CLE (3-6-1) @ CIN (5-5) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
The Browns have lost seven games in a row against the Bengals, and the results haven’t really been close with a point differential of +150 and no games decided by fewer than 13 points. Things are different this time, though, as Hue Jackson will now be on the Cincinnati sideline, which could lead to an added edge for Cleveland players wanting to prove their former head coach was an issue more than the roster was. Baker Mayfield certainly doesn’t think his first NFL head coach will be much of a benefit to the Bengals based on his comments this week, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see some tempers flare on both sides for a big divisional game in a competitive AFC wild card race. On the field, the health of A.J. Green (toe) will be key, as I think the Browns will score points coming off the bye, and Andy Dalton needs help on the outside to open up the passing game and create softer boxes for Joe Mixon (13 or fewer carries in four of the past five games). For the Browns, staying committed to the running game has been a point of emphasis under Gregg Williams, and Nick Chubb should shred a defense that was already allowing the most rushing yards per game in the league (153.8) and will be without starting linebackers Preston Brown (knee) and Nick Vigil (knee). I think as long as Mayfield takes care of the ball, Cleveland should improve to 4-6-1 and be in the playoff picture come December.
Winner: Cleveland Browns
SF (2-8) @ TB (3-7) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Back at quarterback for the collapsing Buccaneers, Jameis Winston has tossed 11 interceptions in just five appearances (three starts) this season, and I would almost hope he struggles down the stretch if I were a Tampa Bay fan so the franchise can simply move on. Winston still has plenty of supporters, but making the same empty-minded mistakes over and over again simply shouldn’t happen after nearly four full years in the league, especially if the turnover issues date back to college; and when you have a loaded offense with an above-average offensive line protecting you, the constant mistakes look even worse. This might be the last chance for Jameis, too, as the improved state of the quarterback position around the league combined with past off-field transgressions could lead to zero interest on the open market for the former No. 1 overall pick. The opponent this week won’t be difficult with the 49ers coming to town, but playing well against a “playoff” schedule down the stretch (v CAR, v NO, @ BAL, @ DAL, v ATL) would probably lead to the Bucs keeping Winston for a fifth season. A win for San Francisco—who has played better on the backend in recent weeks led by Richard Sherman—is certainly possible, but Tampa Bay probably has enough firepower to overcome a couple potential mistakes by their quarterback.
Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
JAX (3-7) @ BUF (3-7) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Josh Allen (elbow) will finally make his return after missing four games, and he should have a chip on his shoulder against Jalen Ramsey and the Jaguars after the brash cornerback’s comments to GQ before the season about Buffalo’s franchise quarterback (and many others). The talking has led to three wins for Jacksonville this season, and all Ramsey did was put a target on his back and prove he is willfully ignorant by a) saying Allen threw five interceptions against Iowa State (he never faced Iowa State), and b) saying Allen never beat anyone in college (he upset undefeated, No. 13 ranked Boise State in 2016). The rookie has wisely downplayed the trash talk, but the Bills will have his back and should come out fired up off the bye. Plus, Allen isn’t afraid to take or deliver shots on the field, and this would be a spot to bring everything out of the playbook to make Ramsey eat his words. The Jags came out on top in January’s playoff matchup—a 10-3 victory—, but another defensive battle would benefit Buffalo at home, as Allen can make things happen with his legs when the play breaks down as well as anyone, and Jacksonville is one of the worst teams in the league against running quarterbacks. I trust Sean McDermott to have his guys ready off the bye.
Winner: Buffalo Bills
OAK (2-8) @ BAL (5-5) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Baltimore came out with a whole new playbook for Lamar Jackson’s first career start, and while the modern NFL-record 27 carries for a quarterback won’t happen every week, I am not overly concerned about the former Heisman winner holding up because he has an innate ability to not allow tacklers to get a square hit on him. Also, for his part, Jackson knows he can thrive as a traditional quarterback, saying this week, “The game plan that’s coming up, we’re going to be throwing the ball. You’ll see.” I had Baltimore’s first-round pick as a top-ten prospect coming out of Louisville, but work definitely needs to be done as a passer, and he looked to be aiming the ball a bit last week as he played with reworked mechanics in extended game action. Jackson is much more comfortable throwing between the numbers at this point, so I think he and Gus Edwards will again carry the load on the ground with play-action passes underneath and over the middle. It’s also worth noting that Oakland has blown their fair share of coverages this year, so Jackson hitting a big play could really boost his confidence. The Raiders’ excitement was fun to see after last week’s close win against the Cardinals, but Jon Gruden will have a tough time getting a game plan together this week to consistently move the ball on a stout Baltimore defense, and they probably need to force multiple turnovers to pull off a road upset for an early kickoff.
Winner: Baltimore Ravens
SEA (5-5) @ CAR (6-4) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Arguably the biggest game on the Sunday slate, Seahawks-Panthers should be a competitive contest between two similar teams that are both fighting for a playoff spot. Of course, it will have to be as a No. 5 or No. 6 seed with the Rams (10-1) and Saints (10-1) leading the NFC West and NFC South, respectively, but that only makes this week even more important. While Seattle is coming off a huge victory last Thursday night against the Packers, Carolina has fallen off after a 6-2 start, dropping games on the road to Pittsburgh and Detroit. This week, the Panthers will return home, but they haven’t been an elite defensive squad in 2018, and the ground-and-pound attack led by Chris Carson could give them problems. I think Carolina should take a page out of Seattle’s book by giving more carries to Christian McCaffrey, because even though he barely leaves the field, the Stanford product has just two games with more than 20 touches this season, which should be his floor as the offensive centerpiece. The team might be forced to feed McCaffrey with Devin Funchess (back) doubtful, and Cam Newton could get hot like he’s done before in this miniature rivalry, but an unwavering identity gives the advantage to the Seahawks for me.
Winner: Seattle Seahawks
NE (7-3) @ NYJ (3-7) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
I would be shocked if Tom Brady doesn’t play on Sunday despite being listed as questionable with a knee injury that forced him to miss Friday’s practice, and the Jets might be a punching bag for the “angry” Patriots following a 34-10 loss at the hands of the Titans—not to mention a bye week for them to think about it. New England hasn’t necessarily looked like New England this year, but the concern should only kick in if they don’t handle a game they should this week in New York, and they will have all the skill-position players healthy with Rob Gronkowski “ready to roll” after nearly a month since his last game action. The Jets have played the Patriots tough under Todd Bowles, but this week could get out of hand quickly if New York falls behind, as teams with a head coach seemingly on the way out can often quit by late November, which is unfortunate. Perhaps Josh McCown can have a heroic performance in place of Sam Darnold (foot), but running the ball to create some clock-killing drives is probably the only chance New York has of avoiding 3-8. This could be a statement game for New England in a rare under-the-radar season.
Winner: New England Patriots
NYG (3-7) @ PHI (4-6) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
We might get an Invincible sequel pretty soon due to how thin Philadelphia is at cornerback, and having wide receivers forced to practice in the secondary doesn’t bode well for their hopes of covering Odell Beckham Jr. this weekend. The Eagles had their only convincing win of the season last month against the Giants, but despite still controlling their own destiny, there are already players in the locker room trying to pinpoint the issues with this year’s team compared to the Super Bowl team. And we can try to say they were overconfident entering the season, or Doug Pederson isn’t the same without Frank Reich, or there’s a lack of accountability like Jason Kelce suggested, but it should be pointed out that Howie Roseman didn’t do a good job at all re-shaping the roster in the offseason, and I think that’s the overarching issue for Philly. Now, the Eagles will be forced to trot out Chandon Sullivan, Cre’Von LeBlanc, and De’Vante Bausby at corner, and to make matters worse Jordan Hicks (calf) has been ruled out, so New York’s offense could really blow up—and in a good way—if Saquon Barkley can get loose. On the other side of the ball, Carson Wentz needs to play better, but being at home is the only thing making me pick the defending champs with their backs against the wall, and even that hasn’t been a benefit in 2018.
Winner: Philadelphia Eagles
ARI (2-8) @ LAC (7-3) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | FOX
Last week’s loss against the Broncos should have never happened for Los Angeles, as they allowed Case Keenum to complete a couple chunk plays and get in range for the game-winning field goal to drop to 7-3. Fortunately for the Chargers, they still control their destiny for not only the AFC West crown, but also the No. 1 seed in the conference with a Thursday Night Football matchup against the Chiefs coming up in Week 15. Obviously, they need to take care of business before that December headliner, and first up will be an Arizona team that just lost to the previously one-win Raiders. This sets up as a takeover game for Melvin Gordon (Oakland rushed for 152 yards against Steve Wilks’ defense last week), but the Cardinals should try to feature their own superstar runner by giving David Johnson 25-30 touches and making half of Josh Rosen’s pass attempts go to him. If not, Rosen will likely struggle against Casey Hayward, Derwin James, and Desmond King, all of whom are capable of turning defense into offense at a moment’s notice. Arizona will look for signs of improvement out of the UCLA product over the final six weeks of the season, but Sunday could be a long game for the rookie.
Winner: Los Angeles Chargers
MIA (5-5) @ IND (5-5) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS
The Dolphins and Colts are both in a five-way tie for the No. 6 seed in the AFC heading into Week 12, so this game could end up having serious playoff implications at the end of the season. Indianapolis has won four games in a row as Andrew Luck re-establishes himself as one of the league’s best players, and the mistakes are becoming less frequent with just one interception (13 touchdowns) during the winning streak. I don’t know if the Colts will keep it up to make the postseason in Frank Reich’s first year at the helm, but I do know that Luck playing in January would be fun for fans and scary for opponents. Even as heavy favorites, though, the Colts can’t overlook Miami this week, especially now that Ryan Tannehill will be back under center for Adam Gase’s offense. Also, former Colt, future Hall of Famer, and 35-year-old Frank Gore has emerged as the clear lead runner on early downs for the Dolphins (4.5 yards per carry this season), and the balance should be able to take some pressure off Tannehill by keeping star defenders Malik Hooker and Darius Leonard honest. I think this will be a game, but Marlon Mack should be able to have a big day behind a dominant offense line.
Winner: Indianapolis Colts
PIT (7-2-1) @ DEN (4-6) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS
Including playoffs, the Steelers and Broncos have only met four times this decade, but the teams seem to have a bit of bad blood between them, and that’s perhaps because of how competitive the games have been. The most memorable came in January of 2012 when Tim Tebow completed an 80-yard touchdown pass to shock Pittsburgh in the AFC Wild Card Playoff, 29-23, and the teams split regular season matchups in 2012 (when Peyton Manning led Denver to 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter of a 31-19 win) and 2015 (when Antonio Brown went off for a 16/189/2 line in a 34-27 win) before the Broncos won, 23-16, in Manning’s final championship run. This week, the Steelers should be prepared after nearly losing to the Jaguars, and they had success against Case Keenum last year when he was with the Vikings, holding him to 20-of-37 for just 167 yards, zero touchdowns, and zero interceptions. However, that was his first start in Minnesota, and I think Denver’s offensive personnel might be able to give Keith Butler’s defense fits. The bigger issue for the Broncos will be stopping James Conner, as he’s been quiet for too long, and the defense was previously destroyed by physical runners Isaiah Crowell and Todd Gurley for over 200 yards each. Look for Mike Tomlin and his guys to keep rolling.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
GB (4-5-1) @ MIN (5-4-1) | SUN 8:20 PM ET | NBC
The Packers were in clear control of a Week 2 matchup against the Vikings, as they led 20-7 entering the fourth quarter before Kirk Cousins went off in a 425-yard, four-score performance that resulted in a 29-29 tie. Green Bay had Jaire Alexander (100% snaps) and Josh Jackson (99%) both play a significant role against Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs already, so we’ll see if they can contain them for 60 minutes in the rematch. If not, Aaron Rodgers needs to play better by taking what the defense gives him (i.e. hitting his checkdowns), because not doing so could lead to trouble against Minnesota’s pass rush. In general, neither team has lived up to expectations, but this Sunday night is an opportunity to right the ship and start a run; and despite having a better record right now, I actually think the matchup is more important for the Vikings with games in New England and Seattle on deck, as the only game Green Bay won’t be probable favorites in the rest of the way will be Week 15 in Chicago. Cousins has the home-field advantage on Sunday night, but I trust Rodgers more in a big game to come out on top.
Winner: Green Bay Packers
TEN (5-5) @ HOU (7-3) | MON 8:15 PM ET | ESPN
Marcus Mariota is expected to play on Monday night with what is being described as a stinger (and not the same nerve issue that impacted his throwing arm earlier in the season), but it’s a somewhat strange situation since he wasn’t cleared ahead of the weekend. Still, even if he isn’t able to get to 100% ahead of Monday night, he should be able to give Tennessee a chance to win based on his playmaking ability, running ability, and proven play in clutch moments. Unfortunately for the Titans, the quarterback on the other side of the field can come close to matching Mariota in all three categories, and Deshaun Watson knows he can basically put away Mike Vrabel’s team in the AFC South—because Houston would own a three-game lead plus the tiebreaker with five games to play—and extend their winning streak to a franchise record eight games after an 0-3 start, which would be remarkable. Tennessee won the Week 2 meeting, 20-17, behind Blaine Gabbert (13/20 for 117 yards and one touchdown), but a 66-yard touchdown on a fake punt ended up being the difference, and the Texans will be prepared for trick plays in primetime. I think it will be close, but I’m taking Houston because Derrick Henry (5.0 YPC in November) has taken a backseat to Dion Lewis (2.9 YPC in November), and there’s no guarantee the roles will flip.
Winner: Houston Texans
Thanksgiving: 1-2 /// Last week: 8-5 /// Overall: 80-84
Recommended picks last week: 2-3 /// Overall: 33-22
Browns (+3) @ Bengals
49ers @ Buccaneers (-3)
Jaguars @ Bills (+3)
Raiders @ Ravens (-10.5)
Seahawks (+3) @ Panthers
Patriots (-7.5) @ Jets
Giants (+6) @ Eagles
Cardinals @ Chargers (-11.5)
Dolphins (+9) @ Colts
Steelers (-3.5) @ Broncos
Packers (+4.5) @ Vikings
Titans (+5.5) @ Texans
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