New England @ Cincinnati
Oh boy, the Patriots were caught possibly cheating again. And now it’s just getting desperate. Trying to get a competitive advantage over the Bengals?!? They’re the Bengals, that’s your competitive advantage right there. Some are outraged at another instance of New England attempting to work around the league’s regulations, but I am more intrigued by the fact that it happened at all. Have the Pats really sunk so low that they need to cheat to beat Cincinnati? With the way the Patriots’ offense has been playing, maybe it’s not so far-fetched. Over the last five games they’re averaging only 17.6 points per contest. What’s more, the Bengals have only given up 16.5 per game in their last four. Don’t look back any further on the Cincy schedule, because it will ruin the point I’m trying to make. Also, who cares about the start of the season? This is the NFL, where teams evolve over the course of a year, just like football espionage tactics evolve over the course of a decade. Obviously New England won’t lose this game, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see their offense continue to be stymied. Unless of course they really did learn all of the Bengals’ defensive play calls via their surveillance. How about this, if the Pats score more than 30 they obviously cheated and they must forfeit the game? Agreed? Great.
Tampa Bay @ Detroit
The Lions performance last week with third string quarterback David Blough was appropriately a little blah. Detroit has now lost six in a row, and nine of their last ten. Most of those have come without Matthew Stafford though, who surely would have shepherded this team to just below .500 as per usual. As it is though, the Lions could easily lose out and wind up with a top 5 pick in the 2020 draft, so at least they’d have something to show for this lost season. That is, until they botch their pick and eventually finish at 7-9 next season, which is really the most likely scenario. Tampa looks to be headed towards something similar this year. After starting the season at 2-6 they’ve won four of their last five. This will likely lead to an 8-8 finish and just enough signs of life from Jameis Winston to lure the Bucs into giving him a contract extension. So basically, meet you both back here next year? Same seats!
Chicago @ Green Bay
Nobody seems to be talking about the Packers right now. They’re 10-3, and still squarely in the mix to get one of the NFC’s two byes in the playoffs. Yet the only chatter about them is coming from their fans’ teeth! Agagaga brrrrr! It’s cold baby! Any postseason discussion surrounding the Bears will be silenced with their next loss, because it will all but eliminate them from contention. And you know there’s nothing the Packers would like more than to force the Bears to the brink. That’s right, nothing. Not even world peace or an end to hunger. It’s a strange stance for the organization to take, especially considering they volunteered that information unprompted. That sentiment flies in the face of the holiday spirit, but it ain’t Christmas yet baby! Go get ‘em Pack!
Houston @ Tennessee
First place in the AFC South is at stake! Whoever wins here will ... likely have to win again when these teams play again in two weeks to close out the season. That’s right, due to a scheduling quirk this is the first match-up of the season for these rivals, and it comes at a perfect time, with both of them sporting identical 8-5 records. From the cursory at best amount of research I just did on a certain sports website’s Playoff Machine, it appears that if these teams split their head to head contests and finish with the same record, Houston will wind up as the division champs. That makes this game of the utmost importance for Tennessee, especially considering that their other remaining game is against the Saints, while the Texans have the Bucs in Tampa. So really the Titans should simply heed the words of their former owner Al Davis and “Just win baby.” Ok yes, Al Davis was actually the Raiders owner, but since Tennessee just trounced Oakland last Sunday they now get to co-opt their history. Sorry, those are the rules, I didn’t make them up. Ok, this one in particular I did, but let’s all just move past this and agree that this is what Al would have wanted.
Denver @ Kansas City
Last week the Chiefs got over the hump they could not surmount last season by beating the Patriots. However, you know what they say, the real humps come in the playoffs. So while this is a step in the right direction for KC, it will be a hollow accomplishment unless they can top New England come January. As it looks right now, those teams may be on a divisional round collision course. Though, there’s plenty to be done between then and now, starting this week against a Broncos team coming off their best game of the season. Denver pummeled the Texans in Houston, and ironically Drew Lock may have freed the Broncos from the shackles that have limited their offense all season. But was that breakout performance an anomaly or a sign of things to come? As usual, the answer is probably somewhere in the middle, because if this is the new norm Drew Lock will go on to be the greatest statistical quarterback in NFL history. And I don’t know about you, but I’m not ready to confidently make that prediction. Look for Lock to lack some of the fireworks from last week, and for KC to keep moving forward.
Miami @ New York Giants
Move over Broadway, there’s a new biggest show in town! Dolphins and Giants baby! Start spreading da news! I’m actually wondering if New York is a big enough stage for a game like this. In fact, maybe this match-up can’t even be contained by this planet. I propose launching these teams into space and playing the game on some sort of barge orbiting our world. That’s great, but what’s the re-entry strategy you ask; how do we get these teams back to Earth? Shhhhhhh. But what about the ... They’re gone, alright?!?
Philadelphia @ Washington
There’s a good chance that the Eagles could be in first place after this week. Then again, they could go out and play like they did against the Giants last Monday and fully squander their opportunity this time around. Washington actually hasn’t been that pathetic over the last three weeks, so there is some danger here. With the way the Eagles offense has been sputtering, and the way that Washington’s offense is terrible, don’t expect many points. In fact, most of the points in the stadium will be from Washington fans’ fingers as they direct security towards the Eagles fan in their section that has passed out in a pool of their friend’s vomit. Philly pholks are naturally disgruntled, so if this mess of a season comes fully off the rails with losses here and next week against the Cowboys, the entire city could revert to martial law until 2020 at the earliest. I don’t think they’ll lose this week, but you never know, so keep your head on a swivel everybody.
Seattle @ Carolina
For teams that aren’t in each other’s division these two sure play each other an awful lot. Since Russell Wilson entered the league in 2012 the Seahawks and Panthers have played 6 times in the regular season and twice in the playoffs. Interestingly, and perhaps nefariously, only two of the regular season games in that span have been hosted by Seattle. And if you’ll simply glance up to the header of this segment you’ll notice that they’re playing in Carolina again. What gives? The real answer is probably something to do with the way the league rotates its schedules, but I presume that this is just another case of the NFL showing favoritism to the Panthers. We all know that the league considers Carolina their marquee franchise and that they’ve just been dying to make Charlotte the epicenter of all things football for years now. Hell, they awarded the city the next five Super Bowls! This corruption has got to stop! And the only way for that to happen is for the Panthers themselves to fade further into irrelevancy. A loss here would certainly help.
Jacksonville @ Oakland
“Hello ladies and germs, we’re the Jacksonville Jaguars, and based on play recently we feel confident in saying that we are the worst team in football.”
“Not so fast!” Shouted the Raiders from the back of the room.
Yes, it’s debatable which one of these squadrons is actually playing worse right now, but they’re both unquestionably bad. The Jags are in more of a full freefall, having lost their last five games by the respective margins of 23, 20, 22, 17, and 35. Please note I said respective margins, not respectable. While Oakland’s current streak of futility isn’t as prolonged, it’s similarly repugnant. They’ve lost their last three games by a combined total of 83 points. It’s fitting that two teams from which no light can escape are playing in the final game in Oakland, home of the Black Hole. It’s for this very reason that I’ll pick the Raiders to win, because if they don’t, perhaps the team itself won’t be able to escape either. And yes, by that I mean that the fans in Oakland will kill all of them.
Cleveland @ Arizona
I went from Cleveland, Arizona all the way to Tacoma, oh wait those aren’t the right ly-rics. But honestly that was the first thing that came to mind when I saw this match-up. The second thing was Baker vs. Kyler! Oklahoma QBs who have won the last two Heismans (as long as you read this before Saturday night). And I say since this game has little to no stakes, why not make it a little more interesting and put those Hesimans on the line? That’s right, whichever QB wins will now be a two-time Heisman winner. Archie Griffin will be none too thrilled, but who cares? This baby needs some juice!
Minnesota @ Los Angeles Chargers
This game was originally scheduled for the Sunday night slot, but was flexed out by NBC. Boy I’ll bet the network is kicking itself now after seeing that beating the Chargers handed to Jacksonville last week. What’s that? They didn’t watch? No one did? Oh. Well it happened, and I’ve got the highlights to prove it. Hmm, I actually can’t seem to find any online right now. That’s weird, because I’m sure I saw some of that game last Sunday. Or at least I think I did ... Did the Chargers and Jags actually play? Is Avril Lavigne the same person she always was? The Vikings seem to be the same team they’ve been all season. They won again in Minnesota last week and are now the only team in the league who’s undefeated at home. Of course, that means that they have a less than sterling 3-4 mark on the road. But, good news for the Vikings, this game is at Dignity Health Sports Park, where every game is a home game, as long you’re not the Chargers. That being said, I have a feeling that the lesser-known LA team could be poised for an upset this week.
Los Angeles Rams @ Dallas
This is an interesting match-up, with one of the teams scratching and clawing to get to a wild card spot, while the other continues to fail their way to a division championship. Theoretically the Rams could win out and still miss the playoffs at 11-5, while the Cowboys could make it in at 7-9 and host a first round game. It’s a peculiar and maddening situation, but sometimes it leads to GD miracles so I’m not too worried about it. In a league as cyclical as the NFL eventually everyone will get screwed over by a mediocre division champ, and that’s the type of random, unjust equality I can get behind. If the scenario I laid out earlier does come to pass this will be a fun game to point to as an example of just how unfair the situation is because of how the Rams rolled over the Cowboys.
Atlanta @ San Francisco
It’s a renewal of one of the league’s most perplexing rivalries. From 1967-2001 these two played each other twice a year because, starting with the 1970 merger, the Atlanta Falcons were in the NFC West. It makes sense though when you consider that the city of Atlanta used to be in Utah. A lot of people think it was just an odd man out situation in which the Falcons got stuck in that division because there just weren’t enough teams west of the Mississippi. But those people are wrong, it’s because it used to be Atlanta, Utah. The whole city moved prior to the 1996 Summer Olympics because Georgia offered them tax breaks. Once the league expanded to 32 teams in 2002 realignment moved the Atlanta (Georgia) Falcons to their more appropriate home in the NFC South. It’s safe to say that few, if any, of today’s players know that history, or the history of this rivalry, so don’t expect to see any of the familiarity-bred contempt you may have in past decades.
Buffalo @ Pittsburgh
It's a clash between the AFC's current wild card teams. But just how wild will this one be? Let's find out what Cris Collinsworth thinks:
Indianapolis @ New Orleans
Seeing this match-up on the schedule in prime time conjures up a memory of their 2011 Sunday Night clash. Well, maybe clash is an inaccurate choice of words, though it was sort of a clash of styles in that one of the teams was playing football, while the other certainly was not. You see, the final score of that fateful game was Saints 62, Colts 7, and we were treated to it as a nation in prime time. For some added context, this was the season that Peyton Manning was forced to sit out with an injury, so what had appeared to be a great match-up when the schedule was made instead became a battle of former Purdue quarterbacks, with Drew Brees taking on Curtis Painter. The resulting debacle led NBC to create something called the “Painter Flex” which dictated that network execs could flex a game out of Sunday Night based on taking one look at the quarterback’s picture. It’s why Mike Glennon has never played on Sunday night. Odds are we’ll see a closer game this Monday, but with the Saints coming off a loss and the Colts continuing to slump, look for New Orleans to win by double digits. Also look for Curtis Painter to perform the ceremonial opening coin toss to commemorate his historic 2011 performance. Just don’t be surprised if one of the Saints players intercepts it.