Some have reason to be considerably more nervous than others.
The volatility that presently exists among the head-coaching fraternity became all too apparent with the hasty dismissals of Kansas City's Todd Haley and Miami's Tony Sparano on Tuesday, bringing this year's casualty count to three after the two floundering franchises followed the lead of the Jacksonville Jaguars with that team's termination of Jack Del Rio on Nov. 29. It's not out of the question that a few more will be shown the door before the regular- season finale on New Year's Day as organizations attempt to get a jump on their competition in hopes of reeling in one of the big fishes out of a star-studded pool of candidates with very appealing credentials.
Since it's much harder to speculate as to which teams will be willing and able to pony up the big bucks it'll take to lure Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden or Brian Billick out of their cushy and far-less strenuous broadcast jobs, or to bring Jeff Fisher back from his one-year sabbatical, the focus of this article will instead be on those who may be joining Del Rio, Haley and Sparano on this winter's beggar's circuit. At least seven current head coaches enter the final three weeks with their fannies placed squarely on the hot seat, with their fate solely tied to how their clubs handle a nerve-wracking stretch run.
Here's the breakdown of those sitting in that uncomfortable state of limbo, as well as an assessment of each's chances to retain their jobs in the coming season:
Contract Status: Through 2013 (signed three-year extension in January, 2010)
The Skinny: Led the Chargers to three straight AFC West titles from 2007-09 and an appearance in the conference championship game that first season, but the Bolts have underachieved in back-to-back years since that strong run and are in danger of missing the playoffs for a second straight time.
The Prognosis: If the Chargers can't make one of their patented late runs and overtake Denver and Oakland for the division, Turner's almost certainly a goner. Reports in the San Diego papers have already confirmed as much.
Contract Status: Through 2012
The Skinny: Has compiled a 10-34 record in three seasons. The Rams contended for the NFC West crown up into the final week of 2010 and were expected to do so again this year, but injuries and a anemic offense have instead led to a 2-10 downfall.
The Prognosis: Highly doubtful to be back, especially entering the final year of his contract.
Contract Status: Through 2012 (team renewed two-year option in January)
The Skinny: Orchestrated one of the biggest and most surprising turnarounds of 2010, with a youth-laden Buccaneers roster winning 10 games and just missing out on a playoff berth. Tampa Bay hasn't been able to build off that momentum, though, and enter this week's play at 4-9 and saddled with a seven-game losing streak. The 35-year-old Morris has also drawn substantial criticism for being perceived as lenient and too close to his players, and the Bucs' undisciplined ways have supported those claims.
The Prognosis: Not looking good. As one of the league's lowest-paid coaches, management doesn't have a whole lot invested in Morris and could easily cut bait. A strong finish is absolutely vital to his chances of staying on.
Contract Status: Through 2012
The Skinny: Has done just fine when Peyton Manning's around, bringing the Colts to the Super Bowl in 2009 in his first season taking over for a retired Tony Dungy and following up with 10 wins and an AFC South title last year. But Indianapolis is on the verge of becoming the second 0-16 team in league history with Manning sidelined all of 2011, and the Colts have been barely competitive in recent weeks.
The Prognosis: It's possible Caldwell could get a pass because of Indy's injury-induced fiasco, but unlikely. Coaches almost never go into a season in the final year of their contract, and the Colts would be lambasted in the press if they gave him an extension after producing the worst record in the league.
Contract Status: Through 2013 (signed three-year contract in January)
The Skinny: Gave the Vikings a bit of spark after replacing the unpopular Brad Childress for the final six games of last season, but Frazier's first full year in charge has been a disaster. At 2-11, Minnesota is on pace to set a franchise record for losses and the defense -- Frazier's area of expertise -- has been among the league's most submissive units.
The Prognosis: Owner Zygi Wilf has gone on record that Frazier will be back in 2012, and it's reasonable to believe he'll get another year to redeem himself. His long-term future with the organization will be directly dependant on how young quarterback Christian Ponder progresses in his second season.
Contract Status: Through 2013 (signed three-year extension in December, 2009)
The Skinny: The NFL's longest-tenured active head coach has directed the Eagles to nine playoff berths, six division titles, five trips to the NFC Championship and one Super Bowl appearance in 13 seasons. So why is Reid even on this list? Because Philadelphia has been a major disappointment in 2011, with the expected Lombardi Trophy contenders poised to deliver their first losing record since 2005.
The Prognosis: Though frustrated fans and local media members have been calling for a change in leadership, owner Jeffrey Lurie's not likely to grant their wish unless the Eagles absolutely implode over the final three games. There will be some offseason house-cleaning for sure, however, with one hot rumor having Spagnuolo (a Reid assistant for eight seasons) replacing the maligned Juan Castillo at defensive coordinator.
Contract Status: Through 2012 (signed one-year extension in July)
The Skinny: Guided the Giants to four straight playoff trips from 2005-08 and a memorable upset over an undefeated New England Patriots team in Super Bowl XLII to conclude the 2007 season. New York hasn't won a postseason game since that historic achievement, however, and missed out on the conference tournament altogether after second-half collapses in 2009 and 2010. The Giants also had an ill-timed four-game skid this season before last week's big victory in Dallas.
The Prognosis: The win over the Cowboys may have given Coughlin a stay of execution, though the veteran head coach isn't out of the woods just yet. The Giants have the inside track to claiming the NFC East, but another late-year stumble could force the team's usually-patient ownership's hand.
AFC: 1) Houston (10-3); 2) Baltimore (10-3); 3) New England (10-3); 4) Denver (8-5); 5) Pittsburgh (10-3); 6) N.Y. Jets (8-5)
Only AFC South champion Houston has assured itself a place in the dance, and there's still no clarity in the battle for the top two playoff seeds other than Baltimore owning a tie-breaker over the Steelers by virtue of a season sweep. Cincinnati, Tennessee and Oakland are all lurking one game behind the Jets for the last Wild Card spot.
NFC: 1) Green Bay (13-0); 2) San Francisco (10-3); 3) New Orleans (10-3); 4) N.Y. Giants (7-6); 5) Atlanta (8-5); 6) Detroit (8-5)
The 49ers are ahead of the Saints for the No. 2 seed because of a superior conference record, while the Giants won their only head-to-head meeting with 7-6 Dallas in the NFC East race. Atlanta's Week 7 triumph over Detroit gives the Falcons the inside track for the top Wild Card berth, with slumping Chicago one game behind those two along with the Cowboys.
2012 DRAFT WATCH
I'm refusing to call this segment the "Suck for Luck" sweepstakes on principle, as that phrase has become way too hackneyed for my taste. If anyone has any ideas for a different title, feel free to make your voice heard.
Anyway, here's how the top 10 shapes up at this time:
1) Indianapolis (0-13); 2) Minnesota (2-11); 3) St. Louis (2-11); 4) Washington (4-9); 5/6) Carolina/Jacksonville (4-9); 7) Miami (4-9); 8) Cleveland (4-9); 9) Tampa Bay (4-9); 10) Philadelphia (5-8)
NFL POWER POLL
The Sports Network's updated NFL Power Poll, which ranks all 32 league teams, can be found at:
NFL POWER POLL
Find Fantasy Editor Steve Schwarz's latest analysis at:
SUICIDE POOL PIX
1. Cincinnati (at St. Louis) -- At this point, any decent team that plays the hapless Rams has to be considered a strong option.
2. Green Bay (at Kansas City) -- Kyle Orton does give the Chiefs a better chance of winning, but there's still not much of one against a juggernaut Packers team that averages as many points in a typical game than Kansas City often does in three.
3. Atlanta (vs. Jacksonville) -- Jaguars are really banged-up on defense and looking towards the future, while the more-tested Falcons are in the heat of a playoff race and can't afford to slip up at home.
Hopefully last week's performance can serve as the springboard to a successful close to the regular season. I was able to correctly predict 12 of the 16 winners on the most recent slate and have amassed a 44-18 (.710) record in straight-up selections over the past four weeks, though my overall season mark of 132-78 (.629) isn't quite as glossy. It was more of the same with point spreads involved, though, as I'm now 96-105-7 (.478) for the year against the line after going a mediocre 8-8 in last week's action.
Jacksonville (4-9) at Atlanta (8-5), Thursday, 8:20 (Atlanta -12)
Storylines: Falcons return home tied with Detroit for lead in NFC Wild Card race after rallying for 31-23 road decision over division-rival Carolina this past Sunday and remain two games back of first-place New Orleans in NFC South...Atlanta head coach Mike Smith, a former defensive coordinator for the Jaguars, to be on sidelines despite being briefly hospitalized for chest pains following last week's win...Jaguars snapped three-game losing streak and picked up first career victory for interim head coach Mel Tucker with 41-14 rout of declining Tampa Bay in Week 14, by far team's highest scoring output of season...Running back Maurice Jones-Drew racked up 136 yards from scrimmage and scored four touchdowns (two rushing, two receiving) for Jacksonville last week and leads NFL with 1,222 rushing yards...Falcons fifth overall in run defense (95.2 ypg) but have given up 319 yards on the ground over past two tests...Jaguars top receiver Mike Thomas and defensive end Matt Roth both doubtful with concussions, while kicker Josh Scobee (groin) and safety Dwight Lowery (shoulder) questionable...Cornerback Brent Grimes (knee) to miss third straight game for Atlanta and nickel back Kelvin Hayden (toe) to remain sidelined as well, while linebacker Stephen Nicholas (quadriceps) questionable)...Jacksonville last in league in total offense (260.1 ypg) and passing yards (140.8 ypg)...Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan threw for 320 yards and tied career-high with four touchdown passes against Panthers, with rookie receiver Julio Jones amassing 104 yards and two scores on only three catches.
Fast Fact: Jaguars scored touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams in a game for the first time since a 45-19 win at Baltimore on Nov. 1, 1998 during last week's triumph.
Prediction: Don't be fooled by Sunday's outburst, as the Jaguars remain a one- man offense that poses a minimal threat to a well-rounded Atlanta team playing a must-win game on its home turf. Falcons 24, Jaguars 10.
Dallas (7-6) at Tampa Bay (4-9), Saturday, 8:20 (Dallas -7)
Storylines: NFC East co-leading Cowboys head to Raymond James Stadium off back- to-back tough losses in which team squandered fourth-quarter leads, while sagging Buccaneers attempt to avoid first eight-game losing streak in a season since closing out 1987 campaign with eight straight defeats...Dallas failed to hold onto 12-point advantage with under four minutes left in stinging 37-34 home setback to New York Giants last Sunday, creating two-way tie for first place between teams...Tampa Bay had season-worst seven turnovers in humbling 41-14 loss at offensively-challenged Jacksonville in Week 14 and have 19 giveaways over last five outings...Bucs minus-10 in turnover margin for season and tied for league lead with 31 giveaways...Cowboys placed leading rusher DeMarco Murray (fractured ankle), backup quarterback Jon Kitna (back) and safety Barry Church (shoulder) on injured reserve this week while signing veteran running back Sammy Morris...Center Phil Costa (concussion) questionable for Dallas, while cornerback Mike Jenkins hopeful to play despite hurting shoulder against Giants...Tampa cornerback Aqib Talib (hamstring) expected to return after sitting out last week's loss and quarterback Josh Freeman (shoulder) also probable, but wide receiver Arrelious Benn (concussion) a question mark...Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo compiled 321 passing yards and season-high four scoring strikes versus New York and owns 15-to-2 touchdown-to- interception ratio over last six games...Dallas defense permitted season-high 510 total yards and 400 passing to Giants last weekend...Buccaneers 28th overall in both total defense (388.5 ypg) and against the run (139.7 ypg)...Cowboys just 2-4 on road this season, while Tampa Bay 3-3 at Raymond James Stadium in 2011.
Fast Fact: Dallas reserve tight end Martellus Bennett and Tampa Bay defensive end Michael Bennett are brothers and former college teammates at Texas A&M who will be facing one another for the first time at the professional level.
Prediction: Buccaneers will battle hard in showcase game with head coach Raheem Morris' future in clear jeopardy, but are way too mistake-prone to trust. Cowboys 27, Buccaneers 23.
Carolina (4-9) at Houston (10-3), Sunday, 1:00 (Houston -6.5)
Storylines: Red-hot Texans look to extend franchise-best winning streak to eight consecutive games and clinched first-ever AFC South title with thrilling 20-19 victory at Cincinnati last week, with rookie quarterback and University of North Carolina product T.J. Yates throwing go-ahead touchdown pass to Kevin Walter with just two seconds left...Young Panthers coming off frustrating 31-23 Week 14 home defeat to NFC South contender Atlanta in which team allowed 24 unanswered points in second half, but had recorded road decisions over Indianapolis and Tampa Bay prior to that loss...Houston defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to miss game while preparing for surgery for a kidney condition, with linebackers coach Reggie Herring to run unit in his place, while star wide receiver Andre Johnson likely to sit out second straight week with hamstring injury...Guard Mike Brisiel also ruled out for Texans after fracturing fibula against Bengals, while team released veteran wideout Derrick Mason on Monday...Carolina offensive tackle Jordan Gross questionable after missing last Sunday's loss with ankle problem...Panthers fifth in NFL in total offense (399.0 ypg) and rushing yards (139.9 ypg), while rookie quarterback Cam Newton second among individuals with 13 rushing touchdowns and wideout Steve Smith second in receiving yards (1,217) after amassing 125 on six catches against Falcons...Houston yielding league-low 274.9 total yards per game under Phillips' direction and fourth in both scoring (16.0 ppg) and run defense (91.5 ypg)...Texans second in league in rushing offense (151.9 ypg), while Carolina defense allowing just 89.6 yards per game on the ground over last three weeks.
Fast Fact: The Panthers' only win in the city of Houston in their history occurred on Nov. 24, 1996, a 31-6 rout of the Houston Oilers at the Astrodome.
Prediction: Texans could be primed for a letdown after finally getting over the hump in regards to making the playoffs, but still rate as the sounder team here. Texans 23, Panthers 20.
Cincinnati (7-6) at St. Louis (2-11), Sunday, 1:00 (Cincinnati -6)
Storylines: Reeling Bengals try to shake off shocking 20-19 home loss to Houston last week, team's fourth defeat in last five games, against lowly St. Louis squad that suffered fourth straight setback with 30-13 ousting by Seattle on Monday...Cincinnati dropped one game behind New York Jets in race for AFC's No. 6 playoff seed after falling to Texans on touchdown pass with two seconds remaining...Rams quarterback Sam Bradford and top pass rusher Chris Long both uncertain to play due to ankle sprains, while defensive end James Hall (chest), cornerback Josh Gordy (oblique) and offensive tackle Mark LeVoir (groin) also questionable and club placed fullback Brit Miller (knee) on injured reserve Wednesday...Bengals put veteran guard Bobbie Williams (broken ankle) on IR Monday, while offensive tackle Andre Smith (ankle) and defensive end Carlos Dunlap (hamstring) both questionable...Running back Cedric Benson (foot) probable for Cincinnati, though, and faces St. Louis defense ranked last in NFL against the run (156.8 ypg)...Rams also last in the league in scoring (11.8 ppg) and 30th in total offense (283.8 ypg), and haven't topped 200 passing yards in five consecutive tilts...St. Louis also allowing NFL-worst 46 sacks this season, while Bengals had five in last weekend's loss...Cincinnati seventh overall in both total defense (314.8 ypg) and against the run (100.0 ypg), but surrendered 300 passing yards to Houston rookie T.J. Yates a week ago...Bengals 4-3 on road in 2011, with rookie quarterback Andy Dalton posting 12-to-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio in those games.
Fast Fact: Dalton has thrown a touchdown pass in 10 straight games, the longest streak by a Cincinnati player since current Oakland Raider Carson Palmer did so in 12 consecutive contests from 2004-05.
Prediction: Bengals have the right opponent to get back on track against in the inept Rams, who are fielding practically a preseason roster at this point. Bengals 24, Rams 10.
Green Bay (13-0) at Kansas City (5-8), Sunday, 1:00 (Green Bay -14)
Storylines: Romeo Crennel to take over as Chiefs' interim head coach after team fired Todd Haley on Tuesday and goes up against still-unbeaten Green Bay outfit that owns 19-game winning streak (including postseason) dating back to last year, second-longest in NFL history...Kyle Orton (finger) to make first start at quarterback for Kansas City since being claimed off waivers from Denver last month if healthy, with rookie Ricky Stanzi in line to make NFL debut if Orton can't go...Chiefs held under 255 total yards with Tyler Palko under center for third straight week in 37-10 loss to New York Jets this past Sunday, club's fourth setback in five games...Packers extended incredible tear with 46-16 shellacking of AFC West member Oakland in Week 14 and can clinch NFC's No. 1 playoff seed with victory or San Francisco loss to Pittsburgh on Monday...Green Bay leads league in scoring (35.8 ypg) and third in both total offense (304.6 ypg) and passing yards (304.6 ypg), while quarterback Aaron Rodgers tops all players in quarterback rating (123.3) and touchdown throws (39)...Packers leading receiver Greg Jennings out indefinitely after spraining knee against Raiders, while running back James Starks (ankle), linebacker Desmond Bishop (calf), guard Josh Sitton (knee) and defensive end Ryan Pickett (concussion) all questionable...Safety Jon McGraw uncertain to play for Kansas City after injuring ankle last week...Chiefs 31st overall in scoring (13.3 ppg) and have been held to 10 or less points in each of last six games.
Fast Fact: Packers head coach Mike McCarthy spent six years as an assistant with the Chiefs from 1993-98, serving the final four seasons as the team's quarterbacks coach.
Prediction: Chiefs will score more points with the switch to Orton, but not nearly enough to pose a serious threat to ending the Packers' run of dominance. Packers 34, Chiefs 20.
Miami (4-9) at Buffalo (5-8), Sunday, 1:00 (Miami -1.5)
Storylines: Todd Bowles to make debut as Dolphins' interim head coach after team fired Tony Sparano shortly after 26-10 home loss to Philadelphia last Sunday, while injury-ravaged Bills try to avoid seventh straight defeat after encouraging 5-2 start...Miami had won four of last six games under Sparano, including 35-8 rout of visiting Buffalo on Nov. 20 behind three touchdown passes from quarterback Matt Moore, who's tentatively presumed to be active despite sustaining mild concussion against Eagles...Dolphins also posted 15-10 triumph over Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium in 2010 season opener...Wide receiver Stevie Johnson probable for Buffalo after injuring hand in club's 37-10 loss at San Diego during Week 14, in which he had 116 yards on four catches, and cornerback Aaron Williams (knee) also expected to play...Tight end Scott Chandler (ankle) doubtful for Buffalo, however, while All-Pro offensive tackle Jake Long (back) and guard Vernon Carey (ankle) both questionable for Miami...Bills had three giveaways against Chargers and own minus-nine turnover ratio during six-game slide, with slumping quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick having thrown nine interceptions over that stretch...Dolphins running back Reggie Bush registered second straight 100-yard rushing game last week and takes on Buffalo defense ranked 25th versus the run (130.7 ypg)...Miami third in NFL in run defense (89.9 ypg) and held Eagles to 51 yards on the ground this past Sunday.
Fast Fact: Bills head coach Chan Gailey spent two seasons as the Dolphins' offensive coordinator under then-sideline boss Dave Wannstedt, now Buffalo's linebackers coach, from 2000-01.
Prediction: Dolphins had their way with the depleted Bills just a few weeks back, and a coaching change and shift in venue shouldn't lead to a different result. Dolphins 24, Bills 13.
New Orleans (10-3) at Minnesota (2-11), Sunday, 1:00 (New Orleans -6.5)
Storylines: High-powered Saints can wrap up second NFC South title in three years with victory over struggling Vikings and loss by Atlanta to Jacksonville on Thursday, and clinched third straight playoff appearance with 22-17 road decision over Tennessee last Sunday for team's fifth consecutive win...Minnesota suffered fifth defeat in a row with 34-28 setback at rival Detroit in Week 14 and seeking to avoid longest losing streak since eight-game skid spanning 2001 and '02 seasons...Vikings All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson on track to return from three-game absence caused by high ankle sprain, while rookie quarterback Christian Ponder (hip) slated to start despite throwing three interceptions against Lions and being replaced by backup Joe Webb in third quarter...New Orleans running back Mark Ingram likely to miss second straight week with turf toe injury, but defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis (hamstring) probable...Saints top NFL in total offense (447.8 ypg), passing yards (325.2 ypg) and third-down conversion rate (53.7 percent) while standing second in scoring (31.9 ypg), with quarterback Drew Brees having thrown for league-leading 4.368 yards and completing 70.9 percent of attempts...Minnesota tied for 26th in pass defense (248.8 ypg) and have allowed NFL-high 26 touchdowns through the air...Vikings fourth overall in rushing offense (145.6 ypg) and ran for season-best 269 yards against Lions...Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen took over league lead in sacks (17.5) with three against Detroit.
Fast Fact: Saints are 2-11 all-time as the visitor in this series and have lost in each of their last five visits to the Metrodome, with the team's last win there taking place on Nov. 28, 1993.
Prediction: Vikings' defense hasn't been able to stop anyone with a pulse lately and Ponder's been turning the ball over like crazy. That's a very bad combination against an opponent with Brees on the other side. Saints 37, Vikings 27.
Seattle (6-7) at Chicago (7-6), Sunday, 1:00 (Chicago -3.5)
Storylines: Rematch of 2010 NFC Divisional Playoff clash held at Soldier Field last January, a 35-24 Chicago victory in which Bears rolled up 437 total yards...Teams have gone in opposite directions recently, with resurgent Seahawks registering fourth win in five games via a 30-13 decision over doormat St. Louis on Monday and battered Bears having lost three straight contests, most recently a 13-10 overtime setback at AFC West leader Denver in Week 14...Chicago faced Broncos without quarterback Jay Cutler (broken thumb) and running back Matt Forte (knee), neither of whom will suit up on Sunday...Caleb Hanie to make fourth consecutive start in Cutler's place, but has mustered just 248 passing yards over last two weeks and thrown six interceptions since taking over...Marion Barber rushed for 108 yards on 27 carries filling in for Forte against Denver, but had critical fumble in overtime...Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch has eclipsed 100 rushing yards in five of last six weeks and has scored a touchdown in nine consecutive outings, but Bears defense yielding just 80.5 yards on the ground over past eight bouts...Seahawks just 2-4 on road in 2011, but bested Bears in Chicago by 23-20 score during Week 6 of last season...Bears defensive end Julius Peppers has racked up seven sacks over last eight tests, while Seattle tied for fourth in most sacks allowed (41).
Fast Fact: Bears kicker Robbie Gould is now 6-for-6 on field goal attempts of 50 or more yards this season after booting a franchise-record 57-yarder in last week's loss. He had gone 5-of-9 from that distance over his first six NFL seasons.
Prediction: Chicago offense will be bad once again, but Bears find resourceful ways to come through with a win they absolutely have to obtain. Bears 16, Seahawks 10.
Tennessee (7-6) at Indianapolis (0-13), Sunday, 1:00 (Tennessee -6.5)
Storylines: Titans one game back of New York Jets for final Wild Card spot in AFC and aim for first season sweep of woeful Colts since 2002...Winless Indianapolis tied 1986 team for worst start to a season with 24-10 road defeat to Ravens last Sunday and attempts to avoid first 14-game skid since 1981, when franchise was still based in Baltimore...Tennessee, which topped Colts by 27-10 score in Nashville in Week 8, had won two in a row prior to 22-17 home setback to NFC powerhouse New Orleans last Sunday, with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck exiting contest in second quarter with calf strain...Hasselbeck questionable for Sunday's tilt, with rookie first-round pick Jake Locker a possibility to draw first career start under center...Linebacker Akeem Ayers (shoulder) also uncertain to play for Titans, while reserve running back Javon Ringer (broken hand) ruled out and team placed linebacker Barrett Ruud (groin) on injured reserve Tuesday...Tennessee wide receiver Nate Washington (ankle) probable, however, and had career-best 130 yards and a touchdown on six catches against Saints...Dan Orlovsky to make third straight start at quarterback for Indianapolis, but managed just 136 yards on 17-of-37 passing against formidable Ravens defense last week...Colts 31st in total offense (283.4 ypg), 28th in total yards allowed (384.8 ypg) and 30th in run defense (144.3 ypg), while club surrendering league-worst 29.4 points per game...Titans have lost three straight and seven of last eight games against Colts in Indianapolis, including 23-20 decision in 2010 finale.
Fast Fact: Indianapolis' 13 losses in 2011 are already one more than the franchise's entire total of defeats over the previous three seasons combined (36-12).
Prediction: It won't really matter who's at quarterback if Titans running back Chris Johnson has a big day against Indianapolis' deplorable defense. Titans 17, Colts 13.
Washington (4-9) at N.Y. Giants (7-6), Sunday, 1:00 (N.Y. Giants -7)
Storylines: Giants stopped four-game losing streak and climbed back into first- place tie with Dallas atop NFC East with stirring 37-34 comeback victory over Cowboys last Sunday, in which team scored two touchdowns in final 3 1/2 minutes to prevail...Redskins handed New York 28-14 loss in Washington in 2011 season opener, but have dropped eight of nine contests following 3-1 start...Giants had won six straight times against Redskins prior to Week 1 defeat and haven't been swept by longtime rival in a season since 1999, while Washington last topped New York on the road in 2007...Giants pass rusher Osi Umenyiora to miss third straight game with ankle injury and center David Baas (neck) doubtful, but defensive end Justin Tuck expected to play through toe problem and safety Kenny Phillips (knee) questionable...Safety LaRon Landry (groin) likely out for Washington, while offensive tackle Jammal Brown (groin) and wide receiver Donte Stallworth (ankle) both question marks...New York fourth in NFL in passing offense (304.1 ypg) and accumulated season-high 510 total yards against Dallas, with quarterback Eli Manning reaching 400-yard mark in passing for third time this season...Redskins compiled season-best 463 total yards in 34-27 loss to AFC East leader New England last week, with rookie running back Roy Helu rushing for career-high 126 yards to eclipse century mark for third straight week...Giants end Jason Pierre-Paul named NFC Defensive Player of Week after producing two sacks, a safety and blocking a potential game-tying field goal attempt in Dallas win.
Fast Fact: With last week's performance, Manning became the first quarterback to throw for 400 yards against the Cowboys in Dallas since Miami's David Woodley did so on Oct. 25, 1981.
Prediction: Redskins have been playing quality foes tough as of late and Giants rarely blow anybody out, so expect another close game in which Manning once again comes through. Giants 24, Redskins 20.
Detroit (8-5) at Oakland (7-6), Sunday, 4:05 (Detroit -1)
Storylines: Interconference matchup of teams trying to end extensive playoff droughts, with Lions last reaching postseason in 1999 and Raiders absent from AFC tournament since 2002...Detroit tied with Atlanta for one of NFC's two Wild Card berths and stopped untimely two-game skid with 34-28 outlasting of non- contending Minnesota last Sunday, while struggling Raiders dealt second straight lopsided road loss with 46-16 throttling by NFC North champion Green Bay in Week 14 to fall one game behind surging Denver for AFC West's top spot...Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh set to return from two-game suspension for stomping incident in Thanksgiving Day defeat to Packers, while rookie counterpart Nick Fairley (foot) and cornerback Chris Houston (knee) both hopeful to play after sitting out against Vikings...Running back Kevin Smith (ankle), safety Louis Delmas (knee), cornerbacks Eric Wright (hamstring) and Aaron Berry (shoulder) and linebacker Justin Durant (hamstring) all questionable for Detroit, however...Oakland rookie receiver Denarius Moore (ankle) on track to come back from three-game absence this week, but leading rusher Darren McFadden to remain sidelined and wideout Jacoby Ford doubtful with foot sprains...Raiders sixth in NFL in rushing offense (138.8 ypg), while Lions 27th in run defense and allowed season-high 269 yards on the ground to Vikings...Detroit third overall in takeaways (29) and forced six turnovers against Minnesota, two of which ended in defensive touchdowns...Lions 4-2 on road this season and have won six of their last away tests dating back to last year.
Fast Fact: Detroit wideout Calvin Johnson is one of only three players in Lions history to amass at least 70 catches and 1,000 receiving yards in three separate seasons, joining Herman Moore and Johnnie Morton.
Prediction: Raiders get their faulty ground game working again in a matchup with a injury-riddled Detroit defense that's been a shell of its former self in recent weeks. Raiders 30, Lions 24.
Cleveland (4-9) at Arizona (6-7), Sunday, 4:15 (Arizona -6.5)
Storylines: Resurgent Cardinals go for fourth consecutive victory and sixth win in seven games, while fading Browns sustained third straight loss and sixth defeat in last seven tilts with 14-3 ousting by defending AFC champion Pittsburgh in Week 14...Cleveland quarterback Colt McCoy likely doubtful after incurring controversial concussion against Steelers, with veteran Seneca Wallace the favorite to start, but Arizona signal-caller Kevin Kolb believed to be cleared to go after exiting last Sunday's 21-19 upset of NFC West winner San Francisco with concussion of his own...Tight end Benjamin Watson also expected to miss for Browns with concussion, but running backs Peyton Hillis (hip) and Montario Hardesty (calf) and wide receiver Joshua Cribbs (groin) all probable...Cardinals safety Kerry Rhodes could make return after being sidelined since Week 7 with broken foot...Arizona 2-0 on current three-game home stretch and owns 4-2 record at University of Phoenix Stadium this year, while Cleveland has dropped five straight on road since beating Indianapolis on Sept. 18...Browns second in NFL in pass defense (180.7 ypg) but 31st against the run (150.9 ypg), while Cardinals' stop unit has recorded 10 sacks over last two wins...Cleveland 30th in scoring (13.7 ppg) and has been held under 20 points in 11 of 13 games, and team ranks 29th in both total offense (291.7 ypg) and rushing (94.0 ypg).
Fast Fact: Browns are 0-2 on the road against the Cardinals since posting a 29-21 decision at Sun Devil Stadium on Oct. 23, 1988.
Prediction: Browns have been playing pretty good defense and Wallace may actually be an upgrade over the mediocre McCoy, but Cardinals are more explosive and have shown the wherewithal to win tight games. Cardinals 17, Browns 13.
New England (10-3) at Denver (8-5), Sunday, 4:15 (New England -6.5)
Storylines: Marquee matchup between AFC division leaders riding hot streaks, with surprising Broncos vying to win seven straight contests for first time since 1998 and potent Patriots on season-high five-game run following hard- fought 34-27 road decision over Washington last Sunday...New England can clinch third consecutive AFC East crown with victory this week or by New York Jets losing to Philadelphia...Denver holds one-game edge on Oakland for AFC West's top spot after rallying from late 10-point deficit for 13-10 overtime triumph at Chicago in Week 14, team's fifth fourth-quarter comeback during 7-1 run under dynamic young quarterback Tim Tebow...Patriots just 2-15 at Denver since 1969 and have lost six of seven lifetime bouts with Broncos that superstar quarterback Tom Brady has started...New England second in NFL in total offense (424.4 ypg) and passing yards (319.3 ypg) and have scored 31 or more points in each of last five wins, while Denver has held four of last five opponents to 13 points or less...Broncos averaging league-best 156.2 rushing yards per game and 190.3 per game on the ground in Tebow's eight starts...Patriots last in total defense (416.0) and against the pass (308.7 ypg), but tied for second overall in interceptions (18)...New England tight end Rob Gronkowski tops NFL with 15 touchdown catches and has scored 10 times (one rushing) over last five weeks...Safety Patrick Chung and offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer both doubtful for Patriots with foot injuries and linebacker Brandon Spikes (knee) questionable, while cornerback Andre Goodman (concussion) unlikely to go for Denver.
Prediction: No Tebow magic this week, as the Broncos' still-flawed offense won't be able to keep pace with the remarkably-precise Pats. Patriots 27, Broncos 13.
N.Y. Jets (8-5) at Philadelphia (5-8), Sunday, 4:15 (Philadelphia -3)
Storylines: Jets invade Lincoln Financial Field riding season-high three-game winning streak and seized lead in race for AFC's final Wild Card spot with 37-10 dismantling of Kansas City a week ago...Eagles halted string of back-to- back costly losses with 26-10 road ousting of Miami last Sunday in quarterback Michael Vick's return from three-week absence (rib fracture)...Philadelphia 8-0 all-time against New York, but has lost five of six home dates this season and is 1-8 in last nine tests at Lincoln Financial Field dating back to last year...Jets have won two of last three on the road after 0-3 start as the guest to 2011...New York placed starting safety Jim Leonhard on injured reserve with knee injury suffered in last week's triumph, but defensive lineman Mike Devito (knee) probable after missing past two contests...Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin expected to play despite leaving Miami game with tight hamstring, but defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins (groin) questionable and club put wideout Steve Smith (knee) on IR Monday...Jets rushed for 159 yards against the Chiefs, with top back Shonn Greene gaining season-high 129 yards on 29 carries...Philadelphia second in NFL with 42 sacks and had nine quarterback takedowns against Dolphins, with ends Jason Babin and Trent Cole netting three each...Eagles tied for league lead with 31 giveaways and own minus-12 turnover ratio, second-worst in NFL...New York leads all teams with 71.4 touchdown percentage within red zone, while Philadelphia defense third-worst in that category (67.6 percent).
Fast Fact: Babin has 15 sacks this year, the most by a Philadelphia player in a single season since Hugh Douglas -- a member of the Jets from 1995-97 -- had the same amount in 2000.
Prediction: Jets seem to be hitting their stride at exactly the right time, and their physical style could create more headaches for the erratic Eagles. Jets 24, Eagles 20.
Baltimore (10-3) at San Diego (6-7), Sunday, 8:20 (Baltimore -2.5)
Storylines: Rolling Ravens seek to secure fourth consecutive playoff appearance and run current winning streak to five straight games, while inconsistent Chargers remain alive in AFC West picture after posting back-to-back one-sided wins over Jacksonville (38-14) and Buffalo (37-10) following damaging string of six consecutive losses...Baltimore can wrap up postseason entry with victory this week or by two defeats among three-team grouping of New York Jets, Oakland and Tennessee...San Diego two games behind division-leading Denver with three to play, but owns stellar 22-2 mark in December since 2006...Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis slated to return from four-game absence due to toe injury, while cornerback Lardarius Webb (toe) questionable...Baltimore 3-3 on road this season, with all three losses coming to teams below .500 at the time...Chargers running back Ryan Mathews shoots for fourth game in a row with over 100 rushing yards, but faces stout Ravens defense ranked second versus the run (85.8 ypg) and limited Indianapolis to 50 yards on the ground in 24-10 triumph a week ago...Baltimore also leads NFL in sacks (45) and stands third in total defense (278.1 ypg) and points allowed (15.5 ppg)...San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers has thrown six touchdown passes and no interceptions in team's two most recent wins...Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs named AFC Defensive Player of Week after amassing three sacks and three forced fumbles versus Colts, and has seven sacks over last three weeks...Baltimore averaging 218 rushing yards over last two victories.
Fast Fact: Since 2009, the Chargers are 15-3 when quarterback Philip Rivers is sacked one time or less in a game and 12-14 when he's taken down on two or more occasions during that time period.
Prediction: Chargers have gotten fat on a couple of softies the past two weeks. The Ravens are a different animal altogether. Ravens 20, Chargers 13.
Pittsburgh (10-3) at San Francisco (10-3), Monday, 8:30 (San Francisco -2.5)
Storylines: Intriguing clash of double-digit winners and likely playoff participants, with 49ers already having claimed NFC West title and defending AFC champion Steelers in postseason with a victory this week or losses by either Denver, Oakland, Tennessee or the New York Jets...Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger a possible game-time decision due to ankle sprain sustained in 14-3 win over Cleveland in Week 14, with veteran Charlie Batch to fill in if he's inactive, while linebacker James Harrison to sit out contest after being suspended one game for illegal hit on Browns signal-caller Colt McCoy...Center Maurkice Pouncey (ankle) also questionable for Steelers and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (foot) doubtful, but All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu (hamstring) probable and outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley expected to return from hamstring pull...Statuses of linebacker Patrick Willis (hamstring), offensive tackle Joe Staley (concussion) and safety Dashon Goldson (hip) all uncertain for San Francisco, which has lost two of three following sizzling 9-1 start and dealt 21-19 defeat by Arizona last Sunday...Matchup of two of NFL's premier defenses, with Niners yielding fewest points (14.0 ppg) and rushing yards (70.5 ypg) in the league and Pittsburgh second in both points (15.2 ppg) and total yards (276.1 ypg) allowed...San Francisco has not given up a rushing touchdown this season and hasn't permitted an individual 100-yard rusher in 35 consecutive games, third-longest streak in NFL since 2000...Steelers have won four in a row and eight of last nine contests and have surrendered just 19 points total over three most recent triumphs...49ers quarterback Alex Smith has been sacked 18 times over last three games, including five against Cardinals this past week.
Fast Fact: Steelers wideout Mike Wallace is only the fourth player in franchise history to record consecutive seasons of 1,000 receiving yards, joining current teammate Hines Ward, Plaxico Burress and Roy Jefferson.
Prediction: The exceptionally-tough Roethlisberger guts this one out, while Smith is the one who ends up sore after a meeting with Pittsburgh's stout pass rush. Steelers 20, 49ers 16.