Colts at Bengals
When: 1 p.m. EST
Story line: Two 8-4 teams with solid division leads meet. Indianapolis can lock down its eighth AFC South title in the last 11 years.
About the Colts: Protecting Andrew Luck has become the main point of emphasis. The young QB was sacked 41 times as a rookie; he's already gone down 29 times this year. Without good protection, Luck has two TD passes, five INTs and a poor 66.7 rating over the past four games. A more dedicated run game would help.
About the Bengals: They are good at rushing the passer with 18 sacks in the last five outings while allowing an AFC-low 5.28 yards per pass. Cincy wants to run with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard, and Indy gives up 130 yards per game on the ground.
Prediction: Bengals, 24-20. The more well-rounded team wins.
Falcons at Packers
When: 1 p.m.
Story line: The Packers are 0-4-1 without Aaron Rodgers and need to win out to have any chance of overtaking the Lions in the NFC North.
About the Falcons: It came way, way too late, but the offense finally showed up last week, despite Matt Ryan getting sacked six times. Roddy White had 10 catches, Tony Gonzalez grabbed a TD pass and, stop the presses, Steven Jackson ran for 84 yards and two scores. The defense still looked miserable.
About the Packers: Not only does the Pack have to win all four, but the Lions must lose at least two of their four. If Rodgers can't return, Eddie Lacy needs a huge game after rushing for a mere 16 yards on 10 carries in Detroit. A physical defense might shake up the Falcons on a frigid day.
Prediction: Packers, 28-21. Atlanta isn't winning in December at Lambeau.
Lions at Eagles
When: 1 p.m.
Story line: The Nick Foles fairytale continues in Philly, but Detroit rides in off its sharpest performance in years.
About the Lions: Only Detroit and Denver have a QB, RB and WR in the top 10 of the three yardage categories. The offensive average of 424.5 yards, second in the league, is the highest in franchise history. The defense also has stepped up, not allowing a rushing TD in eight games and owning the No. 1 third-down defense for the year.
About the Eagles: Foles, a 2012 third-round choice cashing in on his chance to start, has thrown 19 touchdown passes and zero interceptions. He's also thrown a team-record 233 passes without a pick. During their four-game win string, the Eagles have forced nine turnovers and made only one. LeSean McCoy is No. 2 in rushing with 1,088 yards.
Prediction: Lions, 27-26. Matthew Stafford gets the better of Foles. Barely.
Dolphins at Steelers
When: 1 p.m.
Story line: Memo to Dolphins: Beware of the 12th Man stalking the Pittsburgh sideline. His name is Mike Tomlin, and he might just tackle you.
About the Dolphins: Mike Wallace returns home, and he's heating up, catching 12 balls for 209 yards and two TDs in the last two games. Wallace, a $60 million free-agent signing, has 56 catches for 743 yards and three TDs on the year. Ryan Tannehill is coming off his best game. DE Olivier Vernon has a career-high 101/2 sacks.
About the Steelers: The offensive line is finally showing progress, creating some creases for the running game and protecting Ben Roethlisberger better. After being sacked 36 times in the first nine games, Roethlisberger has been nailed just three times in the last three games. LB Jason Worilds is coming on with 61/2 sacks.
Prediction: Steelers, 28-17. They've won five straight against the Fins.
Chiefs at Redskins
When: 1 p.m.
Story line: KC has dropped three straight, yet it can lock up a wildcard spot with a win and a loss by Baltimore or Miami.
About the Chiefs: The defense, which allowed 13.3 points and 326 yards during its 9-0 run, gave up 34.3 points and 485 yards during its three-game slide. After posting 35 sacks in the first seven games, KC has just two in the last five. KC leads with eight unconventional TDs (four interception returns, two fumble retuns, one punt return, one kickoff return).
About the Skins: They do one thing well, leading the NFL in rushing (150.4 ypg) and yards per attempt (5.0). The Redskins get off to slow starts, outscored 88-37 in the first quarter. Opposing QBs have a league-high 117.5 passer rating on first down.
Prediction: Chiefs, 28-21. The Skins have lost four straight. Make it five.
Vikings at Ravens
When: 1 p.m.
Story line: After winning three of four, Baltimore possesses the AFC's second wildcard on a tiebreaker. Now the task is to create some separation.
About the Vikings: The one constant is Adrian Peterson, who tops the NFL with 1,208 yards rushing. Minny is 2-1-1 since a 1-7 first half, but defense is only a rumor. It's ranked 30th, particularly inept against the pass. The Vikes are 0-5-1 on the road.
About the Ravens: A season of close calls. They've played seven games decided by three points or fewer and two others decided by six and eight points. Baltimore is 5-1 at home, allowing just 12.3 points per game. There's practically no running game (30th), but PK Justin Tucker is money, converting 27 consecutive field goals.
Prediction: Ravens, 28-17. A win here is a necessity since the final three games are against division leaders.
Browns at Patriots
When: 1 p.m.
Story line: Easy pickings for the Patriots, who can wrap up their fifth consecutive AFC East title.
About the Browns: Josh Gordon is pushing Megatron for the title of best receiver in the NFL. Gordon, the second-year wideout from Baylor, is on a record-wrecking spree, following up a 231-yard game with a 261-yard effort. But who will throw him the ball? Cleveland may be down to its fourth QB, Caleb Hanie, just signed off the streets.
About the Patriots: Slow starters, the Pats have been outscored 34-7 in the first quarter of the last three games. But they own the second half, crushing foes 133-56 the last five outings. TE Rob Gronkowski is all the way back to being the old Gronk, and veteran WR Julian Edelman has stepped up to fill the void for struggling young receivers.
Prediction: Patriots, 35-14. The Browns' formidable defense appears to be falling apart.
Raiders at Jets
When: 1 p.m.
Story line: Rookie QB Geno Smith is terrible, but with a soft closing schedule, the 5-7 Jets aren't quite out of the AFC wildcard picture yet.
About the Raiders: Undrafted rookie Matt McGloin has done well in Terrelle Pryor's absence, but the Raiders don't have a single healthy running back. Taiwan Jones, a fourth-round pick in 2011 converted to cornerback, moved back to offense this week and might get the call.
About the Jets: Rex Ryan says he's sticking with Smith, the league's lowest-rated passer, probably because Matt Simms is his only other option. The Jets go three-and-out an NFL-high 35 percent of the time. The defense is still pretty salty, especially against the run (77 ypg).
Prediction: Jets, 14-13. Maybe they can squeeze one out without completing a pass.
Bills at Buccaneers
When: 1 p.m.
Story line: One of these two will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The Bills and Bucs each have blown seven leads.
About the Bills: Doug Marrone coached against Greg Schiano in the Big East, Marrone's Syracuse beating Rutgers two of three times. The rookie quarterbacks have been friends since high school. Buffalo's E.J. Manuel (Florida State) and Tampa's Mike Glennon (N.C. State) split two games in college.
About the Bucs: The defense's 17 interceptions top the league, but the real task here is limiting the Bills' AFC-best running game (140 ypg). The Bucs are 12th vs. the run. The offense has to protect Glennon from a fierce pass rush. Buffalo leads the NFL with 43 sacks.
Prediction: Bills, 28-21. The teams have met only 10 times, and nine have been in Tampa. Buffalo enjoys getting out of the cold.
Titans at Broncos
When: 4:05 p.m.
Story line: After missing a month for open-heart surgery, Denver coach John Fox is back on the field.
About the Titans: At 5-7, they must win out to have a real shot at the final wild card. Yeah, you can pretty much write that off. Chris Johnson is two rushing TDs shy of joining franchise greats Earl Campbell and Eddie George with 50. Jurrell Casey tops AFC defensive tackles with eight sacks.
About the Broncos: If you're searching for reasons to go against Denver, Peyton Manning has an 8-11 career record when temps are in the 30s or below. Forecast high: 16. Manning could be challenged by a defense that has 31 sacks and allows a mere 212.6 passing yards.
Prediction: Broncos, 35-31. A letdown is entirely possible after running the gauntlet of Chiefs-Patriots-Chiefs. But probably not enough to lose.
Seahawks at 49ers
When: 4:25 p.m.
Story line: Nobody's gonna catch the Seahawks in the NFC, but the 49ers want to remind them they are the defending conference champs and remain a dangerous roadblock.
About the Seahawks: A playoff spot clinched, Seattle seizes the division title and first-round bye with its next win. The Seahawks have won seven in a row and 18 of 20. Marshawn Lynch is 30 yards from his fifth career 1,000-yard season. That top-ranked defense is ferocious, surrendering just 177 yards passing per game.
About the 49ers: The defense is No. 5 and No. 3 vs. the pass, yet it won't be easy slowing down Russell Wilson, who has an average QB rating of 141 over the past three games. NT Glenn Dorsey has resurrected his wayward career. Frank Gore somehow finds holes against Seattle, his 1,254 rushing yards the most he has against any opponent.
Prediction: 49ers, 27-20. Tough spot for the Seahawks, hitting the road against their chief rival after a huge Monday night home victory.
Rams at Cardinals
When: 4:25 p.m.
Story line: Arizona is in the NFC wildcard hunt, but it's got to snap a string of eight straight losses to NFC West rivals.
About the Rams: DE Robert Quinn will be a load for Arizona to defend. In the first meeting this year (St. Louis won 27-24), Quinn had three sacks, two forced fumbles and four QB hits. His six forced fumbles lead the NFL and his 13 sacks are second.
About the Cards: The Rams' offensive line is beaten up, so the Cards' salty defense is licking its chops. OLB John Abraham has eight sacks in his last six games and 130 for his career, most among active players. Look out for WR Michael Floyd, who has 193, 104 and 99 yards in his last three outings. Larry Fitzgerald has 15 TD grabs vs. St. Louis.
Prediction: Cardinals, 23-16. They've dropped eight in a row to the NFC West. That can't go on.
Giants at Chargers
When: 4:25 p.m.
Story line: Eli Manning and Philip Rivers, traded for each other on draft day 2004, have only hooked up once, with the Chargers winning. But the Giants QB has two Super Bowl rings.
About the Giants: Manning has picked up the pace after a horrid start, and he's been helped by the return of RB Andre Brown. DE Justin Tuck is coming off a four-sack game, and the defense is making strides, ninth against the rush and 11th overall.
About the Chargers: They move the ball consistently and score, but they just can't stop anybody. The offense is No. 4 with 402 yards per game and is No. 2 with 46.4 percent third-down conversions. The defense allows nearly 390 yards, 270 in the air.
Prediction: Giants, 31-28. Both 5-7 teams are down to their last postseason gasp, but the Giants seem to have a little more spunk.
Panthers at Saints
When: 8:30 p.m.
Story line: Control of the NFC South is at stake. Carolina carries an eight-game win streak; New Orleans is 6-0 at home.
About the Panthers: Rock-solid defense carries this team, which surrenders an NFL-low 13.1 points and has won four straight on the road. Carolina also is the last team to beat New Orleans in the Superdome, last Dec. 20. LB Luke Kuechly (102 tackles) is the heart and soul of a well-rounded D. Cam Newton is playing above his QB rating, which is just 16th.
About the Saints: The bludgeoning in Seattle must be a blow to the senses: The seven points and 188 total yards are the fewest since Sean Payton became coach and Drew Brees the QB in 2006. At home, though, Brees has completed 73.5 percent with 19 TDs and 3 INTs. TE Jimmy Graham has 12 TD catches. DE Cameron Jordan has racked up 91/2 sacks in the last 11 games.
Prediction: Saints, 31-21. New Orleans holds serve. Stay tuned, though. They'll meet again in two weeks in Charlotte.
Cowboys at Bears
When: Monday, 8:30 p.m.
Story line: The Cowboys fight to remain on top of the NFC East; the .500 Bears scratch and claw to stay in the NFC North race.
About the Cowboys: They've won five of the last seven and are one of the NFL's best teams to bet on (8-4). Yet there is so much to prove in the stretch run. Dallas is 13-17 in December since 2005 and Tony Romo is 11-15. DeMarco Murray is coming off a three-score performance on Thanksgiving, and Chicago allows a league-worst 153.6 yards rushing.
About the Bears: As good as Dallas has been against the line, Chicago has been terrible (2-8-2). Josh McCown, filling in for Jay Cutler, has nine TDs and one INT. The Bears have a 1-2 receiving punch better than Dallas: Alshon Jeffery (70 catches, 1,109 yards, 5 TDs) and Brandon Marshall (78 catches, 990 yards, nine TDs).
Prediction: Bears, 31-28. Going against the grain here, but historically Monday night home underdogs are a good play and the Bears are desperate.
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