NFL Preview: Pats Look to Stay on Top Post-Gronk, Giants Travel to Pittsburgh, Chiefs Battle Falcons

Tom Brady, Malcolm Mitchell
The Associated Press

On Saturday, the New England Patriots put star tight end Rob Gronkowski on injured reserve after undergoing his third back operation. His football future might be in jeopardy.

But even without Gronkowski, the Patriots probably remain the favorite to come out of the weak American Football Conference to get to the Super Bowl. New England still enjoys plenty of offensive weapons (including TE Martellus Bennett, no slouch) and all-time great QB Tom Brady still at the top of his game at 39.

The Patriots host the sliding Los Angeles Rams this week, which should be a layup for them. This probably won’t be one of Sunday’s better games.

Some of the better contests include the New York Giants at Pittsburgh, the Kansas City Chiefs at Atlanta, and Baltimore hosting the Miami Dolphins.

Let’s break down all of Sunday’s action…

Kansas City Chiefs (8-3) at Atlanta Falcons (7-4)

Causing turnovers serves as a key to success in football, and the Chiefs excel at it, with an NFL high 24 takeaways.

They also boast a great pass rush, another key to NFL success.

These two strengths need to be on display if they hope to beat Atlanta, featuring one of the NFL’s best passing offenses led by QB Matt Ryan, a league MVP candidate.

This should be a great game and could go either way.

Miami Dolphins (7-4) at Baltimore Ravens (6-5)

Terrific match-up of strengths as Miami’s powerful rushing attack goes against the NFL’s top run defense.

So Miami’s 28th-ranked passing offense might need to carry more of the load than they have recently.

This game is too close to call.

San Francisco 49ers (1-10) at Chicago Bears (2-9)

San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick put his San Jose home on the market.

Maybe he should go house shopping in Chicago. The Bears just put QB Jay Cutler on IR, and could be on the market for a quarterback in the off-season.

San Francisco’s 32nd-ranked defense is horrendous, and the Bears, who are competing hard, should prevail behind backup QB Matt Barkley, who played very well last week in a close home loss to Tennessee.

Philadelphia Eagles (5-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (3-7)

Two teams heading in the wrong direction.

After starting 3-0, the Eagles have gone 2-6, and the Bengals have lost three straight.

The Eagles travel to Cincinnati with a long injury list, and the Bengals should win this game.

Houston Texans (6-5) at Green Bay Packers (5-6)

Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers is coming off perhaps his best game of the season in a win at Philadelphia.

Houston’s anemic passing offense, ranked 31st, is going to have a hard time matching Rodgers on the scoreboard.

The Packers should prevail.

Denver Broncos (7-4) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-9)

Even though Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley is likely out after the season, the Jaguars are playing very hard for him. They’ve lost six in a row, but the last four games have all been close. One of these weeks they’re likely to break through.

Denver is forced to start raw rookie QB Paxton Lynch with starter Trevor Siemian nursing a foot injury.

Don’t be shocked if Jacksonville pulls the upset.

Los Angeles Rams (4-7) at New England Patriots (9-2)

The Rams gave up 555 yards in a loss to New Orleans last week, and now they travel to Foxboro to face iconic QB Tom Brady. Look out!

The Patriots should have little problem winning this game.

Detroit Lions (7-4) at New Orleans Saints (5-6)

The Lions play as perhaps the NFL’s most clutch team this year. All 11 of their games have been decided by seven points or less, and they have won six of their last seven.

This streak might continue, but it will likely be in a close loss.

It’s hard to pick against Saints QB Drew Brees in the Superdome in a must-win game.

Buffalo Bills (6-5) at Oakland Raiders (9-2)

The Oakland Raiders ride a six-game winning streak thanks to their high-powered offense.

But how much longer can this streak continue with their sieve-like defense? Last week, they lead Carolina 24-7, but then fell behind 32-24. They came back to win 35-32.

Now they are beat up on the defensive line, and the Bills come to town with the NFL’s #1 rushing offense.

Don’t be shocked if the visiting Bills pull the upset.

Washington Redskins (6-4) at Arizona Cardinals (4-6)

An intriguing match-up pits the NFL’s #2 offense (Washington) against the NFL’s #1 defense (Arizona).

The Cardinals have lost three of their last four. One contributing factor is the loss of two key offensive linemen – left tackle Jared Veldheer (Hillsdale College) and right guard Evan Mathis.

The Redskins compete without star tight end Jordan Reed (shoulder).

The Redskins should win his game, but it won’t be easy.

New York Giants (8-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5)

The 2017 Steelers are an enigma with wild swings in their play. Some weeks they look like a Super Bowl-contender, others like a cellar dweller.

Trying to figure out which team is going to show up week-to-week is anybody’s guess.

So it’s hard to figure what they will do with the streaking Giants coming to town, winners of six straight.

Your guess is as good as mine.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5) at San Diego Chargers (5-6)

The Buccaneers looked like a lousy team earlier this season, but thanks to a much-improved defense, they have won three straight. Their defense has allowed just 32 points in the last three games.

That defense will be challenged facing QB Philip Rivers at home in a must-win game.

Rivers, who finally has a good running game, should lead the Chargers to a win.

Carolina Panthers (4-7) at Seattle Seahawks (7-3-1)

Last year the Panthers were great in close games. This year? Not so much.

A big reason for the Panthers 2016 demise is their secondary sans CB Josh Norman, now in Washington. They really miss him, and they will miss starting safety Kurt Coleman, out this week with an injury.

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson, at home (where he rarely loses), should lead Seattle to their eighth win.