Thursday December 8th, 2011

Rashard Mendenhall has dropped off from his 2010 pace, but he should have a big game against the Browns. (Cal Sport Media)

Last Week: 5-3; Season: 45-56-3

Hey, lookie here! An over. 500 week! It's been awhile since that happened, but there's still some time to salvage a little pride down the stretch here.

This week's NFL action features some juicy matchups, too, with a ton of games holding some level of playoff significance -- including Thursday night's Cleveland-Pittsburgh game in the Steel City. It looks like a mismatch on paper, but the Steelers absolutely cannot afford a letdown against their AFC North rivals, if they want to stay in the division title hunt.

What can you expect in that one and the rest of the Week 14 slate of games? Away we go ...

Rashard Mendenhall will rush for 100 yards and two touchdowns

The numbers haven't quite been there for Mendenhall, who rushed for nearly 1,300 yards last season but is shy of 700 in 2011. He's also topped the 100-yard mark just once, in Week 6 against Jacksonville.

But the Browns' rush defense is the NFL's second-worst, allowing 151.2 yards per game. On what will be a cold Thursday night in Pittsburgh, Mendenhall should get plenty of chances to carry the ball against that subpar Cleveland front, especially if the Steelers jump out to a big lead early.

There will be less than 30 total points scored in Jacksonville

The Jaguars actually found a little offense in a Monday night loss to San Diego -- mostly by handing the ball to Maurice Jones-Drew. But Sunday's matchup, which pits Jacksonville's lackluster attack against the reeling Buccaneers, doesn't have the feel of a classic. Both teams will try to establish the ground game early, meaning this could turn into a grind-it-out affair.

Calvin Johnson will catch two or more touchdown passes

There was a time this season when Megatron looked like he might smash Randy Moss' single-season receiving touchdowns record. But that time has come and gone. Johnson has just one touchdown over the past four weeks, as teams -- like the Saints did by bracketing him with two or even three defenders -- make it priority No. 1 to take Detroit's top option away.

But Minnesota has major issues in the secondary, and Matthew Stafford looked more or less back to full health in Sunday night's Detroit loss in New Orleans. That combo means big numbers are forthcoming from the Stafford-Johnson duo, no matter how many Vikings try to stop it.

Houston and Cincinnati will combine for at least four turnovers

T.J. Yates kept it together last week in Houston's win over Atlanta, but going on the road for his first start, against a desperate Cincinnati team no less, is a different animal. Yates actually threw what could have been a game-deciding pick-six against Atlanta, only to see that mistake wiped out by a defensive penalty. The Bengals will be ready to pounce if he has similar letdowns Sunday.

And things won't be any easier for the rookie QB on the other sideline. Cincinnati's Andy Dalton was hammered by the aggressive Pittsburgh pass rush last week, so much so that he was taken out in the fourth quarter once the Steelers started to pull away. The Texans provide a similar challenge -- they'll blitz Dalton from all angles and try to force him into rash decisions.

Caleb Hanie will be sacked at least four times

So far, the Hanie era in Chicago has not been much to write home about. The Bears' new starting quarterback had a miserable time last Sunday in a home loss to Kansas City, and Denver has to be licking its chops for its shot at Hanie.

Making matters worse for the Bears is that star running back Matt Forte will be out for this one, but Denver rookie linebacker Von Miller is expected to return to the lineup after missing a game with a hand injury. That combination means lots of long-yardage situations for Hanie and the Bears ... and more than ample opportunities for Miller and the Broncos' D to get into the backfield.

At least three different Chargers will catch touchdown passes

Was Monday's San Diego win the result of a light going on for the Chargers or did it have more to do with the opponent being a terrible Jacksonville team?

We'll find out more in the season's final weeks. One thing's for sure: Philip Rivers sure looked a lot more comfortable and confident Monday than he has in weeks, and part of that is due to him having his full complement of receivers available with Malcom Floyd returning.

Rivers has a terrific chance to continue the forward momentum this week, versus a Buffalo team that is bordering on complete implosion following a strong start to the season. Quarterbacks have picked apart the Bills' secondary all year.

Victor Cruz will gain more yards than any other player on Sunday night

There will be talent all over the field in Sunday's prime time showdown between the Giants and Cowboys, especially with Ahmad Bradshaw rejoining New York last week and Miles Austin potentially doing the same for Dallas in Week 14.

Cruz, though, has developed into Eli Manning's go-to receiver -- he's leading the Giants in yards receiving on the year -- and should be the target of a plethora of Manning pass attempts in this one.

St. Louis won't score more than three points in the first half

It's a defense-heavy edition of "Bet On It."

This prediction is a little Sam Bradford contingent -- the Rams' No. 1 QB has not been practicing in an effort to rest him up for Monday -- but even if he's back, St. Louis could have a difficult time against Seattle's defense. The task gets even more daunting if Bradford joins backup QB A.J. Feeley on the sideline. That would leave the Rams' offense in the hands of Tom Brandstater, who has never thrown a regular-season pass in the NFL.

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