Last week: 11-4, a solid forecast for the final week with any team on a bye. 121-64 on the season.
- Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs (-3.5): The biggest game of the year in the AFC so far gets the national stage it deserves. The 10-2 Raiders can stake a huge claim to its first division title since 2002 by beating the archrival, 9-3 Chiefs. Oakland hasn’t been back to the playoffs since that season, and while they can lose this game and still be in solid shape to make the postseason, this is the most critical game the Raiders have played in a long time.
The Chiefs won the first meeting 26-10 by playing four full quarters of quality football. Oakland was equal in the first half but the Kansas City defense dominated the second, limiting Derek Carr and friends to just 79 yards, two first downs and a takeaway. The Raiders have scored at least 27 points in all 6 games since, and the silver and black defense has also been playing much better; after allowing at least 400 yards in every game to that point, they haven’t since.
Meanwhile, the Kansas City defense is trending in the other direction. The Chiefs allowed over 400 yards just three times in the first 9 games but have surrendered more in each of the last 3. Given their conservative offense, they cannot afford to give up copious yardage or big plays to Oakland’s high-powered offense.
Raiders 30, Chiefs 24
- Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers (+2.5): The key here is Seattle’s run game and how well the Seahawks offense is humming along with Thomas Rawls back. In the last three weeks, which coincides with the power back’s return to the lineup, Seattle is averaging 179 yards on the ground. Meanwhile the Packers defense has allowed three of its four worst rushing yardage in the last month. With Clay Matthews still dealing with a shoulder issue and the entire LB corps on the injury report, it doesn’t seem a real promising matchup for the home team.
Green Bay can equalize the scales by forcing some turnovers, but that’s not something their defense does well. The Packers have just 4 takeaways in the last six games. Meanwhile the Seahawks turned the ball over 3 times in the loss to Tampa Bay two weeks ago, but have just two other giveaways since September. In short, what Seattle does well plays nicely against what Green Bay needs to do to win. The visitors will miss Earl Thomas, but I have a strong feeling the Legion of Boom will rally around their fallen comrade this week.
Seahawks 31, Packers 23
- Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants (+3): The Cowboys are 11-1 and the only loss came way back in Week 1, when the Giants nipped them by one point in Dallas. Now the Cowboys have an opportunity to return the favor and also wrap up the NFC East in the process.
The biggest reason I lean towards Dallas to get the revenge, even in New York:
With JPP out, #Giants remaining backups have total .5 sacks this season (Kerry Wynn, Owa Odighizuwa, Romeo Okwara).— Adam Caplan (@caplannfl) December 7, 2016
If the Giants defense can’t impact Dak Prescott and force him to make mistakes, they stand little chance of slowing down the Cowboys’ balanced attack. Any halfway competent quarterback with time can pick apart even a good defense, and Prescott has proven he’s more than that. The Dallas passing game has sputtered the last couple of weeks (314 yards combined) but Washington and Minnesota disrupted with the pass rush. New York cannot do that. I give the Giants a 40% chance here, in part because they desperately need this game a lot more than the high-flying Cowboys do.
Cowboys 28, Giants 25
- Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts (-6.5): Lost in the euphoria of Monday night’s shellacking of the Jets is the news the Colts lost LB D’Qwell Jackson for four games for a violation of the league’s drug policy. Jackson is the Colts’ best run defender, but he’s also the guy who makes all the calls and gets everyone lined up right. Given all their injuries and shuffled personnel, that’s a very significant loss. It just might be enough to help Brock Osweiler, Lamar Miller and the inconsistent Houston offense outscore Andrew Luck & Co.
It might…but it won’t. This game goes a long way towards deciding the AFC South, and the Colts understand how to handle these situations. I know the Texans are the defending divisional champs and have had success against the Colts lately, including a win earlier this year. But Houston has exactly one win in franchise history in Indianapolis, and that came with last year’s Luck-less Colts. It won’t happen again, not this year.
Colts 33, Texans 28
- Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills (+2): Weather could play a huge factor in this game, as frigid cold and lake effect snow are definitely in play. That might put a crimp into Antonio Brown, but I’ll still lean on Le'Veon Bell to motor the Steelers more diverse and balanced offense. Mike Tomlin’s odd fascination with the 2-pt. conversion might actually pay off here, as the wind could make even extra points treacherous.
Steelers 22, Bills 19
- Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions (-8.5): This game scares the pellets out of me as a Lions fan. Detroit is clearly the superior team, but they were in the first meeting as well. Chicago won that game, which was Matthew Stafford’s worst outing. And the Bears defense still has some teeth despite playing scads of inexperienced defensive backs.
I think the losses at linebacker doom Chicago here. Now down both Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan, I can’t see them controlling the middle of the field like they did the first meeting. Willie Young and the Bears pass rush will cause some issues, particularly if Lions center Travis Swanson--a leading candidate for Most Improved Player--is out with concussion syndrome. Yet I can’t see Matt Barkley and his band of greenhorn receivers putting much of a dent in Detroit’s bend-but-don’t-break defense, which hasn’t been bending so much lately either.
Lions 27, Bears 17
- Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns (+7): Browns fans have circled this game as the one realistic chance to get a win, though last week’s Bengal uprising in thrashing the Eagles tempered that enthusiasm. Cleveland is coming off a bye and has a real chance if they get solid quarterback play. Do they have that capability? Yes. Will it happen? I wouldn’t bet on it.
Bengals 20, Browns 17
- Denver Broncos at Tennessee Titans (+1): The Titans offensive line is one of the more underrated positional groups in the league. If they can stand up to Von Miller and the Broncos aggressive, accomplished defense, maybe they’ll start to get more national love. Miller and his mates will have to carry the day because the Denver offense continues to sputter.
I was going to pick Denver but my gut overruled my typing fingers. This game is that close.
Titans 22, Broncos 21
- Arizona Cardinals at Miami Dolphins (-1.5): Arizona is so unpredictable. A team which can control a good Washington team, blow out current playoff qualifier Tampa Bay and nearly upset the Patriots has also looked abysmal against Buffalo, Atlanta and Los Angeles. If they can avoid the crippling mistakes, they should win in Miami. The Dolphins crashed back to earth last week, getting annihilated by Baltimore to end a 6-game win streak. Which is the real Miami? Bet on this at your own peril.
Dolphins 32, Cardinals 27
- Minnesota Vikings at Jacksonville Jaguars (+3.5): For the third week in a row, the mantra remains the same. I will never pick the Jaguars to win as long as Blake Bortles is their starting quarterback. That’s really saying something this week, because Sam Bradford behind Minnesota’s laughable offensive line and the worst rushing offense of the 21st century (not hyperbole; they’re the only team since 2000 to average fewer than 3 yards per carry) are pretty terrible in their own right. Minnesota’s defense carries them to the much-needed road win.
Vikings 20, Jaguars 16
- Washington at Philadelphia Eagles (+1): Ryan Kerrigan and the Washington pass rush are a real problem for a struggling Carson Wentz, who is battling mechanical issues as well as a paucity of receiving weapons. Kirk Cousins has a big game, as does Desean Jackson in his return to Philly. I think this one isn’t close unless the Eagles can go plus-2 or better in turnover margin.
Washington 33, Eagles 17
- Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Rams (+6.5): Even though I expect the Los Angeles offense to have its struggles, the Falcons have no answer for Aaron Donald and the Rams defensive front. I forecast a defensive score for the Rams, and their outstanding special teams keep this one close all the way. This is the leading candidate for the Any Given Sunday feature in this week’s $.10 and I love the Rams to stay within a touchdown.
Falcons 24, Rams 21
- San Diego Chargers at Carolina Panthers (-1.5): Two of the more disappointing teams square off in a game where the team who cares more wins. I like the angle of the inspirational return of Luke Kuechly to lift the Panthers defense more than I like the Philip Rivers coming home to North Carolina angle.
Panthers 22, Chargers 17
- New York Jets at San Francisco 49ers (-2.5): What might be the least talented roster ever assembled is actually favored by a field goal against the Jets. That tells you all you need to know about the state of affairs in New York, still licking its wounds after getting bombarded on Monday Night Football. This game carries a lot of draft importance; should the Niners win it’s likely the Jets will pick No. 2 overall and the 49ers wind up picking third or fourth. In a draft class where there are only two quarterbacks worthy of top 40 consideration and the Browns appear locked into one of those, the winner here might be the long-term loser…unless you consider Myles Garrett a “loss”. I wouldn’t…
49ers 26, Jets 20
- New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-2.5): The Buccaneers currently hold the No. 6 seed in the NFC. A win here would go a long way towards validating their defensive progress, which doesn’t get near the attention of Jameis Winston, Mike Evans and the Tampa Bay offense. The Bucs D is allowing just 13 points per game and has 11 takeaways over the last four weeks, and it’s done with solid play at all three levels. I think that’s too much for a New Orleans offense which couldn’t get anything going in Detroit last week.
Buccaneers 29, Saints 21
Baltimore at New England (-8.5): Competing forces at play here…
Tom Brady will take on Baltimore’s #1 ranked defense. Brady is 6-0 in his career in home games against #1 total defenses, with 12 TD, 3 INT.— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) December 7, 2016
That speaks to Brady’s inherent awesomeness. Yet if he’s to continue the impressive dissection of top-ranked defenses, he must do it without Rob Gronkowski. Beyond Gronk, clutch third-down target Danny Amendola will also miss the game. Gronk is the impact absence, as he presents the Patriots offense with the ability to dictate matchups for all the receivers. Without him, the Ravens defense can seize control of those options.
Of course that all goes for naught if Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense don’t show up. They blistered the Dolphins last week, but this is the same team which rushed for just 11 yards in losing to the Jets and struggled to sustain anything against Cincinnati or Dallas. The Ravens offense from last week can win this game, but expecting them to show up is like expecting your Arby’s sandwich from the drive thru to look like the enticing and luscious meat concoction in the commercial.
Patriots 24, Ravens 17