By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.
There are two weeks remaining in the NFL’s regular season, and 12 AFC teams and six NFC teams are still battling for playoff spots. The results of this week’s slate of games will bring a lot of clarity to the postseason picture, and almost every contest will have some sort of significance as the road to Super Bowl LVI narrows. And if that’s not enough drama for you, throw in COVID-19 and the uncertainty it has created in terms of players availability. Happy New Year, everyone!
On to this week’s picks:
♦ KANSAS CITY @ CINCINNATI: Mathematically speaking, the Chiefs are the only AFC team to have clinched a playoff spot. At 11-4, they are vying for home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The 9-6 Bengals, meanwhile, are just trying to stay a step ahead of the Baltimore Ravens for the AFC North crown. Cincinnati has won two straight, and Joe Burrow is coming off a monster game (525 passing yards, four TDs), but the Chiefs are peaking at just the right time. Pick: CHIEFS
♦ MIAMI @ TENNESSEE: By beating New Orleans earlier this week, Miami became the first team in NFL history to have both a seven-game winning streak and a seven-game losing streak in the same season. The credit goes mainly to the Dolphins’ defense, which has held six of their last seven opponents to fewer than 20 points. If Miami wins out, they’re in the playoffs. Unfortunately for Tua and co., Tennessee has a lot to play for, too. Pick: TITANS
♦ LAS VEGAS @ INDIANAPOLIS: For all the adversity that the Raiders have faced this season, it’s a minor miracle that they are still in the playoff hunt. In fact, if they beat the Colts this Sunday and the L.A. Chargers the next, they’ll lock up a postseason spot. For Indianapolis, the path to the postseason is even simpler: A win this Sunday would assure them of at least a wildcard berth. The question here is, Will Colts QB Carson Wentz play? He’s currently in COVID protocol but is eligible to be cleared on game day. Pick: COLTS
♦ ARIZONA @ DALLAS: Here are two teams heading in opposite directions. The 11-4 Cowboys have won four straight and have clinched the top spot in the NFC East. The Cardinals, meanwhile, have lost three straight and, in doing so, have handed the L.A. Rams the lead in the NFC West. Arizona’s late-season slump is unfortunate, but at least they are still playoff bound. They’ll try to turn things around this week, but the Cowboys are on a roll. Pick: COWBOYS
♦ L.A. RAMS @ BALTIMORE: Clearly, the outcome of this contest will largely depend on the availability of Ravens QB Lamar Jackson. The former league MVP has missed the last two games with a gimpy ankle. He returned to practice yesterday but was noticeably limping. This is essentially a must-win game for Baltimore, but without Jackson I don’t think they’ll have a chance. RAMS
♦ CLEVELAND @ PITTSBURGH: Whichever team loses this game will be eliminated from any playoff contention. Although they’re the home team and have a half-game advantage over Cleveland, Pittsburgh is a three-point underdog. Truthfully, neither the Steelers nor the Browns are playoff worthy at this point of the season. While the Browns have an impressive running game, I’m picking the Steelers just because they seem to find ways to win when they seem down and out. Pick: STEELERS
Last Week: 5-1 | 2021 Record: 55-41 (.573)