Gregg Rosenthal went 9-7 on his predictions for Week 13, bringing his season record to 117-74-1. How will he fare in Week 14? His picks are below.
SUNDAY, DEC. 8
1 p.m. ET (FOX) | Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta)
It’s embarrassing for both franchises that the Saints clinched the NFC South in Week 13 in a season where Drew Brees missed five starts. That’s why Atlanta will surely join Carolina in an offseason housecleaning that still feels four long weeks away for Dan Quinn. At least the Falcons are set up well this week to improve their home record to 2-5 with Julio Jones, Austin Hooper and first-round lineman Chris Lindstrom all on the mend. The Panthers, meanwhile, look likely to be without Greg Olsen and any semblance of a defensive backbone.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Raymond James Stadium (Tampa, Fla.)
The Bucs look so good for stretches that it makes me angry they’ve lost seven games. The defense is peaking with Jason Pierre-Paul, Shaq Barrett and Devin White playing dominant ball, while the offense is looking more balanced lately, with O.J. Howard and Breshad Perriman making an impact. In short: They are The Team You Don’t Want To Face In December for the umpteenth straight season of the Jameis Winston era. This is the time of year the Bucs quarterback convinces all of Tampa that next year will be The Year. The hobbling Colts, their flaws showing after overachieving all year, are catching the Bucs at the wrong time.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) | MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford, N.J.)
Losing to the Dolphins twice in a season to fall into last place might be enough to get Jets ownership to reconsider their re-commitment to Adam Gase. Luckily, Miami’s defense is the rare group that doesn’t have the juice up front to expose Gang Green’s offensive line. New York’s offense isn’t as good as it looked during its three-game winning streak and not as bad as it looked last week in Cincinnati. In Darnold we trust.
1 p.m. ET (FOX) | Mercedes-Benz Superdome (New Orleans)
I wouldn’t blame the 49ers for being exhausted. Seemingly every week, the banged-up squad has a new Game of the Year, with this trip to New Orleans following massive matchups against the Seahawks, Packers and Ravens. A win by the Saints on Sunday would clear the path for the NFC’s No. 1 seed, but they should be worried about protecting Drew Brees, given the injuries on the left side of their line. New Orleans has won offensively by limiting mistakes rather than making explosive plays, ranking ninth in yards per play and points per game. This is easily the Saints offense’s toughest matchup of the year. Led by surging linebacker Fred Warner, I see the 49ers as more talented and more battle-tested.
1 p.m. ET (FOX) | U.S. Bank Stadium (Minneapolis)
Facing a third-string quarterback and a 29th-string defense is exactly what Minnesota needs in this short week after losing its left tackle, running back and a winnable game in Seattle. Vikings fans should be concerned that Mike Zimmer’s defense was so easy for the Seahawks to push around, but it’s hard to imagine undrafted rookie David Blough and Bo Scarbrough having enough firepower to expose the unit in Minnesota.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) | NRG Stadium (Houston)
Drew Lock threw a befuddling 33-yard completion to end his first half in the NFL last Sunday, rather than use his huge arm to throw a Hail Mary. On Lock’s other 27 throws, the Broncos gained 102 yards for an average of 3.18 yards per attempt. Once the Chargers started blitzing, as Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel is sure to do Sunday, Lock immediately ran or dumped the ball off for a minimal gain. The Texans defense without J.J. Watt has been a pleasant surprise long enough to believe it’s a trend, one that should continue against a quarterback not ready to keep his team competitive in a tough road environment.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) | New Era Field (Orchard Park, N.Y.)
Teams change. The Ravens defense transformed from solid to stellar just as Lamar Jackson took off into the stratosphere. I was slow to identify Buffalo’s defensive transformation in November after a mostly disappointing first two months. LB Matt Milano has gone from a liability to a star again. Top-10 pick Ed Oliver is now making a huge impact. Head man Sean McDermott is coaching with more aggression. And most importantly, Josh Allen is making far better decisions in the best stretch of his career while getting more help from rookie RB Devin Singletary. The Ravens are catching the Bills at the wrong time. The Bills are catching the Ravens at the wrong time. That makes it the right time to enjoy another Ravens slugfest win where Jackson is the difference.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) | FirstEnergy Stadium (Cleveland)
The Browns‘ bad schedule luck continues. This is not the same Bengals defense that was pushed around in the first half of the year, with Geno Atkins, Sam Hubbard and Carlos Dunlap capable of making Baker Mayfield uncomfortable Sunday. It’s certainly not the same Bengals offense: Andy Dalton‘s playing freely with aggression, back in the lineup for overmatched Ryan Finley. Joe Mixon is playing like a top-10 runner. I started this writeup planning to pick the Bengals to keep it close against the heavy-favorite Browns, but why go halfway in this stakes-free exercise? It feels like this Browns season still has new depths it can reach.
1 p.m. ET (FOX) | Lambeau Field (Green Bay, Wis.)
Aaron Rodgers is navigating the pocket better than he has in years, a sign of health that mirrors the rest of the Packers roster. Bob McGinn of The Athletic has noted all season that Green Bay is winning primarily with turnover margin and health. The Packers are able to play all 22 starters while coach Matt LaFleur tinkers with playing time. (Jimmy Graham and Marquez Valdes-Scantling have lost snaps lately.) I’m still not certain how good this Pack team is, but this isn’t the week to find out. While the Redskins‘ rushing attack can keep this game reasonably close, Green Bay DC Mike Pettine should be able to cook up some turnovers against a rookie QB, like he did a week ago in New Jersey.
4:05 p.m. ET (FOX) | TIAA Bank Field (Jacksonville, Fla.)
The Jaguars have lost four straight games by at least three scores, making a strong case as the worst team in football. The Chargers are just the weirdest and unluckiest — the only franchise that could turn a positive scoring differential on the season into a 4-8 record. Philip Rivers appeared to be one pick away from getting benched last week, but Anthony Lynn’s tepid game management has been nearly as big a problem as Rivers in close games. Luckily this week, a Bolts team as healthy as it’s been all year — with both starting tackles and starting safeties back — shouldn’t have to worry about it. Losing by less than 17 points at this stage would qualify as Minshew Magic for this Jaguars team.
4:25 p.m. ET (CBS) | State Farm Stadium (Glendale, Ariz.)
Duck Hodges raises the Steelers‘ ceiling. That’s one of the most surprising sentences I’ve written all year, but Hodges’ Philip Rivers-esque flings downfield last week were a great sign for Pittsburgh’s playoff push. I love the way Diontae Johnson runs after the catch and how Benny Snell adds depth to a backfield that could get James Conner back on Sunday. (UPDATE: Conner said he will not be playing against the Cardinals.) Kyler Murray gets another brutal matchup this week in a season full of them, with the weight of the Cardinals‘ terrible pass defense putting more pressure on him each week. It’s just too hard to imagine this Cardinals front holding up against T.J. Watt and a scorching-hot Bud Dupree for four quarters.
4:25 p.m. ET (CBS) | Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum (Oakland, Calif.)
The Raiders have lost by a combined score of 74-12 the last two weeks, with their only touchdown coming in the final seconds of garbage time in Kansas City. This is a sign of a poor football team, as is a scoring differential that’s worse than the Jets or Falcons. The defense has been poor all year, but the team’s passing attack has run out of big plays and open receivers for Derek Carr. Wideout Zay Jones arrived from Buffalo, plays nearly every snap and provides almost no production. Against a strong Titans front built to stop Offensive Rookie of the Year favorite Josh Jacobs, the Raiders will struggle to score. Against a Titans offense ranked first in red zone percentage, the Raiders could quickly find themselves in catch-up mode again.
4:25 p.m. ET (CBS) | Gillette Stadium (Foxborough, Mass.)
It’s disarming how much this matchup has changed since the AFC Championship Game in January. The Chiefs now have a pass defense for the Patriots to worry about, while K.C.’s passing attack has looked vulnerable and disjointed since Patrick Mahomes returned from injury, more reliant on individual magic than ever. A Patriots win would all but guarantee their 10th straight playoff bye. A Patriots loss would signal an 0-3 record against AFC division leaders, all led by young mobile quarterbacks, a changing-of-the-guard narrative so on-the-nose it seems scripted. I give New England a slight edge at home because Bill Belichick built the defense of his dreams specifically to slow this Chiefs team, in this game. (And the next time they play.) Look for the Patriots‘ steadily-improving running game to be the difference. An ugly game favors the home team with the more precise coach, just like it did for Belichick back in the early 2000s, when Andy Reid’s teams were also often falling just short.
8:20 p.m. ET (NBC) | Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (Los Angeles)
Was the Rams‘ perfect day last week in the desert a mirage or a sign of a promising stretch run? Todd Gurley‘s usage and explosiveness have been trending up for weeks. The Rams receiver group is exponentially more powerful when Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods are on the field together. And the L.A. defense has more sacks than any team since Week 7 started. It’s worth remembering that the Rams put up 477 yards in Seattle in a game where Greg Zuerlein missed a game-winning field-goal attempt, altering the course of this NFC West race. With Tyler Lockett clearly not all the way healthy, I think the Rams can win the shootout this time.
MONDAY, DEC. 9
8:15 p.m. ET (ESPN) | Lincoln Financial Field (Philadelphia)
I’m no conspiracy theorist, but it’s interesting the Giants made the change back to Eli Manning days after ownership complained about this wayward season. It was also days after Daniel Jones finished another turnover-laden performance against the Packers and days before Big Blue hit Monday Night Football to face perhaps Eli’s favorite opponent. With Saquon Barkley looking healthy again and the underachieving Eagles capable of making any game too complicated, don’t be surprised if Manning has a chance to win this game in the fourth quarter.
Something has to give Thursday night. The Bears‘ solid, if overrated, eighth-ranked defense (per Football Outsiders) has a tendency to give up killer, long fourth-quarter drives to opponents. The Cowboys‘ excellent, if slumping, offense hasn’t been able to finish fourth-quarter drives. There has been some slippage from Dallas mainstays Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick up front, but I’m not convinced the Bears are still frisky enough to truly take advantage. Mitchell Trubisky‘s modest recent improvements are largely schedule-related, fool’s gold in a lost Bears season ready to be put out of its misery.
Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.