NFL Wire News

NFL Week 16: What to watch in every game


Philadelphia Eagles (9-5) at Washington Redskins (3-11)

Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET, at FedExField, Landover, Md. – TV: NFL Network

*TV announcers: Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon, Stacy Dales

*Keys to the game: When the teams met back in Week 3, the Redskins did an excellent job of bottling up Eagles RB LeSean McCoy, who managed just 22 yards on 19 carries. He has since worked through an early-season funk, and Philadelphia wants to get him untracked to ease the burden on QB Mark Sanchez. Sanchez has been waffling with his accuracy, including several high passes last week, and turnovers are the Eagles’ biggest threat.

The Redskins turn back to QB Robert Griffin III, who coach Jay Gruden has alternately said has an opportunity to take control of the offense while also saying Washington must get a lead and not force RGIII to win the game from the pocket. He did get out and make some plays with his feet last week, but the Eagles sport a fast defense that won’t get beat often on the edges. RB Alfred Morris tends to be more effective with the dual-threat QB occupying some of the defense’s attention, and must be a factor out of the gate because the Redskins’ pass protection has been horrid of late.

*Matchup to watch – Eagles CB Bradley Fletcher vs. Redskins WR DeSean Jackson: Eagles coach Chip Kelly said Fletcher will remain in the starting lineup despite getting beat for three touchdowns by Cowboys WR Dez Bryant last week. Jackson lacks Bryant’s size, but he did catch five passes for 117 yards, including an 81-yard touchdown, in the first meeting. However, he has not established great chemistry with RGIII, and had just 15 yards while catching three of eight targets last week.

*Player spotlight – Eagles WR Jordan Matthews: The rookie caught eight passes for 59 yards and two touchdowns in the first meeting, and his size out of the slot presents a matchup issue for the Redskins.

*Fast facts: According to FOX Sports last week, the Redskins are only the second team in the past 50 seasons to allow at least five sacks in six straight games. The Eagles lead the league in sacks per pass attempt.


The Eagles are in a must-win situation for their playoff lives. The Redskins have become increasingly less competitive as their six-game losing streak has gone on, and in-fighting continues to drag down morale.

*Our pick: Eagles 30-20

San Diego Chargers at San Francisco 49ers

Saturday, 8:25 p.m. ET, at Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif. – TV: CBS

*TV announcers: Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Jenny Dell

*Keys to the game: It’s a battle of attrition for two teams limping to the finish line with a slew of injuries. The Chargers lost WR Keenan Allen to a broken collarbone, and RB Ryan Mathews is expected to miss the game with a sprained ankle.

That leaves QB Philip Rivers exposed to a defense that can still dominate in the trenches. He has struggled with his accuracy of late and his receivers are not consistently gaining separation. But the 49ers also took a hit with standout rookie LB Chris Borland shut down for the season and DE Ray McDonald released midweek.

As sporadic as the offense has been, San Diego coach Mike McCoy has been pleased with the overall play on the other side of the ball. The Chargers gave up three completions of 30-plus yards to Peyton Manning last week but otherwise held up well, and the run defense allowed just 2.8 yards per carry. The 49ers may be without RBs Frank Gore (concussion) and Carlos Hyde (ankle), leaving journeyman Alfonso Smith running with the first team.

Embattled QB Colin Kaepernick clearly misses the Pistol formation, as he is uncomfortable throwing consistently from the pocket and isn’t getting outside as often to utilize his dual threat abilities.

*Matchup to watch – 49ers offensive line vs. Chargers OLB Melvin Ingram: Clearly the Chargers’ most dynamic pass rusher, Ingram will seek mismatches against an offensive line that allowed six sacks and 11 quarterback hits last week. Some of those fall on Kaepernick, who too often lacks decisiveness in the pocket.

*Player spotlight – 49ers LB Nick Moody: Called for a controversial roughing penalty last week, the second-year player is in line for increased snaps with Borland out.

*Fast facts: Chargers TE Antonio Gates needs 145 receiving yards to become the fourth tight end in NFL history to reach 10,000 for his career. … Kaepernick has a 58.1 passer rating with no touchdowns and two interceptions in the fourth quarter of games within seven points this season.


The 49ers are 3-3 at home and playing a meaningless game for the first time under coach Jim Harbaugh. How they respond will be indicative of how far the situation has unraveled. The 49ers still have superior talent at most spots, and our bet is Harbaugh rallies his troops.

*Our pick: 49ers 23-19

Atlanta Falcons (6-8) at New Orleans Saints (6-8)

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans – TV: FOX

*TV announcers: Kevin Burkhardt, John Lynch, Pam Oliver

*Keys to the game: This is the site that sparked a new purpose from Atlanta owner Arthur Blank to become a tougher, more accountable team in response to Matt Ryan being de-cleated by S Kenny Vaccaro last season with no reaction from Falcons teammates. That toughness campaign is measured in pass-fail terms Sunday in a stadium that has been a house of horrors for the Falcons, who are 1-5 under coach Mike Smith at the Superdome.

Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has two game plans – one with Julio Jones and one without – and Atlanta’s win-loss quotient rides on the team’s best offensive player returning from a hip injury. The Falcons rushed for 123 yards on 25 carries and running back Jacquizz Rodgers added a 17-yard touchdown down in the opener. The Falcons have been committed to the run down the stretch. They were averaging 27 carries over six games before they had to abandon the run against Pittsburgh last week after falling behind 20-7.

Neither defense does much of anything well, and the game figures to rest in the hands of both quarterbacks. Saints QB Drew Brees is no longer unbeatable at home, but rising consistency from his running backs has helped him before more efficient in the second half of the season.

*Matchup to watch – Falcons CB Robert McClain vs. Saints WR Marques Colston: McClain had an interception in the Week 1 meeting. But noted Falcons killer Colston had five catches for 110 yards and owns a TD catch in four straight home games against Atlanta.

*Player spotlight – Saints RB Mark Ingram: With 60 yards and two touchdowns Week 1, Ingram set the pace for his first career 1,000-yard season in a contract year. He needs 131 yards to reach 1,000.

*Fast facts: Brees is 7-1 at home against the Falcons. … Jones has averaged 224 receiving yards in his past two games before sitting out against Pittsburgh.


History tells us the game will be tight, an exhibition in precision passing with defenses playing the part of extras. The team that avoids turnovers is still standing come Sunday night, and Atlanta has a plus-11 edge over the Saints in that category.

*Our pick: Falcons 31-27

Baltimore Ravens (9-5) at Houston Texans (7-7)

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at NRG Stadium, Houston – TV: CBS

*TV announcers: Andrew Catalon, Steve Tasker, Steve Beuerlein, Brad Johnson

*Keys to the game: The Ravens’ primary concern is making sure Texans MVP candidate J.J. Watt doesn’t single-handedly keep Houston in the game. The Texans rank 26th defending the pass, but QB Joe Flacco will likely retain the approach from last week’s victory against Jacksonville and manage an efficient offense and put the onus on a depleted opponent.

The Texans are down to their fourth-string option at quarterback, which is likely to be Case Keenum over Thaddeus Lewis. Keenum, signed off St. Louis’ practice squad Monday, went 0-8 as Houston’s starter last season and lacks the ideal arm strength to exploit Baltimore’s depleted secondary. Instead, he’ll need strong support from the ground game in order to buy time to work off play-action. If not, he’ll be at the mercy of a Ravens defense that has 14 sacks over the past two games.

With the Texans likely to struggle to move the ball, Flacco will dare the defense to commit eight defenders to the box against RB Justin Forsett and then hope his receivers show better hands than they did against the Jaguars.

*Matchup to watch – Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak vs. Texans defense: Houston’s former coach returns to NRG Stadium in his first season as Baltimore’s OC. Last year, the Ravens were 25th in points, 29th in yards and 30th in yards rushing. Under Kubiak, they are eighth in scoring (26.9 points), 10th in offense (372 yards) and fifth in rushing (132.6).

*Player spotlight – Ravens TE Owen Daniels: Like Kubiak, Daniels spent the past eight seasons with the Texans. He enters Sunday second on the Ravens with 45 receptions.

*Fast facts: Forsett rushed for 374 yards and a touchdown while with the Texans in 2012. … Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins needs 150 receiving yards to break Andre Johnson’s (2,118) franchise record for yards through a player’s first two NFL seasons.


The Ravens are 30th in pass defense and placed another DB on injured reserve this week. Unfortunately, with a soft-armed QB signed off the Rams’ practice squad Monday, the Texans are ill-equipped to hit Baltimore where it is most vulnerable.

*Our pick: Ravens 26-16

Cleveland Browns (7-7) at Carolina Panthers (5-8-1)

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte – TV: CBS

*TV announcers: Tom McCarthy, Adam Archuleta

*Keys to the game: Balance might be a pipedream for the Browns, who average 3.6 yards per carry. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan understands the struggles of his line and rookie running backs, but not pushing the ball to Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell all but seals rookie QB Johnny Manziel’s fate on the road. He’ll use Manziel as a ballcarrier out of the Pistol formation, which is new to Manziel, and ideally keep his pass attempts under 25.

The Panthers are sharpening their teeth to get after Manziel, but also the Browns run defense. Cleveland is being scorched for 137.6 yards per game on the ground, including 244 yards last week to the Bengals. With QB Cam Newton (back) moving gingerly, the Panthers can turn to plowhorse FB Mike Tolbert and RB Jonathan Stewart.

*Matchup to watch – Browns WR Josh Gordon vs. Panthers CB Josh Norman: Gordon hasn’t scored yet this season while Norman kept Buccaneers rookie Mike Evans to two receptions last week. Norman was furious after he gave up an eight-yard touchdown to Evans in the first quarter, but he contained the rookie the rest of the way.

*Player spotlight – Browns CB Buster Skrine: Skrine has the speed to stay with Panthers rookie WR Kelvin Benjamin, who has 67 catches for 952 yards and nine touchdowns. Skrine, who has shown improvement this season, would love to make sure Benjamin doesn’t reach 1,000 yards on his watch and might get the chance with Joe Haden (shoulder) iffy.

*Fast facts: Newton needs 188 yards for his fourth consecutive 3,000-yard passing season. … The Browns have converted only 30.2 percent of third-down attempts this season.


Holes at cornerback and a sputtering rushing attack put Manziel in the crosshairs, more than the rookie can overcome on the road as the Panthers grind out a close one and inch closer to the playoffs.

*Our pick: Panthers 23-15

Detroit Lions (10-4) at Chicago Bears (5-9)

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Soldier Field, Chicago – TV: FOX

*TV announcers: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews

*Keys to the game: Before dismissing a bounce from the Bears is possible with a replacement-level quarterback, consider journeyman Josh McCown thrived in coach Marc Trestman’s system with a 109 passer rating and 13 touchdowns to just one interception last season. RB Matt Forte has averaged nearly 110 yards from scrimmage in his career against the Lions and will need that type of production for Jimmy Clausen to remain upright.

Even with their snarling defense in tow, the Lions are not taking a win for granted at Chicago, where they last won back-to-back games in 1973 (six in a row). Of course, with Clausen in and the Bears allowing at least 31 points each of the past three games, the Lions won’t be facing one of the many great Chicago teams that beat them over the past four decades.

Blitzing the center of the line can be a trick that will force Lions QB Matt Stafford into a few silly turnovers or to run into sacks off the edge. Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker might need to show more creativity to slow down Stafford, who ripped through the one-on-one coverage against WR Calvin Johnson in the Thanksgiving game.

Joique Bell is getting starter’s reps at running back, and the Bears’ ever-shuffling corps of linebackers is a trouble spot Detroit can exploit.

*Matchup to watch – RG Kyle Long vs. DT Ndamukong Suh: Long has done a respectable job with Suh in three career meetings, but Suh still caused havoc and made it possible for teammates to get in Jay Cutler’s face. Long has to use Suh’s quickness against him with leverage. It’s a difficult matchup for Long, who doesn’t have the mauler’s body type and can be beaten by Suh’s tremendous lower body strength in a bull rush.

*Player spotlight – Lions WR Calvin Johnson: Most of his damage was done against rookie CB Kyle Fuller. Tim Jennings, who is only 5-9, might be in line this time after Johnson caught 11 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns in the last meeting.

*Fast facts: The Lions have lost 16 straight outdoor games when temperature at kickoff was 40 degrees or colder. Their last win was in 2000. … The Bears have been outscored 173-68 in the second quarter this season.


The expanding morass in the Chicago will not claim the Lions, who should dominate on both sides of the ball, punch their playoff ticket and set up a winner-take-all Week 17 clash with the Green Bay Packers for the NFC North title.

*Our pick: Lions 38-13

Green Bay Packers (10-4) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-12)

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Raymond James Stadium, Tampa – TV: FOX

*TV announcers: Chris Myers, Ronde Barber, Jennifer Hale

*Keys to the game: Can the Packers handle the heat? Aaron Rodgers’ only two previous starts against the Bucs at Raymond James Stadium resulted in losses. Just because the Bucs are a team ready to call it a season in less than two weeks doesn’t mean Rodgers is assured of reversing history. He is coming off of a career-worst outing, at least statistically, in Green Bay’s upset loss at the Buffalo Bills last Sunday and is likely to respond in a big way.

Green Bay figures to take advantage of a depleted Tampa Bay defense, which lost DT Gerald McCoy to a season-ending knee injury. Running the football efficiently will be a must. Rodgers has also had bouts of inconsistency against Lovie Smith-led defenses.

Green Bay’s defense will get reacquainted with another former Chicago Bear, QB Josh McCown, who beat Rodgers and the Packers at Lambeau Field last season. McCown is nimble and when he has the time he needs to target the alluring 6-5 duo of veteran Vincent Jackson and flourishing rookie Mike Evans, who can make defenses forget McCown has a weak running game.

*Matchup to watch – Packers offensive line vs. Bucs defensive front: Losing McCoy, who leads the Bucs with 8.5 sacks and 13 quarterback hits in 13 games, should mean Rodgers has all the time in the world to survey the field. The talk in Tampa Bay this week is the Bucs are zeroing in on forcing Rodgers to beat them through the air. “Try to make Aaron Rodgers throw the ball 40 or 50 times,” DT Akeem Spence said. “And just try to beat us with his arm, which he can do, but at the same time, that’s when the front hast to take over.”

*Player spotlight – Packers WR Jordy Nelson: Nelson leads the Packers with 83 catches for 1,320 yards. He had a big drop last week vs. Buffalo and multiple Packers have discussed it publicly this week.

*Fast facts: Nelson, WR Randall Cobb and RB Eddie Lacy are the first Packers trio with 10-plus TDs in a season. … The Bucs have committed 31 turnovers this season. Only the Eagles have more.


A loss by the Bucs keeps the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft in play, and while the Tampa-2 defense can be effective slowing down Rodgers, the Packers are superior on both sides of the ball and are motivated to answer after last week’s loss.

*Our pick: Packers 35-16

Kansas City Chiefs (8-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5)

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Heinz Field, Pittsburgh – TV: CBS

*TV announcers: Greg Gumbel, Trent Green, Evan Washburn

*Keys to the game: The Chiefs cruised by Oakland last week minus a dominant ground game thanks in large part to improved protection for QB Alex Smith. He was sacked once, hit once and averaged 9.9 yards per attempt (he’s averaging 7.1 for the season).

Playing ball control on the road in cold conditions plays to the Chiefs’ strengths, but coach Andy Reid may also open up the passing game if the protection is holding up. Pittsburgh gives up an average of 252.9 passing yards per game and the secondary is the Steelers’ potential Achilles heel.

The Chiefs will also receive a litmus test for their defense, which is ranked fifth in points allowed (18.1 per game) and eighth in total defense. However, Kansas City has played only three teams ranked in the top 10 in offense – Denver twice and New England – and allowed an average of 334 yards. So the Steelers’ well-balanced offense averaging 424.9 yards per game will provide a measuring stick.

Pittsburgh RB Le’Veon Bell has topped 2,000 total yards. The Steelers will test the middle of the Cheifs’ 28th-ranked run defense early to set up play-action and improved protection for QB Ben Roethlisberger to stretch the field vertically.

*Matchup to watch – Chiefs OLB Justin Houston vs. Steelers RT Marcus Gilbert: Gilbert is expected to return after missing three games to an ankle injury. Houston is tied for the NFL lead with 17 sacks.

*Player spotlight – Chiefs ILB James-Michael Johnson: If Josh Mauga (oblique strain) can’t go, Johnson will get the start next to Joe Mays in a critical position defending against Bell in both the run and passing games.

*Fast facts: The Chiefs have allowed two rushing touchdowns, which would tie the NFL record set by the 1934 Detroit Lions, 1944 New York Giants, 1968 Dallas Cowboys and 1971 Minnesota Vikings, all of whom played a 14-game season. … The Steelers can win their first division title since 2010 by winning their final two games. They finish against Cincinnati next week.


It’s ball control vs. high octane. The Steelers appear to have shed their Jekyll & Hyde ways, finding more balance in their explosive offense, and a Chiefs team still without a touchdown by a wideout isn’t built to fully exploit Pittsburgh’s weak secondary.

*Our pick: Steelers 27-23

Minnesota Vikings (6-8) at Miami Dolphins (7-7)

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla. – TV: FOX

*TV announcers: Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa

*Keys to the game: Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner showed his growing confidence in rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater last week by catching Detroit off-guard with a heavy dose of five-wide, shotgun sets. Bridgewater threw picks on consecutive passes but otherwise continued to show strong development.

The key against Miami will be continued help from RB Matt Asiata in at least plodding forward for positive yardage on the ground. While the Dolphins are 22nd in defending the run, they have the league’s fourth-rated pass defense on the strength of a pass rush that can do serious damage against Minnesota’s often-spotty protection in front of Bridgewater.

The Dolphins struggled to establish the ground game during last week’s blowout loss to the Patriots and QB Ryan Tannehill wasn’t sharp as a result. He operates best in the quick passing game and won’t stretch the field deep often – although he has shown the ability to challenge the seam. Expect consistent touches for RB Lamar Miller out of the gate as the Dolphins attempt to create some rhythm and establish a few early drives.

*Matchup to watch – Vikings LT Matt Kalil/LG Vlad Ducasse vs. Dolphins DE Olivier Vernon/DT Jared Odrick: The left side of Minnesota’s line has been a problem area all season. Considering the Dolphins’ pass rush threats on the other side, the Vikings can’t afford to give Kalil and Ducasse much in the way of extra support.

*Player spotlight – Vikings DE Brian Robison: The eighth-year veteran doesn’t receive as much attention as Everson Griffen on the other side, but he’s a savvy veteran with a distinct edge in his matchup against RT Dallas Thomas.

*Fast facts: LB Chad Greenway holds a three-tackle lead as he attempts to lead the Vikings in tackles for a franchise-record seventh time.


Both teams have shown signs of growth this season that belie their middling records. The Dolphins have endured a rough stretch against a tough schedule, and help embattled coach Joe Philbin’s cause with Tannehill rebounding from an erratic outing and the defense keeping Bridgewater unsettled in the pocket.

*Our pick: Dolphins 19-16

New England Patriots (11-3) at New York Jets (3-11)

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J. – TV: CBS

*TV announcers: Spero Dedes, Solomon Wilcots, Otis Livingston

*Keys to the game: Fighting to the wire for home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs, the Patriots fully expect a dogfight from the Jets. New York rolled up 218 rushing yards in a narrow 27-25 loss at Gillette Stadium in Week 7, led by 107 physical yards by RB Chris Ivory. New England has allowed 100 yards just twice in the ensuing seven games as the run defense has vaulted from No. 25 in the league to No. 10.

But the Jets aren’t going to be competitive by letting QB Geno Smith drop back and test Darrelle Revis & Co. They enter with the league’s second-ranked rushing attack, which is all the more impressive considering the constant eight-man fronts the Jets face. Patriots coach Bill Belichick called it “a very extensive and diverse running game” that will come at New England in volumes.

The Patriots will counter with their pass-first attack as it will be difficult to control the game against the Jets’ fourth-ranked run defense. Pressure on QB Tom Brady has been an issue in recent weeks, so protection will dictate how well he is able to dissect New York’s overmatched secondary.

*Matchup to watch – Patriots DT Vince Wilfork vs. Jets C Nick Mangold/RG Willie Colon: Wilfork is the key in tying up the interior, forcing Ivory and Chris Johnson to search for daylight while ILBs Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins make plays close to the line of scrimmage.

*Player spotlight – Jets S Calvin Pryor: The rookie will figure into coverage against TE Rob Gronkowski. Pryor, known for his physical play, must be solid in his assignments and in his open-field tackling to limit the Patriots’ trademark yards after the catch.

*Fast facts: The Patriots have not allowed a second-half touchdown in four consecutive games. … The Jets have 150-plus rushing yards in five of their past eight games.


The Patriots will spread the field early and attempt to hammer the Jets’ secondary in the quick passing game and yards after the catch. If New York’s ground game can control the clock and keep the game within reach, it’s another surprisingly tough out for the Patriots vs. their downtrodden rivals.

*Our pick: Patriots 23-19

New York Giants (5-9) at St. Louis Rams (6-8)

Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, at Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis – TV: FOX

*TV announcers: Thom Brennaman, David Diehl, Laura Okmin

*Keys to the game: Giants QB Eli Manning won’t have the luxury of sitting in the pocket and picking his targets like he did in dissecting the Redskins’ porous secondary last week. The Rams are young, fast and will collapse the pocket in a blink. Rookie RB Andre Williams has infrequently shown a quick burst, but the Giant need a solid contribution on the ground to keep Manning from reverting to his turnover-prone ways when forced to make quick decisions in the face of a strong pass rush in long passing situations. When Manning does have time, there will be a fascinating duel downfield between Giants star rookie WR Odell Beckham, Jr. and Rams CBs Janoris Jenkins and E.J. Gaines.

The Rams’ offense is typically only as good as the field position the defense provides. Routinely forced to drive the length of the field against Arizona, QB Shaun Hill struggled to move the chains. However, the Giants lack the same type of dynamic front seven and rookie RB Tre Mason should have more success in setting up manageable third downs. The Giants continue to be beset by injuries in their linebacking corps, so the Rams should be able to chew up some yards by attacking the second level.

*Matchup to watch – Giants LT Will Beatty vs. Rams DE Robert Quinn: More aptly, this is the mismatch to watch. Quinn has 10.5 sacks over his past nine games and has the ability to single-handedly blow up the Giants’ offense. Beatty will get plenty of help, which means Manning loses a tight end or running back option in many passing situations.

*Player spotlight – Giants LG Rodger Saffold: The converted tackle is playing inside next to rookie Greg Robinson, and the interior of the Rams’ line struggled with pressure from Cardinals DL Frostee Rucker in Week 15.

*Fast facts: Beckham’s 61 catches are the most in NFL history by a rookie in a seven-game span. … Rams DT Aaron Donald leads NFL rookies with 8.0 sacks.


The Rams have not allowed a touchdown in three consecutive games and have more than enough defense to control field position, build a bit of a lead and then pressure Manning into mistakes. Biggest question is whether it snowballs.

*Our pick: Rams 23-16

Buffalo Bills (8-6) at Oakland Raiders (2-12)

Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, at o.Co Coliseum, Oakland, Calif. – TV: CBS

*TV announcers: Brian Anderson, Chris Simms

*Keys to the game: The Raiders gave up 216 yards on their six plays of 20-plus yards allowed last week against the Chiefs, and the conservative Bills will loosen the reins on QB Kyle Orton in hopes of striking a big gain or two. That puts an arrow over the head of CB DJ Hayden, who might have whiplash after last week’s rough outing at Kansas City. He’ll defend WR Sammy Watkins, the No. 4 overall pick last spring, who has suffered his own bouts of inconsistency.

The Bills still prefer to squeeze the ball on offense, spinning through running backs to keep the chains moving and letting their defense do the dirty work.

Buffalo leads the league in sacks and three players on the line have at least nine sacks. That’s a tough menu to read for rookie QB Derek Carr, but he has done well to get the ball out quickly, taking just 20 sacks in 529 drop-backs.

*Matchup to watch – Raiders OLB Khalil Mack vs. Bills LT Cordy Glenn: The massive Glenn draws University of Buffalo product Khalil Mack, who continues to stand out on a bad defense. Mack can pressure inside and out, and Glenn might need help to keep him at bay.

*Player spotlight – Bills RB C.J. Spiller — Spiller has missed the last seven-plus games with a broken collarbone, but he may be back in the lineup against Oakland on a limited basis. The Bills could use his big-play speed.

*Fast facts: Orton needs three TD passes to reach 100 for his career. … Oakland is minus-16 in turnover margin.


The Bills fell behind 21-3 – but rallied to win – in their last meeting with the Raiders. The Raiders won’t go quietly trying to make a positive statement on behalf of 2-8 interim coach Tony Sparano, but Oakland is turned back by a rugged defense on top of its game.

*Our pick: Bills 26-16

Indianapolis Colts (10-4) at Dallas Cowboys (10-4)

Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, at AT&T Stadium, Arlington – TV: FOX

*TV announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Tracy Wolfson

*Keys to the game: The Cowboys might not have to win without RB DeMarco Murray (hand), but Dallas is capable of it. QB Tony Romo, second in the NFL with a 110.4 passer rating, is near full strength for the first time in nearly two months and WR Dez Bryant is coming off of his first career three-TD game.

The Colts can adjust their game plan if Murray sits, viewing his possible replacements as limited inside runners. The bigger concern is containing Romo, who throws with accuracy on the move.

Indianapolis has been able to win its last four games, but has tempted fate in recent weeks with early turnovers and slower starts – a hurdle for much of the 2013 season. QB Andrew Luck floats away from pressure on about one of every three pass attempts behind an offensive line that would be a glaring trouble spot for a less acute, mobile quarterback.

Luck leads the NFL in passing yards and TD passes (38) and will find ways to create big plays. Dallas’ pass defense is ranked 23rd in the league, allowing 249.6 yards per game.

*Matchup to watch – Bryant vs. Colts CB Vontae Davis: Three weeks ago, this would’ve been must-see TV. Bryant has been on a roll of late and has 13 TDs. His size and ability to catch in a crowd match Davis’ strengths. However, Davis is fighting a sore groin and might need to rotate through to have his legs in the second half.

*Player spotlight – Colts PK Adam Vinatieri: These could be the Pro Bowl kickers on display. Dallas’ Dan Bailey is excellent, but Vinatieri is the only placekicker in the NFL not to miss a kick this season. He has made all 28 of his field-goal attempts and all 46 of his PATs.

*Fast facts: Luck and Russell Wilson are the only quarterbacks in NFL history with 10-plus wins in each of their first three seasons. … Cowboys backup RBs Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar have combined for 60 carries in 13 games.


All signs point to a shootout in a game Dallas must win to keep control of its playoff fate and the NFC East. Luck is unflappable, but the Cowboys get the nod if Murray takes the field.

*Our pick: Cowboys 30-28

Seattle Seahawks (10-4) at Arizona Cardinals (11-3)

Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET, at University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz. – TV: NBC

*TV announcers: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya

*Keys to the game: The Seahawks would love to replicate the Week 12 meeting in Seattle, when they held nearly an 11-minute edge in time of possession, methodically chewed away at a stellar defense and forced a backup quarterback to beat a defense on an historic roll.

It’s up to the Cardinals to flip the script with third-string QB Ryan Lindley at the helm. He’s very familiar with the offense, but also has seven career interceptions against no touchdown passes. That’s a daunting prospect against a defense that has allowed a combined 27 points over its past four games – the second fewest in franchise history (20, 1984). Coach Bruce Arians has never shied away from a gamble, but the Cardinals have to at least attempt to establish the ground game after San Francisco had some success penetrating between the tackles last week.

The Seahawks managed 124 rushing yards in the first meeting, but their leading rusher was QB Russell Wilson with 73 yards. No surprise there, but Seattle’s ability to run the ball will come down to assignment recognition by the Cardinals. If Arizona keeps tabs on Wilson and RB Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks receivers can be negated – the wideouts accounted for five catches for 83 yards in the first meeting. Protection is a huge issue for Seattle and if Arizona can back Wilson into third-and-longs, the turnovers that are critical might be there for the taking.

*Matchup to watch – Seahawks LT Alvin Bailey vs. Cardinals DT Frostee Rucker: Rucker was highly disruptive against St. Louis in Week 15 and will also work against LG James Carpenter. Bailey is starting in place of Russell Okung (lung) and while he performed admirably in relief last week, Seattle can’t offer him much protection with rookie RT Justin Britt outmatched against Calais Campbell on the other side.

*Player spotlight – Cardinals FS Tyrann Mathieu: After missing two games with a broken left thumb, Mathieu vows to play Sunday. He might be one-handed in any interception opportunities, but the versatile playmaker gives Wilson another dynamic defender to be cognizant of.

*Fast facts: The Seahawks’ best four-game point total allowed during its Super Bowl run last season was 43. … Lindley’s four completions last week were his first in a regular-season game since 2012.


All the ingredients are in place for a field position slugfest for what likely will anoint the winner of the NFC West and potentially home-field advantage through the NFC playoffs. The Cardinals will wage a fierce fight, but Lindley is a massive underdog against the league’s top defense.

*Our pick: Seahawks 16-15

Denver Broncos (11-3) at Cincinnati Bengals (9-4-1)

Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET, at Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati – TV: ESPN

*TV announcers: Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters

*Keys to the game: Rookie RB Jeremy Hill created a positive shift in the Bengals’ offense, bringing consistent punch behind a strong offensive line and daring defenses not to make stopping him a priority. As teams take notice, WR A.J. Green has averaged 115.6 yards per game in the last five weeks.

Takeaways dealt Denver’s knockout punch last week in San Diego, as a pair of interceptions finished off the Chargers and boosted the Broncos’ total to nine during their current four-game winning streak. With bookend pass rushers DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller both over 10 sacks this season, the goal is to force QB Andy Dalton to panic.

The Bengals are protecting the ball well, but in their four losses and a tie against Carolina, they have 11 giveaways, an average of 2.2 per game).

Denver is getting great results from its own shift to a power-running emphasis with 37 rushing attempts on average the past four weeks. With wintry weather in the forecast, the Broncos would be thrilled to add Ronnie Hillman (foot) back to the backfield mix and call on QB Peyton Manning to play it safe with short crossers and sideline throws.

*Matchup to watch – Hill vs. Broncos LB Brandon Marshall: One of the reasons why the Broncos’ run defense has lingered among the league’s leaders all season — it’s second in the league and leads the AFC in yards per rush (3.41) and per game (71.6) allowed — is because Marshall emerged as a reliable tackler who prevented runs from reaching the second level. Hill averages 5.0 yards per carry and has run for at least 148 yards in three of his last seven games, averaging 97.4 yards in that span.

*Player spotlight – Broncos CB Chris Harris Jr.: Aqib Talib has the household name in the Denver secondary, but Harris’ man coverage skills that netted him a long-term deal with the Broncos are the reason he’ll likely get the call to chase Green.

*Fast facts: Bengals coach Marvin Lewis is 1-5 against the Broncos. … The Bengals are 13-2-1 in their past 16 home games. … Manning is 8-0 all-time vs. Cincinnati.


Similar approaches should ensure a tight game unless the primetime yips inexplicably cripple Dalton again. In a game both teams consider a must-have, Manning pushes the Broncos to a win against a defense worn down by the Broncos’ rushing attack.

*Our pick: Broncos 24-20

–Derek Harper & Jeff Reynolds

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