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Monday, December 9, 2019

BROWNS VS BENGALS

Venue: FirstEnergy Stadium | Start: 5:00am AEDT

Because “mamma didn’t raise no wuss” it’s expected Baker Mayfield will attempt to play against the 1-11 Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. The Cleveland Browns (5-7) are not mathematically eliminated from the postseason. A loss to the lowly Bengals would certain threaten any playoff hopes the team has, which could help drive Mayfield to play. In last week’s 20-13 loss against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Mayfield banged his hand against the facemask of linebacker Bud Dupree. He rested the hand for the next three days but said he would take part in throwing drills later in the week. Mayfield could wear a glove on his throwing hand against the Bengals. He did so last week after staying in the game. “I’ve thrown with a glove, but I’ve never played with one (before last week),” he said. “So it was a little different, but (I) got used to it and thought I played fine.” Leading rusher Nick Chubb already has eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark with 238 carries for 1,175 yards and seven touchdowns. Chubb is hoping to bounce back from a season-low 58 rushing yards last week against Pittsburgh. Andy Dalton will start for the 10th time this season for the Bengals. He has 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions this season and life has been difficult behind a shaky offensive line and without top target A.J. Green. Green has not yet played in a game in 2019.

Win: Cleveland Browns
Line: Cincinnati Bengals +7.5
Total Points: Under 41.5

VIKINGS VS LIONS

Venue: U.S. Bank Stadium | Start: 5:00am AEDT

Coming off a tough loss at Seattle on Monday night, the Minnesota Vikings (8-4) will host the skidding Detroit Lions on Sunday in Minneapolis. The Lions have lost five straight and eight of nine since a 2-0-1 start, the most recent a 24-20 home loss to the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving Day. Despite the result, undrafted rookie quarterback David Blough acquitted himself reasonably well in his NFL debut, throwing for 280 yards, two touchdowns and an interception for the Lions. The third-stringer appears on track to start again Sunday, as starter Matthew Stafford (back) remained out of practice on Wednesday, and backup Jeff Driskel (hamstring) is on injured reserve. The Vikings’ defense could use an easier test at the moment, having allowed 37 points in a seven-point loss to the Seahawks, including 24 straight points in a span of 10:32. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes was involved in a blown coverage on a 60-yard touchdown pass and got heated with head coach Mike Zimmer on the sideline before apologizing this week. Meanwhile, the Vikings’ offense has scored 27-plus points in three straight games despite injuries to running back Dalvin Cook (shoulder) and wideout Adam Thielen (hamstring). Cook vowed to play Sunday, while Thielen and left tackle Riley Reiff (concussion) are iffy.

Win: Minnesota Vikings
Line: Minnesota Vikings -13.5
Total Points: Over 43.5

TEXANS VS BRONCOS

Venue: NRG Stadium | Start: 5:00am AEDT

The Houston Texans (8-4) will try to string together their first three-game win streak of the season on Sunday when the Denver Broncos (4-8) visit. The Texans are riding high after a 28-22 victory over the Patriots, a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicated, and sit alone in first place in the AFC South. Tennessee remains one game back, however, and the two teams face each other twice over the final two weeks. Houston must take care of business on Sunday first, which would break a pattern of alternating two wins with every loss this season. The Texans beat the Broncos, 19-17, in Denver last season after surviving a missed 51-yard field-goal attempt at the buzzer. The Broncos, meanwhile, enter with some optimism after prevailing 23-20 last week in rookie quarterback Drew Lock’s NFL debut. Lock threw for only 134 yards on 28 attempts, but that doesn’t include a 37-yard pass-interference penalty drawn on the penultimate play to set up the game-winning kick. Second-year wideout Courtland Sutton, who drew the flag, also caught four passes for 74 yards and two touchdowns, giving him 54 grabs for 906 yards and six scores on the season. His Texans counterpart, DeAndre Hopkins, has 86 grabs for 903 yards and six touchdowns on the season.

Win: Houston Texans
Line: Denver Broncos +9.5
Total Points: Over 41.5

FALCONS VS PANTHERS

Venue: Mercedes-Benz Stadium | Start: 5:00am AEDT

Suddenly with new leadership, the Carolina Panthers (5-7) will look to snap a four-game losing streak and get some revenge when they visit the Atlanta Falcons (3-9) on Sunday. The Falcons pummeled the Panthers 29-3 on Nov. 17, the second game of a month-long skid that resulted in the firing of head coach Ron Rivera on Tuesday, ending a nine-year tenure that included a 15-1 season and Super Bowl appearance in 2015. Perry Fewell will take over as interim head coach, while quarterbacks coach Scott Turner will assume offensive coordinator duties for his dad, Norv Turner, who was named assistant to the head coach. Scott Turner will look to keep Kyle Allen on track, as he’s thrown for 534 yards, five touchdowns and one interception over the last two weeks since the Falcons hounded him for five sacks and four interceptions in Week 11. Despite that dominant win — the Falcons’ second in a row — Atlanta has lost two straight since, both at home to divisional opponents. They fell 26-18 to the New Orleans Saints on Thanksgiving Night despite recovering two onside kicks. This will be the fifth consecutive divisional game for the Falcons, who are just 1-5 at home this season.

Win: Atlanta Falcons
Line: Atlanta Falcons -3.5
Total Points: Under 47.5

BILLS VS RAVENS

Venue: New Era Field | Start: 5:00am AEDT

Coming off extra rest following their most convincing win of the year, the Buffalo Bills (9-3) will host the league’s hottest team, the Baltimore Ravens (10-2), on Sunday in Orchard Park, N.Y. The Ravens have won eight straight games, three longer than the next-longest active streak in the league, capped by a 20-17 victory over the 49ers on a last-play field goal on Sunday. Lamar Jackson was limited to just 105 yards passing, but he posted his record fourth 100-yard rushing game of the season against a stingy San Francisco defense. Buffalo’s D is nearly as fearsome, ranking third in scoring defense (15.7 points per game, compared to the 49ers’ 15.3) and total defense (300.1 yards per game). The Bills held the Cowboys to just 15 points in a Thanksgiving Day victory — their third straight win — and the final eight Dallas points came in garbage time after Buffalo had surged to a 26-7 lead. On offense, quarterback Josh Allen had by far the highest completion percentage in a game during his young career, hitting on 19 of 24 attempts (79.2). He’ll face a Ravens’ defense that has allowed just 96 points since Week 6, the lowest in the league over that span by 15 points.

Win: Baltimore Ravens
Line: Buffalo Bills +5.5
Total Points: Over 44.5

JETS VS DOLPHINS

Venue: MetLife Stadium | Start: 5:00am AEDT

Miami scored a win over the Jets in the first meeting between AFC East rivals. Now New York (4-8) will get another shot at the visiting Dolphins (3-9).The Jets, last in the playoffs in 2010, are 3-3 at home this season. The Dolphins are 1-4 on the road but packed a bit of confidence in the form of a 26-18 win over the Jets on Nov. 3. The Dolphins were 0-7 at the time. This past Sunday, the Jets lost 22-6 to the Bengals, who entered that game with a 0-11 record. Miami is 3-2 since starting the season with seven straight losses. The recent run includes Sunday’s 37-31 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. A resurgent Ryan Fitzpatrick has helped the Dolphins sustain a consistent offense. The Jets are led by second-year quarterback Sam Darnold, 22, who has had highs and lows this season. He has nine touchdown passes and just two interceptions in New York’s four wins this season, but he threw seven interceptions over two games.

Win: New York Jets
Line: New York Jets -5.5
Total Points: Under 46.5

BUCCANEERS VS COLTS

Venue: Raymond James Stadium | Start: 5:00am AEDT

For some reason, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians brought a dose of tough love to the room Wednesday and decided he wouldn’t endorse quarterback Jameis Winston as the future starter of the team. Winston, who has a league-high 20 interceptions, has also thrown 20 touchdowns and has bounced back admirably after poor showings. That’s without a constant in the running game. Ronald Jones, who did receive Arians’ endorsement as the starter in 2020, will get going down the stretch, the veteran coach said. Jones was benched last week against the Jaguars for failing to pick up a blitz. He’ll get another shot to set the pace this week. The Colts are hoping to get their own ground game moving again. That could happen this week. Marlon Mack is likely a game-time decision with a hand injury. Mack, however, was limited on Wednesday along with kicker Adam Vinatieri. Mack’s return would balance out an offense overly dependent upon quarterback Jacoby Brissett and the passing game in recent outings.

Win: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Line: Indianapolis Colts +3.5
Total Points: Under 47.5

SAINTS VS 49ERS

Venue: Mercedes-Benz Superdome | Start: 5:00am AEDT

Undefeated a month ago (and 2-2 since), the 49ers’ travel to New Orleans to face a Saints squad which has three won consecutive games and replaced San Francisco this week as the current No. 1 seed in the NFC. San Francisco’s secondary has proven vulnerable on the few occasions in which the 49ers’ vaunted pass rush was unable to harass the opposing quarterback. If Drew Brees is going to be able to challenge Richard Sherman and Co. with Michael Thomas — whose 110 receptions already this season is 24 more than the next closest pass-catcher (Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins) — he’ll need stellar protection. Brees has typically received that this season. On 439 passing attempts by Brees (and Teddy Bridgewater) this season, the Saints have allowed just 21 sacks, sixth-fewest in the NFL. Guard Andrus Peat (forearm) was already ruled out of this game for the Saints, however, and reigning Pro Bowl left tackle Terron Armstead is nursing a sore ankle. If the highly anticipated matchup between Thomas and Sherman is to materialize, the latter will have to fight through a sore knee, which had him one of several key 49ers listed as questionable. Pro Bowl tight end George Kittle (knee), edge rusher Dee Ford (quadriceps) and tackle Joe Staley (finger) were also limited this week. San Francisco wants to run the ball. But the Saints enter the game ranked third in rush defense (allowing just 88.6 yards per game). However, they’ll be forced to turn to recently re-signed linebacker Manti Te’o if starters Kiko Alonso (thigh) and AJ Klein (knee) are unable to play.

Win: New Orleans Saints
Line: New Orleans Saints -2.5
Total Points: Under 44.5

PACKERS VS REDSKINS

Venue: Lambeau Field | Start: 5:00am AEDT

Running back Derrius Guice went for 129 yards on just 10 carries last week and Washington beat the Carolina Panthers for the first Redskins’ winning streak in more than a year (three straight in 2018). With rookie Dwayne Haskins at quarterback, Washington is putting up points and playing better defense. The Redskins still have their concerns and weak spots, including a secondary not ready to contend with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his fleet of wide receivers. Washington has won two games in a row in the series, both by at least two touchdowns. The problem with the upset potion is the Packers rarely beat themselves. With only eight turnovers all season, Green Bay is plus-11 in turnover margin. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is sure to cook up something spicy for Haskins.

Win: Green Bay Packers
Line: Green Bay Packers -13.5
Total Points: Under 41.5

JAGUARS VS CHARGERS

Venue: TIAA Bank Field | Start: 8:05am AEDT

Two teams down in the dumps will meet Sunday in Jacksonville, as the Los Angeles Chargers (4-8) or the Jaguars (4-8) look to snap their losing skids. The Chargers have lost three straight, all to divisional opponents and in excruciating fashion. Last-minute drives against Oakland and Kansas City ended in Philip Rivers’ third and fourth interceptions, respectively, of each game. Then after Rivers led a drive to tie with 14 seconds remaining Sunday, the Chargers committed a 37-yard pass-interference penalty with three seconds left to set up Denver’s winning field goal. The Jaguars, meanwhile, have dropped four in a row by a combined margin of 129-47. Even worse, the quarterback whom they gave $50.1 million in guarantees in March has been benched in favor of sixth-round rookie Gardner Minshew. The mustachioed Minshew has gone 4-4 as a starter this season while throwing 14 touchdowns and five interceptions, though he has fumbled 12 times (losing seven). There have been whispers that the Chargers could also have a quarterback controversy, with backup Tyrod Taylor potentially getting a shot over Rivers, who has thrown 17 touchdowns and 15 interceptions this season. Rivers has started 219 consecutive regular-season games — the second-longest streak of all-time behind Brett Favre (297) — but Taylor was seen warming up after Rivers threw an interception in Denver.

Win: Los Angeles Chargers
Line: Los Angeles Chargers -3.5
Total Points: Under 43.5

CARDINALS VS STEELERS

Venue: State Farm Stadium | Start: 8:25am AEDT

2019 No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray and the Cardinals host undrafted free agent Devlin Hodges and the quietly molten-hot Steelers, winners of six of their past seven games. In his two starts since taking over for backup quarterback Mason Rudolph, Hodges has found a fellow young standout in second-year wideout James Washington, who could be called upon for extra duty again with JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee) again unable to practice Wednesday. The news was a little more encouraging for stud running back James Conner (shoulder) and speedy pass-catcher Diontae Johnson (illness), each of whom were able to practice, albeit in limited fashion. Though he’s attempted at least nine passes in four separate games this season, Hodges still has just 41 total completions for a grand total of 530 yards and three touchdowns (with two interceptions). The Cardinals, however, rank dead last in the NFL in pass defense, surrendering 307.5 yards per game, along with 31 touchdowns with only five interceptions. This Steelers’ defense isn’t as formidable as the intimidating Blitzburgh units of prior years but the turnaround was instant and obvious once Minkah Fitzpatrick was brought over from Miami. Murray possesses the elusiveness and arm to pepper Pittsburgh but only if he can find open lanes. Pittsburgh ranks third in the NFL with 43 sacks this season, a frightening number for a small quarterback given that Arizona has allowed 42 takedowns of their quarterback (fifth-worst in the NFL) this season.

Win: Pittsburgh Steelers
Line: Arizona Cardinals +2.5
Total Points: Under 43.5

RAIDERS VS TITANS

Venue: RingCentral Coliseum | Start: 8:25am AEDT

The playoffs are not scheduled to officially begin until the Divisional Round kicks off January 4 but don’t tell that to the Titans and Raiders. They are essentially playing a playoff game in Week 14. The six-team AFC playoff picture doesn’t include either team with the visiting Titans the projected seventh seed and Oakland one behind. Unfortunately for both playoff hopefuls, injuries could make this showdown more about who is not playing than who is able to suit up. Tennessee’s star running back Derrick Henry was held out of Wednesday’s practice with a tender hamstring. So too was playmaking cornerback Adoree Jackson (knee) with starting center Ben Jones (thumb) limited. While Ryan Tannehill deserves a great deal of credit for Tennessee’s turnaround – the club began the season 2-4 with Marcus Mariota starting – make no mistake, it is Henry (1,140 rushing yards and 11 TDs in 12 games) powering the Titans’ offense. Tannehill has proven more solid than spectacular (12 TDs/4 INTs) in six starts but given how poorly the Raiders have played the past two games – getting toasted by a combined score of 73-12 against the Jets and Chiefs – it may be all Tennessee needs to win its fourth straight. The Raiders may need more than an eye patch to cover up all of their injuries. Starting offensive linemen Trent Brown (pectoral), Gabe Jackson (knee) and Rodney Hudson (ankle) were all listed as questionable, as is potential Offensive Rookie of the Year Josh Jacobs (shoulder), behind whose explosive, slashing running the Raiders and Derek Carr have become as reliant upon as the Titans are with Henry.

Win: Tennessee Titans
Line: Tennessee Titans -3.5
Total Points: Under 47.5

PATRIOTS VS CHIEFS

Venue: Gillette Stadium | Start: 8:25am AEDT

Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs are hoping to exact some revenge on Tom Brady and the Patriots after falling to them in overtime in last year’s AFC Championship at Arrowhead Stadium. Due in part to injuries to himself and teammates, Mahomes has not been quite as brilliant in 2019 as he was in winning MVP a year ago, though his 20-2 touchdown to interception ratio remains one of the league’s best. He could have even more of the offense on his shoulders in this contest, however, with Kansas City running backs Damien and Darrell (unrelated) Williams nursing injuries. Their anticipated absence would put longtime Patriots’ nemesis LeSean McCoy in position to play a starring role – if, that is, Shady can escape the glare from New England’s defense – a unit which ranks fifth-best in run defense (surrendering just 94.5 yards per game) and has allowed a league-low five touchdowns all year long. The Patriots’ secondary has proven even more effective than its run defense with the anticipated showdown between lockdown cornerback Stephon Gilmore and Kansas City’s speedster Tyreek Hill worth taking your eye off the ball. If Gilmore can handle Hill, the Patriots could squeeze coverage around Travis Kelce. Undefeated a month ago but appearing vulnerable in the two of four games of November in which they did win, the Patriots’ lack of playmaking ability on the outside has put more pressure on Brady and the offensive line than in recent years. Kansas City has the playmakers on the defensive side of the ball to capitalize but would be losing a key part of the pass rush if Frank Clark (shoulder) was unable to go.

Win: New England Patriots
Line: Kansas City Chiefs +3.5
Total Points: Under 48.5

RAMS VS SEAHAWKS

Venue: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum | Start: 12:20pm AEDT

Winners of an NFC-best five games in a row, the Seahawks have surged to the top of the NFC West. Russell Wilson and Co. cannot afford to buy into their own hype. The Rams are defending conference champions and just one game out of the wildcard standings. After suffering a 45-6 home drubbing at the hands (and feet) of Lamar Jackson two weeks ago, the Rams looked much more Sean McVay-like on the road against the Cardinals, plucking the birds 34-7. Though the Rams would miss speedy starting tight end Gerald Everett (knee) should he not be able to play against Seattle, otherwise the LA offense looks to be as “Showtime” as it has been virtually all year long with more of the offense being run through Todd Gurley II and Brandin Cooks’ deep speed opening up huge alleys for Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods to field throws from Jared Goff. Everett, notably, led the Rams with seven catches for a career-high 143 yards when the teams last met October 3. The Seahawks eked out a 30-29 win at CenturyLink on that night with the Rams’ All-Pro placekicker Greg Zuerlein missing a would-be game-winning 44-yard field goal in the closing seconds. While Russell Wilson may be fading in the eyes of some when it comes to the MVP race, he has certainly played at an All-Pro level, himself, currently leading the NFL with 26 touchdowns thrown with just four interceptions. A two-headed monster at running back in Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny has diversified Seattle’s offense with hard-hitting free safety Quandre Diggs and a rejuvenated pass rush led by Jadeveon Clowney sparking a suddenly formidable Seahawks defense.

Win: Los Angeles Rams
Line: Los Angeles Rams -1.5
Total Points: Over 46.5