Week 17 is here, and in the past, that has meant the end of the NFL regular season, but this year we get one extra week of games before the postseason. There are a handful of games on the schedule this week with massive stakes in postseason implications. Still, many others are exceedingly tricky to handicap, with neither team having anything to play for. Nonetheless, I have a prediction for every game on the slate this week, and I’m looking forward to some of these high-profile matchups on deck. Keep an eye on the COVID-19 reports this week, as that continues to be a significant factor in these games.
My Week 16 record: 11-5 SU, 11-5 ATS, 12-3-1 O/U
My record overall: 151-88-1 SU, 141-98-1 ATS, 126-112-2 O/U
Sunday, January 2nd
Atlanta Falcons @ Buffalo Bills
Buffalo earned a crucial win over their division rival in the Patriots that puts them in control of their destiny to win the AFC East. The Bills will be heavy favorites in this game against the Falcons and the following week against the Jets, but they need to be careful of a letdown if they want to hang on and win the division. Josh Allen threw three touchdowns, and Stefon Diggs was on top of his game. Still, the most impressive aspect of their offensive performance was how Isaiah McKenzie stepped up with 11 catches for 125 yards and a touchdown in the absence of Cole Beasley and Emmanuel Sanders. The next-man-up mentality of this team will be important moving forward, especially on defense where they limited Mac Jones to perhaps the worst performance of his rookie season despite being without All-Pro cornerback Tre’Davious White. Atlanta nearly suffered a last-second letdown loss to the Lions, but they hung on for a narrow win over a shorthanded, poor roster. Nonetheless, according to FiveThirtyEight, the Falcons have just a 2% chance of making the playoffs, and a loss here will put them out of the running for the postseason.
Atlanta Falcons: WR Tajae Sharpe (foot) Q
Buffalo Bills: DT Star Lotulelei, OG Ike Boettger (Achilles) O
Atlanta Falcons: DT Tyeler Davison, DE Marlon Davidson
Buffalo Bills: DE A.J. Epenesa, OG Jon Feliciano, OG Cody Ford, WR Gabriel Davis, WR Cole Beasley
Matchup To Watch: Stefon Diggs (BUF WR) vs. A.J. Terrell (ATL CB)
My Prediction: Bills win 34-17, Bills cover, over 44.5 points
New York Giants @ Chicago Bears
The Bears have been eliminated from the postseason, but that didn’t stop them from handing the Seahawks a loss that eliminated them from the playoffs as well. At the time I’m writing this, it remains to be seen whether or not Justin Fields will be ready to go for this game, but Nick Foles was frankly excellent on the road against a solid Seattle defense. His performance included the game-winning touchdown and subsequent two-point conversion with just over a minute remaining in the game. David Montgomery’s 2.1 yards per carry won’t steal any headlines, but any time I watch the Bears play, I’m impressed with his ability to keep his feet moving and create plays out of nothing. For the Giants, Daniel Jones’s season is over, but his time in New York isn’t as an ESPN report suggests the team plans to bring him and head coach Joe Judge back next season. Chicago head coach Matt Nagy likely won’t be as lucky as the team had discussed firing him on Monday before the last-second win last week. Handicapping these games between two bad teams this late in the season is always tricky, but I’ll bet on the Bears’ defense coming through with some timely turnovers against Mike Glennon and Jake Fromm in a likely frigid Soldier Field.
New York Giants: OG Ben Bredeson (ankle) Q, WR Collin Johnson (hamstring) Q
Chicago Bears: OT Jason Peters (ankle) Q, OT Teven Jenkins (shoulder) Q, QB Justin Fields (ankle) Q, QB Andy Dalton (hand) Q, CB Teez Tabor (ankle) Q
New York Giants: OT Nate Solder, CB Adoree’ Jackson, WR John Ross, DT Danny Shelton
Chicago Bears: CB Jaylon Johnson, WR Allen Robinson, S Tashaun Gipson, DE Akiem Hicks
Matchup To Watch: Andrew Thomas (NYG OT) vs. Robert Quinn (CHI DE)
My Prediction: Bears win 19-13, Bears cover, under 38 points
Kansas City Chiefs @ Cincinnati Bengals
Week 17 features some excellent matchups between playoff contenders with high stakes, but this one may take the cake in terms of anticipation. Kansas City clinched the AFC West last week, and they can take the #1 seed in the AFC if they win out. Cincinnati can clinch the AFC North with a win this week but don’t have a guaranteed spot in the playoffs if they lose out, given how much parity there is in the AFC North and the entire conference this season. Joe Burrow is coming off a historic game in which he threw for 525 yards, the fourth-most in a game in NFL history, and added four touchdowns for good measure. Tee Higgins, Ja’Marr Chase, and Tyler Boyd had massive receiving performances. Burrow won’t find things nearly as easy this week, however, against the Chiefs, who have evolved into one of the best pass defenses in the NFL in recent weeks. Cincinnati ranks fourth in the NFL with 41 sacks, but the pass-rush talent of Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard will be put to the test against one of the best offensive lines in football. Chidobe Awuzie has transformed Cincinnati’s secondary, and the likes of Jessie Bates, Vonn Bell, and Logan Wilson give Kansas City plenty of options to throw at Travis Kelce. This game arrives as the biggest test of the season for Cincinnati. Can they slow down the Chiefs’ eight-game win streak, the longest active streak in the NFL, and assert themselves as Super Bowl contenders this season? I’m backing Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs to get the integral win, but the Bengals are ready for the limelight, and I’d be betting on them to cover anything more significant than a 3-point spread.
Kansas City Chiefs: TE Travis Kelce (undisclosed) Q, LB Nick Bolton (undisclosed) Q, OT Lucas Niang (undisclosed) Q, RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire (shoulder) Q, S Tyrann Mathieu (quadriceps) Q
Cincinnati Bengals: LB Logan Wilson (shoulder) Q, DE Cameron Sample (hamstring) Q
Kansas City Chiefs: OT Mike Remmers, OG Kyle Long, K Harrison Butker, CB Rashad Fenton
Cincinnati Bengals: DT D.J. Reader
Matchup To Watch: Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins (CIN WRs) vs. Mike Hughes and Charvarius Ward (KC CBs)
My Prediction: Chiefs win 27-24, Bengals cover, over 49 points
Miami Dolphins @ Tennessee Titans
The Dolphins are on the verge of making NFL history as the first team to ever make the playoffs after starting 1-7 as they have now ripped off seven straight wins. Miami’s defense has elevated into one of the best in the NFL, as they were expected to be under Brian Flores, and they’re going to pose problems in the postseason if they do get there. Xavien Howard and Byron Jones are playing excellent football at the cornerback spots after slow starts to the year while Christian Wilkins and Emmanuel Ogbah have headlined an ascendant front seven. Perhaps most impressive has been the contribution of the rookies for Miami as Jevon Holland has been one of the best safeties in the NFL and Jaelan Phillips leads the team with nine sacks. Of course, Jaylen Waddle is the big story as he’s on the verge of breaking the record for the most catches by a rookie – he needs just six more receptions to surpass Anquan Boldin’s record. Tennessee’s offense has been a rollercoaster this season between injuries and COVID-19 cases, and at this point, it’s difficult to know which players will be active this week. If the Titans are without a handful of offensive line starters again this week, Ryan Tannehill will be in trouble, especially against a secondary that can better handle the team’s receivers downfield than San Francisco did last week. Tennessee’s pass rush will likely do enough to bother Tua in this game, but Miami has the better defense and I’m picking them to continue their torrid stretch in search of a playoff berth.
Tennessee Titans: LB David Long (hamstring) Q
Miami Dolphins: CB Justin Coleman, TE Cethan Carter, LB Duke Riley, OG Solomon Kindley, RB Lynn Bowden, WR Albert Wilson
Tennessee Titans: WR Julio Jones, OLB Bud Dupree, CB Caleb Farley, CB Buster Skrine, WR Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, OG Nate Davis, OT Taylor Lewan, OT Kendall Lamm
Matchup To Watch: A.J. Brown (TEN WR) vs. Xavien Howard (MIA CB)
My Prediction: Dolphins win 23-20, Dolphins cover, over 41 points
Las Vegas Raiders @ Indianapolis Colts
Despite being without four offensive line starters and their top defensive player in Darius Leonard, the shorthanded Colts earned an impressive win over the Cardinals. Carson Wentz finished with 225 passing yards and two touchdowns to no interceptions against a defense that entered the game ranked fourth in the league in pass-defense DVOA. This season’s consistent success has been an underrated aspect of the Colts’ ascension into a legitimate Super Bowl threat. Of course, Jonathan Taylor is the biggest reason for that growth, and he should be a massive problem for a Raiders’ run defense that has struggled this year. Derek Carr struggled last week against a top-end Denver pass defense, but Josh Jacobs picked up the slack with 27 carries for 129 yards in his most productive game of the season. Indianapolis could take a similar approach in this matchup as Denver’s game plan of limiting Carr and forcing the Raiders to win on the ground was successful for the most part. Of course, that approach would be suicide for the Raiders against Taylor and the Colts, but their defense will likely be outmatched no matter what in this matchup. Casey Hayward Jr. can likely limit Michael Pittman Jr. somewhat, but the Colts will hope to get Jack Doyle and Zach Pascal back this week to round out their solid pass-catching corps.
Las Vegas Raiders: TE Darren Waller (knee) Q, DT Johnathan Hankins (back) Q
Indianapolis Colts: OT Eric Fisher (knee) Q, C Ryan Kelly (personal) Q, TE Jack Doyle (ankle) Q, S Andrew Sendejo (concussion) Q,
Las Vegas Raiders: WR Bryan Edwards, CB Brandon Facyson, QB Marcus Mariota
Indianapolis Colts: OG Quenton Nelson, OG Mark Glowinski, S Khari Willis, CB Rock Ya-Sin, LB Darius Leonard, DE Kemoko Turay, WR Zach Pascal
Matchup To Watch: Michael Pittman Jr. (IND WR) vs. Casey Hayward Jr. (LV CB)
My Prediction: Colts win 26-20, Raiders cover, under 48 points
Jacksonville Jaguars @ New England Patriots
At least Trevor Lawrence didn’t throw an interception! However, that may be where the end of the positive takeaways, as the rookie quarterback turned in another poor performance against a poor Jets’ defense and failed to convert a goal-line game-winning opportunity. The Patriots are outstanding against rookie quarterbacks under Bill Belichick, and they’ve certainly had more demanding challenges over time than Lawrence. The latter has one touchdown pass in his last eight games. The Patriots’ rookie quarterback Mac Jones struggled mightily against the Bills last week as he completed just 43% of his passes and threw two interceptions to no touchdowns. You got an idea of why the New England game plan called for him to attempt just three passes against the Bills a couple of weeks ago. Damien Harris had an excellent three-touchdown performance, but the offense’s one-dimensional approach didn’t work as Josh Allen was able to lead the Bills to a stellar scoring performance. The Patriots have questions about whether or not Mac Jones can trade blows with top teams in the playoffs, but that won’t need to be answered this week. The real question here is how badly the Patriots want to rub it in, and judging by their 54-13 win over the Jets following a loss earlier this year, I’m betting on them pouring it on.
Jacksonville Jaguars: RB James Robinson (Achilles) O
New England Patriots: WR Nelson Agholor (concussion) Q
Jacksonville Jaguars: WR Laviska Shenault Jr., LB Myles Jack, LB Josh Allen
New England Patriots: DE Deatrich Wise, RB Rhamondre Stevenson
Matchup To Watch: Isaiah Wynn (NE OT) vs. Josh Allen (JAX DE)
My Prediction: Patriots win 37-10, Patriots cover, over 42.5 points
Carolina Panthers @ New Orleans Saints
The last time the Saints and Panthers met, Carolina won 26-7 on its way to a 3-0 start to the season. Since that start, they have gone completely downhill and have won just two of their last twelve games. Matt Rhule will likely get another year to turn things around, but it has to start with finding a solution at the quarterback position as Sam Darnold, Cam Newton, and P.J. Walker have all taken turns being terrible. The Saints should get Taysom Hill back this week to end the nightmare that was the Ian Book experiment, and it’s clear that the Notre Dame prospect is not a long-term starter in this league. Nonetheless, New Orleans won’t need much from their quarterback to win this game. Cameron Jordan, Marcus Davenport, and David Onyemata are going to overwhelm a pitiful Carolina offensive line while forcing turnovers in the secondary. Pete Werner continues to impress as a rookie and the likely return of Demario Davis and Kwon Alexander from the COVID-19 list will shore up the front seven. Carolina’s run game will be non-existent in this game, and if you trust Darnold or Newton to complete passes downfield under fire from the Saints’ pass rush you’re braver than I am. The real question to me is how much the New Orleans offense accomplishes as they haven’t been outstanding this year, but I’m betting on it being enough to cover the seven-point spread at home.
Carolina Panthers: OT Cameron Erving (calf) Q, CB Stephon Gilmore (groin) Q
New Orleans Saints: OT Terron Armstead (knee) Q, WR Tre’Quan Smith (chest) Q
Carolina Panthers: DE Brian Burns, LB Shaq Thompson, C Matt Paradis, OG Pat Elflein, CB Rashaan Melvin
New Orleans Saints: S Malcolm Jenkins, QB Taysom Hill, QB Trevor Siemian, OT Ryan Ramczyk, TE Juwan Johnson, TE Adam Trautman, LB Demario Davis, LB Kwon Alexander
Matchup To Watch: Taylor Moton (CAR OT) vs. Cameron Jordan (NO DE)
My Prediction: Saints win 23-13, Saints cover, under 40 points
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New York Jets
Apparently, there were people who bet on the Panthers’ disgusting amalgamation of Cam Newton and Sam Darnold doing enough to earn a Carolina cover last week, which was silly in hindsight. Don’t make the same mistake this week. Zach Wilson was held to 102 passing yards last week against the Jaguars, and while he didn’t throw an interception for the third straight week, he’s a mistake-prone rookie who likely won’t be as fortunate against Tampa’s defense that held both Newton and Darnold under a QBR of 20 last week. Don’t forget; the Jets are still missing their top two wide receivers in Corey Davis and rookie Elijah Moore. The Bucs were without their top two receivers in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin last week and running back Leonard Fournette, but they used a next-man-up mentality on offense. Ronald Jones and Ke’Shawn Vaughn were excellent on the ground, and Antonio Brown was masterful in his return with ten catches for 101 yards. The Bucs should have Mike Evans back this week, but this offense has enough depth to overwhelm the Jets with Tom Brady leading the charge, even if they don’t. Brady has often embarrassed the Jets throughout his career, which may be his last opportunity to do so – he won’t miss that chance.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: WR Mike Evans, S Antoine Winfield Jr. (foot) Q, LB Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder) Q, LB Shaquil Barrett (knee – ACL + MCL) O
New York Jets: WR Jamison Crowder (calf) Q
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: WR Breshad Perriman, DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches, WR Jaelon Darden
New York Jets: OG Alijah Vera-Tucker, DT Quinnen Williams, DE John Franklin-Myers, S Ashtyn Davis, OG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif
Matchup To Watch: Alijah Vera-Tucker (NYJ OG) vs. Vita Vea (TB DT)
My Prediction: Buccaneers win 31-10, Buccaneers cover, under 46 points
Philadelphia Eagles @ Washington Football Team
Things got ugly for Washington on Sunday as their slew of injuries this season finally caught up to them in a complete dismantling on national television. The Cowboys held a 42-7 halftime lead before taking their foot off the gas in the second half, but Washington was embarrassed in all three phases of the game. Taylor Heinecke struggled mightily as he was sacked four times and threw two interceptions while Terry McLaurin and Antonio Gibson struggled to impact the game. The Eagles’ win over the Giants wasn’t quite as dominant, but Philadelphia’s 34-10 win was decisive and reaffirmed that this should be a playoff team in a crowded NFC. Although his rushing impact was somewhat limited, Jalen Hurts played an efficient game. The Eagles’ defense picked off Mike Glennon and Jake Fromm once each and returned for a touchdown. The Eagles control their destiny in their hopes of a playoff berth and can make the postseason if they win out. Washington held a 10-0 first-quarter lead over the Eagles just a couple of weeks ago before falling apart down the stretch, but I don’t trust their offense to produce enough against a solid Eagles’ defense. With Jalen Hurts increasingly healthy and a dominant run game to boot, this should be another decisive Philly win.
Philadelphia Eagles: RB Jordan Howard (neck) Q, RB Miles Sanders (hand) O
Washington Football Team: CB William Jackson (ankle) Q, LB Jamin Davis (illness) Q, WR Curtis Samuel (hamstring) Q
Philadelphia Eagles: DE Ryan Kerrigan, OT Andre Dillard
Washington Football Team: DE Nate Orchard
Matchup To Watch: Terry McLaurin (WAS WR) vs. Darius Slay (PHI CB)
My Prediction: Eagles win 24-17, Eagles cover, under 43.5 points
Denver Broncos @ Los Angeles Chargers
The Broncos employed an intelligent strategy in limiting the amount that Drew Lock was asked to do while forcing the Raiders to run their offense on the ground rather than through Derek Carr in the air, but it wasn’t enough to get the win. According to FiveThirtyEight, Denver hasn’t technically been eliminated from the playoffs, but they have a less than 0.1% chance. Of course, they need to win this game to keep those dreams alive, and it will be interesting to see how the Chargers adjust now that they know what the Broncos’ approach was in the last meeting. Justin Herbert had one of his worst games of the season in that game, and you have to wonder if the Chargers were looking ahead to this matchup in their loss to the Texans. In their last meeting, Denver’s talented running back duo of Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams took advantage of the Chargers’ weak run defense. They led the Broncos to 147 rushing yards as a team, and Denver’s excellent secondary forced two Herbert interceptions. Teddy Bridgewater wasn’t asked to do a ton in that game as he ended with only 129 passing yards, but it would be better if he were active this week as the team can trust him not to turn the ball over at inopportune times. This is essentially a playoff game for the Chargers, and I’ll take them to get the win as they have the better quarterback and coach, and they should have plenty of time to devise a better game plan than they had in the first meeting.
Denver Broncos: QB Teddy Bridgewater (concussion) Q, LB Kenny Young (concussion) Q
Los Angeles Chargers: S Derwin James (hamstring) Q, LB Drue Tranquill (leg) Q
Denver Broncos: C Lloyd Cushenberry
Los Angeles Chargers: QB Chase Daniel, CB Michael Davis, WR Jalen Guyton, C Corey Linsley, WR Mike Williams, RB Austin Ekeler, DE Joey Bosa
Matchup To Watch: Mike Williams (LAC WR) vs. Patrick Surtain II (DEN CB)
My Prediction: Chargers win 20-17, Broncos cover, under 45.5 points
Houston Texans @ San Francisco 49ers
Houston has made a habit of ruining the best-laid plans for quality opponents this season, and their win over the Chargers on Sunday might just keep Los Angeles out of the playoffs. Davis Mills deserves a ton of credit for the way he has progressed this season, and you can make the case quite easily that he has been the most impressive of the rookie quarterbacks. Mills completed 21 of 27 passes (77.8%) for 254 yards and two touchdowns against the Chargers last week, finishing with a stellar passer rating of 130.6. He significantly outplayed Justin Herbert on the day despite working with a skeleton crew of pass-catchers with Brandin Cooks sidelined with COVID-19. The 49ers have to be careful not to overlook Mills and the Texans, especially with a much stricter rematch with the Rams on the horizon in Week 18. Jimmy Garoppolo fell apart on Thursday as the Titans came back from a 10-0 halftime deficit to earn the big win. Garoppolo’s two interceptions and notable miss of Kyle Juszcyzk open downfield were the memorable moments from that game, and he has to play better moving forward. Deebo Samuel and George Kittle will give this overmatched Houston defense fits, but the Niners have struggled at home this season, and I like Mills to keep this game surprisingly close.
Houston Texans: CB Terrance Mitchell (undisclosed) Q, RB David Johnson (quadriceps) Q, WR Danny Amendola (knee) Q
San Francisco 49ers: RB Elijah Mitchell (knee) Q, DT Maurice Hurst (calf) Q, LB Dre Greenlaw (groin) Q, LB Azeez Al-Shaair (knee) Q
Houston Texans: WR Brandin Cooks, DE Jonathan Greenard, OG Tytus Howard, C Justin Britt, DE Derek Rivers, S Lonnie Johnson, CB A.J. Moore, OG Lane Taylor, LB Kamu Grugier-Hill, DE Jordan Jenkins, S Eric Murray, WR Phillip Dorsett, K Ka’imi Fairbairn, LB Eric Wilson, S Jaleel Johnson
San Francisco 49ers:
Matchup To Watch: George Kittle (SF TE) vs. Justin Reid (HOU S)
My Prediction: 49ers win 27-20, Texans cover, over 45 points
Arizona Cardinals @ Dallas Cowboys
Once the hottest team in the NFL, the Cardinals have suddenly lost three straight games and are reeling heading into this critical NFC showdown. The Rams are now in the driver’s seat in the NFC West and can clinch the division if they win out. Dallas, meanwhile, has clinched the NFC East title but can play their way into the #1 seed in the conference if they win out and the Packers lose one of their final two games. It might be lost in the shuffle of the most dominant win of the season, but the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott played his best game in weeks against Washington. Prescott had been in a slump of sorts, but he picked apart the Washington defense with 330 passing yards, four touchdowns, and a 131.4 passer rating. He would have been suitable for even more production had Dallas not taken their foot off the gas in the second half. Kyler Murray, meanwhile, is currently in a slump of his own as he has thrown just two touchdowns to three interceptions over his last three games. Teams are figuring out the defensive blueprint to beating the Cardinals, and Murray’s staggering career splits with and without DeAndre Hopkins continues to be a problem. Dallas’s defense wreaks havoc and should be capable of making Murray’s life quite difficult with the likes of Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Randy Gregory encroaching on the pocket. Arizona’s run defense has had its fair share of problems this year, and Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard are the healthiest they’ve been all season. The Cardinals’ secondary was also exposed last week by Carson Wentz, and Prescott should expose their weak cornerback pairing. I try not to overrate momentum and recency bias, but these teams are trending in opposite directions, and it’s hard to bet on that changing this week.
Arizona Cardinals: RB James Conner (heel) Q, WR Rondale Moore (ankle) Q, DT Jordan Phillips (knee) Q, CB Marco Wilson (shoulder) Q
Dallas Cowboys: OT Tyron Smith (ankle) Q
Arizona Cardinals: P Andy Lee
Dallas Cowboys: CB Jourdan Lewis, S Malik Hooker
Matchup To Watch: Tyron Smith (DAL OT) vs. Chandler Parsons (ARI OLB)
My Prediction: Cowboys win 30-24, Cowboys cover, over 50 points
Detroit Lions @ Seattle Seahawks
The resolve that the Lions have shown this season has been incredibly impressive. They didn’t have a very talented roster, to begin with, but some of their best players have missed extensive time this season, and head coach Dan Campbell has them ready to compete every week. Tim Boyle almost led them to a last-second win over the Falcons last week, and you can’t count Detroit out of any game they are playing in. Meanwhile, the Seahawks struggled to put up a fight against the Bears last week, and they allowed Nick Foles to march down the field and win the game on a last-minute touchdown and subsequent two-point conversion. There’s a certain air of inevitability surrounding this current Seattle regime, and it would hardly be shocking if this is the last season for both Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson with the team. The Seahawks were eliminated from the playoffs with their loss to the Bears, but the team hasn’t looked like a playoff squad since before Wilson’s injury. Jared Goff should be back for Detroit this week, and D’Andre Swift has a chance to play as well, but Amon-Ra St. Brown has been the big story. The rookie wideout has 8+ catches in four straight games and three touchdowns over that span, and he looks like a vital piece of this team’s offensive core moving forward.
Detroit Lions: RB D’Andre Swift (shoulder – AC joint) Q, WR Josh Reynolds (illness) Q, LB Julian Okwara (ankle) Q
Detroit Lions: QB Jared Goff, WR Quintez Cephus, WR Trinity Benson
Seattle Seahawks: DE L.J. Collier, OT Brandon Shell, DT Bryan Mone, TE Will Dissly, CB D.J. Reed, CB Blessaun Austin
Matchup To Watch: Amon-Ra St. Brown (DET WR) vs. Ugo Amadi (SEA SCB)
My Prediction: Seahawks win 24-21, Lions cover, over 42 points
Los Angeles Rams @ Baltimore Ravens
The Rams are in control of their destiny in the NFC West after a win over the Vikings and a Cardinals’ loss to the Colts, and it has to feel good for this team after they lost three straight games in November to see Arizona have a three-game losing streak of their own. Matthew Stafford didn’t play particularly well against the Vikings – he had three interceptions and finished with a passer rating of 46.8. However, the Rams sacked Kirk Cousins three times and picked him off once while Brandon Powell ran a punt back 61 yards for a touchdown. Sony Michel, meanwhile, maintained his standing as the team’s lead back with another outstanding performance of 27 carries for 131 yards and a touchdown. Darrell Henderson Jr. was placed on Injured Reserve on Monday, but it does sound like Cam Akers could make a miraculous return as soon as this week. The Ravens won’t be as lucky with their injured players, and no team has been more affected by injuries this season. Baltimore can still make the playoffs and even win the division if they win out, but it will be difficult for them to overcome a Rams team that is rolling right now. Cooper Kupp, Odell Beckham Jr., and Van Jefferson are going to expose a Baltimore secondary that Joe Burrow lit on fire last week, and to make matters worse, the Rams’ ferocious pass rush will inevitably lead to turnovers for the Ravens no matter who is under center for them this week.
Los Angeles Rams: C Brian Allen (knee) Q, LB Ernest Jones (ankle) Q, RB Darrell Henderson Jr. (knee) IR
Baltimore Ravens: QB Lamar Jackson (ankle) Q, OG Ben Powers (foot) Q, CB Anthony Averett (ribs) Q, OT Tyre Phillips (knee) Q, WR Devin Duvernay (ankle) Q, FB Patrick Ricard (knee) Q
Los Angeles Rams: OT Andrew Whitworth, OT Joseph Noteboom
Baltimore Ravens: OLB Justin Houston, QB Tyler Huntley
Matchup To Watch: Bradley Bozeman (BAL C) vs. Aaron Donald (LAR DT)
My Prediction: Rams win 27-20, Rams cover, over 45.5 points
Minnesota Vikings @ Green Bay Packers
When this game kicks off, the Packers will know precisely where they stand in the NFC. They have already clinched the NFC North title, but a win here could mean the first-round bye gets locked up – if the Cardinals beat the Cowboys earlier in the day, that is. Justin Jefferson just broke the record for the most receiving yards by a player in his first two seasons. Still, his postgame comments stole the headlines as he was critical about his team’s lack of aggression, particularly in the red zone. The Vikings failed to score in the first half last week against the Rams outside of a field goal set up by an Anthony Barr interception that landed Minnesota in the red zone. Vikings’ fans have been loud about their distaste for Mike Zimmer and his predictable play-calling, and plenty will be calling for his head should the Vikings miss the playoffs. The Packers arguably should have lost last week as they only won by 2 points despite four Baker Mayfield interceptions. Their inability to put the game away the past two weeks against two inferior quarterbacks is a lousy sign moving forward. Kirk Cousins led the Vikings to a win in these teams’ first matchup, and I’m expecting a similarly high-scoring game to that 34-31 shootout. However, Green Bay will be hungry for revenge this week, and their run game makes the difference this time against a Minnesota front seven missing several key pieces. Aaron Jones missed the first matchup, and he and A.J. Dillon are going to prove too much to handle for a Vikings’ run defense that has struggled lately. I have the Cowboys winning this week, so the Packers may need to wait another week to clinch the first-round bye, but they won’t pass up the opportunity to get revenge over their division rival.
Minnesota Vikings: WR Adam Thielen (ankle) Q
Green Bay Packers: OT David Bakhtiari (knee – ACL) Q, OT Billy Turner (knee) Q
Minnesota Vikings: RB Dalvin Cook, OT Rashod Hill, QB Sean Mannion
Green Bay Packers: WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling, CB Kevin King, WR Amari Rodgers
Matchup To Watch: Justin Jefferson (MIN WR) vs. Rasul Douglas (GB CB)
My Prediction: Packers win 30-24, Vikings cover, over 48 points
Monday, January 3rd
Cleveland Browns @ Pittsburgh Steelers
As someone who bet on the Packers to cover last week, I felt that the Browns really should have won that game, and they likely would have if not for four Baker Mayfield interceptions. This season, the quarterback play has been the most considerable inconsistency for this team, but it wasn’t an issue the first time these teams played on Halloween as he did not turn the ball over. Pittsburgh is coming off its worst loss of the year, a 36-10 molly whopping at the hands of the Chiefs that could have been a much more significant margin if the Chiefs had decided to pour it on. Ben Roethlisberger is ready for retirement, and it’s sort of sad to see the once-great quarterback struggle the way he has. It won’t get any easier against a now-healthy Cleveland defense, especially with how Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney should overwhelm one of the worst offensive lines in the league. Pittsburgh’s run defense has taken several steps back in recent weeks, and they now rank last in the NFL with 142.7 rushing yards allowed per game. Nick Chubb and D’Ernest Johnson will take advantage, but Kareem Hunt could be back this week to make things even more difficult for Pittsburgh on the ground. Perhaps the Browns are only favored by three because of Baker Mayfield’s erratic play, or maybe it’s because this game takes place at Heinz Field. Whatever the case may be, the books are giving Pittsburgh far too much credit, and Cleveland is the much better team in the trenches on both sides of the field.
Cleveland Browns: RB Kareem Hunt (ankle) Q, CB Troy Hill (knee) Q, S John Johnson (hamstring) Q, S Ronnie Harrison (ankle) Q
Pittsburgh Steelers: TE Pat Freiermuth (concussion) Q
Cleveland Browns: C J.C. Tretter, CB Greg Newsome II, DT Jordan Elliott, K Chase McLaughlin
Pittsburgh Steelers: LB Devin Bush, RB Anthony McFarland, OT Zach Banner
Matchup To Watch: Dan Moore Jr. (PIT OT) vs. Myles Garrett (CLE DE)
My Prediction: Browns win 23-13, Browns cover, under 41.5 points