LAC (4-9) @ LV (7-6) | THU 8:20 PM ET | FOX/NFL Network/Amazon
The previous matchup between Los Angeles and Las Vegas was a 31-26 thriller that went even beyond the last second (a would-be game-winning touchdown by Chargers tight end Donald Parham was overturned after review), and everyone should hope for another close finish in the last Thursday Night Football game of 2020. Unfortunately, the receiving corps for Justin Herbert could take a serious hit if one or both of Keenan Allen (hamstring) and Mike Williams (back) are out or limited, but Austin Ekeler has become the offensive centerpiece since returning in Week 12, and the Raiders will be without young defenders Johnathan Abram (concussion/knee), Clelin Ferrell (shoulder), and Damon Arnette (concussion/neck). Plus, a short week for new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli could be a challenge, though he obviously has experience in the role, and the mindset he has emphasized—“quick, fast, and physical”—should be easy to take to the field. Even without Henry Ruggs III (reserve/COVID-19 list) to open things up, Derek Carr should be able to find Darren Waller and Nelson Agholor enough to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Winner: Las Vegas Raiders
BUF (10-3) @ DEN (5-8) | SAT 4:30 PM ET | NFL Network
There will always be a segment of analysts that don’t want to believe in Josh Allen because they viewed him unfavorably entering the league (or because his fans have American flags and dogs for their Twitter profile picture… seriously), but when King of Pro Football Focus Cris Collinsworth was won over last week with the second half performance against Pittsburgh, I believe the war ended. Now, it’s all about how deep Allen and the Bills can go in January, but they need to keep their foot on the gas this weekend for what could be a trap game against Denver; having an elite defense that doesn’t allow big plays should help.
Winner: Buffalo Bills
CAR (4-9) @ GB (10-3) | SAT 8:15 PM ET | NFL Network
Carolina being 1-7 over their past eight games makes Saturday night’s matchup less appealing than it originally appeared, but D.J. Moore (ankle) will at least be there to boost the offense with Christian McCaffrey (quad) not expected to return, and Green Bay has been played close by teams lower in the standings than the Panthers are. However, Aaron Rodgers surely wants to make a case for NFL MVP over the next two weeks with a couple of showcase games in primetime, and Davante Adams has remained uncoverable with 12 scores over his past eight outings, so it will be a tall task for Teddy Bridgewater to match them at frigid Lambeau Field. If they are going to pull off an upset, I think defensive playmakers Jeremy Chinn and Brian Burns need to create multiple turnovers while the run defense does what they can to slow down Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams.
Winner: Green Bay Packers
SF (5-8) @ DAL (4-9) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Dallas being flexed out of Sunday Night Football for the Browns and division rival Giants was called a “new low” by Cowboys legend Michael Irvin last week, and the concern he pointed to as reason for them being taken out of primetime is their league-worst run defense (2,115 yards allowed in 13 games). Raheem Mostert (ankle) looks questionable for San Francisco, but Kyle Shanahan’s offensive system could end up dominating this weekend no matter who is at running back, and it’s not like Jeff Wilson and Tevin Coleman don’t bring major upside in terms of big-play ability and speed when they get into the open field; if the runners consistently reach the second level, it’s going to be a long, long day for Dallas as they hope to keep their slim NFC East hopes alive. On offense, the team simply has to get Ezekiel Elliott going, and him having a throwback game to keep the chains moving would be key. Overall, I think the Niners are just the better team at this point.
Winner: San Francisco 49ers
SEA (9-4) @ WAS (6-7) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
An early game on the east coast is always a concern for teams traveling across the country, and similar to when Seattle lost to the Giants a couple of weeks ago, it feels like Washington might be able to bring Pete Carroll’s team down to their level by making it a slugfest. Alex Smith (calf) being under center to steer the ship would certainly increase the chances of another upset (and the fifth win in a row for Washington), but Antonio Gibson (toe) looks like he’ll be out again, and his absence takes away much of the explosiveness in Scott Turner’s offense. Whether it’s Smith or Dwayne Haskins at quarterback, I think getting Terry McLaurin re-involved is crucial against a Seahawks secondary that—despite improved play in recent weeks—still has the league’s 32nd-ranked pass defense. For the Seattle offense, Tyler Lockett has been extremely quiet since his 15/200/3 explosion back in late October, and it will be interesting to see if they try to get him the ball more on Sunday before more reinforcements come in the form of Rashaad Penny (knee), Josh Gordon (suspension), and Greg Olsen (foot).
Winner: Seattle Seahawks
CHI (6-7) @ MIN (6-7) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Although it’s not exactly an elimination game, Bears-Vikings is a very important matchup for the final wild card spot in the NFC—with the winner expected be in a battle with Arizona for the No. 7 seed over the final two weeks. In the previous meeting, Chicago gave Dalvin Cook perhaps his toughest sledding of the season (30 carries for 96 scoreless yards), and this has historically been the most difficult opponent for the superstar runner to get going against (2.8 yards per carry and just one touchdown in four games). That said, the struggles to contain Adam Thielen (4/43/2) and Justin Jefferson (8/135) last month might lead to lighter boxes for Cook in the rematch, so the Bears need to build on last week’s dismantling of the Texans to hopefully put the six-game losing streak completely in the rearview mirror. I have gone back-and-forth with this pick and am not anywhere close to confident in taking Matt Nagy over Mike Zimmer, but Mitchell Trubisky has enough weapons to put up points and should be feeling confident after a head-to-head win over Deshaun Watson in Week 14.
Winner: Chicago Bears
NE (6-7) @ MIA (8-5) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
The Dolphins will be severely banged up on offense this weekend with DeVante Parker (hamstring), Jakeem Grant (hamstring), and Mike Gesicki (shoulder) all out or less than 100%—not to mention all the issues at running back—so Tua Tagovailoa is shorthanded for his first matchup against Bill Belichick and the Patriots. I know New England isn’t on the same defensive level that they were in 2019, but the unit has improved in recent games (Cam Akers’ performance notwithstanding), and a few extra days to prepare always seems like an unfair advantage for Belichick; there is no doubt that Tua will see some different things thrown at him, so it’s important he continues avoiding turnovers (one interception in six starts). On the other side of the ball, Cam Newton hasn’t been an effective passer with the Pats, but the team’s strength as a run-heavy offense makes the Miami defense less daunting than it might be for more pass-happy teams, and we could see a full-blown ground-and-pound attack with Damien Harris and Sony Michel in the backfield. A win on Sunday would give New England an excellent shot at avoiding a losing season with a matchup against the Jets still to come in the finale.
Winner: New England Patriots
JAX (1-12) @ BAL (8-5) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Following multiple weeks on the sideline, Gardner Minshew is again under center for the Jaguars, and the next three games could be his chance to show he’s an option to start somewhere else in 2021. To me, the whole situation could have been handled a lot better for the franchise to maximize Minshew’s trade value, as he will now have to finish strong against three challenging opponents (@ BAL, v CHI, @ IND), and the team won’t have much leverage in trade talks if/when they end up drafting a quarterback next spring. Baltimore did show some worrisome holes in coverage last week when injuries hit the secondary, but the pass rush will have a much easier time getting home than they did versus Cleveland’s offensive line, and former Jacksonville standouts Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue—the latter of whom went far enough to get in a Twitter fight with Tony Khan (the son of team owner Shad Khan) and is going to be “out for blood” according to Minshew—have been too quiet for too long with just one sack between them as teammates. The Ravens will hope no late-game heroics are needed this week.
Winner: Baltimore Ravens
TB (8-5) @ ATL (4-9) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Before the season, I thought the two games over the final three weeks between Tampa Bay and Atlanta would have carried significance for both teams, but that’s not the case, so the Falcons—perhaps without Julio Jones (hamstring) again—will be in the spoiler role at home. Even if Julio is able to suit up, pass protection is a massive concern with Matt Ryan getting sacked 12 times in two matchups last season, and the Bucs notably come out of the bye with six sacks of Kirk Cousins in a 26-14 victory; Todd Gurley and the running game falling off the tracks makes it all the more difficult to keep Ryan upright with Shaquil Barrett and others pinning their ears back off the edge. Defensively, the Falcons have continued playing stout in the second half of the year, but stopping all of Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, Scotty Miller, and Rob Gronkowski (plus more) isn’t something I see happening, especially if Tom Brady doesn’t miss any open throws (like would-be long touchdown to Godwin last week).
Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
DET (5-8) @ TEN (9-4) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
A 215-yard, two-touchdown performance by Derrick Henry last week not only has a 2,000-yard campaign within reach, but also the single-season rushing record (2,105 yards) set by Eric Dickerson in 1984. While it might seem like a stretch, December is the month that Henry absolutely dominates, and averaging 191.0 yards per game over the final three weeks is certainly possible with a string of easy matchups on the schedule. Where the dilemma really comes for Detroit and everyone else is the fact that Tennessee also has one of the NFL’s top wideouts in A.J. Brown to destroy any single coverage he gets, and Corey Davis has shown he can make opponents pay, too. Chase Daniel is a very capable spot starter with Matthew Stafford (ribs) looking unlikely for this weekend, but I don’t know that the firepower is there for the Lions to match what the Titans can do on offense. Hopefully brighter days are ahead with former All-Pro linebacker Chris Spielman back in the organization.
Winner: Tennessee Titans
HOU (4-9) @ IND (9-4) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
The previous Texans-Colts matchup to start the month was a down-to-the-wire finish, and I would bet we get another close game on Sunday if Houston still isn’t a bit stunned from getting knocked out by Chicago last week. Including the Week 13 win, Indy’s defense under Matt Eberflus is now 3-1 against Deshaun Watson—holding him to a 4:5 touchdown-interception ratio and 17.5 points per game (including playoffs). The one guy that has given them trouble is Keke Coutee (100+ yards in three-of-four matchups), so we’ll see if the game plan changes at all to account for him. On defense, the Texans need to find a way to stop a red-hot Jonathan Taylor, but T.Y. Hilton’s history of torching them should have Romeo Crennel wary of stacking the box. Look for Philip Rivers to keep up his strong late-season play as he tries to extend his streak of multiple touchdown passes to five games in a row.
Winner: Indianapolis Colts
PHI (4-8-1) @ ARI (7-6) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | FOX
I don’t know how it took Doug Pederson reviewing the tape to admit it, but Jalen Hurts is a clearly superior option to Carson Wentz right now, and what I said last week—“more accurate, more mobile, and more decisive”—was on full display to anyone watching the game without bias. As stated in the past, throwing a catchable ball isn’t a strength for Wentz, so Hurts having a smoother delivery helps the skill-position players make contested catches and run after the catch, which is also reason that Nick Foles had the success he did in Philadelphia. This week, the amount of man coverage that Arizona plays could allow Hurts to have another big game on the ground, and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph will have to decide if he wants to devote a defender (perhaps Isaiah Simmons) to spy on the rookie. No matter what, I think Hurts can pull off another upset, but the Eagles need to do their part against Kyler Murray, who was more active as a runner last week with 13 carries.
Winner: Philadelphia Eagles
NYJ (0-13) @ LAR (9-4) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | FOX
Just spoke with Sean McVay who says he spent his Sunday "off" on the couch watching twelve straight hours of football on The Red Zone.
His fiancee Veronika asked him if he wanted to do anything else.
His response: "Nope."
Coaches…they're just like us.
— Peter Schrager (@PSchrags) December 14, 2020
Winner: Los Angeles Rams
KC (12-1) @ NO (10-3) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS
A late-season game between two teams with the best record in each conference is extremely rare, and Chiefs-Saints could very well be a Super Bowl LV preview. Taysom Hill has proven himself a worthy successor for New Orleans, but outdueling Patrick Mahomes might not be something he’s ready for in just his fifth career start, so the health of Drew Brees (ribs) is the NFL’s biggest storyline heading into Sunday. That’s especially true because—and maybe I’m wrong—the Saints being the No. 2 defense in the league feels a bit misleading to me, and Mahomes has the weapons (as always) to shred them with Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman, and all the complementary options in Andy Reid’s offense; Brees would at least give New Orleans the aerial prowess needed if it turns into a straight-up shootout. Either way, being at home will help, but this is a game where not having fans will really have an impact compared to a normal year, and that’s unfortunate.
Winner: Kansas City Chiefs
CLE (9-4) @ NYG (5-8) | SUN 8:20 PM ET | NBC
The Giants suffering a decisive defeat last week and probably not having Daniel Jones (ankle/hamstring) this weekend isn’t what NBC had in mind when this matchup was flexed into Sunday Night Football, but fans should still be intrigued by a primetime look at Joe Judge’s team. In addition to New York having the toughness to compete at less than full strength (they will also be without star cornerback James Bradberry and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett due to COVID-19), Sunday night shapes up as a revenge game for former Cleveland head coach Freddie Kitchens—who is stepping in for Garrett—and former Browns starter Colt McCoy. Regarding the actual on-field matchup, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt could face some stout run defense with the Giants surrendering just 3.9 yards per carry, and Cleveland losing how they did last week in a draining game is something that could stick with them. Still, New York making it a brawl might not be enough against a team that’s arguably better in the trenches both offensively and defensively.
Winner: Cleveland Browns
PIT (11-2) @ CIN (2-10-1) | MON 8:15 PM ET | ESPN
Diontae Johnson needs to get over his catch issues over the next three weeks because he brings a run-after-catch skillset that the others don’t, but how crazy is it that the Steelers have a player of James Washington’s caliber coming off the bench? From top to bottom and on both sides of the ball, Pittsburgh has too much talent to not enjoy a big-time correction this weekend against a Bengals team that Ben Roethlisberger is 26-7 against for his career (including playoffs).
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers