NFL Week 14: Mike Tanier's Previews and Score Predictions

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterDecember 12, 2015

NFL Week 14: Mike Tanier's Previews and Score Predictions

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    Frank Victores/Associated Press

    In this week's edition of Game Previews:

    • The Bengals defense tries to give Ben Roethlisberger's aerial attack a little flak.

    DeMarco Murray and the Eagles attempt to rebound from their trip home from New England on Oceanic Flight 815.

    • The Seahawks practice keeping a straight face and not licking their chops as they prepare for Matt Schaub.

    • Patriots-versus-Texans: big brother against baby brother in driveway basketball, with no mom to come out with lemonade if things get ugly.

    • Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry share bro hugs while Rueben Randle stands nearby awkwardly.

    And much more.

    As always, Game Previews are listed in the order that you are supposed to read them, and all times are Eastern. 

    (Dez didn't catch it. Just getting that out of the way now.)

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) at Cincinnati Bengals (10-2), Sunday, 1 p.m.

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    The Steelers are the Seahawks of the AFC. They're the wild-card contender everyone is worried about. No one wants to face the Seahawks now that they have retooled both their offense and defense and shed the big-name acquisitions who weren't really helping on each side of the ball. And no one wants Ben Roethlisberger using their secondary for artillery practice.

    Since Week 10, Roethlisberger has completed 16 of 34 deep passes (more than 15 yards downfield) for 599 yards, three touchdowns, one interception, seven completions of 40-plus yards and four pass-interference penalties totaling 141 yards, all of them (snicker) against the Browns. (Note: All stats courtesy of the Football Outsiders internal database.)

    Roethlisberger is providing an average of 200 yards on bombs per week, and as the Seahawks shootout suggests, he doesn't care who he shells. The Steelers defense is above average at best; their running game comes and goes with Todd Haley's moods. They win when Roethlisberger and his receivers reduce the opposing defense to rubble.

    One way to determine whether the Bengals can withstand this onslaught is by studying how their defense handles the deep passing game. There's only one problem. The Bengals faced Austin Davis last week, Nick Foles the previous week and Brian Hoyer, Matt McGloin, Johnny Manziel and EJ Manuel earlier in the year. Their pass defense statistics are probably a little skewed. Luckily, the Bengals also handled Roethlisberger well in Week 8 and have faced enough "real" quarterbacks to merit comparison.

    Against Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson, Joe Flacco and Alex Smith, the Bengals defense allowed 24 of 43 completions for 554 yards, seven touchdowns, six interceptions, four passes of 40-plus yards and two pass interference penalties. Three of the interceptions were of Roethlisberger, two of Carson Palmer—two of the best deep passers in the NFL. The Bengals can make you pay if you keep trying to burn them with long passes, and they have a deep enough secondary to contain (if not completely shut down) in Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton.

    You know how the Bengals storyline goes: If the Bengals lose, the football world will note that it's their third December loss to the Steelers in two years and sigh, "Same old Bengals." If they win, everyone will wait for the Broncos game in Week 16 to sigh, "Same old Bengals."

    These have not looked like the same old Bengals all season, even during their two-game losing streak. (Andy Dalton would have thrown for 63 yards and three interceptions against the Cardinals for those "same old Bengals"). This is just one more chance to prove it, and to do the rest of the AFC a favor by pushing the Steelers toward playoff elimination.

    Prediction: Bengals 28, Steelers 27

Atlanta Falcons (6-6) at Carolina Panthers (12-0), Sunday, 1 p.m.

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    Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

    Remember how important the two December games between the Panthers and Falcons looked as recently as six weeks ago? Now they are just bumps on the Panthers' road to home playoff games and the Falcons' backslide to mediocrity. Maybe next year, Falcons.

    • Maybe next year Desmond Trufant will take the next step forward and become Josh Norman. Maybe the Falcons will also support him with better safeties.

    • Maybe next year Kyle Shanahan and Matt Ryan will meet in the middle about certain strategic tendencies: goal-line offense, rollouts, the no-huddle. It took Cam Newton and Mike Shula years to strike a balance between pocket passing and designed keepers.

    • Maybe next year Kroy Biermann becomes Thomas Davis, the veteran defender who gets a little better each year until he becomes a force in every phase of the defense.

    • Maybe next year the Falcons will get a real tight end. Newton loves his tight end. Ryan has spent two years missing his tight end.

    • Maybe next year the Falcons will replace Paul Worrilow, who has been one of the worst inside linebackers in the NFL for several seasons, with someone who has the potential to become like Luke Kuechly, who has been one of the best.

    •Maybe next year Vic Beasley will improve, Julio Jones will still be around and the offensive line will build upon the gains it made at the start of the season. Maybe Dan Quinn's defense will be more Seahawks-like, and a more comfortable Ryan will be more Ryan-like.

    Until then, the Falcons can only try to play spoiler and wild-card dreamer against a franchise that's at least a year ahead of them.

    Prediction: Panthers 30, Falcons 22

Dallas Cowboys (4-8) at Green Bay Packers (8-4), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.

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    Matt Ludtke/Associated Press

    The following is a public service announcement:

    Hello readers, I'm Lieutenant Stanley Wojciehowicz, Deputy Director of the Played-Out Memes Division of the Twitter Police.

    Late in last week's Monday Night Football game, Dez Bryant made two borderline plays along the sideline. One was ruled a catch, the other a non-catch, because he fell out of bounds. Both rulings were deemed correct by everyone with a cursory understanding of the NFL rules. However, each play prompted over 11 trillion tweets with the #DezCaughtIt hashtag or some variant.

    The Twitter Police are aware that the volume of Dez-catch nonsense will be extremely high during this rematch of the Cowboys-Packers playoff game. The Twitter Police have no official position on whether Bryant caught that fourth-down pass in the fourth quarter of the playoff game or not. (Although, it was pretty obviously not a catch. I mean, have you even looked at the replay since January? The ball hits the ground and pops straight out of his hand. That's not even a catch at the Pop Warner level...)

    (Oops, went off message there for a moment.)

    The #DezCaughtIt meme is neither funny, accurate nor timely. Therefore, the Twitter police will not tolerate annoying or silly Dez-catch trolling this weekend. That includes but is not limited to:

    • Using the hashtag #DezCaughtIt after every five-yard Bryant catch or obvious incompletion.

    • Variations like #WittenCaughtIt, #AdamsDroppedIt or #Abbrederis…well, Abbrederis will never be a hashtag.

    • Bringing up last year's fourth quarter after every time your doofus college roommate who has never been sober for kickoff in his life sees a call he doesn't like.

    • Last week's facemask call at the end of the Packers game was also accurate. Don't go there, either.

    Abiding by these simple guidelines will allow all social networkers to enjoy Sunday's games without ill-informed, manufactured controversy and will keep traffic clear for actual officiating emergencies.

    Thank you for your time. I am off to a Star Wars slide to nip all the #HanShotFirst jokes in the bud before The Force Awakens opens.

    Prediction: Packers 24, Cowboys 13

New England Patriots (10-2) at Houston Texans (6-6), Sunday, 8:30 p.m.

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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    Some unconnected thoughts and observations on Patriots versus Diet Patriots:

    • Imagine being on the scout team for the Texans this week. You're impersonating the Patriots for a team of Patriots impersonators. How meta.

    • Bill Belichick compared J.J. Watt to Lawrence Taylor this week. One thing about Belichick: If he utters something in a press conference that is actually recognizable as human communication, you know he means what he is saying. Belichick coached Taylor and has game-planned to stop Watt, so he knows what he is talking about. But there is really no comparison. Watt is better.

    • Tom Brady started his midweek press conference by saying he was "fresh as lettuce" despite getting shredded in recent weeks behind a makeshift line. Sigh. This is going to be a slogan, isn't it? As of Thursday afternoon, no one was marketing Brady "fresh as lettuce" T-shirts on the Internet yet, but it is only a matter of time, right? Maybe the Game Previews interns can Photoshop something together out of that Brady court sketch and the contents of our refrigerator.

    • Historically, the Baby Belichicks are a combined 4-6 against their Sith lo…Jedi master: Eric Mangini went 3-5, Romeo Crennel 0-1, Josh McDaniels 1-0. That's not a bad record—it's a heck of a lot higher than the rest of the NFL's winning percentage against Belichick—but the fact that Belichick has been spraying assistants around the football world for 15 years yet has only had to face his direct descendants 10 times says a lot about how well these Patriots: The Next Generation franchises generally work out.

    Last week made us believe that the depleted Patriots are capable of making a bunch of dumb mistakes against a weak opponent and not giving Brady enough support to compensate with late-game magic. We're not ready to believe that they are capable of doing it twice in a row.

    Prediction: Patriots 33, Texans 17

Oakland Raiders (5-7) at Denver Broncos (10-2), Sunday, 4:05 p.m.

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    Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

    Everyone knows that the Broncos defense is great. But is it historically great?

    Jeff Legwold makes an interesting statistical argument on his ESPN.com blog. The Broncos currently rank first in the NFL in fewest yards allowed (officially, "total defense"), first in fewest passing yards allowed, first in sacks and second in fewest points allowed. No team has ever achieved a quadruple crown in these categories.

    Impressive. But this old stat snob sees a numerical wolf in the henhouse. One of those categories is not a reliable indicator of defensive superiority. Can you guess which one?

    Yes, it's passing yards allowed. Great defenses rarely lead the league in passing yards allowed because they often allow enough meaningless late-game drives in blowouts to slide down the leaderboards. The 1985 Bears, for example, finished third in the NFL in passing yards allowed but first in just about every other defensive category you can name. The 2000 Ravens finished eighth in passing yards allowed. The 1976 Steelers finished sixth.

    Some historically great defenses do lead the league in passing yards allowed, like the 2013-14 Seahawks and 2002 Buccaneers. But these teams generally lead the league in points and total yards as well, so the passing yards provide redundant information at best. Better to add a fourth metric that measures something different—like turnovers, yards per rush or even quarterback rating allowed—than count passing yardage twice in two categories.

    That's just nitpicking. This Broncos defense is among the best ever, no matter how you approach the research. Aaron Schatz at Football Outsiders wrote that the Broncos defense ranks 10th on the all-time DVOA list through 13 games, and if it keeps going at its current level (many defenses drop off late in the year), it will finish sixth among teams for which high-level metrics are available. Schatz passed along a list of the best defenses of the last 25 years, according to Football Outsiders research:

    • 1991 Eagles (Reggie White and friends: 55 sacks, 26 interceptions, zero healthy Randall Cunninghams)

    • 2002 Buccaneers (Super Bowl winner)

    • 2008 Steelers (Super Bowl winner)

    • 2004 Bills (Great defense that intercepted 24 passes for a forgettable team)

    • 2008 Ravens (Reached AFC Championship Game with rookie quarterback)

    • 2012 Bears (Last of the great Brian Urlacher-Lance Briggs-Peanut Tillman defenses)

    • 2013 Seahawks (Rise of the Legion of Boom; Super Bowl winner)

    • 2009 Jets (Allowed eight passing touchdowns; Mark Sanchez reached AFC title game)

    • 2000 Titans (13-3 team)

    • 2003 Ravens (Ray Lewis and Ed Reed on defense. Kyle Boller and Anthony Wright at quarterback.)

    The 2000 Ravens would rank 12th, by the way. The difference between fifth and 12th on this list is a couple of sacks or 20-yard catches allowed, so it's more about being on the list than where you rank. Ranking sixth or 10th in defense over 25 years is like being the worst 12-0 team ever. The Panthers don't have to beat the 1972 Dolphins to win the Super Bowl, and the Broncos don't have to win a 6-3 slugfest against the Ray Lewis Ravens. (Though, about those Seahawks…)

    The Broncos defense just has to continue to be great, against the Raiders and the tougher foes to come, while the offense just has to keep moving north of "not terrible."

    Prediction: Broncos 23, Raiders 13

Buffalo Bills (6-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-7), Sunday, 1 p.m.

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    The Chip Kelly Enemies List, updated:

    DeMarco Murray: Murray was so angry about his lack of touches in the Patriots win that he sat next to Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and presumbaly vented his frustration. NFL owners need to be mindful of awkward seating arrangements on airplanes. That's why Jerry Jones always boards charter flights surrounded by harem girls and eunuchs.

    LeSean McCoy: McCoy said on Wednesday that he will not shake Kelly's hand on Sunday, though he will seek out Lurie, teammates, other coaches, etc. McCoy refuses to back off his offseason assertion to ESPN The Magazine that Kelly got rid of "all the good black players" despite the fact that Kelly also acquired some good black players...and is currently alienating the most famous of them. Umm...let's move on.

    Jeffrey Lurie: Have you ever gotten stuck sitting next to someone on a flight who rambles on and on about their personal problems? Thanks to Kelly, Lurie has been stuck on a flight sitting next to someone who rambled on and on about his personal problems.

    Cary Williams: The recently released Seahawks cornerback is no doubt waiting for someone to call him so he can talk about everything wrong with Kelly. And Pete Carroll. And John Harbaugh. And then ask for a job.

    Howie Roseman: The deposed Eagles general manager used to sit next to Lurie on flights. Now he travels from game to game in steerage with the peasants from Titanic.

    Eagles fans: They remember Rex Ryan's father very well. Buddy Ryan built unpredictable teams that beat powerhouses one week and lost to last-place teams the next. He would get into beefs with other coaches. But his players loved him unconditionally, so the week after a euphoric upset was never ruined by angry bickering over handshakes and carry totals.

    Will the Murray-Shady-Kelly saga be a distraction to the Eagles? It doesn't matter. The Eagles have proved they don't need distractions to lose badly.

    Prediction: Bills 29, Eagles 17

Seattle Seahawks (7-5) at Baltimore Ravens (4-8), Sunday, 1 p.m.

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    Tanier Art Studios

    At the Seahawks practice facility, midweek…

    Russell Wilson: Hey guys, listen up! Coach asked me to help the secondary prepare for Matt Schaub. Are you ready?

    Legion of Boom: Let's do this!

    Wilson: OK. First I must prepare to imitate Schaub by deadening all the muscles in my right arm and dilating my pupils so I can barely see the center's butt when I take the snap. There! Now, let's see how you guys react to a fluttering Schaub pass into the flat.

    Richard Sherman: This is mine!

    Kam Chancellor: Paydirt, here I come!

    Earl Thomas: Welcome to pick-six city. Population: me!

    Legion of Boom: Oof! (Three Stooges sound effects.)

    Wilson: You see what happened there? You all responded the same way to such an easy pick-six, and you ended up crashing into one another and missing the football! A Schaub pick-six ball is like a shallow pop-up between the left fielder, center fielder and shortstop. Someone has to call it, and the other two have to ease off so he can make the catch. Let's try again.

    Sherman: I got it!

    Chancellor: I got it!!

    Thomas: I got it!!!

    Legion of Boom: Oof! (More Three Stooges sound effects.)

    Thomas: I think someone stepped on my pancreas.

    Sherman: Hey, did someone take my wallet?

    Chancellor: You can part with a little of that pizza money.

    Wilson: I feared this would happen. You are all so talented and motivated that you could inadvertently injure yourselves while chasing down Schaub interceptions. That's why I brought this guy back for one more day to help you out.

    Cary Williams: Hey, dudes. Don't work so hard at this. Take some personal time. Do a little shopping. And don't sweat the footwork, technique and hustle against Schaub. Let the interceptions, like, come to you and stuff.

    Sherman: Wow. That's actually good advice, assuming that we completely forget it as soon as the Ravens game is over.

    Wilson: Well, we face the Browns and Rams after the Ravens. So I am off to work with the pass-rushers so they don't…

    Michael Bennett, Chris Avril and Bruce Irvin: Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, OOF! (Even more Three Stooges sound effects.)

    Wilson: …kill each other going for easy sacks.

    Prediction: Seahawks 32, Ravens 20

San Diego Chargers (3-9) at Kansas City Chiefs (7-5), Sunday, 1 p.m.

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    When Mike McCoy gets called into a season-ending meeting with owner John Spanos and general manager Tom Telesco, who signed a three-year contract extension on the down-low months ago, he will probably cite injuries as a reason why the Chargers fell apart this season.

    McCoy will have a legitimate point. The Chargers offensive line was down to undrafted rookie Tyreek Burwell against the Broncos. Their receiver corps is so depleted that they dug up Vincent Brown this week and handed him a job. Eric Weddle had to play through the flu last week; he needed six IVs to get through the game, but he still told the San Diego Union-Tribune he felt better than he has for most of the season, when he has battled numerous injuries.

    Spanos will nod. Telesco will see Spanos nodding and nod.

    Then the Chargers brass will point to the Chiefs. Jamaal Charles is long gone. The offensive line is a weekly juggling act, with the Chiefs sliding former tackle Donald Stephenson to guard to replace Jeff Allen, center Mitch Morse still in concussion protocol, a practice-squad lifer named Jarrod Pughsley climbing onto the roster to ensure there are enough healthy bodies and Ben Grubbs a distant memory. The Chiefs won without Justin Houston last week. They've won without a second, third or fourth wide receiver all year.

    Spanos may ask McCoy why some coaching staffs adjust to injuries and stay in the playoff race while others lose seven games out of eight.

    McCoy had better find a way to beat the Chiefs this week if he wants to have a good answer for that question.

    Prediction: Chargers 26, Chiefs 21

Tennessee Titans (3-9) at New York Jets (7-5), Sunday, 1 p.m.

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Now that Marcus Mariota is nestled in one of the nation's tiniest sports media markets, it's easy to forget how coveted he was along the I-95 corridor. The Jets were among the teams in the Mariota sweepstakes during the draft run-up. They weren't offering first-round picks, first-born sons or unicorn horns like Chip Kelly, but the Jets worked Mariota out and showed obvious interest.

    Did the Jets think they had a chance to select Mariota with the sixth pick overall? "Realistically, no," Todd Bowles said during the week, per Dom Cosentino of NJ.com. Realistically, Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan would have walked up to turn in the draft card with Kelly clinging to his ankles and begging.

    Bowles refused to speculate on whether the Jets would have drafted Mariota if he fell to them. "That's all [bleeps] and giggles," he said. Well, [bleeps] and giggles are what Game Previews are all about! It would have been sweet to see Mariota throwing to this veteran receiving corps and supported by this defense. The fact that Mariota will keep getting better (unlike Ryan Fitzpatrick) would only make it sweeter.

    Instead of Mariota, the Jets "settled" for Leonard Williams, who has been a monster for a defensive line that allows just 3.7 yards per rush and has given up just two rushing touchdowns all year. Maybe it's for the best. New York can be a rough place for a young quarterback, particularly a young Jets quarterback. When Mariota leads the retooled Titans to the playoffs in a year or two, chances are that Bowles and a Williams-led defense will be there to greet them.

    Prediction: Jets 28, Titans 19

Washington Redskins (5-7) at Chicago Bears (5-7), Sunday, 1 p.m.

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    If you watched the Redskins lose to the Cowboys on Monday night and you weren't lulled into a fugue state by the game's trance-inducing boredom, you may have noticed that the Redskins were able to complete short passes in the middle of the field at will but could not accomplish anything on the ground.

    They were running for 2.8 yards per carry and passing for 5.7 yards per attempt, yet they rushed 26 times and passed 31. The Redskins spent most of the game stubbornly handing off for no gain on first down, often after inserting Tom Compton and/or Ty Nsekhe as extra linemen so everyone in the stadium knew a run was coming. If Kirk Cousins completed a nine-yard pass on first down, the Redskins made sure to get stuffed on inside runs on second and third downs.

    "We have to look at what we're doing. ... It hasn't been pretty for...seven out of the last eight," coach Jay Gruden said on Monday, as quoted by Rich Tandler of CSN Mid-Atlantic. If this is your first experience with a Monday Gruden press conference, there's nothing unusual about Gruden saying something along the lines of, "We have had an ongoing problem for two months. Perhaps we should consider taking the first steps toward addressing that problem."

    Gruden sited specifics (or generalities that only count as specifics by the standards of vague coach-speak) for improving the Redskins running game: better execution, less obvious play-calling, more passing. Game Previews can help with the "less obvious play-calling" part. The six-lineman formations are a huge tip-off to opponents that a run is coming. So is the presence of fullback Darrel Young. If DeSean Jackson leaves the field, it's probably a running play. If Alfred Morris is in the game, it's probably a running play. Come to think of it, it may be easier for Gruden to list elements of the Redskins offense that don't tip off running plays.

    We have to take this stuff seriously, because the Redskins are tied for first place.

    The Bears aren't quite mathematically eliminated yet, but they don't have to worry about crazy things like hosting a playoff game with a 7-9 record. Tight end Martellus Bennett suddenly went from limited on game days due to rib injuries for two weeks to day-to-day with the same injuries to the injured reserve on Monday. In other words, it's rebuilding time, so say farewell to the veteran tight end with middling production and a cap number around $5 million.

    Elimination from the playoffs can be a disguised blessing for a mediocre team with real nitty-gritty work to do. Unfortunately, the NFC East is too cursed to even allow for disguised blessings.

    Prediction: Bears 27, Redskins 24

New Orleans Saints (4-8) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-6), Sunday, 1 p.m.

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    Jonathan Bachman/Associated Press

    Jameis Winston said at his midweek press conference that the Buccaneers rookies rented out a laser tag center last week so they could have some fun together. Winston sure is a party animal: a 12-year-old's birthday party animal. At the rate he is engaging in wholesome pastimes, winning games and playing heady football, Winston should shed the "controversial character problem" label in (checking the Internet to determine how long it takes for people to change their minds about quarterbacks) 13 or 14 years!

    The Saints defense plays a game that's similar to laser tag. Coordinator Dennis Allen focuses a laser pointer at the ground and watches his defenders chase it back and forth like a bunch of clumsy kittens. Brandon Browner tries to grab it, then looks confusedly at his hands and wonders where the little red dot went. It's adorable until the game ends when the linebackers are distracted by a rolling ball of yarn.

    The Buccaneers signed cornerback Sterling Moore to a low-cost one-year contract, while the Saints were using quantum capanomics to squeeze Browner onto the payroll. Moore began the season as a nickel-and-dime corner but got promoted over some underperforming veterans. He has had a series of solid bend-don't-break games against Odell Beckham Jr., Dez Bryant and Julio Jones. The 25-year-old Moore is likely to cash in, and the Bucs have the future cap space to supply that cash.

    The Browner-Moore dichotomy is one of many reasons that one of these franchises is running around having fun while the other is just groping around in the dark with a flashing target on its chest.

    Prediction: Buccaneers 26, Saints 20

Indianapolis Colts (6-6) at Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8), Sunday, 1 p.m.

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    The last four Jaguars fourth quarters:

    At Ravens: The Jaguars took the lead early in the quarter after recovering a muffed punt and scoring a touchdown. They surrendered an 80-yard touchdown drive to give the Ravens a 20-19 lead. Terrell Suggs used Blake Bortles' facemask like a socket wrench on the final Hail Mary attempt (which should have been blown dead for about 30 reasons, but hey, don't twist a quarterback's facemask). Jason Myers kicked a 53-yard game-winning field goal with 0:00 on the clock.

    Titans: The Jaguars trailed 13-9 with 3:49 to play. Rashad Greene returned a punt 63 yards to set up a Blake Bortles touchdown pass to Julius Thomas. The Titans fumbled after a reception on the next offensive play to set up a Jaguars field goal. The Titans drove to the Jaguars' 23-yard line on their final drive but ran out of time.

    Chargers: The Jaguars trailed 24-12. Bortles threw a touchdown pass to Thomas on 4th-and-long. Philip Rivers answered with a touchdown pass. The Jaguars drove but failed to convert a second 4th-and-long. Someone named Hayes Pullard blocked a Chargers punt. Bortles threw another touchdown. Myers' onside kick failed; the Chargers won.

    At Titans: Two bad teams combined for 41 total fourth-quarter points. FORTY-ONE. Noteworthy plays include a strip-sack in the shadow of the goal post, an 87-yard scramble, a 67-yard catch-and-run and an attempt to launch a shotgun snap into orbit that ultimately put the game out of reach for the Titans.

    Jaguars fourth quarters are getting increasingly insane. The Colts do not want this game to remain close at the end. And while you may ignore the Jaguars on most Sunday afternoons, you may want to tune in at about 3:30 p.m. Eastern. It will be like the last minute of an NCAA basketball tournament game, only even zanier.

    Prediction: Colts 31, Jaguars 29

Detroit Lions (4-8) at St. Louis Rams (4-8), Sunday, 1 p.m.

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Here is how this game will end:

    • The firing of Frank Cignetti and promotion of Rob Boras to offensive coordinator will lead to an offensive explosion by Rams standards. The Lions will lead 17-13 with six seconds left in the fourth quarter.

    • Case Keenum attempts the most deadly passing play in the Rams arsenal: a screen to Tavon Austin. Austin runs back and forth sideways across the field four times before getting tackled for a one-yard loss.

    • Ziggy Ansah and Devin Taylor slam into Keenum from two directions. Keenum's helmet pops 20 feet into the air like a champagne cork. Officials call roughing the passer. Slow-motion replays show that Ansah and Taylor only slightly slammed into Keenum's helmet. Twitter decides this is a bad call. Keenum remains in the game; Jeff Fisher is too busy telling Boras to throw a Hail Mary to notice that his quarterback's eyes are pointed in two different directions.

    • Jim Caldwell: "Say, Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, why don't you help defend the end zone during the Hail Mary?" Johnson and Tate: "Great thinking, Coach! Now build us a time machine so we can go back to last Thursday!"

    • Keenum heaves a deep pass. Fisher and Boras assign Wes Welker to run head first at full speed into the Lions defense to scatter them. Tate catches the Hail Mary with one foot in the end zone and one foot out. Welker head-butts it from his hands. Johnson catches the deflection with one hand, spins, falls to the ground and loses control of the football. The ball bounces around for several seconds near the base of the goal post. Welker head-butts it out of bounds. Kenny Britt finally dashes over and licks the football so no one else tries to touch it.

    • The ruling on the field is Rams touchdown, based on the Triple Deluxe Super-Secret Johnson-Tate Backward Logic rule. Twitter ignores the call because Dez Bryant just bobbled a catch five yards out of bounds.

    • Everyone agrees that this game was still better than the Cowboys-Redskins Monday-nighter.

    Prediction: Lions 17, Rams 13

San Francisco 49ers (4-8) at Cleveland Browns (2-10), Sunday, 1 p.m.

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    At the Hanging Gardens of New Jersey, in the year 2065…

    Eobard Tanier: Tell me the story again, great grandpa, of the day the world changed.

    95-year-old me: Sure, just sit here next to great grand-pappy on the hover-recliner. Now, none of us knew history was reaching a turning point at the time. I was working for Bleacher Report…

    Eobard: Bleacher Report? Did you fight in the Meme Wars?

    95-year-old me: Your great grand-pappy was a master slideshow sergeant! But that came later.

    It was mid-December, and Johnny Manziel and Blaine Gabbert were just two disappointing young quarterbacks: A kid who couldn't get control of his personal habits and a big lunk we talked ourselves into believing was a first-round pick because we all had a problem with Cam Newton back then.

    Eobard: This was before Emperor Newton rose to power here in East America, right?

    95-year-old me: Oh, long before then. They hadn't even invented the helmet that simultaneously prevents concussions and global warming yet.

    Where was I? Oh yeah, most important event in human history. Well, Manziel and Gabbert faced off that Sunday afternoon, and it was a religious experience. All of us—football fans, non-sports fans, folks outside the developed world—we were all swept up in the beauty and majesty of their play. Warring nations ceased fire. Partisan politicians bred compromise to create real social change. Skunks started spraying lemon-ginger potpourri.

    Eobard: You must have felt so lucky to report on such a wonderful game!

    95-year-old me: Oh, yes. It changed us all. We learned about giving our fellow humans the benefit of the doubt, second chances, all those lessons philosophers and prophets could never quite hammer home. Seeing Gabbert and Manziel float 20 feet above that football field, glowing with unearthly light, guiding footballs through the stratosphere with just the power of their minds taught us the limitlessness of human potential.

    Eobard: Wow…

    95-year-old me: Of course, before the game, the matchup looked so sad and silly that I just slapped some snarky jokes together on a Tuesday afternoon so I could focus on Steelers-Bengals and watch YouTube videos of cats.

    Eobard: Great-grandpa, what's a cat?

    95-year-old me: Never mind that, Eobard. Finish your energy shake and then off to bed.

    Eobard: OK, great-grandpa. Merry Gabbertmanzielmas!

    95-year-old me: Merry Gabbertmanzielmas to you, too!

    Prediction: 49ers 23, Browns 13

New York Giants (5-7) at Miami Dolphins (5-7), Monday, 8:30 p.m.

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry are former college teammates and besties who have known each other since high school. Their styles have always been different—Beckham (as you know) makes one-handed show-stoppers along the sideline, while Landry's game is more about a dozen grabs per week in heavy traffic between the numbers—but the mutual admiration is real, and both are indispensable to their teams. The Giants offense starts with Beckham, then flows to whoever is open when Beckham is double covered. The Dolphins offense used to revolve around Landry. Now it revolves around winning some tug-of-war between coaches and the front office over Ryan Tannehill, but that's a story for another week.

    Remember when you were a kid and you had a BFF, and then there was this third kid who always tagged along but never really fit in, so he always ended up running his mouth and causing trouble?

    Rueben Randle on WFAN radio, via the New York Post:

    My opportunities have been cut down a little more. Odell is pretty much the prime target for us offensively. It's definitely frustrating. As a receiver you want to get more involved. It can be kind of tough when the opportunities are limited.

    So it sounds like Randle, Landry and Beckham's former LSU teammate and fellow Louisiana high school standout won't be joining the love-in? Landry doesn't have a "Freak Catch Tape" with Randle highlights and little hearts and Tigers pride stickers on it? (Unanswered question: What 23-year old tapes anything? Does Landry own a VCR? If so, he can he transfer my aunt's wedding video?) Randle has a negative Pro Football Focus rating and a rep for both dropping passes and mis-running routes that lead to Eli Manning interceptions. Maybe Beckham-Landry Week was not the best week for him to complain about his touches.

    Randle is a free agent in the offseason. Perhaps a Landry-Randle reunion is in the works for 2016, even if no one is exactly clamoring for it.

    Prediction: Giants 22, Dolphins 16

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