samuel (groin), so bodies need to be flying to stop Elijah Mitchell before he can get into open space on outside runs. The 49ers were originally the pick, but the flip will switch for Wilson eventually, and it could come facing a rival he’s won 80% of his games against.
Winner: Seattle Seahawks
DEN (6-5) @ KC (7-4) | SUN 8:20 PM ET | NBC
Sunday Night Football is an AFC West battle for first place in the division, but can the Broncos finally find a way to beat Patrick Mahomes? Heading into this week, Denver is 0-7 against him, and while Vic Fangio can scheme up a defensive game plan with the best of them, it might take a big-time quarterback for the team to be ready take down Kansas City—particularly for a primetime game at Arrowhead Stadium. Still, Fangio is arguably the person that laid out the blueprint to stop Andy Reid’s offense last year in the first-week-of-December matchup by limiting the Chiefs to one touchdown (and five field goals) in a 22-16 loss, so Mahomes being unwilling to take the short stuff for whatever reason would open the door to mistakes that the Broncos can take advantage of. Reid is a mastermind himself, though, and the bye week should have Kansas City ready for whatever Denver throws at them on Sunday night.
Winner: Kansas City Chiefs
NE (8-4) @ BUF (7-4) | SUN 8:15 PM ET | ESPN/ESPN2
I’m a huge proponent of winter weather being an advantage for northern teams (for those not playing indoors, anyway), and it’s something Buffalo should embrace if/when they build a new stadium. However, the potential snow in the forecast for Monday night might play into the hands of New England as a run-dominant, defensive team that was built to play in January, and the Bills—like opponents have done to the Chiefs—will likely be dared to run the ball by Bill Belichick. On the other hand, the Patriots will feed Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson behind an offensive line that continues to get better, and both runners strike me as guys would thrive on a snowy surface while defenders might have trouble with their footing. So, the outcome could be determined by a) whether Mac Jones is ready to throw in the elements, and b) if Josh Allen can avoid playing “hero ball” with Belichick undeniably wanting to stop him from doing what he did last December with 320 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-9 victory. This rivalry will be decided over the next several years or more, but for now, the empire strikes back.
Winner: New England Patriots