By: David Dzienis
New Orleans Saints @ Atlanta Falcons
Defense is the name of the game in this divisional matchup Sunday afternoon. Ever since the Falcons turned head coaching duties over to Raheem Morris the team has improved immensely. Which means the defense has improved because, let’s face it, this offense is a juggernaut when Julio Jones is healthy. The defense gave up huge lead after huge lead to start the season with a five-game losing streak. The Saints come into this game with a back-up QB who looks more like an RB and might be a TE. Their defense however has more than picked up the slack, leading the league in multiple categories over the last month or so. If Julio is healthy for this rematch, expect the Falcons to keep it closer than the previous contest.
N.O. 27- ATL 23
Cleveland Browns @ Tennessee Titans
While the previous game was all about defense, this game is all about punishing run games. For the seemingly playoff-bound Browns, the combo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt seems to be too much for any defense to handle. Mix in just enough of a passing game to be respectable, and this offense feels like it can hang with any team in the league. Defensively the Browns expect to get Myles Garrett back this week, and they are going to need him if they have any hope of slowing down Derrick Henry. Of course, it’s likely not to matter, as Mr. December has proven to be unstoppable in the final stretch of any recent season. While the run game may dominate the story for this game, it may well come down to which team can pass the best. Ryan Tannehill has been proficient this season and if his favorite toy, AJ Brown, is healthy and able to go, I’d expect fireworks in this one!
CLE 31-TEN 36
Indianapolis Colts @ Houston Texans
Coming off of a blowout loss to the aforementioned Titans, Indianapolis comes into this week’s matchup against Houston with some positive vibes. They expect RB Jonathan Taylor and defenders Denico Autry and Deforest Buckner to return from the Covid list this week. A fully powered Colts defense is considered one of the top ranked units in the league while the bruising Taylor has proven to be a reliable, yet rarely explosive talent. The Texans come in with the opposite scenario, losing both CB Bradley Roby and WR Will Fuller to season ending suspensions. There is little doubt that Deshaun Watson should be able to outduel the aging Philip Rivers, but with a depleted team around him, he is going to have to pull off some insane stunts to win this divisional bout.
IND 24-HOU 21
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Minnesota Vikings
The two current runner ups for the rushing title clash this week when Dalvin Cook's Vikings host James Robinson and the one-win Jaguars. The QB carousel in Jacksonville this year has really affected this team's ceiling. None of the wideouts seem to be able to get into a rhythm with a different QB at the helm each week. While Robinson may be the feel-good story of the year, this team has a ton of holes to fill, although injuries have certainly aided in this squad’s demise. Cook is coming off of one of his worst games of the year, although he was slowed by an in-game injury. With Adam Thielen coming back, a rested Cook, and ROY candidate Justin Jefferson, the Vikings are looking at staying in the playoff race, however far their chances may currently be.
JAC 20-MIN 35
Cincinnati Bengals @ Miami Dolphins
Neither of these organizations headed into the season with much hope. Both teams fresh off terrible seasons the year before, it appeared both the Bengals and dolphins would be in rebuild mode. They both had hope, drafting young star quarterbacks this year. Cincinnati was loving the talent Joe Burrow was showing, but a devastating knee injury cut his season short. With both him and leading rusher Joe Mixon out, this offense has been stagnant. Miami on the other hand is driven by a dominant defense. They are carrying an offense that has almost no running game and wideouts that can’t stay healthy or consistent. Of course, it probably doesn’t help that the organization can’t seem to decide between veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick and rookie Tua Tagovailoa.
CIN 10-MIA 27
Detroit Lions @ Chicago Bears
Speaking of teams with a QB issue, we got the Bears hosting their divisional foe Lions this week. AS of now, Mitchell Trubisky is getting the start over a banged-up Nick Foles. Neither QB has been very effective this season, but then again, this entire offense has been terrible, save for Allen Robinson. The defense, which had been the reason for Chicago’s five game win streak to start the season, has fallen off recently, with last week’s thrashing at the hands of Aaron Rodgers being the worst game of the season for them. The Lions aren’t in a good situation either. Coming off of a Thanksgiving loss that saw both the GM and head coach get fired, they need some of their stars to return from injury this week to keep this game competitive. Both WR Kenny Golladay and RB D’Andre Swift are currently questionable for the contest.
DET 13- CHI 16
Las Vegas Raiders @ New York Jets
The Raiders got embarrassed last week and will hope to stop the two-game skid they are on against the winless Jets. Despite taking the Super Bowl champs to the brink, not to mention beating them earlier in the season, this Las Vegas team looks lost. With Josh Jacobs out, they will have to lean more heavily on Derek Carr to get back on track against a hapless Jets defense. The Jets really shouldn’t be even trying to win and should instead focus on evaluating the rest of their roster. However, they are still giving Sam Darnold a shot. With his full complement of receivers finally healthy, maybe he can get back into the end zone, which he hasn’t accomplished in four straight games.
L.V. 31-N.Y.J. 17
Los Angeles Rams @ Arizona Cardinals
A divisional bout in the best division in football this season is a great way to start the late afternoon games. Which Rams and Cardinals offenses will show up is the big question. The Cardinals’ Kyler Murray has been slowed down lately and has struggled against the blitz. In comes defensive monster Aaron Donald and the very sturdy Rams defense. The Rams offense doesn’t seem to have an identity. Despite having a great receiving duo, the running game is undefined and QB Jared Goff has become a turnover machine. Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods are going to have to excel against a young Cardinals defense to get this offense rolling again.
L.A.R. 21-ARI 20
New York Giants @ Seattle Seahawks
Two division leaders having completely opposite seasons make this match quite intriguing. The Giants are likely without starting QB Daniel Jones after he tweaked his hamstring last week. That would mean journeyman Colt McCoy would be the starter. He will lean heavily on TE Evan Engram and WR Sterling Shepard against the Seattle defense which has given up the most passing yards in the league. That defense has tightened up recently and has been one of the top sack teams in the league in the last several weeks. The Seahawks offense is humming once again with the return of RB Chris Carson to the line-up. The real story however has been the connection between QB Russell Wilson and emerging star WR D.K. Metcalf. Despite seeing constant attention from the league's best DB’s, Metcalf leads the league in yards with over 1000 already on the year.
N.Y.G. 13-SEA 35
Philadelphia Eagles @ Green Bay Packers
Carson Wentz and the Eagles are heading to Green Bay to take on Aaron Rodgers in a must win game. A half game back from both the WFT and the Giants, Philadelphia needs to get some kind of rhythm on offense to hope to stay in contention for the division. Rumblings throughout the city are calling for backup QB Jalen Hurts to be put in. Whether this is fair or not is a huge debate, considering the lack of weapons and onslaught of injuries this squad has dealt with. The Packers are also considered a no-name offense, besides Davante Adams. Aaron Rodgers has still somehow managed to perform at an MVP-worthy pace. If the Green Bay defense can step-up to the offense’s level, this team would be a scary opponent to face come playoff time.
PHI 17-G.B. 35
New England Patriots @ Los Angeles Chargers
A former rookie of the year facing off against the leading candidate for this year’s award makes this matchup an interesting one. While Cam Newton isn’t having a stellar season as far as the stat-line goes, he still somehow has the Patriots in the playoff hunt. Another team with no real stars on offense, the shaky but solid defense and one of the league's most consistent run games has kept them afloat. The Chargers on the other hand look like next year’s scariest team. With a ton of blown leads and one score losses, Justin Herbert has Chargers fans excited for the future. With the return of RB Austin Ekeler last week this team looks more balanced and poised to ruin a few playoff teams hopes this season.
N.E. 17-L.A.C. 21
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