The Sunday GPS: Colts, Titans in tug-of-war for AFC's last playoff Wild Card
GOLD JACKET FEATURE PRESENTATION
INDIANAPOLIS @ TENNESSEE, 8:20 p.m. (EST)
The line: Colts by 3
The weather: Cloudy, high of 52
The story: Andrew Luck has never lost to Tennessee … as in 10-0 for his career. He says “it doesn’t matter,” but who’s he kidding? He said the same thing earlier this year and then went out and put a 38-10 beatdown on the Titans. But that wasn’t in Nashville, where the Titans are 6-1 and on four-game tear. That was also with Marcus Mariota at quarterback, though he left in the second quarter with an injured elbow. He’s practicing this week, but the workout is limited because of neck and foot injuries. Worse, nobody's sure if he plays. If he can't, it's up to Blaine Gabbert, and good luck there. With a victory here, the Colts – not the Titans – make the playoffs as the sixth seed. And with a victory here, the Titans – not the Colts – make the playoffs as the sixth seed. So, maybe Luck is right. Maybe it doesn’t matter that he's 10-0. This game is all that's important, and it’s a one-game playoff … winner take all. The good news for Tennessee is that Andrew Luck hasn’t been Andrew Luck the past month, throwing for four TDs in four games. The bad news is that they’ve never beaten him … and, sorry, but that DOES matter.
Something to consider: Tennessee’s Derrick Henry has run for 532 yards this month, the most by any player this season in any month.
THREE OTHERS SUITABLE FOR HALL-OF-FRAMING
CLEVELAND @ BALTIMORE, 4:25 p.m. (EST)
The line: Ravens by 6
The weather: Partly cloudy, high of 43
The story: A year ago, all the Ravens had to do was beat Cincinnati to clinch a playoff spot. But they failed, losing out when Tyler Boyd scored on a 49-yard TD with under a minute left. One year later, all they must do is beat the Browns, and they clinch a playoff spot. In 2017, that would’ve been a lock. The Browns didn’t win once. But this year is different because these Browns are different, winning five of their last six, putting them at … .500 for the season? We don’t make ‘em up, folks. But these Ravens are different, too, especially since rookie Lamar Jackson took over at quarterback. They average a league-high 218.5 yards rushing over their past six games, five of which they won, and 35:20 in time of possession over the same span – also an NFL high.
Something to consider: Under John Harbaugh, the Ravens are 18-3 vs. Cleveland, including 9-1 at home.
CINCINNATI @ PITTSBURGH, 4:25 p.m. (EST)
The line: Steelers by 14-1/2
The weather: Mostly sunny, high of 43
The story: The Steelers are on life support, but that’s the good news. Because there’s life in life support. Nobody’s pulled the plug. Not yet. And why should they? If the Steelers win here … and Baltimore loses to Cleveland … the Steelers, not the Ravens, clinch the AFC North. Which means … instead of being left out in the cold of January, Pittsburgh enters the playoffs as the AFC’s fourth seed. Now that’s going to take some luck, but it’s not out of the question. The Bengals lost six of their last seven, and Pittsburgh owns these guys. Plus, even though Antonio Brown’s not practicing, running back James Conner is … back for the first time in four weeks. Cincinnati won’t spoil the Steelers’ playoff party as it did with Baltimore a year ago. But the Ravens could.
Something to consider: Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt has six sacks and two forced fumbles in his last five home games.
CHICAGO @ MINNESOTA, 4:25 p.m. (EST)
The line: Vikings by 5
The weather: Retractable roof
The story: Minnesota needs this game to make the playoffs. The Bears need this game to gain a first-round bye. But even if they win, they may not get it. Because it all depends on what happens with the Rams, and they’re not only home; they’re home against the San Francisco 49ers. So if there’s urgency here it’s with the home teams, and what do we always say about desperate teams that are home? Right. They’re dangerous. Minnesota has more to lose than Chicago, and the Vikings are where they’ve beaten the Bears the past six years. Dorothy was right: There's no place like home.
Something to consider: The Bears lead the league in takeaways (36), interceptions (27) and points off turnovers (107).
BEATING THE ODDS
RON BORGES -- Tennessee (+3) -- The Titans should lose, but very few things that should happen this season have happened. So why should this weekend be any different?
CLARK JUDGE – Philadelphia (--6-1/2). Now, more than ever, I believe in St. Nick.
RICK GOSSELIN – Philadelphia (--6-1/2). Don’t bet against Nick Foles this time of year**.**
THE WEEKEND OMG
With a defeat of the Jets, the New England Patriots clinch their 13th first-round bye since 2001, a feat unmatched in the NFL. It would also clinch their ninth consecutive first-round bye.
THE WEEKEND OMG II
If the Seattle Seahawks don't commit a turnover Sunday -- and they've done that in eight games this season -- they tie the 2010 New England Patriots and 2011 San Francisco 49ers for the fewest giveaways in one season. The Seahawks have 10 through 15 games.
THE SUNDAY PLAY LIST
KANSAS CITY QB PATICK MAHOMES. With two touchdown passes, he joins Peyton Manning (55) and Tom Brady (50) as the only quarterbacks to throw for 50 TDs in one season. Mahomes has 48.
NEW ENGLAND QB TOM BRADY. He’s 27-7 vs. the Jets, including the playoffs, with 54 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions. He also has 10 touchdown passes, with no interceptions, in his last four at home vs. New York.
NEW YORK GIANTS RB SAQUON BARKLEY. With 114 yards he joins Eric Dickerson and Edgerrin James as the only rookies to gain 2,000 yards from scrimmage in their rookie seasons.
GREEN BAY QB AARON RODGERS. In his last three games vs. Detroit, he’s thrown for 947 yards with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions.
L.A. RAMS DT AARON DONALD. With three sacks, he ties the NFL single-season record of 22-1/2, set by the Giants’ Michael Strahan.
ATLANTA QB MATT RYAN. He has 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions in his last four starts vs. Tampa Bay.
TENNESSEE RB DERRICK HENRY. With one rushing TD, he ties Earl Campbell’s and DeMarco Murray’s franchise record of five consecutive games with at least one rushing score.
BALTIMORE LB TERRELL SUGGS. He has 19 career sacks against Cleveland, the most vs. any opponent**.**
HOUSTON QB DESHAUN WATSON. He has nine touchdown passes and no interceptions in his last four games at home.
CLEVELAND QB BAKER MAYFIELD. With two touchdown passes, he ties Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson for the most scoring passes (26) by a rookie in one season.
TEN THINGS YOU MIGHT WANT TO REMEMBER
- Baltimore’s defense ranks first in fewest points (17.5 per game) and fewest yards allowed (284.1) this season. Only once before (2006) have the Ravens finished first in both.
- The Ravens are 18-4 in their final game of regular-season play.
- The Titans’ 73 penalties for 652 total yards are the fewest in the NFL. They’ve been assessed no more than four in nine of their 15 games. The franchise record for one season is 84, set in 1983 when they were the Houston Oilers.
- Tennessee has allowed a total of two offensive touchdowns the past four games.
- The Bears are the only team to hold a second-half lead in every game this season.
- Cleveland hasn’t allowed more than 20 points in any of its last six games, five of which it won. The Browns are 7-0 when holding opponents to fewer than 21 points.
- Minnesota has allowed only 25 touchdown drives this season, the fewest in the league.
- The Patriots have 12 straight regular-season wins at home and are the league’s only unbeaten team at home this season.
- Derek Carr hasn't thrown an interception in his last 325 passes, the third-best record in NFL history. Only Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are better.
- Chargers’ kicker Michael Badgley has made 93.8 percent of his field-goal attempts this season, setting a single-season franchise record for kickers with at least 15 attempts.