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San Diego Chargers (6-7) at Denver Broncos (11-2)
Prediction: The Broncos currently lead the NFL in passing, but they also possess the game’s No. 12 rush offense. Rookie running back Montee Ball has 234 yards and one touchdown in his last three games. The combination of Ball and Knowshon Moreno gives Denver a strong tandem heading into the postseason. They’ll also be on display against a San Diego defense that’s allowing nearly five yards per carry.
Broncos 34 Chargers 24
Chicago Bears (7-6) at Cleveland Browns (4-9)
Prediction: Quietly, the Bears are lurking in the NFC playoff picture. They’re currently even with Detroit in the NFC North and only a game back of Philadelphia, who leads the NFC East. The Bears play the Eagles next week, so a strong finish and they could finish as the No. 3 seed in the NFC. I don’t think that’ll happen, though. Chicago’s defense is allowing 381.5 yards per game and nearly 28 points per game. They must get better production from that side of the ball or they’ll find themselves on the losing end of a game they should win on paper. After a dominating Monday night performance, maybe that happens this week.
Browns 27 Bears 24
Houston Texans (2-11) at Indianapolis Colts (8-5)
Prediction: Perhaps no playoff team is playing as poorly as Indianapolis is right now. They’re 3-3 since defeating Denver in October with humiliating losses against Arizona, Cincinnati, and St. Louis. They should win at home against Houston, but the prospects of a playoff run appear bleak.
Colts 31 Texans 30
Washington (3-10) at Atlanta (3-10)
Prediction: These are two teams with a lot in common. Both were playoff teams a year ago and both gave up on their respective season’s weeks ago. In addition, I’d be surprise if either Mike Shanahan or Mike Smith retained their jobs as head coach next season. Shanahan is turning to Kirk Cousins at quarterback. Cousins is good enough to spark Washington’s offense, but their defense -- which allows 31.3 points per game -- is bad enough to blow the game in the end.
Atlanta 30 Washington 28
Buffalo Bills (4-9) at Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9)
Prediction: After starting 0-8, the Jaguars have won four of five games. With two more home games remaining, the Jaguars can conceivably put together a 6-2 second half, and finish the season with a 6-10 record.
Jaguars 23 Bills 17
Upset of the Week
New England Patriots (10-3) at Miami Dolphins (7-6)
Prediction: Without Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots face an upward battle at reaching their sixth Super Bowl under Bill Belichick. The Patriots are 5-1 without Gronkowski, but their offense is significantly more productive with him in the lineup. In their six games without Gronkowski, they averaged just 20.8 points per game. With him, they averaged 32 points per game. Miami, meanwhile, is coming off a strong performance against Pittsburgh. In addition, running back Daniel Thomas is healthy and playing well. Look for him to exploit a bad New England run defense en route to leading the Dolphins to an upset victory.
Dolphins 28 Patriots 20
Philadelphia Eagles (8-5) at Minnesota Vikings (3-9-1)
Prediction: Only Washington allows more points per game than Minnesota does. That doesn’t bode well against a Philadelphia offense that’s averaging 31.6 points per game during their current five-game winning streak.
Eagles 35 Vikings 14
Seattle Seahawks (11-2) at N.Y. Giants (5-8)
Prediction: There’s no reason to jump off Seattle’s bandwagon after last week’s loss in San Francisco. The 49ers are a good team and Seattle didn’t need that game. They’re comfortably atop the NFC right now. The Seahawks are still the class of the conference and they’ll prove it by handling the Giants in New York.
Seahawks 31 Giants 13
San Francisco 49ers (9-4) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-9)
Prediction: Everything is aligning for San Francisco to make a playoff run. They’re getting healthy and Colin Kaepernick is beginning to pickup his play. The division is without reach, but the 49ers do have the makings of this year’s hot wild card team. They need to be weary of Tampa Bay, though. The Buccaneers are playing hard and San Francisco’s flying across country for an early start.
49ers 24 Buccaneers 17
N.Y. Jets (6-7) at Carolina Panthers (9-4)
Prediction: The Panthers did struggle last week, but New Orleans is a different animal in the Superdome. Geno Smith is coming off a strong performance, but he hasn’t played well on the road since an early October victory over Atlanta. Look for the Panthers to get back on track with a redeeming effort from their defense.
Panthers 28 Jets 7
Kansas City Chiefs (10-3) at Oakland Raiders (4-9)
Prediction: As a divisional rival, the Raiders will be ready for this week. However, Kansas City’s defense (No. 4 in football) will prevent Oakland’s offense from mustering up much production. A Kansas City victory and they clinch at least the AFC’s No. 5 seed.
Chiefs 17 Raiders 6
New Orleans Saints (10-3) at St. Louis Rams (5-8)
Prediction: The Saints thrive indoors, where they can rely on their downfield passing and fast defense. I suspect Darren Sproles could put forth his best effort of the year, as the Rams lack the firepower on offense to keep pace with New Orleans.
Saints 38 Rams 21
Arizona Cardinals (8-5) at Tennessee Titans (5-8)
Prediction: While Arizona doesn’t play well on the road, Tennessee is descending in the playoff picture. The NFC is clearly a deeper conference this year. One of their playoff contenders should be good enough to defeat one of the AFC’s fading teams, even on the road.
Cardinals 20 Titans 17
Game of the Week
Green Bay Packers (6-6-1) at Dallas Cowboys (7-6)
Prediction: Anybody blaming Tony Romo for Dallas’ December blunders is missing the full picture. The Cowboys play dreadful defense. They rank last in yards allowed and they’re 26th in points allowed. They made Josh McCown look like Peyton Manning on Monday night. Aaron Rodgers could torch this defense for 400 yards and four touchdowns. Fortunately, for Dallas, Green Bay’s MVP quarterback seems unlikely to play. The Packers are also struggling on the defensive side of the ball, especially in the secondary. Romo should pick it apart, as Dallas keeps pace with Philadelphia in the NFC East.
Cowboys 38 Packers 27
Cincinnati Bengals (9-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (5-8)
Prediction: If Cincinnati is going to take full command of the AFC North, they need to beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh. That’s a tall order, especially at night. However, the Bengals are playing excellent defense, despite losing both Geno Atkins and Leon Hall for the season. A strong effort from the defense and a couple of big plays from A.J. Green should propel them to victory.
Bengals 22 Steelers 20
Baltimore Ravens (7-6) at Detroit Lions (7-6)
Prediction: The Lions are doing their best to give the NFC North to Chicago or Green Bay. The Packers were without Rodgers for much of the year, yet remain just a half-game back of their divisional rival. The Lions, meanwhile, defeated Chicago both times this season, but the Bears currently look far more dangerous than Detroit does. The Lions have lost three of four with their only win during this span coming against the Rodgers-less Packers. This in inexcusable for a team with a great front four, a good quarterback, and one of the most dynamic players in football. Turnovers and penalties continue to doom them. If they don’t correct these issues, they’ll be watching the Bears or Packers compete in January.
Ravens 23 Lions 21
Last Week: 12-4
Season Record: 133-74-1