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Sunday, December 22, 2019

BUCCANEERS VS TEXANS

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

DeShaun Watson and the Houston Texans (9-5) visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-7) Saturday at Raymond James Stadium with a chance to seal a playoff invitation. With his receiving corps decimated by injuries, Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston must attack Houston without a pair of Pro Bowl receivers against the Texans, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Evans did not participate in the Buccaneers’ 38-17 victory over the Detroit Lions last weekend while Godwin was carted off with a hamstring injury after posting five receptions for 121 yards. Tampa Bay received a breakthrough performance from fourth-year receiver Breshad Perriman, whose three touchdowns exceeded his total from his previous 11 games this season. Without Evans and Godwin, Winston will need tight end O.J. Howard to supplement the Buccaneers’ top-ranked passing attack.

Win: Houston Texans
Line: Tampa Bay Buccaneers +3.5
Total Points: Under 50.5

BRONCOS VS LIONS

Venue: Empower Field at Mile High | Start: 8:05am AEDT

Riding a seven-game losing streak, the Detroit Lions have endured another difficult season, but they do have some certainty as they prepare for Sunday’s trip to face the Denver Broncos. Owner Martha Ford said this week that general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia will return for their fourth and third seasons, respectively, with the team in 2020. Ford added that the expectation is to contend for the playoffs next season, after a 6-10 season in 2018 and a 3-10-1 record with two games to play this year. Meanwhile, quarterback Matthew Stafford was officially placed on injured reserve with a back injury, ending his season after he had missed the last six games. Undrafted rookie David Blough will make his fourth career start in Denver, having thrown for 745 yards with three touchdowns and five interceptions thus far. The Broncos have their own rookie set to start his fourth game in second-rounder Drew Lock. He struggled at snowy Kansas City last week, finishing 18 of 40 for 208 yards with an interception, but Lock won his first two starts. The Broncos are expected to remain without the starting right side of their offensive line in tackle Ja’Wuan James (knee) and guard Ron Leary (concussion).

Win: Denver Broncos
Line: Detroit Lions +6.5
Total Points: Over 37.5

DOLPHINS VS BENGALS

Venue: Hard Rock Stadium | Start: 5:00am AEDT

The only thing the Cincinnati Bengals can lock up Sunday is the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Of course, that’s of great value to a franchise in rebuilding mode and with more questions than cornerstones. The Miami Dolphins are only two wins up in the draft pecking order and assured of a top-five draft pick. Ryan Fitzpatrick is not the long-term answer at quarterback, much like the Bengals aren’t making any major promises to Andy Dalton. Neither team is flush with playmakers, but DeVante Parker has been stellar with 958 yards and eight touchdowns.

Win: Cincinnati Bengals
Line: Cincinnati Bengals -1.5
Total Points: Under 45.5

COLTS VS PANTHERS

Venue: Lucas Oil Stadium | Start: 5:00am AEDT

Two teams looking to snap lengthy skids will meet on Sunday in Indianapolis, as the Colts host the Carolina Panthers. The Colts have lost four in a row and six of seven since a 5-2 start, punctuated by a 34-7 pasting at the hands of the New Orleans Saints on Monday night. That marked just the second loss by more than seven points all season for the Colts, whose only score came with four minutes left in the contest. On the bright side for Indianapolis, wideout T.Y. Hilton returned from a nagging calf injury, playing about 52 percent of the snaps and avoiding a setback. He is expected to increase his snap count against the Panthers. Carolina, meanwhile, has dropped six in a row and seven of eight, with the skid leading to the firing of longtime head coach and then the benching of quarterback Kyle Allen. Third-round rookie Will Grier will make his NFL debut Sunday in place of Allen, who threw three interceptions in Sunday’s 30-24 loss to Seattle and has 15 on the season, all in the last eight games. Grier finished the preseason 34 of 61 for 385 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions in four appearances.

Win: Indianapolis Colts
Line: Carolina Panthers +6.5
Total Points: Under 46.5

PATRIOTS VS BILLS

Venue: Gillette Stadium | Start: 8:30am AEDT

If the Buffalo Bills (10-4) want to announce their arrival, there’s no more fitting stage than Foxborough. It would be akin to taking down the king of the AFC East in his own castle. But those are only grand ideas for now considering the Patriots are in line to lock up their 11th consecutive division title. And New England has owned Buffalo. The Bills, who conquered the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night, must defeat the Patriots and then have some help. The Patriots would need to lose to the Miami Dolphins the following week while Buffalo defeats the New York Jets in order for the Bills to win the division title. Otherwise, the Bills will enter the AFC playoffs as the first wild card. New England has defeated the Bills in 34 of the last 38 meetings. That includes a 16-10 decision on Sept. 29 in which the Patriots blocked a punt and intercepted Josh Allen three times. Buffalo wants to flip the script and put all the pressure on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. The Bills have 42 sacks this season — tied for seventh most in the NFL — with 20 in the past five games.

Win: New England Patriots
Line: New England Patriots -6.5
Total Points: Over 37.5

BROWNS VS RAVENS

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

Much has changed since Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens last faced the Cleveland Browns, a 40-25 loss at home in Week 4. The Ravens have won 10 consecutive games with Jackson emerging as the prohibitive favorite for league MVP honors and the Browns, meanwhile, slid once again into mediocrity and controversy. Proving that the win in Baltimore was no fluke would go a long way in helping Freddie Kitchens cool off his hot seat. To do that, however, his Browns defense will have to slow down the red-hot Jackson and the league’s top running game. Given that Cleveland enters the game ranked 27th in the NFL in run defense (allowing 135.2 yards per game) and has surrendered 15 touchdowns on the ground (28th), it is hard to imagine Baltimore offensive coordinator Greg Roman veering much from his season-long strategy. The Ravens have 512 rushing attempts this season – 61 more than San Francisco, who is second in running plays. The Browns chances at slowing Baltimore take a hit with key defenders Sheldon Richardson (back), Olivier Vernon (knee) and Denzel Ward (ankle) all questionable.

Win: Baltimore Ravens
Line: Cleveland Browns +10.5
Total Points: Over 49.5

FALCONS VS JAGUARS

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

Dan Quinn could be on the verge of rescuing his job if the Atlanta Falcons continue to climb late in the season. Though injuries and inconsistency along the offensive line have been a season-long struggle, Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Co. have won two straight, including a last-second stunner in San Francisco to knock the 49ers into second place in the NFC West at 11-3. Potentially aiding the Falcons’ late-season resurgence is the uncertainly surrounding Doug Marrone’s future in Jacksonville, as well as several injuries to key Jaguars, including star defensive linemen Calais Campbell (back) and Josh Allen (shoulder) as well as cornerback A.J. Bouye (hamstring). The news is just as disheartening on the offensive side for the Jaguars, which could look more like kittens Sunday if inspirational rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew (shoulder) and cornerstone receiver D.J. Chark (ankle) and left tackle Cam Robinson (knee) cannot go Sunday after missing practice time this week.

Win: Atlanta Falcons
Line: Jacksonville Jaguars +7.5
Total Points: Under 46.5

TITANS VS SAINTS

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

Fresh off a record-breaking performance from quarterback Drew Brees, the New Orleans Saints head to Nashville to take on the Tennessee Titans. Brees delivered his best performance of the season on Monday against the visiting Colts, throwing for 307 yards and four touchdowns to pass Peyton Manning as the all-time leader in passing scores. He also finished 29 of 30, setting a new single-game record for completion percentage. The Saints will be looking to hand the Titans their second consecutive loss, after Tennessee had won four straight and six of seven since Ryan Tannehill took over as the starting quarterback. The Titans’ 24-21 home loss to Houston last week seriously damaged their hopes to win the AFC South, though they remain close to a wild-card berth. Tennessee and Pittsburgh are both 8-6, with the Steelers currently holding a slight edge in conference record (6-4 vs. 6-5) for the tiebreaker. The Titans face the Texans again in Week 17. Tannehill threw multiple touchdowns for the fifth straight week on Sunday, but he tossed an interception for the second straight week. Running back Derrick Henry was held under 100 yards for the first time since Week 9, finishing with 21 carries for 86 yards.

Win: Tennessee Titans
Line: Tennessee Titans +2.5
Total Points: Over 50.5

REDSKINS VS GIANTS

Venue: FedExField | Start: 5:00am AEDT

The New York Giants usher in their future yet again with Daniel Jones back at quarterback to face off with fellow first-rounder Dwayne Haskins on Sunday. Intriguing storylines are scarce in the basement battle between the New York Giants and Washington Redskins on Sunday afternoon in Landover, Md. With matching 3-11 records, there isn’t a lot to play for in Week 16, other than last place in the NFC East. The Giants are 1-6 on the road and the Redskins 1-6 at home, the latter’s only win on Nov. 24 against the visiting Detroit Lions. Jones (ankle) was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice, but Giants coach Pat Shurmur wants to see a full week before making a decision, according to reports. Jones had already supplanted Manning as the starter when these two teams met in Week 4, a 24-3 victory by the Giants. Jones threw for 225 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions in Week 4. While he didn’t start that game, Haskins comes off his best game by far in Sunday’s 37-27 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Haskins completed 19 of 28 passes for 261 yards and two touchdowns, good for a passer rating of 121.3. The rookie did not throw an interception. Haskins has 1,232 passing yards on the season with five touchdown passes and seven interceptions. Jones has thrown for 2,374 yards with 18 touchdowns against 11 picks. His bugaboo has been fumbles; Jones has lost 10, most by any quarterback in the league. The Jones-Haskins duel isn’t the only rookie showdown. Wide receivers Darius Slayton of the Giants and Washington’s Terry McLaurin have put together nice rookie campaigns. While Slayton has the edge in touchdowns, 8-7, McLaurin has more catches (51-44) and receiving yards (833-690). Guard Kevin Zeitler (ankle) was limited in Wednesday’s practice and tight end Rhett Ellison (concussion) was a full participant. Both are listed as questionable. The Redskins are fighting key injuries to a long list of players including offensive tackle Donald Penn, former Giants safety Landon Collins, defensive end Jonathan Allen and cornerback Quinton Dunbar.

Win: Washington Redskins
Line: NY Giants +2.5
Total Points: Under 41.5

49ERS VS RAMS

Venue: Levi’s Stadium | Start: 12:15pm AEDT

The Rams have won three of their past five meetings with the 49ers, including each trip north the past two seasons. 49ers quarterback Jared Goff, a Bay Area native who starred at the University of California, has prevailed in his two homecomings as a starter, throwing five touchdown passes without an interception. The Saturday night meeting in primetime is a must-win for both teams. The 49ers (11-3) used a suffocating defensive effort to win 20-7 at Los Angeles in Week 6, sacking Goff four times and limiting the Rams to 48 net yards of passing. San Francisco clinched a playoff berth, but needs a win Saturday to be assured of going into next week’s showdown with the Seattle Seahawks (11-3) no worse than tied for the division lead. The NFC West winner has a good shot at a first-round playoff bye and home field for a conference semifinal game. The runner-up already is assured of a wild-card entry into the postseason, where it likely will open on the road against the NFC East champion.
Jimmy Garoppolo had almost as much impact as a runner (1-yard touchdown) as he did as a passer (243 yards with no TDs) in the earlier win over the Rams.
The Rams (8-6) are 3-3 after a promising start. Los Angeles needs a win over the 49ers on Saturday night, then a loss by the Minnesota Vikings (10-4) to the Green Bay Packers on Monday to retain any hope of making the playoffs entering its Week 17 regular-season finale against the Arizona Cardinals. The 49ers were without standout cornerback Richard Sherman (partially torn hamstring) when they were stunned by Atlanta’s last-second touchdown pass. He practiced Wednesday and could play Sunday.

Win: San Francisco 49ers
Line: LA Rams +6.5
Total Points: Over 44.5

JETS VS STEELERS

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

Rookie Devlin “Duck” Hodges is still the starter for the Pittsburgh Steelers (8-6), who can clinch a spot in the postseason if they win their final two games. Hodgers tossed four interceptions in a loss last week and Mason Rudolph, who has more pedigree but lost the job to Hodges, was an option. Hodges and the offense could have some help if receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster can return after missing four games because of a knee injury. Smith-Schuster, a Pro Bowler in 2018, practiced in a limited capacity Wednesday. Pittsburgh’s defense will be facing former Steelers All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell for the first time. Bell hasn’t had a gangbusters season, but he is coming off a season-high 87 yards rushing last week in the Jets’ 42-21 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Bell sat out the 2018 season over a salary dispute and his lack of a multiyear contract, refusing to play under the team’s franchise-tag designation. The Jets (5-9) will miss the playoffs for the ninth year in a row but are trying to reach six wins for the first time since 2015. Adams missed the past two weeks because of an ankle injury but practiced Wednesday and said chances “are very high” he will face Pittsburgh.

Win: Pittsburgh Steelers
Line: NY Jets +3.5
Total Points: Over 37.5

CHARGERS VS RAIDERS

Venue: Dignity Health Sports Park | Start: 8:05am AEDT

If quarterback Derek Carr reverts back to the clutch play he showed earlier in the year – including in a November 8 win over the Chargers in Oakland – it would go a long way towards resurrecting the Raiders’ slim postseason hopes. Boosted by the strong running from likely Offensive Rookie of the Year Josh Jacobs, Carr guided the Raiders to a 26-24 win on Thursday Night Football despite throwing just one touchdown. He was not intercepted, however, something which has occurred three times (against four touchdowns) during Oakland’s current four-game losing streak. Do not just blame the quarterback, however. Jacobs, who ranks 4th in all of the NFL with 1,150 rushing yards in just 13 games, has been held out of the endzone since that game, missing Week 14 against the Titans with a shoulder injury which has him questionable yet again for this contest. The Raiders already ruled out offensive tackle Trent Brown, placing him on IR for a pectoral injury. Pro Bowl blockers Rodney Hudson (ankle) and Gabe Jackson (knee) were also limited. Given their issues this season, the Chargers know all too well how much inconsistency at quarterback, running back and the offensive line can derail a promising season. Philip Rivers has appeared a shadow of his former Pro Bowl self at times this year, including last week against Minnesota. Rivers threw just one touchdown in the 39-10 loss, as well as three interceptions – the fifth time this season (and third in the last five games) he’s thrown multiple picks. If there is a silver lining to the Chargers offense this season it has been the breakout season from Austin Ekeler as well as the improved play lately from Mike Williams, though the latter was limited this week in practice again with a knee injury.

Win: LA Chargers
Line: LA Chargers -7.5
Total Points: Over 45.5

SEAHAWKS VS CARDINALS

Venue: CenturyLink Field | Start: 8:25am AEDT

Perched atop the NFC West standings and currently holding the No. 2 seed and its prized bye, the Seattle Seahawks await 2019 No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray and head coach Kliff Kingsbury, each on their first trip to CenturyLink Field. Russell Wilson and the Seahawks looked back to normal this past week in Carolina, taming the Panthers after a poor effort brought a loss to the Rams in Week 13. Wilson was brilliant, completing 20 of 26 passes for 286 yards and two scores without an interception. Running back Chris Carson was stellar, rushing for a season-high 133 yards and two scores against the Panthers. Carson could find the sledding tougher Sunday, as the Cardinals have allowed just eight rushing touchdowns through 14 games (compared to the Panthers league-worst 26). Josh Gordon’s suspension for once again violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy takes away a gifted receiver from Wilson but he’s proven remarkably resourceful. Seattle’s “bigger” concern may be along its offensive line, where several starters, including left tackle Duane Brown (biceps), left guard Mike Iupati (neck) and center Joey Hunt (lower leg) all were limited this week in practice. Seattle’s speedy defense bottled up Murray in a 27-10 win in Glendale September 29. Since, the Cardinals have added speed of their own in running back Kenyan Drake, who is coming off a monstrous four touchdown performance in a win over Cleveland. Among Seattle’s difference-makers on defense in the first meeting was edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney, who intercepted a pass from Murray and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown. Clowney (groin) is one of several key Seahawks defenders dealing with injuries, along with linebackers Bobby Wagner (ankle), Mychal Kendricks (hamstring), cornerback Shaquill Griffin (hamstring) and safety Quandre Diggs (ankle). The Cardinals, while not as talented, are healthier, though wideout Christian Kirk (ankle) would be a significant loss.

Win: Seattle Seahawks
Line: Arizona Cardinals +10.5
Total Points: Under 51.5

EAGLES VS COWBOYS

Venue: Lincoln Financial Field | Start: 8:25am AEDT

Coming off their best victory of the season, the Dallas Cowboys will look to wrap up the NFC East title and eliminate the rival Philadelphia Eagles from playoff contention on Sunday. The Cowboys ran all over the Los Angeles Rams in Sunday’s 44-21 win, racking up season highs of 45 carries for 263 yards to snap a three-game losing streak and remain level with the Eagles at 7-7 atop the division. The Eagles, meanwhile, used Carson Wentz’s heroics for the second straight week to survive a divisional opponent, beating the Washington Redskins on a touchdown in the final minute. A week earlier, the Eagles beat the Giants in overtime to snap a three-game skid. Because the Cowboys won the first meeting, 37-10 in Dallas in Week 7, they would clinch the division with a victory Sunday. If the Eagles win, the division would be decided in Week 17, when the Eagles host the Giants and the Cowboys host the Redskins. While Wentz has been hot of late, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is battling a right shoulder injury that limited him in practice this week, and he also has been playing with a hairline fracture in his right index finger, Fox Sports analyst Troy Aikman revealed last week.

Win: Philadelph Eagles
Line: Philadelph Eagles +1.5
Total Points: Over 46.5

BEARS VS CHIEFS

Venue: Soldier Field | Start: 12:20pm AEDT

Officially eliminated from playoff contention, Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy will welcome his former team on Sunday when Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs visit. Nagy was the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator before being hired by Chicago before the 2018 season. The Bears had a three-game win streak snapped Sunday in Green Bay, falling 21-13 after a lateral-filled play came up just short on the final snap. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky racked up 334 yards in the contest, but it took him 53 attempts to get there, and he also threw two interceptions. Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes — drafted eight picks after Trubisky in 2017 — had no such trouble in a blizzard on Sunday against the Broncos, going 27 of 34 for 340 yards, two touchdowns and one pick in a 23-3 victory. The Chiefs’ defense has also been impressive, allowing just 28 points total over the last three games as part of a four-game win streak. The Chiefs are one game back of the New England Patriots — while holding the tiebreaker — in the race for a first-round playoff bye with two games to play. The Patriots, who the Chiefs beat two weeks ago, host the Buffalo Bills on Saturday.

Win: Kansas City Chiefs
Line: Kansas City Chiefs -6.5
Total Points: Over 44.5