Carolina @ Atlanta
In 2018 the Panthers started out 6-2 then proceeded to go 1-7 in the second half of the season in a pitiful collapse. This year seems to be playing out in almost identical fashion. After a 5-3 start Carolina has lost four straight. There’s something about that midpoint in the season that makes the Panthers crumble. Maybe it’s the colder weather, or injuries, or perhaps just general fatigue. But I think the overriding factor is obvious: These cats got Christmas fever! They see the ads and the decorations start to pop up and they lose all focus. Most of their positional meetings are spent fine-tuning their Christmas lists and revising their letters to Santa. As you may remember, Cam Newton didn’t play in the last two games in 2018. It turns out, this wasn’t due to injury as originally reported. What really happened is that Newton peeked under the tree, and when he didn’t see the LEGO set he’d asked for he became so distraught that he refused to play for the remainder of the season. You’re probably thinking all of this sounds dumb, or made up, and sure, you’re probably right. But until I’m explicitly told by a member of the Panthers that that’s not the issue I’ll continue to propagate this narrative.
Baltimore @ Buffalo
After the Ravens grinded their way to a 20-17 win over the 49ers last week I heard multiple pundits say the close win may have given them even more confidence in Baltimore because it showed they could win a tightly-contested slugfest. I see what they’re saying, and I have to say that I ... disagree. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but to me blowing someone out is the more impressive way to win. That 3 point victory did go to show that no one in the NFL is invincible. Not since Mark Wahlberg retired anyway. Sure the Ravens have run roughshod over the league for months, but it would be foolhardy to believe they're unbeatable, no team is. Well that’s not true actually, any team from the past who’s since had a player die is now technically unbeatable since that original team can’t be recreated, but you get what I’m saying, right? Now does that mean I think the Bills will triumph over Baltimore on Sunday? Not so fast jocko, I didn’t say that. But, I wouldn’t be shocked. Stunned maybe, but not shocked.
Cincinnati @ Cleveland
After reinserting Andy Dalton at starting quarterback the Bengals finally won their first game of the season. There’s now an intriguing scenario in play here: could Andy Dalton win enough games to move Cincinnati out of the #1 overall pick in next year’s draft, meaning they couldn't get their desired college quarterback, and keep his starting job as a result? Absolutely. Dalton is out here fighting for his livelihood and he’ll destroy everything in his path, including his own franchise, if need be. Meanwhile, the Browns don’t need any help destroying their franchise, they have years of experience in that department. After a brief glimmer of hope last month Cleveland’s season is now all but over. A loss to the pathetic Bengals would be a fitting cherry on top of this brown sundae. Oh don’t be gross, it’s just chocolate ice cream. I swear. Go on, have a bite ...
Washington @ Green Bay
What I’m about to tell you may shock and disturb you, so please brace yourself. Ready? Here it goes ... Washington can still make the playoffs. That’s right, two weeks ago they were 1-9 and now they’re two and a half games behind the Cowboys for the NFC East lead. More than anything that’s an indictment of the division and its receding standard. It’s not as if Washington suddenly quantum leaped into a much better record, they’re only 3-9. That’s the sort of divisional futility we’re dealing with here. In fact, it’s the worst divisional futility since a Pennsylvanian 10 year old named Carl Funch struggled his way through math class in the 4th grade. He just could not pick up the more advanced concepts. Washington’s slim, baffling playoff hopes will likely be snuffed out soon, but hey, it ain’t over until they’re mathematically eliminated. Just don’t ask Carl Funch when that will be, because he won’t be able to figure it out.
Detroit @ Minnesota
Banged up Vikings running back Dalvin Cook insists that he’ll be able to suit up for this one. But should he bother? Minnesota is playing the Lions after all. Detroit is in the bottom 10 in the league in rush defense, and come to think of it, in the bottom 10 in the league in terms of winning percentage too. It would probably be wise for Cook to take the week off and heal up. I’m sure the Vikings can win with Alexander Mattison at running back. Hell, they could probably get by with Billy Mattison. Yes, I know the movie character is Billy Madison, that’s not who I’m talking about. I’m referring to Billy Mattison, SMU’s leading rusher in 1987. I’m not an idiot, ok?!? And if Dalvin Cook isn’t one either, he’ll sit this one out.
San Francisco @ New Orleans
Triple P alert! A possible playoff preview. The Niners conclude their extremely tough three game stretch with this trip to New Orleans that could end up determining who finishes the season with the #1 seed in the NFC playoffs. While these teams have identical records they’ve gone about getting to this point in different fashions. San Francisco outscores opponents by an average of 14, with both of their losses coming on last second field goals. The Saints only average 4 more points than their adversaries, and their losses have come by 18 and 17. So does this mean the Niners are a better team than the Saints? It’s probably more complicated than that, but maybe. Even with that possibility though, I’d hesitate to pick New Orleans to lose in the SuperDome. Though, the Saints did just lose to Atlanta there, so why couldn’t San Fran go get this win? Well, maybe Jimmy Garoppolo’s occasionally shaky play will be exacerbated by the hostile environment. Hmm, tough call. I’ll pick the road team and gladly regret it if necessary.
Miami @ New York Jets
Both of these teams have won three of their last five. Do you know what other AFC East team has won three of their last five? That’s right, the New England Patriots. Finally the rest of the division is ready to challenge the Pats! Unfortunately it’s far too late for these teams to do anything this season, but in 2020 ... Well they’ll still probably be nothing more than the third and fourth teams that are required to fill out a full NFL division. But, in the last five weeks these squads are in the same boat as New England. It’s an upgrade over their usual boat, which is just a bunch of barely buoyant logs loosely bound by twine.
Indianapolis @ Tampa Bay
The first time most of us became familiar with Bruce Arians’ bulbous, red, probably constipated person he was on the Colts’ sideline in 2012 acting as Indy’s interim head coach. And now he gets a crack at his former employer. Though, I think we’d be misconstruing the situation if we called this a revenge game, seeing as how the sides parted amicably when Arians moved on to become the Cardinals full-time head coach. Safe to say there are no hard feelings here. Coincidentally enough “No Hard Feelings” is the name of the medication Arians takes for his constipation. The Colts have lost four of their last five and have all but played themselves completely out of playoff contention. Their slim hopes could be ripped to shreds by a Bucs team that is actually pretty decent when they can avoid catastrophic accidents. And as long as Bruce Arians doesn’t overdo it on the No Hard Feelings he’s able to avoid catastrophic accidents too.
Denver @ Houston
The Texans have won back to back big games and look to maybe be finally getting their footing. Of course that means that they’ll come out on Sunday and inexplicably lose to Denver. Just when you think you’ve got all the answers, the Texans ask a new, much more confusing question. Just look at their results pattern this season; starting in Week 1: loss, win, win, loss, win, win, loss, win, win, loss, win, win. Am I the only one that sees how obvious this is?!? Houston is going to lay an absolute stinker at home and lose to the Broncos! Then again, for a team that constantly defies expectations wouldn’t it somehow make sense for them to establish a season-long pattern only to break it now? Not surprisingly I’m more confused now then when I started writing. Let’s see, does one of these teams have a rookie quarterback making his first ever road start? They do? Oh, well then great. I’ll go with Houston and feel totally unsure about it all the while.
Los Angeles Chargers @ Jacksonville
Earlier this week I saw a headline on the ESPN ticker that said “Jacksonville Discontinues Football Program.” Turns out they were talking about the college, but for a second I assumed it was the Jags and thought, “Ah, that makes sense.” I don’t think any of us would be shocked if the Jaguars organization decided to call it quits. They are moving on from Nick Foles for the remainder of 2019, and it’s kind of a bummer. I mean, did he do a great job since coming back? No. But did he give them the best chance to win? Also no. So yeah, I guess this move makes sense from a performance standpoint. However, Jacksonville gave Foles franchise quarterback money this past offseason, so moving on from him after three full, albeit lousy, games seems a tad rash. Speaking of, have you ever had a rash on your tad? Not pretty. And neither is this situation in Jacksonville. Of course, they’ll probably get a win this week, because they’re playing the Chargers, who are bound and determined to continue losing the most improbable games in the most improbable ways. It’s like how Nickelodeon’s Wild and Crazy Kids would “Go anywhere, or do anything to find kids having fun!” Except with the Chargers instead of finding kids having fun it’s losing ridiculously.
Tennessee @ Oakland
Two weeks ago the Raiders were 6-4 and sitting squarely in the second AFC wild card spot. Since then they have plummeted back to earth. Then they drilled down further and nestled even deeper underneath the surface. Oakland has lost their last two games by a combined score of 74-12. I’m afraid the pressure may have been too much for them to bear. Now they’re back on the outside looking in, so perhaps they can play free and loose again. Or counter perhaps, this most recent stretch is more indicative of who the Raiders really are. We’ll learn more this Sunday when Oakland welcomes the Titans, one of the teams directly above them in the conference standings. It’s ironic that this weekend Tennessee will be heading toward Oakland, because lately they’ve been going in the opposite direction. The Titans have been taking care of business, without working overtime. And for Tennessee, that's working out. I expect the Raiders to continue their slide against what seems to be a clearly superior opponent.
Kansas City @ New England
In the words of Cris Collinsworth, “Ok, heeeeere we go again ...” It’s the same old Patriots narrative, and we’re not going to be fooled this time. Oh, the offense is struggling, and maybe Brady just won’t be able to make it work with this hodgepodge receiving corps? And oh oh, it’s time for these young quarterbacks in the AFC to unseat the Pats and end the Brady/Belichick dynasty? And oh oh oh, New England just doesn’t look like the Super Bowl favorite they did earlier in the season? Pfffffffft. Nice try jerk-ass, I ain’t falling for it again. We all know the Patriots are going to the Super Bowl like they always do, and that they’ll probably get there in some sort of miraculously infuriating fashion. That being said, if they lose this one to the Chiefs, that will mean their three losses on the season have all come against their likely main postseason challengers. It certainly wouldn’t bode well for them if they can’t compete with the other top teams in the conference. Hmm, maybe the Pats are in trouble ... NO! I’m not talking myself into this. I won’t let myself believe it could be. If I don’t let myself hope then I can’t be hurt again. Then again ...
Pittsburgh @ Arizona
Let’s put the reliable old transitive property to work here. The Cardinals were blown out last week 34-7 by the Rams who were coming off their own embarrassing loss against the Ravens by a score of 45-6. Therefore, if the Ravens played the Cardinals Baltimore would win by 66 points! Wow, can you imagine that? Wait, these teams did play in Week 2, and the Ravens won by ... 6 points?!? What the hell? Look, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again right now, NFL scores don’t make sense. Trying to predict what they will be is a foolish endeavor entered into only by the truest dullards society has to offer. Anyway, here’s what I think this one will be:
Seattle @ Los Angeles Rams
The Seahawks can clinch a playoff spot with a win, but the Rams can hardly afford a loss. So what gives? Let's ask SNF analyst Cris Collinsworth what he thinks:
New York Giants @ Philadelphia
Daniel Jones is injured, which means the Giants have to turn back to Eli Manning as their quarterback, possibly for the remainder of the season. It’s like a movie where the gang calls the specialist out of retirement for one last job. Except this time he’s coming back just to work in the bank, not rob it. There won’t be any fireworks or car chases, just an old gent playing out the string on his career, trying to make sure he qualifies for pension. The Eagles really need a win here, but they’ve needed a win for weeks, so clearly necessity doesn’t dictate ability in this case. If Philly loses to the Ol’ Eli Gang on Monday they should do the noble thing and recuse themselves from further playoff consideration. Save some face. A graceful exit is all that Eli wanted, but now the Giants have dragged him back in. This might be on their terms, but he’s going to end it on his ... Which of course means sloppy play, a handful of interceptions, a smattering of fumbles, and maybe one win.