49ERS (9-3-1) at PATRIOTS (10-3), 8:20 p.m.
Outlook: Tasty games pulse on the NFL Week 15 menu, but Patriots-Niners — as likely a Super Bowl preview as any — made it easy on the Game of the Week committee. It’s the No. 1 defense (49ers, 14.2 points allowed) vs. the No. 1 offense (Pats, 36.3 scored). Pats already have clinched the AFC East, and San Fran can sew up a playoff pass with a win here. I like Niners to keep this one close, but consider that NE’s three losses are by four points and appreciate that the Pats are the best team going right now. Clearly so.
Prediction: Patriots, 27-23
BRONCOS (10-3) at RAVENS (9-4), 1 p.m.
Outlook: “AAAWWWK!” belts the Upset Bird. The betting line reminds us that Joe Public swoons at the cleats of Peyton Manning, who can do no wrong. Denver already has clinched the playoffs; Ravens clinch division title with a win. Flacco’s offense should get a goose from the coordinator change with Cam Cameron dumped in favor of Jim Caldwell, Peyton’s old boss in Indy. Less Cam Cameron is almost always a good thing.
Prediction: Ravens, 28-24
CHIEFS (2-11) at RAIDERS (3-10), 4:25 p.m.
Outlook: You know how bringing a pinata to a kids’ party is can’t-miss? So is bringing a 5-21 combined record to the Dog of the Week meeting. These teams were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs during the Clinton administration. An upset here would hardly be an upset at all considering KC has won eight of its past nine trips to Oaktown. But Raiders won first meeting, 26-16, and I like ‘em again despite being at home.
Prediction: Raiders, 31-20
GIANTS (8-5) at FALCONS (11-2), 1 p.m.
Outlook: Atlanta has clinched playoff spot. NYG is headed there but needs the win more to stay in solid shape. Matt Ryan is 32-4 at home and 6-0 this season so a venue pick really tempts here, but Giants are the better team right now. Also recalling the Giants’ 24-2 swamping of Falcons in last year’s playoffs. Closer this time, but same result.
Prediction: Giants, 31-27
JAGUARS (2-11) at DOLPHINS (5-8), 1 p.m.
Outlook: It’s Chad Henne Week in South Florida! I know that qualifies as desperately manufactured excitement, but when the Dolphins are hosting the awful Jaguars, you take anything you can find. Woe will be the Dolphins if they cannot beat this foe with something approaching ease.
Prediction: Dolphins, 24-13
VIKINGS (7-6) at RAMS (6-6-1), 1 p.m.
Outlook: Both teams are still playoff-contending but needing help, so this is tantamount to an elimination game. Christian Ponder is on a 7-1 run in domed stadiums, and Adrian Peterson (1,107 rushing yards his past seven games) is about as hot as you can get without simply bursting into flames.
Prediction: Vikings, 21-20
PACKERS (9-4) at BEARS (8-5), 1 p.m.
Outlook: Pack has won five in a row over Bears, including 23-10 in September. That allows GB to clinch division with a win, while Chitown also needs a win to maintain its own playoff path. Bears are fighting a 1-4 skid, and Packers are looking to get two very big injured players back in receiver Jordy Nelson and defensive hub Clay Matthews. That tips the pick.
Prediction: Packers, 27-20
REDSKINS (7-6) at BROWNS (5-8), 1 p.m.
Outlook: Game stayed off the bet boards into Thursday because of Robert Griffin III’s questionable status, though it seemed increasingly likely RG3 (sprained knee) would be good to go. Skins sit seventh for six playoff spots and really need this. Browns alive only in a technical sense. Pick assumes Griffin is pitching.
Prediction: Redskins, 23-21
COLTS (9-4) at TEXANS (11-2), 1 p.m.
Outlook: Good teams usually bounce back from rare spankings, and Texans got spanked pretty good (dare say embarrassed) by Pats on Monday night, so expect a big home rebound. But I like hot Nags to keep it inside a big bet number.
Prediction: Texans, 28-21
BUCCANEERS (6-7) at SAINTS (5-8), 1 p.m.
Outlook: Both teams are still mathematically alive in the playoff hunt, an indictment of math. But Cajuns are the safe play at home against an opponent that has flushed its once-realistic postseason shot with three losses in a row.
Prediction: Saints, 34-27
LIONS (4-9) at CARDINALS (4-9), 4:05 p.m.
Outlook: Meet your Dog of The Week runner-up. Cards fell 58-0 last week, third-worst shutout loss in NFL since 1950. Good news? They can’t be that bad again. Bad news? Their QB play is horrific, and their secondary is no match for Detroit’s air game.
Prediction: Lions, 30-16
PANTHERS (4-9) at CHARGERS (5-8), 4:05 p.m.
Outlook: Cam Newton has been hot the past three games but too late for eliminated Carolina. San Diego somehow is still alive, but only by the same screwy math that has Miami and Buffalo still alive, too. Make it a straight venue call.
Prediction: Chargers, 26-20
SEAHAWKS (8-5) vs. BILLS (5-8) (in Toronto), 4:05 p.m.
Outlook: What did poor Canada do to deserve an annual Bills game? Seattle is playoff-headed but would be imperiled by a loss here, while Buffs are technically still alive but I think would require several other teams to all suddenly go out of business or be kidnapped. Birds won 58-0 last week and will have a letdown to keep this close.
Prediction: Seahawks, 23-20
STEELERS (7-6) at COWBOYS (7-6), 4:25 p.m.
Outlook: Here’s a marquee matchup in that these clubs have combined for 16 Super Bowl appearances and 11 titles. But their 2012 versions both are fighting on the edge of playoff contention largely because they are a combined minus-23 on turnovers. I like the ‘Boys and Tony Romo against a depleted Pitt secondary.
Prediction: Cowboys, 24-23
JETS (6-7) at TITANS (4-9), 8:30 p.m.
Outlook: And the big week ends with a crashing bore of a Monday night snoozer! Tennessee is eliminated from playoff contention while the Planes by winning here still would have an outside shot given their friendly closing schedule. Chris Johnson has hit quicksand the past three games (53-175), and Tenners don’t have much else, so Rex Ryan, alas, leaves the field smiling. And I leave the week rolling dice with a fifth outright upset call.
Prediction: Jets, 19-17
– Greg Cote, The Miami Herald; last week: 11-5; Season: 135-72-1