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NFL predictions

Panthers (11-4) at Falcons (4-11)

1 p.m. Ch. 13. Panthers by 6, 46

Before the Bucs kick off, the Saints will know if they have a shot at the NFC South title (and a first-round bye), needing a Panthers loss. A Falcons win also helps the Bucs' draft position. Carolina LB Luke Kuechly, above, was generously given 24 tackles last week, most in an NFL game since 1994. Falcons QB Matt Ryan has 4,235 yards and 24 touchdowns this season. Player you haven't heard of: Atlanta LB Joplo Bartu, an undrafted rookie from Texas State who has 79 tackles and 31/2 sacks.

The pick: Panthers 24, Falcons 17

Ravens (8-7) at Bengals (10-5)

1 p.m. Bengals by 6½, 44

Baltimore has won four of five and is trying to get into the postseason for the sixth year in a row. But the defending Super Bowl champs need help. Cincinnati is unbeaten at home and has scored at least 40 in its past four home games. Bengals QB Andy Dalton, above, is within range of two big team passing records, needing 117 yards and two touchdown passes. If it's close late, you have to like Ravens kicker Justin Tucker, who has made 33 of his past 34 field-goal tries, including that 61-yarder against the Lions.

The pick: Bengals 31, Ravens 27

Jaguars (4-11) at Colts (10-5)

1 p.m. Colts by 10 ½, 45½

Jacksonville, which started 0-8, is seeking its fourth straight road win. The Colts bounced back from consecutive road losses by winning 23-7 at Kansas City last week. They have won eight AFC South titles since 2003. Colts QB Andrew Luck, above, needs just 7 passing yards for the most in a player's first two seasons. Carolina's Cam Newton set the record of 7,920 last year. Can you name Jacksonville's leading receiver? It's rookie Ace Sanders, who has 45 catches for 434 yards and a touchdown.

The pick: Colts 34, Jaguars 24

Jets (7-8) at Dolphins (8-7)

1 p.m. Ch. 10. Dolphins by 5½, 41½

Miami won 23-3 four weeks ago, and it seeks its first playoff berth in five years. But the Dolphins are coming off a 19-0 loss at Buffalo during which they totaled six first downs. If Ryan Tannehill, above, can get 291 passing yards, he'll join Dan Marino as the only 4,000-yard passers in Dolphins history. He has had at least 300 in his past two home games. The Jets can't make the playoffs but can help create a five-way tie at 8-8 — and put the Steelers in the playoffs — for the final AFC wild card.

The pick: Dolphins 21, Jets 20

Lions (7-8) at Vikings (4-10-1)

1 p.m. Vikings by 3, 51

The Lions, eliminated from playoff contention last week, are struggling enough that the Vikings, coming off a 42-14 loss, are favored at home. Minnesota's Cordarelle Patterson hasn't disappointed as a rookie: two touchdowns on kickoff returns, two rushing and three receiving. Lions QB Matt Stafford, above, needs 67 yards for his third straight 4,500-yard season. He has had at least 300 yards in his past three games vs. the Vikings. Joique Bell ran for two scores for Detroit in a 34-24 home victory over Minnesota in September.

The pick: Lions 31, Vikings 21

Redskins (3-12) at Giants (6-9)

1 p.m. Giants by 3½, 45½

Second-year Redskins QB Kirk Cousins, again starting for Robert Griffin III, averages 302 yards in three career starts. Avoiding interceptions will be huge against a Giants team that's minus-16 in turnover margin thanks to Eli Manning's league-high 26 picks. Washington's Pierre Garcon, above, has a franchise-record 107 catches, one more than Hall of Famer Art Monk in 1984, and has at least five in every game this season. New York won 24-17 four weeks ago, with Andre Brown rushing for two scores.

The pick: Giants 24, Redskins 17

Browns (4-11) at Steelers (7-8)

1 p.m. Steelers by 6½, 44

Pittsburgh is still alive for the AFC's final playoff berth but needs to win and hope Miami, Baltimore and San Diego lose. The Steelers' LeVeon Bell, above, needs 73 yards to break Franco Harris' team rookie record for yards from scrimmage. Harris had 1,235 in 1972. It's hard to believe Cleveland contemplating trading Josh Gordon, who has a team-record 1,564 receiving yards along with nine touchdown catches. Cleveland LB Barkevious Mingo is tied for the AFC rookie lead with five sacks.

The pick: Steelers 27, Browns 21

Texans (2-13) at Titans (6-9)

1 p.m. Titans by 7½, 44

Houston can lock up the No. 1 overall draft pick with a loss, though it has won seven of the past 10 and three straight against the Titans, including 30-24 in overtime in September. Texans WR Andre Johnson has five seasons with 100-plus catches. But he has been limited to five touchdowns this year. Titans RB Chris Johnson, above, needs 50 yards to hit 1,000 for the sixth year in a row. What Titan has more sacks than the Bucs' Gerald McCoy? Jurrell Casey, 101/2, tied for the NFL lead among defensive tackles.

The pick: Titans 28, Texans 17

49ers (11-4) at Cardinals (10-5)

4:25 p.m. 49ers by 1, 42½

New Orleans fans will be scoreboard-watching. A Cardinals loss puts the Saints in the playoffs. Arizona has won seven of eight; however, it lost 32-20 at San Francisco in October with 49ers TE Vernon Davis, above, getting two long touchdown catches. Arizona LB Karlos Dansby is the first player in 19 years with six sacks, four interceptions and two interceptions returned for touchdowns in a season. The 49ers have clinched a playoff spot but can win the NFC West and the No. 1 seed if Seattle falters.

The pick: 49ers 31, Cardinals 28

Broncos (12-3) at Raiders (4-11)

4:25 p.m. Broncos by 11, 53½

Can Oakland hold Denver to 17 points? That's what it would take to keep the Broncos, already with 572 points and averaging 38.1, from becoming the highest-scoring team in NFL history. The stats for Denver's Peyton Manning, above, are ridiculous: 5,211 yards and 51 touchdown passes against 10 interceptions. Denver won 37-23 in September with Manning throwing for 374 and three scores. If there's a vulnerability for Denver, it's turnover margin: minus-1 for the season.

The pick: Broncos 38, Raiders 17

Chiefs (11-4) at Chargers (8-7)

4:25 p.m. Chargers by 10, 45

San Diego has won three in a row but must reach four to stay in the wild-card hunt. It is the AFC's hottest team, which is one reason it is a big favorite against an 11-win team. The other reason it is favored? Kansas City is locked into the No. 5 seed and might rest some starters. San Diego QB Philip Rivers, above, has shined: 29 touchdown passes and 4,249 yards. The wild card is Kansas City's defense and special teams, which have combined for an NFL-high 11 scores.

The pick: Chargers 31, Chiefs 27

Rams (7-8) at Seahawks (12-3)

4:25 p.m. Seahawks by 11½, 43

Seattle's home invincibility took a hit last week with a 17-10 loss to Arizona. However, with a win here, the NFC playoffs still go through Seattle. The Rams are a strong turnover team at plus-10, but Seattle is plus-18 with QB Russell Wilson, above, a personal plus-16 with 25 touchdown passes against nine interceptions. The first meeting of the season was a defensive struggle, with Seattle winning 14-9 and getting an 80-yard touchdown catch from WR Golden Tate.

The pick: 'Hawks 34, Rams 17

Bills (6-9) at Patriots (11-4)

4:25 p.m. Patriots by 7½, 46½

Coming off last week's resounding 41-7 win at Baltimore, where exactly do QB Tom Brady, above, and New England fit in the playoff picture? The Patriots barely beat the Bills in early September, needing two fourth-quarter field goals by Stephen Gostkowski for a 23-21 win. One Rutgers guy who got away from the Bucs is Patriots CB Logan Ryan, who leads all rookies with five interceptions. Buffalo's Mario Williams needs 11/2 sacks to surpass his career high of 14, set in 2007.

The pick: Patriots 27, Bills 17

Packers (7-7-1) at Bears (8-7)

4:25 p.m. Packers by 3, 52½

This might as well be a playoff game with the NFC North title on the line. Add the return of Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, above, and it's the most compelling game of the weekend. QB Josh McCown, replaced by Jay Cutler, led Chicago to a 27-20 win in November, but Rodgers has won his past three games at Chicago, with six touchdowns in his past two there. Green Bay has won seven of nine in this series, and the Bears are coming off a 54-11 loss at the Eagles.

The pick: Packers 27, Bears 23

Eagles (9-6) at Cowboys (8-7)

8:30 p.m. Ch. 8. Eagles by 7, 52½

This is another playoff game, though the absence of Cowboys QB Tony Romo makes it Philadelphia's to lose. The Eagles' Nick Foles, above, has been impressive — 25 touchdown passes, two interceptions — but both teams are strong in the turnover department at plus-10. The Cowboys' DeMarco Murray has 1,073 rushing yards and nine touchdowns; the Eagles' LeSean McCoy has a league-high 1,476 yards and nine scores.

The pick: Eagles 37, Cowboys 27

NFL predictions 12/28/13 [Last modified: Saturday, December 28, 2013 9:18pm]
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