HOU (9-5) @ TB (7-7) | SAT 1:00 PM ET | NFL Network
A Saturday triple-header on NFL Network kicks off with the Texans trying to clinch the AFC South, but Tampa Bay—winners of four games in a row—won’t be an easy opponent. The Bucs are averaging 34.8 points per game during their current winning streak, and even with Chris Godwin (hamstring), Mike Evans (hamstring, IR), and Scott Miller (hamstring, IR) all out or likely to be out, Jameis Winston still has enough weapons to get into another shootout. I would like to see increased reliance on tight end O.J. Howard over the final two games, but this weekend, Breshad Perriman’s skillset is going to be the biggest challenge for Houston’s attackable secondary after they had no answers for A.J. Brown in Week 14. Also, Tampa Bay and their league-best run defense should have the advantage in the trenches to slow down Carlos Hyde; coverage is a different story, though, and I expect Deshaun Watson and his playmakers will prove to be too much for a young, unproven cornerback group.
Winner: Houston Texans
BUF (10-4) @ NE (11-3) | SAT 4:30 PM ET | NFL Network
As noted in the Bills’ game release for this weekend, Josh Allen is the best late-game quarterback in the league with an 8:0 touchdown-interception ratio in the fourth quarter, but his play in big moments combined with an elite defense hasn’t been enough for people to consider them a legitimate threat in the conference. Fortunately, Tre’Davious White—who should have been an All-Pro in each of the past two years—was at least recognized with a long-overdue Pro Bowl nod, but there are still plenty of determined players on the roster looking to prove doubters wrong, and keeping the AFC East race alive into the final week would be huge for the public perception of Sean McDermott’s team. Look for this rematch to be another low-scoring game that could feature more running from Allen to potentially swing things in Buffalo’s direction, but in Foxborough on a short week—following two slugfests and likely locked into the No. 5 seed—it will be difficult for the Bills to top Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
Winner: New England Patriots
LAR (8-6) @ SF (11-3) | SAT 8:15 PM ET | NFL Network
The nightcap on Saturday is extremely important for both teams, as the Rams need to win both games (with Minnesota losing both games) to make the postseason, while San Francisco would have a very difficult time winning the NFC West—let alone earning home-field advantage—if they don’t come away with a primetime victory this week. The 49ers dominated the first matchup while limiting Jared Goff to 78 passing yards, but remember, Todd Gurley was out for that game, and Los Angeles has no reason not to continue feeding the former NFL Offensive Player of the Year with their playoff hopes hanging in the balance. In general, it makes sense for Sean McVay to use the same game plan he’s used against the Seahawks this year (heavy 12 personnel featuring Gurley, Robert Woods, and Tyler Higbee), but the defense will need to play a lot better than they did in Dallas last week to keep things close. If pass protection holds up to give Goff time to push the ball downfield some, the Rams should win; I’m just not sure that will happen on the road.
Winner: San Francisco 49ers
CIN (1-13) @ MIA (3-11) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Earlier this season, there were jokes about Bengals-Dolphins being flexed into primetime as a battle for the No. 1 overall pick, so it’s great that neither team is winless at this point, and they can just go out and focus on playing without worrying how it will affect the standings (Cincinnati is almost certainly going to get the first pick). As stated before, Ryan Fitzpatrick—a 37-year-old that plays like a fearless 23-year-old—is the perfect quarterback for a rebuilding team because his willingness to put his body on the line and give his guys a chance to make plays, and it’s impossible to not be entertained by him trying to truck a defender to pick up extra yards. On defense, the Dolphins need to stop Joe Mixon (342 total yards over the past two weeks), but John Ross is also a player they should be worried about, especially considering their struggles defending deep threats since Xavien Howard (knee) was placed on injured reserve at the end of October. The edge in talent might actually go to the Bengals, but I’m picking the team that you know will play hard under Brian Flores.
Winner: Miami Dolphins
PIT (8-6) @ NYJ (5-9) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
There are multiple scenarios for the Steelers to clinch a playoff berth over the next two weeks, but in order to leave no doubt, they need to win the final two games—on the road in New York and then in Baltimore (which could be against backups). This week, the Jets will be a dangerous opponent because defensive coordinator Gregg Williams should be putting a priority on getting to Devlin Hodges following a four-interception game and his first career loss, but James Conner should be healthier, and I would be surprised if the offense wasn’t more balanced after the rookie aired it out 38 times last Sunday night (his previous high was 21 attempts). On the other side of the ball, Le’Veon Bell—despite not leaving Pittsburgh on the worst terms like another former superstar teammate—will want to have a productive day to put a ding in the Steelers’ playoff chances, but the defense should force turnovers against Sam Darnold via strip sacks and interceptions on their way to a victory.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
NYG (3-11) @ WAS (3-11) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
The first matchup between Daniel Jones and Dwayne Haskins will be this Sunday (Washington’s rookie quarterback coming off the bench in Week 4 and having an outing that makes him sick doesn’t count), and if football fans are lucky, it will be the start of a 15-year rivalry in the NFC East. Haskins had his best game of the season last week while taking Philadelphia to the limit, so Sunday will be a prime opportunity to build more momentum before significant changes come for the Redskins in 2020. As for New York, I think head coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Dave Gettleman have the franchise on course for a turnaround, but reports seem to indicate that at least Shurmur will be gone—potentially making the Giants a highly-coveted opening if the offensive line can be built up with the young defense in position to add at least one impact player in next April’s draft. A win this weekend would likely hand Ohio State edge defender Chase Young to Washington, but New York can and should worry about that later.
Winner: New York Giants
CAR (5-9) @ IND (6-8) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Looking at the schedule back in August (or even when it was released in the spring), you would have thought that Panthers-Colts would be a matchup between two playoff contenders with Cam Newton and Andrew Luck leading the way, but both teams being out of contention shows how important a franchise quarterback is. I still think Kyle Allen can be the guy for Carolina, but third-round rookie Will Grier will now get a showcase opportunity to close out the season, and the weapons are there for him to succeed in a year where backups have surprised. Indianapolis appeared to have all the pieces in place for an above-average offense under Jacoby Brissett, but injuries to Marlon Mack (hand), T.Y. Hilton (calf), Devin Funchess (back), Parris Campbell (multiple), and Eric Ebron (ankle) scattered across the season have made things difficult on the 27-year-old. However, if the Colts aren’t 100% sold on their quarterback, they need to look at potential options before they squander another year of Hilton (who turns 31 next November) and a dominant offensive line. On Sunday, there should be a heavy dose of Mack against a defense that’s allowed the most yards per carry (5.2) and rushing touchdowns (26) in the league.
Winner: Indianapolis Colts
BAL (12-2) @ CLE (6-8) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
If locking up the No. 1 seed in the AFC with a win isn’t enough for Baltimore, their opponent will provide any extra motivation needed in Week 16, as Cleveland—the offseason champions of the AFC North—is the most recent team to beat the Ravens, and the final score of 40-25 wasn’t even close. Since then, John Harbaugh’s squad had won ten games in a row, while the Browns have become the only franchise in the NFL to not have a winning season this decade. The talent is there to pull off an upset and force Baltimore into a Week 17 fight, but the formula of feeding Nick Chubb has disappeared this month for Cleveland’s offense (he’s averaging 16.0 carries per game), and I wouldn’t want to face Lamar Jackson as he makes his final case for NFL MVP. A complete reversal compared to the previous meeting would likely not bode well for Freddie Kitchens’ job security—but things could get ugly if the Browns inefficiently force targets to Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry in order to keep them happy.
Winner: Baltimore Ravens
JAX (5-9) @ ATL (5-9) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Atlanta was bad enough on defense earlier this season that I thought Dan Quinn’s days would be numbered, but following a 37-10 loss to the Rams in October, Julio Jones spoke up to defend his head coach in the locker room—and the Falcons are 4-3 with wins over the Saints and 49ers since then (and one-possession loses to Seattle and New Orleans). Combined with his all-time great talent, the leadership by Jones makes him an invaluable piece for Atlanta, and it will be fun to watch over the final two games if he approaches 15+ weekly targets after tying his career-high (20) last week. Jacksonville doesn’t have a player of Julio’s talent level (not many teams do), but the season—and Tom Coughlin’s ultimate fate—may have played out differently if Nick Foles wasn’t injured in the opener. Now, the Jags are without a clear direction, and youngsters like Josh Allen on defense and D.J. Chark on offense will have to continue progressing for Jacksonville to resurface in 2020. Before ruining the Raiders’ final game in Oakland, the Jaguars had lost the previous five outings by 23.4 points per game.
Winner: Atlanta Falcons
NO (11-3) @ TEN (8-6) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Although they face the Texans again in Week 17, Tennessee will only be competing for a wild card if Houston beats Tampa Bay on Saturday, but all they can do is worry about defeating the Saints. Clearly limited by a hamstring injury, Derrick Henry gutted out a 21-carry game last week, and defenders were/are lucky that he’s not a full-blown runaway train at less than 100%; the fact that he’s able to even suit up is still remarkable, and New Orleans—as we saw on Monday night against Indy—will sellout to stop the run by meeting Henry in the backfield before he’s able to get the engine going. That puts the pressure on Ryan Tannehill to trade blows with Drew Brees, and while he beat Patrick Mahomes in a shootout already this year, Henry did a lot of the heavy lifting until the final drive with 188 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Plus, star rookie A.J. Brown being shadowed by Marshon Lattimore will force Corey Davis to step up against Eli Apple and/or Janoris Jenkins, but he’s caught just 14 passes for 200 scoreless yards over the past six games. Being at home certainly gives them a shot, but I’m not sure Tennessee has enough firepower to win.
Winner: New Orleans Saints
OAK (6-8) @ LAC (5-9) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | CBS
The Raiders losing their final game in Oakland due to a blown call is disheartening for the fans, players, and coaches, but if you want to look ahead and focus on the positives for the final two games—the playoff scenario for them actually isn’t completely ludicrous. Basically, the Raiders and Colts need to win out with the Steelers and Titans losing out so that everyone finishes 8-8. Of course, every time there’s a multi-week sequence of events that needs to happen, it seems to be broken after the first game (I’d guess Pittsburgh winning ends it during the early slate), but at least there’s hope. The same can’t be said for the Chargers, as they completely collapsed last week in a 39-10 loss against the Vikings, and the seven-turnover performance felt like every bad thing that’s happened to Los Angeles (and there has been a lot) occurring all at once. That said, there is a clear edge in terms of talent slanted in the Chargers’ direction, and no Josh Jacobs (shoulder) leaves Oakland without a strong offensive identity.
Winner: Los Angeles Chargers
DET (3-10-1) @ DEN (5-9) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | CBS
The snowy trip to Arrowhead Stadium resulted in the first loss of Drew Lock’s career, but as his father said after the game, if Denver’s hopeful franchise quarterback is going to have a long, successful career, there will be “bigger [games] down the road” in Kansas City. To finish off his rookie campaign, Lock will get two cold weather games back at home, and a 7-9 finish for the Broncos would provide some encouragement ahead of 2020. This week, Detroit will be without multiple starters on offense—most notably Matthew Stafford (back, IR)—but Kerryon Johnson’s hopeful return from an early-season knee injury gives them a legitimate star at running back, and Denver hasn’t been overly stout against the run. If the Lions are going to get David Blough his first win, they should feature Kerryon while mixing in undrafted rookie Wes Hills (two touchdowns last week), but the bigger concern will be improving the pass defense. I’ve got the Broncos in their all-orange uniforms.
Winner: Denver Broncos
ARI (4-9-1) @ SEA (11-3) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
If the Seahawks end up getting a first-round bye and winning the Super Bowl, this photo of their celebration on the team plane after watching Atlanta beat San Francisco last week could stick around for a while.
— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) December 16, 2019
Winner: Seattle Seahawks
DAL (7-7) @ PHI (7-7) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
It doesn’t get much better than a December matchup between Dallas and Philadelphia to (likely) decide the NFC East, and in a top-heavy conference, nothing that happened before Sunday will have mattered to whoever wins. The Eagles need to find a way to flip the script of this rivalry, though, as Dak Prescott is 5-1 in six full games against Philly since entering the league, including four wins in row—most recently 37-10 back in Week 7. Some will want to focus on the quarterbacks and their head-to-head statistics/record leading up to and after the game, but it has actually been Ezekiel Elliott carrying the load with Jim Schwartz’s defense being unable to match his physicality that’s been the key battle, and the game is expected to be won or lost in the trenches again as Prescott deals with a legitimate shoulder injury. The home crowd will be a factor and Philadelphia should feel better about coming out on top in a close game based on Carson Wentz’s recent game-winning drives, but the highs for Dallas have been higher in 2019 because of a more talented roster.
Winner: Dallas Cowboys
KC (10-4) @ CHI (7-7) | SUN 8:20 PM ET | NBC
Sunday Night Football only mattering for the Chiefs in terms of postseason implications is disappointing, but the Bears are playing to win over the final two games, and I’m anticipating a quality matchup at Soldier Field. While no one will try to convince themselves that Chicago would take Mitchell Trubisky over Patrick Mahomes if given a draft “do-over” right now, it’s hilarious to see revisionist history from other media sites/personalities being cartoonishly critical of the selection three years ago when they themselves ranked Trubisky ahead of Mahomes (who was not even a projected top-ten pick). Any unnecessary slights over the next few days will only be added motivation for Trubisky, and even the Chicago crowd may have a little kick of energy to defend “their guy.” Still, Kansas City should be rolling after Mahomes threw 340 yards in the snow, and the Bears aren’t the feared defense of 2018.
Winner: Kansas City Chiefs
GB (11-3) @ MIN (10-4) | MON 8:15 PM ET | ESPN
The Vikings will have a playoff spot locked up by Saturday night if the 49ers beat the Rams, but the NFC North is up for grabs either way, and I’m expected a down-to-the-wire finish in the final Monday Night Football game of the year. Dalvin Cook (shoulder) is reportedly not going to play, but Mike Boone has shown he is more than capable for stepping in as the starter if Alexander Mattison (ankle) is also out, and Kirk Cousins—excluding the September matchup this year as Minnesota’s passing attack got off to a very slow start—has been excellent in his career against Green Bay (2-1-1 with an 11:3 touchdown-interception ratio overall). Where the loss of Cook may be felt is in the red zone because the Packers have a bend-don’t-break defense, but Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, and Kyle Rudolph all warrant attention, so Cousins should be able to pick the matchup he wants to attack. On defense, the Vikings have held Aaron Rodgers to just 13.7 points per game over the past three meetings in Minnesota (all wins), but it seems like the Packers are kind of lying in the weeds while most talk is around the other 11-3 teams, and that may change after Monday night.
Winner: Green Bay Packers