EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – Plenty of teams fight for their playoff lives this week, but not the San Francisco 49ers, losers of 12 straight games.
Their quarterback/activist Colin Kaepernick may have to fight for his NFL life, though, and if he continues to play the way he has the last two weeks he might have a hard time landing a job next year. Two weeks ago the 49ers benched him during a loss to the Chicago Bears. Last week, in a loss to the Jets, he threw for a total of four yards in the second half.
Kaepernick might just play himself out of the league and into a panelist job on MSNBC.
Let’s take a closer look at this week’s NFL slate…
Oakland Raiders (10-3) at San Diego Chargers (5-8)
The Raiders have improved a lot this year, but with their defensive struggles it’s hard to consider them a Super Bowl contender. Oakland has the NFL’s 30th-ranked defense.
The Chargers are an average team, but they know how to put points on the board.
Look for the home team to pull the upset.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5) at Dallas Cowboys (11-2)
The Buccaneers, one of the NFL’s hottest teams have won five straight games. The Cowboys saw their 11-game losing streak come to end last week against the Giants.
Tampa Bay plays great defense under coordinator Mike Smith, who will likely become the Jacksonville Jaguars’ next coach. Look for Smith to design a strong game plan to contain Cowboys rookie QB Dak Prescott coming off a bad game against New York, and for Tampa Bay to pull the road upset.
New England Patriots (11-2) at Denver Broncos (8-5)
The Patriots look like the crème de la crème of the AFC this year. Last year’s top AFC team, the Broncos, attempt to land a wild card spot this year.
This is a great match-up of the NFL’s top pass defense (Denver) against the NFL’s top quarterback (Tom Brady).
This contest is too close to call.
New Orleans Saints (5-8) at Arizona Cardinals (5-7-1)
When they first announced the schedule, this late season game looked like a keeper. Both these teams looked like Super Bowl contenders entering the season, but each has greatly underachieved. The Cardinals just put their starting safeties on injured reserve, and will play without both starting offensive tackles.
Future Hall-of-Fame QB Drew Brees didn’t throw a touchdown pass in the last two games, but don’t expect this to continue with the Cardinals’ safety issues.
Look for the Saints to win this road game.
San Francisco 49ers (1-12) at Atlanta Falcons (8-5)
The 49ers currently ride a 12-game losing streak. Their quarterback Colin Kaepernick struggles mightily, and loses his top tight end (Vance McDonald) and wide receiver (Torrey Smith) this week. The 49ers 32nd-ranked defense cannot match Atlanta’s high-powered offense, and the Falcons should win this game easily.
Green Bay Packers (7-6) at Chicago Bears (3-10)
“The Pack” is back, coming off a blowout win over the Seattle Seahawks.
The Bears have a bad record, but remain competitive in recent weeks with an improved defense and the surprisingly good play of backup QB Matt Barkley.
The Packers should win, but it might not be easy.
Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-7-1)
This two teams hate each other, and “hate” might be an understatement. The Bengals will not go to the playoffs, and they’d love to keep Steelers home with them.
Cincinnati has played better recently with the return of standout tight end Tyler Eifert, and can certainly pull the upset.
Philadelphia Eagles (5-8) at Baltimore Ravens (7-6)
The Eagles are falling apart. They have two players currently out for anxiety issues (wide receiver Nelson Agholor and guard Brandon Brooks), a struggling rookie QB they don’t protect very well, and issues at cornerback.
The Ravens should win this must-win game at home.
Cleveland Browns (0-13) at Buffalo Bills (6-7)
It’s hard to finger-point in the Browns’ locker room, both sides of the ball stink. Their offense is ranked 30th and their defense is 31st.
Rumors are flying that the Bills will fire Rex Ryan after this season. This will be an NFL record 17th straight year they have missed the playoffs.
But one team has got to win the game, and that should be the Bills at home.
Carolina Panthers (5-8) at Washington Redskins (7-5-1)
A big reason for the Panthers’ poor season, coming off a Super Bowl appearance, is their porous secondary.
A big reason for the Redskins presence in the NFC Wildcard race is their passing attack, which is ranked second in the NFL.
The Redskins air attack should spearhead a win over Carolina.
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11) at Houston Texans (7-6)
Jacksonville has lost eight straight and their coach will fire their coach after the season.
Neither team has very good quarterback play, so this should be a low-scoring game.
Houston, at home, fighting to stay in first place in the AFC South, should win a close game.
Tennessee Titans (7-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-3)
Two teams tied for first in their respective division will battle it out in arctic conditions at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Titans showed much improvement this year, but their achilles heel is defending the pass. They have the NFL’s 31st-ranked pass defense.
The Chiefs, loaded with weapons in the passing game, should prevail.
Indianapolis Colts (6-7) at Minnesota Vikings (7-6)
The Vikings 32nd-ranked rushing offense gets franchise tailback Adrian Peterson back from a knee injury, but they have three starters out on the offensive line, so it might not matter.
The Colts offensive line is also a mess.
The game is a toss-up.
Detroit Lions (9-4) at New York Giants (9-4)
The city of Detroit is known for the clutch, and their football team is as clutch as they come after winning an NFL-record eight times this season after trailing in the fourth quarter. But, their quarterback plays with a dislocated middle finger on his throwing hand behind a backup center.
The Giants, coming off a tremendous defensive performance against Dallas, should win this game.