The NFL's December schedule begins Thursday night in Philadelphia, where Andre Johnson, Arian Foster and the Houston Texans take on Michael Vick and the Eagles in a game each team needs to win to protect their fragile places in tight playoff hunts.
Of course, that is not the marquee matchup of Week 13. In fact, the biggest game of the week will not be played until Monday night, when the Patriots and Jets square off in Foxboro for supremacy of not only the AFC East, but the entire AFC. In between those two, there will be a fistful of other games going a long way toward determining the winners of divisions, and some others pitting Wild Card hopefuls in need of a strong finish to the season.
Read on for the updated spreads, picks and fantasy advice for all 16 games in the NFL's critical Week 13.
Spread: Philadelphia -8.5
Prediction: 28-21 Eagles
Start: DeSean Jackson, Michael Vick, Arian Foster
Sit: Matt Schaub
The Texans' pass defense is not merely the worst in the NFL—It is the worst in recent memory. Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson should be able to have their way with Houston in the vertical passing game, and Vick (taking advantage of the lack of speed in Houston's front seven) should make plenty of plays when nothing is open downfield.
Meanwhile, Matt Schaub is a dangerous play this week against ball-hawking Asante Samuel, especially because Houston's passing game has become more and more reliant upon Andre Johnson during the past few weeks.
Spread: Minnesota -6
Prediction: 24-13 Vikings
Start: Steve Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Visanthe Shiancoe
Sit: Brett Favre, Ryan Fitzpatrick, C.J. Spiller
Life remains in the eyes and hearts of the Vikings, who won Leslie Frazier's debut in Washington last week. The front seven, much maligned all season, should still be good enough to shut down the Bills' meager running game, and only receiver Steve Johnson offers real fantasy value for the Bills.
Defense will be the difference for Minnesota, and they should cover the spread en route to their fifth win. Look for a receiving touchdown from Shiancoe, a favorite target for Favre against defenses built (as Buffalo's is) around a 3-4 scheme.
Spread: Dolphins -4.5
Prediction: 20-17 Browns
Start: Peyton Hillis
Sit: Everyone and everything else
Media outlets and sports sites love to talk about Peyton Hillis as the Great White Hope at running back, but really, he is the Great Big Hope. It has nothing to do with race; Hillis is just a truck of a man in a way that has gone far out of vogue for feature backs in this league.
Hillis' Browns steam-rolled the Patriots and Saints not long ago, so they have a great chance to upset the Dolphins in Miami this Sunday. With Chad Henne and Brandon Marshall nursing injuries, the Fins are as vulnerable as they can get right now.
Spread; Titans -2
Prediction: 23-17 Jaguars
Start: Maurice Jones-Drew, Chris Johnson, Kenny Britt
Sit: Randy Moss, David Garrard, any and all Tennessee QBs
The Jags are one of the NFL's great frauds of the season so far, but they are not as badly lost as the Titans. Tennessee lost 20-0 Sunday to a Texans squad that is not even playing all that well. Randy Moss is not even a decent decoy at this point, though that seems to be a result of the fear factor and effort being gone, rather than his tools diminishing.
Maurice Jones-Drew will need to power Jacksonville to a victory in this one, because the passing offense for the Jags is as inconsistent as these things get. He is running well enough to make that happen, though.
Spread: Chiefs -8.5
Prediction: 41-30 Chiefs
Start: Jamaal Charles, Matt Cassel, Dwayne Bowe, Kyle Orton, Brandon Lloyd
Sit: Knowshon Moreno, Defenses
Matt Cassel and the Chiefs have every reason to be ready to play every week for the rest of the season. They lead the AFC West, but their closest competitors (San Diego) may be the hottest team in football. Kansas City may put a little extra barbecue sauce intro preparing for this one, though, after Denver embarrassed them 49-29 in Colorado last month.
Jamaal Charles has at least 120 all-purpose yards in each of his last three games and comes in ranked second in the league in rushing yards. Orton continues to put up great numbers despite his utter inability to win games. None of that will change this week though, as two porous pass defenses square off. Take the over in this one.
Spread: Giants -7
Prediction: 13-7 Giants
Start: Eli Manning, Kevin Boss, Mario Manningham
Sit: Ahmad Bradshaw, Donovan McNabb
Yardage is easy to come by against the Redskins' defense, but points are a different story. The pace of Washington games seems painfully slow, but that is part of their strategy: They try to monopolize the game, and if they had a better running game, it might just work.
As it is, the Giants should sneak away with a win, but it will not come easily. Half the offensive line and the team's two best wide receivers are likely out, so look for Eli Manning to use his tight end and running backs as safety valves even near the goal line.
Spread: Bears -3.5
Prediction: 24-20 Lions
Start: Calvin Johnson, Matt Forte
Sit: Jay Cutler, Jahvid Best, Devin Hester, Johnny Knox
The Bears are overdue to lose a game or two, having seemingly stolen so many this season. Meanwhile, the Lions deserve a break against a good team at home. More than that, the universe (read: the NFL official rule book) owes the Lions one after the Week 1 rules debacle that stole a win from Detroit.
It has not been the blitz-happy foes that have penetrated the Bears backfield and cause problems for Cutler this year, but those with strong and aggressive defensive lines. The Lions, led by Ndamukong Suh, have just such a crew on hand.
Spread: Packers -9.5
Prediction: 30-14 Packers
Start: Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings, Brian Westbrook
Sit: Donald Driver, Vernon Davis
The Packers need to make a statement and get back on track against San Francisco after a tough loss to Atlanta last week. The 49ers secondary is a sieve in the face of efficient passing games like Green Bay's, especially because the Packers have gotten so good at passing in rhythm and avoiding undue pressure on Aaron Rodgers. In December, at Lambeau, it is hard to imagine Mike Singletary's team getting the best of the still-mighty Packers.
Spread: Saints -6.5
Prediction: 34-24 Saints
Start: Drew Brees, Reggie Bush, Terrell Owens
Sit: Carson Palmer, Chad Ochocinco
The Saints are getting healthy at just the right time, and should roll to victory in Cincinnati this Sunday. The Bengals are perhaps the worst team in the AFC right now, and certainly have lost the fighting spirit, if they ever had it this season.
Reggie Bush made little impact in his first game back from injury on Thanksgiving, but he should get a lot more touches as the Saints try to have him fully reinstated within their offense by the time they begin a crucial stretch of three games to close out the season.
Spread: Falcons -3
Prediction: 17-13 Buccaneers
Start: Matt Ryan, Tony Gonzalez
Sit: Josh Freeman
As unbeatable as the Falcons are starting to look in the NFC after their recent wins over Green Bay and Baltimore, there is no hungrier team in the conference than the Bucs under head coach Raheem Morris. Tampa gave Atlanta a scare on the road in Week 9, and the Falcons (6-0 at home) are a very human 3-2 on the road. This game will be the best of the week, a contest that could not possibly have bigger playoff implications played in the falling twilight of December. Feast your eyes.
Spread: Chargers -13
Prediction: 30-7 Chargers
Start: Antonio Gates, Darren McFadden
Sit: Malcolm Floyd
No sooner had Philip Rivers gotten his favorite target Vincent Jackson back, when he lost him again in the second quarter of the Chargers' Week 12 win. Fortunately, Antonio Gates seems to be at full strength, so Jackson will not be too badly missed.
Rivers' assault on the single-season passing yardage record is the biggest source of intrigue in what should be a blowout Sunday. He has fallen off the pace a bit, but he lit up Oakland for 431 yards the last time these two teams met.
Spread: Seahawks -6
Prediction: 13-3 Seahawks
Start: Mike Williams
Sit: Matt Hasselbeck, Jonathan Stewart
This game features two forgettable teams, although the Seahawks are very much in the race for the NFC West's automatic bid in the playoffs. Neither squad has put together any sort of offense over the course of the season, but then, neither has an especially sturdy defense, so this game is hard to read. One thing is for sure: Football fans throughout the Pacific Northwest and in Carolina will be wishing for FOX to switch over to Falcons-Bucs.
Spread: Colts -5.5
Prediction: 24-23 Cowboys
Start: Dez Bryant, Felix Jones, Pierre Garcon
Sit: Jon Kitna
Is it so crazy? Maybe so. Peyton Manning seems highly unlikely to let his team's playoff aspirations take a hit this big on their home turf, against an inferior team. Still, the Cowboys have played better over the past three weeks than Indianapolis, and Manning will not suddenly have the full arsenal at his disposal on Sunday: He will have to try to make the second-tier players all around him look like stars yet again for the Colts to win.
Spread: Rams -3.5
Prediction: 24-10 Rams
Start: Steve Breaston, Beanie Wells
Sit: Sam Bradford, Derek Anderson
The Cardinals might be the worst team in football since the calendar turned to October, and they are certainly the worst since the start of November. The entire team has been miserable, although the running game has occasionally found ways to keep them in games.
St. Louis will not waste time toying with Arizona; the Rams have an undeserved division title to win. Look for them to easily beat the spread.
Spread: Ravens -3
Prediction: 21-17 Steelers
Start: Heath Miller, Derrick Mason, Defenses
Sit: Ray Rice, Joe Flacco
First of all, as I look at this wonderful rivalry that has grown between Pittsburgh and Baltimore, I need to make a fairly off-hand observation: I really miss the Titans-Ravens rivalry, from the Eddie George-Jamal Lewis era. There, I said my piece.
On to Sunday night's spectacular matchup of mean-spirited defenses with speed: The Steelers have a little more beef along the front seven with which to stop Baltimore's running game than the Ravens have to slow down the studly Rashard Mendenhall. That will make the difference.
Spread: Patriots -3.5
Prediction: 24-20 Patriots
Start: Deion Branch, LaDainian Tomlinson, Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards
Sit: Dustin Keller, BenJarvus Green-Ellis
Hell hath no wrath like a Woodhead scorned, and Danny (a Jets reject who has found mini-stardom in Foxboro) will be the difference Monday night. He makes big plays by never being where defenses expect him to be, and that serves a guy very well when facing a team that so aggressively pursues (sometimes over-pursues) as the Jets do.