CLE (8-3) @ TEN (8-3) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Especially considering the health of Christian McCaffrey (ankle/shoulder) and Saquon Barkley (knee) this year, I’m not sure Derrick Henry and Nick Chubb aren’t the two best running backs in the league, and it will be fun to watch them go head-to-head this weekend. In last year’s opener, Tennessee destroyed an overconfident Cleveland squad, 43-13, but the Browns are for real as a run-first team under Kevin Stefanski, and the only real knock I have about them right now is Chubb not being on the field for the vast majority of goal-line snaps (Kareem Hunt has been stopped in each of the past two weeks). For the Titans, A.J. Brown gives them another top-tier impact player alongside Henry, and Denzel Ward (calf) looking unlikely for Sunday will make it extremely difficult to stop the two superstars and all the complementary options (Corey Davis, Jonnu Smith, Anthony Firkser, etc.) behind them if Ryan Tannehill continues to play efficiently. As long as Myles Garrett isn’t able to wreck the game against David Quessenberry and Dennis Kelly at the tackle spots, Tennessee should be able to stay hot at home.
Winner: Tennessee Titans
LV (6-5) @ NYJ (0-11) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
The Raiders got blown out last week for an east coast trip to Atlanta, and the same things happened in 2019 when they took on the Jets at MetLife Stadium. I don’t see it happening again, and Jon Gruden should have everyone focused with the playoffs on their mind.
#Raiders Jon Gruden, when asked how tough it was to watch the game film of yesterday's 43-6 loss at Atlanta: "You go to the dentist, @VicTafur, and have to have your teeth pulled out? You know, pretty much like that. This was tough, man."
— Paul Gutierrez (@PGutierrezESPN) November 30, 2020
Winner: Las Vegas Raiders
JAX (1-10) @ MIN (5-6) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Jacksonville showed fight last week and was a failed two-point conversion away from potentially taking the Browns to overtime, but their matchup against the Vikings—who have won four of their past five games—feels like it could get ugly. Although Dalvin Cook (ankle) will come in banged up, Kirk Cousins has caught fire with a 12:1 touchdown-interception ratio during the 4-1 stretch in November, and the Jaguars simply don’t have the bodies at cornerback to stop Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson, particularly with first-round pick C.J. Henderson (groin) on the sideline; plus, Josh Allen (knee) being out should give Cousins all the time he needs to pick apart the defense. Mike Glennon played well last week, but I think Jacksonville will need D.J. Chark (ribs) back and to continue featuring James Robinson (21.8 carries per game over the past five weeks) to have a decent chance of putting a damper on the playoff hopes for Minnesota.
Winner: Minnesota Vikings
CIN (2-8-1) @ MIA (7-4) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
The Dolphins can’t overlook Cincinnati ahead of a brutal schedule for the final quarter of their season (v KC, v NE, @ LV, @ BUF), but the strength of Miami’s defense is the secondary, which should bode well for the matchup on Sunday against a Bengals team that is most dangerous at wide receiver (even with Brandon Allen at quarterback). It’s worth noting that when these teams met last December, Ryan Fitzpatrick torched Cincinnati for 419 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-35 victory, so the Dolphins should feel good about their ability to put up points if the veteran backup has to again fill in for Tua Tagovailoa (thumb). Looking ahead to the future, I’m very interested to see what the Dolphins will do in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft with their own pick and the Houston pick; a pass rusher and/or offensive lineman might be more of a priority, but imagine an offensive core that adds Clemson running back Travis Etienne and Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith.
Winner: Miami Dolphins
IND (7-4) @ HOU (4-7) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
The Colts and Texans met three time in the 2019 calendar year, and Indy’s defense has really held Deshaun Watson and the Houston offense in check with 16.7 points per game allowed in those matchups—including a 21-7 playoff victory. Despite recent struggles, Matt Eberflus’s unit is perhaps better than ever, and getting DeForest Bucker (reserve/COVID-19 list) would be a significant boost this week with the Texans possibly having David Johnson (concussion) back in the lineup. Of course, the bigger news regarding Watson’s playmakers is Will Fuller being suspended six games for violating the NFL’s PED policy, and it will be a definite challenge for the passing attack with Keke Coutee (six catches this year) and Isaiah Coulter (zero experience) now rounding out the depth chart behind Brandin Cooks. Overall, the Colts should feel great about where they are as Jonathan Taylor returns to boost the running game, and Philip Rivers has arguably played the best football of his career in December (41-23 record).
Winner: Indianapolis Colts
DET (4-7) @ CHI (5-6) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
You never want people to lose their jobs during the holiday season, but Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn probably weren’t surprised by the franchise’s decision to move on after the Thanksgiving Day loss, and neither guy should have trouble getting work in a different capacity next year. Where the intrigue will come is the status of Matthew Stafford, as the 2021 quarterback class could have a handful of first-round prospects, and a new regime may want to start completely fresh for a franchise that hasn’t won the division since 1993. The Bears might also be in the market for a new starting quarterback next season, but the playoffs are within reach if they can sweep the next four games against teams with losing records, so now is the time for Mitchell Trubisky to prove himself. Even though Sunday night wasn’t an encouraging showing in general for Chicago, finally making Allen Robinson the focal point in scoring territory was a good sign, and the Lions might be down both Jeffrey Okudah (shoulder) and Desmond Trufant (hamstring) at cornerback. I don’t think we’ll see a noticeable jolt for Detroit following organizational changes.
Winner: Chicago Bears
NO (9-2) @ ATL (4-7) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
The Falcons didn’t have a shot in the previous matchup against New Orleans with Matt Ryan absorbing eight sacks, but Julio Jones (hamstring) will surely do whatever he can to return, and I’d be shocked if they didn’t come out with a game plan that allows Ryan to get rid of the ball quicker. On defense, having Dante Fowler Jr. on the field—despite just 2.5 sacks in nine games—at least gives Atlanta another athlete to get after Taysom Hill after he missed the first matchup, and they continued to hold Alvin Kamara in check a couple of weeks ago with a season-low 45 total yards; Michael Thomas (97.9 yards per game in nine career meetings) has historically been the bigger problem for the Falcons to contain. I’m expecting a closer game with Atlanta wanting nothing more than to keep their most hated rival from staying in control of the No. 1 seed in the NFC, but the Saints have allowed a league-best 7.0 points per game since Week 9, so the trio of Matty Ice, Julio (if he plays), and Calvin Ridley will need to be at their absolute best.
Winner: New Orleans Saints
NYG (4-7) @ SEA (8-3) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | FOX
Don’t look now, but the Giants’ three-game winning streak makes them the hottest team in the NFC aside from New Orleans (eight-game winning streak), and they currently sit atop the NFC East. While most will likely give New York almost no shot this weekend with Colt McCoy being the probable starter in place of Daniel Jones (hamstring), Joe Judge has the kind of team that can bring others down to their level (that’s a compliment), and the Seahawks haven’t exactly been lighting the world on fire recently, as Russell Wilson has cooled off with 225.0 yards per game and a 3:2 touchdown-interception ratio over the past three weeks. Still, the vertical passing attack will be downgraded with McCoy under center, and Seattle’s defense—limiting running backs to less than 50 rushing yards in four-of-six games since their bye—might be able to slow down Wayne Gallman to continue their second-half turnaround on that side of the ball.
Winner: Seattle Seahawks
LAR (7-4) @ ARI (6-5) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | FOX
Jared Goff struggling in last week’s loss to the Niners was a major disappointment because he had played so well the previous week, and that’s essentially why Sean McVay was the harshest he’s ever been about his quarterback in terms of public criticism (because he can take it). Fortunately, the Cardinals should be a good opponent to get back on track against, as the duo is 6-0 against them—scoring at least 31 points in every game with a point differential of +139 over that span. For Kliff Kingsbury’s offense, Kyler Murray (shoulder) comes in at less than 100% once again, and the book might be out on how to stop them after New England showed the blueprint last Sunday, though the aggressiveness of the Rams might mean they do things their own way. No matter what, Jalen Ramsey versus DeAndre Hopkins on the perimeter should be one of the week’s best individual battles, and I could see some frustration setting in for Arizona’s top wideout if the offense doesn’t have early success. Los Angeles is my pick on the road to stay with Seattle in the NFC West.
Winner: Los Angeles Rams
NE (5-6) @ LAC (3-8) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS
As stated, the Patriots had a game plan to stop Kyler Murray last week, and now they will look to do the same against Justin Herbert—which could be even more important with the Chargers being a team they could face every year in the AFC. The six-foot-six rookie will obviously provide a much different challenge than the five-foot-ten Murray, and the thing that might make him most frustrating to defend is his willingness to spread the ball around to anyone from Keenan Allen or Austin Ekeler to Tyron Johnson; back in Week 2, that’s something Russell Wilson did on his way to tossing five touchdowns against Bill Belichick’s defense on Sunday Night Football. Offensively, New England needs to keep Joey Bosa away from Cam Newton after the former No. 3 overall pick had perhaps the best showing of his career, but Josh McDaniels would ideally run the ball with Damien Harris and the others backs against an LA defense that’s allowing the third-most yard per carry (4.8) in the league. I have this as a coin flip, so the edge goes to the Pats with postseason aspirations still in play.
Winner: New England Patriots
PHI (3-7-1) @ GB (8-3) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS
The best two drafts for the Eagles since Howie Roseman took over as general manager have been in 2013 (Chip Kelly’s first year when he clearly had significant input on the picks) and 2015 (when Kelly had full control); those draft hauls netted Lane Johnson, Zach Ertz, Bennie Logan, Nelson Agholor, Eric Rowe, and Jordan Hicks as Day 1 and Day 2 picks—all of whom are still starting in the league or were long-time contributors (Logan). Who has Roseman taken for “his” drafts (2014, 2016-2020) in the first three rounds? Marcus Smith (Kelly wanted Odell Beckham Jr.), Jordan Matthews (over Allen Robinson), Josh Huff, Carson Wentz (trade up), Isaac Seumalo, Derek Barnett, Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas, Dallas Goedert, Andre Dillard, Miles Sanders, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (over D.K. Metcalf), Jalen Reagor, Jalen Hurts, and Davion Taylor. For anyone that pays attention, it should be pretty clear that Philadelphia caught fire in their 2017 Super Bowl run with a foundation largely established by Kelly, and the current decision-makers have since collapsed it. Not only this week at Lambeau Field, but the month of December in general could be ugly for the Eagles.
Winner: Green Bay Packers
DEN (4-7) @ KC (10-1) | SUN 8:20 PM ET | NBC
Please suspend Cris Collinsworth one week for his insensitive remarks on Wednesday (so we don’t have to hear him rave about Patrick Mahomes for three hours). Thank you.
Winner: Kansas City Chiefs
WAS (4-7) @ PIT (11-0) | MON 5:00 PM ET | FOX
The good part about the NFC East being so bad is that all the games they play through the end of the year should have significance, and on Monday night, Washington could be aiming for first place in the division—as well as trying to disrupt history by ending the Steelers’ undefeated season. The experience of Alex Smith combined with young stars like Chase Young and Terry McLaurin (who might have made a season-saving play on Thanksgiving by tracking down Jaylon Smith to prevent a pick-six) makes Washington a dangerous team to face coming off a hard-fought division victory. That said, it’s flat-out silly to have questions about Pittsburgh’s authenticity as a leading Super Bowl contender knowing who their coach and quarterback are (not to mention the defense), so media members are just trying to create a story by questioning Mike Tomlin’s squad. It would be a surprise if the passing attack wasn’t sharper on Monday evening; discount an 11-0 team at your own risk.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
BUF (8-3) @ SF (5-6) | MON 8:15 PM ET | ESPN
Losses against the Titans (on a Tuesday night) and the Chiefs (on a Monday evening) previously put Buffalo in an October slump, but the next four weeks—MNF, SNF, a Saturday afternoon game, and MNF again—will give them a stretch of games to redeem themselves, and the odd schedule could end up giving them an advantage for January with weirdness possibly becoming routine. The Bills also want to redeem themselves for the last time they played at State Farm Stadium (when they lost on a Hail Mary to the Cardinals), and I’m sure Josh Allen is quite alright with not having to face another Bosa brother, which would have been the case in back-to-back weeks if Nick Bosa (knee) was healthy. The Niners are confident after their win over the Rams, though, so Buffalo can’t be looking ahead to their highly-anticipated primetime matchup against the Steelers in Week 14. For Monday night, they need to be prepared to tackle Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, but I’m expecting Sean McDermott’s defense to make enough plays against Nick Mullens if the Bills struggle a bit on offense without John Brown (ankle).
Winner: Buffalo Bills
DAL (3-8) @ BAL (6-5) | TUE 8:05 PM ET | FOX/NFL Network/Amazon
Ravens-Cowboys was supposed to kickoff Week 13, but instead it will end the first full week of December with a Tuesday night game—and hopefully almost everyone will be back for Baltimore after a COVID-19 outbreak. If so, Lamar Jackson and J.K. Dobbins (already cleared) will be a very explosive tandem that projects to give the Dallas defense problems, and Marquise Brown coming alive on a long touchdown last week should at least make opponents respect the deep ball a little more. Overall, I think the Ravens will have one of their best offensive showings of the year, so it may be up to Andy Dalton and the Dallas playmakers to avoid mistakes and take advantage of trips deep into scoring territory (which, as mentioned, they failed to do on Thanksgiving). Despite what their respective records are at this point, Tuesday might actually have more importance for Baltimore in the playoff picture, as a loss will have them chasing the Browns, Dolphins, Colts, and likely Raiders for a wild card spot.
Winner: Baltimore Ravens