The Lions are riding a five-game winning run, but Matthew Staffords finger injury could spell trouble. Plus, go for the Vikings, Steelers and Cardinals
The finish line is in sight. Only three weeks remain in the NFLs regular season, and that means you only have three more shots at a clean sweep in our Pick Six contest. Nobody managed it in week 14, although castigers did make a big move up to the top of our overall leaderboard with a solid five out of six.
Ill post the full standings in the comments section shortly. Until then, here is your next slate of games.
Detroit Lions @ New York Giants (Sunday 1pm ET/6pm GMT)
The Lions are riding a five-game winning streak. The Giants have lost only once in their last eight games, and just overwhelmed the conferences No1 seed. These teams share 9-4 records, but their similarities extend beyond the form guide. Both have been impressive on defense lately, Detroit intercepting Drew Brees three times in a victory over the Saints earlier this month, before New York held the Cowboys to a single score. Neither, though, has been able to run the ball with any consistency a concern, with temperatures dropping and both struggling to make plays through the air last weekend. Eli Manning turned the ball over three times against Dallas, his day rescued only by some brilliant after-the-catch running from Odell Beckham Jr, who turned a quick slant into a 61-yard score. More concerning for me, though, is the state of Matthew Staffords middle finger, which he dislocated during the Lions win over Chicago. He has experimented with different gloves and supports in practice this week, and will certainly play on Sunday. But this is the time of year when fine margins make all the difference.
Giants to win
Indianapolis Colts @ Minnesota Vikings (Sunday 1pm ET/6pm GMT)
Adrian Peterson was back at practice on Wednesday, but will his return come too late for Minnesota? He has not yet been ruled out of this game, but suggested in an interview that he was hoping to get back on the field in next weeks showdown with the Packers. Realistically, the Vikings would need to win this Sunday to still have a realistic shot at the playoffs by then. The Colts have delivered some of their best recent performances on the road winning in Green Bay and Tennessee before humiliating the Jets at MetLife Stadium. But after watching Andrew Luck get clobbered by Houston, who hit him 13 times, its hard to feel good about his prospects against opponents whose 35 sacks rank third in the NFL.
There are still convoluted paths by which the Bengals (5-7-1) can reach the postseason, but they could hardly be short of motivation against Pittsburgh in any case. This has become an increasingly bitter and bad-tempered rivalry in recent years. The likely return of AJ Green is a boon for the Bengals, even if they have just put together their first two-game winning streak of the season without him. Some alternative to the running game will certainly be required against opponents who just restricted LeSean McCoy to 27 yards. The Steelers themselves are likely to lean heavily on LeVeon Bell, who outgained the Bills on his own in week 14, and whose four-game suspension to start this year might ultimately have served to keep him fresh for this part of the season. Most of all, though, the Bengals need to overcome their own recent history: since Marvin Lewis took over as head coach, in 2003, they have won just two out of 15 home matchups against Pittsburgh.
Steelers to win
New Orleans Saints @ Arizona Cardinals (Sunday 4.05pm ET/9.05pm GMT)
Honestly, I tried to avoid including this game. Not because its a meaningless encounter between two teams who wont make the playoffs (although it is), but because Im tired of trying to second-guess whether this will be one of those weeks when Arizonas talent wins out, or another of those when they contrive to lose a game on the back of some special teams calamity. Dont get me wrong, the Cardinals have plenty of flaws from poor pass protection, to Carson Palmers declining arm strength and some woeful wide receiver play but the Miami defeat can be added to those against New England (botched snap on potential game-winning field goal), Minnesota (kickoff returned for a touchdown) and Los Angeles (late punt return sets up Rams win), as well as the tie against Seattle (blocked punt, blocked field goal, missed field goal from 24 yards) on the list of games they really should have won. Do I think they are a better team than New Orleans? Yes. Do I trust them to demonstrate that on Sunday? Not one bit. But Drew Brees hasnt thrown a touchdown pass in two games, and despite a lengthy injury list Arizonas defense remains one of the best in the league.
Cardinals to win
New England Patriots @ Denver Broncos (Sunday 4.25pm ET/9.25pm GMT)
Even by his standards, Tom Brady is having an extraordinary year. In nine games since his suspension, he has thrown 22 touchdowns against just two interceptions. Only once in his career back in 2007 has he finished a season with a passer rating higher than his current mark of 113.6. And yet, Denver has rarely been a happy place for him to visit. He is 2-7 all-time at Mile High Stadium, and was clobbered relentlessly during defeats there in both the regular season and AFC title game last year. Some of the Broncos personnel has changed since, but they still own the NFLs top-ranked pass defense, and second-most prolific pass rush. I have no trouble with the idea that a team starring Trevor Siemian at quarterback could beat Brady and company (after all, Brock Osweiler was taking the snaps during the first win over New England last season), but what bothers me more is Denvers lack of a running game. CJ Anderson played a prominent role in both of the Broncos 2015-16 victories, and they have struggled to keep the chains moving without him over these last few weeks.
Broncos to win
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Dallas Cowboys (Sunday 8.30pm ET/Monday 1.30am GMT)
Has Dak Prescott collided with the mythical rookie wall? He has not thrown for more than 200 yards in any of his past three games but, in fairness, he did not need to in wins over Washington and Minnesota. He still completed more than 69% of his passes across those two games with a touchdown and no interceptions in each. Last week, against the Giants, was different, but Dallas struggled against them in week one, too. Could this just be an opponent that has offensive co-ordinator Scott Linehans number? One way or another, this week provides a significant test for Dallas. The Buccaneers have won five straight and surrendered a league-low 12.8 points per game since week 10. They have beaten Seattle and beaten Kansas City on the road during this stretch. I think people might be underestimating them.