By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
GOLD JACKET GAME OF THE WEEK
TAMPA BAY @ DALLAS, 8:30 p.m. (EST)
The line: Cowboys by 7
The weather: Partly cloudy, high of 33 (retractable roof)
The story: There's a laundry list of Cowboys listed as questionable, including linebacker Sean Lee and wide receiver Dez Bryant. That means it's up to Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott to shoulder the load again, and what else is new? What else? Try a Dallas media trying to stir the pot for Tony Romo, who's in the on-deck circle waiting on Jerry Jones' call if Prescott stumbles again. And it could happen. He struggled against the Giants, and he could struggle against a Bucs' defense that allowed 63 points the last five games, or an average of 12.6 per. Better yet, the past four games Bucs bested, in order, Alex Smith, Russell Wilson, Philip Rivers and Drew Brees – with the four combining for three touchdown passes (none by Wilson and Brees) and eight interceptions. Anticipate another low scoring game, with the question: Whom do you trust more in a critical game – Prescott or Jameis Winston? Winston has the arm, but Prescott has Elliott.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Prescott has eight TD passes and one interception for a 100.3 passer rating in six home games.
(Jameis Winston cover photo courtesy of Tampa Bay Bucs)
(Dak Prescott photo courtesy of Dallas Cowboys)
THREE OTHERS SUITABLE FOR HALL OF FRAMING
DETROIT @ N.Y. GIANTS, 1 p.m. (EST)
The line: Giants by 4
The weather: Rain, high of 58
The story: The Lions have won five straight and nine of their last 10 … yet they're picked to lose … which means they have the G-Men just where they want them. Face it, people, the Lions never are more comfortable than when they're behind, with eight of their nine victories accomplished with fourth-quarter deficits. The problem here is that not only are they without running back Theo Riddick again, but quarterback and MVP candidate Matt Stafford has a badly injured finger on his throwing hand and may play with a glove. The injury affected him a week ago, and it could affect him against one of the league's best secondaries. But it's not Stafford that’s the Giants' concern; it's their own quarterback. Eli Manning continues to commit so many turnovers that the Manhattan tabloids are calling on him to become more of … get this … a game manager.
Hall of Fame worthy: The Lions have held their last seven opponents to 20 or fewer points, the first time they had a streak like that since the 1961 season.
(Matt Stafford photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)
TENNESSEE @ KANSAS CITY, 1 p.m. (EST)
The line: Chiefs by 5-1/2
The weather: Sunny, high of 15
The story: The Titans are hot. So are the Chiefs. Something has to give, and that something is the weather. Forecasts call for temperatures in the single digits by kickoff, and that favors no one but the guy selling hand warmers. But I will tell you this: Of the six coldest regular-season games in which they Chiefs have been involved since 1994, they won five. Keep that in mind because the Chiefs practiced outdoors all week, hoping to simulate conditions for Sunday and, frankly, last week when they drilled the Raiders on a frigid Thursday night. Playing with a glove on his left hand, Alex Smith had one of his best halves of the season, completing 11 of 16 for 202 yards and a touchdown, and he and the Chiefs are aiming for a repeat performance. If they can get the jump on Tennessee, they take the Titans out of their game … and their game is running the ball. But even with linebacker Derrick Johnson out of the lineup, Tennessee's commitment to the run will be affected by which side of the score they're on … and by how much.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Tennessee has not committed a turnover in four straight games.
NEW ENGLAND @ DENVER, 4:25 p.m. (EST)
The line: Patriots by 3
The weather: Sunny, high of 29
The story: Welcome to Tom Brady's House of Horrors. Denver is to Brady what kryptonite is to Clark Kent. He's 2-7 there, winning only in 2011 and 2013, and is 6-9 overall vs. the Broncos. But that was then, and this is now. And now he faces a defending Super Bowl champ that lost five of its last nine starts and has the toughest schedule left of any playoff-worthy opponent. Each of Denver's last three opponents has at least 10 wins, starting with the Patriots … and talk about a tough task: New England not only has the best quarterback on the planet; it has LeGarrette Blount, he of 14 touchdowns, to ram the middle of the league's 27th-ranked run defense. Denver doesn’t have the offense to play with Brady, but it does have the defense. Now, more than ever, it must create takeaways, short fields and scores to pull an upset it desperately needs.
Hall of Fame worthy: Denver linebacker Von Miller has 7-1/2 sacks, 10 tackles for losses, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and an interception his past five games (including the playoffs) vs. New England.
MONDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
CAROLINA @ WASHINGTON, 8:30 p.m. (EST)
The line: Redskins by 6-1/2
The weather: Mostly sunny, high of 36
The story: This is all about Washington and what's at stake for the Redskins … namely, a potential playoff spot. Washington has to win out, and it can start right here, right now. Carolina regained a pulse last weekend, but no surprise there. It was up against a depleted San Diego team, and it was home. But Washington has something to play for, and the Redskins can take advantage of a porous Panthers secondary with a quarterback who is red hot at home, and you can look it up. In his last four home games, Kirk Cousins has 10 touchdown passes, 2 interceptions and four wins. Carolina, meanwhile, is 1-5 on the road this season, including a 40-7 blowout in Seattle a couple of weeks ago. Check, please.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Cam Newton has seven touchdown passes, no interceptions and a rating of 122.0 in three career games vs. Washington – all of which he won.
(Kirk Cousins photo courtesy of Washington Redskins)
OUR BEST BETS
Clark Judge – Detroit (+4). The Lions not only will beat the spread; they may beat the G-Men.
Ron Borges – Detroit (+4). The Lions are the better team, though not by much, which is why those four points are important. So is coming to New York on Friday instead of Saturday. They want to play.
Rick Gosselin – Arizona (--3). Arizona has the leagues top-ranked defense, and the home field gives the nod to the defense.
ON THE WATCH LIST
BALTIMORE WR STEVE SMITH. He needs only three yards to pass Hall-of-Famer Marvin Harrison for seventh on the all-time yardage list.
PITTSBURGH WR ANTONIO BROWN. With seven catches, he will tie Hall-of-Famer Marvin Harrison for most consecutive seasons (4) with 100 or more receptions.
ARIZONA RB DAVID JOHNSON. With 100 yards from scrimmage he ties Hall-of-Famer Marcus Allen for the most consecutive games (14) with 100 or more to start a season. Barry Sanders holds the record with 15.
OAKLAND LB KHALIL MACK. With a sack vs. San Diego, he would tie for the second-longest consecutive streak with a sack (nine games) since the statistic became official in 1982. He would also become the first to have a sack in nine straight games in a single season.
BUFFALO QB TYROD TAYLOR. He needs 13 yards rushing to pass Jim Kelly for second on the Bills' career rushing list for quarterbacks.
KANSAS CITY TE TRAVIS KELCE. With a 100-yard game Sunday he becomes the only tight end in league history to have five straight games with 100 or more yards in catches.
(Steve Smith photo courtesy of Baltimore Ravens)
SUNDAY'S HALL OF FAMOUS
BUFFALO RB LeSEAN McCOY. He has 380 yards rushing and eight rushing TDs in his last four home games.
QB AARON RODGERS. He has 18 touchdowns, 5 interceptions and a rating of 107.7 in eight career games at Chicago.
TENNESSEE TE DELANIE WALKER. He has four touchdowns in his last six road games.
MINNESOTA QB SAM BRADFORD. He has eight touchdowns, no interceptions and a rating of 105.4 in six home games.
N.Y. GIANTS WR ODELL BECKHAM JR. He has six receiving touchdowns in his last five home games.
ARIZONA LB CHANDLER JONES. He has six sacks and two forced fumbles in seven home games.
DENVER WR EMMANUEL SANDERS. He averages 120.7 yards per game in his last three starts vs. New England.
SAN DIEGO TE ANTONIO GATES. He has more career TDs (13) vs. Oakland than anyone.
HALL OF NOTES-WORTHY
With three games to play, there are 26 teams in contention for a playoff spot. With three games to go, the most teams that ever have been in contention for playoff spots is 27.
Since 2001 – or since the arrival of Tom Brady – the Patriots are a league-best 39-16 in games decided by three or fewer points. They also have the best record (56-10) in December since Brady took over.
Minnesota defensive ends have combined for 25-1/2 sacks this season.
The Patriots have thrown a league-low two interceptions on 455 pass attempts.
Since 2014, Tennessee's Delanie Walker (24) and the Chiefs' Travis Kelce (20) have produced more pass plays of 25 or more yards than any other tight end outside of Rob Gronkowski (37).
Pittsburgh has won four straight over Cincinnati in December.
Arizona, Minnesota and Houston have not allowed a 300-yard passer this season.
The Baltimore Ravens won 12 of their last 13 season regular-season home finales.
The Ravens allowed the fewest yards (250.6) and points (13.1) in home games this season. Only once (Oakland) have they allowed more than 16 at home.
Andy Reid is 1-5 vs. the Titans.