Sunday's NFL game predictions

St. Louis Rams' quarterback Kurt Warner (13) loses the ball in his own end zone as he is sacked by Washington Redskins' Delbert Cowsette (91) and Carl Powell (72) in the third quarter, Nov., 24, at Fedex Field in Landover, Md. Washington went on to win 20-17. The Rams must win Sunday against the Eagles to keep their slim playoff chances alive.

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Published: Sunday, December 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, November 30, 2002 at 11:34 p.m.

WHO: Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4-1) at Jacksonville Jaguars (5-6).


Crunch time

  • With playoff races as tight as ever, you have some real important games. Take out the goings-on in Kansas City and Cincinnati, and every tilt has playoff meaning.

    We're going out on a limb, choosing against 9-2 Tampa Bay, 7-3-1 Atlanta and 7-4 Oakland. But in this day and age, everybody loses big games. It's just a matter of when.

    Good luck today. Season records: Straight-up: 100-75-1; Against the spread: 84-84-8.

  • WHEN: Today, 1 p.m.

  • THE LINE: Steelers by 3.

  • LAST WEEK: Pittsburgh defeated Cincinnati 29-21. Jacksonville lost to Dallas 21-19.

  • THE GAME: Jacksonville's faint playoff hopes may have washed away last week. It boils down to this: In three crucial games against the two subpar Texas teams, the Jaguars struggled to go 1-2. How they recover from this latest setback remains to be seen. But if they can't beat last-place teams, how are they going to beat a first-place team?

    The Steelers, most likely, will be without QB Tommy Maddox (1,872 yards, 16 TDs), but Kordell Stewart (953, 6) performed admirably last week, and they simply need this one more. Pittsburgh is just a half-game ahead of Cleveland in the AFC North, and the Browns have what appears to be a chipshot at home today against Carolina.

  • THE PREDICTION: Steelers 24, Jaguars 16.

  • WHO: Miami Dolphins (7-4) at Buffalo Bills (5-6).

  • WHEN: Today, 1 p.m.

  • THE LINE: Dolphins by 2.

  • LAST WEEK: Miami defeated San Diego 30-3. Buffalo lost to the New York Jets 31-13.

  • THE GAME: Miami RB Ricky Williams (1,056 yards, 10 TDs) is back in full gear, and faces a team that has allowed 86 points over its last three games. Williams will get his yards and the Dolphins should escape with a win. But the cold weather will work against them and QB Ray Lucas (1,005 yards, 3 TDs) has produced just 20 points in his two road games. Buffalo defeated Miami 23-10 Oct. 13. The Dolphins won't get swept, but it won't be easy.

  • THE PREDICTION: Dolphins 20, Bills 19.

  • WHO: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-2) at New Orleans Saints (7-4).

  • WHEN: Today, 8:30 p.m.

  • THE LINE: Buccaneers by 1.

  • LAST WEEK: Tampa Bay defeated Green Bay 21-7. New Orleans lost to Cleveland 24-15.

  • THE GAME: The Saints' season hangs in the balance. After overcoming a poor defense for two months, New Orleans' offense seems to be running out of steam. They've produced just 32 points in their two-game skid. But we think the Saints can bounce back today against a Tampa Bay team due for a letdown.

    The Buccaneers have won four in a row and finally hit the road after a three-game homestand. Saints RB Deuce McAllister (950 yards, 9 TDs) is back and should lead the home team to an upset.

  • THE PREDICTION: Saints 24, Buccaneers 19.

  • WHO: Chicago Bears (3-8) at Green Bay Packers (8-3).

  • WHEN: Today, 1 p.m.

  • THE LINE: Packers by 9 1/2.

  • LAST WEEK: Green Bay lost to Tampa Bay 21-7. Chicago defeated 20-17.

  • THE GAME: The Bears broke an eight-game skid thanks to poor decisions by the Detroit coaching staff. Never mind the fact they were trailing for two-thirds of that game, and came awful close to a season sweep at the hands of the mighty Lions. With that in mind, don't expect a two-game win streak.

    The Packers have lost two in a row, and have fallen from the NFC's top spot. Packers QB Brett Favre (11 TDs) will help right the ship at home, where they're 5-0.

  • THE PREDICTION: Packers 28, Bears 21.

  • WHO: Tennessee Titans (6-5) at New York Giants (6-5).

  • WHEN: Today, 1 p.m.

  • THE LINE: Giants by 3.

  • LAST WEEK: Titans lost to Baltimore 13-12. Houston beat N.Y. 16-14.

  • THE GAME: Must-win for both. Titans QB Steve McNair (2,417 yards, 17 TDs) is questionable with a rib injury. Neil O'Donnell took most of the snaps Friday. O'Donnell (21,450, 118 career) is plenty capable, but they're two different QBs. McNair is a scrambler, something the Giants can't contain.

    O'Donnell is a drop-back, something they can control. The Giants don't have a win against a .500 team, so this is dangerous. But we think they can rise to the challenge. Tennessee is No. 23 against the pass. Good opportunity for Giants QB Kerry Collins (2,766, 10).

  • THE PREDICTION: Giants 15, Titans 10.

  • WHO: Arizona Cardinals (4-7) at Kansas City Chiefs (5-6).

  • WHEN: Today, 1 p.m.

  • THE LINE: Chiefs by 9 1/2.

  • LAST WEEK: Kansas City lost to Seattle 39-32. Arizona lost to Oakland 41-20.

  • THE GAME: Chiefs RB Priest Holmes (1,209 yards, 17 TDs) looks to take advantage of a Cardinals defense that has allowed 27 or more points in each of the last five. Kansas City rebounds at home. But, as always, the spread comes down to the Chiefs' defense. They're still dead-last overall and allowed 39 points to the mighty Seahawks last week. Cardinals QB Jake Plummer (2,157 yards, 11 TDs) is running out of weapons, but even he can puncture this defense and keep it close.

  • THE PREDICTION: Chiefs 37, Cardinals 30.

  • WHO: Baltimore Ravens (5-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (1-10)

  • WHEN: Today, 1 p.m.

  • THE LINE: Ravens by 3.

  • LAST WEEK: Baltimore defeated Tennessee 13-12. Cincinnati lost to Pittsburgh 29-21.

  • THE GAME: Baltimore knows - once and for all - that LB Ray Lewis (shoulder) is out. That might actually help the rest of the way. They no longer have the weekly soap opera of "Is he or isn't he playing?" Ravens QB Jeff Blake (946 yards, 6 TDs) struggled last week, but the club is averaging 18.6 points per game under his command. Nothing special, but it's probably enough here. When you have two teams with nothing to play for however, the points are always a nice head-start.

  • THE PREDICTION: Ravens 21, Bengals 20.

  • WHO: Carolina Panthers (3-8) at Cleveland Browns (6-5).

  • WHEN: Today, 1 p.m.

  • THE LINE: Browns by 7 1/2.

  • LAST WEEK: Cleveland upset New Orleans 24-15. Carolina lost to Atlanta 41-0.

  • THE GAME: The Browns' offense has really matured this season. QB Tim Couch has 13 TDs, and three of his receivers have more than 400 yards. He has spread the ball around to 14 different targets, and with the emergence of RB William Green (371 yards, 2 TDs), the Browns are just a half-game out of first place. But they have won four of five, and are due for a letdown. We don't think they'll stumble completely. After all, Carolina has lost eight straight.

    But we do think the Panthers (3-2 against the spread on the road) will hang around.

  • THE PREDICTION: Browns 20, Panthers 15.

  • WHO: Atlanta Falcons (7-3-1) at Minnesota Vikings (3-8).

  • WHEN: Today, 1 p.m.

  • THE LINE: Falcons by 3.

  • LAST WEEK: Minnesota lost to New England 24-17. Atlanta defeated Carolina 41-0.

  • THE GAME: Atlanta continues to write the comeback story of the year. The Falcons are unbeaten in seven and are 3-0-1 on the road during that span. Minnesota isn't an easy target though. The Vikings have covered two in a row, and are 3-3 at home. More importantly, they score 26.6 points per game there.

    Minnesota WR Randy Moss (856 yards, 4 TDs) and QB Daunte Culpepper (2,583 yards, 12 TDs) seem to be back on the same page, and we think they'll converge on an upset here.

  • THE PREDICTION: Vikings 25, Falcons 19.

  • WHO: Houston Texans (3-8) at Indianapolis Colts (7-4).

  • WHEN: Today, 4:05 p.m.

  • THE LINE: Colts by 10 1/2.

  • LAST WEEK: Houston defeated the New York Giants 16-14. Indianapolis defeated Denver 23-20.

  • THE GAME: Indianapolis needs to guard against a letdown. The Colts have won three straight, two of which were against first-place teams on the road. RB Edgerrin James (713 yards, 2 TDs) looked like the former rushing champ that he is last week, and QB Peyton Manning (19 TDs, 13 INTs) has been efficient while not spectacular. Houston has responded from each of its wins, with at least three straight losses.

    The Texans, however, have covered three straight and face a team today that is just 1-4 at home against the spread.

  • THE PREDICTION: Colts 21, Texans 13.

  • WHO: Denver Broncos (7-4) at San Diego Chargers (7-4).

  • WHEN: Today, 4:05 p.m.

  • THE LINE: Broncos by 3.

  • LAST WEEK: Denver lost to Indianapolis 23-20. San Diego lost to Miami 30-3.

  • THE GAME: Denver is thankful this is an afternoon game. The Broncos are 0-4 at night, but responded from the first three primetime disasters with wins the next week. We think the fourth time will be the same.

    But San Diego is very good at home (4-1). They have won comfortably there - 24-3 over Houston; 21-14 over New England - and not so comfortably there - 35-34 over Kansas City; 20-17 over San Francisco. Either way, they've been tough at Qualcomm Stadium, tough enough that we like those points.

  • THE PREDICTION: Broncos 21, Chargers 20.

  • WHO: St. Louis Rams (5-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (8-3).

  • WHEN: Today, 4:15 p.m.

  • THE LINE: Rams by 2.

  • LAST WEEK: Philadelphia defeated San Francisco 38-17. St. Louis lost to Washington 20-17.

  • THE GAME: Philadelphia turns to QB A.J. Feeley, who went 3-for-3 last week. The Eagles, as crazy as it sounds, don't need this win as bad as St. Louis does. Philadelphia has a two-game lead on the Giants in the NFC East with five to go. We expect an Eagles letdown, not because of the QB dilemma, but because of the huge Monday win over the 49ers. It's been a short week, a hectic week in Philadelphia.

    Meanwhile, QB Kurt Warner (1,213 yards, 3 TDs) and the Rams are desperate. They may not make the playoffs even if they win today, but they definitely won't without one here.

  • THE PREDICTION: Rams 25, Eagles 20.

  • WHO: Seattle Seahawks (4-7) at San Francisco 49ers (7-4).

  • WHEN: Today, 4:15 p.m.

  • THE LINE: 49ers by 9.

  • LAST WEEK: San Francisco lost to Philadelphia 38-17. Seattle defeated Kansas City 39-32.

  • THE GAME: San Francisco seems to have an easy remedy for its two-game skid: A home date vs. Seattle, which has allowed 63 points in the past two games. Seattle, however, has won three of five, and QB Matt Hasselbeck (1,375 yards, 6 TDs) has the offense moving to the tune of 20.2 points per game over the last four. We don't like the Seahawks straight, the 49ers need this win a great deal obviously. But the 49ers haven't covered a game in a month, and that's an awful lot of points in this league.

  • THE PREDICTION: 49ers 31, Seahawks 28.

  • WHO: New York Jets (6-5) at Oakland Raiders (7-4).

  • WHEN: Today, 9 p.m.

  • THE LINE: Raiders by 6 1/2.

  • LAST WEEK: N.Y. defeated Buffalo 31-13. Oakland beat Arizona 41-20.

  • THE GAME: Third time in less than a year these two teams meet. New York won 24-22 in the 2001 season finale, then lost 38-24 the following week in the wild-card. This game has almost as much importance. The Jets have won five of six and - depending on what happens today - could leap into first place. QB Chad Pennington (1,923 yards, 11 TDs) has developed a nice connection with WR Laveranues Coles (738 yards, 3 TDs). The Jets are allowing just 12.5 points per game over the last four. That figures to change against the league's No. 1 offense.

    But Oakland has won four, lost four and now won three. It's time for a new streak.

  • THE PREDICTION: Jets 29, Raiders 22.

    You can reach Tim Sullivan by calling 374-5050 or by email at

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