1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Paul Brown Stadium (Cincinnati)
Credit the Patriots‘ two-game losing streak, their “Do Your Job” video series and the presence of Andy Dalton for giving this otherwise-uneven matchup some juice. With the Patriots‘ offensive line playing worse by the week, this improved Bengals front could be a legitimate problem, especially if Geno Atkinslines up against the Patriots‘ third-string center. Julian Edelman being banged up doesn’t help, either. And while Dalton came down to Earth in his second start back in the saddle, he helped the Bengals gain 451 yards in Cleveland. This game should be closer than the records indicate, unless you believe that motivational mumbo jumbo is going to fix this Patriots offense, with the team using another spicy week as a rallying cry. Whether trying to explain a football result or the latest Patriots controversy, the whole truth often seems just out of reach.
1 p.m. ET (FOX) | Ford Field (Detroit)
It’s the most wonderful time of the year for the Bucs: Jameis Winston‘s patented December rally to nowhere. Winston has a bum thumb and the team is without Mike Evans for the rest of the year, but that’s nothing compared to the Lions‘ troubles. It turns out third-string undrafted quarterback David Blough was undrafted for a reason. Just when running back Kerryon Johnson appears on track to return, the team lost wide receiver Marvin Jones. Poor Matt Patricia’s defense is trending up lately, but trending up toward mediocrity is not much light at the end of the tunnel in a season that started with such promise. Apologies to all the Blough Hards out there.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Nissan Stadium (Nashville, Tenn.)
The Texans‘ defense is capable of playing like it did against New England a couple weeks ago. The Texans‘ defense is capable of playing like it did against Denver last week. The Texans‘ offense similarly yo-yos, often based on whether Will Fuller suits up. The Ryan TannehillTitans have been far more consistent during his 6-1 streak at the helm. Even if Tannehill’s big plays are hitting at an unsustainable pace, Derrick Henry‘s running is more powerful and Tennessee’s defense is more talented. The Titans probably need to sweep the Texans to win the AFC South because of their division record and a visit by the Saints in Week 16.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Arrowhead Stadium (Kansas City, Mo.)
Patrick Mahomes hasn’t looked his best in a while. His performance in New England resulted in the second-lowest Pro Football Focus game score of his career, yet the Chiefs still won. That’s a good sign for the team as a whole because Mahomes is too talented and this roster is too loaded to struggle for long, if he’s truly healthy. Mahomes was battling an ankle injury even before he dislocated his kneecap when these AFC West rivals first played. Now he’s dealing with a hand issue. If Mahomes is not right, the fighting Vic Fangios are plenty capable of making the home crowd sweat in the cold.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) | MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford, N.J.)
It’s as if the Football Gods are trying to push Ryan Fitzpatrick to his breaking point. A week after a curious call may have cost the Dolphins a win in MetLife Stadium, Fitzpatrick has to return with his top three receivers — including post-hype breakout DeVante Parker — uncertain to play. Then again, the Gods work in mysterious ways. An overdue win by the Giants would potentially vault Miami into the No. 2 pick in the draft, while evening Eli Manning‘s career record at 117-117. With Darius Slayton balling and Big Blue’s skill players healthier than they’ve been all year, this Giants team shouldn’t be 2-12 bad.
1 p.m. ET (FOX) | FedExField (Landover, Md.)
With each passing week, Dwayne Haskins‘ solid rookie play becomes more impressive. Since taking over as Washington’s starter in Week 9, he’s 17th in PFF’s grading among 38 qualifiers. A strong offensive line and running game have helped, and the potential return of receivers Trey Quinn and Paul Richardson would help some more. Philadelphia’s receiver group is unlikely to get such good news, while Lane Johnson’s injury only further reinforces that even Eagles wins from here on out figure to be slogs. At least Philly’s strong rush defense matches up well with Redskins interim coach Bill Callahan’s game plan. Adrian Peterson may wind up with 100 more carries in what could be his final three games as an NFL starter.
1 p.m. ET (FOX) | Bank of America Stadium (Charlotte, N.C.)
Finally, Seahawks offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer gets a matchup that lends itself to his run-run-pass proclivities, even without Rashaad Penny in the fold. Seeing how Carolina’s soft run defense was enough to awaken even the Falcons’ backfield, it’s safe to expect Chris Carson to run for over 150 yards this week. Interim head-coaching stints usually go in one of two directions. Either the team rallies for a few games … or you wind up with players complaining about “horrible” play calls. Panthers interim head coach Perry Fewell is on the wrong path.
1 p.m. ET (FOX) | Lambeau Field (Green Bay, Wis.)
This game is the perfect test for an age-old, impossible question this time of year: Do you trust what you’ve seen the last three weeks or the season as a whole? If the answer is the former, Chicago should win this game. The Bears‘ recent recipe has been enough to win games against sub-standard teams: Mitchell Trubisky‘s improved play, life from the running game and a sound — if less than spectacular — defense. The Packers have not played well since their bye, losing a blowout in San Francisco and failing to coalesce on offense against weak competition. I still lean toward trusting Green Bay’s body of work. There’s been too much bad offense on tape from this Bears team and the defense isn’t special enough to make up for the disparity at quarterback.
4:05 p.m. ET (CBS) | ROKiT Field at Dignity Health Sports Park (Carson, Calif.)
This feels like a dangerous spot for all the Vikings fans who will surely make the trip to Carson on Sunday. Minnesota hasn’t put together a complete game since the Week 10 win in Dallas. It’s not Kirk Cousins‘ fault, but the Vikings are 0-4 against teams currently owning winning records and the offense desperately needs those positive reports about Adam Thielen‘s hamstring to be true. The Chargers are as healthy as they’ve been all year and are coming off a 40-burger. That probably means they’ll play well before losing in the most painful way possible, but I’m picking them to win anyway because my picks this week are too boring.
4:05 p.m. ET (CBS) | Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum (Oakland, Calif.)
The Jaguars have lost five straight by at least 17 points, the worst such stretch by any team since the 1986 Buccaneers. Even Gardner Minshew‘s elusiveness hasn’t helped, with Football Outsiders noting that their offensive efficiency in Minshew’s starts is virtually the same as during Nick Foles’ doomed tenure. Both of these teams’ troubles, however, start with defense — and the Jaguars will likely have to stop Josh Jacobs this week. The Raiders have been outscored by 83 points during their current three-game losing streak, yet it feels unsporting to predict a loss in the final game in Oakland. These fans, this city, deserve so much better.
4:05 p.m. ET (CBS) | State Farm Stadium (Glendale, Ariz.)
The Browns are technically still alive in the playoff hunt, yet this feels like a matchup of two teams that need the season to end. Kyler Murray‘s decision-making has taken a step back lately, while the Brownsare busy battling new mini-dramas every week. Odell Beckham Jr. versus Patrick Peterson would have normally been a spicy matchup to track, but Beckham hasn’t topped 100 yards since Week 6 and Peterson hasn’t looked the same since returning from his suspension in Week 7. In a game with two dangerous rushing attacks, it’s hard not to watch and love the stylings of chugging Nick Chubb.
4:25 p.m. ET (FOX) | AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas)
Sean McVay isn’t out of ideas. His extreme ground attack last week had Cooper Kupp playing 30 fewer snaps than blocking tight end Johnny Mundt as the team continues its transition to a run-heavy approach. That matches up perfectly against a Dallas defense that is getting softer by the week. The Cowboys can’t tackle and their opponents know what is coming schematically. With Jared Goff throwing in rhythm again and Dallas 3-7 in their last 10 games, these are teams heading in opposite directions.
4:25 p.m. ET (FOX) | Levi’s Stadium (Santa Clara, Calif.)
San Francisco’s offense is catching up with its defense, which is a scary concept for the rest of the NFC. Kyle Shanahan still has two tough tests to pass before earning home-field advantage and a potential Coach of the Year award, but this matchup isn’t one of them. It’s mostly just a reminder to Falcons fans of what could have been. The 49ers‘ front seven will be salivating to get right in a matchup against one of the league’s worst pass-protecting offensive lines.
8:20 p.m. ET (NBC) | Heinz Field (Pittsburgh)
James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schusterare on track to return this week to an offense that has grown some calluses without them. Devlin Hodges may have a limited skill set, but he’s made smart decisions for a rookie. Benny Snell has helped the backfield, while Diontae Johnson and James Washington have taken turns making big plays at receiver. Facing this Bills defense is Duck’s biggest test yet, but it’s not on Hodges to win this game. Josh Allen going against the league’s top defense in turnovers forced is great field position waiting to happen. I’ve read this Steelers squad wrong for so much of this season, but it’s hard to ignore that something special is happening here.
MONDAY, DEC. 16
8:15 p.m. ET (ESPN) | Mercedes-Benz Superdome (New Orleans)
The Saints didn’t just lose control of home-field advantage last Sunday. They lost two terrific defensive linemen for the season: Marcus Davenport and Sheldon Rankins. That will make it tougher to slow down Indy’s rushing attack on Sunday, but Drew Brees is showing lately this Saints offense is still capable of keeping up in shootouts. The Colts, meanwhile, have played 11 games decided by one score this year, including four straight losses in such games. They are too good to be blown out and not good enough to win a tough road matchup in prime time.