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Fans of rotten weather will want to tune in Monday night when the Steelers host the Bengals. According to the early forecast, temps should be in the midteens with a slight chance of snow.
In Cleveland, there’s a 40 percent chance of snow on Sunday for the Browns’ game against Chicago. However, if those forecasts were made by the same joker who said snow flurries would arrive in Philadelphia at halftime last week, feel free to disregard that information.
Also the three games in Florida are expected to be wet, especially in Jacksonville, where there’s a 90 percent chance of precipitation.
All times are PST. Lines are provided by the Las Vegas Hotel SuperBook. Now for a closer look at this weekend’s games:
NFL FOOTBALL – SUNDAY, DEC. 15
Washington Redskins (3-10) at Atlanta Hawks (3-10)
Time: 10 a.m. PST
Line: Falcons by 6½ (50)
Facts: Washington QB Kirk Cousins gets his first start of the season in place of Robert Griffin III, who’s been put on layaway… Both teams are making an inglorious first-to-worst plunge, joined in the AFC by Houston… The Redskins are coming off a 0-3 home stand in which they also were 0-3 ATS. No team has had such a lousy home stretch since the Peyton Manning-less Colts were bashed three straight late in the 2011 season… The Falcons have the league’s worst defensive passer rating the past two seasons at 104.3 and the fourth lousiest in history… Atlanta is 3-0 ATS since falling 41-28 at Tampa Bay four weeks ago… Redskins’ foes are averaging 18 yards a punt return, the highest rate in the NFL over the past three seasons.
Analysis: Cousins is a second-year player who had a measure of success last year in rallying Washington to a crucial victory over eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore. Perhaps with him in the huddle, the Redskins’ stout running game, led by Alfred Morris, who was averaging 5.1 yards a carry and 91.8 a game on the ground through 10 games before the rushing game was eschewed. Morris averaged just 2.9 a carry on his past 37 rushes covering three games. The Redskins allowed to play will be fighting for their jobs and getting to face the league’s 30th-ranked rush defense.
Forecast: Redskins 23, Falcons 21
San Francisco 49ers (9-4) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-9)
Time: 10 a.m. PST
Weather: Mid-70s, 50 percent chance rain
Line: 49ers by 5 (41½)
Facts: The 49ers have gone 7-0 SU/ATS in games back East the past three seasons under coach Jim Harbaugh, including 5-0 in the early Sunday “jet lag” time slot… Tampa Bay has a +11 turnover differential the past five games during its 4-1 surge and stands second in the league overall at +13... The last time the 49ers were shut out was in 2010, when the Bucs earned a 21-0 victory at Candlestick as a 3.5-point underdog…San Fran stands in the second wild-card slot behind Carolina, also 9-4 because it would lose the head-to-head tiebreaker... Tampa Bay battered Buffalo last week 27-6, getting seven sacks in the process. But Bucs rookie QB Mike Glennon had his worst day as a pro, going 9-for-25 for 90 yards (2 TDs,22 INTs).
Analysis: Assuming the 49ers have given up the ghost of catching the Seahawks in the NFC West, they can lose here and next week against a weak Atlanta team and still make the postseason with a victory over Arizona in the finale. Of course, the 49ers want to be able to rest its key folks before wild-card weekend. On the other side, the Bucs had a 15-yard edge in average starting field position last week and don’t figure to have such an margin against a quality team. The Bucs had four short fields last week against Buffalo, but converted them to only two FGs. That won’t cut it this week.
Forecast: 49ers 24, Bucs 14
Seattle Seahawks (11-2) at New York Giants (5-8)
Time: 10 a.m. PST
Weather: High 30s, sunny
Line: Seahawks by 6½ (42)
Facts: Now that the Giants can’t have a winning record after their miserable start (0-6), members of the 1962 Bills are popping champagne corks. That Buffalo team remains the only one to start a season 0-5 or worse and finishing with a winning mark (7-6-1)… Seattle is averaging 8.8 yards a drop-back on pass attempts and are yielding only 5.8. That 3-yard differential is more than twice as large as any other team’s… In the Giants’ 2011 Super season, they were 36-25 home losers to Seattle as a 9.5-point pick, their biggest upset loss of the season…New York, which won 5 of 6 games after its miserable start, saw its season officially go up flames last week in its 37-14 loss at San Diego.
Analysis: The Giants’ magical comeback had to reach an end eventually since it was inevitable they would have to face high-brow QBs down the stretch and not a steady stream of Josh Freemans, Matt Barkleys and Scott Tolziens. It was nice while it lasted. Now they’re in the middle of a mini-murderers’ row of Rivers, Wilson and next week Detroit’s Matt Stafford. Seattle should find the demoralized and weak Giants secondary to its liking, and with Seahawks center Max Unger expected to be back in the lineup, Seattle could well clinch home field for the postseason with a victory.
Forecast: Seahawks 31, Giants 14
Chicago Bears (7-6) at Cleveland Browns (4-9)
Time: 10 a.m. PST
Weather: Mid-20s, 40 percent chance of snow
Line: Bears by 1 (44½)
Facts: Jay Cutler (ankle) takes back the QB reins from backup Josh McCown, who has vaulted to No. 3 on the passer chart. Cutler is 25th… Browns WR Josh Gordon is stealing headlines with his record-setting 774 yards his past four games, but last week Cleveland TE Jordan Cameron had 121 yards and a score, making a catch on all nine targeted throws from Jason Campbell… Chicago had 33 first downs in its 45-28 beatdown of Dallas last Monday night, matching its most since a 61-7 win over Green Bay in 1980… Chicago is yielding an NFL-worst 5.2 yards a carry. No playoff team has had that rotten a norm since 2006, when the Colts were at 5.3 yet still won the title... McCown guided the Bears to scoring drives on their first eight possessions vs. Dallas. Cutler hasn’t had a streak longer than four this season.
Analysis: The reaction has been mixed among analysts over Cutler taking over for McCown. But this isn’t the first time a QB rated third has been relegated to the bench when healthy. There was a similar case in San Francisco last year when Colin Kaepernick replaced injured Alex Smith, who was third-rated at the time. Anyway, Cutler will be breaking in again against a Browns defense that ranks seven in the league, as opposed to that 32nd-rated Dallas outfit that McCown carved on Monday night. If the Browns can recover from blowing a 12-point lead at New England in a final 61 seconds last week, they’ll be more than a handful. But scary part is Campbell is fresh off a concussion and only scrap-heap passers are in the wings. Maybe he can last a full game.
Forecast: Browns 21, Bears 17
Houston Texans (2-11) at Indianapolis Colts (8-5)
Time: 10 a.m. PST
Line: Colts by 5½ (45½)
Facts: Houston has lost all 11 games played at Indy since being born in 2002, including two as a 6.5-point favorite the past two seasons. In the 2011 contest, Indy QB Dan Orlovsky led the 0-13 Colts past a Houston team that won the AFC South... The Texans’ third-ranked defense gave up three 80-plus TD drives to Jacksonville’s 32nd ranked offense last Thursday in dropping their 11th straight game… The Colts have clinched the AFC South and appear locked in the fourth-seed slot unless they can make up a one-plus game deficit to Cincinnati, which holds the tiebreaker... The Colts lost their showdown with Cincinnati last week in part because Bengals RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis was wrongly awarded a TD on a fourth-down run.
Analysis: Indy heads into the home stretch know it can concentrate on fine-tuning its game with new first-team RB Donald Brown replacing the largely ineffective Trent Richardson. The Texans, meanwhile, have endured a shakeup with the firing of coach Gary Kubiak and might be fearing for their futures here under interim boss Wade Phillips. RB Ben Tate and league-leading receiver Andre Johnson have been playing well with newbie QB Case Keenum and could well break thru in Indy for the first time.
Forecast: Texans 20, Colts 17
Buffalo Bills (4-9) at Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9)
Time: 10 a.m. PST
Weather: Mid-60s, 90 percent chance of rain
Line: Bills by 2½ (43½)
Facts: This game pits the league’s top sacking team in Buffalo (44) vs. the worst in Jacksonville (23)… Buffalo is playing its second consecutive game December game in Florida after last week’s 27-6 loss in Tampa Bay. The Bills also played December back-to-backers at Tampa and Miami in 1982… The Jaguars are coming off a 10-day break after beating visiting Houston 28-21 Thursday night. However, last week, teams coming off their extended break after Thanksgiving outings, went 0-6 ATS and 2-4 straight up… Buffalo QB EJ Manuel went down seven times last week at Tampa Bay… Last season, the Bills beat the Jaguars 34-18 as a six-point choice. That’s as big a favorite Buffalo has been the past four years… Jacksonville’s top two offensive weapons are doubtful – RB Maurice Jones-Drew (hamstring) and WR Cecil Shorts (groin).
Analysis: Poor Jaguars QB Chad Henne will be going against that quarterback-eating defensive front without his top RB and WR, which might make him just that more vulnerable to the Bills’ rush. Jacksonville, though, has faced stiff odds all season long, twice winning as a double-digit underdog, including a win in Houston on Nov. 24. For this week, anyway, Jags coach Gus Bradley won’t be able to summon the will to win, especially against a team that doesn’t haven’t much cache.
Forecast: Bills 23, Jaguars 14
New England Patriots (10-3) at Miami Dolphins (7-6)
Time: 10 a.m. PST
Weather: Mid-80s, 20 percent chance of rain
Line: Patriots by 2½ (46)
Facts: Patriots QB Tom Brady has been sacked 36 times, tied for sixth in the league, which is nine more than all last year. Miami’s Ryan Tannehill has gone down a league-high 48 times, but only 12 in five games since the bullying scandal rocked the Dolphins’ offensive line… New England, 1-5 ATS on the road this year, is 7-5 straight up in Miami dating to 2001… New England has trailed by double digits in the second half of its past three games before rallying, including last week’s comeback from a 26-14 deficit before its two-TD comeback in the final 1:01... The Dolphins’ running production, which had games with 2, 20 and 22 yards the first nine games, had a season-high 181 last week in Pittsburgh and stands 14th at 4.3 yards a carry.
Analysis: The Patriots no doubt have been mentally rejuvenated by their big comeback against the Browns and the Broncos’ loss to San Diego on Thursday, which means New England now controls its destiny in the chase for the No. 1 seed in the AFC. But, throwing water on those happy Patriot thoughts, they did just lose TE Rob Gronkowski (knee) and have already been playing without DT Vince Wilfork and LB Jerod Mayo. In their absence, NE has plummeted to 31st in ground yards allowed. Miami should be able to continue its success in that area. Plus, if Patriots RB Shane Vereen is targeted 17 times again, Miami just might notice a trend and clamp down on Brady’s favorite target from last week.
Forecast: Dolphins 26, Patriots 24
Philadelphia Eagles (8-5) at Minnesota Vikings (3-9-1)
Time: 10 a.m. PST
Line: Eagles by 5½ (51)
Facts: Philly became the second team this season to overcome two return scores to triumph, beating Detroit 34-20 in a blizzard last week… The Eagles are coming off a three-game home sweep after previously losing a franchise-high 10 straight. This is their first road game since Nov. 10… Flashback: In 2010, the Vikings beat the Eagles 24-14 in Philly in a snow-delayed game. Third-string QB Joe Webb led the upset as a 14-point underdog… Philadelphia had 4 yards of forward progress on its first five drives last week, tying St. Louis for the most futile start of a game. The Eagles, though, had 388 yards in the second half… Vikings RB Adrian Peterson is questionable with a sprained foot. He trails Eagles RB LeSean McCoy by 84 yards for the rushing lead.
Analysis: The Eagles are 5-1 on the road, tied for the best mark in the league. For sure they have been living right during their current five-game winning streak. In addition to catching Peterson hobbling, earlier they faced Green Bay with QB Tolzien, faced Arizona without RB sensation Andre Ellington and last week saw Detroit’s fierce rush defense and pass rush neutralized in the snow. Their Achilles’ heel, though, might be kick returns. The Eagles are the only team to allow two KO scores this year. On the other hand, Minnesota’s Cordarrelle Patterson is the only guy to have two scores. But since Philly was able to overcome punt and kick scores last week by a better team, Patterson shouldn’t be enough to foil Philly.
Forecast: Eagles 30, Vikings 20
New York Jets (6-7) at Carolina Panthers (9-4)
Time: 1:05 p.m. PST
Weather: Mid-50s, sunny
Line: Panthers by 10½ (41)
Facts: The Panthers haven’t been a double-digit choice since beating the Saints 23-10 in the 2009 finale in which Super Bowl-bound New Orleans played its JV… Cam Newton averaged a career-low 2.8 yards a drop-back last week in New Orleans during a 31-13 loss, including 49 yards lost on five sacks… Counting Denver’s loss to San Diego on Thursday, double-digit favorites are 12-13 ATS and only 18-7 straight up… Jets WR Santonio Holmes riled the Panthers DBs by calling them the weak link of the team’s No. 2-rated defense… This game pits the league’s stingiest run defenses.
Analysis: It’s time for the Jets’ roller coaster to take its typical plunge after a successful outing. It’s back to Geno Smith being Geno (9 TD throws, 20 INTs) after playing pressure-free in last week’s 37-27 victory over Oakland while the nation watched for a train wreck. The Panthers, meanwhile, are coming off a predictable beating in New Orleans, where they were hit by a prime-time buzz saw in the dome. It was a perfect storm for New Orleans. Newton and the Panthers return to form in this one. And so do the Jets.
Forecast: Panthers 28, Jets 9
Kansas City Chiefs (10-3) at Oakland Raiders (4-9)
Time: 1:05 p.m. PST
Weather: Low 60s, sunny
Line: Chiefs by 4½ (41½)
Facts: Chiefs QB Alex Smith had his poorest passer-rating day of the season at home in Week 6 against Oakland (56.9) in a 24-7 victory over the Raiders. KC’s defense, though, had a season-best nine sacks of Terrelle Pryor... Pryor is backing up rookie Matt McGloin these days... Not only did KC score on punt and kickoff returns last week in Washington, a 45-10 victory, but its average starting field position of its 44 matched the best for any team this year… Smith has moved from 21st to 16th on the passer chart during the team’s 1-3 downturn… Last season in Oakland, the Raiders beat a Chiefs team led by QB Brady Quinn, 15-0, with PK Sebastian Janikowski going 5-for-6 on FG tries. This season, though, he’s only 18-for-26.
Analysis: That 45 points looks dynamic, but of course, 14 came off returns and 21 more came on drives of 13, 25 and 41 yards. Plus, the Chiefs have been hit hard by injuries, including WR/return man Dexter McCluster (questionable, infection) and OT Braden Albert, TE Anthony Fasano and LB Justin Houston, all out. KC should be able to overcome these shortcomings against a free-falling Raiders team, but the points are just too attractive.
Forecast: Chiefs 28, Raiders 27
Arizona Cardinals (8-5) at Tennessee Titans (5-8)
Time: 1:25 p.m. PST
Weather: High 30s, clear
Line: Cardinals by 2½ (42)
Facts: Cardinals QB Carson Palmer, who completed a career-best 84.4 percent of his passes against St. Louis last week, connected with WR Larry Fitzgerald on all 12 targeted throws for 96 yards and a TD… Arizona has made the leap from 15th to fifth in total defense since returning from their Week 9 bye, yielding 342.5 yards the first eight and 267.3 the next five… Titans TE Delanie Walker, who has 45 catches for five scores, is expected back after sitting out last week with a concussion… It won’t be enough for Arizona to merely catch San Francisco in the standings for the final wild card, since the 49ers will win the tiebreaker between the teams.
Analysis: The Cardinals benefited from a a 15-yard field-position edge last week in their 30-10 win over the Rams, who played much of the game without Tavon Austin (ankle). Plus, Arizona had a return score to boost production. Tennessee, meanwhile, still leads the league with fewest TD passes allowed with 12, despite giving up four last week to Peyton Manning in a fall-from-ahead 51-28 loss. Tennessee should show some life while playing in front of the home fans for the first time in 31 days, matching the longest stretch away from home by any team this year.
Forecast: Titans 25, Cardinals 20
New Orleans Saints (10-3) at St. Louis Rams (5-8)
Time: 1:25 p.m. PST
Line: Saints by 6 (48)
Facts: In New Orleans’ first two games, it was only 1-for-3 scoring TDs on first-and-goal possessions. Since then the Saints are 19-for-22, including 4-for-5 in a dominant 31-13 victory over Carolina… The Saints will win the NFC South with victories over St. Louis and in the final against Tampa Bay, even if they lose in a rematch at Carolina in Week 16… St. Louis is reeling along the offensive line and in the secondary, not to mention speedy WR/return man Tavon Austin is questionable with an ankle injury… Rams RB Zac Stacy was stifled for 25 yards on 14 carries last week… St. Louis has stunned New Orleans twice as a heavy underdog in recent years. In 2007, the then 0-8 Rams were 37-29 winners in the Superdome as a 10-point ‘dog. In 2011, a 0-6 Rams team was a 31-21 victor in St. Louis as a 13-5-point underdog.
Analysis: This would seem to be a good spot for the Rams to show their mettle, catching the Saints off an emotional MNF game that gave them control of the NFC South. But the Rams aren’t the same without a full-speed Austin, and even last week, RB Zac Stacy was held to only 25 yards on 14 carries, which puts enormous pressure of backup QB Kellen Clemons. St. Louis also is hurting in the secondary and the offensive line, which will make it a big-time problem to keep up with 50,000-yard passer Drew Brees.
Forecast: Saints 38, Rams 17
Green Bay Packers (6-6-1) at Dallas Cowboys (7-6)
Time: 1:25 p.m. PST
Line: Cowboys by 7 (48)
Facts: The Cowboys’ prayers were answered: It’s Matt Flynn at QB again for Green Bay while Aaron Rodgers continued to heal… Dallas is the only second-place team in a division that controls its pennant destiny. The Cowboys will overcome Philly if it wins its final three… For a season-high fourth time this season, Green Bay faces a team coming off a MNF game. They’re 2-1 (SU/ATS) in the previous three… Dallas’ defense didn’t force a turnover or a punt in the Cowboys’ 45-28 loss last week in frosty Chicago. They were equally as inept in a 51-48 loss to Denver early on... Cowboys LB Sean Lee (neck) has been ruled out... Flynn guided the Packers on their longest sustained drive of the season last week – 18 plays for 90 yards, including seven first downs, in their comeback 22-21 victory over Atlanta... Dallas hasn’t lost to Green Bay at home since 1989, when it went 1-15.
Analysis: When these teams last met, at Lambeau in 2010, the powerhouse Packers beat the Cowboys 45-7 and Jerry Jones flipped his wig firing Wade Phillips after weeks of denying such a possibility. Could Jason Garrett be gone with another embarrassing performance vs. Dallas? Not just yet, because the Packers largely feasted on an inexperienced Falcons defense last week in their victory and won’t be able to move the ball well. Dallas at least has some veterans, not to mention that RB DeMarco Murray is averaging 5.3 yards a carry, second best for any RB in the league. Thus, the Cowboys’ playoff heart beat keeps a strong pulse.
Forecast: Cowboys 31, Packers 17
Cincinnati Bengals (9-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (5-8)
Time: 5:30 p.m. PST
Weather: Midteens, 20 percent chance of snow
Line: Bengals by 3 (41½)
Facts: Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger has had 11 TD throws and no INTs his past four games after going throwing for 13 scores and 10 interceptions in the first eight… The Bengals are 11-21 vs. Pittsburgh since 1998, but 7-8 in Pittsburgh… Cincinnati QB Andy Dalton hasn’t been sacked in three straight games (all wins), which the Bengals said ties a franchise record... Dalton had passed for 300-plus yards in four straight games through Game 9, but none since... During Pittsburgh’s 0-4 start, it had a -11 turnover differential. In its past nine games, that differential is +8... Miami’s 34-28 victory at Pittsburgh last week essentially ended the Steelers’ playoff hopes.
Analysis: Judging by the Steelers’ record, there’s never been a better time in recent years for Pittsburgh fans to break out their Terrible Towels. Although the Steelers’ play on offense has been worthy of cheers, their stop unit is no longer the group that led the league in total defense six times in the past 12 seasons. Now the Steelers’ are 13th overall but 24th in ground yards allowed. Arrggh! But since this game is in prime time, Coach Mike Tomlin will have his team playing out of their gourds against the AFC North front-runner. On any other given day, the Bengals merit the pick. But not on a rotten weather night before the home fans.
Forecast: Steelers 31, Bengals 23
NFL FOOTBALL – MONDAY, DEC. 16
Baltimore Ravens (7-6) at Detroit Lions (7-6)
Time: 5:40 p.m. PST
Line: Lions by 5½ (49)
Facts: When these teams last met, in 2009 at Baltimore, the Ravens won 48-3, giving the Lions their worst loss since the 49ers fell to Dallas 59-13 in 1968… Baltimore is coming off an all-winning three-game home stand, as is Philadelphia. None of the nine teams that had such a previous home stretch pulled a sweep this year… Detroit QB Matt Stafford had five fumbles in the blizzard at Philly last week. That’s the most by anyone the past four seasons and only two off Len Dawson’s record set in 1964… The Ravens have the second-hardest closing schedule in the league, facing three division leaders (Detroit, New England, Cincinnati) with a combined 26-13 mark.
Analysis: Lions fans, hoping their team can stay at least a step ahead of Chicago and Green Bay in the NFC North race, get a chance to help dictate the tone of this game with their mighty throats, the way they did one night two years back when the Bears had nine false stars in a 24-13 Detroit victory. Even without RB Reggie Bush (questionable, calf), the Lions aren’t going to look as lousy as they did last week in the snow. For sure the defense won’t against the league’s worst rushing team (3.0 a carry). Until that slippery game in Philly, when they yielded a ridiculous 299 ground yards, the Lions hadn’t given up more than 62 in any of their previous six games. And there’s a guarantee of no snow for this one.
Forecast: Lions 34, Ravens 24
Last week: 8-8 ATS; 7-9 SU
Season: 101-99-1 ATS; 122-85-1 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].