We’ve made it to the end of another regular season. The final weekend of games features many with playoff implications, including the two Saturday matchups.
Last week: 10-5, with the Bills/Bengals game officially cancelled. The season forecast is 160-95 straight up with one week to go, counting the two ties as losses.
- Kansas City Chiefs at Las Vegas Raiders (+7.5): Give the Raiders credit for showing some life with Jarrett Stidham at the offensive controls last week following the weirdly awkward in-season divorce between Las Vegas and longtime QB Derek Carr. But Stidham’s Cinderella moment turned to cinders with a brutal INT that cost the now-eliminated Raiders the game. I don’t expect much resiliency from what’s left of the team.
Chiefs 31, Raiders 17
- Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguars (-6.5): The AFC South title is on the line. Somehow, Tennessee has hung around close enough to make this game matter. They’ve lost six in a row and seven of nine since winning seven out of eight to run out to a huge lead in the division. The Jaguars have won six of eight, including a 36-22 win in Nashville a few weeks ago, to seize the lead in the division. Give me a hot Trevor Lawrence over emergency QB option Josh Dobbs every day of the week.
Jaguars 26, Titans 14
Sunday Games with Meaning
- New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills (-7.5): All eyes are on Buffalo and how the Bills players handle their first game after the scary Damar Hamlin near-death experience. It’s a tough draw to play a Patriots team that clinches a playoff spot with a win. The first meeting in New England was an easy Bills win and it’s hard to ignore just how good Buffalo’s defense looked in that Week 13 matchup.
I think the first couple of drives from each team will speak volumes here. If the Patriots can pounce early, I can see the Bills losing some control of the game. But if Josh Allen and the Bills come out focused and sharp, it’s black curtains for New England’s season. Key stat: New England is tied for 31st in first-quarter scoring in 2022.
Bills 24, Patriots 17
- Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals (-6.5): The Bengals will carry some heavy emotional baggage into this game that decides the AFC North and a lot of playoff seeding. Being at home will help. Not facing Lamar Jackson will help even more. The Ravens haven’t topped 17 points in the five games (4 full and nearly all of a fifth) he’s missed and didn’t play a defense as feisty as Cincinnati’s in any of those.
Bengals 28, Ravens 10
- Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers (-4.5): It took to the very last game of the regular season before the Detroit Lions featured in a primetime game. Interestingly, it’s a game where the Lions could know they’re eliminated before kickoff; if the Seahawks beat the Rams, the 8-8 Lions are only playing for pride.
I think the big-game experience will play a large role here. Aaron Rodgers and several Packers linemen and defenders have it. The precocious LIons, the NFL’s youngest roster, have almost none. I expect Dan Campbell’s teams to give the Packers hell. I think Green Bay barely survives the hellfire and comes out a playoff team. A Lions win would not surprise me and shouldn’t surprise anyone, however.
Packers 27, Lions 23
- Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks (-6.5): The Seahawks need to win and have Detroit win in Green Bay to make the postseason. Last year’s champs figure to put up a prideful fight, albeit with a dilapidated roster that played well but was just outclassed by the Chargers a week ago.
The thing is, Seattle was one of the NFL’s worst teams in December. Geno Smith and the Seahawks peaked early, or so it seems. I was impressed by their defensive gumption in the win over the Jets last week, enough that I think they can pull this off. I think the 6.5-point line (set by ESPN’s fantasy pick ‘em game on Tuesday) is absurdly bullish on the Seahawks.
Seahawks 32, Rams 30
- New York Jets at Miami Dolphins (-1): Miami still has a playoff pulse, but only if the Patriots lose. The Dolphins will start seventh-round rookie Skylar Thompson at quarterback in this critical game. He couldn't be more divergent from this week’s Jets starter, Joe Flacco. New York will roll out what precious little is left of Flacco instead of a healthy Zach Wilson in place of injured Mike White. That Flacco legitimately gives them a better chance of winning in Miami says a whole lot more about Wilson than Flacco. I’ll quietly root for Thompson, a player I liked more than most analysts did in the draft process last winter.
Dolphins 22, Jets 17
- Dallas Cowboys at Washington Commanders (+4.5): The chaos in Washington extends beyond the House of Representatives. The Commanders will start their third quarterback in as many weeks. This week’s victim is rookie Sam Howell, getting his first start. Good luck, rookie; the Cowboys have an aggressive, playmaking defense and a shot at winning the division crown with a win. At least one McCarthy, Dallas coach Mike, won’t be branded a loser in Washington this week
Cowboys 33, Commanders 16
- Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos (+3.5): Denver remains dead, but the Chargers are playing for postseason seeding. Expect this game to reflect those statuses.
Chargers 28, Broncos 9
- Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers (-3.5): Okay, the Steelers chances of making the postseason are about as strong as a cannon made of balsa wood, but they technically have a chance. I don’t expect the rolling cannonball of chaos that is the Browns to blow up those chances.
Steelers 23, Browns 18
- Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears (+3.5): The Vikings are playing for playoff seeding and regrouping after getting trounced in Week 17. The Bears have eyes on the No. 1 overall pick and will not have Justin Fields at QB. Minnesota might not be playing well recently, but it’s unfathomable they blow a postseason tuneup against far and away the worst team in the NFC.
Vikings 30, Bears 8
- Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers (-13.5): San Francisco sews up the NFC’s No. 2 seed with a win. That’s the story, the prediction and the reality.
49ers 32, Cardinals 14
Playing Out The String
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons (-2.5): The Bucs are headed to the playoffs and need some momentum to keep rolling once they get there. But the injury risk with such an aged team is more important. The Falcons have been weirdly good at home this year.
Falcons 20, Buccaneers 16
- Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints (-3.5): Whole lot of players in Carolina with chances to prove themselves for the next Panthers head coach. The Saints have that to a lesser extent and I think that will show.
Panthers 27, Saints 20
- New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles (-13.5): This game does actually mean something for the Eagles. Philadelphia can wrap up the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a win. The Giants, destined for the No. 6 seed no matter what happens here, have already said they’re resting the regulars.
Eagles 39, Giants 14
- Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts (-2.5): Nothing would be more emblematic of the Texans turbulent season than for Houston to blow the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL draft by winning the finale in Indianapolis. It almost feels inevitable.
Texans 21, Colts 19
FCS Championship: South Dakota State 29, North Dakota State 21
CFP Championship: Georgia 37, TCU 33. The Frogs are worthy and their secondary will give them a chance to pull the upset against Georgia. So does standout WR Quinton Johnston, and QB Max Duggan has enough savvy to survive the mighty Bulldogs pass rush. Georgia is experienced and versatile enough to overcome TCU in what should be an exciting, worthy climax to the college season.
Georgia 34, TCU 28