WAS (5-6) @ DAL (5-6) | THU 8:25 PM ET | NBC/NFL Network/Amazon
The final November game of the year, Redskins-Cowboys is a de facto elimination game, as even if Washington or Dallas wins out to finish 10-6, they’d both need quite a bit of help that I’m not sure they would get. That doesn’t mean we won’t see a good game on Thursday night, though, especially because both quarterbacks have a lot to play for. Dak Prescott wants to silence his critics after the worst stretch of his career without Ezekiel Elliott, while Kirk Cousins is trying to prove he’s worth whatever contract he wants from the Redskins or someone else. Despite what I think about Cousins’ inconsistent weapons, I have more faith in them to get open than I do in Dez Bryant and the Dallas playmakers, and Jay Gruden is a better coach with a better defense in my opinion. I like Washington on the road to keep their season alive.
Winner: Washington Redskins
MIN (9-2) @ ATL (7-4) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
And now for December football, which is kicked off with an important slate of early games on Sunday, including a huge matchup between the Vikings and Falcons. Minnesota has the best chance of anyone other than the Eagles to earn home-field advantage in the playoffs, as if the two teams finish with the same record, the Vikings would get the top seed and potentially have all home games in a Super Bowl run (Super Bowl LII is in Minnesota). First, they need to get through the Falcons, who still have the NFC South in their sights with two games against the Saints and one against the Panthers over the final four weeks. Atlanta is favored at home in this one, but Xavier Rhodes will be focused against Julio Jones after allowing a big game to Marvin Jones last week, and I don’t think this would be the week for Case Keenum to cool off or get benched, as Dan Quinn’s defense has just three interceptions through 11 games.
Winner: Minnesota Vikings
HOU (4-7) @ TEN (7-4) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
If I was told Marcus Mariota would have regressed from last year’s 26:9 touchdown-interception ratio to this year’s 9:12 ratio, I would have probably thought Tennessee was 3-8. But here they are heading into Week 13 at 7-4 and positioned as the number-three seed in the AFC. Despite the struggles, the Titans have to feel pretty good about where they are as a team, and they could be scary if Mariota gets hot down the stretch and into the playoffs. Houston completely blew the doors off Tennessee in Week 4 with a 57-14 win, but they are obviously a lot different team with Deshaun Watson, J.J. Watt, and Whitney Mercilus out. I still don’t know why they didn’t sign Robert Griffin III last month to try to save the season, but each loss makes the first-round pick they owe to Cleveland even more valuable. At least they have their franchise quarterback for 2018 and beyond, but unless Jadeveon Clowney completely wrecks the game this week, I don’t see the Texans avoiding 4-8.
Winner: Tennessee Titans
KC (6-5) @ NYJ (4-7) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
It’s flat-out silly to me that people honestly believe the Chiefs should bench Alex Smith for Patrick Mahones. Despite struggles over the past month, Smith is on pace for career numbers across the board, and that’s with the receiving core at close to pre-2015 levels when they didn’t catch a touchdown pass for an entire season. People will point to Tyreek Hill and say he’s a really good receiver, but that’s just laziness by looking at the numbers and game-breaking plays. Hill has been a phenomenal playmaker for two-and-a-half years, but he’s not exactly a polished wide receiver like Jeremy Maclin was for Kansas City, and I think releasing him was one of the biggest mistakes in all of sports this year. Frankly, no one is getting open for Smith to throw to, and Andy Reid knows that more than the outside voices calling for Mahomes do. I’m not sure they’ll return to early-season form, but I like the offense to figure it out this week, and it will be interesting to see how Darrelle Revis looks against his former team in his debut with the Chiefs.
Winner: Kansas City Chiefs
DEN (3-8) @ MIA (4-7) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
A five-game losing streak for the Dolphins has them at 4-7, and they probably need to win out to make the postseason. Miami does get to play the Bills twice and Chiefs once in the final three weeks, but they first need to take care of business at home against Denver and somehow beat New England next Monday night first. They are fortunate to get the Broncos when Aqib Talib serves his one-game suspension, but it’s not like the pass defense was good with Talib to begin with, as they have allowed the most touchdowns passes (24) in the league. That number is absolutely shocking, and while coaches usually deserve time to build a winner in my opinion, I’m not sure GM John Elway will have much patience with a defensive coach in Vance Joseph overseeing such a dramatic collapse. In regards to the quarterback position, I never thought Paxton Lynch was the answer, and Trevor Siemian and Brock Osweiler probably aren’t either, so could that mean Elway goes back to the Manning family tree and targets Eli in 2018? I like Miami on Sunday.
Winner: Miami Dolphins
IND (3-8) @ JAC (7-4) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Another team that could want Eli Manning’s services in 2018 is Jacksonville, especially because they might not be able to draft a quarterback they love without trading up next April. Current signal-caller Blake Bortles kept them in last week’s loss by using his legs, but the Jags won’t get far in January if he doesn’t move the ball with his arm against New England or Pittsburgh. I don’t see the Colts pulling off an upset after being shutout at home to the Jaguars earlier this season, but the AFC South is going to be extremely competitive for the next 10+ years with Andrew Luck, Deshaun Watson, and Marcus Mariota already in the division, and if NFL evaluators don’t like him at the top of the first round like I do, Florida native and Heisman winner Lamar Jackson would be an exciting fit for Jacksonville.
Winner: Jacksonville Jaguars
TB (4-7) @ GB (5-6) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Like the Redskins and Cowboys, Green Bay needs to win out and have some things break their way, but going through the playoff scenarios, it’s more realistic that they make it than Washington or Dallas does. Basically, they need to beat the Buccaneers and probably-still-winless Browns over the next two weeks, then Aaron Rodgers will hopefully be back for their meeting with Carolina in Week 15, putting them right in the thick of the wild-card race. Brett Hundley nearly topped Ben Roethlisberger on Sunday Night Football in Pittsburgh despite Big Ben throwing for 351 yards and four scores, and his confidence should be soaring when the Bucs travel north in Week 13. The Wisconsin weather shouldn’t be too bad in Jameis Winston’s return, but he will be without two of his top offensive linemen after right tackle Demar Dotson and center Ali Marpet were placed on IR.
Winner: Green Bay Packers
DET (6-5) @ BAL (6-5) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Baltimore’s defense was a little sloppy in Monday night’s win over the Texans as they struggled to contain DeAndre Hopkins and committed downfield penalties on more than one occasion, but they eventually figured it out and forced Tom Savage to commit three turnovers in the 23-16 victory. More concerning is the passing game, which just hasn’t been in synch under offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. They might not need to put up many points against a banged-up Matthew Stafford, though, as his ankle injury didn’t look good on Thanksgiving, so the emerging pass rush could be dealing with a less-mobile quarterback on Sunday. I like defense to keep the Ravens in control of the number-six seed in the AFC before next week’s matchup with the Steelers, but maybe I’ll be wrong and Stafford will play his best with the odds against him.
Winner: Baltimore Ravens
NE (9-2) @ BUF (6-5) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
The Bills were able to shutout Jacoby Brissett and the Patriots in their first 2016 meeting when Tom Brady was serving a bogus four-game suspension, but they didn’t have as much luck when Brady returned for the rematch a few weeks later. The Pats have absolutely dominated Buffalo with TB12 under center (26-3 record), and there is no reason that won’t continue on Sunday. Rookie cornerback Tre’Davious White continued his award-worthy season with a game-sealing interception against the Chiefs last week, but for as good as he’s been, I wouldn’t be surprised to see New England target him relentlessly in an attempt to break his confidence. Allowing just over 13 points per game during their seven-game winning streak, I like the Patriots big.
Winner: New England Patriots
SF (1-10) @ CHI (3-8) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Jimmy Garoppolo making his first start with San Francisco will give fans reason enough to watch this game, but it’s important not to overreact to a poor performance. Kyle Shanahan’s offense is a complex system that takes time to master—just look at Matt Ryan from 2015 to 2016—and Garoppolo just got in the building a month ago. Shanahan and GM John Lynch will get a good idea if Jimmy G is the quarterback they want to build around, though, and if that’s not the case, perhaps the Redskins would consider swapping Kirk Cousins for him in a blockbuster trade this offseason. We know San Francisco’s new regime isn’t shy about making moves, and that began on the first night of the 2017 NFL Draft when they moved down one spot and allowed the Bears to take Mitchell Trubisky. The former Tar Heels star might have a chip on his shoulder for the Niners not taking him, but this game will be won with Jordan Howard and the running game.
Winner: Chicago Bears
CLE (0-11) @ LAC (5-6) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | CBS
Seeing Hue Jackson and owner Jimmy Haslam chatting it up with Bengals quarterback A.J. McCarron last week makes me think Jackson—despite one win through 27 games—might be safe for 2018. That’s insane to me with the lack of success Cleveland has had with an underrated collection of talent over the past two years, but it’s not my team. The Chargers were the only win last year for the Browns, but Philip Rivers’ squad is playing for a lot more than they were then, and they have the best point-differential (+47) among teams with a losing record through 12 weeks. I like Los Angeles to not only handle the Browns this week, but also make the postseason and potentially do some damage, as they have plenty of offensive playmakers and legitimate star players on defense.
Winner: Los Angeles Chargers
NYG (2-9) @ OAK (5-6) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
I’m all about NFL teams making difficult and sometimes cold-blooded decisions because they are running a business—but what the Giants have done to Eli Manning is simply bad business. Manning has been nothing but the ultimate professional since the moment he put on a uniform for New York, and the fans aren’t going to forget how this entire situation was handled. Instead of insulting Eli with an offer to start the rest of the season but get pulled for Geno Smith or Davis Webb just to keep his streak alive, Ben McAdoo could have told him they will try to win every week, but if the game is in the neighborhood of 35-10 at the start of the fourth quarter, then one of the backups will get a shot to put something on tape. All that said, Geno Smith isn’t as bad as most people believe, and I think he will put up points this week against Oakland’s weak secondary, but I’m not sure the players will play hard enough to get a cross-country upset.
Winner: Oakland Raiders
CAR (8-3) @ NO (8-3) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
It doesn’t get much better than this in a Week 13 game, as the Panthers and Saints are playing for first place in the division and potentially a first-round bye, but the loser might suddenly be on the cusp of a wild-card spot. New Orleans completely dominated their September meeting by forcing Cam Newton to throw three interceptions in a 34-13 win, but Carolina is rolling since the trade deadline with 30 points per game and have won four in a row. I think Newton will be at the top of his game as both a runner and passer on Sunday, and Luke Kuechly won’t allow Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara to run wild. It’s tough to go against Sean Payton and Drew Brees at home, but the Panthers should be laser-focused after a close win in Week 12.
Winner: Carolina Panthers
LAR (8-3) @ ARI (5-6) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
Including last week’s win over the Jags, Blaine Gabbert has looked good in two starts for Arizona, and the former first-round pick is still in just his age-28 season, so Bruce Arians isn’t just talking when he says he could be the starter in 2018; his skill-set and upside is a good match in the offense, and Gabbert probably played better than anyone has all year against Jacksonville’s elite pass defense. However, I made the mistake of picking against the Rams in Week 7 when they faced the Cardinals in London, and I’m not doing it again. Jared Goff has looked really comfortable going through progressions and hitting the open man, and he should be able to use Todd Gurley, Cooper Kupp, and his other weapons while Sammy Watkins is occupied by Patrick Peterson this week.
Winner: Los Angeles Rams
PHI (10-1) @ SEA (7-4) | SUN 8:30 PM ET | NBC
I’ve picked the Eagles every week since their close Thursday night win over the Panthers, but like Carolina before Luke Kuechly’s injury, Seattle isn’t a great matchup for Philadelphia. Doug Pederson’s team has imposed their will on opponents at the line of scrimmage all year, but the Seahawks have played better run defense than anyone since their bye with just 342 yards allowed on 128 attempts (2.67 yards per carry). The other side of the ball will be a bigger challenge with Russell Wilson masking the problems with his offensive line, but he’s been a magician for his entire career and is looking to make an MVP case of his own on Sunday night. A win for Carson Wentz would be the biggest of his career and likely make him the clear favorite for the award heading into another test with the Rams, but being at home is the difference for the Seahawks, who are due for a lucky primetime break after not getting one against Atlanta two weeks ago.
Winner: Seattle Seahawks
PIT (9-2) @ CIN (5-6) | MON 8:30 PM ET | ESPN
Cincinnati and Pittsburgh might be the most bitter rivalry in the NFL right now, and this should be closer than October’s 29-14 win for the Steelers at Heinz Field. Mike Tomlin made some headlines when he talked about the matchup with New England in Week 15 after their win over Green Bay last week, and the Bengals probably did not take too kindly to being overlooked. I honestly think Tomlin could be playing some mind games, though, as the undisciplined division rival could come in too hot as they wait around all day on Sunday and Monday, and his own team should be focused after Big Ben said they’re taking things one game at a time. This projects to be a Le’Veon Bell offensive attack for the Steelers, but JuJu Smith-Schuster’s return to the lineup gives them the firepower to throw it around if they have to, even on the road. You never know what will happen between these teams, especially because they both have extra motivation (Joe Mixon saying he can do way more than Le’Veon Bell; A.J. Green being mocked by JuJu and Bell in a touchdown celebration), but on the field, Pittsburgh is 8-1 over the past nine meetings.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers