The byes are done as we enter the last month of the NFL regular season and teams make a final push to make the playoffs or improve their seeding. A battle of NFC division leaders gets the week underway when the Cowboys host the Saints on Thursday night. The Sunday schedule is highlighted by an interconference game pitting the Vikings against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium, and the Sunday night contest sees two potential playoff teams in the AFC meeting with the Chargers — minus RB Melvin Gordon — visiting the Steelers. The last game of the week is a divisional battle in the NFC East with the 6-5 Redskins taking on the disappointing 5-6 Eagles in Philadelphia. I went 6-9 last week, giving me an overall record of 85-101 for the season. As always, I’m using the lines from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game. My picks are in bold and my survivor pool pick (straight up, not ATS) is in red
Thursday Night Football
Saints at Cowboys (+7.5) – The Saints are continuing to roll over their opponents, and the Cowboys are the next team in their path. The Cowboys have won three in a row to take over first place in the NFC East, but I’m not sure they can stop the offensive juggernaut that is QB Drew Brees and the Saints. I expect the Saints to win the game, and think they barely cover.
Sunday 1PM games
Ravens at Falcons (+1.5) – The Ravens are expected to give rookie QB Lamar Jackson another start under center, which gives them a more explosive offense than they have with QB Joe Flacco. I think Jackson will be able to move the ball down the field against a subpar Falcons defense, but it won’t be easy for him to keep up with veteran QB Matt Ryan and WR Julio Jones on the other end of the field. I think the Falcons win the game, so I’ll take the points.
Bills at Dolphins (-5.5) – Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill returned last week in the team’s loss to the Colts. This week, he faces a better defense but a worse offense with the Bills. Neither team has a great offense, so I don’t think either team can win by a sizable margin, so I’ll take the points on the road in the divisional matchup.
Bears at Giants (+4.5) – Backup QB Chase Daniel led the Bears to a win on Thanksgiving and it’s unknown if he’ll start again this week or if QB MItchell Trubisky will return from his injury in time for the weekend. Either way, I think QB Eli Manning will have a hard time finding much success in the passing game against the tough Bears defense. If the Giants are going to be successful this week, it’ll be because RB Saquon Barkley has another big game. I don’t think he’ll play well enough to keep the Giants close to the Bears, so I’m giving the points.
Broncos at Bengals (+3.5) – The Bengals suffered a big loss last week when QB Andy Dalton suffered a broken thumb that ended his season. QB Jeff Driskel took over for the rest of the game and will continue to draw starts, and the team signed QB Tom Savage to serve as Driskel’s backup. Driskel performed decently last week against the Browns, but he’s still a step down from Dalton and should have a negative impact on the whole Cincinnati offense. You should expect to see a bigger workload on the ground for RB Joe Mixon, but the passing game will suffer — especially if WR A.J. Green remains unable to play, and with Dalton out for the year the team may hold Green out for the remaining games as well. The Bengals are in the midst of a three-game losing streak, while the Broncos have won two in a row, thanks in part to the play of RB Phillip Lindsay. I think the Broncos extend their winning streak and cover the 3.5 points.
Browns at Texans (-6.5) – With their win over the Titans on Monday night, the Texans became the first team in NFL history to win eight straight games after starting the season 0-3. Now at 8-3 and in control of the AFC South, the Texans are looking to keep their winning ways alive against a Browns team that has won two straight. Texans RB Lamar Miller is performing well of late, including with a 97-yard touchdown run last week, which gives the team another strong offensive weapon to go along with QB Deshaun Watson and WR DeAndre Hopkins, with DE J.J. Watt and LB Jadeveon Clowney leading the defense. The Browns have a pretty good defense, though, so they may be able to keep the game relatively close. Texans win but Browns cover.
Rams at Lions (+9.5) – This seems to be a bit of a mismatch between the offenses, as the Lions aren’t nearly as good as the Rams. I think the Rams, coming off their bye, should win easily with QB Jared Goff and RB Todd Gurley leading the way. LIons WR Marvin Jones is out for the season after being placed on IR, which should open up more opportunities in the passing game for WR Kenny Golladay. I just don’t think the Lions’ offense is in the same class as the Rams, so I’m giving the points on the road.
Cardinals at Packers (-14.5) – The Cardinals are one of the worst teams in the league, but I don’t know how the Packers can be favored by more than two touchdowns against any team right now. QB Aaron Rodgers doesn’t have many reliable options in the passing game, other than WR Davante Adams. And that is even truer if WR Randall Cobb isn’t ready to go this week. RB Aaron Jones is stepping up in the ground game. RB David Johnson is really the best part of the Cardinals’ offense, as QB Josh Rosen hasn’t been putting up impressive numbers so far in his rookie year. The Packers should win the game as they hope to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, but I’m taking the points.
Colts at Jaguars (+3.5) – The Jaguars are in a tailspin right now. They’ve lost their last seven games, and this week announced they’re benching QB Blake Bortles and fired their offensive coordinator. And they will be without RB Leonard Fournette this week as he serves a one-game suspension for his role in a fight in last week’s game against the Bills. With Bortles losing his starting job, head coach Doug Marrone and the Jags are turning to QB Cody Kessler to try to reinvigorate the offense. With Fournette out, RBs Carlos Hyde and T.J. Yeldon will split the running back duties. The Colts have won their last five contests, but TE Jack Doyle suffered a kidney injury in their game last week, and that has ended his season. That means TE Eric Ebron, who already has 11 touchdowns this season, is in line for a bigger role in the offense. With the state of the Jaguars right now, I expect the Colts to win the game, and I think they cover the spread, as they hope to keep pace in the AFC playoff picture.
Panthers at Buccaneers (+3.5) – The Panthers are looking to end their current three-game skid and stay in the Wild Card picture in the NFC. The Buccaneers could be a good opponent for them to try to get back on a winning track. Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey is coming off a terrific game in which he had more than 100 yards rushing and receiving, and WR D.J. Moore is becoming a reliable pass-catcher for QB Cam Newton, as he has had at least 90 receiving yards in each of his last two games. The Bucs’ only big playmaker is WR Mike Evans, and I don’t think they’ll be able to put enough points on the board to beat the Panthers. I’m giving the points.
Sunday 4PM games
Jets at Titans (-9.5) – The Titans are coming off a Monday night loss that hurt their chances of making the playoffs. They’re a better team than the Jets, but I don’t know that they’re almost 10 points better. Titans win the game, but I’ll take the points.
Chiefs at Raiders (-14.5) – Here’s another game with a two-touchdown spread. The Chiefs are coming off their bye and looking to avenge their 54-51 loss from two weeks ago, but I find it had to pick any team to win by at least 15 points. The Raiders could be the worst team in the league at this point, but because the spread is so high I’m taking the points.
Vikings at Patriots (-6.5) – The Vikings have a good defense and have some good playmakers in the passing game with WRs Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, so I think they’ll be able to keep up with QB Tom Brady and the Patriots enough to keep the score within a touchdown, though the Patriots likely win the game outright.
49ers at Seahawks (-10.5) – The Seahawks are looking to win their third straight game as they try to keep pace in the NFC Wild Card race, and I think they get the win over the 49ers but I don’t think they win by double digits, so I’ll take the points on the road.
Sunday Night Football
Chargers at Steelers (-3.5) – The Chargers are expected to be without Gordon for several weeks, leaving RBs Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson to bulk of the workload in the running game. The Steelers, meanwhile, have the main cogs of their offense with QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB James Conner and WRs Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. The Steelers should have enough offensive firepower to hold off the Chargers and cover the 3.5 points. I’ll go with the Steelers in what could be the best game of the week.
Monday Night Football
Redskins at Eagles (-6.5) – One game separates these teams in the division, and the Eagles are looking to pick up the win to improve to .500 at 6-6. With QB Colt McCoy starting for the Redskins, the Eagles are probably the better team, but the teams are pretty evenly matched so I’m not sure that they’re a touchdown better than Washington. Eagles get win, but I’ll take the points.