The weekend GPS: It's now or never for faltering Steelers vs. Tom Terrific
GOLD JACKET FEATURE PRESENTATION
NEW ENGLAND @ PITTSBURGH, 4:25 p.m. (EST)
The line: Patriots by 2-1/2
The weather: Cloudy, high of 44
The story: The Patriots need this game to stay in the AFC race for home-field advantage. The Steelers need this game to stay in their division race … period. New England can’t win on the road (they’re 3-4), and the Steelers can’t win anywhere, losing their last three – including two by three points each. OK, it’s one thing to fall to the Chargers. But Oakland? Suddenly, they’re no lock to win the AFC North, which should give them a sense of urgency. Maybe that's why they were talking about playing running back James Conner, who missed last week because of an ankle injury and is not expected to play. The Pats have no significant injuries, but their defense should be listed as questionable. For that matter, so should the Steelers. New England can't tackle, and Pittsburgh can't cover. If there's a difference here, it's at quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger is hurt (ribs), and Tom Brady is not. In fact, this is precisely where Brady wants to be. In 13 career games vs Pittsburgh (including the playoffs), he’s 11-2, with 30 TDs and four interceptions. Check, please.
Something to consider: New England’s Josh Gordon averages 18 yards per catch, better than Tyreek Hill, Brandin Cooks, T.Y. Hilton and Mike Evans and more than any New England receiver since David Patten in 2004.
THREE OTHERS SUITABLE FOR HALL-OF-FRAMING
DALLAS @ INDIANAPOLIS, 1 p.m. (EST)
The line: Colts by 3
The weather: Retractable roof
The story: Nobody’s had a month quite like Dallas. The Cowboys went to Philadelphia (when they hadn’t won a road game all year) and beat the defending Super Bowl-champion Eagles. Then they went on the road and beat the 2016 NFC-champion Falcons. From there it was home to beat, in succession, then-division leading Washington, NFC-leading New Orleans and the Eagles again. That’s five straight and counting. So why aren’t they favored here? Good question. They’re hot, and they’re going to win the NFC East. But Indianapolis is tough to beat at home (4-2), Andrew Luck has more touchdown passes than everyone not named Patrick Mahomes and the Colts are desperate to make the playoffs. Moreover, they just stopped one Texas winning streak when they upset Houston. Careful, Jason Garrett. These guys are dangerous.
Something to consider: In last three games, Dak Prescott completed 77.9 percent of his throws for 993 yards (an average of 331 per game), six touchdowns and two interceptions. He won all three.
MIAMI @ MINNESOTA, 1 p.m. (EST)
The line: Vikings by 7
The weather: Retractable roof
The story: There’s a wild-card in here waiting to happen. Only question is: Which one is it? Oddsmakers say it’s the Vikings, and I can’t disagree. For one, Miami stinks on the road. The Dolphins are 1-5 there. For another, the Vikings just shook up their coaching staff by firing their offensive coordinator, bringing a sense of urgency (panic?) to the locker room. And third, this game is on Sunday afternoon … not Monday night where Kirk Cousins is 0-7 and not on any evening where Cousins is 5-13. Put them all together and what do you have? Fish fillet.
Something to consider: Ryan Tannehill is hot, with eight touchdowns and one interception in his last three starts. But he’s much better at home than on the road. In four home wins, he has a passer rating of 128. In four road losses, that rating drops to 85.3.
GREEN BAY @ CHICAGO, 1 p.m. (EST)
The line: Bears by 6
The weather: Partly cloudy, high of 43
The story: The Packers are on life-support, but that means they aren’t gone. Not yet, they’re not. Granted, that should change by Sunday evening except … well, except they lose in Chicago about as often as the Raiders live up to that “Commitment to Excellence.” They haven’t lost there since 2010, and you can look it up. That’s eight straight wins, including the playoffs. Of course, they’ve won 15 of their last 17 vs. the Bears, too – including the 2010 NFC championship game. But all of that was under Mike McCarthy. Now Joe Philbin is calling the shots, and Aaron Rodgers is under fire for pointing out the obvious: Chicago almost never beats the Pack here. “Nobody forgot Aaron’s little comments,” Chicago's Akiem Hicks said. Swell. Now let’s see if somebody remembers how to beat him.
Something to consider: The Bears are the only team to have a second-half lead in every game this season.
BEATING THE ODDS
RON BORGES – Pittsburgh (+2-1/2). I’m taking the Steelers based on the Bill Parcells theory: Take the more desperate team. You can’t be more desperate than the Steelers right now.
RICK GOSSELIN – Houston (--6-1/2). Sam Darnold has hit the wall, with five interceptions in his last two games. Deshaun Watson, meanwhile, has only two turnovers in his last seven games for the playoff-bound Texans.
CLARK JUDGE -- Minnesota (--7). The Vikings are home. The Dolphins can’t win on the road. One plus one = Miami Splice.
THE WEEKEND OMG
The Saints’ offensive line of Terron Armstead (1), Andrus Peat (3, Max Unger (0), Larry Warford (1) and Ryan Ramcyzk (2) have been called for seven penalties all year and two in the last nine games. Furthermore, Unger hasn’t committed a penalty since Week 9 of 2016.
THE WEEKEND PLAY LIST
HOUSTON WR DEANDRE HOPKINS. He aims for his sixth straight game with a touchdown catch.
DENVER QB CASE KEENUM. He hasn’t thrown an interception in five consecutive games.
CLEVELAND RB NICK CHUBB. He has a rushing touchdown in each of his last five starts.
INDIANAPOLIS TE ERIC EBRON. He has 6 touchdowns in his last five home games.
L.A. RAMS QB JARED GOFF. He’s 6-0 at home, with 18 TDs and two interceptions.
GREEN BAY QB AARON RODGERS. He’s 17-4 vs. Chicago, with 10 touchdowns and no interceptions in his last four. What’s more, since 2008 he has six games vs. the Bears with passer ratings of 125 or better. No other quarterback has more than one such rating vs. Chicago during that span.
BUFFALO QB JOSH ALLEN. He’s one of only two quarterbacks in NFL history (Tobin Rote is the other) to run for 90 or more yards in each of three straight games.
WASHINGTON LB RYAN KERRIGAN. He had a career-best four sacks in his only career game vs. Tampa Bay.
MINNESOTA DE DANIELLE HUNTER. He has 7-1/2 sacks in his past six home games
SEATTLE QB RUSSELL WILSON. He has 11 touchdowns, 1 interception and a passer rating of 138.0 in his past four road games.
TEN THINGS YOU MIGHT WANT TO REMEMBER
- Baltimore rookie Lamar Jackson has more rushing yards (336) than any quarterback in his first four starts.
- The Ravens are the only team to rank in the Top Five in third-down offense and third-down defense.
- The Bears are looking to finish 7-1 at home for the first time since 2005.
- Chicago is No. 1 in the league in takeaways (34), turnover margin (+13), interceptions (25) and points off takeaways (107).
- The New York Giants have 13 players today who were on the active roster for Week 15 a year ago, the fewest in the NFL. Oakland and Cleveland are second at 16.
- Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers has 27 touchdown passes and 0 interceptions in his last 11 division games.
- Jon Gruden is 3-0 vs. Cincinnati.
- A Houston win would mark its fifth straight on the road, tying the franchise’s longest streak since 2012.
- Tom Brady is 59-12 (.831) in December, the second-best percentage in NFL history by quarterbacks with at least 20 starts. Roger Staubach is first at 17-3 (.850).
- Five of the last six games between the Packers and Bears at Soldier Field have been decided by single digits.