Here are this week's NFL picks. As always, they are against the spread. And there is a special emphasis this week on teams with playoff motivations. There's a lot at stake, especially in the competitive NFC. But don't overlook the AFC West, which begins with a bang Thursday night.
Chargers (+10.5) at Broncos (-10.5) -- Don't be fooled by the amazing numbers of Philip Rivers (3,882 yards passing, 26 touchdowns, 9 interceptions) or the injury to the Broncos' Wes Welker (73 receptions for 778 yards, 10 touchdowns). Denver is in a different class of offense, averaging 39.6 points per game. A win is more than likely here for the home team. Oh, and the game time temperature of 39 degrees is a plus for Peyton Manning.
My pick: Broncos
Washington (+6) at Falcons (-6) -- With a new quarterback, despite Kirk Cousin's promising capabilities, Washington still has a number of issues that extend well beyond the playing field.
My pick: Falcons
Bears (+1) at Browns (-1) -- The Browns looked remarkably better with Jason Campbell at quarterback against the Patriots. For the Bears (7-6), who have decided to let Jay Cutler start despite Josh McCown's fantastic Monday night outing, the fight for the NFC North in its full throes. They're currently tied for the division lead with the Detroit Lions (7-6).
My pick: Bears
Texans (+6) at Colts (-6) -- Obviously Indianapolis needs this win a lot more than Houston does, what with the hope of anything better than the fourth seed in the AFC playoffs. And at 2-11, with Gary Kubiak out the door, the Texans have yet to show they can beat any marginally motivated team for 11 straight weeks.
My pick: Colts
Bills (-2) at Jaguars (+2) -- The Jaguars (4-9) have won four of their last five games. The Bills, who are also 4-9, have gone 1-4 in the same stretch. The Jaguars are trying to finish the season strong.
My pick: Jaguars
Patriots (-2.5) at Dolphins (+2.5) -- Despite a good pass rush and respectable offense, the Dolphins are no match for a Patriots team that has somehow mastered the art of the second-half comeback. And this time around, Tom Brady's hand won't be a concern either.
My pick: Patriots
Eagles (-5) at Vikings (+5) -- Philadelphia has won five straight. The Vikings may be without Adrian Peterson, who missed practice Wednesday. Oh, and Matt Cassel is supposed to start at quarterback for Minnesota. It doesn't look good for Minny.
My pick: Eagles
Seahawks (-7) at Giants (+7) -- Seattle needs to bounce back big after last week's loss to the San Francisco 49ers if they want to clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC. That's motivation. The Giants (5-8) are just in the way. They're hurting though, with eight players sitting out of Wednesday's practice with injuries, including Marshawn Lynch and Richard Sherman.
My pick: Seahawks
49ers (-5.5) at Buccaneers (+5.5) -- Tampa Bay (4-9) has had an interesting stretch, winning four of its last five games, falling only to the Carolina Panthers (9-4). But the league's third worst offense (18.8 points per game) will have lots of difficulties playing against a 49ers team that is holding opponents to 16.5 a game and are fighting for a playoff spot in the tough NFC West. Again, motivation.
My pick: 49ers
Jets (+11) at Panthers (-11) -- Last week, for the first time in more than a month, Geno Smith completed more than eight passes in a game. He was 16 of 25 for 219 yards. This season, he has nine touchdown passes and 20 interceptions. So I have no faith in him to help the Jets cover this spread, despite last week's win over the Oakland Raiders. The Panthers defense has been fantastic against the run, the Jets' strength, holding opponents to a league low 79.4 yards per game. Opponents are only scoring 14.5 points per game against Carolina.
My pick: Panthers
Chiefs (-4.5) at Raiders (+4.5) -- At 10-3, Kansas City is currently holding onto the fifth seed in the AFC playoffs. They can't afford to lose to the Raiders (4-9) when the playoff hunt is on, particularly in a division with the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers.
My pick: Chiefs
Packers (+7) at Cowboys (-7) -- Aaron Rodgers (collarbone) is still not expected to play. That's a good thing for Tony Romo and a reeling Cowboys (7-6) team that needs a little help to get in the playoffs.
My pick: Cowboys
Saints (-6) at Rams (+6) -- The Saints (10-3) proved they weren't pretenders when they beat up on the Carolina Panthers, 31-17, last week. The Rams are hurting, with wide receiver Tavon Austin (ankle), cornerback Janoris Jenkins (back), and running back Daryl Richardson (thigh) all missing practice Wednesday and Thursday with injuries.
My pick: Saints
Cardinals (-3) at Titans (+3) -- Arizona (8-5) may be the surprise team of the NFC, winning four of their last five games. But they suffered a huge loss last week with defensive back Tyrann Mathieu suffering two torn ligaments in his knee. His year is done, which is significant for a defense that had relied upon him in the secondary in a number of positions. It's a do-or-die game for Arizona, which needs to win out in order to sneak in the playoffs with a wildcard spot.
My pick: Cardinals
Bengals (-3) at Steelers (+3) -- I know the Bengals (9-4) are in the hunt for the second seed in the AFC and that they pulled out a 20-10 win over their AFC North rival in Week 2, but they've never had a good overall history against the Steelers (5-8), who are still playing competitively despite being out of the playoff chase. Ben Roethlisberger is 14-5 in his career against the Bengals. And in Pittsburgh, they can't seem to lose twice in a row at home.
My pick: Steelers
Ravens (+6) at Detroit (-6) -- Matt Elam may have awoken a monster when he called Calvin "Megatron" Johnson old this week. But that doesn't mean the Lions will just roll over Baltimore. They still have to worry about whether Reggie Bush (calf) will play. He did not practice Wednesday or Thursday. That's a huge loss for an offense that has benefited greatly from his consistent production.
My pick: Ravens
Last week: 11-5