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Monday, December 30, 2019

LIONS VS PACKERS

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

After locking up their first NFC North title since 2016, the Green Bay Packers will look for more when they visit the Detroit Lions Sunday. Monday night’s 23-10 victory at Minnesota secured the Packers the division title, and another win would lock up a first-round bye. If Green Bay beats Detroit and San Francisco loses at Seattle, the NFC road to the Super Bowl would run through Lambeau Field. The Lions haven’t posed much of a threat lately, losing eight straight games, including three straight by at least 10 points. They fell 27-17 at Denver last week despite leading 10-0 in the first half and 17-13 in the fourth quarter. With Matthew Stafford and Jeff Driskel on injured reserve, undrafted rookie quarterback David Blough will make his fifth straight start. He avoided an interception for the first time Sunday, but he completed just 12 of 24 passes for 117 yards, all career lows. For the Packers, Aaron Rodgers was quiet in Monday’s big win, totaling just 216 yards on 40 attempts (5.4 yards per attempt) and throwing his first interception since Week 6. But running back Aaron Jones racked up a career-high 154 rushing yards and two scores, giving him the NFL lead in rushing touchdowns (16) and total touchdowns (19).

Win: Green Bay Packers
Line: Detroit Lions
Total Points: Over 43.5

JAGUARS VS COLTS

Venue: TIAA Bank Field | Start: 8:25am AEDT

A meaningless game many pegged as a potential meaningful matchup prior to the season, Colts-Jaguars sets up as a game all about what’s next. Tossing three times as many touchdowns as interceptions in his first season as the Colts’ starter following Andrew Luck’s shocking retirement, Jacoby Brissett has proven a relative bright spot for Indianapolis. Brissett appeared to be on pace for significantly more than 18 scores but injuries to many of the Colts’ most gifted weapons around him – namely T.Y. Hilton, Devin Funchess and Marlon Mack – derailed he and Indianapolis’ promising start to the season. Very little has gone to plan in Jacksonville, with head coach Doug Marrone at this point simply hoping to avoid joining former Jaguars executive vice president Tom Coughlin on the unemployment line. The Jaguars had hoped that Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles would provide the steady quarterback play to spring Leonard Fournette into superstardom. Instead, Foles was hurt early in the season and has since been supplanted by gutty (but limited) rookie passer, Gardner Minshew II. Minshew, however, is one of a staggering 14 Jaguars currently listed as questionable for Sunday’s season-ending game. That list includes Fournette (neck), breakout receiver D.J. Chark (ankle), left tackle Cam Robinson (knee) and two of the Jaguars’ fiercest defenders, Calais Campbell (back) and prized rookie Josh Allen, who is battling a sore shoulder, like Minshew.

Win: Indianapolis Colts
Line: Indianapolis Colts -5.5
Total Points: Under 41.5

BENGALS VS BROWNS

Venue: Paul Brown Stadium | Start: 5:00am AEDT

Officially eliminated from playoff contention, the Cleveland Browns will wrap up a disappointing season on Sunday on the road against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Browns got every other result they needed to avoid elimination in Week 16, but they couldn’t hold up their end of the bargain, falling 31-15 at home to the Baltimore Ravens. The loss assured Cleveland (6-9) of its 12th straight losing season and of finishing with a worse record than in 2018 (7-8-1). The Browns have lost three of four — with the only victory a 27-19 result at home against the Bengals in Week 14 — since a midseason three-game winning streak. They’ll face a Bengals team with just one win all season. Cincinnati came close to adding a second victory in Week 16, using a frantic fourth-quarter rally to erase a 35-12 deficit and force overtime in Miami, but the Dolphins survived in the extra session. Andy Dalton threw for 396 yards and four touchdowns in defeat, both marking his second-highest single-game totals during his nine-year NFL career. He also didn’t throw an interception after tossing four a week earlier vs. New England. For the Browns, quarterback Baker Mayfield has struggled with interceptions. He has thrown at least one in five straight games and is tied for second-most in the NFL with 18.

Win: Cincinnati Bengals
Line: Cincinnati Bengals +2.5
Total Points: Over 43.5

VIKINGS VS BEARS

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

NFC North division champions last season, the Chicago Bears have only a .500 record to play for in the 2019 season finale. The Minnesota Vikings are on the way to the NFC playoffs as a wild card and the sixth seed. Expect to see little or none of the key players for the Vikings. Dalvin Cook missed last week’s game and is headed for more rest and quarterback Kirk Cousins in expected to serve little more than a cameo role. But the Bears are not in a resting mood with hibernation looming Monday. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has performed well in December and could cap his season with an exclamation point against the Vikings, especially if Minnesota opts to go the reserve route before moving on to the postseason.

Win: Chicago Bears
Line: Minnesota Vikings +3.5
Total Points: Under 36.5

BUCCANEERS VS FALCONS

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

A home finale puts the Atlanta Falcons in position to win a fourth consecutive game in the bid to preserve the job of head coach Dan Quinn. But Atlanta’s 1-7 start won’t be forgotten by ownership and big changes are expected. The Buccaneers lost a four-game winning streak last week but winning five of six to close the 2019 campaign would be a welcome jumping-off point for coach Bruce Arians. Tampa Bay committed to keeping quarterback Jameis Winston next season despite his erratic performance and turnover issues. Winston enters just two interceptions shy of being the first quarterback to throw 30 in a season since Vinny Testaverde tossed 35 for the Buccaneers in 1988. Winston also leads the NFL with 4,908 passing yards.

Win: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Line: Tampa Bay Buccaneers -1.5
Total Points: Under 48.5

PATRIOTS VS DOLPHINS

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

Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots are not likely to take it easy on the visiting Miami Dolphins and head coach, Brian Flores. Flores was defensive coordinator in New England prior to being hired last offseason to take over the Dolphins. Miami is 4-4 after an 0-7 start. This iteration of the Patriots is perhaps not as dynamic as years past, Tom Brady and Co. are still a force to be reckoned with. The club certainly had no problems in Miami when the two teams met back in Week Two, harpooning the Dolphins 43-0 in a game in which the latter was held to just 184 total yards from scrimmage. As he has done so many times over his career, journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has sparked the Dolphins to improved play since, justifying Flores’ decision to go with the 37-year old rather than the younger, more naturally gifted Josh Rosen. With “Fitzmagic” leading the charge, former first-round pick Devante Parker has emerged as a star for Miami and the ‘Fins have scored at least 20 points in a season-high six consecutive games. Parker’s anticipated one-on-one matchup with Patriots’ star cornerback Stephon Gilmore could be one of the few competitive battles worth watching in this game. New England wide receiver Julian Edelman is questionable with a knee injury. Also questionable are linebacker Jamie Collins (shoulder) and cornerback Jason McCourty (groin).

Win: New England Patriots
Line: Miami Dolphins +16.5
Total Points: Over 45.5

BILLS VS JETS

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

With a 5-2 record since Nov. 10, the New York Jets are treating Week 17 as their playoffs. But the Jets’ victories since Nov. 10 have come against sub-.500 teams with the lone exception being the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team using its third-string quarterback. The Jets are 1-6 on the road, and the lone win came in Washington in Week 11. Quarterback Josh Allen will start Sunday despite the team being locked into the No. 5 seed for the playoffs. Head coach Sean McDermott wants his team “as sharp as can be” when the wild-card round begins next week. Buffalo used a 16-point second-half comeback against the Jets in Week 1. Allen turned the ball over four times in the first half before leading the Bills back for what turned out to be a pivotal victory.

Win: Buffalo Bills
Line: Buffalo Bills -1.5
Total Points: Over 36.5

PANTHERS VS SAINTS

Venue: Bank of America Stadium | Start: 5:00am AEDT

There are two carrots dangling before the Saints in Week 17: Michael Thomas’ bid for 150 catches in a season, expanding upon his record 145 receptions in 2019; and a bigger prize, the chance to enter the playoffs with a first-round bye. A Saints win over the Carolina Panthers combined with a Green Bay loss or tie or a San Francisco loss or tie would provide New Orleans with a first-round bye. The Saints could climb all the way to holding home-field advantage throughout the playoffs if they win and both the Packers and 49ers don’t. Carolina is 0-3 under interim head coach Perry Fewell. Carolina’s losing streak stands at seven games and the only victory against an NFC South opponent this season took place when the Panthers defeated Tampa Bay in London. Among the sagas for the Panthers has been the benching of outspoken cornerback Donte Jackson, whose role was reduced last week. He isn’t expected to be a starter in the finale.

Win: New Orleans Saints
Line: Carolina Panthers +13.5
Total Points: Over 45.5

GIANTS VS EAGLES

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

The Giants would love to cancel the Philadelphia Eagles’ plans for the New Year. The Eagles claimed the driver’s seat in the NFC East by beating down the Dallas Cowboys last week in Philly. Now they’ll host the Giants in perhaps Eli Manning’s finale game with New York. But rookie rookie quarterback Daniel Jones will be the starter this week. Jones has accumulated 23 touchdown passes (thanks to throwing five last week against the Washington Redskins). If Jones tosses four more against the Eagles, he’ll equal Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield’s rookie record. The Eagles did not surrender a touchdown against the Cowboys last week. Philadelphia is bothered by injuries, most significantly tight end Zach Ertz (ribs), but second-round rookie Miles Sanders has more than picked up the slack with 1,590 yards from scrimmage. A loss by the Eagles and win by the Cowboys at Washington would mean the NFC East is decided by tiebreakers. The Cowboys get the playoff spot in that case with a superior division record, 4-1 vs. 3-2 for Philadelphia.

Win: Philadelphia Eagles
Line: Philadelphia Eagles -4.5
Total Points: OVer 44.5

RAVENS VS STEELERS

Venue: M&T Bank Stadium | Start: 8:25am AEDT

No rest is the plan for the Baltimore Ravens, the prevailing favorite in the AFC and the current oddsmakers pick to win the Super Bowl in Miami in February. The risk is injuring key parts of the juggernaut before a first-round playoff bye, and that will be a consideration for coach John Harbaugh after running back Mark Ingram was banged up last week. Harbaugh is likely to pull his starters at some point regardless of score. That’s not an option or luxury the Steelers can employ. Pittsburgh is in a must-win position against the hated division rival Ravens and injuries are again a factor. The season-long theme, with Ben Roethlisberger, James Conner and others missing significant time, is back for Week 17. Center Maurkice Pouncey will miss Sunday’s game with a knee injury. Conner’s availability is uncertain due to a thigh injury he sustained in the loss to New York.

Win: Pittsburgh Steelers
Line: Baltimore Ravens +2.5
Total Points: Over 37.5

CHIEFS VS CHARGERS

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

The Kansas City Chiefs are a longshot for the No. 2 seed in the AFC, a possibility only if the Miami Dolphins beat the Patriots in New England. Philip Rivers, 38 and a pending free agent, is questionable for the Chargers’ 2019 regular season finale with a thumb injury. He brushed off speculation that the injury played a role in LA’s Week 16 loss at “home” to the Raiders but it was simply the latest in what has been a hugely disappointing campaign for the eight-time Pro Bowler. Though injuries along the offensive line and inconsistency among his pass-catchers have unquestionably played a role, Rivers has thrown just 21 touchdowns thus far this season. Barring a season-best performance, he will end the year with fewer passing touchdowns than at any point since 2007 and he already has tossed 18 interceptions – more than all but two of his previous 15 NFL seasons (2016, 2011). Rivers is revered for his durability and competitiveness – he has not missed a game since 2005 – but due to injury or ineffectiveness, Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn may want to see what current backup Tyrod Taylor can offer prior to an offseason that may very well be spent searching for a quarterback of the future. With Patrick Mahomes back humming, Kansas City should feel confident heading into the matchup. The Chiefs have won five in a row, beginning with a November 18 in LA over Rivers and the Chargers. The defense has been particularly impressive in recent weeks, limiting the Patriots, Broncos and Bears to just one touchdown and 22 total points over the past three games combined.

Win: Kansas City Chiefs
Line: LA Chargers +9.5
Total Points: Under 44.5

COWBOYS VS REDSKINS

Venue: AT&T Stadium | Start: 8:25am AEDT

With their playoff hopes now dim, the Dallas Cowboys will look to take care of their own business against the visiting Washington Redskins on Sunday. By falling 17-9 at Philadelphia in Week 16, the Cowboys lost control of the NFC East. They now must win and hope the Eagles lose at the New York Giants in order to reach the playoffs. Dallas has lost four of five and eight of 12 games since a 3-0 start. That undefeated opening stretch included a 31-21 victory at Washington, which started quarterback Case Keenum. The veteran will get the nod again Sunday with rookie first-rounder Dwayne Haskins (ankle) out. Keenum replaced the injured Haskins early in the second half against the Giants last week, finishing 16 of 22 for 158 yards and two total touchdowns. The second score came on a 1-yard run with 37 seconds left to cap a 14-point rally and send the game to overtime, but New York prevailed. The loss was the third straight for the Redskins, who are 0-5 against division foes this year. The Cowboys also have a banged-up quarterback, though Dak Prescott’s availability is not in question despite a right (throwing) shoulder injury. He was limited in practice last week before finishing 25 of 44 for 265 yards vs. the Eagles, and he’s expected to play through the issue again Sunday.

Win: Dallas Cowboys
Line: Dallas Cowboys -13.5
Total Points: Under 45.5

TEXANS VS TITANS

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

The Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans will meet for the second time in three weeks on Sunday, with the road team fighting for its playoff life. The Titans, who fell 24-21 to the Texans in Nashville in Week 15, would clinch the AFC’s final wild-card spot with a win at Houston. They could still sneak in with a loss, but that would require Pittsburgh to lose at Baltimore and Indianapolis to lose at Jacksonville. Tennessee has lost consecutive games since a four-game winning streak, although running back Derrick Henry sat out last week’s home defeat to the Saints, resting his hamstring in a game that didn’t affect the Titans’ playoff status. The Texans, meanwhile, have clinched the AFC South and have only an outside shot at improving on the No. 4 seed in the conference. But head coach Bill O’Brien doesn’t plan to rest his starters, saying, “We’re playing to win.” Houston has won four of five and has alternated two wins with one loss all season. A Titans win would continue the pattern on Sunday. Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (back) popped up on the injury report this week, though he is expected to play. Wideout Will Fuller (groin) is expected to miss at least a week.

Win: Tennessee Titans
Line: Tennessee Titans -6.5
Total Points: Under 51.5

SEAHAWKS VS 49ERS

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

With their top three rushers placed on season-ending IR in a two-week stretch, the Seattle Seahawks lured Marshawn Lynch out of retirement in the hopes of maintaining the run-heavy offense which handed the visiting and NFC West-leading San Francisco 49ers their first loss of the season back in Week 10. No one knows for sure what the 33-year old Lynch will be able to provide the Seahawks given that he has not suited up for an NFL game for 14 months. Rookie Travis Homer, who took over as Seattle’s primary runner last week in an embarrassing home loss to the 5-9-1 Arizona Cardinals, is still expected to be the Seahawks primary ball carrier, making Lynch (and fellow former Seahawk Robert Turbin) likely secondary stories – once the game begins, that is. The return of the iconic Lynch to Seattle’s backfield will dominate the build-up to the key NFC clash, which holds the divisional title in the balance. There is no denying the emotional impact the man affectionately known as “Beast Mode” might have on the Seahawks and their rabid 12s on Sunday night, but his presence will not lessen the gaping holes left behind at left tackle and free safety, where veterans Duane Brown (knee) and Quandre Diggs (ankle) are expected to sidelined with injury. Those injuries could be difficult for Russell Wilson and the Seahawks to overcome. Jamarco Jones was beaten early and often by the Cardinals’ Chandler Jones (no relation) a week ago with Arizona sacking Wilson five times. Nick Bosa and the rest of the 49ers’ vaunted defensive line is likely eager for a second opportunity to beat Wilson, as is George Kittle who was unable to play in Seattle’s 27-24 win November 11 in Santa Clara.

Win: San Francisco 49ers
Line: Seattle Seahawks +3.5
Total Points: Under 45.5

BRONCOS VS RAIDERS

Venue: Empower Field at Mile High | Start: 8:25am AEDT

After having several results fall their way in Week 16, the Oakland Raiders hope the luck continues Sunday as they try to sneak into the playoffs. The Raiders need a win at Denver, losses by Tennessee (at Houston) and Pittsburgh (at Baltimore), a win by Indianapolis (at Jacksonville) and at least one victory by either Chicago (at Minnesota), Detroit (vs. Green Bay), New England (vs. Miami) or the Los Angeles Chargers (at Kansas City). Oakland’s hopes remain alive because it beat the Chargers 24-17 on the road last week, snapping a four-game losing streak and sweeping the season series. The Raiders have already downed the Broncos this season, prevailing 24-16 in the season opener at home. Denver appears improved, though, having won three of rookie quarterback Drew Lock’s first four starts. The Broncos overcame a 10-0 deficit to beat the Lions 27-17 at home last week, with Lock throwing for just 192 yards but posting his first interception-free game. For the Raiders, Derek Carr hasn’t been picked off since Week 13, and he was very sharp last week, finishing 26 of 30 for 291 yards and a touchdown. Head coach Jon Gruden said running back Josh Jacobs (shoulder) has a chance to play after missing two of the last three games.

Win: Denver Broncos
Line: Oakland Raiders +3.5
Total Points: Over 41.5

RAMS VS CARDINALS

Venue: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum | Start: 8:25am AEDT

Conference champions and Super Bowl runner-up a year ago, the Los Angeles Rams are instead left looking for a positive to end this season against the Arizona Cardinals. That could be made much easier should No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray be unable to bounce back from the hamstring strain he suffered in Arizona’s surprising road win in Seattle. If Murray is unable to play, Brett Hundley will get the start. Hundley, whose nine career starts in the NFL all came in 2017 while playing for Green Bay, completed four of nine passes (for 49 yards) versus the Seahawks, while also rushing for another 35 yards. Running back Kenyan Drake was the difference against Seattle, rushing for 166 yards and two scores in the 27-13 win. That is a far cry from the 31 rushing yards (on 13 carries) Drake registered a month ago when LA traveled to Glendale and clipped the Cardinals 34-7. Jared Goff enjoyed one of his best games of the season, completing 32 of 43 passes for 424 yards and two scores without an interception. It is worth noting that whoever is playing quarterback for the Cardinals has a puncher’s chance at tying Arizona’s season-best three game win steak with several key Rams injured, including key defensive lineman Michael Brockers (knee) and veteran safety Eric Weddle (groin). LA’s secondary, in fact, could be especially vulnerable with Jalen Ramsey (knee) already ruled out and fellow cornerback Troy Hill questionable with a thumb injury.

Win: LA Rams
Line: Arizona Cardinals
Total Points: Over 45.5