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Carolina Panthers (11-4) at Atlanta Falcons (4-11)
Prediction: Winners of 10 of their last 11 games, last week’s victory over New Orleans gives Carolina a chance to clinch the No. 2 seed with a victory on Sunday. The Falcons, meanwhile, look as if they wanted this season to end a month ago.
Panthers 28 Falcons 7
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-11) at New Orleans Saints (10-5)
Prediction: The Saints don’t lose in the Superdome. It’s too bad they won’t be playing there this January.
Saints 35 Buccaneers 17
Baltimore Ravens (8-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (10-5)
Prediction: With an outside chance at the No. 2 seed, Cincinnati has everything to play for this week. The Bengals are unbeaten at home, so the No. 2 seed would give them an excellent opportunity to reach the AFC championship. Baltimore will give them a game, though. The Ravens are well-coached and they have too much pride to play poorly after last week‘s dud against New England. Look for this one to remain a one-score game throughout its entirety.
Bengals 23 Ravens 20
Houston Texans (2-13) at Tennessee Titans (6-9)
Prediction: Losing this Sunday would guarantee Houston the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft. They already have plenty of quality players, so the Houston job could be one of the more desirable in the NFL this off-season. Such is the way of modern professional football. Once the clock strikes zero on a season, another immediately begins.
Titans 27 Texans 21
Jacksonville Jaguars (4-11) at Indianapolis Colts (10-5)
Prediction: After about a month of underwhelming play, Indianapolis came through with one of their most impressive performances of the year against Kansas City. The victory over the Chiefs was the Colts’ fourth over a 2013 playoff team. That might be a good omen heading into January.
Colts 24 Jaguars 14
N.Y. Jets (7-8) at Miami Dolphins (8-7)
Prediction: Somehow, the Jets are on the verge of finishing with eight wins. A strong home record (6-2) elevated them, but they struggle on the road. Their road woes aren’t likely to end, as Miami has a chance at clinching their first postseason berth since ‘08.
Dolphins 26 Jets 16
Detroit Lions (7-8) at Minnesota Vikings (4-10-1)
Prediction: At season’s end, both Detroit and Minnesota are likely to fire their coaches. It’s not much of a surprise in Minnesota, as Leslie Frazier’s been on thin ice for sometime now. The Lions, however, have completely collapsed down the stretch. With Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler out, Detroit was the clear frontrunner in the NFC North a month ago. They’ve won just one game in their last six tries, though. That’s unacceptable for a team with as much talent as they have. A head-coaching change may just be what they need.
Vikings 27 Lions 24
Washington (3-12) at N.Y. Giants (6-9)
Prediction: Is this the last game for Mike Shanahan? I would have to think so, especially if he and Robert Griffin III can’t co-exist. This could also be Tom Coughlin’s last game, though it seems as if he wants to return in 2014. I believe he should. Look no further than the collapse in Washington as to why he should. The players don’t respect Shanahan in Washington. However, they clearly respect Coughlin in New York. They play hard for him and defend him in the press. You don’t get that kind of reaction in Washington, and that’s why they’re on the verge of losing 13 games.
N.Y. Giants 31 Washington 21
Cleveland Browns (4-11) at Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8)
Prediction: A strong, young nucleus of players has Cleveland prime for a strong off-season in 2014. The Steelers’ future is trending upward, especially with Ben Roethlisberger playing as well as he is. The two-time Super Bowl champion is three touchdowns away from finishing with his first 30-touchdown, 4,000-yard season.
Steelers 30 Browns 20
Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) at San Diego Chargers (8-7)
Prediction: The Chiefs are resting their starters. The Chargers could be playing for the playoffs. The team that needs this one more will win it.
Chargers 33 Chiefs 13
Buffalo Bills (6-9) at New England Patriots (11-4)
Prediction: If Bill Belichick can lead this Patriots’ team to the Super Bowl, then it might be his finest performance as a coach.
Prediction: 34 Bills 20
Denver Broncos (12-3) at Oakland Raiders (4-11)
Prediction: Don’t kid yourself. Peyton Manning wants every NFL record. He’s a competitor. He’s not just competing against today’s quarterbacks, but he’s competing against every quarterback to play in the NFL. That’s what separates the good ones from the great ones.
Broncos 42 Raiders 21
Game of the Week
Green Bay Packers (7-7-1) at Chicago Bears (8-7)
Prediction: Aaron Rodgers’ return is a big deal, but the Packers can’t play defense. It seems unlikely that they’re positioning themselves for a deep playoff run, especially without Clay Matthews. Luckily, for the Packers, Chicago is starting Jay Cutler. The Chicago quarterback has just one win over Green Bay since Dom Capers became Green Bay’s defensive coordinator. The much-maligned Green Bay coach may struggle against 30 other teams, but he knows how to stop Cutler.
Packers 37 Bears 27
St. Louis Rams (7-8) at Seattle Seahawks (12-3)
Prediction: Last week’s loss to Arizona prevented Seattle from clinching the division. As a result, Seattle has to beat St. Louis or risk losing the division. In addition, if the Rams win, the entire NFC West would finish without a losing record. I expect the Rams to give Seattle a good game, but the Seahawks have too much to lose.
Seahawks 21 Rams 20
San Francisco 49ers (11-4) at Arizona Cardinals (10-5)
Prediction: The Cardinals could win 11 games and still miss the playoffs. That goes to show you the strength of the NFC. The 49ers will play this one out, however, as there’s still an outside chance they could win the NFC West. They’ll win this game, but not the division.
49ers 20 Cardinals 13
Philadelphia Eagles (9-6) at Dallas Cowboys (8-7)
Prediction: What happens if Kyle Orton leads Dallas to victory? Just think of the ramifications. Tony Romo, who is out for the season, would go into the off-season with immense pressure. After all, Romo’s backup did what he failed to accomplish, which is lead Dallas to a crucial victory in week 17. It’s an absurd story, but that wouldn’t stop the press and television personalities from pushing the narrative. While a Dallas victory would be somewhat amusing, the Cowboys simply don’t have the defense to stop Chip Kelly’s offense.
Eagles 42 Cowboys 24
Last Week: 10-6
Season Record: 152-87-1