Game of the Week: New Orleans Saints (10-4) at Carolina Panthers (10-4)
The Panthers are 3-point favorites at home in a battle that will likely be for the NFC South division title. All the winner will have to do will be to win again next week, and both teams play opponents in Week 17 that are currently 4-10. The Saints are coming off an embarrassing road loss against the Rams a week ago, and have lost 3 out of their last 4 road contests. The Panthers have only lost once at home all year, and that was back in Week 1 against the 12-2 Seattle Seahawks. That game may have been the Panthers best showing defensively, allowing just 12 points against Russell Wilson and company. The Panthers have additionally won 9 out of 10 overall, although the one loss was a blowout to these Saints two weeks ago in New Orleans. But the Saints aren’t the same team on the road as they are in the Superdome, and the Panthers should want ultimate payback, as winning would let them control their destiny to win the division and get a playoff bye.
Panthers 28, Saints 24.
Big Game Guarantee: New England Patriots (10-4) at Baltimore Ravens (8-6)
The Ravens are 2-point home favorites, which means the oddsmakers see these teams as pretty even. The Patriots are in good position heading towards the playoffs, although they haven’t clinched their division just yet, and are battling the Broncos, Bengals, and Chiefs to see who will get a playoff bye. Those 4 losses, however, have come in their last 5 road games, and they will head into a tough environment this week in Baltimore. The Ravens have won 4 straight, and have only lost once at home all year, to the Packers back when they still had Aaron Rodgers. That loss was also part of a 3-5 start for the defending Super Bowl champions. Since, they are 5-1, including an 18-16 win over Detroit, without scoring a touchdown in a defensive battle on Monday night. Count on a close game, as the Ravens have played 9 games decided by 3 points or less, and the Patriots have played 9 games decided by 4 points or less.
Ravens 23, Patriots 20.
Another Big Game Guarantee: Atlanta Falcons (4-10) at San Francisco 49ers (10-4)
The 49ers are favored by 14 in their final regular season game at Candlestick Park. It will likely be the final game, as it is unlikely the 49ers will be able to host a playoff game, based on where they currently sit in the standings. The game itself is almost an afterthought, as the Falcons, who were preseason playoff contenders, have struggled to a 4-10 record, and have not beaten a team with a winning record all season. The 49ers have won 4 straight, including a win over the NFC-leading Seahawks two weeks ago, coming into this Monday Night Football contest. The magnitude of this game is not as much in the game itself as it is in the farewell of one of the game’s great venues, based on both its unique design and its unequaled history.
49ers 30, Falcons 17.
Upset of the Week: Pittsburgh Steelers (6-8) at Green Bay Packers (7-6-1)
Green Bay hosts this pivotal matchup that will affect the playoff race in both the AFC and the NFC, and is favored by 2. The Packers, however, will play their 7th straight game without QB Aaron Rodgers, and are 1-4-1 in the first 6 games without him. That hurts even more when considering the fact Rodgers is 2-0 with 687 yards, 6 TD, and no interceptions in his career against Pittsburgh, including his MVP performance in Super Bowl XLV. The Steelers seemed to come alive last week against Cincinnati, upsetting the division-leading Bengals by 10 to keep their slim playoff chances alive. While the Steelers need a lot of help to make the playoffs, the first thing that needs to happen is for them to win their final 2 games. The Packers are in a similar situation, leaving this as almost an elimination game in the playoff pursuit. The difference in these two teams is that one has their elite quarterback and the other does not.
Steelers 24, Packers 20.
Another Upset of the Week: Chicago Bears (8-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (8-6)
The Eagles are 3-point home favorites in this week’s edition of Sunday Night Football, in a game between two teams both trying to win their respective divisions and make the playoffs in their first season under a new head coach. The Bears, under coach Mark Trestman, come into the game having won back-to-back games for just the second time all year, and just got QB Jay Cutler back from injury last week against Cleveland. They control the NFC North, for now, and can clinch with 2 wins these final 2 weeks of the season (they could actually clinch Sunday, but need to win and have some help from the Steelers and the Giants, who play the Packers and Lions). The Eagles are in a similar position, with this game and one against the Cowboys next week remaining in their quest to make the playoffs under Chip Kelly. They are coming off an unexpected loss to the Vikings last week, and this game actually won’t mean a thing if the Cowboys beat the Redskins in the afternoon (because whether the Eagles win or lose, the game with Dallas next week would still be for the division title). The Bears come in on more of a positive note, and in all likelihood will have more riding on this game.
Bears 37, Eagles 28.