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Most of NFL’s lingering drama is in the cards

It’s not easy to get pennant fever in the National Football League when five of the eight division races are all but decided with five weeks left in the regular season.

In fact, the Carolina Panthers (11-0) already have clinched at least a tie for the NFC South championship. The New England Patriots (10-1) are one game away from clinching in the AFC East.

Cincinnati, Denver, and Arizona own three-game leads in their divisional races. The only drama is in the NFC North between Green Bay (8-4) and first-place Minnesota (8-3) and the league’s two weakest divisions − the AFC South where Indianapolis and Houston are tied for first place at 6-5, and the NFC East where Washington and the New York Giants are knotted at 5-6. The NFC East has an 11-19 combined record in games outside the division while the AFC South is 12-20.

The action is in the wild cards. In the AFC, five teams lead the race for the last two playoff berths with 6-5 records. Seattle and Atlanta, each 6-5, are the contenders behind Green Bay for the last wild-card in the NFC.

Only two of the remaining Week 12 games − Seattle at Minnesota and Indianapolis at Pittsburgh − match teams with winning records but playoff hopefuls such as Houston at Buffalo go at each other in other games.

A capsule look at the Week 12 games:

Game of the day

Seahawks (6-5) at Vikings (8-3)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Seahawks (-2).

The scoop: Match of teams with NFC playoff hopes tops a mediocre schedule. … Seahawks have won four of last five to revive playoff chances. The lone loss was to Cardinals. They are only 2-3 on road with tough losses at Green Bay and Cincinnati. … QB Russell Wilson coming off five-TD pass game against Steelers. … After falling flat in home loss to Green Bay, Vikings rolled at Atlanta behind 158 rushing yards by Adrian Peterson. … QB Teddy Bridgewater is having decent season but Vikes are tied with Rams for fewest passing TDs in league (eight).

Outlook: Unless Peterson runs wild again, see Seahawks’ “D” carrying the day. Seahawks, 27-23.

Top attractions

Texans (6-5) at Bills (5-6)

TV: Ch. 4, 1 p.m.

The line: Bills (-3).

The scoop: Some teams really do improve as the season moves along, and despite loss of lead RB Arian Foster. Houston is Exhibit A. The Texans have won four in a row since being embarrassed at Miami, 44-26, and five of six since one TD loss to division rival Colts. … Brian Hoyer has 14-4 TD-INT ratio and 94.4 passer rating and WR DeAndre Hopkins has 81 catches for 1,081 yards and seven TDs. … They also have a guy named J.J. Watt who leads league with 13.5 sacks and may be overall MVP.

Outlook: Texans need this one with Patriots at home next week and showdown with Colts coming up after that. Bills just make too many errors and are badly beat up. Houston, 23-17.

Jets (6-5) at Giants (5-6)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Jets (-2).

The scoop: Giants were so terrible at Washington last week, they had to be looking ahead to game against fellow MetLife Stadium tenant. … Giants QB Eli Manning is 2-0 in career versus Jets. Manning has thrown for 23 TDs, nine to Odell Beckham Jr. … Beckham Jr. versus Darrelle Revis will not come off because Jets CB is questionable. … Jets’ Ryan Fitzpatrick passed for four TDs last week in rout of Dolphins, giving him 20 for season. Fitz-to-Brandon Marshall passing combo turning out to be very effective for Jets.

Outlook: Giants playing for NFC-East lead, put crimp in Jets’ playoff hopes. Giants, 28-27.

Colts (6-5) at Steelers (6-5)

TV: Ch. 2, 8:30 p.m.

The line: Steelers (-3).

The scoop: Colts have been in every game since starting season with losses to Bills and Jets and change at QB caused by injury to Andrew Luck has helped. They’ve won last three since OT loss at Carolina. … QB Matt Hasselbeck has gone 4-0 in relief role. … Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger practiced during week and is expected to play. Otherwise, Landry Jones could get the start.

Outlook: Both sides need this one badly. Home edge to Steelers, 21-17.

Chiefs (6-5) at Raiders (5-6)

Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.

The line: Chiefs (-3).

The scoop: Still believe that stuff that Alex Smith can’t or won’t throw deep effectively? Smitty has not thrown an INT in last 283 passes. … Another coached-up team that got better each week, Chiefs have won last five. … This is toughest game KC faces the rest of the way in march to playoffs. Rest of schedule is Chargers (3-8), Ravens (4-7), Browns (2-9) and Oakland again. … Raiders ended three-game losing streak with win at Tennessee. Oakland’s Derek Carr looking for seventh 300-yard passing game.

Outlook: Traditionally a tough trip for Chiefs, but KC, 33-24.

Falcons (6-5) at Buccaneers (5-6)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Buccaneers (-1½).

The scoop: Falcons were 5-0 by Columbus Day but wins were over teams with combined 23-32 record. Only win since was 10-7 over Bucs at home. … Believe it or not: This is not Matt Ryan’s worst season as Falcons’ QB but he’s getting most of a heat in Atlanta for team’s slump. … Bucs were showing improvement before falling flat in 25-12 road loss at Indy. … Defense ranks 12th in league and RB Doug Martin is second in rushing with 1,038 yards.

Outlook: Physically tough Bucs just type of opponent Falcons have most trouble with. Tampa Bay, 20-17.

Best of the rest

Panthers (11-0) at Saints (4-7)

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.

The line: Panthers (-7).

The scoop: Carolina is 10-8 all-time in New Orleans. “Who Dat” crowd doesn’t intimidate Panthers, who won 41-10 in Big Easy last season and triumphed 27-22 over Saints at home on Sept. 27. … Carolina is only 17th in league in offense, but second in scoring with 332 points. They are second in total defense, however. … Saints QB Drew Brees has thrown TD pass last 51 games, longest streak in NFL history.

Outlook: Possible trouble for Panthers, except Saints are flat team dealing with rumors that coach Sean Payton and staff are headed elsewhere. Carolina, 31-14.

49ers (3-8) at Bears (5-6)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Bears (-7).

The scoop: Despite injuries and lack of talent, Bears are very competitive under coaching of John Fox. Chicago has won five of last eight and losses were to Lions in OT, Vikings by 3 and Denver by 2. … Niners are 0-5 on road with 21-point average margin of defeat.

Outlook: 49ers gave Cardinals a fight before losing on late TD, but this one is at Soldier Field. Bears, 27-13.

Bengals (9-2) at Browns (2-9)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Bengals (-9½).

The scoop: Only Lions fans are more depressed than Browns backers. Losing to Ravens on walk-off blocked field goal return? That’s a way to lose even the Bills haven’t thought of. … Bengals got their mojo back in 31-7 rout of dead-beat Rams after losing previous two. … Austin Davis, who started eight games for Rams last season, will start at QB for Browns, not Johnny Manziel.

Outlook: Last four games in Buckeye State rivalry have not been close. Bengals won 31-10 at home Nov. 5 but Browns have won three of last five versus Bengals in Cleveland. Bengals, 33-17.

Cardinals (9-2) at Rams (4-7)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Cardinals (-5½).

The scoop: Arizona’s 19-13 win at San Francisco was its worst road performance of season except for 25-13 loss at Pittsburgh. Cards lead league in scoring (355) and TDs (42) and are averaging 32.5 ppg on the road. … Arizona QB Carson Palmer is 22-4 in last 26 starts. He leads NFC with 3,337 passing yards, 27 TD passes and 105.9 rating.

Outlook: Rams are flat. They’ve scored 13 points or fewer in six of 11 games. Cardinals, 27-10.

Jaguars (4-7) at Titans (2-9)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Titans (2ø).

The scoop: Jags were dreaming playoffs before 31-25 flop to visiting Chargers. Jacksonville QB Blake Bortles needs two TD passes to set franchise record. David Garrard had 23 in 2010. … Tennessee has lost last three since OT win at New Orleans

Outlook: Titans have lost 11 straight at home. They need another Music City Miracle. Jaguars, 24-15.

Broncos (9-2) at Chargers (3-8)

Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.

The line: Broncos (-4½).

The scoop: A month ago, who knew who Brock Osweiler was? Now he’s 2-0 as NFL starter. … San Diego QB Philip Rivers passed for 300 yards and four TDs with no INTs in win at Jacksonville last week. He has thrown for 23 scores and 100.1 rating despite Bolts’ sorry record. Ex-Bill Stevie Johnson has had seven or more catches last three games.

Outlook: Broncos haven’t lost in San Diego since 2010. … Broncos, 30-20.

Eagles (4-7) at Patriots (10-1)

TV: Ch. 29, 4:25 p.m.

The line: Patriots (-9½).

The scoop: Eagles don’t run for the bus, they run for SEPTA (Southeast Pennsylvania Transit Authority). … Unless Sam Bradford is cleared, Mark Sanchez starts at QB for Eagles. He passed for 300 or more in last three games against Patriots when he played with Jets. … Patriots main receiving target may be ex-Bill TE Scott Chandler with Rob Gronkowski out.

Outlook: Watch out. Tom Brady is mad. Patriots, 45-21.

Cowboys (3-8) at Redskins (5-6)

TV: ESPN, Monday, 8:30 p.m.

The line: Redskins (-4½).

The scoop: Dallas hopes for a closing run died with Tony Romo’s second fractured collarbone injury on Thanksgiving. Matt Cassel will start for Cowboys. … Only thing consistent about Redskins is their home record. It’s 5-1 since loss to Miami of all people. … Another much-maligned Michigan State quarterback, Kirk Cousins, has won last six starts at home. His TD-INT ratio is 5-0 in last five home starts.

Outlook: Redskins always get up for hated Cowboys. Washington, 27-21.

Dog of the day

Ravens (4-7) at Dolphins (4-7)

Kickoff: Dolphins (-4).

The line: 1 p.m.

The scoop: Zac Taylor is new Dolphins offensive coordinator after punchless performance in 38-20 loss at the Jets last week. No matter. Entire Miami coaching staff will be toast after season. … Fish are only 1-2 at home this season, but have four left. … Matt Schaub makes second start for Ravens, who are only a shell of team that made playoffs seven of last nine seasons. … Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill needs 9 yards to hit 3,000 passing mark for fourth season in a row.

Outlook: Dolphins just don’t put points on the board. Ravens, 20-14.

Last week’s results: 7-6 straight up; 6-7 versus spread.

Season’s record: 99-62 straight up; 83-73-5 versus spread.

email: mnorthrop@buffnews.com