Atlanta (-3.5) @ Detroit, Saturday 8:30 p.m.
Comments: The Falcons and Lions couldn't be coming off more dramatically different games. Atlanta took all their doubters' knocks and crammed them down those many disbelieving mouths in a statement butt whooping of the Giants. Even with a gimpy Roddy White serving as nothing more than a decoy, Matt Ryan had a near-flawless performance, getting whatever he wanted en route to a surgically-efficient 23-of-28 passing for 270 yards and three TD's. Julio Jones was a major benefactor of White's ineffectiveness and that is likely to remain the case versus a Detroit secondary that simply can't match up with his athleticism. On the ground, Michael Turner figures to have a pretty nice shot of keeping a 5-game touchdown streak alive versus a defense that just let Beanie Wells visit the end zone three times… Detroit is coming off its saddest loss since dropping that 16th L in a 2008 season that set the standard for inept play. They were smashed by a Cardinals team entering the week on an 8-game skid and on the heels of a 58-0 soul-sucking beatdown. The offense really let Detroit down as they were walloped by a team that totaled less than 200 yards and converted just two third downs. Fortunately for embarrassed Lions fans, Matthew Stafford has been better at home this season and the Falcons have played down to their opponent on recent road trips. Like Turner, Mikel Leshoure is a bruiser who has been successful near the goal-line in recent weeks. He's a strong option versus an Atlanta D giving up 4.9 yards per tote. The story of the Detroit offense though needs no explicit details or explanation. Calvin Johnson is 182 yards shy of Jerry Rice's single-season yardage record and with nothing left to play for, count on the Lions doing everything they can to get him there.
Predictions: Turner powers his way to 64 yards and another TD, while Ryan hooks up with Jones and Gonzalez for touchdowns in a 286-yard effort. Leshoure and Joique Bell combine for 126 total yards with the former finding paydirt. Stafford slings it for 278 yards and finds Johnson (who gets 144 of them) and Tony Scheffler for touchdowns. Falcons 30-24.
New Orleans (+2) @ Dallas, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: Apparently the Saints defense got fed up with stinking last week, so much so that they went and blanked a very talented Buccaneers offense. This week will likely prove that performance to be one of the many aberrations of a laughably unpredictable season. The Tampa offense had been regressing some of late and New Orleans is still closer to the team that let the Giants blast them with 52 points just one week earlier. To no surprise Drew Brees turned in a highly productive day against a terrible pass defense, but it's evident he's no longer the only offense in New Orleans. Mark Ingram ripped off 90 yards and a score against the top-ranked Bucs run defense. While a much stingier Cowboys pass defense may slow Brees back down a bit, a run-stopping unit that did none of that from Weeks 12-14 (478 yards allowed) might make Ingram's career day if he gets 15+ carries… Dallas is in complete control of their playoff destiny now after back-to-back thrilling victories over potential AFC Wild Card teams. And despite what Tampa Bay did last week, owners of Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Jason Witten have to be awfully excited to see N'Awlins coming to town. A Saints defense that's still only 31st against the run and the pass looks to be about as tasty as a thick Texas steak. Bryant proved last week that he's as tough as he is supremely talented as he found the end zone for a sixth straight game despite a broken finger. Murray likewise pushed a scoring streak to three games as he gashed a stout Steelers defense for nearly 6.0 yards per carry. Facing the Saints they may be two of the best options at their respective positions this week.
Predictions: Brees throws for 249 yards and hits Marques Colston and Darren Sproles for touchdowns, while Ingram rumbles for 103 yards and a score. Murray tallies 124 total yards and scores on the ground. Romo tosses it for 292 yards and TD's to Bryant, Austin and Dwayne Harris. Cowboys 31-24.
Tennessee (+13) @ Green Bay, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: Chris Johnson ripped off the second-longest run in Monday Night Football history to essentially beat the Jets with that one play. The rest of the game, however, CJ2K garnered 28 yards on 20 carries. A banged up Titans offensive line has held him back in recent weeks and that likely won't change against a solid Packers run defense. Moreover, when the Packers get a two score lead (and they will), Johnson may not see the ball enough to produce a good fantasy day. Jake Locker will get his opportunities to throw it plenty while playing from behind, but an opportunistic Packers defense that also gets after the quarterback quite well figures to limit the ineffective passer… Aaron Rodgers returned from his 4-week fantasy coma just in time for many owners' playoffs, and with a bad Tennessee defense coming to Titletown, he should have little difficulty delivering an encore. Green Bay may get out to an early lead though given the weak matchup, so Rodgers' yardage numbers could be impacted by a lack of volume. After registering his fourth multi-score game of the year, James Jones looks like as good a high risk/reward start as there is in fantasy this week for any owners desperate for an upside play. Reserve runners Ryan Grant and DuJuan Harris could likewise be decent flex options in deeper leagues should starter Alex Green (concussion) be forced to sit out. In a game that could become a blowout, whoever the top two backs are for Green Bay could each see 12-15 carries.
Predictions: Johnson carries it for 74 yards, while Locker throws for 204 yards and a touchdown to Nate Washington. Grant and Harris combine for 118 rushing yards, with the latter punching in a short score. Rodgers hits Randall Cobb, Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley for TD's in a 241-yard outing. Packers 28-10.
Indianapolis (-7) @ Kansas City, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: The Colts had a tough go of things in their first meeting with Houston, but they'll be able to clinch a playoff berth Sunday with a victory in Kansas City, and perhaps seal a Coach of the Year award for the Chuck Pagano-Bruce Arians combo. While no game in the NFL is a sure thing, this one is awfully close. If the Colts defense can limit Houston to just one offensive touchdown in Texas, it would be a major surprise to see Kansas City get past their league-low average of 13.9 points. Offensively Andrew Luck will see to it that he burns a Chiefs defense with a 25-to-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio for enough yards and points to send Indy to the playoffs. Reggie Wayne figures to bounce back from a down week and he'll pair with the explosive T.Y. Hilton to rocket Luck past Cam Newton's rookie passing yards record (Luck needs only 74 yards). On the ground Vick Ballard has a nice chance to continue his string of three straight games with at least 100 total yards or a score, and if this one becomes a blowout, don't be surprised if Ballard has his biggest day of the year… With games left versus Indy and Denver, the Chiefs are on the clock. At this point of an embarrassing, disaster of a once-hopeful season, KC is pretty much just waiting for the draft, when they figure to have the first pick. Their mess of a receiving corps is the ugliest in the league without Dwayne Bowe, and it's a shame because this is likely Brady Quinn's last shot to prove he has the goods to start in this league. The sole weapon left is clearly Jamaal Charles, but even he proved that he needs help some weeks, as he tanked and possibly took a lot of playoff hopes with him last Sunday versus a terrible Oakland defense. He'd had 100 total yards in five consecutive games prior to a vist to the Black Hole, so there's little doubt he can put up numbers against an Indy run D giving up 125 yards a game, but even the uber-talented Charles is a scary start in this offense.
Predictions: Luck throws for 226 yards and scores to Hilton and Coby Fleener. Ballard racks up 127 total yards and hits paydirt on the ground. Quinn throws for 145 yards, while Charles totals 106. Hillis vultures a short score. Colts 27-10.
Buffalo (+4) @ Miami, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: The Bills controlled the first matchup with Miami from nearly start to finish and still only came out on top by five points. That was in Buffalo and during a slump for a Miami team that's simply playing much better football than the Bills right now. C.J. Spiller is a must start with Fred Jackson on IR and will do his best to match the 130 total yards he put on the Dolphins the last time without Jackson. In the passing game only Steve Johnson is a worthwhile option in fantasy, as Ryan Fitzpatrick has tossed just 10 touchdowns in the last 10 games after somehow pitching a dozen in the season's first four weeks. Coming off his best game of the year versus a stifling Seahawks secondary, the 26th ranked Dolphins pass defense will likely be a welcome site for Johnson… With Daniel Thomas heading to IR with a knee injury, Reggie Bush should continue getting a heavy workload this weekend versus a bad Bills run defense. After bombing their first matchup with only 20 yards on 10 carries, the recently revitalized Bush will likely be out for revenge and looking to snag the last 105 yards he needs to register his second-consecutive 1,000-yard season. Ryan Tannehill will too be looking for a better showing this time around. He hasn't thrown more picks than touchdowns since that first Bills meeting and enters this one on the heels of his most efficient and complete performance to date.
Predictions: Fitzpatrick passes for 197 yards and touchdowns to Scott Chandler and Spiller, who adds 114 yards rushing. Bush totals 102 yards and scores rushing. Tannehill hooks up with Rishard Matthews for a touchdown in a 219-yard effort. Dolphins 23-17.
San Diego (+1.5) @ New York Jets, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: Sad as it is, the two best fantasy producers in this matchup may be the defenses. San Diego's unit has forced 25 turnovers, the 5th most in the AFC, but unfortunately for them they won't have the pleasure of facing Mark Sanchez, who has been benched for the final two games in favor of Greg McElroy. The former Alabama national champion is a much headier player than Sanchez and figures to take better care of the ball. He is, however, not much of an athlete, so the points should still be way down for the Jets and McElroy might take an extra sack or two if he can't escape the pocket. Offensively, the Chargers will be without both Ryan Mathews (clavicle) and Malcom Floyd (ankle) who will finish the season on IR. The loss of Mathews is no major hit to the fantasy world, as his miserable season saw him rack up more broken clavicles (that's right he missed the first two games with the same injury) than he did touchdowns (versus the Saints' league-worst run D mind you). His absence opens the door to Curtis Brinkley and Jackie Battle having some flex appeal for desperate owners, while no Floyd should equate to a massive amount of targets for Danario Alexander. Either way, Philip Rivers is very safe to bench versus a smothering Jets pass defense ranked 2nd in the league. With Antonio Cromartie opposite Alexander, this will not be a repeat of San Diego's visit to Pittsburgh… A sloppy 5-turnover embarrassment that killed the slim playoff hopes for Gang Green effectively ended the Sanchez Era in New York. The Jets have already leaked their intentions to shop the turnover prone QB, so it's possible Sanchez has gotten his green No. 6 dirty for the last time. The next two starts for McElroy will merely be a footnote before a new quarterback steps in next season. The young QB will try to get the Jets to 0.500 in the process, and as the game-managing type that protects the ball, McElroy may do just that. With no real weapons in the passing game though, expect Shonn Greene to continue seeing 15+ touches a week and serving as the Jets' only serviceable fantasy option.
Predictions: Brinkley and Battle combine for 76 total yards. Rivers throws it for 158 yards and finds Alexander for the team's lone score. McElroy passes for 144 yards and a TD to Braylon Edwards. Green and Bilal Powell total 108 yards between them, with Greene running in the game-winner. Jets 14-10.
Washington (-6.5) @ Philadelphia, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: Robert Griffin III has practiced fully so far this week and appears in line to return barring a setback to his injured knee. With the NFC East title on the line the next two weeks, expect Washington to do anything necessary to secure it and a home playoff game. Given what Kirk Cousins has shown it may make more sense to let RGIII rest one more week, but it doesn't seem like Mike Shanahan is going to go that route. The Eagles are just 1-9 in their last 10 games but would love nothing more than to ruin the Skins' playoff hopes. Though Griffin figures to lack his usual rushing stats this week, it may not matter to fantasy owners if he can come close to his previous performance versus Philly. He effortlessly tossed four TD's in that one and did so without Pierre Garcon contributing at all. Given that the Eagles have been getting burned on the ground in recent weeks though, Washington may be content to let Alfred Morris do the heavy lifting… Bryce Brown was looking like an iffy start to begin with after consecutive garbage performances, but now he resembles a safe bench spot with the news that LeSean McCoy will return to the lineup and draw the start in the Philly backfield. Given the likelihood of a timeshare though, McCoy doesn't look like an appealing option either, particularly against the 6th ranked Redskins run defense. Nick Foles made his first career start in the Eagles' last meeting with Washington and the young QB has made decent strides since that dud performance. That said, he's still a hugely risky option in a must-win fantasy week regardless of how bad the Redskins pass defense has been this year.
Predictions: McCoy and Brown combine for 114 total yards, with neither finding paydirt. Foles pitches it for 243 yards and a touchdown to Jason Avant. Morris rushes for 109 yards and a score, while Griffin connects with Garcon and Leonard Hankerson for TD's in a 228-yard performance. Redskins 24-16.
Cincinnati (+3.5) @ Pittsburgh, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: This game will either be a passing of the torch in the AFC North or old hat. The Andy Dalton-A.J. Green Era Bengals have yet to beat the Steelers in three tries, though they've hooked up for a touchdown in each of them. In the case of this year's previous contest, the score was Green's only catch on the game for a measly eight yards-his worst total as a pro. The young Cinci duo will try to rectify that versus a Steelers defense that is down top cornerback Ike Taylor (leg), but it will be easier said than done against the Steelers top-ranked pass defense. The three times he's faced Pittsburgh, Dalton has turned in three of his worst NFL performances. With 410 passing yards and four touchdowns TOTAL in those games, Dalton looks like a very risky start this week. On the ground BenJarvus Green-Ellis will try to maintain a stretch of games in which he's topped 100 yards four times and scored in three… Against a very strong Cincinnati defense that's relinquished just 15 passing scores and leads the league in sacks, Ben Roethlisberger figures to come out of this match with some major bruises. Nevertheless, Big Ben is a clutch big game player, so coming off two huge losses with the Steelers' season riding on this divisional battle, count on Roethlisberger to give one of his best efforts of the year. After throwing a back-breaking pick last week in overtime he'll be especially motivated to play sharp football, which bodes well for the fantasy prospects of Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Heath Miller. The Steelers had the benefit of a productive ground attack when they last faced the Bengals, as Jonathan Dwyer rumbled for over 100 yards and played a great late-game closer. This time around, however, Dwyer is coming off a string of mediocre showings and will face a Cinci unit that hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher since. Expect a lot of passing out of Pittsburgh.
Predictions: Dalton pitches it for 181 yards and finds Jermaine Gresham for a score. Green-Ellis totes it for 96 yards and a touchdown. Dwyer can't match him as he nets just 46 yards. Roethlisberger slings it for 285 and hooks up with Wallace and Brown for TD's. Steelers 17-14.
St. Louis (+3) @ Tampa Bay, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: Sam Bradford is coming off a career day for yards and scores (tied) and could be in line for an encore versus the league's worst pass defense. Steven Jackson still figures to be heavily involved in the offense and certainly has the ability to churn out yards on the top-ranked run D, but if he falters early and/or St. Louis gets into a hole, count on Bradford netting a minimum of 250 yards through the air. That means Danny Amendola is a must-start, while Brandon Gibson is a strong flex and Chris Givens could even be useful in the deepest of leagues… The Bucs have imploded since the midpoint of the fourth quarter versus Philadelphia a couple weeks ago. They brutally lost that game on the final play and have been outscored 54-0 in their last 64 minutes of action. Their offense was inexplicably terrible last week versus a Saints sorry excuse for a defense that had just let the Giants hammer them for 45 points. Doug Martin was MIA against the league's worst rush defense while Josh Freeman was a turnover machine after throwing only three picks in his previous eight games. A Rams D that has allowed 17 rushing scores on the year bodes well for a Martin bounce-back, but Freeman's prospects are not nearly as inviting. St. Louis has yielded a meager 14 passing scores on the year and are fourth in sacks with 41.
Predictions: Jackson totals 113 yards and finds the end zone rushing. Bradford tosses it for 307 and scores to Amendola, Gibson and Austin Pettis. Freeman hooks up with Dallas Clark for a score in a 262-yard day, while Martin hits paydirt twice to go with his 89 total yards. Rams 28-21.
Oakland (+9) @ Carolina, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: The Raiders entered last week giving up more points (30.9) than any team in the league. So naturally they shut out the Chiefs. Chalk that one up to a fortunate matchup and expect a road trip to a Carolina team that's hot offensively to get the points flying again. When they fall into an early hole as they usually do, count on Carson "The King of Garbage Time" Palmer to throw his way a little further up the hole. That formula has netted at least two TD's for Palmer in seven of his last nine games, but playing from behind will hurt Darren McFadden, who figures to see a lot less touches than the 34 he needed to post 149 total yards last week… Heading down the stretch, Cam Newton has been the fantasy stud he was drafted to be, and hopefully just in the nick of time for his owners. He hasn't thrown a pick in five straight and has notched at least two passing scores in each of his last four outings with three more scores and a whole bunch of yards on the ground. An Oakland defense near the bottom of the league versus both the run and pass should provide a field day for Newton and most of the top Panthers. Steve Smith and Greg Olsen have been strong contributors catching the ball, while DeAngelo Williams has had a rebirth over the past two weeks with Jonathan Stewart out. He has over 250 total yards in those contests with a long receiving score in each. Unfortunately, Williams lost two goal-line TD's to Mike Tolbert versus San Diego and the ex-Charger could be a sneaky play again this Sunday with Stewart still out.
Predictions: McFadden totals 84 yards but can't find the end zone as Palmer throws it often en route to 246 yards and touchdowns to Rod Streater and Denarius Moore. Williams totals 97 yards but has another TD vultured by Tolbert. Newton passes for 225 yards and a score to Greg Olsen, while also adding 55 and a touchdown rushing. Panthers 33-17.
New England (-14.5) @ Jacksonville, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: The Patriots offense showed up for approximately one quarter versus a brutally tough San Fran defense last week, but it was one awfully impressive quarter. Tom Brady still put up a big game for fantasy despite a very uneven performance and proved why he's completely and utterly matchup proof. Stevan Ridley, on the other hand, made it clear he's not quite there. For this week, however, a Jaguars defense that ranks 24th versus the pass and dead last against the run will make it easy for Brady, Ridley and pretty much all the Patriots. If it becomes a blowout early though (a strong possibility given the potency of New England's offense), Brady and top targets Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd and Aaron Hernandez may not post their usual totals. Ridley, and to a lesser extent Danny Woodhead, would likely see increased work in this instance with the Pats running to kill clock. Given the easy matchup, don't expect Bill Belichick to rush Rob Gronkowski (arm) back even though the stud tight end is questionable… Chad Henne has three 300-yard passing games in four career outings versus Belichick and the Patriots, and posted a career-best 416 yards when he last faced them in Week 1 of 2011 with Miami. While previous success does nothing to guarantee future results, it's important to note that New England's 29th ranked pass defense has done little to improve over last year's unit, while Henne has joined forces with two young playmakers in Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon. Those wideouts have made Henne look pretty good at times, and in a matchup that will feature a great deal of play-from-behind passing for Jacksonville, they give him a good shot at a bounce-back performance after two dud weeks. On the ground the Jags remain without Maurice Jones-Drew (foot) and will have to count on the underrated services of Montell Owens against a gigantic Patriots front seven.
Predictions: Brady passes for 264 yards and touchdowns to Lloyd and Hernandez. Ridley runs it for 112 yards and a score while Woodhead chips in 74 total yards of his own and another rushing TD. Henne connects with Shorts for a touchdown in a 318-yard effort, while Owens contributes 56 total yards. Patriots 34-13.
Minnesota (+8.5) @ Houston, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: Adrian Peterson. That's all that needs to be said about the Vikings offense. The Minnesota playbook looks like AP right, AP left and AP up the middle. Three to five broken tackles, defensive players laying on the ground and a cloud of dust are usually the result. Peterson has over 1,300 rushing yards IN HIS LAST EIGHT GAMES. He's gone for nearly 600 in the last three weeks alone and is less than 300 shy of Eric Dickerson's 28-year-old rushing record. He's averaging more yards per carry than Christian Ponder is per pass (a pretty telling reason why there's no point in discussing the Vikes pass attack), and despite the Texans' 5th ranked run defense, Peterson is still the best fantasy back, real life back or football player this weekend… A win for Houston will lock up the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs and though Peterson is a threat to beat them by himself, the Vikings defense in all likelihood is no match for a Texans run game that is quite productive in its own right. Minnesota may limit Arian Foster's per carry efficiency (most teams have), but like nearly all the others before them, they're unlikely to keep the NFL's scoring leader (for a non-kicker) out of the end zone. In the air Matt Schaub will likely keep looking Andre Johnson's way a ton versus a sub-par Vikes pass D. Johnson has seen double-digit targets in eight of his last nine games and finds himself only 140 yards away from becoming the first player in NFL history with three career 1,500-yard receiving seasons. While he could very well hit that mark this week, a grind it out game between the two top fantasy backs could limit the passing enough to make him have to get there versus the Colts in next week's finale.
Predictions: Schaub throws for 210 yards and scores to Johnson and DeVier Posey. Foster nets 115 total yards and runs one in, while Peterson bests him soundly with 156 yards and two touchdowns rushing. Ponder chips in 126 yards passing. Texans 24-17.
Cleveland (+13.5) @ Denver, Sunday 4:05 p.m.
Comments: Trent Richardson has been a bull lately within sniffing distance of the goal-line, as he's racked up six rushing scores in four weeks. Still, Richardson's rushing yards have dropped from a career-best 122 yards for six straight weeks to just 28 last Sunday. His yards per carry has not topped 3.6 since the first weekend in November and versus a Denver defense that's second in yards allowed per game and total rushing scores on the year (only five!), Richardson is set up for a disappointing playoff/championship performance. Moreover, Cleveland doesn't have the goods defensively to keep the contest close with Peyton Manning on the other side, so Richardson might see a light workload if the game gets out of hand early. Brandon Weeden will have his chance to shine if that's the case, but he's more likely to fall on his face versus a stingy Broncos pass defense that also happens to be second in the league in sacks… The Browns pass defense is actually fairly strong in its own right, but few if any are a match for Manning. The potential league MVP and fantasy owners may not have the benefit of a big performance from Demaryius Thomas, who will likely draw the tight coverage of Joe Haden, but Manning knows how to exploit matchups and will make the most of his other weapons. That could spell another monster week out of Eric Decker, but it's also possible that an early Denver lead leaves Knowshon Moreno as the only Bronco going for serious fantasy numbers this week. With nearly 500 total yards and two scores in his four games since Willis McGahee (knee) went on IR, Moreno has been a great late season pickup and playoff hero for owners lucky enough to have him. An average Cleveland run D won't change that.
Predictions: Weeden tosses it for 187 yards and finds Ben Watson for a score, while Richardson totals 82 yards. Manning hits Decker and Jacob Tamme for touchdowns in a 216-yard day. Moreno racks up 141 total yards and punches in two short runs. Broncos 31-13.
Chicago (-5.5) @ Arizona, Sunday 4:25 p.m.
Comments: The Bears and Cardinals will battle it out with the Chargers and Jets for the right to the ugliest game of the week. Arizona and Chicago are Nos. 1 and 2 in interceptions while both are tied with 36 sacks, so this game could well be replete with turnovers and punts-or in other words, a fantasy owners' worst nightmare. Chicago is desperate for a win if they want to keep their Wild Card hopes alive, but after seeing the Cardinals shellac Detroit in the desert last week behind an inspired defensive performance, a W certainly looks like less of a sure thing than it did during Arizona's 8-game losing streak. Jay Cutler will have a tough time with a defense that gives up only 200 yards a game through the air. He also figures to face constant pressure from an aggressive front seven, so expect Chicago to lean heavily on Matt Forte and the ground game versus the 28th ranked run defense. Brandon Marshall will certainly see his usual dose of targets, but this could be a down game for the stud wideout given the coverage and blitzing abilities of Arizona… As it turns out, Beanie Wells is still alive and kicking. In fact, last week he kicked many a fantasy owner who benched him and his three rushing touchdowns. Though Wells has not been healthy for pretty much his entire career, he has proven to have something of a nose for the end zone. He missed two months in the middle of the season but has returned to post five scores in four weeks, and he went for 10 TD's in 14 games last year, mostly on a bum knee. This has a good chance to be another down week considering that Chicago has allowed just six rushing scores on the season, but one can only bench Wells at their own risk at this point. Larry Fitzgerald and any member of the Cardinals passing game, however, can be very, very safely benched.
Predictions: Ryan Lindley throws for 124 yards while Wells goes for 72 and a touchdown on the ground. Forte totals 120 yards, but newly signed Kahlil Bell vultures a score. Cutler passes for 168 yards and finds Alshon Jeffery for a TD in the win. Bears 14-7.
New York Giants (-1.5) @ Baltimore, Sunday 4:25 p.m.
Comments: The Giants have been by far the most Jekyll and Hyde team of the 2012 regular season. One minute their pounding a powerful 49ers team in San Francisco on their way to a 4-game win streak, the next they're getting creamed by the Bengals. Then after the bye they destroy the Packers and Saints only to get blanked by the Falcons for the franchise's first regular season shutout since 1996. Traveling to Baltimore, the Giants face a virtual must-win if they hope to carry their title defense into the playoffs. A Ravens defense that is tied for the fewest passing scores allowed this year (13) will look to slow a Manning down for the second time in as many weeks, as little bro Eli follows Peyton versus this aggressive unit. Whereas Peyton didn't need to have a big game with the rush attack and defense for Denver performing so well, the same may not be the case for Eli Manning. Ahmad Bradshaw will try to play through an achy knee after sitting out lasting week, but he's not a lock to see action, and with or without him, this week may again fall on the speedy legs of David Wilson. Ultimately, even if the ground game is on, Manning will need to step up and get Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks (55 combined yards versus Atlanta) much more involved than they were last week… With a Wild Card clinched, this isn't nearly the must-win for Baltimore that it is for the Giants. Nevertheless, the proud Ravens are certainly not prepared to handle their first 3-game home skid of the Joe Flacco era. Speaking of Flacco, look for him to be cautious with the ball versus a very opportunistic Giants defense that's third in the league with 20 INT's. If he can protect the ball he should be able to move it through the air even if Torrey Smith is absent with a concussion. The G-Men give up a league-high 8.2 yards per throw, and if Ray Rice can move it on their 22nd ranked run defense, the Ravens will have their chances to make some game-changing plays through the air. A hot Dennis Pitta (five scores in six games) and favorite target Anquan Boldin figure to be nice plays this week as a result.
Predictions: Wilson starts and totals 92 yards and a score on the ground. Manning passes for 274 yards and connects with Cruz and Martellus Bennett for touchdowns. Flacco finds Pitta for six in a 260-yard effort, while Rice contributes 119 total yards and a rushing score. Giants 24-20.
San Francisco (pick 'em) @ Seattle, Sunday 8:20 p.m.
Comments: The game of the week figures to decide the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs and the winner of the NFC West title at the same time. Neither team is going to lose in Week 17 at home, so the victor of this game will take the division. Given how dominant Seattle has been at home, it might actually be more difficult for the 49ers to survive this game than it was to leave Foxboro last week with a W. Colin Kaepernick has yet to face the Seattle defense which is easily one of the stingiest in the league, but he looks much more up to the task after last week's glowing performance than he did following back-to-back weeks without a passing score. If Frank Gore can come anywhere close to the season-best 182 total yards he notched in a win over Seattle in Week 7, it will take a huge amount of pressure off Kaepernick's shoulders. That inspired performance, however, feels almost impossible in a building in which the Seahawks have gone 6-0 so far by a total score of 181-69. To put points on the board, SF will need a Vernon Davis sighting and a big dose of Michael Crabtree somehow beating elite cover corner Richard Sherman-two things that seem very iffy at best… The Seahawks have found a remarkable young talent in Russell Wilson and should he post a big performance in a win over the Niners this week it would be nearly impossible to not give him the Rookie of the Year. The Week 7 matchup in which Wilson went a terrible 9-of-23 for 122 yards without a score seems ages ago and while it's a stretch with the Niners and Rams left, Wilson could actually tie or break Peyton Manning's rookie record of 26 passing scores (he's at 21). To get to even two this week though Wilson will need a banged up Sidney Rice (knee/foot) to tough it out for four consistent quarters and have Golden Tate turn in the big plays that were absent from the 13-6 loss back in mid October, when Tate didn't even register a catch. While the game's result will ultimately be determined by the play of Wilson and the Seahawks defense, the glue of the Seattle offense will remain Marshawn Lynch. The man known as Beast Mode has gutted teams the past two weeks with 241 yards and four scores on only 21 carries. While the Niners will present a much more stout obstacle, it's safe to say that Lynch, who went for 103 yards in the first meeting, cannot be benched against anyone.
Predictions: Gore tallies 105 total yards, while Kaepernick goes for 42 on the ground and 204 through the air with a score each way (the pass to Crabtree). Lynch busts tackles for 122 rushing yards and a touchdown. Wilson throws for 183 yards and finds Tate and Anthony McCoy for TD's to stay undefeated at home. Seahawks 24-17.