COLTS (6-3) at PATRIOTS (6-3), 4:25 p.m.
This one got a Game of the Week sniff. Teams have won seven in a row between them, and Tom Brady vs. Andrew Luck feels special, somehow. Very much like Pats to win at home, but also like rejuvenated Indy to keep it close. Although trading for CB Aqib Talib will help, New England’s pass defense has allowed 19 touchdowns, and Luck-to-Reggie Wayne can do a little damage.
Prediction: Patriots, 34-27.
JETS (3-6) at RAMS (3-5-1), 1 p.m.
The Dog panel looked at this game the way a buzzard looks at a road-killed possum. The tumultuous, bickering, reeling Jets are facing a fourth loss in a row — especially if that 30th-ranked run defense can’t stop Steven Jackson. Hey, sometimes you make a pick just because, you know? Sometimes nothing is telling you it’s right except that strong gut feeling that just won’t go away.
Prediction: Jets, 24-23.
EAGLES (3-6) at REDSKINS (3-6), 1 p.m.
Philly has lost five in a row, and now rookie QB Nick Foles is all but certain to make his maiden start because of Michael Vick’s concussion. The thing is, Washington isn’t in much better shape, with three consecutive L’s, a 1-3 home record and a near-putrid pass defense. Eagles need a spark, and it says here Foles could be it.
Prediction: Eagles, 24-20.
JAGUARS (1-8) at TEXANS (8-1), 1 p.m.
Dog honors go to the worst matchup of the week, and normally we target two bad teams jousting, but in this case we opt for sheer lopsidedness. The very bad Jaguars and the very good Texans present an extreme talent contrast seldom witnessed. Houston beat Jacksonville 27-7 in September and will dominate again, although I think I’ll accept the offer of those two-TD-plus points, thanks. Texans are coming off that big, emotional showdown win at Chicago, face a natural letdown and will be on autopilot in this one.
Prediction: Texans, 24-10.
CARDINALS (4-5) at FALCONS (8-1), 1 p.m.
Atlanta lost its perfectness to Saints last week, and now the Falcons will be after The Big Rebound. Atlanta last lost consecutive regular-season games in December 2009, and Matt Ryan’s 30-4 is the best home record by a QB in the Super Bowl era. Reeling Cardinals are OK on defense but just don’t have the offensive pop to hang in this game.
Prediction: Falcons, 31-16.
BROWNS (2-7) at COWBOYS (4-5), 1 p.m.
Cleveland coming off bye is offset by the fact Browns have lost 11 games in a row on the road, and the offense has produced only one TD in the past two games. Cowboys need to get on a roll and climb into playoff hunt to save Jason Garrett’s job and cannot afford to let this one slip. Garrett could only be more under the gun if Mike Holmgren and Jon Gruden were lurking over his shoulder on the sideline like vultures.
Prediction: Cowboys, 28-17.
PACKERS (6-3) at LIONS (4-5), 1 p.m.
Home teams almost always have a big shot in a division rivalry, and Lions are no exception here, but all indicators are aimed squarely at the Packers. Green Bay is 11-1 in this series under Mike McCarthy and is coming off a bye. Packers have some key injuries (Greg Jennings, Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson), but in what should be a shootout, I’ll take Aaron Rodgers just about every time.
Prediction: Packers, 34-28.
BENGALS (4-5) at CHIEFS (1-8), 1 p.m.
Despite playing Pittsburgh tough last week, the Chiefs have reeked to six consecutive losses by a combined score of 157-78 and are 0-4 at Arrowhead, which officially is denuded as a scary place to play. KC is way due, though, and inconsistent Cincy figures to be overconfident and thinking it is better than it is after whippin’ the Giants last week. I’ll play this one safe, but be on Upset Alert.
Prediction: Bengals, 27-23.
BUCCANEERS (5-4) at PANTHERS (2-7), 1 p.m.
Bucs barely got past Panthers in September, 16-10, but Carolina has sort of gone stagnant since then while Tampa has been en fuego, with five consecutive games of 28-plus points. Josh Freeman has had a 115.9 passer rating in those games, with zero picks in 151 attempts. Tardily, I think I’m finally on board that Bucs bandwagon.
Prediction: Buccaneers, 23-20.
SAINTS (4-5) at RAIDERS (3-6), 4:05 p.m.
Two weeks ago, the Oakland defense was trampled for 278 rushing yards by Tampa. Last week, Oakland was bludgeoned for 51 points by Baltimore. And now here comes Drew Brees, who tends to make even good defenses look bad. I mean, I know anything can happen in this weird NFL, but beyond a Saints letdown after beating Atlanta, there is little here testifying on behalf of a Raiders upset.
Prediction: Saints, 37-24.
CHARGERS (4-5) at BRONCOS (6-3), 4:25 p.m.
San Diego has won three in a row on road in this division rivalry, but things have changed. The change is named Peyton Manning. Chargers will have much incentive after embarrassingly blowing a 24-0 lead and losing to Denver 35-24 in October, but Broncos have Manning, who in four home games has 10 TDs, zero picks and a 115.3 rating. Chargers have yet to beat a team with a winning record, but should keep this one close.
Prediction: Broncos, 30-26.
RAVENS (7-2) at STEELERS (6-3), 8:20 p.m.
Shoulder and rib issues will shelve Ben Roethlisberger and foist veteran Byron Leftwich into his first start since 2009 in this Game of the Week matchup. This is one of three games this week affected by new QB injuries, and this one must fill a Steelers fan with dread considering Pittsburgh needed overtime with Leftwich steering just to survive the lowly Chiefs last week. And Ravens have won past two at Heinz Field even when Roethlisberger was pitching. Nevertheless, I’m still feeling a prime-time upset — maybe by hunch more than logic, I’d admit. Steelers are on a nice roll, are 4-0 at home, and will rise up with a big defensive effort.
Prediction: Steelers, 20-17.
BEARS (7-2) at 49ERS (6-2-1), 8:30 p.m.
The Game of the Week runner-up stayed off betting boards because both QBs — Bears’ Jay Cutler and Niners’ Alex Smith — were battling concussions and iffy. As the week wore on it seemed likely that Smith would start but Cutler would sit in favor of experienced backup Jason Campbell. That and the venue steer this pick in what should be a delicious defensive battle.
Prediction: 49ers, 19-17.
— Greg Cote, The Miami Herald; last week — 9-4-1; season — 93-52-1