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Sunday playbook: Mariota on a roll as Titans face Broncos

"Run for the bus."

It's a phrase that became  known here during the Buffalo Bills' American Football League years. The belief is that the late Larry Felser coined it when he covered the team for The News in those years. It referred to a team going through the motions in the final weeks of a lost season, in a hurry  to get out of town on the next Greyhound.

Doping out NFL games in December would be much easier if you knew in advance which teams were mentally headed down the highway, out of town.

For example, it would have helped in Week 13 to  realize that the Carolina Panthers and New York Jets already had quit on their seasons before their one-sided defeats. How would you like to a have been a seat license and premium season-ticket customer of the Jets watching last Monday night's half-hearted display against the Indianapolis Colts?

Same with Carolina, a Super Bowl team last season, which did the same at Seattle. Of course, a ceremonial benching of star quarterback Cam Newton for violating a minor team dress code rule helped create a "what-the-heck" attitude.

These NFL teams look emotionally dead heading into the last four weekends of the season: Jacksonville, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Chicago. There's a whole lot more, including the Bills, who are ready to give up the ship.

A capsule look at the remaining Week 14 games:

Game of the day

Broncos (8-4) at Titans (6-6)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Titans (-1).
The scoop: Even if the Broncos win their last four over Tennessee, New England, at Kansas City and Oakland, they would need help to win the AFC West. The division race could end in a three-way tie at 12-4, but Kansas City would have the tie-breaker advantage because of a better record in division games. ... Tennessee is coming off a bye week after a win at Chicago. Titans QB Marcus Mariota has been overshadowed by the play of other young QBs (Dak Prescott , Derek Carr and Jamies Winston) so far, but has thrown fo 21 TDs with just three INTs an a 117.7 rating in his last eight games.
Outlook: Whether its Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch at QB for Broncos, got to like the rested Titans with a hot QB at home. Tennessee, 24-20.

Top attractions

Steelers (7-5) at Bills (6-6)

TV: CBS, 1 p.m.
The line: Steelers (-2½).
The scoop: This call for No. 3 QB Cardale Jones to play is crazy. Hopefully, Bills' braintrust pays no attention. Bills have had look of a .500 team all along and that's just what they are. ... Give Mike Tomlin and the Steelers credit; they've gotten better as the season went along and have risen to the occasion since loss to Dallas.
Outlook: Those Terrible Towels will be waving. Steelers, 30-17.

Texans (6-6) at Colts (6-6)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Colts (-6).
The scoop: Teams are tied for first place in AFC South along with  Tennessee. Houston won first meeting, 26-23, on Nick Novak FG in overtime after tying game on TD in last minute of regulation. It was Texans' eight win in a row in divisional games. ... Colts are 18-4 in division games since 2013, 13-1 at home against Texans. Houston QB Brock Osweiler had one of his better games (2 TDs, no INTS) in loss at Green Bay, raising his season TD-INT ratio to 14-13.
Outlook: Going unnoticed is Chuck Pagano and his staff have revived Colts in second half of season. Indy, 27-17.

Seahawks (8-3-1) at Packers (6-6)

TV: Fox, 4:25 p.m.
The line: Seahawks (-2½).
The scoop: We'll find out how much loss of FS Earl Thomas means to Seattle secondary against Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams. Seattle clinches NFC West with win and Arizona loss at Miami.
Outlook: Unlike last week, Seahawks get more than token resistance at Lambeau. Packers, 24-20.

Cowboys (11-1) at Giants (8-4)

TV: NBC, 8:30 p.m.
The line: Cowboys (-3½).
The scoop: This one was getting big buildup until Giants flopped at Pittsburgh last week after feasting on Rams, Eagles, Bears, Bengals and Browns. Dallas, which is only team that has clinched playoff spot so far,  can lock up NFC East with win and first-round playoff bye with win and Seattle loss. ... Still, New York pass rush could make for tough day for rookie Dak Prescott. ... Cowboys only loss was 20-19 to New York in Arlington opener. Dallas and New England are only teams that have not lost on road this season.
Outlook: Cowboys will have trouble keeping 11-game win streak going, but Dallas, 23-17.

Ravens (7-5) at Patriots (10-2)

TV: ESPN, Monday, 8:30 p.m.
The line: Patriots (-7).
The scoop: Shutting down mighty Dolphins last week moved Ravens (296.1) to top of the league defensive rankings ahead of Arizona. Also, QB Joe Flacco had his best game of season, four TDs, 381 passing yards. ... First meeting of teams since 2014 AFC Championship game won by Pats, 35-31. Bill Belichick is 5-1 versus Ravens in regular season, but only 2-2 in postseason.
Outlook: Except for meaningless end-of-season game in 2013, Ravens have always played tough in Foxboro, including two postseason wins there. Patriots, 24-23.

Best of the rest

Cardinals (5-6-1) at Dolphins (7-5)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Dolphins (-1).
The scoop: Supposed Super Bowl contenders, Cards have been huge disappointment despite strong defense and production of RB David Johnson (league-leading 1,709 scrimmage yards, 17 TDs). ... Dolphins had won six in a row before road meltdown against Ravens last week.
Outlook: Miami heat won't bother Cards, who slug out 20-17 victory.

Chargers (5-7) at Panthers (4-8)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Carolina (-1).
The scoop: How can Carolina go from 15-1 in 2015 to 4-8? They better not tank remaining games against division co-leaders Falcons and Bucs in coming weeks. ... Chargers have become interesting, entertaining losers. ... Newton had 80.6 passer rating after 99.4 last season. He should get back to concentrating on football.
Outlook: Surprise. Chargers have better defensive stats than Panthers. San Diego 30-27.

Bengals (4-7-1) at Browns (0-12)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Bengals (-6).
The scoop: Ohio State or John Carroll could probably whip either of these two on a good day. Cincy has won last four in Buckeye State rivalry, including 31-17 at Paul Brown Stadium in October. ... Andy Dalton coming off 130.0 rating game in win over Eagles last week. Robert Griffin III may start for Browns for first time since Week Two injury.
Outlook: Browns get caught looking ahead to getting off the schneid in Orchard Park next week. Bengals, 33-20.

Bears (3-9) at Lions (8-4)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Lions (-8½).
The scoop: Believe it:  Last-place  Bears have better stats (348-337 on offense, 326-354 on defense) than first-place Lions. ... Lions had won last six against Bears before losing, 17-14, at Soldier Field in October.
Outlook: Lions don't blow out anybody, Detroit, 20-17.

Vikings (6-6) at Jaguars (2-10)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Vikings (-3½).
The scoop: Even the coach can't stay healthy in Minnesota. Jags have lost seven in a row, but were competitive in most.
Outlook: Jacksonville avoids fatal mistake for a change. Jaguars, 23-16.

Redskins (6-5-1) at Eagles (5-7)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Redskins (-1).
The scoop: Redskins won first meeting, 27-20, at home to extend streak to four wins in rivalry. ... Washington is second in league to Saints in total offense (418.6 ypg). Eagles have come back to earth after 3-0 start.
Outlook: Kirk Cousins plays well on road. Washington, 27-21.

Saints (5-7) at Buccaneers (7-5)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Buccaneers (-2½).
The scoop: These teams will meet again in two weeks. Bucs must have this one because they go to Dallas next week and to New Orleans before ending season at home with Carolina. ... Drew Brees had no TD passes in Saints' loss last week at Detroit. That's news.
Outlook: Despite negative points differential, Bucs are one of NFL's hottest teams with four wins in a row. Tampa Bay, 35-30.

Falcons (7-5) at Rams (4-8)

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.
The line: Falcons (-6).
The scoop: How much did that shocking home loss to Chiefs on Eric Berry pick-two, demoralized the Falcons. ... Rams averaging only 284 yards per game on offense. Even Browns (313.8) and Bills (343.4) do better. ... Rams sticking with rookie Jared Goff at QB.
Outlook: Anything's possible with Rams' defense, but they can't score. Atlanta, 20-10.

Dog of the day

Jets (3-9) at 49ers (1-11)

Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.
The line: 49ers (-2½).
The scoop: Jets players should be forced to reimburse ticket buyers for last week's showing against Colts. Sad to see Ryan Fitzpatrick suffer after career year in 2015. Jets have officially given up on him and will start Bryce Petty.
Outlook: Niners at home win duel of teams with confused QB situations. San Francisco, 17-9.

Last week's results: 9-5 outright; 6-8 versus spread.

Season's record: 110-65-2 outright; 87-82-8 versus spread.

 

 

 

 

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