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NFL projections

Vikings (2-12) at Redskins (5-9)

1 p.m.

Redskins by 6½, 44

How do the Vikings have just two wins? Could it be their terrible secondary? Could inconsistent play from QBs Donovan McNabb and Christian Ponder, above, be the reason? Maybe it's the defense that gives up more points per game than any team. Actually, it's all of the above. Minnesota has a lot of work ahead, but Ponder has a chance to finish strong after seven touchdowns over his past three games. Still, the Redskins are a hair better and playing at home.

Redskins 21, Vikings 17

Browns (4-10) at Ravens (10-4)

1 p.m.

Ravens by 12½, 38½

The difference between winning the AFC North and qualifying for the postseason as a wild card is huge for Baltimore. The Ravens are one of just three teams undefeated at home, so locking up homefield advantage is critical. This game shouldn't get in the way of that. While the Chargers made the Ravens defense look average on Sunday, we have serious doubts Cleveland backup QB Seneca Wallace, above, can do so. That's particularly true if LB Terrell Suggs is giving chase.

Ravens 28, Browns 13

Chargers (7-7) at Lions (9-5)

4 p.m., Ch. 10

Lions by 2½, 52

This is a good one. Two teams fighting it out in a must-have game for both. You've got a pair of high-powered offenses with stars such as QB Philip Rivers, above, and WR Calvin Johnson. But here's a twist: Defense might be decisive. The Chargers haven't allowed more than 16 points in any of their past four games, three of them wins. San Diego opponents have averaged 13.5 during that stretch. San Diego is more experienced, and that won't hurt.

Chargers 27, Lions 24

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

4:15 p.m., Ch. 13

Cowboys by 1½, 50½

Crazy as this might sound and despite ridiculous rumors such as coach Andy Reid's possible firing, the Eagles look like they can beat just about anyone right now. That 45-19 whipping of the Jets on Sunday was nothing to sneeze at. Just goes to show you that so much of the Eagles' fortunes rest on QB Michael Vick and his ability to stay healthy. The Cowboys are solid, but the Eagles will get pressure on QB Tony Romo, above — unlike what the Bucs did last week.

Eagles 26, Cowboys 24

49ers (11-3) at Seahawks (7-7)

4:15 p.m.

49ers by 2½, 37½

For some reason, the Seahawks are a trendy pick to win this game by some analysts. Here's why we don't buy it: The Niners are No. 1 in the league against the run (18.5 yards per game better than No. 2 Baltimore), and RB Marshawn Lynch has to have success for the Seattle offense to click. That said, the Seahawks D is underrated and won't cave to the 49ers' running game. But it's hard to pick against DE Justin Smith, above, and the San Francisco front seven.

49ers 23, Seahawks 20

Falcons (9-5) at Saints (11-3)

8:30 Monday, ESPN

Saints by 6½, 52½

The NFL sure knew what it was doing when it scheduled division games late in the season. What you get are matchups such as this: the Saints trying to secure a first-round bye and the Falcons looking to seize a wild card. Atlanta can make Week 17 interesting with a win here, making the Saints have to sweat to wrap up the NFC South. But can you see Drew Brees, above, being denied when he needs 305 yards to surpass Dan Marino's season passing record?

Saints 28, Falcons 25

Bears (7-7) at Packers (13-1)

8:20 Sunday, Ch. 8

Packers by 12, 43½

Is this Lovie Smith's idea of a joke? The Bears coach waited until Christmas to bench QB Caleb Hanie, and replacement Josh McCown now gets the Christmas present no one wants: the Packers at Lambeau Field. Yes, Green Bay lost a shocker on Sunday at Kansas City. But the Bears just gave up 38 points to the Seahawks. Without an offense that converts and gives the defense a rest, one has to wonder what Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, above, might have in store.

Packers 29, Bears 17

Raiders (7-7) at Chiefs (6-8)

1 p.m.

Chiefs by 2½, 42

Chiefs interim coach Romeo Crennel, above, must have gotten a load of Christmas cards from the '72 Dolphins for beating the previously undefeated Packers last week. But maybe we shouldn't be surprised. Crennel always has been a bright defensive mind and was the engineer behind New England's D back when the Patriots actually played defense. Of course, it helps when you have DE Tamba Hali, as we're sure Oakland QB Carson Palmer is aware.

Chiefs 21, Raiders 17

Jaguars (4-10) at Titans (7-7)

1 p.m.

Titans by 7½, 40

The standings say the Titans still have a shot at the postseason, but we didn't seriously consider the possibility until now. The Titans should win today against the Jags. Then they take on the suddenly hapless Texans, who lost to the Colts on Thursday night. Before then, only the Titans could make that dubious claim. We say Jacksonville RB Maurice Jones-Drew, above, runs wild but, per usual, the Jags don't capitalize. Tennessee's good enough to exploit a soft defense.

Titans 24, Jaguars 17

Dolphins (5-9) at Patriots (11-3)

1 p.m.

Patriots by 9½, 48½

This much we know about this game: Miami WR Brandon Marshall, above, and RB Reggie Bush are pretty solid fantasy picks this week. Whether the Patriots outscore the Dolphins remains to be seen, but the New England defense is not going to shut down Marshall and/or Bush. Still, this is a second straight cold-weather road game for the Dolphins, whose secondary is very susceptible to the deep ball. Tom Brady might have to throw it 40 times, but the Patriots win.

Patriots 28, Dolphins 24

Cardinals (7-7) at Bengals (8-6)

1 p.m.

Bengals by 4, 41

Don't make any assumptions. It's a tough call. Besides that, it's a huge game for both clubs. It's refreshing to be talking about the Cardinals and Bengals in the context of playoff races. Arizona is riding a four-game win streak during which its rejuvenated defense has allowed an average of just 17.3 points. If this game was in Glendale, we'd lean toward Arizona. But a slight edge goes to Bengals rookie QB Andy Dalton, above, who will make a few plays in the comforts of home.

Bengals 21, Cardinals 20

Broncos (8-6) at Bills (5-9)

1 p.m.

Broncos by 3, 41½

Broncos QB Tim Tebow, above, had a tall order Sunday in trying to keep pace with the Tom Brady-led New England offense. Today, his task is more manageable given Buffalo's inability to sustain drives. The Bucs' current eight-game skid is rivaled only by the Bills' shocking seven-gamer. The difference here could be the Bills' inability to slow the Broncos' running game. Willis McGahee (4.8 yards per carry) faces a defense that ranks 28th against the run.

Broncos 24, Bills 21

Giants (7-7) at Jets (8-6)

1 p.m.

Jets by 3, 45½

This is the much-hyped, once-every-four-years battle of New York (actually northern New Jersey). But it's a big game for different reasons. The Jets are barely clinging to a playoff berth. The Giants could be out after losing to the Redskins on Sunday. To be honest, the odds are against either doing anything if they actually make the postseason. As for today, Eli Manning is the better QB, but we like the supporting cast behind the Jets' Mark Sanchez, above.

Jets 26, Giants 23

Rams (2-12) at Steelers (10-4)

1 p.m.

Steelers by 14, 35½

Ben Roethlisberger, take a seat. Why the Steelers subjected the QB, above, to that beating in San Francisco on Monday night, when he was a sitting duck with a bum ankle in an interconference game, seems senseless. Today, the Steelers should win effortlessly with Charlie Batch. Plus, angry LB James Harrison, likely looking for his next victim, returns from a one-game suspension for clocking Browns QB Colt McCoy. Here's some advice for Rams QB Kellen Clemens: run.

Steelers 27, Rams 13

NFL projections 12/23/11 [Last modified: Friday, December 23, 2011 7:02pm]
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