Our N.F.L. playoffs calculator has an up-to-date look at the latest playoff picture.
So much for the supposed parity in the N.F.L. this season.
Amid a back-and-forth season, the predictable has happened: The revitalized New England Patriots (9-4) are atop the A.F.C., just as they’ve been for the better part of the last two decades, and Kansas City, which has won the past two conference titles, is not far behind.
Teams should begin determining their postseason fates with this week’s slate of games, starting Thursday with a matchup between teams that dramatically changed their trajectories in Week 13: the Pittsburgh Steelers, who had been left for dead, and the Minnesota Vikings, who suffered a bizarre loss that narrowed their playoff window.
In two divisional games Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Football Team will be jockeying in the top-heavy N.F.C., as the Cleveland Browns try to prevent the Baltimore Ravens from gaining ground on the Patriots (who have a bye). Then, the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams, two of the five N.F.C. teams jostling for home-field advantage in the playoffs will headline Monday night’s matchup.
Below is a look at N.F.L. Week 14, with all picks made against the spread.
Byes: Colts, Dolphins, Eagles, Patriots
All times are Eastern.
Last Week’s record: 9-5
Here’s what you need to know:
- Thursday Night’s Matchup
- Sunday’s Best Games
- Sunday’s Other Games
- Monday Night’s Matchup
- How Betting Lines Work
Thursday Night’s Matchup
Pittsburgh Steelers at Minnesota Vikings, 8:20 p.m., Fox and NFL Network
Line: Vikings -3 | Total: 44.5
It took a fourth-quarter rally — and the Ravens just failing to convert a 2-point conversion attempt — to keep the Steelers (6-5-1) in the playoff hunt last week, their chances of reaching the postseason bounced to 20 percent, according to the playoff predictor. Every remaining game of what could be Ben Roethlisberger’s final season is essentially a must-win.
Against the Vikings (5-7), who now bear the Scarlet Letter of losing to the Detroit Lions, Pittsburgh has a good chance. Adam Thielen, the team’s second leading receiver, was ruled out on Wednesday with an injured ankle and running back Dalvin Cook (shoulder) was listed as questionable to play. With the Pro Bowl receiver Justin Jefferson left to carry the Vikings’ offense, the Steelers should be able to get a road win. Pick: Steelers +3
Sunday’s Best Games
Buffalo Bills at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 4:25 p.m., CBS
Line: Buccaneers -3 | Total: 52
Expect the Bills (7-5) to play motivated. While it won’t be as cold as last week’s game in Western New York, Sunday’s forecasts call for windy and rainy weather in Tampa, Fla., where the Buccaneers (9-3) will certainly pass more than the Patriots did. Tom Brady leads the league in yards (3,771) and touchdowns (34), and should test the Bills’ top-ranked passing defense, which has allowed only 1,983 yards.
Despite the absence of the top cornerback Tre’Davious White and potentially playing without linebacker A.J. Klein (Covid-19), Buffalo should get back on track, or at least keep the score close. Pick: Bills +3
Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Browns -2.5 | Total: 42.5
A bye last week should mean Baker Mayfield will return rested, if not completely healed, of the shoulder and foot injuries that diminished his recent performances. An emphasis on the passing attack for the Browns (6-6) could exploit the Ravens (8-4), who lost for the season their third member of the secondary, cornerback Marlon Humphrey (torn pectoral muscle).
Lamar Jackson threw four interceptions against Cleveland two weeks ago, but the Ravens still won because the Browns wasted possessions and rushed for only 40 yards. If Baltimore’s front seven can again hinder the Browns’ running and play-action passing, the hallmarks of the offense, Mayfield will have fewer opportunities to play where he’s comfortable. Pick: Ravens +2.5
Dallas Cowboys at Washington Football Team, 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Cowboys -4 | Total: 43
Washington (6-6) has slowly crept into the playoff conversation, with three N.F.C. East teams in as of Thursday morning. A win against the Cowboys (8-4) could further shake the division race as January approaches. Washington has won four consecutive games, a stretch in which Taylor Heinicke has completed over 70 percent of his passes. The Footballers’ defense has also not allowed more than 100 rushing yards in three of those four games.
The Cowboys’ offense has underperformed in recent weeks largely because of questionable play-calling and a failure to run the ball well (Dallas had fewer than 100 rushing yards in two of the last three games). If they can revert to their prolific running in the first half of the season and if the defense, led by Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs, continues to create turnovers, the Cowboys should win. Pick: Cowboys -4
Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City, 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Kansas City -9.5 | Total: 49
After thoroughly dispatching the Broncos, Kansas City (8-4) could increase its distance from the rest of the A.F.C. West by beating the Raiders (6-6), who currently have a 14 percent chance of reaching the postseason, according to the playoff predictor.
Kansas City’s defense has improved after a slow start to the season and has held each of its last five opponents — including the Raiders in Week 10 — to under 20 points. Meanwhile, the offense seems to have adjusted to feasting on sure gains since opponents have limited Patrick Mahomes’s downfield strikes. Kansas City is clearly the better team and should easily dole Las Vegas its fifth loss in six games. Pick: Kansas City -9.5
San Francisco 49ers at Cincinnati Bengals, 4:25 p.m., Fox
Line: 49ers -1 | Total: 47.5
Both the 49ers (6-6) and the Bengals (7-5) lost key games last week just as they were gaining momentum ahead of the playoffs. Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow dislocated the pinkie finger on his throwing hand against the Chargers, but played through the injury and should not miss any time. It’s unclear, though, how that will affect his performance going forward.
For San Francisco, cornerback Emmanuel Moseley is questionable with a high ankle sprain and running back Elijah Mitchel is in the concussion protocol. It’s also unknown whether receiver Deebo Samuel (groin) and linebacker Fred Warner (hamstring), two of the team’s top four players, will return after missing last week. This game should be competitive, but the Bengals should win at home against a 49ers team contending with injuries. Pick: Bengals +1
Sunday’s Other Games
Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans, 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Titans -10 | Total: 45.5
It seems like the Jaguars (2-10) are the league’s universal “get-right” opponent. A week after taking a beatdown from the Rams, Jacksonville must play the Titans (8-4), who lost back-to-back games before their bye. Tennessee designated receiver Julio Jones to return from injured reserve, which should help the team’s passing attack operate without A.J. Brown, who is still recovering from a chest injury. The Titans’ replacement cast of running backs has also shown it can operate respectfully while Derrick Henry rehabs his foot injury. Jacksonville’s recent performances offer no reason to think that taking the over makes sense. Pick: Titans -10
New Orleans Saints at Jets, 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Saints -6 | Total: 43.5
Taysom Hill is expected to start again at quarterback for the Saints (5-7) and play through a finger injury. New Orleans is also hopeful to return running back Alvin Kamara, who has missed four games with a knee injury. If Hill can reduce his turnovers (he threw four interceptions against the Cowboys), the Saints should beat the Jets (3-9), who lost Corey Davis, the team’s second-leading receiver, to season-ending core muscle surgery. A loss to the Jets, though, would be unacceptable for New Orleans. Pick: Saints -6
Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers, 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Panthers -3 | Total: 43.5
After starting 3-0, the Panthers (5-7) have struggled offensively, ranking 24th in points scored per game (19.7) and 29th in yards per game (308.7). That is unlikely to improve as their best weapon, running back Christian McCaffrey, was placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury.
The inefficiency caused Coach Matt Rhule to fire offensive coordinator Joe Brady, who was viewed last off-season as a blossoming head coach candidate. Despite the Panthers’ offensive troubles, Carolina’s defense, which ranks second in fewest yards allowed, should be able to contain the Falcons (5-7), whose offense relies on just three players — receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, tight end Kyle Pitts and quarterback Matt Ryan. Neither of these teams are likely to make the postseason, but in an N.F.C. South rivalry, Carolina should have bragging rights after this one. Pick: Panthers -3
Seattle Seahawks at Houston Texans, 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Seahawks -7.5 | Total: 42.5
Why would you watch this game, let alone bet on it?
The Seahawks (4-8) have drastically underwhelmed this season and have become one of the worst teams in the league on offense and defense. The Texans (2-10) have been as bad as predicted. Houston’s journeyman quarterback, Tyrod Taylor, was benched for the rookie Davis Mills in a blowout loss to the Colts, and Coach David Culley said he will “evaluate everything” regarding which passer starts for the remainder of the season.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, signed the future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson to revive a pedestrian rushing attack, and are motivated to finish the season strong. It’s tempting to take the over, but Houston’s holistic performances have been so poor that Seattle, despite its many offensive deficiencies, should cover. Pick: Seahawks -7.5
Detroit Lions at Denver Broncos, 4:05 p.m., Fox
Line: Broncos -8 | Total: 42
The Broncos (6-6) are a quarterback away from truly contending. Teddy Bridgewater can lead the team under ideal circumstances, but in less perfect scenarios his mediocre play is wasting a talented crop of skill-position players and a respectable defense. The Lions (1-10-1), finally won a game last week after having been on the verge of other victories that they squandered with untimely turnovers, bad luck and inexcusable coaching decisions. Detroit has played competitively against teams that are better than Denver, which makes the Lions a safe bet to keep the score within the spread. Pick: Lions +8
Giants at Los Angeles Chargers, 4:05 p.m., Fox
Line: Chargers -10 | Total: 45.5
Justin Herbert may be without his top two receivers, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, because the Chargers (7-5) placed them on the Covid-19 list. The Giants (4-8) may also be short-handed as quarterback Daniel Jones is likely to sit for a second consecutive game with a neck injury. It is unclear whether Mike Glennon, who is in the concussion protocol, or Jake Fromm, whom the Giants recently signed, will start. Regardless, Los Angeles’s defense ranks seventh in fewest passing yards allowed per game (209.5) and should be excited to face either quarterback. Pick: Chargers -10
Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers, 8:20 p.m., NBC
Line: Packers -12.5 | Total: 44
The N.F.L. flexed last week’s Sunday night game and would be wise to do so again. Even with the storied rivalry between the Packers (9-3) and the Bears (4-8), this iteration is unappealing. Chicago’s offense is putrid, scoring the third-fewest points per game (16.8) and ranking 30th in yards per game (298.8). They’ll be outmatched by the Packers, one of the best teams in the league, who could realistically put the game out of reach by halftime. Temperature at kickoff is expected to hover near freezing, but with little chance of snow and no wind expected, there won’t be any impediment to Green Bay’s onslaught, regardless if Andy Dalton starts at quarterback or if Justin Fields (ribs) returns from injury. Pick: Packers -12.5
Monday Night’s Matchup
Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals, 8:15 p.m., ESPN
Line: Cardinals -2.5 | Total: 52
In their Week 4 meeting, the Cardinals (10-2) unknowingly offered the rest of the league an early blueprint to beat the Rams (8-4): Arizona rushed for over 200 yards, forced two turnovers, including an interception, and schemed its offense away from Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey. In later weeks San Francisco, Tennessee and Green Bay mimicked that strategy, and the Rams’ new additions, receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and the pass rusher Von Miller, have not been able to change the outcome, putting Los Angeles in jeopardy of a fourth prime-time embarrassment in six weeks.
Arizona has shown few weaknesses and looked re-energized with Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins back last week after each missed multiple games. The Rams’ recent performances against strong competition makes them a risky bet, especially on the road. Pick: Cardinals -2.5
How Betting Lines Work
A quick primer for those who are not familiar with betting lines: Favorites are listed next to a negative number that represents how many points they must win by to cover the spread. Raiders -5.5, for example, means that Las Vegas must beat Chicago by at least 6 points for its backers to win their bet. Gamblers can also bet on the total score, or whether the teams’ combined score in the game is over or under a preselected number of points.