Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:01 AM

Essentials - Week 13

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Indianapolis (-4/46.5) at Jacksonville, 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The Jaguars fired offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett to open the week and demoted QB Blake Bortles, looking to turn the page on a dreadful follow-up season after reaching the AFC Championship. Cody Kessler will start instead, making his second appearance since throwing for 156 yards and a touchdown in a 20-7 loss to Houston on Oct. 21. He won’t have Leonard Fournette to hand off to, so Carlos Hyde and T.J. Yeldon will be tasked with powering the ground game. The Colts should have top rookie LB Darius Leonard, who has 114 tackles, six sacks and four forced fumbles, in the mix.

Andrew Luck could face an easier time than he probably envisioned when the schedule was released and called for a December trip to north Florida. Corners Jalen Ramsey, Tre Herndon and Quinton Meeks joined safeties Tashaun Gipson and Cody Davis in missing practice time this week, so the Jacksonville secondary may be in shambles. Indy WR T.Y. Hilton is good to go after a groin issue and TE Eric Ebron and RB Marlon Mack have also been cleared to play. The Colts won at home 29-26 on Nov. 11 to snap a 1-4 run at the hands of the Jags, who they will be looking to sweep for the first time since 2014. Bortles played well in the loss, throwing for two scores, while Fournette found the end zone twice. Luck threw for three TDs, all to tight ends.

Carolina (-3/53) at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m. ET, FOX: Kicker Graham Gano bailed the Panthers out in Week 5, drilling a 63-yard field goal to help avoid a fourth-quarter collapse against the Giants. Last Sunday, he took part in the meltdown against Seattle, missing a late go-ahead attempt that helped set up the Seahawks’ final game-winning drive, knocking Carolina out of the NFC’s top six. Bouncing back immediately will require extending its run against the Bucs to 10 wins in 12 outings, which includes wins in four of five in Tampa.

Cam Newton missed throws late against the Seahawks and early issues in the red zone came back to haunt the Panthers, so expect them to be aggressive against a Bucs defense that has been among the league’s worst but looked terrific in holding the 49ers to nine points last week. Top LB Lavonte David is expected back from a knee injury, while safety Justin Evans and DE Jason Pierre-Paul are also due to return. Jameis Winston often struggles to adequately hook up with WR Desean Jackson, so perhaps missing the deep threat won’t be too great of a concern. The offense will also get rookie Ronald Jones in the mix. A lingering hamstring injury that kept him out all of November has hindered his development. Winston comes off his first interception-free game of the season and has still thrown more picks (11) than touchdowns (10). Thunderstorms may be in the mix.

Baltimore at Atlanta (-2.5/48.5), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: Rookie QB Lamar Jackson has won his first two starts, making winning plays in key spots to ensure the Ravens didn’t stumble against bad teams with Joe Flacco healing up from a hip injury. Winning on the road in the NFL is a different animal, especially when you have to keep pace with Matt Ryan and a highly respected Falcons offense in their dome. Jackson is a different animal than most QBs the Falcons have seen, but defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel has already faced Cam Newton, Dak Prescott and Alex Smith, guys who make running the ball part of their puzzle. On the road, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Jackson start as more of a runner at first, similar to how the Ravens allowed him to play to his strengths in his first start against the Bengals.

If that’s the case, it looks like it will be a baptism by fire for LB Deion Jones, who will be making his first appearance since being injured in Week 1. Atlanta has dropped three straight and faces must-win situations in every game going forward but has to be encouraged by this being the healthiest its group has been in months. The Ravens are more banged up with safety Tony Jefferson and RB Alex Collins ruled out, but they have faced massive attrition over the past few years and are therefore in better shape even with a backup QB working than they have been recently this time of year. Baltimore leads the all-time series 3-2 but has only won in Atlanta in 1999 and will be making its first appearance at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Cleveland at Houston (-5.5/47.5), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The Browns haven’t won three straight games since 2014 and come in off their first road victory since ’15, so expecting them to pull an upset here means you’re all-in on a tremendous rookie class not hitting the wall on the road. QB Baker Mayfield, RB Nick Chubb and safety Denzel Ward have all shined of late and the play-calling of Freddie Kitchens in place of the fired Hue Jackson and Todd Haley has produced over 13 expected points per game in that advanced stats metric. With Mayfield making quicker, more productive throws due to a growing comfort zone in the system and Chubb also coming into his own at running back, Cleveland may indeed have a fighting chance against the Texans. J.J. Watt has been dealing with a knee issue but rookie slot WR is a true game-time decision.

Buffalo at Miami (-4/40), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The Dolphins are under .500 for the first time all season, so Ryan Tannehill’s second start also feels like the team’s last stand. Considering they’re expected to beat the Bills, we’re going to get a real clear indication of what this team has left in a season filled with a rash of injuries and misfortune. Miami looked like it was going to prove resilient coming off its bye week in last Sunday’s visit to Indianapolis but coughed up a 10-point fourth-quarter lead and were turned back.

Buffalo will be looking to play spoiler while Miami gets its first look at rookie QB Josh Allen, hoping to prevent him from immediately being a thorn in it side. The Bills have won seven of the last 10 times they’ve faced the Dolphins and typically deal with snow this time of year. In their opening game of December, rain may be the obstacle instead since tropical showers could co-star in today’s festivities. It could also be sunny with temperatures approaching 90 degrees, so it will be interesting to see how things unfold.

Chicago (-3.5/44) at N.Y. Giants, 1 p.m. ET, FOX: The Bears will again turn to Chase Daniel in place of Mitch Trubisky, gambling that he can again help the team come up with a road victory as he managed to Thanksgiving Day against Detroit. It’s the smart play since Trubisky’s shoulder is getting close to 100 percent and another week will only help the current NFC North leaders long-term. The risk lies in faltering and giving up ground to Minnesota, its closest pursuers in the division, so Sunday will play a large role In determining how easy the road to locking up Chicago’s first playoff appearance since 2010 will be. With apologies to Daniel, this Giants game is on the defense.

Eli Manning threw for 297 yards last week but blew a lead to the Eagles with bad decisions and missed check-downs as the offense inexplicably went away from a dominant Saquon Barkley. Considering how much damage the Bears’ pass rush can do, it would be surprising if Barkley isn’t force-fed the ball at least 25 times. Chicago DT Akiem Hicks is listed as questionable but should play after participating in Friday’s practice, while LB Aaron Lynch should also participate. Rain will be a factor too, but it’s hard to forecast how harsh the conditions will be.

Denver (-4.5/44.5) at Cincinnati, 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The Broncos upset the Steelers at home to join the AFC wild card fray, utilizing turnovers to remain alive by improving to 2-0 after their bye week. They’ll be looking for the first three-game winning streak under head coach Vance Joseph in what boils down to as close to an elimination game as one can have in Week 13. Having lost Andy Dalton to a season-ending thumb injury last week in a game where they were routed by the Browns, the Bengals are either going to ride or die behind Jeff Driskel, who will make his first career NFL start.

He gets back A.J. Green and tried to rally the Bengals against Cleveland, throwing for 155 yards and a score, so don’t immediately write off the home team’s chances here as they also look to get back to .500 through 12 games. Driskel also won’t have to deal with key Broncos LB Brandon Marshall, who will be a game-time decision but unlikely to return from a knee injury this week. Cincinnati has upgraded DE Carlos Dunlap, LB Nick Vigil and corner Dre Kirkpatrick to ‘probable.’ Wind gusts could be a factor as the Bengals try to rescue a season that started off promisingly with four victories in five games.

L.A. Rams (-10/54.5) at Detroit, 1 p.m. ET, FOX: The Rams would prefer not to see the inside of the Superdome again for years and are now in position to ensure that’s the case after Dallas’ Thursday night upset win over the Saints. After its epic 54-51 Monday night win over the Chiefs, L.A. comes in rested and in control of homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs if it can win out against a schedule that features only one team currently above .500. Detroit has dropped four of five and has averaged only 16.1 points per game, so it could find it hard to move the ball on a rested defense that wants to bounce back from being carved up for 51 points by the Chiefs. Running back Kerryon Johnson has been ruled out due to a knee injury. L.A. corner Aqib Talib is back from an ankle injury, while Todd Gurley and his NFL-leading 17 touchdowns will also be available.

Arizona at Green Bay (-13.5/42), 1 p.m. ET, FOX: Aaron Rodgers knows his plan for making the playoffs can’t sound reassuring, but I don’t think that’s his angle anyway. At this point, although winning out sounds difficult, it’s doable. There’s going to be only one game remaining where Green Bay won’t be favored. Beyond that Week 15 visit to Chicago, the Packers only have to take care of business against teams they should beat, although this first one appears to be the gimme. The Packers aren’t likely to be the week’s heaviest favorite in going forward, but squaring off against a Cardinals team that arrives in Green Bay as an underdog of nearly two touchdowns after losing 45-10 in a similar role at the Chargers last Sunday makes this a potential tone-setter for Rodgers.

Of course, in the NFL, there are rarely gimmes, so reasons to like the Cardinals in this definitely exist. Safety Budda Baker will be back and only key LB Deone Bucannon had been ruled out as of late Saturday, although offensive tackle D.J. Humphries was trending downward. His absence would make it difficult for the Cardinals to generate much offense all season, topping 17 points on the road only once in five tries. Arizona will have to get adjusted to snow and wind, which may work against them since it could limit Rodgers given that he’s still not physically 100 percent. Left tackle David Bakhtiari remains a game-time decision, while WR Randall Cobb (hamstring) is expected to make his return.

Kansas City (-14/54.5) at Oakland, 4:05 p.m. ET, CBS: Spencer Ware will be plugged into Kareem Hunt’s spot at running back and the Chiefs’ offensive circus will be expected to move forward and thrive in another town, potentially making one final appearance in a place where their colors have long been despised. With the Raiders’ future in limbo, this could be Kansas City’s last appearance in Oakland, so expect the venom to fly from Raider nation as they’ll look to pile on to what’s been an awful few days for the AFC West leaders.

Although you can presume the Chiefs probably knew there would be a time when video evidence of an altercation they had only heard about and no charges were filed for would see the light of day, it was dropped on the organization in the middle of game-prep. They’ll have to also overcome the absence of WR Sammy Watkins, who remains sideline with a foot injury, but are 11-4 SU and ATS despite all the venom they’ve faced in Oakland and have scored enough to help deliver the ‘over’ in seven of eight. Weather conditions in the Bay Area support a shootout if Derek Carr and an offense that has averaged 20 points in their last two games after failing to top 10 in four of their previous five keeps finding ways to reach the end zone.

N.Y. Jets at Tennessee (-9.5/40), 4:05 p.m. ET, CBS: The Jets are expected to give Sam Darnold one more week off, so veteran Josh McCown will make his third start, who has produced 11.5 points in losses to Buffalo and New England. That makes the Titans a heavy home favorite as they look to bounce back from surrendering 72 combined points in divisional losses to AFC South foes Indianapolis and Houston. Tennessee has been great at home, beating the most recent Super Bowl participants, Philadelphia and New England, in addition to the division-leading Texans. Since four of the Titans’ final five games come in Nashville, taking care of business at home in December will determine their fate. A New York offense that has only topped 300 total yards once over its last five games will also have to deal with windy conditions as gusts are expected, so look for both offenses to stick mostly to misdirection up front and the short passing game.

Minnesota at New England (-5/49.5), 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX: The Patriots hold the tie-breaker over the Chiefs and Texans, a strong finish could mean the road to the Super Bowl in the AFC will again go through Foxboro. There’s still a lot of work to be done with visits to Miami and Pittsburgh up next, but ensuring a 6-0 start at home for the season will keep the goal of reclaiming homefield advantage alive, not to mention adding another Super Bowl contender to the list of teams unable to get over at Foxboro, where the Pats haven’t lost since Oct. 1, 2017. The Vikings will look to snap New England’s 10-game run and have been decent in opposing stadiums, tying Green Bay, pushing in a seven-point loss to the Rams and winning at Philadelphia, but miscues doomed their most recent road game, a potentially season-defining 25-20 loss at Chicago two weeks ago.

Stefon Diggs was a major question mark due to a knee issue but will be in the mix to test the Patriots secondary, complemented by Adam Theilen, who was upgraded to probable after suffering a calf injury. New England will have major weapons Rob Gronkowski and Sony Michel in the lineup for a second straight week after both contributed in last week’s win at the Jets. The main injury-related question mark in this matchup is corner Xavier Rhodes, who wouldn’t be 100 percent with a hamstring issue if he does suit up, giving Brady someone to try and pick on. It’s expected to rain throughout the day, so that may make a major difference in whether the quarterbacks will be able to push the ball downfield or not.

San Francisco at Seattle (-9.5/45.5), 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX: - After crushing the Raiders to open November, the Nick Mullens’ furor has died down after a Monday night home loss to the Giants and last week’s 27-9 post-bye setback at Tampa Bay. This will be the final time the 49ers leave California this season and you can at least credit veteran newcomer Richard Sherman for stirring the pot to keep things interesting to ensure the kids don’t get complacent. Sherman’s comments about Russell Wilson, although honest, put a target on his back and should free up the 49ers young players to perform with passion inside one of the league’s toughest venues. He called his former team “middle-of-the-road,” which is true since the Seahawks have saved their season by rallying against the Packers two weeks ago and stealing a game in Carolina last Sunday. They’re now set up to finish with four home dates over their final five outings, with the load roadie coming in a rematch with these 49ers in two weeks. Defeating the Vikings and Chiefs won’t be easy, but this new-look Seahawks team can begin to carve out new history without Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Marshawn Lynch, Golden Tate and so on. That makes this a crucial month for Pete Carroll and his coaching staff.

The 49ers haven’t won in Seattle in their last seven visits, outscored by a combined margin of 109 points. This matchup will test the Seahawks’ suspect run defense since Matt Breida has been effective and Mullens won’t have top targets Marquise Goodwin and Pierre Garcon. Linebacker K.J. Wright remains sidelined, so we could see the 49ers move it effectively via the run game and fantastic tight end George Kittle, requiring another big second half from Wilson, who will be playing his first game as a 30-year-old. Rain is always a possibility in Seattle, but the expectation is that most of this game will be played in dry conditions.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]

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