Joe Flacco shakes hands with Ben Roethlisberger (Getty Images)
Jacksonville Jaguars at Buffalo Bills
Jaguars head coach Mike Mularkey spent two seasons (2004-05) as head coach of the Bills and will need to solve the riddle at the quarterback position to avoid a similar short stay in Jacksonville. Chad Henne has stepped in for the injured Blaine Gabbert to pass for 615 yards with six touchdowns and one interception in helping lead the Jaguars to an overtime loss against the AFC South-leading Houston Texans and defeating the Tennessee Titans last Sunday. Kudos to Bills head coach Chan Gailey for finally handing the starting running back job to C.J. Spiller.
Pick: Bills 23, Jaguars 20
Seattle Seahawks at Chicago Bears
With starting cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner facing four-game suspensions for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy, this is a must-win game for the 6-5 Seahawks. Fortunately, unless both players drop their appeals — which isn't going to happen — Sherman and Browner will play against a banged-up Bears team that has already ruled out wide receiver/return specialist Devin Hester and left guard Chris Spencer, a former Seahawks' first-round pick who was injured in his first start as a replacement for an ineffective Chilo Rachal at left guard. Matt Forte and Lance Briggs are banged up, too, which should help the Seahawks win in Soldier Field for a second consecutive season.
Pick: Seahawks 21, Bears 16
Indianapolis Colts at Detroit Lions
Since Chuck Pagano's leukemia diagnosis, the Colts are 6-2 and have a final five-week schedule that sets them up for a 10-win season, 11 if they can split with the Texans, who they'll play twice in the final three weeks of the regular season. At the start of the season, this game was likely circled as a "W" for the Lions, who at 4-7 are in last place in the NFC North and are among the league's bigger disappointments.
Pick: Colts 20, Lions 17
Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
Playing without Greg Jennings, Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson and a pair of first-round offensive tackles (Bryan Bulaga and Derek Sherrod) who were drafted to replace Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher was bound to catch up to the Packers. And it did so in a major way in last Sunday night's 38-10 loss to the Giants. Green Bay should rebound at home against a Vikings team that will likely be without it's most versatile offensive weapon, wide receiver Percy Harvin, who has been unable to practice due to a sprained left ankle.
Pick: Packers 31, Vikings 24
Carolina Panthers at Kansas City Chiefs
Give the Chiefs credit: They hung tough against the Broncos last Sunday, even leading the game in the second half for the first time in what has been an absolutely miserable season. Since the Chiefs ended the 2011 Packers' attempt at an undefeated season on Dec. 18, 2011, they are 0-7 in regular-season games at Arrowhead Stadium, including an 0-6 mark entering December. The franchise needs and will likely get a front office and coaching overhaul, but it'll upset the Panthers, who are heading back on the road after beating the Eagles in Philadelphia on Monday night.
Pick: Chiefs 23, Panthers 21
New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins
The last time the Patriots played in Miami, Tom Brady passed for 517 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-24 blowout win. The Dolphins are much improved under first-year head coach Joe Philbin, who has the team in the playoff race entering December despite playing a rookie quarterback who had less than 20 starts at the college level. The Patriots have won 11 straight games in the month of December and Bill Belichick is notoriously harsh on rookie quarterbacks.
Pick: Patriots 38, Dolphins 28
Arizona Cardinals at New York Jets
According to Football Outsiders, the Cardinals defense ranks third in defensive DVOA, while the Jets rank 13th. The reason the two teams are out of the playoff hunt in their respective conferences can be pinned on offenses that rank 28th (Jets) and 31st (Cardinals) in offensive DVOA. The quarterback position is an issue for both franchises, with New York's Mark Sanchez sandwiched between Arizona's main duo of John Skelton and Kevin Kolb in Football Outsiders' DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) metric. 2012 sixth-round pick Ryan Lindley appears to be on target to make a second consecutive start behind an offensive line with two rookie offensive tackles and a center, Rich Ohrnberger, making his third NFL start, but first at the center position.
Pick: Jets 12, Cardinals 9
San Francisco 49ers at St. Louis Rams
After Colin Kaepernick completed 32 of 48 pass attempts for 474 yards with three touchdowns, one interception with 37 yards and a touchdown on the ground in beating the Bears and Saints in back-to-back weeks, it was impossible for Jim Harbaugh to "do the right thing" and hand the starting job back to Alex Smith. As for Smith, his main "crime" was admitting to a concussion, but he's also not a freakishly athletic 6-foot-5, 233-pound quarterback with a rocket (and tattooed!) arm and full support of the locker room. The Rams should have beaten the 49ers on Nov. 11 and Jeff Fisher's defense will give Kaepernick and Co. all they candle on Sunday. Let's just hope these two teams can figure it out in under 75 minutes.
Pick: 49ers 27, Rams 21
Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans
Following their 24-19 loss to the lowly Jaguars, Titans head coach Mike Munchak fired offensive coordinator Chris Palmer and elevated 32-year-old quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains to the coordinator position and will pair him with consultant Tom Moore for the remainder of the season. That's probably not an ideal recipe when you're preparing for the 10-1 Texans, who are a perfect 8-0 within the AFC and are 5-0 on the road this season.
Pick: Texans 30, Titans 13
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Denver Broncos
Losing cornerback Eric Wright to a four-game PEDs suspension couldn't have come at a worse time for the Buccaneers, who are clinging to life in the NFC playoffs race and have to make the cross-country trip to Denver to face a Broncos a team that was held under 20 points for the first time this season in their 17-9 win over the Chiefs last Sunday. Peyton Manning remains a favorite to hoist the NFL Most Valuable Player and Comeback Player of the Year awards, but he's completed less than 60 percent of his passes — a rare occurrence for him this season — and has been sacked five times (nearly a third of his season total) over the last two games.
Pick: Broncos 24, Buccaneers 14
Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens
Sunday may not only be the last start of 37-year-old Charlie Batch's NFL career, he could be knocked down to "No. 3/inactive on Sunday" status as both Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich are likely to return on Dec. 9. While Roethlisberger's injury derailed whatever hopes the Steelers had of catching the Ravens for the AFC North crown, even at 6-6, the Steelers will be in the wild-card hunt for the final month of the season. The Ravens can clinch a playoff spot with a win and would clinch the AFC North with a win and a loss by the Bengals, who face the Chargers on Sunday. Wrapping up the AFC North early would help the Ravens focus on playoff positioning and getting Ray Lewis and Jimmy Smith healthy for January.
Pick: Ravens 24, Steelers 20
Cleveland Browns at Oakland Raiders
Browns first-round quarterback Brandon Weeden is coming off a concussion, but should play against the Raiders. Weeden has played well in his last two road starts, completing 45 of 76 attempts for 474 yards with four touchdowns and zero interceptions. Running back Trent Richardson may be the biggest beneficiary of facing the Raiders, however. The No. 3 overall pick in 2012 is averaging 101.8 yards per game over the last four weeks and will be going up against a defense that has allowed 150-plus yards on the ground in three of their last four games, including 221 yards to the Bengals last Sunday.
Pick: Browns 21, Raiders 17
Cincinnati Bengals at San Diego Chargers
The Bengals are red-hot entering December, winning three straight games by a combined score of 93-29. Quarterback Andy Dalton is 55 of 89 for 639 yards with nine touchdowns and zero interceptions over that stretch, while running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis is coming off back-to-back 100-yard games on the ground. That's not the sort of opponent the reeling Chargers needed to see in what may be the last month Norv Turner and A.J. Smith are employed by the Spanos family.
Pick: Bengals 28, Chargers 24
Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys
In the wake of their 30-22 loss to the Panthers on Monday night, the Eagles placed DeSean Jackson on injured reserve and released Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Babin. Rookie quarterback Nick Foles will make a third consecutive start for a concussed Michael Vick, while running back LeSean McCoy is still going through the concussion rehab process and is unlikely to play against the Cowboys. If that wasn't bad enough, the Eagles will be starting a new center (Evan Mathis slides over from left guard) on their patchwork offensive line. Things are no better on defense, which interim coordinator Todd Bowles said blew "high school Cover-3" plays in the loss to the Panthers.
Pick: Cowboys 34, Eagles 16
- American Football
- Sports & Recreation
- Jacksonville Jaguars
- Tennessee Titans
- Tennessee Titans
- Houston Texans
- Houston Texans
- Seattle Seahawks
- Brandon Browner
- Carolina Panthers