Just two weeks remain in the 2013 NFL regular season, and it's tough to remember a more compelling slate of matchups and storylines closing out a campaign.
Contests like Dallas at Washington, New England at Baltimore and Chicago at Philadelphia are enough to get the blood of any NFL fan pumping, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Depending on this week's results, there's the potential for several win-and-in games for Week 17.
Here are my last-minute predictions for NFL Week 16.
Jamaal Charles is putting together an MVP-caliber season, leading the Chiefs in rushing yards, receptions, receiving yards, rushing touchdowns and receiving touchdowns. He's an absolute monster.
He's also coming off a 215-yard, five-touchdown outing versus the Raiders.
This past Monday, Peter King of Sports Illustrated and The MMQB laid out Charles' case for MVP. He's been that good.
On Sunday, the Chiefs host the Colts in a likely preview of a wild-card playoff matchup. And while that game on Wild Card Weekend would take place at Lucas Oil Stadium, this one is at Arrowhead, and the Chiefs will roll behind Charles.
Indianapolis is giving up 4.4 yards per carry, and Charles will cut through its defense all game long. He'll have success on the ground and through the air, compiling no fewer than 150 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns as the Chiefs crush the Colts.
In the last two weeks, the Cowboys defense has been eviscerated by backup quarterbacks: Chicago's Josh McCown and Green Bay's Matt Flynn.
Sunday's game will mark the third consecutive game a backup signal-caller puts up huge numbers, as the Cowboys have no hope of stopping Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Cousins is coming off a 381-yard, three-touchdown performance against the Falcons and is likely salivating at the prospect of facing Dallas' porous defense. Rotowire agrees, adding:
Cousins faces a Cowboys defense that is dead last in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game. Dallas is surrendering 297 yards per game through the air. The Cowboys have also yielded 30 passing touchdowns.
Alfred Morris will have success running the football. That will open up the passing game for Cousins, who will throw for around 400 yards as the Redskins upset Dallas.
Despite taking the Bengals to the playoffs in his first two years and putting them in position to win the AFC North this season, Andy Dalton still hasn't won over his critics, and it's because he's not consistent.
Check out this quote from Bengals safety Chris Crocker, who was asked on SiriusXM NFL Radio on Saturday about whether or not he believed Dalton could take them deep into January (via Cincy Jungle's Josh Kirkendall): "We really don't have much choice. You've got to love the one that you're with."
Yikes. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
While Dalton has earned some of the criticism, he'll elevate his play on Sunday in a must-win game against the Vikings. Minnesota's pass defense is nonexistent, ranked 30th in the NFL, so Dalton will have time to find his weapons on the outside.
While questions about Dalton's ability to win in January will persist regardless of the result of Sunday's game, he'll get back on track with no fewer than three touchdown passes as the Bengals beat the Vikings.
Calvin Johnson is coming off a subpar performance (by his standards) in Monday night's heartbreaking loss to Baltimore: six receptions, 98 yards, zero touchdowns.
That's bad news for the Giants.
Cornerback Prince Amukamara is hopeful of stopping Johnson, telling Art Stapleton of The Record:
You can compare stopping Calvin Johnson to a defender locking LeBron James down to, like, 10 points and everyone being like, 'How did LeBron only score 10 points?' And then you look on the film, you see this guy who did that and he gets a name – yeah, I can definitely see that happening.
As the kids would say: LOL!
There's a reason why athletes like LeBron James and Johnson dominate: because they're just better than the competition.
Amukamara and the Giants have zero chance of stopping Johnson. He'll go over 200 receiving yards as the Lions throttle Big Blue.
When Bills head coach Doug Marrone declared starting quarterback EJ Manuel (along with starting receiver Stevie Johnson) out for Sunday's tilt against Miami, it would have been natural for fans to think their team had no chance of victory.
Those fans should remember that backup quarterback Thad Lewis has already led his team to a win over the Dolphins once this season. On Sunday, he'll do it again.
Lewis reflected on that game, via BuffaloBills.com:
It was my second time starting, and what, six, seven, eight weeks I had only been here. Now the season's almost over, and it's just become routine and (I'm more) familiar with the offense now than I was then.
This is a huge game for Miami. The Dolphins control their own destiny and will qualify for the playoffs with wins in their final two games. They proved their mettle over the last three weeks with wins over the Jets, Steelers and Patriots.
But this is going to be a tricky game for coach Joe Philbin's team. Buffalo isn't an easy place to play, and the weather could be a factor.
If Lewis can avoid turning the ball over, his play, the strong defensive line and running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson will be enough to improve Buffalo to 6-9.
The stakes are high for Sunday's game between the 10-4 Saints and 10-4 Panthers in Carolina, with the winner likely to capture the NFC South and the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs.
While the Saints have struggled on the road this season (3-4 record), they will keep it close in Carolina. One major reason why is because they will protect Drew Brees.
Saints coach Sean Payton benched left tackle Charles Brown in favor of rookie Terron Armstead, a major shake-up to an offensive line that was struggling. In addition, the team cut kicker Garrett Hartley, who had been with the organization since 2008.
It was a page out of the Bill Parcells playbook, shaking up a team with Super Bowl aspirations with cuts and benchings.
If Payton is inserting Armstead into the lineup, it's because he thinks it gives his team the best chance to win. And Payton has proven to be a good enough coach where he's earned the benefit of the doubt in situations like these.
New Orleans will rise to the occasion after its boss laid down the gauntlet as Sunday's game comes down to the closing moments.
There's no need to rub your eyes. I am most certainly making the same prediction again, this time against the Steelers. Flynn and Lacy will dominate Pittsburgh, keeping Green Bay alive in the NFC North race.
Rotowire agrees, calling Lacy a "lock" for 20-25 touches. The soon-to-be Offensive Rookie of the Year will rush all over a Steelers run defense that has allowed 4.2 yards per carry this season. Lacy is getting stronger as the playoffs draw nearer.
As for Flynn: He's Clark Kent for 31 other NFL teams, but Superman in a Packers uniform. There's no reason to believe he won't have success through the air, especially in the friendly confines of Lambeau Field.
Once again, Flynn and Lacy will play well, and the Packers will beat the Steelers.
You've got to feel for coach Bruce Arians and the Cardinals. Despite their 9-5 record, they're on the outside looking in of the NFC playoff picture. Even if they finish 11-5, they could still miss out.
Because of their precarious position, Sunday's game in Seattle is a must-win for Arians' crew. Unfortunately, Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer is hobbled by a high ankle sprain, which makes the prospect exponentially more difficult.
When the two teams met earlier this season, the Seahawks sacked Palmer seven times and intercepted him twice. They should have similar success on Sunday with Palmer not at 100 percent health.
While Palmer says his ankle is "feeling better," per Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times, he'll likely feel differently after being sacked a few times.
I don't see how Palmer lasts through the whole game, and Arizona's playoff hopes will take a serious hit.
When you think of the NFL's best rivalries, Patriots/Ravens needs to be on the list. The teams have played epic contests over the past few seasons and were the participants in the last two AFC Championship Games.
The rivalry will be renewed Sunday in Baltimore, and thanks to their defense, it'll be the Ravens who come out on top.
Baltimore is once again catching fire late in the season, having won four consecutive games to boost their record to 8-6. Conversely, the Patriots lost last weekend in Miami, and their offense doesn't look the same without Rob Gronkowski.
Tom Brady has struggled against the Ravens defense, and he knows it, telling Howard Ulman of the Associated Press (via the New Haven Register), "We haven’t had the most success against them the last few times we've played them, offensively."
There's no reason to believe Brady will find success now.
Joe Flacco will make enough plays in the passing game, Justin Tucker will convert all of his field-goal attempts, and the defense will stymie Brady as Baltimore wins and moves to 9-6.
Sunday night's matchup between the 8-6 Bears and 8-6 Eagles is rife with playoff implications and features two of the hottest offenses in football.
In the end, it will be Jay Cutler and the Bears coming out on top.
After being reinserted into the starting lineup last week, Cutler struggled in the first half against the Browns before exploding over the final 30 minutes. Cutler admitted feeling pressure to perform, according to Adam L. Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times. Once he got past that, he was back to his normal, gunslinging self.
With a confident Cutler, the Bears offense is tough for any team to handle, and the defensively challenged Eagles won't have much of a chance. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery have exploded down the stretch, and both should be in line for huge games.
Cutler will lead the Bears offense to a 40-point performance and double-digit victory in Philly, setting up a titanic clash with the Packers in Week 17 at Soldier Field.