JAX (4-8) @ TEN (6-6) | THU 8:20 PM ET | FOX/NFL Network/Amazon
The Titans had a huge comeback victory over the Jets last week, and they look well-positioned to make another December run to get in the postseason for the second year in a row with three of the final four games at home. Plus, the schedule is very favorable when it comes to opponents, as Tennessee’s struggling defense will take on Cody Kessler, Eli Manning, and Mark Sanchez before facing Andrew Luck and the Colts in what could be a playoff decider in the season finale. That said, they need to take things week-by-week, and Jacksonville showed plenty of fight last Sunday in a shutout victory over Indianapolis. It would have been interesting to see how the Jags’ season would have played out if they went to Kessler—an efficient quarterback that avoids turnovers—earlier, but it was good to see him pickup his first NFL win after a bad situation in Cleveland. Now, he gets Leonard Fournette back, and the timing is perfect with the Titans allowing 179.7 rushing yards per game over the past three weeks. I think whoever wins up front will come out on top, but the Titans have a proven clutch quarterback in Marcus Mariota, a clear advantage in this rivalry (3-0 record over the past two years), and have finally recommitted to Derrick Henry as their lead runner.
Winner: Tennessee Titans
NYJ (3-9) @ BUF (4-8) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
We didn’t get a full Baker Mayfield v. Sam Darnold game earlier this year as the No. 1 overall pick came off the bench for Cleveland, but the former USC star will get a full matchup against his friend and fellow rookie Josh Allen this weekend. Allen’s squad was a tough catch away from beating the Dolphins on the road last week, but even in a losing effort, the dual-threat gunslinger out of Wyoming has already proven to be one of the most exciting players in the league, and it could be a long day for New York if they let him do whatever he wants on the ground after becoming the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to have 95+ rushing yards in back-to-back games. I expect the Jets to put up more of a fight than they did last month in a 41-10 loss to Buffalo, but the players saying Todd Bowles should remain their head coach in 2019 need to prove it on the field by holding teammates accountable. Perhaps some time on the sidelines to watch will help Darnold play better than he did before injuring his foot, but unlike Allen, he doesn’t have the same put-the-team-on-his-back physical tools to carry an offense that lacks talent.
Winner: Buffalo Bills
NYG (4-8) @ WAS (6-6) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
I thought the Giants would be a real contender in the NFC East this season under Pat Shurmur, but there is definite reason to be optimistic about their future outlook despite a 4-8 record, as six of their losses have been by one possession. The pieces are there, too, and we know the team has building blocks on offense with Saquon Barkley, Odell Beckham Jr., and Will Hernandez, but they also have rookies Lorenzo Carter and B.J. Hill (3.0 sacks last week) as potential stars in James Bettcher’s 3-4 front. Washington, on the other hand, has a couple young Alabama studs on their defensive line—Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne—but they were built to win now, and those dreams have been all but dashed because of injuries to Alex Smith (leg) and Colt McCoy (leg). While new starter Mark Sanchez has history with the coaching staff, you could see on Monday night that the playbook was very limited, and it will likely be difficult to keep up with a New York offense that is rounding into form (29.3 points per game during their current 3-1 stretch). Being at home will help, but things could fall apart quickly for the Redskins.
Winner: New York Giants
NO (10-2) @ TB (5-7) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Tampa Bay shocked everyone when they upset the Saints in a 48-40 shootout to open the year, but things have changed significantly since then. First of all, the Buccaneers have Jameis Winston under center instead of Ryan Fitzpatrick (417 yards and four touchdowns), and they will most likely be without both DeSean Jackson (thumb, questionable) and O.J. Howard (knee, IR) after the two combined for 200 yards and two touchdowns in Week 1. Plus, the Bucs haven’t had a full offseason to formulate a surprising air-raid attack, and New Orleans a) is coming off a close loss, and b) had a few extra days to regroup for this week’s game. Most importantly, though, Marshon Lattimore has returned to his Defensive Rookie of the Year form to eliminate Mike Evans (7/147/1 in first meeting), so the key for Tampa Bay will be getting Chris Godwin targets against Eli Apple on the other side. Overall, the Bucs have the firepower to pull off another upset if Winston takes care of the ball, but I’m not picking against the Saints in a revenge game for them and everyone—including myself—who picked them in survivor pools to start the year.
Winner: New Orleans Saints
NE (9-3) @ MIA (6-6) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Tom Brady and the Patriots are 1-4 over the past five years in Miami, but another upset doesn’t look particularly likely this year if Xavien Howard (knee) isn’t able to go in Week 14. Last season, Howard—who currently leads the NFL in interceptions (seven)—was instrumental in shutting down New England’s offense by erasing former Patriots receiver Brandin Cooks on the outside, and the defensive game plan will need completely changed to stop Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, and James White in a would-be repeat of last December’s surprising victory. Offensively, the Dolphins should get Kenyan Drake more involved in a variety of ways, and this might even be a good spot to let him return kicks. Even if Miami loses, they are headed in the right direction, and they have probably played well enough thus far to make Adam Gase a lock to remain with the team in 2019. The bigger question mark is quarterback, but Ryan Tannehill has a chance to provide an answer over the next four weeks if he and Gase get into the playoffs together for the second time in two tries (remember, Tannehill missed 2017 with a torn ACL). Still, the Pats have too many advantages and are predictably peaking at the right time.
Winner: New England Patriots
BAL (7-5) @ KC (10-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
We still don’t know if Joe Flacco (hip) will be able to return this week for Baltimore, but the quarterback situation reminds me a lot of Dak Prescott’s rookie year in Dallas. Back then, while Prescott was clearly the quarterback of the future, I thought the Cowboys would have a better chance to win it all if they went back to Tony Romo in 2016, and they ended up being a one-and-done in the playoffs (though it’s worth noting that Dak nearly led a fourth-quarter comeback against Green Bay). I think the Ravens are in the same boat—a rookie quarterback and future of the franchise winning games with a proven veteran set to return from injury—but it’s even more extreme because Lamar Jackson is less polished as a passer than Prescott, and Flacco is a former Super Bowl MVP that has played his best in January. Again, Jackson was a top-ten prospect for me, but does anyone believe the Ravens would have a legitimate chance to go into New England or Pittsburgh next month and win a shootout with a conservative offense led by a rookie? The former Heisman winner can change my opinion if he starts again this week and upsets the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium, but I doubt Baltimore’s ground-and-pound attack can outscore Patrick Mahomes.
Winner: Kansas City Chiefs
IND (6-6) @ HOU (9-3) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Despite starting the year with three straight losses, Houston would remarkably clinch the AFC South with three games to go in the regular season if they can beat Andrew Luck and the Colts this weekend. The division foes played a 37-34 overtime thriller in Week 4 that ignited the Texans’ nine-game winning streak, and it will be interesting to see what kind of adjustments are made for both teams after Luck aired it out a career-high 62 times in the first meeting. The biggest concern for defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel needs to be containing T.Y. Hilton, as Indy’s top target has absolutely torched Houston at NRG Stadium over the years, including video-game lines of 7/121/3 in 2013, 9/223/1 in 2014, and 5/175/2 in 2017. If Hilton goes off, then Deshaun Watson will need to do more as a passer (201.4 yards per game since Week 6) in another high-scoring affair, which gets away from the run-heavy, play-from-ahead blueprint that has worked for the Texans over the past two months. The game is a complete toss up, but the Colts have been shaky away from home (2-4 record with losses to the Jets and Jaguars), so I give the edge to the team looking to clinch their third AFC South title in four years.
Winner: Houston Texans
ATL (4-8) @ GB (4-7-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
A supposed classy organization like the Green Bay Packers made a colossal mistake in not allowing Super Bowl-winning head coach Mike McCarthy to finish out the season, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it leads to some sort of championship drought that people eventually view as a “curse” if it goes on long enough. In my opinion, the franchise should gauge the trade market for Aaron Rodgers to see if they get a Godfather offer, and if they accepted one, general manager Brian Gutekunst would be able to continue to building the defense around Jaire Alexander, Josh Jackson, and Kenny Clark while looking ahead to the 2020 NFL Draft for Georgia’s Jake Fromm or Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa. All that is looking very far ahead and probably has a zero-percent chance of happening, but Green Bay should at least consider all options. For Atlanta, this has also been a disappointing season, and I really thought the winner of Falcons-Packers would end up in the playoffs before both teams lost in Week 13. It should still be a good game at a frigid Lambeau Field, but I think the Falcons have more weapons—Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Tevin Coleman, Mohamed Sanu, Austin Hooper—for Matt Ryan to get back on track.
Winner: Atlanta Falcons
CAR (6-6) @ CLE (4-7-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Carolina could be entering a make-or-break final quarter of the year if new owner David Tepper wants “his guy” as head coach instead of the inherited Ron Rivera, but as Tony Dungy pointed out, it wasn’t the defense’s fault that Cam Newton threw four interceptions in last week’s loss. The most frustrating part of some struggling teams—the Panthers, Falcons, Bengals, and Vikings come to mind—is their inconsistent usage of star runners, and Christian McCaffrey simply needs more than the 13.5 carries per game that he’s gotten during the team’s 0-4 stretch. Fortunately, the Browns can be beaten by backs both on the ground and through the air, so Carolina should take the pressure off Newton and his less-than-full-strength shoulder by giving the Stanford product all the work he can handle. On the other side of the field, Cleveland should do the same with Nick Chubb, and it’s been good to see him more involved as a receiver in recent weeks (three receptions in each of the past three games). I expect Baker Mayfield to bounce back from a bad start in Houston, but the Panthers have more to play for, as they simply cannot lose on Sunday with two matchups against the Saints still to come.
Winner: Carolina Panthers
DEN (6-6) @ SF (2-10) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | CBS
While the Broncos have an excellent opportunity to sneak into the playoffs following a 3-6 start, they need to beware of the 49ers playing spoiler after two blowout losses in a row. Kyle Shanahan isn’t in danger of losing his job, but next year will be big for San Francisco’s current regime, which hasn’t made any noticeable strides since the Jim Tomsula or Chip Kelly days. General manager John Lynch hit on George Kittle on Day 3 of the 2017 NFL Draft, but besides that, No. 3 overall pick Solomon Thomas looks like a poor fit in a 4-3 defense, No. 31 overall pick Reuben Foster is already out of town, and third-round pick Akhello Witherspoon has really struggled across from Richard Sherman this year. The franchise might be on the clock with the first pick by January, too, so they will have to decide whether Nick Bosa is the pick for a defensive line that already has a lot of draft capital invested in it. Of course, quarterback is key, and getting Jimmy Garoppolo (knee) back could fix a lot of problems. In Denver, Case Keenum is looking to stick around, and he will have a very good “Case” if he is able to get two different teams into the playoffs in consecutive seasons; I think Sunday will be another step in accomplishing that.
Winner: Denver Broncos
CIN (5-7) @ LAC (9-3) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | CBS
A primetime victory over the Steelers at Heinz Field should have everyone believing in the Chargers, as they overcame a 23-7 halftime deficit to win, 33-30, on a last-second field goal by Michael Badgley. That was a perception-changing game for Los Angeles, and they could go from the No. 5 seed to the No. 1 seed in the AFC by next Thursday night if they can beat the Chiefs in another primetime clash. First, they will need to take care of business against the Bengals, who have dropped six of their past seven games with a point differential of -108, and it’s hard to see them not making sweeping changes in the offseason if the team doesn’t start to show more fight. One of the bright spots for Cincinnati has been Joe Mixon’s play, as despite a knee injury that knocked him out for nearly a month, he is on pace for a 1,000-yard season and has averaged 4.9 yards per carry in 2018. To have any chance of an upset, the Bengals will need to control the clock by feeding Mixon as both a runner and receiver, which would keep the Chargers on the field defensively and take away from their efforts to do the same. Sunday is a classic trap spot, but this year is different for MVP candidate Philip Rivers and his squad.
Winner: Los Angeles Chargers
DET (4-8) @ ARI (3-9) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
There isn’t much to point towards as a reason to watch Lions-Cardinals, but Larry Fitzgerald could be entering the final stretch of his illustrious career, so football fans should enjoy the on-field talent and off-field class while they can. Fitz is second in NFL history with 16,053 receiving yards, third in receptions (1,281), and is battling with Antonio Gates (116) for the No. 6 spot in all-time receiving touchdowns (115), but unfortunately, individual clutch play and postseason heroics weren’t enough to get Larry a ring. If this is it, I hope the Cardinals at least feature the future Hall of Fame wideout over the final four weeks, and this could be their last chance at a home victory for him (their home finale is against the Rams in Week 16). I trust Matt Patricia and the Detroit coaching staff a lot more than I do Steve Wilks and Arizona, but injuries have really hampered the Lions with Kerryon Johnson (knee) and Marvin Jones (injured reserve) out, and the Cardinals still have the star power—Fitzgerald, David Johnson, Patrick Peterson, and Chandler Jones—to build some momentum heading into 2019.
Winner: Arizona Cardinals
PIT (7-4-1) @ OAK (2-10) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
I’m not sure if Derek Carr will be back in Oakland next year, but he has at least boosted his chances by not throwing a pick since Week 5, and I don’t see any of the upcoming draft prospects being a clear upgrade over a guy that was an MVP candidate just two years ago. Carr will also have a full year in Gruden’s system, and getting a new quarterback could push championship aspirations back another year (which shouldn’t be ruled out if the franchise is looking towards Las Vegas in 2020). Encouragingly, though, the Raiders have competed against the Chargers, Ravens, and Chiefs—three current playoff teams—in recent weeks, and they might be able to catch the Steelers slipping for a cross-country trip following a disappointing SNF loss. That said, I have a feeling the passing attack for Pittsburgh will explode as college H-back Jaylen Samuels replaces James Conner (ankle) in the backfield, and Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and James Washington could all have big games if Ben Roethlisberger decides to throw early and often.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
PHI (6-6) @ DAL (7-5) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
The biggest game of the year in the NFC East is America’s Game of the Week, and trash talk started by Eagles linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill could add some more bad blood to what should be a heated matchup. Honestly, I’m not sure if was wise to provide bulletin board material for the Cowboys, and it’s especially ill-advised in a week that Philadelphia needs every advantage they can get considering they were forced to play on Monday night while Dallas got to play last Thursday night (which is very unfair for a crucial divisional game in December). The extra time should allow Rod Marinelli, Kris Richard, and the Cowboys to create a game plan that allows them to eliminate Zach Ertz (14/145/2 in the first meeting) with bracket coverage, so Nelson Agholor simply needs to be featured if the Birds want to take control of the division. A memorable performance by Carson Wentz to vault another potential championship run is certainly possible, but Ezekiel Elliott has been very productive in this rivalry, and Dak Prescott has routinely made plays late in close games.
Winner: Dallas Cowboys
LAR (11-1) @ CHI (8-4) | SUN 8:20 PM ET | NBC
People are apparently worried about Jared Goff and the Rams passing attack traveling to the cold weather of Solider Field (27 degrees at kickoff), but that is just more proof ignorant analysis. Is it possible Goff struggles against one of the league’s best defenses? Sure, but the previous sub-par outing in a snowy Denver this year included a fluky interception, and there was no reason for McVay to dial up a bunch of passes with Todd Gurley shredding them for 208 yards on the ground. Plus, last season for a chilly Week 16 matchup against the Titans, Goff was 22/38 for 301 yards, four touchdowns, and zero interceptions, which should have alleviated any concerns about the California kid showing up as the weather worsens. For Matt Nagy’s offense, it sounds like Mitchell Trubisky (shoulder) will be good to go, but this could be a game to finally get Jordan Howard going, as the Rams have allowed 5.1 yards per carry and are more interested in getting after the quarterback than they are stopping the run. Tarik Cohen will also be a challenging cover, but the game could come down to Allen Robinson and the Chicago wideouts against Aqib Talib and the Los Angeles cornerbacks. I think the Bears might be a year away from winning these big-time games.
Winner: Los Angeles Rams
MIN (6-5-1) @ SEA (7-5) | MON 8:15 PM ET | ESPN
Since he entered the league, no one has been better in night games than Russell Wilson (20-5-1 record), and at the same time, Kirk Cousins has gone just 5-12 in primetime spots. Seattle is particularly imposing when they stay home to play under the lights, and this season, the Vikings have yet to beat a team that currently has a winning record (0-4 against such opponents). Basically everything is working in the Seahawks’ favor, but each individual game is different, and I believe Minnesota will have a real chance to take control of the wild-card race if they commit to running the ball (which has been a theme for this week’s game picks); Dalvin Cook had nine carries for 84 yards last week in New England, while Latavius Murray—who has scored five times in just six starts—can pickup tough yards and convert goal-line opportunities as well as anyone in the league. As I’ve said before, though, the Seahawks can, have, and will run the ball, and that’s the biggest reason for their strong season thus far. Cousins was brought in to win games like this, but I’m going with the team that has a more stable identity and has shined in primetime.
Winner: Seattle Seahawks
Last week: 5-11 /// Overall: 94-98
Recommended picks last week: 1-4 /// Overall: 36-29
Jaguars (+4.5) @ Titans
Jets @ Bills (-3.5)
Giants (-3.5) @ Redskins
Saints (-8) @ Buccaneers
Patriots (-7.5) @ Dolphins
Ravens @ Chiefs (-6.5)
Colts (+5) @ Texans
Falcons (+5.5) @ Packers
Panthers (-2) @ Browns
Broncos (-4) @ 49ers
Bengals (+14) @ Chargers
Lions @ Cardinals (+3)
Steelers @ Raiders (+10.5)
Eagles @ Cowboys (-3.5)
Rams (-3) @ Bears
Vikings @ Seahawks (-3.5)
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