INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (2-3) AT TENNESSEE TITANS (2-3)
KICKOFF: Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET, Nissan Stadium. TV: ESPN, Sean McDonough, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters (field reporter).
SERIES HISTORY: 45th regular-season meeting. Colts lead series, 31-13. Indianapolis has won 16 of the previous 17 meetings, including the last 11. The Colts’ last loss occurred on Oct. 30, 2011, as Tennessee posted a 27-10 home victory. The Colts have registered wins in their last five trips to Nashville, including a 34-26 victory on Oct. 23, 2016, and are 11-4 at the Coliseum/LP/Nissan Stadium. Indianapolis and Tennessee have both been members of the AFC South since the start of the 2002 season. The Colts have swept the home-and-home series 10 times. Tennessee has recorded one series sweep (2002).
KEYS TO THE GAME: Indianapolis has to be able to establish a consistent running game. The Colts want to set the tempo and keep Tennessee’s high-octane offense off the field for as long as possible. The Colts need to play smart offensively and stay away from ill-timed penalties, scoring touchdowns instead of field goals.
Defensively, Indianapolis has to be able to control the Titans’ mobile quarterback, Marcus Mariota. They need to keep him in the pocket and not allow him to create plays on the outside or with his legs. That was a major issue two weeks ago in the loss to Russell Wilson and the Seahawks in Seattle. The Colts’ improved run defense will also be severely tested by Tennessee.
The Titans have to hope they can get Mariota back on the field. The extra day might give Mariota’s injured hamstring enough time to heal to allow him to play. Without Mariota, the Titans’ offense ground to a halt against the Dolphins.
Even against a porous Colts defense, the Titans will have to find ways to move the football better than they did in Miami. The key to that might be to use more toss sweeps and counters instead of pounding up the middle with DeMarco Murray, which did not work last week. The Titans also have to find some threat of the pass, even if Matt Cassel is under center again.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
–Colts QB Jacoby Brissett vs. Titans pass defense. Brissett has completed nearly 61 percent of his passes for 997 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also has thrown three interceptions, two in overtime games. Brissett is a mobile quarterback who can move the chains with his legs (he has three rushing TDs). Tennessee comes into the game ranked 24th in the league in pass defense and 18th against the run.
–Titans TE Delanie Walker vs. Colts S Malik Hooker. Walker is a seasoned veteran and the Titans’ best pass catcher, even after 12 years in the NFL. Hooker, a rookie, could wind up matched against Walker for at least part of the day, which could be an advantage for the Titans.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Colts CB Rashaan Melvin. He may have bounced around the NFL a bit since entering the league, but Melvin seems to have found a home in the Indianapolis secondary. The former Northern Illinois standout has proven to be a steadying influence. He played well as a spot starter in 2016, especially later in the season. Melvin has carried that play into this year. His two interceptions are second on the team to rookie S Malik Hooker. Melvin also is fourth on the team with 24 tackles and has a team-leading eight passes broken up.
FAST FACTS: Colts RB Frank Gore had 121 scrimmage yards (71 receiving) in the last meeting. He has four rushing TDs in his past three games at Tennessee. … Colts WR T.Y. Hilton had seven catches for 177 yards last week and has gone over 150 yards in two of his past three games. He has 230 yards and two TD catches in the past two meetings and has a TD catch in four of the past six vs. the division. … Colts rookie S Malik Hooker is tied for second in the NFL with three interceptions. … Colts K Adam Vinatieri converted all four field-goal tries, including the winning 51-yarder in OT, last week. He has 24 winning FGs in the final minute of the fourth quarter or OT and 10 OT winners, both the most in NFL history. His 2,411 points are third in NFL history. … Titans QB Marcus Mariota has averaged 296.3 passing yards, with six TDs and two interceptions, in the past three meetings. He has thrown at least two TD passes in four straight AFC South games. … Titans RB DeMarco Murray aims for his fourth straight meeting with a TD. He has 264 scrimmage yards and three TDs in the past three meetings. … Titans LB Derrick Morgan has three sacks in past two meetings. He has six sacks in the past seven vs. the division. … Titans LB Erik Walden had 23 sacks in four seasons with Indy (2013-16).
PREDICTION: These are two of the league’s three worst scoring defenses, surrendering a combined 60 points per game. But neither team has been scoring well. Mariota could fix that for the home team and end the 11-game losing streak.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS (2-2) AT CHICAGO BEARS (1-3)
KICKOFF: Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET, Soldier Field. TV: ESPN, Sean McDonough, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters (field reporter).
SERIES HISTORY: 112th regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 52-57-2. The Bears have won eight of the last nine at Soldier Field, including a 20-10 game in 2016 on Halloween last year, a Monday night game. The Vikings are 22-31-2 at Chicago.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Vikings have big questions in the backfield. Quarterback Sam Bradford has missed three games with a knee injury, and coach Mike Zimmer has played coy about when he might return. Case Keenum might continue to start.
At running back, rookie Dalvin Cook was lost for the season last week when he suffered a torn ACL. The Vikings will look to Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon to carry the load this week and beyond.
If Bradford is unable to return, a zero-turnover night is a must. The defense needs to shut down the running game, something it didn’t do while being upset in prime time a year ago at Soldier Field. Jordan Howard is priority No. 1. If the Vikings take him out of the game, they’ll be able to go after rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky in his NFL starting debut.
The Bears’ offensive game plan will look quite different with Trubisky behind center. In preseason, the moving pocket, the rollouts and bootleg passes and even the occasional read-option run were suddenly in play with Trubisky at quarterback. The Bears might be more horizontal in their approach with the pass and will want to get Trubisky outside.
Defensively, the Bears should take a good look at how Pittsburgh mixed up blitzes to get pressure on Case Keenum and force mistakes. Most of the pressure came off the edge, whether it was from a linebacker or blitzing slot corner. Confusing Keenum by keeping him off balance is the best approach. He has mobility but isn’t strong running to his left and throwing. The delayed blitz is another option against the Vikings.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
–Bears RT Bobby Massie vs. Vikings DE Danielle Hunter. Massie hasn’t allowed a sack the last two games. Hunter recorded both his sacks in last week’s 14-7 loss to Detroit. Hunter had 12.5 sacks last year and was graded the No. 1 edge run stuffer in the league by Pro Football Focus. Massie’s size makes his strength blocking the run. The outside zone blocking scheme will be big in this game for the Bears, with Jordan Howard trying to wear down the edges, and Hunter is also going to be challenged. Also helping Massie in this battle is Mitchell Trubisky’s bootleg ability and speed to the outside.
–Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph vs. Bears LB Christian Jones. Without Jerrell Freeman, without Nick Kwiatkoski and most likely without suspended Danny Trevathan, the Bears are scraping the bottom of the linebacker barrel for coverage of Vikings tight ends, receivers and backs coming over the middle. Jones isn’t much better than John Timu and Jonathan Anderson, the other available inside linebackers. Rudolph struggled against the Bears initially; but, in the last two years, he has had their number, with 20 catches for 191 yards and a TD. Usually it’s been the seam routes that are a strong point for him, but he won’t have to go far downfield in this one.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Vikings RB Latavius Murray. He joined the Vikings as a free agent from Oakland and was considered a key signing, but he recovered so slowly from offseason ankle surgery that rookie Dalvin Cook zoomed past him as the team’s top back. The plan to share the load with Murray was scrapped. But Cook went down for the season last week and Murray was thrust into the role of No. 1 back. He still doesn’t look like he did last year when he rushed for 12 touchdowns. He says it will take time for the ankle to reach the point where he’s as good as he was before. But he says he’s getting close. Now would be a very good time to prove that.
FAST FACTS: Vikings QB Case Keenum has 588 passing yards, three TDs and no interceptions in his past two starts in place of Sam Bradford. Bradford has 478 yards, four TDs and one interception in the past two meetings. … Vikings RB Jerick McKinnon had 110 scrimmage yards and two TDs in the last meeting. RB Latavius Murray ranks sixth in the NFL with 18 rushing TDs since 2015. … Vikings WR Stefon Diggs leads the NFL with 391 receiving yards and is tied for second with four receiving TDs. He has four TD catches in three games against Chicago. … Vikings DE Everson Griffen ranks second in the NFC with five sacks. He has 4.5 sacks in his past six road game vs. the NFC North. … Bears RB Jordan Howard is tied for second in the NFL with four rushing TDs. In two career meetings, he has 288 rushing yards and a score. … Chicago rookie RB Tarik Cohen is aiming for 100 scrimmage yards for the third straight home game. He ranks fourth among rookies with 331 scrimmage yards and leads NFL RBs with 24 receptions. … Chicago LB Pernell McPhee has two sacks and a forced fumble in his past two home meetings.
PREDICTION: The Vikings’ stout defense will make it tough on the Bears’ rookie QB.
Carolina Panthers (5-8) at Washington Redskins (7-5-1)
KICKOFF: Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET, FedExField, Landover, Md. TV: ESPN, Sean McDonough, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters.
SERIES HISTORY: 13th regular-season meeting. Redskins lead series, 7-5. The Panthers, who lost the first six meetings, have won the past four. Washington’s last win in the series came in 2006.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Redskins’ running game has been better of late, but the Panthers should be able to limit that. Their main concern is limiting big plays by the weapons QB Kirk Cousins has at his disposal. Except for a Week 13 implosion in Seattle, the Panthers’ defense has solidified after struggling through the first half of the season. But the Redskins have the potential to expose even the most veteran of secondaries, which the Panthers certainly are not. Rookie CBs James Bradberry and Daryl Worley need to keep everything in front of them, and S Tre Boston has to be there to help if and when WRs DeSean Jackson and Jamison Crowder go vertical.
Offensively, QB Cam Newton has been struggling with his accuracy, and he shouldn’t try to figure it out by challenging former teammate Josh Norman. The Redskins aren’t great stopping the run or pass, but they’re fourth in sacks. That means it’d be best for Carolina to establish a ground game early and then blunt the pass rush with play-action.
Washington’s game plan shouldn’t be much different than it was against the Green Bay Packers in a prime-time game last month. Kirk Cousins threw for 375 yards and three touchdowns that night. He will face a Carolina cornerback group that starts two rookies and is desperately missing Norman.
The Redskins’ defense always struggles to contain tight ends, and Greg Olsen is one of the best (907 receiving yards). Newton (317 rushing yards) is the team’s second-leading rusher and Washington’s injuries at linebacker (Will Compton and Su’a Cravens) make containing Newton more of a challenge.
Kelvin Benjamin has been a weapon for Newton since returning from injury (51 receptions, five touchdowns). But when Newton has been forced to throw, he has not played as he did in 2015. His offensive line is also a mess, with 29 sacks allowed.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
–Panthers WR Kelvin Benjamin vs. Redskins CB Josh Norman. Before Benjamin tore his ACL, he and Norman had some epic training camp battles in 2015. Norman won’t be scared just because he’s giving up five inches.
–Redskins LG Arie Kouandjio vs. Panthers DT Kawann Short. Kouandjio held up reasonably well last week in his second career start. But the Panthers, like the Eagles, will attack him on the interior. He is still playing for an injured Shawn Lauvao (groin). Short has 44 tackles and will make life difficult for the Washington running game. He also has five sacks.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Redskins LB Martrell Spaight. The second-year pro will take over for injured linebacker Will Compton, who suffered a strained PCL in his right knee last week against Philadelphia. That leaves most of the defensive communications to Spaight, who missed 15 games as a rookie (concussion).
FAST FACTS: Panthers QB Cam Newton has 703 passing yards, seven TDs and no interceptions in three career meetings. He has 22 TDs (18 passing) in his past nine road games. … Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart has scored four times in his past four road games. … Since 2013, Carolina TE Greg Olsen leads NFL tight ends with 299 receptions and 3,835 yards. He has 431 yards and two TDs in his past four Monday night games. … Redskins QB Kirk Cousins is third in the NFL with 4,045 passing yards and second with 334 completions. He has 1,083 yards with 10 TDs and two interceptions (a 113.7 rating) in his past four home games. … Redskins RB Robert Kelley ranks third among NFL rookies with 587 rushing yards. He has four rushing scores in the last four games. … Redskins LB Ryan Kerrigan has eight sacks and two forced fumbles in his past eight home games.
PREDICTION: Cousins and the big-play Redskins should be able to take advantage of Carolina’s secondary and stay in the wild-card hunt.
New England 30, Baltimore 23
When: 8:30 PM ET, Monday, December 12, 2016
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts
FOXBOROUGH – (Wire Service Report by Sports XChange for Digital Sports Desk) – It wasn’t supposed to be that close. The New England Patriots delighted their home crowd by leading the Baltimore Ravens by 20 in what had all the makings of a Monday night blowout. Not so fast.
“Kind of not the way we expected the game to go,” New England coach Bill Belichick said after two huge mistakes by his special teams forced the Patriots to hang on for a 30-23 victory.
Tom Brady hit a wide-open Chris Hogan with a 79-yard touchdown bomb with 6:18 left to keep the Ravens at bay.
“He was kind of not really the primary receiver on that play,” said Brady, who had his ninth career 400-yard game in the win. “He saw what I saw on that play … and kind of adjusted his route and I just tried to put it out there for him.
“It was a big play. We needed it.”
Tom Brady (12)
Brady’s second touchdown pass of the game was also the 450th of his NFL career, making him the fourth player to hit that mark. He also recorded his 100th home victory and became the third quarterback with 180 regular-season victories.
Punter Ryan Allen pinned the Ravens on their 1, leading to New England’s third safety of the season, and linebacker Shea McClellin hurdled the long snapper to block a field goal in the first half. But the second half turned into a special-teams nightmare for the home team.
New England rookie Cyrus Jones, who has had a nightmarish season in the return game, had a bouncing punt hit off his foot for a fumble. Then, special teams captain Matthew Slater (back after missing two games with a foot injury) fumbled away a kickoff.
Those miscues set up Joe Flacco for a pair of short touchdown passes. Baltimore kicker Justin Tucker’s 38-yard field goal made it 23-20 before Brady came through.
Flacco took his team to another Tucker field goal with 2:03 left. However, New England’s Patrick Chung recovered the onside kick and the Patriots (11-2) were able to run out the clock.
The Ravens (7-6) dropped a game behind the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North and left their playoff chances very much in doubt.
“It doesn’t really matter what our record is,” Flacco said. “Like I heard you guys say, we’ve just got to win our games. Obviously, Pittsburgh is a game ahead of us, but we still have another game against them at their place. So it will be tough, but we’ve just got to focus one week at a time and go win football games.”
Brady, 8-1 since returning from his Deflategate suspension, completed 25 of 38 passes for 406 yards, the 76th time he has cleared 300. He threw three touchdown passes and also threw his second interception of the season, another mistake that helped the Ravens stay afloat.
The Patriots gained 496 yards against the No. 1 defense in the NFL.
“It was a big game for us,” Brady said. “You play at home in December on Monday night against a great defense, it was important for us to come out and play well. We knew it was going to be a 60-minute game; they’re a tough defense. There were some plays I wish we all would have had back, but they’re a competitive team; they force you into some errors.”
LeGarrette Blount (72 yards on 18 carries) tied the club record with his 14th rushing touchdown and also went over the 1,000-yard mark for the second time in his career. He is the Patriots’ first 1,000-yard rusher since 2012 and has a career-high 1,029 yards.