NO (10-1) @ DAL (6-5) | THU 8:20 PM ET | FOX/NFL Network/Amazon
Despite riding a ten-game winning streak, the Saints might need to finish 15-1 to assure themselves of the No. 1 seed in the NFC, and they cannot afford a slip up tonight in Dallas. Both teams will be without their starting left tackle—Terron Armstead (pectoral) and Tyron Smith (neck)—so we should see 2017 first-round pick Taco Charlton make some plays off the edge for the Cowboys, and this year’s No. 14 overall pick Marcus Davenport certainly has the ability to do the same for New Orleans; getting a pass rush would be more important for the home team, though, as Drew Brees has been putting the ball wherever he wants, and he should have all his skill-position players out there with rookie Tre’Quan Smith back in the lineup. Dallas also needs to worry about Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram shredding them on the ground, because we have seen slashers Josh Adams (seven carries for 47 yards) and Tevin Coleman (eight carries for 58 yards) have success against the Cowboys before abandoning the running game in Week 10 and Week 11, respectively. On offense, more could fall on Dak Prescott against a defense that has allowed the fewest rushing yards per game in the league (73.2), but I think staying committed to Ezekiell Elliott to set up play-action passes to Amari Cooper and others will be key—even if they don’t have success early on. I would like the chances for Dallas if they are able to keep it a one-possession game into the fourth quarter because Dak has come up big in clutch situations, but Brees—who averages nearly 350 passing yards per game in eight career meetings with the Cowboys—probably has too much firepower at AT&T Stadium.
Winner: New Orleans Saints
BAL (6-5) @ ATL (4-7) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Turnovers doomed Atlanta against the Saints on Thanksgiving, but as I said last week, the Falcons have a real shot at the postseason if they can rattle off five-straight wins (v BAL, @ GB, v ARI, @ CAR, @ TB) to close out the year in a competitive NFC. And with star linebacker Deion Jones (foot) nearing a return to help make a playoff push, I wouldn’t want to face Dan Quinn’s squad in December or January because a) they can score with anyone, and b) their core has postseason experience as the only team in the conference to make the playoffs in each of the past two seasons. This week, Jones would really be a difference-maker with the speed to match Lamar Jackson on designed runs, and it will be interesting to see how much Baltimore lets their rookie quarterback throw after he showed some impressive touch against the Raiders. If Jackson struggles early or isn’t unleashed on the ground in the first half again, the Ravens might face a deficit they would have trouble overcoming, so the run-heavy attack should continue this weekend. We should have a close game, but I trust Matt Ryan to make plays in the fourth quarter for what is basically a must-win, and a real quarterback controversy would brew in Baltimore if Joe Flacco (hip) is healthy enough for a huge game against the Chiefs—who will need to be thrown on to keep up—in a couple weeks.
Winner: Atlanta Falcons
CAR (6-5) @ TB (4-7) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
The Panthers have dropped their last three games after a 6-2 start, and I would argue that their 30-27 home loss to the Seahawks was even worse than the 52-21 blowout in Pittsburgh or a 20-19 loss in Detroit, as they would have had some breathing room as the No. 5 seed with five weeks to go. Now, Carolina is in the middle of the jumbled wild-card race, and they still need to face the Saints twice over the final three weeks of the season. Ron Rivera will quickly have to find a way to get his guys to play better on the road—they would be 0-5 away from home if not for 21 unanswered points in Philadelphia—and I think that can be accomplished by feeding Christian McCaffrey, who is averaging 7.2 fewer carries per game in road matchups. Plus, the pass protection has been worse away from Bank of America Stadium, and McCaffrey previously shredded the Bucs with 22 touches for 157 yards and two scores in Week 9. That said, scoring points shouldn’t be the issue for the Panthers, and they have had success stopping Jameis Winston over the past three years (2-4 record and a 5:9 touchdown-interception ratio), holding Tampa Bay to just 14.8 points per game during that span. Jameis is seemingly good for a 350-yard, three-score performance in any given week, but he could also toss four interceptions and force Dirk Koetter to make yet another quarterback change. I would be surprised if Carolina didn’t get back on track.
Winner: Carolina Panthers
CHI (8-3) @ NYG (3-8) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
It sounds like Chase Daniel will get another start for Mitchell Trubisky (shoulder) this week, and he filled in admirably on Thanksgiving, completing 73.0% of his passes for 230 yards, two touchdowns, and zero turnovers in a 23-16 victory. Of course, Chicago would rather Trubisky be under center, but Daniel is a very capable distributor in Matt Nagy’s offense, and they might finally be able to get Jordan Howard going in a good road spot against the Giants, who have allowed rushing lines of 30/169/1, 27/123/1, 21/121/1, and 27/129/1 to opposing backs since trading standout defensive lineman Damon Harrison. This week really appears to be a good time to be Howard rolling ahead of a Sunday Night Football matchup against the Rams and their vulnerable run defense in Week 14, so New York needs to be ready to play up front. If the Giants can get off the field defensively, Odell Beckham Jr. might be able to expose Chicago’s cornerback group a bit; but will Eli Manning have time for downfield shots if Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd are able to consistently collapse the pocket? The Bears probably want to prevent Saquon Barkley from single-handedly taking over the game, so Pat Shurmur needs to mix in screen passes and max-protection, play-action shots at opportune times to get their fourth win of the season. I think Chicago will be 9-3 heading into a huge primetime clash.
Winner: Chicago Bears
BUF (4-7) @ MIA (5-6) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Box-score readers who don’t actually watch football still haven’t bought into Josh Allen, but the Bills—who were supposed to be picking first overall in 2019 according to the “experts”—are 3-2 in games that the rookie has started and finished so far, and an 8-8 season is very possible against an unimposing schedule (@ MIA, v NYJ, v DET, @ NE, v MIA) down the stretch. Buffalo will have a much different offensive supporting cast around Allen in 2019 and beyond, but besides Kelvin Benjamin inexplicably declining to run routes with his quarterback before a game earlier this season, the team has generally rallied behind the 22-year-old, and I’m assuming their support for Allen (in response to Jalen Ramsey’s previous trash talk) partly caused the brawl last week against the Jaguars. Overall, the never-back-down, underdog attitude is perfect for the franchise, and they have several players that fit the description, including undrafted rookie corner Levi Wallace. The former intramural flag football player at Alabama was able to walk-on and ended his career as a starter for Nick Saban’s most recent national championship team; but despite that not being enough to get drafted due to a perceived lack of size/athleticism, Wallace has already climbed the depth chart to start alongside Tre’Davious White. The Dolphins are also headed in the right direction with Adam Gase as head coach, but the Bills have momentum right now.
Winner: Buffalo Bills
IND (6-5) @ JAX (3-8) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
The Jaguars shouldn’t be criticized for sticking with Blake Bortles in 2018 after he helped lead them to a 20-10 lead in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship Game last season, but the mistake came when they extended the former No. 3 overall pick on a three-year, $54-million deal that includes $16.5 million in potential dead money next year, making it nearly impossible to move on from him before 2020. We’ll see how the franchise deals with the quarterback situation in the spring, but as for this season, I have confidence in Cody Kessler as a starting quarterback in the NFL, and he is a better fit for Jacksonville’s otherwise strong roster because he doesn’t make mistakes like Bortles does. At 3-8, things are probably too far gone at this point, but the Jags will hopefully have some fight left, and Indianapolis can be attacked via the short-passing game, which is where Kessler excels. Also, while the Colts handled the first matchup between these teams three weeks ago, 29-26, they were shutout in the second half, and more attention should be paid to Eric Ebron (three touchdowns) this time around. Andrew Luck could easily go off, but Indy has struggled some away from home, and even without Leonard Fournette (suspension), I have a feeling the Jags can pull off an upset to keep their extremely slim playoff hopes alive for one more week.
Winner: Jacksonville Jaguars
CLE (4-6-1) @ HOU (8-3) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Baker Mayfield and Deshaun Watson met in the CFP Semifinal back on New Year’s Eve of 2015, and Clemson was able to overcome a 17-16 halftime deficit to win, 37-17—the difference being Watson doing damage with his legs. Against an aggressive Cleveland defense this weekend, Houston’s franchise quarterback will probably need to run again, and it might be simply to avoid pressure behind one of the league’s worst offensive lines (37 sacks allowed, fourth most in the NFL). However, the Texans line has improved as a run-blocking unit this year, and it has led to Lamar Miller finally reaching his potential with the team, rushing for 4.9 yards per carry with a career-high pace of 1,150 yards on the ground. Establishing the run will be crucial to keep Watson upright, but stopping Nick Chubb—who might get 40 touches this week if Georgia beats Alabama in the SEC Championship—on the other side of the field also needs to be a point of emphasis for Houston to extend their winning streak to nine games. As usual, the Texans have the advantage in terms of star power on both sides of the ball, but I think Baker gets some revenge and Cleveland will win in the trenches to establish themselves as a legitimate playoff contender under interim head coach Gregg Williams.
Winner: Cleveland Browns
DEN (5-6) @ CIN (5-6) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Following a 34-16 loss against the Jets in Week 5 that really put Vance Joseph on the hot seat, Denver has bounced back to play everyone tough during a 3-3 stretch, losing games to the 10-1 Rams (23-20), 9-2 Chiefs (30-23 in KC), and 8-3 Texans (19-17 on a missed field goal) while blowing out the Cardinals (45-10) and taking down the 8-3 Chargers (23-22) and 7-3-1 Steelers (24-17). The biggest difference has been the overall toughness of the team, as since allowing 275.0 rushing yards per game in back-to-back losses, the Broncos have held opposing runners to 99 carries for 309 yards (3.1 YPC) and zero touchdowns over the past five games. They will again have their work cut out this week, as Joe Mixon should be featured by Cincinnati with Andy Dalton (thumb) done for the year, but Jeff Driskel also gives the defense something to think about as a dual-threat quarterback that could earn an opportunity to compete for a starting job in 2019 if he plays well for the Bengals. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor needs to center the attack around Mixon as both as runner and receiver, which will be easier to accomplish after A.J. Green (toe) declared himself ready for Week 13. I originally planned to pick Cincinnati at home, but I think Von Miller and Bradley Chubb should be able to cause havoc against a line that could be without Cordy Glenn (back).
Winner: Denver Broncos
LAR (10-1) @ DET (4-7) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Detroit is probably out of the playoff race after a loss to the Bears on Thanksgiving, and they are suddenly very thin on offense with Golden Tate in Philadelphia, Marvin Jones (knee) on injured reserve, and Kerryon Johnson (knee) unlikely to be pushed before fully recovering. That could lead to a quick day if Jared Goff and the Rams pickup where they left off before the bye week, especially if the defense gets Aqib Talib (ankle) back, which would take some pressure off Marcus Peters and give Aaron Donald a little more time to get to the quarterback—a scary thought for a guy that’s compiled 14.5 sacks over his past eight games. To somehow get a victory, the Lions need to dominate on the interior and get LeGarrette Blount to the second level, as Los Angeles has allowed 5.2 yards per carry (second worst in the league) and remains weak at linebacker. I would be shocked if Detroit won this week, but I like Matt Patricia’s decision to practice outside in snow/cold/wind despite playing their home games in a dome, and it should pay dividends both this season (they play in Buffalo and Green Bay) and in the future; plus, Patricia probably gets more insight into the mentality of some players that are/aren’t equipped for adversity.
Winner: Los Angeles Rams
ARI (2-9) @ GB (4-6-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Speaking of inclement weather, Lambeau Field is expected to get snow on Sunday, and that’s probably the worst possible news for the Cardinals and former UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen, especially against a Packers team that will be focused as they look to win out and make the playoffs. A lot of blame has been placed on Mike McCarthy for Green Bay’s struggles, but Aaron Rodgers simply needs to play better, and I’m not sure the franchise will be able to find an upgrade at head coach as easily as fans would like to think. Also, I loved the job new general manager Brian Gutekunst did in the draft on Day 1 (Jaire Alexander) and Day 2 (Josh Jackson, Oren Burks), but getting rid of All-Pro safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at the trade deadline didn’t seem like a wise move for a franchise that shouldn’t be wasting years of Rodgers’ career as he celebrates his 35th birthday on Sunday. Still, if the Packers are able to keep David Johnson from running completely wild in the snow—which isn’t a given against an all-around back that played his college ball at Northern Iowa—they should be able to improve to 5-6-1 and stay in the playoff race for a potential elimination game as Falcons come to town in Week 14.
Winner: Green Bay Packers
KC (9-2) @ OAK (2-9) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | CBS
There is certainly a chance that one of the three double-digit favorites (LAR, GB, KC) is given a game this weekend, but I highly doubt that it’s the Chiefs, as Andy Reid is 16-3 after a bye week throughout his coaching career. And excluding last year’s memorable win for the Raiders on Thursday Night Football, 31-30, in which Derek Carr threw for 417 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions, Oakland’s quarterback has really struggled against Kansas City, going 1-6 with barely 200 yards per game and a 7:7 touchdown-interception ratio. Being at home should hopefully help avoid a complete blowout, but Jon Gruden isn’t looking for a moral victory; instead, Oakland will do what they can, including heavy attention on Tyreek Hill to keep him in check after lines of 7/117/2 and 10/215/2 over his past two games, and seventh-round pick Marcell Ateman (six-foot-four) might be able to cause some problems for the smaller Chiefs secondary along with Jordy Nelson (six-foot-three), who is looking to get going with just five receptions for 36 yards over the past five games. Anything can happen, but I don’t see the Raiders stopping Patrick Mahomes with the current defensive personnel in place.
Winner: Kansas City Chiefs
NYJ (3-8) @ TEN (5-6) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | CBS
A 22-of-23 passing day by Marcus Mariota wasn’t enough to really make it a game in Houston on Monday night (though to be fair, Deshaun Watson clearly fumbled before a touchdown to put the Texans up 34-17), so Tennessee needs to play their best football in December and hope they can sneak into the playoffs for the second year in a row. As I’ve said over and over again, the best chance the Titans have to be a real threat in the AFC is to feed Derrick Henry, and it’s honestly a bit surprising that head coach Mike Vrabel hasn’t felt the same way, instead opting for the smaller, less-punishing Dion Lewis as the team’s clear lead back. That might continue in Week 13, but I would think getting stuffed on a fourth-and-inches by giving the ball to a tight end lined up at fullback will be the wakeup call the team needs to realize a towering, 247-pound Heisman winner is on the roster. If not, New York’s struggling run defense might not break as easily as they have over the past two games, and whoever starts out of Josh McCown (hand/back) and Sam Darnold (foot) might be able to make enough big plays to beat a banged-up, confidence-shaken secondary and pull off an upset. Nevertheless, I’m picking the team with postseason aspirations to defend their home turf, as the Jets haven’t shown much on either side of the ball to snap their five-game losing streak.
Winner: Tennessee Titans
SF (2-9) @ SEA (6-5) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
Teams probably won’t be lining up to face the Seahawks in January, but with four of their final five games at home, Seattle has the makings of a very dangerous potential opponent on Wild Card Weekend. The biggest reason they have been able to stay float in a “rebuild” is the play of Russell Wilson (25:5 touchdown-interception ratio), and the former third-round pick and Super Bowl champion could force his name into the top-heavy MVP conversation if he stays hot in December. Clearly, the NFL is now a passing league, but the Seahawks have shown that a ground-and-pound running game can make things easier on a quarterback, and I wonder if more teams will follow suit in 2019 and beyond due to defenders getting smaller and faster. For this week, San Francisco might be overmatched as Richard Sherman takes on his former team for the first time, but I’m curious to see how often he is targeted because there was no love lost between he and the franchise during the collapse of the Legion of Boom; also, just today, Sherman took a shot at Russell Wilson for whatever reason, and it’s clear he harbors some sort of jealousy in his mind towards a quarterback that helped get him a ring. I would like the chances for the Niners if C.J. Beathard was under center going into a tough environment.
Winner: Seattle Seahawks
MIN (6-4-1) @ NE (8-3) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
I said last week that the Packers-Vikings winner could be determined by Green Bay’s ability to keep Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs in check, but they struggled by allowing a combined 16 receptions for 202 yards and two touchdowns to the dynamic duo. This week, the story should be the same, and Minnesota probably needs to get a repeat performance out of Thielen, Diggs, and Kirk Cousins to have any chance if a shootout arises, particularly with Xavier Rhodes (hamstring) looking unlikely to play. Whether or not Rhodes is active, though, Tom Brady will attack between-the-numbers—the clear weakness for Mike Zimmer’s defense—and a healthy Rob Gronkowski should be a big factor against a unit that has allowed big games to George Kittle (5/90), Jimmy Graham (6/95), and Zach Ertz (10/110/1). The best game plan for Minnesota is probably establishing the running game with both Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray to keep New England off the field, and then when Brady does get his hands on the ball, they should never throw the same look at him twice. I think the Vikings can hold up their end of a possible shootout, but I’m not picking against TB12 and the Patriots at Gillette Stadium as they try to keep winning and get some help for home-field advantage in January.
Winner: New England Patriots
LAC (8-3) @ PIT (7-3-1) | SUN 8:20 PM ET | NBC
The Chargers have played their best football in December over the years, but it seems to usually be a late-season surge after a slow start. This season is obviously different, and Los Angeles can win the AFC West (and potentially claim the No. 1 seed in the AFC) if they win out—including a Thursday night game over the Chiefs in Week 15—and have Kansas City lose another game (which is very possible against either the Ravens or Seahawks). Philip Rivers is 36-18 in December throughout his career, but the draw to start the month at Heinz Field isn’t easy, especially without Melvin Gordon (knee) in the lineup. Also, the Steelers have done some of their best work in primetime games, and James Conner could be unleashed after three relatively quiet outings in a row. For what it’s worth, the Chargers typically try to take away the opponent’s top offensive threat, and they held Antonio Brown to three catches for 45 scoreless yards back in his 1,834-yard season in 2015, so it could be more Conner, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Vance McDonald on Sunday night. I’m expecting a back-and-forth track meet, but I think the loss of Gordon will be the difference, and fans should be excited for a potential rematch in January that hopefully sees both high-powered squads at full strength.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
WAS (6-5) @ PHI (5-6) | MON 8:15 PM ET | ESPN
The Redskins have caught a lot of flak for claiming Reuben Foster on waivers, and personally, I wouldn’t want him on my team because he’s shown poor judgment by repeatedly putting himself in toxic situations. But that said, the woman accusing him of domestic violence previously accused him before recanting, and many of the same people admonishing Washington for giving Foster another chance—and in a good situation surrounded by former Alabama teammates—probably are fans of Tyreek Hill because he’s on their fantasy team, despite him pleading guilty to domestic assault and battery back in 2014. If Foster is guilty, then he will never suit up for the Redskins or anyone else, but let’s allow the legal process to play out before ending the career of a 24-year-old that might see his life fall apart without football. On the field, Washington will get a huge boost on Monday night as Chris Thompson returns to the lineup, and it comes at the perfect time. I thought Jay Gruden and Alex Smith would run away with the NFC East, but Smith’s injury could make this a three-way tie with four weeks to play if the Redskins can’t get a road win, and the Philadelphia fans should create a rowdy environment on Monday Night Football. I think it will be close, but the Eagles win late if they can prevent Jordan Reed from having a big night.
Winner: Philadelphia Eagles
Last week: 10-5 /// Overall: 89-87
Recommended picks last week: 2-3 /// Overall: 35-25
Saints (-7.5) @ Cowboys
Ravens @ Falcons (+1)
Panthers (-3.5) @ Buccaneers
Bears (-4.5) @ Giants
Bills (+5) @ Dolphins
Colts @ Jaguars (+4)
Browns (+5.5) @ Texans
Broncos @ Bengals (+5.5)
Rams (-10) @ Lions
Cardinals @ Packers (-14)
Chiefs (-15) @ Raiders
Jets @ Titans (-8)
49ers @ Seahawks (-9.5)
Vikings @ Patriots (-5)
Chargers @ Steelers (-3.5)
Redskins (+6.5) @ Eagles
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