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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.


Los Angeles (+16) at Seattle, 38.5 o/u – Thursday, 8:25 pm EST

Comments: Before you do anything else, read Richard Sherman's scathing indictment of the very existence of Thursday Night Football, and the hypocrisy of Roger Goodell and the NFL, because it's not like we have enough to be angry about these days, right? TNF games tend to have more than share of chaos and unpredictability anyway due to all the factors Sherman lists in his piece, but now add to that the fact that the Rams finally realized Jeff Fisher was a terrible, terrible coach and gave him the boot, and you have a recipe for a game in which just about anything could happen. History suggests the game will be close, though – only two of these teams' last nine meetings have been decided by more than one score, and the Rams have improbably won four of the last five in the series, including their 9-3 snoozer in Week 2. ... Todd Gurley ran for 61 yards last week, and that was his fifth-best game of the season. Jinkies! His YPC has plunged by a yard and a half from his rookie campaign, and while you can pin some of the blame on his offensive line and QB play that has ranged from mediocre to dreadful, he also just hasn't shown the same explosiveness he did as a rookie. The Seahawks are second in the league in YPC allowed at 3.5, so Gurley's unlikely to suddenly break out in Week 15. ... Russell Wilson came into last week's game with just four INTs on the year, and more than doubled that in 60 ugly minutes on the frozen tundra at Lambeau. Jinkies again! Unlike Gurley, though, Wilson's in a spot to get well in a hurry. The Rams are 24th in QB rating against at 95.3, and just coughed up 42 points to the Falcons. Their secondary is also down a couple of men, with E.J. Gaines (thigh) and Mo Alexander (concussion) questionable but likely out Thursday.


Predictions: Gurley grinds out 50 yards. Jared Goff throws for 200 yards and a touchdown to Kenny Britt, but gets picked off twice. Thomas Rawls rushes for 80 yards and a TD, while Wilson throws for 240 yards and touchdowns to Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett. Seahawks, 24-10


Miami at N.Y. Jets (+2.5), 38 o/u – Saturday, 8:25 p.m. EDT

Comments: Normally, when a team loses their starting quarterback, it throws things into chaos due to the big dropoff in talent under center. Fortunately for the Dolphins, their starter was Ryan Tannehill, so it's not that big a deal. I'm kidding, but only a little. Prior to spraining a couple of ligaments in his knee, Tannehill had put together some good performances recently as Adam Gase seemed to figure out what his strengths are as a QB, but he's also had some stinkers – including a limp 149-yard, one-TD effort against the Jets in Week 9's 27-23 win, where he let Jay Ajayi do most of the heavy lifting. The Jets are 28th in the league in QB rating against, but they somehow managed to stifle Tannehill. Matt Moore hasn't gotten an extended run as a starter since 2011, but with New York likely stacking the box and daring Miami to beat them through the air, Moore could have a golden opportunity in front of him for a productive night. ... Here's how little respect the Jets are getting from the betting public: while the over/under line has dropped more than a field goal since it opened due to people's lack of faith in Moore to hold up the Dolphins' end of the scoring, the spread itself has only budged half a point. Ouch. I guess squeaking by the 1-12 Niners last week wasn't seen as a signature win. Part of the issue is that Matt Forte is battling a knee injury of his own, although he hasn't yet been ruled out for Saturday. Miami's run defense is terrible, ranking 30th in rushing yards allowed per game (133.8) and 31st in YPC allowed (4.8), so if Bilal Powell gets the start as expected, he might be able to have a second straight huge game. It's not like Bryce Petty is much of a threat. He's got a 2:4 TD:INT over his three starts with a 6.0 YPA, and neither Quincy Enunwa (ribs) nor Brandon Marshall (everything) are 100 percent. ... At the moment, the Fish are on the outside looking in at the AFC playoff picture, sitting behind the Broncos for the final wild card spot on a tiebreaker despite identical 8-5 records, so they have plenty of motivation to rally around Moore. They've also won three of the last four meetings in Met Life Stadium, although the Jets won last year's game in Jersey.

Predictions: Ajayi rushes for 80 yards. Moore throws for 230 yards and a TD to DeVante Parker. Powell rambles for 110 yards and a touchdown, but Petty throws for just 190 yards and gets picked off twice, including a pick-six by Isa Abdul-Quddus. Dolphins, 20-7


Green Bay at Chicago (+7), 40.5 o/u – Sunday, 1 p.m. EDT

Comments: With memories of a hobbled Aaron Rodgers from last year's playoffs still relatively fresh, the fantasy world held its collective breath when he got diagnosed with a calf strain, but the Packers insist it's not a serious injury. We'll see. The Bears' pass rush has been sneakily good – they're now tied for sixth in the league at 33 – and if Rodgers' mobility is an issue, it's not like he has a reliable running game to relieve the pressure. Ty Montgomery is back at the top of the depth chart at RB (and, frankly, he should never have been removed from the spot) but is battling a shoulder injury, while James Starks (concussion) got into a car accident Monday and probably won't play. Montgomery did gash Chicago for 126 yards from scrimmage in Week 7's win, however. ... Matt Barkley faced an awful Lions pass defense last week and came away with just one TD and a 6.6 YPA, so while getting Alshon Jeffery back from his suspension should help, there's no reason to think Chicago's passing game is suddenly going to spring to life. The Packers' secondary has been getting healthier and slowly improving after being awful themselves earlier in the season, but still sit 24th in QB rating against (95.6). ... Both QBs could have to contend with some nasty winds Sunday. Current forecasts are calling for 15 mph gusts, which could play havoc with any attempts to stretch the field. If the game ends up being fought primarily on the ground, that would seem to favor Jordan Howard and the Bears.

Predictions: Montgomery picks up 90 combined yards. Rodgers throws for 210 yards and TDs to Jordy Nelson and Jared Cook. Howard pounds out 110 yards and a touchdown, but Barkley is held to just 170 yards and a score to Jeffery. Packers, 17-14


Cleveland (+10) at Buffalo, 41 o/u – Sunday, 1 p.m. EDT

Comments: I keep thinking there's no way the Browns will go winless for 2016, and every time I figure this is the week they'll pull the upset, they come out and play a truly awful game. The issue seems to be that I keep focusing on the opposition and what can go wrong, or has been going wrong, for them, and ignoring the fact that Cleveland flat out sucks. I'm not making that mistake this week, so you can fully expect them to steal a win in Buffalo. Double-reverse jinx activated! Robert Griffin was atrocious in his return last week, putting up a line even worse than his abysmal Week 1. Fortunately for them, the Browns probably won't be passing much this weekend anyway. The forecasts for Orchard Park on Sunday are calling for snow, or possibly fog, and winds up to 18 mph, conditions not exactly conducive to an effective passing game. On top of that, the Bills' run defense has collapsed, surrendering nine TDs over the last five games. All things considered, it's not a big surprise when Le'Veon Bell has a huge performance against you. I mean, it's Le'Veon Bell. When Blake Bortles hits you up for 81 rushing yards though, something is very wrong. ... Tyrod Taylor has been ineffective at best over the last month, averaging 187.8 passing yards in the last four games with a 3:3 TD:INT, although he does have a couple of rushing TDs to soften the blow. If the Bills had a young developmental quarterback on the bench his job might be in jeopardy, but he's got EJ Manuel and Cardale Jones behind him, so Taylor's not going anywhere. If the weather cooperates, he's in a great spot to pad his stats, too. Cleveland is dead last in the NFL in QB rating against (104.2) and TD passes allowed (30), and Sammy Watkins is inching closer to 100 percent. ... If all that wasn't enough, both of the Browns' starting corners, Joe Haden and Jamar Taylor, are dealing with groin injuries. Watkins (foot) and Charles Clay (knee) are officially questionable for the Bills, but should play.

Predictions: Isaiah Crowell picks his way for 80 yards and a touchdown. Griffin throws for 170 yards and no TDs, but does run in a second score. LeSean McCoy erupts for 160 combined yards and two touchdowns. Taylor throws for 240 yards and TDs to Watkins and Clay. Bills, 28-17


Philadelphia (+6) at Baltimore, 40.5 o/u – Sunday, 1 p.m. EDT

Comments: The Eagles continue to trundle along as the runt of the NFC East litter, losing four straight game (and six of their last seven) to become the only team in the division below .500. Carson Wentz has been doing what he can, putting up consecutive 300-yard games, but he's been sacked 11 times during that four-game losing streak, contributing to a 4:7 TD:INT over that stretch, as the Lane Johnson-less offensive line can't get its act together. The Ravens' front seven, while finally healthy, hasn't yet really gotten into a groove with its pass rush, but Sunday's matchup gives them a great opportunity to do so. Don't be surprised if Terrell Suggs and/or Elvis Dumervil make a big impact in this one. ... Last week Kenneth Dixon saw more snaps than Terrance West, just the second time this season that's happened, but if Baltimore wants to stay in the playoff hunt they should probably make it a habit. Dixon scored his first NFL touchdown in Week 14, and he's averaged just under 80 yards from scrimmage in the last three games while becoming a real factor in the passing game, catching 16 of 19 targets over that stretch. John Harbaugh could go back to the safe, boring veteran West at any moment of course, but Dixon's the more talented player, and an Eagles defense which has had issues against pass-catching backs (21st in DVOA against them) would seem to be ripe for the picking. ... Like most of the games being played on the Eastern Seaboard on Sunday afternoon, the weather could be rough in Baltimore. Current forecasts call for rain and 16 mph winds, so this could be a sloppy affair. The Ravens may not want to risk Jimmy Smith (ankle), while Jordan Matthews is also dealing with an ankle issue for the Eagles. Darren Sproles (concussion) has already been ruled out.

Predictions: Ryan Mathews gains only 40 yards. Wentz throws for 160 yards and a TD to Kenjon Barner. Dixon gains 70 combined yards and catches a touchdown, while West also punches in a short rushing TD. Joe Flacco throws for 220 yards and a second score to Steve Smith. Ravens, 24-13


Tennessee (+5.5) at Kansas City, 42 o/u – Sunday, 1 p.m. EDT

Comments: The Titans are technically tied with the Texans atop the AFC South, but Houston holds the tiebreaker so their Week 17 tilt in Nashville could end up being for all the marbles. Tennessee's got a tougher path to get there, though – both teams get the pitiful Jags, but the Titans are in KC on Sunday while the Texans get to host the Bengals next week. Marcus Mariota's been a gem this season (give him a mulligan on that dud against the Broncos, because every QB has their worst game against the Broncos), but the Chiefs are seventh in QB rating against at 84.3, so he'll have his work cut out for him. His run's been even more impressive when you consider who he's had to throw the ball to. Mariota's most consistent targets have been Rishard Matthews and Delanie Walker, while Tajae Sharpe has played like a rookie and Kendall Wright lost his spot in the lineup to cheap-shot artist Harry Douglas last week. If Mariota's going to steal a win here though, he may not need more than two decent options. The Kansas City pass defense's two weakest spots, by DVOA, are WR1 and TE. ... The Chiefs' win over the Raiders last week put them in the driver's seat in the AFC West, but their run to the top (they've won three straight games and eight of their last nine) has been fueled almost exclusively by their defense and special teams. Alex Smith not only isn't throwing TD passes (just 12 through 12 games), he isn't running any more either. After averaging 394.3 rushing yards in his three previous seasons in KC, he's simply stopped picking up yards with his legs, rushing for only 56 yards so far in 2016. Of course, playing it safe is the name of the game with Smith, and better protection from his offensive line means he doesn't have to run much any more. After getting sacked 45 times in each of the prior two years, he's only been brought down 26 times this season. Tennessee could put that to the test, though, as they're tied for sixth in the league with 33 sacks. ... Both teams are mostly healthy heading into this one, with Jurrell Casey (foot) and Tamba Hali (knee) the biggest names on the injury report.

Predictions: DeMarco Murray rattles off 120 yards and scores. Mariota throws for 260 yards and a TD to Walker. Spencer Ware gains 80 combined yards and scores twice, once on the ground and once through the air. Smith throws for 250 yards and a touchdown to Jeremy Maclin. Chiefs, 24-20


Pittsburgh at Cincinnati (+3), 44 o/u – Sunday, 1 p.m. EDT

Comments: The Steelers' four-game win streak has them firmly on top of the AFC North, with a chance to clinch next week against the Ravens. First they'll have to get past the Bengals in Cincinnati though, and things tend to get, well, let's say “intense” between these two clubs when there's a playoff-like atmosphere. Last year's penalty-laden, fourth-quarter collapse in the wild card game is still fresh on the minds of the Bengals, and for various reasons players like Andy Dalton and Vontaze Burfict will be looking for some sort of redemption Sunday. There's also the little matter of Ben Roethlisberger's road woes (he's got an 8:8 TD:INT away from home this season, compared to 17:3 at Heinz Field), and Cinci is ninth in QB rating against at 84.8. Pittsburgh hasn't lost in Paul Brown Stadium since 2013 though, and the Bengals' run defense (25th in rushing yards allowed per game, 27th in YPC allowed) would seem to have no answer for Le'Veon Bell. ... One of the more surprising developments of the second half of this season might be Jeremy Hill's emergence as a legitimate three-down back. Gio Bernard's injury was expected to give Rex Burkhead some passing-down work, but instead Hill has seen 13 targets over the last three games, turning them into 11 catches for 104 yards. The Steelers' speedy LB corps normally handles pass-catching RBs well but has shown some cracks in that area lately – LeSean McCoy caught six passes for 81 yards last week, while Rashad Jennings caught six passes for 34 yards and a score two weeks ago. ... A.J. Green (hamstring) is doubtful for Sunday, but Pittsburgh heads into the game with no major names on the injury report.

Predictions: Bell is unstoppable as usual, gaining 150 combined yards and a TD. Roethlisberger throws for 210 yards and touchdowns to Antonio Brown and Ladarius Green. Hill nearly matches Bell with 120 combined yards and a receiving score, while Dalton throws for 260 yards and a second TD to Brandon LaFell. Adam Jones seals the win with a pick-six off Big Ben. Bengals, 27-24


Detroit (+4.5) at N.Y. Giants, 41 o/u – Sunday, 1 p.m. EDT

Comments: It defies all sense and reason, but right now the Lions are tied with the Bucs for the longest active winning streaks in the NFL at five games. Last week's squeaker over the Matt Barkley-led Bears didn't exactly inspire a lot of confidence in Detroit's ability to keep it up though, especially with Matthew Stafford now playing through a dislocated middle finger on his throwing hand. The Giants are second in the league in QB rating against at 76.3 and just got done throttling the Cowboys' offense last week, so having Stafford at less than 100 percent (and less than 100 percent accurate) could lead to a very long day for the Lions' defense, in that they'll be on the field all game long. ... New York's still two games back of Dallas in the NFC East, but last week's win gave them a sweep in the season series between the two and kept their hopes alive of claiming the division crown with a big finish. Their defense continues to lead the way, and they've had to as Eli Manning has failed to top 200 passing yards in the last three weeks, and hasn't thrown for more than 250 yards in five straight. He now needs 710 yards over the final three games for his third straight 4000-yard campaign, and seven touchdowns for his third straight 30-TD season, numbers that seem way more difficult to reach than they should at the moment. A matchup against Detroit's 31st-ranked defense by QB rating against would seem to be a good rebound spot for him, but two of Manning's recent duds came against the pass defenses ranked 30th (Dallas) and 32nd (Cleveland) so any improvement is far from guaranteed. ... It could be rainy and windy in East Rutherford on Sunday, further putting a damper on two passing games with question marks around them. Shane Vereen (concussion) is questionable for the Giants, while Theo Riddick (wrist) is doubtful for the Lions, who may also be without Zach Zenner (concussion). Eric Ebron (knee) is officially questionable but should play for Detroit.

Predictions: Dwayne Washington manages 40 yards. Stafford's finger is clearly an issue for him, as he throws for 180 yards and gets picked off three times. Rashad Jennings gains 50 yards and a TD, while Paul Perkins adds 40 yards. Manning throws for 220 yards and touchdowns to Odell Beckham and Will Tye. Giants, 24-6


Indianapolis (+4) at Minnesota, 45.5 o/u – Sunday, 1 p.m. EDT

Comments: Indy's been nothing if not incoltsistent this season (sorry. I'll show myself out), but last week's loss to the Texans may have been the killer for their playoff chances. Their offensive line has been gutted by injuries, and while Andrew Luck has stayed somewhat effective despite all the traffic in the pocket, putting up an 8:4 TD:INT over his last three games, he's already missed one contest this season and been sacked 37 times, four off his previous career high. Don't be surprised if he sets a new mark Sunday. The Vikings are fourth in the league with 35 sacks, and with Donte Moncrief (hamstring) out and Phillip Dorsett (groin) and Dwayne Allen (hip) playing through injuries, Luck may not have many open targets downfield even if he does get some time to find them. ... Remember back in Week 2 when Adrian Peterson went down with a season-ending knee injury? Well, you try telling him he can't recover in record time. He's still officially on IR, but AP says he's ready to play, and it's not like his replacements have done much of anything in his absence. Matt Asiata might miss Sunday's game anyway with an ankle injury, so if Peterson gets medical clearance the Vikes have little to lose by activating him and plugging him back into the starting lineup. Did I mention that the Colts are 26th in YPC against (4.5) and 24th in rushing yards allowed per game (115.4)? Or that Minnesota, once upon a time looking like they might run away with the NFC North, now probably need to win out make the playoffs? If you're looking for a stretch run narrative the sports media can sink their teeth into like starving dogs, you won't find anything juicier than “Adrian Peterson heroically saves Vikings' season.” ... Harrison Smith (ankle) and Trae Waynes (concussion) are both out for Minnesota, weakening their secondary and partially offsetting the Colts' own injuries among their receiving corps.

Predictions: Frank Gore plods along for 60 yards. Luck throws for 200 yards and a TD to Jack Doyle, but gets sacked five times, with Anthony Barr returning a fumble on one of them for a score. Peterson is active and explodes for 120 yards and two touchdowns. Sam Bradford throws for 230 yards and a TD to Stefon Diggs. Vikings, 31-16


Jacksonville (+6) at Houston, 39 o/u – Sunday, 1 p.m. EDT

Comments: Allen Robinson's recent 9-90-1 line doesn't look too bad, until you realize it's come over the last four weeks combined and he needed 24 targets to do it. Blame Blake Bortles, blame the offensive line, blame the play calling, it really doesn't matter. ARob's been awful this season and found a way to get even worse over the last month, and a closing schedule that sees Jacksonville face all their division foes, all of whom are scrambling for playoff spots, wouldn't seem to offer many chances for him to salvage something out of his lost 2016. That said, the final kick in the teeth from a fantasy perspective would come if he explodes in Week 17 under the dome against a Colts squad eliminated from the postseason and just phoning it in, so expect at least 150 yards and two scores from Robinson in that one. ... The Texans have stumbled their way to the top of the division, and a soft schedule over the final three weeks may allow them to stay there. Lamar Miller can't seem to string two good games in a row together, but he's got a good chance to do so Sunday through sheer volume. While the Jags' run defense is actually not bad (10th in YPC against at 3.9), their usual game flow has them stuck in 23rd in rushing yards allowed and 27th in rushing TDs allowed. ... C.J. Fiedorowicz (concussion) is out for Houston, but Ryan Griffin could wear his jersey and you probably wouldn't even know the difference. Allen Hurns (hamstring) remains out for Jacksonville, but Chris Ivory (hamstring) is set to return to action after missing two games.

Predictions: Ivory leads the Jags' backfield with 60 yards and a TD. Bortles throws for 210 yards and a touchdown to Marqise Lee. Miller piles up 130 yards and two scores, while Brock Osweiler throws for 220 yards and a TD to DeAndre Hopkins. Texans, 24-14


New Orleans (+2.5) at Arizona, 50 o/u – Sunday, 4:05 p.m. EDT

Comments: Almost overnight, Drew Brees seems to have gone from ageless to ancient, like someone destroyed a self-portrait he was hiding in his attic. Back-to-back zero-TD, three-INT performances, one of them against one of the statistically worst pass defenses in the league (the Lions), have torpedoed any thoughts the Saints might have had of a miracle playoff push, and now the 37-year-old takes all that negative momentum into a matchup with one of the NFL's best secondaries in the Cardinals, who sit a cozy fourth in QB rating against (79.5). Brees' decline may not be quite as shocking as it seems, though, as his ability to hit his receivers down the field has been spotty all season. He's on pace for fewer than 10 completions of 40 or more yards for the first time since 2007. ... It's not often these days that Carson Palmer gets to be the spry young QB in a game, so he should enjoy it while he can. Palmer doesn't turn 37 for a couple of Tuesdays yet, and he's also thrown multiple TDs in four straight games, although he's only completed better than 60 percent of his passes once during that stretch. With Michael Floyd kicked to the curb, his receiving options look a little clearer as well. Larry Fitzgerald is the veteran possession option, J.J. Nelson is the field-stretcher, and John Brown officially takes over as the talented but inconsistent guy. New Orleans are still cleaning up the mess Rob Ryan made of their defense, and while they've shown some improvement, they're 29th in YPA allowed (7.9), putting Palmer in a good spot for a nice afternoon. ... Brown's officially questionable as he and the team continue to deal with complications from his sickle-cell trait. The Saints' secondary is in rough shape, with Delvin Breaux out due to a shoulder injury and Kenny Vaccaro suspended for the rest of the year.

Predictions: Mark Ingram rushes for 70 yards and a score. Brees throws for 240 yards and a TD to Michael Thomas. David Johnson romps for 160 combined yards and three touchdowns, including two through the air, while Palmer throws for 300 yards and two more TDs to Fitz and Nelson. Cardinals, 38-17


San Francisco (+14) at Atlanta, 51.5 o/u – Sunday, 4:25 p.m. EDT

Comments: If you're looking for a positive takeaway from last week's choke job against the Jets, how about this: Colin Kaepernick threw for more than 33 times as many yards as he had the week before, which means, if that rate of increase holds, he's due to throw for about 4,400 yards Sunday against the Falcons. No? OK, how about this one: Kaep is great every third game (Week 9 against the Saints, Week 12 against the Dolphins), so he's hella due! Sigh. This team is very bad, but worse, it's boringly bad. The Browns at least have had their Wheel of QBs thing going, where every week Hue Jackson gives it a spin to see who'll be under center, but Chip Kelly can't even get a decent quarterback controversy brewing between Kaep and Blaine Gabbert. Heck, he should just start giving Christian Ponder some first-team reps in practice, for giggles. The Niners really have nothing to lose. Atlanta is 26th in QB rating against (96.9) and last in passing yards allowed per game (275.2) though, so maybe Kaepernick can get some garbage time production going if he's still in the lineup in the second half. ... The 49ers, of course, are 29th in QB rating against (97.9) and still dead last in rushing yards allowed per game (170.8), and may well have the worst run defense in NFL history. Julio Jones (toe) is out, but between Taylor Gabriel and the two-headed backfield monster of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, Matt Ryan's still got plenty of weapons at his disposal. To date, the Chiefs are the only team to hold the Falcons under 30 points at home this year, and they got them all the way down to 28. With Atlanta in a dogfight with Tampa for the NFC South title and needing to keep their foot on the gas, San Francisco almost certainly won't become the second team to pull it off. ... Julio's the only big name on the injury report for the Falcons. Torrey Smith (concussion) is out for the Niners, and if you've been counting along at home is the seventh player across the league who'll miss this week's game with a concussion. I'm sure it's just a coincidence, right, Roger Goodell?

Predictions: Carlos Hyde gains 80 yards and a TD. Kaepernick throws for 240 yards and a touchdown to Jeremy Kerley, while adding 50 rushing yards. Freeman bounces back with 130 combined yards and a score, with Coleman also adding 110 combined yards and a TD. Ryan throws for 280 yards and touchdowns to Gabriel and Mohamed Sanu. Falcons, 37-17


Oakland at San Diego (+3), 49.5 o/u – Sunday, 4:25 p.m. EDT

Comments: In retrospect, I should have considered the possibility that Derek Carr would be terrible last week having never played in the cold before, but I can't imagine anybody saw him coming up that small in such a crucial game. The Raiders now need the Chiefs to falter while not stumbling themselves to retake the lead in the AFC West, and a game against the Chargers isn't as cushy as the two teams' records might suggest. Oakland barely got by them at home in Week 5, and the only time this year a game in San Diego has been decided by more than one score was when they crushed the Jaguars in Week 2. The Bolts are also sixth in QB rating against (82.3), and both Amari Cooper (shoulder) and Michael Crabtree (finger) will be playing at less than 100 percent. ... Of course, those tight contests all came with a resurgent Melvin Gordon in the Chargers' backfield. Gordon's now out due to hip and knee injuries, leaving San Diego's running game in very shaky hands. Kenneth Farrow is the new starter mainly by virtue of being the last man standing, with the undrafted rookie getting support from ex-Bronco Ronnie Hillman, whose track record against Oakland isn't a good one (3.5 YPC and one career TD in eight games against them). The Raiders' run defense is certainly vulnerable, sitting 26th in yards per game allowed (120.2), 28th in rushing TDs allowed (16) and 30th in YPC allowed (4.7), but this doesn't seem like the duo to take advantage. ... Oakland also has a few injuries in their front seven, but Khalil Mack is healthy so who the other six guys are doesn't matter so much. Other than Gordon, San Diego is mostly in good shape.

Predictions: Latavius Murray rambles for 80 yards and a score. Carr throws for 240 yards and a TD to Jalen Richard. Farrow bangs out 60 yards and a touchdown. Philip Rivers throws for 280 yards and TDs to Dontrelle Inman and Antonio Gates. Chargers, 27-20


New England at Denver (+3), 44 o/u – Sunday, 4:25 p.m. EDT

Comments: Tom Brady wasn't supposed to be able to put up great numbers without Rob Gronkowski, but he delights in making pointy-headed poindexters look foolish, so he went out and threw for 406 yards and three TDs last week. In your faces, stat nerds! It's one thing to put up those kinds of numbers against a good Ravens defense, but it's quite another to do it against the Broncos. They're the only team left in the league with more INTs than TD passes allowed (10:12, to be exact) and fewer than 200 passing yards allowed per game (183.5, to be precise), so naturally their 67.4 QB rating allowed doesn't just put them in first, it leads the league by a wide margin. Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell against Chris Harris, Aqib Talib and Bradley Roby doesn't really seem like a fair fight, but as he almost always does, Brady will probably find some way to make it work. ... Very very stealthily, the Patriots' defense has become one of the stingiest in the league. They're third in scoring defense, allowing 17.7 points per game, and sixth in rushing yards allowed per game (90.2) while still ranking in the top half of the league in QB rating against. As young backfield duos go though, Trevor Siemian and Devontae Booker are no Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. Booker's lost his starting job to retread Justin Forsett, while Siemian has as many games this season below 200 passing yards as he does games above 300 yards, even if he's managed the latter feat in two straight. ... Linebacker Brandon Marshall (hamstring) will miss his second straight game for Denver. Danny Amendola (ankle) is out for New England, while Martellus Bennett (ankle/shoulder), Dont'a Hightower (knee) and Malcolm Butler (hip) are banged up but expected to play.

Predictions: LeGarrette Blount bangs out 90 yards. Brady throws for 240 yards and TDs to Mitchell and Dion Lewis. Forsett manages 40 yards, while Siemian throws for 270 yards and a touchdown to Demaryius Thomas. Patriots, 17-16


Tampa Bay (+7) at Dallas, 46.5 o/u – Sunday, 8:30 p.m. EDT

Comments: The Bucs haven't been facing all cream puffs during their five-game win streak, downing the Chiefs and Seahawks in consecutive weeks, but Sunday night's prime time matchup could be their toughest test yet. It's also the key game in their quest to wrest the NFC South crown from the Falcons – the two teams swap games against the Saints and Panthers over the final two weeks, but while Tampa gets the 11-2 Cowboys on the road Sunday, Atlanta lucks into the 1-13 49ers at home. Dallas has looked a lot more beatable lately, but the Bucs may not have the parts to follow the blueprint laid out by the defensively oriented Giants and Vikings, especially with Lavonte David (hamstring) and Gerald McCoy (foot) both iffy. If Tampa can steal the win here, it'll be on Jameis Winston's shoulders to do it. He's been efficient, if not particularly productive, during the team's recent run, posting a YPA above 7.0 and completion rate above 60 percent in six straight games, and now faces a Dallas defense that ranks 31st in completion percentage allowed (69.7 percent). ... Did the Cowboys peak too soon? They looked like nothing could stop their offense a month ago, but have scored just 24 total points over their last two games. Granted, they were facing two very good defenses, but they hung 27 points on the Ravens not that long ago. Dak Prescott's play has been the sore spot, as he's averaged 166.3 passing yards over the last three games, tossing one lonely TD in each. The league appears to finally be figuring out how to make Prescott look like a rookie, but whether the Bucs (27th in YPA allowed at 7.7) can do it too will be the big question Sunday. ... Dez Bryant (back) is questionable but looks like he'll play. Safety Chris Conte (chest) could return after missing two games for the Bucs.

Predictions: Doug Martin rushes for 70 yards. Winston throws for 270 yards and TDs to Mike Evans and Cameron Brate, and also runs in a score. Elliott smashes his way for 140 yards and two touchdowns, while Prescott rebounds a little, throwing for 230 yards and a TD to Terrance Williams. Cowboys, 27-24


Carolina (+5) at Washington, 51 o/u – Monday, 8:30 p.m. EDT

Comments: To their credit, the Panthers aren't going quietly into that good night, and with three games against teams in the playoff hunt left on their schedule, they could still have a big impact on the postseason even if they won't be playing in it. Cam Newton is apparently nursing a shoulder injury, which could make playing spoiler that much more difficult. He may not need his shoulder to keep pace with Washington though. They're 22nd in rushing yards allowed per game (112.8), 28th in YPC allowed (4.5), and tied for 29th in rushing TDs allowed (17), so between Cam and Jonathan Stewart, they might be able to keep the chains moving and punch a few balls into the end zone. ... That game plan would also keep Kirk Cousins on the sidelines, where he can't abuse their rookie cornerbacks. The kids have started to look better as the season's progressed, but DVOA says they still have a long way to go – the Panthers rank 27th against WR1 and 29th against Other WR, and while you could have a spirited debate over which slots DeSean Jackson, Jamison Crowder and Pierre Garcon fall into, it seems likely that at least one of them will find themselves wide open a lot Monday night. ... Jordan Reed continues to nurse his shoulder injury but should play. Kelvin Benjamin is also working his way through a back issue.

Predictions: Stewart runs for 70 yards and a touchdown. Newton throws for 220 yards and a TD to Greg Olsen, while also running for 50 yards. Rob Kelley grinds out 50 yards. Cousins throws for 340 yards and three TDs, finding Jackson, Crowder and Vernon Davis, with Jackson hauling in 120 yards. Washington, 30-20


Last week's record: 10-6, 9-6-1 ATS, 8-7-1 o/u
2016 regular season record: 124-82-2, 91-108-8 ATS, 114-91-3 o/u