NFL Previews: Vikings can clinch North against Bengals
The Minnesota Vikings, who had their eight-game winning streak snapped last week, can clinch the NFC North Division title with a win against the visiting Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. Case Keenum continues to excel at quarterback for Minnesota, going 9-3 as a starter, but he committed three turnovers in the 31-24 setback at Carolina.
Even if they don't win, the Vikings can lock up the division crown if both Green Bay and Detroit lose on Sunday. And, after Philadelphia's Carson Wentz suffered a season-ending injury last week, Minnesota is optimistic it can catch the Eagles and earn the No. 1 seed in the NFC. The playoff picture is not as bright for the Bengals, who were virtually eliminated from the race following its 33-7 drubbing at the hands of Chicago last week. Despite Cincinnati's recent tailspin, where it has lost four of its last six games, Andy Dalton has played well, throwing 12 touchdown passes with just one interception over his past seven contests.
TV: 1 p.m. ET, CBS. LINE: Vikings -10.5. O/U: 42.
ABOUT THE BENGALS (5-8): Cincinnati could get back the services of running back Joe Mixon (concussion), but even with their star running back in the fold the Bengals rank 31st in the league in rushing. Cincinnati already put defensive back Adam Jones on injured reserve and list both Dre Kirkpatrick or Vontaze Burfict as questionable, also dealing with concussions. Coach Marvin Lewis shrugged off questions about his job security during the week saying, "These jobs are not meant to last forever."
ABOUT THE VIKINGS (10-3): Minnesota could be without tight end Kyle Rudolph, who has a team-best seven touchdowns, but has missed multiple practices with an ankle injury while shutdown defensive back Xavier Rhodes is limited with a hip injury. Keenum is just 17 yards shy of reaching 3,000 for the first time in his career and has thrown 18 touchdowns passes. Adam Thielen continues to be his top target as he is tied for third in the NFL with 1,161 yards receiving and seventh in receptions with 80.
1. The Bengals' defense yielded 271 passing yards last week to Bears rookie Mitch Trubisky, who had previously surpassed the 200-yard barrier in just one of his previous eight starts.
2. This will be the first game the Vikings have played at home since Nov. 19.
3. Homes teams have won the last five meetings in the series but they haven't met since the 2013 season.
PREDICTION: Vikings 27, Bengals 10
Packers at Panthers
Aaron Rodgers is returning for the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, just in time to save the season. Rodgers, who insists he is not coming back to do that, will get the start when the Packers visit the Carolina Panthers in a matchup key to keeping their slim playoff hopes alive.
"Hopefully it gives a lift to some of the guys, but I'm not coming back to save this team," Rodgers told reporters. The star quarterback missed the last seven weeks while recovering from a broken right collarbone and returns to a Green Bay squad that went 3-4 in his absence and sits one game out of a wild-card spot in the NFC with three to play. The Packers are chasing - among others - the Panthers, who occupy the No. 5 spot in the conference but have a shot to win the NFC South and possibly earn home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs with a strong finish. "I told our guys, 'It doesn't matter if (Rodgers) plays, we've still got to play the Packers,'" Carolina coach Ron Rivera told reporters. "If he's the quarterback, great. If he's not, great. I don't think to us that should be a big deal. They said that he was going to be back for our game. That's what we expected."
Bears at Lions
The Detroit Lions are still alive for a playoff spot in the NFC, and they'll continue to push hard for the finish. The Lions will try to keep hope alive on Saturday afternoon when they host the NFC North rival Chicago Bears, who have nothing to lose.
Detroit enters the week one game behind the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks in the race for the final NFC wild-card spot and kept themselves alive by pulling off a 24-21 win at Tampa Bay last week behind a solid performance from quarterback Matthew Stafford, who is dealing with an injury to his throwing hand.
Patriots at Steelers
A stunning upset in Miami ended New England's eight-game winning streak and dropped the Patriots behind the Pittsburgh Steelers for the best overall record and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. It also put the Patriots into a must-win situation to keep their hopes for the No. 1 seed alive when they visit the red-hot Steelers on Sunday.
Pittsburgh, which clinched the AFC North title last week, has done its part to build the hype for Sunday's showdown by running off eight consecutive victories, including the past three by a scant total of seven points. New England coach Bill Belichick has won four in a row against Pittsburgh, including a 36-17 victory in last season's AFC Championship Game.
Cowboys at Raiders
The Dallas Cowboys have won two straight to climb back into postseason contention but they face another team battling for its playoff life when they visit the Oakland Raiders on Sunday night. Trendy choices to win division titles entering the season, both Dallas and Oakland sit one game out of the final playoff slot in their respective conferences.
Dallas re-entered the postseason conversation by amassing 68 points in beating up on NFC East rivals Washington and New York, but there are still four teams in front of the Cowobys for the last wild-card berth in the NFC. Oakland may have squandered its best chance of securing the AFC West title by suffering a lopsided 26-15 loss at Kansas City last week in a showdown for first place.
Chargers at Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers were on opposite ends of the spectrum when they met in Week 3. Twelve weeks later, they're playing for first place in the AFC West in Kansas City on Saturday night.
The Chiefs beat the Chargers 24-10 in Los Angeles en route to a 5-0 start during which they looked like the NFL's best team, but six losses in seven games allowed the rest of the division back in the race. Kansas City righted the ship with a 26-15 victory over Oakland last week, while Los Angeles kept pace atop the division with a 30-13 trouncing of Washington. The Chargers have surged back into the playoff picture by winning four straight and seven of nine following an 0-4 start.
Cardinals at Redskins
The Arizona Cardinals will have to keep their microscopic playoff chances alive without Adrian Peterson as the veteran running back reportedly will be placed on injured reserve before the team visits the Washington Redskins on Sunday.
The Cardinals have won two of their last three contests but are 11th in the NFC, two games out of the second wild-card spot with only three remaining. Washington has dropped four of its last five, allowing at least 30 points in each defeat. The Redskins' lone victory in that stretch came at home, a 20-10 triumph over the New York Giants.
Dolphins at Bills
The Buffalo Bills were able to plow their way through the snow and into sixth place in the AFC, putting the western New York representatives in the discussion to make their first playoff appearance since 1999. The Bills look to bolster their position on Sunday when they host a Miami Dolphins team that is coming off an upset victory over defending Super Bowl champion New England.
LeSean McCoy capped a 32-rush, 156-yard performance with a 21-yard touchdown run in blizzard-like conditions to give Buffalo a 13-7 overtime victory over Indianapolis on Sunday. The Dolphins completed a sweep of last season's series with a 34-31 overtime win in Week 16 that eliminated the Bills from postseason consideration..
Ravens at Browns
After having a three-game winning streak snapped last week at Pittsburgh, the Baltimore Ravens look to continue their playoff push when they visit the winless Cleveland Browns on Sunday. The Ravens blew a late double-digit lead in a wild 39-38 loss to the Steelers last week that knocked them into a tie for the final wild-card slot in the AFC.
Baltimore ranks fourth in the NFL, allowing 18.9 points a game, but were helpless to stop Ben Roethlisberger last week as the veteran Steelers quarterback threw for 506 yards. The losses continue to mount Cleveland, which is 0-13 for the second straight season.
Eagles at Giants
Nick Foles has traveled a long and winding road throughout his NFL career, and it's one that has taken him back to the field as the now-starting quarterback of a high-powered offense. Foles steps in for the injured Carson Wentz as the Philadelphia Eagles look to improve upon their postseason positioning on Sunday when they visit the New York Giants.
The 28-year-old Foles answered the bell after Wentz tore his ACL on Sunday, guiding Philadelphia to field goals on consecutive drives en route to a 43-35 win over the Los Angeles Rams. The hapless Giants have less on their plate to worry about.
TItans at 49ers
After laying an egg in their last contest, the Tennessee Titans hope to strengthen their hold on a playoff spot Sunday as they visit a team with newly gained confidence in the San Francisco 49ers. Tennessee had won six of seven before dropping a 12-7 decision at Arizona last week to fall one game behind Jacksonville for first place in the AFC South.
San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo completed 20-of-33 passes for a career-high 334 yards and a touchdown.
Texans at Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars are in position to clinch their first playoff spot since 2007 when they host the Houston Texans on Sunday. The Jaguars have made an improbable rise from last season's 3-13 record and sit atop the AFC South by one game over Tennessee.
Jacksonville coach Doug Marrone is aware of the excitement regarding the probable postseason spot, but he repeatedly refused to discuss the possible clinching.
Houston is experiencing a dreadful season that began with being thumped 29-7 by the Jaguars and will be starting third-string quarterback T.J. Yates on Sunday.
Jets at Saints
Despite losing two of their last three games, the New Orleans Saints still are in control of the tight NFC South title race. The Saints will try to maintain their upper hand and get back on track when they host the New York Jets on Sunday.
The Saints remain in control of their own destiny in the NFC South despite last week's 20-17 loss at Atlanta. New Orleans is tied with Carolina atop the division but owns the tiebreaker as it swept the season series.
Rams at Seahawks
The Los Angeles Rams are vying for their first playoff berth since 2004 and can move closer to making that a reality when they visit the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. The Rams have a slim chance of clinching a postseason spot this Sunday, but a loss will forge a tie for first place in the NFC West and put the Seahawks in the driver's seat by virtue of sweeping the season series.
Seattle recorded a 16-10 victory in Los Angeles earlier this season, which gives Sunday's showdown the definitive feel of a must-win game. The Seahawks are fighting through some defensive injury issues.
Falcons at Buccaneers
The Atlanta Falcons are in control of their playoff destiny and their chances to repeat as NFC South champions, but they also have a pack of teams nipping at their heels for the final postseason spot in the conference. A winner of four of its last five, Atlanta visits the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday night in a rematch from three weeks ago.
The Falcons are one game behind NFC South co-leaders New Orleans and Carolina but still have to play the Saints and Panthers, giving them a chance to claim the division title by winning their final three games. Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston rallied Tampa Bay from a 14-point deficit last week before Tampa Bay lost to Detroit 24-21 in the final minute.