For many N.F.L. teams, these last two weeks of the regular season are crucial — either to their playoff hopes and seeding, or to securing future draft picks.
The Bills are clinging to the A.F.C.’s top seed, which would give Buffalo home-field advantage in the playoffs, but they need to keep winning in order to prevent another January trek to Arrowhead Stadium.
The Jaguars are facing the left-for-dead Texans, in a matchup that means nothing to most N.F.L. fans but could help determine whether Jacksonville can push Tennessee out of the running for the A.F.C. South crown.
Chicago could be angling for the top draft pick but won’t shut down Justin Fields or roll over for the Lions, while Las Vegas is pulling the plug on Derek Carr with two games remaining.
Predicting which teams will win these final regular-season matchups is as much about assessing their goals as it is about evaluating their relative strengths and weaknesses. After all, what good is a strength if it is sitting on the bench?
Last week’s record: 5-9-2
Overall record: 120-111-8
All times Eastern.
Here’s what you need to know:
- Thursday’s Game
- Sunday’s Best Games
- Sunday’s Other Games
- Monday Night’s Game
- How Betting Lines Work
Dallas Cowboys (11-4) at Tennessee Titans (7-8), 8:15 p.m., Amazon Prime
Line: Titans +10.5 | Total: 41.5
Dak Prescott’s turnover troubles continued last week against the Eagles, but Dallas’s quarterback was able to rally back after his pick-6 in the first quarter and the Cowboys won, 40-34. Two of Prescott’s three touchdown throws went to CeeDee Lamb, and the duo can do similar work against the Titans, who tend to load up against the run.
Tennessee has lost five straight games and will almost certainly lose this one, but 10.5 points are a lot to give at home — especially considering that the Titans are in a dogfight with Jacksonville for the A.F.C. South division. The Titans plan to start the rookie quarterback Malik Willis, in place of Ryan Tannehill (ankle injury), and could be looking to tread water until facing the Jaguars head-to-head in Week 18. Pick: Titans +10.5
Sunday’s Best Games
Minnesota Vikings (12-3) at Green Bay Packers (7-8), 4:25 p.m., CBS
Line: Packers -3.5 | Total: 47
Against all odds, the Packers are still alive in the playoff race. Winner of three straight, Green Bay enters Sunday’s game tied with the Lions and Seahawks and just outside of a wild-card spot. Though the Packers play the final two divisional games at home and began the week as favorites in this one, the Vikings are on an improbable run of close wins: Minnesota is 11-0 in one-possession games this season, the most such wins in N.F.L. history.
The Packers are having a hard time stopping the run, and Dalvin Cook has been potent against them in the past. It would be tough to pick Green Bay winning by four against the luckiest team in the N.F.L. at full strength, but the Packers rookie receiver Christian Watson injured his hip last week and is questionable for this game, so we’re taking the “underdog.” Pick: Vikings +3.5
Miami Dolphins (8-7) at New England Patriots (7-8), 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Patriots -3 | Total: 42
Both of these teams are limping toward the end of the regular season. New England has lost four of their last five, and the offense has regressed enough that there are rumors of a shake-up coming to Bill Belichick’s staff.
Miami has lost four in a row, and Coach Mike McDaniel announced on Wednesday that he planned to start Teddy Bridgewater in place of Tua Tagovailoa, who self reported concussion symptoms after last week’s loss to the Packers. Miami needs this win to hang onto a wild-card berth, with the Patriots just a game behind in the A.F.C. East, and the Dolphins can clinch here. Bridgewater is capable of throwing to Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle and might even fare better than Tagovailoa did against the press coverage in the past two weeks. Pick: Dolphins +3
Carolina Panthers (6-9) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-8), 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Buccaneers -3 | Total: 39
The Buccaneers will clinch the N.F.C. South with a win, but they face a Panthers team highly motivated to keep that from happening. Sam Darnold has averaged 8.6 yards per attempt since Week 12 — a period in which the team has gone 3-1 — and the Panthers only turned the ball over once during that stretch (compared with the Buccaneers’ 11). Despite trading Christian McCaffrey early in the season, Carolina still has a rushing game Tampa Bay should envy: D’onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard help the team put up an average of 187 rushing yards per game since Week 12 (the Buccaneers averaged 90 in that stretch).
The Buccaneers have stayed on top of this division by grinding out ugly wins against bad teams, needing miraculous late-game scores to come out on top. If Tampa Bay’s offense played entire games the way they do during the final two minutes, the Buccaneers might have been Super Bowl contenders. Pick: Panthers +3
Jets (7-8) at Seattle Seahawks (7-8), 4:05 p.m., Fox
Line: Seahawks +2.5 | Total: 42
The past two weeks, the market has backed the Jets heavily and, with Zach Wilson under center, the team has failed to cover in both instances. This week, Mike White is back at quarterback, and that news pushed the line from the Jets being 1.5-point underdogs on Sunday to being 2.5 favorites on the road by Tuesday.
The Seahawks have lost five of their past six and dropped their shot at winning the N.F.C. West in the process. These two bubble teams match up well: Seattle’s offense is good enough to test the Jets’ staunch defense, and the Jets’ offense is just as inept as the Seahawks’ defense. We’ll take the team that can actually manage to score. Pick: Seahawks +2.5
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8) at Baltimore Ravens (10-5), 8:20 p.m., NBC
Line: Ravens -3 | Total: 35.5
The N.F.L. flexed this A.F.C. North rivalry game to prime time in anticipation of either team’s ability to play spoiler. The Ravens have clinched but need wins to retake the division from the Bengals. Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin has never finished with a losing record in any of his previous 15 seasons as head coach of the Steelers, and Pittsburgh needs to win its last two to keep that streak alive.
Much of what happens Sunday night hinges on Baltimore’s quarterback situation. John Harbaugh has been coy about whether or not Lamar Jackson will return to the lineup this week after resting a sprained knee. Even if Jackson is healthy, it is conceivable that the Ravens keep him benched until the playoffs and start Tyler Huntley again. If they do, this will be a close battle between two formidable defenses. If Jackson plays, it could be a rout. Pick: Ravens -3
Sunday’s Other Games
New Orleans Saints (6-9) at Philadelphia Eagles (13-2), 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Eagles -7 | Total: 43.5
There are just enough question marks surrounding the Eagles to give New Orleans a hope and half a prayer in this one. Philadelphia lost the star offensive tackle Lane Johnson for at least two weeks with an abdominal injury, and the rookie nose tackle Jordan Davis’s status was up in the air as he was being evaluated for a concussion. The Eagles have had the division clinched for weeks, so Jalen Hurts could rest his sprained throwing shoulder for this one. The Vikings are a game back in the race for the N.F.C.’s top seed so don’t count on it.
The pitiable N.F.C. South race still isn’t settle, and if New Orleans wins their last two (and the Buccaneers lose their last two), the Saints could sneak into the playoffs. It’s probably too much to hope for, but staying within a touchdown while trying to pull off a miracle against a banged up Eagles? That’s within their grasp. Pick: Saints +7
Arizona Cardinals (4-11) at Atlanta Falcons (5-10), 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Falcons -3.5 | Total: 41
Both teams are out of contention, so the only thing riding on this game for either franchise is draft order. But there could be stakes alive for the starters on the field. While Trace McSorley knows he’s holding down the quarterback spot for Kyler Murray, the rookie Desmond Ridder may relish another shot at showing off his value to Atlanta. Pick: Falcons -3.5
Chicago Bears (3-12) at Detroit Lions (7-8), 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Lions -6 | Total: 52
Just when the Lions defense was starting to look like it might be able to walk and chew gum at the same time, the Panthers put up a franchise-record 570 yards against it in Week 16. Detroit is ahead of Green Bay on points in the N.F.C. North and still has a shot at the second wild-card spot but needs to take care of Chicago first. The Bears could slide ahead of Houston in the race for the No. 1 overall draft pick, but Matt Eberflus said Monday that the team had no plans of shutting down Justin Fields the rest of the way. Still, if the Lions can’t win at home in this spot, the Curse of Bobby Layne may be real. Pick: Lions -6
Denver Broncos (4-11) at Kansas City (12-3), 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Kansas City -13.5 | Total: 44.5
In what had to be a low point in a miserable season, Denver lost to the Rams, 51-14, on Christmas Day, a loss so bad that Patrick from SpongeBob SquarePants even roasted the Broncos. By Monday, the team had fired head coach Nathaniel Hackett and replaced him with Jerry Rosburg, the coach brought in to help Hackett manage the clock. For his first game as interim coach, Rosburg gets Kansas City, currently playing some of the best football in the league. When these two teams met in Denver in Week 14, a 34-28 Kansas City win, the Broncos stayed within a touchdown and covered the 9.5-point spread. Kansas City is 4-10-1 against the spread this season, and this week it is laying double digits at home. Pick: Broncos +13.5
Indianapolis Colts (4-10-1) at Giants (8-6-1), 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Giants -5 | Total: 39
The Colts didn’t convert a single third down in their 20-3 loss to the Chargers last week, the second time that’s happened this season. The highest paid offensive line in football let Nick Foles get sacked seven times and pressured into throwing three interceptions. Indianapolis has a -109 point differential this season, and the Giants could clinch a playoff spot with a win. Pick: Giants -5
Cleveland Browns (6-9) at Washington Commanders (7-7-1), 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Commanders -2.5 | Total: 40
In the hopes of generating its red-zone offense — and clinging to a wild-card spot — the Commanders this week tabbed Carson Wentz as the starter again after going 0-2-1 in the last three games behind Taylor Heinicke. The Browns were eliminated last week, and this game may not mean much for Cleveland’s season, but Deshaun Watson will use these last two games to gain the team’s confidence. If they start to click, an upset is possible. Pick: Browns +2.5
Jacksonville Jaguars (7-8) at Houston Texans (2-12-1), 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Texans +4 | Total: 44
The Jaguars enter Sunday’s game with the same record as the Titans in the A.F.C. South, and have a full head of steam after beating four of their past five opponents. With the league’s 11th most efficient offense, Jacksonville shouldn’t have trouble with this one. Pick: Jaguars -4
San Francisco 49ers (11-4) at Las Vegas Raiders (6-9), 4:05 p.m., Fox
Line: Raiders +8.5 | Total: 44.5
The 49ers might have the best pass rush in the N.F.L. right now and with the defense thriving, Brock Purdy has been able to play fairly conservatively in three wins as the starter. The market has fallen in love with the 49ers along the way and has all but given up on the Raiders.
The Raiders have apparently given up on Derek Carr, who threw nine interceptions in his past five games. Coach Josh McDaniels said on Wednesday that he planned to bench Carr for the rest of the season, a sign that the team may cut the quarterback at season’s end. Jarrett Stidham will get his first N.F.L. start, and presumably Josh Jacobs will get enough touches to keep him ahead of Derrick Henry in the season rushing title race. Any other positives for Las Vegas will have to wait for next season. Pick: 49ers -8.5
Los Angeles Rams (5-10) at Los Angeles Chargers (9-6), 4:25 p.m., CBS
Line: Chargers -6.5 | Total: 40.5
While the number of tickets bet on this game have been evenly split, more than 95 percent of the money is on the Rams, who scored on nearly every drive of last week’s trouncing of the Broncos’ top-10 defense. The Chargers clinched their playoff spot already and tend to play down to opponents. Pick: Rams +6.5
Monday Night’s Game
Buffalo Bills (12-3) at Cincinnati Bengals (11-4), 8:30 p.m., ESPN, ABC
Line: Bengals +1.5 | Total: 49.5
The total of 49.5 points is the biggest of the week, based on these two teams’ scoring capabilities: The Bills have a +157 scoring differential and the Bengals keep outperforming the market’s expectations, going 12-3 against the spread this season (26-10 against it since last season). With Buffalo fighting to fend off Kansas City for the A.F.C.’s top seed, and Cincinnati trying to stave off Baltimore in the A.F.C. North, this should be a competitive, fun game between two of the best teams in the N.F.L. We’re trusting the home underdogs to cover one more time. Pick: Bengals +1.5
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. Buccaneers -2.5, for example, means that Tampa Bay must beat the Seahawks by at least 3 points for its backers to win their bet. Gamblers can also bet on the total score, which is whether the teams’ combined score in the game is over or under a preselected number of points.
Betting market data is taken from Action Network’s Public Betting data, and lines are taken from Unabated’s real-time-odds tracker.