Game of the week
Kansas City at Cincinnati
The Chiefs have clinched another AFC West title and are a 5 1/2-point road favorite against the AFC North-leading Bengals. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes in Games 1-7 (3-4 record) — 18 touchdowns/9 interceptions; in Games 8-15 (8-0 record) — 15 touchdowns/4 interceptions.
Chiefs 31, Bengals 28
Lock of the week
Arizona at Dallas
The Cowboys are a five-point favorite and were last seen hanging 56 points on Washington. The Cardinals are reeling — they’ve lost three consecutive games to fall from No. 1 in the NFC to No. 5. Dallas is a five-point favorite and rolls through Arizona, which will be one-and-done in playoffs.
Cowboys 34, Cardinals 14
Upset of the week
Cleveland at Pittsburgh
This could be (should be?) quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s final home game so the easy pick is to go with the Steelers, who are a three-point Monday night underdog. Cleveland will be fascinating to watch in the offseason — do the Browns move forward with quarterback Baker Mayfield?
Steelers 27, Browns 21
Around the AFC: Having made history, Dolphins look to hold on to final playoff spot
Miami makes history. By beating New Orleans last Monday, the Dolphins became the first team in NFL history to have a seven-game losing streak followed by a seven-game winning streak in the same season. In 1970, Cincinnati lost six straight, but won its final seven to reach the playoffs. The Dolphins (8-7) hold the AFC’s seventh seed heading to Tennessee and coach Brian Flores is 19-7 in November-December-January games, third-best in the league behind Kansas City (23-2) and Green Bay (19-6). Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa leads the NFL in completion percentage (70.1) and receiver Jaylen Waddle is 10 catches from setting the all-time rookie reception record (currently at 92).
Burrow leads Bengals. Cincinnati is in control of the AFC North and finishes the season against Kansas City and Pittsburgh. Quarterback Joe Burrow — why isn’t he in the MVP conversation? — threw for 525 yards in last week’s rout of Baltimore, fourth-most in a single game behind Norm Van Brocklin (554 for the Rams in 1951), Matt Schaub (527 for the Texans in 2012) and Warren Moon (527 for the Oilers in 1990). It was the 23rd all-time 500-yard passing game. If the Bengals play a home playoff game, they will be favored to win in the postseason for the first time since January 1991.
Jaguars start process. Having turfed coach Urban Meyer last month, the Jaguars started the search for his replacement last Tuesday, requesting permission to speak with at least 10 candidates and taking advantage of a new rule allowing for video meetings (two hours) with coaches from other teams in the final two weeks of the regular season. What could semi-disable the search is owner Shad Khan’s decision to retain general manager Trent Baalke, whose role in this year’s Jaguars debacle shouldn’t be under-estimated. The Jaguars should prioritize head-coaching experience, which is why Doug Pederson and Jim Caldwell are good fits.
Around the NFC: Rams receiver Cooper Kupp nears rare triple crown
Don’t throw at Diggs. Dallas cornerback Trevon Diggs’ 11 interceptions are the most by a player since the Cowboys’ Everson Walls in 1981. The top three all-time are Oakland’s Lester Hayes (13 in ’80) and Mike Reinfeldt (Houston in ’79) and Emmitt Thomas (Kansas City in ’74) with 12. The Cowboys’ defense, which leads the league with 33 takeaways, is the first team in league history to have a player with more than 10 interceptions and a player with more than 10 sacks (Micah Parsons 13) in the same reason. Those statistics should earn defensive coordinator Dan Quinn a head-coaching job later this month.
Kupp chases triple crown. Los Angeles Rams receiver Cooper Kupp, who has 30 catches and four touchdowns during his team’s late-season surge to the NFC West lead, has the NFL receiving triple crown in his sight. He enters Sunday’s game at Baltimore leading the league in catches (132), receiving yards (1,734) and touchdown catches (14). Since 1970, only Jerry Rice (1990), Sterling Sharpe (’92) and Steve Smith (2005) have finished a year leading in all three categories. Kupp, aided by a 17th game, has a shot at the single-season reception record currently held by New Orleans’ Michael Thomas (149 in ’19).
Decision time for Bears. Chicago is again spinning its wheels and chairman George McCaskey will have to determine if everybody should go — coach Matt Nagy, general manager Ryan Pace and president Ted Phillips — or just Nagy, or just Pace. The Bears went 12-4 in 2018 (Nagy’s first year) and Vic Fangio’s defense led the NFL in fewest points allowed. Since then, the Bears have gone 8-8, 8-8 (first-round playoff loss) and now 5-10. Quarterback Justin Fields is a good building block, but what other building blocks are in place? Not many. If Pace survives, he would get to hire his third head coach after John Fox and Nagy.
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