With the passing of each week, a wild playoff picture begins to receive another teaspoon of clarity, but the process is taking longer than usual. The Denver Broncos will make the playoffs while the Jacksonville Jaguars won't. Otherwise, many teams are still lingering near the middle of the fold.
What teams will climb closer to the top this weekend, if even just for one glorious week? Who will dig out of the cellar to salvage pride, if not to fight for a postseason bid?
Find out that (and more) in this week's episode of the National Football League.
|Away||Predicted Score||Home||Time (ET)|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||13-9||Cleveland Browns (-1.5)||1 p.m.|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||20-27||Detroit Lions (-9)||1 p.m.|
|Minnesota Vikings||16-24||Green Bay Packers (-4.5)||1 p.m.|
|San Diego Chargers||13-20||Kansas City Chiefs (-5)||1 p.m.|
|Chicago Bears||20-17||St. Louis Rams (-1)||1 p.m.|
|Carolina Panthers (-4.5)||17-6||Miami Dolphins||1 p.m.|
|New York Jets||10-20||Baltimore Ravens (-3.5)||1 p.m.|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||9-24||Houston Texans (-10)||1 p.m.|
|Tennessee Titans||21-20||Oakland Raiders (-1)||4:05 p.m.|
|Indianapolis Colts||27-23||Arizona Cardinals (-2.5)||4:05 p.m.|
|Dallas Cowboys||34-26||New York Giants (-2.5)||4:25 p.m.|
|Denver Broncos (-2.5)||35-31||New England Patriots||8:30 p.m.|
|San Francisco 49ers (-6)||27-14||Washington Redskins||8:30 p,m. (Mon.)|
Spreads courtesy of Vegas Insider
Carolina Panthers at Miami Dolphins
This game is about to make both conferences a lot more interesting.
A Dolphins win would keep them afloat in the AFC while preventing the Panthers from pulling away with a sizable lead in the NFC Wild Card. But if the Panthers obtain the more probable victory, they will continue to challenge the New Orleans Saints in the NFC South.
More notably, they'd make an even bigger mess out of the AFC.
Seven AFC teams enter the weekend with four wins, trailing the Dolphins and New York Jets at 5-5. That could quickly divulge into a mad scramble of 5-6 teams clamoring for the conference's final playoff spot.
Bank on that happening. After eating up middling squads for a month, the Panthers conquered the San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots in consecutive weeks. Armed with a defense leading the NFL with 13.5 points allowed per game, the Panthers are truly a legit title contender.
The Dolphins, on the other hand, not so much. Their best unit is their 19th-ranked passing defense. The offensive line has surrendered a league-worst 41 sacks, and for some reason the team still thinks Daniel Thomas should split carries with Lamar Miller.
If these two teams are wild-card representatives from each conference, that's saying a lot about them.
Prediction: Panthers 17, Dolphins 6
Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans
This game is pretty huge for those trying to handicap the 2014 NFL draft.
The imploding Texans could make the race for the No. 1 pick awfully interesting by expanding their losing streak to seven on Sunday. After slipping up in a win over the Tennessee Titans in Week 10, the Jaguars can maintain their firm position as the league's worst with another deflating defeat.
With a little imagination, every game has astronomical implications.
The smart money says this is the week Houston snaps out of its funk. Can the league's best defense in terms of yards allowed continue to host so many losses? They can't keep losing tightly battled games determined by five points or less, right?
Then again, the same logic led to misfires in picking them to beat the Arizona Cardinals and Oakland Raiders, so maybe it's time to give up on them for good.
Then again, this is the Jaguars. Chad Henne will be baffled by Houston's secondary, and Case Keenum won't get benched this time.
Prediction: Texans 24, Jaguars 9
Denver Broncos at New England Patriots
Apparently Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are both pretty good.
The two legendary quarterbacks will both take the field this Sunday night. It's the 14th time these future Hall of Famers will face off, and NFL on ESPN's Twitter account notes that Brady holds the upper hand.
Including playoffs, Tom Brady is 9-4 in his career vs Peyton Manning.— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) November 21, 2013
Of course, how Manning's Indianapolis Colts fared years ago is now of little consequence. With 3,572 passing yards, a 69.9 completion percentage and 34 passing touchdowns, Manning is experiencing the best season of his career. If he maintains his current pace, he'll break Brady's single-season touchdown record set in 2007.
Who will win on Sunday night?
Brady, on the other hand, is posting a career-low 58.7 completion percentage and his lowest yards per attempt mark (6.72) since 2002. But he's played better lately with Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola at his disposal.
New England is certainly capable of rattling out an upset at home, but how do you bet against a team that scores 39.8 points per game? When scoring 27 points is a down week, pick that team to win.
Prediction: Broncos 35, Patriots 31