49ERS (7-2-1) at SAINTS (5-5), 4:25 p.m.
Outlook: Game of the Week committee was wooed by a great 49ers defense dueling a great (and hot) Saints offense. Panel also liked that it’s a rematch of last year’s playoff game won by San Francisco, 36-32. Colin Kaepernick likely to start as 49ers QB as Alex Smith continues with concussion symptoms. But that isn’t why I like the Saints: San Francisco is coming off a short week and Drew Brees at home — he has a 20-yard completion in 100 straight games, a record — is close to unstoppable.
Prediction: Saints, 31-27
PACKERS (7-3) at GIANTS (6-4), 8:20 p.m.
Outlook: “AAWWK!” carols the Upset Bird, thankful for another year not associated with the turkey breed. Sunday prime-timer is a top-grade NFC matchup, with Aaron Rodgers’ Packers way hot and Eli Manning’s Giants trying to shake off back-to-back losses and start acting like champs. Giants coming off a bye gives us pause, but still like Green Bay to avenge last season’s playoff loss. Rodgers is 24-4 on TDs/picks in past seven games. I just trust that guy.”
Prediction: Packers, 30-28
VIKINGS (6-4) at BEARS (7-3), 1 p.m.
Outlook: A concussion made Bears QB Jay Cutler a legit-questionable to play, and, although Cutler isn’t having a great year, the drop-off to Jason Campbell is steep. That’s partly why I’m being a wimp and opting for Chicago here, against a gut feeling. Mark it down: Bears’ offensive line is a shambles, and the Vikings coming off a bye have an excellent upset shot.
Prediction: Bears, 20-17
SEAHAWKS (6-4) at DOLPHINS (4-6), 1 p.m.
Outlook: There are teams that are distinctly better at home than traveling, even beyond the norm, and Seattle (1-4 on the road) is one of them. Likewise rookie QB Russell Wilson has been much better in the Space Needle’s comforting shadow. Marshawn Lynch (four consecutive 100s) is one of the best runners Miami will face all season. Seattle’s defense is strong and I cannot think of many tougher opponents in terms of Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill trying to shake a personal funk and get his bandwagon rockin’ again. Tannehill (needing 91 yards) surely will break Dan Marino’s 1983 rookie record of 2,210, but the phrase “pyrrhic victory” comes to mind. Seattle is coming off a bye and vitally in a playoff hunt in a way Miami is not.
Prediction: Seahawks, 23-17
RAIDERS (3-7) at BENGALS (5-5), 1 p.m.
Outlook: I keep expecting Al Davis to come back from the dead just to complain about how bad the Raiders (still) are and maybe fire somebody. But at the same time I like Oakland, with ex-Bengal Carson Palmer making his first return to Cincinnati. Yeah, Oakland is 1-4 on the road, but Palmer has pitched for 1,094 yards in three wins, and this is the game he’s had circled all season.
Prediction: Bengals, 28-24
STEELERS (6-4) at BROWNS (2-8), 1 p.m.
Outlook: Old veteran Charlie Batch is subbing for injured Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger. That’s a steep falloff, even with Plaxico Burress back. Cleveland has all the emotional incentive in a series Pitt has dominated, including a 10-1 run in Ohio. But stubborn me still likes a Steelers defense that has not allowed an offensive TD in seven quarters.
Prediction: Steelers, 19-17
BILLS (4-6) at COLTS (6-4), 1 p.m.
Outlook: Indy has started to build some home-field muscle (4-1), Andrew Luck is hardly playing like a rookie, so make this a venue call in what feels like a toss-up game. Luck, with more passing yards through 10 games than any rookie ever, should keep it flying against a mediocre Buffalo pass defense. Colts also are precarious in the playoff hunt and simply must have a winnable home date like this one.
Prediction: Colts, 27-23
BRONCOS (7-3) at CHIEFS (1-9), 1 p.m.
Outlook: Once-proud Kansas City is 0-5 at home. Denver has won five straight. Chiefs have lost seven straight. Peyton Manning will have his way. The Broncos’ defense should dominate. Are you beginning to sense a pattern here? Almost forgot to mention. Brady Quinn will start over Matt Cassel. Um, is that a good thing?
Prediction: Broncos, 34-10
FALCONS (9-1) at BUCCANEERS (6-4), 1 p.m.
Outlook: Surging Bucs have scored 206 points in past six games, with Josh Freeman on a 16-3 TDs/picks roll during that span. Can easily see Tampa Bay come crashing, but I’m-a keep the faith here and roll with a mild upset. Bucs are believing in themselves, and Doug Martin, the rookie you don’t hear enough about, could exploit a so-so Falcons run defense.
Prediction: Buccaneers, 23-21
TITANS (4-6) at JAGUARS (1-9), 1 p.m.
Outlook: Chad Henne. He’s baa-aa-aaack! Jacksonville’s backup-turned-starter was a near-hero in last week’s OT thriller-loss to Houston. Jaguars spent so much emotion in that near-shocker that I can see them (and Henne) crashing here. I mean, they’re 0-5 at home, and Titans are coming off a bye. But I don’t care, I’m rolling the dice here.
Prediction: Jaguars, 24-20
RAVENS (8-2) at CHARGERS (4-6), 4:05 p.m.
Outlook: I seem to keep picking the Chargers, keep getting bitten, and then keep picking the Chargers. I figure Ravens coming off a big emotional grudge division win over Pittsburgh, then a long trip, and facing a QB (Philip Rivers) who has 955 yards in three career games against Baltimore. So it’s San Diego, then! (Oh lord will I never learn!?)
Prediction: Chargers, 27-24
RAMS (3-6-1) at CARDINALS (4-6), 4:25 p.m.
Outlook: Rams have not won on the road. Free-falling Cardinals have lost six straight. What more do you want? St. Louis won first meeting 17-3, now Arizona has no running game and a rookie, Ryan Lindley, at QB. So naturally I see the Cards winning on big defense. It’s that kind of week, folks.
Prediction: Cardinals, 20-13
PANTHERS (2-8) at EAGLES (3-7), 8:30 p.m.
Outlook: As most know our Dog game is the lousiest matchup, and we rarely look to Monday because that stage seems to dress every game in fancy clothes. But not this one. Carolina is bad. Philly, with six consecutive losses, may be worse. Fact: The Phillies have won a game more recently than the Eagles have. Looked as if rookie Nick Foles would go because of Mike Vick’s concussion. RB LeSean McCoy also seemed very iffy for the Eagles. There’s a phrase for someone like me who nonetheless likes the home team here: Glutton for punishment.
Prediction: Eagles, 23-20
– By Greg Cote, The Miami Herald; last week — 12-2, season — 105-54-1