Around the AFC
Pile-up ahead? New England did Denver (and several others) a solid Thursday night by knocking off Pittsburgh on the road. The Steelers, playing Mitch Trubisky in place of the injured Kenny Pickett at quarterback, fell to 7-6 and face a tough road to stay in the playoff picture. They finish with a trip to upstart Indianapolis and quarterback Gardner Minshew, then a home game against Cincinnati and trips to Seattle and Baltimore. Ouch. Long shot here, but let us pray for this sequence of results this weekend: Denver over the Chargers, Buffalo over Kansas City, Bengals over Indy, Jets over Houston and Jacksonville over Cleveland. Why? Because then there’d be seven (!!) AFC teams at 7-6 and total chaos at hand.
The Jake Browning Game. How about the Bengals’ back-up quarterback? Browning ripped apart a good Jacksonville defense on Monday night, completing 32 of 37 for 351 yards in an overtime win. It’s still going to be a tough climb for the Bengals without Joe Burrow the rest of the season, but Browning’s performance gives at least some hope that Cincy can be among that big group of teams and give itself a chance down the stretch.
Allen vs. Mahomes. The fact that Buffalo is also among that potential 7-6 group wouldn’t have seemed likely before the year and they have one of the toughest tests to get there – a trip to Kansas City. Even during an underwhelming season, Josh Allen against Patrick Mahomes in prime time is must-watch stuff. It keeps feeling like the Bills could get hot and make a big run. So far it hasn’t happened. Can they light the fuse at Arrowhead?
Around the NFC
Shanny Francisco. You won’t find a more impressive win this year than Kyle Shanahan’s team going to 10-1 Philadelphia, falling behind and then absolutely rolling to a 42-19 victory. The 49ers, when healthy, are the best team in football. They’ve shown they’re capable of beating anybody, anywhere, any time. In fact, the No. 1 seed is within reach, but they should prioritize health down the stretch rather than seeding. When they’re at full strength, who can beat them?
In the name of Love. Jordan Love is rolling now, and so is Green Bay. The first-year starting quarterback has put together three straight outstanding games and none better than the three-touchdown performance in a Sunday night win against the Chiefs. He’s not going to play like that every night, but the growth over the course of the season is a promising sign for Green Bay both long term and in terms of playoff potential this year.
No D in Detroit. The Lions are 9-3. They’re NFC contenders without a doubt. But can they make a real run if they continue on this defensive path? Dan Campbell’s team, even in winning four of their past five, has surrendered 38 to the Chargers, 26 to Chicago, 29 in a loss to Green Bay and 28 to New Orleans. They’ve still got the NFC North in a vice grip, but it’s something to watch down the stretch as they try to get playoff-ready.
Game of the Week
Philadelphia at Dallas
The Eagles failed a test for the first time in a long time last week against San Francisco. Now they’ve got another one that will be important for their efforts to win the NFC East. Dak Prescott and the Cowboys can pull even atop the division and forge a season split with a win Sunday night. Not only that, but if Dallas wins and the 49ers do, too, then there’d be a three-way tie atop the NFC at 10-3. So, a game with major playoff and seeding ramifications all around. And two of the best quarterbacks in football. And two of the best defenses. Should be a terrific one.
Cowboys 28, Eagles 27
Lock of the Week
Tennessee at Miami
How many times have the Dolphins ended up as the pick here? They lead the league, for sure. They’ve made a habit of beating up on bad teams and that’s going to continue into Week 14 with the Titans paying a visit to South Florida. Mike McDaniel’s offense is humming along — 79 points in the past two weeks — Tyreek HIll is a monster and the Dolphins need to stack wins against Tennessee and the Jets before a closing kick of Dallas, Baltimore and Buffalo. They’ll do just that on Sunday as 13-point (!) favorites.
Dolphins 38, Titans 20
Upset of the Week
Minnesota at Las Vegas
The Vikings had won five in a row and then lost two straight against Denver and Chicago heading into their bye week. In the process, they’ve found themselves in a dogfight to get into the playoffs. Now they’ve got to go on the road back-to-back weeks against the Raiders and Cincinnati. Not the toughest opponents, particularly given the quarterback situation in each place. They’re rested and 2.5-point favorites. Even still, traveling two time zones West is no easy task.
Raiders 24, Vikings 23