Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-8) host the surging Carolina Panthers (6-9) in a matchup with NFC South championship implications. The first-place Bucs will repeat as division champs and go on to host a first-round playoff game with a victory Sunday. The Panthers can win their first NFC South crown since 2015 by beating Tampa Bay and New Orleans to close the regular season. Carolina and Tampa Bay met earlier in the season with the Panthers winning 21-3 at home.
KEY MATCHUP: Bucs QB Tom Brady against a Panthers defense that held Tampa Bay to three points in the Oct. 23 meeting between the teams at Carolina. Brady has thrown for 4,178 yards, 21 touchdowns and nine interceptions, however, the Bucs are only averaging 17.7 points per game. That’s 28th in the league.
ARIZONA (4-11) at ATLANTA (5-10)
Arizona quarterback David Blough will start for the Cardinals against rookie Desmond Ridder and the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons will try to end a four-game losing streak. Both teams have been eliminated from playoff contention. Ridder is making his third start as he continues to audition for the job in 2023 following the benching of veteran Marcus Mariota. No matter who has started at quarterback, the Falcons have leaned on a running game led by rookie Tyler Allgeier. The Cardinals lost starter Kyler Murray to a season-ending knee injury on Dec. 12 and backup Colt McCoy remains in the concussion protocol.
KEY MATCHUP: Falcons rookie RB Tyler Allgeier vs. Cardinals run defense. Allgeier will try to become the first Falcons rookie to top 100 yards from scrimmage in three consecutive games. He ran for 74 yards and had 43 receiving yards last week against Baltimore and leads Atlanta with 817 rushing yards. The Cardinals rank 12th in the league against the run.
CHICAGO (3-12) at DETROIT (7-8)
The Detroit Lions need a win over the Chicago Bears to keep playoff hopes alive. Detroit lost last week at Carolina after surging into the postseason picture by winning six of seven games. Chicago lost against Buffalo, extending its losing streak to eight games to match the franchise record. The Lions’ Jared Goff has been one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks this past month. Bears quarterback Justin Fields is banged up, but the team has no plans to shut him down even though it is relegated to playing for pride.
KEY MATCHUP: Fields on the ground against Detroit’s defense. Fields, Lamar Jackson and Michael Vick are the three QBs in NFL history with 1,000-plus yards rushing in a season. With 1,011 yards rushing, Fields has a chance to break Jackson’s single-season QB rushing record of 1,206 yards set by Baltimore’s star in 2019. Fields was held to a season-low 11 yards rushing by Buffalo. The Lions let Fields run for 147 yards and two scores in the previous meeting.
CLEVELAND (6-9) at WASHINGTON (7-7-1)
The Washington Commanders host the Cleveland Browns in hopes of still making the playoffs. They can get in by winning their final two games. Cleveland is trying to play spoiler after being knocked out of contention. Carson Wentz is starting at quarterback for Washington. It’s his first start since Oct. 13 after coach Ron Rivera picked Wentz over Taylor Heinicke. The Commanders are winless in their past three games.
KEY MATCHUP: Browns CB Denzel Ward vs. Commanders WR Terry McLaurin. Defenses facing Washington have to choose between doubling McLaurin and daring others to make plays or letting the No. 1 wide receiver catch a bunch of 50/50 balls. Cleveland also needs to pay attention to rookie WR Jahan Dotson, who leads the Commanders with seven touchdown catches.
DENVER (4-11) at KANSAS CITY (12-3)
The Chiefs will be trying to keep pace with Buffalo for the best record in the AFC when the West Division champs face Denver for the second time in three weeks. Kansas City has beaten the Broncos the past 14 times, tied for the fifth longest by any opponent in NFL history. The Broncos will be playing their first game since coach Nathaniel Hackett was fired following a 51-14 loss to the Rams. Longtime coach Jerry Rosburg has taken over on an interim basis.
KEY MATCHUP: Mahomes against the Broncos pass defense, which caused plenty of problems when the teams met just three weeks ago in Denver. Mahomes threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns, but he also threw three interceptions and was sacked twice in a closer-than-expected win.
INDIANAPOLIS (4-10-1) at N.Y. GIANTS (8-6-1)
The New York Giants can clinch their first playoff berth since 2016 with a win in their final two games. Brian Daboll’s team will get its first shot Sunday when it goes for its ninth win, playing host to the reeling Indianapolis Colts. The Colts are 4-10-1 and have lost their past five games. New York also is struggling late with a 1-4-1 record in its past six games.
KEY MATCHUP: The Giants’ blitz-happy defense against the Colts offensive line. Colts quarterback Nick Foles threw three interceptions in his first start with Indy and was sacked a career-high seven times. The Colts’ offensive line has allowed 56 sacks this season, the franchise’s single-season record since sacks became an official statistic in 1982. The Giants are not a big turnover team, but they have 36 sacks and added pressure can lead to fumbles and interceptions.
JACKSONVILLE (7-8) at HOUSTON (2-12-1)
The Jacksonville Jaguars look to snap a nine-game skid when they visit the Houston Texans on Sunday. The Jaguars have won three in a row overall to leave them in the hunt for their first AFC South title since 2017. This week’s game has no bearing on the division race, as it will come down to next week’s regular- season finale against the Titans. But Jacksonville would still like to end the skid against Houston.
KEY MATCHUP: Jacksonville QB Trevor Lawrence ranks ninth in the NFL with a career-high 3,749 yards passing. He’s been great in the team’s three-game winning streak, throwing for a combined 915 yards with seven touchdowns and just one interception. The Texans are coming off a strong performance against the Titans where they limited Malik Willis to just 99 yards passing.
MIAMI (8-7) at NEW ENGLAND (7-8)
The Dolphins are looking to close in on a playoff berth with a victory over AFC East rival New England. A loss and they keep the Patriots alive. They’ll probably have to do it without MVP candidate Tua Tagovailoa, who is in the concussion protocol. Veteran Teddy Bridgewater is expected to replace him, as he did earlier in the season. The Dolphins are hoping to win their fifth straight game against the Patriots and sweep them for the second straight season. The Patriots are 3-point favorites going into the game.
KEY MATCHUP: Patriots defensive backs vs. Miami wide receivers. In Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, the Dolphins have two of the top 10 receivers in the league. New England’s Marcus Jones has excelled as an all-purpose contributor but, at 5-foot-8, can be exposed against taller receivers. He was also in the concussion protocol. The Patriots only have three healthy cornerbacks active — Jonathan Jones, Myles Bryant and Shaun Wade — with potential replacements on the practice squad.
NEW ORLEANS (6-9) at PHILADELPHIA (13-2)
The NFC-East leading Philadelphia Eagles will look to lock up the NFC East and the No. 1 seed for the playoffs with a victory over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. New Orleans remains alive for a playoff berth, but needs to win out and get help to reach the postseason.
KEY MATCHUP: New Orleans’s offensive line against the Eagles defensive front. Philadelphia’s front four has wreaked havoc on opposing quarterbacks. Haason Reddick (14 sacks), Josh Sweat (11) and Javon Hargrave (10) each have recorded double-digit sacks, marking just the third time since 1982 that has happened. The 1985 Raiders and 1989 Vikings also accomplished the feat. Philadelphia would be the first defense to have four players reach at least 10 sacks if Brandon Graham (nine) can get one against New Orleans.
N.Y. JETS (7-8) at SEATTLE (7-8)
The New York Jets and Seattle Seahawks both have their playoff hopes on the line when the teams meet on Sunday in Seattle. Quarterbacks will be in the spotlight with Mike White stepping back in as the starter for New York after missing two games with fractured ribs. Meanwhile, Seattle’s Geno Smith will face the team that drafted him for the first time in his career. New York has lost four straight, while Seattle has dropped three in a row.
KEY MATCHUP: Seattle’s offense has been in a slump, scoring 13 points in its loss to San Francisco and just 10 last week against Kansas City. That included three drives into Chiefs territory where Seattle failed to get points. Now comes a Jets defense that has been stellar for most of the season. Seattle has to find success running the ball and be better on third downs than its 2-for-14 performance against the Chiefs.
L.A. RAMS (5-10) at L.A. CHARGERS (9-6)
The Los Angeles Chargers will “host” the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, the first time the two SoFi Stadium tenants will face off in the regular season. The Chargers clinched a playoff berth with a 20-3 win at the Indianapolis Colts on Monday. The Rams turned in their best performance of the season in routing the Denver Broncos 51-14 on Christmas, scoring on eight straight possessions before taking a knee. Chargers coach Brandon Staley was the Rams defensive coordinator in 2020 under coach Sean McVay.
KEY MATCHUP: Rams RB Cam Akers vs. Chargers’ front seven. It seemed like a certainty Akers wouldn’t be a Ram when the calendar turned over to 2023 after he was sent home in October and was made available at the trade deadline. Coming off a dominant 118-yard rushing performance with three touchdowns against the Broncos, he now looks like a potential difference- maker for the Rams. The Chargers have shored up their poor run defense, allowing a combined 288 yards on the ground during their three-game winning streak.
SAN FRANCISCO (11-4) at LAS VEGAS (6-9)
Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Jarrett Stidham called getting the opportunity to start his first NFL game “a dream come true.” He replaces Derek Carr, whose nine-year stint with the Raiders likely ended Wednesday when he was benched for the final two games by coach Josh McDaniels. Stidham has appeared in 11 career games between the Raiders and New England Patriots.
KEY MATCHUP: Stidham vs. 49ers defense. Stidham is a big unknown for the 49ers, who rank first in the NFL in scoring and total defense and figure to be a substantial challenge for a quarterback making his first career start. Niners defensive end Nick Bosa comes to Las Vegas as the NFL leader with 17 1/2 sacks.
MINNESOTA (12-3) at GREEN BAY (7-8)
The NFC North champion Minnesota Vikings will attempt to complete a regular-season sweep of the Green Bay Packers when the division rivals face off Sunday at Lambeau Field. Justin Jefferson had nine catches for 184 yards and two touchdowns when the Vikings beat the Packers 23-7 at Minnesota on the season’s opening Sunday. The Packers are below .500, but still have a chance to earn a fourth straight playoff appearance. The Packers had won three straight NFC North titles from 2019-21 before the Vikings ended their reign this season.
KEY MATCHUP: Packers offensive line vs. Vikings pass rush. The uncertainty of Green Bay’s situation at offensive tackle makes this matchup particularly intriguing. LT David Bakhtiari has missed three straight games as he recovers from an appendectomy. RT Yosh Nijman left the Dolphins game with a shoulder injury. If one or both can’t play Sunday, the Packers could have a tough time containing Minnesota’s pass-rushing duo of Danielle Hunter (10½ sacks) and Za’Darius Smith (10). Smith, a Pro Bowl selection, played for the Packers from 2019-21.
PITTSBURGH (7-8) at BALTIMORE (10-5)
The Ravens ended a four-game losing streak to Pittsburgh three weeks ago thanks in large part to intercepting Steelers backup QB Mitch Trubisky three times, all in Baltimore territory. Pittsburgh has won two straight in Baltimore, including a 16-13 overtime victory in Week 18 that helped the Steelers sneak into the playoffs last season.
KEY MATCHUP: Baltimore’s offensive line vs. Pittsburgh’s defensive front. The Steelers have been solid against the run this season, and with quarterback Lamar Jackson out the past few weeks, the running game has become even more important to the Ravens. If the Steelers can win the line of scrimmage, Baltimore’s offense won’t have many good options.
BUFFALO (12-3) at CINCINNATI (11-4)
The Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills meet Monday night with major playoff implications. The Bills are coming off a 35-13 win over the Chicago Bears that clinched the AFC East and are still in a good position to capture the conference’s No. 1 seed heading into the postseason. The Bengals escaped with a 22-18 win over the New England Patriots on Christmas Eve and lead Baltimore by one game in the AFC North.
KEY MATCHUP: Bills DBs vs. Bengals WRs. The Bills have allowed 250 or more yards passing just five times this season, and three touchdowns passing just once, in a 31-23 win over Cleveland last month. They face a Joe Burrow-led passing attack that’s topped 250 yards nine times and scored three or more TDs six times, including a combined seven in its past two outings. Look for Bills CB Tre’Davious White to shadow the Bengals top threat, Ja’Marr Chase, for much of the game.