By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) With only three playoff tickets punched – Seattle, Denver, Indianapolis – twenty-five teams remain in contention for a playoff spot. Last week, an NFL-record 104 touchdowns were scored, and three teams won games in the final :31 seconds of the game. Will this week’s action be as exciting?
Here’s my take on how this weekend’s action plays out.
Game of the Week: LIONS 27, Ravens 24 – Monday Night 7:40 PM
Both of these teams are in identical situations, win out and they’re in the playoffs. Considering the snowglobes they played in last week, Ford Field is a welcome reprieve. The dome-spoiled Lions were adversely affected in Philly, putting the ball on the ground six times, recovering four, but losing two in the red-zone. Calvin Johnson needs just seven yards to become the first player in NFL history to go over 5,000 yards in three seasons. He’ll get it as the Lions pick up a big win.
FALCONS 31, Redskins 23 – Noon
Eleven months ago, both of these teams were hosting playoff games. Currently, they’re jockeying for the worst record in the NFC. Washington is a full on dumpster fire. Head coach Mike Shanahan is doing his best George Costanza impersonation, begging to be fired. Robert Griffin III has been benched, so now it’s Kirk Cousins’ chance to run the show. After enduring a forgettable season, the Falcons are going to take out some frustration against an awful Redskins secondary.
49ers 24, BUCS 17 – Noon
The 49ers are playing for the playoffs and the Bucs are playing for pride. Last weekend’s win against Seattle was San Francisco’s most impressive performance since the season opener. Their defense was dominant, and the offense made enough plays down the stretch. This week, they’ll make the dreaded coast-to-coast trip for a noon kick against a Bucs team that’s won four of their last five. Will the recent surge be enough to save Greg Schiano’s job? Bucs fans hope not. Mike Glennon has exceeded expectations, but the 49ers defense will force some bad decisions.
Seahawks 30, GIANTS 20 – Noon
Yet another NFC West team making the coast-to-coast trip for a noon kickoff, as the Seahawks travel to New York. This will be the last game the Seahawks play out of Seattle, that is unless they play their way into another trip to New York in early February. With the Giants officially eliminated from playoff contention, the question is, what is this team made of? The Giants offensive line is the league’s worst pass-blocking unit, which spells doom against the Seahawks ferocious defensive front.
Bears 27, Browns 23 – Noon
Amidst the Jay Cutler-Josh McCown debate (in name only, Cutler’s clearly the better talent), Bears fans need to acknowledge the common denominator in this discussion: head coach Marc Trestman’s quarterback-friendly system. In less than a year on the job, Trestman has resurrected a decade-old cadaverous NFL offense into the second-highest scoring team in the league. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery have developed into the league’s deadliest wide receiver duo, and Cutler will capitalize.
COLTS 28, Texans 17 – Noon
By default – specifically the atrocious AFC South – the Colts are in the playoffs. Judging by their performance over the past month of the season, it’s nearly impossible to comprehend how this is the same team that beat the Seahawks, 49ers, and Broncos. Their line can’t block, and their running game is as productive as Congress. Luckily, the Colts get a late season bye-week against a Texans team that has completely mailed it in.
Bills 23, JAGUARS 20 – Noon
Just like everyone expected, the Jaguars have the AFC’s longest current winning streak. No, that’s not a typo. The Jaguars have won three-straight led by a stout run defense that hasn’t allowed an opponent to rush for more than 100 yards in five straight games. The Bills run the ball more than any team in the AFC, so will the Jaguars be able to maintain their dominance? Probably not. The Bills interior defensive line is stout, which collapses the pocket from the inside and creates singles on the outside. I like the Bills to break up the Jags.
Patriots 27, DOLPHINS 24 – Noon
The Patriots are starting to form a bad habit. During their three-game winning streak, they’ve trailed by at least 10 points in all three. Now, the Patriots will have to finish the season without their best offensive weapon, tight end Rob Gronkowski. The last time these two teams met, the Dolphins led 17-3 at halftime, yet were blanked in the second half, surrendering 24 straight points. Antonio Brown’s slight misstep on a nearly successful hook-and-ladder saved the Dolphins playoff hopes and perhaps their season. Gronk or not, the Patriots will lock up the AFC East.
Eagles 31, VIKINGS 23 – Noon
Winners of five straight, the Eagles are the league’s hottest team. With the Cowboys getting manhandled on Monday night, the Eagles are in control of their playoff fate, and they may catch a break against the Vikings. Running back Adrian Peterson is questionable to play with a foot injury, and his backup – Toby Gerhart – is dealing with a hamstring issue. The Vikings secondary has been awful all season, so it will be easy pickings for Nick Foles.
PANTHERS 27, Jets 13 – 3:05 PM
The Saints burst the Panthers bubble on Sunday night, dropping Carolina a game back in the NFC South. The Panthers were dismantled on both sides of the ball, giving up a season-high 31 points, while being held to a season-low 111 net passing yards. Luckily, hope will arrive dressed in green and white uniforms. Last week, the Jets were able to reverse their recent misfortunes against the Raiders, but it won’t last. The Panthers defense will feast on turnover-prone Geno Smith.
Chiefs 23, RAIDERS 20 – 3:05 PM
The Chiefs ended their three-game skid in style, in a 45-10 rout over the Redskins. The Chiefs can punch their playoff ticket with a win or a tie this weekend against the Raiders. As impressive as the Chiefs record looks on paper, they’re a flawed football team, particularly their passing game. The Raiders, on the other hand, have ensured their 11th straight season with a losing record. They’re down to their third-string running back and an undrafted rookie at quarterback, so enjoy your one-and-done in the playoffs, Chiefs fans.
COWBOYS 31, Packers 24 – 3:25 PM
So, Jerry Jones fired Rob Ryan because his defense had too much going on, now he wants the defensive coordinator he replaced him with – Monte Kiffin – to take more risks. Got it? Good. Me neither. Until Jones stops meddling in the everyday affairs of the Cowboys, this team will continue to underachieve. He’s the ultimate fantasy football owner. As porous as the Cowboys defense is, they’ll face an Aaron Rodgers-less Packers team that won’t be able to capitalize.
Cardinals 24, TITANS 17- 3:25 PM
After playing three-straight road games, one would think the Titans are happy to be returning home to LP field. But, they’ve lost four straight at home and will make it a franchise-record five after this weekend. Buoyed by their dominant run defense and big-play passing attack, the Cardinals have emerged as a legitimate NFC Wild Card team. The Titans on the other hand are in a complete free fall, and are looking at a complete offseason overhaul.
Saints 34, RAMS 23 – 3:25 PM
After crushing Carolina at home, the Saints can secure a Wild Card bid this weekend in St. Louis. The Saints hung 31 points on a Panthers team that came into that game allowing a league-best 12 points per game. Outside of the SuperDome, the Saints are a different team, but more than the venue, it’s all about how the team starts. The Rams outburst against the Bears was an anomaly, proven by their lackluster performances the past two weeks. Drew Brees will have his way against a young secondary prone to giving up big plays.
Bengals 24, STEELERS 23 – 7:30 PM
Playoff implications and a potential AFC North title are on the line Sunday night in Pittsburgh. With a win and a Ravens loss, the Bengals will wrap up the division and make their third-straight playoff appearance. Meanwhile, the Steelers are two games out of the final playoff spot, so desperation is starting to set in. The Bengals will be playing without their top two cornerbacks, which Ben Roethlisberger will be able to exploit. However, the Bengals are the better team and the road team in this series holds a decided edge.
Follow Dan on Twitter: @djdurkin