The NFL is about to enter the home stretch and there are playoff implications in pretty much every game. Paul Higham found a few more winners last week and returns with his RedZone week 13 picks.
NFL Week 13 is upon us and the best team in the league returns to action for one final push towards the play-offs but it’s largely a wide-open affair with plenty of teams still having hope of making it through to the post-season dance.
The Arizona Cardinals lead the way at 9-2 and are back in action taking their perfect 6-0 away record to Soldier Field to face the Chicago Bears, who ended a five-game skid by beating the winless Lions last week.
Tom Brady faces the Atlanta Falcons again to stir up more Super Bowl memories while winless Detroit hope to end a wait of almost a year for a victory as they host divisional foes Minnesota.
We’ve also got a crucial AFC clash between the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Chargers, who have both been marvelous and pretty ordinary in inconsistent campaigns so far. It should be another thrilling Sunday on NFL Red Zone.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Atlanta Falcons
Tom Brady facing the Atlanta Falcons never fails to conjure up those Super Bowl memories of the greatest comeback in history, and at 8-3 and with a healthy three-game lead in the division the GOAT is on the right track for a title defence.
The 5-6 Falcons are still in the playoff hunt the way the NFC is shaping up, but a loss here would make it an uphill battle from here on in. Despite the Bucs seemingly having the division in the bag, they’re fighting hard with the Cardinals and Packers for the top spot in the NFC and home advantage in the play-offs.
Atlanta beat the Jaguars last week, while the Bucs came from 10 points down against a good Colts team to win on the back of running back Leonard Fournette’s monster four-touchdown game and a stifling defensive effort.
Fournette is also getting involved in the passing game, but even his dual-threat ability is put into the shade by that of Atlanta’s Cordarrelle Patterson, who has five receiving TDs and four rushing ones this season – and even lined up in defence for a play against Jacksonville!
Patterson will find a way to score here, most likely in the passing game with the Bucs boasting the league’s best run defence, while Matt Ryan will also look in rookie tight end Kyle Pitts’ direction pretty often – but it shouldn’t be enough against this Tampa Bay team.
The Falcons have lost all four games in their home stadium this season and this will be another tough day in the office.
Best bet: Buccaneers to score over 30.5pts at Evens
The NFL playoff picture with 6 weeks to go!
(by @Cigna) pic.twitter.com/UFKGEvYGX1
— NFL (@NFL) December 1, 2021
Arizona Cardinals @ Chicago Bears
The NFL’s best team is back in action after a bye week with the Cardinals rolling into Chicago with a perfect 6-0 record on the road as part of their league-best 9-2 return from the first half of their season.
The Cardinals won two of the three games they played without injured stars QB Kyler Murray and receiver DeAndre Hopkins before their bye – and both remain questionable despite returning to training this week.
Chicago have had an extended break after edging a late victory over the winless Lions on Thanksgiving, which came after a run of five straight defeats and was hardly comprehensive. They’re rightly 7.5-point underdogs here regardless of who plays for Arizona.
The Cards have won all six away games by 10 points or more, just the third team in history to do that, behind Murray’s spectacular quarterback play but more recently their defence – which is allowing just over 18 points a game.
The Bears only score just over 16 points a game so they’ll find it hard putting numbers on the board regardless of who they start at QB. Andy Dalton stood in for rookie Justin Fields and won last week, but it’s not certain who will start on Sunday.
Arizona should win this with something in hand, and their well-rested defence won’t give the Bears’ 29th-ranked offence much at all. The Cardinals have kept five teams to under 16 points this season and they can make that six at Soldier Field.
Best bet: Chicago to score under 16.5pts at Evens
Los Angeles Chargers @ Cincinnati Bengals
This is a critical game in the AFC wildcard race with just one game between the 7-4 Bengals and 6-5 Chargers who have both looked superb at times this season but have also both thrown in the odd shocker here and there.
It’s an intriguing battle of two quarterbacks to come out of the 2020 draft, with Cincy’s top pick Joe Burrow suffering that serious knee injury when having a superb rookie season allowing Justin Herbert to take the offensive rookie of the year award last term.
Both of them look excellent prospects for years to come as serious franchise QBs – and both of them ironically hung 41 points on the Pittsburgh Steelers in their last two games! The Bengals hammered them, the Raiders and the Ravens either side of huge losses to Cleveland and the Jets.
The Chargers have been even more inconsistent of late and just can’t seem to string two wins together thanks to a leaky defence, especially on the ground, and their receivers dropping the second-most balls in the league (28).
Bengals running back Joe Mixon has been the catalyst of late with a career-best 165 rushing yards and two TDs last week, and now gets the worst rush defence in the league to feast on. Rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase and Burrow have insane chemistry, but riding Mixon again will be the gameplan to also keep Herbert on the sidelines as much as possible.
The Bolts have Austin Ekeler who can do it all from running back and scored four times against Pittsburgh two weeks ago, but whether Cincy will let them have the ball enough to do damage is the big question. We’d love to see a shootout between Burrow and Herbert but the Bengals defence may make the difference here.
Best bet: Bengals -3.5pts at Evens
Are the @Bengals legit contenders in the AFC?
@RealMikeRob breaks down some plays he's seen from Cincinnati that shows the dangerous collection of skill players they have. pic.twitter.com/S5Xyx33a8C
— Good Morning Football (@gmfb) December 2, 2021
Minnesota Vikings @ Detroit Lions
It’s coming up to a year since the Detroit Lions won a game in the NFL, and divisional rivals Minnesota will look to keep that wait going as they need the win to continue their pursuit of a play-off place in the NFC.
The Vikings are only 5-6 despite plenty of fine performances but last week’s loss in San Francisco by eight points was their heaviest of the season. They’ve lost twice in overtime, once by a point and once by four in their catalogue of close contests this season.
One such game that went their way was a scrappy 19-17 Vikings victory on the last kick of their first meeting this season, but there’s a distinct gulf in ability between the teams that Detroit have to somehow bridge on the back of another error-strewn loss to the Bears.
Both teams have their starting running backs out injured so Detroit’s Jamaal Williams and Minnesota’s Alexander Mattison will see plenty of the ball – but the Vikings will also feed rookie speedster Kene Nwangwu, who has two kick-off return TDs this season.
What Minnesota do have is firepower, Mattison has already proved he can run the football and Kirk Cousins has star receiving talent in Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson. Jefferson has 1,027 yards and six TDs while Thielen has only 686 yards but 10 scores as a serious red zone threat.
Best bet: Vikings -6.5pts at 3/4
Cordarelle Patterson, Joe Mixon & Adam Thielen to score TDs at 13/1
The Atlanta Falcons won’t get much joy out of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but Cordarelle Patterson has shown nobody can stop him this season when he’s in the mood. Is he a running back or is he a receiver? Maybe we’ll never know for sure but what we do know is he’s effective.
The Bucs can stuff the run like nobody’s business so back Patterson to score a receiving touchdown out of the backfield. He’s got more reception TDs than rushing ones anyway this season (5-4).
Joe Mixon had a career day last week against the Steelers when he ran for 165 yards and two TDs, and this week he gets the softest match-up in the entire NFL as the Chargers bring their league-worst rush defence to Cincinnati.
Mixon has scored in his last five games and in fact scored twice in his last three straight – he won’t have any trouble finding the end zone this week.
The Vikings face the winless Lions and that will give them enough chances to find the end zone, and nobody does it better on their team than 10-touchdown man Adam Thielen. Defences key in on 1,000-yard man Justin Jefferson but Thielen is a better RedZone threat and will thrive in Motor City. He’s scored in eight of his 11 games this season.