Unlike last week, when bitter cold was felt at five venues, milder temps are forecast for most games this week, with the exception of Seattle on Monday night, when wet, freezing weather is predicted. Things could get dicey in Cleveland, too.
But whereas last year home teams were 7-1-1 ATS in games in which the temperature was freezing at kickoff, home teams were only 1-4 last week (4-0-1 SU), including the indoor Vikings’ strong performance against the Packers in Green Bay, which ended in a 26-26 tie. Wind chill at kickoff was 7 degrees. So, don’t automatically write off the Saints. Or the Jaguars in Cleveland.
Here’s a closer look at this weekend’s games. Times are PST. Lines provided by the Las Vegas Hotel SuperBook.
PRO FOOTBALL – SUNDAY, DEC. 1
Tennessee Titans (5-6) at Indianapolis Colts (7-4)
Time: 10 a.m. PST
Line: Colts by 3½ (45½)
Facts: The Colts won 30-27 three weeks ago on Thursday night in Nashville, overcoming an early 14-0 deficit… Indy boss Jim Irsay, in his own way, has announced he isn’t pleased with his team’s recent downward spiral, which includes last week’s 40-11 loss in Arizona... Tennessee QB Ryan Fitzpatrick had his best day of the season last week in Oakland with a 109.7 passer rating in a 23-19 victory. But he did fumble twice for the second game in a row… The Titans didn’t have a defensive sack and overcame 100 yards in penalties in subduing the Raiders… Tennessee is 5-0 ATS on the road this year, after going 2-8 its previous 10 away games. Conversely, the Titans are 1-4-1 ATS in home games in 2013… Tennessee had 11 first downs on its final two drives in its rally against Oakland.
Analysis: The Titans need a victory to regain the edge over Baltimore for the sixth wild card. A victory also would put Tennessee one game behind fast-falling Indy, but the Colts appear to have a death grip on the applicable division tiebreaker by virtue of their current 3-0 vs. 0-3 edge in division record. Indy, though, with the hot breath of Mr. Irsay making things uncomfortable, will respond with a hustling effort against a Titans team that lost at home to Jacksonville two weeks ago.
Forecast: Colts 24, Titans 16
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-9) at Cleveland Browns (4-7)
Time: 10 a.m. PST
Weather: Mid-30s, chance of snow/rain
Line: Browns by 7 (40½)
Facts: Yes, Brandon Weeden, the league’s worst-rated passer, is scheduled to start for the Browns. Last week’s No. 1 guy, Jason Campbell, is doubtful (concussion)… Jacksonville has scored a TD the past three games on its opening possession, going 19, 71 and 75 yards. In their previous 34 games, they had only two first-drive touchdowns… A week after the Browns’ Josh Gordon could catch only five of 15 targeted throws, he latched on to 14 of 17 last week vs. Pittsburgh in a game that had a wind chill of 1 degree at kickoff, the coldest of the year… Two years ago, the Browns were 14-10 winners in Cleveland, their only victory in a 1-9 death spiral in 2011 to close the season... Early season Cleveland sensation Jordan Cameron had only three catches on 10 targets last week vs. Pittsburgh.
Analysis: Jacksonville has been making remarkable strides since taking a 0-8 record into their bye four weeks ago and coming out with upset victories at Tennessee and Houston. But with those wins comes respect, which will keep the Jags from catching teams unprepared. Cleveland, meanwhile, can’t possibly play as badly as it has the past two weeks, with a 41-20 loss at Cincinnati followed by a 27-11 home loss to Pittsburgh. In those games, the Browns’ foes had an 18-yard average starting field position edge and scored on a total of three non-offensive TDs. Just eliminating bad luck should help Cleveland return to a more dominant team. But asking Weeden to play error-free in these weather conditions, that’s another story. As fragile as the Browns’ psyche is at this point, this spread is too steep.
Forecast: Browns 16, Jaguars 14
New England Patriots (8-3) at Houston Texans (2-9)
Time: 10 a.m. PST
Line: Patriots by 7 (47½)
Facts: The Patriots beat Houston twice last year, 42-14 and then 41-28 in the playoffs, but both games were in New England. That Houston defense was ranked seventh, but this year’s is first… The Texans close out a three-game home stand on a nine-game losing streak. The last teams to be swept three straight at home were the Lions and Chiefs last year, also in Weeks 11-13. But neither of those teams also were swept ATS… The Patriots, who hold he No. 2 AFC seed and one game up on division leaders Cincinnati and Indy, face teams with a cumulative mark of 21-35 the rest of the way. Only the Ravens at 6-6 don’t have a losing record... Houston hasn’t scored a TD its past two games, vs. Oakland and Jacksonville, with top receiver Andre Johnson having two catches for 36 yards last week..
Analysis: Teams like the Patriots, and even the Packers last year, that spread out the Texans’ defense have had enormous success, and considering Houston has averaged only 14.7 points during its nine-game collapse, it won’t take much for Tom Brady to get his team clear.And New England won’t be short on motivation, for if the Patriots win out all it will take is one slip by AFC West leader KC or Denver for New England to gain the top seed in the conference. Meanwhile, the Texans might be past the point of no return on this season, with little or no reason to play inspired.
Forecast: Patriots 30, Texans 14
Chicago Bears (6-5) at Minnesota Vikings (2-8-1)
Time: 10 a.m. PST
Line: Pick-em (50)
Facts: No team had a worse averaging drive starting point last week than Chicago (its 18) in a 42-21 loss at St. Louis… Minnesota squandered a 23-7 fourth-quarter advantage in its 26-26 tie at Green Bay last week, but had a season-high 242 rushing yards… Chicago, meanwhile, gave up 258 ground yards to the Rams on only 29 carries… In the Bears’ Week 2 victory by 31-30 over Minnesota, they did something no other team has been able to do this season – win despite giving up two non-offensive TDs... Minnesota RB Toby Gerhart had 91 yards on eight carries last week. His season high last year was 41 yards… The Vikings are allowing 31.5 points a game, which would equate to 504 for the season. The last team to surpass 500 was Detroit in 2008 during its 0-16 season (517 points).
Analysis: The Vikings yielded a Week 12-high six sacks to the Packers last week despite their formidable running game, and although Adrian Peterson is listed as probable (groin), there’s no guarantee he’ll make a whole game. Chicago, meanwhile, mushed through the Rams’ offense with relative ease last week behind backup QB Josh McCown, with 30 first downs, more than anyone else in regulation in Week 12. Look for a strong rebound game by a Bears team still sniffing a division title and one that likely will get back starting QB Jay Cutler next week.
Forecast: Bears 28, Vikings 21
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-8) at Carolina Panthers (8-3)
Time: 10 a.m.
Line: Panthers by 7½ (41½)
Facts: The Bucs had TD drives of 80 and 95 yards last week in Detroit in a 24-21 victory against a Lions defense that allowed Green Bay only 126 yards of total offense on Thanksgiving… Carolina is 7-0 SU/ATS, which hasn’t been achieved by anyone since the Redskins closed last season that way in their charge to the NFC East flag… In Week 8, Carolina beat a winless Bucs team 31-13 in Tampa as a 3.5-point choice. Since then, Tampa Bay took the powerhouse Seahawks to overtime in a loss in Seattle and then won three straight… Tampa Bay had only 10 first downs in its win over Detroit, to 25 for the Lions… TB’s Darrelle Revis, who left last week’s game with a hamstring injury, is probable… The Panthers are the only team without a 30-yard rushing play.
Analysis: Carolina is banged up, with WR Steve Smith and RB’s Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Hall all questionable. Plus, it appears a shot to the chops might be Cam Newton’s kryptonite, for he was out of sorts for the longest time before rallying the Panthers from 16-3 to beat Miami in the closing minute. For Tampa Bay, meanwhile, rookie QB Mike Glennon has had two straight stupendous outings, with a passer rating of 138.7 vs. Detroit and 137.5 in a win over Atlanta. And he had the big game against the Lions despite a 22-yard rushing game. If Carolina couldn’t put away Miami nicely, Tampa Bay just might be a handful here, too, for a Panthers team that can’t help but look a teensy bit ahead to its game in New Orleans next week.
Forecast: Panthers 23, Buccaneers 21
Arizona Cardinals (7-4) at Philadelphia Eagles (6-5)
Time: 10 a.m. PST
Line: Eagles by 3 (48½)
Facts: Philadelphia RB Shady McCoy’s rushing lead has dwindled to 12 yards over Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson (1,009-997). But at least he’s relatively healthy. Arizona’s Andre Ellington, who has a league-best 6.0 yards a carry, tops for qualifying RBs, injured a knee in drills Thursday and reportedly will be a game-time decision... Flashback: Five seasons ago, Arizona visited Philly on Thanksgiving and was whipped 48-20. Two months later, the Cardinals beat the visiting Eagles in the NFC title game, 32-25… Last year, the Cardinals thrashed the Eagles 27-6 in Arizona, a game in which then-Philly QB Michael Vick was blindsided by a straight-on hit in the pocket that resulted in a game-changing 93-yard fumble return by James Sanders. Of course, now top-rated Nick Foles is in charge of the Philly huddle.
Analysis: Now that the Eagles have ended their franchise-record 10-game home losing streak, they’ll likely feel more comfortable playing before the Philly fans. And in a battle of QBs, the Eagles’ Foles (16 TD throws, no INTs) has ascended to the top of the passer-rating chart and will be going against a veteran in Carson Palmer, who’s 23rd on the charts and has only one more TD throw than INTs (16/15). On the other hand, Foles faces by far the more formidable defense, which will have an equalizing effect. What won’t be equal are the running games if Ellington can’t go or is limited. That and the Eagles’ pass rush should provide the Eagles with the winning recipe.
Forecast: Eagles 31, Cardinals 23
Miami Dolphins (5-6) at New York Jets (5-6)
Time: 10 a.m. PST
Weather: Temps in 40s, slight chance of rain
Line: Jets by 2 (39½)
Facts: The Jets are en route to total 270 points this season. No team has reached the postseason with such a meager total since Tampa Bay won the NFC Central at 11-5 in 1999… Ryan Tannehill, the most sacked QB in the league with 44, has had only two fumbles since having six through Week 4 this season… NYJ’s Geno Smith has had no TD throws and seven INTs his past four games, and has had back-to-back subterranean passer ratings the past two games of 10.1 and 22.3. The last time a passer fell below the Mendoza line of 39.6 (the rating a QB would get if he threw the ball to the cheerleaders every play) two games in row was Denver’s Tim Tebow when he closed out the 2011 regular season.
Analysis: This is the first of two December contests between the AFC North rivals. And as long as Smith remains the Jets ‘worst enemy, any opponent has an edge, especially with key WRs Jeremy Kerley and Santonio Holmes listed as questionable. And in Miami’s case, Tannehill is a dual threat. Not only did he start clicking last week with speedy WR Mike Wallace for the first time in months, but he gave a mostly weak running game a boost with his four key scrambles for 36 yards. Sure, the Jets have the league’s stiffest run defense (2.9 a carry), but that’s not going to cut it against a defense that allows a league-low 2.9 a rush, but since the Dolphins don’t run well anyway, Miami might be wise to pass on every down.
Forecast: Dolphins 20, Jets 14
Atlanta Falcons (2-9) vs. Buffalo Bills (4-7) in Toronto
Time: 1:05 p.m. PST
Line: Bills by 3 (47)
Facts: Atlanta catches a break in that it won’t be playing in Buffalo but inside Toronto’s toasty dome. Next week, though, the Falcons won’t be able to escape playing in Green Bay’s frosty Lambeau Field... Buffalo averages a league-high 33 rushes per game. The last time a team led in this category and not made the postseason was Atlanta (7-9) in 2006… The Bills are 1-4 playing in their home away from home, including last year’s 50-17 wipeout by Seattle. A year earlier, however, Buffalo had a league season-high 10 sacks in a 23-0 win over Washington… Atlanta RB Steven Jackson is going to have to average 150.8 yards rushing the final five games to reach 1,000 for the ninth straight season. His biggest day of 2013, however, has been 77 yards.
Analysis: The Falcons may have saved their best for a solid performance (for them) at home against New Orleans last Thursday in a 17-13 loss. And coming off a weekend of good eats, the bet here is that Atlanta won’t bring its “A” game. Buffalo, meanwhile, is coming off what has to be a rejuvenating Week 11 bye and knowing they are only one game behind in the loss column in the AFC wild-card race. And since they beat Baltimore already, the Bills would own the tiebreaker if locked with them at season’s end.
Buffalo also will be welcoming back leading receiver Stevie Johnson (probable, groin) after he sat out the last Bills game, which was a resounding win over the Jets.
Forecast: Bills 30, Falcons 17
St. Louis Rams (5-6) at San Francisco 49ers (7-4)
Time: 1:05 p.m. PST
Line: 49ers by 8 (42)
Facts: San Fran had an 19-yard edge in average starting field position last Monday in a 27-6 victory at Washington. The 49ers’ average launch point was its 43, just 1 yard off the league best this season… The Rams, behind backup Kellen Clemens, were the only team with three 80-plus-yard TD drives last week, giving them seven the past three games… Squads such as San Fran that are coming off a MNF game are 4-0 ATS on short rest the past two weeks after going 5-12 through Week 10… St. Louis averages a sack 8.5 percent of enemy drop-backs, the best rate in the league… In their Week 4 meeting in St. Louis on a Thursday, the 49ers won 35-11… Rams RB Zac Stacy is questionable (concussion)…
Analysis: For some reason, it doesn’t seem the Rams have missed a beat with Clemens at QB, except for that brutal offensive performance against Seattle on that Thursday night five weeks ago that ended with an incompletion at the Seattle 1 as time expired in a 14-9 loss as an 11.5-point underdog. And speaking of ‘dogs, in San Francisco last season the Rams and 49ers played the only tie game of the season (24-24), with St. Louis as a 13.5-point underdog.The 49ers, meanwhile, looked menacing in their win at Washington, but the Redskins are a franchise in disarray with a regressing RG3. This week, the 49ers should expect a tougher-than-anticipated battle.
Forecast: 49ers 28, Rams 27
Denver Broncos (9-2) at Kansas City Chiefs (9-2)
Time: 1:25 p.m. PST
Line: Broncos by 5½ (49½)
Facts: Denver had a league-high 280 rushing yards, on 48 carries, in their 34-31 overtime loss at New England last week. It’s the most rushing yards in a loss by anyone since KC’s record-setting 352 yards in a loss at Indy last season… A Chiefs victory would give them a one-game lead in the AFC West, but Denver would still own the tiebreaker if KC slips later against Oakland or San Diego. Conversely, Denver would own the tiebreaker no matter what with a victory based on a season sweep… KC has allowed 470, 427 and 491 yards yards its past three games, dropping from eighth to 16th on the defensive chart… Denver RB Knowshon Moreno had a career-best 224 rush yards last week… Although KC is 2-10 ATS its past 12 games as a home pick, it has gone 7-4 ATS as a home underdog dating to 2011.
Analysis: Peyton Manning’s cold-weather passing manhood was criticized the past week after his awful (by his standards) performance in the Broncos’ collapse in New England, losing 34-31 in OT. But in KC this weekend, the early forecast is calling for unseasonably mild temps in the mid-40s, just what the Chiefs didn’t order. Plus, KC is hurting on defense, with Justin Houston (knee) out and Tamba Hali (ankle) both doubtful. They have teamed for 20 of the team’s 37 sacks. Plus, the Chiefs are hurting in the secondary, which was gouged by the Chargers’ Philip Rivers last week while he had solid protection. This could be the Chiefs’ house of cards beginning to collapse.
Forecast: Broncos 35, Chiefs 20
Cincinnati Bengals (7-4) at San Diego Chargers (5-6)
Time: 1:25 p.m. PST
Line: Pick-em (48½)
Facts: The Bengals relied heavily on rapid-fire scores on a blocked punt and fumble return to help wipe out a 13-0 deficit and beat Cleveland 41-20 before last week’s bye… The temp is forecast to reach close to 80 degrees for this game. But when these teams met in Cincinnati in the AFC title game in the 1980 postseason, it was the second coldest game on record at 9 below zero. The wind chill of 59 below was the coldest ever. The Bengals won, 27-7… San Diego RB Danny Woodhead has the most receptions for a running back, 59, for a norm of 7.9 yards a catch... Since Bengals QB Andy Daulton pitched five TD passes in a 49-9 rout of the Jets five weeks ago, he’s totaled five his past three outings with eight INTs as the team has gone 1-2.
Analysis: The Chargers apparently won’t be feeling love of their home fans since a game will be blacked out in San Diego for the first time this season – more than 5,000 tickets were not taken before deadline. It also won’t help that Cincinnati is coming off a bye and starting to believe itself after their comeback against Cleveland. What also helps is that Giovani Bernard is feeling lots better after suffering a rib injury at midseason. Sure, San Diego looked great in pulling that upset in KC last week, but the Chiefs might not be as good as advertised. The Bengals are.
Forecast: Bengals 27, Chargers 17
New York Giants (4-7) at Washington Redskins (3-8)
Time: 5:30 p.m. PST
Weather: Temps in 40s
Line: Giants by 1 (45½)
Facts: Washington averaged only 2.9 yards a throw in last week’s 27-6 home loss to the 49ers… This marks the 12th straight time the Giants have been favored over Washington, but they lost four, including a 17-16 defeat in Washington in Week 13 last season…The Giants’ disheartening 24-21 home loss to Dallas snapped their four-game winning streak and puts them 2.5 games behind the front-running Cowboys in the NFC East, with Dallas holding the head-to-head tiebreaker... New York RB Andre Brown has averaged 102.7 yards a game since his return from a broken leg, including 127 against Dallas. He’ll be going against a run defense that has allowed 15 ground touchdowns, tied for most in the league.
Analysis: The grumbling in the Redskins’ camp has intensified, especially after the Redskins’ lethargic second half against the 49ers in which the offense had only one second-half first down and seemed satisfied with an endless stream of quick screens for minimal yardage. It’s almost as if the Redskins’ primary goal was to run out the clock. If nothing else, at least the Giants will have an extra day’s rest and still are all in for coach Tom Coughlin. Plus RB Brown certainly brings in fresh legs to an attack that suddenly has become more balanced.
Forecast: Giants 27, Redskins 16
PRO FOOTBALL – MONDAY, DEC. 2
New Orleans Saints (8-3) at Seattle Seahawks (10-1)
Time: 5:40 p.m. PST
Weather: High 20s, chance of rain/snow
Line: Seahawks by 4½ (47)
Facts: This is the first meetings since the divisional playoffs in the 2010 postseason, when the host Seahawks beat the Saints 41-36 as a 10-point underdog... Whereas the Saints are 14-0 at home the past two seasons with coach Sean Payton in charge (13-0-1 ATS), they are 3-2 on the road this year and only 1-4 against the line. Seattle is 13-0 at home with second-year QB Russell Wilson and 10-3 ATS… Both teams come in well rested, with New Orleans off a 17-13 victory in Atlanta last Thursday; Seattle is coming off a bye... New Orleans hasn’t been this big of an underdog since going off at plus-6 in Denver last season in Week 8, a 34-14 Broncos victory… Both teams have crucial games next week, too, with the Seahawks at archrival San Fran, and New Orleans at home against Carolina, which entered the weekend a game behind in the NFC South.
Analysis: Seahawks fans, at the stadium that used to be the loudest in the league, will help make life miserable for the Saints’ offense that even sputtered last week in Atlanta’s dome against a unit with the league’s worst defensive passer rating. Seattle has the No. 1 unit, but will be short-handed without suspended Walter Thurmond and injured Brandon Browner in the secondary. But aiding the Seahawks is the improving health of an offensive line that should be able to contend with New Orleans’ surprising pass rush. Throw in the weather, and Seattle rates a nice edge.
Forecast: Seahawks 31, Saints 20
Last week: 6-7-1 ATS; 7-6-1 SU
Season total: 84-85-7 (.497) ATS; 102-73-1 (.583) SU
“Popular” Bob Christ has been forecasting NFL games for more than 30 years. His work has appeared in newspapers from coast to coast in Canada and the U.S. Contact him at [email protected].