Panthers hoping to streak past Jets, looking to playoffs

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 15, 2013

This week’s NFL games…
After being routed by New Orleans to stop their eight-game winning streak, the Panthers (9-4) look to re-establish their playoff credentials in what could be a strong defensive match. Carolina has the league’s best rushing defense, with the Jets (6-7) just behind.
The Panthers get a playoff spot by winning and having Arizona, San Francisco and Dallas all not win, or the Cardinals, 49ers and Eagles not win.
New York remains on the periphery of the AFC wild-card race.
Eagles (8-5) at Minneapolis (3-9-1)
The Eagles can be assured of one warming thought as they head to Minneapolis this weekend: There won’t be 6 inches of snow on the field.
Nope, the game will be indoors. Not that Philadelphia would mind playing in inclement weather after its 34-20 victory over Detroit in blizzard-like conditions last Sunday. Seems odd, doesn’t it, that the team at a disadvantage in wintry weather in this matchup hails from Minnesota.
Minnesota’s star running back Adrian Peterson, the 2012 league MVP, has a sprained right foot. The Vikings have an even bigger challenge if he can’t go against the ever-improving Philly defense.
The Eagles (8-5) have won five of their last six against Minnesota and they are 5-1 on the road this season. They’ve also won their last five outings to move to the top of the NFC East.
Washington (3-10) at Atlanta (3-10)
Kirk Cousins gets the call at quarterback as coach Mike Shanahan benches Robert Griffin III for what Shanahan says is in RG3’s best interest health-wise. Both of these teams made the playoffs a year ago by winning divisions. Look at them now.
Green Bay (6-6-1) at Dallas (7-6)
Both teams are in their division races, the Packers in the NFC North, the Cowboys in the NFC East, but have only slight shots at a wild card. Green Bay has struggled since quarterback Aaron Rodgers broke his left collarbone, but is hopeful he can get them to the top when he returns. He is out Sunday.
Green Bay hasn’t beaten Dallas on the road since 1989. The Packers lost the last nine games at Texas Stadium, including seven straight from 1993-96, three in playoff games.
Cincinnati (9-4) at Pittsburgh (5-8)
Bengals linebacker James Harrison returns to where he helped the Steelers win two Super Bowls. He’s a part-time player now, however, on a strong Cincinnati defense.
Cincinnati can clinch the AFC North with a win and a Baltimore loss to Detroit. The Bengals also earn a third straight playoff berth with a win and Miami losing to New England.
The Steelers have lost two straight and would be eliminated from playoff contention with a loss and a win by either Miami or Baltimore.
Baltimore (7-6) at Detroit (7-6), Monday night
Huge game on both sides.
Baltimore controls the AFC’s second wild card right now and has won a season-high three straight, all at home. But the Ravens have lost three straight on the road and five of six this season.
The Lions have lost three of four, blowing fourth-quarter leads in each game. The offense has not scored in the fourth quarter of Detroit’s last three defeats.
New England (10-3) at Miami (7-6)
New England never seems to run out of miracles, and with a win will have the top seed in the AFC while clinching the East for fifth successive season. The Patriots have beaten the Dolphins seven consecutive times, including three wins in Miami. Only eight current Miami players have beaten New England while wearing a Dolphins uniform.
Ryan Tannehill has been sacked 47 times, and NFL high and a Dolphins record. But they have won three of their last four.
Kansas City (10-3) at Oakland (4-9)
Suddenly, the Chiefs are in position to win the AFC West with Denver’s stumble, but still need more help. Regardless, they get a postseason berth if either Miami or Baltimore doesn’t win and would be the fourth team to make the playoffs after losing at least 14 times the previous year.
Kansas City has won eight of the last 10 in Oakland.
New Orleans (10-3) at St. Louis (5-8)
If the Saints win, they are in the playoffs. There are four other scenarios in which they can advance, but they can’t clinch the NFC South this week.
The Rams are eliminated from playoff contention and assured of a 10th consecutive season without a winning record. But coach Jeff Fisher is 4-0 against the Saints.
Seattle (11-2) at New York Giants (5-8)
Seattle has looked like the league’s best team for a while, but stumbled in a grudge match at San Francisco last week. The Seahawks are 5-2 on the road and have never won six games away from Seattle in a season.
They will own the NFC West and a first-round bye with a victory and a San Francisco loss or tie. Should the Niners and Saints fall while the Seahawks beat the Giants, Seattle clinches home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs.
New York must find a way to protect Eli Manning, who has been sacked a career-high 32 times and faces a fierce and angry defense.
San Francisco (9-4) at Tampa Bay (4-9)
San Francisco clinches a playoff spot with a win, an Arizona loss and a Dallas loss or tie. It also gets in by beating the Bucs and an Arizona loss and Philadelphia loss or tie.
The 49ers have won 16 of 20 regular-season meetings with Tampa Bay. Bucs safety Dashon Goldson, an All-Pro in San Francisco last season, faces his former team for the first time.
Tampa rookie QB Mike Glennon has had two straight poor outings. He’s thrown three interceptions and lost a fumble in those games.
Chicago (7-6) at Cleveland (4-9)
Jay Cutler is back at quarterback for the Bears, which might not be all that good considering how well backup Josh McCown played. They are averaging 28.3 points per game, their highest total since the 1985 Super Bowl championship team. But the once-proud defense ranks 27th and is dead last against the run.
Cleveland, still smarting from blowing a win at New England, has a particularly dangerous weapon in the passing game in Josh Gordon. His 774 yards receiving in the last four games are the most for a four-game stretch in league history. Gordon leads the NFL with 1,400 yards and he’s done it in 11 games after serving a two-game suspension.
Arizona (8-5) at Tennessee (5-8)
Still in the thick of the wild-card chase, the Cardinals head to Music City having won five of six. Two of their stars have been hit: WR Larry Fitzgerald has five TDs in the past four games, and LB John Abraham had three sacks, a forced fumble and a safety last week. Abraham has 11 sacks and four forced fumbles in the past seven games.
Houston (2-11) at Indianapolis (8-5)
The Colts already have secured the AFC South, not a big chore considering its weakness. They have tons of issues to work out, though, including far too many slow starts. Indianapolis has been outscored 92-46 in the first quarter this season.
Wade Phillips returns to the interim coaching role after Gary Kubiak was fired. The Texans have lost 11 straight overall, and have never won in Indy.
Buffalo (4-9) at Jacksonville (4-9)
Soon to be eliminated from playoff contention for an almost unfathomable 14th straight season, the Bills at least are secure in their choice at quarterback. First-round pick EJ Manuel is their future.
Jacksonville, despite winning four of its last five games and three in a row, can’t feel so sure after 2011 first-rounder Blaine Gabbert has flopped.