Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
After missing last Monday night's 32-7 loss the San Francisco 49ers, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler could return from his concussion this week. If Cutler does return, he'll be protected by an offensive line that replaced two starters this week. Left guard Chilo Rachal left the team after he learned he was being replaced by Chris Spencer and the Bears have also decided to bench right tackle Gabe Carimi, the team's first round pick in 2011 who has struggled in his first full season in the NFL. Journeyman Jonathan Scott will start at right tackle. Good luck with that, Jay (or Jason Campbell...or Josh McCown).
Pick: Vikings 20, Bears 17
Oakland Raiders at Cincinnati Bengals
Following a four-game losing streak, the Bengals have reeled off back-to-back wins to pull even at 5-5 on the season. The Bengals are currently in the middle of an easy five-game stretch that began with a road game against the Chiefs and continues this week against the Raiders before a trio of games against the league's biggest underachievers — at the Chargers, home against the Cowboys, at the Eagles. Seeing the Bengals at 9-5 entering the final two weeks of the season would not be a major surprise, and getting there will take more 100+ yard efforts from BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who topped the century mark for the first time as a Bengal in last Sunday's 28-6 win against the Chiefs.
Pick: Bengals 27, Raiders 16
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns
The Steelers are down to 37-year-old Charlie Batch and newly-signed Brian Hoyer at quarterback and are so banged up at the wide receiver position, they went out and signed Plaxico Burress on Tuesday. Despite the turmoil in the passing game, the Steelers are averaging 138.8 yards per game on the ground over the last five weeks. With Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer healthy, the Steelers could ride their rushing attack and defense to remain in the AFC Playoff race.
Pick: Steelers 23, Browns 16
Buffalo Bills at Indianapolis Colts
Through his first five games at Lucas Oil Stadium, Andrew Luck is completing 56.9 percent of 209 pass attempts for 1,518 yards with eight touchdowns and two interceptions. The Colts are 4-1 in those games, but should be 5-0 as the lone loss came when the secondary allowed Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert and wide receiver Cecil Shorts hook up for an 80-yard touchdown pass with less than 45 seconds remaining in the game. Both teams rank near (Bills) or at (Colts) the bottom in Football Outsiders' defensive DVOA, and are the two worst teams defending the run, so expect a high-scoring affair.
Pick: Colts 34, Bills 31
Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguars
Titans running back Chris Johnson wonders if he's going to be back with the team next season as $9 million of $10 million base salary in 2013 will become fully guaranteed if he remains on the roster on the fifth day of the 2013 waiver period, which begins on the day after Super Bowl XLVII. The Titans are nearly three months away from having to make that decision, though, and may be benefiting from a player trying to earn that money. Over his last five games, Johnson is averaging 6.7 yards per carry, 130.4 yards per game and has scored all four of his rushing touchdowns on the season. The Titans are 3-2 over that stretch and have an outside shot of rejoining the AFC Playoff race as half of their remaining games against the Jaguars and Jets.
Pick: Titans 31, Jaguars 10
[Related: Jacksonville WR Justin Blackmon breaks out]
Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs rank dead last in scoring offense and are 28th in scoring defense this season, so it's not surprising that they also rank last in point differential per game, scoring 13.2 points less than their opponents. The Broncos are fourth in point differential, outscoring their opponents by an average of 8.9 points per game and have scored 30+ points in all seven of their wins this season. This one has the potential to get real ugly, real quick, as the Chiefs appear headed towards solidifying the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. That last two No. 1 overall picks — Cam Newton and Andrew Luck — visit Arrowhead Stadium in December.
Pick: Broncos 38, Chiefs 6
Seattle Seahawks at Miami Dolphins
With the Seahawks coming off a bye and having to make the verrrrry looooong trek to Miami, the Dolphins could pull off an upset if they get off to a fast start on Sunday. All eight of Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson's interceptions have come on the road this season, but Miami's secondary isn't exactly known for creating takeaways. The Dolphins have just one interception in the last five weeks and haven't picked off an opposing quarterback at home since Sept. 23.
Pick: Seahawks 23, Dolphins 16
Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Falcons may be without linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (ankle/illness), defensive tackles Peria Jerry (shoulder) and Vance Walker (ribs), cornerback Asante Samuel (shoulder) and wide receiver Julio Jones (ankle) on Sunday, which will make it very difficult to go on the road and upset the red-hot Buccaneers. The continued absence of Weatherspoon hurts the Falcons' chances of stopping Buccaneers first round running back Doug Martin, who leads the NFL in yards from scrimmage (1,319) and has 1,019 yards from scrimmage in the last six games.
Pick: Buccaneers 27, Falcons 23
Baltimore Ravens at San Diego Chargers
In March, Chargers GM A.J.Smith spent $16 million on former Ravens players and it's hard to argue that he hit with either of them. First, he re-signed left tackle Jared Gaither to a four-year, $24 million contract that included $9 million in cash compensation in 2012. The oft-injured Gaither missed training camp and the first month of the regular season with back spasms before returning to the lineup in late September. Gaither started four games, but reinjured his groin and was placed on injured reserve on Friday. Overall, Gaither played in 243 offensive snaps this season, earning $37,037 for play.
The second former Ravens player that Smith went after was 30-year-old outside linebacker Jarret Johnson, who signed a four-year, $19 million contract that included $7 million in 2012 compensation. Johnson has started nine of 10 games, but has just 26 tackles, one sack and hasn't played in more than 40 snaps in a game since the season-opener. Mixed with the whiffs on free agent wide receivers Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal, and the decision not to pay Vincent Jackson, Darren Sproles or Mike Tolbert, how does Smith continue as Chargers' GM beyond this season?
Pick: Ravens 27, Chargers 16
St. Louis Rams at Arizona Cardinals
The Rams defeated the Cardinals 17-3 on Oct. 4, ending Arizona's four-game winning streak to start the 2012 regular season while St. Louis went over the .500 mark for the first time since 2006. In the 49 days since, the Rams and Cardinals are a combined 0-9-1 and both are officially playing for the 2013 season. The Cardinals will start 2012 sixth round pick Ryan Lindley at quarterback, which should help Jeff Fisher's defense get the taste of being beat by Mark Sanchez and the Jets out of its mouth.
Pick: Rams 16, Cardinals 13
San Francisco 49ers at New Orleans Saints
We applaud Jim Harbaugh's gutsy decision to start Colin Kaepernick over a healthy Alex Smith as most NFL head coaches wouldn't have been so bold about swapping quarterbacks at this juncture of the season. Particularly when the incumbent, in this case Smith, hadn't done anything to justify being relegated to backup duty other than suffering a concussion that opened the door for a brilliant performance against an elite defense by the challenger (Kaepernick) in prime time. As impressive as Kaepernick was in Monday night's 32-7 win over the Bears, Sunday's game against the Saints will be the first road start of his career. The Superdome should be loud, too, as it was the 49ers that ended the Saints' 2011 season in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Pick: Saints 31, 49ers 28
Green Bay Packers at New York Giants
Green Bay has won six of the last seven regular season meetings with the Giants, including a 38-35 win at MetLife Stadium on Dec. 4, 2011. In fact, the Giants haven't beaten the Packers at home since 1992. However, the Giants have won the last two playoff games against the Packers, with both wins coming in Lambeau Field. The Giants come out of their bye week with a 6-4 record thanks to a current two-game losing streak that can be largely attributed to an offense that hasn't score more than one touchdown in each of their last three games. That trend could change as the Packers will be without Clay Matthews (hamstring), Sam Shields (ankle) and Charles Woodson (collarbone) on Sunday night, but as they did in 2010, Green Bay has managed to thrive despite injuries this season.
Pick: Packers 24, Giants 20
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