Saints at Panthers
When: 1 p.m. EST.
Story line: For all intents and purposes, this battle of 10-4 teams shapes up as the NFC South championship game. The loser isn't any guarantee for a wild card, either.
About the Saints: As unstoppable as they look at home (32.9 ppg), they're a mediocre road team (18.4 ppg). RB Pierre Thomas, WR Marques Colston and TE Jimmy Graham have good track records vs. the Panthers. DE Cameron Jordan has amassed 111/2 sacks in his last 13 games.
About the Panthers: Have won 9 of 10, crushing opponents 254-150. Also have taken six straight at home. This is a ground-and-pound, controlled passing team that leads the league in time of possession. DeAngelo Williams has 912 yards rushing and seven TDs in his last eight vs. the Saints.
Prediction: Panthers, 23-21. A close call where home field makes the difference.
Colts at Chiefs
When: 1 p.m.
Story line: These two playoff qualifiers are jockeying for position, hoping against hope to earn a bye, but more than likely they're hurtling toward a rematch on wild-card weekend.
About the Colts: They win the close ones. Indy is 15-2 the last two seasons, 6-1 in 2013, in games decided by a TD or less. There have been Trent Richardson sighting the past two weeks, totaling 180 yards. The Colts have been alternating wins and losses for six weeks. They're due to lose Sunday.
About the Chiefs: They've bounced back from the three-game losing string with a vengeance, rolling up 101 points in a couple of road blowouts. KC has a franchise-record 11 TDs from defense (6) and special teams (5). Only the 1998 Seahawks (13) and 2010 Cardinals (12) have had more.
Prediction: Chiefs, 28-23. KC cashes in with an NFL-leading plus-21 turnover ratio.
Cowboys at Redskins
When: 1 p.m.
Story line: It's hard to believe the crumbling Cowboys (7-7) are still in control of their own destiny, but they are. Beat the Deadskins and then the Eagles and they're NFC East champs.
About the Cowboys: Jerry Jones urges calm while Rome burns. The Cowboys have lost their last four December games. They are 2-3 since Nov. 10, torched for a league-worst 35.2 ppg. They rank dead last in most major defensive categories and are particularly rancid against the pass.
About the Redskins: They wish they had the Cowboys' problems. The Skins have been outscored 119-44 in the first quarter, they have horrible special teams and are coming off a seven-turnover game. Kirk Cousins threw for 381 yards and 3 TDs last week.
Prediction: Cowboys, 38-31. They're 4-0 vs. the NFC east; the Skins are 0-4.
Dolphins at Bills
When: 1 p.m.
Story line: Miami, doing an admirable job blocking out the bullying scandal and retaining focus, chases its fourth straight win in pursuit of the AFC's second wild-card spot.
About the Dolphins: Get this, the Fins are 5-2 since OT Jonathan Martin left the team, alleging harassment by Richie Incognito and friends. If Miami wins this and beats the Jets next week, they're in if Baltimore loses once. The Dolphins are the only team with a takeaway in each game.
About the Bills: Thad Lewis takes over at QB as rookie EJ Manuel's knee is hurting again. The Bills like to run, averaging 138.2 yards, and opponents enjoy running on them (149 ypg over the past five). They also have to stop WR Mike Wallace.
Prediction: Dolphins, 24-20. Do you realize the Bills have the NFL's longest active playoff drought (14 years)?
Vikings at Bengals
When: 1 p.m.
Story line: Cincinnati is stalking the AFC North title, which can be had with a victory and a Baltimore loss to New England. Minnesota has its last chance to avoid a winless season on the road.
About the Vikings: Unlike some teams that quickly fell out of contention, these guys are fighting to the finish, 2-1-1 in their last four against tough competition. Journeyman Matt Cassel is raising eyebrows with his strong QB play.
About the Bengals: They laid an egg in Pittsburgh, but this is a solid bunch on the verge of back-to-back 10-win seasons for just the second time (1975-76). Cincinnati and New Orleans are the only teams ranked in the top 10 in total offense and defense.
Prediction: Bengals, 31-20. The Vikings can't do much about their porous defense that allows 30.4 points per game.
Broncos at Texans
When: 1 p.m.
Story line: Denver no longer looks so invincible, but the Broncos can lock up the AFC's No. 1 seed with a win and help elsewhere.
About the Broncos: With two weeks left, the priority is patching up a defense ranked 23rd and particularly poor against the pass. Several personnel changes were made this past week. Peyton Manning is three TD passes shy of Tom Brady's NFL-record 50 in 2007. Knowshon Moreno is 61 yards short of his first 1,000-yard rushing season.
About the Texans: Matt Schaub is back in the saddle for injured Case Keenum, so look out for a pick-six. Diminutive Dennis Johnson gets his first start as RB Ben Tate (ribs) is out. Andre Johnson needs one catch to reach 100 for the fifth time.
Prediction: Broncos, 35-17. These guys are not about to start a losing streak now.
Buccaneers at Rams
When: 1 p.m.
Story line: Rams DE Robert "The Mighty" Quinn is making his case for NFL defensive player of the year with an NFC-best 15 sacks and an NFL-high seven forced fumbles.
About the Bucs: LB Lavonte David is the lone player in the league with 100 tackles, five sacks and five interceptions. In fact, only the Bears' Brian Urlacher has done that in the last decade. After a midseason burst, the offense has run out of gas.
About the Rams: RB Zac Stacy has found his second wind after a brief lull and leads all rookies with 854 yards. He has six TDs in the past six games. The defense should shut down the Bucs, who are 1 for 10 on third down in the last two losses.
Prediction: Rams, 27-17. Ready to finish with a flourish.
Browns at Jets
When: 1 p.m.
Story line: Blustery Jets coach Rex Ryan is trying to save his job after missing the playoffs for the third straight season.
About the Browns: Have lost five straight and even their formerly formidable defense has slipped. But WR Josh Gordon is still going strong. His 1,467 receiving yards, which lead the NFL despite missing two games, are the best single season in Browns history.
About the Jets: Rookie Geno Smith's 62.9 rating is the lowest among starting QBs, but the Jets have to keep running him out there to see if he's better than Mark Sanchez. Like the Browns, the Jets' defense has dropped off, allowing an average of 409 yards and 135 rushing over the past three.
Prediction: Jets, 21-20. "Look, I'm a competent guy, even though I'm questioned a zillion times," Ryan insists.
Titans at Jaguars
When: 1 p.m.
Story line: A pair of stumbling teams with journeyman quarterbacks are playing for pride ... oh, and draft position.
About the Titans: Have lost three straight, five of six and eight of 10. But they're usually close, dropping six games by eight points or less. The Titans are 1-9 in their division over the last two years, winless in 2013. Kendall Wright has 85 catches for 1,007 yards. His 29 catches on third down are tied for No. 1 in the league.
About the Jaguars: They're 4-2 after an 0-8 start. The Jags will honor center Brad Meester, retiring after 14 seasons, all in Jacksonville. Jordan Todman had 109 yards rushing in his first career start last week, but he's likely to give way to Maurice Jones-Drew (hamstring).
Prediction: Titans, 27-21. They can't keep losing to AFC South teams forever.
Cardinals at Seahawks
When: 4:05 p.m.
Story line: The Seahawks can kill two birds with one stone. A win locks up the NFC's No. 1 seed and eliminates the Cardinals from postseason consideration.
About the Cardinals: The red-hot Birds have grabbed six of seven, scoring 30 per pop, since falling to Seattle 34-22 in Arizona. They have nightmares remembering the last trip to Seattle: a 58-0 loss. Arizona has the No. 1 run defense, permitting 83.2 ypg, and LB John Abraham has 111/2 sacks in past eight games.
About the Seahawks: They've won 14 in a row at home. The Hawks lead the league in total defense, scoring defense and are second in takeaways. They bagged seven sacks in the first game vs. Zona. Russell Wilson is close to becoming the third second-year QB in NFL history to finish with a 100 or better passing rating.
Prediction: Seahawks, 27-23. These two are big money-makers: Arizona is 9-3-2 vs. the line; Seattle 10-4.
Giants at Lions
When: 4:05 p.m.
Story line: Detroit has really messed things up with its late collapses and needs to win its last two and get a lot of help to make the postseason.
About the Giants: There's no fixing on offense that looks great on paper. Eli Manning has lost all confidence, his line is awful, running backs average and wide receivers underperforming and occasionally lacking effort.
About the Lions: Matthew Stafford has been as bad as Manning lately. Over the last five weeks, Stafford has made 12 turnovers and he's thrown nine picks in the past four. Detroit has gagged in four of the last five, losing fourth-quarter leads in each. If Reggie Bush gains 60 yards, he'll break Detroit's nine-year drought -- the NFL's longest -- without a 1,000-yard rusher.
Prediction: Lions, 31-17. Playing the woeful Giants should make the Lions choke-proof.
Patriots at Ravens
When: 4:25 p.m.
Story line: High-stakes territory. New England is still angling for the AFC No. 1 seed and home field for a potential rematch with Denver. Baltimore needs to beat the Patriots and win at Cincinnati next week to take the AFC North.
About the Patriots: In typical Tom Brady fashion, he's really picked it up once the weather turned cold. Brady leads the league with 2,225 passing yards since November, though he does miss Rob Gronkowski. DE Chandler Jones is providing serious pressure with a career-high 111/2 sacks.
About the Ravens: Justin Tucker has become the best kicker in the NFL. He's nailed 33 consecutive field-goal attempts, the fourth-longest streak in history, and distance is no problem. Baltimore is 39-8 at home under John Harbaugh. The blocking is better recently, helping the team win four in a row.
Prediction: Ravens, 27-24. Baltimore keeps finding ways to pull out the close ones.
Steelers at Packers
When: 4:25 p.m.
Story line: If Green Bay handles this one and wins at Chicago next week, it is the NFC North champion.
About the Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger is getting better protection, and it shows. He had 15 turnovers in his first nine games; two in his past five. RB Le'Veon Bell averages 94 yards from scrimmage, tops among AFC rookies. WR Antonio Brown is five catches short of 100.
About the Packers: Aaron Rodgers is still iffy with his collarbone, but Matt Flynn is giving fans reason for optimism. In fact, last week he became the first quarterback in franchise history to throw four TD passes in the second half of a game. Eddie Lacy could have a tough time budging Pittsburgh's defense, allowing 73 rushing yards per game in recent weeks.
Prediction: Packers, 27-24. The train keeps rolling, but it won't come easy.
Raiders at Chargers
When: 4:25 p.m.
Story line: San Diego has the faintest of pulses in the wild-card race, although it'll be eliminated Sunday by a Baltimore or Miami win.
About the Raiders: After a promising run, Matt McGloin looked like an undrafted rookie last week with four interceptions. The Tin Man, RB Darren McFadden, is making noises like he'll play after missing six games with ankle and hamstring issues.
About the Chargers: WR Keenan Allen is pushing for the NFL offensive rookie of the year award with 63 catches for 931 yards and seven TDs. RB Ryan Mathews has finally lived up to his first-round status with five 100-yard games and 1,012 yards rushing. Philip Rivers has a 28-6 record in December with 62 TDs and 17 INTs.
Prediction: Chargers, 35-14. It's pretty much too late, but San Diego is clicking on all cylinders.
Bears at Eagles
When: 8:30 p.m.
Story line: These teams are in a similar boat. Either wins its division by takings its last two games. The Bears finish home to the Packers; the Eagles close at Dallas. They also could win division titles with a victory here and help elsewhere.
About the Bears: Jay Cutler got off to a horrible start in his return last week, but he rallied late. If Matt Cassel could pick apart the Eagles secondary for 382 yards last week, Cutler could have a big day throwing to Alshon Jeffery (80 catches, 1,265 yards, 7 TDs) and Brandon Marshall (90 for 1,185, 10 TDs).
About the Eagles: Chip Kelly went away from LeSean McCoy much too early last Sunday and paid the price. McCoy will get the ball early and often against the No. 32 rush defense. Nick Foles has the fourth-best passer rating (117.0) and has established rapport with DeSean Jackson (75 catches, 1,275 yards, 9 TDs) and Riley Cooper (41 for 743, 7 TDs).
Prediction: Eagles, 35-28. Philly's defense is slightly better right now.
Falcons at 49ers
When: Monday, 8:30 p.m.
Story line: The rematch of the 2012 NFC title game is a dud, thanks to Atlanta. But San Fran will be in party mode, celebrating the last regular-season game at Candlestick Park, the Niners' home since 1971.
About the Falcons: They've shown some spirit by winning two of the last three, the defense forcing 11 turnovers and generating just eight in the first 11 games. But Atlanta has given up 59 plays of 20 yards or more; San Fran has surrendered 36.
About the 49ers: Have won four in a row and are likely to have a playoff spot clinched before kickoff. The offense is coming alive as Colin Kaepernick has a 104.9 passer rating with one turnover during the streak after committing 12 in the first 10 games. Frank Gore has rushed for 196 yards the last two games, and WR Michael Crabtree is shaking off the rust.
Prediction: 49ers, 31-13. This one shouldn't keep anyone from doing last-minute Christmas shopping.
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