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Sunday Playbook / By Milt Northrop: Pats-Packers may be Super Bowl preview

Since the NFL’s Thanksgiving Day schedule was devoted entirely to NFC games, the Week 13 stage belongs to the AFC.

Consider this: if the Bills, Broncos, Jets and Saints all were to win today there will be five AFC teams (Bills, Chiefs, Dolphins, Steelers and the loser of the San Diego-at-Baltimore game) with 7-5 records heading into the final quarter of the season.

It’s an improbable scenario, but demonstrates how tight the AFC playoff picture is.

After that, if all the AFC contenders win just their home games the rest of the way, get out your tiebreaker rules. Baltimore (10-6), Indianapolis (9-7) and Denver (11-5) along with New England (11-5) would win divisional titles. Cincinnati (9-6-1) would get the first wild-card spot and a tie among Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Miami, Kansas City and San Diego, all at 9-7, would have to be broken to determine the second wild card.

Buffalo (8-8) and Houston (8-8) would be out.

With so many games left involving head-to-head matchups of AFC contenders, the ingredients are there for a wacky windup and some surprising outcomes. New England looks like the only certain AFC playoff team right now.

A capsule look at the remaining Week 13 schedule:

Game of the day

Patriots (9-2) at Packers (8-3)

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

The line: Packers (-3).

The scoop: The two hottest and the two highest-scoring teams in league meet in Green Bay. Patriots have 357 points and Packers have 354. ... Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has not thrown an interception at home in his last 322 attempts with 29 TD passes in that span. Packers lead league with plus-15 turnover ratio. ... Last time they played at Lambeau, Pats routed the Packers, 35-0, in 2006.

Outlook: This may be Bill Belichick’s best coaching job ever. Pats overcome injuries and the Hoodie keeps coming up with unique game plans to fit the situation. New England, 34-30.

Top attractions

Broncos (8-3) at Chiefs (7-4)

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

The line: Broncos (-1½).

The scoop: Peyton Manning had his 35th career four-TD pass game last week in win over Dolphins, most in league history. ... Although Miami gave Broncos a tough fight, they had little success defensively against Manning and were run over for 157 yards by someone named C.J. Anderson. ... Chiefs had to be jolted by loss of safety Eric Berry, who had a mass in chest discovered this week. ... After rallying to take lead, Chiefs gave up late score in loss to Raiders 10 days ago. It may end up costing KC a playoff spot.

Outlook: Last time he dealt with KC crowd noise Manning passed for five TDs and 403 yards. Denver, 31-28.

Browns (7-4) at Bills (6-5)

TV: Ch. 4, 1 p.m.

The line: Bills (-3).

The scoop: Whitner-Jackson/Watkins feud seems like a contrived controversy that should interest only twitter trolls. Game is important enough for both sides. It doesn’t need artificial stuff. ... Browns are 3-2 in games decided by three points or less while the Bills are 3-0. ... Bills have taken over AFC lead in total defense (312.2) but don’t have luxury of facing Jets again.

Outlook: Bills need this one badly and it’s up to the defense. Buffalo, 17-13.

Chargers (7-4) at Ravens (7-4)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Ravens (-6).

The scoop: Chargers ended slump by winning last two, but they were at home. On road, Bolts are just 2-3. Ravens are 4-1 at home with only loss to Bengals in opener. Ravens won last time teams met in 2012, 16-13. They also won last time teams met in Baltimore (2006) by same score.

Outlook: Ravens have as good a chance as anyone of coming out ahead in four-team AFC-North race. Baltimore, 16-13

Saints (4-7) at Steelers (7-4)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Steelers (-4½).

The scoop: New Orleans has lost last three, all at home. When’s last time that happened? Pittsburgh hasn’t had a losing record at home since 2-6 in 1999. They won last two at Heinz Field, 51-34 and 43-23, before loss at Jets and comeback win at Texans. ... Saints are 0-4 in games decided by three or less this season and they led all of them in the fourth quarter.

Outlook: Steelers’ only home loss to Bucs hard to explain. Even if Saints lose, they will still be alive in NFC South race. Pittsburgh, 24-17.

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

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

The line: Cardinals (-2).

The scoop: Arizona winning streak ended at six by Seattle last week, 19-3. Cards defense limited Seahawks to one touchdown, but offense, with Drew Stanton at QB and missing WR Larry Fitzgerald, was ineffective. ... All Atlanta wins (4-0) have come within the NFC South. ... Atlanta coach Mike Smith taking a lot of heat for clock management, which helped last-minute rally by visiting Browns last week. Smith will be working in plumbing department at Home Depot next year.

Outlook: Life is good in NFC South. It’s keeping Falcons alive. Atlanta, 20-13.

Best of the rest

Dolphins (6-5) at Jets (2-9)

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

The line: Dolphins (-7).

The scoop: Jets one of few teams to own advantage over Fish (50-45-1) all-time. Houston, Giants, Raiders, Steelers are others. Throw out the 1970s (0-20) and Bills have 38-37-1 lead over Miami. ... New York going back to Geno Smith as starting QB. He passed for 190 and ran for 44 and TD in 20-7 win at Dolphins in 2013 finale after Ryan Tannehill passed Fish to 23-3 win at MetLife three weeks earlier. AFC East rivals will close regular season at Dolphins Stadium on Dec. 28.

Outlook: Jets’ situation gets screwier by the week. Miami, 27-9.

Bengals (7-3-1) at Bucs (2-9)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Bengals (-3½).

The scoop: Buccaneers are only NFC South team to win against AFC North this season. They defeated Steelers in Pittsburgh, 27-24. Bengals tied Carolina, 37-37. Otherwise, AFC North is 10-1-1 against NFC South, one reason all four teams in division have winning records. Bengals QB Andy Dalton is 5-0-1 in last six starts against NFC teams with 15 TDs and three INTs.

Outlook: Bengals’ only wins over team with winning records were two over Ravens. They feast on NFL bottom. Bengals, 28-14.

Redskins (3-8) at Colts (7-4)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Colts (-9½).

The scoop: Colt McCoy gets start at QB for Redskins after benching of Robert Griffin III. ... Adam Vinatieri of Colts is perfect on 22 FG attempts this season and has converted all 34 extra point tries as well. He’s made 60 of 65 FG attempts last two seasons and has 83.7 career percentage. Colts have taken league lead in total offense and held Jaguars to 189 yards last week, but that was Jaguars.

Outlook: Jim Haslett will have Redskins defense primed. They have held three of last five opponents to 17 points each. Colts, 20-17.

Titans (2-9) at Texans (5-6)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Texans (-7).

The scoop: Ryan Fitzpatrick back as Houston starter with Ryan Mallett out with torn pectoral muscle. Houston played without RB Arian Foster again last week in loss to Cincinnati. Foster ran for 151 yards and two TDs in Texans’ 30-16 win over Titans in previous meeting. ... Some observers say Titans Zach Mettenberger, a sixth-round pick, has best arm of NFL crop of rookie QBs, better than Bortles, Carr and Bridgewater.

Outlook: Titans keep it close, Houston, 20-17.

Panthers (3-7-1) at Vikings (4-7)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Vikings (-2½).

The scoop: Panthers are winless in last six and have lost last five, averaging only 14.8 ppg. ... Cam Newton of Panthers threw four TD passes in road win over Vikings last season. ... Minnesota threw a scare into high-flying Packers before losing, 24-21, last week. Carolina had bye.

Outlook: Despite record, Carolina has playoff shot and rises to occasion. Panthers, 20-16.

Raiders (1-10) at Rams (4-7)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Rams (-6½).

The scoop: Two of three former Los Angeles teams meet. Where are the old Los Angeles Dons of AAFC? ... Dolphins in London (38-14) and Broncos (41-17) only teams to handle Raiders easily, despite lack of offensive punch. ... RB Natavious Murray (native of Nedrow, near Syracuse) was hero of win over Chiefs, but he is game-time decision (concussion) for today. Despite records, Raiders have impressive young players in LBs Khalil Mack and Tio Moore and QB Derek Carr.

Outlook: Interim coach Tony Sparano has toughened up the Raiders. Rams, 17-10.

Dog of the day

Giants (3-8) at Jaguars (1-10)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Giants (-3)

The scoop: Giants had Dallas on the ropes last week but couldn’t hold 28-24 lead with 3 minutes to play and lost, 31-28. Another New York loss was overshadowed by hubbub over Odell Beckham Jr.’s miracle catch, which may project him to Offensive Rookie of Year honors on the way to Canton.

Outlook: Jaguars playing like they are in Connor McDavid Sweepstakes, too. Giants, 31-17.

Last week’s results: 9-5 straight up; 5-9 versus line.

Season’s record: 103-60-1 straight up; 74-89-1 versus line.


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