FIVE STORY LINES
Can rookie jackson hold off Flacco?
Ravens rookie QB Lamar Jackson faces another weak pass-rushing team as Baltimore (7-6) plays host to Tampa Bay hoping to overtake Pittsburgh (7-5-1) in the AFC North, or at least stay in front in the tight race for the AFC’s sixth seed. Jackson is averaging only 5.7 yards per pass but is holding off the now-healthy Joe Flacco by rushing for 332 yards and two TDs while going 3-1 as a starter.
Can Bears break free in the north?
If the Bears (9-4) beat the Packers (5-7-1) at home, Chicago wins the NFC North and clinches a playoff berth for the first time since 2010. The Bears also clinch the division if the Vikings lose to Miami. The Packers have lost eight consecutive road games but have an eight-game winning streak at Soldier Field. Aaron Rodgers also led Green Bay from 20 points down to beat Chicago 24-23 in Week 1. The Bears lead the league in interceptions with 25.
Will Brees, Saints continue mastery?
The Saints (11-2) will play Carolina (6-7) twice in the final three weeks. That’s A-OK with them. The Panthers are on a five-game losing streak and went 0-3 against New Orleans a year ago. Drew Brees and the Saints scored 96 points in those three wins over Carolina last season. If the Saints win out, they will clinch home-field advantage. Since entering the NFL in 1995, Carolina has never had consecutive winning seasons.
Can Pats beat Pittsburgh, again?
In what’s become an entertaining but lopsided rivalry, the Patriots (9-4) are going for their fifth consecutive victory over the Steelers (7-5-1). Last year’s meeting ended with a Ben Roethlisberger INT in the end zone with five seconds left. If the Pats win, they will reach 10 victories for a 16th season in a row, tying the mark set by the 49ers from 1983 to ’98. Tom Brady is 11-2 vs. Pittsburgh including playoffs.
Will Cowboys win fifth straight?
A victory over the host Colts (7-6) would give Dallas (8-5) a fifth consecutive victory and its third NFC East title in five years. The Colts, the AFC’s seventh seed as of now, ended Houston’s nine-game win streak last week. Since trading for Amari Cooper (above), the Cowboys lead the league in completion percentage (73.7) and are second in yards after the catch (1,006) and third in third-down conversions (49.4).
The Bears will win the NFC North. But it won’t come this week. C’mon, Bears fans. You can wait another week after waiting since the 2010 season for a playoff game. The Packers will end their eight-game road losing streak with a win at Soldier Field, where they haven’t lost since 2010. Yes, like the Packers and their road woes, the Bears are due to stop their losing ways against Rodgers and the Packers. But don’t expect the upstart Chicagoans to wrap up the division this early. Meanwhile, the desperate Vikings will take advantage of U.S. Bank Stadium and beat the Dolphins.