Dolphins (7-6) at Vikings (6-6-1): 1 p.m. ET, CBS
Point spread: MIN -7 | Matchup quality: 44.7 (of 100)
Cameron Wolfe’s pick: These are two playoff contenders are headed in opposite directions. Minnesota, on the heels of losing two straight, seem to be in offensive disarray after firing its offensive coordinator, while Miami is riding the high of the Miami Miracle and a two-game win streak after shaping its offense around the running backs. Adam Gase’s Dolphins have a 76.9 win percentage (20-6) in one-score games since 2016, and they keep the magic going with a huge upset over Minnesota thanks to the NFL’s third-best takeaway defense and big days from Frank Gore and Kenyan Drake. Dolphins 20, Vikings 17
Courtney Cronin’s pick: The Dolphins are terrible on the road, having lost five straight games away from Miami by 16.4 points on average. The Vikings’ defense is lights out at U.S. Bank Stadium, ranking first in yards per game and holding opponents to a league-low 29.7 percent conversion rate on third down. The Minnesota offense won’t look all that much different with interim OC Kevin Stefanski, but the shake-up within the coaching staff should give a high sense of urgency. Plus, the Vikings could be the healthiest they’ve been in weeks, with the expectation that cornerback Trae Waynes will play. Vikings 23, Dolphins 10
What’s at stake: The Vikings are clinging to the final spot in the NFC wild-card race, hoping that an easier remaining schedule can allow them to limp into the postseason. The Dolphins need a win to stay within striking distance of the AFC race. — Seifert
FPI win projection: MIN, 82.5 percent. The Vikings have the second-biggest potential swing in playoff chances this week, with a 77 percent to make it if they win and a 36 percent chance if they lose. The Dolphins don’t have quite as big of a swing, but it is still an important game for them. Miami would have a 27 percent chance at the playoffs with a win and just a 9 percent chance with a loss.
Another game that will cause repercussions to be felt throughout the playoff field. The Dolphins sit at 7-6, hoping that the Bucs upset the Ravens in Baltimore and that the Colts struggle against a top-level Cowboys defense. Miami must play well offensively, which will be a stiff challenge against a defense that matches up with the Dolphins everywhere. On the other hand, if the Vikings, who are in a verifiable mosh pit on the playoff bubble, forget Dalvin Cook is on their team and throw every down, then Miami has a real chance. The Vikes have scored a grand total of 17 points the last two weeks, with their lone touchdown in Seattle coming in garbage time. Though they fared better last week against New England, the Fins feature the 29th-best run defense in the league. If Cook doesn’t get the football this week, then Minnesota should hire Les Steckel again.
Lions (5-8) at Bills (4-9): 1 p.m. ET, Fox
Point spread: BUF -2.5 | Matchup quality: 15.3 (of 100)
Michael Rothstein’s pick: Somehow, the Lions are still in contention for a playoff berth, and winning in Buffalo would keep the franchise’s postseason hopes alive for at least one more week. Yes, the offense is incredibly beat up, but the defense has improved over the past month, holding three of their past four opponents under 25 points. It will help that Buffalo has the second-worst offense in the league in yards and points scored. That should be enough for the Lions to win their second straight yawnfest. Lions 20, Bills 10
Mike Rodak’s pick: The Bills are 4-0 this season when they have a positive turnover margin and 0-9 with an even or negative turnover margin, so it’s no secret the Bills must protect the ball to beat the Lions. That is an attainable goal for Josh Allen, who will face a Detroit defense that is tied for second-fewest interceptions this season. Buffalo is 2-7 against defenses in the top half of the NFL in interceptions and 2-2 against teams, such as the Lions, in the bottom half. Bills 21, Lions 17
What’s at stake: This matchup features two teams that FPI projects to capture top-10 picks in the 2019 draft. Proceed accordingly. — Seifert
FPI win projection: BUF, 55.0 percent. In the three games since the Bills’ bye week, Allen ranks sixth in the NFL with a 79.7 Total QBR. A large portion of that is due to his rushing ability. Allen has added 18.7 expected points on the ground in the past three weeks, more than three times as many as any other QB in that span.
Oh, boy. You want to write this blurb? This looks like a tough watch for anyone who’s not a Lions or Billsfan — I’m not sure even the members of those fan bases want to read the following. Detroit rode its defense to a win last week. Now that’s a surprising sentence if you’ve followed this team through the years. Actually, though, that side of the ball has performed better than the offense overall this season. Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter is under fire in Detroit, as the Lions have limped to 20.8 points per game, 25th in the league. (Don’t forget that part of their scintillating point total of 17 in Arizona was delivered by cornerback Darius Slay on a pick-six.) The Bills‘ defense has been a strong point for much of the year, often left on the field by an offense that is even worse than Detroit’s. Sean McDermott’s fellas feast off turnovers and sacks — though unlike in 2017, Buffalo’s defense hasn’t manufactured enough to compensate for the sluggish offense. Think the Bills will force two to three giveaways from Matthew Stafford this week and pull to 5-9.
Patriots (9-4) at Steelers (7-5-1): 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS
Point spread: NE -2.5 | Matchup quality: 80.4 (of 100)
Mike Reiss’ pick: This is a pride game for the Patriots after the embarrassing way they lost on the final play against the Dolphins. Bill Belichick said the team needs to play better situational football, and it starts with him. While the past is no guarantee for how things will unfold, the Patriots have been a good investor in “pride” games in recent years. This week, players have carried themselves with a noticeable edge. Patriots 31, Steelers 24
Jeremy Fowler’s pick: This might be the last time Ben Roethlisberger gets the Patriots at home. He’ll throw for big yardage in a game the Steelers must have. But the defense is struggling to close games, the kicking situation is a mess and James Conner could miss another week, placing a spotlight on a running game that averaged 2.1 yards per carry in Oakland. Tom Brady has seven wins, 23 touchdowns and one interception against Pittsburgh since 2006. The edge belongs to the defending AFC champs. Patriots 30, Steelers 24
What’s at stake: The Patriots can clinch a playoff spot with a win and a Titans loss. To secure the AFC East title, the Patriots need a win and a loss by the Dolphins. The Steelers can’t clinch anything this week, but they would fall out of the AFC North lead with a loss and a Ravens victory. — Seifert
FPI win projection: PIT, 59.7 percent. The Steelers have the largest potential swing in chances to win their division and make the playoffs of any team this week, according to FPI. The Steelers would have an 89 percent chance to make the playoffs (84 percent chance to win division) with a win and 48 percent chance to make the playoffs (43 percent to win the division) with a loss.
The Jesse James revenge game. You remember last year, when James’ catch vs. New England late in the fourth quarter, initially ruled a touchdown, was overturned after review in the did-he-secure-the-catch-nebula. The controversy marred what was a Patriots-Steelers contest for the ages, or at least since Y2K — and a game that helped New England secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Now Pittsburgh is merely trying to hold on to its postseason reservation. The Steelers were thought to be a sure thing a month ago. After dropping three straight games, including two on the road to lesser opponents, they’re clinging to a half-game lead in the AFC North. If they lose this home match versus Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, they could be done. New Orleans pops up next on the Steelers‘ schedule, with it quite possible that the Colts and Dolphins pass them in that maelstrom for the AFC’s sixth seed. Taking Pittsburgh over New England, solely because the Steelers are at home and in desperation mode. They can’t fall behind early, though, because after last week, Brady and the Pats’ defense won’t be in any mood for blowing leads.
Last week 1-1, Yesterday 1-0
Season total 27-13
Dolphins @ Vikings: 13-20
I had the Dolphins shocking the Pats last week, however, on a road game, against a desperate team, I don’t see it.
The Vikings are not the Case Keenum led team that almost won the SB, this is much cheaper version, however they are a better team, overall, than the Dolphins. My gut feeling is that it will not be close as RT17 gives it up a few times.
Lions @ Bills: 20-23
The feet of Josh Allen have kept the Bills in many games recently, this Lions team comes into own without their best runner. Blount needs multiple gas tanks to run in that cold, and Theo’s short routes are not scaring anyone. The Bills will win as Allen continues to drive DCs crazy.
Patriots @ Steelers: 26-34
We learned last week that the Patriots on the road are not able to outscore a team like the Dolphins, the Dolphins played very well, however, the Steelers CAN score almost at will. Both teams’ Ds are crap, this will be a high scoring affair with the Steelers prevailing over a Patriots team that comes into their favorite part of the season without a true identity. Kind of weird for GM BB to pout this together, as he has left HC BB to dry with a lot of crappy pieces to put together. I see this combo breaking up after the season.