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Game Capsules: Breaking Down Monday Night

Erik Siegrist

Erik Siegrist is an FSWA award-winning columnist who covers all four major North American sports (that means the NHL, not NASCAR) and whose beat extends back to the days when the Nationals were the Expos and the Thunder were the Sonics. He was the inaugural champion of Rotowire's Staff Keeper baseball league. His work has also appeared at Baseball Prospectus.

San Diego (+5.5) at Oakland - Thursday, 8:25 p.m. EST

Comments:
The Chargers' victory over the Dolphins last week allowed them to tie their longest winning streak of the season (one game), but it didn't come without a price. Not only did Melvin Gordon suffer a knee injury that will cost him the rest of the season (not a huge loss, given how he's performed) but more importantly, it cost them valuable draft positioning. Gordon's absence allowed Danny Woodhead to explode for a four-TD game, three through the air, but it also gave some snaps to Donald Brown, who responded with 104 yards from scrimmage. The Raiders' run defense has been fairly meh this year, so either or both San Diego RBs could put up solid numbers and take some pressure off Philip Rivers to perform miracles with his tattered WR corps. New third-string back Dreamius Smith, promoted from the practice squad, might also get some reps and see action in an NFL game, thereby fulfilling his life-long, well, you know. ... "Meh" would be a distinct improvement for the Chargers' run defense. They're 24th in rushing yards allowed per game (120.6), tied for 28th in rushing TDs allowed (14) and 30th in YPA against (4.7). They did hold Miami's backfield in check last week, but as accomplishments go, that's somewhere only slightly ahead of successfully tying your shoelaces. Latavius Murray hit them up for 85 yards and a TD on just 15 carries in Week 7 in San Diego and should at least match that output Thursday. ... Oakland's struggled at home this year, going 2-5 at the O.co Coliseum but 4-3 on the road. Derek Carr gets some of the blame, as nine of his 11 INTs on the year have come at home, but the main culprit has been a defense that's allowed 28.0 points a game in the supposedly friendly confines but just 22.9 a game away from it. Those results make a bit more sense when you look at the non-divisional opponents they've faced and where (Bengals, Jets, Packers at home; Browns, Titans, Bears on the road), but they've had trouble containing pass-catching backs this year, so more touches for Woodhead in Gordon's absence could be a problem. Woodhead's only other game with multiple receiving TDs this season? Week 7, against the Raiders.

Predictions:
Brown rushes for 60 yards and a TD, and Woodhead racks up 70 combined yards and a receiving touchdown. Rivers throws for 250 yards and a second score to Antonio Gates. Murray slashes for 110 yards and a touchdown, while Carr throws for 260 yards and TDs to Michael Crabtree and Clive Walford. Raiders, 27-24

Washington (+3) at Philadelphia - Saturday, 8:25 p.m. EST

Comments:
Are you sitting down? Good. OK, this may come as a shock, but a team in the NFC East is actually at .500. I know! I couldn't believe it either. No matter how improbable it seems, though, there Washington is at 7-7 and in a commanding position to take just its second division crown in the 2000s. Of course, it's just 1-5 on the road this season so a win isn't exactly likely, and a loss actually drops it into second behind the Eagles, but did you really expect this mess of a division to be decided before Week 17? ... Both teams are inept against the run, so if you still have shares in their frustrating backfields, this could be your lucky week. Washington is 28th in rushing yards allowed (129.8 yards per game) and 31st in YPC against (4.9) while Philadelphia is 30th in rushing yards allowed (134.1 per game) but only 27th in YPC against (4.5). Despite their respective defensive struggles, though, when the two teams clashed in Week 5, DeMarco Murray led the Eagles' backfield with a whopping 48 combined yards, while Alfred Morris was tops for Washington with 65 combined yards. Morris at least has a clearer path to a full workload this time, as Matt Jones is battling a hip injury. Murray is not just in Chip Kelly's doghouse, the doghouse has apparently been boarded up, wrapped in chains and dropped into the bottom of a lake. ... Kirk Cousins is on some kind of a roll, posting a 71.0 pcompletion percentage, 8.8 YPA and 13:3 TD:INT ratio over seven games since Washington's bye. The secret to his success might be that he hasn't overdone it, as other than a loss to the Patriots in which he aired it out 40 times (with mediocre results), he hasn't thrown more than 31 passes in a game during that stretch. He's also enjoyed some decent protection, as Cousins was sacked 16 times in those seven times. The Eagles' pass rush has been inconsistent at best this season, and in another nice bit of symmetry also has 16 sacks over their last seven games, but they might need to bring Cousins down more than 2.3 times if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Predictions:
Morris punches out 90 yards and a TD, while Cousins throws for 250 yards and a touchdown to DeSean Jackson. Ryan Mathews picks up 100 combined yards and a score. Sam Bradford throws for 280 yards and TDs to Nelson Agholor and Zach Ertz. Eagles, 24-20

San Francisco (+9.5) at Detroit - Sunday, 1 p.m. EST

Comments: The 49ers are doing their best to improve their draft position, dropping four of their last five, but they might not be quite in range yet to get one of the two perceived franchise QBs available (Paxton Lynch and Jared Goff). Blaine Gabbert has been remarkably serviceable despite his three-INT game last week, but he might be playing just a little too well if being a marginal improvement over Colin Kaepernick prevents the team from selecting his replacement in April. The Lions aren't a likely candidate to be upset at home, but they have allowed a 101.4 QB rating on the season (28th in the league), so Gabbert could find a way to produce his second multi-TD game since taking over. ... If you're looking for touchdowns, though, look in the backfields, as both Detroit and San Francisco are tied for last in the league with 18 rushing TDs allowed. Ameer Abdullah has been flashing his skills over the last month, averaging 5.1 YPC over the last four games, while Joique Bell appears to be back in 2014 form with 176 combined yards over the last two games. For the Niners, Shaun Draughn's knee injury leaves their running game in the hands of Kendall Gaskins and former Packer DuJuan Harris, and while neither has any kind of track record, the Lions' defensive issues this year suggest at least one of them will hit pay dirt. ... Calvin Johnson is still hobbled with an ankle injury and officially listed as questionable, and after catching just five passes over his last three games, he'll be an extremely risky play at a very important time of year. As happened last season, Megatron's tragedy is Golden Tate's triumph, and Tate has racked up 23 catches on 26 targets for 168 yards and four scores over those three games. Johnson's been limited at practice this week and seems very unlikely to be at anything close to 100 percent if he is in uniform. With the 49ers sitting 26th in passing yards allowed at 261.7 per game, Tate seems poised to provide anyone who rosters him with a belated Christmas present.

Predictions: Gaskins leads the Niners backfield with 50 yards and a TD. Gabbert throws for 220 yards and touchdowns to Anquan Boldin and Vance McDonald. Abdullah erupts for 120 combined yards and a score, while Theo Riddick adds a TD reception. Matthew Stafford throws for 280 yards and two additional touchdowns, to Tate (who tops 100 receiving yards) and Lance Moore. Lions 31-24


Pittsburgh at Baltimore (+10) - Sunday, 1 p.m. EST

Comments: Speaking of teams fighting for draft position, the Ravens would currently have the fourth overall pick based on strength of schedule, but those kinds of considerations tend to get tossed out the window in rivalry games, and boy howdy do these two teams hate each other. Baltimore would love nothing more than to ruin the Steelers' drive for the postseason, but Jimmy Clausen isn't exactly the guy you want to hitch your wagon to when you need an upset. The running game has also stalled with Javorius Allen in the lead role, to the point that Terrance West (now on his third organization of the season after bouncing through Cleveland and Tennessee) is eating into his snaps. A Ravens defense allowing a 101.9 QB rating against (29th in the league) probably isn't going to contain Ben Roethlisberger, but given the state of their offense, it's going to have to. ... Roethlisberger actually missed the first meeting in Week 4, which helps explain Antonio Brown's 5-42-0 line on nine targets (although the word 'target' seems a bit generous for what Michael Vick throws these days.) Last season in two games against Baltimore, Brown racked up 18 catches on 28 targets for 234 yards and a TD, numbers much more in line with what he's been producing lately. Even if the Ravens send plenty of double coverage Brown's way, Jimmy Smith and whichever safety gets stuck with the assignment may not be able to slow him down. ... Both teams have been stout against the run, sitting in the top 10 in YPC against and rushing TDs allowed, so while you shouldn't have high hopes for Allen anyway, DeAngelo Williams might also find it tough going. Then again, he's hit for a big rushing performance every third start this season, a schedule that puts him in line for another one in Week 16, so if you believe in that sort of thing may sure you but a lottery ticket right after adding him to your lineups.

Predictions: Williams manages 70 combined yards and a score. Roethlisberger throws for 260 yards and TDs to Markus Wheaton and Brown, who pulls down 120 yards. Allen grinds out 40 yards, while Clausen throws for 240 yards and a touchdown to Kamar Aiken but gets picked off three times, including one that Mike Mitchell returns for a TD. Steelers 31-10


Dallas (+6) at Buffalo - Sunday, 1 p.m. EST

Comments: Our tour of teams staring top-five draft slots in the face continues with the Cowboys, who finally decided last week that maybe Matt Cassel wasn't even an acceptable stop-gap at quarterback turned the reins over to former Boise St. hero Kellen Moore. Moore's numbers weren't exactly thrilling in the loss to the Jets, but the team will let him start the final two games to see if he's worth keeping around on the depth chart in 2016. The Bills' anemic pass rush should at least give the kid some time in the pocket to show what he can do, though. Last year, Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus and Jerry Hughes all had 10 sacks or more. This season, the trio barely have double digits between them, with Hughes' five sacks leading the team. ... Surprisingly enough for a team with a record as awful as Dallas', their pass defense has been solid. Their 15 passing TDs allowed is second in the league to Seattle, and their 226.6 passing yards allowed per game is sixth. Their problem has been turning good coverage into turnovers, as the Cowboys sit dead last with a minus-18 turnover differential and just nine takeaways on the year. Tyrod Taylor's been solid with gusts to spectacular in his first year as a starter, but his ball security has been very impressive as he's thrown just five picks in 12 games and miraculously lost just one of his eight fumbles. ... LeSean McCoy (knee), Robert Woods (groin) and Charles Clay (back) are both out for Buffalo, which leaves the backfield in the hands of Mike Gillislee and Karlos Williams, but more importantly forces more action Sammy Watkins' way. Watkins has a four-game scoring streak going, topping 100 receiving yards three times in that stretch and managing “only” 81 yards in the other one. Dallas' secondary is also at less than full strength with Morris Claiborne likely out with a hamstring injury, although Brandon Carr would have drawn the assignment on Watkins anyway.

Predictions: Darren McFadden has his third straight 100-yard rushing game, topping 1000 yards in a season for just the second time in his career. Moore throws for under 200 yards but does find Lucky Whitehead for a score. Williams leads the Bills' backfield with 60 yards and a touchdown, while Taylor throws for 250 yards and a TD to Watkins but also loses a fumble that gets returned for a score by Sean Lee. Bills 20-17


Chicago (+3) at Tampa Bay - Sunday, 1 p.m. EST

Comments: Matt Forte's return doesn't seem to have done much to spark the Bears' offense. In the four games since his return from a knee injury, Chicago has gone 1-3 (losing three straight after upsetting Green Bay) and averaged 18.8 points a game. Forte himself has put up solid numbers, scoring three TDs and topping 100 combined yards twice in those four games, but Chargers-level attrition in Jay Cutler's receiving corps has left the team floundering. Martellus Bennett (ribs) and Marquess Wilson (foot) are on IR, Eddie Royal hasn't been healthy for more than about a quarter this season, and Alshon Jeffery's hamstring seems poised to cost him his sixth game of the season Sunday. When Josh Bellamy and Zach Miller are your top targets, expectations need to be kept very low. ... The Bucs, meanwhile, are also 1-3 over their last four games and are also struggling to score, averaging that same 18.8 points a game over that stretch. Jameis Winston continues to be a different (and better) QB on the road, posting a 7:9 TD:INT ratio at home and 13:3 away, and Vincent Jackson is also out with a knee injury, but unlike Cutler he still has plenty of weapons. Mike Evans may be having a disappointing fantasy season due to his lack of touchdowns, but he's still pulled in 1000 receiving yards for the season straight season, Doug Martin's headed to the pro Bowl, and Austin Seferian-Jenkins has shown flashes of usefulness when he's been healthy. The Bears' defense is actually third in passing yardage allowed at 216.1 per game, but that's as much due to a bad run defense (26th in rushing yards allowed, 28th in YPC against) not requiring teams to throw against them as it is any actual strong play by their secondary. ... Tampa sits second in YPC against at 3.3 and ninth in rushing yards allowed at 94.4 per game and haven't been particularly vulnerable to pass-catching RBs, so neither Forte nor Jeremy Langford, who's workload has remained steady since the veteran got back on the field, are in a great spot, even if Chicago is strapped for ways to move the ball.

Predictions: Forte produces 70 combined yards. Cutler throws for 240 yards and a TD to Marc Mariani. Martin rushes for 110 yards and two touchdowns, while Winston throws for 220 yards and a score to Evans. Buccaneers 24-16


Carolina at Atlanta (+7) - Sunday, 1 p.m. EST

Comments: Considering that the Panthers stomped the Falcons 38-0 just two weeks ago in Carolina, the spread seems more than a little generous for the underdogs, but this one may not be a gimme for Cam Newton's undefeated crew. The Panthers survived another scare last week against the Giants, and while it gave us one of the greatest “Oh, it's gonna be like that” gifs of all time after New York tied it up, it also showed how the pressure to go 16-0 is weighing down the team. The Falcons, meanwhile, snapped their six-game losing streak last week, and while a win over the Jaguars doesn't exactly say they're ready to do the same to the league leaders, it does at least give them a bit of a pick-me-up. ... Cameron Artis-Payne emerged last week as the top option to replace Jonathan Stewart (foot) rather than Fozzy Whittaker, and while Atlanta doesn't give up a lot of yards, they're one of three teams tied for last in the league with 18 rushing TDs allowed. Of course that might be better news for Newton than his backfield namesake, as the QB hasn't had a rushing touchdown in three games and might be overdue for another one. ... Josh Norman had his issues covering Odell Beckham last week, and Beckham's final stat line wasn't better only because of a big drop on his part. That bodes well for Julio Jones, who seems fully healthy again and picked up his seventh 100-yard game of the season last week.

Predictions: Artis-Payne picks up 70 combined yards and scores. Newton rushes for 30 yards and a TD and throws for 240 yards and a touchdown to Greg Olsen. Devonta Freeman gains 60 combined yards and a receiving TD, while Matt Ryan throws for 250 yards and two more scores to Jones, who pulls down 110 yards. Panthers 27-24


Indianapolis (+1.5) at Miami - Sunday, 1 p.m. EST

Comments: The Colts may be a game back of the Texans in the AFC South, but all hope is not yet lost. Both teams have two winnable games remaining, but only one is stuck using Brandon Weeden at QB for at least one of those games, and it isn't Indianapolis. Matt Hasselbeck hasn't been good, but he's still a step up from Weeden. Facing a Dolphins defense that ranks 26th in QB rating against (100.2) doesn't hurt either. ... After two strong games it looked like Miami had finally figured out (again) that they should try to get the ball into Lamar Miller's hands more often, but then he got banged up against the Chargers and saw only 11 touches. The Colts are vulnerable on the ground, allowing 123.8 rushing yards a game (25th in the league) but Miller could find himself back in a timeshare this week with Jay Ajayi, who scored his first NFL touchdown last week. In theory they could both have good games, but the Dolphins' offense has been too dysfunctional this season to count on them gaining or maintaining a big lead. Bad as Indy's defense is on the ground, though, Miami's is worse, sitting 29th in rushing yards allowed (132.1 per game). Frank Gore needs a strong finish to record his fifth straight 1000-yard season, but facing the Dolphins gives him a head start at picking up the 194 yards he needs. ... Rishard Matthews seems set to return from his rib injury, but his absence allowed DeVante Parker to establish himself as the team's primary deep threat, which is what they drafted him to do in the first place. A 2016 aerial attack with Parker and Matthews on the outside and Jarvis Landry in the slot actually sounds pretty great, but at this point Ryan Tannehill doesn't chuck it enough to make all three of them valuable for fantasy purposes, especially when Landry is seeing 18 targets, as he did in Week 14's loss to the Giants.

Predictions: Gore bashes out 80 yards and a TD. Hasselbeck throws for 220 yards and a touchdown to T.Y. Hilton. Miller picks up 70 combined yards while Ajayi notches 50 yards and a score. Tannehill throws for 270 yards and TDs to Parker and Dion Sims. Dolphins 24-17


New England at N.Y. Jets (+3) - Sunday, 1 p.m. EST

Comments: The Patriots are in position to lock up home field throughout the AFC playoffs, but they might fall into that anyway given that A.J. McCarron is now under center for the team chasing them. If you have a conspiratorial bent, you might consider the possibility that New England will somehow find a way to lose this game in an effort to keep the surging Steelers out of a wild card spot, but the idea that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady would not play to win seems beyond kooky to me. Besides, it's the Jets. The Pats are 7-2 against them since 2011, and the two games New York did manage to win, they had to go to overtime to do it. ... All that said, the Pats have injuries everywhere and won't be close to 100 percent. Neither Julian Edelman (foot) and Danny Amendola (knee) are likely to play, and Brandon LaFell (foot) and Scott Chandler (knee) are also questionable, leaving Brady to throw to Rob Gronkowski and the suddenly-relevant James White, who's seen 32 targets over the last four games and turned them into 23 catches for 229 yards and two TDs. They're also banged up on defense, with Dont'a Hightower (knee), Patrick Chung (hip) and Devin McCourty (ankle) all on the limp. ... Both teams have been tough to move the ball against, with each defense ranking in the top 10 in rushing yards allowed and QB rating against. There's still a big gap between them, though. The Jets are second with 82.8 rushing yards allowed per game and first with just two rushing TDs allowed, while the Pats are 10th (95.8 yards per game) and tied for eighth (eight TDs) in those categories. Similarly, New York is fourth in QB rating against (78.3) while New England's ninth (83.3). Given the injuries to the Patriots' secondary, that gap is likely to be exacerbated.

Predictions: White leads the Patriots' backfield with 50 yards, mostly through the air. Brady throws for 250 yards and TDs to Gronk and Keshawn Martin. Bilal Powell leads the Jets' backfield with 80 combined yards and a touchdown, while Ryan Fitzpatrick throws for 300 yards and TDs to Eric Decker and Quincy Enunwa, but also gets picked off twice. Patriots 23-21


Houston (+4.5) at Tennessee - Sunday, 1 p.m. EST

Comments: After washing out of Dallas, Brandon Weeden suddenly finds him in position to save the AFC South-leading Texans' season as he fills in for Brian Hoyer while the latter recovers from a concussion. Weeden's numbers weren't awful last week in relief, but they weren't awful with the Cowboys either. Weeden's issues are his reluctance, if not outright refusal, to stretch the field and his tendency to lock in on one receiver. When the one receiver is DeAndre Hopkins, though, that plan might actually work. A Titans defense that sits 31st in QB rating against (102.7) also shouldn't present too much of a challenge, even for Weeden. ... Tennessee will be without its own starting QB, as Marcus Mariota is again on the shelf with a knee injury. Zach Mettenberger will fill in for the rookie, but his task is a lot tougher as the Texans are second in passing yards allowed (211.1 per game) and 10th in sacks (36). J.J. Watt's broken hand has left him without a sack over the last three games, but he's still going to be in Mettenberger's face even if he can't wrap him up. ... Alfred Blue's back injury cleared up enough for him to pick up his second 100-yard rushing game of the season last week, and it looks like he's the main RB for the Texans once again. Cecil Shorts (groin) is also out for Houston, so other than Hopkins getting his usual dozen targets, they might try to keep this one on the ground as much as possible.

Predictions: Blue rushes for 80 yards and a score, Weeden throws for under 200 yards and a TD to Hopkins. Antonio Andrews picks up 50 yards, while Mettenberger also throws for under 200 yards with a touchdown to Dorial Green-Beckham. Texans 17-7


Cleveland (+12.5) at Kansas City - Sunday, 1 p.m. EST

Comments: I feel like a damn fool. There was a Johnny Football/Jonathan Livingston Seagull joke set up for me on a tee last week when the Browns faces the Seahawks, and I completely whiffed on it. For the two of you out there who would have gotten the reference, I humbly apologize. Anyway, Johnny Manziel now has to travel to Kansas City to take on a Chiefs team that's won eight straight and sits third in the league in sacks with 41, so good luck flying away from that pressure, kid. ... The Browns are 31st in the league in rushing yards allowed (134.9 per game), a combination of a poor front seven and a lot of big leads for the opposition. Spencer Ware is expected back from his rib injury, putting him back in a timeshare with Charcandrick West, but both could actually be productive given the soft defense they're facing. Alex Smith has thrown for under 200 yards in three straight games, as Andy Reid indulges in his old school tendencies, and if both West and Ware start chewing up real estate on the ground it'll probably be four straight. Should he get a chance to air it out, though, he'll probably be successful, as Cleveland sits 30th in QB rating against (102.1). BREAKING, MUST CREDIT: the Browns are not very good at the defending part of the game. ... Isaiah Crowell returned to fantasy irrelevance last week after his huge game against the Niners, but Duke Johnson's hamstring injury could give Crowell enough volume to be somewhat useful, even against a Chiefs defense that sits seventh in rushing yards allowed (92.2 per game) and has absolutely shut down pass-catching backs all year.

Predictions: Crowell grinds out 60 yards. Manziel throws for 220 yards with a TD to Travis Benjamin but gets picked off twice. Ware gains 90 combined yards and a TD, while Ware bangs out 70 rushing yards and a score of his own. Smith throws for under 200 yards, but does connect with Jeremy Maclin and Albert Wilson for two more touchdowns. Chiefs 34-10


Jacksonville (+3.5) at New Orleans - Sunday, 4:05 p.m. EST

Comments: Technically, the Jaguars could still win their division, but not only would they need to win out they'd need to get a lot of help from the Titans, so that ain't gonna happen. Still, it gives them something to play for if Tennessee holds up their end in the early slate. Blake Bortles was quiet last week against the Falcons, but getting to exploit a Saints defense that's dead last in basically every category you can think of (QB rating against, TD passes allowed, YPA against) should wake him back up. ... The Saints' offense is showing its age, with Drew Brees (foot), Marques Colston (chest) and Ben Watson (knee) all questionable, although only Colston has already been unofficially ruled inactive. Brees still came up with his sixth game of the season with 300-plus yards and multiple TDs last week against the Lions, but most of that production came in a desperate fourth quarter after they fell behind 28-3 early in the third. Watson and Colston also scored two of those touchdowns, and if the old timers can't go, Brees will only have Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead as targets he trusts. Those two aren't bad, but they might not be able to keep up with the Allens (Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns). ... Jacksonville still sits third in YPC against at 3.6, so Tim Hightower might have a tough afternoon. New Orleans, of course, is last at 5.1 YPC against, and with T.J. Yeldon likely out again with a knee injury, Denard Robinson might just decide a few fantasy finals.

Predictions: Denard Robinson gains 130 combined yards and two TDs, while Bortles throws for 290 yards and touchdowns to Hurns and Julius Thomas, with Allen Robinson topping 100 receiving yards. Hightower manages 70 yards, and Brees throws for 280 yards and TDs to Cooks (who also gains 100 yards), Snead and Josh Hill. Jaguars 31-27


Green Bay (+4.5) at Arizona - Sunday, 4:25 p.m. EST

Comments: The Packers remain atop the NFC North, but they're hanging on by their fingernails as the Vikings are just one game back and hold all the tiebreakers. Aaron Rodgers' numbers remain down, but in his case that just means he hasn't thrown more than two TD passes in a game in six weeks. The Cardinals' pass defense has been very good (fifth in QB rating against at 79.2) and they were the last unit to stifle Russell Wilson before he exploded, so Rodgers could have a hard time finding his rhythm in the desert. Still, if the game turns into a shootout with Carson Palmer, you know he'll find a way to keep Green Bay close. ... David Johnson avoided a knee injury last week against the Eagles, but gets a threat to his playing time anyway as Andre Ellington (toe) seems close to returning. Given what Johnson's done since assuming the starting role, Arizona would be nuts to give Ellington the job back, but he might at least cut into Johnson's targets (18 in the last four games) if not his carries. A Packers run defense that sits 26th in YPC against (4.5) might not provide any more resistance than the Eagles did. ... As if Green Bay's pass defense wasn't in enough trouble Sunday, Sam Shields will miss his second straight game with a concussion. They've been nearly as good as the Cards (seventh in QB rating against at 79.9) but without Shields, they'll have to rely on their pass rush to keep Palmer from having the time to pick them apart. The Packers are sixth in sacks with 38, but Palmer's only been sacked 23 times all year. That battle in the trenches may not decide the game, but it could determine if it stays competitive.

Predictions: Eddie Lacy bangs out 60 yards, while Rodgers throws for 260 yards and TDs to Randall Cobb and James Starks. Johnson rushes for 100 yards and a score. Palmer throws for 290 yards and touchdowns to Michael Floyd and John Brown. Cardinals 30-20


St. Louis (+13.5) at Seattle - Sunday, 4:25 p.m. EST

Comments: Russell Wilson, man. A 19:0 TD:INT ratio and a 9.6 YPA over the last five games, from a guy who only threw 20 touchdowns in all of 2014, is just absurd. Doug Baldwin's been Wilson's favorite target, pulling in 10 of those TDs, but he's now hobbled with a hamstring injury, so Tyler Lockett might have to pick up the slack. The rookie's got five scores of his own during Wilson's rampage, and has become the big-play deep threat the Seahawks have been after for a few years now (remember the Percy Harvin experiment?) ... Case Keenum, man. After looking dreadful in his first couple of appearances, he was nearly flawless in last week's win over the Bucs. Tampa's pass defense is not exactly in the same league as Seattle's, though, having given up more than twice as many passing TDs this season as the Seahawks (28 for Tampa Bay, a league-low 12 for Seattle). A trip back to dreadful is probably ahead for Keenum. ... The Browns made Christine Michael look like a starting-caliber RB last week, but the Rams haven't been much better, ranking in the bottom half of the league in rushing yards allowed and YPC against, so he might remain useful. Todd Gurley, however, has a much tougher task, as the 'Hawks are third (83.9 yards per game) and fourth (3.7 YPC) in those categories.

Predictions: Gurley gains just 40 yards, but does score. Keenum throws for under 200 yards and gets picked off twice. Michael rushes for 70 yards, while Wilson throws for 280 yards and touchdowns to Lockett and Cooper Helfet. Seahawks 23-7


N.Y. Giants (+6) at Minnesota - Sunday, 8:30 p.m. EST

Comments: The Giants have turned close losses into an art form this season, and last week's near-upset of the Panthers was just the latest masterpiece on the gallery wall. This one cost more than the rest put together, though, as Odell Beckham will now serve a suspension for spearing Josh Norman with the team's season hanging in the balance. The Vikings' defense has gotten healthier, too, so Eli Manning will be without his primary weapon at the worst possible time. With Dwayne Harris also slowed by a shoulder injury, Hakeem Nicks could suddenly be relevant again. ... Minnesota can't seem to get their whole offense in sync at the same time. Teddy Bridgewater has stepped up his game over the last two weeks, throwing for as many TDs (five) as he had in his previous seven games combined, but at the same time Adrian Peterson hasn't rushed for even 70 yards over the last three weeks. If the Vikings can get the two on the same schedule, they could make a lot of noise in the postseason, but if you have to roll with only one of them right now, Bridgewater might be the better bet. The Giants run defense isn't good, but they're dead last in the league in passing yards allowed (308.4 per game). They're also second-worst in yards given up to tight ends, so Kyle Rudolph might be in a better spot for a big game than Stefon Diggs. ... One area that the Giants have struggled in this season that hasn't gotten a lot of attention is their special teams. Josh Brown has had more kickoffs returned than any other kicker in the NFL, including a 101-yard TD return, and they've given up the longest punt return that didn't wind up in the end zone (82 yards) this season. Against a team that boasts two elite return options in Cordarrelle Patterson and Marcus Sherels, who have three return touchdowns between them, that doesn't bode well.

Predictions: Shane Vereen leads the Giants backfield with 60 combined yards. Manning throws for 270 yards and TDs to Will Tye and Nicks. Peterson rumbles for 90 yards and a score, while Bridgewater throws for 220 yards and a touchdown to Rudolph. Patterson also returns a kickoff for a TD. Vikings 24-13


Cincinnati (+3.5) at Denver - Monday, 8:30 p.m. EST

Comments: Welcome to the NFL, AJ McCarron, now take on the best set of cornerbacks you might ever see in your career. The loss of Andy Dalton, at least until the playoffs, puts the Bengals in a very tough position and it might end up costing them a first-round bye, as the Broncos are just one game behind them in the standings. Denver is second in QB rating against (77.6), first in passing yardage allowed (an even 200 yards a game) and tied with the Pats for first in sacks (47). Oh, and Tyler Eifert is out with a concussion too. McCarron isn't just being thrown into the deep end, he's being thrown into the deep end of a pool filled with piranhas. ... Of course, Brock Osweiler has his hands full too. Cincinnati is sixth in a couple of those categories (79.3 QB rating against, and 38 sacks), and given Denver's issues on the offensive line, the Bengals pass rush could give him fits. Osweiler has looked more comfortable as a game manager than in someone who has to carry the Broncos' offense, to the point that some people have started when Peyton Manning will be back. Some people have short memories. ... The Broncos are also first in rushing yards allowed (79.9) while the Bengals are eighth (93.2). Points should be at a premium in this one.

Predictions: Jeremy Hill leads the Cinci backfield with 50 rushing yards. McCarron throws for 230 yards and a touchdown to Marvin Jones. Ronnie Hillman picks up 70 combined yards and catches a TD pass, while Osweiler gets sacked four times, throwing for under 200 yards. Broncos 16-13

Last week's record: 13-3, 9-6-1 ATS
Season to date: 142-82, 123-94-7 ATS