This Week in the NFL _lowres

Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel warms up before an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014, in Cleveland. The Colts won 25-24. (AP Photo/David Richard)

THIS WEEK’S STORYLINE: Johnny Manziel makes his NFL debut as a starting quarterback as the Cleveland Browns take on the Cincinnati Bengals

The good thing about the Saints playing Monday night is that your afternoon will be free to watch other games.

And by other games, what we really mean is that there will be nothing from stopping you from fixating your eyes on Cleveland, where rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel will be leading the Browns against the Cincinnati Bengals.

You might be sick of hearing about this guy and his exploits. As a football fan, however, there’s no denying the curiosity. If he excels, great, then the league will feature another exciting player. If he fails, it’s almost certain it will happen in spectacular fashion.

No offense to the workman-like Brian Hoyer, who is one of the league’s true nice guys, but he wasn’t going to bring the sizzle to Cleveland. His 55.3 completion percentage, 3,192 yards, 11 touchdowns and 12 interceptions weren’t exactly putting fans on the edge of their seats.

Manziel, no matter what he does, will accomplish that task. But beyond the sizzle, it will be interesting to see if he can lead the Browns to the playoffs. At one point this season, it seemed like Cleveland was going to make a run.

Right now, after a few poor starts from Hoyer, the Browns are fighting to stay alive. Manziel will need to provide a meaningful jolt to get their season back on track.

Nick Underhill

NICK’S PICKS: Underhill’s top five teams in the NFL (this week)

1. Packers (10-3)

Aaron Rodgers makes the difficult look easy, but that doesn’t mean it should taken for granted.

2. PAtriotS (10-3)

The loss to the Packers was only a setback. They rebounded with a big win over the Chargers.

3. SEAHAWKS (9-4)

The Seahawks are playing like a team that is serious about defending its title. The defense is back.

4. Broncos (10-3)

Peyton Manning did not throw a touchdown pass last week, but this team continues to figure out how to win.

5. EAGLES (9-4)

Tough loss to the Seahawks last week knocks them down. They need to right the ship against the Cowboys.

This Week’s Games


WHEN: Noon Sunday

LINE: Browns by 1

BRIEFLY: This installment of “Battle of Ohio” has extra spice with playoff implications, trash talk and Johnny Football’s first career start. ... AFC North-leading Bengals have won past three road games. ... Bengals WR A.J. Green had career-high 224 yards receiving last week vs. Steelers. ... Bengals QB Andy Dalton, who had 128.8 rating last week, had career-low 2.0 passer rating in previous meeting with Browns. He had just 10 completions and three interceptions.

NICK’S PICK: Bengals 17, Browns 13

GREEN BAY (10-3) At BUFFALO (7-6)

WHEN: Noon Sunday

LINE: Packers by 41/2

BRIEFLY: Packers 0-5 at Orchard Park, and have never traveled to Ralph Wilson Stadium after Thanksgiving. ... Green Bay is 3-0 against AFC East opponents this season, while Bills are 3-0 against NFC North. ... Packers have scored league-best 134 points in first quarter. ... QB Aaron Rodgers ranks first in NFL with most TD passes (222), yards passing (27,520) and TD/interception ratio (222-54) through first 100 career starts.

NICK’S PICK: Packers 27, Bills 20


WHEN: Noon Sunday

LINE: Colts by 61/2

BRIEFLY: Texans have won two straight overall and three straight on road but are 0-12 all-time in Indy. ... Houston is 3-1 vs. AFC South this season with only loss coming at home vs. Colts. ... Texans lead NFL with 29 takeaways and need two to break franchise record, set in 2011. ... RB Arian Foster has scored touchdown in seven straight games.

NICK’S PICK: Colts 24, Texans 20

MIAMI (7-6) at NEW ENGLAND (10-3)

WHEN: Noon Sunday

Line: Patriots by 71/2

BRIEFLY: Dolphins ended Patriots’ streak of 10 season-opening wins. Patriots led 20-10 at halftime in September but were outscored 23-0 after that ... WR Jarvis Landry of LSU leads NFL rookies with 63 catches and in average kickoff return of 29.8 yards.

NICK’S PICK: Patriots 28, Dolphins 20


WHEN: Noon Sunday

LINE: Steelers by 21/2

BRIEFLY: Falcons are assured of second straight non-winning season, but lead NFC South with a tiebreaker edge over New Orleans (5-8). If Atlanta wins out, it would win division and host first-round playoff game. ... Steelers are half-game behind Cincinnati in AFC North.

NICK’S PICK: Steelers 23, Falcons 20


WHEN: Noon Sunday

LINE: Ravens by 131/2

BRIEFLY: Ravens OT Eugene Monroe faces former team for first time since being traded to Baltimore in October 2013. ... Ravens RB Justin Forsett spent 2013 with Jaguars, rushing six times for 31 yards. He’s got 192 carries for 1,080 yards this year. ... In 2011 meeting between teams, Ravens managed only 16 first-half yards and QB Joe Flacco threw for only 137 yards.

NICK’S PICK: Ravens 27, Jaguars 20

TAMPA BAY (2-11) at CAROLINA (4-8-1)

WHEN: Noon Sunday

Line: Panthers by 51/2

BRIEFLY: QB Josh McCown has four TD passes in last two starts against Carolina. ... WR Mike Evans has eight touchdowns in past six weeks and leads NFL rookies with 10 TDs. ... RB Doug Martin rushed for 138 yards in last game at Carolina. ... WR Vincent Jackson needs 139 yards receiving to surpass 1,000 for sixth time in career.

NICK’S PICK: Buccaneers 20, Panthers 13

OAKLAND (2-11) at KANSAS CITY (7-6)

WHEN: Noon Sunday

Line: Chiefs by 10

BRIEFLY: Raiders ended 16-game skid vs. Chiefs last month, starting current three-game skid for Kansas City. ... Raiders have not won back-to-back games since Weeks 7 and 8 in 2012. ... Raiders have lost nine straight on road. ... Oakland leads NFL in TD percentage in red zone at 77.3. Kansas City is tied for third at 66.7.

NICK’S PICK: Chiefs 27, Raiders 20


WHEN: Noon Sunday

Line: Giants by 61/2

BRIEFLY: Matchup of NFC East rivals who have fallen on hard times. Since 2009, each team has made the playoffs once. ...Redskins have lost five in row. ...Rookie WR Odell Beckham Jr. of LSU had 11 catches for 130 yards and touchdown last week. He is first rookie in NFL history with 90-plus yards receiving in six straight games.

NICK’S PICK: Giants 24, Redskins 10

NEW YORK JETS (2-11) at TENNESSEE (2-11)

WHEN: 3:05 p.m. Sunday

Line: Jets by 1

BRIEFLY: This is Jets’ sixth road game vs. Titans since start of 2006 season, most of any team outside AFC East. ... QB Geno Smith was 23 of 34 for 289 yards and TD in only game vs. Titans. Smith tied for first among AFC QBs with seven TDs rushing since the start of last season. ... RB Chris Johnson played six seasons with Titans and ranks third in franchise history with 7,965 yards rushing, with 50 TDs rushing.

NICK’S PICK: Jets 20, Titans 17

DENVER (10-3) at SAN DIEGO (8-5)

WHEN: 3:05 p.m. Sunday

Line: Broncos by 4

BRIEFLY: Broncos can clinch fourth straight AFC West title with win or tie. ... Broncos have won three straight in series, including in last season’s playoffs, and seven of eight overall. ... Peyton Manning is tied for NFL lead with Andrew Luck with 36 touchdown passes. Needs 90 yards for 14th 4,000-yard season.

NICK’S PICK: Broncos 24, Chargers 20


WHEN: 3:25 p.m. Sunday

Line: Seahawks by 81/2

BRIEFLY: Second meeting in past three weeks. Seahawks won 19-3 on Thanksgiving night for first road win against 49ers since 2008. ... 49ers need win to keep playoff hopes alive. ... 49ers have been outscored 71-16 in past two regular-season games in Seattle.

NICK’S PICK: Seahawks 24, 49ers 17

MINNESOTA (6-7) at DETROIT (9-4)

WHEN: 3:25 p.m. Sunday

Line: Lions by 7

BRIEFLY: Lions DT Ndamukong Suh had two of team’s eight sacks against Minnesota in October. Detroit DE Ziggy Ansah had 21/2 sacks and forced fumble in that game. ... Minnesota QB Teddy Bridgewater has 119 passer rating in past two games. Detroit’s Matthew Stafford has 123 rating in past two. ... Vikings have lost only two fumbles this season, fewest in NFL.

NICK’S PICK: Lions 21, Vikings 14


WHEN: 7:20 p.m. Sunday

Line: Eagles by 31/2

BRIEFLY: Cowboys are 6-0 on road. They’ve never finished a season 8-0 away from home. ... Eagles are seeking first 10-4 start since 1995. ... QB Tony Romo 7-6 vs. Eagles with 17 TDs and 15 interceptions. ... TE Jason Witten has 126 catches for 1,424 yards and seven TDs in 22 games against Philadelphia. He’s four catches away from 11th consecutive season with 50 receptions. ... RB DeMarco Murray has 11 100-yard rushing games, tied with Emmitt Smith for most in team history.

NICK’S PICK: Eagles 27, Cowboys 23

LAST WEEK: 12-3; SEASON: 117-60