Five Story Lines
Can Nagy, Bears stay in hunt for top seed?
Best stat of the year: Bears coach Matt Nagy is the first first-year coach in franchise history to win 10 games since George Halas went 10-1-2 in 1920, the NFL’s first season. Next up: At San Francisco to face a 49ers team that upset the Seahawks last week. The Bears lead the NFL in takeaways (35). The 49ers have the fewest (five) and need six more in their last two games to avoid setting an NFL record for fewest in a season.
Texans can clinch division, KO champs
Deshaun Watson’s NFL Comeback Player of the Year case can move to the next step by beating the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles (7-7) and clinching the AFC South at 11-4. Houston was 3-3 last year when Watson was injured. The Texans went 1-9 without him. This year, he’s completing 67.7 percent of his passes with 24 touchdown passes, nine interceptions and a 103.7 passer rating.
Can fading Patriots turn things around?
It’s two days before Christmas and the Patriots (9-5) don’t have 10 wins, haven’t clinched the AFC East and aren’t closing in on home-field advantage. They’ve lost two in a row— both on the road, at Miami and Pittsburgh — and need to beat the Bills at home for a chance at a first-round bye for the ninth straight year. They should do their part by winning at home, where Tom Brady is 33-4 in December.
Brady down, Brees up next
So what does Ben Roethlisberger do for an encore after beating Brady at home last week? Simple. Go to New Orleans and lead the Steelers to a win over Drew Brees and the 12-2 Saints. Pittsburgh still is fighting for the AFC North. New Orleans needs to win one of its last two games to clinch the NFC’s home-field advantage. Brees is 5-1 at home with a .777 completion percentage, 20 TDs and one interception.
Chiefs need to slow seattle run game
A serious contrast in the way offense is played will take place in Seattle. The Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes average a league-best 8.1 yards per pass play. Meanwhile, the Seahawks like to bludgeon defenses with a top-ranked running game that’s averaging 154.9 yards per game. The Chiefs, who are still battling for the AFC West, give up a league-worst 5.03 yards rushing per carry. Seattle needs to win to clinch a playoff berth.
The more-desperate-to-win Steelers (8-5-1) will sneak out of New Orleans with a win over the Saints (12-2). That, coupled with a layup victory by the Rams at Arizona, will keep the Saints from clinching home-field advantage this week. The Bears also will win at San Francisco — not a layup considering the 49ers just knocked off the Seahawks — and stay in the mix for home-field advantage at 11-4 heading into Week 17 at Minnesota. (Of course, last week’s POTW said the Bears wouldn’t win the NFC North last week. So … )