SAN FRANCISCO — Big Sunday in the NFL, with a lot of games featuring major playoff implications.
Green Bay tries to stay in the playoff hunt hosting Seattle, a club trying to keep ahead of Detroit for NFC home-field advantage in the playoffs. Denver travels to Tennessee in a huge game for both teams’ playoff hopes. While they aren’t likely to catch the Dallas in the NFC East, the New York Giants hope to pad their lead in the wild-card race with a win over the Cowboys.
Also, Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers have a decent chance at snapping their 11-game losing streak hosting the struggling New York Jets.
Let’s dive into the action.
Seattle Seahawks (8-3-1) at Green Bay Packers (6-6)
Losing Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas (cracked tibia) is a huge problem for Seattle. His rare combination of range, instincts, hitting ability (ask Rob Gronkowski), and leadership make him a hard guy to replace.
The Packers’ defense, which had been struggling, allowed just 13 points in each of the last two games The Seahawks have given up the least amount of points in the league.
This should be a great game that could go either way.
San Diego Chargers (5-7) and Carolina Panthers (4-8)
The Chargers are coming off a brutal home loss to Tampa Bay that essentially knocked them out of the playoff hunt, and put their coach (Mike McCoy) on the hot seat.
The Panthers’ pass defense is horrendous, and this week they could be down two starters, both in concussion protocol.
The Chargers’ passing offense should have their way against the Panthers’ anemic secondary and win this game.
Denver Broncos (8-4) at Tennessee Titans (6-6)
Huge game for both teams. The Broncos are one game out of first place in the AFC West, and the Titans are tied for first in the AFC South. Both are also wild-card contenders.
The Broncos should have starting QB Trevor Siemian back from a foot injury that kept him out last week. This should prove a boon to their passing offense which managed only 102 yards last week against Jacksonville, with rookie QB Paxton Lynch under center.
Titans second-year QB Marcus Mariota is much improved this season (101.9 QB rating) but he hasn’t faced a pass defense anywhere near Denver’s #1 ranked unit.
This game is a toss-up.
Cincinnati Bengals (4-7-1) at Cleveland Browns (0-12)
The offensively-challenged Browns, who have scored 39 points in their last three games, turn back to Robert Griffin III at quarterback. Griffin has been out the last three months with a broken shoulder bone.
The Browns’ run defense is terrible, so expect a heavy dose of Bengals RB Jeremy Hill.
The Bengals are the better team and should prevail.
Minnesota Vikings (6-6) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10)
Jacksonville QB Blake Bortles has taken a big step back in Year Three, and that’s one reason for the Jaguars’ 2-10 record.
So it’s hard seeing the Jags having much success moving the ball against the Vikings’ defense, one of the NFL’s best. Bortles struggled mightily last week against Denver, another top-shelf defense.
The Vikings should keep their slim playoff hopes alive with a win.
Washington Redskins (6-5-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-7)
“Our cornerbacks aren’t playing very well right now,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said earlier this week.
So it’s not a great time to be playing the Redskins, one of the NFL’s finest passing attacks.
The Redskins should win this game and keep their wildcard hopes alive.
Dallas Cowboys (11-1) at New York Giants (8-4)
The Cowboys have won 11 in a row, but their only 2016 loss was to the Giants in Week One. And that game was in Dallas.
The Giants struggle running the ball, so they are going to need a big game from franchise QB Eli Manning, and his troika of talented receivers: Odell Beckham, Victor Cruz, and Sterling Shephard. The Cowboys are banged up in the secondary, so Eli should get a lot done.
Going with the Giants, at home, in an upset.
Atlanta Falcons (7-5) at Los Angeles Rams (4-8)
Big game for the Falcons, tied for first play with Tampa Bay in the NFC South.
Not a big game for the Rams, who since Week 10 have used the season as a petri dish to develop raw rookie QB Jared Goff. They are clearly more about developing Goff than winning right now.
Expect the fired-up Falcons, with much more at stake, and with a much better QB (Matt Ryan), to prevail.
New Orleans Saints (5-7) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-5)
The Saints put a major dent in their playoff hopes losing last week at home to Detroit. Brutal loss.
Saints QB Drew Brees had his worst game of the season with three picks and no touchdowns. He rarely has two bad games in a row.
Going with a Saints upset here.
New York Jets (3-9) at San Francisco 49ers (1-11)
Two of the NFL’s worst teams battle in Levi’s Stadium.
This is a good chance for the 49ers to snap their 11-game losing streak. This is the first of a four-game audition for Jets QB Bryce Petty, who takes over for scapegoated Ryan Fitzpatrick. If Petty plays well, he’ll be the odds-on favorite to be the 2017 Jets QB.
But Petty is very raw, so mercurial Colin Kaepernick has the edge in this QB battle. Also the Jets pass defense has been horrid, so this should help Kaepernick enjoy some success.
Petty is a mystery, so it’s hard to know what he’s going to do, so no prediction on this game. But this contest certainly presents a great chance for the 49ers to break their three-month losing streak.
Chicago Bears (3-9) at Detroit Lions (8-4)
The Chicago Tribune reported this week that Bears coach John Fox will return in 2017. This seems fair. The Bears are the most injured team in the league, and Fox has those left competing very hard.
The Lions, looking to pad their first-place lead in the NFC Central, are coming off an awfully impressive dismantling of the Saints in New Orleans.
If the Lions can beat the Saints in the Big Easy, they can certainly beat the Bears at home.
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) at Buffalo Bills (6-6)
This rust-belt battle has major playoff ramifications. The Steelers are tied for first place with Baltimore in the AFC North, and the Bills hope to keep their wild-card hopes alive.
The Bills should be able run the ball against a Steelers defense down two key defensive linemen (Cam Heyward and Javon Hargrave).
Rex Ryan has a history of good game plans against Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger going back to his days with the Jets and Ravens.
While most expect Pittsburgh to win this game easily, it could be too close for comfort.
Arizona Cardinals (5-6-1) at Miami Dolphins (7-5)
The Dolphins and Cardinals both attempt to keep their wild card hopes alive.
The Dolphins are coming off two awful defensive performances against San Francisco and Baltimore, giving up around 500 yards in each game
The Cardinals are coming off one of their best offensive performances of the season in a win over Washington.
The Dolphins have a long injury list.
The pick here is the road team.