The Falcons, Bears, and Texans look to play spoiler. The Cowboys and Lions look to solidify divisional leads. The Bills and Chiefs look to keep hope alive. Here’s the breakdown of Sunday’s action….
Indianapolis Colts (10-4) at Dallas Cowboys (10-4)
One of the Dallas’s strengths is their offensive line, and they might be without two starters – right tackle Doug Free and guard Zach Martin.
The Colts also have offensive line issues with two starters out.
Indianapolis’s #1 pass offense is a bad matchup for Dallas’s #23-ranked pass defense, but Dallas could get a big break if wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (hamstring) doesn’t play.
QB Andrew Luck leads the NFL in passing yards and touchdowns. But Dallas quarterback Tony Romo could also have a field day against a secondary that recently gave up six touchdown passes to Ben Roethlisberger, and could be without their top corner, Vontae Davis (groin).
New York Giants (5-9) at St. Louis Rams (6-8)
On paper, this isn’t a great matchup for the Giants.
New York’s offensive line isn’t very good, and good pass rushers populate the defense of the Rams.
Rams Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, of Bountygate fame, has the St. Louis defense playing on a really high level the last three weeks.
The Giants have won two in a row, but this streak should stop on the road against defensive linemen Robert Quinn, Chris Long, Aaron Donald, and company.
Atlanta Falcons (5-9) at New Orleans Saints (6-8)
The 6-8 Saints can clinch the NFC West title with a win and a loss by the Carolina Panthers.
Expect a shootout between the two lowest rated defenses in the NFL. In Week One, Matt Ryan threw for 448 yards in leading the Falcons to a 37-34 win over the Saints.
Keep an eye on the status of Saints left tackle Terron Armstead, currently questionable with a neck injury. If Drew Brees’ blind-side protector can’t go, it could tip this game to the Falcons.
Detroit Lions (10-4) at Chicago Bears (5-9)
This is a tough game to call.
Logic would point to an easy Lions win. But the X-Factor is that nobody knows what to expect from Chicago’s new starting quarterback Jimmy Clausen.
The former Notre Dame standout hasn’t started an NFL game since Week 17 of the 2010 season, when he played as a rookie with the Carolina Panthers. That was almost four years ago. He’s now 27. How much has he matured and progressed since then?
We will find out on Sunday at Soldier Field.
Cleveland Browns (7-7) at Carolina Panthers (5-8-1)
The Panthers have won two in a row, getting themselves back in the NFC South race. Panthers QB Cam Newton returns after missing one game due to a car accident. Browns QB Johnny Manziel hopes to avoid another train wreck like his first start. But with the Panthers looking for their third win in a row, and to stay in the playoff race, that isn’t likely to happen.
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, a truckstop billioinaire, needs to realize that Manziel isn’t ready to pilot an NFL team.
Baltimore Ravens (9-5) at Houston Texans (7-7)
You could easily say the Texans have no shot because they’ve lost their top three quarterbacks. Not so fast. On December 15, they signed quarterback Case Keenum off the St. Louis Rams practice squad. He was with the Texans the entire off-season, and was released on August 31, 2014. So he knows coach Bill O’Brien’s Houston offense. This isn’t just some guy off the street who is learning on the fly. He also started eight games for them last year, so he he’s comfortable with most of their passing-game weapons.
Texans starting wide receiver Andre Johnson returns from a concussion, and the Ravens have the NFL’s 30th-ranked pass defense. So, don’t assume that the Ravens are going to run away with this one due.
Minnesota Vikings (7-7) at Miami Dolphins (6-8)
Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater gets out of the cold of the Twin Cities, and returns home to Miami to face the Dolphins.
It’s hard seeing him getting a lot of time to throw behind a suspect offensive line against Miami’s talented Front Seven. Also, Miami now has starting cornerback Cortland Finnegan back from injury, and he teams with Brent Grimes to give the Dolphins one of the NFL’s better tandems.
Expect the Dolphins to hold on to their slim playoff hopes with a win.
Buffalo Bills (8-6) at Oakland Raiders (2-12)
The Bills travel to Oakland to face the banged-up Raiders. The Bills appear pretty healthy for this time of year.
Raiders rookie QB Derek Carr could be running for his life against the NFL’s #5 defense coming to town with 49 sacks. Also, Carr plays without three receivers – Rod Steater, Denarius Moore, and Vincent Brown.
Expect the Bills to prevail.
Kansas City Chiefs (8-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5)
The Chiefs face a slight problem in this matchup. They are scoring-challenged, and they play the NFL’s #1 offense. It’s going to be hard to keep up with the Roethlisbergers.
Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger has thrown for 350 yards or more in the last three games.
Expect the Steelers to figure out a way to win this game with huge playoff implications.
Green Bay Packers (10-4) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-12)
Look out Tampa Bay. Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers is coming off one of the worst games of his career in a loss to Buffalo. Don’t expect two games like that in a row from one of the NFL’s all-time great quarterbacks. The Buccaneers losing streak should extend to five.
Seattle Seahawks (10-4) at Arizona Cardinals (11-3)
With a win, the Cardinals clinch the NFC West. But this could be hard to accomplish with their third-string quarterback, Ryan Lindley, starting against the NFL’s #1 defense.
Arizona’s best hope is to win with special teams and defense, which is possible. No team does a better job on Marshawn Lynch than Bruce Arians’s Cardinals. In the first matchup this season, Lynch rushed 15 times for just 39 yards. And not helping Lynch will be the absence of two starting offensive lineman – left tackle Russell Okung and center Max Unger.
Expect a hard-fought, low-scoring affair that could go either way.