Three games. That’s what left for those teams entering play this weekend in the NFL. Three games to secure a division, a Wild Card spot or to go home.
The pressure is on this weekend with some teams looking to improve already established postseason berths and others looking to hold on to playoff hopes by the skin of their teeth.
Here’s a look at three of the more intriguing matchups on the schedule and how they’re likely to play out before Sunday comes to a close.
Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
A win in the Windy City for Green Bay (9-4, 3-3 road) will sew up the NFC North, thanks to a run that has seen the Pack take seven of eight games.
Having looked like division favorites just weeks ago, Chicago (8-5, 5-2 home) now faces very real possibility that a Wild Card spot could also be slipping away. Anything less than a win at Soldier Field on Sunday will have the Bears perilously balanced and NFC scavengers looking to take advantage.
The Packers handled the Bears on Sep. 13, winning the Week 2 contest 23-10. The Bears won six straight after that loss, but a four losses in the last five have seen the wheels fall off the proverbial Bears bus.
Odds: Green Bay opened as 2½-point favorites, but some bookies have upped that to three. The over/under has increased also, from 42 to 43½.
Take: Green Bay – Winners of five straight against the Bears and seven of the last eight, the Packers have hit form at the right time of the season, with the Bears going in the opposite direction. Even Chicago’s defense – its strength for so much of the season – has looked suspect of late. Take the Packers to cover the spread, with the total going under.
Indianapolis Colts @ Houston Texans
One of the biggest surprises of the season, Indianapolis (9-4, 3-3 road) can provide an even bigger surprise this weekend with a win over the AFC South-seeking Houston Texans (11-2, 5-1 home).
Houston needs one win to secure the division title, but that one win will prove hard to come by. The Colts meanwhile need to win out to take the division from under the noses of the Texans.
For the Colts, the season is already a success but a playoff berth is looming. Andrew Luck has had a breakout rookie season that few could have predicted, and a trip to the postseason would be a crowning achievement, especially if the Colts are AFC South champs.
Odds: Houston is favored in this one, with the spread jumping from eight to 10 since opening. The over/under is 48.
Take: Houston – The fairytale story will have most rooting for the Colts and with two wins from the last three over the Texans, the team has proven it can hang in there with one of the league’s best. However, Indianapolis has lost two straight at Reliant Stadium and will be facing one of the stingiest defenses in the league (last week’s blowout excluded). After the Texans lost to Green Bay earlier this year, they beat Baltimore by 30. Indianapolis may want to batten down the hatches. The Colts have enough to cover the spread without winning outright. Take the total to go under, based on Houston’s defense, which should make adjustments after last week.
San Francisco 49ers @ New England Patriots
The league’s highest-scoring offense meets the league’s No. 1 defense on Sunday Night Football as San Francisco (9-3-1, 4-2 road) makes the trip to New England (10-3, 5-1 home).
Bar a pair of hiccups against the Rams, the Niners have been solid of late and look likely to offer a sterner test for the Patriots, who are coming off an absolute drubbing of the Texans.
The Patriots have won eight of nine since starting the season 3-3, and have done it with scoreboard-busting offensive displays. Putting big points on the Niners would be a major statement. A win would take Bill Belichick’s side one step closer to securing a bye for the first weekend of the playoffs, and another step closer to overtaking Houston for home field advantage.
With Seattle breathing down its neck, San Francisco needs a win or faces the possibility of losing the NFC West to the Seahawks next weekend when the two meet.
Odds: Having made mincemeat of the Texans last weekend, San Francisco enters this one as favorites. A three-point opening spread has increased to five. The over/under has fallen from 48 at opening to 46½ today.
Take: New England – They say that offense wins games but defense win championships, but the title’s not on the line this weekend and New England will have a distinct advantage in a wet Foxboro. The Pats have won three straight over the Niners (dating back to 1998). San Francisco hasn’t won in New England since 1992. Take the Niners to cover the spread, with New England winning by a field goal. Despite the Patriots leading the league in totals going over, take the under.
Week 14 Schedule
Thursday: Cincinnati 34-14 Philadelphia
Sunday: (1 PM ET) NY Giants @ Atlanta | Denver @ Baltimore | Green Bay @ Chicago | Washington @ Cleveland | Indianapolis @ Houston | Jacksonville @ Miami | Tampa Bay @ New Orleans | Minnesota @ St. Louis | Detroit @ Arizona; (4:05 PM ET) Seattle @ Buffalo (Rogers Centre, Toronto, ON) | Carolina @ San Diego; (4:25 PM ET) Pittsburgh @ Dallas || Kansas City @ Oakland; (8:20 PM ET) San Francisco @ New England
Monday: (8:30 PM ET) NY Jets @ Tennessee