Monday, December 18, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Picking the NFL games

49ers (4-2) at Titans (3-3)

4 p.m. 49ers by 31/2, 40½

The 49ers have won three in a row since starting 1-2 while outscoring opponents 111-34. They have done so by going back to the run. Last week against the Cardinals, Frank Gore (above) ran for 101 yards, his 34th career 100-yard game. The Titans' starting quarterback will be a game-time decision between Jake Locker, injured Sept. 29 against the Jets, and Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was 17-of-29 for 171 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions in last week's loss to the Seahawks.

The pick: 49ers 28, Titans 20

Texans (2-4) at Chiefs (6-0)

4:25 p.m. Chiefs by 61/2, 391/2

Houston is minus-10 in turnover margin during its four-game skid. And its QBs, Matt Schaub and T.J. Yates, have thrown interceptions returned for a touchdown in six straight games. Today, Case Keenum (above) gets his first start. He spent all of 2012 on the practice squad after going undrafted. And Kansas City, the first team since the 1956 Lions to start 6-0 after having the league's worst record, must be licking its chops. It has returned three interceptions for touchdowns this season.

The pick: Chiefs 19, Texans 10

Browns (3-2) at Packers (3-2)

4:25 p.m. Packers by 10, 45½

The Browns have led at halftime in all six games this season but have been outscored 55-3 in the second half of their losses. Cleveland won its last road game, at Minnesota. But that was with QB Brian Hoyer, who is out for the season with a torn ACL. Brandon Weeden (above) threw two interceptions, including an underhanded one late in last week's loss to the Lions. Be prepared to hide your eyes. The Packers will wear throwback uniforms from 1929, the year of their first league title.

The pick: Packers 21, Browns 13

Ravens (3-3) at Steelers (1-4)

4:25 p.m. Ch. 10 Steelers by 2½, 41

Which trend continues? The Ravens have won their past three regular-season visits to Pittsburgh. But Pittsburgh, which won 23-20 on Dec. 2, hasn't won consecutive regular-season games against the Ravens since 2008. And Pittsburgh hasn't lost its first three home games of a season since 1986. The Steelers, who last week finally got their first win by beating the Jets, have allowed only seven 100-yard rushers since 2008. The Ravens' Ray Rice (above) has two.

The pick: Ravens 20, Steelers 19

Broncos (6-0) at Colts (4-2)

8:30 p.m. Ch. 8 Broncos by 6½, 57

Heard enough about Peyton Manning (above) returning to Indianapolis? Well, here's more. You know he has thrown a lot of touchdowns (22 to be exact, an NFL record through six games) and few interceptions (two). But how about this: He seeks to join Brett Favre as the only quarterback to beat all 32 teams. Finally, Manning's 63 300-yard games for the Colts are a franchise record. The Colts' current QB, Andrew Luck, has seven. But No. 8 ties him for third with Bert Jones.

The pick: Broncos 33, Colts 27

Vikings (1-4) at Giants (0-6)

8:40 Monday. ESPN Giants by 31/2, 47

Most fans view this as the worst Monday Night Football matchup ever. (The teams' combined .091 win percentage beats the .167 of the 3-9 Jets against the 1-11 Chargers on Dec. 15, 1975.) Bucs fans see this as the Vikings debut of QB Josh Freeman, above. He would have a hard time finding a better opponent. New York has recorded just five sacks in six games and allowed a league-high 209 points. The Giants' Eli Manning has thrown a league-high 15 picks.

The pick: Giants 24, Vikings 16

Cowboys (3-3) at Eagles (3-3)

1 p.m. Eagles by 3, 551/2

The teams have split their 10 meetings at Lincoln Financial Field. Cowboys QB Tony Romo makes his 100th start today. He is 6-5 against the Eagles with 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. His top target, TE Jason Witten (above), has 109 catches for 1,233 yards and seven touchdowns in 19 games against Philadelphia. The Eagles, coming off of a rout of the Bucs, are the fourth team in NFL history with at least 400 yards of offense in each of their first six games. And they are first in the NFL with 42 plays of 20 yards or more.

The pick: Eagles 28, Cowboys 27

Bears (4-2) at Redskins (1-4)

1 p.m. Pick 'em, 50

Redskins QB Robert Griffin III ran for 77 yards in last week's loss to the Cowboys, 5 more than his first four games combined. But he also has matched his interception total (five) from last season and leads the league with 18 fumbles since the start of 2012. (The Redskins recovered all but four.) Bears QB Jay Cutler (above), meanwhile, hopes to improve his road record. Since 2009, he is 23-11 with 54 touchdowns and 32 interceptions at home but 15-13 with 40 touchdowns and 37 interceptions on the road.

The pick: Bears 31, Redskins 26

Patriots (5-1) at Jets (3-3)

1 p.m. Patriots by 31/2, 431/2

The Patriots have won six straight regular-season matchups, including 13-10 in Week 2, and five straight overall since the Jets won their playoff game in January 2011. But they are banged up. LB Jerod Mayo went on season-ending injured reserve, and CB Aqib Talib is uncertain with a hip flexor. TE Rob Gronkowski, though, might make his season debut. Jets rookie Geno Smith had three fourth-quarter picks in Week 2. He likely will rely on Bilal Powell (above), who is fourth in the AFC with 360 rushing yards.

The pick: Patriots, 13, Jets 10

Bills (2-4) at Dolphins (3-2)

1 p.m. Ch. 10 Dolphins by 7, 43

The Dolphins are on pace to set a franchise record for fewest rushing yards, averaging 69.6 per game. However, the Bills are allowing 124.2 rushing yards per game, fifth worst in the league. It's the opposite story on the other side of the ball. Miami's Ryan Tannehill has been sacked a league-high 24 times; Buffalo is fourth in the league with 21 sacks. DE Mario Williams (above) is third in the league with eight of them. In addition, the Bills have 10 interceptions, tied for second in the league.

The pick: Dolphins 23, Bills 16

Rams (3-3) at Panthers (2-3)

1 p.m. Panthers by 7, 42

Rams QB Sam Bradford recorded a career-best 134.6 rating in last week's rout of the Texans. He now is 8-1-1 in starts in which he has a rating of 100 or more. Lately, he has been getting help from a pair of rookies: Zac Stacy (above), who has at least 75 rushing yards rushing in his past three games, and Tavon Austin, who leads NFC rookies with 24 catches. The Panthers' Cam Newton, in the meantime, has seven touchdown passes and two interceptions over his past four home games. Carolina is 3-1 in that span.

The pick: Panthers 17, Rams 16

Chargers (3-3) at Jaguars (0-6)

1 p.m. Chargers by 7½, 451/2

Could this be the Jaguars' first win? The Chargers travel across the country on a short week after Monday's win. Said QB Philip Rivers said, "It's real in the sense of you can't deny what the clock says. I don't think it's an issue unless the team allows it to become one." Jacksonville, by its standards, played well last week at Denver. After this one, it also travels — across the Atlantic for a game in London. It expects to get back TE Marcedes Lewis (above), who has been limited to three plays this season by a calf injury.

The pick: Chargers 28, Jaguars 13

Bengals (4-2) at Lions (4-2)

1 p.m. Lions by 2½, 461/2

After last week's overtime win over Buffalo, Cincinnati is alone in first in the AFC North for the first time since the end of 2009. Andy Dalton, who threw for three touchdowns and 337 yards in the win, has gone often to his tight ends. Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert (above) have a combined 43 catches. Detroit is tied for first after beating the Browns last week. Calvin Johnson, slowed by a sore right knee, had only 25 yards receiving in the win. But reports last week indicated he will be healthier today.

The pick: Lions 27, Bengals 20

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