A capsule preview of Week 16 NFL action by World-Herald NFL editor John Rodino.
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Game of the Week: 49ers (10-3-1) at Seahawks (9-5)
Time: 7:20 p.m.
Last meeting: 49ers won 13-6 on Oct. 18
Lowdown: The Seahawks made history — albeit against the offensively challenged Cardinals and Bills — in becoming the NFL’s third team to score 50 points in consecutive weeks, joining the Los Angeles Rams and New York Giants, who both did it in 1950, according to STATS LLC. Rookie Russell Wilson burned the Bills with three touchdowns rushing and a passing TD in the first half — an NFL first. The defense-minded 49ers, who will try to win the NFC West on Sunday, showed they could take a shootout in last week’s victory over the Patriots. The offense has been more explosive since coach Jim Harbaugh switched to quarterback Colin Kaepernick in November.
Prediction: 49ers 21-17
Titans (5-9) at Packers (10-4)
Line: Packers by 12
Last meeting: Titans won 19-16 (OT), Nov. 2, 2008
Lowdown: The Packers clinched the NFC North by stopping the Bears last week, and there’s no doubt linebacker Clay Matthews’ return from injury was a spark. Talk about spark, second-year receiver Randall Cobb has provided it in a time the Pack lost stars Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson for long periods. Cobb had 150 all-purpose yards against the Bears, leaving him 10 shy of Ahman Green’s team record for a season (2,250 in 2003).
Prediction: Packers 31-14
Colts (9-5) at Chiefs (2-12)
Line: Colts by 7
Last meeting: Chiefs won 28-24, Oct. 9, 2011
Lowdown: The Colts are a bit beat up, and it showed in last week’s loss to the Texans. Indy still was within six points entering the fourth quarter. Andrew Luck was sacked five times playing behind a makeshift offensive line missing center Samson Satele (ankle) and right tackle Winston Justice (biceps). The Colts committed eight penalties totaling 79 yards. Now the focus is on getting that one win needed to clinch an AFC wild card.
Prediction: Colts 17-13
Saints (6-8) at Cowboys (8-6)
Line: Cowboys by 2½
Last meeting: Saints won 30-27, Nov. 25, 2010
Lowdown: Cornerback Brandon Carr was the star of an injury-ravaged Cowboys defense that set up last week’s overtime victory over Pittsburgh. The win kept Dallas alive for either the NFC East title or a wild card. Next up is an explosive Saints team you really don’t want to play at this juncture. It’s trying to salvage a .500 season. Quarterback Drew Brees spoke about pride and building for the future after hammering the Buccaneers.
Prediction: Cowboys 28-27
Vikings (8-6) at Texans (12-2)
Line: Texans by 7½
Last meeting: Vikings won 28-21, Nov. 2, 2008
Lowdown: The Vikings’ Adrian Peterson, coming off another 200-yard day in the victory over St. Louis, has 1,812 yards rushing, leaving him 294 shy of breaking the single-season record of 2,105 by Eric Dickerson of the Los Angeles Rams in 1984. The Vikings still have NFC wild card hopes. Arian Foster, coming off 165 yards rushing against the Colts, is the mainstay of a Texans team that will have home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs if it wins out.
Prediction: Texans 30-20
Raiders (4-10) at Panthers (5-9)
Line: Panthers by 8
Last meeting: Panthers won 17-6, Nov. 9, 2008
Lowdown: The Panthers have a chance to better last season’s 6-10 record with Sunday’s game against Oakland and the finale at New Orleans. Last Sunday’s rout of the Chargers marked their first two-game winning streak of the season. Beating his old team in San Diego was sweet for running back Mike Tolbert, who had two 1-yard scoring runs, diving over the pile on the first. “They don’t think a little fat man can jump but I can definitely get up,” he said.
Prediction: Panthers 33-21
Bills (5-9) at Dolphins (6-8)
Line: Dolphins by 4½
Last meeting: Bills won 19-14 on Nov. 15
Lowdown: The Bills’ 50-17 loss to the Seahawks in Toronto was one of several ugly performances this season. Buffalo also gave up 48 to the Jets, 52 and 37 to the Patriots, and 45 to the 49ers. But the Dolphins, who are near the bottom in offense, couldn’t handle the Bills in November. A matchup to watch Sunday is Bills 1,000-yard back C.J. Spiller (6.5 yards per carry) against Miami’s good run defense.
Prediction: Dolphins 23-16
Bengals (8-6) at Steelers (7-7)
Line: Steelers by 3½
Last meeting: Steelers won 24-17 on Oct. 21
Lowdown: The Bengals can get at least a wild card by winning, and that would eliminate their AFC North rival. Pittsburgh has had little rhythm on offense since Ben Roethlisberger was hurt in the Kansas City game Nov. 12. The quarterback carousel was Byron Leftwich, Charlie Batch and back to Big Ben, with a 1-4 record. Jonathan Dwyer ran for 122 yards when the Steelers topped the Bengals in October. Dwyer has emerged as the Steelers’ leading rusher.
Prediction: Bengals 24-23
Patriots (10-4) at Jaguars (2-12)
Line: Patriots by 14½
Last meeting: Patriots won 35-7, Dec. 27, 2009
Lowdown: This looks like a get-well game for the Patriots after losing last Sunday night’s track meet with the 49ers. The AFC East champion Patriots are third in the running and a long shot for the conference’s top seed. The Patriots have scored 506 points, an NFL record fourth time they’ve hit 500. Wes Welker has 100 receptions for the fifth time, also a league record. The Jaguars are tied with the Chiefs in the race for the No. 1 draft choice.
Prediction: Patriots 41-19
Redskins (8-6) at Eagles (4-10)
Line: Redskins by 6½
Last meeting: Redskins won 31-6 on Nov. 18
Lowdown: Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said there was “a very, very good chance” quarterback Robert Griffin III could play Sunday. Griffin missed last week’s victory over the Browns with a sprained right knee. Fellow rookie Kirk Cousins won his first career start. Washington is one of three 8-6 teams in the NFC East. It could clinch a playoff berth Sunday with a victory and losses by the Giants, Bears and Vikings.
Prediction: Redskins 21-10
Rams (6-7-1) at Bucs (6-8)
Line: Bucs by 3
Last meeting: Bucs won 18-17, Oct. 24, 2010
Lowdown: After climbing to 6-4 and entering the NFC playoff conversation, Tampa Bay was respectable in losses to Atlanta and Denver. Then, after a last-play loss to the Eagles, the Bucs fell harder than Manny Pacquiao last week against the Saints. The Rams’ Steven Jackson has 909 yards on the year, keeping him in range of an eighth straight 1,000-yard rushing season. He went over 10,000 for his career in last week’s loss to the Vikings.
Prediction: Bucs 23-17
Chargers (5-9) at Jets (6-8)
Line: Jets by 2½
Last meeting: Jets won 27-21, Oct. 23, 2011
Lowdown: The Chargers’ Philip Rivers reverted to his old ways and lost two costly fumbles in last week’s loss to the Panthers. His futility doesn’t compare to Mark Sanchez’s with the Jets. The Monday meltdown against the Titans put New York out of its misery (and we don’t have to read about playoff possibilities). Greg McElroy gets the start at quarterback Sunday. It might be an audition, but more likely a signal that the franchise is backing up the truck.
Prediction: Chargers 24-14
Browns (5-9) at Broncos (11-3)
Line: Broncos by 12
Time: 3:05 p.m.
Last meeting: Broncos won 27-6, Sept. 20, 2009
Lowdown: Denver has an outside chance at the AFC’s top seed. The Broncos’ defense continued to shine in last week’s victory over the Ravens. Chris Harris’ 98-yard pick-six was the longest regular-season interception return in Broncos history. The Broncos’ Peyton Manning became the fifth player in NFL history to pass for 4,000 yards with two teams. He joins Drew Bledsoe, Brett Favre, Hall of Famer Warren Moon and Kurt Warner.
Prediction: Broncos 34-16
Bears (8-6) at Cardinals (5-9)
Line: Bears by 6
Time: 3:25 p.m.
Last meeting: Cardinals won 41-21, Nov. 8, 2009
Lowdown: The Bears, who looked like playoff locks midway through the season, are in disarray. Perhaps being on the road is for the best, since some of the players are upset with the Chicago fans booing them. The Bears need to win and get help from others to have a chance at a wild card. Defenses carry these teams. The Bears’ Tim Jennings, battling a bad shoulder, and Patrick Peterson of the Cards are 1-2 in the league in interceptions.
Prediction: Bears 20-13
Giants (8-6) at Ravens (9-5)
Line: Giants by 2½
Time: 3:25 p.m.
Last meeting: Giants won 30-10, Nov. 16, 2008
Lowdown: The inconsistent Giants are in desperation mode, partly because of their losing record within the NFC East. But, like the proverbial cat with nine lives, the defending Super Bowl champs will make the playoffs if they beat the Ravens and then the Eagles. Ravens players were disgusted after backing into the playoffs last week. The offense looks plain bad. Receiver Torrey Smith is questionable after suffering a concussion.
Prediction: Giants 26-20
Capsules and predictions by John Rodino. Predictions not related to point spreads. Record last week: 10-6 Season: 146-78. Information from the Associated Press was used in this outlook.