TEN (6-5) @ IND (6-5) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Although the Colts have had an advantage this AFC South rivalry for the better part of 20 years, the Titans have made strides recently, including a 2-1 record against Jacoby Brissett over the past three seasons. The loss came earlier this year when Indianapolis won, 19-17, on a game-winning touchdown by T.Y. Hilton, but he is one of three impact playmakers that will be out along with Marlon Mack (hand) and Eric Ebron (ankle, IR) this week, so a lot will fall on Jonathan Williams and the running game once again. Defensively, all hands need to be on deck to contain Derrick Henry, who should be a lock for 20+ rushing attempts—which has never been the case against an Indianapolis defense that he’s stung for 6.0 yards per carry in his career. If fed, Henry will continue his late-season dominance as Tennessee’s lurking in the division becomes a real threat, especially because of how confident the entire team is following last week’s 42-20 victory over Jacksonville. And the tough part for Indy is that loading the box to stop the run would mean single coverage for emerging rookie receiver A.J. Brown, and the second-round pick proved last week that he can be a difference-maker with a rare combination of size, speed, and athleticism at 226 pounds. All that said, I just trust the Colts are their coaching staff more with a few extra days to prepare, and they should win a close one at home.
Winner: Indianapolis Colts
NYJ (4-7) @ CIN (0-11) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
The goal for Cincinnati needs to be getting a win however they can over the next five weeks to avoid an 0-16 season, and that was likely a key factor in going back to Andy Dalton over rookie Ryan Finley at quarterback. When he was previously the starter, Dalton actually played well against a brutal slate of opponents, and he may come out determined after voicing displeasure about how his benching was handled in October. As you would expect out of a Gregg Williams defense, the Jets are very physical and aggressive, but they remain thin at cornerback, so Zac Taylor should be able to dial up a passing attack to move the ball if Joe Mixon can’t get going against the league’s top run defense. Of course, while A.J. Green (ankle) still being out hurts, I think the Bengals should be able to put up points in what looks like their best chance for a home win in 2019, and I’m assuming the defense will be reenergized by Dalton being back under center. New York—coming off a 34-3 victory over the Raiders—is confident and believes the second wild card spot is well within reach, though, and Sam Darnold’s play has significantly improved since their loss to Miami in Week 9. I expect a down-to-the-wire finish, but Cincinnati’s first win may need to wait.
Winner: New York Jets
WAS (2-9) @ CAR (5-6) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Kyle Allen was foolishly written off by people following a four-interception performance against the Falcons two weeks ago, but Carolina should be extremely encouraged after a bounce-back showing last week in New Orleans in which he threw for 256 yards and three touchdowns with zero turnovers. Unfortunately, a missed field goal allowed the Saints to get a game-winning kick of their own in the final seconds, but Allen showed phenomenal poise, accuracy, confidence, and pocket mobility for a guy that was making just his tenth career start, and fans should realize that young quarterbacks will make mistakes. On defense, the Panthers have surprisingly limited Brian Burns’ playing time as he deals with a wrist injury, but participation on special teams—including as a gunner—suggests he is simply not getting playing time because of a coach’s decision (as Burns’ brother has indicated on Twitter). The Panthers would be wise to unleash their first-round pick this week to create pressure against Dwayne Haskins, who is looking to build off his first career win. Christian McCaffrey should have another monster day if the Redskins leave him open like the Saints did last week.
Winner: Carolina Panthers
SF (10-1) @ BAL (9-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
The supposed game of the week on each of the past two weekends have been major disappointments, so fans can only hope that 49ers-Ravens—featuring the two teams responsible for blowouts in Week 11 and Week 12—lives up to expectations. Baltimore’s offense has been basically unstoppable this season, and the running game’s uniqueness almost makes it look as if opponents have spent absolutely no time preparing for it. However, I would imagine San Francisco has a game plan in place to attack rather than react, and their loaded defensive line is probably going to shoot gaps and try to meet at Lamar Jackson in the backfield on every play (even toeing the line with late hits to get him to the ground as often as they can). Nearly two months have passed, but earlier this year, Cleveland and Pittsburgh both showed that the Ravens can be punched in the mouth, and it’s crucial to get them on the mat early with a lead. Assuming they don’t allow Jackson to do whatever he wants, the main concern I have for the Niners is a mostly unchallenged Jimmy Garoppolo facing an opportunistic secondary that continues to gain confidence; in nine games against everyone other than Arizona this season, Garoppolo owns a 12:8 touchdown-interception ratio. Homefield advantage for Baltimore might be the difference.
Winner: Baltimore Ravens
TB (4-7) @ JAX (4-7) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
The Jaguars were 4-4 at the season’s midway point, but three straight division losses by 20+ points probably ended their playoff hopes, and looking ahead to 2020, they will be one of the more intriguing teams to build back up into a contender. Not only is the quarterback situation great with both Nick Foles and Gardner Minshew on the roster, but the offense has young skill-position players and two starting offensive tackles all locked up for multiple seasons. On defense, Josh Allen is a superstar-in-the-making, and I’ll be interested to see if a new coaching staff—assuming Doug Marrone isn’t back—will switch to a 3-4 alignment to get the absolute most out of the No. 7 overall pick’s skillset. For the remainder of this season, Jacksonville needs to get tougher against the run if they want to hang onto any semblance of the team that reached the AFC Championship Game two years ago, and that starts on Sunday with the Buccaneers coming to town. I have a lot more trust in Foles than I do Jameis Winston and his league-leading 20 interceptions, but Tampa Bay is playing much better right now, and Chris Godwin could end up repeating what A.J. Brown did against the Jags last week.
Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
CLE (5-6) @ PIT (6-5) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Even with Mason Rudolph not starting for Pittsburgh, Myles Garrett suspended indefinitely, and the Browns all blaming their teammate for what happened at the end of the first matchup, Sunday’s AFC North clash should be an intense, physical game between two teams with postseason aspirations. The Steelers will be without James Conner (shoulder) and JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee) again, but Mike Tomlin seems to know his most important stars for this particular game are on defense, and the offense will try to avoid mistakes with Devlin Hodges at quarterback and Benny Snell keeping the clock moving at running back. In Week 11, Pittsburgh generated some pressure on Baker Mayfield, but they came in too aggressive and allowed him to move around in the pocket, so that can’t happen again if they are going to get a huge win at Heinz Field this weekend. For Cleveland, getting Kareem Hunt on the field has created more diverse personnel groupings, but when it comes to general offensive philosophy, a decrease in snaps for Nick Chubb has led to more touches when he’s on the field—which is a main reason for their turnaround. In what should be a low-scoring slugfest, I’ve got the revenge-seeking Steelers at home.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
GB (8-3) @ NYG (2-9) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
The statistics for Aaron Rodgers since Davante Adams returned are pretty remarkable—and not in a good way, as he’s thrown for 166.0 yards per game with two touchdowns over the past three weeks (1-2 record). A more balanced offense under Matt LaFleur has played a role, but Rodgers frankly seems unwilling to challenge coverage at the risk of turning the ball over, and that needs to change if Green Bay is going to win more than one playoff game in a top-heavy NFC. Luckily, New York is the perfect opponent to have an offensive explosion against, and they will be even weaker than usual on the backend with Jabrill Peppers (back) not playing. Plus, for what it’s worth, Rodgers has tossed four touchdowns in three-of-six matchups against the Giants in his career, so Sunday is a prime opportunity to open things up and attack the defense vertically, including by using Aaron Jones more as a receiver. New York could use breakout game from Saquon Barkley to take the pressure off Daniel Jones, but I think the rookie could have a strong day targeting Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton. Still, I highly doubt Jones is able to outduel Rodgers, especially based on how the Packers lost in Week 12.
Winner: Green Bay Packers
PHI (5-6) @ MIA (2-9) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Two home losses in a row for Philadelphia has them below .500 heading into December, but they still have everything in front of them when it comes to the NFC East crown, including four divisional bouts following Sunday’s matchup in Miami. The defense has been able to keep the Eagles in games, but Carson Wentz—despite all the built-in excuses being made—is not playing well, and there should be major concerns in Philly about him never getting back to his dynamic, playmaking ways (which is what really separated him from other quarterbacks as an MVP candidate in 2017) after handing him an extension through 2024. Whether or not Jordan Howard (shoulder) is cleared for this week, Doug Pederson should commit more to the running game to take some pressure off Wentz, and it’d also step up play-action shots to Alshon Jeffery in single coverage on the perimeter. Unlike last season in Tampa Bay when he threw 402 yards and four touchdowns, Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn’t have the playmakers to shred Jim Schwartz’s defense, but perhaps the size of DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki will present problems.
Winner: Philadelphia Eagles
LAR (6-5) @ ARI (3-7-1) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | FOX
The Rams were embarrassed on Monday Night Football last week, 45-6, but heading into that game, their defense had been among the best in football with 11.0 points per game allowed since acquiring Jalen Ramsey, and I think Week 13 will end up being an outlier more than anything else. This week, Kyler Murray brings another dual-threat skillset to contend with, but Arizona is more pass-oriented than the Ravens are, and Los Angeles should have a much easier time containing the rookie than they did Jackson. The offense is the group that really needs to step up, but I expect Jared Goff—who gets all the blame when he doesn’t have time to throw and zero credit when he drops a dime that few quarterbacks can routinely complete—to go out and have a big day, particularly with Cooper Kupp working on the intermediate level against a defense that can struggle between the hashes in coverage. For the Cardinals, I hope to see David Johnson healthier and more involved after a bye to rest up, but it seems more likely that Kliff Kingsbury sticks with Kenyan Drake as the lead back. Arizona certainly has a shot to win if they take care of the ball, but they could be relying on too many young players.
Winner: Los Angeles Rams
LAC (4-7) @ DEN (3-8) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS
Teams have sometimes been flat coming out of the bye this season, but Sunday feels like a spot where Los Angeles may dominate against second-round pick Drew Lock in his first career NFL action. The Missouri product has a tremendous arm and above-average athleticism, but he could use more polishing and lacks proven playmakers aside from Courtland Sutton. More importantly, Denver’s offensive line has struggled in pass protection, and the Chargers should be refreshed with Joey Bosa and company hungry to pile up sacks and quarterback hits on a rookie passer. In the secondary, All-Pro safety Derwin James (foot) is set to make his season debut, and he can be an individual game-wrecker for Los Angeles as they attempt to overcome recent struggles from Philip Rivers, who could benefit from an expanded role for Mike Williams (4.8 targets per game over the past five weeks is crazy) with Keenan Allen doing battle with rival Chris Harris Jr. This division matchup has been close over the past several meetings, but if the Chargers can stop Phillip Lindsay and the running game, they should stay alive in the playoff race.
Winner: Los Angeles Chargers
OAK (6-5) @ KC (7-4) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS
Derek Carr has been a quality starting quarterback in 27 games under Jon Gruden’s tutelage, but December will be an important month for his future with the Raiders, as the 2020 NFL Draft will have plenty of early-round prospects for the franchise to potentially target ahead of their first season in Las Vegas—not to mention free agent options like Marcus Mariota. Personally, I’d have a difficult time sticking with Carr if his play in cold weather doesn’t improve (2-9 below 50 degrees; 0-4 below 40 degrees) for an opportunity this week in Kansas City and then in Denver to close out the regular season; Gruden is surely taking into account that every January in the AFC is likely to run through New England as long as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are there, so Carr needs to quiet the noise by at least putting up a fight this week against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. When these teams met in Week 2, the Raiders jumped out to a 10-0 lead before a 28-point explosion by Kansas City in the second quarter, but that’s oddly all the scoring that took place. Damien Williams (rib) won’t be in the lineup for the Chiefs, but with Tyreek Hill—who didn’t play in the previous meeting—healthy, the Raiders might be lucky to hold Andy Reid’s offense to 28 points coming off the bye.
Winner: Kansas City Chiefs
NE (10-1) @ HOU (7-4) | SUN 8:20 PM ET | NBC
Including this Sunday night’s primetime matchup, Deshaun Watson has had the misfortunate of facing the Patriots in all three years to start his career, but the Texans have played them very tough with a 36-33 loss in 2017 followed by a 27-20 loss last season. And this week, they had a few extra days to prepare having played last Thursday night, so Bill O’Brien may be able to finally get a win against his former team (currently 0-5 versus Bill Belichick). It’s worth noting, though, that the two close games Watson has had in this matchup came a) early in the season when New England is still finding their footing, and b) against a defense that wasn’t historically good like this year’s unit. I’m expecting Stephon Gilmore to shadow DeAndre Hopkins and the other cornerbacks to have consistent help over the top on Will Fuller, so it may be up to Watson to make game-changing plays with his legs—both as a runner and to extend/create second-chance opportunities against man-to-man coverage. Being at home will help, but Tom Brady is 9-1 in his career against the Texans, and the offense sounds like it will get at least Phillip Dorsett (concussion) back to add another threat alongside N’Keal Harry on the outside with Julian Edelman working out of the slot. Whether it’s Brady, Sony Michel and the backs, or a combination, the offense should get going in primetime.
Winner: New England Patriots
MIN (8-3) @ SEA (9-2) | MON 8:15 PM ET | ESPN
If history is any indication, the final game of Week 13 features another team with a decided advantage over the other (Russell Wilson is 5-0 against Minnesota), but Mike Zimmer’s squad had the bye to prepare and should be healthier with Adam Thielen (hamstring), Harrison Smith (hamstring), and Linval Joseph (knee) all hopefully playing on Monday night. Kirk Cousins has been great since a rocky start with 21 touchdowns and just three interceptions on the season, but the win over Dallas is looking less impressive now than it did two weeks ago, so the Vikings remain shaky against teams with a winning record, including road losses to Green Bay and Kansas City in their biggest games of the year. Seattle, on the other hand, has proven track record of showing up in big moments, and they should be extremely focused as they try to keep pace with San Francisco (in the NFC West) and New Orleans (for the No. 1 seed). Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny may find running room difficult to come by against a stout front, but the Vikings haven’t been great on the backend—and Wilson is the one to worry about as a playmaker in and out of the pocket. I expect the Seahawks to win a close game.
Winner: Seattle Seahawks