The playoff chase is fully underway in the NFL, and things are shaping up to be pretty wacky in the battle for the final couple of spots. Right now, the Cincinnati Bengals (5-4) and the Minnesota Vikings (5-3-1) hold the sixth and final spot in their respective conferences. In the AFC, there are four teams (Titans, Dolphins, Ravens, Colts) all within one game of the Bengals. In the NFC, there are five teams within one-and-a-half games of the Vikings (Seahawks, Packers, Falcons, Cowboys, and Eagles).
The point is, things are still wide open. Some division races are far from decided as well. In the NFC East, the Redskins have a two-game lead on the Cowboys and Eagles, but they have to face the Cowboys once more and the Eagles twice in the season’s stretch run. In the AFC South, the Texans are one game up on the Titans (5-4) and two up on the Colts (4-5) but they have meetings left against both teams.
Then, there’s the NFC North, which will become a little bit more clear after Sunday, when the Bears and Vikings meet at Soldier Field. The Bears, who beat the Lions last Sunday, ended a 10-game losing streak to NFC North opponents, and look to start a new winning streak within the division against Minnesota. For some insight into the biggest matchups of the weekend, we turned to CBS 2 Chicago sports anchor Ryan Baker.
Houston Texans @ Washington Redskins, 1:00 p.m. ET (CBS)
A pair of first-place teams meet in Washington, when the Houston Texans meet the Washington Redskins. The respective AFC South and NFC East leaders are both 6-3, but Houston returns from its bye week on a six-game winning streak. Adrian Peterson says he is feeling “refreshed,” but he’ll run into a J.J. Watt-led defense that allows less than 93 yards per game on the ground.
The Redskins are even stingier. They give up just under 20 points behind the steady hand of Alex Smith. I’m picking Washington in a close one.
Denver Broncos @ Los Angeles Chargers, 4:05 p.m. ET (CBS)
The Bolts host the Broncos. Philip Rivers, who, at this point, has thrown 21 touchdowns with just four interceptions, has the “other” team in L.A. charging towards the playoffs. The Chargers have won six in a row largely due to their defense. They’re holding teams to an average of 15.5 points per game during their surge.
After a 2-0 start, Denver has dropped six of seven, and I don’t see that skid stopping. I like the Chargers.
Philadelphia Eagles @ New Orleans Saints, 4:25 p.m. ET (FOX)
The reigning Super Bowl champs are reeling at 4-5, while the Saints have marched to eight straight wins. Philadelphia heads to New Orleans entering must-win territory. They’ll have their hands full, with the Saints juggernaut offense putting up almost 37 points per game. But, the Saints pass defense, ranked 31st in the league, is a glaring weakness that Carson Wentz can exploit. Rudy T said it best, never underestimate the heart of a champion. It won’t be a Big Easy, but I say Fly Eagles Fly to an upset.
Minnesota Vikings @ Chicago Bears, 8:25 p.m. ET (NBC)
On Sunday night, the Vikings and Bears will battle along the Chicago lakefront, with NFC North supremacy on the line. These long-time rivals come in with top-5 defenses; Minnesota is number one with 31 sacks. The Bears have snagged 16 picks and scored 89 points off of turnovers, both marks are NFL bests. And Khalil Mack is healthy. Quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Mitchell Trubisky are clicking. If Cody Parkey doesn’t clank another one off the upright, the Bears will maintain their first-place hold on the division.