Happy Sunday NFL fans! Hope the tryptophan from the Thanksgiving feast has worn off, so everyone can enjoy what is sure to be another great Sunday of football.
Every early game is of note, with each one involving playoff implications. As a result, regardless of what game may be airing in your area, it is going to be an important one.
Without further ado, here are my picks for the early games, by order of most important, like last years matchup rankings.
Minnesota Vikings (7-3) at Atlanta Falcons (FOX)
Of all the early games, this one is perhaps the most pivotal. For the Vikings, a win will give them a one-game lead atop the NFC North, and keep them in the running for the NFC’s #2 slot. For the Falcons, who have slumped since starting off 5-0 (their lone win since was a 10-7 road victory over league worst Tennessee,) a win is dire. If they lose, they will be tied with a variety of teams aiming for that final playoff spot. Win, and they get a big name on their docket, and can propel themselves with momentum to get through the unkind season.
Had the Falcons been healthy, I might have considered picking them. However, with the league’s top statistical running back, Devonte Freeman being out with a concussion, I have to go with the Vikings to win a critical road matchup. Prediction: Vikings 27, Falcons 17.
New York Giants (5-5) at Washington Redskins (4-6) (FOX)
Prior to the start of the season, did anyone think that this game could possibly decide the NFC East? Alas, predicted powerhouse Dallas has lost quarterback Tony Romo for the season, and the Philadelphia Eagles are in a freefall. All of a sudden, the teams predicted to finish 3rd and last in the division are the only ones viable for the NFC East title.
The Redskins have been surprisingly decent, while the Giants could possibly be 8-2. That said, while I don’t have faith in the Giants, and the Redskins can definitely win this game, I just can’t pick against the G-Men. They may make some mistakes, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they do lose. But, I’m still picking them to win. Prediction: Giants 24, Redskins 17.
Buffalo Bills (5-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (5-5) (CBS)
Great defense, mobile quarterbacks, intriguing running games, and unique receivers. Add in the quirky head coaches, and this is my favorite early game of the week!
The Bills have been up and down, staying in every game. Tyrod Taylor is the best quarterback they’ve had in years, Lesean McCoy has been great lately, Karlos Williams has been an excellent rookie backup running back, and Sammy Watkins has had his moments. And yet, the team has been unsteady, and are 5-5, when they should be better.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs are turning their season around. Left for dead after a 1-5 start to their season, many were starting to wonder if Andy Reid was going to wind up on the hot seat. Go figure, the team has won four straight, the offense has survived despite the loss of star running back Jamaal Charles, and the defense has regained its ferocity. Now, they’re tied for the final playoff spot, and finally have some confidence.
Honestly, I have no idea who to pick here. Both teams can combust offensively, and have great defenses. I guess I’ll go with the Chiefs, in a come-from-behind, surprising shootout. I foresee the Bills having a 28-24 lead in the fourth, before Alex Smith throws the game-winner to Jeremy Maclin with 63 seconds left to go. Crazy, I know. Prediction: Bills 28, Chiefs 31.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-5) at Indianapolis Colts (5-5) (FOX)
Did anyone think the Buccaneers would be 5-5 through ten games this year? How about the dark horse, preseason Super Bowl favorite Colts being 3-0 in games started by Matt Hasselbeck? Alas, both teams are surprising for opposite reasons. The Bucs find themselves a game back of the Falcons, a team they just beat a few weeks back, for the final NFC playoff spot. Top draft pick Jameis Winston is coming off a five-touchdown game at Philadelphia, and the team is stunningly peaking.
Meanwhile, the Colts season has been fairly disastrous. Andrew Luck was horrible when playing, likely due to injury. Andre Johnson has been a bust since signing with them. The offensive line is atrocious, and the defense hasn’t been much better. They are 5-5, tied with the Houston Texans for the division lead, various teams for the final wild card playoff spot, and a game ahead of the Jaguars and Raiders. Go figure, their saving graces have been, of all people, aging veterans Matt Hasselbeck and kicker Adam Vinatieri!
Vinatieri, 42, is still kicking well, and has scored the team’s final points on various occasions this season. Hasselbeck, once a star quarterback in Seattle, has shown that he can still play at age 40. Without those two, it’s hard to see this team even managing a .500 record.
No lie, I have no idea who to pick here. At some point, the Colts may fall. Meanwhile, the Bucs are streaking right now, but they aren’t reliable. I guess I’ll pick the Bucs, even though I’m jot sold on them. Prediction: Bucs 24, Colts 20.
St. Louis Rams (4-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (8-2) (FOX)
The Rams were a good story this year. The Bengals got off to an unexpected 8-0 start. Both teams have been flailing a bit lately. However, the Bengals are clearly the better team, and played very well at Arizona last week. I wanted to pick the Rams, but barring Todd Gurley, they have no offense. I don’t like the Bengals, but I can’t pick against them here. Prediction: Rams 13, Bengals 27.
Miami Dolphins (4-6) at New York Jets (5-5) (CBS)
In this AFC East battle, neither team has a shot at winning the division. However, the Jets currently hold on to the final AFC playoff spot, while the Dolphins, despite a topsy-turvy year, are only a game back.
The Jets are slumping, losing four of five since starting the season 4-1. Their defense has been subpar, and the offense has not been what it was earlier in the season.
Meanwhile, the Dolphins have been a mixed bag. They started off looking disastrous while starting their season 1-3, before eviscerating the Titans and Texans. Since then, they’ve been dominated in New England, got stomped at the Bills, and made the Cowboys look viable for the first time since Week 2. Their lone win over their last four games? A 20-19 win over a free-falling Eagles team, only because Mark Sanchez threw an interception in the endzone late in the game.
If the Dolphins win, it would be a pleasant surprise. They have an injury-plagued defense, which is why they’ve had their struggles. The offense is chock full of potential stars, but have not lived up to expectations. Still, they have shown on occasion that they are capable of getting it done. However, I’m going with the home team, since, well, they’re simply better. Ryan Fitzpatrick will play better, Chris Ivory will bounce back, and the Jets receivers will show up today, as well as their defense. Prediction: Dolphins 14, Jets 24.
New Orleans Saints (4-6) at Houston Texans (5-5) (FOX)
The Saints have rebounded nicely since a rough start, but are struggling a bit. Meanwhile the Texans have won three straight, are tied atop the division as well as the final AFC playoff spot, and look viable with Brian Hoyer at quarterback. They don’t have a reliable running game, but they do have one of the games best receivers in Deandre Hopkins. Oh, and their defense has become great again, over the past few weeks. I see the Texans continuing to shine, forcing people to pay attention to them after they win today. Prediction: Saints 20, Texans 34.
Oakland Raiders (4-6) at Tennessee Titans (2-8) (CBS)
Next up is the battle of future starts at quarterback. Derek Carr has made the Raiders look respectable, while Marcus Mariota is Tennessee’s line shining light.
The Titans are better than their record states. They have lost various close games, and had they won even half of them, they would be in the dreaded playoff race. Alas, luck has not been kind to them, and they are tied for the league’s worst record. Marcus Mariota has been alright, but the only thing worse than his supporting cast has been his offensive line.
Meanwhile, the once surging Raiders are currently doing anything but. Since getting to 4-3, they lost a 38-35 shootout at Pittsburgh, before bottoming out against Minnesota and at Detroit, scoring a combined 27 points in those games.
I genuinely won’t be surprised if the Titans pull this one off. They’re playing a struggling Oakland squad, and they are better than their record indicates. Still, I believe the Raiders are going to right their ship, and while this game will likely be too close for comfort, I still see the road team prevailing. Prediction: Raiders 28, Titans 24.
San Diego Chargers (2-8) at Jacksonville Jaguars (4-6) (CBS)
I don’t care if the Jaguars are one game back of the final playoff spot, or that they have won two straight for the first time in seemingly forever. I also don’t care that the Chargers have been hit by the injury bug almost as bad as the Baltimore Ravens. There’s no way I’m picking Philip Rivers to lose the Jaguars. Prediction: Chargers 20, Jaguars 17.