Three games left and only the New England Patriots look like a lock to win their division. We also have a race where the best record in the NFC South can only be 8 - 8, but in all likelihood won't be. When in week 15 we have a 4 - 8 - 1 Carolina team still in contention is strange, if not unprecedented. Meanwhile, in Cleveland, Johnny Manziel gets his first NFL start with his Browns probably needing a win to stay alive for a playoff spot, one of several 7 - 6 teams that face the same challenge.
Pittsburgh (8 - 5) 37 @ Atlanta (5 - 8) 31: The Falcons have won three of their last five games to vault into control of the woeful NFC South. Meanwhile, the Steelers have prevailed in five of their last seven and possess the second most prolific passing game in the league. For the second week in a row, Atlanta has to take on an elite QB and hope they can make up for their league worst pass defense. They came surprisingly close to taking out the Packers last week, and this being the NFL, anything is possible.
Washington (3 - 10) 21 @ New York Giants (4 - 9) 31: I'm a Washington fan, at least as much of one as possible given their lousy couple of decades, and I really have no interest in this game. The RGIII thing has gotten old and a bit nasty in the process. My discontent with owner Daniel Snyder has been well documented on this site. As far as the game goes, believe it or not, the Giants were once 3 - 2 following three straight wins and actually looked like they could contend for the division, or at least a playoff spot. Then came 7 consecutive losses. In the first meeting between these teams, the Redskins were dominated in a 45 - 14 loss. I'd like to think this time will be different, but I doubt it will.
Miami (7 - 6) 24 @ New England (10 - 3) 27: After the Dolphins defeated the Pats in week one, I don't think many people would have thought that the teams would be in the positions they are in heading into the rematch. As the season winds down, it's hard to envision New England failing to advance to at least the AFC Championship. For the Dolphins, they are a game behind three teams at 8 - 5 and tied with four others at 7 - 6, so a win is just about a must if they want to continue to cling to any playoff hopes. It's not looking good for them, but this is also a difficult match-up for the Pats. Without a real running game and going against Miami's third rated pass defense, New England QB Brady will need to find a way to get some points on the board.
Oakland (2 - 11) 20 @ Kansas City (7 - 6) 23: Oakland's running game is terrible while the Chiefs stop the pass as well as anyone in the league. It's all about match-ups, and this one doesn't go in Oakland's favor, even though the Raiders did get their first win at the Chiefs' expense three weeks ago. But that was following a win against Seattle, when most teams struggle to recover physically. Even though Kansas City hasn't won since that Seahawks game, I like them in this one.
Houston (7 - 6) 24 @ Indianapolis (9 - 4) 30: J.J. Watt not withstanding, the Houston defense isn't statistically good and the Indy offense is, at least through the air. In their first game this season, the Colts won 33 - 28 in Houston. I don't see this one going much differently as QB Andrew Luck still has his Indianapolis team in position to contend for home field advantage.
Jacksonville (2 - 11) 16 @ Baltimore (8 - 5) 27:With the exception of a late game meltdown against the Chargers, the Ravens would be on a pretty good roll. Jacksonville is in the bottom five against the run and Baltimore has a top five rushing attack. End of story.
Green Bay (10 - 3) 24 @ Buffalo (7 - 6) 21: The Packers, as I've stressed previously, are a very different team on the road, averaging about half the number of points they do at home. The Bills did a good job of making Peyton Manning look average for much of the game last week but couldn't generate enough offense to capitalize on the effort. My concern this week is the same for Buffalo against a team that will probably be able to put up at least 24 points. As much as I would like to go with the home team, I'm just not feeling it.
Tampa Bay (2 - 11) 20 @ Carolina (4 - 8 -1) 21: Ordinarily two teams with these records would be playing out the string, but not so this season. The Panthers are only half a game out of the lead in the NFC South, perhaps the worst division in the history of the NFL. With Atlanta hosting Pittsburgh and New Orleans traveling to Chicago, it's possible that even without Cam Newton, Carolina could be leading the division come Sunday night.
Cincinnati (8 - 4 - 1) 27 @ Cleveland (7 - 6) 24: We have Johnny Football's first professional start, a fierce intrastate rivalry and the division lead on the line for the Bengals. In the first meeting in Cincinnati, the Browns held the Bengals to a field goal in the 24 - 3 win. Cincinnati is not as good statistically as their record would indicate, so Manziel will probably have some chances to make plays. The matchup problem for the Browns will be defending the run, something the Bengals do pretty well.
New York Jets (2 - 11) 23 @ Tennessee (2 - 11) 20: I doubt anyone really cares about this one. The Jets have had some tough losses, so I think they either win big or get blown out. I'll take the blowout.
Denver (10 - 3) 28 @ San Diego (8 - 5) 27: The Broncos haven't been as dominant this season, but a 10 - 3 record against their schedule is still fairly impressive. San Diego is 8th against the pass, so they'll challenge Peyton Manning, but a Bronco win is critical and I think they have an edge.
Minnesota (6 - 7) 13 @ Detroit (9 - 4) 27 : The Lions have the best running defense in the league, and that is the strength of the Vikings. The first time around, Detroit held the Vikes to three points in Minnesota. I don't expect anything much different this time.
San Francisco (7 - 6) 14 @ Seattle (9 - 4) 20: Unless the 'Niners can show some offense they haven't generated in almost two months, they have very little chance against their division rivals. Seattle's defense has given up less than two touchdowns a game while winning six of their last seven, many in dominating fashion. The only saving grace for San Francisco is their own tough defense, but it will probably only serve to keep the game competitive.
Dallas (9 - 4) 30 @ Philadelphia (9 - 4) 28: On Thanksgiving Day, the Cowboys failed to show up against the Eagles and suffered an embarrassing 33 - 10 defeat. They bounced back to beat the Bears last week, while the Eagles got beaten up by Seattle. As much as I like Philadelphia, Dallas got an extra few days to prepare and recover. In the last couple of years, teams have had some difficulty coming back after physical games against the Seahawks.
New Orleans (5 - 8) 34 @ Chicago (5 - 8) 30: The focus seems to be on QB Jay Cutler in Chicago, but when your defense is ranked 30th against the pass, there is almost no way to be successful in a passing league. New Orleans is only one spot better, but I think they'll exploit that woeful Bear secondary and keep their division title hopes alive. But that Chicago offense has some fire power and could put the Saints' postseason chances in jeopardy.