Tuesday, March 11, 2014
BILLS (3-5) at PATRIOTS (5-3), 1 p.m.
Outlook: You might not find a more lopsided division series in the NFL. The Patriots have owned the Bills in 22 of their past 24 meetings, including a 52-28 late-September rout in which Tom Brady threw for 340 yards and the Pats had two 100-yard rushers.
Prediction: Patriots, 41-20
TITANS (3-6) at DOLPHINS (4-4), 1 p.m.
Outlook: Does the game being in south Florida mean it will be early Wednesday before all the points are counted and a winner is finally declared? Can't recall when Miami was last favored by as much as it is this week. It is largely because the Titans' sink-like-the-Titanic defense is on pace to allow 547 points and break the durable NFL season record of 533 set by the 1981 Baltimore Colts. Miami simply doesn't have the margin of error in the playoff chase to afford a stumble here. Titans QB Jake Locker returns after five games out injured, but that won't matter much if Miami's stout run defense limits Chris Johnson and extends to a league-best 23 games its streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher.
Prediction: Dolphins, 30-17
FALCONS (8-0) at SAINTS (3-5), 1 p.m.
Outlook: The last unbeaten falls. This might not be a huge upset by the point spread, but here is what makes it big: Atlanta is 29-0 when Matt Ryan has a 100-plus passer rating, and the New Orleans pass defense could only be worse if the starting cornerbacks were my wife and I. Atlanta is the 15th team to reach 8-0 since 1978, and nine of the other 14 have reached the Super Bowl, but I'm still not sold on the Falcons as a superpower. They have fed on a soft schedule. So give me Drew Brees at home.
Prediction: Saints, 31-28
GIANTS (6-3) at BENGALS (3-5), 1 p.m.
Outlook: The home team has won all eight meetings in this series, but every trend eventually must end, yes? Eli Manning and the Giants' offense haven't played well lately -- that's why kicker Lawrence Tynes is on a record pace for field goals -- but the Bengals have lost three straight at home.
Prediction: Giants, 27-19
LIONS (4-4) at VIKINGS (5-4), 1 p.m.
Outlook: Detroit won three straight in this division series before Minnesota won 20-13 on Sept. 30 - thanks to kickoff and punt-return TDs. Not many pigskin-pickin' brethren agree, but I'm hunching a slight upset here for a Vikings season sweep.
Prediction: Vikings, 26-24
CHARGERS (4-4) at BUCCANEERS (4-4), 1 p.m.
Outlook: I know Josh Freeman and Tampa Bay have been hot, putting up 28-plus points in four consecutive games. And I know Bucs rookie RB Doug Martin went nuts against Oakland last week. But I like San Diego's stout run defense limiting Martin more than I like Tampa Bay's horrific secondary stopping Philip Rivers. The pick has a high bust potential, but I have to listen to my gut when it grumbles.
Prediction: Chargers, 27-24
BRONCOS (5-3) at PANTHERS (2-6), 1 p.m.
Outlook: Peyton Manning's next TD pass ties Dan Marino for second all-time with 420, and Peyton has been as hot the past five games as at most any point in his storied career. Carolina's pass defense is not bad, but I just cannot envision Manning being outscored by the Panthers' offense. Happy plane ride home for Broncos Coach John Fox against the team he coached for nine years.
Prediction: Broncos, 30-20
RAIDERS (3-5) at RAVENS (6-2), 1 p.m.
Outlook: Oakland is not a very good traveling team, and Baltimore is one of the great home squads -- winner, in fact, of 14 consecutive regular-season games at home, the league's longest such streak. The Ravens are a bit of a shaky 6-2, but Ray Rice's fantasy owners should be smiling because he'll run for miles against the Raiders' awful ground defense.
Prediction: Ravens, 27-17
JETS (3-5) at SEAHAWKS (5-4), 4:05 p.m.
Outlook: Rex Ryan, voted the league's most overrated coach, is talking playoffs. Although I suspect the volume on that will decrease sharply when his team falls to 3-6. Rookie QB Russell Wilson is hugely better at home, and Marshawn Lynch could roll a 150 on the Jets' lousy run defense. See it close, though.
Prediction: Seahawks, 21-17
RAMS (3-5) at 49ERS (6-2), 4:25 p.m.
Outlook: St. Louis is on a three-game skid and winless on the road this season, while San Francisco has taken eight of the past 10 in the series, including a 2011 sweep. Rams tempt with points, but nothing about this game says close to me. Can't see Sam Bradford seeing much end zone. The Bears' defense and others are noisier and get more attention, but the Niners are giving up fewer points than anybody.
Prediction: 49ers, 24-10
COWBOYS (3-5) at EAGLES (3-5), 4:25 p.m.
Outlook: Two proud old rivals come in stumbling. Desperate Philadelphia is enticing as a home underdog; the Eagles have won three of the past four over the Cowboys. But Philadelphia leads the league in reeling, and I'm not sure how poor Michael Vick stays in one piece behind that decimated offensive line of his. Cowboys lineman DeMarcus Ware is licking his chops. No result would surprise me here, but the safest play is Dallas extending Andy Reid's misery.
Prediction: Cowboys, 23-20
TEXANS (7-1) at BEARS (7-1), 8:20 p.m.
Outlook: If the average game is a bag o' fast-food burgers, this one is a fine piece of Kobe beef. The teams rank 1-2 in point differential and are a combined plus-24 on turnovers, with the Bears on a six-game winning streak and the Texans 3-0 on the road. The game also features the two defensive player of the year frontrunners in Houston sackman J.J. Watt and Chicago havoc-wreaker Charles Tillman. Give me that awesome Bears defense and the chilly home field in a game I'd pay to see.
Prediction: Bears, 20-17
CHIEFS (1-7) at STEELERS (5-3), 8:30 p.m.
Outlook: The Dog panel convening to select the worst match-up of each week always has a safe default starting point in the moribund Chiefs. Particularly when they are playing at Pittsburgh, which has won 14 consecutive Monday night home games. Kansas City has lost five straight, is a gruesome minus-20 on turnovers, and still has not had a single lead in regulation. Surely stranger things have happened than this game not being a rout. I just can't think of any at the moment.
Prediction: Steelers, 34-13
-- Greg Cote, The Miami Herald; last week -- 13-1; season -- 84-48