NFL Week 13 game picks: Steelers nip Chargers; Pats top Vikes

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This week in the NFL features better games, but there is something very cool about the Giants playing the Bears.

These are two of the NFL's most senior franchises, with Chicago coming into existence in 1920 as the Decatur Staleys, while the New York Giants entered the fray in 1925 as the ... New York Giants. In addition to being the league's second- and fourth-oldest teams, the Bears and Giants have played some of the most important games in football history. After the NFL staged an unofficial title game in 1932, and saw it covered much more heavily by the newspapers than typical pro football fare, the league decided to host an annual championship match between the winners of the Eastern and Western divisions, starting in 1933.

Those two division winners in '33? The Bears and Giants, who played a tight championship game at Wrigley Field that went down to the wire. Chicago won 23-21, on the strength of "Quarterback" Carl Brumbaugh's 88 yards receiving. A timely lateral from the helmetless Bill Hewitt to Bill Karr manufactured the winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter. The following year, these same franchises, led by the Maras and George Halas (the same families that own the clubs today), met again. But this time, the game was in New York, where the frigid conditions took center stage. The Polo Grounds recast itself as a skating rink, with both teams sliding around the field. Chicago once again asserted itself in the first half, so Big Blue acquired some basketball shoes from local Manhattan College. The Giants changed kicks at halftime, then proceeded to dominate the second half in a 30-13 win. The 1934 championship affectionately became known as "The Sneakers Game."

This Sunday, the Bears are playing for playoff positioning. The Giants are going nowhere. And NFL history is still rad.

The headliner this week is Saints at Cowboys on "Thursday Night Football." This should be a fun one, with Dallas matching up better than you would think. Chargers at Steelers should be an awesome watch, as well. My thoughts on each are below. Send yours: @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Elliot Harrison went 10-5 on his predictions for Week 12, bringing his record for the season to 119-55-2. How will he fare in Week 13? His picks are below.

SUNDAY, DEC. 2

Atlanta Falcons 26, Baltimore Ravens 23

1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta)

This is the second-most important game involving an AFC team this week, even though it's an interconference matchup. The No. 5 seed in that conference is all Chargers, meaning that the Ravens can only really hope to get into the playoffs as the sixth seed -- unless the Steelers tumble, putting the division title in play. If Baltimore wins on Sunday, it will maintain its hold on that No. 6 seed, while hoping the Chargers light it up at Heinz Field later that night. But if the Ravens lose, everything tightens up. Indy, another top contender for the sixth seed, is playing the reeling Jags. The Dolphins have a winnable game at home against the Bills. And you can't sleep on the Browns at this point, either. Thus, grabbing a W against a Falcons team that looked awful on Thanksgiving would be optimal. In fact, this game is kind of must-winnish. If Lamar Jackson starts, I like Baltimore's chances a lot better. Atlanta has fared poorly against Nick Chubb, Ezekiel Elliott and the Ingram-Kamara Express in the last three weeks -- none of whom were being handed the ball by a superior running threat at quarterback like Jackson. One not-small difference here: Guess who started practicing with the Falcons' first-team defense again this week? Deion Jones. So, flipping the script, Jackson and this current Ravens offense haven't faced a linebacker who can anticipate (and set up the defense) like Jones. No, the Bengals and Raiders don't count. If Flacco plays, I have no idea about this team on the road -- kind of like every week.

Carolina Panthers 31, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 25

1 p.m. ET (FOX) | Raymond James Stadium (Tampa, Florida)

The Panthers might right the great pirate ship this weekend. A whole bounty of NFC teams have closed in on what was once Carolina's playoff spot to lose. Ron Rivera's team doesn't hold a wild-card spot anymore. The Redskins, Cowboys and Seahawks are even with Carolina record-wise, with two of those three teams already having beaten the Panthers. The one team that didn't was Dallas, which might end up winning the NFC East by default. That could be bad for Carolina. Also of note: The Eagles are a game back in the NFC East, while the Packers are the wild card of the wild-card hopefuls, still lurking behind with the easy part of their schedule coming up. Lastly, how about Carolina's opponent Sunday? The Bucs looked fantastic last week against the 49ers, especially the passing game. When Jameis Winston and Mike Evans get humming, they are hard to stop. Considering all those big plays over the top allowed by Carolina's secondary last week, DeSean Jackson won't be fun, either. (If his balky thumb allows him to play, of course.) UPDATE: Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said Jackson will not play this Sunday. Only taking the Panthers here because they are desperate.

Chicago Bears 24, New York Giants 22

1 p.m. ET (FOX) | MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford, N.J.)

If the Bears don't have Mitch Trubisky's services again this week, Chase Daniel proved a more-than-capable backup last week. The Giants' secondary has struggled all season long, especially at cornerback. Safety Landon Collins continues to be the only reliable member back there, especially in run support late in the loss against the Eagles. The real trouble for New York will be on offense, where the line has struggled immensely and is now playing as talented a front seven as there is in football. That's right, in all of football, including DeVry. The left side of New York's line was supposed to alter this season's prospects from the debacle in this area last year. Hasn't happened. And a healthy Khalil Mack vs. Nate Solder could spin the outcome of this matchup on its axis. If the Giants think they can run the table, they might try running away from Mack first. And Akiem Hicks. And ... nevermind.

Miami Dolphins 21, Buffalo Bills 17

1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Hard Rock Stadium (Miami Gardens, Fla.)

Difficult game to call in Miami, as the Bills are suddenly formidable while the Dolphins came thisclose to upending the streaking Colts. Well, let's not get too hot and bothered, and merely call Buffalo "viable" instead. If this matchup were to be played in upstate New York, then this pick would be easier. Yet, with Ryan Tannehill back at quarterback, and a decent running game in tow, it will be more arduous for the Bills to win their third straight. Jacksonville did Buffalo a favor last week -- specifically Leonard Fournette, who got himself thrown out of the game in the third quarter with the Jags on the 1-yard line. Their offense imploded, and that was all she wrote. This is not to suggest Sean McDermott's group didn't earn the win. Jacksonville failed repeatedly to seal the edge or contain Josh Allen in the pocket, which is precisely the task in front of Miami DC Matt Burke this week. Otherwise, #BillsMafia.

Indianapolis Colts 23, Jacksonville Jaguars 20

1 p.m. ET (CBS) | TIAA Bank Field (Jacksonville, Fla.)

The Colts' streak of five games without allowing a sack came to an end last week against the Dolphins. The Jaguars' losing streak did not. They couldn't produce one sack against Bills QB Josh Allen in what has developed into an underrated cause of their paltry record. "Sacksonville" finished second in sacks in 2017, but ranks 27th in that department this year. They are minus-10 in sack differential, too. Jacksonville is probably out of the wild-card race, as the Chiefs or Chargers will own the No. 5 seed, and the sixth seed should require at least nine wins, with the Ravens or Colts as the leading candidates. If the Jags are to have any chance, it starts with stopping the Colts and hoping like heck Baltimore falls in Atlanta. Thinking the offense will rebound -- with newly minted OC Scott Milanovich and Cody Kessler as the new QB1 -- to a point. But not enough points.

Houston Texans 23, Cleveland Browns 20

1 p.m. ET (CBS) | NRG Stadium (Houston)

Much talk this week about who Baker Mayfield likes and who he doesn't like. More intriguing -- like, 1,000 times more intriguing -- is how he'll fare against the quarterback Browns fans were wishing they had drafted last year. Funny how things change, as the reason for that yearning was the incredible seven-game set Deshaun Watson served up before getting hurt last November. Yet in 2018, Mayfield comes in as the hit quarterback, having delivered two straight wins versus the Falcons and Bengals, and playing well in each. However, this Texans defense is a tinge or three superior to both those defenses, and Bill O'Brien's team hasn't lost since September. Nick Chubb will play a major role this week, in both maintaining balance and in blitz pickup. Don't think Houston DC Romeo Crennel will play it vanilla with the fronts he throws at Cleveland's rookie. By the way, a win here and the Texans will darn near lock up a playoff spot.

Denver Broncos 25, Cincinnati Bengals 20

1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Paul Brown Stadium (Cincinnati)

The Broncos are on a mini-roll while the Bengals' season continues to roll down a hill. The key for Denver will be for the passing game to start clicking early. Case Keenum and the air attack have been hit or miss all year. Cincy's secondary will provide plenty of windows for Keenum if he can shake off the inconsistency that has plagued his first campaign with the Broncos. Phillip Lindsay should enjoy another bountiful day at the office, as the Cincy defense has been the worst unit in the league. If Keenum gets off to a shaky start, and Denver lets the Bengals hang around, then Vance Joseph's playoff hopes will go down the toilet. Marvin Lewis gets A.J. Green back (I think?) against a defense that has played so-so -- at best -- on the road. Can Jeff Driskel, the Bengals' QB1 with Andy Dalton on I.R., get Green the ball? Think so. Driskel made several nice throws last week in relief of Dalton.

Los Angeles Rams 37, Detroit Lions 24

1 p.m. ET (FOX) | Ford Field (Detroit)

Only two things have stopped the Rams this season: 1) a forced week off and 2) the Saints. Not expecting to add the Lions to that list. While Detroit historically has a penchant for winning these kinds of games out of nowhere, I can't recall a time that the Lions did it against a 10-1 team. Maybe in 1953 or something, but certainly not this pack of Lions. Which part of last week's loss to the Bears gives you confidence in either side of the ball? Sure, the defense only allowed 16 points, but that was with Chicago backup Chase Daniel having virtually zero practice time leading into the game, essentially finding reps in his hotel room. Offensively for Detroit, having injured running back Kerryon Johnson in the lineup to attempt to run the rock and slow this L.A. offense down would be nice. His status is questionable.

Historical note: OK, I just had to answer my own question ... sure enough, Detroit beat Cleveland in the 1953 title game. The Browns were 11-1 coming into that game. How 'bout that?

Green Bay Packers 28, Arizona Cardinals 14

1 p.m. ET (FOX) | Lambeau Field (Green Bay, Wis.)

Jussssssst what the Packers needed. Green Bay has lost four of its last five games, with all four losses coming on the road against quality teams: the Rams, Patriots, Seahawks and Vikings. Arizona, meanwhile, has jumped the shark, losing to the Raiders, then allowing the Chargers to score 45 unanswered points. Philip Rivers only had one incompletion against the Cardinals last week. What is a highly motivated, highly ticked-off Aaron Rodgers going to do at home? The Cardinals won't be able to keep Rodgers and the Packers' offense off the field, either. The Cards' offense ranks last in the NFL when it comes to three-and-out percentage, going three-and-a-boot a whopping 32.6 percent of the time.

Kansas City Chiefs 38, Oakland Raiders 26

4:05 p.m. ET (CBS) | Oakland Coliseum (Oakland, Calif.)

Classic AFL football, classic uni matchup. In this week's Power Rankings, I wrote about one of the best games in this series, the 1969 AFL Championship Game, which was played in the same stadium the Raiders inhabit now. Unfortunately for the Raiders, while Oakland got after Len Dawson back then, the team's current pass rush has trouble collapsing the pocket on any quarterback. The Raiders showed signs of life in that department last week, sacking Baltimore QB Lamar Jackson once and even forcing two interceptions, but all too often, it's put to Derek Carr to try and win the game ... with Marcell Ateman as his WR1 and Jared Cook as his WR2. Cook is a TE, by the way. Unless Oakland plays keep-away via running backs Doug Martin and Jalen Richard, or unless Patrick Mahomes actually plays as poorly as a quarterback making his 13th career start, this will be a double-digit road win for K.C.

Tennessee Titans 17, New York Jets 9

4:05 p.m. ET (CBS) | Nissan Stadium (Nashville, Tenn.)

The Jets are playing out the string at this point, while the Titans attempt to stay relevant in the playoff race. Mike Vrabel should direct offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur to run right at this Jets front, which has allowed the Patriots and Bills to grind up chunks of yards over and over and over again in recent weeks. Tennessee's offense has, at certain points, resembled a functional unit capable of marching down the field before leaving the game in the hands of a stout defense (as in wins over the Cowboys and Eagles). At other spots this season, Tennessee couldn't complete a pass. Or avoid a sack. (Ahem, the loss to the Ravens.) This should be at least a 10-point win at home, provided it doesn't devolve into a punt-a-palooza (... which it probably will).

Seattle Seahawks 34, San Francisco 49ers 10

4:25 p.m. ET (FOX) | CenturyLink Field (Seattle)

Remember the days when this matchup used to be the NFL's heavyweight bout of the season, times two? Man, from 2012 until right before internal strife dismantled the 49ers' 2014 campaign, this was the matchup in pro football. The Niners 2012ed themselves. Remember that flick? End-of-times feel, with San Francisco as the backdrop. Perfect! And quite subpar, just like this current 2-9 club. The Nick Mullens Experience flowed like a floral pigskin for a couple of weeks. Now all the hippies -- er, techies, I mean -- want their C.J. back. No, not the CJ-7 that they bought with their stock dividends without even realizing it's a Jeep (but which they thought made them look cool), but C.J. Beathard. Well, Kyle Shanahan confirmed that Mullens will be the starter this week. He'll struggle to match Russell Wilson, who comes in toting a 25:5 TD-to-INT ratio and will be throwing against a secondary that has picked off two passes. That's for the whole year, everybody.

New England Patriots 34, Minnesota Vikings 30

4:25 p.m. ET (FOX) | Gillette Stadium (Foxborough, Mass.)

Back in the spring, when the NFL schedule was released, I thought this would be one of the top games of 2018. Fast-forward to late November. While it is still purdy, this matchup doesn't resonate like it did in April. Both organizations were considered front-runners for the Super Bowl, especially with the Vikings landing Kirk Cousins in the offseason. Yet, a rocky start by Minnesota coupled with the ascendancy of the Saints, Rams and Chiefs has made this would-be headliner into more of a really fun opening act for Sunday night's game in Pittsburgh. The Patriots remain in the upper echelon of the league, but in order to beat the Vikings, Tom Brady must ratchet up his game a notch. Unlike in New England's win over the Jets last week, Minnesota won't let the Pats scurry on the ground into the secondary. If Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes is a no-go, that translates to an instant competitive advantage for Brady. We'll all find out together.

Pittsburgh Steelers 30, Los Angeles Chargers 27

8:20 p.m. ET (NBC) | Heinz Field (Pittsburgh)

So much to love about this matchup, starting with mid-January implications. The Chargers are trying to keep pace with the Chiefs in the AFC West race. The Steelers are coming off a loss to Denver that allowed the Ravens to creep a wee bit closer in the AFC North. The disparity here is that the Bolts will see Kansas City at Arrowhead later this season, whereas Pittsburgh and Baltimore already split their season series. While this matchup is important for both L.A. and Pittsburgh, it's probably more so for Mike Tomlin's group, as a Steelers loss would tighten up the division and allow the rest of the AFC wild-card field to gain ground. There is no getting around the loss of Melvin Gordon, who the Chargers will miss this weekend. Balance will be the key to winning at Heinz Field. Ben Roethlisberger will want to atone for his game-ending interception last week, and both his tackles have held up in pass protection this year -- that's where the Bolts hope to attack teams with Joey Bosa back to terrorizing quarterbacks. Bosa and Melvin Ingram need to chill when it comes to trying to jump snap counts, though. Roethlisberger will load up for a deep ball to JuJu Smith-Schuster if he's handed a free play or two.

Interesting note: Pro Football Focus rates Pittsburgh's pass-blocking as the most efficient in the NFL.

MONDAY, DEC. 3

Philadelphia Eagles 27, Washington Redskins 24 (OT)

8:15 p.m. ET (ESPN) | Lincoln Financial Field (Philadelphia)

Colt McCoy will bounce back this week. Seeing three touchdown passes from him against an Eagles secondary that has been playing guys off the street and wasn't faring too well even when healthy. The key for Philadelphia will be its front four. Much like the Eagles in the secondary, the Redskins have been forced to scrounge for dudes to fill out their depth chart at offensive line. McCoy can't find receivers if he is flat on his back. Deploying Adrian Peterson early and as often as his older legs will allow could stunt Philly's front from relentlessly attacking the pocket. With both teams coming in with certifiable weaknesses due to injuries and neither playing its best ball, this uber-important contest is really hard to pick. Even with McCoy not being the problem, going with a desperate Eagles team ... in OT.

COMPLETED GAME

New Orleans Saints 31, Dallas Cowboys 21

8:20 p.m. ET (FOX/NFL Network/Prime Video) | AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas)

Dallas has probably featured the most consistent defensive unit in the league this season. Only the Titans' offense has made the Cowboys' D look mediocre over the last two months. This Drew Brees-led scoring monster is a different beast altogether, though. The Saints have two backs they employ judiciously, with Alvin Kamara a matchup problem for everyone. Dallas rookie LB Leighton Vander Esch has risen to every challenge, thus making that potential one-on-one fascinating. Even with the Cowboys' defense being better equipped to handle New Orleans' offense than other teams, you have to wonder: Can Dak Prescott keep up with Brees if this contest evolves into an arms race, even at home? No.

Historical note: The Cowboys faced the 13-0 Saints on a Saturday night in 2009, and beat them on timely throws from Tony Romo, with DeMarcus Ware chasing after Brees all night. Imagine that DeMarcus rushing the passer across from the new DeMarcus.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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