Super teams don’t often seem to work out in the NFL. Assembling a bunch of big names and turning them loose on the opposition isn’t the open-and-shut proposition it seems like it should be on paper. The Los Angeles Rams are finding this out the hard way; Los Angeles’ loss to the Packers was its third in a row, and second since Odell Beckham and Von Miller joined up. Meanwhile, things are looking up for the San Francisco 49ers, who topped Minnesota to get their third straight win and move to 6-5 on the year. In the AFC North, the Bengals buried the Steelers, 41-10, and the Ravens defeated the Browns 16-10. New England kept right on chugging, overwhelming the undermanned Titans, while the AFC West looks like a muddled mess after Denver throttled the Chargers, and the Raiders snuck past the Cowboys. Also, don’t look now but the *checks notes* *double-checks notes* Miami Dolphins have now won four in a row, and aren’t dead yet in the AFC playoff chase, particularly with winnable home games against the Giants and Jets upcoming. Let’s get to the games.
Point spreads are from DraftKings.com, and are current as of 11 a.m. ET Thursday.
BYE: Browns, Packers, Titans, Panthers
NOTE: Pick with spread is in bold.
Last week: 8-7 (Season: 84-96)
TV: NFL NETWORK Line: Dallas -5
What you need to know: Jerry Jones doesn’t seem worried about his team, doing the exact opposite of sounding an alarm after his team’s overtime loss on Thanksgiving. Ezekiel Elliott’s health is a concern, but it seems that the plan moving forward involves Elliott trying to “manage” his knee injury rather than rest it. New Orleans has one of the stingiest run defenses in the league, but if all of Dak Prescott’s receiving targets are healthy, the Cowboys should have plenty of firepower. The Saints came undone against Buffalo on Thanksgiving, with Trevor Siemian looking awful and New Orleans unable to stop Josh Allen effectively, despite intercepting him twice. At 5-6, New Orleans is still very much in the middle of an atrocious NFC playoff picture despite the Buffalo game being their first straight loss, but unless they can ugly up most of their remaining contests and win slugfests, or force turnovers in bunches, they will be in big trouble.
On the spot: Cowboys DC Dan Quinn. With Mike McCarthy out for this game due to a positive COVID-19 test, Quinn, who has plenty of head-coaching experience with the Falcons, will fill in. He’ll have to make sure Dallas is focused after a topsy-turvy week.
Saints QB Taysom Hill : Hill is going to get the start after reports surfaced that he was taking starter’s reps this week. The NFC is so bunched together that one loss here won’t kill the Saints, but it is a high-pressure situation either way.
The pick: Cowboys 28 Saints 20
TV: FOX Line: Tampa Bay -11
What you need to know: No team had given up fewer rushing touchdowns this season than the Colts, so naturally the Buccaneers waltzed into Indianapolis and had Leonard Fournette scamper for three, including the decisive score with less than 30 seconds to play. Ronald Jones added another, and Tampa Bay made a statement, mostly holding Jonathan Taylor in check, and doing enough to survive. At 8-3, Tampa looks like one of the handful of serious contenders, particularly if they can survive a pedestrian game by Tom Brady on the road. Atlanta got Cordarrelle Patterson back and got two touchdowns from their hybrid star, hanging on to beat the Jaguars 21-14. Atlanta, like virtually every other team in the conference, is in the midst of the playoff chase, but other than a surprising win over the Saints, the Falcons haven’t beaten a good team all year. They could open some eyes by surprising the Bucs, but there is little evidence to suggest that they will.
On the spot: Buccaneers QB Tom Brady. Brady has just 9 touchdowns and 6 interceptions in his last four starts, and while he’s capable of lighting things up on a regular basis, he needs to start taking better care of the ball.
Falcons TE Kyle Pitts: The Buccaneers still have problems defending the pass, and Carson Wentz was able to put up big numbers last week, with Jack Doyle leading Indy in catches and yards. Pitts has to be big for Atlanta to have a chance.
The pick: Buccaneers 33 Falcons 24
TV: FOX Line: Arizona -7.5
What you need to know: Kyler Murray, out the last three games, should be back for this one, and while the Cardinals performed admirably without him, winning two of three, Arizona isn’t truly dynamic and scary unless he’s on the field, as their lopsided loss to the Panthers showed during that time. With Murray returning, the Cardinals should have a clear advantage over a Bears team that still doesn’t know who will be starting at quarterback. Chicago is 4-7 yet the Bears have every reason to keep playing hard, as right now they’re a mere game out of a playoff spot, despite having many tiebreakers working against them. Andy Dalton did just enough to beat the Lions, and while he doesn’t offer the Bears the kind of performance ceiling that a healthy Fields does, he is competent, at the very least. The problem in this game, of course, is that Chicago will almost certainly need much more than competent, even with the game at Soldier Field.
On the spot: Cardinals QB Kyler Murray. Given the amount of time he’s missed, it stands to reason that Murray should be pretty healthy and ready to go. How quickly he can knock off the rust will determine whether the Cardinals cruise, or find themselves in a fight.
Bears HC Matt Nagy: Despite rumors suggesting otherwise, Nagy still has a job, and now he’ll have to navigate a tricky quarterbacking situation that balances being mindful of Fields’ long-term health while giving his team the best chance to win.
The pick: Cardinals 27 Bears 17
TV: CBS Line: Cincinnati -3
What you need to know: A week after having their way with the Steelers’ defense and then hanging on in a wild fourth quarter, the Chargers laid an egg against Denver and missed a chance to put the Broncos in a bad place in the AFC West. Despite that, the Chargers are still in playoff position as of now, currently occupying the seventh spot in the AFC. What would really help the Bolts is if Justin Herbert could put together two good games in a row. The Bengals made the loudest statement of Week 12, drilling the Steelers 41-10 in a game that was over by halftime. Joe Mixon continues to impress, and Cincinnati has now righted itself after a two-game losing streak with two straight wins, despite Joe Burrow not playing at an elite level during that time. Baltimore might be 8-3, but Cincinnati looks like the most complete team in the division, and if they keep running the ball as they have been, they could very well win it.
On the spot: Chargers S Derwin James. With the way Mixon is running the ball, even a team that strategically ignores run defense like Los Angeles will have to do something to stop him. That “something” might involve putting James closer to the line of scrimmage with regularity.
Bengals QB Joe Burrow: The Bengals can and likely will win this game if they control the line of scrimmage again. They definitely will win the game if Burrow plays like he did in the first half against Pittsburgh when he mostly carved the Steelers up, one interception notwithstanding.
The pick: Bengals 31 Chargers 27
TV: CBS Line: Minnesota -7
What you need to know: Cornerback Patrick Peterson was placed on the COVID-19 list Monday, making him a longshot to play in this game. More pertinent to the Vikings is the fact that Dalvin Cook will miss at least two weeks with a shoulder injury. That puts plenty of onus on his backup, Alexander Mattison, as well as Kirk Cousins and the passing game. Fortunately for Minnesota, they’re playing the Lions, the UConn of the NFL. Hey, speaking of the Lions, they were so close to finally getting their first win of the year against the Bears last Thursday, but as has been the case all year – except against Pittsburgh – Detroit did just enough to lose. Notable in the loss to Chicago was an extreme degree of sloppiness; the Lions committed 10 penalties for 67 yards. That sort of careless play makes it tough enough for good teams to win football games. For the Lions, it will make things nearly impossible.
On the spot: Vikings RB Alexander Mattison. Mattison will take center stage for as long as Cook is out, and Minnesota fans should feel confident; in his only two starts this season, he logged 51 carries for 225 yards, and caught 13 passes for 99 yards and a touchdown.
Lions HC Dan Campbell: There are some things to like about Detroit’s offense; okay, it’s really only D’Andre Swift, but still. That said, losing games is one thing, but being fundamentally poor, like Detroit was on Thanksgiving, is unacceptable, particularly for a first-year coach.
The pick: Vikings 24 Lions 20
TV: FOX Line: Miami -4.5
What you need to know: New York showed that the building hype around the Eagles may have been premature, as they stifled Philadelphia in a 13-7 win, and in the process dragged themselves into the NFC playoff race. (Are you sick of hearing that yet?) What the Giants didn’t really get was an offensive bump with Freddie Kitchens calling the plays. New York only managed 264 total yards for the game, and Saquon Barkley was held in check yet again, posting just 53 yards from scrimmage. The Dolphins have won four in a row, and after getting shredded on the ground for the first five weeks of the season, have turned into a lockdown run defense since. Also, don’t look now, but Tua Tagovailoa has posted a passer rating of 100 or higher in three straight games and is developing real chemistry with his Alabama teammate Jaylen Waddle. Waddle’s 9 receptions for 137 yards and a touchdown were the best for a Dolphins rookie since Oronde Gadsden in 1998.
On the spot: Giants QB Daniel Jones. Much of Miami’s recent success defending the run stems from the fact that the Dolphins have been playing more zone defense. That means Jones, currently battling a neck injury, will have to be patient and accurate if the Giants are going to get the win.
Dolphins RB Myles Gaskin: Gaskin doesn’t have big numbers this year, but he does have four touchdowns during Miami’s four-game winning streak. The Giants are 27th in the league in yards per carry allowed, so he might be in for another productive day.
The pick: Dolphins 21 Giants 17
TV: CBS Line: Philadelphia -7
What you need to know: Were we too quick to crown the Eagles a dark-horse NFC contender? Philly’s offense hit the skids against the Giants, with Jalen Hurts unable to take care of the ball (3 interceptions) and the Eagles unable to hit any big plays in the passing game. Philadelphia had just one completion of 20 or more yards and simply couldn’t come up with enough explosive plays to overcome its turnover issues. Zach Wilson’s return to the Jets’ lineup was hardly spectacular; he ran for a touchdown but completed just 14-of-24 passes for 145 yards and an interception. The story of New York’s win over Houston was the defense’s performance. The Jets held the Texans to 202 total yards and sacked Tyrod Taylor five times. Robert Saleh’s team will face a much tougher test from Philadelphia, however, as the Eagles are still one of the best running teams in the league, and will likely look to stick with it in light of last week’s loss.
On the spot: Eagles QB Jalen Hurts. Hurts was getting most of the plaudits for Philadelphia’s surge, so after a frustrating, ineffective performance, it makes sense that he’d be under the microscope. If he can make bigger chunk plays in the passing game, Philly should be fine.
Jets QB Zach Wilson: New York’s hope had to be that Wilson’s knee injury was a silver lining and that the game would slow down for him some when he got back, but that didn’t really happen against the Texans. He must find a way to get Elijah Moore more involved.
The pick: Eagles 30 Jets 20
TV: CBS Line: Indianapolis -10
What you need to know: The Colts never backed down in their matchup with the defending champion Buccaneers, going right down to the wire with Tampa, and nearly responding with a last-gasp drive to tie the game. While the loss was perhaps the death blow for Indianapolis’ AFC South title chances, the Colts look like a better, more dangerous team than the Tennessee Titans. Unfortunately for Indy, they still have to deal with the Patriots, Cardinals, and Raiders over their final five games. Houston is a tough watch, which isn’t news, but last week’s loss to the equally desultory Jets showed that even the competence-conferring presence of Tyrod Taylor isn’t enough to save the worst team this side of the Detroit Lions. The offseason can’t get here soon enough for Houston, particularly because the Texans actually get to pick in the first round for the first time since 2019.
On the spot: Colts HC Frank Reich. Reich’s team might have to go 4-1 over its final five games in order to make the playoffs. That means he can’t afford any letdown or trap games, and on paper, this one would qualify as such.
Texans S Justin Reid: According to team sources, Reid was benched in Week 12 for challenging head coach David Culley in a team meeting. As a result, all eyes will be on Reid – specifically how much he plays – this Sunday.
The pick: Colts 35 Texans 17
TV: FOX Line: Las Vegas -2.5
What you need to know: Washington’s defense stifled – embarrassed, really – Russell Wilson and the Seahawks for about 58 minutes Monday night, then had to hang on for dear life as Wilson led a 96-yard touchdown drive to bring Seattle within a two-point conversion of sending the game to overtime. The Football Team stopped that conversion, and as a result, find themselves currently in possession of the NFC’s seventh and final playoff spot. Taylor Heinicke’s play will determine whether or not they keep it. Las Vegas got themselves a gut-check win over the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, overcoming a late collapse thanks to some sloppy penalties from Dallas in overtime. The Raiders will have to keep winning to keep pace in the rugged AFC, and with a brutal closing schedule left, will have to win all their coin-flip games, and possibly pull an upset as well. For those things to happen, Derek Carr has to play his best football of the season.
On the spot: Football Team QB Taylor Heinicke. Heinicke has played his best football of the year during Washington’s three-game winning streak. He’ll have to find Terry McLaurin early and often to win this game, which could be a high-scoring affair.
Raiders DE Maxx Crosby: Crosby had two sacks in Vegas’ season-opening win over the Ravens, then three in a significant Week 6 win over the Broncos. Since then? Nothing. He has to give Yannick Ngakoue some help upfront.
The pick: Raiders 30 Washington Football Team 23
TV: FOX Line: Los Angeles -12.5
What you need to know: Urban Meyer won’t be the next coach at Notre Dame, so presumably, he’ll be sticking with things in Jacksonville for the foreseeable future, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on the level of faith you have in Meyer to develop Trevor Lawrence. The Jaguars didn’t throw in the towel against Atlanta last week despite falling behind 21-3, but their messy, ill-fated attempt at a game-tying drive showed how much work is left to be done. Speaking of teams with work to do, the Rams look like a complete mess right now. All-world cornerback Jalen Ramsey is confused, Rams fans are confused, and unless the confusion clears up soon, Los Angeles will find itself fighting for a playoff spot. This matchup with Jacksonville should provide the Rams with a respite, but only for this week. The Cardinals, Vikings, Ravens, and 49ers all still loom.
On the spot: Jaguars WR Laviska Shenault Jr. Shenault has promise as a physical, run-after-the-catch menace, but he has had a disappointing second season, with no touchdowns and a lower yards per reception average than during his rookie season.
Rams QB Matthew Stafford: Here’s a nasty little streak Stafford has going; he’s thrown a pick-six in three straight games. He’s the first quarterback with that ignominious distinction since Matt Schaub threw one in four straight games in 2013.
The pick: Rams 38 Jaguars 13
TV: CBS Line: Baltimore -4
What you need to know: Baltimore pulled yet another great escape, beating the Browns despite four Lamar Jackson interceptions, all of which curiously came when he was not under any sort of pressure. The big item for the Ravens in the win was the play of their defense, particularly linebacker Patrick Queen, who was very noticeable against Cleveland’s running attack. Baltimore would doubtless like to be playing more consistent football, which makes their 8-3 record that much more impressive. Pittsburgh is a mess. The Steelers allowed 40+ points in back-to-back games for the first time since 1989 and were completely humiliated by the Bengals, in a game Cincinnati could have won by 50. There are issues at quarterback, on the offensive line, and everyone on the defense, and to make matters worse, T.J. Watt is on the COVID list and almost certain to miss this game. If Mike Tomlin can’t find a way to get a win in this game, the season could get away in a hurry.
On the spot: Ravens QB Lamar Jackson. Jackson’s interceptions came on passes where he targeted Mark Andrews; the Steelers will no doubt look to try and confuse Jackson, particularly if it results in Minkah Fitzpatrick having a chance to get his hands on the football.
Steelers HC Mike Tomlin: There are too many issues with the roster to isolate on one player, so instead the onus falls to Tomlin, who runs the defense, and therefore must answer for its massive struggles of late.
The pick: Ravens 23 Steelers 19
TV: CBS Line: San Francisco -3.5
What you need to know: Elijah Mitchell is the latest running back to put up gaudy numbers for a Shanahan, as the rookie from Louisiana has four 100-yards games this season, including three of his last six. Mitchell ripped apart the Vikings for 133 yards and a touchdown on the ground, as well as 35 yards receiving. San Francisco has won three in a row and four of five, and the 49ers have multiple winnable home games down the stretch, making a win in this game hugely important. Seattle is, even with Russell Wilson back, a bad football team. Wilson still doesn’t look fully healthy, and Seattle has nothing else to offer opponents offensively. The shame of it for Seattle is that its defense has played quite well for the last five games; only the Cardinals have topped 20 points on the Seahawks since the Steelers scored 23 in Week 6. In those five games, though, Seattle is just 1-4.
On the spot: 49ers WR Brandon Aiyuk. With Deebo Samuel likely to miss two weeks with a strained hamstring, Aiyuk must assume a bigger role in San Francisco’s offense. After early-season struggles, Aiyuk has come on of late, with 176 yards and a touchdown in his last two games.
Seahawks QB Russell Wilson: Seattle signed Adrian Peterson to the practice squad, but realistically, there are no reinforcements coming. If Wilson has any miracles left, Seattle needs them now.
The pick: 49ers 26 Seahawks 23
TV: NBC Line: Kansas City -9.5
What you need to know: Denver fans, consider skipping ahead. The Broncos have won a Super Bowl more recently than they’ve beaten the Chiefs in the regular season. Denver’s last win in the series came in November of 2015, and it appears that this year’s team is catching Kansas City at the exact wrong time. That said, Vic Fangio’s team has won three of four and continues to hang tough, having rediscovered their defensive identity in the last month. Outburst against the Raiders aside, the Chiefs still haven’t rediscovered their offensive identity, but they’ve been aided on this four-game winning streak by a defense that suddenly looks terrific. Kansas City has held four straight opponents under 20 points and hasn’t given up more than 301 total yards in any of those games. If the Chiefs have really figured something out on that side, the rest of the AFC could be in big trouble.
On the spot: Broncos QB Teddy Bridgewater. There’s no doubt that Denver will try to control the ball and the clock with their running game, but if the Broncos are going to pull off an upset in a hostile environment, Bridgewater will have to make a few chunk plays in the passing game.
Chiefs DT Chris Jones: Jones singlehandedly wrecked the Cowboys’ offense in Week 11, piling up 3.5 sacks and 2 tackles for loss. If he’s starting to get on a roll after an inconsistent season, Kansas City’s defense will look a lot more formidable.
The pick: Chiefs 34 Broncos 20
TV: ESPN Line: Buffalo -3
What you need to know: New England isn’t the best team in the NFL – at least I don’t think so – but they are playing the best right now. The Pats have won six in a row, and have won each of their last four games by at least 18 points. That said, the Panthers were a mess on offense, as were the Browns, the Falcons aren’t very good and the Titans didn’t have Derrick Henry. Business picks up considerably this week, with Josh Allen and the Bills welcoming New England to Buffalo. The Bills have gone just 3-3 since a statement win in Kansas City in Week 5, but despite their struggles, they still come into this game with the league’s second-ranked scoring offense and defense. They’re also looking up at New England in the standings but can remedy that – and perhaps more importantly, send a message to the Patriots – with a win. What seemed two months ago like an unfair matchup now looks like one of the best games of the entire season.
On the spot: Patriots CB J.C. Jackson. Jackson has allowed just a 36.4 passer rating when targeted this season, the best of any corner in the league. New England will be counting on him to stop Stefon Diggs.
Bills QB Josh Allen: Mac Jones has been very impressive in his rookie season, but the Bills should still have a massive advantage at the most important position on the field. Allen needs to play like that is indeed the case.
The pick: Bills 26 Patriots 14
Chris Mueller is the co-host of The PM Team with Poni & Mueller on Pittsburgh's 93.7 The Fan, Monday-Friday from 2-6 p.m. ET. Owner of a dog with a Napoleon complex, consumer of beer, cooker of chili, closet Cleveland Browns fan. On Twitter at @ChrisMuellerPGH – please laugh.