NFL Week 13: Mike Tanier's Previews and Score Predictions

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterDecember 5, 2015

NFL Week 13: Mike Tanier's Previews and Score Predictions

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    In this week's edition of NFL Game Previews:

    • We discuss whether Austin Davis is third-stringy enough to rank among the most third-stringy quarterbacks in Browns third-string quarterback history.

    • The Vikings try to out-Seahawks the Seahawks.

    • Matt Hasselbeck takes his rightful place among the Magic Spunky Geezer Quarterbacks.

    • We tag along with Chip Kelly and Bill Belichick on their genius-buddy lunch.

    • Odell Beckham Jr. searches for a new dance partner.

    • The Panthers lose an imaginary game against the 2007 Patriots and 1972 Dolphins. Prepare to be outraged!

    • The NFC East first-place circus comes to town inside the Beltway.

    And much more!

    Game Previews are presented in the order you are supposed to read them. All times Eastern.

Seattle Seahawks (6-5) at Minnesota Vikings (8-3), Sunday, 1 p.m.

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    The Vikings don't really care if you find their offense boring. They aren't trying to innovate the NFL or win style points. They are putting a fullback and a tight end or three in front of Adrian Peterson and pounding the ball down your throat until you surrender. If that doesn't work, they'll try again.

    Andrew Krammer at ESPN 1500 Twin Cities and Ben Goessling of ESPN.com go deep inside this 1970s-flavored offense. The Vikings have scaled back on shotgun sets, in part because Peterson isn't as comfortable carrying the ball after shotgun handoffs as he is attacking downhill. They use power personnel groups and formations more than most NFL teams. Receivers know they are expected to block. Teddy Bridgewater is a ball distributor who appears to like throwing the ball to 250-plus-pounders.

    This is a team designed to win with a ball-control offense and a vicious defense.

    Sound familiar? The Vikings are another NFC contender built loosely around the Seahawks' model for success.

    Teams like the Vikings and Carolina Panthers are growing into their rushing-and-defense identities just as the Seahawks are growing out of theirs. (The 49ers abandoned all identity in the offseason). Meanwhile, the Seahawks are becoming more pass-oriented on offense. Just as the Vikings tweaked their scheme to make it more Peterson-friendly, the Seahawks have adjusted their offense to the new Russell Wilson—a crafty pocket passer who happens to also run like a punt returner—as opposed to the old options-and-play-action Wilson.

    The Seahawks had to change because defense and ball control can only take a team so far for so long. Heck, defense and ball control only took the 1980s Bears so far for so long. Great teams need multiple avenues to victory, and the ability to throw downfield consistently is a necessity for sustaining success.

    The Seahawks always had the deep pass in their arsenal, though it usually came at the end of 30 seconds of scrambling. Now, they can do it the conventional way. The Vikings' downfield attack consists mostly of Bridgewater not-quite-connecting with Mike Wallace or some other receiver. The Vikings may act like they don't care about their vertical game, but it's the missing piece they need to go from good to great.

    Without the capability to poke around for all the holes Ben Roethlisberger found in the Legion of Boom, the Vikings will have to try to beat the Seahawks Cro-Magnon style. But the Seahawks remain a hard team to beat in a slugfest. And if the Vikings do manage to out-physical them, the Seahawks will take to the skies. Brutality is good. Versatility is even better.

    Prediction: Seahawks 22, Vikings 20

Indianapolis Colts (6-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5), Sunday, 8:30 p.m.

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    In honor of Matt Hasselbeck's 4-0 record as a starter, Game Previews celebrates the greatest late-career hot flashes by Magic Spunky Geezer Quarterbacks, those plucky old journeymen who spark a million man crushes with their ability to find ways to win!

    All of the following quarterbacks: A) started at least three games at age 33 or older; B) did i after a period when they were no longer considered viable starting quarterbacks; and C) recorded an interception rate of 1.5 percent or lower, the kind that screams "heady, mistake-free leadership" until it stops screaming.

    Dave Krieg, 1994: The 36-year-old Krieg threw 11 touchdowns and just three interceptions during a 5-2 run as the Lions' starter in relief of Scott Mitchell. The Cardinals decided to give Krieg another crack at a starting job the next year, and he responded with 21 interceptions for a 4-12 team. The Lions moved on with Mitchell, who was actually really good the following season.

    Boomer Esiason, 1997: Esiason returned to the Bengals at age 36 and went 4-1 while throwing 13 touchdowns and two interceptions in relief of Jeff Blake. Esiason then realized that getting involved in a Bengals quarterback controversy in the late 1990s wouldn't do anything good for his legacy and retired. The Golden Age of Akili Smith dawned soon after.

    Doug Flutie, 1998-2000: Flutie was the ultimate Magic Spunky Geezer Quarterback. The Bills have been Flutie-damaged since Wade Phillips chose Rob Johnson over him, again and again, like a woman in a romantic comedy who cannot tell that the handsome corporate raider is a creep and the awkward independent bookstore owner is her one true love. Flutie remains undefeated in all the playoff games we assume he would have easily won.

    Damon Huard, 2006: Huard was just 33 when he threw 10 touchdowns and one interception during a 5-3 run in relief of injured Trent Green. There's no way that's a small-sample-size fluke, Herm Edwards: Name Huard your starter! Edwards did just that, and Huard threw nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 10 starts before the start of the Brodie Croyle Epoch.

    Jeff Garcia, 2006: Garcia led the Eagles to the playoffs in relief of Donovan McNabb by going 5-1 with nine touchdowns and two interceptions down the stretch. Philly fans reacted with the predictable flaming McNabb effigies. Andy Reid saw trouble brewing and let Garcia continue his Tom Joad journey across the NFL's quarterback controversy landscape. McNabb went on to lose popularity contests to far worse quarterbacks.

    Todd Collins, 2007: Collins replaced Jason Campbell and won three games down the stretch for the Redskins at age 36. The Redskins kept him around as a warning to Campbell for two more years, but the doomed prospect had bigger problems to worry about, like head coach Jim Zorn. Remember that NFC Championship Game when Jay Cutler got hurt, but we all assumed he wasn't really hurt because we all think Cutler doesn't really want to play in NFC Championship Games? Collins was the guy who initially replaced Cutler, giving way to Caleb Hanie after four incomplete passes.

    Brad Johnson, 2005: Johnson shut off the lights on the Daunte Culpepper era in Minnesota with 11 touchdowns and four interceptions during a 7-2 stretch. Johnson started for the Vikings at age 38 in 2007 and threw nine touchdowns and 15 interceptions. The Vikings have always had a thing for old quarterbacks, which is why they now start Teddy Bridgewater, a 23-year-old with the game of a 37-year-old.

    Josh McCown, 2013: You probably remember McCown's 13-touchdown, one-interception effort for the Bears two years ago. You probably also know we have been stuck with the "McCown is a starter" delusion ever since, right through his attempt to play through a collarbone injury Monday night. Hey, nobody said these guys weren't tough.

    Matt Hasselbeck, 2015: Pending. But one look at the rest of this list tells you these Magic Spunky Geezer Quarterback flings rarely end well.

    Because of Ben Roethlisberger's unusual relationship with traditional medicine, Game Previews will keep this week's prediction open-ended:

    If Ben Roethlisberger starts: He throws 35 completions on 70 attempts for 575 yards and four touchdowns. The Steelers fail on a two-point conversion because DeAngelo Williams takes his third handoff of the game in the fourth quarter and thinks, "What the heck am I supposed to do again?" Steelers 27, Colts 20.

    If Landry Jones starts: Williams carries 45 times for 113 yards. Antonio Brown fields so many screen passes and end-arounds that if you straighten out his lateral runs, it will be like running from Pittsburgh to Scranton. Colts 23, Steelers 20.

    If Jones starts but gives way to Roethlisberger due to injury: Todd Haley spends the whole game muttering and folding origami swans out of playbook pages. Steelers 24, Colts 20.

    If Jones starts, Roethlisberger relieves him and Roethlisberger then gets injured again: Get ready for some fake field goals that change the way you think about professional football. Colts 23, Steelers 22.

Carolina Panthers (11-0) at New Orleans Saints (4-7), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    The Panthers are the worst 11-0 team in NFL history. At least, that's the conclusion Neil Paine drew from his deep statistical dive at FiveThirtyEight. Compared to the 11 other teams to start the season 11-0 since the dawn of the Super Bowl era 50 years ago, the Panthers are slackers.

    This preview could descend into a geeky stat rap beef pretty quickly. Paine does great work and raises some valid points—the Panthers' schedule has been soft this year, and their passing game isn't exactly efficient—but the research is a little like aerial photography from 30,000 feet in the air. (For example, Cam Newton is the only Panthers player named in a detailed article). Take it from an old stat hound: When you pile spreadsheet upon spreadsheet to compare the 2015 Panthers with the 2007 Patriots and 1972 Dolphins, you wind up measuring the weight of your measuring instruments.

    But the devil is in the headline: Being named the worst 11-0 team in history should make Panthers fans as angry as being named the best 0-11 team in history would make them happy. By starting the season 11-0, the Panthers climbed onto a list with:

    • Five Super Bowl winners

    • Three Super Bowl losers

    • Two teams (the 2005 Colts and 2011 Packers) that either just won or were about to win Super Bowls

    • Four teams (the 1972 Dolphins, 1985 Bears, 1991 Redskins and 2007 Patriots) that make nearly every list of the top 10 NFL teams in history

    The list of 11-0 teams includes zero fluky one-year wonders. It's a list laden with Hall of Famers and dynasties. It's a list that any team would be proud to rank 12th on, especially since the only team to ever go undefeated through the Super Bowl ranks 11th. The 1972 Dolphins, it should be noted, had an inefficient passing game and benefited from a soft schedule.

    The 2009 Saints ranked 10th on the 11-0 list, and it's hard to tell right now whether the fact that so many familiar faces from that team remain on the roster/coaching staff is a good thing or a bad thing. The Saints put up a valiant fight without Drew Brees in a 27-22 loss in Week 3, but the divide between the teams has grown since then. There are lots of ancillary reasons to believe an upset is possible—Superdome noise, the reconfigured Saints defensive coaching staff, Brees sparking a win with sheer veteran winnersauce—but there are no good, concrete reasons to believe it.

    Elsewhere in stat land, the folks at Football Outsiders give the Panthers a 24.1 percent chance of going undefeated and a 23.9 percent chance of winning the Super Bowl. (The undefeated odds are higher because the Panthers don't have to beat the Patriots, or a team that beats the Patriots, to go undefeated.) Their home-field playoff advantage odds are a whopping 92.0 percent.

    The Panthers don't have to beat the 1972 Dolphins or 1985 Bears to get where they want to go. They just need to keep playing like the 2015 Panthers.

    Prediction: Panthers 31, Saints 21

New York Jets (6-5) at New York Giants (5-6), Sunday, 1 p.m.

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Darrelle Revis was scheduled to face off against Odell Beckham Jr. this week in a one-on-one matchup while the Jets and Giants jogged around the rest of the field and tried to look busy. But Revis' slow journey through concussion protocols threw a wrench into CBS' plan to surround Revis and Beckham with camera drones and ignore the other 20 players on the field. It also spares all of Twitter the bother of pointing out each and every thing Revis does wrong.

    The Revis-is-no-longer-a-shutdown-cornerback storyline now has nearly three years of tradition behind it. The latest proof of Revis' overrated-ness was DeAndre Hopkins' 61-yard touchdown against him two weeks ago. You remember the play: Revis covered one of the game's best receivers across the entire breadth of the field while T.J. Yates stood in the pocket and surfed the Internet until Hopkins inevitably gained a stride of separation. That play is held up as an example of Revis' decline here, here and pretty much everywhere hot takes on shutdown cornerbacks are sold.

    Imagine if other NFL players were held to the one-play-and-done standard…

    • Tom Brady has thrown four interceptions this season. #NotElite

    • Adrian Peterson has been stuffed for a loss 34 times this season. Slacker!

    • J.J. Watt has allowed opposing quarterbacks to attempt 387 passes while he just stood there getting blocked like an unmotivated wuss.

    This is what Panthers cornerback Josh Norman is in for as soon as the cool kids decide he's overrated.

    With Revis officially out, the Jets are more likely to roll coverage from Buster Skrine, Marcus Williams (if he is available) and safeties (lots of safeties) Beckham's way than rely on Antonio Cromartie. He is better off trying to lure Eli Manning into throwing to Dwayne Harris or Rueben Randle and then jumping the route than playing gamble-and-lose against a player guaranteed to turn a hitch route into a touchdown if the cornerback bites on a fake.

    Beckham may get his touches and GIFs, but the Jets can render him irrelevant by shutting down the run and obliterating the offensive line Tom Coughlin is busily assembling out of mud and twigs. That's the reality of Jets-Giants football: The Jets have one major injury, the Giants have about 20 minor ones. And while we will miss Revis on Twitter, we can still criticize Beckham every time he doesn't produce a one-handed highlight-reel touchdown.

    Prediction: Jets 24, Giants 20

Philadelphia Eagles (4-7) at New England Patriots (10-1), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    (At a fancy restaurant outside of Boston)

    Bill Belichick: Chip! Over here! They won't seat me near a window unless I wear something that doesn't look like it was fished out of the trash behind a homeless shelter.

    Chip Kelly: Great to see you, buddy! Sorry I am late. I was working on a new protein shake. Wanna try it?

    Belichick (takes sip): That's nasty.

    Kelly: I know. It's supposed to taste like a vanilla latte. It contains a full day's supply of vitamins and protein. You actually lose weight while you drink it, and it's being tested as a flu cure. I grabbed all the most expensive ingredients I could find and mixed them as fast as I could, but the taste isn't quite right, so I give up.

    Belichick: I see. Excuse me a moment. (Mumbles into mini-recorder: "Add one tablespoon of honey to Chip's shake. Market to world. Make $1 billion. End national obesity crisis." Turns off recorder.) So…I guess neither USC nor LSU is going to happen?

    Kelly: Don't be silly, pal. I'm 100 percent focused on our game this Sunday. I can't field any phone calls, anyway. I built a new smartphone that should be five times more powerful and reliable than the typical smartphone and retail for 30 bucks. I ran around buying parts from a bunch of supply outlets and rigged them together in a way that feels right from a cultural standpoint. It has a feature that reads your mind and answers questions or selects restaurants based on your deepest desires. But it drops long-distance calls.

    Belichick: I see. Excuse me a moment. (Mumbles into mini-recorder: "Solder the pieces of Chip's phone together properly. Market to world. Make $1 billion. Revolutionize modern telecommunications." Turns off recorder.) So…I hope your locker room is still united after back-to-back blowout losses.

    Kelly: It's hard. I've been distracted by this new governmental system I just drew up a constitution for. It's a tricameral legislation system with built-in economic, social and defense initiatives that transcend modern two-party politics and essentially eliminate taxpayer waste. I showed it to DeMarco Murray, and he complained that his role in the executive branch wasn't big enough. I think this new government could work if we elect all new legislators and installed the plan as quickly as possible before anyone has time to get comfortable with it.

    Belichick: I see. Excuse me a moment. (Whispers into mini-recorder: "Slowly introduce Chip's government ideas to nation over the course of a decade. Become president. Create utopian society.")

    Kelly: Hey Bill, I have been thinking about how we used to get together and I would explain my no-huddle offensive philosophies.

    Belichick: Those were the good old days…

    Kelly: Then you would adjust them slightly and use them to guide the Patriots to the Super Bowl…

    Belichick: Ummm…

    Kelly: It's almost like I'm the outside-the-box dreamer who can't quite make his ideas work, while you're the pragmatist who tightens all the screws and turns the ideas into something really useful.

    Belichick: It's not like that at all, Chip. You are just going through a rough patch right now. You are not an absent-minded professor who can't edit his great ideas from his bad ones, gets impatient for immediate results and doesn't accept that not everyone can keep up with you or adapt to your philosophies. Not at all!

    Kelly: Oh, good. Because I was beginning to worry that I would have to go back to college football while you tweak my best ideas and win four more Super Bowls.

    Belichick: Don't worry your brilliant head. Now, tell me about that hovercar you parked outside.

    Kelly: Sheesh. The cloaking device keeps shorting out...

    Prediction: Patriots 37, Eagles 17

Atlanta Falcons (6-5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-6), Sunday, 1 p.m.

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Grab the hammer! Smash the glass! Pull the lever! ACTIVATE THE PLAYERS-ONLY MEETING ALARM!

    WhoopWhoopWhoopWhoopWhoopWhoopWhoopWhoopWhoopWhoopWhoopWhoopWhoopWhoopWhoopWhoopWhoopWhoop!

    "I'm promise you, we'll fix it," Roddy White told D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after acknowledging that Falcons players did what all players do during a losing streak. "We are going to get it right. I promise you."

    The Falcons need to get it right soon. Football Outsiders gives them just a 12.7 percent chance of reaching the playoffs, down 24.7 percentage points since the Vikings loss. By contrast, not only do the Seahawks (76.4 percent) and freakin' Eagles (16.1 percent) have better odds, but so do the Buccaneers (16.6 percent), who are a game behind the Falcons in the NFC South standings!

    The Buccaneers have a head-to-head win against the Falcons already, plus an upcoming schedule in which the toughest opponent (the Panthers in Week 17) might well be resting starters. The Falcons are embarking on a three-game road trip and face the Panthers twice in games likely to matter. They also now hold a tiebreaker disadvantage with the Vikings, and if the Buccaneers engineer a sweep, forget about it. So the Football Outsiders calculations hold up, even before you account for the fact that the Buccaneers have been playing better football than the Falcons for a solid month.

    The good news for the Falcons is the Bucs are almost as good at beating themselves as the Falcons are. Last week's Colts loss was full of big plays wiped out by penalties, third-down lapses, special teams lapses and other growing pains. The bad news is the Buccaneers are slowly growing out of these mistakes, while the Falcons are growing into them.

    The expected return of Devonta Freeman (and possibly Devin Hester, who could scare Lovie Smith into squibbing every kickoff) should give the Falcons a boost that no closed-door meeting can provide. How the Falcons get through the next two legs of their tour of the south (Charlotte, Jacksonville) is not yet clear: The players-only meeting is strictly a once-per-season motivational tactic.

    Prediction: Falcons 28, Buccaneers 21

Denver Broncos (9-2) at San Diego Chargers (3-8), Sunday, 4:05 p.m.

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    Joe Mahoney/Associated Press

    From what we have seen so far, Brock Osweiler is a tall, live-armed, sometimes awkward-looking quarterback with a lumbering gait but a wise-beyond-his-years sense of what to do with the football. His football IQ has received a clear boost from an extended apprenticeship behind a future Hall of Famer whom (let's be real) he is in the process of permanently replacing.

    Osweiler, in other words, looks a lot like a young Philip Rivers.

    Cameron Wolfe of the Denver Post dove into the deep Osweiler-Rivers connection this week. Both quarterbacks were coached by offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone in college: Rivers at North Carolina State, Osweiler at Arizona State. The quarterbacks met through Mazzone, and Rivers has been providing a little long-distance mentorship ever since. With Manning in the meeting room and Rivers on the smartphone, how can Osweiler ever make a mistake?

    Anyone who claims to know how good Osweiler can be this season is bluffing. Gary Kubiak isn't sure how good Osweiler can be. The folks who are pounding their fists to the beat of Brockmania might be singing a different tune if the Bears punched in a two-point conversion or that sack at the goal line counted Sunday night.

    Osweiler is obviously at least a notch above the Ryan Lindley "we're doomed" level of quarterbacking, but the next two games (Chargers and Raiders) will give us a better sense of his floor and ceiling. The defenses are softer and the spotlights a little dimmer, but defensive coordinators now also have some film to work with. A matchup with his "other" mentor will give us more evidence of how good Osweiler can be this year, as well as how good he has to be this year.

    Prediction: Broncos 27, Chargers 21

Arizona Cardinals (9-2) at St. Louis Rams (4-7), Sunday, 1 p.m.

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    He has juggled quarterbacks. He has stormed out of press conferences in anger. He has endangered his players in every conceivable way. Jeff Fisher has only one trick left up his sleeve: the Rams' knack for upsetting NFC West front-runners.

    The Rams beat the Cardinals 24-22 in Week 3, a long-ago time when we could watch Nick Foles throw three touchdowns and zero interceptions against a playoff-caliber team and not immediately start loading canned goods into a concrete bunker. The Rams also beat the Seahawks in the season opener and the 49ers in Week 8. A sweep of their three remaining division games, plus a home win against either the Buccaneers or Lions, would put the Rams at .500 and save Fisher's job. It wouldn't save any other fourth-year head coach's job, but for some reason Fisher's progress is measured by the same instruments they use on glaciers.

    The Cardinals must worry about more than the Rams' divisional juju. Both Chris Johnson (shin) and Andre Ellington (turf toe) are out this week. Third option David Johnson is a tremendous size-speed prospect who has generated some big plays this season (he caught a touchdown pass against the Rams), but short-yardage and goal-line issues doomed the Cardinals to settle for short field goals in Week 3. They need to be able to punch the ball in the end zone in the rematch. Cornerback Jerraud Powers (calf) is also out; his replacement, special teams ace Justin Bethel, will have to be ready in the unlikely event the Rams successfully challenge him with accurate forward passes.

    The Cardinals are more vulnerable than they have been in weeks. But while the Rams have a track record of success in games like these, that's all they have. They don't have a quarterback, offensive line, game plans from this century or a coaching staff with any answers. The Rams are about to lose the one thing they could still count on. It's amazing it has taken this long.

    Prediction: Cardinals 26, Rams 13

Houston Texans (6-5) at Buffalo Bills (5-6), Sunday, 1 p.m.

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    Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

    The Texans are the team the Bills want to be.

    • The Bills are coached by Rex Ryan, a brash character with famous father Buddy Ryan. The Texans are coached by Bill O'Brien, a brash character with famous spiritual father Bill Belichick.

    • Ryan handpicked quarterback Tyrod Taylor, a longtime backup for a successful organization where Ryan once coached. O'Brien handpicked quarterback Brian Hoyer, a longtime backup for a successful organization where O'Brien once coached.

    • The Bills offense consists mostly of desperate heaves to former Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who can leap and twist to catch Taylor's semi-accurate throws. The Texans offense consists mostly of desperate heaves to former Clemson wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who can leap and twist to catch Hoyer's semi-accurate throws.

    • The Texans have J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. Watt is the type of player Ryan has sought his entire head coaching career. Clowney is the type of player Ryan has ended up with for his entire head coaching career.

    • The Texans' formula for winning combines a withering pass rush and rugged run defense with just enough heroics from Hopkins to support a running game based on guile and misdirection. That's the Bills' formula for almost winning.

    In summary, the Bills would love to trade places with the second-place team in a weak division right now. It used to take Ryan's teams about four years to reach that state. Maybe a win will quell the jealousy a bit.

    Prediction: Bills 22, Texans 14

Kansas City Chiefs (6-5) at Oakland Raiders (5-6), Sunday, 4:05 p.m.

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Congratulations for remaining playoff-relevant through the start of December, Oakland Raiders! Derek Carr and Khalil Mack will be where Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly are in a year or two. Amari Cooper will be A.J. Green: the leader of a deep corps of playmakers. December will be all about jockeying for playoff home-field advantage.

    This year, however, is over.

    Oh, the Raiders could beat the Chiefs. Justin Houston is day-to-day with a hyperextended knee; if he plays, he will probably be limited. Center Mitch Morse (concussion) is unlikely to play, depleting an offensive line that wasn't all that great at full strength. The only reason we aren't calling for an upset is because the Chiefs are so resilient about overcoming injuries and MacGyver-ing their way to wins.

    Even if the Raiders beat the Chiefs, they face the Broncos and Packers and then catch a mild break in the Battle for Los Angeles against the Chargers before a rematch in Kansas City. The Raiders aren't ready to run this gauntlet of playoff-caliber, playoff-tested opponents. Things would be different if the Raiders had beaten the Lions or Bears or not fumbled away opportunities against the Steelers. The fact that they could not win those games explains why they won't win many of their upcoming games.

    A .500 record won't satisfy Jack Del Rio or most Raiders fans. But it would be the best Raiders finish since 2011, and that was a season of confusion and turmoil, not optimism about rising superstars. If things get ugly for the Raiders in the next month, remember how much they have accomplished, how much potential they have and how dangerous they will be with a little more talent and experience.

    Prediction: Chiefs 26, Raiders 17

Cincinnati Bengals (9-2) at Cleveland Browns (2-9), Sunday, 1 p.m.

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    In honor of Austin Davis' inaugural start for the Browns, Game Previews ranks the all-time Browns Third Quarterbacks of Sadness and Regret from mildly depressing to hemorrhage-inducing. To qualify, each player must be at least the third quarterback to see significant playing time for the Browns in a particular season.

    Colt McCoy was an unusual third quarterback in 2010 because he was a third-round rookie playing behind 35-year-old Jake Delhomme and 30-year-old Seneca Wallace. McCoy finished the 2010 season with a 2-6 record and the kind of stats (six passing touchdowns, nine interceptions) that only the Browns could look at and say, "Now here's our starter of the future!" If you run the 2010 season backward so the Browns switched from McCoy to Wallace to Delhomme, it makes more sense logically. Running any Browns season in reverse is bound to make things look better

    Luke McCown began the Browns' long, strange history with his family when he replaced Jeff Garcia and Kelly Holcomb for four late-season losses and a 49.0 percent completion rate in 2004. The Browns traded McCown during the following offseason. They would have been better off keeping him for 11 years until they could complete the McCown set.

    Connor Shaw would be out there on Sunday instead of Davis if he hadn't suffered a hand injury during the preseason. Shaw completed 14 of 28 passes for 177 yards in a season-ending loss to the Ravens last year. Shaw is a fan favorite in Cleveland, where some have developed a kind of Stockholm syndrome about third-string quarterbacks.

    Thad Lewis has a sixth sense for when an organization is going to implode in a heap, which is why he is currently on the Eagles roster. Lewis turned out the lights on the 2012 Browns season with a 24-10 loss to the Steelers in the snow. He qualifies because McCoy briefly replaced Brandon Weeden as the Browns quarterback before getting hurt, making Lewis the third-stringer. Sorting through regrettable Browns quarterbacks is hard work.

    Ken Dorsey took over for Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn in 2008 and threw zero touchdowns and six interceptions in three losses. Dorsey would rank dead last on most teams' lists of Third Quarterbacks of Sadness and Regret. Come to think of it, most teams don't really have lists of Third Quarterbacks of Sadness and Regret.

    Bruce Gradkowski grew into a reliable backup quarterback who spent a few years in the prestigious Charlie Batch Lifetime Backup Chair in Pittsburgh. When the Browns called on him to finish the 2008 season, Gradkowski completed five of 16 passes for 18 yards in a 31-0 loss to the Steelers.

    Spergon Wynn started the 14th game of the season in 2000, replacing Doug Pederson, who replaced Tim Couch. Wynn completed five of 16 passes for 17 yards in a 48-0 loss. Only the Browns can produce two 5-of-16 performances of less than four feet per pass attempt in one decade.

    Look for Davis to land somewhere between Shaw and Lewis on this list. Like Shaw and Lewis, he's a live-armed, quick-footed competitor who is about to get stuck facing a playoff-bound divisional opponent after all heck had broken loose in Cleveland. It's a proud tradition, the kind only a very special organization can keep alive.

    Prediction: Bengals 34, Browns 13

San Francisco 49ers (3-8) at Chicago Bears (5-6), Sunday, 1 p.m.

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    Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

    The Bears are a resilient spoiler type with a solid mix of veteran talent, some developing prospects and experienced, no-nonsense coaching. The 49ers have just figured out that Blaine Gabbert's "poised" weekly performances are built largely out of 10-yard completions on 3rd-and-14. Jim Tomsula clarified early in the week that the 49ers will not settle for stat-padding completions and long field-goal attempts for the rest of the year. "We need to get first downs on third down," he told reporters. Happy are the coaches who don't have to clarify positions like that.

    The Bears face the Redskins and Lions at Soldier Field late in their schedule. Pencil in a pair of wins and then a road win either in Minnesota or Tampa, and the Bears finish 9-7, which will probably leave them just outside the wild-card picture. (The Seahawks have the tiebreaker if it comes up). It will be a fine inaugural season for John Fox.

    Then what?

    Jay Cutler will be hard to cut after a season like this, but his cap number remains a whopper. It's possible he generated some trade value that did not exist this time last year, but who will be in the market for a veteran quarterback? Maybe this week's opponent…

    Speculative trade fiction aside, veterans such as Cutler, Matt Forte, Lamarr Houston and Tracy Porter have been a big part of the Bears' midseason spoiler bid. Will Fox and general manager Ryan Pace take a hard-line rebuilding approach? We only ask because we watched Fox grow attached to his veterans in Carolina and waste several seasons on Jake Delhomme passing to Brad Hoover.

    That's a problem for another day. For now, Bears fans should root for Cutler to have a good day against the 49ers. A great day. A "trick the mismanaged organization into parting with a bunch of draft picks" kind of day.

    Prediction: Bears 24, 49ers 13

Baltimore Ravens (4-7) at Miami Dolphins (4-7), Sunday, 1 p.m.

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Interim Dolphins head coach Dan Campbell fired formerly permanent offensive coordinator Bill Lazor on Monday. Nothing screams "organization getting its act together" like a muddled chain of command where temporary employees can fire their former supervisors. Actually, nothing screams "Miami Dolphins" like a muddled chain of command where temporary employees can fire their former supervisors. The Dolphins are one coaching shake-up away from becoming the fast food joint where the acting late-night shift manager hires the guy he watches Scooby-Doo marathons with as fry cook.

    Lazor's replacement is Zac Taylor, formerly the 12th president of the United States. President Taylor's nickname was Ol' Rough 'n' Ready, and Campbell is jealous, because he wants that nickname.

    No, this Taylor wasn't a hero of the Mexican-American War. He's a 32-year-old former quarterback coach who is now going to help Ryan Tannehill achieve his potential by no longer directly coaching him. Taylor the president only served for a year before succumbing to either cholera or poisoning. Taylor the acting offensive coordinator will need a food-taster if he calls only nine running plays in a game the way predecessor James Polk Lazor did.

    The Ravens pulled off a fun-but-strange Monday night win over a bad opponent with a bunch of players who look like they belong in the fourth quarter of the second preseason game. That's what is possible when your general manager and head coach have years of experience together and respect the decision structure instead of instituting a monthly purge whenever things aren't working out. Still, picking the Ravens to win back-to-back road games was a risky proposition even when they were good.

    Prediction: Dolphins 24, Ravens 21

Jacksonville Jaguars (4-7) at Tennessee Titans (2-9), Sunday, 1 p.m.

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    Tanier Art Studios

    Here's an update on the AFC South Round Robin of Sadness, a three-team tourney to determine which AFC South team is least worthy of a well-thought-out game preview:

    • The Titans lead the series with zero wins and two losses.

    • The Jaguars are in second with one win and one loss.

    • The not-nearly-as-sad Texans are in last place with two wins and zero losses.

    The Titans took the lead in the Round Robin of Sadness by giving up a long fourth-quarter punt return followed by a short Julius Thomas touchdown to spark a 19-13 Jaguars comeback victory Thursday night in Week 11. A loss to the Jaguars on Sunday will clinch the sadness crown.

    But Jacksonville has a trick up its sleeve. The diagram above shows a top-secret red-zone play the Jaguars have been perfecting for weeks. They unveiled two versions of the play against the Chargers. It may become Blake Bortles' signature contribution to professional football.

    The play is completely illegal.

    That's why this is not a Round Robin of Success.

    Prediction: Titans 22, Jaguars 16

Dallas Cowboys (3-8) at Washington Redskins (5-6), Monday, 8:30 p.m.

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Last Wednesday, a fleet of circus trucks pulled into the parking lot of Redskins headquarters in Ashburn, Virginia…

    Ringmaster: OK, boys, unload those elephants and tigers! Pitch the tents near the 50-yard line!

    Kirk Cousins: What's going on?

    Ringmaster: The touring NFC East First-Place Circus is in town! We follow whichever team is in first place in the NFL's sideshow division, dragging all of our old attractions along as we go.

    Greg Hardy: Remember me? I'm a villain! I'm a victim of the media! I'm culturally relevant!

    Ringmaster: Go away, pal. Everyone is sick of your act. Say, you're the "You Like That" kid, aren't you? Can you do anything else? Juggle? Breathe fire?

    Cousins: I can play quarterback competently in home games.

    Ringmaster: Meh. Not exactly a showstopper.

    Chip Kelly: Remember me, Ringmaster? The world's fastest coach? Vroom-vroom-vroom, trade-trade-trade?

    Ringmaster: Go away, buddy. We're still cleaning up after the head-on clown car crash you caused. Now, c'mon, kid. A first-place team needs something juicy. Is there anything controversial going on around here?

    Cousins: Um, do you even know what this team is called?

    Ringmaster: Not really, kid. So many lousy teams pass the leadership of this division around that it's best to not get attached.

    Jason Pierre-Paul: Remember me, Ringmaster? Uh-oh, looks like there's a stalk of celery stuck waayyyy down deep in my garbage disposal…

    Ringmaster: Go away, buddy. Your team is back to injuring itself in ordinary, boring ways. OK, "You Like That Kid," a first-place team in the NFC East needs sizzle. You have a crazy owner? A coach who's less famous than his announcer brother? A general manager with a dark past? A wide receiver considered "edgy" by the standards of little old ladies from Peoria? A former face-of-the-franchise quarterback locked in a shed with his hands tied together and his mouth duct-taped shut?

    Cousins: I think you know the answers to all of those questions. But the key to finally climbing out of this divisional sludge pit is to move past the circus atmosphere. We plan to win the division by becoming professional, boring and healthy. The Cowboys and Eagles are zero of those things. The Giants can never get past the first two. Now that we are getting some of our veterans back, we're shooting for the trifecta.

    Ringmaster: That's great, kid. Just remember: You are still under .500, and your circus roots will catch up to you as soon you slow down for even a moment.

    Dez Bryant: Remember me, Ringmaster? "Sic 'em, lil' Dallas!"

    Dallas Bryant: (Terrifying monkey shrieks as he leaps claws-first onto the Ringmaster's face.)

    Cousins: Why do I feel like this isn't our last visit to this particular Big Top?

    Prediction: Cowboys 27, Redskins 17

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